Thursday, December 31, 2009


For about ten years, one of my handguns has been equipped with Crimson Trace grips. For those of you who might not know, these are laser sights, though that is something of a misnomer. You don't really get a sight-picture, you look downrange for a little red dot, and in dim lighting or darkness, these things offer a really fast way to see where the bullet will hit.

Also means the housebreaker who had plans to come in and cut your throat while you slept who looks down and sees a little red spot centered on his chest knows where the bullet is about to go. Might give him pause.

For a long time, laser sights for handguns were iffy, at best. One worried about the batteries dying at the wrong moment, the laser going kaput at the wrong moment, or it being a bright and sunny summer day and not being able to see the dot. You still had the sights, but there would be that second of searching for the dot before you realized it wasn't there and shifted back to manual. That could be a bad mistake.

For those reasons, I held off getting one.

Eventually, they got better reviews, so I broke down and did it, and for a decade, mine worked fine. Squeeze the grip, there was the red spot.

It was a good tool for checking on your point-shooting hold. Bring the empty revolver up to where you thought you were on-target, then light the laser to see if you were.

I replaced the battery after about six years, though it was still working.

But the other day while I was mink-oiling the holster, I checked the laser and it was dead.

Oh, well, needs a new battery. But -- no. New battery didn't make it come back to life. Probably the switch, or maybe the wiring, and eventually maybe I'll pull it apart to fiddle with.

Of course, what it made me realize was that the old-fashioned way of using the sights had some advantages, too. They don't burn out. And if it is so dark I can't see the sights, I can index the whole gun. (If it is so dark I can't see the gun? Chances are the bad guy and I can't see each other, either ...)

So, it's back to the wooden boot-grips and grandpappy's method.

Happy New Year

I posted these links a couple years back, but in the hopes that the coming year will bring peace and prosperity to you and yours, couple of hits of uplifting music:

First from Maggie, Terri, and Suzzy -- the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's Messiah.

Then Trace Bundy and Sungha Jung doing Pachelbel's Canon in D.

Whatever your faith or religious beliefs, there has been some outstanding music written for God. I dunno if He appreciates it, but I sure as hell do ...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


So I was re-reading The Musashi Flex, because Siblings of the Shroud is a direct sequel and I need to remember what I said. And I came across a throwaway reference to the Enforcers -- the people who deal with Flex players who violate the rules of the game.

Huh, I thought. There's an interesting idea. How skilled does an Enforcer have to be? I wondered. Given as how they are the ones who take out expert martial artists who need to be taken out, I'd expect they'd have to be fairly adept.

Opened up a whole new line of wonder, that notion.

And as a result of coming across that bit, we'll see at least one of those as a character in the upcoming book.

Brave New World


Millimeter Wave

So the Dutch are going to require all U.S. bound airline passengers to submit to a full body scan. Story here. Remember that scene in Total Recall, the all-the-way-t0-the-skeleton imagery?

Current models feature backscatter-radiation and millimeter wave units, and amount to a virtual strip-search, as you can see from the images above.

Of course, the authorities say, to protect privacy, operators will be in a room where they can't see the people being scanned. The images won't be recorded. And new software will stylize the images so nobody really sees anything like grampa's willie or little brother's pee-pee ...

Right. Uh huh.

How long, you figure, before those images start making their way onto the net?

Alt.binaries.naked.airline-passengers ... ?

In the U.K., they won't do it to children, because if you scan somebody underage, it constitutes child-pornography -- and the idea of paying some guy to sit in a room looking at nude images of little children is unsettling. Wonder who will apply for that job?

The laws about such things are in something of an upheaval anyway. If a fourteen-year-old girl sexts a picture of her boobs to her boyfriend from her cell phone, she can be prosecuted for child pornography.

I don't want to be blowed up real good on a jetliner, and I don't care if they scope me when I get on a plane -- seen one, seen 'em all and I'm past the age where that will bother me, but I can see how a lot of people might not want their naked images being drooled over by some minimum wage TSA guy in a back room somewhere. Not even to get into what that radiation might do to you long-term if you fly a lot ...

It's not the Beav and Wally's world any more, folks.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


5:20 p.m., atop the wooden fence rail around the front courtyard ...


Towns around us got more, running from two or three to five inches of the white blanket, and it caused major grief for the rush hour commute, since nobody was expecting it and they weren't prepared.

Lot of folks took off from work early -- my wife left her office in downtown Portland at 3:40 p.m. So everybody who would normally leave in shifts -- four, five, five-thirty, six p.m. boogied at once.

They waited too long.

The plows weren't out, no sand or gravel down, and when the traffic hit the inclines on the highways leaving town? Cars, trucks, and buses slid hither and yon, smacked into each other, the barriers, turned sideways, and couldn't move.

The accidents blocked the main roads. Emergency vehicles couldn't get there. The highways became parking lots. The normally twenty to thirty minute commute from Portland to Beaverton took my wife three and a half hours, she got home just after seven p.m. -- and she was lucky.

This was compounded by vehicles stuck unmoving that ran out of gasoline. Or those that were simply abandoned in the middle of the roads by drivers who had to pee or pop after three or four hours. Weren't enough tow trucks to move the parked cars fast enough.

Some folks, seeing the news, decided to have dinner or drinks in town and wait for it to clear out. The snow was supposed to turn to rain later, and it did, but it wasn't enough to wash the streets clean, only turn it into slush. It warmed up -- to 34º F. -- which is not exactly a blowtorch, and it didn't get better.

All eleven p.m., the traffic cams showed the main highways were all still bumper-to-bumper leaving the city, and there were people who stepped out of their their offices at four o'clock who didn't get home until after midnight. Not only could they have walked it faster, they could have crawled it faster.

Road are mostly clear this a.m. though there is still plenty of snow on the ground. Supposed to rain more tonight and tomorrow.

We'll see ...

Weatherman, Part II

Remember what I said about not needing a weatherman in the previous post?

Today's forecast was forty degrees and rain. Currently at Steve's house, it is 32º, and as the picture from my office window shows -- that ain't rain falling. Coming down harder since I shot that image, too.

Not only do you not need a weatherman, you couldn't trust the lying SOB if you had one.

We had a make-up silat class scheduled for this evening. If we were enjoying a tropical downpour, even a hurricane, I'd go, I can drive in that, but I don't do snow in my little car. Too many fools in SUVs who are gonna lose it and maybe smack into me.

I'm ready for summer.

P.S. You'll notice that the hummingbird doesn't look real happy about this, either ...

Monday, December 28, 2009

You Don't Need to be a Weatherman ...

One of the keys to efficiently performing any complex physical activity is the ability to do it relaxed. By this, I don't mean taking a nap sprawled and zoned out on the couch, but without unnecessary and conflicting muscular tension. If you are standing with your knees locked and your leg muscles tight and you want to jump, you have to relax first. If your knees are already bent and your legs relatively-relaxed, you save time and energy if you need to hop.

Most people know this, and you can see it demonstrated any place you care to look. If the guy on the foul line has his shoulders up and tight, you know he is going to toss a brick before it leaves his hand.

Much of training for physical things -- and I'm including martial arts here -- involves trying to achieve this state of just-enough between too-little or too-much.

There are a number of ways folks go about this, but I'm going to speak to two: Repetition and visualization.

You can only walk or ride a bike past the stumbling or wobbling stages once you have done these enough so that you don't have to consciously think about what you are doing. Yes, you can put it on manual and take over, but most of the time, autopilot is better.

Do it enough, you figure out how it feels when you do it right, and you don't need to worry about the kinetics or biomechanics or how gravity works, you just know.

Do the moves often enough and when the punch comes, something will be there.

There are guys who are much into the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act), but that's only how they explain it, not a conscious and deliberate pattern they go through by the numbers when somebody jumps out of the alley and goes booga-booga! in their faces. That might be what is happening -- and that could just as easily be SSCG -- See, Set, Choose, Go -- or SOGB -- Shit Or Go Blind -- any other combination of words that tell you what is unconsciously going on. The words are the map, not the territory.

When push comes unexpectedly to shove, cognition is stagnation.

If you think, you stink.

Yeah, yeah, we can wrangle about that, but this is what I believe, and I'm on the podium, so I get to finish.

So, you go through moves over and over until you can react to a stimulus without having to know about how the universe was originally formed and then zip from the Big Bang to the task at hand.

Another way to get relaxed, coupled with the practice of waving and stepping, is visualization.

Back when I was doing a brief stint in aikido, thirty years or so ago, there were a series of exercises designed to demonstrate this, such as the unbendable-arm, the unbreakable circle, or the too-heavy-to-lift tricks.

Aikido didn't invent these. There were people doing vaudeville routines a hundred years ago who showed the dead-weight versus live weight stuff quite well. One smallish woman who would stand there and have two large men from the audience try to pick her up and grin while they failed.

As I recall from my aikido days, there were four ways to achieve "dynamic relaxation." 1) Keep one point. 2) Relax completely. 3) Keep weight underside. 4) Extend ki. These were different ways of looking at the same thing, actually, and when you meditated upon them and were able to keep your focus, you could do some pretty impressive stuff with your strength and balance.

Somewhere in the distant past, I came across an article -- a master's thesis, if I recall correctly, from UCLA, that spoke to why such things as the unbendable arm work, from a biomechanical sensibility, no ki involved. There's a tai chi adept I used to see posting online who did some videos showing how rooting worked from a mechanical engineering viewpoint. He also offered a teacher's test, which, if applied to a potential instructor, would tell you if the guy had any real chops. Fascinating stuff.

The aikido visualizations were great as focus tools. "Imagine there is a steel rod as big around as your arm coming from your elbow and buried deeply in the ground. It runs through your arm to your hand, where it branches, so that each of your fingers is a steel rod extending into the ceiling and through the roof. Your arm is held in place by these bars, which are far too strong for any man to bend . Keep this in your mind while I try to bend your arm ..."

The thesis said, "Relax your arm and channel all your focus into your triceps; allow no tension in the antagonist muscles of the biceps ..."

Same effect, if harder to visualize initially for most folks.

Once you knew what it felt like, you could do it without either set of props.

The problem I had was in keeping the focus when somebody was boxing my ears, even in a controlled environment such as a sparring match. Like that Mike Tyson quote -- Everybody has a plan -- until I hit them -- the ability to hold onto that thought was iffy as soon as the dance got active. To get to the level where you could maintain that focus would require a great deal of comfort in one's skills. I think you could do this, but it would be no small task. (And we aren't going into self-hypnosis and the like, which can be helpful.)

I have come to believe that visualization, like djurus or kata, is mostly a training tool. That if you can use it and the repetitions to achieve a relaxed pattern of movement, then that is where it serves best. Just as you won't do a djuru or kata in a real fight, neither will you have the time and wherewithal to do an imaginative visualization wherein your opponent goes flying when you tag him. Unless you have done it so many times you don't need to think about it, in which case it's not a visualization anymore anyhow.

Which brings up the old reliable standby, the Multiple P-Principle: Proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance ...

Now, what that preparation is is a horse of a different color, and all of our mileages are going to vary on that ...

In Hollywood, It's Money That Matters ...

So, as of Sunday night, Avatar's world wide grosses are running $617,000,000. Read Nikki's piece on it here.

Depending on which numbers you like on the production end -- somewhere just above or below $300 million to make, plus nudging another eighty to hundred million to advertise and such, it isn't into profit yet. (The old formula is, although not strictly accurate: P = 2-1/2 x C, where P is profit, and C is production cost. Using this, the movie will have to do over a billion dollars before Cameron gets into high cotton.

That's rare air, only a handful of movies have gotten there. Titanic, LOTR, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, and Dark Knight, come to mind. It's already in the top fifty, having blown past Casino Royale, Men in Black, Iron Man and all but forty-seven others ...

Given everybody I know who has seen it is telling friends to go see it, and that world-of-mouth is the best advertising money can't buy, I would guess that the studio is probably sleeping a little easier now.

Lot of industry folks hate Cameron, and a bunch 'em really wanted him to fall flat. They wanted to believe this was gonna tank, becoming an -- pardon the pun -- abysmal failure.

They all said the same thing about Titanic. It's a stupid, schmaltzy, chick-flick, the music sucks, and it won't earn out.

Yeah, they might have been right about everything -- except the last part. Boy, did it earn out. First movie to top a billion in grosses worldwide. Still number one at the box office, ever.

I believe Avatar has, what they call in the biz, legs, and that it will make it into the profit zone. People are going to see it because they like science fiction, or because they feel they have to because it is almost a cultural necessity, just like Titanic was. While it's not a chick-flick, there is a love story, and that part works. Last I checked, about forty percent of the audience was female, and that's way past what action movies normally garner.


Caught part of a Discovery series last night about climbing Mount Everest. Sixty-six year old American man was one of the climbers, and he made it up and down. (Everest kills one out of twelve climbers, on average, and past the age of sixty, that number goes way up -- four times more likely to croak if you are idiotic enough to attempt it.)

I've always thought these folks were madder than the March Hare, but lacking balls, they ain't.

Then there is this video. Ninety-two years old. Gets to be really fun about a minute and a half in:

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Xmas Present

So, we weren't going to get each other big gifts, my wife and I.

Naturally, she got me one ...

So, now an iPod Touch, which will hold eight million songs plus books and all like that. Go blind trying to read on such a tiny screen, but it's comforting to know that I can have something to read in an emergency. Plus a level, and an electronic badge and a guitar tuner and chord finder, and a flashlight and ...

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

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Requiescat in Pace

Above: The Rope, Before

Below: The Rope, After

Three years ago this coming spring, I bought a climbing rope and and looped it over a tree limb in the back yard. This is a good upper body exercise, if you don't push it too much, which, of course, I did. Eventually, I got some gloves and eased off a bit, and got to where I could go up and down it.

Yesterday, the rope broke.

Unfortunately, my son, holding onto the youngest of the grandsons, was swinging on it when the line gave up the ghost.

Fortunately, he landed on his back on the soft earth and vines, and neither he nor the boy were hurt.

This was something of a surprise for all concerned. The rope was a two-inch ship's hawser, good quality hemp. A combination of squirrels and Oregon weather did it in, I think.

When I put it up, back in April of '07, I wrapped the loop and a few inches below it in several layers of duct tape, but it broke just below the wrapping.

Back to the chinning bar. If it lets go, I won't have so far to fall ...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Christmas to the Matador Fans

(Redacted - you snooze, you lose ...)

A Little Christmas Music

Time Marches On

When I was young, lo these many eons ago, we had in this country a plethora of different kinds of vending machines. They were everywhere -- supermarkets, barber shops, schools. Coin-operated dispensers, mostly junk food -- candy bars, soft drinks, gumballs.

There were also machines that offered real food -- milk, apples, hot chocolate. They didn't get much use where I lived.

Vending machines are still around, of course, much different, but less ubiquitous. (And they were way were cheaper back in the day. Penny for gum, nickel for a candy bar or a coke. We had a coke machine behind the cafeteria at the primary school I attended, the little 6-1/2 oz. bottles, and I recall the time in 3rd grade when the price went up to 6¢, which we thought was criminal. Can you imagine? What highway robbery!)

Those 50's machines are collectibles now. If you can find a Jacobs 56 Pepsi Vendor in good condition, it'll set you back five grand, and restored Coke machines of the same era are also pretty spendy.

I came across the machine below in a Fred Meyer store recently. A quarter for your weight, and it would generate a "lucky lotto" number for you. How does it determine that the number is lucky? I wondered." Plus your daily special message." I didn't go for it, but I also wondered. Is my daily special message the same as for the next guy to stand on the machine? If I coughed up another quarter, would the message be different?

And who would drop a quarter into the thing when they can walk a couple hundred feet to the housewares department wherein they can stand on one of a couple varies of bathroom scale for sale there, for free? No special message or lucky lotto number, though.

Time marches on, and it brings new toys to replace the old ones. Some day, assuming we survive, our great-grandchildren will probably be nostalgic for 2D television sets and computer keyboards ...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Video Link

The video for the Las Vegas Seminar last year is available, but I didn't have a proper link to it earlier. I do now.

And I'll put it in my link list, too.

The Madness of Saint Nick

What is it about the Christmas season that turns the drivers on my streets into looney tunes?

I had to go out today and it was as though somebody had opened the doors to the insane asylum, gave the departing inmates random sets of car keys as they left, and told them to go crazy.

And they did: Hey, Mabel -- What does this pedal do? Huh! Look at that! How about this here lever ... ?

I have a small and nimble automobile. I elect defensive paranoia as my operating mode when I am on the road -- I believe they are all out to get me, and I win if I get home alive and not too dinged up.

Today, they almost got me. People turned into a shopping center driveway and then stopped when there was no reason I could see, blocking traffic into the street.

I got behind somebody who apparently thought it was okay to read War and Peace on his iPhone at a traffic light. Who, after sitting through the green, looked up pissed off when I honked at him.

People pulled out in front of me in a 45 mph zone and drove at 23 mph in the speed lane.

One woman ran a red light ten seconds after it had changed and two cars ahead of me had already crossed the intersection, and missed me by a couple inches.

We won't even speak of trying to walk across a store's parking lot, of which I spoke at some length a few years back.

All in the space of forty-five minutes.

Mad! They are all as mad as hatters, I tell you!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ready for My Close Up

Above: Video capture, tilted
Below: adjusted to level

Now and again, I shoot video of myself doing this or that. Mostly, it's playing the guitar, silat, and now and then, some sleight-of-hand.

Video is a great feedback tool. Do something, then a minute later, look at what you did, and in slomo if you want. What feels one way might look another, and it's instructional to see it and compare what it felt like with what it looks like from other there. Or in the case of the guitar, what it sounded like. (Always sounds better from the inside looking out ...)

Today I set up my little camera to record myself doing djurus, and found out three things I didn't expect. 1) The camera's AVI function shuts off at three minutes. 2) If you don't set the tripod on a level surface, you seem as if you are listing slightly to port or starboard as you turn, and it looks weird when you know you aren't. 3) I tend to do the djurus a lot faster and harder than I realized. Probably why my teacher keeps telling me to slow down.

The AVI limit I can get around by virtue of going halfway through the djurus, stopping, turning the recording off and starting a new on from the same move. It will record to the limit of the flashmem card, a couple of gigs, but not all in a single file. So there's a bit of a break in the recording at the end of Djuru #8 when I stopped to restart the recording. (And again at #14 when my dog bumped into the tripod and knocked it askew. But since this isn't a recording going out, it doesn't matter. I cut out the jostle, though in retrospect it might have been more interesting to leave it in: "Jude! Watch where you are going, you big horse!"

Can't fix the slight tilt, but I know it's there, so I can mentally adjust for it. And I can slow down the moves hereafter, though I confess they didn't seem all that fast when I was doing them.

Good to have a way to see all this.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Luke! Use the Puke Bag!

Found this in a file drawer, and had to share it here ...

And For My Next Trick ...

So. Another book drafted -- Bristlecone -- and off to my agent, to join the stack of unsold ones being hawked. Be nice if one of them got bought ...

I have a potential book project of which I may not speak out there in the aether that might come to pass. I have to leave some space, at least for a while, in case it does sail into port, so whatever I start next has to be one I can slide to a back burner on simmer, which means it's probably not a good idea to do chapters and an outline and shoot for a contract. Unless, of course, I can get enough time on the delivery date so it won't matter.

There is also a movie script kinda-sorta flitting about that might need some things done to it, does it ever alight. I can't say anything else about it at the moment, either.

Having written most recently a S&S fantasy, a sort-of urban Buddhist fantasy, and a technothriller, and bearing in mind that if any of these sell the publisher will want an option on another novel, and probably a sequel to the ones in question, I kinda need to leave room for that, too. Plus any rewrites that might need to be done on the manuscripts in play.

But the slight -- albeit temporary -- gap does kind of open the field for the possibility of, oh, maybe a science fiction novel. Maybe ... space opera. Could possibly maybe even be a book in a series I've already done some work in. I dunno.

I have to do something, because I've had a book in progress since I started writing novels in 1980, and while this has sometimes been as many as three going at the same time, I need at least one.

What to do, what to do ...

Decisions, decisions ...

Today's Lesson on Physiology and Mechanics in a Knife Fight

I'll skip all the technical stuff and use what I hope are terms most folks can understand.

Muscles tend to work together in groups, and some groups are stronger than others.

Still with me?

When it comes to upper body muscles, the strongest on the front are the pectorals, i.e. the chest. Basically, these move the upper arm toward the centerline of your body. Sit on a pec-deck machine, arms held up like you are doing a double biceps shot and then move the elbows to the center against the weight, that's the isolation move. Bench press uses these muscles, though not in the full range of motion.

The antagonists -- the muscles that move the arm the other way, are mostly rear deltoid -- back of shoulder -- with some rotator cuff and upper back stabilizers.

In most men, the chest muscles are stronger than the arms or shoulders. Easy to see: How much weight can you bench versus how much you use doing a bent-over deltoid fly?

So, since strong muscle beats weak muscle, let's postulate a situation in which your friendly neighborhood mugger comes at you with a knife in an overhead stab. You have a bad leg and you can't run, but you also have a knife of your own, and through a miracle of timing, as he attacks, you manage to grab his knife wrist. Unfortunately, he also grabs your knife wrist.

For the sake of the illustration, you are both right-handed and holding your blades in those hands.

Can you picture this? Two players facing each other, each holding on to the other's knife wrist.

If you are of a size and similar strength, stabbing the other guy to the body is going to be difficult, and it's easy to see why: You are both using the same muscles -- chest, arms, shoulders, and maybe some abs and other stabilizers. And since you can resist more force this way than you can usually generate, that is negative reps can use more weight than positive ones, stabbing a guy your own strength or slightly weaker is going to be hard in this pose.

Getting loose from this is fairly easy if you twist through the thumb, but that doesn't improve your position as much at it could. And yes, you can use your knees and feet, but again, for the same of argument, let's say the first thing you want to do is disarm the guy, which would tip the scales in your favor.

What's a simple way to do it?

Easy. Turn slightly to your left and as you do, stab him in his knife arm before he can get it loose.

Assuming you haven't forgotten the lecture earlier on the page, you should be able to see why this will work, but I'll remind you: Face on and stabbing against the body pits your strong muscles against his strong muscles. Changing the angle of the stab from forward to the side pits your strong muscles against his weaker muscles. Chest, arm, shoulder -- against shoulder, rotator cuff, arm.

The trick is, to do it first before he thinks about it ...

Friday, December 18, 2009


Saw Avatar today. I wasn't planning on seeing it the first day, but my son took off from work to do some shopping, and so we went.

I wasn't planning to see it in 3D the first time -- expecting I might want to see it again -- but that was the theater that was available, so we donned the glasses.

"Wow" isn't enough. "OMG" isn't enough. "Motherfucker!" comes closer.

It was amazing. Every penny Cameron spent on it is up there on the screen.

Yeah, yeah, all the ribbedy-dibbety about the plot and dances with smurfs yadda-yadda, but let me tell you that I'm a sci fi guy to the core, I love having somebody smack me in the face with that sense of wonder, I love love stories, and I will flat out tell you, you ain't never, ever seen anything like this on a movie screen.

The bar for CGI has been raised up past Jupiter. The boys and girls at WETA down in NZ should be proud of themselves -- they did good.

It will melt your eyes and blow your sensawunda out through your ears, it will astound you. I just kept shaking my head and going, "Holy shit. Look at that! Holy shit."

Whatever you might think about Jim Cameron, nobody has ever made a movie to visually touch this one. Nobody.

Go see it.

Dan O'Bannon

If you go to science fiction movies, you've seen his work, even if you don't know his name.

Adios, Dan.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


In another case of I-fought-the-law-and-the-law-won, a man being booked in Portland resisted and got the stuffing whaled out of him. Deputies say he struggled and punched one of them in the nose.

Read the story and watch the video. He gets pummeled pretty good, and Portland PD got in some licks too.

Of course he sued. Asked for $300,000.

Was awarded $500 by a federal jury.

Guy was wearing a wife-beater -- and was arrested for beating his girlfriend and threatening to kill her. The jury didn't hear about his prior criminal background, but I'm guessing the deputies knew. Aside from beating his current woman, he had a record of molesting the six- and eight- year-old children of a former girlfriend, and will be in his eighties when he gets out of prison.

This isn't a twelve-year-old girl, but a guy who beats women and molests children. I don't think it's a double standard to allow that this one doesn't bother me at all.

Death Drone Details at Eleven ...

Seems that the Predator drones that fly about over the Middle East and take videos and potshots at suspected insurgents aren't that hard to swipe video feeds from. Local hackers, using commercial software, were able to see what the drones could see.

Couldn't take over from the controllers in Langley, nor cause any damage to the drones, but being able to see what they see might be considered a tactical advantage to the guys on the ground.


A little-known fact about these rains-death-from-the-sky craft is that that over the course of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, (and over places like Iran and Pakistan) they have nailed, according to best estimates, about five hundred people who weren't legitimate targets -- men, women, children, and not counting camels, goats ...

Apparently being tall, bearded, and robed out in the open after 911 anywhere in the Middle East or West Asia was a good way to die a fast and expensive death ...

Like This Picture

Got this off Bobbe's blog, and while I'm guessing my reason for liking it probably isn't the same as his for posting it, I wanted to share it ...

Knives Redux

Back to playing with bare hands against knives in the silat class, and once again -- even though I've mentioned it a time or twelve -- the realization that against an attacker (or defender) who has a clue what s/he is doing with a sharp and pointy thing in your direction? You are in trouble.

Run away if you can.

If you can't run away and you don't have an equalizing weapon, the functional situation you will find yourself in is what we call Oh Shit! Mode. There are things you can do, though you really don't want to do them unless there is no other choice. All those fancy disarms you see in the movies, those multiple passes back and forth? Good luck with those.

Trading a punch for a stab? Only if you are the stabber.

A guy puts a blade out and has any skill, you go charging in at the wrong moment, you get to be shish kebab, a graduate of Skewer U ...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Men of a Certain Age

New series on TNT, Men of a Certain Age.

I thought the premise sounded interesting, and I liked the actors cast, so I tuned in.

Basically, it's a show about three men, long-time friends, who are now middle-aged and dealing with lives that didn't turn out nearly as well as they hoped and expected.

On the face of it, they are all losers.

Played by Ray Romano, ("Joe"); Andre Braugher ("Owen"); and Scott Bakula ("Terry"), all three men have come to mostly-unrealized lives.

Joe owns a party store, is separated from his wife and children because he had a gambling jones, and living in a hotel. Also married, Owen sells cars at a dealership owned by his father, who takes every opportunity to shit on him. Terry is single, an actor who doesn't work much, and earns his living as a not-so-temporary temp. He hits on girls young enough to be his daughter.

Why, I wondered, would anybody want to watch such a depressing show?

Yeah, the actors are terrific in their portraits. How truly miserable Owen is when his father takes away his spiffy demo car and gives him a tiny hybrid because his sales numbers have dipped.

Joe can't stop betting, nor lying about it to his friends. He makes his bookie leave by the back door of his store, and forbids him from coming during work hours.

Terry almost gets run over by a driver on a cell phone who blows through a stop sign, and when he tracks the guy down and goes to give him a piece of his mind, meets a young man holding a toddler that stops his rage in its track. Watching him try to stay mad makes you cringe.

Losers, living in loserville, sad and pathetic. And yet ...

Now and then, there is a little spark, a bit of hope that pops out and allows the trio to rise above their misery and, for a brief and shining moment, stand in a kind of muted glory.

Joe finds a girl at a party and realizes she wants to sleep with him. He doesn't, but it's a sign.

Owen tells his father off for treating him worse than the rest of his employees, and gets a better ride.

Terry manages to best another bad driver, and the theme from Billy Jack playing over as he does it is laugh-out-loud brilliant -- if you are old enough to remember the movie.

It's a better-to-light-one-candle-than-curse-the-darkness kind of story, and since I like that notion, the show works for me.

Romano is the producer and his role is, at least in the episode I caught, a little juicer, but I expect that all the guys will shine equally.

My slogan uptop is "If you do the best you can, nothing else matters worth a damn." I think this show offers that, sometimes, the best you can do might not be much -- but it's all you got.

Unfortunately, the show is on here opposite Castle, which has less substance than cotton candy, but which is way more fun and a guilty pleasure. That one is in reruns, and so Men might have a chance to catch an audience before the new season. It's got my attention.

You Look Mahvelous!

Years ago, Billy Crystal did a character, "Fernando," based, ostensibly, on the late actor Fernando Lamas. No matter how terrible your life might be, Fernando would, if you looked great, allow that you looked mahvelous! and that, of course, was what mattered. Because -- especially in Hollywood -- it was better to look good than to feel good.

Turned out out he was right.

Those of you who don't do links, the basic story allows that research, using identical twins and physical and cognitive tests, demonstrated a relationship between looking younger and living longer. One theory involves telomeres, those genetic tip ends. (I believe the women who discovered the chemical telomerase and named it just won the Nobel prize.)

Ain't life strange?

Hands Off Learning

I got an email from a correspondent across the pond in Europe who is a Silat Sera student. This writer's teacher has visited here to train with us, and a nice fellow he is.

The further away one is from the fire, the less it warms one, and I am once again reminded of how lucky I am to be within range of a world-class instructor in an art that I want to learn.

My fellow student asked me some questions, based on some of the stuff I wrote about in my e-book, But What If I Did This!? And again, I am also reminded of how limited the written word is when it comes to explain physical motions.

Learning martial arts from a book or even a video is tricky. I believe that these are best utilized when you already have a basic foundation, an understanding of the activity to which you wish to add. Picking up balance and position and timing from a video of an art in which you have never had a good teacher's hands-on adjustments, while not impossible, is, at best, difficult. What you see somebody demonstrating is not what you feel when you do it.

If you have never ridden a bicycle, then watching somebody do it who is expert at it tends to make it look a lot easier than it is. The skill, for instance, needed to sit on a bike in balance while it is not moving involves kinetics you can't get from looking at a picture of it, or having somebody tell you about it.

Maps are useful, but not, as smarter people than I have said, not the territory. Learning how to swim requires water.

Still and all, I tried to offer a general explanation for the queries. I don't know how much good that did, but it's what you have to work with when the tool is the written word. A video might be helpful, but the best help is from somebody who knows how to do it standing there and giving tactile feedback in the moment. This doesn't have to be a day-to-day process once you have gotten the basics: A visiting teacher can impart a lot in a few days or a week or two that will provide much material for practice, but without that, I think long-distance learning is a most hard row to hoe for any activity that requires complex physicality.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Current Set - December

A few new ones, dropped a couple, but mostly the same as in October:

Bell Bottom Blues

Can’t Get Used to Losin’ You

One Toke Over the Line

Daydream Believer

Political Science


Hotel California


Walk Away Renee

We Just Disagree

Year of the Cat


Angel from Montgomery

Sail Away

Way Down in the Hole

Dixie (Instrumental)

The Weight


In My Life

Yesterday (Inst.)

Here Comes the Sun (Inst.)

Hey, Jude

Stand By Me

Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay

Brand New Key

Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)

The Water is Wide (Inst.)

Ashokan Farewell (Inst.)

Born to Run

For What It’s Worth

Telstar (Inst.)

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

Vader’s Theme (Inst.)

Werewolves of London

It’s Lonely at the Top

Love and Affection

Have a Heart

Ruby Tuesday

Merry Christmas from the Family


Had to take a couple of the critters to the vet today: Ballou, for pre-op blood work for the upcoming loss of los ping-pongs, and a career thereafter as a soprano. Jude, because he needed to update his rabies vaccine. Nothing spoils an evening watching TV quicker than having your dog foaming at the mouth and savaging the couch. (Although the last case of rabies in a domestic dog in these parts was, I think, more than fifty years ago.)

Jude also needs to lose some weight. He's always been chunky, but he porks up around Thanksgiving -- all that turkey skin and gravy -- and he needs to slim down. My fault he's overweight -- he sits there looking pitiful -- Oh, please sir! May I have some more? -- and it's too easy to give him the leftover sandwich instead of going to get a nice non-fattening bit of apple or green bean instead. And in the cold and wet, the walks tend to get shorter ...

If your dog is too fat, so the saying goes, you aren't getting enough exercise ...

The solution is simple, if not easy: He needs to a) eat less and b) exercise more. That's pretty much the solution for people, too.

Psst! Tubby! You want to get skinny? I got what you need. Eat less. Exercise more. Ta-dah!
What? Oh, yeah, I can hokey it up, but that the secret, and all the rest is just bullshit. Huh? Oh, yeah. Right. No money in doing a diet book that simple, is there?

So, it's rabbit food and more walks for the dogs, cold and rain notwithstanding, and the long loop instead of the short one.

And it's also true that a tired dog is makes for a happier household, that's a bonus.

An amusing note: As we took off for the first of our long walks today, The mail truck was in front of our house when we left. We walked straight down the street to the end, about half a mile, and the truck's delivery route was the same. We beat the truck to the turnaround.

Slow delivery as Christmas gets closer.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Really Happened?

This post an addition to the previous one, concerning the notion of truth sometimes being more in the middle than on either side of an argument.

If you have somehow missed Rashomon in your movie viewing , you should try to catch it. It's in Japanese with subtitles for English speakers, but a great study in subjectivity.

Another case in point. A few years back, a bus passed a bicyclist on one of Portland's bridges over the Willamette River downtown. (The Hawthorne, for those of you who are local.)

The cyclist's version (his name is Randy) is that yes, he was not in the narrow bike lane, because the lane was littered with gravel and the city had not, after repeated reports, cleaned it out, thus he had no choice. And that the bus driver almost hit him as he blew past, missing by only a foot.

Angry because he was nearly run over, Randy slammed his fist against the side of the bus as it went by, and because the driver paid him no heed, he stood on the pedals and put his bike into a sprint, managed to catch the bus when it slowed, and pass it, whereupon he pulled in front of it, stopped his bike and got off, thus blocking the road.

The bus screeched to a stop.

I don't recall if the driver honked the horn, but I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

The biker stood there, glaring at the driver, cursing like a ship full of sailors, wanting him to acknowledge his fault, and to make a point. The other lane moved, but the bus couldn't.

I'm not sure what would have satisfied Randy, but he apparently showed no sign of moving out of the road.

Cyclists in Portland, considered a good town to bike in, sometimes get militant when they think their rights aren't properly respected. I understand the feeling, having ridden a bike for a time as primary transportation. It's dangerous out there. Still ...

The bus was full, SRO, and the passengers, wanting to get to work or home, quickly became irritated. After a bit, one of the passengers asked the driver to open the door. He may or may not have said, "Let me take care of this." His nickname was "Gator," and he was an ex-boxer.

There was a videocam going, but no sound.

Gator approached the biker, and here the story veers. Gator's version is that he told the guy to get out of the road, the biker cursed him and refused, so Gator popped him one, wrestled him down and out of the road, along with the bike, then climbed back onto the bus, which then went on its way.

Randy's version is that Gator charged him and began throwing punches without a word.

Pretty good hit, from the images, and Randy needed to get his lip stitched as a result.

Naturally, Randy sued TriMet.

Eventually, an arbitrator found that both sides were negligent. The cyclist shouldn't have blocked traffic. The driver shouldn't have let the passenger off the bus, especially if he suspected what Gator was going to do.

But you got an idea that the arbitrator didn't really feel that the weight of negligence fell too heavily upon TriMet, since the forty-eight grand Randy sued for was reduced to an award of $601.

Bicyclists were outraged and their sympathies lay with Randy, even though they tended to think he had maybe stepped over the line, just a hair.

Bus passengers seemed to feel like I did when I first read about it, which boiled down to, "Served him right." I mean, yes, certainly Gator shouldn't have assaulted Randy, just because he was standing in the road blocking traffic and making everybody on the bus late for work. On the other hand, I understand Gator's impulse, too. Randy might ordinarily be a swell fellow, but in that instance, he was not behaving as one ...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Sci Fi is Dangerous

So, a Canadian SF writer, Dr. Peter Watts, got into a set-to whilst crossing the border back into Canada from the U.S. His version is that he was singled out, pulled over for inspection, and when he got out to inquire what the beef was -- and for no reason whatsoever -- he was beaten, pepper-sprayed, cuffed, arrested, and charged with assault a federal officer.

The ICE version is that he was pulled over, he got out of his car, became verbally abusive, and refused to get back into his rented automobile when told to do so. When they tried to arrest him, he resisted, and tried to choke out one of the officers.

On the face of it, if you believe Watts's account, then this is simply unacceptable behavior on the part of the ICE agents.

But as in all these kinds of things, there is that pesky other side to the story, and it has that fishy smell that makes me wonder.

If you click on the link above and read Watts's account, take note of the language and alternate-world construction in which he framed it.

Consider two possibilities:

1. Watts is stopped because he is in a rental car and asked to pull over. He exits the vehicle, politely inquires as to the cause for the stop.

The agent, insulted to the hilt, screams, "Get back in the car, now!"

Watts, puzzled, repeats the query: "I'm sorry, I'm not looking to cause trouble, but what is the problem?"

Whereupon a couple of the jackboots proceed to punch him in the face, hit him with pepper spray, knock him down, kick him, handcuff him, and after stripping him half naked, throw him into the slammer. Upon his release, he is put out jacketless in a snowstorm and told to stand by because he is surely going to get a couple years in prison for the assault.

Or this:

2. Watts is stopped because he is in a rental car and asked to pull over. He exits the vehicle, says to the ICE agent, "What the fuck are you doing?"

"Please get back in your vehicle, sir."

"Hell I will. I asked you what the fuck you are doing, and I want an answer!"

It could be somewhere in between.

And we are off -- !

Watts is not twelve-years-old. One assumes that the "Dr." before his name, indicating at least a Ph.D, would indicate he has some education and might be expected to know the ways of the world.

If he mouthed off to the border guys and got feisty and, the agents were having a bad day, you can see how that might go.

But you know all major crossings have videocams covering the gates, and that vid, if it exists, will become somebody's evidence pretty quick. I'd love to see it before I passed judgement on this incident. In the case of the girl in Portland being shot by the beanbag, I did see the video and I thought the officer overstepped. In this case, while it might be possible the agents just flipped out and for no reason beat the crap out of a science fiction writer, I find that it sounds just a little, I dunno, too pat.

Why bother? Science fiction writers have the crap beat out of them by critics, fans, and literary writers all the time ...


I'm a Dean Koontz fan, have been since the days he was writing under a bunch of pseudonyms and turning out books in half a dozen genres. When I was first getting into the writing field in the late seventies, I got a copy of Writing Popular Fiction, in which Koontz laid out the formulas for how-to-write Science fiction and fantasy, Suspense, Mysteries, Gothic-romance, Westerns, and Erotica, all fields in which he had published novels. He knew the beats and tropes. (By the time my first novel came out, in 1981, Koontz had written at least forty books, under ten different pseudonyms.)

When he hit it big doing horror, he reinvented his look. The book cover jackets before then showed a balding fellow with a big handlebar mustache who looked maybe fifty; shortly thereafter, following a hair transplant, and clean-shaven, there appeared this handsome, at least ten years younger guy who, if you looked at the pictures side by side, you'd never guess they were the same man.

I like it that Koontz is an animal lover, especially dogs, and critters smarter than the ones I've owned are frequently featured in his books. Plus he's a pro's pro -- his prose is clean, he sucks you in, and his characters are interesting odd-balls, and flawed enough to be intriguing.

Which brings us to Breathless, the latest Koontz's offering.

It has all the elements of a typical Koontz's novel -- quirky characters with old wounds; animals that make Lassie look slow; and a skying off into esoteric science and math theories that make you really think. (Koontz was, for instance, one of the first fiction writers to deal with nanotech, years before it was a hot topic, and I like being led into new paths that make me wonder.)

The writing here is as clean and evocative as usual, and the action compelling. Some terrific scenes ...

But ...

Have you ever been reading along, caught up in a tale, and looked at how much book you have left and think: Jeez, there's only a few pages until the end. How the hell is the writer going to wrap it up? He doesn't have the room.

My usual reaction when I get this feeling is, oh, swell, this is going to be the first book of a series, and I'll have to wait until the next one, or the third book in what will be revealed as a trilogy, to find out what the end of the story is. Koontz does have a couple of continuing characters I've followed.

Not to get ahead of myself, but this isn't the case here.

From the first chapter, Koontz sets up these fascinating creatures who show up in the woods, the best combination of dogs, monkeys, and people, with big, glow-in-the-dark eyes, and who are so cute as to make giant pandas look hideous. Lab creations? He's gone that way before. Aliens? Could be. Certainly not something anybody has ever seen in these parts.

There are four other stories woven into the narrative, all interesting themselves, and as a writer, I enjoyed them even as I kept thinking: How on Earth is he going to be able to braid these lines into a coherent whole during the remaining pages and have it work?

And the answer is, not nearly as well as I hoped. Yes, the stories are intertwined, and all are related to the main line -- though one is such that I couldn't see any relationship to the plot closer than humans to garter snakes, and pretty much a total red herring.

Without giving specifics away about the resolution, it's all based in Chaos Theory, and the explanation of how the amazing things all came to pass is not just mind-boggling, but for me a suspension of disbelief that can't support its own weight, much less that of me trying to cross it.

The ending is virtually deus ex machina. A character blithely tosses into the trash one of the bedrocks of current science, and offers in its place an update that makes the theories of Phlogiston, Noxious Vapors of the Night, and Intelligent Design seem like works of pure genius by comparison. Rather like somebody saying, You know that old theory that flies arise from rotten meat? Spontaneous Generation? Well, guess what? It's true!

Didn't work for me. As much as I like Kootnz's stuff generally, this one was disappointing because I simply couldn't buy the central premise.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you read it and find that it works for you, good.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tiger Would? Nah. Tiger did ...

I suppose I should weigh in on the most critical, important, burning story of the day, and possibly our times, just to show I heard about it. Of course, anybody who has a television, radio, computer, newspaper, tom-tom, or ESP heard about it. President says he's gonna ship thirty thousand more soldiers off to war, and the lead story? Tiger is up to seven ... no wait, eight -- hold on a second, nine ... ?

News? Good Lord, why anybody is surprised that a rich jock fools around is what is so amazing. Why ... that's never happened before! Can you even imagine!

And why he thought he had a prayer of getting away with it is only slightly less amazing. Man can't stick his head out a door without somebody snapping a picture of him. Them chickens have just been biding their time before they came home to roost.

The first rule in committing a perfect crime -- which is, as I'm sure I've mentioned before, is not one in which the authorities can't figure out who did it, but one in which nobody knows it ever even happened -- the rule is: Do it solo.

If you have a partner, there will always be somebody who can rat you out. If nobody knows you did it but you? You never confess, you were in De-troit when it happened, you stick to that story.

Of course, screwing around kinda requires that you have partners, doesn't it? And of course, none of the legion who boinked Tiger was ever going to say anything, them all being women of deep moral, intellectual, and spiritual substance, right?

Tiger might be dynamite on the golf course and maybe even aces in conjugal playing fields, but he's ot-nay oo-tay ight-bray when it comes to fooling around. Little head ruled, and all that money and fame made him think he wasn't gonna get caught. They all think that.

Can anybody say, "Bill Clinton?"

I understand that in Las Vegas, somebody came out with a T-shirt for women, said: I DIDN'T SLEEP WITH TIGER! It didn't do well -- couldn't find enough potential buyers, apparently.

Avatar Premieres

Check out Nikki's site for the buzz on Avatar, which premiered in London.

Critical acclaim isn't 100%, but got five of five on Rotten Tomatoes at first look ...

The Three Most Important Things In Life

According to Harlan Ellison. These are Sex, Violence, and Labor Relations.

Those of you who are into things martial will appreciate the essay on the second topic, but they are all most entertaining. Go, read, enjoy.

If you are any kind of fan of science fiction, fantasy, or other speculative fictions, and you haven't read Ellison, you are missing something. And he's just as good a speaker in person as he is on the page.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Ho, Ho, HO ... !

If it were up to me, Christmas wouldn't start the day after Hallowe'en, but about three days before Christmas Eve. Time enough to get excited and stay that way. I dunno about you, but while I'm still figuring out how to avoid eating the leftover trick-or-treat candy, I do not want to have the radio blasting me with "The Little Drummer Boy" and "Silent Night" and "Jingle Bells," it's just not right.

Of course, it isn't up to me, so I dragged the white-trash bottle-brush tree down from the attic yesterday and assembled it. I bought some new politically-correct energy-efficient lights but they were dim, ugly, and made the tree look altogether hideous after we decorated it, so we stripped everything off that sucker and got better lights today. Still have to put the ornaments on, but we like it.

And in what has become another tradition, here is the YouTube embed for Robert Earl Keene's "Merry Christmas from the Family," hands down the best Christmas video ever.

Yeehaw, ya'll.

How, Ah, Cold Is It?

Can't tell by me.

I got up this morning, my thermometer, on the porch post outside the kitchen, looked like it was about 9º F.

My computer has a Dashboard weather widget connected to my zip code, and it said 8º F.

So far, so good.

The WeatherChannel's reading? 25º F. ...

Even though I expect the WeatherChannel's sensory gear is more advanced than the device I got at Rite-Aid, out on the porch post there, I'm going with mine as a more likely accurate reading.

First, I stepped outside, and no way it was in the twenties. Single-digit cold bites harder than a few degrees above freezing. Second, there are a lot of things that will make a thermometer read higher than it actually is -- maybe the WC has its unit next to somebody's dryer vent or something -- but only a malfunction will make an outdoor gauge read lower than it really is.

Put the hummingbird feeder back out, and have had several visitors already. They look chilly.