Sunday, July 31, 2011


My son got access to a vacation home in Bend, Oregon, for a week, and he invited us up, so we went for a couple days. 

Bend is in the Oregon sunbelt–yep, we have that–a couple hundred miles south and east or Portland. Big winter destination, close to skiing at Mt. Bachelor, boating, fishing, all like that. 

High desert country that way; once you cross the mountain, the Doug Fir gives way to red-bark pine and red dirt, and that to sagebrush and scrub pine. Dry, dusty, and the temperature variation this time of year can be fifty degrees. Low nineties  during the day, low forties after the sun goes down. You drink a lot of water, but you don't pee much. 

Rattlesnake country, so you have to keep a close eye on the dogs.

The house was a big place, done up like a hunting lodge, mounted fish, critter heads, rustic-looking, but with a lawn and a beautiful view of the mountain, plus a good-sized swimming pool, hot tub, sauna, beautiful kitchen, and enough room to billet the Swiss Army. 

The pool was eighteen by forty-eight feet, plenty enough to swim laps in, although that was harder than I expected. With the elevation being 4200 feet, those of us used to sea-level workouts don't have enough hemoglobin. Ten laps, I was having trouble finding enough oxygen in the air I was recycling in a hurry. 

Yeah, I know Denver is a thousand and some feet higher, and if I was going to complete in anything that need long-distance wind, that's where I'd go train, but 4200 feet was enough for this flatlander to notice. 

We had a great time, barbecued, played with the grandchildren, watched a movie. Went out to behold the Milky Way and a plethora of stars you can't see in the city glow. 

There are worse ways to spend a few days . 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Small World

Fred Fabre, left, circa 2002 

Talking to the car guy at dinner, and we got on the subject of Rolls Royce automobiles. Back in Louisiana, I said, we used to live next to to a Rolls Royce mechanic.

And Richard looks at me and says, "Fred Fabre?"

Geez, Louise, twenty-five hundred miles away, forty years since I've seen Fred, and you know the guy?

Yeah, turns out they were both members of a British car club ...

I hadn't thought about Fred in a while, so I poked around on the net and found out that he had passed away. Had a stroke, in 2006. I found the obituary in the Baton Rouge paper, and while I know we have photographs of Fred buried in a box somewhere, I found one on the web, wherein Fred is giving an award at a care show.

Fred was funny, always named his cats "Sam," and the best mechanic I ever knew. He had a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, a Bentley or two, some old Mercedes and smaller Brit cars. Collection of electric trains, one of which I gave him. And a Luger Parabellum collector's item that was a 1920 German Police Issue overstrike, with matching numbers throughout that was probably worth what most of what one of his cars cost. He told me a story once, said a serious collector handed him a blank check and said fill in whatever you want. But he kept it. 

Adiós, Fred. Sorry I missed your passage.

Star Wars Fan? You Need to See This ...


We had dinner with some old friends we haven't seen in a while. Years ago, six or eight of us would get together now and then, eat good food, drink good wine, and talk. Given that we were all left-wing-leaning anti-war liberals and Former Occupant George Bush was the Prez, we always had lots to gripe about ...

Um, anyway, one of the group, a few years older than I, is a car guy, and since we saw him last, has taken up open-wheel racing. Got himself a Formula V car, which is a tiny thing powered by a souped-up VW engine, and capable of speeds around 115 mph.

I sat in it, and it's like putting on a tight glove. Have to take the steering wheel off to shinny into the seat. Can't shift it without moving your knee out of the way. 

On the one hand, I thought, Geez, Richard, you're too old to be zipping around a race track in a death machine! On the other hand? More power to him. Given that when I talk to people about silat class and I show off a bruise on my forearm big enough so it looks like I got a tan on that arm, and they look at me as if I am barking mad: How old are you? Are you nuts?

A man's gotta do what man's gotta do ...

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

Most of my TV guilty pleasures are on basic cable–there are a slew of programs on places like TNT, FX, A&E and USA, summer-starts designed to catch all the folks looking for something after the traditional networks go into reruns: Leverage, The Glades, Memphis Beat, Royal Pains, White Collar, Rissoli and Isles, The Closer, In Plain Sight. Some of these are outright goofy, some not bad, and in the case of Justified, which is done for the season, as good as anything else on the non-pay-cable tube. 

Probably we enjoy Memphis Beat the most of the current crop. Great character actors and music, and while it's about as accurate a cop show as Barney Miller used to be, you gotta love Jason Lee's portrayed of Dwight, the too-honest-for-his-own-good detective. That's Keb Mo doing music behind Lee on last week's episode.

The latest of these to catch our attention is Covert Affairs, centered around a newbie CIA operative, Annie Walker, played by Piper Perabo. This one is in the comic-book fantasy category, since Annie didn't even get through her training before they sent her into the field, and she makes James Bond look like a dullard on tranquilizers. 

Silly? Aside from the fact that Annie's control, Auggie, is blind, that she does all kinds of illegal crap by working inside the continental USA, a thing expressly forbidden to the CIA, and that there doesn't seem to be anything that MacGyver could do that she can't do backwards and in high heels? The idea that they'd be trusting her on some of the missions still wet-behind-the ears is worth a lot of outright mirth.

She can handle it, her supervisors say, as they nod sagely.

Yeah, yeah, the electronic gadgets and real-time spycams and other instant-gratification gear are a given, if not on the same gosh-wom level of sci fi as Leverage. That Annie's sister and her boyfriend think she works for the Smithsonian Museum kind of keeps a B-story going, but it's approaching lame. 

Last episode, Annie and her boss–right, her boss at Langley goes into the field–plus an ex-boyfriend travel to Mexico disguised as a TV crew to rescue some hostages, including an undercover CIA female op. The scene where the undercover op and Annie's boss beat the crap out of four guards armed with submachine guns, now that was believable, yessir ...

Oh, well. That's what a guilty pleasure is, isn't it ... ?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Learning Curve

I've spoken to this before, but since it's a passing parade and the line has moved along, I thought I'd mention it again.

Much of what I have learned in my life has gone from the broad and general to the specific. You establish a beginner's base and then add to that. 

You don't build a pyramid with the point down.

If you want to learn to swim, starting in shallow water where you can touch the bottom if you lose your stroke is maybe safer than doing it in deep water where you cannot.

Once you learn the basic stroke, you can swim in any depth. And then you can add other strokes, increase your distance, become more adept. If you want to win an Olympic event as a swimmer, you have to master one or more strokes, become efficient, develop specific strengths, and train out the wazoo to get to world-class status. The level of competition is going to be a lot higher than it is down at the open swim for seniors Wednesday at the local pool. 

I'm guessing most of you are still with me.

General is good, and sometimes enough to do what you need to do. And that's where you start. If you can throw a fist-sized rock, you can probably throw a baseball. (If you want to throw it in the major leagues, you need more depth. Michael Jordan, arguably one of the greatest basketball players ever, was fit, trained, and beyond expert in his sport, but when he went to play minor league baseball, it didn't translate. Probably he was in better shape than most of the players around him generally, but his depth in baseball was lacking. He might have learned, but he was way behind the curve, and chances are he wouldn't have ever caught up with guys who had been specializing in the sport all their lives.)

Training in two-move chess problems seriously for fifty hours will put a so-so player on a par with grandmasters–for two-move chess problems. You won't have his total game, but in a heads-up in that particular arena, you can hold your own. 

It depends on what you want or need to do. 

Sometimes wide and shallow is the ticket. Jack of all trades, master of none. 

Sometimes, deep and narrow beats wide and shallow all to hell and gone. 

The trick is to know which one best serves you in a given situation. 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Check This Out

Watch the little + in the middle. Works better if you allow a full screen view. An interesting illusion ...

Martial Arts Wars

Just got an email from somebody new to the whole online martial arts wars: "I hear you and Marc MacYoung don't get along. What do you have against him?"

Actually, I don't have anything against him. He does what he does, I do what I do, we don't see eye to eye, that's all.

Those of you who don't know, Marc "Animal" MacYoung is a writer and teacher who specializes in reality-based self defense; he has produced a number of well-received books and videos on the subject, and has even teamed with Rory Miller on recent projects. (It should be no surprise to long-time readers here that I'm a big fan of Rory Miller's work, and he and I don't see eye to eye on everything, either. What makes a horse race, isn't it?)

Why don't MacYoung and I chat any more? Some years ago, I was a member of his email list, whereupon there were now and again some spirited discussions of things martial. We often disagreed on philosophical points regarding matters of mayhem and assorted social interactions. 

For several reasons that won't mean anything to anybody not directly involved, Marc and his wife Dianna and I–she moderated the email group–arrived at a place where our disagreements made continuing dialog impossible to maintain. It was either apologize for something I said or I wouldn't be allowed to post any more, so I elected instead to leave–given as how I expected it to be a particularly cold day in Hell before I would back off my position, and fuck you very much ...

Strong-willed people disagree all the time. C'est la vie.

I have my view of what was what, I'm sure they have theirs, and naturally, I am inclined to hold that my view is the more reasonable one, but, of course, I would, wouldn't I? Doesn't mean that it's right. I expect them to feel the same way about how they saw it. 

MacYoung has lots of folks who like and admire him. I am just not counted among them ...

Tales of the Zombie Apocalypse

From Xfinity News, by Nastaya Tay, of the AP:

JOHANNESBURG—A South African man awoke to find himself in a morgue fridge—nearly a day after his family thought he had died, a health official said Monday.
Health department spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the man awoke Sunday afternoon, 21 hours after his family called in an undertaker who sent him to the morgue after an asthma attack.
Morgue owner Ayanda Maqolo said he sent his driver to collect the body shortly after the family reported the death. Maqolo said he thought the man was around 80 years old.
"When he got there, the driver examined the body, checked his pulse, looked for a heartbeat, but there was nothing," Maqolo told the Associated Press.
But a day after staff put the body into a locked refrigerated compartment, morgue workers heard someone shouting for help. They thought it was a ghost, the morgue owner said.
"I couldn't believe it!" Maqolo said. "I was also scared. But they are my employees and I had to show them I wasn't scared, so I called the police."
After police arrived, the group entered the morgue together.
"I was glad they had their firearms, in case something wanted to fight with us," Maqolo said.
He said the man was pale when they pulled him out.
"He asked, 'How did I get here?'" Maqolo said.
The health department said the man was then taken to a nearby hospital for observation and later discharged by doctors who deemed him stable.
Kupelo, the health department spokesman, urged South Africans to call on health officials to confirm that their relatives are really dead.
The man's family was informed that he was alive during a family meeting convened to make funeral arrangements. They're very happy to have him home, Maqolo said.
But Maqolo said he is still trying to recover from the traumatic experience ...
(I particularly liked this line: "Kupelo, the health department spokesman, urged South Africans to call on health officials to confirm that their relatives are really dead."

Really? Well, you know, the driver, said he was dead ...

Also that he was glad the cops came with their guns. Right. A gun is going to help if you have a ghost in the fridge ...

Years ago, when I worked at the clinic, we had a home care nurse call in about one of our patients, a woman who had been bed-bound with MS for years. "She's passed," the nurse told our receptionist.

In order for somebody to be declared legally dead in Louisiana, it takes a doctor to sign the paperwork. And since I was the PA-C and our doctors were up to their eyeballs in flu patients, I got sent to confirm the death. 

So I arrived, was admitted, went in to look at the corpse, whereupon the dead woman opened her eyes and looked at me and said, "What are you doing here?"

Apparently my Jesus-bringing-Lazarus-back imitation–though I didn't say that.

It was pretty funny around the office for a couple days. "Somebody die at the hospital? Send Perry, maybe he can resurrect 'em ...

Woo Woo

Our local seven-term Democratic congressman, David Wu, the first Chinese-American elected to the House–i.e. he was born in China but raised here–is in the middle of yet another scandal. 

I think it's the third, if anybody is keeping count. 

The congressman's ship sprang a leak a while back when it was discovered that during some unhappy personal times, including a divorce and his father's death, he started sending out weird emails, including one of him in a tiger costume; he called people Klingons during speeches on the House floor; and admits to taking painkilling drugs (oxycodone) given to him by a supporter, to self-medicate his condition, whatever that was. Plus some other inappropriate public antics that would seem to be the product of a chemically-altered consciousness.

A block of his staff quit, en masse, just after his reëlection, and some stories started getting bandied about.

That got spun pretty good, he apologized, but it was enough to get him a couple of primary opponents for the next election. And when the latest revelation appeared, that he hit on the daughter of an old friend, and the young woman said it was an unwanted sexual advance, the nail was poised to shut his coffin. Or as a local Democratic official, Mitch Greenlick, said, "He's dead meat."

Wu was not exactly a dynamo in creating meaningful legislation, and his record seemed to be go-along-get-along. You see the terms "scant," or "thin." He showed up and voted, a 62% progressive voter, but offhand, I can't remember any legislation of note that he got passed.

People running against him in the next primary must have thought they'd discovered a bottle with a genie in it when this hit the front page. Hoo, boy! Thank you, Lord!

The young woman in question appears to have been of legal age–she graduated from high school in 2010, and so she'd likely have been eighteen when the alleged incident took place, last November.

Wu admits there was an encounter, though he says it was consensual.

She said, he said.

If the girl was a willing participant, then there's nothing illegal about it, albeit perhaps wasn't the wisest move for a 55-year-0ld sitting congressman to be hitting on an old high school friend's kid. 

(Portland's mayor, Sam Adams, was involved in a similar event that came to light after he was elected, and his partner was either just this side or that of legal age when it happened, depending on which story you believe. Sam lied about the affair, and has had to spend a fair amount of time apologizing for that. Come his reëlection campaign, I expect we'll get to hear all about it all over again.) 

If the sexual encounter by the congressman wasn't consensual, that's a felony of a different color, of course, though proof is unlikely.

The as-yet unidentified young woman–though I'm sure that will come to light soon–didn't call the law at the time. Her stance apparently was, Who'd believe me? He's a seven-time congressman and I just got out of high school, and it would be my word against his. 

It only came to light because Wu's staff heard an unhappy phone message the woman left for him, and because somebody asked them questions. 

Part of the problem for Wu is that old power-wielder's Achilles heel: Arrogance. 

Some time back, Wu decided that he didn't like the local paper's coverage of what he did, so he elected to avoid speaking to them. Disrespect me? Well, that for you, I don't talk to you, any more, Big O!

No law against that, but if you are a public official, it is always a risky idea to piss in the direction of the people who buy ink by the boxcar. The Oregonian's reporters didn't much care for being shut out, and so they did what reporters do when somebody throws up a fence and says, "Fuck you!" 

They started digging.

And lo! they found all kinds of dirt. 

Laughing last counts for a lot.

Wu says he didn't do anything worthy of being forced to resign, but he's already allowed as how he won't be running for another term. 

That certainly tells you something ...

Walkin' Blues

Blues guitarist Dave Mullany, playing "Walkin' Blues," by Robert Johnson, at the Woodstock Farmer's Market, in Portland, OR. (Note the children on the stationary bikes next to Dave–their pedaling powers the battery that feeds the musician's amps.)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Club 27

Amy Winehouse has joined Club 27. 

Can't say I'm at all surprised.

Other members include: Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and of course, blues legend Robert Johnson. All died at age 27, and none of them from natural causes–unless you consider that musicians hard-drinking, toking, shooting smack, playing with shotguns and getting poisoned by jealous husbands are natural ...


Took another blues class from Dave Mullany, along with another, much-more-accomplished-than-I player, Chris. 

A good teacher can make things ever so much easier, and Dave is good.

I can't say that I see the light at the end of the tunnel by any means, but I am aware there is a tunnel a few miles up the road I need to get to ...

Taking the lead is still awkward, and since I don't know but a couple of scales, really limited, but having a couple of good guitarists playing rhythm makes it easier. If I spend some time learning major and minor scales and some CAGED stuff up the neck, that will be a good start. Dave laid out what could be a couple years' worth of stuff to work on, and that's the road I'm headed down.

If you are in Portland and don't have anything else going this next Sunday morning, Dave will be playing the Woodstock Farmer's Market, on Woodstock, in Southeast, starting around ten a.m. tomorrow. The market features something called Giga-Bike, where you can still on a stationary spin-bike and pedal, and that powers the music amps and electric instruments. How cool is that? 


(Photo by Rotem Eldar)

Since we used to make a pass by our local Borders pretty much every time we went to the gym–it's right next to Baja Fresh where we'd often grab lunch or early dinner–we've seen the bookstore start to ebb over the last few months. 

The axe has now fallen, and so we made a stop there yesterday to see how it the deceased and still-cooling corpse was doing.

The whole front entry was already cleared out and empty, echoing hollowly.

With the initial drop in prices, from 10% on most books, to 40% on magazines, and various discounts in-between, the bargain hunters were there in force. Most people we've ever seen in the place, the check-out line backed up  all the way to the kiddie book section, seventy, eighty people, and lots more roaming about. 

We decided not to stay. It felt like I was one among a flock of vultures, picking through the carcass, and for me, ten percent off on a few books wasn't worth waiting in line for what was going to be a long time. 

A few more days of this, some discount dealer coming in to bid on the remains, and Borders here will be done. Dead, empty, shuttered, and adiós.

Mostly I get my books from Powell's in Beaverton, which is just a couple blocks up the road from the Borders, in the Cedar Hills Mall, and  for a bunch of reasons: You can get used books there. They take trade-ins for credit or cash. My sci fi guy Peter works there. It's a bigger store than a typical B&N or Borders. (Not a patch size-wise on Big Powell's downtown, but then again, nobody else is, either, vis a vis rack space, certainly not on this coast.) It's the closest bookery to my house anyhow. And when I can, I will support local businesses.

I won't miss Borders as much because of Powell's, but that's four hundred stores
and thousand employees gone, and a lot less rack space for books and CDs–plus our Borders had live music one night a week, small and mostly acoustic groups, and they'll be looking for another place to play. 

I hate to see a bookstore close, but if there is an upside to this, it is that with Borders gone, Powell's Beavo will probably get an uptick in business, and I do want to see them stick around. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Parkinson's Monster

(Art by Lydia Marano)

My long-time collaborator and friend Michael Reaves has put up a new blog. It concerns Parkinson's Disease, from which he has suffered for a couple decades, the effects, and how it directs his life. 

Most people think of Parkinson's the way they do Alzheimer's–that they are illnesses of advanced age, senile dementia, but that's not always the case. Reaves was in his early forties when the first symptoms manifested. (And his brain works as well as it ever did, for what that's worth ...)

More than a few people begin to show the symptoms of Parkinson's or Alzheimer's years before it becomes apparent that's what's going on. My father, in his eighties, started  in his early-sixties taking maps with him when he drove because he realized he was getting lost. He was compensating, and didn't tell anybody. We figured out later what all those maps stashed in his car and office were for.

Alzheimer's runs in our family: My father has it, his mother had it, and his grandmother did, as well. I'm working crossword puzzles and standing on my head, staying fit, eating well. Being a musician is supposed to help your brain work better into old age, too, but since nobody is sure what causes it, this might or might not help. 

Anyway, if you are interested in how Parkinson's looks from the other side, check out Reaves' blog. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Musical Goal

I met the musician I was hoping to become. He was a mandolin player, dropped by the jam group and sat in last go round. Here's how he did it–we'd start to play a song, he'd look to see what chords I was playing, then he would know the key and progression–a lot of what we do is 1-4-5, and he'd improvise. Chords, lead, little frills, no problem.

That's what I want to learn to do. Not hard, in theory ...

Gonna Need a Bigger Boat

The new mattress came yesterday. And, of course, because we knew that once we pulled the old mattress and box springs off the bed frame, the dust and spider webs would lay thick underneath–which they did–we had to get out the vacuum cleaner and take care of that. 

Once that was done, of course, the rest of the bedroom floor with its fine coat of dog hair needed our attention, too, and since we already had the vacuum cleaner out and right there, well, might as well. 

And then ...


Cleaning Frenzy!

Like a shark's feeding frenzy, a cleaning frenzy involves a focused, on-point, nothing-gets-in-the-way attack. One moment, you are thinking about how nice it will be to have a firm new mattress, the next thing you know, it's three hours later and you are exhausted, having vacuumed, mopped, dusted, scrubbed bathrooms, and otherwise cleaned the castle.

On the one hand, this is good because, well, everything is clean. On the other hand, it is tiring, and you have to go and dirty up your nice sparkling shower because you are gritty and grubby. 

Plus you shake your head over what pigs you are.

But the new bed feels great.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Aloha From Hell

I love doing reviews of series books–because pretty much all I need to do is say, "Well, if you are a fan of Whoever's series, all you need to know is that the latest one is out and you should a) go to your vanishing bookstore and buy it; b) order it from an online megabookstore and have it delivered; or c) download it into your reader, whichever is your pleasure. 

Makes my reviewer gig ever so much easier this way.

(Might be a wait for this one to show up at the library, so I'll leave that one off the table.)

Technically, this review, of Richard Kadrey's third installment of his Sandman Slim series, Aloha From Hell (not to be confused with the German rock band of the same nameis a little ahead of its time–the book from Harper Voyager isn't officially out until mid-October; still, a heads-up early so you can go ahead and order it isn't amiss these days, given that your neighborhood Borders, at least, is going to be gone when the book comes out. 

Rest in peace, Borders, I'll miss you. 

Um. Back to Rich's novel. If you've read the first two Sandman Slim books and liked them, you'll like this one, too. If you haven't, run get them, Kill the Dead and Sandman Slim before you read this one. You don't need to, the latest book stands alone, but all that backstory is fun. Well, it is if you like your fun active, bloody, gory, full of zombies, monsters, demons, psychotic angels, an animated pool-playing, beer-drinking head on wheels, and a guy who used to be an arena fighter in Hell who carries a .460 Smith & Wesson to augment a hellish whip called a na'at–and who wouldn't like all that?–you'll be right at home here. 

Not to give too much away, but these days, Hell is in turmoil, as is Heaven; God is falling down on the job, and so is Lucifer; the world is going to hell in its usual hand basket, and James Stark, aka Sandman Slim, has to deal with it, with no less than the universe as we know it at stake. 

And you gotta love it that a goodly chunk of Hell looks just like Los Angeles ...

Kadrey is good enough that I forgive him his use of present tense, which I've always considered a literary affectation best reserved for the little magazines published by assorted universities. I would wish it into the cornfield since it seldom adds anything to genre material.

And we must need speak about the comparisons to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Such comparisons are not altogether unwarranted, though Kadrey brings a nastier, manic energy to Slim that's hardly the same as Butcher's Harry Dresden. Still, there is plenty of magic and mojo and beings supernaturale in both, and the protagonists tend to share a certain fuck-off-and-die attitude when pushed that results in wholesale slaughter of anything that gets in their faces.

A more-than-human wise-ass protagonist who can do magic in an unrelenting battle against demonic, evil, etc. forces out to destroy him, the world, the universe and everything? One of them has a brilliant skull sidekick who fills him in on stuff he needs to know, and the other has a brilliant head sidekick who fills him in on stuff he needs to know.


Similarity in fictional characters is inevitable. Robert Parker's Spenser was solidly entrenched in Boston when Bobby Crais came up with Elvis Cole out in L.A. Now it's true that neither of them invented the wise-ass private eye, so it's not as if they were breaking virgin ground, but early readers might have been forgiven for thinking that Cole and Joe Pike were but paler west coast copies of Spenser and Hawk when they first appeared. I thought so.

Wise-cracking smart-ass P.I. with a death-on-two-legs mystery-man sidekick who has his back? Which series does that describe better, Parker's or Crais's?

I see no plagiarism here, neither intentional nor accidental, we're talking about archetypes going back to Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett on one hand, and Ulysses on the other. If you gonna play music in our culture, it's a few notes, some sharps and flats, and you are bound to repeat something. Only three plots, remember?

Crais made his guys different over the next few years, however, and nobody confuses them these days. (Neither Crais nor the later Robert Parker knew diddly about guns when they got started and it showed. Parker never really did learn, though Crais has.)

Um. Anyway, all of this is to say that Kadrey's latest is worth reading. So read it. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

Workaround: Blogger Doesn't Like iPad

I got the iPad primarily as a reader; the reason I was willing to pay more for it, aside from the color aspects and all, was that a tablet is a multi-function device. I can check my email, and if I get a Bluetooth keyboard, actually do work on it, since it will run the same word processing program the Mac uses. Plus take pictures, surf the web, Face Time, record music, listen to music, watch movies, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Plus I can blog and all. Or so I thought.

Turns out Blogger likes the iPad somewhat, but not altogether. The function that allows one to post photographs from those stored on the device doesn't work. A quick goggle showed I wasn't the first person to come across this. You can attach a URL to an image on the web and Blogger will link to it, but if the picture is one you took and is in your Photo app or elsewhere on your iPhone, iPod, or iPad, Blogger grays out the button to collect it.


There are a a lot of much more computer savvy people out there than I, fortunately, and there is a workaround: If you have an account at Flickr or Photobucket–which doesn't cost you anything, and the app that corresponds to those–also a freebie–you can post a picture from your iPad to one of the public photo storage sites, then link to that from your blog post. Which is how the velvet paintings in the previous post got there originally.

Lot of clever folks out there. It's not ideal, but it gets the job done.

In other news, one of the places we camp, out in the Gorge, has a small museum, and behind it, in a glassed-walled kiosk is ensconced a small steam locomotive, "The Oregon Pony." This was the first train engine, running on the first tracks, to operate in Oregon. It was an iron mule used to haul freight past a treacherous stretch of the river at Cascade, in the days before the river was tamed with dams and locks. Rather than risk a raft through the rapids, travelers could opt for a mule-drawn cart over rails for portage. Eventually, the powers-that-were decided that steam was better than mules, and in 1862, the Vulcan Iron Works Foundry in San Francisco built a utility-truck-sized engine. It was put into service and the mules retired.

The country back east was in the beginnings of a war that would kill more Americans than any other, fore or since, but mostly that didn't cause folks on the west coast in the states and territories a lot of problems. The country-spanning transcontinental railroad was yet to be built. Nobody was sailing around the Horn to conquer California, they had other stuff on their plates. 

The Oregon Pony did duty here and there for forty-odd years, until 1904, when it was donated to the Oregon Historical Society and with some fire-damage repaired and a new coat of paint, eventually loaned to the museum at Cascade Locks where it is on permanent display.

So now you know ...

Friday, July 15, 2011


My son has taken up a new hobby -- painting on black velvet ...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Working for a Living: Why My Job is Easier Than Yours

Some of you might not be aware that George R.R. Martin has been for some years catching a lot of flak because he takes so long to finish a new episode of his bestselling fantasy series. Got hate websites up and running, and people pissing in his direction hither and yon.

Fans can get real possessive of a story, and come to believe they are not only entitled to it but that they know better than the guy writing it how it should go. 

Me, I figure it's his business, and he can do it like he wants. We don't like it, that's our problem. Sure, a writer has to consider his or her fans, but in the end, writers are the ones with asses in chairs producing stories, and how they do it is up to them. 

That fans want them to hurry is a given. I have a list of writers I like who are too damned slow for me, and I want them to go faster. George is right up there.

Still, I can understand how fans might crunch the numbers.

Martin's latest book, ADWD, runs about a thousand pages, and that works out to about 1500 manuscript pages, plus or minus a few.

If it took five years from start to finish, then that's 300 pages a year, or about 8/10ths of a manuscript page per day. Less than this blog post.

But, hey, nobody can expect him to work 365 days a year. That's not fair. Give the guy a break.

Let's say his working year is close to what most people do on a real nine-to-five, job, call it 200 days. That's weekends and holidays, off, plus a five-week vacation.

So he'd have to average a page and a half a working day to get the 1500 ms pages in five years. 

That's not a lot of words, even with rewrites. Do a few days of ten or fifteen pages, you can take a couple more weeks off and still get your average, right?

Now, of course, writing fiction is not a science, and writers don't always write every day, but still,  that doesn't sound like nose to the grindstone hours, does it? Given that most writers I know can crank out a page and a half in fifteen or twenty minutes.

And how long is your work day? And what do you make compared to what George makes?(see the immediately prior post for some theoretical numbers ...)

A Funny Story About Books

I posted a piece here recently about Paul Simon and "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and during the writing thereof, I wanted to include some material I had read in a book about the music biz in 1970. This bit was in David Browne's book, Fire and Rain: The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor, CSNY, and the Lost Story of 1970.

I reviewed Browne's book a few weeks ago here, under the title Fire and Rain.

So, I got up from the computer and toodled on into the living room where my bookcase with rock biographies is to look for it. 

Couldn't find it. 

I knew what the cover looked like, I knew I hadn't lent it to anybody, but it wasn't there. 

Hmm. Maybe I left it on the floor and it got kicked under the bed?


Where the dickens else could it be? I knew I had it somewhere–

Oh, Jeez! It came to me all of a sudden where I'd put it:

It was in my iPad.


This was the moment when I realized that my transition into reading ebooks versus paper ones was maybe not going to be that difficult. I didn't remember the form it was in.

More, the piece I wanted was easy to find. Plugged in the key phrase, and there it was, in the list that popped up in the search pane. 

I've been reading George R.R.'s latest fantasy, A Dance With Dragons, and it's hard to do in bed. The book literally weighs three pounds, and it leaves a red indentation on my chest where I have it propped. 

(Of the 298,000 copies of this sold on the first day, the most for any novel's laydown this year, 170,000 of them were hardback footbreakers, and good for George. 110,000 copies were ebooks. 18,000 were audiobooks. And if you like the Song of Fire and Ice series, you'll like this one–the Lannisters and Freys, the Imp and the Dragon Queen, Hodor, the direwolves and Jon Snow at the Wall, they are all there ...)

In this case, the iPad weighs considerably less than George's hardback, and if I'd had to pay for the book myself, I would have gone the e-route. Because apparently my memory of the book's contents will far outweigh the form in which I read it. 

Plus the cost is less. Can't go by retail, because a $35 hardback bestseller gets discounted all over the place,, Costco, WallyWorld, the mark-up being 40%, so you won't pay $35 for it.

George's book retail on is a deep-discount $18.81 for the hardback; it's $14.99 for the Kindle, just under a four buck difference, not all that much, and free shipping. B&N's break is $19.25/$14.99, a little farther apart. Still, if you save four bucks on every book you buy, that mounts up.

How this works out for George, hypothetically? Well, let's say he gets standard ebook royalties, currently 25%. His piece of that 110,000 ebook sale? $412,000.   

If on the hardback, he gets standard royalties, say, 12% of the sales, and you factor in the discounts so the books average, say, $20 a hit? Then he makes $408,000 on the 170,000 copies sold there. 

Here's the fun math: Sixty thousand more treeware units sold, but he makes eight grand less. Not that he's hurting for lunch money either way.

Poor George. Only $820,000 royalties on the first day of sales alone, and that's not counting the audiobooks. I dunno what the royalties there are, but they run $40-50 bucks a whack for the discounted unabridged, and if he'd getting the same royalties as on the hardback, another paltry hundred grand. So on Tuesday, George made just under a million bucks. 

On Tuesday. 

Which do you think the book company likes better? The one where they have to pay to print half a million copies, some of which are going to be returned, pay to warehouse them and ship them, then process returns, or the one where they upload one file to and then wait for their check, no other costs?

And the beat goes on. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wretched Hive

In another lifetime, I had a short career as a kidvid writer for the tube. Worked on, like fourteen different shows, maybe forty-five episodes all total. It was fun, lucrative, and I'm glad to have had the experience.

Most of these I wrote with Reaves, a few with other writers,  a few by myself.

The prevailing theory of literature then, as now, was that working for Hollywood, especially television, and even more especially, animated television was whore's work and a sure ticket to Hell. 

Wretched hive of scum and villainy, that was us.

Um. Anyway, at some point maybe ten years ago, I decided to speak to this by writing a little ditty, sung acapella, regarding what eventually happens to TV writers. Two verses and a chorus is all, but to the point.

I came across it recently, ran it through GarageBand, and you can listen to it here. Or by clicking on the title, "Run and Hide," in the embedded player down toward the bottom of the blog. Called "Run and Hide."

The words:

I went down to the network, you know/
I said, I don't want to wind up below/
They said, Too bad, you done worked on our show/
And the Devil is a comin' after you.


You can run, but you cannot hide/
You can run, but you cannot hide/
You can run, but you cannot hide/
And the Devil is a comin' after you.

I said Wait–there must be a way/
They said Un uh, you done took our pay/ 
We own your soul forever and a day/
And the devil is a comin' after you


You can run, but you cannot hide/
You can run, but you cannot hide/
You can run, but you cannot hide/
And the Devil is a comin' after you.