Saturday, November 30, 2013

Life in a Small-Town Bookstore

How sad!  The invisible hand of the marketplace has written, and it did not bode well for Hopper: my beloved Thanksgiving weekend Pennsylvania used book store ... is out of business.

Fortunately, there is another one a few miles away.  It’s not as good because, er, it’s better.  Better meaning it carries higher-end used books, used books that serious collectors might want.  Used books in cellophane packages.

But there are two shelves of new “junky”-condition paperbacks.  I’ve hard-to-find and out-of-print stuff from those shelves before.  Bought the recently-read The Hawkline Monster there last year.  So I stalked those shelves for forty-five minutes while the rest of the gang drove away to take care of some more errands.

I did have Little One with me.  We found an old but well-constructed book on gems and minerals for my budding amateur gemologist.  Me, I had a harder time.  Finally I settled on Fred Pohl’s The Day the Martians Came and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.  Pohl because, well, he died a few months ago and I made a decision to read some of his stuff in 2014 – and his stuff is strangely hard to come by.  Strobel because, well, I had read about his book and had heard him in interviews and decided a good pro-Christian book in our increasingly anti-Christian culture would be a positive thing to experience.

My daughter and I, browsing the shelves, had the weird fortune to witness an odd interaction during those forty-five minutes.  A somewhat grizzled man came in and stalked about the back of the store, where the owner had some expensive antique-y things.  Finally, he seemed interested in what appeared to be some old model railroad fencing and stuff.  Not sure, because I’m not into model railroads, though I had a childhood friend whose father built a whole model railroad city on a pool table in their basement. 

Anyway, after much banter with the owner’s assistant, the grizzled man sighed.  “I’m really interested in this,” he said, “but $110.00 is a little too much.”

The assistant paused.  I don’t know how the scene was playing out, visually; my back was turned while I was scanning some philosophy and religion titles.  But after thirty seconds I heard the assistant ask, “What would be your offer?”


Immediately the store’s owner, a sixtiesh gray-haired hippy type who has sported Obama 2012 buttons on her sweatshirt in the past, cackled out from another corner of the store, “Forget it!”

The atmosphere immediately got a little oogy.  I looked over to Little One; she looked over to me. 

The grizzled man said, “Well, you could have just said ‘No.’  You didn’t have to say, ‘Forget it.’”  Another moment passed and the man spat out a sickly laugh; I wondered if they all knew each other and were now going to start making jokes or something.  But then grizzly adams cried out:  But now I will forget it!” and stormed out, the front door bells jangling angrily.

Ah, these small-town back-woods bookstores.  The drama!  The drama!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Also known as the sesquicentennial of Mr. Lincoln’s official proclamation of a heretofore annually celebrated Day of Thanks.  It is few years shy of my quinquagenary regarding T-Day.
Had a fairly good day yesterday.  First and foremost, I got 9 hours sleep!  Hoo-raw, that’s a rarity, and was desperately needed.  We had driven over to my folks’ in Pennsylvania the night before, so the little ones left me and the missus to sleep whilst in stalking pursuit of their grandparents.  Then, a two-hour hot bath in which I completed Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle, of which I will go into later this weekend.
Ate like a king all day: cheese and salami, veggies and artichoke dip, jumbo shrimp with hot sauce, and, of course, turkey, stuffing, mashed potaters, cranberry sauce (the wife’s contribution), culminating in a pumpkin pie bonanza (also from the hands of my wife).  Washed it all down with Sam Adam’s, of which perhaps I had a tad too much.  Must be why I felt all the conversation, especially emanating from my end, to be sparkling, dynamic, and enlightening.
Listened to a bit of Great Expectations on the portable CD player.  More on that, too, later in the week.  Me and my teenaged nephew tried to stump each other with science and mathematical paradoxes (him: “why do flames  rise when gravity should pull them down?”).  Didn’t watch the football games as closely as I would have liked, though my teams all lost, so perhaps that’s not too bad a thing.
Had to work today, unfortunately.  Ninety minute commute in and two-hour commute out.  But, hey, someone has to bring home the bacon (and unfortunately I’m on the clock).  Slow day in the office but an incredibly busy one on the sales floor. 
The rest of the week I plan to sleep, read, sleep, write, swing past one of my awesome used book stores, sleep, attend a Latin mass, sleep, watch the Sunday football games, and, yes, sleep.
Now: leftovers for dinner!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

World of Ptavvs

© 1966 by Larry Niven

Okay! Don’t beat me up!

I bought Larry Niven’s first novel, The World of Ptavvs, this time last year and finally got to open it last week.

I didn’t like it.

Now, I’m a moderate fan of Mr. Niven’s. I am, really. Read Ringworld ’round the turn of the century and loved it, read a whole bunch of his short stories three years ago and loved most of ’em. Have his second novel, A Gift from Earth, and his award-winner, The Mote in God’s Eye on the shelf behind me and plan to read them at some point.

But Ptavvs just kicked my butt. It was a gargantuan effort of will to finish it.


The story set-up’s good. Frozen, two-billion-year-old space alien found at the bottom of the ocean, thawed out and introduced to a human telepath. Turns out alien has superior mind-control powers and is used to dominating whole societies and planetary systems. Soon the race is on between this creature, the human telepath who thinks he’s the creature he mind-melded with, and a scattering of humans to get to Neptune to find the alien’s “amplifier” which will for all intents and purposes destroy mankind’s free will forever.

Normally I enjoy this kinda thing. But for some reason I couldn’t settle into it. The human characters seemed a bit uni-dimensional. Then I had a hard time differentiating the alien, “Kzanol,” from the human telepath who thought he was the alien, “Kzanol / Greenberg,” a vagueness I think Niven intentionally cultivates. The alien jargon – thrints, tnuctips, ptavvs, kpitlithtulm oaths, whitefoods (aka bandersnatchi) – didn’t quite assimilate as easy as other jargon from other stories had. Nor did the geopolitics of the 22nd century (or should I say exo-geo-politics, as the solar system has been populated, and there is historical friction between Earth and the Asteroid Belt).

Now, I understand Niven expands and expounds upon these terms and relationships and whatnot in subsequent novels. But as a stand-alone, I found World of Ptavvs a little unfocused and forced. It’s one of those rare books I felt should have been longer, more fleshed out, at least double its too-compact size. More character development, more exposition, more history.

Or it could just be the circumstances of my life at this point in time. Had I read it thirty years ago, it may have been a shining nova of my adolescence. Who knows?

So, regretfully, I give World of Ptavvs a C. There are good ideas in the book (I liked the under-developed – at least in this novel – plot point of intelligent dolphins trying to come up with ways to muscle mankind for a ride into space). And I’ll still get to those other two Niven novels on the shelf behind me, eventually.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Sunday morning me and the little ones are up and about early. It’s very cold, so we’re huddled on the floor in blankets and pillows, watching the tube. So what do we decide to watch? The first episode of this season’s Finding Bigfoot, which I DVR’d a few weeks ago.

A qualifier, please. When I was growing up, two spooky things absolutely overwhelmingly fascinated me: UFOs and bigfoot. I’ve written about both extensively here. I get a huge nostalgic kick revisiting both topics, especially with my girls, even though the analytical scientist in me has long accepted the nonexistence of these critters. Unfortunately, Little One is enraptured with ghosts and vampires, much to my chagrin. But I think now that a viewing of the unabashedly low-budget but decidedly creepy early-70s flick The Legend of Boggy Creek might make her at least consider Sasquatch.

Now – Finding Bigfoot. I find the show entertaining, I guess, for what it is, and the participants are true believers. I don’t want to be too cruel here, but that’s about the highest praise I can give it. Long-term, I think it does damage to any scientific theory positing extremely large ape-like hominids roaming about the United States. Short-term, I think it does damage to brain cells.

Anyway, for the season opener they’re trudging around the swamps of Arkansas, revisiting Boggy Creek. That’s why I taped it and that’s why I’m watching it. Our investigators spend a couple of evenings hunting the bayous with their night-vision goggles and whatnot. Nothing really happens, which, of course, leads them to conclude that bigfoot is active and on the move in these here woodlands.

What surprised me is Patch. My little five year old walks into the room (she never sits in one place longer than a minute or two), sees a really bad CGI sasquatch on the screen and exclaims, “Look! There’s bigfoot!”

I had no idea she knew who or what bigfoot was. I guess there’s some truth to that thing about children being sponges and all.

“And there’s Littlefoot!” I exclaim, grabbing her and giving her footpads are thorough tickling, much to her and her big sister’s delight.


Maybe she’ll be my cryptid hunter.

The Death of Star Wars

Read an article about the death of Star Wars the other day. In the author’s opinion, it was brought about by Disney’s purchase of the story rights from George Lucas, with an aim to franchise three more films. I agree wholeheartedly that Star Wars is dead, but not for the reasons cited in the piece or the comments that followed, which included:

– Ewoks


– Lucas’s re-editing and subsequent tinkering of the films of the original trilogy

– the sequels, especially eight-year-old Anakin

– the first appearance, and every subsequent appearance, of Jar Jar Binks

– Wookies doing the Tarzan yell in Sith

– the cringe-worthy “romantic” dialogue in Clones between adolescent Padme and adolescent Anakin

For me, the exact moment Star Wars died was in the movie theater in the summer of 1999, watching The Phantom Menace, and hearing Qui-Gon Jinn speak of the Force as nothing but “midi-chlorians” in the bloodstream. What. A. Downer! In a few dozen words the entire Zen mystique, ethos, and mythos of the Jedi was chewed up and unceremoniously spat at my feet.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Giants Post-Mortem

(... from a non-football guy)

Sadly, the Giants season is over for all practical and realistic purposes. Focus is now on ending this season with dignity and looking towards 2014 to patch and repair this leaking ship with an aim of winning the division next year (or at least making the playoffs with a wininng record, fer crying out loud).

Now, I’ve been watching football off and on all my life but I’m admittedly no expert. Still, you can’t expect to be in the playoff hunt when you

– win your first game the day your fan base is putting up Halloween decorations in the yard

– don’t really turn anything on until the 4th quarter of every game

– give the ball to your opponents by dropping it on the ground or throwing it into their hands once every five or six times you have the ball

– send your smallest guys up the middle with the pigskin almost every single first down you get

– regularly and routinely settle for three points when seven should be within reach

The Eli Manning / Tom Coughlin New York Giants: they can beat or lose to any given team on any given weekend.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Life on Mars!

Forget about that meteorite with the wormy-thing fossil in it. Now we have irrefutable proof of life on Mars, care of the reliable and completely objective lens from the Curiosity lander camera:

Face on Mars, lookout! We now know who built you!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Two Excerpts

A small selection from each of the two books I’m currently reading that made me pause and appreciate the fine-honed craft of the authors … for very different reasons:

The short peace ended. Dusk rolled over the bottoms. The mists reconvened. A final clutch of medics emerged carrying a long pole with a white truce flag that caught the dying light. More than a hundred bodies had been retrieved. But hundreds more remained, and would remain for months, carrion for the ravenous dogs that roamed these fens. Here the dreamless dead would lie, leached to bone by the passing seasons, and waiting, as all the dead would wait, for doomsday’s horn.

- The Day of Battle, page 350, by Rick Atkinson

“Mrs. Greenberg, what I really came for is to find out everything you can tell me about your husband.”

“Then you’d better talk to Dale Snyder. He got here this morning. Want his number?”

“Thanks, I’ve got it. He called me too. You know him well?”


“I’ll also want a chance to talk to Charley, the dolphin anthropologist. But let’s start with you.”

Judy looked unhappy. “I don’t know where to start.”


“Okay. He’s got three testicles.”

“I’ll be damned. That’s fairly rare, isn’t it?”

“And sometimes troublesome, medically, but Larry never had any problems. We used to call it ‘that little extra something about him.’ Is this the kind of thing you’re after?”

- The World of Ptavvs, page 102 of the Del Rey paperback, by Larry Niven

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Both my girls are readers. Little One has well-established herself within the myriad of fourth-grade series novels, and Patch is aggressively growing her reading skills with Froggy, Henry and Mudge, and her own myriad of Disney Princess books. Which is fine. Exemplary, actually.

But I want them to cultivate curiosity. I want them to borrow non-fiction books, every weekend visit to the library. Don’t have to read them all cover-to-cover (I borrow maybe 150-200 non-fiction books annually and only completely read about ten percent of that). But I want them to skim through and read what interests them. Look at all the pictures, graphs, charts. Read a chapter or two here and there. Learn to utilize the table of contents and the index.

To fire this spark in them, I entice them with the concept of being an expert. Someone others in their class will go to for all the answers. To mediate the disputes. To be the go-to kid whenever the subject comes up at the lunch table.

Which brings me to Beth.

(Note: when I say Beth, I say it like Joe Pesci over-enunciating the word “youththththththththts” to get back at Judge Fred Gwynn in My Cousin Vinnie. Not “youts,” but “youththththththththths.”)

Anway, in second grade, I was the undisputed expert on ... DINOSAURS.

Yep. No one knew DINOSAURS better than me. I read every book on them in our tiny, one-room grammar school library. I memorized entries on them from our home collection of Colliers and Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopediae. When I was out sick with tonsillitis half-the-year, my uncle bought me two dinosaur books I analyzed, studied, and practically slept with to no end. Yes. I was the go-to kid in my class when it came to dinosaurs. I mediated the lunch table disputes. I was the undisputed expert on all things terrible lizard.

Until, one day, Beth showed up in our class.

Whether she was a new student or merely one from the other second grade class, I don’t know. What I do know is that I first met her one library period at the 567s, her hand slightly quicker than mine snatching away the dinosaur book I had my eager eye on.

How dare her!

I was willing to forgive the transgression provided she acknowledge, at least tacitly, my dinosaurian superiority.

She did no such thing.

In fact, she soon began blabbing nonstop at the lunch tables: dinosaur this and dinosaur that. This was the coolest dinosaur, that was the most dangerous, this would beat that in a fight. And on and on and on, while I turned first red with rage, then green with envy, and, finally pale with despair as I realized my authority had been blithely, quietly challenged and overthrown, and almost as an afterthought. You see, not only did she fail to acknowledge my former repository of dinosaur knowledge, she failed to acknowledge me.



I had no choice but to become an expert in another field. So, shortly thereafter, I began reading every and any science fiction paperback I could get my hands on.

. . . . .

My girls laugh at the story. And it’s not exaggerated too too much. But it’s true. And if I can inspire them to be an expert in any one thing (or a whole bunch of ’em) at my expense, than I consider it water under the bridge.

But I bet, thirty-eight years later, I remember more about dinosaurs than Beth does!

Hopper Standing Athwart History

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Gettysburg Address

One hundred and fifty years ago today the greatest speech since Shakespearian times was given at the dedication of the national cemetary at Gettysburg. Should be required reading for all grammar school children; should be required memorization for all high schoolers. A slow, thoughtful reading through the text cannot fail to raise goosebumps on the arms and cause a realization in the reader of a participation in something transcendent. The last sentence alone … the United States is something special, something different, unique, a “shining city on a hill”, and does not need any “fundamental transformation.”

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Monday, November 18, 2013

Little One at St. Ives

Are you familiar with this riddle:

As I was going to St. Ives
I met a man with seven wives,
Each wife had seven sacks,
Each sack had seven cats,
Each cat had seven kits:
Kits, cats, sacks, and wives,
How many were there going to St. Ives?

The answers are many depending on how you read the problem. We calculated the answer as 2,802.

7 wives + (7 x 7) 49 sacks + (7 x 49) 343 cats + (7 x 343) 2,401 kits
= 2,800

+ the husband and + the narrator.
= 2,802

Well, a couple of days ago I posed this riddle to Little One. Now, being only 9 and in a fourth grade saddled by “Common Core,” she didn’t get the multiplication part until I explained it to her. But, to her immense credit, she got what so many often fail to include: the husband of the seven wives and the narrator himself.

Needless to say, as I always am with her, I was highly impressed.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Temporal Anomaly

I decided I’m going to buy a half-dozen of these and hang them in every room of my house and on the wall behind my cubicle at work.

Just to keep everyone on their toes and all.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Swords

I’m a mild fan of the Arthurian legend. Read The Once and Future King twice in college. Was enraptured with Tennysonian verse in The Idylls of the King. Saw Excalibur as a lad and own it on DVD. Have Steinbeck’s Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights on the shelf behind me. So I thought I was comfortably knowledgeable about the mythos.

Until now –

You know the name of Arthur’s sword, right? (It’s mentioned in the paragraph above.) I always thought it was the sword that he, and he alone, was able to pull out of the stone to become King of England.

Not true.

Turns out that sword is called Caliburn. Arthur’s more famous weapon of choice, Excalibur, was given to him later on care of the Lady of the Lake. At least, depending on your source. I note the similarity of the names of both swords. Indeed, some claim that the two swords are the same (given to Arthur by the Lady) and that the Sword in the Stone is nameless.

A mystery for the ages. Or at least, something for me to google about on the iPad while watching the football games tomorrow.

Friday, November 15, 2013

What the Postman Brung

It’s been like a year or so since I placed an online used book order. Though I can get really, really hard-to-find, out-of-print used books relatively inexpensively, the price generally doubles when you throw in shipping. So I treat myself once or twice a year to an order. Just did last week, and all my books came in.

Suffice it to say, I am excited!

The first book to arrive was The Space Merchants, by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. Arguably the most famous and influential book co-written by the most famous and influential Pohl, it is astonishingly impossible to find out on the shelves. I even tried the new SF shelves at B&N (is it out-of-print?). Anyway, I picked this up because Pohl is always a good read and as an author I respect tremendously who recently died, I want to read this come the new year.

Next came one from the nostalgia files – Mathematics, from the Time Life Science Library of the late-60s. I had the whole set as a kid a decade later, and this one plus The Universe were read so often the binding wore away and pages fell out. Termites got ’em both sometime in the late 80s after a house move. I did re-read a library version of this in the early 90s when I went to Seton Hall for physics. But, man, did the memories come back as I thumbed through this mid-60s memory lane goodness.

Then an unabridged paperback of Dicken’s Great Expectations. Not out of print, but I have been unsuccessful as locating a used copy for nearly a year. I want to read this while listening to the book on tape. In part, too, because of nostalgia: my seventh-grade middle school English class read though it in 1979, and I hated it. But the intervening decades have turned me into a literary bibliophile, and I want to revisit the story again. Also, a nice experience with A Tale of Two Cities a few years back helped.

Finally, William Harrison’s Roller Ball Murder, complete with a bloodied James Caan on the cover, arrived. A collection of a dozen or so short stories, this will probably be my next read. Appeals to the boy in me and, hey, I did read this as a boy. I expect a fast, can’t-put-it-down read. Maybe this weekend, maybe the long Thanksgiving weekend after. We’ll see.

Happy reading, y’all!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Law of Mind

Then another idea came to him: the whole thing was in accordance with law. He had discovered a law of mind just as he, at another time, discovered a law of electricity. If it were law, then he could always use it and it would always respond. From this he gradually built up a definite technique for the practice of right thinking.

He found that if he always thought of himself as being perfect he would always feel better. But what should he do with his body when it appeared sick? How was he to think of himself when he was sick? Could he deny that he was sick when he was suffering? Yes; for his sickness was the result of thought, and by changing the thought he could change the effect. He learned to turn away from the body when it was sick and go back into mind and think of the body as being perfect; for his thought worked independently of the body. He turned from the image of sickness to the idea of health and said, “I am perfect, no matter what the appearance may be.”

- The Science of Mind, by Ernest Holmes, 1926 and 1938

This kinda stuff fascinates me to no end. This combination of 19th-century New Thought and Christian Science. However, it is at radical odds with the truth that I know of my Catholicism. So I read a little bit of it, try to apply a little bit of it to my life via some habits of thought, feel guilty like I am betraying Who I know to be Truth, and give it up. For a couple of weeks or months.

But I find it oddly attractive. Not sure exactly why; perhaps it has something to do with the “self-help” culture that saturates 21st-century America, which is heretical to Catholic belief (you cannot “earn” salvation). Indeed, and don’t laugh, but I found great solace in the works of Emmet Fox nearly twenty years ago when I had my first and only great tangle with the Law.

Anyway, the part of me that’s interested in this stuff says, “Hey, you know you need to treat your body well, get fit, exercise. Do you think God has a problem with the books you’ve read about Diet and Nutrition? Weightlifting? He is the one that probably put them in your path. Could these New Thought books merely be teaching you only how to govern your noggin? After all, St. Paul says in Philippians to focus your mind on what is beautiful, noble, true and worthy.”

I find the argument both extremely enticing yet just shy of persuassive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Okay, just one more post and that’s it, I promise. Only because I have to deal with this nightmare every day at work, and this blog is my one true outlet ...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Education Continues Apace

So, me and the Little One have just finished going through all our Halloween DVRings. This is part of my master plan to turn her into a successful science fiction horror drama adventure writer actress artist. Laying the foundation, so to speak.

Also, it is great father-daughter bonding, a serio-goofy diametrically-flipped analog of a dad having catch with his son.

Right around Halloween we got all the obvious Halloweenish stuff out of the way: The Ghost Hunters, the MonsterQuests, et al. Then we watched the following flicks:


The Raven

The Tingler


No, Aaaahhhhhh!!! is not a movie, it's a cry of triumph from me masked as a cry of terror from Little One. And by “cry of terror,” I really mean “cry of delight.” She enjoyed all three movies (gave each one an A+ if I remember correctly), unable to decide which one's her favorite save for the fact she always likes best the latest one she's watched. Be it giant bugs, Edgar Allan Poe, or a slimy slug on your spine, she took each one to heart and we both enjoyed our little spookfest marathon.

Got some other stuff DVR'd, such as Victorian Captain Nemo, the original Star Trek movie, a pair or really old Boris Karloff black-and-whites. Also, I DVR'd the season opener of Finding Bigfoot, a show I normally dislike but recorded since this episode revisits the classic “Monster of Boggy Creek” from Fouke, Arkansas. She may or may not want to watch this with me, because, try as I might, I can't seem to light the sasquatch flame in her heart. Oh well.

And if you want my opinion -

Them! – A+, still the bestest big bug bonanza ever, the Alien of its time

The Raven – B for Vincent Price, didn't hold up as well for me over the long years

The Tingler – Awesome, A+, first time I saw it – campy creepy crittery goodness!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Art of Monopoly

Yesterday, while watching the Giants game, I asked Little One if she wanted to play a game of Monopoly. Did she? In an ecstatic blur she whooshed into the play room and zipped back with her beloved game.

She is Donald Trump’s mini-me, less the tumbleweed hair of course.

Our games last about two hours. Usually I win for the first, oh, twenty minutes or so. Then my Little Shark takes over. Ninety minutes into the game I was firmly losing to her merciless buy-buy-buy build-build-build philosophy. She had five hotels aggressively constructed across two complete color groups, three out of four railroads, twice as much cash reserves than I had somehow, and got that “Get Out of Jail Free” card not once but twice.

Before long I was coughing over my utilities, Boardwalk, and a few of those other properties I bought to keep her from building on completed color groups. All in order to pay those exorbitant hotel rents she was charging! I threw in the towel just shy of two hours, completely bankrupt, much to her cackling maniacal glee.

Then, we wondered: Is there a tried-and-true strategy to win at Monopoly?

Turns out, there is. Kinda, sorta.

There are a couple of websites out there where the dudes really crunch the statistics. We both read through them carefully, referring to the still-open Monopoly board to let the tactics sink in. Truthfully, I don’t know if I understood everything (not sure if that’s my fault or the website researchers’), but here’s a quick distillation of what we took away:

Not all properties are created equal. Obvious, due to increasingly higher buying prices, rental charges, and building costs as you travel around the board. But some squares have a higher statistical probability of being landed on than others, and that makes all the difference.

Which square on the board is the most visited during a course of a game? Deceptively easy – it’s Jail. Why? Well, you can get there a whole bunch of ways. You can land on it during the round the board travel. You can be sent there by landing on the “Go to Jail” square. You can roll doubles three times. You can land on either a Community Chest or Chance square and pull a “Go Directly to Jail Do not Pass Go Do Not Collect $200” card. Lots of ways to get to Jail, making it the most-frequently-visited square during a game.

What does this mean? It means the properties just outside jail are the most frequently-landed-upon. That makes them more than worth their price to buy. The orange-ish squares just before Free Parking are thus the most valuable on the board. Buy ’em and build on ’em and watch your opponents fork over the dollars to you hand over first. This, by the way, was Little One’s intuited strategy to beat me yesterday.

Similarly, the purple and the red properties, which are on either side of the orange-ish, are valuable too, only slightly less so. Buy them and build on them too. FYI, Illinois Avenue is the second-most landed on square, followed by the B&O Railroad and Go.

There are some properties not to worry about. The dark purple, Baltic and Mediterranean, on squares one and three from Go, are among the least statistically visited squares on the board. Their low price and build-up costs are almost not worth the small rents you’ll get because no one hardly lands there.

This brings up a question: which is a better to buy, a utility or a railroad?

Railroads all the way! First of all, there are twice as many railroad squares then utility squares (4 versus 2) so you have about twice the chance of having opponents land on them. With both types, the more you own the more you can charge your foe. Utilities are a roll of the dice when it comes to “rent”: one dice times ten if one is owned; two die times ten if both are owned. So your rents can range from $10 to $60 or $20 to $120. If you own three railroads, “rent” is fixed at $100. All four and you can charge $200. When you factor in the double-odds of ensnaring the other guy that railroads have, they are the best bet.

Another tactic found across the internet is to develop 3 houses per property as quickly as possible. Why 3 houses? Because the jump in rent from 2 to 3 is huuuuuge. If 2 houses brings in $250 rent on a certain property, 3 will bring $750! The jump from 3 to 4 or even to a hotel is not as huge percentage-wise.

Other tidbits: The average income you make going round the board once is $170. Early in the game it’s a disadvantage to be in Jail, so pay the $50 to get out; late in the game it could be an advantage (if your opponent owns a lot of developed property), so wait to roll doubles. Pay the 10% income tax until you’ve gone round the board three times – then it’s best to pay the $200 (you’ll have accumulated enough property by then to justify it).

Boardwalk (and Park Place) are nice gems to have but not essential to win the game. There is only a 5% chance of landing on either square during the trip around the board (2 out of 40). If your opponent does own both and begins building, well, you best start building up your cash reserves, just in case.

Which leads to the most head-scratching advice we saw: Try to build up your cash early in the game and try to buy as much property as possible. Huh? I’ve tried that for the past ten years and all it’s done is give me a mountain of credit card debt.

Anyway, Little One made me promise not to tell Mommy (and I hope either one doesn’t read this!) while she hones her monopolist skills, evilly rubbing her hands and chuckling at how she’ll send her Mama to the poor house ...

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mysteries and Not-So-Mysteries

“So – Little One, I have something very, very interesting to tell you!”

“What Daddy? What?”

She loves mysteries and mysterious objects, so here goes. “There is a strange book that’s over four hundred years old. It’s over two hundred pages long, and it’s written in a strange language with strange letters that no one has ever seen before. And no one has been able to figure it out.”

She’s hooked: “What’s it about?”

“No one really knows … on just about every page are mysterious diagrams and drawings. Some are called ‘cosmological,’ and may have something to do with the universe. Others are drawings of weird plants that no one has ever seen on Earth before.”

“Who wrote it?”

“Again, we don’t know. There are some clues and some guesses, but the identity of the man who wrote it is unknown. It was hidden for two-hundred and fifty years until it was re-discovered by a book dealer named Voynich. The book itself is now known as the Voynich Manuscript.”

“The Voynich Manuscript?”


Then, suddenly and with a shrug of her shoulders: “Oh, I know that book.”

“What?!” My latest obsession, and my nine-year-old daughter ‘knows’ about it? “What do you know of it?”

Now she’s bored but a little amused by my reaction. “Oh, it was in one of the books I read last year. You know, The Thirty-Nine Clues. They had to find out what the book meant as part of a puzzle that needed to be solved.”

? ! ? !

“Well, don’t keep me waiting! What did they find out?”

“I don’t remember. It was back in the spring.”


Saturday, November 9, 2013

If You Like It, You Can Keep It

In light of our President’s recent non-apology apology over to those Americans who are losing their health-care coverage (basically, “I’m sorry you misunderstood what I never intended to say”), I offer this very appropriate commentary:

Also, this strikes me just about right as a nice representation of the twenty-something Obama twice-voter:

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Worthy Goal

For this weekend is:

To treat my body as a Temple;

Many pages read;

Daughters guided for the better;

Rest for my weary head.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Membership Dues

Roger Bacon

Ethan Kircher

John “D”

Eddie Kelley

Johnny Kepler

Ty Brahe

Rudy the “Emperor”

Just some dudes I’m hanging out with lately. It’s almost magical. And they all pass around a book – allegedly, mind you, they never do it in my presence – a book that’s impossible to read unless your a Member of the Club. Or so I’m told.

More details once I’m done with The Book of God and Physics and another one, The Friar and the Cipher.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beware of Germans Bearing Gifts

From Hopper’s Department of Useless Trivia:

Know what the German word gift means in English?


Or maybe that’s not so useless.

It very well could just save your life!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Electoral Blues

There is no truly conservative candidate running for governor of New Jersey this election. Out of the eight people in the run, you have a RINO, a Democrat, a socialist, a Green, a 9/11 Truther, another socialist, a Libertarian, and someone who’s running but who doesn’t seem to want anyone to know about his beliefs, past, or character.

Welcome to New Jersey.

I intended to use my irrelevant, statistically insignificant, and completely meaningless vote to “punish” Chris Christie for the last-minute love-fest photo ops he so very graciously provided Barack Obama 53 weeks ago. But, alas, there is no other candidate I can vote for in good conscience. Damn you, New Jersey!

So I will fall back on a contigency plan I utilized a few years ago when both main candidates running for governor were unabashedly pro-abortion: I will leave the “governor” line blank, and vote for the candidates below, each according to whoever I think will do the least amount of harm.

And take a long hot shower when I get home.

Monday, November 4, 2013

How Not to Sell

My company is thinking about purchasing a new payroll system. It’s a fairly hefty commitment, something on the order of $35,000 a year, with a huge amount of effort in both man-hours and stress during the “conversion” period. We did not have a nice experience the last time we did this, just before I arrived on the scene two years ago. So the owners have tasked me with heading up this little project.

We contacted three prominent payroll companies to come in, pitch us, and send in proposals. One company is a dinosaur too similar to the company that does our payroll now. It’s really a horse race between two newer, more technologically savvy companies. I could go with either one, so that means it will come down to numbers (if in fact we do decide to make the change).

One saleswoman from one company is so extremely and incredibly annoying that her presence alone almost negates their proposal. Not in an incompetant and possibly endearing way, but in a cold and calculating separate-you-from-your-money way. Based on my experiences with her, I’ve come up with a a primer on How Not to Sell, written not by a salesman but by a consumer.

(1) Stalk the target company’s key and not-so-key personnel.

Every three or four months we’ll all in the office get a barrage of phone calls from her. Over a week she’ll make a dozen or so calls. Woe to the person who answers one – she’s impossible to get off the phone short of hanging up on her once she gets her pitch a-rollin’. I’ve actually had to raise my voice over her (in those green days when I answered every call to my desk) and inform her I’d be hanging up.

(2) Make up cozy relationships with your client’s superiors.

She’d tell me how many “great” conversations she’s had with my boss, “sharing ideas and thoughts” on payroll. Yeah ... my boss can’t stand her and absolutely refuses to deal with her.

(3) Inform clients you’re too busy to attend their regularly-scheduled monthly vendor meetings.

Once a month we invite all potential vendors who want to do business with us to come in and pitch to the management and owners. She declined – “that doesn’t fit in with my schedule.” And then she wistfully tells me she regrets that it won’t be possible to speak with the owners of the company.

(4) Maintain an aura of over-aggression, talkiness, and fake cheerfulness.

Ugh. I don’t like dealing with women with more testosterone than me. And please, I’m a quiet guy, but please let me get the rare question in when I have one. It will be an important question.

(5) Get your personal facts wrong about the client.

Okay, nothing wrong with jotting down personal info about your client after the meeting, and refreshing it in your mind right before the next one. Makes for good chit-chat and establishes a personal connection with the potential customer. I get that. But get your facts straight. She knew exactly what I was doing the day before our last meeting (I told her as we were discussing our individual weekend plans during small talk) but she inquires about my “youngest son.” Er, don’t have one.

(6) Bring your twenty-something “manager” with you to the sales call and both of you display lots of cleavage.

Now, trust me, this really happened but it’s not as flagrant as you’re imagining. The result was that I was uncomfortable and the whole situation was weird and off-putting.

(7) Pout when your prospect doesn’t agree on the spot when he first sees your proposal.

This, too, really did happen. Though this time I was more amused by the reactions I was seeing.

(8) Don’t bring any hardcopies of the proposal with you when you go over it.

Dumb and unprofessional. No excuse for this. Had to be an ulterior motive for this.

(9) When you say you’ll email the proposal, don’t do it right then and there. Instead, email it twenty-four hours later after your prospect reaches out to you with an email, “Are you going to email the proposal to me or not?”

Again, this really happened. What’s her end game? Everything about her – even the pouting – seems cold and calculating to me. Is she “punishing” me for not instantly exclaiming, “Yes! I’ll take it! Where do I sign?”

(10) Micromanage your potential client’s next steps.

“So when do you think you’ll speak about our proposal with the owners?” “Maybe Monday.” “Okay, what time Monday should I call you?” “Uh, it’s not definite that I’ll be speaking with them Monday. I’m going to try.” “Okay, does a Monday afternoon call sound good for you?” “Listen, let’s not make this an hour-by-hour thing.” “Okay, how about a call Monday just to figure out what the next steps in the decision process will be.” “Argggggggggggggggggh!!!!”

There, salesmen and saleswomen of America, you have it. Ten concise steps on What Not to Do when trying to get The Sale. Straight from a customer looking to buy. Read these lines, memorize them, apply them, and – Happy Selling!


The Egyptian word for “cat” is myw; when the missing vowels are inserted, this becomes meey’auw.

- taken from the prologue of a book entitled, Trigonometric Delights. Yes, there is a book called Trigonemtric Delights, and, yes, I am reading it.

And, yes, ancient Egyptians called their cats “meows.”

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Bold, Honest, Direct

“Mr. Prime Minister,” a reporter said, “can you tell us generally about the plans for the future, probably beginning with Europe?”

“Our plans for the future,” Churchill replied, “are to wage with war until unconditional surrender is procured from all those who have molested us, and this applies equally to Asia and to Europe.”

Roosevelt beamed. “I think that word ‘molestation’ or ‘molesting’ is one of the best examples of your habitual understatement that I know.”

The reporters tittered. “I am curious to know,” another asked, “what you think is going on in Hitler’s mind?” The titter turned to boisterous laughter.

“Appetite unbridled, ambition unmeasured – all the world!” the prime minister said. “There is no end of the appetite of this wicked man. I should say he repents now that he did not curb his passion before he brought such a portion of the world against him and his country.”

“Do you care to say anything about Mussolini and Italy?”

Churchill scowled. “I think they are a softer proposition than Germany.”

On it went, query and response, and the reporters were so beguiled that by the end they had interrupted with laughter twenty-one times.

The Allies had no intention of keeping Italian territory after the war, or of matching Axis barbarites, Churchill added. “We shall not stain our name by an inhuman act.” As for the Italian people, they “have sinned – erred – by allowed themselves to be led by the nose by a very elaborate tyrrany.” But they “will have their life in the new Europe.”

Churchill rose to his full five feet, seven inches. “We are the big animal now,” he said, “shaking the life out of the smaller animal, and he must be given no rest, no chance to recover.”

- The Day of Battle, by Rick Atkinson, page 25. Part two of his “Liberation Trilogy.”

Can you imagine any politician of our day speaking so boldly, honestly, and directly? I know there’s a current rethinking of FDR as a savior re: the Great Depression (I am somewhat convinced by a few arguments I’ve read that his domestic policies did, in fact, prolong it), but how refreshing would it be to have someone of his caliber – and he is half as bold, honest, and direct as Churchill – lead America in today’s global environment?

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Alt Hist SF

Took the girls tonight to B&N to spend their Halloween money. As usual, I bored them to near-histrionics browsing the used SF paperbacks. Realizing that a meltdown of ennui was imminent, I picked something (almost) randomly off the shelves. (These books cost less than a pack of cigarettes or a cup of coffee, neither of which vice I partake in.)

It was a collection of moderately short stories about alternate history, a genre which I’m quite the novice in. They’re all grouped around a common theme: Generals. The book is titled Alternate Generals. I thought it’d mesh nicely with my martial readings of late.

What if Douglas MacArthur was captured by the Japanese before he could evacuate Manila? What if Joan of Arc was not burned at the stake for heresy – where would she have led France? What if Genghis Khan converted to Judaism? And ten more highly skewed tales.

The book’s edited by Harry Turtledove, the undisputed master of the alternate history novel. I remember ’bout a decade ago meeting a besuited man in his sixties who, finding out I liked to read science fiction, literally drooled all over me begging me to read Turtledove. After some research, I came across his Agent of Byzantium (the Byzantine Empire of a thousand years ago never fell to the Muslims) and picked it up, but it’s sat unread on my shelves for three or four years. But I will get to it, someday.

I won’t commit on reading this cover-to-cover, but will pick the best story that suits me (there’s one about the Civil War I’d like to read). Then I’ll blog about it and continue. Or not.

However – there are a few series of Turtledove’s I definitely want to read. There’s one set during World War II where an alien force invades Earth midway through, turning the global war into a galactic one. Another where the South won the American Civil War. And another set in a place like medieval Europe where magic exists and there is a all-encompassing war (an alternate history take on Tolkien, perhaps?). All in all, he’s an author I’d definitely like to check out, if I could but fit him into my schedule.

All well. The pressing and incessant demands of a bibliophile …

Friday, November 1, 2013

Cat Piano

The eeeeevil Dr. Kircher skulks in his stone tower on the river, ancient unreadable hieroglyphics spread throughout the keep, eluding his unvacillating intellect. In anger he prances over to his katzenklavier, and yowling musical notes soon emanate down the waterfront.

Imagine a musical instrument where the push of a key drives a spike through the tail of a cat, an instrument imprisoning dozens of cats, cats whose throaty growls span the range from low low A to high high C, barely audible by humans but ever so painfully heard by felines. Practicing upon it is eeeeevil Dr. Kircher’s only respite from the mysteries of the universe which still resist him.

Can you hear Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor meow-howling through the leafless night?

I can – because I have heard !