Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stand By Me


Gotta like this. There's a rip on YouTube, but the Playing For Change site's version is cleaner.

Click on this link, then on the Enter banner.

If this doesn't get your motor running, you need to go see the doctah and get your rhythm checked out ...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Winter Sky

The crown of the gum ball tree in my front yard, against the gray winter sky this afternoon.

Bleak -- but not quite as bleak as you'd expect.

The more observant among you will likely have noticed that, despite it being the end of December, lacking one day, and after more than a foot of snow and a week of sub-freezing weather, most of the leaves, though dead and brown, are still there. This is not an evergreen tree; the branches are supposed to be bare.

Everybody else was out shoveling snow from their sidewalks, I had to rake the leaves off the top of mine first.

It's always something.

There's Rock and Then There is Rock ...

You gotta love these guys:

Turn on the Light

Check out the plasma light bulb.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Guru Plinck Nominated

Got this link from Ron Miller. Among the 2009 nominees for something called The Pugilists' Hall of Fame is Maha Guru Stevan Plinck.

I dunno about this group, but it's nice to see our teacher getting recognition. (That's him in the baseball cap and white shirt in the middle ...)

Images

Photo by Nataraj Hauser

For some nice camera work, check out Nataraj Hauser's blog, eyeDance. The yoga model is particularly striking, as is the latest image from the basement studio. Hauser is a dancer/martial artist/photographer/whole bunch of other stuff, and since he likes my writing, obviously a man of great literary taste ...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Bettie Page


Bettie Page
1923-2008

In the bustle of pre-holiday stuff, I missed the notice. Bettie Page, the pinup girl from the late forties until the mid-fifties, passed away.

Memorial stuff is here.

Bettie inspired a generation of men to healthy lust, found religion in 1957, quit the biz and had a long and productive life.

Rest in peace, Bettie.

Classical Guitar Blog


Those of you who are interested in classical guitar might want to drop round Stanley Yates' blog and have a look. Man is a great player and knows his musical pedagogy ... 

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bulletproof


So a mixed-martial-arts fighter, a pro, was shot to death in Boise. Details are still sketchy, but the deceased was apparently thirty, and the suspect, who has been arrested, was forty-eight. Some kind of domestic disturbance, apparently.

Want to bet that the shooter was not any kind of fighter?

All the martial artists who think this stuff makes you blade- or bulletproof take note.

It doesn't.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Night of the Undead Winter

I feel for those people whose winter starts in October and keeps piling on until May. On the one hand, they are geared up for it; on the other hand, cabin fever must get pretty intense.

After but ten days of -- for us -- extreme cold, plus a week of snow that's still piled up, I am quite ready to see it melt. The Lying Weathermen -- there's a name for a rock band and perhaps today's example of redundant -- had said it is to rain and wash it all away, starting this morning. Hasn't started yet.

Walking the dogs is an adventure, even with YakTraks, since the sidewalks range from only a few footprints and crispy snow, to hard-pack, to ice. Thirty-one degrees out there now, so no water dripping from the eaves.

Ick. Snow, snow go away. Come again five years away ...

Christmas Miracle



So we survived another one ...

Actually, as Christmases go, it was pretty good; the adults behaved and only a couple of the small children melted down. Everybody seemed happy and seemed to have a fine ole time. Toys, wrapping paper, boxes, turkey and dressing, and soap bubbles in the snow and rain mix ...

One broken swivel chair, a tall one that got knocked over and hit at just the right angle to jiggle the swivel plate crooked and spill the ball-bearings all over the rug. My son and I took it apart, far as we could, but the plate had one of those hardened-steel flanges for the center post and bending it enough to get the plate apart and then back together was beyond our tools. 

I found a new one online for under twenty bucks. 

The miracle: At Thanksgiving, with several of the boys back in our bedroom watching cartoons on the tube, the TV remote disappeared. We searched for it high and low, every nook, cranny, and sock drawer. Under the bed, Under the furniture. In the toilet. Nothing. Some days, I'd get up and do another fifteen minutes, trying to think like a grandson seeking to torture his grandfather.

Zip.

Yesterday, after the boys cleared out of the bedroom, there on the floor in front of the TV, the missing remote. All I can think of was that the grandson we suspected the most went back to wherever he had stashed it and retrieved it. In all the excitement, he forgot to hide the remote before he left.

Either that, or Santa Claus left me a duplicate ...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Shaken, Not Stirred ...

Check out this guy's guitar playing. Nice twelve-string work. Mission Impossible, Stairway to Heaven, great Pink Panther.

 (I didn't see any Air Supply, but he does do Dust in the Wind ...)


Monday, December 22, 2008

One More Series

Three more pictures, then I'll quit unless something else exciting happens.

First is the roof. I took the leaf blower to it. Top layer of powder blew right off. Under that, a layer of ice that didn't go anywhere under the air blast, and under that, another layer of snow that was easy to carve away. Left a shell, Like using a balloon for a cast of something, then letting the air out.

The Garden Buddha, after.


The Garden Buddha, before the real snow arrived.

And the Snow Just Keeps on Comin'




You folks who live in Michigan near the lake or North Dakota or Connecticut can smile at our plight, but looking out my front window, the winter wonderland on the second day of that season has become a record-breaker here in Beaverton. A foot of unpredicted snow out there, and still coming down.

And as somebody pointed out in a letter to the newspaper, all you midwestern- and easterners who brag about being able to drive in such conditions don't need to worry about each other on the roads here -- you need to worry about being slammed into by us ..

Most snow we've had since, well, ever.

Everything is shut down, only a handful of planes leaving or arriving -- weather is bad everywhere except L.A.

Even if it start raining tomorrow, which given the forecasts so far, is iffy, we will have a white Christmas.

We're under the trees here and it's deeper in the open. We walked over the Safeway -- drugstore is closed again. Dogs loved it. Sidewalks are mostly packed snow, so they didn't disappear unless they leaped into a big drift, which they did from time to time.

I'd go sit naked in it again, but they might not find me until spring ...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Afternoon in Beautiful Beaverton

I took the dogs out again. Had enough foot traffic that the ice is broken up on the sidewalk to the Rite-Aid, which is now open. About 25 F. -- that's a little below zero for you Centigrade fans -- and a bit of mixed rain/ice pellets starting to come down.

That's not good.

The danger with freezing rain, of course, is that it coats everything; branches and power lines get heavy. Power outages are usually when a big branch, or tree, over-burdened with ice, snaps and falls on a likewise glazed power line and takes it down.

Our power is underground here, but that doesn't help with the feeder lines on poles.

Only a few thousand folks in the Portland area without power at the moment, but they expect that number will grow.

Got some guy in a chained pick-up truck with a plow-blade clearing paths in the parking lot at the Rite-Aid. Didn't have any rock salt, but table salt will work -- somewhat -- and it's cheap enough to use a box or two. Gave me an excuse to walk to the store and get out of the house to enjoy the winter wonderland.

I'm ready for summer now.

video

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Just Another Snow Day - Updated

Sunday Morning, 9 a.m.


Snow stopped, and we had some freezing rain, so on top of five or six inches of powder here in beautiful Beaverton, we now have between a quarter inch of ice crusting. Step onto it, it goes crunch as it breaks and you sink into the snow below.

Dogs went out to back pee, they looked like little icebreakers. Should make for an interesting walk.

(Note: It did. Dogs were breaking through and scrabbling so much that, for the first time ever, they decided to walk behind me. We didn't go far. Streets mostly empty. I saw a chained bus and three cars, three other people. All the local churches have cancelled services this a.m., much of the city and tricounty area are shut down, and chains are required almost everywhere. Rite-Aid is closed, Safeway is apparently open.)

Now how much would you pay ...?


(Below: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
 Six inches of snow on the ground, still coming down, and Happy Solstice ...



Cabin fever, anyone?
Below, 4 p.m. Saturday


Below, 8 a.m. Saturday


Saturday morning we got up to twenty-eight degrees and snowing lightly here. Given that the forecast doesn't show the temperature going much above freezing for the next week, and even though after today there isn't supposed to be any more precipitation for a while, probably we'll still have some snow left on Thursday, so it'll be a partially-white Christmas here.

Or not.

Either way, we've had more snow this year than in a long time, and a cold snap that has lasted longer than any I can recall.

Happy holidays, and remember what Roger Zelazny said:

From Creatures of Light and Darkness, circa 1969:

"Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Season's Greetings

Years ago, when I was less politically-correct and still sent them out, I made my own Christmas cards. I'd draw something, take it to the local print shop, run off a few copies, and mail them to selected friends and business folk with whom I felt comfortable enough to risk them.

Here's one of the first ones I did.

Picture it folded like a card: On the outside cover, it says:

Even though we have moved 

north,

I can still recall the joy of an

old-time southern Christmas;

Burning the Yule log and waiting

for Santa Claus ...


then you open it ...


Merry Christmas, y'all ...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Expertise



There is a school of thought, confirmed by a number of studies, that real expertise in a subject takes a lot of practice.

Well, duh.

The number that seem to do the trick, according to these studies, to get to world-class status in a discipline, seems to be about 10,000 hours. Plus or minus a little, but right around that. A world-class violinist will have the hours. A pretty good professional player could be at five or six K. A decent amateur is looking at a couple thousand hours. 

For a list of folks involved in such research, and an overview of it, check out Learning and Practicing Skilled Performance, by Francis Mechner. (Note: This is a .PDF download, so if you click on the link, that's what you get.) And for more, anything you can find by Professor K. Anders Ericsson, of FSU's Psychology Department. Man knows his stuff. 

This is not to say you can't learn things faster. Dr. Ericsson points out that one can learn to do two-move chess problems in 50-100 hours to a level equal to world-class chess players. Of course, that doesn't mean you can play chess with them, only that in this one narrow arena, you can keep up.

By this light, I am far from world-class as a silat player. Not a surprise to me.  I have been training in the art for fourteen years; if we assume -- wrongly so, but for the sake of argument -- that I managed to practice for an hour each and every day, that means the best I could do would be halfway to world-class expertise, since I'd only have about 5100 hours at it.

Another fourteen years before I get there, unless I up my daily hours. Assuming I live that long and can still move ...

To make it to that level as a guitarist, given my current daily practice? Why, I need only twenty-eight more years ...

Oh, well. Something to do. 

Use the Right Tool

As a shade tree mechanic, long ago and far away, I was mostly of the "bigger hammer" school. As in, if it won't move, use a bigger hammer.

Eventually, I learned that the right tool for the job made all the difference. Of course, these days, opening the car's hood is the limit of my ability to work on cars. What is under there needs a degree in computer science and a bank of electronics just to figure out which module to replace. I'm calling AAA for a tow to the shop. 

Um. Recently in our martial arts discussions, here and on other blogs, I was once again struck by the notion that "general" and "specific" aren't the same, and that I should make a pass by the subject again.

Take the screwdriver. I suspect that if most of us were asked to draw a picture with no more instruction than "Draw a screwdriver," we'd mostly wind up drawing the same one. The default instrument is the flat-head, and we all know what the blade looks like. 

But: there is a veritable plethora of screw-head designs that range off into some complex geometry. Starting with the cross-point, or Phillips, into hex, square, torx, spanners, square, Bristol, torq, tri-wings, polydrives -- the list goes on, and most of these, I've never seen. 

Sometimes, you can make do -- a small enough flat-head can be used on a Phillips-head. A lot of times, if you don't have the right tool, all you do is mess up the screw's head and curse a lot.

So it is in martial arts, I think. The analogy isn't perfect, of course, and a judo guy can use what he has in his tool box to deal with an attack just as well as a boxer, if he knows what he is doing, but the more specific the training, the more likely it is to be able to deal with a specific threat.

However: if all you can do is stand-up striking, getting taken to the ground could be a problem. If you have never had to deal with a punch, that might be a surprise. 

On Blackgrave's blog, he brings up the current hot MA topic, the commando style. Probably you've seen these ads somewhere: "Learn the secret system taught to Navy SEALS!" (Or Spetsnaz, or Israeli Commandos, or whoever.) The pitch is is based on the grass-being-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-fence. And, of course, once you pay for the DVDs, you, too, can be a little old granny who can clear out a biker bar without mussing your hair ...

In martial arts circles, we have a technical word for such claims: Bullshit.

Fighting arts tend to be focused on certain kinds of threats. If the streets are full of guys who carry knives, you will see knife arts develop. If you are in combat on a battlefield against swords, or spears, it would behoove you to know about those. If you are carrying an M-16 and pistol and ducking rounds from AK-47s, what you need to know is not the same thing you need to know barreling unarmed into a cell with a psychotic axe-murderer who doesn't want to shower and wash off a week's worth of dried feces.

What a small woman needs to know to fend off a rapist at the bus stop isn't the same as what a big man needs to know to deal with a mugger in the Safeway parking lot.

One size does not fit all. 

An art that offers a range -- bare, knife, stick, guns -- would probably be a better investment than one that only speaks to one: Hey, this Nippon-fu stuff is great! If the guy who attacks you is using a four-inch folder with a tanto point. Three-inch drop point? No, no, for that you need Point-fu ...

You probably would be best served by figuring out what instances would most likely befall you, vis a vis needing a martial art, and then focusing on finding one that offers ways to deal with those. It's a time-percentage thing. You want something that will stretch to fit more than one need, but you don't want to spend too much energy training for the one-in-a-million threat. Learning how to dodge meteors would be useful the one time you'd really need it, but what are the odds you will ever need it? 

Something to consider when choosing an art.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sublimation


Sublimation, as I am sure you all recall from high school chemistry, is a thing that involves skipping a stage in evaporation.

The word also has a psychological meaning, which we won't go into, save to say it usually involves turning a desire that might be frowned up into one that is more socially acceptable. Say, if for instance, you like to beat the snot out of people, so doing on the street might get you arrested. But if you join a boxing gym or a martial arts class, the law figures you and the rest of the gang thumping each other deserve each other.

Mmm, meanwhile, back at the definition ...

When sun shines on snow, but the temperature isn't warm enough for the snow to melt and then evaporate, the snow will eventually sublime, i.e. go from the solid to the gaseous form of water without the liquid phase. So the snow gradually recedes, albeit somewhat slower than evaporation. Different densities do so at different rates, so that footprint you left out on the driveway yesterday, being compressed and denser, might be sitting there all by itself today.

Thus, snow is more active than it appears on a bright-sunny-but-cold day, and that there are changes that make it more dangerous to traverse, especially on a sidewalk that has been packed down by many passersby. That means that if you are walking your dogs and they decide to give a tug just as you step on one of these sublimating patches, you might find yourself skiing without the benefits of skis.

To deal with such things, there are little rubber things with cleats that you can strap to your shoes. These go by various names, but probably the most popular ones are YakTrax. We have some cheaper knock-offs that don't have as many cleats, but even so, they are hip-savers.

You might consider getting some of these if you have to be out and about in the snow. Less than twenty bucks, and cheap considering what having a busted wrist or hip would set you back.
You can get them in a lot of places, but here, at Amazon.com is convenient.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow Chili



So, a balmy 25 F. out there, snow starting to get crunchy, packed down on the streets, but the wind chill is all the way up to 11 degrees F. Practically summer. 

 A pot of chili is on the stove. Pretty much my standard brew, though I used a spicy ground chicken for the meat this time, and small red instead of kidney beans. Usual other stuff -- garlic, peppers, onion, diced tomatoes, and all the spices that you see in the picture.

Needs to simmer for a couple-three more hours.

Yum. 

Shoo, Fly ...

Okay, if you watch the news, you've seen this:



What I want to know is, where was the Secret Service? The guy who was supposed to step in front of the Prez and take a shoe for him?

Yeah, probably everybody in the room had to pass by a metal detector and get vetted, but still. It was Iraq, where the man is probably even less popular than here at home. Why, when he stood up, wasn't the local journalist eating hot lead?

Bush has pretty good reaction time for an old guy, got to give him that, but if I had to bet, I'd guess somebody on the Secret Service detail will be shuffling papers in Bug's Arse, South Dakota for the rest of his career real soon ...

Brrr ...


So, Monday morning, nine a.m., twenty-one degrees F., snow on the ground. Predictions are that the weather will stay below freezing all week, with a chance of more snow on Wednesday or Thursday. Which will put us into the record books.

Hummingbird feeder froze solid. The Garden Buddha got kinda chilly, but real men aren't bothered by a little cold, are they Bobbe?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

You Don't Need a Weatherman

And a cold and snowy night ...


Mighty Dogs in the Snow

Got up this morning expecting to see three or four inches of snow on the ground, but, nope.

The local weather guys were shucking and jiving -- it's coming, we swear!

And they were right. Only a few hours off. At the moment, it's coming down pretty good, and cold enough to stick.

Little early for a white Christmas, but if you celebrate the Twelve Days, it just makes it under the wire.
video

Saturday, December 13, 2008

And Music to Go With the Tree ...

Worth a repost:



Enjoy ...

White Trash Christmas


So, another year out of the white trash tree, $19.95 and that included two strings of lights.

Looks much better than it has any right to look. Still have to put some kind of cloth-thingee around the base and wrapped presents and all like that but it does give a nice glow to the corner of the room.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen ...

Dishwasher stopped draining. Full of water. Pushing the drain button was for naught.

It's supposed to drop below freezing tonight, and stay that way for a week, maybe fifteen degrees F. by tomorrow night. An overflowing dishwasher would be bad.

So I looked at hoses and fittings and decided, what-the-heck, I could unscrew some things and see what's what.

Turns out the drain hose that runs from the washer into the garbage disposal was clogged. With squash seeds that we dumped in last night. Fished 'em out, hooked it back up, voila! Fixed!

Always amazes me when I do something like that and it actually works ...

Klaatu Barada ... uh ... uh ... uh ...

Well, the new version of the 1951 classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still is now out, with Keanu Reeves doing his imitation of Michael Rennie. I cannot even imagine Reeves delivering Klaatu's going-away speech about turning the Earth into a burnt-out cinder. It hurts my brain. Rennie had gravitas. Reeves, well, not so much.

Rennie, and Robert Wise, the director, are probably spinning in their respective graves, can the reviews be believed.

Got to give Keanu credit, though. Playing a wooden-alien is solidly within his Matrix range ...

I haven't seen it. And won't until it comes out on cable. The MSNBC review is, um, not kind, starting out with "Klaatu barado stinko ..."

A quick sampling of the reviews to be found on the first Google page pretty much agrees. One guy locally kinda liked it, but it's because he hadn't seen the original. A hunk of iron pyrites doesn't look so awful -- if you don't have real gold. If you do, there's no comparison. Since I saw the first version, have it on DVD and watch it now and then, I don't want to pollute the purity of that experience.

And according to the reviews, The Line, one of the most famous in Sci Fi Movie History, isn't even in the new version.

Gort, please ... !

Friday, December 12, 2008

Snow in Louisiana

Semi-tropical Baton Rouge Today

Local weather forecast for the Pacific Northwest is offering snow to the valley floor, and cold on the morrow, getting very cold in the next few days. Wind is blowing, it's raining now, and the leaves in my gumball trees are finally starting to fall ...

I called my father in Louisiana to wish him happy birthday, and they've got snow on the ground down there, which is a rare event

Growing up, we averaged an inch or so of snow every ten years or so in Baton Rouge. We'd get a dusting, the town would shut down and everybody'd go home. After a bit, if you took a walk, you'd see the lawns of St. Augustine grass would all be mostly bare-- everybody had gone out and rolled all up the snow into big balls to make snowmen.

I never learned to drive in the stuff. When it snows here, I stay home. No point in having my itty bitty car slewing all over the road.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Student Finds His Master


The meeting between the martial arts student and his master is a long-standing convention in movies, books, comics, and anime. It has been done countless times, from kung-fu and samurai films to Star Wars. I've written several versions of it myself, each time looking to put a bit of spin on it so it's exactly the same ... but totally different ...

Here is the latest version, from Champion of the Dead:

#

Saturday, Kane had gone to check out a kung-fu school over on the east side. He’d watched the class for thirty minutes, and was pretty sure he could take anybody in the place, including the teacher, so he bugged out. There was a new guitar store downtown just opened, and he wanted to cruise the place and see what gear they had, so the trip wouldn’t be a total loss.

He cut through an alley on his way back to where he had parked his car. He was in a hurry, because the meter was about to run out and he didn’t want to get a ticket, but he came to a door, painted a bright red, inset into the dirty brick.

There was a sign, a little hand-painted thing on the door.

He had no clue what it meant, but it caught his attention:

The door wasn’t locked, and when he pushed, it opened.

Place smelled like the sandalwood incense his Gram burned. She was an old hippie who never got tired of telling him how great the fucking sixties had been, must have said that a thousand times. Yeah, peace, love, harmony. Where had all that gone? They hadn’t done too good a job, the hippies. Quit too soon.

Then again, Gram had taught him how to play the guitar, and he was long past “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore,” and “Kumbayah,” so he owed her for that.

The inside walls were painted red and yellow, electrically-bright, and there was a short hallway that led to the right.

He heard some men singing -- well, droning, more like, four or five of them, and he edged toward the sound.

Around the corner, the first thing he saw was a large, blue plastic bucket full of sand, with several sticks of smoking incense stuck into it. That explained the smell.

The room was big, high ceiling, almost square, more red and yellow, and in it, there was one old man seated crosslegged on a cushion, eyes closed and mouth open, and all those voices were coming from the one old man.

Wow.

Kane recognized the clothes -- a dark red robe over a yellow shirt, both sleeveless, exposing the old man’s arms. Tibetan. He had seen that movie with Keanu Reeves about Buddha, and this guy had the look, yeah, some kind of Buddhist.

He started to ease back into the hall, but the old man opened his eyes and grinned real big. Lot of smile wrinkles next to his eyes. “Ah. You have arrived!”

Well, yeah. But he must have mistaken Kane for somebody else.

The old man caught the look. “You are a warrior, right?”

Kane shrugged. “Yeah. Sort of.”

“You came for Dmag-lag-rtsal.”

Kane must have looked puzzled again. Mahg log pretzel?

“That’s what it says on the door.” More of that wrinkled smile.

Right, like he could read that shit.

The old man stood. Well, actually, he more like ... arose, straight from the crosslegged sit, floating slowly upward like smoke.

Nice move, for an old guy.

“We might as well get to it,” he said. He motioned with one hand to Kane: Come at me.

“What?”

“What? You never saw a kung-fu movie? You are the young, but cocky warrior who considers himself adept at martial arts. I am the old master who can turn you inside out without raising a sweat. You attack, I demonstrate my superiority, you are then eager to become my student.” He gave Kane that big, shit-eating, really-wrinkled grin.

Kane laughed. Yeah, he had seen that one a bunch of times. Half the kung-fu movies made had that scene in them.

The old dude was nuts. He didn’t need any part of that. He shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

He turned to leave.

“Are you certain? Better check.”

Kane frowned. Check? Check what? He turned around --

The old man was gone.

“Not there, here,” he said. “Behind you.”

Kane spun, dropped into a cat-stance, his hands coming up into fists. The old man was between him and the door.

Holy shit!

“Come, come,” the old man said. Still smiling like a loon, and giving him that wave-in. “Give us a punch.”

Kane came out of his stance and lowered his hands. “If you can fucking teleport, there is no fucking way I’m swinging at you!”

“You are smarter than you look. My students sometimes call me ‘Rinpoche,’” he said. “Are you ready to learn?”

It was beyond weird, but he felt it, immediately. Whatever the hell was going on here, he had to know. Just like that. “Yeah. My name is Kane.”

“Oh, yes. I know who you are. And what.”

Sam didn’t know what that meant, but it looked like he was gonna miss the new guitar store, and get a parking ticket, too.

But, turned out he didn’t get a ticket. Karma, maybe ...

Scars


It's an old joke among folks who think fortunate tellers are frauds: When the seer is doing a cold-reading, s/he will offer generalities that sound specific. "People often don't understand you." Or: "I see that you have had issues with your father." Or, "There was once a woman you loved who treated you badly." And, shoot, you can even do physical -- "You have a scar on your knee ... "

Uncanny! She's psychic! Amazing!

Yeah. You know any guys  that this doesn't apply to?  And everybody still has his legs has a scar on his knee.

And now, I have three more on the right side. But, given that I am six weeks post-op on my arthroscopic adventure, you have to be looking to tell. Still got a numb spot to the lateral side and some referred nerve tingling next to the medial incision, but both are much decreased, and I'm guessing that in a couple more months, those'll both be gone, too. 

Let's hear it for modern surgery.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Trust Your Tools

We have a saying in silat, "Trust your tools." What this means needs a definition, since "tool" here is more than just a saw or a hammer. There are laws, principles, strategy, tactics, techniques, all of which are part of the instrument. It's not enough just to have a hammer -- you have to know how to hold it, how to swing it without braining yourself, the best angle at which to strike -- and when to use it.

The theory is you are taught what you need to know; that you practice this until you develop a level of skill wherein the tool becomes comfortable and useful. Eventually, you get to the place where your motions approach those of reflexes.

A sidebar here:

There are some long-running discussions about maps versus territories; what you think you see versus what is really there; and how to shift on the fly quickly enough to save your ass when push comes to shove, and what you do isn't working. This is another post, and one I believe moves more into the realm of what is proper strategy versus tactics. We'll come back to this another day, but it is important.

The hammer is but one among others -- screwdrivers, pliers, shears, wrenches, chisels, saws, and so forth. When you know what each does and how to use it, you can approach a household construction project knowing which is the best for the job. You see a screw, you don't think "hammer."

(Going to be too much work to stretch this analogy any more, so let's leave it.)

In the martial ways, posit that you are beset with an attacker. Attack comes. If you have trained properly, you will -- in theory -- do whatever is necessary to deal with the situation. And, one hopes, without the "Oh-shit-what-do-I-do-now?! reaction that will almost certainly get you thumped.

This is what "trust your tools" means. It doesn't mean that you try and make a hammer work when you need a saw. It means you know what you need right now, on a level that bypasses long and conscious deliberation.

This philosophy extends past arts martial. Most activities -- sports, jobs, hobbies -- can be learned well enough that parts of them can seem almost instinctive. You know the right move at the right moment -- if you have developed your tools properly.

In writing, the same thing applies. There have been times when, during a novel, I have stalled. This is not a block -- I can still put the words down -- but the tale isn't moving as I feel it should. Not sinking -- treading water; staying afloat, but -- not going anywhere.

This is vexing, especially if there is a deadline looming. It's not that you have no answer, it's that you don't like the ones you come up with.

There is a solution, I have found, if you have put the time in developing your tools.

Your internal editor, your atman, always knows when something isn't working. If you can activate it, it will step up and offer a solution.

For me, the atman likes to take its own sweet time. Doesn't like to be pushed, but it knows, as I do, if something feels wrong in a story, it is wrong. When I can't consciously see exactly what it is, or even if I can, how best to correct it, I have found that turning the problem over to my unconscious and leaving it alone will invariably do the trick. Atman will grind and grind and grind, and of a moment, whilst walking the dogs or sitting in the hot tub or eating lunch, the solution to that plot element or character flaw will blossom in front of me: Here. Do this, it says. This'll fix the problem.

And when I listen and heed the voice, it does. So far, every time.

The limits are, of course, my own abilities -- my atman is only as good as I am when it comes to the writing; still, over the years, I have learned that -- if I have the time and patience to wait -- the answer is there. It took me a while to learn to trust this tool, but now I do.

It's a good thing to develop. And how best to do this? Practice the basics. Learn the craft, how to flow the words, and do enough so that you get a feel for language, story, plot, character. Work the muscles and make them stronger. Give the atman little chores at first, and when it gets those, trust it with bigger ones. Realize that part of you knows.

The potential is enormous ...

Domino Effect

So, in case you've been living on Mars recently and not paying attention, the economy is in the toilet.

Book industry is getting some eau de fecal, too -- genre lines going away, publishers "stepping down,"and editors being fired hither and yon. My daughter's editor was let go, and he's not the only one.

There are always businesses who take such happenings as a chance to clean house, and surely some of that is going on in the publishing biz, too, but they are calling it Black Wednesday.

The steamboat book Reaves and I did is out there, and has gotten some offers, but they are lower than they'd have been even five or six months ago. Lower offers are better than no offers, of course, but still -- it's going to affect us all, folks, even people who keep their jobs, and like they say, it's gonna get worse before it gets better.

Hang on ...

Monday, December 08, 2008

Size Matters


Over on Ballistics by the Inch, a couple of enterprising fellows have conducted experiments to check on the old question about how much barrel length affects bullet velocity when shooting.

Their protocols are simple, and the results are interesting, and maybe a little more surprising than a lot of people would expect. Basically, the same bullet out of a short barrel is slower than out of a longer barrel. In some cases, the difference between a two-inch snubbie and a rifle-length bbl. can be more than twice as much.

Interesting reading for gun-nuts and mystery writers. Check it out. And thanks to Todd for passing along the link.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Wonders of the Web

So, my mother favors a kind of mint that has anise in it. She was out here visiting last year and spotted them in a New Seasons market and was thrilled. I bought her a case of them for Christmas last year.

Went back to get some more this year and they were gone. I couldn't remember the name, either. But with Google, if you have enough clues: mints-anise-pastilles, you can track things down, and since I knew what the package looked like, I found them.

Got to be impressed with that if you came of age before the instant information generation. 

The mints, by the way, are vile-tasting things if you aren't a fan of licorice ...

Friday, December 05, 2008

Blackgrave is Back


Went away for a while to ponder impending fatherhood, but he's back and so's the link ...

Karma

O.J. goes away ...

Only fifteen years, but hey, better than nothing.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Mirror Test


Sometimes when I venture into Bloglandia, I come across postings on the fit-or-fat question. Of late, I have been finding some relatively strident comments from people I have dubbed the DOO, i.e., the Defenders of Obesity. I think I understand where these folks are coming from, and I can sympathize, but I would be remiss if I didn't offer that I believe their advocacy of such attitudes does more harm than good.

The gist of it is this: Society places too much value on appearances. (I agree.) What a person looks like is not the full measure of who they are. (No argument). There are some real questions as to whether health is that much affected by obesity. (I don't think there is any question here. Maybe genetics are more important to longevity, but there is no doubt that the quality of one's physical and emotion life are adversely affected by being obese.) 

Therefore, the conclusion comes, it is okay for me to be obese, and I'm happy with it.

If, when you shuck all your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror in good lighting and you are mostly-happy with how you look, then I got nothing else to tell you. If, on the other hand, you aren't happy but are reconciled to it and accept it, that's not the same. (And I say "mostly-happy" because few of us can't see room for improvement standing in front of the mirror. How much work we are willing to do to get that is another matter.)

If there was a magic pill that had fewer side-effects than aspirin, cost a dollar, and by taking it you would become fit, attractive, and healthy, and stay that way for, oh, say, thirty or forty years, would you take it?

I have yet to meet anybody who is obese who, when asked this, wouldn't consider the idea. Most of the folks I know would jump at it.

There is such a pill, but it costs a lot more than a dollar. Eating right and exercising does the trick, but it requires a lot of sweat equity and time.

Most of the DOO people to whom I've talked are long-time warriors in the War Against the Avoirdupois. After years or decades of struggling with diets and exercise, they have had enough. They've left the battlefield, and fuck it.

It is their choice, and I don't blame them for it. One measures, one weighs the benefits versus cost, and one elects an option. No problem.

Where I run into trouble is with the notion that the grapes of fitness are sour anyway, and rationalizing it thus allows them to feel better about themselves.

Don't want to fight the war, that's cool, but the goal is still valid, and offering that it isn't for others is wrong.

Sophie Tucker has a line, "I've been rich and I've been poor; believe me, Honey, rich is better."

I feel that way about health and fitness. You don't have to be a fanatic about it, up at dawn every day and working out for three hours -- as in most things, moderation is the ticket. But because you've elected to walk away from the war doesn't mean that it isn't worth fighting.

Martial Arts Mindfulness, Intent, Thought


We have, in our version of silat, short upper body moves called djurus. (We use the Dutch/English plural -- some styles use the Indonesian method, doubling the word, as djuru-djuru, or dropping the "d" altogether. After Independence, the Indonesians rebuilt their dictionaries, and threw out the old spellings. Our style's head teacher in the West was raised with the Dutch versions, which we mostly still use. So we write "pentjak," instead of the newer version "pencak," wherein the "c" is given a "tj" or "ch" sound.  To my mind, the new version looks like it should be pronounced "pen-kack.")

These djurus, we believe, are like the basic ingredients of flour, water, sugar, butter, and eggs. There aren't many of them, but they can be combined together in various ways to make everything from bread to cake to cookies. (Rita Rudner used to do a funny stand-up routine: "If you mix flour and water,  you get paste; if you mix flour and water and eggs, you get cake. Where does the paste go ... ?"

Together with the lower body moves, which we call langkhas, and things like groundwork, we believe the most efficient tools one will ever need in a fight situation are covered. The forms are not to fight with per se, but to learn the tools.

A few weeks back, my teacher added a new wrinkle. The more senior students among us are now doing a fillip -- during a move called "trapping window," which ends in a punch, the position is varied ever-so-slightly into a pukulan-style punch. 

"Pukul" is one of those multiple-use Bahasa words that means, among other things, "hammer" or "hit," and thus "pukulan" means the art of hitting. One of the ongoing arguments in silat -- and there are many ongoing arguments, many -- is how the hodgepodge of a given art's techniques came to be assembled. One of these contentions is that the Dutch brought western boxing to the Spice Islands and used it in the port bars, and that the locals liked what they saw and borrowed parts of it. Which is not to say that they didn't have their own ways of punching, or that they didn't alter what they saw to fit. It's a theory. 

To somebody without any knowledge of our art, the new variation doesn't really look any different. The window is stretched a bit into three dimensions instead of a plane; the intent of the punch is different, but that's hard, if not impossible, to see from without. Doesn't break any principles, is almost the same, but there is a little flare ...

All of which is to set up the point: After you have been doing the moves one way for a time -- fourteen or fifteen years, say, then re-focusing them even slightly is passing hard. 

We are supposed to practice these forms mindfully and with intent. By which I understand it to be something more than than as an automaton and by rote -- there needs to be focus and not just going through the motions half-heartedly.

Which is not to say that "mindful" and "thinking" are the same. As my teacher quotes his teacher, "If you think, you stink." What this means is that conscious thought is too slow to effectively deal with incoming attacks. If you have to think: "Oh, look. He's punching at my nose -- I should do something about that." then you won't have time to do anything about it before you get smacked. The best way to head 'em off at the pass is to get there before they do.

The djurus give you tools that, with enough practice, can be used via a kind of learned reflex. This term is, of course, inaccurate. A reflex is hardwired into the system, a short-circuit that only has to go as far as the spine and not the brain; nonetheless, enough practice of a motion will allow it to be used without conscious thought. Consider walking -- if you had to consciously detail to yourself each aspect of weight-shifting, leg-moving, foot-placing and like that, you'd never get anywhere save very s-l-o-w-l-y. Try it running and you'll likely fall down. 

Which is to say that altering a motion you have practiced for a long time requires conscious thought and so for the last few weeks, my djurus have looked pretty ragged. (Not that they were all that great before, but they are definitely less so now ...)

Never a dull moment. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Funny


Got this as part of one of those cute-dog emails that go around from time to time. What happens when you think it's funny to put your new puppy on your laptop and he needs to go right now ...

This is cute. 

Time Waster


Thank Bobbe for this one:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hesitation



For those of you who haven't  been paying attention, the standard incandescent light bulb, a staple since Thomas Alva Edison came up with the critter and patented it 129 years ago this month, is going the way of the dodo.

Go to Costco to get a package of bulbs and what you see now instead of the old, well, light-bulb shape you grew up with, are spiral glass-tube compact-fluorescents. 

The old ones will be around for a while, and I'm guessing you'll be able to buy them, either from hardware stores or on the net from China or wherever for a long time, but the big markets in the U.S. are switching over.

This is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, the new bulbs use less energy, last longer, and they have finally gotten the spectrum to the point that the light they produce doesn't make your house look like the inside of K-Mart on a rainy Sunday afternoon. If everybody switched over, the energy savings would be huge.

On the other hand, they cost more up front, have to be disposed of differently than the old bulbs or they can cause environmental problems due to the mercury they contain, and when you flip the switch, there is a small, but noticeable, lag time before the light comes on. 

One can get used to such things, but it is still oddly disquieting to turn on the light and have that ... pause before it flickers on.