Saturday, January 30, 2010

Fly the Friendly Skies


Above: Martin 404 "Silver Falcon;" Below: Douglas Aircraft DC-3


As a small boy, starting at age five or so, I would sometimes go to visit my grandmother, who lived in Lafayette, Louisiana. Though only about sixty miles away from Baton Rouge, that was far enough to crank up short-hop airliners back in the early 1950's, and there were two carriers that made the run: Eastern and Delta.

Me and Wilbur and Orville were contemporaries ...

My mother would put me on the plane with a couple of comic books and by the time I was finished reading them, we'd be landing. Grandma Ruth would pick me up, I'd stay for a couple of weeks, and either fly home, or my folks would drive over and collect me.

The two aircraft I recall flying upon were the Douglas DC-3 and the Martin M404, aka "The Silver Falcon." I liked the second plane better because it was level when it sat on the ground and the DC-3 angled down from the front landing gear to the tail when parked.

Once, the stewardess came to my seat and asked me if I would like to go up front and help the pilot fly the plane. I recall being horrified at such a notion -- "Oh, no," I said, very grave. "I don't know how to fly a plane. We'd crash!"

I didn't understand why she and the other passengers thought that was so hilarious.

No metal detectors. Five-year-olds allowed to travel alone. Okay to go and visit the flight crew.

Not everything in our world has gotten better ...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stealth Pain

So, I was playing with the youngest grandson today and tossing him onto the couch and all, and I noticed a pain in my ribs on the right side.

Oh, crap, I hope I didn't pull anything ...

Then I had a look and realized that the sore spot had nothing to do with dropping the little 'un onto the cushions, but was a residual effect of the most recent silat class, wherein Edwin, doing the outside high-stab defense, kept punching me. We must have done that thirty or forty times, at least. And he does not want for accuracy, hitting the same place every time.

Ache explained, and no big deal.

Sometimes don't notice these kinds of low-grade injuries for a day or two, and then have a moment of wonder as I shuffle through the memories to see if I can find the cause: What did I do?

Oh, that Edwin. Beating up on a poor old man like me. It's a shame, really it is.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

What's in a Name?

I'm not thrilled with the iPad as a name. And yes, the first thing that came to my mind was the subject of a Mad TV sketch ...

J.D. Salinger


So, as Time Magazine calls him, the grand old hermit crab of American letters has passed away, at 91.

His total published literary output in paperback form could be tucked into your back pocket. A few short stories, a short novel -- most notably Franny and Zooey, and The Catcher in the Rye. If you are a man of a certain age and read it at the right time, Catcher spoke to you, and it has been required reading in hundreds of college courses for fifty years. That book alone supported him comfortably most of his life.

He hated the limelight that Catcher shined his way. So he pretty much disappeared from the stage, as a writer, and as a visible public figure, in 1963.

Nine or ten years into his self-imposed exile, his marriage over, the children with their mother, he invited a young writer, Joyce Maynard, with whom he had been exchanging letters, to move in with him. Maynard, eighteen, a budding writer already published, dropped out of Yale to do so.

The relationship foundered quickly.

Twenty-five years later, Maynard wrote a book, At Home In the World, in which she talks about her time with Salinger. She says that she remained chaste for the ten months she lived there. Well. If you don't count oral sex, which was her preference, as the idea of coitus terrified her.

According to Maynard, as she started into her own writing career, Salinger became unhappy with her for selling out -- and booted her. Other versions of this indicated that he thought she was sloppy, read nothing but TV Guide, and wanted children -- and he didn't. How she expected to get pregnant without sexual intercourse ... ?

I digress. The juicy details are always more fun ...

Um. Maynard only elected to write about their relationship, she says, when she discovered that Salinger had been writing to other young women as he had her. (When her memoir came out, she auctioned off Salinger's letters to her, for $156,500. They were bought by a software developed who supposedly gave them back to Salinger.)

Salinger believed in homeopathic medicine and liked lamb, slow-cooked over low heat ...

Adios, Jerome David. We hardly knew ye ...

Impermanence


Remember during the lecture on tattoos how I talked about things that might not last?

Apparently, a year, year-and-a-half back, Portland Trailblazer baskeball player Greg Oden, who is now all of twenty-two, thought it would be great fun to stand in front of a bathroom mirror naked and take a picture of himself, to email to his girlfriend.

(Oden, all seven feet tall of him, injured his knee and is out for the season, along with most of the starters, also bunged up with various injuries. Anybody who tells you basketball is not a contact sport is lying.)

But, anyway, Oden snapped a couple of shots and emailed 'em to his girlfriend. Sexting -- apparently all the rage amongst These Kids Today. Fun, hey?

They broke up.

Guess what appeared on the internet last week? Remember that if your SO wants to take some nudes of you for fun ...

Oden has apologized, and there's no real fallout. It's not illegal. A local TV news poll asked viewers if they thought the kid handled himself well when he apologized: 39% said he had; 18% said he hadn't. 43% said What are you talking about? What controversy?

Somewhat embarrassing for Oden. He is getting public support from his teammates, but privately, you know he is getting ragged pretty good.

On the other hand, he doesn't have anything physically to be embarrassed about ...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

iPad Premieres




Check out the book interface on the thing.

And the video flacking the new toy from Apple, here: iPad.

The techno crowd will undoubtedly carp about what isn't there, but it sure looks way cool to me. (And I'm glad I didn't get a Kindle ...)

In Brightest Day, In Darkest Night ...

Got this link from Nikki's site:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

What Do You See?


For those of you who might have missed this little optical gem: See the lamp? Or the bikini crotch?

Last of the Cartwright Boys

L. to R: Hoss, Ben, Adam, Little Joe

Pernell Roberts, actor, died day before yesterday, age 81. For those of you who aren't old enough to remember Bonanza, Roberts played Adam Cartwright, the oldest of the three sons on the big Ponderosa ranch, just outside Virginia City during the sliver boom years in the late 1800's. He was the last of the stars of the show alive.

The show was wildly popular in its day, airing originally from 1959-1973, and in reruns since; a western more about character than shoot-'em-ups. Pa was Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene, who went on later to do the original Battlestar Galactica, passed away twenty years ago. The other two sons were Hoss (Dan Blocker, d. 1972), and Little Joe (Michael Landon, d. 1991.)

Hop Sing, the ranch's cook (Victor Sen Yung) passed on in 1980.

One of the legacies of the series was what was sometimes called "The Curse of the Cartwright Boys." Any woman who hooked up with Pa or any of the sons would quickly disappear -- they'd run off with somebody else or croak by the end of the episode. The boys were all doomed to stay single. Pa had each son with a different wife and all were long-gone by the time the show aired. (This meme was passed on to James Tiberius Kirk on the starship Enterprise some years later ...)

All of the actors had careers before and after, save Blocker, who died from complications for gallbladder surgery while the show was still shooting. (Apparently Blocker was the original choice to play Major T.J. "King" Kong, in Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove, a role that went to Slim Pickens. Hard to imagine him riding that bomb down.)

Michael Landon, I first saw in I Was a Teenage Werewolf, and God's Little Acre. He went on to do Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven.

Pernell Roberts left the show when it was at its peak and took a starring role in Trapper John, M.D., a spin-off from M*A*S*H. This was quite controversial at the time. He did guest starring roles after that, and bits in some movies, but never got back into the center spotlight after he left Bonanza.

Adios, Adam.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sorry, Roger. You Tiger Now ...

One of the things you learn if you live long enough is that we swim in the Sea of Impermanence. Something that seems to be the most important thing in your life when you are twenty might have little relevance to who you are at forty. Things change, worlds move.

So at twenty, you join a dojo and become a dedicated student of Kick-Ass Fu. After a couple of years, you are one of the fair-haired boys, up and coming, and you can see your path for the rest of your life as a student and teacher of your art, so you hie yourself on down to the ink shop and get the school's logo put on your shoulder -- lightning bolts and the blades and all, and you are one of the Chosen and golden.

A year later, you get into a pissing match with the head instructor and he tosses you out of the school.

You hate his guts. And every time you look in the mirror, you see the artwork he created reflected back at you.

You find another school in a different system, and there, you meet Louise, a good woman and you are really into her. It's true love. You get married, and you are going to live happily ever after, and so you get her name inside a big heart tattooed on the other shoulder.

Six months after the happy nuptials, Louise runs off with your best friend, and last you heard, she's living in Miami working in a strip club.

So there you are, with two permanent symbols of things that were temporary, carrying around reminders you might not want to think about every time you take off your shirt ...

If I have a picture I like hanging on my wall, it might stay there for years and years, but if I decide I don't like it any more, or find one I like better, I can take down the one and put up the other. And swap 'em back and forth as necessary.

I have nothing against the idea of tattoos. My daughter has a bunch of 'em, my son-in-law more than she does, and he's now studying to become a tattoo artist.

There are folks like the Maori where tats are part of the culture. You might be yakuza and have to dress the part. A sailor, Marine, biker ...

And there are some things that you might want to keep forever. If you were in the military and you loved it, you might want that reminder. Maybe your son's name. Something about which you are certain.

My silat teacher, after he was fifty and into his art for more than thirty years, got the art's logo tattooed on his forearm. At this point, he's not likely to leave it behind.

So, there are plenty of reasons to get a tattoo, some of them going to art. But look at the picture of the cat man in the previous posting. Whatever else happens to him, that face is never going back to what it was before. This isn't something that he can change his mind about. When you choose to alter your appearance so that what you are going to hear for the rest of your life is, "Jeez, look at that! Oh, man!" along with the how-pitiful-is-that head shake? That's a big choice. Might come a time when that In-your-face! 'tude isn't what you want the world to see.

Couple years ago, Comcast had a TV commercial that pretty much laid this notion out: (If you can't see the video, here's the link.)



Something to think about.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Piper Knife

A few years back, I did a post regarding the Cape/SoAfrican knife style, Piper. Rather than rehash that, go here and read my post and the subsequent back and forth. It got quite lively.

To get information directly from those who know, go here. There are also several vids on YouTube; Mushtaq has this, and Bobbe Edmonds has posted some useful material about the art on his blog.

Recently, I was sent a copy of a short, basic e-book, Piper: Cape Knife Fighting Techniques, by Hans-Erik Petermann, available here. 'Twas a freebie, offered because Erik likes my Matador novels, and I appreciate the gesture.

Petermann, listed as a Master Guardian of the Piper System, along with ranks in other arts, has produced a concise, readable, no-nonsense primer on Piper basics, starting with the legality of carrying a knife, a history of the art, and moving into an illustrated how-to for the basic movements. The photographs are clear (and illustrative,) and the philosophy that permeates the book is by and large common sense. It covers hand-, footwork, and body angles.

The core movements are simple, straight-forward, proven-effective, and the advanced stuff is apparently built using combinations of these, which is a plus in martial arts: Simple is better. The more complex a series of fighting motions are, the more likely they are to come apart under pressure.

"Simple" is not necessarily "easy," of course, but that's not the point.

Knife players from different systems are, naturally, going to disagree about the wielding of things edged. There are a couple of things in the material that raise my eyebrows, one of which is the "Flying Chest Pass."

Swapping the knife from one hand to the other is possible, and sometimes necessary. Being able to use a weapon with your weak hand if something happens to your strong hand is a good skill to have. Petermann offers four such transfers, one of which looks reasonable to me; the chest-pass, however, strikes me as something you wouldn't risk without a shitload of practice -- years -- and even then, I have to wonder how well it would work during an adrenaline storm.

Petermann is quick to point out that the FCP isn't his favorite technique, either, and I'm glad to hear that. I'd have left it out of a basics text altogether and stuck to the one that seems the safest, the "Forearm Wiping Pass." Being able to do that smoothly would offer a nasty surprise to somebody expecting to block a right-hand attack suddenly on the receiving end of a left-handed one. And one never loses contact with the knife doing it this way.

Piper favors the icepick grip, though Petermann mentions saber in passing. This isn't a real problem for me, since we like the reverse grip, too, but I'd like to see a bit more on the saber-hold -- it does have some advantages. Saber might be the way you come up with the knife in a hurry and switching grips is like passing the knife from hand-to-hand -- one mistake, and you are unarmed. I switch grips all the time when I'm fooling around, but in a real encounter, that might get iffy. The Fight-or-Flight Syndrome, and its associated tachypsychia, tends to rob you of small muscle control as it reroutes resources to the haul-ass or kick-ass major muscle groups. You need to be relaxed enough so such a thing doesn't happen, and that needs a skill and experience level beyond hormones. There are players who can do this, but they aren't beginners.

Any kind of juggling with your weapon during a life-or-death encounter strikes me as an extremely high-risk move. Dropping your knife at the wrong moment could be a fatal error.

Learning an art from a book or vid, as I have pointed out, is not the best way; on the other hand, if you are curious about a fighting system that mostly lives halfway around the world, hands-on teachers might be hard to come by.

Piper has, because of its youth and criminal roots, sparked a great deal of controversy in the martial arts world. Traditional martial arts featuring the blade sometimes look askance upon Piper and say so. What I see in it has evolved since I first saw a grainy video of it back in 2001 -- and that was scary enough. There's no question that it works, because it came from people who routinely killed folks using it. In South Africa, the Piper folks have a standing invitation to traditionalists who want to test their skills, and apparently, there isn't a waiting line.

Is Piper unbeatable? I don't see that. But I have pointed out over and over, high, wide, and one more time, that a trained knifer in your face is not going to be a walk in the park no matter who you are, and your best bet is to be down the hall and around the corner when the sharps come out. Steel beats flesh.

I don't know the internal politics of Piper, so whether Erik's book has the unqualified approval of Nigel February, the man who codified the prison assassination stuff into a system, and that of his seniormost student, Lloyd de Jongh, I can't say. The book delivers what it claims -- a brief introduction to the core basics of a nasty, unique, and workable knife system. It is well-written, and for those who have never seen Piper, will be an eye-opener. Go to YouTube and watch a couple of the videos and see what you think. There are some follow-up reports that are included with the main text, including interviews with Nigel and Lloyd. I'm assuming if they didn't approve of the book, they'd be disinclined to allow those to be used. There is also a link to Erik's site from the Piper main page, and vice-versa. (Editor's note: Some clarifying emails show that these three men seem to get along just fine, and that the #3 guy -- Erik -- in the system got approval from the two above him as the book was being done.)

I think Piper: Cape Knife Fighting Techniques, is worth having in your library if you are a knife player, or just curious about a system with a different spin.

Note: The e-book wasn't available for Mac download, but now is, and your OS needs to be specified when ordering. It comes with the e-Book Pro Reader, and that doesn't allow for a print out or copying -- you'll have to read it on a computer screen or a reader that uses this software, and you are limited to two units.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Language


Got an email the other day from a fan of the AvP novel my daughter and I did. Where, he wondered, could he get a Yautja dictionary or phrase book? He needed to translate something from English into Predator ...

Tolkien created his own language and they did a version of it for the LOTR movies. Trek did Klingon. Cameron did Na'vi. Grammar and everything.

We didn't, though. What's in the novel is all there is. Sorry.

Jeanetics

Above, bottom: Charles-Hubert wind-up,
17-jewels;
above that, Monrovia, a Russian wind-up,
18-jewels.

Below: the Cover for the Russian watch. After
the Evil Empire fell, they were hard up for cash.
This watch, if you could find
a comparable one made in the U.S. would
probably run six or eight times what
I paid for it.


A man my age -- even though I'm not one of them -- but still -- has likely come to terms with his clothing.

When I was sixteen, my standard knock-around outfit was a pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt, white cotton socks and tennis shoes. Unless of course it was really hot or cold, in which case the adjustments were, respectively: Switch the jeans for shorts, and leave the socks and shoes off; or add a long-sleeve shirt and maybe a jacket.

These days, I have evolved. Now, my standard knock-around outfit is a pair of blue jeans, a T-shirt, white cotton socks, and cross-trainers.

Hey, evolution is not revolution ...

My preference for jeans doesn't run to brands, but to style: Boot-cut, five-pocket, zipper, instead of buttons, 36-33's, in case you are wondering about the size. Same as when I graduated from high school. Mostly these days, they are Kirkland's, from Costco. Probably made by prisoners in eastern Washington.

Those of you wondering about the fifth pocket, it's a little straight-line thing over the right hip bone in front, a watch pocket -- going back to the pre-sissy-wristwatch days when men carried those kinds of timepieces instead. I still have several of 'em -- a couple are shown above.

And, being a man my age, I have come to terms with the things in my pockets. At any given time, I can tell you pretty much what is in any of them, since I load them up the same way -- knife here, and there, keys here, wallet over there, like that.

It's good to have some consistency in the world ...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sitting is Deadly

Here's a cheerful thought: Sitting too much -- even if you exercise -- is apt to kill you sooner than if you don't spend as much time with arse in chair.

Maybe this is why symphony conductors outlast writers ...

For Trekkies

And if want to make one of these, here is the link:


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Thong Redux

So, Alan Newcomer has been fiddling with the artwork for a re-release of Thong and the girls. This isn't a final, but I like the direction he's heading in. So, a new version of the mighty-thewed Thong, along with Tula and Pluvia.

Lug-Wrenchoth will be ripping the fabric of space-time, too ...

Calm Your Soul ...

Haven't done a Pachelbel post in a while, so ... Yeah, yeah, I know, this link about how awful Pachelbel's Greatest Hit is:


but even so:



Or a repost of this:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

La Musica, La Musica!



Back in the day when television was black and white, the shows all had something that has largely gone away:

Theme music.

Pick a classic B&W show, and you could tell what it was from the other room: All the WB cowboys -- Maverick, Cheyenne, Sugarfoot, Bronco Lane. And The Rifleman, Lawman, Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, no mistaking them for anything else.

The opening for The Lone Ranger. Classical music, and my first exposure to the stuff, if you don't count the Bugs Bunny cartoons. The Adventures of Superman. Gilligan's Island? Can anybody forget that one -- try as they might?

Peter Gunn.

The Beverly Hillbillies introduced most of the country to bluegrass, via Flatt and Scruggs.

Even the instrumentals were catchy enough to hum along with: I Love Lucy, The Andy Griffith Show. Sea Hunt. Route 66. Star Trek.

They hung on for a while -- Hill Street Blues, St. Elsewhere, great openings.

Then one day, some suit decided it cost too much, and now what we get is ... mostly nothing.

I'm not one to sit around lamenting my lost buggy whip -- well, okay, a little -- but the only one I've seen lately that grabs me is Men of a Certain Age, doing the Beach Boys "When I Grow Up to Be a Man."

I think we lost something along the way.

No Turn Unstoned


After all the moving and painting, I was looking at the bookcases in what is now the kitchen nook/library, and came across No Turn Unstoned: The Worst Ever Theatrical Reviews.

As the title says, this is a book of essays collected by an actress who has appeared on stage, screen, and television, Diana Rigg. When I was a teenager, Rigg played the inimitable Emma Peel, of the original Avengers, a British show that made it to the States, and like fifteen million other teenage boys, I was in serious lust with Mrs. Peel. She was the first of the Competent Women of whom I became aware in the visual media -- a smart-kick-ass-take-names-smiling-all-the-while kind of babe. Along with her partner, John Steed, who was to Brits what Hawk from the Spenser novels and later TV show was to Americans, they romped through the silliest spy adventures you can imagine.

They don't hold up well, those old episodes, but Rigg still does, despite her advanced years.

Um. Anyway, while I'm not a fan of critics, a thing I've mentioned a time or eighty here, I do appreciate somebody who is a good writer, and some critics are. One of my favorites was Dorothy Parker's take on Katherine Hepburn, whose performance, she offered, demonstrated the range of emotions from A to B ... (Parker was a true wit and I also like her take on money: "If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.")

Perhaps the shortest -- and one of the nastiest reviews I ever saw for a book was for Stephen King's massive novel, It.

Two letters, inside parentheses placed in front of the title:

(Sh)

The book had its problems, but it wasn't that bad. Still brevity is sometimes the soul of wit, and you have to give the writer points for that one ...

Robert B. Parker


Robert B. Parker, the creator of Spenser, Hawk, Jesse Stone, and Sunny Randall, has apparently died today. He was 77.

His novels were mostly dialog, fast reads -- I could zip through one in an hour -- and Spenser was more Sam Spade than Sherlock Holmes. He would get a client, stick himself in harm's way, and eventually take down the bad guy, often with the help of the coolest bad-ass in fiction, Hawk, and with aid and comfort from the smartest and loveliest shrink, Susan Silverman. And some couch-hogging from Pearl, the wonder-dog.

Jesse Stone was essentially Spenser as a drunk, and Sunny Randall, Spenser in a skirt, but they were fun reads. Fans of Bobby Crais will see the west coast versions of Parker's characters -- Elvis Cole and Joe Pike.

Seldom anything deep in these mystery novels, but fun, and while you knew you were gonna get a hamburger and not filet mignon, they were pretty good burgers. Even if he did get the gun stuff wrong now and again.

Adios, Mr. Parker.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I, Sniper


Bob the Nailer is back ...

If you are a fan of Stephen Hunter's books, and I certainly am, that -- to repeat myself -- is all you need to know.

If you aren't, you should be. Run out and buy them all, right now.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Then There is This ...

Here ... have a brew ...


The Long and Short of It

Above right: Yao Defen, 7'9", of China.

Jyoti Amge, of India, 23 inches

And for Bobbe, Heather Greene, above left, who is only 6'5", but who makes it to 7'2" in heels ...


Above, right: The world's tallest man, Sultan Kosen, of Turkey, at 8'1";
next to the world's shortest man, He Pingping, from China, at 29 inches.




And the tallest man ever? Nobody knows for sure, but in modern times, Robert Wadlow:

Psycho Kitty

Who Me? Nah, man, I was in De-troit
when it went down, I swear!

My wife's sister has come to visit for a few days.

When the girls get together, they like to move furniture around, rearrange the implements on the kitchen countertops, paint rooms, and chat about things that aren't at the top of my hit parade. Whether I am a Summer or a Winter, what the latest fashions are? Why the wooden spoons are better next to the microwave oven instead of the stove? It makes them happy, and who am I to deny them that? I just live here, it's not my house. All the married men I know have learned this lesson. Drives the dogs crazy, but that's their lookout.

We installed my sister-in-law in the sewing room, formerly my son's bedroom, and since we gave the futon to my daughter, we have been using a queen-sized air bed for company.

At least we had been using it. Until we got a cat.

A cat, who thinks that sneaking in when nobody is looking and, unbeknownst to all, sliding his paw underneath the mattress to claw the sucker is great fun.

First night my sister-in-law went to bed, only to wake up on the floor ...

So I upended the mattress and found a couple of tiny punctures. Huh. Must have been a pin on the floor or some such. Ran the vacuum cleaner, checked the carpet, it's okay. So I got out the handy patch kit, fixed the holes, pumped the thing back up. We're good.

I went off to babysit for Nate, the youngest grandson, while the girls went out to shop at the paint store and whatnot. (I have to speak to this: When I was a kid, paint colors were, you know, red, blue, green, brown. Maybe a tan or whatnot. You could modify these with "dark" or "light" or even "fire engine," and nobody had any problem visualizing them. Now, paint comes in "Evening Summer Mist," "Afternoon Tuscany," or, as I discovered only today, "Ancient Relic," which is what color my kitchen cabinets are. No shit. Anybody have a clue what that hue might be? Ancient Relic? Whatever you think, you're wrong.)

I came home a couple hours later, and alas, the air bed again sagged low.

The cat was lying in the middle of the bed mostly-deflated bed.

I still didn't associate the two as to cause-and-effect. Must have, I thought, missed one of the little holes. So I upended the bed, pumped it up again -- and, oh, my, there were four more holes, right next to the ones I patched and they weren't there before I left. More, they were in a -- no two ways about it -- cat-claw-shaped pattern.

Son-of-a-bitch. I patched those, threw the cat out of the room, shut the door.

But somehow, after the girls got home, the door remained ajar long enough to allow the little bastard to sneak in yet again, and I was by then out of repair patches.

Ballou, kitty-moo, has become a bed killer.

So now there is a foam pad where the air bed was.

Never a dull moment.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The iSlate Slouches Toward Silicon Valley ...



Gizmodo's round up of Apple touch-pad rumors, here.

I won't go over them all, but it is coming, Apple's bald-faced lies to the contrary, and it will do something, and the consensus seems to be that it's going to be the iPhone on steroids.

An amusing side note: Five years or so ago, Apple gobbled up FingerWorks, a company that produced a multi-touchpad that was way ahead of anything anybody else had going. The iGesture™ was a boffo piece of hardware, with its firmware, and there was also a keyboard -- I bought one of each in 2002. The keyboard was too sensitive for me, but I still use the iGesture pad -- it beats every mouse or trackball or other style pad I've every tried, hands down.
(Editor's Note: If you want that Touch Stream™ keyboard? I'll sell it to you -- it has become a collector's item, apparently, and now goes for about $1500 ...)

Apple shut FingerWorks down, insofar as production, and somebody just parked the website, so you can book it that the iSlate -- if that's what they call it -- is going to have some spiffy multi-touch controls. With my iGesture, I can do all the mouse stuff, plus open and close files like turning a knob, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Gonna be interesting ...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wisdom of Insecurity


We all want the guarantee. We want the iron-clad, double-your-money-back, lifetime, no-questions-asked sworn promise: The relationship will endure; the kids will turn out okay; the job will work; the martial art will be there when you call it; they will discover a cure for everything in time to let you be functional for eternity, and you'll live happily ever after ...

We know better. But living with the option -- it's all built on sand and all flesh is eventually grass is kind of hard to think about too much without getting depressed.

So, as best we can, we hedge our bets. Can't control it, but maybe we can improve our odds.

Insecurity is a bear with long claws and big teeth, though.

I believe that life offers you the lessons you need to become as much as you can be. Not always easy and sometimes painful, but you get the choice. (Which is the only reason I can see why those of us who are control-freaks go into the arts, especially as freelancers. Surely that's a big one, letting go of that control ...)

All the artists I know of any discipline suffer to a degree from a worry that one day the art police are going to knock on the door and tell them that the jig is up. Party's over, dude -- you got to go out and get a real job now.

How do you get past that? Well. In my experience, you never do. You learn to live with it.

This happens often enough so it's a real worry: The eyes might go, the hands, the ears; Muse might wander off, and you come up dry. No more images, no more roles, no more songs, no more words. Fashions change, the Fickle Publick turns away, and you are done ...

What brings this up, Steve? you wonder?

I shipped a book to my agent before the holidays and she read it and wanted some changes. She's a bright, talented woman, I value her opinion, and we get on well, but -- I'm not going to make those changes unless an editor who is paying me asks, or everybody and his kid sister rejects the novel.

Because it's the story I wanted to tell.

Anybody who is even a little bit self-aware knows that the Pit of Insecurity within us can never be filled. Not enough shovels, not enough sand, the hole at the bottom goes all the way to the center of the Earth. We want that approbation -- but we know that even if we get it, it's only a matter of time until the fill starts to trickle away, and pretty soon, the pit is empty again.

None of us is infallible, certainly not me, but at some point, second-guessing yourself is bad for your soul. She could be right. I could be wrong. But what she wants fixed is stuff I don't think is broken; things I offered up as part of the story I wanted to tell. At some point, you have to trust your own tools, else you risk becoming a robot.

Did I tell the story I wanted to tell?

Yes.

Did I tell it well?

I don't know.

Is it a story anybody wants to hear?

That remains to be seen.

So I'm having her ship it as I wrote it, the book. It might go down in flames, but if so, so be it.

Because always: The first person who needs to be happy about the book you wrote has to be you ...


Haiti


The terrible destruction and numbers of dead, injured, or still trapped in Haiti after the earthquake and after-shocks are mind-numbing. The poorest country in the western hemisphere has been made so much worse after few seconds of the ground shaking.

If you can afford it, donate something to a group that can put people on the ground to help: The Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, Mercy Corps International come immediately to mind, but there are others.

Image being trapped in the rubble of your house, not knowing if somebody is coming to dig you out. Or having every home in your neighborhood flattened. Or seeing dead people piled up on the street like firewood.

I think Pat Robertson is full of shit to his eyeballs, but his organization is sending a lot of money to Haiti.

Actions speak louder than words.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

High Strung

Maestro Segovia

Changed my guitar strings last night whilst watching the old folks documentary.

Stringed instrument players have different views on how often this activity should happen. There are some who install new strings for every gig; some who are still playing on the set that came with the guitar when they got it five years ago.

A lot depends on how often you play, how toxic your skin oils and perspiration are, and how much maintenance you do -- wiping the strings before and after every playing session with a clean cloth, or using some of the string-cleaners made for that, all make a difference.

Even the best strings for guitars aren't that expensive, though in a pinch, you can boil the old ones, dry 'em off, and put them back on, if you are careful.

I tend to fall into the every six months or so category. The basses start to corrode, especially just above the frets. The trebles get stretched out, and they all go out of tune more often. The guitar seemed to lose its punch, has less resonance, seems kind of dead. When that happens, I have to change the strings.

New strings take a while to settle in. As they stretch and set, they will tend to go flat fairly quickly. Tune up, play a few chords, they are all out-of-tune. There are a couple ways to get around this: Play a long session and keep tuning until they start holding notes. When you are ready to quit, tune them all a bit sharp when you put the guitar away. And just accept that for the next few sessions, you'll spend more time turning the pegs.

Then, for a few months, the guitar sounds pretty good. Well. At least as good as I can manage.

The right strings, by the by, can make a so-so instrument sound much better. Of course, there are whole religions based around which strings are the best, but this tends to vary from instrument to instrument. One guitar will sound boffo with Brand-X, another instrument just like it from the same maker won't care for those at all. You have to find the ones your axe likes.

For the classical players out there, if you haven't tried them, you might want to risk a set of Aquila's Alabastro -- I use the normal tension -- and they give my guitar a warm, woody, gut-string tone. Their trebles are what they call Nylgut, and while they are a little spendy, they are way cheaper than real gut strings.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I Feel Good


Just watched a rockumentary on PBS, about a group in New England that covers everything from The Clash to James Brown to Sonic Youth -- "Schizophrenia" to the Zombies "She's Not There."

The interesting part is that the average age of the group is eighty years old. Ranges from 73 on the low end to 92.

Next time you are feeling tired and old, rent this and watch it. It's uplifting, touching, sad, and altogether one of the better shows I've seen lately.

Work It Out, Grampa


Photo credit: Benjamin Brink, The Oregonian

So, according to a pilot study done in Seattle, vigorous aerobic exercise seems to slow the progress of Alzheimer's Disease. They don't know if it will prevent it, and it doesn't cure it, but it does seem to improve mental function in those on the road to brain fade. Abstract here.

Going outside once in a while also seem to have an affect on vision. Latest in that arena points out that myopia seems to develop less in children who go outside, and that this makes more difference than watching TV, reading, or video games when it comes to turning little Johnny into a squinter.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Plates on Sticks


Been a little busier than usual the last couple days. Visited with family, baby-sat, got some work done. Got another possible project run past me today, and I'm reading my daughter's horror novel ms, Summer Man, which is both lengthy and good.

My daughter, who has written, I dunno, twenty tie-in or shared-universe books or so under several names -- S.D. Perry, mostly -- has never gotten around to doing a big one of her own, until now. I have a ways to go to finish the read, but thus far, it is aces.

I expected no less. She' s a natural writer who sold the first story she ever wrote to the first market that saw it. Me, I got more rejections the first year I was submitting stories (300+) than a good-sized herd of writers collected combined in that time.

Persistence pays off, sometimes.

Got to go. The potatoes and green beans are boiling and almost done ...

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Book 'Em, Dan'l


Two o'clock this morning, my wife, the dogs, and I are snug in our bed, and sound asleep. Of a moment, the little dog Layla goes off, hits the floor barking, out the doggie-door into the back yard, carrying on.

In my deep stupor, I'm roused enough to figure it must be five a.m., and my wife is up and has let the dogs out to razz the squirrels -- but no -- Jude the Larger adds his woofery, and I wake up enough to realize that my wife is still in bed, and she says, "Something's going out there."

I put on my glasses, grab my bedside weaponry, and walk naked into the back yard. There are loud voices, and I figure, Friday night shading into Saturday, one of the neighbors who is a noisy party guy when he drinks has gotten one over his limit.

Jude scrambles past me to join Layla in her tiny imitation of the Hound of the Baskervilles. The yelling voices -- at least two -- sound as if they are right next door, and of a moment, the blinking red and blue of a police car's roof rack lights up the house next to mine.

Police. And dealing with a miscreant.

Over Layla and Jude's barking, the sound of a bigger dog out front carrying on, all excited.

K-9?

Probably not a good idea to be standing naked in the back yard holding a firearm.

So I toodle back inside, and get dressed, go to the front window and peep out.

Half a dozen of Beaverton's finest have somebody down on the front lawn next door, twenty feet from the window. I can't really see much because of the angle. The K-9 officer and dog are dancing on my sidewalk, and the human is telling the dog what a good boy he is for biting the runner on the ass. I know this last because I hear the officer say, "He got him on the ass!"

Looks like it's all over, whatever it is, but the officers are walking up and down, shining lights hither and yon, and either looking for somebody else, or, more likely given the dog, looking for something the suspect dropped or tossed during his flight.

My wife wants to go out and see what is going on, so we step into the fenced courtyard out front (leaving the gun behind) and get a quick flashlight wave. "Go back inside, please."

A few minutes later, everybody packs up and leaves. The dogs go back to sleep, and given what we saw, I'm going with the idea that somebody was fleeing and got caught in the neighbor's yard by the dog. Who, what he might have done, I dunno, and this morning, there aren't any reports up anywhere. Maybe it'll make the news today and we can see.

Ours is a quiet neighborhood. We've had police activity around our house only four or five times in twenty-odd years, never a shot fired, though some weapons have been waved.

It does wake you right up to have it happening that close.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Tell Me A Story

Lot and His Daughters
Henrik Goltzius, 1616 CE

I am not a religious scholar. I was born and raised a Methodist, which is a somewhat less-than-sanguine variation of Christianity, but have dabbled in study of others religions. I have on my reference shelf the Holy Bible, King James version; The Glorious Koran; The I-Ching, The Tao Te Ching; the Book of Mormon; Science and Heath, with a Key to the Scriptures; The Upanishads, and versions of Buddhism ranging from Zen to Tibetan, and I have read them all.

I figured out pretty quickly that the holy books were not meant to be taken literally, that they were metaphors offering morality lessons. Literalists make me wonder how they can possibly reconcile the contradictions, and the only answer I can find is that dogmatic faith is a wonderful set of blinders.

Recently, a discussion in which I was involved touched upon Lot and the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah. For those of you who missed Sunday school that week, a recap -- somewhat abridged and updated, viz: the language.

God was put out because the residents of Sodom and Gomorrah had gone over to the dark side. They were wicked -- the term "sodomy" comes from that city, and that pretty much gets into what they were doing. Buggery were them.

So God allowed as how he was going to nuke 'em from space and clean the slate. But He didn't want to wipe out any good folks, if there were any. (Why He didn't know kind of goes past the omniscience thing, but skip over that for now.)

So God sent a couple of ops -- angels in disguise to talk to the one good guy He was sure of, a fellow named Lot.

The angels showed up, and right behind them, so did the wicked folk of the city. Hey, Lot! Who you got in there? Send 'em out so we can screw them! (The biblical term is "know," but that's what it means.)

And Lot, bless his shriveled sense of parental duty said, "Hey, these are my guests. Leave them alone! Tell you what, I'll send out a couple of my virgin daughters, you can have your way with them instead, if you just leave my guests alone."

That's where I parted company with this story. Bullshit.

"No deal!" the mob roared. And they grabbed for Lot and figured to go grab the visitors and do a little hide the salami.

The angels, not needing Lot's protection, basically said, "Piss on this!" and struck the mob blind.

Teach to you fuck with God's operatives, dudes.

Well, to continue: There was some back and forth about sparing the city if enough righteous could be found, ladled throughout this discussion, and to make a totally unbelievable long story shorter, Lot couldn't come up with any. (Actually, I erred here -- 'twas Abraham who did the dickering, and Lot was the guy worth saving. Mea culpa. Doesn't change the main story, though.)

You and your family get out of town, Lot was told, and don't look back. We fixin' to kick ass.

So Lot and his family took off, and God rained fire and brimstone upon the cities and took them down to bedrock.

Only, Lot's wife looked back, which was bad, because God turned her into a pillar of salt for sneaking a peek.

So Lot and his daughters, feeling somewhat antisocial, skipped living in a city, and headed for a cave.

And one boring evening, the two virgin daughters -- there were others already married off and I don't know what happened to them and their husbands -- decided, Gee, you know it's a shame the old man doesn't have any sons to carry on the family name. Here's a thought: Why don't we get him drunk and lie with him, and fix that?

So they did. The older, one night, the younger the next. I don't read it that they did a threesome, though that wouldn't have been such a big deal, given the participants.

Lot, of course, was so drunk he didn't know he was screwing his own daughters, according to the story. Again, I part company with the writer, because I know you can't spike paper without a paper spike, and if you are so drunk you can't tell you are pronging your daughters, getting it up is going to need God's help. Liquor fires the desire, but fries the ability.

So the girls got pregnant, and begat a couple of the the great families of the Bible. The sons of Moab and those of Benammi.

So my question is: What is the, uh, moral of this story ... ?

(If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see the burning cities in the b.g., and Lot's wife as a pillar of salt-- these are often featured in the paintings, though the time is wrong -- the cities and wife were well before the girls hit on the old man. This painting is a mild version. A few get a bit raunchier, you can see examples here.

WeCU


Now we are getting somewhere. Here's the way to catch terrorists.

In case you aren't willing to click on the link, the gist: They are now working on mind-reading scanners.

You are gonna have to love Big Brother ...

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Make the Best of the Situation


The late entertainer Liberace (pronounced "Libber-rot-chee," for those of you too young to remember him) was a flamboyant piano player. (That's him on the right, next to a young Elvis.)

Something of an understatement, flamboyant. He had bling that would make the top rap stars say muthafucka! in awe -- one diamond ring shaped like a piano that was almost as large as a real piano ...

My grandmother used to watch him on the little black-and-white television back when I was a lad -- she loved him -- and that's where I first saw him. At that point, he was still wearing a tuxedo and had nothing more outrageous about him than a candelabra and some snappy patter. He later went so far over the top as to become the very model of in-your-face outrageous -- dress, demeanor, lifestyle.

Gayer than a stadium full of caballeros ...

In his youth, he was a pretty good classical piano player, but he opted to go for the glitter. It made him rich and famous, though he used to catch crap from the purists because he chose style over substance. Asked about whether it bothered him that the critics hated him, he is reputed to have said "I cry all the way to the bank."

(He didn't come up with the expression -- there is a report of a wealthy boxing manager in the mid-forties whose fighter lost, but the gate was such that he offered the same sentiment. But it was Liberace's version that is remembered. Along with the codicil: “Remember that bank I cried all the way to? I bought it.”

I was on another site and somebody was busting James Cameron's balls for Avatar, and that thought popped into my head.

Living well is the best revenge ...

Sorceror's Apprentice

I put the embed for this up, but it's widescreen and looks like crap cropped by blogspot, so better you go to YouTube and look at it.

Passage


So Tsutomu Yamaguchi passed away, he was 93. I wrote a piece featuring him in March of '09. He was the only known survivor of two atomic bomb attacks. He was on a business trip to Hiroshima when the August 6th bomb fell. He survived and hurried home -- to Nagasaki ...

One of those bad luck/good luck things. How bad is your luck that you get two atomic bombs dropped on you? And how good is it that you survive?

I would guess that in his shoes, I'd think maybe I might think some higher power had plans for me. The universe might not give a crap about people, but, boy, it would be a real reason to wonder: Why me?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Catstrati


So, Ballou, our free, but getting damned expensive, cat, as of today, now sings soprano.

He's just back from the vet's, fitted for one of those plastic cones that makes him look as if he's wearing a collapsed 16th Century ruffled collar, and very unhappy with it.

Layla lies outside the door to the room where we have el gato confined because we are supposed to limit his activity for a while, and to allow her to run up and down the hall and wrestle with him, as well as licking his incisions is not any better than allowing him to do it.

She is also unhappy. What have you done to my cat? Why is he locked away? Inquiring Corgis want to know!

Of course, I have to take the plastic cone off for him to eat or get into the litter box, which has a roof on it, and getting that collar back on? Not a job for anybody with hide less tough than a rhino's.

Never a dull moment.

P.S. Extra points for the first person to get why I used the image above ...

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

BangBang -- !

So he's a little older and carrying more weight than he needs, but he hasn't slowed much. (Turn the sound down, it's kinda loud.)


video

Monday, January 04, 2010

Thong the Barbarian Meets the Cycle Sluts of Saturn



Eighteen or twenty or so years ago, my collaborator Reaves and I went slightly mad and wrote a novella making fun of Doc Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and Robert E. Howard, all at the same time.

We managed to con Dean Wesley Smith, the publisher at Pulphouse into buying it. Alas, the story became a magazine-killer -- Pulphouse, despite far and away being the best magazine in the field, came upon hard times and passed on. Cash-flow problems, and it took Dean years to make good the debuts, but he finally did.

So Reaves and I would amuse ourselves by taking the ms to science fiction conventions and reading sections of it aloud. Once, we alternated pages at an Orycon, and as you might imagine from the title, the tone of this tale is such that much merriment, and perhaps even a little pants-wetting amongst the audience came to pass as we did it.

Neither of us were able to keep a straight face as we read.

At that con, Don Alquist heard us, and determined that he wanted to publish the beast, which after engaging an artist -- Daniel Conan Young -- who managed to match our tone dead-on with his illustrations, he did. Publish it.

The book came out in a limited edition, in three forms: The dust-jacketed hardback, for $35, and two leather-bound versions, one in blue limited to 26 copies, the other in red, of which there were but ten. They cost more.

All of these are collectors' items today. If you can find somebody willing to part with one, it will be a spendy proposition, lemme tell you. It's so rare it's not even on ebay.

I once posted an example of the timeless prose contained between these covers, and I'll repost that here, to give you the flavor:

Our Hero is beset by tavern slackwits, who speak to a certain fecal odor about Thong in his ratty direwolf skin cloak while his assistant, Sandol, is off giving an offering to the Goddess
Peristali.

Thong's response to the tavern-scum, who have been identified as One-Eyed Dick, Bwuce, and Gap-Tooth:

"Methinks it is no more than the remnants of your most recent meal on your own upper lips that you smell," Thong said menacingly. There, that ought to do it.

"'He insults us!" One-eyed Dick ejaculated as he reached for his sword.

"'He does?" Bwuce asked questioningly. Despite his puzzlement, however, he too pulled his blade free.

"'You will die, bawbawian!'" said Gap-tooth tertiarily.

Now Thong did sigh.

By the time Sandol returned from his visit to the nightchamber, Thong was wiping the last of the blood from Asschopper upon Gap-tooth's cloak ...

I mention this only because it occurred to me that this would make a great title for the Kindle or Nook. I'm going to see if our publisher is interested ...

Real News


Enough with all this war, famine, pestilence, movie box office stuff. Time for some real news:


Apparently, the local Mickey D's in Toledo, Ohio, was out of McNuggets. When informed of this, a twenty-four-year old woman apparently became so enraged that she punched out the drive-through window. She was treated for her injuries and arrested for vandalism.

Now that is a jones. No McNuggets?! Aaaaiiieee -- ! Taste the Fist of Death!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

For Those Who Like to Keep Score


Avatar's worldwide grosses will top a billion dollars by the end of the weekend -- after three weeks in release.

A billion dollars.

That will soon give James Cameron the #1 and #2 box office records -- Titanic and Avatar. It's become a cultural phenomenon -- something to talk about around the water cooler.

Doesn't surprise me at all.

Note: I've been taken -- gently -- to task for flacking this movie.

Let me explain why I liked it:

First, a few observations: "Original," "science fiction," "movie," and "successful" don't belong in the same sentence. If you can point to an SF movie with all four of those in the last, oh, twenty-five or thirty years, please do. But speak carefully -- I've been reading and watching this stuff a long time and I will point out where I think we we part company on that view. Like Forbidden Planet? A direct steal from Billy Shakespeare's little play, The Tempest. The Matrix? H.G. Wells. Star Wars? Half the samurai movies ever made. Aliens? Half the monster movies ever made.

I could go on all day. Hit me with your best shot.

Second, while Cameron may have swiped the plot lock, stock, and barrel from Poul Anderson, it wasn't original with Poul, either. The uncover agent who goes native has been around a long time. They were using that term in Gunga Din, weren't they? (Rory mentions Kim, and that dates from 1901, and was a book that much influenced SF writers in the forties and fifties, when Poul was getting into the field. Not even to mention Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking tales, The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans Terribly-written books, these, but still.)

And we all of us who toil in the word mines of literature fantastique swipe stuff from those have gone before. Some of us are blatant about it. Some less so. Some even do it unconsciously, but do it, we certainly do.

If you want to point out a successful science fiction novel over the last, oh, twenty-five or thirty years that is totally original, successful, etc. lay it on me. Did I mention there were only three plots? Good luck finding a new one.

Those of you who lament the dialog in Avatar, let me point out that Star Wars, Star Trek, Terminator, Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, et al, aren't any better, and in some cases much worse. It doesn't matter. They ain't doing Ibsen.

You need to look at this in context, which is what I do, and why I liked Avatar.

It's a few things: Taste is one. Commercially helping the field is another. Being taken some place you've never been? Big plus.

You don't go to a Cameron movie to be surprised by the story. It's not his forte. Nor is it the strength of science fiction filmmakers in general. Never has been.

Who I am and what I do and what I know, I never expect to be surprised by a genre story by any moviemaker. Only three plots, remember?

Every SF&F movie you see today is old, old stuff. They were writing it before I was born and I grew up reading and watching it.

If they write to surprise me, they are going to leave most of the rest of the audience scratching their heads and wondering what the fuck just happened?

I take that into account.

I don't expect science fiction or fantasy on a screen to knock me down with a new twist. Since it always borrows ideas that are cliches in the literature, I don't carry that one into the theater. It's not a matter of setting the bar low, but recognizing that's where it must be set to get a viable audience. If only the hardcore fans go to see it, your movie tanks.

So I see SF&F movies for the ride, and if there is a good story, that's gravy. There was enough story in Avatar for me. No surprises, but I didn't expect any. Nor would it have been smart to make it a hardcore SF picture. If you want to reach a big audience -- and you need to reach it to make your money back -- you have to slow down for the stragglers. This is why the Matadors haven't made me rich -- I don't stop and explain stuff -- if you can't keep up, go read something else. This was a conscious choice and I knew when I made it that it was gonna limit my audience.

That so many non-SF&F fans are going to come out of the theater grinning is really good for our biz. Star Wars and Star Trek opened up big opportunities for writers because people who tried those were, some of them, willing to try something else. They weren't good SF, either. If a science fiction picture blows the doors off the theaters, if Cameron makes a shitload of money, then he helps lift us all, just like Harry Potter did for fantasy and Twilight did for vampires. (When the later Harry Potter books were published, people went out at midnight and stood in lines for hours waiting to get into bookstores. I couldn't even imagine such a thing happening.)

This kind of success slops over onto everybody, at least a little. If they'll go see Trek or Avatar, maybe some of them will move on to Phil Dick or Zelazny. Or me.

I was amazed by the EFX, and that is what this picture gives to an audience. People who say, "Oh, yeah, I like the box the movie came in." are completely missing the point. You can't get this ride in a book. And nobody else has come close to what Cameron put up on the screen. It was a Holy shit! experience visually, and for an audience who had no notion of what Gaia is, it presented a concept as novel as The Matrix did for Maya. I thought The Matrix sucked, storywise, but I'm a working writer in the field. They didn't write it for me.

They didn't write Avatar for me. Or the adult you, either. "Childlike" is not the same as "childish."

Reach back into your memory to find that sense of wonder you had as a kid. Go look at it as if you were twelve years old. That's who they wrote it for -- the youngster stoked on his or her sensawunda.