December 8, 2013

Sun is up, waiting for the highway to clear...

FAIRFIELD INN, Tehachapi, California - One of the benefits of being stuck here in Tehachapi has been that I finally can spell the name of this small burg.
Tehachapi in summer, much nicer

Others are that the highway is still closed which means we are sitting in a cozy hotel, breakfast is just being served and we didn't sit alongside the road all night in a snowdrift.

Or worse.

Adm. Fox and I will head out when Highway 58 opens and make our way down the mountain, then north to San Francisco and Sacramento where it has been cold, but the likelihood of 100 mph wind gusts and black ice is considerably less.


December 7, 2013

Black ice, tractor-trailers and a guardian angel helps out

FAIRFIELD INN, Tehachapi, California - Admiral Sylvia Fox and I were breezing along in our Prius on California Highway 58, crossing through the Tehachapi Mountains on our way from Flagstaff to San Francisco, when we ran into a weather phenomenon I haven't seen in years.

A snow whiteout.

10 minutes before the whiteout
We were driving about 15 miles per hour and within a few miles of the summit in blowing snow when suddenly the tractor trailer 100 feet in front of us disappeared in the snowstorm.


And when I glanced in my rear-view mirror, the tractor trailer who was tailgating us disappeared also.

We will get back to that tailgating in a minute.

In maybe 15-20 seconds, the visibility cleared slightly, then lifted more, revealing a freeway littered with cars that had probably slammed on their brakes when the visibility went to zero.

And they were on black ice.

I am sure about that black ice because as soon as I saw the cars in the ditch, cars off the side of the road, cars in the median and lots of people with totally stunned looks on their faces, I gently tapped my brakes to avoid colliding with the semi in front which was shuddering to a stop.

We did a really neat skid, but stayed straight. And I thanked all those years of skidding and sliding in upstate New York growing up.

Then I looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the semi behind me - the one tailgating, remember? - had gone into a locked-wheel skid and his trailer was starting to pass him, very slowly, but definitely swinging around.

I don't think I would have been more terrified to see a platoon of zombies from World War Z closing in.

I didn't mention this little problem to Adm. Fox who was marveling at all the people in their cars and commenting on how fast some people were still driving.

But the guardian angel who travels with me most days decided to goose the semi in front of us just enough forward  so I could give our Prius gas to keep the semi behind from turning us into a Prius pancake.

It was close, but we proceeded on the black ice, making between 5-10 mph between skids.

We got off at the Tehachapi exit just as the California Highway Patrol was closing the highway's west bound land, a sure sign that things were unraveling. Within a half-hour they closed highway completely.

And as I write this, we are ensconced in a comfortable suite at the Fairfield Inn with quite a few other pilgrims who decided that with the sun going down and snow blowing hard a warm bed and cold wine was good alternative to black ice and cars in the ditch.
Pool at the Fairfield Inn

Oh! And this Fairfield Inn has a nice Jacuzzi and swimming pool which we have already tested out.

And the wine is chilling in the ice bucket.

December 5, 2013

Snowstorm slows progress towards California...

SANTA FE, New Mexico - Admiral Fox and I spent a great afternoon and evening in Santa Fe, New Mexico capped by an excellent dinner at a restaurant called The Shed with amigos Randy and Karin, California transplants who own a fabulous casa near a Santa Fe college.

We are getting to know their casa well as we wait out a raging snowstorm that has snarled traffic on the interstate highways.

Just like upstate New York

Today we expected to arrive in Flagstaff, Arizona this afternoon.

But given that it is snowing horizontally and the snow is supposed to continue into the night, Randy and Karin have put out the welcome mat.

Santa Fe is a very interesting town with museums, artists, and restaurants of all shapes and sizes. You could drop a lot of money here - pretty fast - on some beautiful handmade items.

Seeing the city covered in a mantle of snow is apparently a rare thing. We hope that mantle lifts by morning

December 3, 2013

From Whole Foods to Whole Foods across the USA

TULSA, Oklahoma - Admiral Fox and I seem to be traveling on this trip from Whole Foods to Whole Foods, Trader Joes to Trader Joes.

It's pretty healthy, except for the wine.

But we continue our quest west in a few moments, landing tonight in Amarillo, Texas before soldiering on Wednesday to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

There is a hellacious snowstorm ahead of us, which we think we will use age and treachery to outwit.

If not, well, we will try to get stuck in a hotel near a Whole Foods and across the street from a Trader Joes.

More from Amarillo tonight, depending on what time cocktail hour starts.

December 2, 2013

Heading for Sullivan, Missouri; gasoline costs $2.98 a gallon

ON I44 West of St. Louis - Adm. Fox and are are 974 miles from Santa Fe, New Mexico, our first stop (well, stop with friends) on our sojourn from Watkins Glen to California.

We rolled out early this morning, discovered that the complimentary breakfast at our Best Western was unlikely to be complementary to our digestive systems and so left immediately to cross Ohio, Illinois and now Missouri.

The sun is out here at 5:30 p.m., temperature a balmy 60 degrees.

Yup, northeast amigos, that was not a typo - 60 degrees.

For mileage afficionados, the Prius is getting more than 50 mpg and seems to like going 75 mph, particularly if there are no state troopers nearby.

We are looking forward to touching down somewhere east of Springfield, Missouri in an hour or two. We bought a few bottles of wine at Trader Joe's today so we can save  all the NY wines we brought to share with California amigos.

December 1, 2013

Somewhere north of Columbus, Ohio...

NEAR COLUMBUS, OHIO - Admiral Sylvia Fox and I sat in a barely moving traffic jam - on and off - for about two hours tonight before packing it in and grabbing a room at a Best Western Inn.

It was not what we thought our first night on the road to California would bring. But then we didn't leave until noon and even ran into some snow near Jamestown (of course, it's Jamestown).

But we are all fed, wined and ready to get up early to pile on some miles on our quest to get to Santa Fe, New Mexico by late Wednesday, Flagstaff, Arizona Thursday and then on to Sacramento, Sunday.

At least that is the plan. Right now.

The Prius has been getting about 50 mpg so far - and gas prices in Ohio are $3 per gallon. Yup, $3 per gallon.

Wine's cheap, too, but that's another story.

On the road to California - and Mexico

ERIE, Penn. - Admiral Sylvia Fox and I are tooling along at 70 mph outside Erie on our way west and south.

We left Watkins Glen at about noon after several stops and starts.

The biggest stop-and-turn-around was when we crested a hill and could see a beautiful lake. I remembered I had left my camera on my desk.

But a quick run back home solved that.

More later as we move down into Ohio and I can do this on my laptop, not this iPad...

November 25, 2013

A whopper of an endorsement for 'The Fracking War'

WATKINS GLEN, New York - When your writing is referred to in the same paragraph as a book by John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath) and another by Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin), there is only one rational response: You blush.

So Sunday afternoon I had a thoroughly beet-red face for quite a while after I read a book-jacket blurb kindly offered by environmentalist, biologist and author Sandra Steingraber.
Sandra Steingraber
"It was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, not economic data, that turned the page on slavery.  It was The Grapes of Wrath, not demographic reports that opened a nation's eyes to Dust Bowl dislocation.  Out of that tradition comes Michael J. Fitzgerald’s The Fracking War.  Here, within a smoldering crucible of social crisis, is a tale of power, money, fateful choices, and consciences aroused.   If you like your drill rigs served up within the context of a fast-moving plot line, you’ve got what you want right in your hands.” 
  —Sandra Steingraber, author, Living Downstream and Raising Elijah

The beet-red blush was also because Sandra Steingraber is one of my heroes. Working here in New York as a journalist, I've published reams about her courage in fighting the hydrofracking menace, helping to lead the struggle against a manifestly dangerous propane storage project in Watkins Glen, and her arrest and jailing earlier this year on trespassing charges following a protest.

So to have her praise The Fracking War so highly, well, I'm blushing again.
Book cover art by Will Sweeney

All of the pieces have fallen into place - with a little pushing - for electronic publication of The Fracking War this week. There may be some last-minute surprises from the publisher to delay the e-launch. But as they say at NASA, 'Confidence is high.'

And the print version is on track to be available in early 2014.

By the way, my sincere thanks to all the folks who supported The Fracking War through the campaign. We made our goal. And right now Adm. Sylvia Fox and I are scrambling to get the promised T-shirts done and mailed out. I'm also trying to put together an author's website.

At a fabulous end-of-the-season party last night at The Stonecat Cafe in Hector, several people asked me about a sequel to The Fracking War. The answer is yes, there will be one. But I won't say much more about it until Wednesday at the book publishing celebration at the Hector Wine Company, which not surprisingly, is in Hector, too.

November 18, 2013

'The Fracking War' novel is ready to lock, load and publish

WATKINS GLEN, New York - The moment is almost here!

Sunday night, Adm. Sylvia Fox and I ended a successful campaign, taking 180 pre-orders for the novel, The Fracking War, as well as donations for other publishing needs to get the book from manuscript to bookshelves.
Many, many thanks to all the folks who pledged - and who also passed along the Kickstarter link.

The publicity and exposure from the campaign - and peoples' generosity - has already sparked interest from media here in New York and on the West Coast.

Tres cool as the French almost say. Tres cool.

The e-book is still on schedule to be done before Thanksgiving with the printed version showing up in early 2014. That's about as specific as I can be at this moment.

But as soon as I know, I'll pass along updates.

In the meantime, thanks to everyone for your support... "Cry havoc and let slips the dogs of war..."

November 1, 2013

The Fracking War WRFI FM radio interview is posted

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Posting the audio from my radio interview with Bob Fitzsimmons Tuesday on WRFI-FM Watkins Glen-Ithaca seemed like it would be easy.

I took my Olympus DS20 digital recorder into the studio, flipped it on for the entire 27 minutes of chat and then flipped it off.
Tuesday's interview at WRFI-FM in Ithaca, NY

That truly was the easy part.

Back at my home office/studio, the software to move that digital recorder sound file onto my Mac was so outdated it wouldn't run at all. And attempts to update and/or find a new package didn't work.

For nearly two days of on-again, off-again attempts, it didn't work.

Finally, I did it the old fashioned way, using a microphone, Apple's garage band software, and iTunes.


But make that easily accessible for a mass audience proved complicated, too.

Consequently, a link to a recording of the interview is posted below. The link takes you to a YouTube video. It seemed like the easiest way to post it. Unfortunately, I only had a single still photo - and no video - of what turned out to be a great conversation.

Regardless, it was the first stop on The Fracking War book tour, and fun.

Here's the link to the video/sound recording: WRFI Interview

October 30, 2013

'The Fracking War' book tour begins - with a radio show

ITHACA, New York - The beginning of a book tour to promote The Fracking War started Tuesday in the studios of WRFI-FM here, with a friendly host named Bob Fitzsimmons, who coincidentally, is a friend, too.

I had been on Bob's Tuesday afternoon news-discussion program earlier this year with local winery owner Lou Damiani. This time I was on there solo to talk about hydrofracking, a lot of specifics about why I wrote the book and what's really inside the covers of The Fracking War.
On the air with Bob Fitzsimmons at WRFI

The Fracking War is being set up by the publishers as I write this, with - I hope - a e-book edition out in one month. The printed book should roll off the presses in 8 to 12 weeks.

The radio interview was excellent practice for what Adm. Sylvia Fox promises will be a very busy spring when the print edition is available. She is already eyeballing places where hydrofracking for natural gas is particularly contentious and looking into setting up stops with local media and at local bookstores.

You can pretty much stick a pin in any map of any state doing hydrofracking and find controversy and contention.

The campaign is rolling along with the pledge of one $250 donor missing. Her pledge doesn't appear yet on the tally because she has to get an account to preorder books as well as sign up for dinner with the author.

If you are interested in preordering a book, click here for Kickstarter. The book will be available for purchase after the Kickstarter campaign is over through bookstores and online. But anyone who has preordered with Kickstarter will get their e-books and printed copies much earlier than people who chose to go through a book retailer.

Will Sweeney
Tuesday was also a big day for The Fracking War because we hired Will Sweeney, a noted New York artist whose work is being featured heavily in efforts of the NY anti-fracking movement. Will is going to do the entire cover design for us, including a piece of original artwork. That artwork will also be used on t-shirts, posters and other Fracking-War-related items.

After our a 45-minute chat, we felt confident Will is going to produce some great sketches, one of which (or a combination thereof) will eventually make powerful cover.

It will be great to have the book out soon and printed copies shortly thereafter.

But my notebook full of plot and character ideas for the sequel to The Fracking War is already overflowing.

And the name of that book? It's too fracking early to say.

October 26, 2013

The film, 'The Dark Truth' tells, the dark truth, really

WATKINS GLEN, New York - The movie The Dark Truth popped up on Netflix Saturday night, a new addition to the stable of films the movie service has on demand.

Forest Whitaker
I like most Andy Garcia films, plus it featured Forest Whitaker, Eve Longoria and Kim Coates.

They are all good actors.

The movie didn't fulfill what the professional critics thought it should and so, regretfully, it was panned by most critics. That's how I got to see this 2013 film so quickly on Netflix.

But, the critics are dead-ass wrong. The movie isn't totally predictable (which critics hate!) and at the end of the movie, what you normally expect from this kind of quasi-action thriller doesn't happen.

A bad guy even switches sides at the last minute and helps save the heroes and the heroines. Holy Smokes Batman!
Andy Garcia

The movie actually is an important statement about corporate greed. And a major plotline of the movie is that a corporation is robbing citizens of a Third World country through control of the water supply. Well, hello America - that's already happening. And it will happen in the U.S. soon enough.

The Dark Truth is a good stay-at-home popcorn movie, available on Netflix but probably on Amazon and through Redbox outlets, too.

If you are against hydrofracking, check this movie out. It might give you some insight into what the gas companies have in store for all of us - in this country.

E-books, and 'The Fracking War' - Questions?

WATKINS GLEN, New York - After fielding a lot questions in emails, it seemed like a quick blog explaining what the $#^$#%*$%# is going on with The Fracking War, this thing and how to order a copy for a Kindle, iPad, Nook or other e-reader is in order.

Ordering an e-book:

If you want to buy an electronic copy of The Fracking War, go to the site and click on the appropriate 'pledge' on right-hand side of the page. At that point, you have only ordered it - and said you pledge the amount to the campaign. There are several options. You can order just the e-book, or you can order the e-book and a signed print copy. Several other options also include e-books and other spiffs.

The campaign:

The whole campaign is designed to get 'The Fracking War' into people's hands as quickly as possible (in e-book and print), promote the book by getting pre-publication sales on the books and help defray a portion of the costs of getting The Fracking War published: proofreaders, graphic artists, typographers, photography and probably some other things lurking out there, waiting, like a natural gas well ready to explode.

The pre-publication sales are important because it makes it easier to get book reviewers to take a peek before the book actually comes out.

By the way, this whole Kickstarter is called crowdsourcing. Another popular crowdsourcing outfit is called Indiegogo.

If the Kickstarter campaign doesn't hit its goal of $5,000 by Nov. 18, the whole thing evaporates. If you have pledged to buy a book or anything else and it is unsuccessful, you will not be charged. If that happens (Please, please don't let it!), I will scramble to see what I can do for the folks that have pre-ordered books or other stuff. The book will eventually be available through regular sales outlets.

If the campaign is successful - I mean WHEN the campaign is successful - the books, e-books, t-shirts posters and everything else will be delivered as they become available after Nov. 18.

The Fracking War itself:

The writing and editing of the book is done! The manuscript has been uploaded to the publisher and right now we are wrestling with cover design and what the inside pages will look like. On a daily basis, Adm. Fox is showing me headlines or links to stories about hydrofracking issues and incidents, almost always saying, "This is exactly what you wrote in the book!"

That's why we are hustling so fast to get it to readers' hands.

If you have any questions about The Fracking War, The Kickstarter Campaign, or how to order a print or electronic copy email me here: Email Michael.

I'll get right back to you,


October 22, 2013

Read Chapter 1 of 'The Fracking War' on Kickstarter

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - Last year at this time I was daydreaming about the characters and possible plotlines I thought I might include in The Fracking War. At that point The Fracking War was a book idea with a catchy title that had been banging around in my head all summer and into fall.
The manuscript of 'The Fracking War', heading to the publisher Wednesday

Then today, Adm. Fox and I launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the book to market quickly and get the word out to readers that what was once a book idea with a catchy title was about to be an honest-to-God published novel.


Kickstarter LINK to The Fracking War

Many of you have followed the week-to-week, keystroke-by-keystroke process as I wrote The Fracking War via a website that I use to talk about writing and editing called Writing for Money. LINK: Writing for Money website

That website reveals a lot about the process, the occasional bouts of angst I had, and how I discovered what most fiction writers already know: Characters sometimes just refuse to do what you ask them to do. Obstinate little schmucks.

But that website - and posts on this page about the book - were part of a Muhammad Ali strategy to keep me moving. Or to extend the Ali idea, to keep my fingers dancing on the keyboard writing The Fracking War.

Just like when Ali would predict in what round he would knock out his opponent, once I declared publicly I was writing a novel and it would be published this fall, I was putting myself on the line.

It worked.

Now that The Fracking War is within a month or so of being published, I feel like my opponent is on the canvas and I am just waiting for the referee to get to a count of 10 and declare a knockout.

The first chapter of The Fracking War is already published on the Kickerstarter website as a sample for readers. (Here's the link again: LINK: The Fracking War on Kickstarter) Please take a look and see what you think.

If you like it, please let me know: CLICK FOR MY EMAIL. And if you really like it, consider ordering a first edition or choosing one of the other pledge options. There's books, t-shirts, visits to book clubs, dinner on the shore of Seneca Lake...

And please consider passing along the Kickstarter link with the sample chapter to friends and acquaintances. Hydrofracking for natural gas and natural gas production are very quickly becoming the focal point for all manner of political and social upheaval.

Protests in New Brunswick, Canada
If you have been following the national and international headlines about hydrofracking, you know how quickly the whole issue is heating up. Events in the Canadian province of New Brunswick mirror some of what takes place in the fictional settings of The Fracking War.

Life imitates art. Or vice versa. I'm never sure.

And, yes, a sequel is already in the works. Here's a hint about one of the plot lines in the sequel: Don't live anywhere near propane storage, especially salt cavern propane storage.

August 28, 2013

Breathtaking cuts at Gannett newspapers, breathtaking

ELMIRA, New York, USA - The people in charge of the business side of newspapers rode high in 60s and 70s and even the 80s. Profits were huge. Newspapers were a way print money.

Family owned newspapers were swallowed up by well-funded print-predator corporations interested almost exclusively in the money-making aspects of the publications, not their communities or how vital the newspapers were to keeping the people informed.

And then all hell broke loose, profits started to slide, all resulting in an industry headed in a downward death spiral for decades. The Gannett Corporation, once one of the biggest players in the newspaper industry, in recent weeks dumped another 400-500 employees from its newspapers already working with skeleton staffs.

Here's a link to a blog by Gannett staff (and former staff) with details: Gannett Blog

At the same time, the corporation is going to pay $2.2 billion to purchase the television stations owned by the Belo Corporation. It will take Gannett's total TV station holdings to 43.

Television, you see, is the new way to print money.

But the purchase of the television station and the layoffs have no connection say Gannett executives. None. It's doubtful any newspaper reporter or editor still working for the tattered remains of Gannett believe that for a nanosecond.

If they do, they should quit and go to work for Fox News.

Perhaps what has me the most torqued is the ruthless way the corporation is going about the layoffs - in some cases waiting for people to go on vacation, then presenting them with a pink slip when they return. Or maybe it's the corporate doublespeak about how the layoffs will actually result in better newspapers. Frankly, If I read a statement from another newspaper publisher about how he or she is right-sizing their publication, I will barf.

Many people say the newspaper industry's financial woes - decades of declines in paid advertising - started with  the Internet and all that free content. If so, the management did that to themselves. They didn't have to give it away for free.

But a better analysis is that the corporate raiders who bought the newspapers didn't give a crap about the quality of them. And so as the quality declined, readers stop subscribing. Fewer readers meant fewer advertisers wanted to buy ads. That meant less revenue. Less revenue meant more layoffs. More layoffs meant a decline in quality.

And on and on we go.

Don't count newspapers out completely. There are pockets of excellence still. And some weekly newspapers - those not owned by vampire corporations - are doing just fine, maybe better than fine.

But right now many career Gannett journalists are out of work, with even more layoffs likely.

After all, $2.2 billion is hardly small change, even for a media company like Gannett.

August 21, 2013

The Captain and the Admiral finally getting back on the water

VALOIS POINT, New York - The summer has flown by. It started slow after I had to have a hernia repair (ouch), which meant about a month of relatively limited activity. There went June.

Then the Star-Gazette newspaper and a regional magazine called Mountain Home called me for duty a lot. The assignments were all fun, but all seemed to coincide with the best boating weather.

A great day to head down the lake

We also had a hot spell - a really hot spell - that sent Admiral Fox and I diving not only into Seneca Lake, but into air conditioning. It was actually hard to breath at times. High 90-degree temperatures and 90-percent-plus humidity does not make for comfortable living. Ask anyone who lives in Florida in the summer.

And then, there's the book.

The draft of The Fracking War is now safely in the hands of three expert editors to read, critique and eventually return to me for rewriting, editing or a trip to the landfill. What a relief! (Though this morning I woke up rewriting a chapter in my head...)

Spirit of Louise at Village Marina
Today the Spirit of Louise pontoon boat will head out for a down-lake adventure to Watkins Glen. I just arranged for a berth at Village Marina for a few days - right next to the Sheriff's Boat. We hope to explore the south end lake, perhaps even the wilds of Montour a few miles down the channel.

Then on Saturday, the Spirit of Louise will become a press boat for the day. I will be covering a floating protest against a proposed propane storage project that has the community united - united against it.

About 100 kayaks and other boats will join the floating entourage. I'll be shooting still photos and taking video for the newspaper. I'm really hoping for calm water. Really hoping.

The summer also ended up with virtually no blogging for me - the book and commercial writing assignments took up all the writing energy I had.

But at least until the beta readers return The Fracking War, I'll hit the keyboard more often. In fact, I just finished the latest novel by James Lee Burke - Light of the World. A review of it is definitely in order. A great book. But then, his books are all great.

June 8, 2013

Josh Fox's 'Gasland II' - another game-changer movie

ITHACA, New York, USA - Admiral Fox and I journeyed to the Cornell campus Friday night for a showing of Gasland II, Josh Fox's followup film to his amazing first film Gasland. That movie was so powerful that it gave the natural gas industry such gas, it is still sputtering.

Gasland II's Josh Fox

In fact, while Gasland II was being shown in Ithaca, the natural gas industry was showing its own pr-firm pro-hydrofracking film at another New York location.

It's doubtful that the audience there was as enthusiastic as the 300 or so people who packed Statler Auditorium at Cornell. The film was interrupted frequently by applause - and more than a few gasps.

The film will premiere on HBO July 8. And it's a must-see movie for people already opposed to hydrofracking for natural gas as well as anyone still sitting on the fence. Josh suggested that perhaps some Gasland II parties might be in order when HBO releases the film - parties that would include doubters as well as the faithful.

It would be hard to watch this film - a compendium of images of science, pathos, humanity and corporate greed - and not come away feeling, well, I am still sorting all that out the morning after.

We had hoped to actually meet Josh - and we did, sort of.
Sylvia, Josh Fox and me

At one point he jumped down off the stage and stood for a photo - a photo he was sending to President Barack Obama via Twitter. He is flanked by Admiral Fox and I in the photo.

It's a little grainy, but lately I've noticed I look a lot better in soft focus anyway.

The evening gave me even more encouragement to finish editing The Fracking War. It also gave me several ideas for additions to the book and even some new chapters.

The climate change we are already witnessing is being exacerbated by all the methane gas escaping from  all the gas wells being drilled. It has taken an already nearly out-of-control freight train and added ice to slippery tracks.

If the methane emissions aren't controlled, well-known Cornell Professor Robert Howarth said, it's game over for the planet.

The event was partly to help promote the film and also as a fundraiser for Gas Free Seneca (link to GAS FREE SENECA website), the group fighting to stop the Inergy Corporation from storing propane and natural gas in salt caverns adjacent to - and under - Seneca Lake.

Here's a photo of the crowd last night, sending a message to the president and to NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Josh Fox with the banjo, Adm. Fox to the left, me on the right

June 7, 2013

Productivity - exactly what the (%*&#&%^)%^ does it mean?

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The past three days I have been mostly housebound after some minor surgery (minor, the doctor said, referring to the surgery, not the pain factor).

And in that time, I have cleaned up a bunch of things on my desk - including my desk - and made valiant attempts at getting organized. But I get distracted. Often. And often it's by this machine.

That said, I wanted to reprint (below) a piece that I have had sitting on my desktop for weeks, which when I read it, made a great deal of sense. I should have internalized some of the things right away. But, of course in the hurly-burly, mad rush of life I didn't.

The one that sticks out is No. 4 - about focusing on yourself. You can read the full account down below, but the main point is if the first thing you do is check your email in the morning, you let those email messages set the tone and agenda for your day.

A happy note is one thing, a complaint from a reader something else.

Can I check my email, now, please?


8 Things Productive People Do During the Workday

By Ilya Pozin 

1. Create a smaller to-do list. Getting things accomplished during your workday shouldn’t be about doing as much as possible in the sanctioned eight hours. It may be hard to swallow, but there’s nothing productive about piling together a slew of tasks in the form of a checklist. Take a less-is-more approach to your to-do list by only focusing on accomplishing things that matter.
2. Take breaks. You know that ache that fills your brain when you’ve been powering through tasks for several hours? This is due to your brain using up glucose. Too many people mistake this for a good feeling, rather than a signal to take a break. Go take a walk, grab something to eat, workout, or meditate – give your brain some resting time. Achieve more productivity during your workday by making a point to regularly clear your head. You’ll come back recharged and ready to achieve greater efficiency.
3. Follow the 80/20 rule. Did you know that only 20 percent of what you do each day produces 80 percent of your results? Eliminate the things that don’t matter during your workday: they have a minimal effect on your overall productivity. For example, on a project, systematically remove tasks until you end up with the 20 percent that gets the 80 percent of results.
4. Start your day by focusing on yourself. If you begin your morning by checking your email, it allows others to dictate what you accomplish. Set yourself in the right direction by ignoring your emails and taking the morning to focus on yourself, eat a good breakfast, meditate, or read the news.
5. Take on harder tasks earlier in the day. Knock out your most challenging work when your brain is most fresh. Save your busy work – if you have any – for when your afternoon slump rolls in.
6. Pick up the phone. The digital world has created poor communication habits. Email is a productivity killer and usually a distraction from tasks that actually matter. For example, people often copy multiple people on emails to get it off their plate – don't be a victim of this action. This distracts everyone else by creating noise against the tasks they’re trying to accomplish and is a sign of laziness. If you receive an email where many people are CC'd, do everyone a favor by BCCing them on your reply. If your email chain goes beyond two replies, it’s time to pick up the phone. Increase your productivity by scheduling a call.
7. Create a system. If you know certain things are ruining your daily productivity, create a system for managing them. Do you check your emails throughout the day? Plan a morning, afternoon, and evening time slot for managing your email. Otherwise, you’ll get distracted from accomplishing more important goals throughout the day.
8. Don’t confuse productivity with laziness. While no one likes admitting it, sheer laziness is the No. 1 contributor to lost productivity. In fact, a number of time-saving methods – take meetings and emails for example – are actually just ways to get out of doing real work. Place your focus on doing the things that matter most as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Remember, less is more when it comes to being productive during the workday.
What’s your secret to productive workdays?

About Ilya Pozin:
Founder of Ciplex. Columnist for Inc, Forbes & LinkedIn. Gadget lover, investor, mentor, husband, father, and '30 Under 30' entrepreneur. Follow Ilya to stay up-to-date with his articles and updates!

May 17, 2013

Fear of heights? Star Trek Into Darkness might not be your movie

CRONOS, The Klingon Empire - Some movie critics have been generally unimpressed with the latest installment of the long-running, likely never-ending, Star Trek franchise, titled Star Trek Into Darkness.

After sitting riveted to my seat for the 132-minute movie, I think those critics need to pull their collective heads out of their warp cores.

Peter Weller - a Star Fleet Admiral
The movie blends action, humor, pathos and drama in a neat package that revives all the traditions of earlier Star Trek films and creates more. The opening scene - with Captain James Kirk and Dr. Leonard 'Bones' McCoy - will be familiar to anyone who ever watched the original television series or viewed the films made since.

There are actually several villains in the film. But unlike many of the one-dimensional characters in science fiction dramas like these, these bad guys are complicated.

Peter Weller - perhaps best known for his roles in the RoboCop movies - plays a Star Fleet Admiral whose political philosophy seems to have been torn right out of the history books from chapters about the Cold War. Benedict Cumberbatch, best known to most U.S. audiences as Sherlock Holmes, is villainously evil, but is fighting to save his own people from extinction.

See? Complicated?

And then there is the introduction of Alice Eve, who plays the role of the Admiral's daughter.
You are out of uniform, commander (Alice Eve)

In one scene with Chris Pine (who plays Captain James T. Kirk) she asks Pine to turn around so she can change her clothes. The look on Pine's face when he peeks (and of course he peeks, he's Jim Kirk) is wonderfully understated.

Some scenes in the movie almost triggered some vertigo. In the future envisioned by director J.J. Abrams, we live and travel pretty high off the ground. Risky.

Star Trek Into Darkness isn't a film I would rush out to watch again today. Maybe in a few weeks when I get over my fear of heights.

But don't wait for the DVD or streaming version. This is a big-screen experience. And be sure to stay in your seat for the whole movie. This isn't a film where you can't go grab some popcorn mid-chase and ask 'Hey? What did I miss?'

Bones draws a blood sample - very carefully

April 29, 2013

Time to say adios to 'Troupey' our faithful Isuzu Trooper SUV

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - When our Toyota Tundra pickup arrived in the driveway two weeks ago (with us inside), our 1997 Isuzu Trooper probably knew its days were numbered.

With the Tundra home from Mexico, the Trooper will now be sold to someone else out looking for  adventure, we hope.

It certainly provided us with plenty.

We bought the Trooper - nicknamed Troupey - the same fall that we dragged the original Gray Goose Express traveler trailer from Pat and Sanders Lamont's house in Sacramento, through California and Arizona and down all the way to Tenacatita Bay.

Eventually, the Gray Goose Express was parked in Arroyo Seco, where it was temporary housing for Laura McCartney while she was teaching English to the village children.

Troupey served as a great go-to-the-beach vehicle as well as a family loaner. A lot of people borrowed the SUV, frequently using its 4-wheel drive function in the soft sands of Arroyo Seco.

Last summer we used Troupey a lot here at Seneca Lake, managing in the fall to get it stuck up to its axles trying to retrieve the sailing vessel Crimson Tide. Eric Hazlitt came by and pulled the entire rig from the soft sand and gravel at Fitch Beach in Valois in that episode.

Troupey will be missed, but the Tundra will take its place quite handily as the primary tow vehicle here in New York, for the various watercraft already in our fleet, and perhaps for one new one - a Windrider 17 sailboat if I can find a good deal.
Trooper and Grey Goose at Jim Carr's house in Arizona where we had to dump nearly 1,000 pounds

April 6, 2013

A trip to a wine bar where the belly dancers rule

PORT ANGELES, Washington, USA - Adm. Fox, Dustin and I headed downtown to Port Angeles tonight to a place called Wine on the Water (LINK: Wine bar) where we tried a few wines and listened to music.

Note the ladder to the left
Quite a cool evening

It wasn't the usual wine bar fare when it came to tunes - though at first there was some pop-fusion something that was giving me more of a headache than the sulfites in the vino.

The music that eventually dominated came from the adjacent room where a group of four belly dancers were putting on a show.

And the room was packed with their fans while they went through a series of quite provocative moves. (A brief video is below.)

Tomorrow our travels will take us to Canada... Still looking for my passport, though.

April 5, 2013

A town called Squim... even though it's spelled Sequim

SEQUIM, Washington, USA - Adm. Fox and I have been making far too many jokes about some of the local names around here - this town's handle for example: Sequim.

Not much rain, but the river runs fast
Even though it would seem that it would be pronounced See-Quim, it is pronounced simply Squim, like Squish but with an M at the end instead of ish.

So when you leave from here to go to the downtown you go.... Squimming, of course.

Name aside, this is a fabulous place and has only about 17 inches of precipitation per year. That's practically desert, especially for the northwest.

A half-hour's drive way, on the other side of the mountains an average 170 inches of wet stuff is the norm.

I'll stick to squimming in Sequim.

We've been taking great walks here on a trail, seeing lots of wildlife. You don't have to go far however as the deer come into the yard every night, snacking on both the bushes and any birdseed I have been foolish enough to leave out.
The nursery said the deer don't eat this bushes

Adm. Fox also made a new friend today who really wanted to get out of her enclosure and continue the walk with us.

I have a bag of lettuce to give her on our next pass by.
Another recruit for Zumba?

Our time here visiting son Dustin is almost over and we are charting a course home to New York.

We have a few more adventures planned before that, including a sojourn to Canada Saturday - Victoria, Canada to be exact, an hour-and-a-half ferry ride across the straight.

We will join up with Bahia del Sol amiga Shania who has graciously agreed to squire us around the city.

Now if I can just find my passport...

April 2, 2013

Starting to like the gray skies and light rain... Uh-oh!

PORT TOWNSEND, Washington - The gray overcast here has starting growing on me a little, kind of like the green moss I see on almost every rock and on one side of the trees.

Kee-rist, I see it's growing on the back of me, too!

Today Adm. Fox and I took a sojourn to the east to visit former CSUS colleague Paul Cahill and his wife Tamar at their five-acre estate a mile or so from downtown Port Townsend. Paul says it's a work in progress. I don't know. It looked like a fabulous place to me.

Port Townsend waterfront
And I don't know anyone else who keeps llamas in their front yard.

Port Townsend in a relatively short drive from where Dustin lives and another waterfront town. It seems to have resisted all of the big-box stores and retained a lot of charm. We bought food at a Thai restaurant, then retired to bar called the Pourhouse on the waterfront to eat it along with some excellent pale ale and cider.


Tomorrow we will explore Port Angeles itself and pay a courtesy call on the Peninsula Daily News newspaper (LINK: Daily News website), an 18,000 circulation publication that seems to have a good reputation with the locals here.

Port Angeles downtown
What's up with that?

No plans yet for our sojourn back to Watkins Glen and Seneca Lake... Still waiting for the all clear from the weather folks. And I just read that it snowed in Central NY. today.

What's up with that, too? 

April 1, 2013

New blogging software for iPad... let's see

SEQUIM, Washington, USA - Just a little too lazy to pull out one of the two laptops I have along, so I decided to install some new iPad software for blogging with

This, as you can see, is a test to see how well it works.

If it does, well, fabulous. If it doesn't, well, just another bit of evidence in support of my recent purchase of a MacBook Air.

Now, let's see if a photo can be added.

March 31, 2013

On to The Honest Travelers

SEQUIM, WA. - Adm. fox and I launched a new website several weeks ago, calle The Honest Travelers and are using it as a test site during our cross country sojourn...

We will do some cross posting, for sure, but look for our travels at this website:

Gas stop on the way to Port Angeles

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

March 15, 2013

Back in the good old USSA with more sojourns planned

SACRAMENTO, Calif., USA - Two days back in the USSA and I think I am finally rested enough to write something coherent.

You get to be the judge.

Pool and view from our condo
After Adm. Fox left Mexico in a cloud of dust (quite literally) driving from Puerto Vallarta to Sacramento, I stayed behind, wrote a little but mostly closed up the condo at Bahia del Sol, said goodbye to, well, so many Canadians that I wonder if anyone stays there in the winter.

Adm. Fox's trip went smoothly, with a stop in San Diego before landing here at Dr. Pam and Steve's house where I joined her two days ago. My flights were good, all luggage is accounted for and now civilization is being enjoyed.

You can drink water from the tap! Eat lettuce without soaking it in a disinfecting solution! And the wine not only is drinkable, it's inexpensive. At least the wine I buy and drink.
Rinse before eating, but nothing else

I do miss the sound of the ocean, replaced here by the distant thrum of the freeway. And I miss our Spanish lessons with arguably the best Spanish teacher from whom I have ever taken a class. But it's on to new adventures, including a trip to the Northwest then across the Rockies and back to New York sometime in mid-April.

Before that, I have to finish up the writing on my book The Fracking War and - perhaps equally important - find a camper or camper shell for our newly painted Toyota Tundra to make our expedition more fun.

We had the Tundra painted before Adm. Fox headed north. There were more than a few dings and scrapes from living in the village and some small truck vs. car mishaps. I will miss the cost of Mexican repairs. The body work, repainting and bumper straightening cost $546 U.S.

Time to start checking Craigslist for that camper... like the one shown below...
Looking for this kind of camper...

February 23, 2013

Tonga talk and parachute jumping all in one afternoon

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Adm. Fox and I gave a talk/slide/video presentation Friday at the Vallarta Yacht Club to a group of folks about to sail across the Pacific Ocean to the South Seas.

They are self-named "Puddle Jumpers" a pretty understated sobriquet, considering they might be at sea for 30 days jumping the Pacific puddle.

Video of the pie eating (throwing!) contest
Still, there was lot of excitement in the group, as they watched our show about our visit to Tonga last September.

We went to Tonga - Vava'u specifically - to watch, photograph, video and participate in the 4th Regatta Vava'u, a week-long celebration of sailing, culture and Tonga itself. We had a great time - much of it already described in earlier blogs. But reliving it Friday has us already scheming how to get back for Regatta Vava'u V this fall.

A Regatta Vava'u shirt from Tropical Tease
The islands sold themselves easily to this group of cruisers, many of whom only know for sure they are leaving in a week or two. When they get to the South Pacific, they have a vast number of places - and a vast ocean to explore. But it sounded like at least a half-dozen boat captains are leaning towards a Tonga stopover. And one young woman - a registered nurse - said she was interested in maybe spending six months there.

At the end of our hour-long talk, we gave away a number of items from Tropical Tease, a clothing shop on the main drag in Neiafu. Owner Cindy Russell makes arguably the finest T-shirts and other clothing I have ever bought and worn. Her Tonga Dirt Shirts are famous here in Vallarta among the cruisers.

At the end of this blog is a video we produced this fall, parts of which are in the videos we showed the cruisers.

There's Daddy!!!!!
Photography can be dangerous
After the presentation, we scurried over to the beach at Nuevo Vallarta in front of the Hard Rock Cafe where a group called SkyDiveMex has been doing parachuting jumping all week, often taking tandem rides with some of my amigos here at Bahia del Sol.

We watched some of the folks jump a little before sunset. A second group never got jump - it just got too dark.

But just as the last few jumpers were coming down, one of them collided with a photographer on staff with the group. He took his bloodied head in stride, even grinning for Adm. Fox's camera as he left the landing site.

 Below is a video of that crash.

Here's a trailer for Regatta Vava'u IV - the movie...

February 6, 2013

Hitching a ride on Richard Branson's SpaceShipOne

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - I have had a great run in the news-journalism-writing business, starting at the Napa Register newspaper in Napa, Calif. and now with the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, New York.

In Napa, I was hired just as I graduated from college and spent a summer writing obituaries, chasing firetrucks and generally dealing with all the stories that the veteran reporters didn't want to touch. With the daily Finger Lakes Times, I write a once-a-week column on the topic of my choice. The freedom to do that is awesome.

In between these two bracketing media experiences, I worked at six newspapers in a variety of editing/writing capacities, almost always with fun people. Fun or not, they were always interesting. Thanks to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and few other social media outfits, I have reconnected with many of those fun/interesting people.

Just yesterday, after I posted a story about entrepreneur Richard Branson, a former colleague told me about the time her husband - also a journalist -  had interviewed Branson. She was kind enough to send along this photo.

The fellow interviewing Branson is Dave Koenig, who, along with his wife Darlene Bryant, worked with me at the Chico Enterprise-Record back in 1981. Gawd that was a long time ago. I came in as news editor, Dave was a reporter and I was lucky enough to get Darlene to move from reporting to copy editing. She was an excellent copy editor.

My experience at that newspaper - because the publisher was, to put it kindly, a difficult man - wasn't all that good, except for interacting with people like Dave and Darlene.

How difficult was that publisher? Well, my first day on the job, before I had even met the staff of about 25 people, he gave me the names of five people he wanted me to fire - that day. I declined, saying I needed time to evaluate everybody before any action was taken. I am still surprised to this day I kept my job for the five months that I did before I joined the faculty at Chico State University.

But, all that nostalgia aside, my big question for Dave Koenig is this:

Can he get me a complimentary ride on Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipOne? I don't get seasick anymore. Promise!

February 3, 2013

A concert on the Nuevo Vallarta beach - with Latin rock star Juanes

NUEVO VALLARTA, Nayarit, Mexico - Practically every flat surface around Nuevo Vallarta and Puerto Vallarta was plastered with a poster contained the mug of Juanes, a Latin rock star who brings in fans from all over wherever he plays. This is a holiday weekend in Mexico and his concert was part of the celebrations.

Juanes - related to Antonio Banderas?
Juanes a huge star around the world, with his Unplugged tour getting five Grammy nominations. Our amiga Laura McCartney caught his act in Madrid. Yes, the Madrid, as in Madrid, Spain.

But back to the beach here.

The concert was held in an open area next to the Hardrock Hotel (yes, it's a hotel). It was supposed to start at 8 p.m. But, being Mexico, the crowd didn't even get very restive until about 9:30 p.m. when Juanes jumped up on stage and started a rockin' show.

The security guards said they expected a paid attendance of about 5,000. It was hard for Adm. Sylvia Fox and I to get a good look at the crowd. We attended the concert sitting on the beach side (read: Free) where we were joined by about a hundred gringos and vacationing Mexicanos.

And we had our own huge Jumbotron right in front of us. (Huge Jumbotron? Is that an oxymoron?)

Here's a link to Road Trip Zumba in which Sylvia talks about Juanes and the concert. She had a great time at the concert, even doing a few Zumba steps as she listened.


At one point the staff who run the beach area where we were squatting came by and starting asking people if we were staying with them - generally being kind of obnoxious. After he hassled a couple of people (me included), a hired security guard (with a .45 caliber automatic on his hip) chatted with the staff fellow and he disappeared back into the building.

It was reminiscent of our days in San Diego when we would go by dinghy to Humphrey's By the Bay and listen to the concerts there. We heard the Righteous Brothers, Arlo Guthrie, Judy Collins - even Joan Baez, among others.

Here's a short video of some of the concert - from the beach perspective: