Saturday, December 31, 2016

Secret electronic communications (there is no such thing)

No text, no email, no electronic communication is safe and secure, not in the top levels of our government, not in the biggest companies on our planet. So, why would anyone text or email anything that you wish to remain a secret? Is it criminal or just stupid? Firewalls, encryption, spam filters, no anti-mal-ware, virus, Trojan protectors---nothing makes your emails or texts safe, private, or secure. So, piece of advice #1: Don't send anything via your computer, tablet, phone, that you'd be uncomfortable sharing with the world, OR anything that might cost you money. Then, Piece of advice #2: Don't open emails or ever click on links in emails that you are not 100% certain are safe (and now go back and read the title of this post). I work for one of the largest companies on earth, we own a technology company, we spend huge amounts on data security, hardware, software, training---and probably have one of the safest networks available, yet, we never stop working to safeguard information. But, look around, at Yahoo (billions of accounts compromised), Target (110 million), Adobe (150 million), Ebay (145 million), and now we hear the DNC was hacked. Those people, those companies, spend millions on IT security, they're not stupid, not even careless, typically; but, in spite of the best efforts of some very smart people, they got hacked. MORE, a person I work with had her identity stolen recently. Her personal information was taken from her dentist's office and with that information the thief opened new accounts, ran up balances of thousands of dollars, and it took her nearly a year to get it all sorted out. Does your dentist, doctor, hairdresser, plumber, on-line store have your personal info? Like Amazon, maybe, or iTunes, perhaps. If a bad guy knew what iTunes knows about you, he good bankrupt you. We give in to the convenience of leaving info to providers of goods and services and I understand that, but it increases the risk immeasurably. Don't do it. If you trust me, check out this link from the Federal Trade Commission or look around on line for tips on how to protect yourself.
GHG

Put your company atop the customer service mountain---secrets revealed!! You won’t believe how simple it really is!!

Want to set your organization apart from the pack? First, learn this inescapable truth about customer service: TECHNOLOGY IS NOT YOUR FRIEND, is NOT YOUR CUSTOMERS' FRIEND!! If you want to build a reputation for customer service, take these two easy steps: first, hire a person, a Human Being, with a clear, pleasant voice to answer your customer service phone. Second, empower that person (or the one sitting next to him or her) to fix 99% of issues. That's it, put a friendly, smart person on the other end of the phone--YOU WILL INSTANTLY BECOME BEST IN YOUR INDUSTRY!

I went through three phone trees today to report a lost/stolen credit card (had to go back to “main menu” once so that’s really four phone trees), tried the multiple automated options and wound up inadvertently cancelling the wrong card, talked to two people, in two different departments, equally unable to help before finally finding the person who would solve the problem. It wasn’t a routine situation, but I can’t believe that it was so rare that NONE of the many automated options would work and the first two humans couldn’t help. My history with this company is great (by comparison), so I was really disappointed, so let me repeat, “Technology is not your friend (in your customer service effort).”

But, it goes way beyond that--train and motivate all of your employees to first, NOW, FOREVER, AND ALWAYS, do everything with the goal of exceeding customers' expectations, 2nd, train and empower every employee to fix problems before they grow so large that your house counsel has to get involved.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Advances in technology?

A father and son were recently walking through a suburban mall, moving at a leisurely pace, window-shopping, and working their way toward a sporting goods store on the far end. The son’s phone beeped, that tell-tale sound indicating he had received a text. He pulled out his phone and responded to the incoming message. He had a five minute "conversation" with someone, eyes intense, thumbs a blur. Father watched, out of the corner of his eye, as the son smiled, laughed, blushed, and grimaced once. As he put his phone away his father asked, “Who was that?”

“Just a friend,” the son replied, sheepishly.

The lack of a name and the keyword “just” were dead giveaways—Father knew it was a girl on the other end of the conversation. “What’s she doing today?”

“She’s in that store,” he said, nodding his head indicating the shop to their right. They walked on, past the store, though their pace slowed a little.

“She’s thirty feet away, why don’t you go talk to her?”

Son shrugged his shoulders.

The father couldn’t help laughing, “At least stick your head in and say, “Hi.” I’ll hide so she won’t know you’re with your father.”

Son was blushing, more, and appeared anxious, nervous, “I just told her hi.”

“You mean you texted her hi. That’s not the same thing. Don’t you want to see her face? Did she smile when you said hi?”

Now he was agitated, “I don’t know Dad!” He stepped up his pace a little.

“You laughed when you were texting her. Did she laugh? Did you share a laugh?”

“I don’t know Dad, please!”

The father wondered, silently, “Is this what passes for flirting these days? Text messages?”

They kept walking, past the store, into the depths of the vast chasm created by texting. They might as well have been exchanging telegrams across a continent.

I thought things were different—between me and my son. My father was a typical father of his generation. He worked, Mom ran the home and raised the boys (four sons). Dad taught me many things, how to build, how to fix things, how to throw a ball, and how to take care of myself. True to our roles in those days, we had very few real conversations, but by example he impressed upon me my real purpose on earth—caring for those around me. We definitely did not discuss flirting. Apparently, things have not changed as much as I thought.  

Sunday, November 20, 2016

History of Technology (at my house)

ET, my 15 year-old son, dashed into the room, clearly frantic about something, “Have you seen my phone? I’ve looked everywhere!”

“Did you try your “find my phone app” on your iPad?”

“It’s not working!” He was circling the room, checking behind and under the furniture, checked the refrigerator, and was leaning over the trash can, when he paused, turned to me and said, “Why doesn’t somebody make a phone that you can screw to the wall with a wire or something on it?!”

If I wasn’t so worried that his expensive phone was truly lost I would have cracked up. When I was a teenager we had a “party-line” phone hooked to the wall in the kitchen. It was the only phone the family owned. If it rang two long rings or two short rings, the call wasn’t for us—it was for someone else on the party-line. Our ring was one short, one long.

We had the first color TV in our neighborhood; there were only two channels, NBC & CBS (out of New Orleans). If I wanted to turn it on, change channels, or adjust the volume, I had to get out of my chair, cross the room to the TV set and twist one of the knobs on the front of the cabinet. Sometimes the signal would flutter and one of us would have to go outside and turn the post that held the antenna—until the signal cleared up. Both channels went off the air not long after midnight every night and would play the Star-Spangled Banner (through the single tiny speaker on the side of the cabinet) while the credits rolled across the screen. The whole thing was magical.

I had the coolest radio in town (my uncle the electronic genius gave it to me). It was a white plastic box, about a cubic foot in size, loaded with vacuum tubes that lit up the whole room when the contraption was warmed up. It picked up two bands, AM and Short-Wave. Late at night I could tune stations from all over the country thanks to atmospheric bounce. In the early 60’s I could pick up XERF, the Wolfman Jack show, out of Mexico. The short-wave band picked up ships on the Mississippi River (just fifty yards from our house) and I could listen to the bar-pilots as they navigated the treacherous, ever-shifting sandbars on their journey to New Orleans and beyond.

Music was much the same as today. I had an iPod, 32 gig, that . . . no I didn’t. I had my radio. Later, I got a record player (probably from the same uncle) and joined the Columbia Record Club. And, again, it was magical. The LP’s, 12 inch vinyl disks, had about a half-hour of music (on the two sides) and played in stereo (two channels, though I had only one speaker). I had to keep a supply of spare needles and a shoe brush (that’s another story) handy to keep the records in good shape. Music was actually pretty good in those days. We lived across a pasture from a night club where all the biggest names in soul, jazz, and rhythm and blues played on weekends. When the wind was right I could hear Irma and Rufus Thomas, Percy Sledge, Otis Redding, the Platters, even Louis Armstrong. I spent a lot of hours prone in the grass near the back of our property, just listening.

In the sixties John Cameron Swayze, sponsored by Timex, or Huntley/Brinkley, brought to us by Texaco (Trust the Man Who Wears the Star) gave us our news. For 15 minutes each weekday evening, we heard all the world & national news we needed. The local news was another 15 minutes, but we only watched the weather. My dad and I watched the Gillette Friday night fights, the single baseball “Game of the Week,” and our favorite westerns. I loved it. If I needed to DIY something, I’d ask Dad (or Mom) to help me—they could do anything. On Monday the “Times-Picayune” newspaper had all the sports results and all the news I needed about local politics, albeit a few days old, but I didn’t care.

Today, I’m sitting in front of a 55” Smart 3D TV, listening to 1200 watts of 5.1 channel sound, using a universal remote to scroll through 200+ channels of programming. I have my choice of channels with 24 hour news, sports, entertainment, politics, government, finance—just about anything you can imagine. Or, I can log-on to the internet and find things that you can’t imagine—all from the comfort of my over-stuffed leather chair. At my house everyone has iPads, iPods, and iPhones (thanks Steve); we have three laptops and two desktop computers (my son and I built his gaming computer from a bare-bones kit). All are connected to the “ratnet” home network and the internet via the latest AC 1200 Mbps wireless router. Our printers are Wi-Fi, so I can print from any device to any printer in the house. We have 11 TB of storage. I can Skype or Facetime our good friend in Bulgaria or my world-travelling brother in law, wherever he happens to be this evening—and see their smiling faces in HD. The differences in communication then and now are stark. But, do I need 24/7 finance news? Do I need to know the Kardashians? Can I not wait until Monday morning for the box scores? I have access to thousands of movies, but I’m lucky to find time to watch one a week. Advertisers and marketers, technology companies, ISP’s, all think I need more information, faster, but I’m not convinced, at least not from a personal perspective.

At work it’s a whole ‘nother world. My competitors have it, so I must have it. And, we stay on the cutting edge with our subsidiary technology company. We’ve always struggled with data security and that challenge grows increasingly worrisome with more information stored and exchanged electronically. And, how fast is fast enough, how much analysis do I really need? Do all presentations have to be animated?

I could go on, but my point is that all this tech stuff is fun, but I don’t see it as a necessity. I think we use more than we need just because it’s there. And, I think it dangerously clutters our lives, distracts us from truly meaningful human interaction—remember, I’m old so I’m entitled to be contrary.

ET found his phone, by the way.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Framers were not sure, how can anyone else be?

Here's a quote from Mike Madison (a high school freshman) about the framers of our Constitution: “Let me give you an example. Last six-weeks we studied the Constitutional Convention, right? We found out that the first ten amendments are called the Bill of Rights; we had to learn what those ten were about, sort of. What we didn’t spend much time on was the small talk, the side conversations about the Bill of Rights. We know that James Madison introduced those first ten amendments, actually there were twelve but the other two didn’t make the cut. So, Madison did a Power Point presentation and the first slide about free speech and free press was up on the screen. He waited a minute so everybody could read it and then clicked his remote and went to the next slide. Ben Franklin stood and said, “Wait, can you go back to the first slide?” Madison clicked back to slide one, and Franklin continued, “Let me get this straight—all we’re saying is we can’t pass a law limiting free speech? So there’s no law, for example, that would prohibit me from saying Adams there [he points at John Adams] has the face of a pig? I would be protected by the constitution from any retaliation?” A lot of people laughed, Thomas Jefferson laughed so hard he knocked over the tripod that held his digital camcorder. Adams stood up to say something but his microphone wasn’t on so no one heard him. His aid reached over and turned on the microphone and just as he did Adams coughed, but over the PA system it sounded just like a pig snort so now everyone was laughing.”

Did anyone answer Franklin’s question?” “Not really. The answer was that they’d let the Supreme Court sort out the details, so it was a cop-out. But, that’s the truth; the constitution didn’t get bogged down in detail. There have been a million exceptions to what we call freedom of speech. You can’t preach about sedition, you can’t yell “FIRE” in a crowded theater, you can’t libel or slander people, and you definitely can’t say anything that costs your network any ratings points, according to Franklin; so, at least in this case, “freedom” doesn’t mean complete, unimpeded freedom to just say anything. Franklin didn’t give up—he wanted to make sure his legacy was solid, as he put it, “In favor of logic.” So, his last question, before they booed him out of Independence Hall was, “So, tomorrow I’m a guest on the View, you know, that show with Barbara Walters. Let’s say, what’s her name, the Quarterback’s wife, asks me where I stand on freedom of the press, I can call her a pinch-faced whiner, and there’s nothing she can do about it?” So, the founders weren’t exactly clear on the amendments so how can anyone say with any certainty what the “framers” intended?

“History can be fun—I got it.”

Friday, September 30, 2016

Diversity is not always as diverse as some try to make it

I am an old, grey-haired white man. Whoopi Goldberg is right, I don’t know what it’s like to be a young Black man---hell, I barely remember what it’s like to be a young white man. I am confident that I could live out my days without giving a second thought to ‘black lives’ or ‘blue lives’ or even ‘white lives’ except for those very few closest to me, those I truly love. Standing idly by, however, is contrary to everything I believe; it’s not the American way. I don’t see the value in standing out in the street, holding a sign, screaming into the face of a cop who probably hates what our world has become as much as I do; and, has no more power nor authority to change things than I do. But, I have to do something. I believe that diversity, or our inability or unwillingness to respect, much less embrace our differences, is the biggest challenge facing our planet today. It’s ironic that the relations between races seems to have worsened recently because we actually are more alike than different. My fist black friend, Harry T., passed away last year and I’ll always regret not thanking him for what he taught me. I wasn’t smart enough to understand it at the time, the mid-60’s, a half-century ago, but looking back I can see how alike we were. The prevailing thought during that time was that we, a black kid and a white kid, were vastly different, somehow, but I never saw it and I don’t think Harry did either. In all the ways that mattered to 14 year-old boys (of any color), we were more alike than different—we loved the same music, R&B, Soul, Rock, Irma Thomas, Sam Cooke, Elvis. We listened to it on big radios, glowing inside with vacuum tubes. Our sports heroes were Willie Mays and Mickie Mantle, we both hated biology class, we liked Pepsi over Coke, we loved gumbo and fried shrimp, we respected our parents, teachers, soldiers, & cops. We went to church on Sundays. It was years later before I understood the significance of all that. Our friendship faded away, as did most others of the day, but we reconnected shortly before his death and I’ll be forever grateful for that.

Another young black man played an important role in my significant life decisions. He was a friend, a teammate in high school. I used to kid that he was the second best athlete I ever played with or against, but first or second, he was still better, faster, stronger than I was. He enlisted in the Army just out of school, served with the 101st Airborne Division and died in Viet Nam on Christmas Eve 1970. His death was the driving force that led me to enlist in May 1971—one of the best decisions of my life. The point is that we shared a sense of patriotism---I can’t imagine Calvin turning his back on the flag or the national anthem. So, for most of my life I've been keenly aware of how people are different---age, for example, I find to be more of a differentiator than skin color. In fact I wuld say that gender, geography, size, shape, hair color---all seem as significant or more significant in comparing and contrasting people; but, our differences are NOT as important as are our similarities. Our differences make us better, stronger. P.S. I like Whoopi and we have more in common than most people might imagine.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bono, "America is the best idea the world ever had."

I don't usually put much stock in the opinions of celebrities, especially not Irish rock stars. I mean, what could he possibly know about us and our ideas? Well, I take it all back. The title of my post is a Bono quote from a recent interview with Charlie Rose, and I find it to be the most profound, most poignant, most insightful comment I've heard in a very long time----my friends may think I'm crazy, but I put that statement right up there with, "I have a dream ...." and "Ask not what your country can do for you..." America as an idea still exists, it's still a dream for people all over the planet to come to America. It's still the best idea on the planet, the place with the most promise for a safe, fulfilling existence. Bono is an outsider looking in--without party affiliation or American political biases, with what seems an objective view. But, we have problems. No one can deny that. Our biggest problem is that we cannot agree upon the solutions to the many problems. People are sitting or turning their backs during the national anthem, protesting "social injustice" and racism in cities across the nation, and we, all of us, seem to be drifting apart. The divisiveness is driven by forces all around----news stations make it the story of the day, after day, after day. Politicians spend all their time trying to make their opponents look bad (and, that does NOT make them look better). And that brings me to the second part of Bono's qoute, "Donald Trump is America's worst idea" or something like that. He, Trump, may not be our worst idea, but AMERICA, the idea, the dream, deserves better. WE deserve an Honorable man or woman, person of character (see my February 2016 post on "What a leader ought to be.")

Monday, July 11, 2016

Keys to Success in Retail

MY FIRST NON-FICTION WORK, cover blurb: "Sour milk, a $10,000 order of French fries, a pastry emergency, my leftover pork chops . . . How do those fit into Success in Business? Read on and learn the elements of enduring growth and profitability in business (retail and more).

Keys to Success in Retail is the working title, and as the book comes together it will become clear that these elements of business apply in many scenarios (thus, the title is subject to change). Many of my associates, friends, family, have heard and laughed heartily at the anecdotes (mostly true) that I use to develop my truths (not theories, not suggestions, but truths); but, I hope my readers will be more than just entertained. I do not utilize statistics to support the truths, but instead use my 40+ years of success, my education, and observations of businesses that succeed (and some that failed). I will be consulting, as well, with at least two other successful business owners/managers. If you want stats, I'll provide some links to US Department of Commerce (and more) that will quantify some of the truths.

My goals are first, to offer solid, common sense, low-cost, long-lasting solutions to the challenges that every business faces, and second, to foster and promote the use of stories or anecdotes to relay substantive thought about business.

Monday, June 13, 2016

2nd Amendment

So we're clear---I do not wish to repeal the 2nd amendment. I do, however, want to keep guns out of the hands of the terrorists, radical pimply-faced nerds who shoot up schools and theaters, demented Catholics that shoot up women's health centers, and anyone else who will use a gun to murder innocent people. What rational person can disagree with that? How do we do that? First, we stop worrying about losing our Mossberg 12 ga. pump or Winchester 30-06 locked in the gun safe, because we've exercised the responsible behavior directly linked to our 2nd amendment rights (remember that from high school Civics class?). We make sure our neighbors and friends do the same thing. Then we all work together, liberals, conservatives, moderates, all races, all religions, to find the workable rational solutions---stop spending all our time and energy arguing with each other while a terrorist gets gun training, a gun permit, legally buys an assault rifle, and kills 50 people. No side wins this argument----all sides lose. More guns will not fix this-----I can't accept the cafeteria ladies, janitors, and bus drivers carrying Glock 19's to make middle school safer---that is not the answer.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Patriotism

This is the oath I swore to when I enlisted in the Air Force:

"I, Bracy Ratcliff, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."

Richard Nixon was my Commander-in-Chief, and we all know what he became. Yet, not once, not for the briefest of moments was I ever tempted to violate my oath. That year we were still fighting a war predicated on the ‘domino theory’ which speculated that if South Viet Nam fell to the communist North, the other countries around the Pacific rim would fall like dominos until we were fighting communism at our front door. It turned out to be completely wrong. We never did fight any communists in Baton Rouge or Port Sulphur. Still, I was not tempted to violate my oath. In fact, I cannot imagine a scenario that would might push me to violate my oath. My sense of patriotism back then still guides the way I live my life---I can disagree with my President, my Congressman, or anyone else for that matter, but I can do it in a respectful manner, without name calling, without threats, without arrogance; and, when I disagree I feel compelled to put together a thoughtful, cogent explanation of my position on a matter. And, I can swallow my pride and work beyond the differences for the greater good.

I hope for this every time we have a national election: when the votes are counted and one side is declared the winner, the other side, IF they are PATRIOTS, will step forward and offer, “How can we help to address the issues of our nation?” What I see instead is the losing party spending all their time and energy trying to make the winners look bad—allowing immigration problems to continue, allowing threats from outside and inside our borders to worsen, to allow our economy to continue to struggle, to allow violence and anger to flourish and grow, while petty differences occupy those who would have the power to fix things. When’s it gonna stop?

PS, I’m writing in Bracy Ratcliff in the WA primary next week. I can’t possibly do any less or any worse than the other candidates.

STAR GATE, a novel by Bracy Ratcliff

STAR GATE: BILL’S HARDWARE AND PAINT

BRACY RATCLIFF

(Excerpt)

William Ward Weatherford, better known as Bill, would take credit for the ubiquitous “www” preceding every unique address on the internet. Bill is an inventor. His “day job” though is his hardware store, Weatherford Hardware and Paint—though everyone referred to it simply as Bill’s. He is very proud of it. Not only does Bill’s offer every part required to build or repair most anything you could imagine, Bill personally offers tips and how-to advice on just about every topic you could imagine involving hardware, construction, electronics, genetic engineering, and even rock and roll music. He staffed his store with experts, as well—mostly retired builders, contractors, mechanics, mixed with a handful of enthusiastic college students—budding engineers, scientists. The store was really a cooperative, of sorts. The employees shared the substantial earnings, so it wasn’t hard for Bill to attract talented, imaginative workers.

Bill didn’t think of himself as a genius; in fact, his IQ was, according to his fifth grade guidance counselor, just average. Bill was satisfied with that. He was a realist and many years ago had to acknowledge that, though he was very good at some things, he was just average at many others. He hated biology, for example, and struggled to make a C when he took the class as a high school sophomore. He did love to read, however, and found he could read very fast. He devoured anything in print—anything—and seemed to be able recall everything he had ever read. He wasn’t much on most history, though he was an expert on the history of machines—all the way back to the first machines, levers, wheels, striking tools. And, he had the remarkable ability to figure out how things work. He could quickly dissect any machine, in his head, and determine what made it work. Often times he was able to rebuild a machine to either make it simpler, more efficient, sturdier, smaller, or even more attractive. The first time he did this was with door knobs in his grandfather’s home. He was 7 or 8 years old and his grandmother’s arthritis made it difficult for her to turn a knob. It was about 1968 and electronics were not very sophisticated—and Bill knew that—and he didn’t have any money to spend on building gadgets. What he did have was access to a huge junk pile of used and abandoned small appliances behind the old hardware store in town. It was next door to his family’s bakery and the owner had no objection to Bill exploring the mess. He dug around in the tons of mostly rubbish until he found motors, pulleys, cables, switches and wires needed to automate four doors in his grandmother’s turn of the century house. He mounted the switch in a hole he cut in the doors so the switch could be reached from either side, attached the motors via cables to the existing door knobs, plugged the motor power cords into nearby sockets and now all anyone had to do was push a button, the door latch would open and the doors, with newly lubricated hinges, would open right up. After two weeks of working on the project, with Grandpa’s help on some of the cutting and mounting, he stood back to admire his work and wondered . . . why did Grandma always want the doors closed anyway? No one locked doors in those days.

Bill’s next invention was a bread slicer. His family bakery wasn’t big enough, nor profitable enough to buy the big commercial machines, so he spent hours looking at photographs until he figured out exactly how it worked, then he built a smaller, simpler version. The machine had powered conveyer belts leading to it. All they had to do was set a fresh loaf on the belt, let it go and it came out the other end neatly separated into ¾” slices. Then it could be pushed forward with a spatula shaped tool into a brown paper bag, ready for sale. Word got around to other bakeries and the interest surprised Bill and his family. Other bakers wanted the slicer and they were willing to pay handsome prices for one. A restaurant and kitchen supply salesman saw Bill’s slicer and thought Bill could sell the design to a big manufacturer, but Bill wasn’t interested. His Father thought they should sell the design and use the money to help put Bill through college, but Bill didn’t want to go to college. At about the same time that he realized his mechanical ability he also decided what he wanted to do with his life. He knew he didn’t want to be a baker, and thankfully his two brothers did so the pressure was off there. What he did want to do was build things, invent things. He loved gadgets and tools and had a million ideas that he wanted to explore. He would open a hardware store, help people fix stuff around their homes, and he would use whatever money he made to finance his inventions.

Chapter 2

30 years later, Bill was hard at work on his latest invention. He wasn’t certain, but he thought this was #1000, counting his electric door knobs as #1, but there were a few that he didn’t finish for one reason or another, a couple others that were duplicates sort of—or maybe improved versions of earlier efforts. One thing that had not changed in all these years is that he used scrap parts, mostly, to build his prototypes. Over the last twenty years he had accumulated his own supply of junk, paying pennies for any kind of machine or gadget broken, tossed aside, and recycled in his own personal fashion. He had an unlimited supply of parts for electronic gadgets because when they broke people just threw them away. Electronics were now very sophisticated, but a lot of stuff was designed with some level of planned obsolescence in mind. In other words, it would break after a time and the cost to repair it was more than the cost of a new one. So, they just dumped the old one. Bill studied solid-state circuitry, printed circuit boards, and computer chips as they replaced vacuum tubes, and he was determined to become an expert, as he had on electricity, plumbing, carpentry, pipe-fitting, welding, machine work, automotives . . . he was also somewhat of an expert in aeronautics, aircraft engineering, jet propulsion, pneumatics, hydraulics, thermo-dynamics, and some other things—in spite of his dislike of biology, he had stumbled across a book about the “Double Helix,” and became fascinated with Watson’s and Crick’s discovery of DNA. His interest and knowledge grew and he eventually became somewhat of an expert on genetic engineering and cloning. He thought of the process as mechanical rather than biological—he still had that mental block that got him a C in 10th grade.

The new invention was the most complicated thing he’d ever built. It incorporated most if not all of the skills he had built, most of the knowledge he had accumulated, and he wasn’t even sure what it was going to be. He thought he had learned enough about time travel to know it can’t be done. Stephen Hawking said the absence of tourists from the future is sufficient proof that time travel is impossible—and Bill pretty much believed Hawking, but had nagging doubt. He’d read that travel backward in time might somehow result in altering existence or might even lead to some parallel reality—both of which frightened Bill a little. Travel to the future didn’t make any sense to him—he tried to imagine the “future” and was convinced that it just didn’t exist. No solid mass was formed, yet, no light from the sun had beamed there, yet—so if there was a future, it was a dark, empty space.

His thought was that travelling fast enough would do something. If he could propel something (not himself, yet) at a speed beyond that of light, then it would disappear. But, where would it go? To the future? To oblivion? Would it return? Could it return without re-accelerating from the “other side?” Too many questions, but there was one way to find out—build a propulsion device that would generate speed in excess of 186,000 miles per second.

It would be a monumental task. No mechanical device of the current technology would survive that speed. A rotary device on bearings would burn up long before reaching the desired speed unless he could come up with new materials, new lubricants. Maybe some kind of linear accelerator, but how would he control it or monitor it. Current materials could not stand up to the stress. Whatever it was would take miles to reach the desired speed and any remote control equipment would outrun its signal as the device neared “C,” Einstein’s shorthand for the speed of light. Maybe he could speed up or slow down a light beam somehow.

Bill worked for several months on one idea and then tossed that one and moved on to another. Maybe time travel was impossible, but what about cloning. Maybe he should try to clone himself and become immortal. Being immortal didn’t intrigue him, but continuing his work for another generation might be worthwhile. He asked himself, “Isn’t that the same as being immortal?”

Bill needed something to help clear his head and nothing worked for him like rock & roll. He was in the mood for some Aerosmith, Dream On specifically. One of the first things he had done back when he had a few spare dollars was to buy the components for a good sound system. He had heard the latest surround sound systems but he really liked the older deep bass, two-channel stereo sound so he bought a Crown XLS 5000 amplifier with 1800 watts per channel; the speakers were more homemade than manufactured, but he found some Peavey cross-overs and hooked up the biggest, heaviest bass drivers he could find with a couple of Klipsch mid-range horns, and a pair of really good broad-range tweeters. He had gotten rid of all of his vinyl LP’s but not before dubbing them on CD’s; he regretted not waiting until he could copy them directly to MP3 format; but, he now he had everything on a couple of disk drives and had it all cataloged so he could quickly find anything, by artist, title, even key-words. But, he had his favorites, so it took only two clicks to load the song he wanted. He sat in his favorite chair, centered between the two speaker cabinets. He clicked on the “play” icon on the giant LCD monitor, leaned back and closed his eyes. Four minutes of Steven Tyler was usually enough, but today he clicked again on the “random” icon and waited to see what came up next from his favorites list; and, he was pleased to see Billy Gibbons and his foot-long gray beard pop-up. He stayed in his chair another eight minutes listening to a live version of La Grange from the ZZ Top Double-down Live album. His favorite music was designed to be listened to at max volume—and max volume on Bill’s stereo was very loud. It did the job—he could feel the deep bass and the percussion and the guitar riffs, and had “been away,” as he described it, just long enough and he was ready to get back to work.

From the outside Bill’s shop was deceiving. It looked like any other warehouse/lite industry workshop. A closer look revealed the true complexity of the building. The exterior walls were of steel-reinforced concrete and braced inside with a network of steel I-beams—engineered to withstand an 8.0 earthquake or a category 5 hurricane. The wires running from a nearby power pole served four-wire, three-phase 440 volt power; the vent fans near the roof were very quiet, but moved a lot of air. Inside there were huge machines, most of them designed and built by Bill, and likely unrecognizable to most people. There were some machine tools, lathes, mills; Bill could take raw steel stock, any shape, and turn it into just about anything. He had a small “clean” room in one corner with back-up power, clean DC voltage, HEPA filtration, where he built and tested some of his work.

He didn’t like working in the clean room, though. He liked being out in the shop with the sounds and smells—he felt like the atmosphere fed his imagination. He liked getting his hands dirty, he particularly liked the smell of machine oil. But, he liked to get clean as well. He spent extra money every week on stiffly starched cotton trousers and work shirts. He wore steel toed, steel-shank, oil-tanned work boots—the kind with the big metatarsal guard on top. They offered extra protection from electrical and chemical hazards. Bill also put on a hard-hat the moment he walked onto the shop floor, always kept good gloves, safety glasses, ear protection, and dust masks handy—and even had portable respirators, like fire-fighters use, hanging in strategic locations around the building. The shop had a built-in halon gas fire suppression system (even though the EPA outlawed halon); and, the building had a high volume overhead water sprinkler system, and sophisticated smoke and heat detection alarms. Bill was a big believer in safety. He had had his share of close calls over the years, working with high powered machines with lots of moving parts, flammable liquids, explosive gases—he learned from every incident and now took a moment before every job to imagine what might happen—the worst case scenario—and then took precautions to reduce the risk.

Chapter 3

The time travel thing was frustrating to Bill. There was little serious science on the practical aspects of it. Bill was glad there was no public funding of time travel research. He wouldn’t describe himself as a passionate person, but there were things about which he had strong opinions. One was public funding of research and development on any topic that did not serve the public welfare—and time travel was one of those things. That gave him an advantage over other inventors who might be working on things that might be considered far-fetched. Money was no object for Bill—most people didn’t know it, but Bill was rich, filthy rich. For years he resisted prodding from his brothers to sell his inventions—he had given away some of his best ideas and those ideas were busy making millions for other companies; but, he finally relented and let them sell his compact, energy efficient vapor-compression refrigeration device (heat pump) to a big manufacturer that put them in nearly every airplane, every ship, every motor home, every passenger train, every city bus, and most automobiles—on earth. He figured that the little gadget made him about 800,000,000 dollars (his third of Weatherford Industries net income) and that was small change compared to what his desalinization/water purification machine was making. His brothers had long ago given up the family bakery and shared in an efficient division of responsibilities running the new Weatherford business. Bill left much of the “front-end” work, he called it, to the brothers, but he insisted that he have some control over who bought the machines. His reverse-osmosis technology wasn’t brand new, but his machine was less expensive to build and to operate than anything built before it. He coupled the de-salting process with a purification module that could take the nastiest, dirtiest water, salt or fresh, and make it potable in no time. The large capacity machines could reliably supply de-salted sea water for a city of a million people, or irrigation water for millions of acres—he could literally turn desert into fertile farm land. He and his brothers agreed to sell the machines to anyone who could afford them, the DOD had them in every ship, cruise lines paid for them, strong governments in the Middle East and Australia paid for them; but wherever he could get poor countries to negotiate in good-faith, he supplied the machines and pipelines for free. His machines would soon end famine in Africa. Bill was especially proud of this, but according to his brothers there were problems associated with saving the poor populations of Africa—the public view of the plight of these ‘third world’ countries was overwhelming sympathy, but in the highest levels of government there was concern over how the economic and strategic balance of the world might change. Many of those who advised Presidents and Prime Ministers felt that there was grave danger in allowing “peripheral” nations into the circle of developed nations.

The brothers were much alike in that none of the three had any real ambition to be rich. And, they each had their own genius-type skills. Bill’s older siblings, Wallace and George, both were ideally suited for their supporting roles in the family business. Wally “kept the books” as he described it, but his job was much more than that—he was a financial genius. He had great instincts and had been accurately predicting changes in commodity prices and remarkably foretelling the profitability of companies in all industry segments. Consequently, the brothers’ investments had grown. Over the past decade they had invested nearly all of their income, several billion dollars, and that money had doubled and doubled again. Wally knew the exact value of Weatherford’s holdings at the beginning of every business day—but no one ever asked him about it. Neither of his brothers ever asked. George lived in Grandma’s & Grandpa’s old house, was the only married brother, had two sons, and was the semi-reluctant public face of Weatherford Industries. None of the brothers liked to say it aloud, but George was the best looking of the three and was a very good speaker. He had the ability to always know exactly what to say when pressed to speak on behalf of the company. His full-time job was as an illustrator for a very popular comic book—they called them graphic novels now since they were often much longer than an older style comic book.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Old-fashioned but not old!

I admit it, I am old-fashioned. Keep in mind, though, that old-fashioned in my case includes things like muscle-cars (loud, fast, and red), 1000 watt stereos (two channels) and loud rock & roll (15” woofers), a passion for college football & Saints, the food of our heritage (fried shrimp, red beans & rice, gumbo, etouffee, catfish, bread pudding . . . ), plain t-shirts, faded Levis, and Community dark roast (black, no cream, no sugar). It also includes things like opening doors for folks (any gender, any age, any person arriving just behind me or coming in as I’m going out or vice versa). It includes treating everyone I encounter with dignity and respect (until they prove undeniably not worthy of either), and it includes respecting my elders, though that segment of the population is dwindling fast. I’ve been told that I’ve continued the character traits taught to me by my father---and there can be no higher complement, so if that’s part of being old-fashioned, I couldn’t be prouder.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Letter to Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio,

Harry Truman was President when I was born. I don’t remember him, but I have vivid memories of the next eleven Presidents and their time in office. We’ve had some frightening events over those 60 plus years—a missile crisis, the ‘Domino’ theory, a cold war, assassinations, attempted assassinations, ‘Police’ actions (just before my memories begin), hostages, wars, terrorist attacks, economic crashes—and more. None of that scared me like the possibility of a Trump presidency does. If you are truly Patriots, and you truly care about the future of our nation, you will join forces with the other Republican candidates and do whatever it takes to take the party nomination away from him. I know both of you want to be President, but the way it’s going neither of you will be your party’s candidate. One of you needs to step up to the microphone tomorrow (the more courageous of the two), and tell the world that, “For the future of our nation, in the interest of uniting all Americans, I am withdrawing from the race and pledging all of my resources to Mr. XXXXXXX.” Work whatever deal for post-election you deem appropriate, a cabinet seat, that open SCOTUS spot—but be Patriots, stop the in-fighting and do what’s right for our nation’s future. And if your party doesn’t win, step up to the new president on Wednesday, the day after that 1st Tuesday after the first Monday in November and say, “Mr. (or Madam) President, what can I do to help?” We need ALL rational Americans working together, NOW. That is what a Patriot would do.

Warm regards,

Most of the civilized world and me, a grey-haired guy, veteran, father. . .

Monday, February 15, 2016

What a leader ought to be....

With a presidential election just months away, I’ve lately thought more about what our leader should be, not who necessarily, but what character traits must that person possess. It’s pretty simple—I want my leader to be brave and bold, but humble and self-effacing. I want him or her to be imaginative, creative, open-minded, not risk-averse, but not foolhardy either. I want him or her to understand the tremendous responsibility it is to be at least partially accountable for the health and welfare of a nation and have a true passion for serving. I want him or her to be kind, generous, and understand that spending all your time, money, energy simply trying to make your opponent look bad does not make you look good. I want him/her to understand that he or she cannot get anything done without the guidance, help, and support of those around them. One person cannot be expert on everything. And, finally, I want my leader to embrace the notion of personal accountability; and, by that I mean have the courage to admit when you’ve screwed up and be willing to do whatever it takes to make up for your mistake.

I could go on, but that’ll do it for now. Ask yourself, “Is this what I want of my leader? Does my current choice embody those character traits mentioned above?”

I have known intuitively from the very beginning that I do not want Donald Trump to be leader of the free world—my leader. It didn’t take a lot of deep thought nor analysis to reach that conclusion. My low opinion of the man is reinforced every time he opens his mouth---he’s an arrogant ass, rude, offensive, quick witted, of course, but really simple-minded and not very intelligent. Does he truly believe that he can fix all that ails us with his bullying and bluster? He’ll be either a miserable failure or a catastrophic failure—meaning he’ll just be totally ineffective and waste years of our lives or he’ll start a war and get thousands more young American boys and girls killed. And, by the way, I just expressed strong emotion without using any profanity. Smart people, respectful people can do that.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A New World Order, a novel by Bracy Ratcliff

This is actually an excerpt from another of my half-done novels. I was toying with the idea of some kind of post-apocalypse saga and it came to me that the most compelling story would be one that COULD happen, in real life. So, this is what I came up with in early 2012:

The individual events that put Earth where it is today, June 24, 2024, Matt Wayne’s 21st birthday, were significant, even catastrophic; but, not apocalyptic. One by one, over a six year span, the toll from a sequence of more or less ordinary events pushed our planet near collapse: •

November 2012, war in the middle east

A long story, but suffice it to say that all the nuclear weapons they had were used up—Iran was first—Ahmadinejad said the US was amassing forces in the Indian Sea, Turkey, and Afghanistan and were about to attack his country. He was angrily protesting UN sanctions imposed in an effort to stop his country’s nuclear weapons testing—which he swore they did not have. So, he threatened to retaliate “in-kind.” His military jumped the gun and launched a preemptory attack aimed at Kabul where the big US/UN base was. Oops, the plane carrying the bomb got lost and accidently dropped the nuclear warhead in Pakistan. Iran apologized, but Pakistan didn’t accept and launched missiles in retaliation. Before it was over India and Israel got into the game. If there was a winner it was Israel, but some estimates said that 50,000,000 died, either directly or from longer term effects of radiation, perhaps 100,000,000 were homeless •

Christmas Day, 2012, Disaster above the 38th Parallel o

New leader of N. Korea, Kim Jung Un, launches two missiles with nuclear warheads toward Seoul. One warhead detonates during launch, killing 4,000,000; the second was intercepted by a US PAC 3 anti-ballistic missile and the debris fell harmlessly into the ocean. Kim blamed the US for the nuclear incident, but the already troubled country was devastated. Power outages and food shortages led to chaos and Kim was quickly unseated as the supreme leader and replaced by his brother. The brother asked for aid from neighbors and no one would help—5,000,000 died of hypothermia and starvation before the end of February, millions more fled to China or to S. Korea. •

Summer 2013 o

It got hot, very hot. The National Weather Service recorded 20 straight days in July over 120 degrees in Arizona and Southern California. The hot temperatures were accompanied by massive power failures. By the end of the second week of 120+ and no air conditioner, tens of thousands had died, hundreds of thousands left Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Tucson and headed for cooler climes. The mass exodus from LA and Phoenix opened the cities up to thugs and vandals. Before it was over, the National Guard was controlling both cities but the damage was done. No one wanted to return. •

Winter, Spring 2013, 2014 o

Record snow fall, followed by record spring rains pushed rivers over their banks and over some major cities. From St. Louis to New Orleans the Mississippi rolled like a tsunami all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. From just south of Baton Rouge—Louisiana disappeared. •

August 2015 o

Hurricane Patricia, the most powerful storm ever recorded—a massive category 5 rolled ashore at the tip of Manhattan. Most of the island and much of the other four boroughs of New York City were completely destroyed. Buildings toppled, bridges washed away, the subways flooded and the water did not begin to subside for nearly two months. Fortunately, the city was evacuated so casualties were low, but when it was over 8,000,000 people had nothing to go home to. •

Summer 2016 o

Hotter. Much of the planet between the 30th parallels suffered crippling heat and drought. The average temperature from July 1st through August 31st in Miami was 128 degrees. Millions fled to the north, millions more died. The whole continent of Africa was scorched. 60% of the population, 600,000,000 people either died or moved north, mostly to Russia and China— o

Terrorism—one group blew a giant hole in the Hoover Dam, disrupting power and water to much of Arizona, Nevada and SoCal; engineers determined repairs were impossible. A second group poisoned reservoirs through the central valley of CA, killing thousands. The heat and drought intensified and drove more people north into Colorado, the PNW. •

2018, disintegration of China o

The population of China began to explode in 2012 following the war in the Middle East and the disaster in N. Korea. By the end of the summer of 2016 the immigrants from Africa and Australia had pushed the total to nearly 2 billion. On May 3rd a magnitude 10.1 earthquake with its epicenter near the middle of Beijing leveled the city killing 20,000,000 people. The country’s leadership and infrastructure were irreparably damaged. The massive migration and ongoing food shortages carried over from the drought of 2016 led to devastating famine. Nearly 500,000,000 starved.