December 19, 2014

The privilege of driving a stick shift in suburbia, and being able to laugh about it

My younger son recently got his learner's permit, and he's been eager to get out and drive as often as possible. He's only had four hours behind the wheel, and he's already almost--not quite, but almost--mastered the stick shift.

This is the car.
Last night he took me out for a practice drive. Fifteen minutes of warmup through our suburban neighborhood with broad, sparsely trafficked streets; gentle curves with good visibility and a few stop signs; and the mildest of hills. Christmas lights ranged from simple elegance to the most garish displays of electrical overindulgence I've seen anywhere. He almost missed one stop sign. Almost.

After the warmup, we went out on the bigger streets. Multiple turn lanes at stoplights, crossing major intersections, a lot more traffic. He was nervous but had done this once before and handled the vehicle well. Another stint through another suburban neighborhood... then:

He made a good start from a stop sign into a tight left turn despite the headlights of an SUV close behind. He got into second gear, then went to shift into third but missed and hit first again.

Have you ever accidentally downshifted when you meant to shift up? The car bucks like crazy, the engine fighting against momentum and slowing like you slammed the brakes. To his credit, he got it back to neutral and then found third gear almost immediately. He was flustered but not panicked.

Until the SUV behind us turned on its red and blue flashing lights. Yup, a cop. A cop at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night during the height of holiday party season. My son smoothly glided to a stop on the shoulder with a little coaching from me. The cop pulled up behind. My son was now very flustered as I retrieved his permit from the glove box and handed it over.

"Can I see your license, please?" The cop shined his flashlight into the car but stood behind the driver's window. I couldn't see him. My son handed out the permit, and I leaned forward into the light and asked if he wanted my license, too.

The cop's face broke into a big, knowing smile when he looked at the permit. "That explains it," he said. He said he was just making sure "we got home safely because from the sudden deceleration in the middle of the street, he wasn't sure we would." I.e. he though he'd spied a drunk driver. But it was just a kid, learning to drive a stick shift. A few more seconds of kind and gentle banter between us, with my son explaining the mis-shift, and he went on his way. My son did an excellent job of recovering, pulling away cleanly, and finishing the last 20 minutes of our drive without any mistakes.

For me, that is a great story, a funny anecdote, a memory I'll enjoy for decades. For my son, it's a great learning experience.

It wasn't until this morning that I realized it could have been a very different kind of story, a very different kind of learning experience.

If we hadn't been white.

I don't know the officer we met, and he was absolutely right to stop us to check us out. And he was right to be cautious as he approached the car. Once he saw us, though, everything changed. If we hadn't been white, would he have so easily dropped his caution? Maybe he would have. Maybe another guy wouldn't. With us, he was professional, kind, understanding, and efficient. If we'd been black, would we have gotten the same quick and cheerful dismissal?

I like to think in our town, yes. I like to think that our town is somehow more enlightened about diversity than the towns we've read about so often in the news recently. But I don't know. That's probably what the white people who live in those towns like to think, too.

For me, this is still a great story, a funny anecdote, a memory I'll enjoy for decades. And for my son, it's still a great learning experience. For him, the lesson is that he doesn't have to fear cops or be nervous if he ever gets pulled over again.

I wish that were the lesson that all 15 year old boys could get when pulled over for a simple shifting mistake while out learning to drive with their dads.

But I understand that's not the case.


Some day. Some day.

December 10, 2014

I registered before this year's high school graduating class was born

Geoworks Ensemble, Signature Edition
and GEOS Software Development Kit
I recently checked the whois entry on my personal domain,, and I discovered that I first registered it on December 9, 1997. Seventeen years ago. That was when domain names were still free to register and hosting services essentially gave you space on a Unix server. The rest was up to you.

I was also still working at Geoworks back then. The GEOS software still lives on at, it seems, which is a wonderful and curious thing to me. I still think the engineers that developed that software were among the smartest and cleverest people I have ever known.

I was Product Manager and
all I got was this certificate.
I had many jobs at Geoworks. I was hired as a technical writer and got my start in management there; I was product manager for software and content development tools, and I think I still have my product requirements document from Geoworks Bindery, a WYSIWYG content editor that made it (relatively) easy to create hyperlinked documents for the desktop systems and mobile devices we were deploying.

It was a fun time, and a difficult uphill climb in a brand new market. Our CEO coined the term "Personal Digital Assistant" (PDA).

I still have some of the products we developed, including the Signature Edition of Geoworks Ensemble and the Software Development Kit, in their shrinkwrap. Also Geoworks Writer, the standalone release of the word processor which is still better than Microsoft Word (okay maybe not after 17 years). And I have three pieces of hardware our operating system ran on:

Casio Zoomer/Z-PDA

The Zoomer came out in 1992, at basically the same time as the Apple Newton. Together, these handheld computers led the way into the future we have today. The handwriting recognition was spotty at best--Zoomer used true handwriting recognition, and Newton used "graffiti," a specially designed stroke set that worked better but took some learning. Both were market flops but huge technological and societal successes.

Zoomer with its top open and its stylus beside it.

HP OmniGo

This HP handheld computer was, I believe, the first to have a screen that rotated, allowing you to use it in different situations. It was designed with field use in mind, and at least a couple of prototype applications were developed for medical and fleet use. This was supposed to be an extension of the existing successful HP product line, and it accomplished many of HP's goals but never sold enough to get HP to invest in further models.


Proof that I was there!

Nokia 9000i

Not long after the Nokia 9000 was launched in Europe and the Nokia 9000i was developed for the United States, I was laid off from Geoworks and Nokia hired me as a contractor for a year to help them promote the product and support software developers around the world. Part of my contract work was to build one of my first corporate web sites. Unfortunately, if I wanted to keep working for Nokia after my contract was up, I had to move to Irving, Texas, and that was not going to happen. Anyway, the Nokia 9000 featured in the movie The Saint with Val Kilmer (and more notably Elisabeth Shue), and I got to travel to some pretty cool places in my work for Nokia including Tampere, Finland. The Nokia people were incredibly nice. The Nokia product was groundbreaking in its own way, combining real computing power with a phone. Pretty incredible for the time, even though we take it for granted today.
It's a phone!

It's a computer!

Proof that I was there!
It was a great time and a lot of fun. I imagine the people who are in the 3D printing industry have a similar feeling of unlimited future potential right now. And well they should. After all, look at those products of just 20 years ago and imagine where 3D printing could be in 20 years. That's not so far off.

October 31, 2014

Rereading a book I wrote four years ago, and a bear

Something drew me to open up the first chapter of Semper and reread it this morning. Having just completed writing the trilogy (which is discounted/free this week), I thought it would be fun to revisit the chapter that began the story.

Did I stay true to the original characters as I first introduced them? Did the first chapter, written four years ago, properly set up the full story of the trilogy?

I think so, if I can be my own judge. In fact, I did better than I expected.

In that first chapter, Dane at one point thinks to himself,

I do not want to be the one that brings home the epidemic that destroys all of civilization.
I didn't realize it at the time, but that one sentence holds a tremendous amount of both foreshadowing and irony.

Also, that first chapter ends with a question that is never explicitly answered but which is the perfect first question in a discussion guide for the series.

Maybe it's just that I was looking for connections as I read. Or maybe those connections were already in my subconscious, even before I'd detailed the quarter million words in the story. Or maybe it's just luck or coincidence. In any case, it's satisfying.

FREDA will be free on Kindle November 1 through 5. The first two books, Semper and Forsada, are just 99 cents to celebrate completion of the trilogy.

And here is a picture of a bear I took, not far from the actual physical location where that first chapter occurs.

October 28, 2014

"I had grand plans."

That was a primary point in my sister's keynote speech at Boston's ALS walk this past Saturday. Cathy was diagnosed with ALS only a few months ago, just weeks after retiring from a demanding and very successful career. The last time we saw each other, about two months before the diagnosis, she told me she had grand plans for the next chapters in her life; although she was still figuring out the specifics, "helping others" figured prominently in her ideas. Those plans have changed.

The last time I saw my sister, I saw no hint of ALS. Nothing to make me think anything like this could be coming. We talked about her pending knee surgery and retirement, our kids' college tours, plans for a long future filled with activity. Those plans have changed.

This past weekend I joined scores of others to support Cathy in the ALS Walk in Boston (we flew in from California Thursday night). Family I hadn't seen in decades were there. The morning was glorious, clear and warm after a week of terrible wind and torrential rain (so I'm told), and the location was beautiful. Cathy was honored with the keynote speech in part because in the couple of months since she was diagnosed, she assembled a huge team for the walk and became the Boston walk's top fundraiser.

My family and I also participated the previous weekend in our local walk in Northern California, which was much smaller but eye-opening. I've walked in several fundraisers for ACS, LLS, AHA, etc., but the ALS walk had a different feel. It wasn't until I started writing this blog post that I realized what the subtle difference was. Other walks are all organized around the survivors. This walk was entirely about finding a cure.

It's strange and difficult to return to normal everyday life after two weekends like the past two. I know my sister and thousands of others who are diagnosed with ALS every year don't even have that option, so I'm going to try to take advantage of the time I have. I don't know exactly what that means yet. There are things I want to achieve. There are places I want to see. There are people I love who I want to spend more time with. And I don't want to be so busy that I miss the countless moments of beauty around me all the time.

Photos from the two walks are posted below.

WALNUT CREEK, CA - October 19, 2014

With some Wells Fargo colleagues

Pretty long stream of people along the canal trail.

BOSTON, MA - October 25, 2014

The setting near Dorchester Heights along Old Harbor was gorgeous.

Boston financial district in the background.

Sis & me

Giving the keynote address to 1,500 walkers

The paparazzi taking family photos

October 18, 2014

Free and discounted books. What could be better?

I've just published Freda, the third book in my New Eden series. Early comments suggest this book might be the best of the three, which is gratifying for sure.

To celebrate this launch, I've discounted the first two in the series to just 99 cents for the next couple of weeks, and Freda itself will be free for Kindle November 1 through November 5. Here's how to get the books during this time:

All three are available on Amazon at the discounted price.

Semper and Forsada are also available on other platforms. The price is $2.99, but you can use the coupon codes below to get them for 99 cents through November 5. These coupons work at Smashwords, but I'm not sure they work at places like Barnes & Noble, the iTunes store, or Powell's.
  • SEMPER - use coupon code AW86A for 99c price
  • FORSADA - use coupon code NE63V for 99c price
  • FREDA - email me if you want a format other than Kindle. We can work something out.
I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please let me know. A rating and/or review on Goodreads always makes my day.

September 22, 2014

My new book has a print version and a cover

A trilogy is not an easy thing to create. This one took nearly five years, from first inkling of an idea to the proof copy of the third book in my hands. And that was after a good ten years writing novels that probably won't ever get published, publishing short stories, winning (and judging) flash fiction contests, writing a sports column, and a half decade working at a writers conference. So just getting to Sunset draws us to the lake took years, I guess. Then, nearly five more years to get to this point.

Two books published (not including this one). The third on the verge.

Below is the cover, another beautiful rendition by Wendy Russ. You can read the back cover copy if you click on the image and load it up big.

The book will be available in early October. If you want to be notified the day it's out, go and join my email list.

Let me know what you think in the comments, or on Twitter at @dudleypj.

July 9, 2014

Trilogy end game, and a huge THANK YOU to all you readers

In late 2009 I began the first plotting of the story that would become Semper, which I finished in mid 2011 and published in 2012. I followed it up with Forsada, published in 2013. Now, 18 months later, I am gathering feedback from beta readers for the final book in the trilogy, which I hope to launch in September.

All told, I will have worked on this trilogy for just under four years. Other than raising my children, I can't think of any other project that's taken me longer. (My wife, I am sure, could think of many around the house, but she's not writing this post.) The three published books will total over a quarter million words.

I found that writing a book is relatively easy, after you've done it four or five times. Writing a sequel, however, is hard. And writing the third and final book in a trilogy is very, very hard.

I know that many people have done this. They've even managed it, as I have, with a demanding full time job, a couple of kids, a home to maintain, and volunteer obligations. It's not like I am any Alison Levine or something (though I have been to Nepal). But I personally consider completing a trilogy a major accomplishment. I even think the books are pretty good.

Turns out a number of other people also think the books are pretty good. Recently both Semper and Forsada have received several new 4-star and 5-star ratings on Goodreads. At this moment, Semper enjoys 62 ratings averaging 4.15

Semper: rated highly on July 9, 2014
and Forsada has 20 ratings averaging 4.60.
Forsada: more stars but fewer ratings on July 9, 2014
My beta readers have given me some very useful feedback on the third book before final revisions, but generally they've liked it a lot. Here are a few of the comments that have come back in the last two weeks from these critiques:
"I thought it was another great read and a very good sequel to the other two books in the series. I particularly like the storytelling and the pace of the book towards the second half which really seemed to find its groove, flowed well, and kept the pace moving (that kept me on the edge of my seat). Really nice!"
-- R. S.
"I think it is a great 3rd installment. A few unexpected twists (in a good way)."
-- J. D.
"Overall, it was a satisfying end. There were some really beautiful moments, very clear visuals. The ending... was very nicely done."
-- J. H.
"Other than [the comments I gave] I thought that it was one of the best books I have ever read."
-- S. D.
It's stuff like this that propels an author through the grueling commitment of writing, revising, and publishing a book... or three.

So, a huge THANK YOU to everyone who's given my work a little of your very precious time, and a double THANK YOU to everyone who's taken the extra time to give me your thoughts. (Yes, even the guy who gave Semper a one-star rating and told me, "Peter, sorry, but I just couldn't get into this story." Seriously, thank you.

And finally, some ducklings.

June 28, 2014

Serenaded in special ways, or how I got the name "Birthday Guy"

My dad and stepmom always call and sing "happy birthday" to us on our special days. This year they were a day late for me--they called Friday--but it didn't matter since they would only be singing to my voicemail anyway.

Over the years I've had some very special birthday songs. Nothing so unique or quite as special as this, but there are three that come especially to mind.

The car that needed new tires.
The tree fell shortly after the
new tires were installed.
About fifteen years ago when our first son was only a toddler, my car desperately needed new tires. I mean, those tires were balder than I am now. So we went to Concord and, while we waited for the installation, we ate brunch at a nearby Denny's. The manager, a middle aged guy with an impressive comb-over as I recall, was so genuinely excited that he gathered the entire morning staff to sing a new birthday song he'd just trained them on. He told one busboy to start them off; the poor kid looked utterly befuddled and mumbled, in no particular key or melody, "Um... zippidy, zippidy... um..."
The manager leapt in, took charge, and led his somewhat reluctant staff in a chorus of, "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, Zip-a-dee-ay, my oh my it's your birthday."

I haven't been back to that Denny's since. Or, come to think of it, any Denny's.

Three years ago, my birthday fell on the day we drove the Boy Scout troop up to scout camp. According to tradition, the troop stopped for breakfast in Stockton (America's Foreclosure Capital) at Burger King. Somewhere along the way, one of the boys found out it was my birthday and bought me a slice of BK's apple pie. The whole troop (about 30 boys and a half dozen adults) sang "ha
ppy birthday" to me right there at 8 a.m. in Burger King in Stockton. Try to contain your jealousy.

This year on my birthday, I was in Palm Springs for work. One of the programs I run at my day job utilizes Desert Arc, a nonprofit that employs developmentally disabled adults, for order fulfillment. It's a terrific organization, and we were on site for business when dear friend and colleague Melissa disappeared for a bit and returned with two huge sheet cakes. One said Thank you Desert Arc for the work they do, and the other said Happy Birthday Peter. We brought these in to the 60 or so Desert Arc clients who were working on our program. And, for a few minutes, I was the recipient of the most enthusiastic, emphatic, and raucous chorus of "happy birthday" you've ever heard.

And I made a couple of new friends, most notably "Robin," who said she's going to call me Birthday Guy from now on.