Friday, July 31, 2009

Invested in a Way



Martial arts stuff. Those of you who aren't familiar with the way such things are taught, a quick hit on the most common methods:

1) Ongoing group class.
2) Private lessons.
3) Seminars.

There are other ways -- couple buddies get together and exchange techniques and share philosophy. There are how-to books, videos, and people who can learn something simply by watching. There are stories, probably apocryphal, about this system or that which came to be because a student not allowed to train peeped through the blinds then went off and practiced on his own. The classic depictions offer somebody who watched a crane fishing, or a monkey given fermented coconut juice and copied what they thought they saw. Or somebody just had some kind of epiphany one warm summer evening and the vision led to a new art.

(There are people who create their own systems, though seldom, I expect, without some kind of prior experience.)

But back to the three. Each method has its merits and down sides.

Group classes are the most common, and they tend to be limited by the newer students. If you have an advanced class where everybody is at the same level, you learn differently than if you have a group ranging from years in training to a newbie just showed up. Nature of the information flow -- kid can't add or subtract, then multiplication is beyond him, and calculus right out. Not to say the advanced students aren't getting something out of it -- going over the basics is never a bad idea, and each time you return to them, you can see something new, but it will be a slower process.

Private lessons get you personal attention, learning is faster, but can be spendy, and sooner or later, you have to dance with more than one person to see how the stuff will work against different players. Height, weight, speed, power, these things matter enough that you need a range of experience. A fighter who is six-four has more reach than one who is five-two. Heavyweights tend not to move like flyweights. You need to see that up close and personal.

Seminars tend to offer a whole lot of information delivered in a short time, over a day or three, and often the attendees are students of something else, so the teacher must consider that. If you study, say, kung fu, and you spend the weekend learning eskrima, for instance, then most of what you will see will likely be new to you. Retention of the material is harder, because the teacher may be gone on Monday, never to be seen again, and if you come away with a couple of things that are useful you can remember, then that's about as good as you can expect.

One of the problems experienced students have in the seminar-realm is what they bring with them. If you are a stand-up puncher and you seminar (like that for a verb?) a grappling art that goes to the ground, you are looking for stuff your art may not address, and it is relatively easy to listen to the teacher. He's got something you don't, and you want it.

If, however, the art you study is too similar to the seminar curriculum, then the problem of conflicting input will almost certainly arise. Sometimes, a different way isn't better or worse, just different and it will work, but it won't fit into what you have.

I saw this at the most recent seminar I attended, last year in Las Vegas. There were a handful of high-level teachers, rotating sessions through a ballroom full of students. All of these teachers were experts in something; several in multiple arts, but none of them were teaching the same thing, and in several cases, what they taught was a direct contradiction to stuff I already knew. And what the last three guys all showed me.

Proper seminar etiquette says you are to put that aside and do what the new teacher demonstrates, his way, and if you don't want to do that, better if you step off.

Obligatory aside here: I know this will make Rory smile, but if you knock the instructor sprawling, while that makes a valid point, such will often lead to an escalation in force that blows past friendly training into ugly. Such an event happened at Vegas because a teacher demonstrating knife techniques made seven major errors.

Mistake #2, was assuming he could show a bunch of guys who play with knives as much or more than he did something that would impress them.

If you are going to play your guitar in front of an audience of professional guitar players, best you have the chops.

Mistake #3: The teacher picked a move that was risky in the extreme. It required a precision you probably wouldn't be able to summon against a knife thrust with adrenaline babbling in your ear. Even if you could, it might work against somebody shorter who didn't know squat, but absolutely would not work against a guy eight inches taller, even if he didn't know squat.

For those of you who have some knowledge about such things, the first basic defense was to kick your hips straight back, sucking in your gut, while bending at the waist and leaning forward, reaching for the knife arm with both hands to grab it. Assuming you got that much right, there was some kind of follow-up, takedown, disarm, I don't really recall, because it never got that far ...

Mistake #4: Teacher picked the tallest guy in the class to come at him.

Mistake #5: Tall Guy was the most experienced knife player in the session. Three-quarters of his life deep in knife arts, knew more than the teacher. This was a man who had twelve practice blades in his gym bag. And who, when elected, allowed that maybe the teacher might want to let somebody else do the attack, because of the size and experience disparity.

Mistake #6: The teacher declined the offer to use somebody his own size.

Mistake #7: He could have changed the defense, and limited Tall Guy to a move that he could have intercepted. Said, "Wait, no, this won't work against a tall guy, so let me show you a variation. Stab like this." He didn't. He was intent on proving his point.

Came the attack and defense:

Tall Guy eviscerated the teacher three times in the first five seconds -- or would have, had the knife been real. After another few seconds, he had tagged the guy three more times, and nobody in that class was ever going to try that defense, anytime, anywhere, against anybody.

This is what is known as a failed demonstration. A fubar situation.

Teacher got pissed off, but it was his own fault.

If you can't do it, don't try to show it in front of a room full of experienced folks who have an idea what it ought to look like. Later, I found out the teacher had been warned by a senior in his art that maybe a barehanded knife defense was not a good idea, but elected to do it anyway. Mistake #1 -- not listening to somebody who knows better ...

So I learned from this demonstration. Not what the teacher had intended, but still something useful.

That's how it goes at a seminar. More than a couple times, I was thinking, "Huh. Your way will get me killed trying it against somebody who knows his ass from a hole in the ground."

An example of this is the infamous overhead X-block for a downward ice-pick stab. Yeah, you might make it work against somebody who just picked up a blade the first time this morning and is still puzzling over which end to hold; against anybody who knows that much? As soon as both your hands go up, you turn everything from your neck to your toes into an open target, and you won't be fast enough to get your hands down in time to keep from being disemboweled. If you don't believe this, give somebody a marks-a-lot pen and leave to try a little line drawing upon you after you cross your wrists over your skull. You'll need some OxyClean afterward.

(Our basic knife stuff starts with the simple stuff: Get the fuck out the way. Don't stand there where if you miss the check or block you will get skewered. So if somebody is teaching me that this is the way to go, I'm going to be looking at him askance.)

Now it is true that you might find yourself in a situation where you can't move out of the way, and there are methods to be employed should this happen; however, if you can be elsewhere when the blades flash, it's better. Nobody ever got stabbed by somebody who couldn't reach them.

We strive to cover high-line and low-line at all times -- that's a cardinal rule for us. If what you are showing me involves me ignoring that? It's not just that I will be out of my comfort zone -- it's that I have been doing it that way to good effect for so long that I cringe when I see somebody not doing it.

If a technique violates a basic principle of the art I practice and I can't see immediately how it will be useful, I am going to be leery of it. Especially if I see that it is something I know I can defeat using what I already know. Yeah, that's nice, thanks.

Is this because I have a closed mind? Maybe so. If I have gone down a road and realized that it's not the right one for me, then I'm not likely to want to go down it again. Doesn't mean it's a bad road, but it does mean I've found a route I like better. Unless you can demonstrate that what you offer is better, then why would I trade mine for yours?

On the one hand: If you are so set in your ways that you aren't willing to consider another option, especially when things don't go as planned -- which they never do -- then doesn't that handicap you?

Yes.

On the other hand: If you have a way that seems to work and somebody shows you one that doesn't seem as if it will work -- not just as well, but at all, would it be smart to abandon what you know and swap?

Not in my book.




This Will Make You Smile

Watch and listen to this little boy ...


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Zapped

I mentioned earlier that the power went out here last Saturday -- transformer blew, shut down the neighborhood and traffic signals, took them about an hour and a half to fix.

That day, after it was repaired, our power flickered off a few times, just long enough so I had to reset the electronic clocks and restart the computer.

Then, over the next couple days, once the heat cranked up real good, we'd get another little flicker every so often. Maybe the new transformer was wonky, I figured, or the demand for power caused a brownout. I checked the power company's website, but unless you have fifty people, it doesn't show up as an outage.

Last night, I turned on the kitchen light and was rewarded with a bzzzzt! and a shower of sparks bouncing off the inside of the switch plate, followed by plumes of smoke and that acrid stink of burned insulation ...

Everything on that circuit went dead, and, oh, my, this is not good.

So I hied myself out to the breaker box, none of which had kicked off. Apparently a breaker only does that if there is an overload on the line, or it gets hot enough at the box -- not for a short that might burn your house down. I didn't know that.

So I shut off that circuit, which was fun, since half the breakers weren't marked, and I had to have my wife standing in the hall watching to see what went on and off as I toggled switches.

Eventually we got it sorted out.

Back in the kitchen, I pulled the switch plate off, took the switch out and unwired it, wrapped each burned wire in electrical tape, and went to bed. Dreamed of electricity and bad circuits all night.

Got up this morning, put in a call to Mr. Sparky, and an electrician came out and had a look. Called on my cell phone, since the dead circuit had the computer and house phone and cable TV on it. Nice.

Yeah, I could have fixed it, but if this place ever goes up in smoke because of the wiring, I don't want to be explaining to the insurance guy how my personal code is really superior to the city code ...

Apparently during the seventies when our house was constructed, homebuilders used a metal crimp connector that, over time, expands and contracts and gets loose, causing short circuits. Didn't twist the wires, just clamped them. These are no longer up to code for new buildings.

The electrician used wire nut connectors, ran some clean wire, put in a new switch, problem solved. He checked the circuits and outlets, tightened the breaker board, and we were good.

Save that it's a safe idea to replace all the switches, since the others are all the same age and connected the same way. I wouldn't care to have another one short out while I was in the shower or out walking the dogs or at silat class.

Never a dull moment.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Don't Care If It Is Dry, It Is


HOT!

105 degrees F. right now outside Steve's house. This ain't Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico. Not Death Valley! It is where, when somebody tells you to stick it where the sun don't shine, you might rightly ask them, "What, you want me to go to Oregon?" We don't tan, we rust.

Somebody call somebody!


Probably Won't Stay Up Long

I expect this vid, from The Tonight Show, won't be around long, but if you get a chance to see it before it gets yanked, check it out ...

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ex-King of Pop


Well, the i's are not all dotted, nor the t's crossed yet, but it does seem as if Michael Jackson died from taking an anesthetic that is supposed to be administered only in a monitored clinical setting, i.e., an outpatient surgery, or hospital OR, under the watchful eye of an anesthetist or anaesthesiologist
, whilst the patient is hooked up to a machine reading his vital signs.

Giving it to help somebody sleep at home is a no-no skidding right into malpractice.

Propofol, aka Diprivan™, only lasts for about five minutes a dose, and those addicted to it -- almost all of whom are nurses, doctors, or other hospital personnel who can get their hands on it because it isn't a Schedule II drug (yet) -- hit themselves with it repeatedly. If you have somebody watching, you can hook up an IV and a drip, and when you are ready to wake up, they shut it off and presto! there you are, feeling like a million bucks!

Except if you, ah, did it wrong, in which case, there you used to be, because now, you are deader 'n black plastic. The OD rate for this is incredibly high for abusers outside the hospital, and the margin of error vis a vis the dosage, almost nil. A cc too much, you might get a call from St. Peter.

Michael! Come on down!

This isn't going to surprise me if that's what happened to Jackson. Elvis bought himself a couple of drugstores so he'd be supplied, and there's always a Doctor Feelgood out there somewhere.

Got money? Baby, I got what you need ...

The doctor on hand says he just happened to notice that Jackson wasn't breathing. As he, you know, happened to be walking by the bedroom. Uh huh.

Jackson reportedly had been using the stuff for a couple of years, and it could well be that the most recent doc didn't prescribe it for him, but if he was administering it, he's still looking at involuntary manslaughter.

New actors, but the same old story ...

Warm


103 degrees F. in beautiful Beaverton here at the moment, and I confess that my dear wife's idea we should drag the window-unit AC out of the storeroom and put it into my office didn't take much convincing. The result is that it's a pleasant seventy-five or so in here, with a fan directing the cooler air out the door and into the bedroom.

Forecasters said it might get a degree or so hotter today, and as much as 105 tomorrow and the day after. The all-time record high temperature in Portland was 107, on July 30th, 1965. (It was that hot last time I was in Las Vegas and no big deal, but the Pacific Northwest is somewhat less desert-like than that part of Nevada.)

People complain, but come December, they'll look back at it longingly. Assuming, of course, they aren't cooked in the next few days.

Turning to the Dark Side ...

Okay, I have slipped the bounds of morality and gone over to the dark side ...

Well. Sort of.

What I did was, I went to Amazon.com and listed my martial arts musings, But What If I Did This!? as an e-book for Kindle. I dunno if it will do much -- same price, same format, but I thought I'd give it a shot. I'll make less per book there, but if I had to bet, I'd go with the notion that I'll probably sell more of 'em there than here ...

If my agent can't get a good deal on the how-to-write/memoir, No Man But a Blockhead, I might put that one into the Kindle realm, too. (Addendum: Since the publishing industry is still hunkered down and not leaping at the chance to pave my driveway with money for my books, I have decided to go ahead and put this one up, too. What the hell.)


Turns out they already have a few of my titles up as e-books, including The Musashi Flex.

It's a brave new e-world out there ...

Silat Movie

Merantau.

Okay, so the footage on the trailer looks like a cross between Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan. The star -- Iko Uwais -- is a Silat Tiga Berantai tournament fighter in Jakarta. Plus there is a lot of movie-fu -- because there always is; still, it does have some fun choreography, and that is a kerambit in his hand in the picture ...

Due out later this summer, and I expect I'll go see it. Sorta can't not ...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Handicaps

I guess I don't get to complain about my creaky knees during silat class any more ...

She Don't Lie, She Don't Lie, She Don't Lie ...

Article in today's paper. Researchers at a trio of U's ran tests on waste water in Oregon. 96 sewage plants, looking for traces of certain drugs.

40% of those tested showed residue of Ecstacy.

80% showed cocaine.

All of them showed traces of methamphetamine.

My, my.

The Monsters are Due on Maple Street



Power went out this morning. Big transformer half a block away blew -- sounded like a giant frying pan heated red hot then stuck into cold water -- sizzle, pop! -- and the fans went off and the lights blinked out.

It was a warm night, and we are entering what is supposed to be a stretch of five or six days wherein the highs will be ninety-degrees-plus, possibly as high as 103 F. Probably won't be the last transformer to give up the ghost.

We do get to a hundred here now and then; the end of July, first of August is usually our hottest time of the year, but it's fairly unusual, and the space is short enough so that most houses still don't have air conditioning. I have a window unit -- it's in the storeroom at the moment -- because over ninety in my office, the computer sometimes does funny things, but I didn't put it in last year at all, and only for a few days year before last. When we moved up here, maybe one house in ten had central AC. Now, it's probably four or five in ten.

So, while the power was out -- about an hour and a half -- I elected to clean the silk tree. We are moving some furniture about, my wife is painting her office, and the silk tree had gotten pretty dusty. Seven feet tall, it is.

You can't just hose the sucker down. And the feather duster only takes the top layer off. The only practical way to clean it, using a damp microfiber cloth, is one leaf at a time.

Lot of leaves on a silk tree, and not the most interesting job in the world, but you can develop a kind of rhythm.

The thing looks real enough, and it's probably good for another ten years. (We have a silk potted plant -- see picture above --that looks so real, that I watered the damn thing for six months before my wife stopped me and asked what I was doing ...)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Yardwork



Supposed to get hot this weekend, shading into 100+ by Monday, so I started early today while it was still cool and did some yard work out back. Moved a bunch of whiskey-barrel plants and some landscaping brick; laid flagstones, shoveled dirt and gravel, like that. Amazing how four hours or so of such activity can lay waste to your hands -- in leather work gloves -- and your ambition to do anything else physical.

But, it looks better. A dent in the ongoing war against the garden ...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Before and After

Back when my silat teacher had the class in his shop in Longview, WA, I used to drive the scenic route, Oregon Highway 30, to get there.

Such trip took me right past the Trojan nuclear power plant, long since decommissioned. Sometimes I'd take the dogs to class, and the grounds of the plant proved to be a good stopping spot to walk them around a little, let them pee and sniff, like that.

They cranked it up in 1976, switched it off in 1992, even though they had a 30-year license. This due to a leak -- a week after PGE spent four-point-five million bucks to defeat a measure to force it to close. Spent the money, killed the ballot measure, then had to shut it down anyway. Irony.

For years, the cooling tower was visible from I-5 and long stretches of Hwy.30, but eventually, they took it down.

Week before they did it, I stopped and shot an image from my phonecam. Next week, a second picture from the same angle. Like it was never there ...

Wolves and Sheep


Got some junk mail from the Nature Conservancy, an organization to which we have given money. Included was the postcard pictured above. On the flip side, the address for the Governor of Alaska, and an admonition to her about shooting wolves from aircraft. The NC wants me to put a stamp on it and mail it to Her Governess, and I'm inclined to do so.

If you are a hunter, and you eat what you shoot, that's one thing; if you are trying to protect your flock from attacking beasts, that's another; if you are in a small plane way the fuck out in the middle of nowhere potting creatures on the steppes who aren't bothering anybody just to watch them die, that's something else altogether, and I have little regard for you for such activities. The critters don't have much of a chance. Even the odds: Land the plane, arm yourself with a knife, and go hunt the wolves on foot, if you must.

There's a scene in The Princess Pride in which Vizzini the Sicilian is telling Fezzik the Giant that he is to finish Westley, "your way."

Fezzik: Oh, good. My way. Thank you Vezzini. Which way's my way?

Vizzini: Pick up one of those rocks, get behind the boulder. In a few minutes, the man in black will come running around the bend. The minute his head is in view, hit it with the rock!

A beat:

Fezzik: My way is not very sportsmanlike.

Neither is shooting wolves from an airplane.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Writer Porn



Well, not really ...

But it is the fund raiser calendar designed to get money for the Oregon Writers Colony's house on the coast, to make it handicapped-accessible -- ramps and rails and like that. So a dozen local writers were asked if they would mind showing a little skin for a good cause. (Well, actually, more than a dozen were asked, but not all of them went for the idea.)

I did. And if you buy the thing and flip through it, you will see me as Mr. October, lightsaber aglow, facing off against a fire-breathing alien monster ...

It's all rated PG-13, and while we aren't the um, best examples of the Fitness Models of America, we were game, and it is for a good cause.

You should put down what you are doing and immediately go here and buy a copy. Buy several. If it sells well, maybe next time we can get Ursula le Guin and Jean Auel and Phil Margolin to pose ...

(Note: They are still tweaking the site, but it's $19.95, plus five bucks shipping and handling. At the moment, you can't see that until you get to PayPal, but supposedly it'll be fixed soon.)

Upper Body Workout

Here's a way to do chins -- defined here as using a palms-forward grip, as opposed to pull-ups, which use a palms-backward grip. You get a little bit better workout with chins using the pronated grip.

And -- if you hold your legs in an L-sit -- you get the upper body stuff, plus some ab work. My form is lousy in this example -- the knees should be straight, the toes pointed, or the judges take off for it; and the best way for full ROM stretch is to go for a straight-arm hang between reps, but this was my third set of the day. I did it that way the first set, honest.

(I also only did six or eight reps, instead of my usual fifteen or twenty, just to, you know, keep the video from getting too long. And so I wouldn't make all the young guys feel too bad ...)

video

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Awash in the Seas of Passwordia



The new stuff is all working fine -- phone, computer, TV -- but the result of it is another half-dozen passwords, to go with the dozens we already have. I will be soooo glad when retinal readers or thumbprint scanners get good enough to figure out who I am online so I can relax my brain.

What was the password for my phone messages? Which is different on the website than on the phone itself ... ?

I'm not holding out a lot of hope for that, though. My wife had to get a security check for a PDX badge on her job, Homeland Security was in charge, and they had to run her prints through the FBI. As it turns out the wonderful high-tech scanner won't pick up her prints, and they don't use the old-fashioned ink version. So they had to do a manual background check. Went back for the last ten years worth of employers, right? Which employers are the same one, since she's been there that long.

Two steps forward, one step back; the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing ...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Weather

Brynne Chandler & Michael Reaves

It's a balmy 92 degrees F. out there at the moment, summer, finally, and I have to say I am enjoying the weather. We had a particularly wet and nasty winter, rain, snow, and it generally lasts until June around here, so warm is good.

For some odd reason, I was reminded of a really bad winter we had here about twenty years ago, in February of '89. Big snow and ice, temperatures in the single digits. When the snow started, I had already laid plans to travel to L.A. -- my collaborator and I had been banging our heads on studio doors at the time, trying to get a movie script going.

I thought, how nice will that be, to get away from this. Los Angeles, where you can go to the beach in February and get sunburned.

I caught the train, the Coast Starlight, and listened to the rhythm of the rails on an overnight trip to SoCal. If you have the time, it is a great way to travel. One stretch of track, in southern Oregon, the rails got so cold one of them cracked, and they had to ease us over the spot at walking speed, but other than that, no problems.

You see the back sides of cities on a train, places you can't see in a car, and it's a fascinating view.

Anyway, I got there. Evening or so after I arrived, we were in the living room, chatting, when all of a sudden there were these bright flashes of light down the valley. (They lived in Woodland Hills.)

We went to the balcony and looked out, and the flashes were from cameras -- people outside, taking pictures ... of snow falling. Now, it was only a dusting, but for that part of the world, it was the equivalent of a blizzard.

(One other time I was there, we happened to be looking out the sliding glass door and saw sheets of paper falling. Turned out to be leaflets dropped from a plane for a Louis Farrakhan rally, and that was fairly surreal, but ... back to the snow ...)

I whipped out my camera, and those white splotches on the picture above are genuine California snow flakes!

We got up the next morning and it was chilly, maybe forty degrees, and went for a meeting at our agent's office. People were walking around in overcoats, shivering. Those who had overcoats. I was wearing a short-sleeve shirt and complaining about the heat ...

Never did sell the movie script, though we did get a book out of it.

My People


Photo by Bart King

From Wordstock, last fall.

New Computer

My wife's computer, a Mac G4 that is eight years old, still running System 9.x, has finally gotten to the point where it doesn't want to talk to web pages. Rather like trying to call somebody on a cell phone by using a tin can on your end. I've gotten the best browser still available for such an antique, and it's no-go. Freezes, crashes, doesn't have the software to light common apps.

Say what you want about Macs, but this sucker is still running the original hard drive and working fine as long as you aren't into connectivity.

Well ... as fine as a steam- and hamster-powered device can run.

So we went out and found a new computer, and this round, a Macbook Pro laptop, since we can now get and use a wireless router and she can take it anywhere in the house and log onto the net. Plus out into the hinterlands and wi-fi and the like.

I won't belabor the long-standing argument of Mac versus PC; you are on one side of that divide or the other, and that's your business. If you want to follow the Anti-Christ, take your sunblock and go right ahead ...

We got into Macs back when Dianne bought a small-press newspaper operation, and it was run off a Mac Toaster, because that was the only machine that used Pagemaker at the time. We started out with System 5.x or so, and stayed with it.

At one time, I had a Mac clone, which ran the same software but with much cheaper hardware. Mac killed that experiment pretty fast, though. And it was a(nother) mistake to do so.

The wonderful thing about Apple is, every time they get fifty yards in front of the competition, which they've done, oh, I dunno, three hundred times, they stop, pull a gun, and shoot themselves in the foot. It's like Thelma and Louise -- they keep making the wrong choices.

If Apple had zigged instead of zagged, there wouldn't be any Windows, and Mac it would be the default OS for most of the non-geeks out there.

Wasn't for the iPod and iPhone, they wouldn't be ahead of anybody in anything now, and the competition is just idling along, waiting for Apple to reach for its hogleg. Where is the Apple iReader, for pity's sake? I know people who would stand in line at midnight to buy one. Not gonna do it, Jobs says. (Of course, that might be misleading. With Jobs, you never can tell.)

Um. Anyway, we are committed to the hardware and software, and my wife is pleased with her new machine.

A couple years back, my sister-in-law, a writer who works out of her house, thought she might switch from Mac platform to PC. My son asked her why. Well, she said, because there are so many more Wintel and Windows service people than there are for Mac.

Uh huh, my son said, and what does that tell you?

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the Wienermobile ran smack into somebody's house, knocking it off the foundations.

How'd you like to call that one in: "Police? Yeah, a giant wiener just smashed into my house. No, it isn't wearing a condom, funny man ..."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Knife Laws

Recently, the guys at Customs decided they wanted to make about 80% of the folding knives in the U.S. illegal, and they got a stooge in the Senate to cobble together a bill to do just that.

Fortunately, some of the Senators in office aren't entirely stupid, and an amendment was added to narrow that down to switchblades, which are already illegal in most states, leaving the thumb-studs and wrist-snappers alone. Two R's and a D sponsored the adjustment.


Oh, and check out the mini-karambit:


I can't find a link to a sales site offhand, it's obviously a foreign maker, but I'm betting if one pops up, there will be a market for this nasty little claw ...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Current Set


Bell Bottom Blues

Can’t Get Used to Losin’ You

One Toke Over the Line

Daydream Believer

Political Science

Layla

Hotel California

Lola

Walk Away Renee

We Just Disagree

Year of the Cat

Hallelujah

Angel from Montgomery

Sail Away

Way Down in the Hole

The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down

Dixie (Instrumental)

The Weight

Blackbird

In My Life

Yesterday (Inst.)

Here Comes the Sun (Inst.)

Stand By Me

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Brand New Key

Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)

I Can't Help Falling in Love With You

The Water is Wide (Inst.)

Ashokan Farewell (Inst.)

Born to Run

For What It’s Worth

Telstar (Inst.)

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Inst.)

Vader’s Theme (Inst.)


(The last five are all new -- I can play them, but they need more practice to memorize.)



For Your Entertainment ...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

When the Rain Comes ...

Check this out:

Big Uncle Wants to Know

So, I got this form in the mail yesterday from the Census Bureau. It's already overdue, apparently, so I figured I had better fill it out PDQ.

It's aimed at my business, and almost none of it applies to what I do as a writer, but I went through the pages and dutifully X'ed in all the boxes yea or nay. Includes several questions about the internet, which is probably not something they were asking about a census or two back.

And to make yesterday's mail even more fun, I got a note from the IRS telling me I owed them money, when, in fact, I don't. I'll have to go see my accountant and see if he can explain it to them. (My agent takes her cut off the top and sends me a check for the balance, but the 1099 form shows the gross, and I apparently didn't put her commission in the right box.

Harry Potter couldn't whip up enough magic to deal with the IRS when it comes to arcane ... )

Oh, yeah, and one of the book houses looking at my urban fantasy bounced it.

Fun day. Never a dull moment ...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Ch-Ch-Changes ...


Science fiction conventions, at least once upon a time, were places where pretty much anybody who was a fan was welcome. Odd ducks? Hey, no problem, come on down! I used to use the California analogy when talking about fandom ("They stood the country up on its end, and all the loose nuts and bolts rolled down into California ...") Same with fandom. We are all a tad weird, but some of us more than a tad ...

Most SF fans I've met aren't particularly conservative, though there are some; nor particularly religious, at least not in the mainstream sense; though there are some; and in general, they are more open-minded when it comes to alternative life-choices -- or the lack of ability to make such choices. (There are still people out there who believe that being gay is a choice and not a biological imperative, but I suspect few are SF fans. Doesn't go with the literature. If I had to bet money, I wouldn't put much on the idea that somebody trying to exorcise a teenage boy of his homosexuality as if it was a demon is a science fiction fan.)

I have, from time to time, written about characters who aren't whitebread heterosexuals, because I like to posit that in a better future, the adults will be able to do what they want without being clapped into gaol for it, as long as nobody gets hurt. I leave the kids and animals out of it.

SF fandom has elements of all manner of sexuality woven through it, and transgender folks have been around for a long time. At least a few people I've met along the way started out one sex and later switched to a different one. I can't pretend to understand what that must feel like, to believe you are the opposite of what body you wear, but I can understand that there are people who do feel that to their very souls. If they have the wherewithal to fix that? More power to them.

When I knew Hank Stine, he always kind of reminded me of Phineas Freak, of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Skinny, hairy, and a wise-ass. After we fell out of touch, Hank eventually became Jean Marie, and she still writes and edits, though I've never had a chance to meet her.

And when it gets right down to it, I'd say she's a better looking woman than Hank was a man, and she's older than I am.

If you see this, Jean Marie, drop me a note. I'd love to hear what you've been doing since the good old days in Baton Rouge ...

Amusing Coincidence?



I never noticed this before -- Emile Antoon Khadaji, from the cover of The Man Who Never Missed, '85, and Steve Perry the rock singer, from the cover of his '84 album ...

Past Master


Charlie Brown's recent passing somehow dredged up a memory I hadn't visited for years.

1977, Miami Beach, Florida, the 35th World Science Fiction Convention, "Suncon," held in the somewhat decadent Fountainebleu Hotel, over Labor Day Weekend. It was my first SF con, and I was a two-story pro -- neither of which had been published yet.

Once I arrived, I was taken under Hank Stine's wing -- Hank being a somewhat infamous writer in the field who had done an X-rated book called Season of the Witch, about a man sentenced to live in a woman's body. If you can find a copy of the original paperback, from the late sixties, it'll set you back a couple hundred bucks, minimum. Available as a e-book from Amazon.com.

Hank had moved to Baton Rouge with his wife, who had family there. He and I met after he gave a talk at the local library. I was an SF wannabe writer who showed up at the talk, and shortly thereafter, when I sold my first story, Hank was the third guy I called to gush about it.

(Hank, now "Jean Marie," later went on to demonstrate that the man-trapped-in-a-woman's-body notion was very much a personal story. He became she, after some hormones and -- one assumes -- knifery. Hank had also been a Scientologist. At the next Worldcon, in Phoenix, Hank hired me to write a novella for Galaxy, at which he had become the editor. He was a character. I went to visit him on a hot summer's day once and he opened the door stark naked, and stayed that way through the visit. I didn't bat an eyelash. Ted Sturgeon used to practice nudity at home, but before I met him ...)

Um. Anyway, Hank took me around to the pro parties, since I was one, albeit new and shiny, and I got to meet some literary heroes, none of whom looked like I thought they would. (Later, I met Avram Davidson, and he's the only SF&F writer that I could have picked out of a crowded room unmet, because he looked exactly as I pictured him.)

Miami Beach in those days was a little shabby and needing a makeover, and there was enough marijuana in various room parties to stone Jakarata, with some left over for New York City.

One morning I awoke early and, before it got too hot and muggy, went on a wander. I walked for an hour, this way and that, no direction, nor goal in mind. Eventually, I came to a hole-in-the-wall diner and decided it was time for breakfast. I was probably three or four miles away from the con hotel, and since I wasn't on any panels or autographings or anything, in no hurry to get back.

Place was a greasy spoon, and I went to the counter and sat next to a funny-looking guy who had a head that looked like it belonged on a body three sizes smaller. He wore glasses, was balding, and in his early to mid-sixties, I figured.

He looked over and saw my convention badge pinned to my T-shirt. Since I'd never been to one of these things before, I didn't know that you should take it off before going out into civilization. Anyway, the old guy introduced himself: R.A. Lafferty.

Holy shit! What were the chances of that? A random wander in Miami Beach and wind up sitting next to one of the best writers in the field in which I wanted to make my mark?

We chatted over breakfast, and I confess I can recall almost none of the conversation. A couple of years later, he had a stroke, and pretty much retired from public life, suffering another, worse stroke in the mid-90's, passing away in 2002 in a nursing home in Oklahoma. Hell of a writer, and doing stuff nobody else was doing.

I had more amazing adventures at the con, culminating in the flight home, which took place in the beginnings of a hurricane that caused our jet to make three passes at the runway before we were able to land, in a driving rain and wind that was, well, the beginnings of a hurricane.

Lafferty. If you haven't read any of his stuff and you are fan of weird SF&F, give him a try.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Blonde Joke


Okay, I don't know if you've heard this, but:

So, the blonde goes to get her hair cut. She is wearing iPod ear buds and she tells the stylist, whatever you do, don't pull the buds out.

Okay, he says.

So he's cutting her hair and she falls asleep, and he has to snip a bit just over her ears and he figures, she's sleeping she won't notice, so he pulls the phones out of her ears and all of sudden, boom! she dies -- just like that.

Oh, my god! So he calls 911 and the paramedics are on the way and he's all panicked and he hears something coming from the ear buds, so he puts one up to his ear and he hears:

"Breathe in ... breathe out. Breathe in ... breathe out ..."

Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm going to hell. I won't be lonely, though, 'cause if you laughed, you'll be holding the gate open for me when I get there ...

Blackhearted Soul

Came across the words and music for a song I wrote a few years back. Dusted it off, and ...


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Who Do You Love?

Jude Augustus Holly, left, and his great-uncle, Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Many years ago, when the Earth was young, Reaves and I wrote our first collaborative novel, Hellstar. Since it is out-of-print and hard to find, I'll give you a short recap: A huge generation-ship, pretty much a city in space, is on its way from our solar system to a nearby star. Given the sub-light speeds, it is going to take a while. I seem to recall that it was eighty-odd years one-way, but that's from memory, so it could be off.

Along the way, the ship runs into a naked singularity, i.e. a black hole that has evaporated, sort of, and everything goes to hell. Gravity fails, time runs sideways, major disasters happen all over and everybody is in Deep Shit.

The book was pitched at 150K words, and after we sold it, the first ones out of our editor's mouth were, "A hundred and thirty thousand words, max." Thus we had some pacing problems to fix, we each did a draft, and pretty much, we were happy how it turned out.

We sent the manuscript in.

Now, at the climax of the tale, reality has broken down, there is a good possibility that the ship is going to be crippled in a major way, if not destroyed completely. Holes are opening and closing in walls, water is floating hither and yon, time is wonky, people are going mad and being killed, it's all very dramatic and harum-scarum.

Our editor -- let's call her "Beth," because, well, that's her name -- Beth sent us a note and what she said up front was:

"What happened to the dog?"

Thousands of terrified people are floating around, going bugfuck, dying, the ship is in dire peril, but none of that mattered.

We had a pregnant dog -- the correct term is "bitch" -- who had her litter in the greensward park, one of whom's pups wound up with the son of one of our viewpoint characters. A brief appearance, how can you not smile at a boy with a puppy?

Our response, if I recall it correctly, was "Who gives a fuck what happened to the dog?"

To which she, as an editor of greater experience than we, retorted, "More readers than you can imagine." And she was adamant about it.

So we went back and put in a line or two showing that the dog made it through okay.

Later, I was to discover from other writers and editors that putting a dog in peril demands resolution. A lot of folks like dogs more than they like people -- a thing I have come to understand myself. ("The more I learn about people, the better I like my dog ...")

I met a well-known Northwest mystery writer once at an autographing, and we chatted about this and that, since we sat next to each other. He had a couple of series going, and in one, the main character owned a dog. After a time, he got tired of fooling with the critter, so he wanted to get rid of it.

No way in hell, his editor told him. If you kill off the dog, your readers will hunt us down and cut out our livers. The dog stays until he dies of old age.

All of which is to say that if you are going to put a dog in your story, you need to know this.
There's another writer my wife and I like, and he killed a dog in one of his novels. I wouldn't let my wife read it when I was done with the book. If I had known he was going to do it, I wouldn't have read it. And that's why I still haven't seen Will Smith's version of I Am Legend all the way to the end. Wipe out humanity, turn them all into monsters? No problem, I can deal with that.

Don't, however, kill that German Shepherd Dog. I liked him better than I did Will ...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Competition - The American Way


Despite my self-professed status as a Luddite, I am, like most middle-class Americans in or around big cities, awash in the warm ionic Sea of Electronica: We have a landline, cell phones, an alarm system; we have TV sets, two of which are hooked into a digital cable service, as are our computers. We have iPods, albeit they are small ones. Haven't gotten a Kindle yet, nor the iPhone, but I foresee some variant of both of those in my future. An e-reader for me is a matter of when they get a few more kinks worked out, one or two more generations; a smart phone when I feel like I can afford to waste more time on the internet ...

Back in the day when Ma Bell was the only phone company -- even with the Bell babies spun off, your choice regarding the telephone was simple: Pay whatever they asked, or do without. My mother still hesitates to stay on a long-distance call because she remembers when half an hour across country was worth dinner for two at a good restaurant.

This must be costing you a lot, she'll say.

No, Mama, it costs me about three bucks an hour, and if I wait and call this evening, nothing at all.

Regulation, de-regulation, upstarts hither and yon, and now the options for connections to the rest of the world are, if not unlimited, considerably more than ever before, and for relatively much less. Comcast now has wireless high-speed coverage over most of the Portland and outlying area, as does Clear™.

Western Union stopped sending telegrams because there was no longer a need. The US Post Office is losing its ass -- and ours, since we are paying for it -- because email is ever so much easier and cheaper than a first class envelope. I once wrote a dozen letters a week and sent them forth via USPO auspices. Now? I might write one paper letter to be sent via snailmail a month, and that only because my mother refuses to get a computer so I can email her.

For a long time, I kept paper printouts of all my email. Now, I dump them onto a CD every so often and when they get filled up, stick them in a box somewhere. It will be easier for Spotlight to search an entire CD than to dig out one box of paper with one-tenth the info from the garage and go looking for something in it.

If you live in an urban or suburban area of any size, you have choices as to the kinds of connectivity you want, from landlines to wifi to all kinds of wireless networking via your cell phone or computer. (I have a friend who lives far enough out in the sticks that his computer can only connect to the internet via dial-up modem, which is glacially slow -- and even so, that is fifty times as fast as my first modem would allow, and he is able to connect. He's found a way around it -- he takes a USB stick to the library, downloads or uploads stuff from it, takes it home. Slow, but -- we're talking gigabytes of memory on a device the size of a pencil stub.)

All of which is to say that if you look around, sometimes you can find a deal that will save you some money.

The only reason I need to keep a landline at all is for my general paranoia, and my alarm system's monitoring service, and I expect in the not-too-distant future, that alarm can be made wireless, too. That landline and the odd long-distance call we make using it are spendy, since it is still part of AT&T, and they have always held themselves up as the premium service. However, Comcast Cable offers a bundle -- TV, computer link, and landline phone service that, if we elect to get it and bag AT&T -- will essentially cut our total connectivity bill in half. In fact, the new bundle, even at standard prices and not the barker's low-ball one year rate, isn't much more than the cable TV bill alone. So we essentially get the computer and phone for nine dollars a month.

We get to keep the same phone number, and since our cable has gone out infrequently in the ten years we've had it, everything being underground, it certainly seems hard to beat.

Great living here in the future, ain't it?

Building a Werewolf


Some years back, Reaves and I were going to do a book featuring a scientifically-made werewolf. I went up Pill Hill in Portland, hit the medical library, interviewed a bunch of doctors, from dentists to endocrinologists, and came up with a way of doing it using known science, and one not-so-huge suspension of disbelief.

With one thing or another, we didn't get around to writing the book. In a recent discussion online, the subject came up, in a conversation about vampires, and I thought I'd offer my how-to-make-a-werewolf as an exercise in research ...

First, the caveat: The creature had to be created without magic, even though we could use some of those tropes if we could figure out a way.

So, armed with this, I set out, and was able to come up with a scenario that was fairly simple, once I had the notion. It involved combining some things that, while not likely, could be stretched enough to seem possible.

Pretty much, you could do it with hormones and drugs.

Hormones are potent chemicals, and under the right tweaking, could be made to accomplish almost all of the classical werewolf features. Add in a few known drugs ...

Jo-Jo the Dog Faced Boy and Lionel the Lion Faced Man, were certainly hairy enough, examples hypertrichosis. Genetic in these cases, but the medical literature has examples of people who suddenly sprouted hair, and a combination of hormones and drugs could do the trick.

Third-set dentition -- extra/super-numerary teeth -- are rare, but do happen, and there might be a way to encourage this.

Drugs and hormone storms can make somebody fantastically-strong, fairly impervious to pain or less than crippling injuries, and full of rage. Angel dust, Roid rage, amphetamines, narcotics, easy stuff here -- make them time-release via some kind of implant.

An allergy to silver? Not impossible ...

Now technically-speaking, Larry would be no more related to a wolf than you or I -- he'd just be a hairy, toothy, bad-tempered, strong human, but he would look the part and be able to act it.

The limits: First, it would take a while to change Larry into Wolfie. Months -- and even if you fudged this a little, you couldn't do so by much -- hair and teeth take time to grow. Call it six months, you can get away with it, but much less than three or four months, probably not.

Second, once changed, Larry isn't going back on his own. You could shave or depilate the hair, pull the teeth, get the implant out and he might eventually come to look something like he did before, but the hair and teeth are the easy part; balancing the hormones would take weeks or months. That's not counting the repairs his body would have to make to injuries because it didn't throttle down while leaping about -- torn this, cracked that.

Be a lot harder to make a vampire. You could come up with sunlight allergies, somebody who drank blood -- though the nutritional aspect of human blood simply isn't enough to keep somebody alive and healthy. Chemicals for strength would work, but the blur of super-speed and the ability to spider up and down walls or fly would be a tad beyond current science ...

Charlie Brown



Charles Brown, founder of the SF fan, and later professional, magazine Locus has died, at the age of 72.

When I seriously started writing, thirty-odd years ago, I immediately subscribed to Locus, which was the "semi-prozine" that followed the F&SF field. Reviews, interviews, pictures, stats -- back in the pre-home computer days, Locus was the only way to know at a remove what some of the writers I admired actually looked like.

What books were selling when they were coming out, which markets were open or closed, Locus ran them, and it was an invaluable resource to a young writer, not to mention a great source of gossip.

Charlie won a boatload of Hugo awards, and eventually, the "semi" became "pro" as the magazine went to slick covers and color photos.

Until a major fill-the-dumpster housecleaning a couple years back, I had all those back-issues boxed in my garage. I finally realized they were occupying space for naught but nostalgia, so I tossed 'em out.

Early on, my books got reviewed in Locus -- favorably, even -- and I appeared there in pictures now and again. That mostly stopped, for a couple of reasons: First, Charlie didn't think any kind of tie-in was legitimate writing, so those seldom got more than a passing line in the publications-received section. This rubbed off on reviewers, several of whom I considered snobs. (It took Alan Dean Foster fifty novels before he got a review, and then it was an undeserved pan.)

Second, my sometime-collaborator got more or less blackballed, and by association, so did I. Without telling tales out of school, this involved an ex-girlfriend and their unhappy break-up, and Charlie's sympathies not lying with my friend ...

I wrote one commentary for Locus for which I was actually paid, an opinion piece a decade or so ago. I was surprised Charlie bought it, since I took him to task for his snobby attitude regarding tie-ins. Give him a point for that. While I let my subscription lapse five or six years back, I didn't bear Charlie any ill will, and he was undeniably an influence on the field of speculative fiction for a long time.

Adios, Charlie.

Lag Time


Back in our hippie days -- I always feel as if maybe I should spell that latter word "daze" -- one of our touchstone books was Be Here Now, by Ram Dass (aka Richard Alpert.) After chugging lots of acid with Timothy Leary, Alpert trundled off to India and found a spiritual teacher, gave up drugs, and Be Here Now was a kind of fat graphic-novel presentation of what he learned.

The upshot was, that being in the moment was the way to go -- the past was history, the future always just out of reach and all you had was the present, and that you should live in it.

It resonated with a lot of folks, still does. Can't see the future/ can't change the past/ all you have is just the moment/ and it never, ever lasts ...

I had occasion to revisit Tor Norretranders outstanding book The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size this past weekend, and, strictly speaking, we don't consciously live in the moment -- we are about a half-second behind ...

This is great stuff, and in this instance, the section called "The Half Second Delay," he addresses this concept in detail. The gist of it is, the unconscious brain is aware of our intent to do things about a half second before it becomes action. There is a Readiness Potential, followed by a Conscious Wish, the initiation of Control, and finally, the Act itself. This has been determined experimentally, using assorted tools, including EKGs, and the wonderfully-named Wundt's Complexity (or Complication) Clock. (Consciousness kicks in a mere 0.20/second before the Act, not much more than a blink, but the subconscious mind knows you are going to wiggle your finger 0.35/second before you are consciously aware that you are. Which is -- not to muddy the waters or anything with the term, but -- mind-boggling ...)

It brings out all kinds of philosophical questions. The author has a wonderful line about our consciousness, that it is " ... but a little tin god pretending to be in charge of things beyond its control ..."

Norretanders is quick to answer those who hold up reaction time -- it doesn't take half a second to pull our hand off a hot stove -- as a demur. Reaction time lives in the unconscious brain -- you jerk your hand off the stove and then say "Ow!" not the other way around.

He then tosses up assorted reasoned objections to this notion, and promptly shoots them down. It's a great lesson in science, and I urge you to have a look at the book. It will make you wonder about all kinds of notions you normally take for granted.

What I find really interesting as a writer (and a martial artist) is, if there was a way to access this Readiness Potential directly, how that might be used in a fight? If I were to be a third of a second ahead of an opponent, and I had position and skills to make us of this beat, how much of an advantage would that be?

You can't outdraw the drawn gun, but if you could, boy, wouldn't that be a neat trick?


Friday, July 10, 2009

Tape

Over the years of a fairly active life, I have been fortunate in that I've had relatively few injuries that sidelined me. Some -- and while that's part of the risk, I know plenty of folks who don't exercise at all who have had worse -- and are in terrible shape, to boot -- so I'm happy with the trade-off. Live slow, die old, and leave an ugly corpse ...

One of the worst things for me has been jammed fingers, especially the proximal joint in my left thumb. If you've never suffered this particular affliction, consider yourself fortunate. I have managed to bang my thumb enough so that if I am not careful, I can -- literally -- sprain it while taking my sock off. (The reason for this is that every time you seriously strain or sprain a joint, you create some scar tissue. Scar tissue is less elastic than normal, undamaged stuff, and past a certain point, much less likely to stretch when put under tension -- instead, it tears. Once you have damaged a joint, it never will be 100% thereafter. Sorry, I didn't make the rules, but that's how it is.)

My affliction is known by various terms -- "Gamekeeper's Thumb," or "Skier's Thumb," "Nightstick Thumb," or "Boxer's Thumb ... " you get the idea.

I've had this for thirty years, and since I need my hands for activities other than martial arts, I have tried half a dozen orthopedic devices to stabilize that proximal thumb joint when it is apt to get jammed, including a couple I custom-made using Sculpey.

Most of these work really well when you are sitting in a chair watching TV, but not so well if you are moving. Those that allow thumb-motion generally aren't supportive enough; and those that are supportive enough, don't allow the range-of-motion I want. I need to be able to make a tight fist.

The appliances range from thick Spandex, to heavy-duty leather and Velcro, some with metal inserts, and they can get pretty spendy.

After some trial and error, I came across NexCare's Absolute Waterproof Tape™, a stretchy material that comes in a couple of widths. The one-inch works best for me. I've fooled around with wrapping patterns, and settled on one that seems to work pretty well. It gives my thumb support, but still allows me to open and close my hand.

The tape costs about four and a half bucks a roll, if you buy it in bulk, and I use about half a roll each session -- I do both hands, and most of my fingers' middle joints, so it adds two dollars and little to the cost of my workout. Cheap insurance any way you figure it. The tape is waterproof, doesn't slip off with sweat, and if you use the palm-wrap, stays in place. (I have managed to get sand under the palm-strip when we work out in the sand pit, but even so, it tends to stay on.)

It's not perfect, but it's the best I've been able to devise after a lot of looking. An ounce of prevention and all.

The short movie attached is how I apply the wrapping before each silat class. There is one caveat up front: DO NOT STRETCH THE TAPE AS YOU APPLY IT. Just like an Ace Bandage, you don't want to cut off circulation by stretching it, you want it to be able to give.
If you tension the wrap too much and your thumb rots off, it's your own damn fault, I just told you not to do it.


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