Saturday, March 30, 2013

Yet More Ukulele Biz

Teachers at the Uke Camp in Portand: Back row to front:

James Hill, Mandalyn May, uke; Nova Devonie (in red) accordion; 
Jere and Greg Canote, (twin brothers) Paul Hemmings, (white shirt) uke;
 Marianne Brogan, uke; Matt Weiner, double-bass

Those of you sick of the ukulele stuff, skip over this one ...

This past week, there was a Ukulele Camp in Portland. Well, twenty-miles out in the Gorge, near Corbett, actually. Immersion kind of thing, all day, running into the evening, for a week. Sold out well in advance, and it wouldn't have done me any good had I wanted to go for two reasons: First, it sold out before I knew about it. Second, you needed some basic chops with the instrument that I don't have yet, including the ability to move smoothly between most of the major/minor/ and 7th chords, including some inversions.
Also a few major chord scales wouldn't hurt. If you'd been playing a couple years, the literature said, you'd probably be okay. 

I've been playing a month, and with the guitar background, I might have been able to keep up, but I expect there would have been some frustration. Knowing where to put one's digits on the fretboard is not the same as being able to do it via muscle memory ...

Um. Anyway, as part of the deal, the teachers came to town afterward and put on a show at the Alberta Rose Theatre, and we decided to go, since one those teachers is the world-class uke player James Hill, whom I have mentioned here. 

House was packed, and the group had a fine ole time in a faux living room setting, couches and chairs and lamps and all. Not just ukes, either, there was an accordion, fiddle, harmonica, stand-up bass, a banjo-lele (looks like a small banjo, played like a uke), and a guitar. 

It was a great show, full of energy, ranging from jazz, to original stuff, to old-time stuff going back to the 1920s, and we had a fine ole time.

Hill did a few songs, including Billie Jean, which pretty much has to be seen to be believed. 
Before he started, he asked for a show of hands, uke players in the audience, and maybe a quarter of us were, or at least claimed to be. All the musicians in the crowd were mightily impressed when Hill did Billie Jean.

Maybe next year I'll go ...

Screen Door - Southern Food

We discovered a new-to-us southern restaurant on the east side, The Screen Door. 2300 block of East Burnside. Open for brunch on the weekend, and dinner weekday evenings, but not lunch, apparently. 

The place was packed, they don't take reservations, and there was a waiting list ahead of us. The decor is run-down diner, it is noisy as can be, but ...

Oh, boy, the food is great and there is a lot of it.

I had the Fried Chicken Cathead Biscuit Sandwich, which is every bit as heart-stopping as it sounds. Came with grits, country sausage gravy, and it was huge, although only half as big as the chicken waffle with its three slabs of fried chicken ...

The iced tea was fresh. The grits perfect. Reasonable prices. Easy to see why the place was doing business.

So good it made me want to lick the plate.

We won't be spending much time there, though, tasty as it was; that's 'cause it's heart-clogging food, and bad for you in all kinds of ways, butter, cream, grease, salt, name it.
I may not have to eat for the rest of the week.

You might be making a visit to Heartburn and Gas City afterward, too, but there you go. Every pleasure has its price ...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


At the end of his long and arduous journey, Balboa tops the rise and comes upon a vast ocean stretching to the horizon. And he says, "I name you 'Vast Ocean Stretching to the Horizon at the End of My Long and Arduous Journey!"

And his lieutenant shakes his head and says, "Balboa, no, man, you can't be that general, you got to be more specific!"

So Balboa shrugs and says, "Hokay, I name you the Specific Ocean ..."

Which brings us to the local newspaper and a column therein done by a physical therapist. 

You know what this kind of thing is: A reader writes in, "My doctor wants me to strengthen the muscles of my core, but those machines down at the gym, they hurt me when I use 'em!"

Whereupon the columnist offers advice.

In this case, however, the advice is so general as to be pretty much useless for this guy's problems. Or anybody else's. And that's how he starts it out. Well, I don't know your case, so I can't offer specific advice ...

Or, welcome to the Vast Ocean Stretching to the Horizon at the End of My Long and Arduous Journey ...

I understand why the columnist does it this way, but pretty much, it's a waste of space to be there at all. Like you've just been bitten by a rattlesnake and the advice starts out, "Animal bites can be dangerous, you should avoid being bitten if possible ..."

Good advice, but a tad sketchy for what you need to know right fucking now.

This newspaper do-nothing column is a result of the litigious nature of our society. The columnist is worried–rightly so–that if he offers a specific solution, such as say, "Do x-many sets and reps of this, that, or the other." and the questioner does so and hurts himself, he'll sue. 

You can bet the farm on that one.

This is also why doctors are loath to make predictions. They can be positive that you have this or that horrible and fatal disease and you ought not buy any green bananas, but if you ask them how long you have? They will waffle. 

Here's why: What if they say you have six months and you kick off in three? Or you keep chugging along for another ten years? On the one hand, if you are dead you won't care, but your relatives who thought they had until Christmas but who lost you at Halloween might be pissy. Or a couple years down the line when you aren't dead, that's okay in one respect, but it might piss you off because you sold your house and car and spent all the money on a six-month party and now it turns out the doctor was wrong. 

Oh, did I say six months? I meant six decades. Sorry.

So the doctors will waffle, hedge, duck, dodge, and generally scrabble like a world-class wrestler to avoid being pinned down.

If they don't give you any answer, you can't blame them for a wrong answer.

Best exercise for torso and legs, hips, back? Squats. If you had to restrict your iron to one exercise? That would be the one, most weightlifters agree. Except: Sure as Lindsey Lohan is gonna get in even more trouble, somebody out there will have bad knees, a vertebral disk teetering on the edge of a blow-out,  maybe a weak cerebral artery, and doing squats might set them off. They grab the iron bar off the rack, drop into a squat, and can't come back up because something gives out a loud pop! and it hurts like being hit with an ugly stick, and suddenly this half of your body doesn't work. 

So they drag their injured asses to their doctor and he says, What? You were doing squats?  Are you insane? No! You have bad knees/back/blood pressure! What fool told you that?

Why, the one who is calling his lawyer even as we speak, that's which fool it is ...

By which I mean to say, of course, that I am not telling you to do squats, either. Just because it's generally the best exercise for a lot of folks doesn't mean it is for you

So, sure, somebody penning a column that says, don't lift using your back, or you should use good form, and check with your doctor before you start an exercise program is giving you good general advice, but c'mon, that's a Duh! and it's kind of like the warning on the hair dryer's cord that allows you shouldn't use it while taking a bath. Really? Why not? I hardly ever drop it ...

Bottom line: If you want advice specific to your situation, get evaluated by somebody up close and personal who has the wherewith to dispense such advice based on a working knowledge of who you are and what you can and cannot do ...

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Went and saw our music teacher do her set at the Women With the Blues event Friday. Anne Weiss, with a voice that sounded like a combination of Joni Mitchell and Janis Joplin, and she killed it. Treat yourself to one of her CDs, she's the bomb. 

Actually, the entire event was killer. Janice Scroggins, Mary Flower, LaRhonda Steele, Arietta Ward, Nafisaria Scrogins, and Lauren and Sarah Steele at the Alberta Rose. 

Mary Flower is really, really good on the guitar, including some lap-slide playing. 

I was particularly impressed by LaRhonda Steele's daughters, Lauren and Sarah, who at ages eleven and sixteen, had harmony and voices passing terrific, and great stage presence.

Had shrimp and grits at Bernie's Southern Bistro, and wound up talking to a woman at the show from Louisiana who recommended a new place to eat in Portland called The Screen Door.

Fahn ole time all the way around. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Uke String Update

Top photo, lower right, Aquila Nylgut™ uke strings;
Bottom photo, Worth Browns

I am now on the third set of strings for the new ukulele. I started with the Aquila Nylguts, which I thought had good volume, but were too bright. (Maybe the word "jangly" makes more sense.)

Then I went to the Southcoast strings, which include both G and a C as metal-wounds. More volume and a nicer tone, but a little harder to barre, and not quite as mellow as I wanted.

Currently the thing is wearing Worth Browns, which thus far, seem to me to be the best for this particular machete. The low-G is unwound, they are all fluorocarbons, much thinner, and have the best balance of tension and woody tone for which I am looking. The trade-off here is that you don't get the sustain of a wound string with a fluorocarbon.

As you can see from the photo, they are, um ... brown in color, compared to the silver/white Nylguts, and you have to look close to see them in the photo.

I was somewhat put off when I bought the Worth's because they cost about twice what the others did on average. Then I realized that each string is slightly over five feet long, which means you can cut them in half and get two for a tenor uke out of each string, so it's a wash. 

These are still going flat every minute or so, and it'll take a week or two for them to completely stretch out and stay in tune, but so far, I'm pleased. If I never tested any more, I think I'd be happy with these; however, I still have Koolau Golds and Living Water in the queue ...

Learn Something New

So here's something you learn when your youngest grandson is going through a Merrie Melodies/ Looney Tunes phase.

1) Elmer Fudd predates Bugs Bunny, sort of.
2) Wile E. Coyote didn't start out with that name, nor did he exclusively use Acme Products.

I know this because one of the collections the grandboy watches includes Elmer's Candid Camera,  in which Elmer deals with a pre-Bugs rabbit, who looks something like him, but who doesn't talk at all like him. This was a Merrie Melodies toon made in 1940, but not released until 1942. The bunny was billed as "Happy Rabbit."

In Elmer's Pet Rabbit, also co-starring Happy, a name tag identifying the critter as "Bugs Bunny" was added because another short,  A Wild Hare, was made in 1940, and this one was wildly successful, and introduced the "What's up, Doc?" line, as well as the ubiquitous carrot.)

Elmer was based on Egghead, an earlier character, just as Bugs was on Happy, and both continued to evolve. A Wild Hare was closer to who they became than the earlier versions.

Created in 1948 as a parody of Tom & Jerry toon, the first Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon, written by Michael Maltese and directed by Chuck Jones, Fast and Furry-ous came out in 1949. In early model sheets, Wile E. (which supposedly stood for "Ethelbert," was known as "Don Coyote." When he tries out his Rube Goldberg gadgets, not of all them bear the Acme logo ...

There's a couple of used brain bits you won't get back ...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fiction River

Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch, writers, editors, and teachers, and the folks behind the late and lamented hardback magazine Pulphouse some years back, have begun a new eAnthology (and trade paper) series.

Fiction River debuts next month, and is scheduled to publish a new title every two months thereafter, funded in part by a Kickstarter campaign that went really well. These are themed, and some of them will be edited by folks under Dean and Kris's aegis.

The writers listed for the first issue are mostly old pros, and I expect it will be an altogether well-written and enjoyable experience.

Eventually, if the series lasts, one of my stories will show up there. This is an off-the-wall wild hair tale about which I can't really say anything, even to defining what kind of story it is. 

Years ago, when Dean and Kris started Pulphouse, they asked me to write a story for them. I wasn't doing short pieces by then, having moved on to noveltry, but they kind of shamed me into it. So I did a loony tale about a middle-aged timber executive who gets into a car accident and when he wakes up, believes he is Tarzan. I even put the yell in, so when I read it aloud at cons, I could do that ...

Kris bought it.

So, every time I had another total-nutso idea for a story that I was sure nobody would buy because it was so off-the-wall, I'd write it and send it along to them. And there were some strange tales: A man whose body parts started turning invisible. Adventures with TV doctors, a vampire in bulletproof vest. A truck driving Lothario who runs afoul of a truck bearing male chrome bimbos on the mud flaps.  

Thong the Barbarian and the Cycle Sluts of Saturn ...

And later, when Pulphouse went away due to the odd way such things were marketed, Kris got a job editing The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, aka F&SF, for Ed Ferman, and I would send her the crazies. A man whose house kept changing back to the previous color after he painted it. A couple of old hippies who watch reality break down while they drink champagne in a hot tub. A couple of pre-pube boys who play poker with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Finding Puff the Magic Dragon's bones in a cave ...

And so on. Really strange stuff. Shoot, I should do an anthology of my own stuff ...

Um. Anyway, I figured, when she turned one down, I could quit.

Unfortunately, she kept buying 'em ...

So when they announced the new project, I sent some money to Kickstarter, and then had another of my bonkers ideas, so I wrote it. Then had a second idea, and what-the-hell, I wrote that one, too. 

Dean has allowed as how he's interested in buying the first and maybe in another few months, the second one, too, once they get through their inventory, so there you go ..

There's a link in the list, or you can check out the website here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

La Mordita

La Mordita, it says on the local food truck, "the little bite." Always think about that this time of year, though in my bracket, not so little, the bite ...

We are talking about taxes, of course. The bane of spring

I put it off as long as I can, but my tax guy doesn't like it if we wait until the last minute. Takes me all day, sometimes two, just to get stuff in good enough shape for my number-cruncher to do the real work.

I go into a fugue once I crank up Quicken, I get surly, the dogs run and hide, it's not pretty ...

The late George Harrison, whose bracket in England was like 90%, so detested the tax system he wrote a song about it.

Me,  I don't enjoy it, but it's the price we pay for living in the Republic; I bitch, but I pay my share. In the words of Tony Soprano: "Whaddya gonna do?"

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let There Be Light ...

Few years back I got a new ceiling fixture for the kitchen. Two-tube fluorescent T8 32s. Recently the ballast went out and since it was never as bright as my wife wanted, we swapped it out today for a four-tube model.

We thought about putting in LEDs, but we'd need five or six bulbs just to equal the old one, lumens-wise, and while you can stick more of those into a fixture than before because there is relatively little heat compared to incandescents, we decided that the warm end of the fluorescent spectrum made more sense.

Amazing what happens when you double the amount of light in a space that was okay before.

Means we'll have to clean the kitchen more, though–now the dirt shows ...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Thai Bloom

There was a small chain of Thai restaurants locally, stores in Vancouver, Portland, and Beaverton, called Typhoon! where we would now and then have lunch or dinner. Good food, reasonable prices, convenient location for us.

Unfortunately, they went out of business, and there was some controversy connected to the help, something to do with workers from the old country not getting paid properly. Not exactly white slavery, but there was a judgement against them, and they filed for bankruptcy.

There are a lot of Thai and Vietnamese places locally, so we found others.

A few months ago, a new place, Thai Bloom, opened on Cedar Hills Blvd. in Beaverton, and we saw that some of the chefs from Typhoon! were running it, so we gave it a try.

Food is better than Typhoon!'s was–reasonable prices, great service, clean, neat, convenient, what's not to like? So far we've tried a Ginger Orange Chicken, Crab Pad Thai, Yellow Curry, Panang Curry, Pumpkin Curry, and the fried banana desert and not a bad mouthful in the bunch. 

Second time we had the same waitress, she remembered us and what we had ordered previously. 

Happen to be in the area, check it out ...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Hooray for Hollywood!

Yesterday was movie biz day at Steve's house. I spoke with, and emailed two would-be producers regarding different scripts, both of which I have mentioned here. 

The first was with Producer X, a spec-project with which I was involved a few weeks back. To recap that one, it turned out that he and I had considerably different visions of what a theatrical script should look like, and we–by which I mean I–elected to part ways before the draft was finished.

The second deal, an option to which is now being negotiated with a fellow whom I've been calling Elvis, wanted a script that my collaborator Reaves and I did a while back, a low-budget caper thing. In that case, we had two would-be producers of the theoretical movie interested at once, and the first one–Jerry Lee–turned out to have a game-plan that looked an awful lot like an end-run around the option he wanted.  Good-bye Jerry Lee and hello, Elvis ...)

Hollywood deals are kind of like a mirage in the desert–they look great in the distance, but as you draw closer, as often as not, they vanish. 

Three producers at my door, wow. However it was not so much it-never-rains-but-it-pours, as you think it's a storm, but the rain doesn't reach the ground ...

So much for torturing metaphors ...

Um. So, Producer X called with the notion that he'd seen the light and wanted me to finish the script. Been a bit hasty, he said, realized he had gummed up the works, and would I reconsider. He'd stay quiet and let me write.

I demurred. Nothing had really changed, I said. Yes, he could bite his tongue and let me get done, but he didn't really want to do that, and his connection to the story (his idea) is such, as I see it, that he wasn't going to be happy with anything I did. There are things that, once seen, can't be unseen, and this was one of those cases. 

Yep, he agreed with that.

Besides which, you don't really want a theatrical script running a couple hours, you want at minimum a miniseries, and an open-ended series for premium cable would be better.

That was true, he allowed.

Then why call?

Well, the bottom line is that if he had a script to show around, even if he didn't like it, that was better than not having a script to show around.

As you may surmise, I could agree with this, but not feel particularly compelled to continue work under those circumstances.

We ended the conversation on good terms. I like the guy, he's personable, and his idea is a good one; I'm just not the writer to realize it for him.

In the case of Elvis, we have kicked a deal memo back and forth, and are getting down to brass tacks. If he gets the option, if he can get it up and onto the silver screen we won't be talking about a summer blockbuster but an ultra-low budget picture. Unless it turns out to be the next Blair Witch Project, we won't see anything on the back end. Still, it would be one more tick on the bucket list ...

Stay tuned. The excitement never ends ...

Monday, March 11, 2013

Uke Magic

Watch and be amazed. If you play uke, you certainly will be. Why is that? All the music you hear is done by this one guy.

Saturday, March 09, 2013


Got a new computer on the desk. The old one, an iMac, was getting a bit long in the tooth; coming up five years old, an OS or two back and never updated.

AppleCare gives you three years. There's a reason Apple doesn't offer a four or five-year maintenance plan; after four or so years, hard drives head for senility or stroke. Our record is my wife's Mac two back, lasted for almost eight years, but the next one she got blew out at two. Still covered, fortunately.

I didn't get fancy, nor expensive. Got a replacement iMac, not many bells nor whistles. A bit faster, more memory and storage. Opted for the trackpad instead of the mouse. It's not as good at the iGesture, but it's not too far behind.

Half what I paid for my first computer, back in 1984, in those less-inflated dollars, and a million times bigger, faster, and stronger, at least.

Of course, transferring your files and programs from your old computer to your new one is a royal pain in the ass. They say it'll be a breeze, just hook 'em up and launch Migration Assistant, or Set-Up Assistant, port everything over, a snap.

Not really. First thing is, the old cables don't like the new machine. Firewire is kaput, the new kid is Thunderbolt, and I didn't get the hybrid wire, not realizing I needed one. So my nice back-up drive for Time Machine wouldn't connect to the new toy. Well, I could use ethernet, right?

Yep. Only once I launched it and let them run, it gave me a run time of eight hours ...

So, the next morning, I got to see what still worked. Most of it did, but there are always programs that die trying to make the crossing. One that was teetering on the old system doesn't have the juice to run on the new. Some programs that allow you to copy them a couple times decide that once is enough and won't open.

Mostly you can fix those. Upgrade the software, send an email to tech support and ask them for a workaround to copy a program.

The trick is to be sure to open everything you have to see if it will run. Otherwise, you might find out two months after you passed the old machine on to the kids for a game player or to watch YouTube, and too bad for you ...

Setting up the wireless Time Capsule is next, and I'll do that one at bedtime, because the first back-up will take at least another eight hours.

Always something.

Friday, March 08, 2013

The Great Ukulele String Hunt

As reported earlier, my uke came strung with Aquila Nylguts, the same kind I use on my guitar. The tone on the ukulele seemed a little bright to me, so I ordered strings from four different makers to try out. 

Four sets might seem a bit much, if you aren't a stringed-instrument player, but they might save me a long period of not being happy with the uke's sound. 

Normally, strings for my guitar last anywhere from four to six months, and if I bought new brands for the uke on that schedule, it might be years before I found the tone for which I am looking.

So the deal is, I figure the cost and aggravation of string-changing up front outweighs the long-term wait.

Here's how it works: You restring the instrument with a new set. They'll take a few days, maybe as long as a week, before they stretch enough to stay in tune when playing. You give them another week or so, and then you swap 'em for the next set. Wind up taking a couple months instead of maybe a couple years, and that's assuming you get through all of them. Could happen that the first or second set you try sounds perfect, and if that's the case, you quit right there. Save the others for emergency back-up if you break a string,  or pass them along to somebody else on the Great String Hunt.

Of course, it could also be that you burn through those and don't get what you want.

The Holy Grail might take a while to find ...

Complicating this is a phenomenon with stringed wooden instruments wherein the top "opens up," i.e., the glue and wood and finish and braces achieve some kind of stability after x-amount of playing, and the thing begins to sound better. This doesn't happen with plywood tops, but with solid woods it does, and how long it takes depends on a bunch of factors, including the kind of wood it is. On guitars, cedar tops open relatively quickly. Spruce tops take longer, but continue to get better for a longer period.

Apparently violins, cellos, and double basses can continue to get better for centuries.

Can't do anything about that aspect. If the top opens up on  particular brand of strings, I'll go with that.  

I mentioned the brands I've ordered, decided upon after some research, and three of the four have arrived. The last one, Living Water, has to come from the U.K. They are big on the ukulele over there, proportionately more so than here.

First up after the Aquila, I'm trying Southcoast Uke Strings. These come from a company that makes ukuleles, in Mandeville, Louisiana. They feature two wound strings, both the low G and C.

I could do recordings of each and ask for input; lot of folks do that via YouTube, but the objective ear is as hard to find as the Holy Grail. If you listen to some of those, you can usually tell a difference even in a blind test. The question of which sounds better seldom results in a consensus. Some folks like bright, some like warm. Nature of the otics ...

I might do that, but the deciding factor will likely be how they sound to my ears, and how they feel under my fingers, since I'm the one who will be listening and playing it the most.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the quest for strings ...

Yet More Adventures in LaLaLand ...

A while back, my collaborator and I wrote a low-budget caper script. We thought it was passing clever an idea, our agent liked it, but Hollywood wasn't ready. So we shelved it and went along our merry ways. More where that one came from.

Recently, a guy we know who is more of a player than we are, was approached by somebody looking for a low-budget script in that genre. The guy we knew sent the would-be producer our way. We emailed, Skyped, and came to–we thought–a meeting of the minds. General terms and money were offered, we thought that was enough to get rolling.

Weeks passed.  Nothing more from the producer. 

As such things sometimes go, another guy got interested in the project. He didn't want to produce as much as direct, but when we put him together with the first guy, they didn't hit it off. 

Let's call them ... Jerry Lee (the producer) and Elvis (the director) respectively.

So Elvis called us back and wanted to maybe do a deal if we hadn't already set one with Jerry Lee. We thought about it, since no contracts had been forthcoming. Dropped Jerry Lee a line: 'sup, Dude?

Jerry Lee hemmed politely and allowed as how he was busy showing the script around to producers and hadn't gotten all the responses back yet, he needed another couple-three weeks, and–

Whoa! Hold up there, Sparky! You can't do that. Until there is a deal in place, signed papers, option money tendered and all, you aren't supposed pitch the script. That's the rule.

Hollywood, as some of you may have heard, is not so much about making movies as making deals, and bootstrapping is the order of the day. You hustle here, you hustle there, and if you catch the right people on the right day with the right project, you can uncover gold.

But what an option on a project is supposed to do is make somebody pay for the right to hustle it for x-amount of time. It's a crap shoot; they rent it, put it in play, and if they can sell it, good. If not, it reverts to the writer.

I know folks who have made a fair amount of coin selling and re-selling the options for their books, never having one make it to the silver screen.

More than a few times over the years, I've been approached by wanna-be producers with a lot of enthusiasm but no money and no real prospects. I confess I have allowed myself to be  taken in by a couple of them. They seemed so earnest, they blew a lot of sunshine up my sarong, and amongst all the name-dropping–we'll get Brangelina to star, and what did I think about maybe Bruce Willis doing that role?–I was swept up into dreams of glory.

Hustlers know how to pitch dreams of glory ...

Not any more. I have worked with folks who subsequently couldn't manage to put a deal together, but the difference was, if they were willing to pay for an option; that put them into a different class of serious. LaLaLand is notorious for breaking dreams, like Conan wading through bar thugs and cracking heads, but cash on the table is, for me, the dividing line. 

Free is a very good price, and if you don't do anything with it? Doesn't cost you anything. If you pay your own money for something, you tend to work harder to make it go.

On one side, people who are pure hustle; on the other side, those who are willing to put their money where their mouths are. Trust me, the latter is the way to go. Not that pure hustlers don't sometimes get lucky; it's just that the odds are really, really long that they will. 

We spoke with Jerry Lee and allowed he had to get papers and a check to us ... and he was reluctant. So we are going with Elvis ...

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Got de Blues ...

Singers, most notably blues singers, sometimes add a raspy growl to punctuate a song. Hard to describe exactly, but if you've heard Louis Armstrong sing, you know we are talking about here.

Now and again, I manage this vocal trick, but not consistently. Sometimes it is there, sometimes not, and I haven't been able to figure out what I am doing when it is there, so I can repeat it on command.

But now, having taken a singing for the vocally-challenged class, I have access to a voice teacher.

So I went to take a lesson ...

Nobody ever asked her to teach them that, she said. Let's give it a try.

We booked half an hour. She listened to me sing a song. Thought about it for a few seconds, then said "Try it like you are pissed off."

So I did, and there it was. Took all of five minutes.

Boy, is she good.

I have to practice, of course, but it was as easy as that. Intent.

Why didn't I know that?

Live and learn ...

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Heat is On

So, it took a bit longer to get the furnace re-rigged than expected, but as of now, it is working just fine, and bringing the house back up to our toasty 70º F. day-time setting. 

When we turn in for the evening, we drop it to 62º, but that's a tad chilly for my fingers to keyboard, so there you go.

There are times when it isn't, say, SoCal in the burning season, but in this case? Fire, good!  

I grew up with space heaters, and have lived places where most of our heat came from a wood stove. Central heating is a marvelous thing.

On to the next project ...

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Guardian Angel

So, long-time buddy Denny Bershaw–the only man I know who once fell asleep in the middle of  getting a root canal–has another book out. Guardian Angel, follows the story of what happens when an angel drops out of the sky onto somebody's chicken coop.

I did a blurb for it along the way:

Denny Bershaw's novel Guardian Angel is first-rate, a rip-roaring fantasy that goes down some most strange, but altogether interesting roads. He knows how to keep a story moving, sucks you in from the git-go, and delivers a fun, head-shaking read. Go for it. Tell him I sent you.

Not much sacred and plenty of profane, Bershaw writes a romp, and on one of his other books, I once allowed that I'd give him a blurb to this effect: "If you absolutely must read a lesbian-vampire book this year, read this one ..."

Denny is the guy who introduced me to Oglaf, which should tell you all you need to know about him. 

Book is up for 99-cents at Kobos and, which I think is too cheap, and the trade- paper version from Earwater Press is available somewhere, too ...

Keep It Short

I've never felt particularly adept at the short story form. I started out writing those because, back in the day, that was the suggested route. You'd crank out short stories until you had sold some, then you had something to wave at a book house when you went to pitch your first novel. Look, I have stories that came out in such-and-such magazines, so I have a fan base ...

So I sold a dozen short stories, convinced an agent I had a novel, which I didn't, and when she wanted to see an outline, wrote the novel real quick so I could do an outline. She couldn't sell it, but she liked it, and was thus ready to market my second book, which did sell.

To somebody who had no idea I had written any short fiction, by the by. So much for needing credits.

Wasn't long before that entry to publication changed. Short fiction markets dwindled, and pretty soon, there were more novels being published than short stories, leastways in F&SF. Just as likely to sell a book as a short, and for a lot more money.

True, it takes a lot longer to write a book than a short story. More words, although I have to say, I think the novel form is much easier than the shorter ones. You have room to screw around in a novel, go down some interesting side roads, and as long as you loop back later, no problem. With a three- or four-thousand-word short story, every line has to move the piece forward, so it has to be lean and mean. You can't get far from the main point, and that's usually narrowed to either plot or setting or character, and no space to detail the others. Shorter it is, the harder it is to pull off. 

What with the rise of the internet and epub, there is now more of a market than there was, say, twenty years ago, but those length constraints still make it tricky. Much more productive to write a couple chapters of the novel than a self-contained story, and it pays better. If you get a nickel a word for a 5000-word piece, that's not bad. Even a so-so advance for a 75,000 word novel is twice that.

So, better money, easier to write, that's why I prefer doing books to short fiction; however, that said ...

Now and then, an idea sprouts and it doesn't need (nor will it justify) the long form to tell it. When that happens–and the reasons are varied–then I will sometimes crank it out. Usually it is when I am too busy to spare the time. Often it comes externally–somebody is opening another market I find interesting. Usually, there is enough fire behind the idea that it happens at a sitting, or maybe two. Clean it up, send it off, go back about my business.

I've done some originals this way that went straight to epub. The Roy the Demon collection, a handful of others. Charge 99-cents for them, and won't make any money, but the itch gets scratched.

In the last few months, a trio of markets arose unexpectedly, and the result wound up being four short stories: A fantasy, a high-tech fairy tale; a military SF; and an SF short in somebody else's universe. Two them went to one market. 

The jury is still out on three of the four, and I may not sell any of those, but even if I don't, I don't regret writing them. If they get kicked back, I'll stick 'em up as epubs. If they do sell, I will be pleased, even though in one case I won't make much, and in another, I'll lose money on the deal. (I contributed to a funding campaign for the anthology because I thought it was a cool idea, and if they buy the piece, it won't cover my contribution. Still, that will be the most fun of the bunch for me, because I really, really wanted to write that one ...)

I'll let you know how it goes ...

Monday, March 04, 2013

Gotta Love This One ..

I dunno if you can see it, even if you click on it, but there is a thin joint twixt Bill's lips, and in the b.g. firing an assault rifle? Ronald McDonald ...

(I got this from FaceBook, and somebody pointed out that while there is an artist's marker on the illo, a link to them would be nice, and I should have done that, I try to give credit when I can find it. So, look here.)


I have never been a fan of the computer mouse. I went to a trackball as soon as I got a computer, and for the last ten years, have been running as my pointer a FingerWorks IGesture pad. 

FingerWorks were way ahead of their time. 

This is an elegant piece of hardware, a flat pad a little bigger than a CD case, with a touch reader that uses a bunch of single- and multiple-finger gestures. Anything you can do with a mouse, and some things you can't. (There's a four-finger gesture that looks like opening a jar lid that will open and close files.)

Before the iOS that iPhones, iPods, and iPads spawned, Apple didn't have this technology. But they had something as good ... a lot of money ...

So they bought FingerWorks, shut 'em down, and used their programs for Apple's touch screens. 

Oddly enough, Apple didn't come out with a stand-alone touch pad until recently. I had a chance to play with one yesterday, the Apple Magic Track Pad, whilst at the Mac store, and it works pretty well. Pretty much same way as the built-in track pad on their laptops.

The new pad is a little smaller than the one I have, runs on AA batteries, and hooks up via Bluetooth, so it's wireless. That's the biggest drawback to the iGesture, that it is USB wired to the computer, and even with duct-tape reënforcement, that will eventually be the death of it, the wire. 

The new one uses mechanical buttons underneath the bottom corners for clicks, which isn't as good as the finger-taps on the old, and while the gestures can be adjusted, there are fewer of them. So the iGesture is actually mo' bettah than the Magic Track Pad, even though it is a decade older. 

However, I knew that the iGesture was gonna die eventually, so it's good to know I can replace it with something that will approximate its usefulness ...


Got chilly here last night; 'twas about 28º F. when I got up this a.m. So, naturally, this is the day the furnace folk come to start replacing the old with the new ...

There are a couple of guys banging around in the garage, the old unit is out, and they are putting in new ducts to vent the replacement, which is smaller in size, but the same output in BTUs.

They scheduled two days for the job, which means we probably won't have heat tonight. Looks like the weather prediction is for high thirties tonight, so not so bad if we keep the house buttoned up. 

I have logs for the fireplace and the little electric portable heater standing by ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Evening has come and the furnace folk are gone, but they managed to get the system working enough so we'll have heat tonight.

My daughter-in-law came by and lent us some portable propane heaters they got during a power failure last winter, and between those and the fireplace and extra blankets, we could have kept the houseplants and the dogs and ourselves from freezing, but it's good that we don't have to do it that way. Onward and upward.

Shh! It's a Conspiracy!

I'm not big on conspiracy theory. I know people who are bright, well-educated professionals–doctors, lawyers, scientists–who roll down those roads. I include in these family and friends. 

I understand why, but I can't go there.

I am less inclined to attribute things to malice that can be more easily attributed to stupidity. And partially, while I don't think all people are stupid, I also don't think they are so smart that they can pull off some of what they are supposed to have pulled off.

A group of conspirators are only as bright as the dumbest one among them. 

I believe there are several reasons why these things abound. Because we don't have answers to everything–reality is often messy, and sometimes it doesn't get completely sorted out–there is a human tendency to supply an answer even if it's wrong. 

Kennedy was assassinated? It couldn't be some lone nut gunman, there has to be more to it!

Oswald? No, man, he was a patsy, he wasn't even there! It was  A) The CIA B) The Russians C) The Cubans D) The Mafia E) Aliens F) All of the above ...

Coupled with this is the notion that shit can't just happen; that for the universe to make sense, Somebody Must be in Charge! The puppetmaster who pulls the strings, and who is, in turn, controlled by a smarter cabal, who all dance to yet a smarter one's tune.

Hard to say how many levels there are; at the top, they'd have to be so brilliant and adept that nobody could possibly have even heard of them.

Doesn't matter if the puppetmasters are amoral or downright evil, in fact, they almost always are. That explains a lot of bad stuff that a benevolent über-lord wouldn't allow. It's that there is a reason why stuff happens; even the reason is evil? Well, that's better than chaos.

Somebody is murdered and it turns out to be random? That somehow seems so much worse than it was the spouse or the neighbor stoked on PCP.  

The inconsistencies of reality leave handles. Well, if that's how it happened, then what about this stuff over here? Didn't you see the film of the tiny puffs of something going off in the tower before the jet hit it? How do you explain those? Must be because they took it down from inside, those are mis-timed explosions, right?

Those jet contrails? The ones that look funny? Those must be more than just vapor, mustn't they? 

Area 53? (Sure you heard about Area 51, that's just a red herring, but 53? You don't know what goes on there!)

Conspiracy theory demands that every sparrow that falls be accounted for, and if you can't do that, then you must be wrong. The door is thus open for another explanation.

There are real conspiracies. Enough of them so that if you are proposing a new one, you can point to them: See? The Navy admitted it, finally! So that means there really could be something else going on they are lying about! Which must therefore mean my theory is ironclad truth!

Because a thing is possible doesn't mean that it is real, but it is amazing to what lengths a conspiracy theorist will go to nail down the tiniest detail. 

And the proof is often offered with the same sales-psychology that sells encyclopedias. Answer yes to the first question, each question that follows is part of a cascade. If you allow it might be possible that A is true, then B isn't that much of a reach. From B to C? No problem. Then a whole raft of things hop on that wagon. Each incremental step is small enough so it doesn't seem looney tunes. Until you get to Z and realize you aren't in Kansas any more.

Now and then they slip up and make the leap from one that sounds reasonable to one that goes completely bonkers. All those people who were supposed to be on that highjacked jet that crashed in Pennsylvania? They weren't there, you know. The jet landed at a secret airport, see, they were taken off, and are all in a hidden prison. Those cell phone calls they made to loved ones? All faked by actors.

Really? You don't think your spouse of forty years would know it was you if you called to say your plane was being hijacked and about to hit the ground? 

Where are Porky and Daffy? Hey, Bugs ... ?

And it is so easy to create one of these, because people want answers and will listen to almost any you can come up with. Remember, 11% of people in this country think that Elvis is still alive. 70% believe that angels exits, and many of those are sure they aren't just spiritual, but actually corporeal beings. 25% of Republicans believe Obama was born in Kenya.

Here's an easy one: Those school shootings? All engineered by a secret cabal of gunmakers. An assassin, who has a drugged, look-alike, dressed-the-same patsy waiting, does the deed,  then takes out the poor guy and makes it look like suicide. SOP.

Why would they do this? Well, it's Die Hard. Because every time there is a mass-shooting, there are congressional rumbles about gun control. And every time that happens? Gun sales go through the roof and money flows like mercury into the coffers of the gunmakers. Who think they are clever, but who are actually being run by three Jewish guys in Zurich, who control all the world's money. Who are but a small division of the Illuminati as it works to deliver the New World Order ... 

Do I believe this? No. I could make it work (sorta) in a fiction story, in the same way I could make the idea that the world's cemetery owners and undertakers would kill to keep a forever drug away from the market. Bad for business if people don't die, you know.

The problem is that there is a lot of fiction that pretends to be real. I could give you a list and my raised-eyebrow look of wonder: You really believe that? Seriously? (Because some of them make Lord of the Rings look like every-word-is-absolutely-true. But some of you believe those, and it'll just piss you off ...)

And of course, there are some of you who believe I am but a tiny cog in the grand conspiracy, and by posting this, playing my assigned role to gull people into a false sense of security.

The truth is out there?

Maybe ...

Saturday, March 02, 2013

'Ukulele Review - Part Two

Now, as every guitar player knows, there are the magic, best, perfect strings for one's axe, and there is all that other waste-of-time crap. Many among the musical have spent their lifetimes in search of the Holy Grail–the strings that sound wonderful, last a long time, and don't cost an arm and a leg. Alas, many of the seekers have fallen short.

It's a hard road.

I went through about ten different brands before I found Aquila Nylgut strings, out of Italy, for my classical guitar. Love the tone, the volume, they aren't too spendy, and they last several months of daily playing. The Grail for my guitar.

And the uke I got came with Aquila, so I was intrinsically happy, right?

Um. Well. I thought I was ...

See, each instrument is unique, and what sounds great on one might not sound so great on one just like it. The Aquila strings are good, but they do better on a really cheap box. On one that is pretty good, vis a vis the volume, they can be too bright for my taste.

Yeah, that's part of it, too. Why there aren't any "best" strings, because the ones you love, somebody else will hate. Drat that subjectivity!

Musicians use a slew of terms when it comes to describing the tonal qualities of instruments and strings: Bright, dull, woody, fat, round, warm, sharp, thin, on and on, and I tend toward the fat-warm-woody tones, which the Aquilas deliver on my guitar. Cedar top as opposed to spruce. 

But the Aquilas don't sound quite right on the uke. 

Sigh. Thus the Quest begins. Ring? A ring is nothing! Strings? Ah ...

I've ordered four different sets, what are considered high-end uke strings, and I'll install them, stretch them out, and play them for a while until I get one that sounds like I want. 

Four more brands might not be enough. And if the other brands don't do it, there are yet more options. Jake Shimabukuro uses nylon guitar strings on his ukes. You can buy a couple sets, mix and match 'em, and create a different sound. There are YouTube vids that show comparisons, and there really is a difference in extra-hard tension guitar strings and standard uke strings, both in the sound and playability. (Extra hard-tension strings, as you might suspect, require a bit more finger strength to play. They also produce more volume.)

One that is too slack will buzz against the frets. One that is too tight will eventually peel the bridge up ...

So, I'll be comparing: Aquila, Ko'olau Gold, Worth Browns, Living Water, and Southcoast strings to begin with, all with low G's, some of those wound and some not.

Stay tuned ...