Romancing The Feds


            I’ve spent a lot of time looking into what the US government spends money on. In fact, you could say I’ve spent so much time on their spending that nothing surprises me.

            You could say that, but you’d be wrong.

            Now they’re getting into my territory, dropping a million dollars into a project studying romance novels. Your taxpayer dollars are also going into a documentary on superheroes, a zombie video game, and promoting a ninja who’s supposed to sneak in and educate children about climate change, among many other things.

            But it was the romance stuff that grabbed my attention. Some say a million bucks isn’t much, by Fed standards. My response is to suggest they’ve lost their grip on reality – and math – but never mind.

            As a person who writes romantic comedies, I suppose I should be happy about this. Maybe government input will bring a bit more credibility to a genre that’s unfairly put down on the basis of the bodice-rippers of the 70’s. There’s never been a bodice in my stories. I don’t even know how to pronounce bodice.

            And the money (in fairness it’s “only” $914,000, which makes it okay) isn’t going toward just writing. The money was given by the National Endowment for the Humanities to help fund The Popular Romance Project, which according to their federally funded but not crashed website:

“Will explore the fascinating, often contradictory origins and influences of popular romance as told in novels, films, comics, advice books, songs, and internet fan fiction, taking a global perspective …”

I think that’s an interesting idea, and I even bookmarked the page. I wonder if I can get some kind of tax break for reading it, as research. But when we’re drowning in more red ink than Starbucks has overpriced coffee, the taxpayer shouldn’t foot the bill for a documentary called “Love Between the Covers”, or academic romance conferences.

What a brilliant scam that is, by the way. “Gotta go, honey: The government’s giving me a free plane ticket to attend a romance conference in Las Vegas. Yeah, I’m serious – why?”

The Romance Project was one of almost a hundred federally funded programs dug up by an Oklahoma Senator named Tom Coburn. I applaud his effort, but I take exception to one thing he said at the opening of his report (which was, I assume, federally funded), called the 2013 Wastebook. He said:

“Place your personal political persuasion aside and ask yourself: Do each of these represent a real national priority that should be spared from budget cuts or are these excesses that should have been eliminated in order to spare deeper cuts to those services and missions that should be performed by the federal government?”

Dude, I know you want to save, but throw in some commas. Besides, I could shorten the whole paragraph down to, “Is this something the government should spend money on when we’re already overspending?”

Why do I take exception to what he said? Because his report suggests the $30 billion in spending he points to could have been better spent elsewhere. What he should have said was that the $30 billion would have been better not spent.

I know, not a romantic concept.

Another problem is the idea of the government getting involved in the romance industry, at all. I mean, what does some bureaucrat in Washington know about romance, anyway? First they’ll say they’re only in it to bring cheap romance to everyone.

They’ll tell you that if you like your lover, you can keep your lover. But they’ll start throwing in rules and regulations, and before you know it, your favorite girlfriends will drop right out of the dating pool. And with only the government approving romance, dating will get more and more expensive even as that dating pool shrinks.

There’ll be only one dating website, no one will be able to log into it, and when they finally do they’ll find the cost of a first date is getting higher and higher. Before you know it the Feds will have total control of romance, when it should be left in the hands of true experts like Doctor Phil, Doctor Ruth, and Fabio.

Well, I’m going to expose them. That’s right. I’m going to write a novel in which evil Feds plot to use pointless spending projects to swamp the citizens of our country in red ink, so the citizens are too busy treading water (um, ink) to pay attention to what’s going on.

It’ll be a romantic comedy.

Somehow I doubt anyone in Washington is worried.

Romantic writing ... and fire. Often related.

Speak of the Devil: Fears Of An Entertainment Reporter

Canadian Mountie vs. entertainment reporter. Guess who wins?

Speak of the Devil: Fears Of An Entertainment Reporter: It has been awhile since I last featured my resident cranky Mountie. I decided to play around with the point of view of the sort of person...

Celebrate camp by -- reading about camping

My wife’s Girl Scout camp, Missouri’s Camp Latonka, just finished another successful camping season. Help keep them in business by buying a copy of The No-Campfire Girls, a humorous adventure set in summer camp. As chapter two opens, the campers officially get the bad news from Captain Quinn of the local fire department, that all fires are banned because of a drought:

“Getting fire trucks here isn’t easy or fast. It would only take a spark to burn down this entire camp, which would end your fun summer real fast.”
            “This sucks,” said a purple haired girl at the next table, loudly enough for half the room to hear. “Fire is fun. Maybe we should set fire to the tents to protest.”
Leaning toward Beth, Cassidy whispered in her ear. “Who’s the girl with the attitude?”
“Ronnie. We call her Rotten Ronnie, but not to her face. Rumor has it her nose is bent that way because she street-fights for grocery money.”
“Maybe somebody needs to make friends with her, like you did with me.”
“I tried.” Beth looked over toward Ronnie, who stubbornly did her best not to have a good time. “She said if I ever came close to her again, she’d set my hair on fire. Is that irony, this year? I think it is.”

            Print or e-book copies of The No-Campfire Girls can be ordered through my website at, with a portion of the proceeds going toward Camp Latonka operating costs. You can check out the first two chapters for free on my Amazon page:

Speak of the Devil: Chasing Destiny All The Way To Italy

Too much sugar ... not necessarily a bad thing.

Speak of the Devil: Chasing Destiny All The Way To Italy: Some links before we get ourselves started today. Norma posted before the weekend on  social media.  Today she posted about  Comicon.  Yes...

My scruffy main character is definitely not a Nerf herder

Today I got to see the proposed cover for The Notorious Ian Grant, done by Gemini Judson. I’ll reveal it when it’s official, but she found a likeness for Ian that perfectly conveys how I imagine him at the opening of the book: A handsome but scruffy guy, full of mischief and reminiscent of Sawyer from the TV show “Lost”.

The stormy background (It’s the sequel to Storm Chaser) brought to mind a possible tagline for the book:

“There’s a new whirlwind in town.”

With it coming out in October, that makes two book releases in one year! It’s a pace I intend to keep … if I survive.

A Simple Look At Passwords


            I have a bad habit of being optimistic about humanity.

            Oh, in theory that’s a good thing. Let’s all think the best of people! Shouldn’t it be that way? Sure it should. Chamberlain thought the best of Hitler. So did Stalin, who was certain Hitler wouldn’t be dumb enough to invade Russia and stick around through winter. Come to think of it, just the word “Hitler” is a good hint that thinking the best of people might be a mistake.

            But this isn’t about mass-killing despots. This is about passwords.

            Hitler would have had a very secure password. He didn’t think the best of people.

            According to researchers, in 2013 internet users finally got smart, and stopped using “password” as their #1 password when dealing with computers and internet sites. Finally, some sanity!

            It dropped to number two.

            Number one is now “123456”. Yeah.

            It would be 12345, but so many sites require six digits.

            Another team of security researchers uncovered a cache of two million login credentials, and according to their research, “password” was far down in fourth position, after, “123456”, “123456789”, and “1234”.

            Next came “12345” and, yes, “12345678”.

            After that, in a sudden desire to be different, came: “admin”.

            And so my optimism is defeated.

            Yahoo Tech … excuse me, Yahoo! Tech points out that you can’t get much worse than “password”. It has no numbers, no capital letters, and no unusual symbols, and can be guessed pretty easily. It reminds me a lot of my first computer password, which if I recall correctly was “Mark”. No, worse: It was “mark”.

            Other popular passwords: “111111”; “abc123”; and “qwerty”, which if you learned touch typing—or just glance at a keyboard—is pretty easy to figure. Also popular: “letmein”, again self-explanatory.

            I apologize if I just gave out your password. However, if your password is any of the above for any gadget or site the general internet could get a crack at, you’re a moron. Perhaps your password should be “moron”. Perhaps it is.

            Here are other common passwords identified by Yahoo! (doesn’t that make you think you’re one of the Howling Commandoes? Say it out loud): “princess”, “Monkey”, “Sunshine”, “Shadow”, and “iloveyou”, the latter of which is possibly involved in a gifted device, or someone who really, really can’t live without electronics.

            All you hear about these days is this bad guy cracking a password, that bad guy stealing data, some other bad guy putting malware on your computer …  Malware is another word for software that sneaks into your computer and kicks your own software into a corner of the hard drive. Do hard drives have corners? But if you haven’t educated yourself enough to know what malware is, the case could be made that you shouldn’t be in the position of passwording anything.

            Is passwording a word? It is now.

            For the record, the best passwords are 10 characters long, use uncommon letter/number combinations, and employ punctuation or odd symbols, so someone can’t just guess it and hacking programs can’t easily figure it out. For instance, my password is My9@s3W0Rp.

            Or, um, … it was. Yeah, it was.

            However, I used that password for everything. The experts say you should have a different password for each online service; that way if a bad guy gets one, he won’t get all of them.

            And you should never write them down. Nope.

            Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Are you nuts?!”

            Well, I still think more people are good than bad, so … yeah, I’m probably nuts. But if you’re talking about passwords, then I’ll give you an idea that, I assume, the experts will wildly disagree with:

            Write ‘em down.

            I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can barely remember … well, there was something, I don’t recall what it was, but I can barely remember it. How can I be guaranteed to remember even one password, let alone several? I can’t, that’s how.

            I’m talking about home use. I’m not suggesting you tape it to your iPad, or have it tattooed to your forehead. (Although if you do that, remember to have it tattooed backward.) But yeah, if you have a password so convoluted that the Navajo Code Breakers couldn’t figure it out, you’re going to be in trouble if you keep forgetting it. Put it in invisible ink, on a piece of paper at the back of a desk drawer. Train the dog to dig it up from the back yard. Put one number or digit in the corner of each room of the house.

            Sure, you could lose it if your house burns down, but won’t you have bigger problems then? And if the place gets burglarized, just change your password. That’s assuming the burglar is no longer there—first thing’s first.

            The average hacker is not going to physically walk into your house, unless you’re talking about a relative with bronchitis. That’s not the kind of virus we’re dealing with, here.

            Then you can put in nice, complicated passwords that aren’t likely to be stolen, such as 3vcl943(#^&%/2id[aude8/1, which is what I typed when I hacked just now.

            Here’s another idea, which I got from a website where someone suggested typing your name one handed, without looking at the keyboard. No, I don’t know why. Still, it’s an interesting idea for generating a password. Let’s try it:


            Not bad. Needs some numbers and symbols. Maybe I’ll try again when I feel a sneeze coming on.

Fire training photos

            I took some photos at the Albion Fire Department’s recent vehicle extrication training (it was 86 degrees!) and, naturally, posted them on the AFD’s FB page:

Summer vacation: Pain and Writing

            Summer update: I haven’t been online much, because I’m both having fun and being miserable.

            It turns out those things are not exclusive. I’m on vacation, and when someone goes on vacation during the summer they need to be outside, where the vacation-y stuff is. We especially had fun the first week, when Emily and I took the grandkids to, among other places, Science Central in Fort Wayne and Black Pine Animal Sanctuary. We’ve also done some trail walking and camping (photos to follow).

            Also, I started physical therapy on my tendonitis. The therapist said I needed to cut back on keyboarding as much as possible, and there’s where the irony kicked in: I probably would have had medical instructions to take a week or so off work … but I was already on vacation. So at least my sick days are saved.

            But I could do some typing, so I had to decide between hanging around on the internet or writing. Guess what I chose? Even though I went back and did some revision on my SF story Beowulf: In Harm’s Way (because revision doesn’t take as much typing), I’m still up to 30,000 words on the story. I also did some plot changes that make me very happy—I love it when adding something in early on leads me to a great plot twist idea for later in the book.

            It also takes my mind off the pain. On a related note, kids: Don’t get hurt to begin with. Because, apparently, the only way to stop the pain is with much more pain.