Monthly Archives: October 2012

Technology Wednesday–Jack of All Trades

The jack in this case is a literal jack, not the figurative one in the title. I’m feeling kind of post-ironic, which is why I’m writing about car jacks. They’re part of technology (so is a stick, for that matter) and I’m a little tired of digital technology this evening, having spent the better part of the day trying to get my formerly reliable laser printer to recognize that, yes, it was connected to a computer, without any success. Truly a first world problem.

Anyhow, I was coming out of Staples last week when a nice fellow told me my right rear tire was nearly flat. I suppose the classic take on that would be to go around and look at it, but I couldn’t see why he would be making that up, so I drove the mile or so home to change it. The car, my Mazda 6 wagon, Misty 6, didn’t feel like it had a flat–you know, that thump thump thump that warns you something is amiss with your voiture.

So I got out in front of my house, and the helpful fellow was telling the truth. The tire was flat. It wouldn’t even register on the tire gauge. Now, we had had AAA for about a gazillion years and used it a few times but I had come to believe that we didn’t need it since we don’t drive that far. (Helpful hint: you can get a roadside assistance plan from your cell carrier for far far less.) And it always seemed it took the nice AAA people an hour to come fix the problem, which they were very good at.  I didn’t have an hour since I am, like most people I know, overscheduled, so I opened the hatch and took out the spare which I was hoping was a real spare but it was a doughnut, one of the most disgusting things ever created. It does the job but it looks darned stupid doing it. Having to put it on negated the man point I had accumulated by changing my own tire. I know, it saves weight and money (the car manufacturers’ money), but I don’t have to like it.

I unfastened the poor excuse for a lug wrench–it even had a pivoting head so you could make a complete circle with it when taking off the lug nuts. If it didn’t snap off, since it was made metal the next step up from tin foil. I loosened the lug nuts and then went to look for the jack, which was secreted in one of the several and mysterious compartments in the cargo bay. I couldn’t find it. I thought I was stuck and then I figured the jack in my other car, the Chevy Impala,which goes by the name of the Gray Ghost, might work and be sturdier to boot.

So, I looked in the boot of the Ghost and found it readily underneath the full-size spare and soon had the wagon jacked up and the flat off, ignoring the warning on the Chevy’s jack to only use it with the vehicle it was intended for. Don’t tell me what to do! Probably the warning was put there by OSHA. I exercised my right to ignore perfectly sensible advice.

I put on the doughnut, threw the flat in the back and hied myself to the friendly tire repair place we have used for years. The flat had a nail in it. The fellow who took the orders at the tire place had told me on an earlier trip there to have a tire plugged that when business was good more people had to have nail holes patched in their tires since there were more construction trucks about strewing nails all over the public roadways.

My tire was patched and remounted in about 20 minutes. I could have put it back on myself and gained another  man point, but I was tired from all the excitement.

I did whatever it was I had to do, and as I pulled up in front of the house, I thought about looking in the owner’s manual for the location of the jack. It was in a thoroughly concealed secret compartment I couldn’t even tell was there. And so I lost another man point for reading the directions..

Final score, for those who are keeping score:

On the plus side–+1 for removing the tire and putting on the spare
                           +1 for ignoring the warning on the jack.

for a total of         +2 points so far,


deduct one point for not remounting it  -1
and one point for using a doughnut       -1
and one point for looking in the owner’s manual -1

So the total man score for the afternoon was -1, which is the score I pretty much carry. I suppose I could pretend it’s my golf score, but I know nothing about keeping score in golf, which is another deduction, so that gives me -2. I’d better quit while I’m ahead, which is the best advice I could give myself (and ignore).

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Bit by Bit–Day Two with Sandy

The past couple of days have been like a big snowstorm without the snow. No shoveling required.

The start of the day featured light rain and breezes. I went over to visit my dad at his assisted living place and got some bread. Surprisingly, there was plenty at the local Food Dog. Bottled water, too. Many places are wiped out of these items.

I did some editing and writing and read a bit in my book, Stephen King’s 11/22/63. Impelling book. I’m about 1/4 of the way through and it’s well done.

The wind and rain continued to pick up during the day. Right now (about 5:30 PM) the strength of both continue to be noticeable. The wind and rain are supposed to be at their worst from about 8 PM this evening until about 2 or 3 AM this morning.

I’ll blog more later.

9 AM Tuesday

The high winds did pick up about 8 last night, but when we went to bed about midnight, I wasn’t aware of them. I think they were running about 50 mph and then calmed down.

This morning we have light breezes and a little rain. Areas to the north were impacted far more than we. THe pictures of Manhattan are incredible. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected.

Everything’s closed today. We can get out fine, but I’m feeling the need of a day to regroup. Hope everyone is well. I’ll be back to the usual nonsense tomorrow.

Take care.

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Waiting for Sandy

Well, it has been an eventful week here in Northern Virginia. It’s Sunday evening, about 8 PM, and about four days ago the media outlets have been talking about the possibility of a combination hurricane/tropical story named Sandy and a nor-eastern resulting in a massive storm system the Weather Bureau is calling Frankenstorm. It is about 650 miles wide and potentially will affect 60 million people.

The media have themselves all in a lather, which attracts viewers and readers and listeners, and they are all urging people to “prepare” for the storm, which is readily done, unlike the derecho we experienced in June. Because of that experience, during which we lost power for twelve hours, I stocked up on batteries and an emergency radio. We keep a lot of food and water around, so we should be in good shape.

This is a kind of strange experience, akin to awaiting a big coastal snow storm, but without the snow. At least we won’t have to clear that away. Fairfax County Public Schools, where I taught, canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday this afternoon. That’s highly unusual, and makes me think they know more than we do.

So, we’re “hunkering down” (interesting phrase–I wondered where it came from and I found it’s of Scottish origin. Here’s a link to a good explanation of the origin: ) and waiting to see what happens. I’ll update this tomorrow morning when the wind and the rain are expected to arrive.

Monday morning, 7 AM: We have some rain and some wind, but the worst of both is not expected to arrive until this evening. Stay safe, be well, and call when you get there. As Tiny Tim said, “God bless us every one!”

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Poem of the Week: Fixing a Watch (Another Metaphor for Writing)

Fixing a Watch                                                      Writing an Essay

                                                       First, examine
the watch                                                                                              the idea
                                      make some notes, if necessary and take
the watch                                                                                            the idea apart.

                            Spread the parts out and try to see how they work.

Clean the parts and                                                                   look at the thoughts

                               Then carefully put them together in good order, 

                                 Be careful, be conscientious, and persevere:

                                     Don’t give up until it’s done and then

                                      when everything works as it should,


the watch                                                                                                   the writing

and set it going                                                                                and read it over

                                                 and then step back and

                                                     admire your work.

–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers–the Oxford Comma–You’re on Your Own

Last I was meeting with a couple of writers from our local writing group, Write by the Rails (website:, as we were working on edits for our projected anthology. Suddenly (which is how this sort of thing usually happens) we started talking about the Oxford comma and how each of us favored it as a means of punctuating items in a series.

In case you haven’t heard of the Oxford comma, you probably have been using it. In a series of items, if a comma is placed before the “and,” it is called “an Oxford comma” (or domestically, “a Harvard comma” or if you prefer, “a serial comma”).

Recent usage has eliminated the final comma, which can result in ambiguities such as:

I’d like to thank my parents, John Donne and God.

Probably John Donne and God are not your parents. The Oxford comma clarifies this bit of confusion:

I’d like to thank my parents, John Donne, and God.

There’s a good article on the subject at, with many more examples and enough ambiguity to confuse anyone.

We editors and writers like the Oxford comma, although using it is a matter of assuring clarity and economy. That’s why I say you’re on your own. Look at the meaning of the series and do whatever it takes to make it clear.

I tend to favor it because I worked every grammar exercise in the Warriner’s series for six long years and they of course liked the serial comma long before it had the name of Oxford. Still, we want to keep up with the times. But we also want to be clear. Good luck to you and be careful out there!

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Technology Wednesday–All Charged Up

My dad, who is 87, had his pacemaker replaced last week in an outpatient procedure that took about 40 minutes, with about an hour’s recovery time. The other pacemaker had stopped working–its battery ran out and consequently his energy level and circulation were not what they would have been had the pacer been working.

He had had the old device for about nine years, which struck me as a fairly long time for a battery to last. Of course, what it’s doing is providing an electrical impulse at regular intervals which on the face of it, while important, would not seem to cause that much drain on a battery. (As usual, I don’t know much about my subject, but I do know those ain’t Energizer AA cells in the device.) I found out that pacemakers use lithium iodine batteries and they are expected to lose 10% of their power after about five years. Not too shabby. I’m glad for pacemakers and glad that they have such long lasting batteries.

I was thinking about batteries and their power and longevity when my iPhone upgraded itself to a new operating system. With the upgrade,  suddenly the battery wouldn’t last all day even though I used it about the same amount. I have had to take to carrying the charging cord around with me and plugging it in wherever I am in the late afternoon, sponging off someone else’s 120 volt outlet if I’m away from home. Taking more battery power is not my idea of an upgrade, and I’ve talked to several other iPhone owners who have experienced the same thing. What’s with that, I want to know.

Then I thought about electric cars. My friend and prolific writer and community activist Cindy Brookshire knows a fellow in town who is all about electric cars. I want to interview him when I have time because I don’t know much about them other than hybrids seem to be practical at this point in their development while an all-electric doesn’t really cut it in terms of our expectations for our cars. Sure, I drive less than thirty miles most days, but suppose I take a wild hair and decide to drive to Atlanta for some reason. With my mighty Impala, it’s not problem as long as I have a credit card for gas. I fill it up and keep on going. With some pure electrics, you’d have to stop every thirty miles and charge the pack for a couple hours. That would extend a trip, all right.

I understand there are batteries for pure electric cars under development with a range of 500 miles and a charging time of a few minutes. Now that’s what I’m talking about, even if it does leave the problem of a charger infrastructure. Early automobile users bought gas from drug stores, and it would take us quite a while to come up with enough charging stations for everyone. And do you think the oil companies would like that? Not very much, I think.

I know very little about everything I’ve written about in this post, so I hope some folks who are more informed will comment and correct an errors or misapprehensions I’ve had. I’d appreciate it. In fact, I’d get a big charge out of it!

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Ode to Autumn

Or, as John Keats more or less famously wrote,

SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run; 
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,         
 And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core… 
I’m sure you’ve had very similar thoughts about autumn yourself.  I was thinking of these lines because I was an English major and have most of my memory occupied by lines of poetry and popular song lyrics. Keats was a favorite of English majors, producing a prodigious amount of work in a few years and dying of tuberculosis at age 26.  He was on the verge of producing a new type of poetry when he died.  Ah, Keats, why did you have to die? I actually heard someone say this near the end of a course in Keats (there are such things) after we had all pretty much worked ourselves into a lather about his premature demise.
I was doing a prewriting discussion with my ESOL class a couple of years ago about activities during each season.  The assignment was then to write about their favorite season and tell why it was their favorite.  As we were talking about fall, I noticed that no one had listed raking leaves so I put that up.  Then, on a whim, I told them that people used to burn the leaves they raked up.  It generated a unique smell, one that I’m sure I would still associate with those autumn afternoons if burning were still practiced. My students wanted to know why people burned leaves. “To get rid of them,” I said.
When I was growing up we lived on Maple Streetin Fairfax, an aptly named street with dozens of mature maples crowding the yards.  They were ideal for climbing and building treehouses in, and of course their leaves turned brilliant reds, oranges and golds in season.  Then the leaves fell and then they had to be raked up.  This was by and large a Saturday occupation—whole families were out with rakes, moving the leaves into huge piles. This was long before the day of the gas-powered leaf blower, so it was a tranquil and enjoyable time outdoors together in the cool autumn weather.  Then we burned the leaves, which was incredibly exciting to the children. Open fires blazing like Viking funerals! What a sight! Pyres of smoke and flame all up and down the street! Of course, the smoke was not particularly good for our breathing and the practice did get out of hand occasionally.  I never saw anyone’s house catch fire, but a family a couple of houses up from us caught a large oak tree in their front yard on fire.  Now that was something to see—a fifty or sixty-foot tree blazing like a torch.  The fire department was called, which was even more exciting.  They promptly put the fire out and left.  I don’t remember them scolding the people whose tree had burned.  Such occurrences were to be expected when people burned leaves.
These were not the only dangerous practices we engaged in.  We rode bikes without helmets in the middle of the road for years. I scraped my knees plenty of times but never broke my head open.  I think that was due to pure luck (and a hard head). We also played with mercury using our bare fingers, used asbestos products without protection, and rode in cars with largely metal interiors without seatbelts.  Looking back on it, it’s wonder any of us survived. And I’m not suggesting any of these practices were admirable or wise.  We’re fortunate to know about the dangers of this world and to be able to take precautions against them.  It’s obvious why leaf burning is banned in most urban and suburban locations.  The City of Manassas thoughtfully provides leaf pickup during the fall using what must be the world’s biggest portable vacuum cleaner.  My nephew blows the leaves to the curb about four times a fall and the City picks them up.  It’s easy, clean and convenient.  Still, though, I might take just one leaf and burn it (using proper precautions of course) in the fireplace just to see if it smells like I remember it.  I just bet it does.

Note: In the Poem of the Week feature a couple of weeks ago, I was puzzled by my paternal grandfather signing his name “Lorans” and the registrar spelling it “Lorense.” This week my dad told me that he went by “Lorenzo” early on. That would account more closely for the variant spellings. 


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That seems about like what we’ve fallen into with all manner of pumpkin-flavored products being popular this fall. There is the usual pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread. But there are also pumpkin-flavored potato chips, beer, coffees, bagels, cream cheese, biscotti, dog treats, nonfat Greek yogurt, pancakes, English muffins, Pop-Tarts, waffles, tea, salsa, pasta, sausage, chocolate, marshmallows, and air fresheners. I am not making any of this up, and I know the list is accurate because I got it off the internet.

Now, I think all this is a bit of pumpkin-flavored overkill. Chocolate versions of these products, maybe. But it’s too much pumpkin. I’ll stick with a slice of pumpkin bread and a piece of pumpkin pie, thanks. And a nice Jack-o-lantern to put on the front porch.

But the Great Pumpkin has come into his own. Linus must be pleased.

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Ode on Intimations of Mortality from Recollections of Older Age, or, Folding the Laundry

I am folding some clothes, some things that did not need to be removed immediately from the dryer to avoid wrinkles.

After sitting in the basket for half an hour, they are still warm, and I can’t help it:

My mind flashes to Juliet’s line in the tomb when she discovers Romeo dead and kisses him,

Trying to get a taste of the poison that killed him, but darn the luck, there’s not enough to be fatal.

She wails, “Thy lips are still warm.” She just misses the death train but wait, there’s the “friendly dagger.”

So, dagger, do thy work, and so they roll off into history. I hope they were happy but I think they were just dead.

Me, I’m older and I’m folding warm laundry, but as of this moment, with neither poison nor dagger nor dead lover at hand,  I’m still alive and warm.

At least for now.

–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers–Persistence and Foolishness

I don’t know if I have shared the story of the clock and how I nearly drove my brother Ron crazy with it. This summer, our pastor asked me to take apart some study carrels in the Rock and move them to another room. He said, “I hear you’re good at that sort of thing,” meaning taking things apart and then (sometimes) actually putting them back together again. I have been that way ever since I can remember—I like to take things apart and put them back together, if I can. Which I can’t sometimes.

Anyhow, I somehow got hold of a mechanical clock when I was ten years old. I took it apart, put all the pieces in a shoe box and then tried to put it back together again. I had no idea how to do this, but after we ate, I would sit at the kitchen table and fiddle with the parts for hours, until it was time to go to bed. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t notice that my brother Ron was growing impatient with my tedious and obsessive efforts.  After about two weeks of this, he couldn’t take any more. He grabbed the box of clock parts, screamed, “I can’t take this any more!” ran to the door and threw the box into the darkness of the back yard.

I sat there stunned for a moment. Our mother looked at me. “He’s right, you know. Give it up.”

I made a move for the family flashlight which we were not allowed to use without special permission since we would play with it and use the batteries up. “You may notuse the flashlight,” Mom warned sternly.

I rose early in those days, so at first light I was outside, meticulously gathering clock parts from the grass and putting them in the box. As I brought my treasure inside, my mom was waiting for me. She sighed. “I’ll say this for you: you’re either persistent or stupid.”

As I’m working my way through multiple revisions of my novel, I am thinking that persistence is a good quality for a writer. It takes persistence to write and keep writing, to keep at it until it’s right and then to persist in revision to make it better and better. Perhaps there’s some foolishness there as well. Mom was right about most things, after all.

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