My Confederate Battle Flag Story

The wanton murders of nine innocent people, folks so decent and welcoming that they provided a spot in their church to a stranger, who then methodically shot them to death based on his twisted logic, shocked the nation. Resentment against symbols of hatred and racism such as the Confederate battle flags grew and resulted in many (hopefully all) being removed. I grew up in a segregated part of the south, in the rugged triangle where West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky come together. I recall the “white only” drinking fountains and separate public toilets. I recall the all-white “separate but equal” (what poppycock) schools.

For me, the reaction of decent people to take down public displays of Confederate battle flags, rancid symbols of resistance to desegregation legal rulings in the nineteen-sixties, was heartening. Hats off to Nikki Haley of South Carolina, which was the first state to secede, and the state that has clung to many of the most intransigent vestiges of racism for years.

So with all that, it’s interesting that one of my family’s most treasured possessions was a small book, more properly a large pamphlet, written by my great grandfather. He volunteered for the Army of  Northern Virginia, leaving his home town of Princeton, Mercer County, Virginia, and joining Virginia’s 118th Battalion of General Robert E. Lee’s army. He entered as a private, without education beyond elementary school (that was customary in rural areas) and rose to Lieutenant based on brevet promotions. In other words, his superior officers were killed or injured and he was selected to replace them. His war ended at one of the two battles of Cold Harbor, outside Richmond, when the New York Seventh Heavy Artillery Regiment charged at daybreak with heavy bombardment, and overran the Confederate lines. My great-grandfather was shot and bayoneted, and left for dead. He would have died for sure, but for the fact that his buddy next to him killed the Union soldier by swinging his rifle butt and smashing his head in hand-to-hand combat. Lt. George was carried to the Union trenches as a prisoner of war, most likely to succumb from his gruesome injuries. Surprisingly, the Confederate forces counter-attacked after thirty minutes, and regained their original trench lines. The charge ended with both armies in their starting positions, however George was a captive, and somehow he survived and spent the remainder of the war in difficult POW camps: first in Fort Pulaski, near Savannah GA; and finally in Baltimore, MD, after an unsuccessful escape attempt attempt in Georgia.

After General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, great-grandfather came back home to a different place: Princeton, Virginia was burned nearly to the ground (by retreating Confederate forces) and now was Princeton, Mercer County, West Virginia! The change was too much to bear for my predecessor, who moved across what was the new state border back into Virginia near Saltville.

He prospered there, and at some point, paid someone to write his memoirs, titled “One of the Immortals,” which was a name given to Lee’s army. My aunt, when a little girl, was presented a copy of the pamphlet, along with a note from W.W. George and a handwritten letter to her. When George died, apparently as a somewhat notable there in southwestern Virginia, someone hand drew a small battle flag that was placed on his coffin. This flag was part of the family lore designated by my Aunt Mary to me, and from her on to my oldest son. A photo of the front of the pamphlet, along with the various inscriptions as well as the small battle flag is shown. The final decision will be up to my son, JKG III, but hopefully this material will end up in the Institute for Civil War Studies at Virginia Tech.

If you have any doubts about this story, you can read more in several noted accounts of the Battle of Cold Harbor, including Cold Harbor: Grant and Lee, May 26-June 3, 1864, pages 322-323, by Gordon C. Rhea.

This small symbol is part of my family history, but I’d never want it to be a reminder to any group of the injustice forced on people before and after the Civil War. Based on when my ancestors arrived and where they lived, I have a reasonable pride in my family, but certainly agree with the recent decisions to remove public symbols of an economic and social system that was based on subjugation and bias.




My 2014 In Books

As many of you know, I’m an avid reader, made much more so by belonging to a fantastic book club here in Austin. It has changed my life for the better, and if there is a single recommendation I could offer to someone, it’s to join a book club. You will be exposed to works you probably would never have heard of, learn lots of new stuff, appreciate good writing, and meet interesting people. Look for a group that is open to new ideas and not one-dimensional, as they will only serve to reinforce their existing positions. That’s not a way to grow and develop.

I strongly prefer hard-cover printed books, and spend some time combing the used hard-cover used book sections of both and searching for specific titles in good condition. It’s amazing what treasures you can find, and these come in uniquely and carefully packaged shipments from all over the U.S. All these little treasures add up, however, and now twenty years of collecting books has resulted in a full library.

Looking back over the 2014 reading list, there were 14 non-fiction selections and 14 novels. I usually read the fiction first when there is a book club selection of both a fiction and a non-fiction for the month. In my personal (non-book club) reading list, I read four novels and four non-fictions. Fiction is my preference, however it’s hard to find really compelling fiction, while non-fiction generally is enjoyable and informative.

My friends, knowing of my reading “affliction,” often ask me to recommend books. Here is my list of the most memorable among a wonderful group.

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox (NF) A fascinating story of decoding an ancient language of the Minoan civilization from Crete, where neither the language nor the characters were known.

The Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan (NF) This is a mandatory read for anyone interested in the times of Jesus and the Jewish people in the era of Roman rule in what is now Israel and the surrounding areas. The work is controversial and the author has been criticized for his lack of religious qualifications. I found the work fascinating and illuminating.

Doctor Copernicus, by John Banville. (F) (I’m a fan of anything by Banville.) This is a story of Copernicus, who first discovered that the Earth rotates around the Sun, not vice-versa, and his struggle to be a believer as well as stay alive under the strict Catholic teachings to the opposite.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (F) After seventy-plus years on this Earth, I read it! It took me twenty times to put the book down and then to start again. But, I did it. This thing is a mandatory read for a person once in his/her life. It’s almost impossible to describe the plot, but it’s worth it in the end. If only that you can say you did it.

My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy (NF) As a big fan of Conroy’s elegant, syrupy style, I loved it. It’s a paean to the joy of reading.

Here is the complete 2014 group:

1. Personal selections (non-book club)

tinkers, by Paul Harding (F) A story of a peddler, a tinkerer, his travels and experiences. (the small “t” is correct)

Travels in the Skriptorium, bu Paul Auster (F) Paul Auster is perhaps the most popular American writer in parts of Europe, including Germany, but not well-known to most Americans. This book stretches the imagination. At least now I know who Auster is, for the next discussion on arcane literature.

My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy (F) Comments above.

The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard (NF) Ms. Dillard’s story is about her life in writing (duh) but with good tips on how to compose a good read.

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson (NF) For Bryson fans, a galloping memoir tale. Not my favorite from the TK.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (F) Comments above.

Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson (F) Creative fiction that takes place in the early American Northwest.

Story Craft, The Complete Guide to Writing Narrative Nonfiction, by Jack Hart (NF) It’s what it says in the title. I read it before starting “Contact Sport,” my NF book coming out in September. Solid Stuff.

Out There, by Sarah Stark (F) Innovative fiction. Her debut novel got rave reviews in Publisher’s Weekly. It’s a sobering read on the trials of PTSD in veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled ingeniously with, and using, One Hundred Years of Solitude as a backdrop.

2. Here are the book club selections, in order:

The Emerald Mile, by Kevin Fedarko (NF) Fantastic, thrilling history of the Grand Canyon and the dams that both created the lakes and threaten the canyon.

The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey (F) Tey’s last book, a crime investigation masterpiece about the times and death of Richard III.

The Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, by Timothy Egan (NF) History of a famous photographer (Edward Curtis) and his quest to capture the lifestyles of Native Americans before their cultures were completely overrun by the European-based civilization in the U.S.

The Round House, by Louise Erdrich (F) Gripping and startling crime story about an assault on an Indian reservation.

The Son, by Phillip Meyer (F) Popular fiction about Texas, with the tough and focused people who populated the land and ran roughshod over their enemies.

The Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, by Reza Aslan (NF) Comments above.

Elephanta Suite, by Paul Theroux (F) Three short stories that take place in India. The author is a master writer who has written something like 35 works, mostly travel books. His fiction is memorable and penetrates to the core of what it’s like to be human.

Little Failure: A Memoir, by Gary Shteyngart (NF) Humorous memoir of an Eastern European Jewish kid who immigrated to the U.S. Think “Steingart” when pronouncing his family name.

Tent of Miracles, by Jorge Amado (F) South American “mystical fantasy” fiction by a master writer.

Slingshot: AMD’s Fight To Free An Industry From The Ruthless Grip Of Intel, by Hector Ruiz (NF) Usually the winners and victors write history, but not in this case. Ruiz combines an inspiring story of his rise from modest circumstances on the Mexican side of the U.S. border to the top suites of corporate power, along with what it’s like to compete with a very tough industry-leading company that combined being the best at most things along with taking every legal (and illegal) step possible to maintain that dominant position. Interestingly, Intel’s laser-like focus on the desktop (along with Microsoft) has led them (both) to fall far behind in the mobile area (tablets and smartphones).

The Violinist’s Thumb, by Sam Kean (NF) Study of DNA and how biology evolves and evolution happens. Amazing deep dive into the subject.

The Orphan Master’s Son, by Adam Johnson (F) Stranger than fiction (and apparently mostly true) story of the dark side of North Korea and the way reality is distorted for the citizens. So incredible and disturbing, this was hard for me to read.

Would You Kill the Fat Man? by David Edmonds (NF) A seminal book about psychology and the dilemma of decision making when the only best option is the lesser of bad choices. At least you will be able to talk about “the trolly-ology dilemma” at your next cocktail meeting or Mensa meeting.

Father of Two, by Ken Hurwitz (NF) Very good story, with a bit of a surprise ending, about a son’s long-term efforts to find out how his journalist father died.

The History of the Internet and the Digital Future, by Johnny Ryan (NF) Good read for nerd-central folks. Nice recap of the evolution of the Internet.

Disquiet, Please!:  More Humor Writing From The New Yorker, Edited by David Remnick and Henry Finder (F) A collection of the magazine’s short humor stories. Lots of stories!

In the Kingdom of Ice, by Hampton Sides (NF) The story about the history of gaining knowledge of the Arctic region, and the first attempts to sail into the polar latitudes. Breathtaking detail based on exhaustive research. This book includes fascinating information about Russia’s Siberian polar regions and the native peoples there.

Doctor Copernicus, by John Banville (F) Comments above.



Final Manuscript Completed!


Okay, perhaps an exclamation point is a bit over the edge. Yet it is a key milestone. If you recall, and I wouldn’t expect many to do so, my last blog was dated August 15, way back in the hot summer of 2014.

Now, in the second half of February, the first draft is complete. I can come up for air, and resume what passes for a normal existence.

These 60,000 words have been sent to ten or so “beta” readers for both content review as well as any other English-101 glitches. The text probably will get some revision, however it is now beyond my ballpoint pen and iffy typing. Aaron Hierholzer, who has been my project editor at Greenleaf Book Group, has kept me on track at a higher level, in order to keep the story flowing and the characters interesting. In addition, the MS has survived the rigors of Ms. Susan Luton, a professional editor for multi-lingual (English and Spanish) educational material (and budding novelist). She, the mistress of the soft, fine-pointed pencil, has been a priceless (that is not true—she does not work for free) resource to me.

Not only is Ms. Luton a very precise editor, she also serves as a reader who isn’t knowledgeable about amateur radio in any way. The book is a story about an international event (held every four years, in Olympic style) that matches two-person teams of the best “ham radio” operators in an on-air competition to see who can contact the most people in the most different locations within a 24 hour period, operating from locations that are selected to be as identical as possible.

This particular competition, the WRTC 2014, was held on New England in July. People from over 40 countries took part, the first time the championship has been held in the United States since 1996 in the San Francisco Bay Area. The intent was to isolate operating skill from other variables. That goal is nice to attempt, but hard to do in practice. I’ve tried to write a non-technical book that explains why two million people around the world enjoy the hobby of amateur radio, and why the sensual imagery of Morse code and signals floating through the air continues to fascinate  people to this day. Hopefully, some of younger people who are tied to the “instant and constant communication methods” we have today will learn about other ways to communicate (voice, data, and Morse code) and will find them as interesting—and possibly a key to a great career—as many of my generation have done.

The finished product is still a way off. The MS must pass muster with the publisher’s editorial standards, and at least thirty photos must be incorporated, along with reference data encompassing all prior results for this competition (World Radiosport Team Championship). In addition, an index, a bibliography, and front and rear cover designs all must be finalized. At that point, several hundred “advanced reader copies,” or ARCs, are produced for reviewers and the sales force in order to get media reviews in place, in addition to a sales forecast. The publisher and I then will agree on the volume of the initial press run, and emphasis will turn to marketing and promotions. These days, for a very small fry like me, just like the big shots of publishing, the scene shifts to appearances on TV and radio, newspapers and magazine interviews, and hopefully speaking tours to promote the work.

Stay tuned.


Status Update: The Book Takes Shape

My last blog, dated way back on the Fourth of July (which seems ages ago) announced a publishing contract for an international competition. Much has happened since then, and to the mega (okay, I exaggerate a bit) dedicated readers of this esteemed chronicle, here’s an update. As I mentioned “way back then,” a publishing house here in Austin loved the idea of a unique, but a bit quirky event involving two-person teams (“two-person,” not “two-man” since one team consisted of two German women) who would battle it out for the title of the best … hmmm, how should I say this … amateur radio contesting team on the planet. Actually, I prefer radiosporting, a competitive and demanding international activity enjoyed by tens if not hundreds of thousands of licensed amateur radio aficionados, or “ham radio operators.” These folks, of all walks of life, like the the excitement of trying to make the most contacts with other “hams” in as many different locations as possible, all within a prescribed time frame. Some of these events incorporate a few hundred, others thousands, and the most popular up to ten thousand partipants. Some are based on voice, others on Morse code, a few with both “modes,”  as well as new varieties using various digital data. Ah, pick your poison, as they say, for your preferred version of radiosporting.

The epitome of all these events is a quadrennial radiosporting Olympiad, held in various host countries where national groups bid to host the competition. After a somewhat modest start as a spin-off of Ted Turner’s Goodwill Games in 1990 in Seattle, which was focused on bringing together the former U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A., the radio games resulted in a unusually positive exchange of people who found great common ground in their hobby along with much social conviviality. It seemed beer is an international bonding medium in addition to interest in radio. This initial gathering was followed in 1996 in the San Francisco Bay Area, in 2000 in Slovenia, two years afterward in 2002 in Finland, and back to a four year cycle of 2006 in southern Brazil and in Moscow, Russia in 2010.

The basic theme has remained the same, with elite radiosporting enthusiasts entering a pre-set qualifying process for three years, and then competing over a 24 hour period at the end of the fourth year. Unlike other world-class events of world class athletes and competitors, this contest requires that the contest teams make nearly all their contacts (voice and Morse) with everyday hams. Yes, the competition teams do contact one another, but the vast majority of communications are with “regular Joes” (or Janes) who are operating from their home stations. The 2014 World Radiosport team Championship was held in mid-July in the greater Boston, Massachusetts area in sites very carefully scoped out and tested both with software predictive analyses as well as with two years of experimental test results to be equal in terms of signals connecting the world’s population centers including Europe and North America. Over 60 sites were accepted, a few more than the 59 teams in order to provide backup locations if needed. Naturally, there were some “your site was better than my site” grouses before and after the competition, but overall, to the best extent humanly possible, they were close, very close. I spent a full week in New England, and came back with a black notebook crammed full with stories one would expect to find, in addition to numerous back-channel tales and findings that are wonderful gist for a non-fiction book. I’ve had my first meeting with my editor, an impressive young man of thirty-ish. He loves the project, and helped me with the outline. We agreed on a schedule, challenging but doable, of 10K to 15K words a month, with a plan to reach a completed 70,000 word manuscript, with all the editorial review and polish, in six or seven months. After two weeks, I have completed 8,000 words, and am pleased both with the rate and the quality of the writing. The theme is exciting and interesting, and the book will be aimed at those who are completely unaware of amateur radio in any way, but who enjoy reading about interesting people from various places and walks of life who do interesting and fascinating things.

Press coverage in New England was extensive, and national media organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, were represented. Here’s a link to both the written version and the on-air program from NPR.

I hope to do justice to this event, so well organized and conducted, and to the unique people of so many different backgrounds and cultures who made it all possible. Bottom line, the first three teams in order of scoring were from the U.S., Slovakia, and Germany, with a razor-close finish between the Germans and another American team. The drama and classic human interest  behind the scenes was more than I could have dreamed of. I’ll try to post some updates as this writing journey into the world of international shortwave radiosporting continues. For now, here is one photo of the team I followed as their driver and observer.






Please comment from time to time on the blog as you see fit, and wish me well to do justice to an amazing modern challenge involving stamina, concentration, and technical ability in order to dance along the unseen but very real electromagnet waves of our planet.


A New Book Contract … to Cover an International Competition

Every four years, much of the world of amateur radio pauses to follow the results of an intense, twenty-four hour struggle to determine the best radio-sporting team in the world. This year, the competition will be held in the northern suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts following a week of team meetings, referee consultations, general comings-together of both contestants, referees, judges, other officials, general ham radio fans, and the curious public from nearby New England towns. Ending only six hours before Brazil’s World Cup in “Fu’tbol,” with millions of both casual and rabid TV viewers, the World Radiosport Team Championship, or WRTC, will be followed by “only” tens of thousands of ham radio enthusiasts worldwide on a real-time Internet scoreboard. Unlike the World Cup, ham radio operators actually will be interacting with the competitors, since the teams compete by contacting their fellow hams around the world. In other words, the approximately fifty two-person WRTC teams score points only by making exchanges over-the-air (with both voice and with Morse code) of required information with other amateur radio operators all over the globe.

Previous WRTCs were held in Moscow, southern Brasil, Helsinki, and Bled, Slovenia following an event in Silicon Valley, California. So this is the first WRTC in the U.S.A. in twenty years. The home URL of the 2014 WRTC is here:

The Director of the WRTC, a man of vision, had read my nostalgic fiction, “Reunion,” liked it, and requested that I write a non-fiction book with the radio contest at the center, but with the charter to broaden the description and background to appeal to general readers who know nothing about ham radio or radio sporting. In this way, they can “get” the magic of short wave radio and understand the passion of people who love hearing those exotic signals warble in from all over the world on a magic carpet of different music and languages. Many hams, and specifically those elite operators who are finalists in this “great radio battle,” have backgrounds in engineering and telecommunications but a scan of the team members indicates a wide range of professions including medical doctors, police officers, elementary school teachers, financial advisers, hotel desk managers, truck drivers, and boatswains, in addition to musicians, brigadier generals and senior intelligence officials.

A publisher here in Austin loved the idea, with the “quirky” nature of the passionate enthusiasts in a tournament along with the unique hobby group that numbers two million licensed hams worldwide. They especially liked the strategy to broaden the story to general audiences, much like “The Big Year” did for bird watchers everywhere, and agreed on the spot to publish the book with full editorial and retail channel support.

With many years in this radio hobby, one book already under my belt, and an active blog with over a thousand readers, I have the content knowledge and the commitment to be the writer hidden inside this man who sent nearly forty years as a semiconductor executive. Wish me luck, and look for progress postings along the way, with a relatively short-term goal of the resulting book being available in the late spring of 2015. “Okay coach, I’m ready … put me in!”


Trip to Amsterdam

Our son, Chris, his wife, Annabel, and their three sons moved from Portland, Oregon, to Amsterdam in the summer of 2013 on a job assignment for Nike. My wife, Diana, and I “reserved a room” at their home (they have plenty of family visitors as well as college friends in the summer) and spent a wonderful week. We brought sunny and warm weather with us, according to Chris, and the temperature ranged from 45-50 in the mornings to 65-72 in the afternoons. It just could not have been any more pleasant.

Street scene in the Canal District of Amsterdam. There are  narrow, but functional streets on both sides of the canal, and you can see cars parked there outside the residences. Many people live on “house boats,” which come in a crazy mix of luxury all the way to very old, worn in appearance, and “bare bones” versions.

One of our “outings” was a Sunday trip on a bus downtown with Chris and the three boys. We rented a small paddle boat in the canal district and this is a typical scene taken on the water from the “U.S.S Paddle Boat.”  There was a lot of canal traffic, and we sort of bobbed along paddling like crazy and at times we cowered in the wake of larger and faster canal traffic.

Another great neighborhood scene from the Canal District in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Great Concert Hall, located at the edge of the “Museum Plein” (Museum Plain). The tour group consisted of only nine of us, and we covered the attic (up and down a crazy spiral staircase) and the basement in addition to the main concert hall and two additional, smaller venues. There was a big Rachmaninoff Concert that evening, and we saw the orchestra eating a pre-concert meal in their private cafeteria. A fantastic experience.

Jim and Diana by the River Amstel, approximately 25 miles from the center of Amsterdam. One of The Netherlands’ famous windmills is in the background.

Diana (Nana) with “The Boyz,” Dillon, Tyler, and Jackson (L to R).

Diana and Jim in front of the Rijck Museum. The “J” in Dutch is like a “Y” or an “i” so “Rijck” is pronounced “Reick,” or “R-IKE. This museum is Holland’s version of the Metropolitan Museum in NYC or the Louvre in Paris. It is just unfathomable in terms of scope. We did manage to see “The Night Watch,” the famous painting by Rembrandt. In addition to the Rijck, two other great museums are on the Museum Plein: The Van Gough Museum, and the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art. The Concert Hall lies on the opposite end of the Museum Plein, so it’s a world-class famous cultural center.

All in all, I can say Amsterdam is the most beautiful and comfortable city I’ve ever been in, and I’ve been to a whole lot of cities worldwide. The city includes wonderful canals, beautiful buildings, cultural centers, loads of cool, little neighborhood coffee shops and cafes, a Red Light District that is “world famous,” lovely city parks, amazing mass transit, and wonderful people, all of whom speak excellent English. One can say that Paris has some of the most beautiful areas in the world, however Paris is huge in size and has blighted areas, plus people who definitely resist any other language but “the language of Heaven.” I will agree that Dutch does not compete with French as a lyrical and lovely spoken tongue, but the cleanliness and friendliness of the Dutch make Amsterdam a world class winner in terms of a city and a people who “have it all.”


From LED Lights to Electric Cars: The Experience Curve and How It Affects Us

In Austin, like many cities, the AM radio dial is eking out an existence based on sports talk, conservative talk radio, foreign language music (chicano and conjunto Tejano here), and the occasional oldies rock and roll. I’m a classic rock guy along with sports talk, NPR, and a little classical music when I need quiet and clear thinking; but occasionally I’ll listen to several of the phalanx of AM conservative talk radio here in town in order to get their “take” on things.

The title theme above comes from commentary on the Sean Hannity program a year or two ago, during which he and a guest (his name long forgotten to me now) were just railing away on the U.S. government’s decision to end production of incandescent light bulbs in place of the new CFL and LED technology. They went on and on about the abject stupidity of the decision, and were speculating that they might buy up all the remaining incandescent bulbs, inventory them until none were available, and sell them at a huge mark-up, yet still be much less expensive than the crazy new stuff.

Politics aside, neither had any knowledge of the experience curve. Most people don’t. The seminal book on the matter, “Perspectives on Experience, was published by The Boston Consulting Group in 1968, and I have the good fortune to have a copy from 1973, designated “Assigned to J.K. George and property of Motorola Semiconductor Products Division.” Hopefully good old Motorola, or what is left of it, won’t come after it.

In 1973 Motorola Semiconductors still was a small but rapidly growing business. This book was influential in my career, and I just might have been the only person at Motorola to read it. Based on the mathematical models, Bud Broeker and I made $500 million decisions on memory chip industry prices, and fortunately never made an inaccurate one.

A new technology, one fundamentally disruptive to the established way of producing a product, is more expensive than the older method at first. Initially it is used by “early adopters,” users who understand the value and features and are willing to pay for them. As volumes increase, the cumulative “learning” or understanding based on more and more experience drives efficiency such that overall cost of ownership is equal and then less. At some point, the general user base converts to the new product; the transition is rapid, and the older product becomes inefficient to manufacture and becomes obsolete. Strategically, a supplier of the new technology must be fully committed and well-positioned at this point. The conversion or transition process can be plotted in terms of market share. The curve is known as the “S Curve” since the initial penetration is slow (early adopters, higher price) and then undergoes a fast increase, and finally slows down as the market share approaches 100% and only late adopters and the “I’m  never gonna use that new-fangled thing” crowd holds back.

As a fundamental element of Experience Curve theory, the cost in constant dollars (this is critical) goes down between 20% and 30% every time the cumulative unit volume for the industry doubles. At first, the overall unit volume doubles quickly, in a half year or so, but later it takes longer. The ability to determine the actual unit to measure is key. While this is easy for an automobile tire or a TV set, it can be complex for the memory chip industry, where the number of actual “bits” in a single “chip” go up by a factor of four every year and a half. In this case, the proper “unit” is each bit of memory, not the physical number of “chips.”

Our pundit, Mr. Hannity, obviously was harping on the heavy hand of government interference. Fair enough, but he did not portray a balanced picture—usually these radio talkers with their one-sided opinion machines never do. Hannity didn’t mention the overall government policy to encourage transition from fragile and short-lasting energy-hogging light bulbs that emit lots of heat. This requires lots of air conditioning, which could drive electric utilities to add expensive capacity. He didn’t explain that the new technology not only would come down sharply in cost but would save huge national commitments in energy generating plants with concomitant reductions in emitted air pollutants from the power plants. Apparently, he was unaware of the rapid (and inexorable) cost/price reductions of a new technology according to the Experience Curve.

At times, technology seems overwhelming as waves of new developments appear. Just as surely as bias ply tires (remember those?) were replaced by radial tires, as analog TVs were replaced by digital TVs, as cell phones transitioned from analog to digital to smart phones based on Internet connectivity, we can be certain that new forms of lighting, probably LED based but possibly other new forms (see organic LEDs), will become standard in our homes and offices. One of the biggest transitions in our lives, the conversion from petroleum-based vehicles to hybrid-electrical cars and then on to full-electrical automobiles will take place within fifty years. The initial movement to electrical powered cars is underway. Every one of the automobile companies is committing to it. Some day, our kids and grand kids will look back and wonder how we ever drove those old vehicles. Change is coming.



Edward Snowden Article in Vanity Fair

It’s hard not to be addicted at some level to Vanity Fair, with the constant stream of uber-glorious Hollywood photographs and the “insider” information on the stars, both past, present, and wannabe. The air-brushed pictures with perfect lighting and dramatic styling are irresistible, and the annual VF Oscar after-party is widely hailed as the hardest ticket of all in Tinseltown. The glamour advertisements alone are jaw dropping.

It also must be said that VF runs extremely interesting investigative and pseudo-investigative reporting, with excellent articles. The current issue includes two block busters: a fourteen page paean to Salman Rushdie (including 8 pages of striking photos), and a whopping twenty-two page story regarding the Edward Snowden affair (including four pages of photos) that is chock full of background information, both regarding Snowden’s personal life as well as other important players in this riveting drama.

All of us have been watching the developments regarding Edward Snowden and his expose’ of America’s NSA’s surveillance procedures, at least to some extent, but as mostly uninformed lay people with little or no expertise in security procedures or legal processes. The current issue of Vanity Fair (May 2014) includes an astonishing (from both the length and informed journalistic perspectives) article on the man as well as the apparent motivations and procedures he used to obtain an unprecedented amount of classified information. In addition, the methods he chose to divulge the information: how and to whom, are incredible. On one hand, these are much plainer and simpler than a John LeCarre spy novel, yet in some ways more fascinating. It recounts how a very young man, without any college, and self-taught in computer science, managed to gain access to virtually the entire NSA computer records of secret surveillance proceedings, garnered a treasure trove of classified information of the utmost sensitive nature, contacted a triumvirate of expert-level but disparate people who were informed and likely to be able to get this out into the public, left the U.S., managed to hide for a while in Hong Kong, and then traveled publicly to Moscow en route to seek political asylum (he intended to fly on to another country, but was not able to at the time).

Snowden, clearly very smart and somewhat introverted, became an expert in computer software technology, and then moved inside the nation’s security infrastructure to a point at which he had access to what appears to be almost an unlimited database in a series of both planned and somewhat lucky (for him, unlucky for the NSA) developments following the hell-bent-for-leather build up in personnel following 911.

How do I feel about all this? As a small town guy from West Virginia, brought up to trust the government and the local police as forces for good, it makes me wonder where this country is headed. Basically, according to this story, NSA has the capability to “open” our cell phones to make then operate as both a video and audio transmitter back to them through the network of Verizon or ATT, or whichever carrier we use. NSA can read, if they desire and if approved by a special court (do you trust this procedure more or less now?) our emails and listen to any of our phone calls. No doubt they can access any of our bank records. Basically, we now live in a world where the cell phone, the wondrous invention (and my last key assignment: the chip set for Motorola’s initial RAZR phone) opens up almost any activity we do to potential intrusion and information. That doesn’t even count the GPS-tracking that will pop up ads and come-ons for the next retail store or other inducement a block ahead of our location. Hey, the future’s so bright that ya gotta wear shades, according to one song. Pardon the sarcasm.

Take a couple of quiet hours and read this story. It’s terrific background, with Vanity Fair’s signature elements of both information, personal intrigue, and a few requisite tidbits. Whether you come down on the side that Snowden is a national hero or a traitor, and history might take some time to sort that out, the read is worth it.


If you enjoy this blog, please mention it to others who may be interested.

James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.



Southwestern Virginia Fried Apples

One of the treats from my childhood always was breakfast, especially when prepared by my aunts when we visited on their farms in southwestern Virginia. Aside from seemed like endless plates of bacon or salted country ham, fried eggs, and from-scratch biscuits (there was no other way), one staple was fried apples. Usually tart and gnarly, these green native versions had dropped from, or were hand-picked, from a tree that had been planted in the backyard of the white farmhouse. Today, I “make do” with organic Granny Smith apples from Whole Foods, but the idea is the same. The Granny Smith variety originates from Australia, and has an interesting history. For more details on these tart beauties, click on this link:

At any rate, here is my “secret method” developed by trial and error, since none of the family recipes were written down, at least to my knowledge.

*Cut the Granny Smith apples (minus the core) into relatively thin slices, between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch thick.

*Add a liberal amount of olive oil to the bottom of a cold stainless steel frying skillet.

*Place the sliced apples in the cold skillet, and add brown sugar liberally to the exposed apple slices, as well as “through the cracks” down into the oil base on the skillet bottom.

*Turn on the heat. Gas stoves are ideal, since they heat up the skillet faster. It’s important to start the process in a cold skillet to reduce oil splatter.

*As the apples heat up, the oil and the brown sugar will form a sort of sauce and the apple slices will begin to “cook down.” Use a set of tongs to move the slices around, and to flip the slices over so that both sides get exposed to the hot skillet. Add additional brown sugar to the slices in order to maintain sufficient sugar to caramelize the “sauce” and have some of the apple slices coated with crisp brown sugar. In my case, I don’t want the apple slices to be mushy, but to be cooked with firmness along with some crispness from the caramelized brown sugar in some places. More brown sugar is better than less brown sugar, and the final touch is seeing the apples bubbling away in a small amount of olive oil/brown sugar sauce the final few minutes. Finally, set the heat on “simmer” until the apples are ready to be spooned onto the plates.

This photograph illustrates the apples about halfway through the process.

For me, a perfect “special breakfast,” especially on Sunday mornings, is this fried apples dish along with scrambled eggs, toast, and lots and lots of orange juice along with serious coffee. Try it, and let me know how you like it.

In addition, although I haven’t tried it yet, I have heard that this dish, served warm/hot with vanilla ice cream or creme fraiche makes for a terrific dessert.


If you enjoy this blog, please mention it to others who may be interested.

James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.



My 2013 In Books

As many of you know, I’m an avid reader, made much more so by belonging to a fantastic book club here in Austin. If there is one thing that has made my life more interesting, after family, career, and hobbies, it has been the John Rogers Book Club, formed by and named for a peripatetic former British officer who traveled the world and finally settled down in this town, back before the city became noted as the place to live. The book club began in 1999 and I’m still a newbie after ten years. To keep some sort of record of the books I’ve read, now I note them on a small App on my Motorola Droid smartphone (still loyal to the company, or what seems to be a legacy of it). Nothing is more pleasurable for me than to “get into” a book. Once I start one, I almost always finish it, with only a few getting dropped along the way.

Last year, I completed 36 books, and started one or two that will be completed in 2014,

My friends, knowing of this “affliction,” often ask me to recommend books, and in addition inquire about reading preferences: what time(s) of the day I read? do I note passages? how long at a stretch do I read? do I re-read portions for enjoyment or clarification? prefer eBooks or print (paperback or hardcover)? store or discard “spent” books, etc.?

Since at least one person was interested, here’s the “scoop.” I read mainly between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. since that’s the time my mind works best, and also it’s before my wife wakes up. Anything I do along creative lines needs to be done before noon. Since I’m starting serious work on my next novel now, this might edge into the premium reading time, as surely it will. While I do read at times in the evening, it’s harder for me to stay awake and to concentrate. In addition, I do note passages, using those “stick-ons” that I purchase from office supply stores. Unfortunately, I note so many interesting segments that in many cases, there are too many and thus there are none, if you know what I mean. I very strongly prefer hard-cover printed books, and spend a lot of time combing the used hard-back used book sections of both and searching for these in good or very good condition. It’a amazing what treasures one can find, and these come in uniquely and carefully packaged shipments from all over the U.S. All these little treasures add up, however, and now twenty years of collecting books has resulted in a very full library. It’s sizable, and holds around 2,300 volumes between my books and my wife’s extensive social work and personal development collections.

Looking back over the 2013 reading list, there were 21 non-fiction selections and 15 novels. While I enjoy both genres, I usually read the fiction first when there is one of each to read in a month. In my personal reading list, I read nine novels and only three non-fictions, so clearly fiction is my preference. Having said that, however, it’s harder to find really compelling fiction, while non-fiction generally is enjoyable and informative.

Overall, here is my list of the most memorable among a wonderful group.

Two of them involve the English Language, and how it developed from a “second rate obscure dialect of German” to the primary language of international commerce and (this can be argued) literature.

*Mother Tongue: English & How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson

*The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language, by Melvyn Bragg

Another deals with the notably different regions of North America, how they were formed and developed based on the cultures of the people who settled them, and how they are remaining mostly that way.

*American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colon Woodward

*Lost Horizon, by James Hilton. This is the myth of Shangra La, and it’s an amazing story. Stay with it until the very end. It is fiction, isn’t is?

*Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester. The author tells much more than the greatest volcanic eruption of the past two hundred years, as he covers how and why much of the world was colonized by the great powers of the day, and how initial colonial control and resulting European languages were authorized by the Papal Decree of 1493, which essentially divided the non-European world between Spain and Portugal, the two primary (Catholic) maritime powers at the time.

*Burmese Days, by George Orwell. Yes, that George Orwell. this was his first book, and still a classic regarding personal life in the farthest reaches of British Bengal India, and how a culture both tolerated and resisted the colonial power.

*The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene. This one was a bit hard to read, as the characters are blurred and it’s not always clear who is doing what to whom in a world where third world Catholicism and secular power come into conflict. Here was a master English writer at the peak of his game.

Book Club Fiction (12):

Saturday, by Ian McEwan (A modern master story teller spins a tense yarn over 24 hours)

Imperium: A Novel About Ancient Rome, by Robert Harris (A story about intrigue in Rome told through the character of the slave of a Roman senator.)

Out of the Woods, by Chris Offutt (Back-woods tales of Kentucky that will leave you breathless and thinking of episodes of “Justified”)

Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo (One of the most dramatic anti-war stories of all time)

A Hologram for the King, by Dave Eggers (A man tries for the business score of a lifetime in the Arab world)

A Dead Man in Deptford, by Anthony Burgess (A story of the complex life of Christopher Marlowe)

Ancient Light, by John Banville (Banville’s infinite vocabulary underlies this vivid story of a teenage boy’s seduction by a friend’s mother)

Lost Horizon, by James Hilton (The original myth, or is it, of Shanga La)

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (A fictional story of an up-from-the-bottom Asian criminal who gains, then loses wealth and happiness)

Ender’s Game, by Scott Card Orson (Everyone seems to love this, except me. It’s an unbelievable {for me} story told for young boys.)

Burmese Days, by George Orwell (Realistic story of expatriate life on the frontier of the British empire. I’ve spent considerable time in Malaysia and have seen some of this in person)

Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson (A spare, sere tale of a man who lives a simple life seemingly content to deal with the cards he is dealt)

Book Club Non-Fiction (12):

Proust Was A Neuroscientist, by Jonah Lehrer (How several creative people appear to have discovered basic truths before science documented them)

Passionate Minds: Emilie du Chatelet, Voltaire, and the Great Love Affair of the Enlightenment, by David Bodanis (Wonderful history about two geniuses and life in the French Monarchy era)

Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester (Breathtaking history of Indonesia and the cleavage of the earth’s mantle as well as many flora and fauna in that violent part of the world’s “Ring of Fire”)

The Adventure of English: The Biography of a Language, by Melvyn Bragg (A book that every student should read. Just wonderful)

Positively Fifth Street, by James McManus (Texas Hold’em; the card game, the tournaments, and the characters who dwell in this world)

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of  North America, by Colon Woodward  (One of my favorite books of all times. I wrote a separate blog just on this book. This should be taught in some form or another in high school)

Thinking Fast and Slow, by David Kahneman (A Nobel Prize winner’s classic on how we think)

Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Criminal Russian State, by David Satter (Lots of background and history on Russia. It’s depressing for people there if this is even mostly true)

The Prophet Unarmed, by Isaac Deutscher (The middle book of the famous trilogy of Leon Trotsky and the way Russia and the Communist Party formed after the Revolution)

Gulp, by Mary Roach (The story of that happens in the human body between food going in and coming out. Sounds grisly, but Roach’s sense of humor makes it both informative and a good read)

How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Blakewell (The author covers the life-long diary and musing of Michel Montaigne in 1500′s France and explores what life is about in the eyes of this interesting man)

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an  Ancient Code, by Margalit Fox (An incredible story of how clay tablets, found in the mid 1800′s in Cretan ruins at Knossos were (eventually) deciphered and understood, from an unknown language and an unknown script. Brilliant scientific and human drama)

Personal Reading Fiction (9):

The Surf Guru, by Doug Dorst (Dorst, a professor at Texas State (and my writing teacher on-line) writes about a unique California character)

Deer Hunting with Jesus, by J.Bageant (Life and philosophy among the good-old-boys and girls in Winchester, Virginia by a returned native son)

Stoner, by John Williams (Great American literature and a story of a professor of literature at the University of Missouri who seeks happiness and integrity among the roadblocks in life)

Islands in the Sun, by Ernest Hemingway (This story, actually a  composite of several story lines, was published by his widow after his death. It still is a good read.)

The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene (A devastating tale of betrayal and dishonor by those trying to be loyal and honorable by one of the greatest English writers)

Amsterdam: A Novel, by Ian McEwan (This complex tale unravels the background of a death, and the interactions between two old friends)

End of the Affair, by Graham Greene (Greene at his peak story telling. The end of an involvement is told in a masterful manner)

In One Person, by John Irving (Irving combines his usual wrestling-related themes with a woman and her past sexual identity struggles)

The Inward War, by Elizabeth Schultz (manuscript, as yet unpublished) (I won’t comment, except to say hopefully this beautifully written story will become available soon)

Personal Reading Non-Fiction (3):

After Leaving Friends, by Michael Hainey (True story about a man who uncovers his father’s secret, only to have to deal with how to handle the truth)

Slingshot, by Hector Ruiz (The former CEO of AMD writes about competing with Intel. The victors usually write history, but not in this case)

Mother Tongue; English & How It Got That Way, by Bill Bryson (Another wonderful story of our English language and how it has come to be the unruly way it is, as well as the world’s standard)


If you enjoy this blog, please mention it to others who may be interested.

James Kennedy George, Jr (Jim George)
Author, Reunion, a novel about relationships.