Saturday, March 1, 2014

Word struck? Don’t let it bother you, there’s probably a good reason

Good Day World!

Have you ever been struck speechless? Momentarily stunned by a comment or something you saw? At a complete loss of words? Tongue tied? I have.

On my first date in junior high. It was really pathetic. I searched for words to impress my date and made croaking sounds that scared her instead!

The first time I had to stand up in front of a class to make a speech, I lost my voice. I stood pointed at a chart and coughed. And coughed. Words barely discernible as human came out of my mouth mocking my efforts at communication. The teacher took pity on me, pretended I made sense and gave me a passing grade.

I once saw a little Vietnamese boy carrying a lizard so big he had it wrapped around his neck. He held the writhing snout with a calm ease born from experience. The lizard looked like a miniature Godzilla to my inexperienced Western eyes.

There we stood in a rice field. The boy was in a hurry to get home but willing to stop and chat if he could “souvenir” something off me or one of the other guys in the platoon.

I pointed at the squirming lizard and held my hands up in the universal gesture of a question. The boy smiled and said “Numba one chop chop!”

I smiled back and tried not to gag. I really didn’t have a thing to say. I’d recently tried a local fish head stew that smelled so bad I stuffed my nose with Vicks vapor rub in order to eat it.

When I think about it, I’ve been wordless many times in my life:
“Where have you been all night young man?”

No response.

“Who said you could take that last piece of pie?”

No response.

“What were you thinking?”

No response.

You get the idea. It’s pretty common to be at a loss for words. I’ve given this a lot of deep thought (about five fully focused minutes) and I think it’s a survival instinct. If you say nothing, it’s better than saying the wrong thing.

Think about it:

“Where have you been all night young man?”

“None of your business…” This is where harm comes in.

“Who said you could take that last piece of pie?”

“Grandma…she appeared to me in a vision…” This is the where you get to stare at the wall for the rest of the afternoon.

“What were you thinking?

“That I wanted to get fall-down stupid drunk and tell you…” This is where your mate locks the front door and lets you sleep it off on the front step.

Sometimes silence is golden. Or better than a truthful alternative. Then there are times when words can’t describe what you’re seeing. For example, when I watched each of my three sons enter this world I was without words. My world tilted each time, but no fine speech sprang forth to honor the birth.

No mere words could describe those moments of new life I was shared with my wife. I saw my past and my future. Life and death often leave us speechless. The passing of my sister and brother, both so young, left me mute with misery each time. Words were dust in my mouth.

I used to have a friend whose mother always said, “Well hush my mouth!” He’d tell her he got an A in a test at school and she’d squeal, “Well hush my mouth!” happily. He’d describe a fight we witnessed and she’d say…“well hush my mouth” in awe at the description of carnage. I never understood that expression.

After 63 years of experiencing times when words were worthless or needless, I’m still amazed at how quickly they flee in times of stress, pressure, or pleasure. For example, when you get a back rub and are asked if it feels good, words seem unnecessary and a contented sigh says everything!

As It Stands, the next time someone asks you if the “cat got your tongue?” just smile like the Cheshire cat in Alice and Wonderland, and don’t answer.

-Dave Stancliff

(This column originally ran on March 6, 2010 in the Times-Standard newspaper)

Friday, February 28, 2014

New Learnist app has people talking

It’s really been fun watching Learnist grow, and being part of it’s development team. It’s been exciting watching the progress, and now there’s more to report.

The launching of Learnist’s new app for iPod and iPod touch is being noted throughout the tech community.

Here’s some random articles about the rapidly growing learning platform: Learnist

The big news in the tech world is Learnists’s new app is ready to monetize its roughly 10 million users, but ads are not part of the equation.
Rather, with the launch of its new mobile app for iPhone and iPod touch, Learnist is now selling “learnboards” -- or multimedia tutorials that span the arts, technology, sports, food and fitness, among other topics -- for 99 cents a pop:

Learnist Launches Mobile Apps To Monetize Site


Technologizer’s, Harry McCracken, reviews the new Learnist app and gives it some love:

Learnist’s iPhone App Now Lets You Learn from Celebs as Well as Everybody


New Learnist App for iPhone and iPod touch Unveils Digital Bookstore Featuring Premium Content by Notable Experts

Learnist Educational Content App Unveils Digital Bookstore


Learnist, an app that's grown to three million monthly active users in less than two years, is ready to test the so-called freemium market. For the uninitiated, "freemium" is a tactic in which a mobile app is offered for free before monetizing it through premium content:

Olivia Wilde and Gus Van Zant Ink Deals With Learnist


They didn’t kick these cans down the road! Couple finds $10 million in gold coin cache in rusty cans

 Good Day World!

 I’m a treasure-hunter whose yet to find any.

But I do enjoy reading stories about people luckier than I am. It can be about sunken treasure or buried treasure, as long as it’s a hoard of gold and gemstones.

This recent story grabbed my attention. It might interest you too: 

A $10 million gold-coin cache dug out of the ground by a California couple who noticed a rusty can while walking their dog went on public display for the first time at a currency show in Atlanta on Thursday.

The hoard, which includes a single Double Eagle valued at around $1 million itself, was clearly the main attraction as the National Money Show opened for a three-day run.

A small chunk of the change was shown at the booth for Kagin's, the dealer the owners contacted after they stumbled upon the buried treasure — a total of 1,427 coins minted between 1847 and 1894 — a year ago.

The couple have declined to be fully identified — fearing an influx of prospectors on their property — but in an interview published on the Kagin's website, the husband said he spotted the edge of an old can on a part of his property they call Saddle Ridge.

"John used a stick to dig uImage: Cans filled with 19th Century gold cionsp the first can," said the wife, who gave her name only as Mary. "We took it back to the house. It was very heavy."

The lid cracked off and exposed the rib of a coin.

"I knew what I was looking at immediately," John said. He didn't think his wife would believe it.

"When I told her, the look of bewilderment — her mouth was so wide open flies could have flown in and out several times," he said.

They went back to the site and dug up more cans.

"It was very hard to believe at first. I thought any second an old miner with a mule was going to appear." the husband said.

They looked up the coins on the Internet and then stashed them in the safest place hey could think of.

"I dug a hole under the wood pile and got a slab of green board to cover it, put the coins in plastic bags, then put them in a box inside an old ice chest and buried them," John said.

"The old-timers had it right. It’s safer than in a bank!"

The couple plans to sell most of the coins, which have a face value of about $30,000 but are estimated to be worth at least $10 million to collectors.

They said they've been having some financial problems and are thrilled they will be able to hold onto their land, donate to charity and enjoy life free of money worries.

Even though they had walked past the coins many times over the years without realizing they were there, they believe there was a clue right before their eyes: an oddly angled rock up on a hill exactly 10 paces away by the light of the North Star.

What they don't know is who buried the coins.” (via NBC News)

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ultimate Survivors: Cats and their Reputed 9 lives

Good Day World!

“There are reasons why people say cats have nine lives.

I suspect the phrase originated because cats have a surprising ability to survive adversity. Just about every cat owner has a story about how their feline got into trouble and survived.

Why nine lives, you ask? I wondered too so I did a little research and found University of Winnipeg English professor Mark Morton who offers possibilities for picking the number nine:

“First, it’s pretty clear it would have to be one of the many numbers that has traditional significance in Western culture, of which nine is among the most resonant.

“While seven, for example, is almost always positive and 13 is almost always negative, nine can have both positive and negative connotations: for example, cloud nine versus the nine rivers of hell. I think this may reflect our ambivalent cultural attitude toward the cat. Assonance often plays a role in such idioms. In this case, the long ‘i’ in both nine and lives functions as a near rhyme, as is even more clear in ‘a stitch in time saves nine.’”

I as raised with cats. At a very early age my mother made me go under the house to “rescue” our cat Tiger, an enormous orange tabby with an attitude, when he was fighting with another feline.This happened more times than I care to think about.

I remember their glowing eyes and high pitched screeches practically paralyzed me as I crawled around trying to “rescue” that red devil!

Did I mention that Tiger and I weren’t on the best of terms? He once ate my pet bird; a rescued sparrow I named Sammy. Memories of tossing rocks at fighting felines and hoping they’d cease combat, in the moist darkness below my parent’s house, still send shivers down my spine.

Don’t get me wrong. I love cats and have had a few, during 36 years of marriage, that were really special. Asia, a Siamese, was our family favorite. He lived 19 years before we had to put him down because he couldn’t walk or see. Talk about a survivor.

When we lived in 29 Palms, Asia was attacked by a pack of coyotes. Somehow, he got outside when we went to bed (we were always careful to make sure he was inside as we knew coyotes were plentiful) and ran into a vicious pack of nocturnal desert predators.

My wife woke up when she heard “yipping” sounds outside our bedroom. She glanced out the window, opened the closet and grabbed my shotgun - sans ammo - because she couldn’t reach high enough to get it, and charged outside screaming at the top of her lungs. I followed.

The coyotes were playing a game of hot potato with Asia. They were so startled they dropped him and ran away. We gently picked him up (he was in shock), and ran the to the local veterinarian’s house and woke him up. He put in more than one hundred stitches and told us it didn’t look good for Asia.

We took Asia home, and after a couple of days he started eating and drinking again. One life less, he recovered and moved on. There was another situation, while we lived in La Quinta (another happy hunting ground for coyotes), when Asia got out and disappeared for several days.

I, my wife and our three sons, were heartbroken and gave him up as a goner. Then one night at 3:00 a.m. my wife heard a scratching and familiar meow. She got up and let Asia in, none the worse for wear. Her happy voice greeting Asia woke the rest of us and we all danced around the house like idiots!

Asia was our last cat. As much as we loved him and his feline predecessors, my wife and I decided we were tired of cleaning up a cat box (the one big negative about having a cat). The kids were gone and it was just the two of us.

About a year later we got a Pug puppy. That’s all she wrote. We’re on our third Pug and wouldn’t think of having any other pet. She brings the benefit of doing her “business” outside, and of being a great companion.

As we all know, cats are pretty independent. Dogs tend to be better companions because they simply adore us and don’t want to be separated from us.

As It Stands, I still have a lot of respect for cats and can relate to their built-in ability to survive in tough situations.”

by Dave Stancliff

(This column originally appeared on April 24, 2013, in the Times-Standard (Eureka) newspaper)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ex-Heavyweight Boxing Champ Takes A Swing at Leading Country

Good Day World!

Will an ex-heavyweight boxing champion be an iron-fisted ruler if elected?

Vitali Volodymyrovych Klitschko is a Ukrainian politician and former professional boxer. He is the leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform and a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

The political struggle for the fate of Ukraine has already proved far bloodier than any of his 47 bouts in the ring, but that didn't stop him from announcing his candidacy for the country's presidency Tuesday:

Ex-Boxing Champ Vitali Klitschko to Run For Ukraine Presidency

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With a relatively short political career most of the world doesn’t know much – if anything – about this ex-heavyweight who may become the Ukraine’s next leader.

The following link will provide you with a good summary of who he is, and why he’s gone into politics: 

Who Is Vitaly Klitschko? The Boxer-Turned-Politician And Face Of The Ukrainian Opposition

Time for me to walk on down the road…



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Remember to be wise in your whining ways

  By Dave Stancliff

I’m a whiner when it comes to pain these days.

Seems like I get a new pain everyday when I wake up. I can strain a pinkie doing something stupid the day before, and the pain will greet me in the morning like an unwanted in-law seeking to move into my den.

I try to take solace in the fact experts say my habit of cracking my knuckles when I was young didn’t cause the arthritis that I currently suffer. They say cracking my knuckles was simply forming - then popping - an air bubble in my synovial fluid. That’s the gooey stuff in the cavities of your joints.

I have a lousy left knee. It crunches when I walk. When I had it examined and the word surgery came up, I decided it still had mileage left despite the near constant pain. So I wear a brace - sporadically - and whine for all to hear as I lumber along.

I just read an article about a sugar solution injected into the knee for pain relief.
The technique - known as dextrose prolotherapy - has been around for 75 years but is still considered an "alternative" therapy. If I used this method for pain relief I’d probably get sugar diabetes! Alternate pain solutions have produced problems for me in the past and I‘m gun shy of shooting myself in the foot again!

Seriously, I do look for ways to alleviate my pain without taking meds. I use relaxation techniques and dieting. I’m careful not to twist my back when I bend over and pet my pug. Basic stuff. I use the cane when my right leg goes totally numb, as it will after I stand upright for long periods of time. Comes from nerve damage in my back.

If I don’t resort to the cane after a certain point, I look like Big Bird on a binge!

I’ve discovered that whining can feel good. People pay attention and you might even get babied for your efforts! If you’re really lucky, they offer to get whatever you want, and are happy to run to the store for your favorite chocolate peanut butter ice cream!

I just have to remember to be wise in my whining ways. Too much produces the opposite effect of what I want. Everyone disappears suddenly, and I’m left to lament in solitude. There is a fine line.

I whine about bruises. The darn things pop up out of nowhere on parts of my body that barely got bumped the day before. If it’s a really dark bruise I display it as proof that I have a reason to whine. “Look at this dear,” I tell my wife, displaying a dark spot on my forearm. She patiently nods in sympathy.

I don’t know what good it does to whine when I hurt. When I was younger it was the last thing I would let anyone know. Heavens no! I was way too tough to let on I was human. Especially in the Army.

Age does something to a person however. As I settle into my sixties, all the abuse I subjected my body to is coming back to haunt me like old competitors on steroids! Decades of basketball are partially to blame for my pain, but excesses like jumping off roofs of houses when I was in elementary school, contributed to the overall breakdown of my body.

Pain comes home to roost in older birds like me who didn’t take good care of themselves. I lived hard, played hard, and still play hard even when it hurts! In that I don’t have any regrets.

I’m in my so-called Golden Years, I’m gimping around like Popeye on pot, but I’m lucky to have a wife who’s understanding and will listen to my whining without wanting to see me lose my voice!

I was talking with another fellow my age the other day and we did a dueling banjos thing where I would whine…then he would…then I would whine even louder.. and he would.. Well, you get the idea.

As It Stands, they say humor is the best medicine, so I try to remember to laugh after a good whining session!

(This column originally ran in The Times-Standard in June 2013)

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Art of Headline Writing: Painting Pictures with Words

Good Day World!

As a print and digital journalist, I enjoy the art of writing headlines.

There’s a lot of thought that goes into writing a good headline. The ability to summarize a story in the least amount of words can be taught.

But, the great headlines, the ones that grab you and leave an impression, are written by wordsmith’s that take the art to a new level.

To be fair, there’s sensational headlines that generally get a lot of views that aren’t really that well written, but their salacious content gets an overwhelming response. For example:

Topless Woman Masturbating In Van Arrested On Gun Charge

The hot headline above is in a separate category. Straight news headlines are more commonly used in news publications, blogs, and websites. For example:

After the Gold: Olympic Medalists Struggle with Real Life

But really clever mainstream headlines are harder to come by. Here’s a couple of good examples:

1) A Surprisingly Simple Way to Get Out of the ‘Rat Race’ (and into the chips!) 

2) Don’t Envy the Plumber - Be One

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget funny headlines! Here three good examples:

1) Alton Attorney Accidently Sues Himself (from a Madison, Wisconsin, Legal Journal)

2) Tiger Woods Plays With His own Balls (from an AP news story)

3) County to Pay $250,000 to Advertise Lack of Funds (from the Register-Guard) 

Time for me to walk on down the road…

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Boomers Story: Once I Believed, but now I don’t

   By Dave Stancliff
 I didn’t start out distrusting our government.

I was proud to say the Pledge of Alliance when I went to school in the 1950s and early 1960s. I never questioned what our government was doing because my teachers told me our government was an institution that maintained people’s rights.

I believed them. My parents believed them. Almost everyone believed our government protected our civil rights. Except for African-Americans and some progressive whites. That segment of society had to fight for equal rights, but I didn’t see much of the battle for a couple of reasons.

For starters, I seldom watched television. When I did, it was only for special programs like watching the Mickey Mouse show, or Howdy Doody. News about civil rights demonstrations seldom slipped into my social studies classes. When it did, in the early 1960s, the coverage was spotty at best.

It wasn’t until I graduated from high school in 1968 and went into the Army that I began to have misgivings about our government. After my tour of duty in Vietnam (1970) I was a different person. For numerous reasons. When I got out of the Army in 1971, I bought a car and traveled around the country.

Like other Vietnam veterans at the time, I was not given the red-carpet treatment for serving my country. My country had changed. Or, I was the one who changed. I now knew that I had grown up clueless, and I began to see the world around me for what it was.

For the first time I followed the news. I was in Ohio on June 17th, 1972 when the Watergate burglars broke into the Democratic Party’s National Committee headquarters. The rest is history. I tore up my honorable discharge because it was signed by Richard M. Nixon.

My disillusionment was so great I felt compelled to do something about it. That was a turning point in my life, when I knew I had to expose all the lies I grew up with and the machinations of the current administration.

Throughout my career in newspapers I sought the truth behind political intrigues and exposed everything I believed the public should know. My ability to get information during the late 1970s through the early 1990s, was limited compared to what’s available these days to anyone who has a PC and the internet.

When I began my blog and this column in 2008, I returned to politics and news with renewed interest. A lot has happened in the last five years. Two historic elections, a great recession, and now the revelation that the government has been spied on all Americans for an unknown period of time.

They still do. Yes, I know you can argue that PRISM and other secret government programs are for our own good. You can also argue that our government has gone too far in monitoring our every activity.

I admit I’m more concerned about our freedoms now than ever before in my life. I’ve watched the Patriot Act morph into other secret programs in the name of national security, and it appears we’ve got to live with Big Brother watching our every move, even after exposing him.

I’m not surprised George Orwell’s 1984 is selling like hotcakes lately. The sales rankings for Orwell’s dystopian view of the future spiked like crazy two weeks ago, according to A new generation is discovering this classic book. I think that’s a good thing. People need to question what’s happening when the government starts stripping away liberties in the name of safety and ideology.

Knowing that what I’m write here could put me on a secret government list, deeply disappoints me. I’m proud to be an American. I fought for freedom, not an overbearing government. But as revelations continue to unfold about the NSA’s, CIA’s and FBI’s illegal activities, I can’t trust our government.

After five years immersed in political history and current events, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Obama administration continues to follow in the footsteps of every president since Richard Nixon.
Those footsteps have led to a disconnect between the government and the people and have resulted in the biggest case of spying in our history. The image of Watergate fades beside the enormity of what’s happening in America today.

As It Stands, my disillusionment is somewhat abated by the fact that social media have become so powerful, government corruption is harder to conceal.

*Editor’s Note: This column originally ran in the Times-Standard newspaper in July of 2013.

Blog Break Until Presidential Election is Over

I finally hit the wall today. I can't think of what to say about all of the madness going on in this country right now. I'm a writer...