Monthly Archives: December 2015

Fly the Flag on Christmas

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone. I just put up the flag on this marvelous, sunny, cold Christmas Day. In case you didn’t know, the law says to do so. That’s right, there is a Flag Code enacted by Congress and signed into law by the President telling us when to fly the flag. It says:

36 U.S. Code §174 (d) Particular days of display
The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on New Year’s Day, January 1; Inauguration Day, January 20; Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12; Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February; Easter Sunday (variable); Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May; Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May; Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May; Flag Day, June 14; Independence Day, July 4; Labor Day, first Monday in September; Constitution Day, September 17; Columbus Day, second Monday in October; Navy Day, October 27; Veterans Day, November 11; Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November; Christmas Day, December 25; and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; the birthdays of States (date of admission); and on State holidays.


Now you know. But don’t worry, the Flag Code is advisory, not mandatory. The FBI won’t be coming to get you if you don’t fly it today. I hope you do, though.

The Hunter by John Lescroart

The Hunter (Wyatt Hunt, #3)The Hunter by John Lescroart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shades of Harry Bosch! Wyatt Hunt, the lead character, is adopted and finds out his birth mother was murdered decades earlier. Of course he has to find the murderer. So the basic premise is taken right from Michael Connelly’s playbook, who probably took it from someone else. The differences are minor. Hunt is a private eye, while Bosch is on the job with LAPD. But in the end, the book works.

I’m a Lescroart fan and have loved some of his books. A couple weren’t up to snuff in my opinion, but here he is in fine form. The author doesn’t title his works as a series, but there are familiar faces in this one, which adds a comfort level to the story. It’s more than a little too touchy-feely for my taste, causing the plot to drag at times, but the prose is strong and clear. The dialogue, if overlong, is sometimes sappy, often snappy. Perhaps the best aspect of the book for me is that the investigation part, the core mystery solving, is mostly believable. There’s no deus ex machina here. As a retired FBI agent I am usually picky about ridiculous investigative methods or serendipitous revelations. The cell phone magic is a bit science fiction, but it turned out to be largely unimportant. Hunt follows logical leads in a methodical manner like real detectives do. I really like that.

As with most of his works, the main setting is San Francisco. I’m not a fan of that cold, dirty city but having some familiarity with the locations resonates to an extent. There is an added bonus that Hunt travels to a remote location where some of my wife’s distant relatives still live. I’ve never been there, but the vivid and appealing descriptions make me wish I’d taken the opportunity. We were invited there once long ago. One other aspect of the book that really worked is the tie-in to real-life historical events, which gave it a particularly creepy credibility.

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Adrenaline by John Benedict

AdrenalineAdrenaline by John Benedict
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author and all the main characters are anesthesiologists, so of course a murder mystery from this crew is going to trot out every possible way an anesthetist can kill someone, intentionally or otherwise. You will not want to undergo that elective surgery anytime soon after reading this book. Still, if you like medical mysteries, it’s a fun read.

I enjoy science or medicine based books, fiction or non-fiction. The author does not talk down to the reader in this one, so be prepared for a lot of medical jargon, acronyms, and hospital slang. I like that, but some will get lost in the mumbo-jumbo. The prose is clear and intelligent, but the author is a bit clumsy with the exposition, where one main character spends an inordinate amount of time explaining anesthesia basics to a medical student. He’s trying to educate the reader, but it strains credulity to think a third-year medical student didn’t already know at least half that stuff. Most readers will lose patience with all the doctor’s “war stories,” too, I think. The plot could move faster.

The main characters are developed reasonably well, although the author is rather heavy-handed in his depiction of the bad guys. I was waiting for a Bwah-ha-ha to appear. The ending is predictable but still suspenseful, action-packed, and satisfying.

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Mass shootings and bombings

Consider the following table of the 21 worst mass shootings in the U.S. since 1949:


Killer No. killed Killer’s race/religion Year Other
Seung-Hui Cho 32 Korean 2007
Adam Lanza 28 White 2012
George Hennard 23 White 1991 Vet
James Huberty 21 White 1997
Charles Joseph Whitman 18 White 1966 Vet
Patrick Henry Sherrill 14 White 1986
Syed Farook/Tashfeen Malik 14 Arab/Muslim 2015
Jiverly Wong 13 Chinese 2009
Eric Harris/Dylan Klebold 13 White 1999
Kwan Fai Mak/Benjamin Ng 13 Chinese 1983
Nidal Malik Hasan 13 Arab/Muslim 2009 active dutysoldier
George Banks 13 Mixed black/White 1982
Howard Unruh 13 White/Jewish 1949 Vet
Aaron Alexis 12 Black 2012 Vet
James E. Holmes 12 White 2012
Mark Barton 12 White 1999
Michael McLendon 10 White 2010
Christopher Harper-Mercer 9 White 2015
Dylann Roof 9 White 2015
Jeff Weise 9 Amer. Indian 2005

The data I reviewed goes to 30 but I got tired of formatting the html. The rest of the killers did not include any Arabs or Muslims. If you look at the 10 worst bombings in U.S. history, they range from the worst: Timothy McVeigh, a white army vet and killer of 169 to Ramzi Yousef, the only Muslim in the group, who barely squeezed in with a body count of 6.

The conclusion is obvious. The categories of people who are the most dangerous to us are, in order: gun lovers, males, whites, current or former U.S. military, Chinese or other east Asian. I propose that we ban all people falling in any of these categories from entering the United States. We should have the FBI start a registry on all these categories and track them all.

All right, I’m being flip over a very serious subject. I have left out the 9/11 attack which dwarfs all of these because it was neither a shooting nor a bombing. I do not mean to minimize that horrific attack or the evil character of ISIS and Al Qaeda. I’m all for tough action against both, although I’m not sure what that consists of. The soldiers of those organizations are fighting from behind computer screens, using bizarre propaganda to turn the minds of unstable, hate-filled people around the world to kill randomly. The foot soldiers in Iraq and Syria pose us no danger as long as we don’t go there and put ourselves in the line of fire. But the important thing I want to convey is that we should know who our real enemy is. You and I are at least ten times as likely to be shot and killed by that white guy next door who carries a gun “to protect us from those evil Muslims” than we are by a Muslim terrorist. It’s probably closer to a thousand times more likely. Don’t let racist bigotry drive your fears. I want you to be safe.


Sources: Fox News, CNN, Wikipedia

Shoe size survey final results

Some time back I posted a survey asking people to share their shoe sizes. That’s because I have very small feet and have trouble buying shoes and even socks. I was curious to see how much of an oddball I really was … with regard to feet anyway. Some people probably thought I had a foot fetish, but actually I find feet rather unattractive as bodily features go. Anyway, I now have 97 valid responses, of which 69 are male and 28 female and I’ve decided that’s enough to show the final results for males. I’m afraid not enough women responded to put much analysis into it, but I’ll post some figures below. For now, look at this chart for the men (click to enlarge).

Shoe size

It confirms my suspicions that I am really at one extreme. Of all the responses, only one male had smaller feet than me, and he is only 66-67″ tall. I’m shown as 70 inches, but I’m actually a little over 71″. The choices were in two-inch units. He was also a teenager, so he can be expected to have larger feet (and more height) later. Of all the responders, mine shows the greatest distance to the left of the black trend line, which means I have the smallest shoe size relative to height of any male surveyed. There were some that were at least as far to the right of the trend line, indicating large feet for their height, but they were all or nearly all young men age 13 – 16. Their feet are probably just growing faster than their leg bones. Their height will probably catch up after their feet stop growing, and they’ll move up into the mainstream area.

The average male shoe size was 10.9 and the average height was 70.7 inches (adjusted for the two-inch units.) The most common size for male responders was 12, with 9-1/2 and 14 coming in close behind. See the next graph. Since my survey only went to size 14, that size 14 bar is actually 14 or larger. The survey is totally unscientific, of course, and I expect that people with unusually large or small shoe sizes were more likely to respond than others, so a true normal curve would probably be higher in the middle and shallower at the ends. That would actually make me more of a rare specimen (sounds better than oddball) than the graph shows.


Women, I’m sorry I don’t have pretty graphs for your results, but your average shoe size was 8.5 exactly and average height 65.4 inches. The most common sizes were 7 and 8, with 5 people each. The height ranged from 60 inches to 76 inches.

I’ve left the survey up for now, but I’ll be deleting it in a few days in case you want to take it, but I will not be reanalyzing the responses.

Thanks for reading my blog. I’m a pretty good author, you know. Why don’t you try one of my Cliff Knowles Mysteries. Just click on the menu link above to My Books.

Answer or not? Open or not? Survey

I was once having trouble locating an event cache (my car GPS took me to the wrong spot) so I called a geocacher I knew was at the event for help. He didn’t answer. The call went to voicemail. He never listened to the message. Eventually I found the event and asked why he didn’t answer my call for help. He said he didn’t recognize the number, so he didn’t answer. I was shocked and a bit offended. Admittedly, he was a casual friend, not a close friend, and he did not have me in his address book, so I am sure his phone did not display my name. Still, what if it was something important – police, perhaps, or a close friend or relative who is using a stranger’s phone due to an emergency? Or a fellow geocacher needing a lifeline? I always answer my cell phone, but then I almost never get spam voice calls on my cell phone.

My home phone is another story. At least 90%, maybe 95%, of the calls there are junk calls – salespeople, charity fundraisers, etc. I sometimes answer it, but usually let it ring. However, I can understand why people would let a land line call go to voicemail. The difference with me, though, is that if I let it go to voicemail, I will listen as the person records the message and pick up if it’s someone I know if I can, or I will listen to the message later and return it promptly. Spam callers don’t leave voice messages in my experience.

Texts are yet another story. I don’t have a smart phone. When I first got my cell phone, at least 90% of the texts I got were spam, and they cost me 20 cents each. I got sick of paying for texts I didn’t want so I had texting blocked. I’ve never regretted that decision. Anyone who wants to reach me in text form can do so by email. I’m usually at my computer if I’m not out running, at the gym, driving, or someplace else where I wouldn’t be able to use a cell phone anyway. Besides, texts are too short to be meaningful. If you have something worth saying, say it in full grammatical sentences. LOL and WTF are not meaningful. I know of at least one person I followed on Twitter who said she never responded to emails because normal people only text.

Then there’s email. One correspondent I had never put a subject line on her emails. Since emails without subjects are a sign of of spam, hacked accounts, or a virus attack, I almost never open them. In fact, they go right to my spam folder since I have a filter for that. I just happened to see hers in my spam folder (which I don’t check very often) and decided to check it, even though I assumed it was someone hacking her account. Surprisingly, it contained a legitimate message. I replied to her that it was lucky I saw her email since I rarely see those without subject lines. She seemed amazed and answered “that’s just the way I roll.” (That’s the same answer Arnold Schwarzenegger gave when asked about his philandering, by the way.) Needless to say, our correspondence did not last long. If you want to reach me, call me or email me; don’t text. I won’t get the text or any message that one was sent, nor will you get a message that it didn’t arrive. And if you email me, put a subject line on it so I know it’s really you.

I doubt I’ll change anyone’s behavior since everyone seems to think they’re doing it right and everyone else should conform to them. I suppose I fit that description myself. If you disagree with me, well, there are two more ways to tell me so: you can always fill in that webform here on my blog in the About the Author/Contact link in the top menu or fill in the short (7 questions) survey below (click link). Please share the survey link. I’d like to get as broad a range of answers as possible.

How do you respond to calls, texts, and emails?

Dead Before Morning by Geraldine Evans

Dead Before Morning (Rafferty and Llewellyn Police Procedural Series, #1)Dead Before Morning by Geraldine Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Inspector Rafferty is a student of hard knocks, a touch rough around the edges perhaps, while his aide, Sergeant Llewellyn, is the quintessential highbrow intellectual with a university education and a decidedly priggish side. The interplay between the two is endlessly entertaining, often hilarious. They are faced with a corpse without one – a face, that is. A young woman with a mutilated face and no clothes is found dead on the grounds of a psychiatric hospital. Suspects abound: the insufferable Sir Anthony, who runs the hospital and is known for his philandering, various staff members, nurses, even the dead girl’s father. The author cleverly provides ample motive for a half a dozen suspects, but they all seem to have solid alibis or other impediments to being the successful denouement of the case.

While trying to solve the murder, Rafferty must also contend with an Irish mother who is trying to marry him off to a distant cousin and yet another distant cousin languishing in jail who expects Rafferty to spring him free. Woe to the poor Inspector!

I just loved this book. The mystery was in the style of Agatha Christie, where plenty of suspects are presented and although one at the end is revealed, it might have been almost anyone else. The charm of the book is the dialog between Rafferty and Llewellyn, who could qualify as the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves of the detective set.

I listened to the newly released audiobook and this made a huge difference. The acting by the reader was superb. His rich voice and varying regional accents were a delight. As an American I can’t tell a Welsh accent from a Scottish one despite my mother’s maiden name being Welsh. Even so I could certainly enjoy the subtle shift in tone and class between the two detectives, each of whom was given a distinctive voice.

This audiobook was provided by the author, narrator, or publisher at no cost in exchange for an unbiased review courtesy of

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Are audiobooks the new ebooks?

I recently read an article about how audiobooks are now outselling print books, at least in some genres and markets. This does not surprise me. I recently had my second Cliff Knowles book, Cached Out, made into an audiobook with a professional narrator. I have been surprised at how well it is selling. It has been out only a little more than a month and so far has sold more copies than the same book’s Kindle sales since July and about five times the print sales of that book for that same period. I don’t believe the first month’s sales are indicative of how well it will sell over the next few months because the narrator and I have both been distributing free download codes for the audiobook, which no doubt has boosted sales. Still, even if you subtract all of those sales, the regular paid sales are still more than the Kindle or print sales.

I can understand this phenomenon. I love audiobooks, too. I read more books than I listen to, but that’s only because print (or ebook) versions are more available through various sources such as libraries and Kindle promo sites than audiobooks. But that’s changing. With, an Amazon subsidiary, now ruling the market audiobooks are relatively cheap in download form. Gone are the days of the packet of CDs. Once the price hurdle is surmounted, the benefits of an audiobook are huge, and obvious. You can listen while doing something else. The something else is most often driving or jogging, two activities where you can’t watch a screen or hold a print book. Long-haul truck drivers and fitness buffs are among the biggest fans of audiobooks. I also got a touching email from a fan who has a physical disability and can’t read who loved my audiobook.

I like to have them in the car, too, but at the moment I can’t unless I get the CD version, and the libraries are phasing those out. They’re too expensive to buy in that format in quantity, so I bought a Kindle Fire. I love it for reading, but now I’m starting to listen to audiobooks on it, too. The speaker is surprisingly good, but it’s also easy to plug into my home stereo system. I can do the same for the car, but I need to get another cable for that. Of course earbuds or earphones work, too, but I’ve never liked those.

Perhaps an even bigger advantage to audiobooks is the dramatic presentation. A good actor can make a character come alive and bring out the suspense or humor or other qualities in the writing. Think about it. Would you rather read a Shakespeare play or watch one? Read a movie script or watch the movie? Whatever the reason, audiobooks are growing faster than any other segment of the publishing business, according to the article. I’ll have to see how Cached Out is doing for a few months before I decide, but I am already thinking about which of my books to make into the next audiobook.

By the way, I still have a few promo codes available. Contact me if you want a copy of the Cached Out audiobook. I can’t promise I can accommodate you since I need to dole those out carefully to reviewers, podcasters, and other who will help promote the book, but I’ll see what I can do. You can contact me through the contact form on the About the Author/Contact link in the top menu bar.

My Lady Judge by Cora Harrison

My Lady Judge (Burren Mysteries, #1)My Lady Judge by Cora Harrison
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The lady judge of the title is Mara, a Brehon in medieval Ireland. She runs a law school and is courted by the local king. The names of characters and places are all Gaelic. All these aspects make the book unique in my experience and I was not entirely comfortable with it at first. It was a struggle to remember who was who when I couldn’t recognize the female names from the male. I still have no idea of the geography and I’ve never been a fan of historical fiction. It also is a rather slow-paced book. Mara seems overly interested in flowers for my taste, especially those blue gentians. So at first I was rather impatient with the book. Had it not been for the fact it was chosen for my book group, I might not have finished it.

I’m glad I did. The gentle pace grew on me after a while and I certainly appreciated the lack of cursing, torture, and crudeness one finds in too many mysteries these days. Eventually I was able to distinguish almost all the characters and the careful and detailed development of each. As an attorney, the discussion of Brehon law was fascinating to me, although I have no way of knowing how accurate the author’s portrayal of it is. The chief distinction from English criminal law seems to be that punishment is always a fine and depends heavily on the victim’s “honour price.” There is no imprisonment or death penalty, even for murder. Don’t be misled. There is a murder early on and that forms the central plot line, so true mystery fans will have their raw meat to chew on. But the author likes to take us on a history lesson disguised as a detective story and I fell for her ploy. She hid the pill inside the candy very well.

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From time to time I feel compelled to decry the declining state of the English language. For those who wonder why people like me care about grammar, it’s because it’s important for several reasons. Bad grammar leads to misunderstanding. This can be, and usually is, trivial, but at times can be dangerous, even lethal.

Recently I heard a news report of the investigation of the AirAsia crash over the Java Sea. While trying to correct from a stall, the pilot, a non-native English speaker, yelled to the co-pilot to “pull down” on his stick. The co-pilot, a native French speaker, understood the word “pull” to mean pull up, which he did, resulting in the crash. The normal instructions are to push down or pull up. The pilot’s instruction conflated the two. This is a contradiction ambiguity. One of the funniest television comedies ever, Twenty Twelve, had a running gag where Hugh Bonneville’s wishy-washy character responds to every suggestion or complaint with “Yes, no, absolutely.”

More common forms of ambiguity are syntactic and semantic ambiguity. Semantic ambiguity involves using a word or phrase with more than one meaning. I remember my high school English teacher’s favorite example of semantic ambiguity: “A case of beer was mysteriously left on the front step of the police station. The chief is working on the case.” A well-known one used humorously is “The peasants are revolting.” In these examples, the words “case” and “revolting” can have more than one meaning.

Syntactic ambiguity is where the sentence structure creates the confusion.  For example, “The horse raced past the barn fell.” The reader could think the speaker means “The horse raced past; the barn fell.” The correct reading is “The horse (that was) raced past the barn fell.” Since the word “fell” is also a British dialect word for a field or moor, a semantic ambiguity is also present, where the reader thinks the horse raced past a field referred to as the barn fell. Headlines, due to their shortened structure, often exemplify this type of ambiguity, e.g. “Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim.

However, the most frequent syntactic ambiguity in my experience in everyday speech is the dependent clause placed at the beginning of a sentence. For example, “Because of their inherently dangerous nature, commercial passenger aircraft are not permitted to carry lithium batteries.” Dependent clauses at the beginning of a sentence should refer to the subject that immediately follows, not the predicate, but people say this wrong all the time. Here the word dangerous is probably meant to refer to the batteries, but aircraft are inherently dangerous, too. I hear news reporters screw this up constantly. “Like any corrupt official, the mayor wants the police chief replaced.” The reporter is actually characterizing the mayor as corrupt, not the police chief, although she probably means the opposite. This ambiguity can be easily eliminated by placing the clause at the end of the sentence where it is closer to the thing it modifies.

Yet another form of semantic ambiguity is the wrong word or malapropism. It’s not a word with two meanings; it’s when the speaker uses a similar word with a different meaning. The term malapropism is named after Mrs. Malaprop, a scatterbrained character in Sheridan’s play The Rivals. A real-life example I recall from law school was the sign on a building on Telegraph Avenue that read “Stationary department has moved.” As written, it’s an oxymoron as well. Stationary things don’t move. They meant, of course, the stationery department. In fact this might be a fair description of what happened with the AirAsia flight. If the pilot’s native language did not have words with the exact meanings of push and pull in English, the word “pull” to him might have been equivalent to something in his native language that meant something like “move [something] with your hand” but not necessarily towards you.

So please be careful in how you phrase things, whether in writing or speaking, especially when giving instructions. Geocachers, reread those cache descriptions and logs before you post them. Think about whether someone could misinterpret what you said. “It’s on the left side.” Really? And that’s if you’re walking north or south on the trail?

The Summons by John Grisham

The SummonsThe Summons by John Grisham
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the third book by Grisham involving mass torts that I’ve read, although it’s not a commanding thread in the story. I enjoyed it, but that’s helped by the fact I’m a lawyer. It was, however, repetitive of the same sort of stuff in The King of Torts, a book I read first, although it was written after this one. Still I wonder if that’s what most people are interested in.

I was looking for a mystery. This does start with a death; a retired judge suffering from terminal cancer is found dead, apparently from a morphine overdose. Was it suicide? A mercy killing? The cancer? Or murder? This question is complicated by the three million dollars in cash found in his house.

The charm of the book lies in its depiction of rural southern life. Grisham is from Mississippi and his love for the deep south shows in his writing. I found the ending rather unsatisfying, but at this point in his career, Grisham has reached journeyman status in his prose and is able to move the reader along pleasantly enough. It’s not his best work, but you could pass a day or three whipping through this one and not feel cheated.

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