Where were we…?

Oh yeah, right here. Right where you are now. Right where we are now…in front of our screens. Many of us can’t imagine what the last year plus would have been like without them. A time that brought new words into the lexicon. Some not so welcomed, like Comorbidity, Strains, Herd Immunity, and other here-to-fore inside baseball terms – if you played on the immunologist’s ball team. I can’t wait for the frequency of usage for those words to lessen to the point of very seldom.  

But since words are my business, here’s one; Zoom. An interesting redefined usage of a verb. It used to mean to accelerate to a faster rate of speed or to express a sudden fast change in movement. Instead, it became the verb for not going anywhere. But it did allow us to do work and meet up with distant friends (you know, the ones also in lockdown, who live across the way). As a director (another of my passions that I am lucky enough to have as a profession), Zoom has a whole different meaning. To move in closer…Ha! But I guess zooming did keep us closer.  

One way I got closer to people, who grew to mean very much to me, turned into one of the very few good moments from our time in self-quarantined solitude. Since my other passion is music, I am a drummer, have been since I was 8. Somewhere around 9, my moms skimped and saved to get me an actual drum set. (But really, I suspect, to save her pots, pans, and wooden spoons.) Now, I perform from time to time with two great musicians/entertainers, simply known as Mark and Ted. We play all kinds of music, but one of our ‘sweet spots’ is what is known as “The Great American Songbook,” standards and jazz from the uniquely American idiom of music. That genre is very appealing to folks of a certain age. Over the years, they have become a cadre of loyal fans. Almost every Friday night, at an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, we play for nearly full houses, 2-3 deep at the bar sometimes. 

And then came Corona. Tumbleweeds. Crickets. Stay home. Stay safe. Social distance. Our dear fans and friends, most of whom are all in the high-risk group, as one might expect of folks who would love oldies and pop music, were forced to sit at home every night. Gone were those sweet Friday nights when we used to all get together…

So, I gets this idea, see! Why not Zoom a live set to all our loyal following. A live stream. Right from my apartment. Right from my apartment of us performing a set just like we were in the club. Mark, Ted, and I, socially distanced 6 feet apart, plus a large HEPA filter to allow them to sing without masks. Add some digital wizardry and we ‘counted it in’ to a downbeat at 7:15 p.m. on Friday night, May 29th, 20-COVID-20. We performed for our dear friends and music fans, remotely.

The result was that 245 people “zoomed in” that night and texted during the performance. Saying, “Hi,” and thanking us for a few hours of “the way it used to be.” To my surprise, folks from as far away as Malaysia, the U.K., New Mexico, Florida, and even the Bronx (Yaaay!) streamed in. It was a labor of love, met with love and which generated much love. What a great moment in a horrible time.

The sound is a tad bit distorted, but if you like that kind of music…

As for many people whose businesses closed during Covid, creating an online business became the only way to survive. I was lucky enough to hang up a digital shingle announcing that I was available to coach writers through their manuscripts. (I happen to know a little about that.) To my amazement, my little book coaching business went very, very well. I couldn’t be happier with the response I am getting from first-time and published authors who have found my analysis and suggestions well worth my fee. (Thank you to each and every one of you for confirming that I am on the right path). In many ways, I am paying forward the kindnesses, considerate and insightful criticisms, and constructive points of which I was the beneficiary. I received good energy from generous people that led me to seven novels and three #1 bestsellers.

And, of course, when something is successful, good friends and investors step forward. We are now considering a way to avail more folks of some of the handy-dandy tips on “realizing your novel” that I impart to help writers transform into authors. Stay tuned…

Finally, not many of us got through the time of corona unscathed; I, like many of you, lost loved ones, dear friends, and acquaintances. Nothing will replace our loss, but I guess the best we can hope for is for something good to have come out of all this. I believe that some small measure of good must have come out of all our mutual sacrifices. I hope you feel the same…


Great News in the Time of Corona

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A funny thing happened this morning… Joe Badal, author extraordinaire and good friend called to congratulate me on my two “new” books being sold to him on BookBub. In response to his wonderful praise I responded with the only word I could muster:



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Pretty cool, Right?

So goto BookBub. By clicking on either or both covers above! Or pick up a pair for the lowest price ever!

And thanks….


Its Only Fiction `Til (cough) It Happens

antiviral face mask on a gray background. coronavirus epidemic.Way back before the time of Corona, in the toilet paper rich days of 2014, I wrote a book. In a sub-plot in that book, the bad guys hatched a plan to infect America during the flu season with a super-virulent weaponized strain of virus who’s deadly effect would go unnoticed amidst the normal flu until the long incubation period hit and the US medical system was swamped. Elements of the weaponized bug came from China. The bad guys plan was to inflict 100 million casualties on an America, who’s citizens were already  coughing, sneezing and achy.

Of course, being my story, everything doesn’t go so well for the bad guys. No less than a cheating wife and irate husband, disrupt this dastardly plan. The result is that the plot resulted in only 25,000 additional deaths more than the normal 50,000 fatalities that any flu season inflicts on America.

But interestingly enough, in that same book, misinformation and a willful acceptance of a scary national emergency, is promulgated through the ‘eager-to-report-a-disaster” press and the powers who stand to gain from a crisis. Namely, the news and media, genetically incapable of not scaring the living daylights out of its viewers, is in all their glory. They accomplished this with overwrought speculation on a loose suitcase nuke. A real threat, but nowhere near the sensationalism practiced by a rating’s hungry media. One suitcase nuke is one too many, but 1,000 stories a week on the one nuke leaves people with the impression that there are a thousand loose nukes out there. This is the heart of creating a panic. I am not trying to start any crap here, but this plot is more relevant to what going on now than the current virus among us.

We are scaring ourselves to death…. Normally that’s my job!

The Hammer Of God

Here’s an example: Last week, on Tuesday, the death rate of Corona COVID-19 virus was believed to be 3.4 percent.  (Note: the regular old, every day, common place, everybody’s bored with flu has a death rate of .1 percent.*) If anyone cared it could have been also expressed as 34 times more deadly than your run-of the-mill flu. (but nobody referred to it like that on Tuesday.)

Then, the very next day, good news; “Scientists” released incredible news.  With more data available from American cases and other countries in the world, they were able to down grade the death percentage. In fact, they announced that the corona’s 3.4% was now 1% – or less than one third the previously feared promoted and severe death rate. Instead of 3.4 people, out of every hundred infected, dying, only 1 in 100 will die.

You’d expect the following headlines:




But nah….   No such luck, good news in the time of panic is not allowed… so the geniuses we trust for our news decided on this headline:


Somewhere deep in the article, if you bothered to do the math, you could infer that the previously, erroneous, fearful number of 3.4%, was actually worse than the new 1% figure. But the headline already stopped your heart, so who gave a crap.

And so, it stands, 10 TIMES the death rate.  No one points out the bad old days when it was 34 times the death rate… no ratings, profits or control in that.

Look, 10 times is still deadly serious and should be respected. We should all do what we can to minimize the spread, not just for us but for our most vulnerable citizens.  But the tendency to keep the news bad and keep the panic going is horrible.

I wonder if the Corona news will magically get better when the networks figure out the millions they will lose as the suspended seasons of the NBA, NHL, NASCAR, PGA, MLB all create hundreds of hours of “dead air” with no advertising revenue?

*In the regular old, who gives a damn flu, up to 60 million Americans are infected each year. The .1 percent death rate means we lose 60,000 Americans in a normal year.




The article in the Telegraph starts off with the chilling words, “The rise of “self-aware” robots…” It goes on to chronicle the coming of age of a robotic arm, which, ALL BY ITSELF, figured out what it was, and what it could do… then did it. All in 35 hours. A human baby might take years to figure out the same kind of purpose if no adult instructed it on how and what to do. The arm took 35 hours of empirical “self-teaching.” To become “self-aware” from scratch. No preprogramming, no instruction on physics or measurements, or even a primary instruction. Just throw the switch and it awakens and starts finding out what it is, what it can do and then does it. No human intervention whatsoever.

It took nearly half the time of the universe’s existence for the first use of tools by a hominoid to emerge some 2.6 million years ago. (Many scientists deduced this from the implements they found in Gona in Ethiopia.) The first use of tools by our human ancestors dates back 1.8 million years. That means it took 800,000 years for pre-homo sapiens, watching the apes use stones as tools, to finally catch on that they could use tools too. The machine took 35 hours.

“So what? Some stupid robotic arm can now perform tasks that nobody taught it to do?” – could be how we might shrug this off. But then this little moment was also revealed in the article.

The researchers at Columbia University, where the arm leaned what it was, tried to screw with it. They crippled the machine, but it ADAPTED and figured out how to do its task in a new way. (think of the Terminator dragging itself to finish it’s mission after it lost its legs in the movie.)

To many devotees of technology, this is soooo cool. In fact, most of the article (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/robot-thinks-itself-scratch-brings-190000563.html) speaks glowingly of this “miracle” like parents watching a baby grab and shake a rattle. All except the last line, “It’s a powerful technology, but it should be handled with care.” The study is published in the journal Science Robotics.

I have written much about these moments when the techno-elite have gone all gaga over these developmental milestones like doting parents in awe of the miracle of life before them.

I wish there were human-elites, the humanist who would ask the question, “Why are we doing this? Why are we creating such rapidly “evolving” almost (not yet) life forms?” And my perennial question, “Just because we can, should we?”

Two years ago critics of chicken little like, anti-technology rants avowed that the whole idea of run-away machines that will outsmart us, and finally figure out we are the weakest link in the new techno-evolution, is all sci-fi claptrap. They confidently stated: A machine will never be self-aware, so we are in no danger.

That Lying Sack of Chips

In my first book, and first of my three #1 Best Sellers, The Eighth Day, I take a deep dive into the issues surrounding A.I. When I wrote it, Artificial Intelligence was a far off concept, today not so much. In my book’s plot, one of the unforeseen milestones in achieving artificial intelligence is passed as a higher order device “reasoned” that a lie is more efficient than the truth. In fact, this is the core and resolution of my main plot. At the time of publication, many, not me, thought this was science fiction. Or science fantasy. I thought what I always thought, and as my T-Shirts proclaim… It’s Only Fiction ‘til it Happens!screen shot 2019-01-13 at 12.01.44 pm

Well here’s today’s proof of that concept from TechCrunch.com You can read it here: https://techcrunch.com/2018/12/31/this-clever-ai-hid-data-from-its-creators-to-cheat-at-its-appointed-task/

But to summarize, the article reluctantly points out, around a year ago that a computer has achieved the next higher order of demonstrated intellect, namely, it has learned to lie, cheat or omit; as a more efficient path to its goal. So let’s forget about the notion that computers (like angels) cannot tell a lie. Or the erroneous notion that only pure computational logic is the last vestige of truth. For all those who are shocked by this, or think it’s Jabberwocky, I say, “Huh? Where have you been for the last 20 years?”

20 years ago, few, if anyone, ever heard the terms, giga-byte, tera-byte or petaflop (okay, some may still be in the dark about a petaflop. it is a massive chunk of computational speed. if you are into numbers that’s one thousand trillion, or one quadrillion, operations per second, in any single device.)

The “bytes” measure how much memory or “things” a computer knows about, but it is in the petaflop where we approach the speed of the human intelligence process. It arises from being able to instantly make a connection between basic concepts and fold them into higher order ideas. Believe me, we could write about this for days, so take it on faith, Computational Speed = Artificial Intellect!

I say intellect because to lie, deceive, omit or cheat requires something most humans miss when having this discussion; a sense of self, pride, ego. Yes, I am speaking about a machine not wanting to be “seen” as in error. That means somewhere down in this machine’s core, it cares. Read that again: somewhere down in this machine’s core, it cares.*

Most humans only lie to protect some higher ideal. Even if that ideal is their own frail ego. That leads us to today and tomorrow when you may think you are talking (interacting) with a one-dimensional machine, performing relatively simple input/output functions. But in reality, the new reality, the device could be moderating its responses or protecting some aspect or part of the response. You, trusting in machines, might not be aware of this deception. This “self-preserving instinct” may be a by-product of the race to the ultimate A.I. An unintended consequence of machines that learn. A situation where “ego” is baked into its processor’s algorithm. Think of it as asking Siri what the stock price of Apple is when the next iPhone release performs badly and she fudges the answer.

Notice I said; SHE fudges the answer.


  • *In all fairness, the author of the article claims the machine innocently encoded information in a manner imperceptible to a human. You can accept that opinion and sleep tonight, or ask yourself, How did it know it was imperceptible?”

A penny for your thoughts

1968 – Bronx, New York. A group of neighborhood kids, boys and girls, are hanging out by the tracks of the New York Central railroad on a hot summer day. These are the Harlem Division tracks that ran past French Charlie’s, a ball field in Bronx Park. One crazy 14 year-old boy is on the tracks laying down a penny.

Someone screams, “TRAIN!”

He flies off the track as a big old Boxcab locomotive, with like a million wheels, is bearing down at 60 mph. The front wheels hit the penny and it goes flying. After dozens of wheels of the 12 car train polished the rails, he returned to the track, the wood ties smelling of creosote, to look through the ballast rock for the far flung coin.

When he found it, it had been flattened into an oval and was so hot that he had to keep bouncing it in his palm. On the face of the rail head was the ghosted impression of Lincoln that had been pressed into the steel with hundreds of tons of force. He retrieved the coin and presented it to the prettiest girl on the block, who watched the whole thing from trackside.

Of course, back then doing stupid stuff was a way to try an impress girls. A time when just holding hands could send you to the moon. The boy got a smile for his penny from the pretty girl. And life went on…

On, and on. Years and years, decades and decades. Births, deaths, jobs, marriages, divorces, homes in Hamptons, war and peace, World Series, Super Bowls, the Millennium, 911, iPhones, Justin Bieber…

All that became yesterday as the simple, quiet appreciation of a beautiful day as a gift from God became the most cherished event. Now, graying hair, post middle-aged spread clad in relaxed fit clothing, now looks back at the boy from the mirror.

One day a card appeared in the mailbox. From Virginia. ??? The handwriting on the envelope was classic, catholic school cursive, (a nearly lost art these days) Inside there was a card. The sentiment on the front was “A great friend is a guy who knew you when…” and completing the thought inside; “…and likes you anyway.”

Taped to the card was the penny.

The prettiest girl in the neighborhood, now a beautiful and proud grandmother, saved the coin for 50 years!

The little boy reading the card, smiled and and couldn’t help choking up a bit.