Monthly Archives: March 2014

Review of Three Graves Full

Three Graves FullThree Graves Full by Jamie Mason
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four stars may be pushing it a little, but I’m glad to have read it. The author’s prose is too precious by half — at least — but the girl is quite a wordsmith. The plot is a mix of the surreal and suspenseful, a dark comedy, farce, and mystery all mixed together. Try to imagine an amalgam of The Wrong Box, Noises Off, and your favorite Agatha Christie murder mystery (if you have one). The plot is too convoluted to try to summarize here, although hundreds of others have done so on Goodreads or elsewhere, so read those if you’re after the details. This book is really all about style anyway.

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Phantom now operational

The Phantom arrived yesterday. I watched a video on YouTube showing how to assemble it in less than 10 minutes. I succeeded in doing it in only three and a half hours, more or less. It helps if you use the leg screws on the legs and the rotor guard screws on the rotor guards, rather than the other way around. Also, screwing Allen head screws with a Phillips head screwdriver is really hard. Then it took me all day today to calibrate the compass, including one hour and twenty minutes on hold with DJI support.

So it wasn’t a great experience getting started, but I did get it running and let it lift off for a few seconds. Tomorrow I should be able to fly it for real. Here we’ve had a drought all winter and I finally get my flying toy and we have a week in rain forecast. Bad timing. Well, I’ll take the rain if we can get it, but I may be able to sneak in some air time. Stay tuned.

DJI Phantom quadcopter!

I have just bought a DJI Phantom Quadcopter:


OK, I have no justification. It’s a very expensive toy that I will probably break quickly and for which I have no foreseeable use. I don’t even have a videocamera, but I will probably get one of those, too. It just looks like a blast and I decided to treat myself. It shipped yesterday, so I don’t have it in hand yet, but I’ll keep you all posted on its progress. If you’re interested, there are lots of good videos out there on YouTube and Vimeo.

Fatal Dose promotion 3/21-26/2014

For you fans of Cached Out who have been looking for an excuse to get the sequel Fatal Dose, Amazon is offering a promotional price on the Kindle starting at 99 cents on 3/21/14 and rising back to its original $4.95 price on 3/26/14.

A Cliff Knowles Mystery

Review of A Year in Fear

A Year in Fear: A Rookie Detective's First 12 MonthsA Year in Fear: A Rookie Detective’s First 12 Months by Harry Gossett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As it says on the 4th star “I really liked it.” This unusual detective book is written in a style reminiscent of the best of the old pulp fiction novels. The main character, Frieda, is one tough cookie, and contrary to what the title would have you believe, seems fearless. I say it’s unusual because it’s written in episodes, almost like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. Each case comes on suddenly and is wrapped up quickly by our heroine, often cleverly. There’s no time for suspense here – just non-stop action. I chuckled several times at the original approach she used. I especially liked the goose episode. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a bit raunchy for my taste with some graphic descriptions of sex crimes and some strong language, but nothing beyond an R rating.

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Alumni? Not really

For all of you out there feeling the need for a Latin lesson, here’s one for you. My wife graduated from Stanford and I got my law degree from Cal Berkeley – arch rivals. Her car has a Stanford license plate holder on it and mine has a University of California Berkeley holder on it. Neither of these say “alumni.” Why not? Because we aren’t alumni of these schools. Actually, as stated in that last sentence, we probably are, but we certainly are not alumni of either school. I am an alumnus of Berkeley and she is an alumna of Stanford. Yet the makers of license plate holders are apparently not Latin scholars. This is a bit surprising to me since I always wondered what else someone with a degree in Latin or Classics could do for a living. So why do all the license plate holders, and for that matter, associations for graduates, use the term “alumni”? Simple: “alumni” is the plural masculine form of the word. It also includes any group (i.e. more than one person) if at least one is male.

So “Alumni Association” is a proper term unless all the alums are women, in which case it should be “Alumnae Association”. By now you’re rolling your eyes and wondering why anyone cares. I’m not suggesting you should, but my wife and I were in the same Latin class in junior high school for two years. We’re both appreciative of the refinements and subtlety of language, so it just grates on us to display publicly something ungrammatical. This blog is called OnWords, after all. Maybe there’s also a touch of school rivalry in there. If either of us had an “alumni” plate, its plural nature would suggest that we were both graduates of the school mentioned. So below is an easy-reference chart. Note that the top labels (Male/Female) refer to the sex of the people being described, not the gender of the words in that column. See my very first post in this blog: People have sex (and words have gender).


Review of The Perfect Mile by Neal Bascomb

The Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve ItThe Perfect Mile: Three Athletes, One Goal, and Less Than Four Minutes to Achieve It by Neal Bascomb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend loaned me this book since he knew I was a runner. I’ve never been a competitive runner, and never on a track team, so I was never in the kind of world depicted in this book. This is, of course, non-fiction, which means you have to be into either biographies or running, or at least have a healthy curiosity about it for the book to be interesting to you. Despite the specialized target audience, the author managed to bring real drama into the book. The lives of the three featured runners are brought into detailed relief. One Englishman, one Aussie, one American, all striving to be the first to break the 4-minute mile. You probably already know which one did unless you’re a lot younger than me and not much interested in track. But the book is not just about the first to break that magic barrier. The title refers to that perfect mile race where the three top milers in the world race against each other to see who is really the best. The training regimens these three follow are absolutely mind-boggling. The hardships they faced are unimaginable – a father who opposes his son’s efforts, weather disasters, a badly cut foot, politics among Olympic officials, AAU officials, the sports press, individual coaches and team coaches, amateur status and work and study and military obligations, ad infinitum. You’d think it would be easy enough just to invite the three of them to a race and let them prove who the best man was, but it wasn’t that easy. My biggest complaint is that it was just too long. The story could have been told in half as many pages, but it was well-told.

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ACA Membership

ACA state map

As a word maven I am a long-standing member of the American Cryptogram Association. I thought members would be interested in seeing this graphic representation of the relative size of ACA membership in the U.S. I had to do some creative rearranging to avoid some doughnut holes, but you should be able to find your state. If it’s not there, that means there were no ACA members (4 of those). The data is from the 2013 Membership Directory. The dominance of the coasts over the middle of the country is plain to see, especially around the Seat of Government (SOG). Click on the image to see it enlarged.


I’m trying a new promotion offered by Amazon called Matchbook. If you buy (or bought) a hard copy of my book Cached Out from Amazon, you can now buy a Kindle copy for only $1.99 additional. Did you give a hard copy to a friend for Christmas and now you want to read it? If you have a Kindle or a Kindle app, now’s the time to buy.

Drug research

I’ve always been strongly opposed to illicit drug use. I came across this video lately and had to share. Don’t give up on it too soon – it’s not what it seems. I guess I should mention that there is a bad word in there that I would have preferred not be there, but it does make a valid point about drugs in an amusing way.