Writer’s Workshop: Riffing On “cry-“

Image by Jan Alexander from Pixabay

The prompt is to write “A blog post inspired by the word: cry.” At least, that’s the one I chose.

Now, I didn’t want to write about crying, because it’s a bummer of a topic. So I asked myself “what’s another way I can use the prompt?” The idea that came to me was to search for words that contained “cry,” so I searched for that and came up with cryptography. I could also have used cryptocurrency (e.g. Bitcoin), which was a hot topic last year when a Bitcoin was selling for roughly $10,000. You don’t hear about it much now, because the price of a Bitcoin is now under $4,000. I mean, the price has sunk like a rock. Sure glad I didn’t invest in Bitcoin, or any of the thousands of other cryptocurrencies out there, which all appear to be way down from their highs not that long ago. I bet a lot of folks who bought when Bitcoin was high are crying now…

Anyway, let’s talk about cryptography, the art and science of secret writing, i.e. codes and ciphers. When I was in about fourth or fifth grade, I found a book in the St. Ignatius School library that changed my life. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it was key to sparking my interest in cryptography. The book was Alvin’s Secret Code by Clifford B. Hicks.

Cover of *Alvin’s Secret Code*. Source: Amazon.com

I read the book and was fascinated by the idea of breaking codes, not that there was any code to break. I tried to interest some friends in it, and they all looked at me like I was crazy. (They did that pretty often. You might even say with alarming frequency. Because, let’s face it, I am.) Still, I remained interested in the world of codes and ciphers, a world where I could take this:

Gvz vf n ovt obbtreurnq.

And turn it into this:

Tim is a big boogerhead.

I learned all about simple substitution ciphers, like ROT13, which turns A into N and N into A, B into O and O into B, etc. In the old Usenet days, this was the way you could shield the punch line of a joke in a message (particularly when the punch line was unsuitable for younger and more sensitive viewers). And it just got more complicated from there, which I promise I won’t go into, but as you can probably imagine it can get really complicated. Not as hard to figure out as the Enigma machine, maybe, but still, pretty hard. I still remember most of what I learned, but I’ll spare you.

I used to take Alvin’s Secret Code out of the school library once a year. I didn’t realize it until I looked at the card in the back of the book, where you would sign your name and give it to the librarian so she knew you had it, and saw that I had signed it out in most of the previous years. I was pretty much the only person to take it out of the school library. Maybe I should have swung a deal and gotten the librarian to just give me the book.

One day many years later, out of curiosity I looked for Alvin’s Secret Code at Amazon.com, and they not only had the book, they had a Kindle version of it. So I bought it and read it again. It made me so happy, I almost cried…

If you liked this little essay, you might like this one, too.

Writer’s Workshop: Big Fish, Small Pond

Source: Pixabay

The prompt for this is “You won an award at some point in your life, what was it for?”

I’ve addressed this topic for MKPMWFWW once before, but in reading over my entry for that, I forgot the biggest one, or at least it should have been.

After spending two years barely keeping my head above water at Nortwestern, I took a battery of aptitude tests that indicated that my academic interests were in Business Administration. Since Northwestern had no bachelor’s program in Business Administration (it closed the year before I started), I would have to go elsewhere, “elsewhere” being Loyola University Chicago. This was where I had always imagined I would be going, anyway, given my family’s extensive history with the school.

Reading the course catalog after I had been admitted, I saw that there were seven undergraduate majors in the School of Business: Economics, Accounting, CPA Accounting (a more rigorous degree that prepared the graduate to take the CPA exam), Marketing, Finance, Personnel Management and Production & Operations Management. After reading the description of each, I decided that this last one would be the direction I would take. When I had my initial conversation with the Dean to inform him of my choice, his reaction was “are you sure?” When I assured him I was, he said, “well, okay….”

Production & Operations Management, if you’ve never heard of it (and I doubt you have), was still geared to manufacturing. The courses I took to get the degree included a course that could best be described as Industrial Engineering (an Industrial Engineer friend from Northwestern took a course that used the same textbook as I did), where we designed things like a dry cleaning establishment and a turkey abattoir; a course in Industrial Relations, where we learned the ins and outs of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 as it applied to union shops and negotiating contracts; a course in Cost Accounting; and a course in Statistical Quality Control, which was actually a lot of fun (I was a statistics whiz kid) and about which I remember nothing. I learned that there were only three other people majoring in the topic, and that most of the classes were offered at night so that actual working people could take the classes.

Anyway, shortly after I graduated, I received an invitation to an awards banquet for the School of Business. I had no idea why, so I asked one of my contacts (i.e. my stepfather, who was Director of Admissions) if he could find out why I had been invited. He called me back and told me that I had earned the Production Management Key, awarded to the top graduate in the major.

Understand, I had only attended Loyola for two years, and the determination of who was the best was decided only on their work there. Had they somehow found a way to factor in my earlier academic work, I doubt I would have gotten an invitation, let alone the award. Anyway, it was kind of a rush getting the thing, which I took home and stuck in a drawer, where I lost track of it. It kind of looked like the Phi Beta Kappa key…

Loyola doesn’t even offer a degree in Production & Operations Management anymore, and hasn’t for some time. Now you know why.

Writer’s Workshop: Lead, Follow, Or Get Out Of The Way

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

About 25 years ago, I was on the road to our training facility in Chicago, and at break time I met a couple of friends of mine. I asked “what’s new?” and one of my colleagues said, “What’s new with you? We’re all waiting on you.” Or something like that. Now, guy who asked me that was at least as much of a smartass as I am, so I don’t know if he was just joking or if he really meant everyone was waiting for me to do something. All I know is, I didn’t make a bold move after that, and I’ve always felt like I let everyone down.

I always learned that there are leaders and followers, and I think I was under the impression that it wasn’t okay to want to be a leader. Or more likely, that I wasn’t destined for leadership, and it was wrong for me to entertain thoughts of being in charge, of being “the law.” I was to strive to be a good worker bee, a cog in the machine, not to distinguish myself or stand out too far in the crowd. Yet, somehow I always managed to find myself as the ringleader, as the person people looked to for guidance, to tell them what they needed to do to get them out of whatever difficulty they were having.

It’s taken me a long time to realize that the only person that was telling me not to make waves, not to be the one in charge, not to be the bold one, the innovator, the vanguard, was me. I was the one telling myself that I wasn’t a leader, that it was somehow wrong to want that for myself, that I’d just make a mess of it if I dared to try.

And yet… That was how others saw me. That I was the one to be bold, to innovate, to lead. They’d have followed me, even if it was off a cliff. It was my fear of leading them off the cliff that kept me from it. Again, I was getting in my own way: I wouldn’t have led anyone astray, and if I found I was, I’d be able to make a sufficient course correction and get myself (and everyone else) back on track.

In short, everyone trusted me more than I trusted myself.

The moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to be a leader, and don’t let others think they can’t be a leader, too.

Writer’s Workshop: TV? Enh…

So, this week’s prompt is “Write about the fall lineup you’re most interested in watching.”

More interesting than most of what’s on these days.

You know what? I look at what’s being offered by the networks (CBS, ABC, NBC, Fox, MyTV, UPN, etc.) and none of it is especially interesting. A lot of shoot ’em up, gritty TV dramas, insipid comedies, reality shows (including all the “you too can be a star!” programs), news magazines, and I say “forget it.” There isn’t anything on any of the pay services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu etc.) that we want to watch, either.

So, we’re content to watch 60 year old reruns of The Andy Griffith Show, Perry Mason, and The Flintstones, 55 year old reruns of Hogan’s Heroes, 50 year old reruns of Columbo and The Monkees, 40 year old reruns of Wonder Woman and The A Team, and 20 year old reruns of Frasier. It’s become painfully apparent that we are well beyond the demographic the programming people (who decide what does and doesn’t get on TV) care about. I’m just repaying them in kind.

I keep meaning to post this: it explains what everything on the old “Indian Head” test pattern is meant to measure.

None of this is a surprise to anyone who’s read this blog for a few years, of course. It’s like Daylight Saving Time: I complain when it starts and ends, but there’s really nothing I can do about it. So I deal with it. TV still signs off on YouTube, if you want it to…

TV’s over for tonight. Go to bed.

Writer’s Workshop: Riffing on “final”

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

I’ve finally decided that Evernote (the company) is falling apart and that I need to move elsewhere, and unfortunately that’s over to OneNote. Having made the choice, however, Microsoft is starting to make me regret it. I’ve launched into technical diatribes here before, but I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, that’s why I’m kind of late with this post.


We’re finally getting some fall weather here. It was 94° yesterday, today it’s about ten degrees cooler. It’s a beautiful day with nary a cloud in the sky. I like that.

Final is one of those words that usually denotes something is at an end, like when we talk about the final score of a sporting event or a final exam at the end of a class. There’s something that’s just so… well, final about it. It’s the period at the end of the sentence, the big THE END at the end of the book. Ain’t no more coming, folks; that’s all she wrote. Roll the credits, we’ve told the story, you’re probably sitting there finding all your things so you can leave the theater.

I feel badly for all the people who are credited at the end of a movie, because without them, there wouldn’t have been a movie to watch. I found this list of jobs that get credited at the end of a movie, whose names and occupations are shown in the little letters that you can barely read off the screen. You might say, “well, who cares?” I care. I care who did all those jobs. They probably lost a few nights’ sleep while they were busy doing the makeup, or the lighting, or designing costumes, or doing the cinematography, the audio, writing the score, or any of the hundred or so jobs that went into making that idea someone had a reality. Listing their name at the end of the movie seems like such an inconsequential thing, but it wasn’t inconsequential to them. And sure, they got paid (quite handsomely in some cases) for plying their trade, but they deserve some recognition besides the paycheck.

So, the next time you’re at a movie, stay the extra ten minutes and watch the credits to the end, as a way to say “thank you” to everyone who brought the movie to you.