Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Smart Stuff

Check out Dean and Kris's video about their new anthology project. Some funny biz here:

Martial Arts Generalities

As with most things, broad, sweeping generalizations about martial arts tend to be full of errors. The old joke is, All sweeping generalizations are bad, including the one I just made.

However ...

There are some things I've come to believe over the years, and now and then, I offer them up. These are not absolutely true, caveats abound, so take them in that light, and in no particular order.

1. Sucker punches win fights.

This is fairly straightforward–if you surprise somebody and nail them solidly, it can shock them into a state wherein they don't get back up to speed in time. This doesn't mean you throw your Sunday punch and then step back and smile–if you are ahead, you don't wait for the other guy to catch up, you keep going until the fight is over. As much as it takes, no more.

It's not a Roy Rogers cowboy movie. You can throw the first punch, you don't have to wait, as long as the other guy's intent is clear. If he screams, "I'm gonna kill you!" and charges in to do just that? The law will allow you to defend yourself, you don't have to wait. Han shot first, and should have ... (But: see item #10, below.)

Conversely, if you are behind, best if you can shake it off and catch up and get ahead on speed and impact. Doing this is the trick, of course.

Surprise and major force wins most of the time.

2. Big bone beats little bone. 

A roundhouse punch to the other guy's head will more likely result in injury to your hand than his skull.  The boxer's fracture is a common injury, and since the average man's head weighs somewhere around ten pounds, (four and half kilos) think of it like this: Put a bowling ball on a table, cover it with a dish towel, then punch it with your fist. How hard do you want to do this?

The corollary to #2 is:

3. Hard to soft, soft to hard.

The fist to the solar plexus or a slap to the head will probably result in less injury to the striker. Reconsider the bowling ball analogy. If you are going to hit somebody in the head, a slap, forearm, or shoulder is apt to be better for you than a fist.

Truth? If you are long-term martial artist who bangs a lot in practice? Chances are you will get hurt more over the years in class than you will in a street dust-up, which you are theoretically trying to avoid. A street fight lasts a few seconds. Two hours of class once or twice a week offers a lot of opportunity to get whacked. Accidentally, or on purpose? Both look the same on an X-ray. 

4. Size matters.

Bigger, stronger, faster, tougher make a difference, especially if skill is anywhere close to equal. Generally, the good big fighter beats the good small one. Technique can offset a lot of this, but you have to be really good to beat Godzilla. The little old lady who watches a video and then cleans out the biker bar barehanded is ... unlikely ...

5. Keep the sun at your back.

This goes to tactical advantages, and any you can get, if you have time? Take them. Cheat.

6. Don't play cards with a man named "Doc."

If somebody wants to box or wrestle, that's probably because they are comfortable there. Always better to play your game instead of theirs. And cheat.

7. People who play with knives get cut. (And they cut other people.)

If you aren't prepared for the sight of your own blood and willing to keep going? Don't engage. The corollary here?

8. Steel beats flesh.

A sharp knife in the hands of an expert is going to be nasty. If you are barehanded, anything you do against such is apt to fall into the "Oh, shit!" category of moves. He has all the tools you have plus one. A superior weapon is what you want, and the Army dictum: You're not an ape–use a tool. 

And the problem is, when that guy whips out his knife? You won't know how good he is with it until the wonder becomes moot.

9. Winning is relative. 

Look up "pyrrhic victory." The old Indonesian proverb is, "In a knife fight, the loser is ashes, but the winner is charcoal." The best win? You don't fight at all. Being somewhere else is good.

Nobody is bulletproof. The best fighter in the world can slip, get blindsided, or have an off day. Or can deck somebody with one punch and the downed guy can hit his head and die. Every fight has some cost, and the problem is, you don't know what it will be going in. 

Monkey dancing is far more likely to get you in trouble than walking away. 

10. The law will be waiting after the fight.

You have to decide in the moment if force is applicable and how much to use. You need to know that a serious fight will almost certainly have to be justified to the police, and maybe a judge and jury. If you can't do that, it will cost you, money for sure, and maybe your liberty.

There are lots of other things, and folks who have considered this have their own lists. Just food for thought ...

Monday, July 30, 2012

Creole Belle

I'm a long-time fan of James Lee Burke's novels. He has a couple series going, the best-known of which are books featuring Dave "Streak" Robicheaux (pronounced "Robe-uh-show.")

Robicheaux is an on-again, off-again detective in New Iberia, Louisiana. He lives in a little house on the bayou with his wife. His step-daughter is grown now, a writer, and there is a three-legged raccoon named "Tripod" who abides there ...

Robicheaux's best buddy is Clete Purcel, an ex-cop turned P.I., and both he and Dave were booted from the NOPD in a scandal some years back. Clete deserved it, Dave didn't, and they've had each other's backs since.

There are twenty-three books in the series, and they are literate, well-crafted, and pretty dark. Lot of evil down in the swamps, and Dave and Clete and the rest find themselves in the middle of it frequently, usually ending with a pile of bodies around them. 

Burke, who grew up in South Texas on the border with South Louisiana, now spends much of his time in Montana, but he knows the swamps.

The latest novel, Creole Bell, is, like the others, dark and full of mean and wicked folks preying upon the innocent. Well, and each other, too. 

The plot seldom matters much in these, it's just a way to trek around the colorful countryside, dealing with more colorful characters. 

These are contemporary books, taking place in the present, though the Louisiana Burke writes about is much closer to the one he remembers from the 1950s. You seldom see mentions of computers, McDonalds, or technology past what you'd see in 1959. Almost an alternative-reality feel to the books. Which never bothered me any, since I remember those years, too, but just so you know.

This one has everything but the kitchen sink in it, mysterious contract killers, Nazi war criminals, racist sheriffs, murdered low-lifes, rape, mayhem, and eventually more bodies. 

The book starts with Dave recovering from bullet wounds in the hospital from the previous adventure, dreaming morphine dreams and trying to separate those from reality.

He never quite manages that, though some of what seemed to be delusional turns out to be real, and some of what seems real is maybe not.

Like I did with Travis McGee, I always turn up for the next Robicheaux book. Long as he keeps writing them, I'll keep reading them. And like John D. MacDonald and ole Trav, Burke is getting a little tired of writing these–at least that's how it feels. In this one, the beats are all there, but it didn't feel as if his heart was altogether in it. Not that it isn't a good read, because it is, and he couldn't write a bad book at this stage, he's too good a writer; still, Streak and Clete feel a little more weary and cynical and reflective than they usually are. Especially Clete. 

Dave's wife gets a few passing nods, and Alafair, his daughter (also the name of Burke's youngest daughter in real life, who is a novelist, too) has a role, though relatively minor.

To be expected, perhaps. Burke is 75, and Dave is about the same age, certainly from what he remembers, though his tour in Vietnam would make him a bit old to have been a young soldier on the ground in the 1960's. Clete is also a Vietnam vet, and there are several references and flashbacks to that time that seem to be from old movies set there, tongue-in-cheekly done, I think. He and Clete are a little long in the tooth to be running around shooting it out with the bad guys, and even as indestructible as Clete has always seemed, he's in pretty bad shape this go-round.

If you haven't read this series, you should. Go back and get them in sequence and do so, don't start with the most recent incarnation, you'll miss way too much background. If you've read the series, you don't need any background on any of the players; if not, this book isn't the first one to read, because I think the assumption is that you have read 'em.

Oh, one thing I found amusing. I've always pictured Clete looking like John Goodman after six days on a bad road and being considerably beat-up in the process. At the end of this novel, a character who knows Clete meets John Goodman, and allows that he is the image of Clete ...

Writing Scenario

Writers work all the time. I mean, not that we are sitting at the keyboard pounding away, but work sometimes happens whilst walking the dogs, sitting in the hot tub, or reading the newspaper. A thought pops up, gets chased down and grabbed, then locked away for later use. 

Saturday, my wife and I attended a memorial. A young man, son of a woman with whom my wife had been friends for a long time, passed away from complications secondary to surgery following an accident. We were on our way to another gathering immediately following that, and had to stop to refuel the car. We were tired, the memorial was one where we had to stand the whole time, in a room that was full of people and probably ninety degrees, no AC, no breeze. What we wanted to do was sit somewhere cool and have a drink. As I stood inside the minimart in an alcove off one side of the register, waiting for the pump to finish so I could pay for the petrol, a man came in and asked the clerk for cigarettes. 

The neighborhood was not bars on every window, but only a step above that. While I was waiting, a woman came into the market,  turned in several bottles, bought one can of beer, and left.

The new customer was a somewhat seedy-looking character who looked to be in his late forties or early fifties, and he mumbled something I couldn't make out when the clerk asked him what kind of cigarettes. 

The smoker waved and pointed, mumbled, but all those were vague.

The clerk kept his gaze on the guy, asked again. 

"Right there," the customer said, pointing.

In that moment, what I realized was that the customer wanted the clerk to turn around and look, and I knew–I was sure–that if the clerk turned his back to Mr. Seedy, he was going to grab something from the counter and haul ass.

The clerk knew it, too, and he absolutely was not going to turn around and give the guy his back. An urban stand-off.

Another query, then the customer shook his head and walked away, left the store.

Now, there was no way I could know what was going on in the customer's mind, nor in that of the clerk, but I believed that I did. Certainly enough to use the story here ... 

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Again, Black Steel

Alan's catalogue is up again. If you are interested, move quickly–these tend to sell fast. That's because these are the best-quality blades and furniture for the money you are apt to find outside Indonesia.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Robbery 101

A robber walked into a local gas station in Portland, pointed a pistol at the clerks and demanded the money. The two workers realized that the gun was one of those realistic-looking fakes, with the orange muzzle tip sawed off, so they jumped the guy and held him until the police arrived.

Must have pretty good eyes, I thought. Some of those replicas are dead-on. 

And then I came to this in The Oregonian's Story:

"The two employees realized the gun was fake when the man accidentally dropped the gun and it split into two pieces, said Avinash Maskey, 24, who works the morning shift at the gas station ..."

I wouldn't be surprised to see that pop up on the Leno show ...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Electronic Guitar Tuners - Small Change

I have a terrible ear when it comes to tuning my guitar. The traditional tuning method was to use a pitch pipe or a tuning fork tuned to A440, the currently-standard A-note. You get one string right, and then tune from that, pressing on the appropriate fret and string to match the adjacent strings to correct pitch.

If you had a piano, you could just match the keys there by ear, and standard guitar tuning only needs six: E, A, D, G, B, E, running from the lowest bass to the highest treble.

If I tune the low E to an external source, then tune the other strings from that? I'm usually a hair flat or sharp on subsequent strings, more noticeably the trebles. Not that much, but off enough so using a tuner to check immediately shows it.

Better than I used to be, because I practice, but the wetware and input speakers are what they are ...

The future arrived, did you notice? Now you can get a clip-on tuner that works via vibration and is chromatic, i.e., you can tune any fretted instrument using it, with a range of starting tones. And cheap, too.

Mine comes with backlights. Red, it's not there; green, it's tuned. (Though you should note that a plucked string, because of how it works, will often read sharp or flat for a beat, then settle in tune.)

The standard A440 can be dialed up or down to match sharp or flats. In a lot of old recordings, the players didn't use A440, though they were in relative pitch, so if you want to play along, you have to adjust your guitar, and the tuner can be set to do that.

When they talk about these things, the term "cent" is often used. A cent is one-hundredth of a semi-tone. Apparently the average human ear can detect a difference of five cents or so, and if two guitars are ten cents apart, somebody is going to be noticeably out-of-tune even to guys with ears like mine.

Most of the common electronic tuners are accurate to ± 0.5 cents, well below what is needed for most ears. There are folks who are more accurate than the machines, just as there are drummers better than a click-track. Gifted folks.

All of which is to say that my guitar has sounded a little off the last few days, and what I noticed when I tuned it yesterday was that the tuner control had been bumped and it was set at A442. When I reset it to where it was supposed to be, it sounded just fine. Very strange that I would notice two cents difference; I'm not sure what it means.

For more on this subject, try this link.


Before, above. After, below:

Couple years ago, I posted a note about re-purposing an old treadle sewing machine base we had. The story is here, but the essence is, we got the thing as part of the deal to buy our first house–the old lady who owned the place died, and the sewing machine and an old manual typewriter were in the house, and we asked for them to be included. 

The treadle served in various incarnations, including most recently being a plant stand with a slab of granite on top.

When we got our new TV (and the men here will appreciate this) we had to move all of our furniture around. Kind of like falling dominoes, this goes here, then that has to move over there, and that means this other thing has to find somewhere else to live ...

Um. Anyway, my wife was looking for a new place upon which to set her sewing machine, and decided that the treadle, being exactly the right height and all, would be perfect. As it happened, the TV cabinet, now home to assorted storage, had a pull-out shelf we never used, a nice piece of cherry wood with a lip on it, and guess what? Just the right size for a sewing machine ...

So mi esposa cleaned up the base, primed it, and sprayed it flat black, which brought it back to what it looked like originally. I mounted the shelf, and voila! a new sewing machine table, total cost about ninety-nine cents, for the rubber washers I used on the wood screws. Everything else, include a couple cans of spray paint, we already had in-house.

Not exactly This Old House, but a nice piece of furniture for naught but a little effort. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I've posted this before, but it's been a while and I think it's one of those fun things that writers find fascinating. If you hold a bullet in one hand and a pistol in the other and both are the same height and you fire the pistol level and drop the other bullet?

Both of them hit the ground at the same time. 

Mythbusters even did a segment on this, and their difference was like 39 milliseconds, which is easily attributable to errors in measuring and the rigs they used. 

Go, gravity, you puny weakling ...

To Boldly Go

L. to R.: Shatner, 81; Stewart, 72; Brooks, 63; Mulgrew, 56; Bakula, 57.
(And if you believe the records, Shatner is four days older than Nimoy ...)

Straw Man Law

I'm not a fan of "assault" rifles per se. (The definition used by the government to ban these a while back, before allowing the law to lapse didn't really address real assault rifles, but the civilian versions, and it went largely to cosmetics–flash suppressors, folding stocks, high-capacity magazines and such, and named names.) 

If I were out in the boonies engaged in guerilla warfare, I'd want a good deer rifle. Better hardware, more powerful, more accurate. In a tight urban environment, I'd prefer a pump shotgun. 

If you want a full-auto weapon, i.e., a machinegun, you can get one in many states, but it has to be registered with the feds, you have to have the checks, sometimes the approval of the local sheriff, and they will know who you are and where you live. I can't recall seeing a case where somebody who had one of those legally cut loose with it at the mall. And those, since they are no longer made for civilian use, cost a fortune. You can get a good used car for less than a nice Tommygun, and top-of the-line subguns are also spendy.

Do you need a hundred round magazine? A fifty? Twenty? Fifteen? Probably not. The average gun fight, according to the old FBI standards, was three feet, three shots, three seconds. 

The video shows an Army pistoleer doing fast magazine changes. With a little bit of practice, you can drop and insert a fresh one faster than it takes to read this, so you don't really need a high-cap magazine unless you are facing the Chinese Army come ashore, and in that case, you are screwed anyhow. 

My father's .22 lever action Marlin, as I recall, loaded like 19 rounds in a tube under the barrel. Not very sexy, and it took a while to reload once it ran dry, but outside of wars, more people have been killed with .22's than any other caliber. 

If the end times came and I had to narrow my selection to one gun as I headed for the hills? A .22 rifle and all the ammo I could carry would be my first choice. 

Where the real cure will come for deadly violence in America, if it ever does, will be to deal with the hand holding the weapon. As long as the hand is willing, a tool will be found. To educate people so that the idea of killing somebody else comes last, and not first? That's the trick. 

I wish I knew how to pull that one off.   

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Modest Proposal (Thank You, Mr. Swift)

I've come up with a solution to gun violence in America.

Well, a partial solution.

You want to dramatically lower civilian shootings in the USA? Here's what you do:

First, you outlaw the manufacture and sale of guns for civilians. Only police and military are allowed to be so armed. No guns for sale, no ammo, nada. 

No kind of gun, period.

Then, you make possession of a firearm a capital crime, no exceptions. Woman being raped uses a gun to stop it? Death penalty for her. Psycho killer opens up on a crowd in a theater and you shoot him? Same deal. No exceptions.

Got to draw the line somewhere, right?

Ninety-day grace period to turn in your hardware, in case somebody is on a long camping trip and misses the announcement. After that? Guilty ipso facto.

Eventually, most of the guns would get collected and with no more being made, why, that would do the trick. 

Well, yes, guns and ammo can still work after a hundred years, so some of the two hundred million out there will get stashed, but eventually ...

I expect this will cut down on shootings. 

At least by civilians.

Of course there are capital crimes on the books now, and more than a few felons have been convicted of them and are in jail waiting to be executed, so that isn't a complete deterrent.
Some whackos are always ready to die, can't do anything about that, but it'll be harder for them to get the hardware.

Probably should eliminate that waiting-around loophole: If you are caught with a gun, the police should be able to shoot you dead right then. If you survive, your execution is carried out as soon as the jury comes in and convicts you, no appeal.

Take you outside, kneel you down, one to the back of the head, end of story.

Sure, there will always be some nut-job who doesn't give a rat's ass if he dies, so the law won't affect those folks, but pretty much, it will eliminate a lot of the problem, yes?

Sound good to you? Ready to go there?

Please note: If you are so stupid you miss the satire and irony in this post? Don't send me a horrified note. It is in the same vein as Swift's proposal to deal with the children of the poor by eating them. Really. If you can't see that, how on Earth did you figure out how to operate a computer well enough to get here?


When we were first married, we didn't own a television set. My bride and I were in college, both of us working part-time, and our lives were full, so watching TV was way down the list.

The first set we got was after we moved to L.A., an old black-and-white, belonged to my Okinawa-te teacher, I think he let us have for ten bucks. Of course, back then ten bucks was equivalent to what, two million today ... ? (Actually, the calculator says $62.50, which was a goodly chunk, since I was earning about $500 a month back then.)

We got it because the moon landing was going to be televised and we wanted to see it, and that's easy to date: 1969. The screen on it was smaller than that of the computer monitor upon which I am working. Didn't have remote–you got up, walked to it, and changed channels or adjusted the sound or picture image manually. 

After that set croaked, we didn't replace it for several years. 

When the summer Olympics arrived in 1972, we decided to get a new TV to watch that, and did. Since then, we've had a TV in the house, and upgraded them usually every eight or so years to keep up with the Olympics.

Somewhere along the way, operations changed. Back in the day, if your TV faded to noise, you could open the back, remove the tubes, toodle on over to the 7-Eleven, and use a machine to test them. Find the burned-out tube, you could buy one, go home and replace it, and keep the sucker running. Solid-state solved that burn-out problem, save for the picture tube itself, but if something went out, that was it, it was dead, Jim. (My parents still have the first TV they bought in 1953. It was in a console that became part of the hi-fi furniture. Hasn't worked for decades, but it is still there, another TV perched on top of it.)

For the 2004 games, we got a big honker–a 40" square block that weighed a couple hundred pounds. Installed it in a cabinet with doors and when we weren't watching it, shut the doors and had a nice piece of furniture, made by, of all people, the Amish. Irony, anybody?

This set seemed to be one we'd keep until it died; however, we noticed that with the most common 16:9 ratio of screens in movies and digital broadcasting, our square block started looking pretty sad. Words onscreen got smaller and cut-off on both sides of the picture. The scores for basketball games shrank in size, to take advantage of the high-definition cast, and became unreadable. Like owning a really old computer, it worked, but the new software wouldn't work on it, and the Olympics are coming up ...

All of which to say is we got a new TV. Not the top of the line, and certainly not the largest  one available, but the difference between it and the old one is major. The old one? Like watching it with vaseline smeared on our glasses. The new one is like looking through a window. As George Takei's commercial said, "Oh, my!"

The amusing thing is, there aren't any tubes in it. The screen is run by LEDs and the whole thing is a couple inches thick. And we can see stuff we never knew about before:

Look, baby, you can see what color his eyes are!

That's not a cap he's wearing, it's a sweatband and his hair!

Look at that bird in the background, is that Red-tailed hawk ... ?

Even the Subway commercials are interesting to watch. And of course, you can stream video from your home wifi, rent movies online, plug in a flashdrive and view your pictures, and even check your email if you have a mind to do that. 

Here it is, the future again. 

Great way to turn yourself into a big ole couch potato, a new TV ...

Friday, July 20, 2012


So. Another loon armed himself and stepped into mass murder. You will have heard the details by now,  I won't belabor them. A crowded movie theater, a crazy with guns, a dozen dead so far, scores wounded. A terrible, terrible thing, it could have happened anywhere. Any of us might have been in that theater, or our children might have been. 

An abomination, this, vile. There is no penalty dire enough for this monster. No torture too great. 

Predictably, the left and right will offer up their opinions on guns as a result. Here's mine: The shooter had an assault rifle, a shotgun, a couple of pistols, at this report. Too many?

Actually, I think there were too few guns in that theater. There needed to be a couple more.

Reports aren't complete, but I didn't see anything about anybody shooting back. 

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered. Or maybe, like that seventy-one-year-old CHL holder down in Florida who tagged a couple of armed robbers last week, some off-duty cop or legally-armed citizen might have cut this nutso down before he killed as many as he did. 

Even if he was a bad shot and he hit a bystander along with the killer? Look at the numbers.

We'll never know. 

We don't live in a civilized society. The wolves and rabid dogs are among us. Until they are all tamed or cured, the flock will always be at risk.

I feel for the families of those who lost people in this awful event. There are no words to comfort them. The family of the man who did it must feel overwhelming grief and pain, too.

Yes, he is crazy–sane people don't do shit like this. But that doesn't help, does it?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Road Rage - Tactical Error

Had ourselves a road rage incident in Beaverton a few days ago. There are several versions of the story, depending on which news outlet you like, but here's the gist:

(Let me use the term "allegedly" up front here to qualify the narration. Nobody's been convicted of anything yet.)

At a local watering hole, The Blue Iguana, on Cedar Hills Blvd., referred to in one report as "a Mexican nightclub," apparently a couple of the patrons leaving late in the evening, or early in the morning, had an interaction. Young men, having spent some time doing what young men do in bars. 

Words were exchanged. Then bottles were thrown. 

They got into their cars and left. The telling here varies, but apparently one of the young men was followed from the parking lot by the other. It seems there were passengers, but how many and in which vehicles? Can't say. 

The lead vehicle was a Nissan Maxima. The one behind it,  a somewhat larger Yukon.

At a traffic light next to Hwy. 217 by the Fred Meyers, the driver of the Yukon took it upon himself to plow into the back of the Maxima, to make a point. 

Whereupon somebody in the Maxima, and it looks like a passenger, Eduardo Hernandez-Dominguez, jumped out of his vehicle to discuss the situation.

For his trouble, he was run over by the driver of the Yukon, one Hector Torres-Espinoza.

When I say "run over," I don't mean that he was nudged by the bumper as the Yukon went by; he was knocked down, turned into a speed bump, and the vehicle rolled over him, thump-thump. Enough so that he was, at last look, in critical condition at a local hospital.

Somebody–probably a driver or passenger in the Maxima, unclear this, got a partial plate, and the police were able to run it. They caught up with the driver, arrested him for DUII–he apparently blew twice the legal limit–and felony hit and run. Other charges are pending.

Young men in their mid-twenties, alcohol, machismo, almost certainly women, are things that sometimes blend together badly, as seems the case here.

You have to believe somebody was sloshed–after somebody deliberately slams into the back of your ride, a person with whom you had angry words and some bottles tossed back and forth, maybe stepping out of your car in front of his is not the best move?

More people killed by cars than guns in this country. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Pepsi Syndrome

Last night I did something stupid, even more so than usual: I had some red wine in a stem glass as I was reading my email. As I stood to go crank up the barbecue grill, I picked up the glass, managed to catch the stem in the phone chord next to my computer's keyboard, and, well ...

You see the image up there ...

Because the Kinesis Advantage I use has these scooped-out sections perfect for catching liquid, they did. I had a dish towel over my shoulder, as I usually do when grilling, and quickly flipped the keyboard, cursing loudly, drawing my spouse and dogs running to see what happened, and used the towel.

For future reference, wine is worse than water when it comes to bathing one's keyboard. This I know because this would be the second time I had to take the thing apart. 

After an hour of Q-tips and canned air and tweezers, I managed to get the sucker working again–except for one key: the Control key.

And this morning, after more time to dry out, I quote Dr. Leonard McCoy regarding the Control key:

"It's dead, Jim."

It doesn't take long to realize how often one uses keyboard shortcuts, Control-this or that to select text, open and close windows, quit files, format with italics, get info, or whatnot. All of these functions can be done using pulldown menus or, in some cases, the touchpad, but what a pain in the ass that is.

I've had the keyboard for seven or eight years, long enough so the palm supports are worn out, and the E-key's letter now looks like an F, from finger erosion. And I can use the workaround, but only until I can get a new keyboard delivered ...

Never a dull moment.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Next Food Network Star

So another of my guilty pleasures, Food Network Star. They revamped it this year, working with established players–if you are a foodie, all you need are their first names: Bobby, Alton, Giada. 

Down to four finalists, and America votes this week.

And for money, it's Justin, all the way. 

I saw him referred to on a site as "adorkable," and that pretty much nails it. We've been calling him "the geeky kid" all season, and if he doesn't win, I suspect it won't matter, because he's gonna get a show of his own; I'm betting he wins it anyhow, been his to lose from the first episode ...

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fooling Houdini/Finger Fitness

So, being a magic geek as a kid, and somebody who now and then still picks up a coin or a ring and twiddles it, when I came across Alex Stone's book Fooling Houdini: Magicians, Mentalists, Math Geeks, and the Hidden Powers of the Mind, why, naturally I had to 
get it.

Fascinating book, told from the viewpoint of a long-time amateur, then professional magician, who was also a PhD. candidate in physics before magic won out.

Stone talks about his own experiences, bad and good, his teachers, the philosophy and psychology of magic, gets into some history, mathematics, and even into the classic small cons of three-card monte and the shell game; and also how to cheat at poker. I much enjoyed it; his writing style is breezy, light, but with enough factual material to keep me intrigued until I finished it.  

I found it really interesting that the best card mechanic in the world, the guy who can deal seconds, bottoms, or from the middle of the deck, and who can cut the deck exactly in half one-handed every time and do sleights that fool everybody including the best magicians in the biz happens also to be ...

... blind. 

The title comes from a challenge Houdini used to offer: There was no stage magician, he said, who could demonstrate a trick three times that he couldn't figure out. (In showing tricks to fellow magicians, the rule of thumb is, Once is a trick; twice is a lesson. The magician Dai Vernon showed a card trick no less than seven times and stumped the great Houdini cold. There are competitions all over the place every year for magicians to try and outdo each other, and fooling a room full of professional magicians is considered the acme of the biz.)

Give the book four stars, and if you are a magic geek, five. Nothing else like it out there.

Along the way, Stone gets into the physicality of sleights, and mentions in passing a book by a guy named Greg Irwin, who has developed a whole ballet of exercises he teaches to strengthen the hands and train independence in the fingers. 

Watch the old video from the Carson show. It looks easy. It is not easy:

I have fairly strong hands and thought because of my fooling around with coins and like that, my fingers were pretty supple, too.

Not so, compared to folks who train in this Finger Fitness, which doesn't need anything but your own hands, and which more than a few musicians and magicians and physical therapists doing hand rehab swear by.

So I picked the basic book to play with. Guy also offers vids, but I'll see how the book basics go. 

Always something you haven't seen floating around out there ...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Sands of Time

As you near the age of retirement, you start to get a shitload of mail. As that magical number ending in five approaches, the insurance companies begin an onslaught of advertising, booklets, brochures, pamphlets, tomes of material, starting six months out. 

As my wife and I are both rounding third base at the end of next month and the insurance companies want our business when it comes to supplemental health care, we have a stack of this stuff six inches thick. Seriously.

You young folks can move on along here; probably by the time you get to retirement age, social security and medicare will be bankrupt or turned into some kind of howling beast you can't hurt with silver bullets or garlic; the rest of you, a simple lesson in how to wade through the reams of paper you'll be getting if you have a mail box.


Social Security, for which you have been paying your entire working life, is an elective thing. You can take it early and get a lesser payment. You can take it later and get a bigger stipend. You don't have to take it at all. There are assorted penalties if you keep working and also collecting your check early, but pretty much, after sixty-five, you are good to collect it. If you made really good money as a worker, you get more. If you were a hippie and didn't pay much into the system, you get less. 

Good if you have some other kind of income, because you can't live on social security alone unless you have paid off everything and develop a taste for mac 'n' cheese and cheap dogfood. If you don't have some kind of IRA or SEP account and you are young, it would be a good idea to get one going now.

Medicare is your health insurance, which you will tend to need more as you age, and it doesn't kick in until you turn sixty-five. (Medicaid is something else, but we aren't going there.)

If you work for a big company now, chances are you have part of a group plan that gives you some coverage for your doctor's visits, meds, dental, your vision, and hospitalizations. If you don't have that and are uninsured, you are probably rooting for Obama's safety net to hold. It's not perfect, but it is way better than nothing.

Medicare, which you also paid for, having been cobbled together over the years, is a hodge-podge of this and that. Various parts of it are given letters, Parts A and B and C and D and so forth. Each one covers some things. The basic parts, A and B, you get bare-bones coverage. To that, you can add more policies to cover the gaps. (You may have heard the term "donut hole." This is a gap between two kinds of coverage for which you are responsible. Basically, medicare pays up to a point, then picks up again after another point, but the hole is yours.)

Medicare costs you something each month. In my income bracket, it's $99, and that will come out of your SS payment before you see it. (If you were a zillionaire, it costs more, but changes are if you are a zillionaire, you have people who take care of all this stuff.)

If you have private insurance without a group plan, it costs a fucking fortune. If you get laid off or retire early and lose your coverage, there are things like COBRA, but believe me, these are not cheap. If we had to pay for private health insurance, which we did for the last eighteen months, my entire social security check would not have been enough to cover that.

There are various kinds of supplements, ranging, like your car insurance, from low deductible to high, and the costs tend to reflect this. Scores of plans.  Maybe hundreds.

How healthy you are determines which one you think you should get. If you don't get sick much, you pick this one. If you have a long list of meds and illnesses, you elect a different one. 

The good thing is, you can change this every year, twixt October and December, so if your health changes, you can get a different plan.

Sicker you are, the more it costs, but it's still way cheaper than private insurance alone.

This is all way too complex for me to explain, and here's what you need to do if faced with this tsunami of "Pick me! Pick me!" Hie yourself to a broker who knows this stuff. It won't cost you anything, since zhe* gets paid by the companies. We found a guy via our clinic, which added to the pile of mail about all this by saying, "We know you are getting a lot of mail offering policies, and this is our guy, who can help."

What I never understood from all the junk mail was, if you are pretty good shape, you can get a supplement policy to your medicare that is free. Doesn't cost you anything.

Well, okay, it's not exactly free, TANSTAAFL and all, but the money doesn't come out of your pocket in a chunk, though you have already helped pay for it, and will continue to do so if you are still working and earning anything because of what Uncle deducts each check.

How can the insurance companies do this? The feds pay them X amount every month for every policy, and that alone is enough for them to make money if they can get enough people signed up. There is competition for this business, and that's good for the customer.

Free is a very good price, and the coverage and deductibles are a good deal when you compare this kind of policy to one that runs sixty or eighty bucks a month and still has deductibles anyhow.

More than you wanted to know, but remember the key part: Get professional help ...

* "Zhe" (s/he) is one of the indeterminate pronouns I came up with writing the new novels series, for a character whose sex is ambiguous at first look. Or second look ... "His" "him," or "her" become "hir." It's a little tricky to get used to writing and seeing, but it fills a need.

Monday, July 09, 2012

New Novel Series

The cover illo for the first of the Cutter's Wars novels. In theory, it's due out this winter, about six months from now ...

The Rest of the Story?

A Detroit woman was killed, according to this story, when, at a party, she hugged an off-duty police officer from behind. His holstered weapon discharged and the bullet hit her lung and heart and she died.

The report says that the officer was hosting a party, dancing with his wife, when the woman, Adaisha Miller, hugged him from behind and the weapon fired.

According to the report, the officer didn't know the woman, who was 24 years old. 

There's something unexplained here. 

Report says the piece was a .40 S&W M&P. Like the Glock, the M&P is striker-fired, and in theory, can't go off unless the trigger is pulled. Supposedly worn in a waistband holster under a shirt. Doesn't say what the carry position was, strong-side, weak-side, muzzle down or cross-draw.

There is some controversy about the possibility of an accidental discharge with Glocks in holsters, some back and forth on the net about whether this happens or not. Haven't seen this with the S&W. Supposedly you can drop the M&P all day long and never get an AD.

If the only way for this weapon to fire is by pulling the trigger, then somehow she must have gotten a finger inside the guard. but the only way I can see a hip-holstered duty weapon killing somebody behind you with a heart-shot is a ricochet. Or if it was cross-draw and the the woman was squatting, or on her knees hugging him around the waist. 

Be interesting to hear what the investigation finds.