December 23rd, 2014



I knew it was going to happen, but on Monday before Christmas? Awesome.

Family Fare in Allendale was down to $1.99.9/gallon for regular this afternoon. And $1.98.9/gal at Mobil and Admiral. And here we are holding a coupon good through like the 27th for $1.99.9/gal... oops. So much for savings.

The current theory is that the Saudis and OPEC have driven down the prices to stall the American and C Canadian shale oil projects. Or to punish Russia over Crimea. Whatever. You can't believe too many theories that anyone is talking about.

The news tonight said these low prices could last into the spring. Naturally, since I won't be teaching for six months and won't be driving much or every day. Oh well, zero gallons is ever cheaper than cheap gas.

They also said the national average is $2.39.9/gal, so this is 40¢/gal under. I'd seen an article talking about the meteoric drop in Grand Rapids gas prices -- and I've seen other places lower than this. But it wasn't so long ago that I was paying $3.85.9/gal, so dropping nearly two bucks is something.

Meanwhile, lots of people expect to hit the roads for Christmas. Locally, the plans for a white Christmas are getting dimmer. Today was gray and rains started late in the day. Still raining. Supposed to rain some on Tuesday and Wednesday, Christmas Eve. Late on Wednesday, the rain may change to snow. 30% chance of Christmas morning dusting -- 34°F down to 30°F -- then nothing much the rest of the day. Around Lake Michigan, or at least south around to Chicago, even less.

Merry Christmas.

Dr. Phil


But I would walk five hundred miles
And I would walk five hundred more
Just to be the man
who walked a thousand miles
To fall down at your door

-- "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"
-- The Proclaimers

On 29 November 2014 I posted about reaching 400 pages (DW) in the Word 2010 file for my Lost Kingdom YA trilogy. Well, we've hit 501 pages today. Not that this is a milestone other than we see omens and portents in numbers everywhere.

As an author, you toil and toil and write and edit. And someday, if you think it's ready, you let some of free and let it out into the wild. This week I gave my first real sneak peek into The Lost Kingdom, even to Mrs. Dr. Phil, when on Monday I released part of the current Chapter 9 of Book 1 as my annual Christmas short story: "A Christmas in the Lost Kingdom" (DW). Published on Dreamwidth, crossposted to LiveJournal and Facebook, it's Christmas, Hanukkah, holidays, break, End of the Year -- you never know when or if people are going to read these things. Or whether you'll get any feedback. (cue-anxious-sigh) But right now I am getting tons of updates from people on Facebook, which means people are at least on Facebook. Whether they have room for a 2300-word Christmas short story, that's another tale.

But I can make things easier for people.

Today I released a PDF version of "A Christmas in the Lost Kingdom". It's in A5 page format and displays very nicely in the Adobe Reader on my Kindle Fire HD. Should work on other e-Readers as well. If you want to print it out, I'd recommend finding your printer option for printing 2-ups, two pages on a single sheet of paper.

Over the years I have created hundreds of PDFs for my classes and writings, all using the Adobe printer driver that comes with Adobe Acrobat Pro 5/7/9. But ZEPPELIN, Wendy's Windows 7 laptop, doesn't have the full version of Acrobat and I don't have any installs left of my versions. However, Microsoft Word 2010 does have a Save As... PDF option, so I tried that. It's acceptable. i worry that given how Word writes bloated HTML files that it's overwrought coding, but that can't be helped. Maybe I'll make a copy in Adobe Acrobat Pro 9 and see if there's a difference in size or appearance.

And if you forget about my story -- don't worry, I'll flog it a few more times during the holidays. Also let you know that a second story will come out on New Year's Eve. (cue-even-more-anxious-author-angst)

As for the writing, well, it's coming along amazingly well. I've been filling in and editing a great deal, while still forging ahead on three books of the trilogy. So far I am very happy with what I have, which to some extent is all that really matters. Everything else is going to be gravy on my own satisfaction. (grin)

Also with the start of Version 1.06 of the trilogy, I also started sections in the file for The Pitch and The Synopsis. Both of these are going to be tough, short and shorter, so I might as well start thinking about them now. Whenever I've had to write a synopsis after I've finished a story, it's been like pulling thorns through your body. (evil-grin)

New researches started with a problem: Trying to find Catholic high schools on the north side of Chicago. Several of the ones that I remember from my Northwestern days in Evanston/Wilmette have been closed. From there we investigated... NU Wildcat basketball player numbers for centers. The Three Crowns emblems and origins for Scandinavian countries, including Sweden, Denmark and the Trekroner Søfort (Three Crowns Sea Fortress) guarding the entrance to Copenhagen harbor. The Typ 17 and Typ 1G Volkswagen Golf. "Glade jul, dejlige jul" -- the old Danish lyrics to "Silent Night" -- versus the newer lyrics, "Stille nat, hellige nat". Also "ram tam", the same Christmas carol translated into Klingon. Prostitution in Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Workers rights and satisfaction in Denmark -- and I mean the regular workforce, not the prostitutes -- the happiest workplaces in the world. And I probably need to research something about the CIA headquarters in Foggy Bottom, which of course leads one to remind everyone never try to understand an author's browser history. (oh-my-gosh-grin)

The shiny counters now stand at:

The Lost Kingdom Project YA Trilogy Version 1.06

Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

The Lost Kingdom Fourth Novel Version 1.03

*** Note: the numbers for Books 1-3 don’t add up, because there is text which is in a section which hasn’t been assigned to a Book and Chapter yet.

And we continue...

Dr. Phil


I don't spend a lot of time following the stock market.

Though I suspect that between NPR news and Marketplace, plus some newspaper columns by the Motley Fool and our NPR station's Saturday line up of news humor shows, I do better than most.

So I was amused to discover that Wall Street just pooped a nice Christmas present on itself, with the Dow closing above 18,000 for the first time.

18,024.17 to be exact.

Googling "dow jones" provided the following screenshot:

Wikipedia has updated its entry on the DJIA:
On May 3, 2013, the Dow surpassed the 15,000 mark for the first time, while later on November 18, it closed above the 16,000 level.[28] Following a strong jobs report on July 3, 2014, the Dow traded above the 17,000 mark for the first time.[29] On 23 December 2014 the Dow Jones industrial average traded above 18,000 for the first time after data showed the U.S. economy posted its strongest growth in more than a decade.
Okay, reality check. Yes, I know that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is NOT the stock market, it isn't very industrial any more, it's an indexed average of a changing basket of stocks and it isn't the only index on Wall Street.

But it's famous. People quote it. It's important in that sense.

Okay, this is where it gets weird. Because just last Thursday we were talking to our financial guy, and I asked, was the Dow still over 16,000? And back on the Fourth of July I wrote:

Just yesterday morning we were talking to our financial guy, and he made a comment about the Dow. And I pointed out I haven't been following it in a while -- was it still over 16,000?

Well, NPR just reported that yesterday's pre-holiday session had the Dow Jones Industrial Average exceed 17,000 for the first time.
I told you I didn't follow the stock market closely.

Following that pre-holiday theme, we had the week before Thanksgiving 2013:
So on Thursday I posted the following observation on Facebook:

4pm news lead stories: CNBC -- DJIA closes above 16,000 for first time. MSNBC -- the nuclear option in the Senate. FOX News -- McDonald's drops McRib from nation menu, many protest, is Michelle Obama to blame?
Well, you can't say all the news is the same... Dr. Phil

A little over four years ago I noted when "the stock market", i.e. the Dow Jones Industrial Average, broke 10,000+ (DW) for the first time in the recession. At the time I wrote:

Wednesday (14 October 2009) the NYSE surged above 10,000 again and stayed there. Happy days are here again. The Recession's back has been broken. We are on the path to recovery. Well, aren't we?

To some extent, I think the same sarcasm is due.
I missed the May 2013 breaking the 15,000 barrier, probably because I was in the hospital, having just got out of the ICU.

Yay. We're above 18,000. The Dow has jumped 3000 points just since I've been dealing with my heel.

But, as the Dow grows, a 1000 point gain ain't what it used to be. I was in junior high in White Plains NY, just north of New York City when it first topped 1000 points total. It's a matter of diminishing percentages, those thousand point records.

One of the reasons that I am not greatly excited about this, even as I note the historical value, is that it's a game. Sure, business needs investment money. And the value of a stock gives a gauge as to the health and wealth of a company. But past that... Most of the money made on Wall Street is a masturbatory fantasy game that Wall Street does to make Wall Street money. And an avenue for outsiders to come in and "invest" in a company by buying it up and changing that which had given it value in the first place. Chasing the tail of stock prices has fueled most of this raging drive towards short term gain at the expense of long term legacy and long term employment.

It has changed America in so many ways, and not all of them positive. For good or ill, many of our pensions are still tied into this game. And in the long term, it's a money maker. Mostly. But we don't retire in the long term, we're each on different countdown clocks. A lot of people were hurt when Wall Street screwed up the last time. And they're in the process of trying to get some of the controls enacted after that meltdown removed. Because these practices worked so well the last time.

So whoopee, here I am twirling a finger in the air.

It's just another big deal in a string of big deals.

And yet... I'm sure happier having a surging Wall Street than another market crash. If only some of this optimism and profits would actually trickle down far enough to do some good.

Dr. Phil