Guerilla Marketing

(I’m not sure if this is an actual re-run or an overlooked draft. I found it on one of my laptops while working on my next book but it didn’t have a title accurate enough to use in searching  past posts. All I can determine is that I wrote it at least five years ago and it still holds true)

My Beautiful Saxon Princess shared a shaggy dog story with me today about an outraged computer user who returned a “defective” laptop after trying in vain to open the screen/lid . The punch line ? A sales clerk in the store took the laptop, rotated it 180 degrees and opened it right up, the user have mistakenly identified the hinge for the opening because the manufacturers logo was positioned to appear upright (and more identifiable ) to other people when the screen is open .

At first I took it as another one of those wacky user stories, like the person mistaking a CD drive tray for a cup holder, but then I got to thinking: Opening a lap-top is a patterned motion almost identical to opening a book, and in the Western world that motion starts getting ingrained to the point of intuitive motion from time we picked up our first Dr. Seuss book. I would have made the same mistake.

It’s sad – rather than a story about  a whacky impatient user I saw it as an example of a company much more concerned with branding than providing for the user. Yes, I am a geezer, but I do remember a time when building a trusting relationship with your customer base was more important than charging your account as quickly as possible and avoiding customer service as a revenue drain.

2019: Whimpering

One of the most quoted lines from 20th century poetry comes from the final stanza of T.S. Eliot’s 1925 masterpiece “The Hollow Men”:

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

It’s been garbled, misappropriated and bent to numerous interpretations, but it has been on my mind the last couple of weeks. It’s difficult to resist thinking morbid thoughts as I head into the latter half of my sixties but it’s not just a matter of drawing nearer to the biblical “three-score and ten” that has me so pensive – as a thymus baby my crippled immune system runs with a twenty year handicap. Chronologically I am 66 but when I get sick I heal like an 86 year old.

…which is why I leapt at the chance to be inoculated with  an anti-pneumonia vaccine devised for people age 66 and older. With all the problems I have with upper respiratory infections I was happy enough to get the shot, that is until twenty four hours later when I started to run a fever and rapidly lose strength. By that evening I was weak, couldn’t lift myself from the bed and when I woke up the next day I managed to get to my papa-chair but was unable to dress myself for church. It wasn’t until that afternoon more than 48 hours after getting the injection  that I was able to function. As you would expect it was a scary experience, but what bothered me the most was not the fever or the weakness, but rather the fact that I really just didn’t give a damn.

I suspect it is due to fatigue more than just being ill. In the last six weeks I’ve been sidelined with illness four times and while my inner paratrooper balks at describing these bouts as being “seriously sick” the bronchitis I am currently battling has been the least troubling of the recent illnesses, and upper respiratory problems are usually the medical bogeyman for me. All of this has been happening with my chronic autoimmune issues as a backdrop and when combined with idiotic political and cultural quibbling that I can’t seem to escape I find myself totally overwhelmed.

It brings to mind an older gentleman named Clarence that I worked with during the summer of 1969.. He was a veteran of the Great War (World War I) and I was helping him finish display cabinets for the small museum where I was working via the Neighborhood Youth Corps. I was amazed at his skill and knowledge in woodwork but mystified when once or twice each session he’d simply say the word tired. He was evasive when I quizzed him on it but finally admitted it was a sort of mantra he would used when he felt overwhelmed by the world during his seventh decade. His life had spanned from “if man were meant to fly he’d have wings” to watching Neil Armstrong make that first step on the moon and often felt overwhelmed and tired from trying to cope with all the changes.

I now understand how Clarence feels – I am profoundly tired. I’ll bounce back but for now I just want to whimper.

1968: “…smoked!”

This Saturday’s rerun…

David R. Deitrick, Designer

I’ve heard it said that behind every stereotype lies a grain of truth and the term “absent-minded professor” goes a long way towards proving that concept.  The smartest people I’ve met in life are usually the most spaced-out, and I’m not talking about just Star Trek fandom or Jedi Knight wanna-bes.  Somehow pure- intellect brain cells cannot co-exist with practicality-neurons in any large number, and because of that tendency I spent a day of my sophomore year of high school doing a great impression of a slab of bacon.

It’s not that I hadn’t had prior training in brainiac-distraction identification. One of my sixth grade classmates never lost a chance to read – to the point that we’d wonder aloud about just exactly when he’d get so engrossed in the story line that he’d take a bite out of his book while trying to read his PB&J. Weak sixth grade humor?…

View original post 1,277 more words

Standing In The Creative Door.

There’s a point in airborne operations where the operation itself takes over reality and you become an element instead of an individual. It happens when:

  • The aircraft is orbiting the drop-zone
  • The jumpmaster has opened the door
  • Jumpers have hooked up
  • Equipment is checked and the sound-off made.

At that point you’ve become a round in belt of machine-gun ammunition and you are going out the door. Oh, you’ve been taught the procedure for refusing to jump but believe me – you’re going out that door…but it’s OK.

…that’s because it has transformed into a Zen feeling/experience – it’s out of your hands.

I’m hitting that point with Midnight Son. We’ve gone through the final edit and the cover art is done, needing just a bit of digital juju to get it ready for the press, so I figured I’d give you all a  sneak peak of that art:

Midnnight Son Cover Art

2019: RLGAV (Part Seven)

(Seventh in an intermittent series on Real-Life Gerry Anderson Vehicles – RLGAV)

https://arstechnica.com/cars/2019/06/radical-new-airliner-could-save-fuel-but-ride-like-a-roller-coaster/?fbclid=IwAR2O_8dzuI6ClgL_ukH4SEHU4F149xGuDbUteJFMyxr1GNKda9EiUjmC7JA

I figured that with Amazon’s Thunderbirds Are Go series ramping up for another season the only hardware with that Meddings/Trim “vibe” would be on the small screen, but this design could easily be Fireflash 2.0.

Flying V

1973: Main Flare

“How big are the bolts – and while we’re at it how many bolts are there? 12? 16?”

“I dunno Dave. I musta left my calibrated eyeball at home.”

I turned toward Lowell Dean; his red-head’s complexion and twenty + years in the New Mexico sun had transformed the regular features of the young man’s face into an unreadable map of creases and freckles but any scowl I may have glimpsed vanished in a flash. He growled on: “Don’t matter much what size they are – they still have to be changed out and I’d just as soon get ‘er done sooner than later!”

As for me, busting my knuckles with a set of wrenches was no sweat but working right underneath an actively roaring fire was…well, sweaty, and as usual it got me to thinking back at how I managed to end up in this situation.

…three months earlier

I had never anticipated the ending of a school year with as much relish as I did the Spring ’73 Semester at Ricks College. While I had performed well academically, my personal life had been a train wreck in slow motion as my engagement crumbled under intense pressure from my parents and family, and as I have written earlier the transition from the lax standards of a state school to an academic environment with strict dress, grooming and conduct expectations had been stressful enough to trigger hives at one point.

What had been just as difficult was the social stratification issuing from that part of the student population who’d grown up in upper- middle-class white-collar families. Overhearing comments like “It’s just the innate nature of some types of people – something they were born with that keeps them at that lower level” was difficult, but when proto-yuppies would twist scripture to justify social Darwinism (“the poor will always be with us”) my ability to suppress a vomit reflex was sorely tested. However, at this point, none of that mattered. I was home in Alaska and ready to lose myself in work for Chevron USA out at Swanson River.

“ I can’t hire you.”

It was one of maybe three times in my life I failed to have a witty rejoinder locked and loaded and I meekly drifted out of the oil-field office to the car and started the long trip home. I drove most of the way in silent shock: every summer since my fifteenth birthday I had worked through a truly amazing list of job titles starting with “janitor” and running through landscaping, grocery clerk, museum attendant, roofer and construction worker before hitting the jackpot by getting hired as a roustabout for Chevron at the Swanson River oil field the previous summer. Getting rehired was not an automatic thing but when I left the previous August there was no indication that I wouldn’t be asked back and I looked forward to at least four more summers slinging a 36-inch adjustable wrench.

The field foremanWayne had been vague about his reasons, and several times touched on federally mandated minority hiring quotas – and as the composition of the Swanson River workforce rivaled that of Ivory Soap1 I found it hard to fault him. Dad was much less forgiving and viewed the action as payback for his role in an unusually acrimonious contract negotiation earlier in the year. Personally I could care less about motivations – I needed money to go back to school so for the next eight weeks I bounced between rototilling gardens, mopping floors, clearing brush and stocking shelves until I was unexpectedly hired by a general labor outfit supplementing regular Chevron efforts out at the field (Translation: doing all the nasty jobs the regular roustabouts balked at doing.) The job drew a much more rough-around-the-edges kind of guy than usual, but I needed the money and showed up bright and early at the field the next morning ready to work with anyone.

I hadn’t been far off with my estimation: my foreman was a middle-aged Norwegian with limited fluency in English who pushed a crew consisting of an alcoholic ex-convict, a silent middle-aged man who never set down the same grimy June 19652 copy of Playboy, myself, and another young man named Lowell Dean. We rumbled around the field in an elderly winch-equipped crew-cab truck held together with wire and rust, while we periodically performing vital maintenance duties such as:

  • Collecting all the derelict barrels on the lease into one of three staging areas.
  • Digging post holes, then using cement to set welded pipe parking barriers in place.
  • Cleaning wellhead drainage sumps, which routinely contained dead animals.

I’d worked with Lowell Dean on a construction job two years earlier: he was from New Mexico and if not a literal cowboy was ‘cowboyish’ with that sunbaked look that comes from spending his life in a sunbaked locale. He was a couple of years older than me and took great delight in taunting me as a ‘college boy’ but we worked well together and were quickly made into a permanent sub-team trusted with more complex tasks …which is how we ended up at the main flare. The Swanson River operation pumps oil by gas-injection so there aren’t any ‘bobbing elephant’ pumps most people associate with oil fields. The oil is situated under an impermeable shale layer and is forced up by propane pumped down through holes drilled into the barrier, a process much like blowing bubbles through a straw in your milkshake. Oil from a dozen wells was then collected to a tank setting where it was measured, filtered, then pumped via another line to a terminal where it was sent on to the refinery at the coast twenty miles away. Each tank setting had a ‘flare system outlet’ flare pipe – a large diameter fifty-foot pipe that would occasionally belch fireballs of propane gas when system pressures had to be regulated.

….but the biggest and potentially most hazardous flare outlet was the main one located not far from the compressor plant that pumped the propane into the ground3. At some point in the past the bolts securing the bottom of the pipe had been changed out for a slightly smaller but very unsuitable size and had to be immediately replaced. The work order had gone to the senior production operator, who had passed it to his junior partner, who gave it in turn to the roustabout crew. Citing a heretofore forgotten trap-valve that suddenly needed replacing at the other end of the field, the Chevron crew drop-kicked the assignment to our company, where it made its way through the ranks, and finally came to a halt with the most junior crew, namely us.

 The ball kept on rolling: citing language difficulties, a hangover, and the mysterious loss of that battered issue of Playboy, the other three members of the crew begged off, which is why Lowell Dean and I were slowly creeping up to the flange at bottom of the main flare outlet pipe on that cloudy August afternoon. There was a moderate flame at the top of the pipe – nothing to get worked up about, but the power had been going out several times that morning with a major flare following each power bump, and we were both silently (but frantically) calculating frequency and average duration for flares that day.

Stress and my limited experience would normally bring on a severe case of fumble-fingers, especially when working with anything threaded or opened /closed with a wheel4 but this time around I was using those wrenches like a surgeon wielding a scalpel. It was a Zen moment –one of those comfortable grey days typical of a late Alaskan summer, momentarily freeing me of my eternal squint. The rumble of the compressor plant was surprisingly soothing, and we worked smoothly with no dropped tools, hesitations or wasted motion, completing the task in an unusually short time.

Packing tools, cleaning up, and backing the truck down the access road was anticlimactic until the moment we got back to the main road and a siren blared, announcing a power bump. Like a petrochemical nova the main flare blossomed into a fireball much, much larger than I had ever seen before, and I had to wonder if perhaps we had been in more danger than we’d imagined…or been told. Had we been in mortal peril? I doubt it – we may have gotten a little crispy around the edges, but the task had been more hazardous in anticipation than in actual execution. Still, I was just as glad the assignment was completed.

My near crisping seemed the perfect event to mark my exit from the abbreviated summer at Swanson River and the crew I’d worked with during those three weeks. As we bounced along the road to the change-shed I felt a measure of relief at the idea of parting company with my crewmates. Though rough around the edges, they had been a competent group, but I didn’t see any of them achieving much in life beyond this job. Maybe it was their innate nature, something they were born with that kept them at that lower level. Maybe some people were meant to be lower than others…

…and “son-of-a-bitch I cannot believe what I am saying!”

Growing up as a blue-collar kid in Alaska had always set me apart to some extent and I’d always imagined that added experience made me a little more capable and mature. After all I had shot my first moose at age eleven (keeping meant on the table for most of the winter), at fifteen I’d replaced a universal joint on a friend’s car, at seventeen I’d remodeled my attic loft, but at twenty I desperately wanted it to be someone else sounding as judgmental as the “ungrateful yuppie larva”5 I was attending classes with at school.

..but it was me. I had been just as prideful and arrogant, so maybe this crapulent summer hadn’t been all bad. I had been proud – maybe too proud – of my summer job at Swanson River. There were married men with families clamoring to get hired there but I had been little more than a punk kid treating my good fortune as an entitlement. When I eventually went back to work for Chevron three summers later I went with a much better attitude, but for the time being I resolved to avoid being judgmental…even about other people being judgmental.


Notes

1.  99 and 44/100 % Caucasian

2. I couldn’t fault him as the featured Playmate for that issue had a passing resemblance to Diana Rigg AKA Emma Peel from the ’60s British spy series The Avengers who I had quite the crush on when I was thirteen.

 3. It was quite a bit taller too. Production operators would normally use a burning rag tied to a rock to keep pilot lights lit at the flare outlets at the tank settings. For the main flare they had to use a bow and burning arrow.

 4. I still stand back and mumble to myself “right-tighty/lefty-loosey”.

5.A line shamelessly stolen from Dan Ackroyd playing Ray Stantz in “Ghostbusters 2”

1979: Green Hat For A Green Horn

This week’s Saturday re-run.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

Living in Clarksville (TN) conjures up more memories than you’d expect for a town that I had never been prior to moving here in late 2007. I have no doubt the memories are conjured up by the frequent rotor noises;  we’re right next to FT Campbell, home of the 101st Infantry Division (Air Assault) and the sound of helicopters in flight  fills the air every day. The 2007 move here was our “third try”; we were on orders for FT Campbell when I resigned my commission in 1983 and I had also on orders for FT Campbell before I was medically grounded for vision problems at FT Rucker in the spring of 1980.

I was a “green hat” there at “Mother Rucker”, a student in Officer Rotary Wing Aviator Class 44-79.  That term might be a little confusing; I’ve learned since moving here that flight students no longer wear…

View original post 790 more words

2019: Becoming Pak

protector

Because it is usually displayed as a fairly small image most people don’t recognize my avatar as anything but some sort of alien, when in fact he is a Pak Protector. Pak Protectors are an invention of noted SF author Larry Niven and figure prominently in his Known Space cycle of stories. They are an old race from a world near the core of our galaxy, a world with high radiation levels and crowded conditions that brought on rapid and extensive evolution.

The Pak go through three stages in life with the first two analogous to human child and adult states,  but instead of expiring at our own  “three-score-and-ten” limit they go into a third phase of existence known as  the Protector stage, which is brought on after a breeder ingests a tuber called Tree-of-Life which a contains a virus that acts as an evolutionary trigger. Humanity is descended from a colony of Pak breeders stranded on Earth millennia ago when the Protectors that established the colony died when their Tree-of-Life crops failed. The original Pak Breeder population evolved into modern humans and all primates of our world would transform into the Protector stage if exposed to Tree-of-Life root.

The transformation produces  positive characteristic “improvements” that mirror the negative aspects of aging:

  • Skin thickens into a leathery armor-like covering
  • Teeth fail out and are replaced by a beak
  • Fingernails transform into retractable claws
  • Joints deform in a way that increases leverage available to muscles developing

All these changes make Protectors extremely efficient fighting machines, which is just as well as protection and survival of their family becomes their sole reason for living and their lives become one constant battle with other Protectors living on a crowded world with limited resources.

The most significant change is increased cranium size and brain mass which results in phenomenal increase in intelligence, which is why one of the first remarks a newly transformed Protectors is “I’ve been so stupid”…a sentiment I find myself expressing many times since passing age sixty. The experience surviving to your seventh decade alone imparts a lot of wisdom and if you’ve endeavored to learn from your mistakes you end with knowledge and judgement that would rival Mr. Niven’s creations.

There is a dilemma that comes with that knowledge: what do you do with it? In times past elders/seniors/geezers were accorded a measure of respect and their counsel was considered valuable. It sure doesn’t seem that way now though – most of the time people look at me and just see a member of the “fifty-five-to-dead” demographic with the more extreme voices advocating euthanasia or other marginally less drastic measures to reduce the cost of elder care on society as a whole.

I try not to think about the situation, in fact when my when my autoimmune issues started ramping up in the late 1990s and I was first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. I took a page from the handbook of an eleven-year-old coping with the idea of Santa Claus: I embraced the idea of “well, what if Tree-of-Life really did exist” and instead of chronic pain and limited movement looked forward to life as a totally bad-a** senior citizen,

…a feeling that lasted for maybe three minutes at most and I embraced those small Pak traits I did end up with, namely a fiercely protective and supportive love of for my children, grandchildren and eventually great-grandchildren… and a desire to use whatever insights gained from my “I’ve been so stupid” epiphany to help them find an easier road in Life than I walked.

 

 

 

An Old Favorite…

CobraUpdate

As a bullet-proof twenty-six-year-old it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t continue on flight status throughout my entire career so the transition from UH-1 helicopter to M35A2 truck was a little rough. It took almost as long to adjust to the grounding as it took me to work through the loss of my father twenty-three years later, but my grounding would have been much more difficult had there not been some powerful compensations in play

One such compensation was working at the U.S. Army Aviation Digest. Shortly after arriving at FT Rucker I had made contact with the editor Dick and made arrangements to contribute – I knew that I’d eventually end up in the illustration market it seemed prudent to round out my student portfolio with actual printed work. When I was grounded I was able to wangle a staff assignment there which was infinitely better than being assigned to hand out socks at the gym.

The experience and printed work I gained at the Digest was the compensation I needed to help me cope with my vocational loss. Out of the dozen or so pieces I did there this illustration for an article on the AH1 Cobra Up-date program was my favorite. The original is much nicer looking than this printed version – the range of blues and greys just wasn’t reproduced adequately by the two-color system the digest used. The fact that the original hangs in our sitting room is a minor miracle; the Byzantine network of regulations governing pay and compensation for commissioned officers is such that any work I created for the magazine technically belonged to the Army, but as the editor was lecturing me on that matter the staff designer whisked the original out of the office and into my car.

Technical Notes: 21”X28”   Airbrush, pen and Prismacolor pencil on illustration board

Note: There is a significant technical error with this work of art that I was totally oblivious to before a friend and long-time gunship pilot pointed it out to me.

Feel free to comment.

A Different Perspective

Jayden gets the lion’s share of write-ups but I do have other grandchildren that can lay equal claim to my heart. Last week I received a packet in the mail from my older son and his family in Maryland, a packet full of letters and pictures that were all equally wonderful…but there was one image that really fascinates me.

Henrys Airship

It was created by a grandson I call  “Hank the Tank”. It would be natural to assume that I favor him because he bears the strongest resemblance to me as a child, but he also has a slightly tilted outlook on life that I love. He brings to mind another square peg in a round hole from decades ago.

Some of the imagery is recognizable but there is an element of the surreal that is very intriging.  I see whales, submarines, Zeppelins and rockets …and I have to wonder about the story behind it all.