The fellow seen above, an editor, will have his or her work simplified the next time I submit a manuscript to them because of a software program called Grammarly.
Grammarly seems to be a powerful tool to clean up an author’s writing; or anyone’s. As I type, the program is editing my scratches in real-time.
Let me tell you, this is amazing to me. You download the software, and suddenly a little bubble next to your text appears. When you offend your new referee, the drop changes colors, and a little number appears, telling you all the offenses against the English language you just committed. It works on Word docs, webpages, and email. Everywhere.
This is the best thing since sliced bread, let me tell you. Grammarly takes the rough edges off of any document you write, and it is best when you click the corrections bubble it suggests; it doesn’t dictate changes. Sometimes this is handy for stylistic reasons. An example: two characters in a novel are having a conversation. Of course, it doesn’t happen in the King’s English; their conversations are full of flaws. If you mean to keep it this way, Grammarly allows you to save the conversation as is. However, your narration will be flawless. Simply amazing.
Now that I’ve used the program a little, I wonder where it’s been all my life. How it would have made a significant difference in my many manuscripts and web posts. This thing is awesome! No more combing through my posts, and when I publish them, I STILL see mistakes that I have to go back and correct! Frustrating and time-consuming, to say the least.
Grammarly saves you from that.
This software has the potential to speed up my work and deliver an almost clean copy to any editor that I hire in the future. Once again, simply amazing!
He was the satisfied new owner of a Ford Maverick, and the long drive was a test run to check the suitability of his new 2022 Ford Maverick for road trips with his fam. This article is therefore a sort of follow-up on my earlier Maverick review, which you can find by clicking on the link or scrolling down through my older posts.
First, a compare and contrast. Both of our trucks are base model XL’s, which are easily distinguished by the painted steel rims. They are obviously different colors, selected from Ford’s basic palette. The bodies are identical, because all Maverick bodies are the same, regardless of trim level selected.
However, there are important differences between the two. Mine is a gasoline EcoBoost because I wanted AWD. Unfortunately, Ford does not offer AWD in a hybrid. His is a true hybrid with FWD. So, even though the trucks look the same their drivetrains are entirely different. Also, we selected different build options.
Both of us got a tow hitch. At one hundred dollars, you would be crazy not to select the hitch. Then we diverged, as we have different needs for a truck. He selected a snazzy tonneau cover, which in retrospect I wish I would have done; very handy when the snow falls. Me? I went for the HD stuff, the 4k tow package, bed liner, 110v inverter, etc.
They are the same truck, but then again, they are not.
I’ve written at length about my own truck, so I won’t rehash old stuff. I want to talk about his, which really is a different experience.
Second, let’s talk efficiency. My truck is great, at 31.5 mpg averaged across almost nine thousand miles. If you have any experience with small trucks, you know that this is phenomenal. My truck easily beats the rated EPA mileage, and I am very satisfied.
However, my friend’s truck blows my 31.5 mpg average out of the water. On the entire return trip from his home (he lives on the other side of Ohio) he averaged 43(!) mpg in honest mileage with two passengers and their stuff, his average speed was between 70-75 mph.
Holy cow. The hybrid is supposed to get LESS mileage on the highway, because of how it works (mostly electric propulsion in town, gas engine on freeway). So, in a low efficiency setting his truck blew my mileage away by a full twelve mpg. This is astounding.
He has reported trip mileage in the fifties in city driving, and I believe it.
The hybrid Maverick is a clear winner in terms of gasoline usage.
Third, let’s talk capability and utility. We have both used our Mavericks for a whole range of activities. His are more urban, while my usages are generally rural. I’ve talked at length about what my truck has done in my other article, I’d like to talk a little about his.
First, let me point out once more that his truck and mine have different drive trains and tow ratings. His is a 2.5L hybrid with a CVT transmission rated at 2k tow. Mine is a 2.1L turbo with and 8spd tranny and 4k tow. Both have identical cargo capacities at about 1500 lbs.
However, we have both done the thing with these vehicles, and they are more than capable.
I’ll cite kayaks as an example. We have both hauled kayaks in the back of our trucks, but my friend decided his stuck out too far in the bed (his are longer than mine), so he bought a nice little trailer from Harbor Freight.
A very nice set-up, wouldn’t you agree? This falls well within his tow rating, and it emphasizes the point that you really want to get a hitch for this vehicle, even if you think you’ll never use it. Because you will. A 2k tow rating doesn’t seem like much, but you’d be surprised with what this little beast can haul. Log splitters, lawn mowers, a four-wheeler, a big couch, you name it.
Finally, I’d like to speak to overall comfort and value. In this regard, both trucks are identical. Yes, at need you can fit five adults in these vehicles. I have personally rode in the middle seat in the back with my adult kids, and it was tolerable. With three adult passengers? No problems at all, with plenty of space for peoples…stuff.
It seems that my friend and I are still discovering capabilities with these trucks, even after months of ownership. They are engineered that well. Seriously. So many thoughtful nooks and crannies, even the oddly shaped cubby by the multimedia screen has a legit use- I’ve filled it with travel sized Kleenex. It is perfectly shaped for them.
We both love the Apple CarPlay interface, it is seamless and extremely useful.
For an economy truck, Ford has blown up the field. Absolutely destroyed it. No other manufacturer has anything that compares! Not even close.
The 2022 Ford Maverick. After six months and 9000 miles, still thrilled.
The order books for the 2023 models opens August 15th. I’d suggest you go to your local Ford dealer and order one then, because that is your only chance to get one of these fuel-efficient and eminently practical vehicles at MSRP.
You will wait. I waited nearly seven months, and my friend waited ten.
We will both tell you that it’s worth it, and there is close to zero chance that you will find one on the lot.
The Ford Maverick. An awesome little truck! Between my friend and I we have owned a dozen at least, probably more, and we agree hands down the little Mav smokes all of them. In fact, he will tell you that the Mav is the best VEHICLE he has ever owned!
August fifteenth, 2022. Keep that date in mind. Something tells me the 23s will sell out fast- the word of mouth has been strong. Have you seen a single Maverick ad or commercial? I know I haven’t. There has been no need.
I recommend that you act and place an order. Five flippin’ stars.
Now, I can play this version of the tune as well, but Ryan is the better man on the fiddle. So, I gladly recorded him as he played the old girl. Personally, I thought the mystery Civil War era fiddle turned out great. It’s sound reminds me of one’s grandma singing an old sweet tune out on the porch, with a voice that was once beautiful.
For the full background, see the post about a month back called “The Coffin Case.”
I must say I have eagerly awaited this moment, and I did have some level of fear the old violin would simply fly apart when tuned.
Nope. It acted as it should have, albeit with a few grumpy creaks as the strings went tight.
He’s keeping it for another week for fine tuning, but at this point I am well satisfied.
The above chair simply doesn’t fit that description. After last night, I’m putting that POS on the curb.
So, there I was…
You know, the line that clues you in that you are about to hear bullshit. Except this is not bullshit. It is a tale of woe and pain.
So, there I was, trying to make things happen in my latest novel. I chose the room in my house where I can close the doors and get some stuff done without a million and six distractions. It’s pretty good. Well lit, a good desk, pleasing mellow colors, etc. There is one problem, however, and last night was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
The desk chair is atrocious. I’m pretty sure it’s a thirty dollar special purchased from a large retailer. It looks OK. Trust me, it is not. My back still aches this morning, in fact.
As I typed away last night, an awful pain started to build between my shoulder blades and it began to move downwards, eventually claiming my entire spine. My hands began to tingle, and I had to force the words onto the page. My goal was eight hundred, and the conclusion of the chapter I was working on.
I felt like a marathon runner when I slammed the last words onto the page. My back was screaming at me; it was all I could do to finish up my admin work and wrap up my writing.
A few minutes later I lay in bed, it took a good hour to stretch out and find some level of comfort.
This morning, I sat in our comfy IKEA chairs in the living room and typed out this web post without a problem. The thought dawned on me; perhaps the issue was that cheap chair. Yes, to a certain extent my back always hurts, and my left hand suffers some degree of numbness. This is nothing new; it’s the result of combat operations a long time ago.
However, the cheap chair in the study takes the pain to a whole new level.
Friends, that chair is going on the trash pile.
It shouldn’t feel like you just shoveled up a whole heap of manure while writing. As of this moment, I’m switching work locations and that chair simply must GO.
Today’s subject is the importance of accountability when committing to any long-term goal. Such as writing a novel. You need to have hit times, Army slang for deadlines. Without clear and hard guidelines you will go astray. I’ve re-learned this recently. Very recently.
You see, I’ve been a tad adrift as of late. So many distractions and bad stuff going on. It’s been very difficult to concentrate. To see the mission clearly. To write.
Had a conversation with a friend and mentor, we both needed a hand. He suggested setting aside a block of time in our mutual time zones where we could meet briefly and get work done. A two hour block, where we would do nothing but writer stuff. Period. We agreed to meet Sunday my time through Thursday, 1900-2100 local.
We planned a brief check in, then an immediate progression to work. This Thursday past was our first work session, and I’d like to report success.
It went mostly as planned for both of us. He had a medical commitment, so he rang me up while driving and we talked things over. When we hung up, I reviewed my past work, and then I started to type. On his end, he did his appointment, returned home, and produced.
Friends, I kicked out 1200 words in just under two hours. This, after months of very slow activity. It really helped to have a clear, unambiguous block of time reserved to write, as well as a reporting obligation to my friend and partner. As I should have known from my Army years, the buddy system works for a reason.
Basically, we pushed each other. He got stuff done, and so did I. For the first time in months, really. We plan to continue this approach for the time being, until the both of us climb out of the hole.
In short, if you are struggling to meet some goal, it really does help to have a partner who will hold your feet to the fire.
This can be unpleasant, but so is missing a deadline.
I recently discovered that my email account has gone haywire and started to automatically delete almost anything sent to my account. I have an idea that this has been going on for quite some time, including messages from this account.
The stupid server marks stuff as “spam” and then immediately deletes it.
So, to people who may have contacted me and been pissed off that I did not reply, this is the reason. If so, give it another shot.
I changed the settings, so now I should receive stuff.
Memorial Day weekend always leaves me feeling a little weird. Although for many it has lost its function, a remembrance for our 1.2 million war dead, I remember.
I reflect upon the real sacrifices made by fallen soldiers and their families. I remember growing up in a Gold Star family, torn by the loss of my uncle in Korea. It was a wound that never healed, vividly and painfully remembered by my grandmother. So what, really, that he won the Distinguished Service Cross on the last day of his seventeen year long life. He left behind a family that grieved for decades.
I think about Robert Leckie’s stunning poem, “The Battle of the Tenaru.” Such power in his words, written while his ears were still numbed by shot and shell. Verses such as this:
Speak to the Lord for our comrades, Killed when the battle seemed lost. They went to meet a bright defeat- The hero’s holocaust.
Unbelievable, the coursing, draining power of close combat. Seeing the wounded, hearing men’s hoarse cries. Beholding the dead. Greeting the new dawn with thanks that it’s not you, lying in a heap.
False is the vaunt of the victor, Empty our living pride. For those who fell there is no hell- Not for the brave who died.
The tombstone illustrated above is a simple veteran’s stone, typical of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. It belongs to my grandpa’s grandpa, a survivor of a vicious and mostly forgotten mini-civil war in Minnesota. I ask myself what his life was like. Was he happy. Or did he die bitter and mostly forgotten, to lay in St. Peter’s cemetery in the tiny town of Mendota, Minnesota.
I’ll never know.
So, this Memorial Day I think of the long line of those who have gone before me, who fought for all sides, for centuries.
The blue-painted Scot, who faced the Romans. The Swiss mercenary. The Dakota man who counted coup. The English peasant who stretched his bow at Agincourt. The French peasant who received his arrow. A German who marched with the Teutonic Knights. A citizen of the Crown, who marched with Washington. A man taken prisoner in Winchester, Virginia. A Dutch officer who sweltered in Indonesia. A kid who died on a hill in Korea.
They are all there, in the long, sorrowful line.
Readers worldwide: Memorial Day belongs to you, as well. We are your cousins, near and distant.
Many from the Han have fought beneath the Stars and Stripes. Descendants of the proud Zulu have worn the American Combat V. Suleiman’s children have bled out and died beneath the starry flag. Many a Spanish speaker has received the hateful, flying steel and worn the Purple Heart to their grave. Red Army veterans who fought in both Afghanistan wars. There isn’t an ethnicity on the planet that hasn’t marched with Uncle Sam, many to die while doing so.
You get the idea.
So as I ponder Memorial Day this year, I’d like for you all to give it some thought as well. Spare some thought as well to our brothers in the Ukraine, who fight and die as millions have a cheerful barbecue.
Hello, everyone. As all of you know, the world is experiencing record energy prices, and we are by no means immune here in the ‘States.
Of course, in relative terms we are still paying low prices for gasoline where I live, we have some of the lowest prices for energy in the US. But still, 4.49 is pretty high. However, it is nearly half what friends are paying elsewhere. An Australian friend reports 2.49 AUD/liter (6.78 USD/gal) and a European friend reports local prices at 2.10 EUR/liter (8.49 USD/gal), so things could definitely be worse. Also, prices vary wildly here in the US, with rates ranging from California around 6 USD/gal to here in the Ohio Valley, at 4.49/gal.
The sticker price at the pump has me thinking that it might not be a bad idea for the next family car to be electric.
Now, our small fleet doesn’t have a single vehicle that gets less than 30 mpg, so we’re doing OK at the moment. However, economies of scale are finally happening within the EV world and I think the next couple of years will be the time to finally consider an electric car.
Besides, why not make a clean break from gasoline altogether? With an electric you just plug it in at night- this is fine unless you are making road trips. I guess until the infrastructure is there we would just use the electric as a daily driver and we’d do long trips with either a gas car or a hybrid. I do anticipate that within the next few years Ford will make a hybrid AWD Maverick, and at that time I’ll trade in my gas burner for one of those- I have been pleased in all respects with my little Mav, an AWD hybrid would make the deal sweeter.
So, this seems doable. An electric as our runaround car, and a hybrid for off road and long trips. This seems to be a good compromise that should be attainable within this decade. I’m not seeing a drop in energy prices anytime soon, so now is the time to plan this out.
Now, if the car companies would just start to make more electrics and hybrids to drop the price down into the feasible range. Ford made a great decision with the hybrid economy Maverick- at base MSRP of 19,995 for the sold-out 2022 model this is affordable for most people. They simply need to expand their hybrid and electric lines out to other types of vehicles.
GM? Lol, they are the worst. I won’t consider one until they get their act together, and at the moment I am pleased with Ford’s offerings.
I see more and more electric vehicles on the road, the formerly niche market is going mainstream. Good. Gas burners are fine as hobby vehicles or in parades, but for daily drivers you need fuel efficiency. Better yet, you need no fuel at all.
This is where I’d like to be, and I think that this is where we are all headed.
My take is that by the time I reach Social Security age there will be few pure gas vehicles on the road. I’m really looking forward to the day when I’m not tethered to the pump station anymore. Promise you I won’t miss it all all; the grimy pumps, the hassle. Filling the tank in the freezing cold or the pouring rain.
But not this time. No, I found probably one of the best deals I have ever come across, and it came in the form of what is known as a “coffin case.”
I glanced about at a set-up of two guys who probably made a living tearing down houses and barns. Tons of junk. Those types of guys keep everything they find that might be of value, and they bring it to the flea market looking to make a quick buck. One of the reasons I like this flea market is that the booth spaces are cheap and there is a heavy concentration of average people just looking to unload…stuff.
This is in contrast to “antique malls,” where you will almost never find a deal. I don’t like antique stores or malls much. But I do like this particular flea market.
Well, amongst the junk at the two dude’s table was a violin’s coffin case, they are called that because of their resemblance to a coffin. They haven’t made them since the nineteenth century, so I looked closer. In the case was a bleached-out, heavily worn, apparently full-sized violin, complete with bow and what looked for all the world like a removable sound post (this is still a mystery). There was also a dead mouse and other gross stuff.
I said, too many problems. I walked off.
I got fifty steps away and it hit me. That was a real coffin case, how much did they want? I figured a lot. So I turned around and asked. I was pleasantly surprised.
A steal for the case alone. But still, it was a flea market.
“Will you take forty?”
Done deal. Handed over the cabbage. I walked back to my truck and wondered what the hell I had done. I set the case (with an obviously split lid) upon the tailgate of my truck and looked hard at what I had bought. Within the case was an obviously old, but still straight, bow. There was an object tied on a cord, it looked like a removable sound post, hand-whittled (this is still a mystery to me).
Then I looked at the violin. Friends, I have never seen such a well-worn fiddle. Ever. However, it was apparent to me that it had not been abused, just used. A lot. I looked closely at the wood, it seemed to be a spruce top and a maple (update: probably native birch) bottom with <zero> varnish remaining. The scroll was obviously hand-carved and strangely twisted a few degrees, although the fingerboard was ruler-straight.
What the hell? I put everything back in the case and locked it in the truck. Then I kept walking. Found a pair of boots, it was a good day.
Later, I was itching to make a close examination of the violin. It also desperately needed cleaning.
So, I did so. I used a violin polisher/cleaning compound, I must have put twenty coats on the instrument, my rag was black with the dust of ages. Then it was time for some photos.
I started asking myself what what going on here. The violin was obviously very old, probably Civil War era. I guesstimated that it had last been played in the fifties, due to the remnants of steel strings as opposed to gut (they came into widespread use during WW2). Whoever had owned this violin was a probably a person of limited means, but good ingenuity. I found several hand-carved pieces, including one of the old pegs.
Also without a doubt, this violin had been played a LOT for a very long time. I’ve never seen so much honest wear on a fiddle! Not abuse, sheer use.
So, my theory is that this fiddle must have, or did have, a pretty sweet voice. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been played so much for so long. But that’s part of the mystery for now, as I’m having my luthier put a new sound post in it. Also, I’m waiting for new furniture to come in the mail (I chose a new boxwood tailpiece, chinrest, and pegs. I think the boxwood will look great on this old girl, as opposed to ebony).
I have everything else already, strings, etc. It is possible that my luthier might find a surprise or two. But that’s why he makes the big bucks.
So, violin evaluated and cleaned, I decided to tackle the coffin case. Friends, this is where I started. See below.
Note: in the upper left of this image is the mystery sound post-looking thing on a piece of waxed string. What is that? But I digress.
The case was fixable, but it was a mess. I almost get hantavirus looking at this image, I remember the dead mouse and the numerous rodent droppings and general filth. With regret, I decided the ancient felt could not be saved. So, out came the putty knife and a little elbow grease, followed by a vacuum cleaner then a damp rag.
In the meanwhile, I bought some quality green felt and I glued the split and loose stuff with Elmer’s wood glue and I let it sit, clamped, for 24 hours. Elmer’s is great glue, by the way, I recommend it.
The next day it was time to play cut-and-paste with my new felt. I chose the traditional green color. It seemed right. Here is what it looked like as I started, the case was cleaned and ready.
Then it was the moment of truth. The spray glue came out. I made sure to do this part in the basement, that stuff stinks. I applied the glue, I assembled the new felt into the case. Then I walked away as it tacked up. If I would have hung around I’d have been tempted to fix minor imperfections. Experience has taught me that that is a sure method to create large problems from small ones.
Behold, the coffin case’s new look!
Managed to (probably) save an old mountain fiddle, did a quick rehair on the old bow (it plays just fine), and gave the coffin case a new lease on life.
All for under a hundred bucks.
Seriously? Yeah. You can’t buy the cheapest violin on Amazon for that kind of money. This means that for less than a brand-new, mass-produced, very inexpensive violin, I have saved a part of Appalachian culture from hanging on the wall of a Cracker Barrel. I do not doubt for a second that this fiddle played for some family for at least a couple of lifetimes.
Now it’s my turn. These relics, we never really own them. We are simply their caretakers. This is part of the fascination for me.
I’ll let you all know how Old Twist (my nickname for this fiddle) turns out. How it sounds.
The coffin case, though, turned out just fine. Now it’s good for another century.
I have seen the Highway of Death in Kuwait and southern Iraq, it’s sobering to see first-hand how easily heavy armored formations can be converted into mortal scrap. I thought then, and I think now, that I would never want to be a tanker. Viewing all those destroyed vehicles probably led to my first trilogy, where a new brand of infantry rules the battlefield- the armored infantry.
Now, this is not a new idea. Heinlein in Starship Troopers was the first to describe this type of future battlefield, where soldiers in powered suits led the fight. Then came Haldeman’s The Forever War, a deliberate ideological answer to Heinlein’s book.
I extrapolated the concept in my books, and one of my overriding thoughts was that tanks are ultimately vulnerable. Yes, they are big, heavily armored and uniquely threatening, but they are simply too vulnerable to infantry with advanced weaponry, or air power in all of its forms.
We got a taste of this in the Gulf, a steaming cup of bitterness in Armenia, and now a blaring large-screen TV full of death in the Ukraine.
Friends, the age of the tank is drawing to a close. The cycle of action/countermeasures really has reached its zenith, and the range of anti-armor weapons has finally eclipsed the ability of tank manufacturers to overcome them.
What do I mean.
Well, in the Ukraine we are seeing heavy armored formations being smashed and stopped by infantry employing sophisticated disposable anti-tank weapons, along with loitering drones that do the same thing.
Some would say that the Russians are using lousy Soviet designed tanks that blow apart at the slightest provocation. This is true, but the wider point is that these same weapons would be effective on good Western designs as well. Do you seriously think that potential adversaries aren’t taking notes about the Ukraine? That they aren’t making their own versions of the Javelin or the Switchblade?
I am never one to underestimate an enemy. Yes, the M1 Abrams is an extremely well-designed and hard to kill beast. No, it does not come apart at the seams like a T-80. But it is still vulnerable to a top-hit or a mobility kill. A destroyed tank is a destroyed tank, period.
What will be needed on the future battlefield will be maneuver forces that are small, fast and hardened. That will operate seamlessly with AI, that have the range and endurance to cope with any threat. Forces that have their own organic drone swarms, forces that are dispersed yet can deliver mass at will.
What am I describing? I am talking about true armored infantry, people inside of armored, powered suits matched to their own artificial intelligences.
The present battlefield is already awash with drones, cyber threats, massed artillery, air power in all forms, mines, the works. The ingredients are there to make a very impermissible environment for maneuver forces, especially the tank.
Imagine if the Ukrainian light infantry (who have done a tremendous job) had powered suits, such as described by Heinlein? Or Haldeman? Or me?
The massed artillery wouldn’t mean shit. Neither would the tank. Or land mines. Obstacles. Drones.
What do I mean.
A scenario. Alright, imagine an artillery battery servicing their weapon some ten klicks to the rear. They are pouring shells into some town.
An armored infantry squad, some twelve soldiers in powered suits, avoids the attacker’s concentrations and obstacles via real-time drone intel and they bound past the forward trace of the bad guys. They do not need to mass for the assault, each soldier is separated by a kilometer or so, they communicate via encrypted text on their helmet’s HUD. They simply have an objective and a time.
They make their own way to the battery, the squad leader’s AI helps him/her to manage the attack plan as his troopers converge upon the Objective Rally Point from every direction, helpfully randomized by each suit’s AI. They arrive and mass for the final assault. Their accuracy and precision is literally inhuman, but the killing will be of their own accord.
The squad assaults. Each trooper is assigned a target, their onboard computers helpfully designate fires and targeting priorities. They fall upon the battery like fire ants, within seconds the guns fall silent, their operators butchered, the tubes blackened and bent. As they attack, their AIs record everything for later BDA and intel. There is no need for a leader to scratch his/her head about Actions on the Objective, his AI gives him a checklist and sees to it that he completes it within seconds.
The battery destroyed, the team exfils to all points of the compass. They are hopeless to track and hard to kill.
Once back at FOB X, the squad downloads the data and they recharge their powered suits. They do an After Action Review, aided by AI, and they plan the next assault. Rinse, wash, repeat.
This. This is what future warfare will look like. Lighting attacks by rapier-like forces against logistics and combat formations.
Where does the tank fit in?
It doesn’t. A squad of armored infantry, each equipped with smart munitions and drones, could bring a tank battalion to a screeching halt.
Regular light infantry is doing this right now in the Ukraine. Imagine giving them powered suits, such as described in my books.
Heavy armored formations no longer make sense in peer-on-peer conflicts.