Monday, October 31, 2011

Trick or Treat



When I was fifteen, I thought that my best buddy and I were the only people in the country for whom Hallowe'en was the holiday. Yeah, yeah, Thanksgiving and Christmas and 4th of July, but they were down the list. 

Times have changed. Walk through my neighborhood, the houses are festooned with giant motor-powered ghost and spider balloons, plastic punkins, ghosts and witches, couple are even rigged with strobe lights. People start putting this stuff up first of the month. Amazing.

The trick-or-treat aspect has certainly changed. If you challenge one of the tiny Harry Potters or Toy Story characters with "trick" when they show up, they won't have a clue what you are talking about. Treat-or-more-treats seems to be the operative mode. And they are so cute you wouldn't want to upset them.

Back in the day, come dark, I joined the tens of millions of kids running loose on the streets with my pillowcase or brown shopping bag, and we roamed until ten o'clock. And woe be it to anybody who didn't answer the knock–we would egg their house, soap their screens, or TP the bushes, and served 'em right. They should know better. 

My mother would always do the candy inspection when we got home, just in case somebody wanted to slip a razor blade into something homemade, but that wasn't a problem. We all knew our neighbors, and we all knew who gave out what. There were old ladies who would do a few dozen candy apples, and if they were out when we got there? They would pass out pennies.

My personal connection goes way back, and has only gotten stronger. My best buddy and I exchanged letters every Hallowe'en, until we stopped talking to each other. I kept writing them, only in a journal. My son was born on this date. My daughter got married on Hallowe'en. My baby sister was born on trick-or-treat night, albeit a couple days before the 31st. They used to do that, schedule trick-or-treat on a better night. 

But hey, it's still my holiday; all you johnny-come-latelies? You can have Arbor Day.

I'm off to go carve my pumpkin. I'll post the after picture when I'm done. (See above.)

Happy Hallowe'en.

Baby, I Don't Care

I read Lee Server's biography Robert Mitchum: Baby, I Don't Care. 

Those of you not old enough to remember him, Mitchum was a movie star up there with John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper and the like. He started out in B-movie oaters, pretty much was the face of forties and fifties film noir, and went on to a long career, more than a hundred movies and a slew of TV movies and shows. The first of the anti-heroes.

He left home at fourteen, filled with wanderlust, and rode the rails as a hobo. Worked hard physical labor for CCC, digging and planting, built himself into a big, strong, guy, and eventually wound up in Hollywood. 

And he was Hollywood's worst bad boy. Got busted for possession of marijuana in 1947, having developed a taste for the weed while riding the rails, along which it grew wild in the 1930s. The conviction was later vacated, but he was guilty, a dope-smoker the rest of his days. He was married, but he didn't chase skirts–they came to him, and in hordes. He was a hard, two-fisted drinker, smoked unfiltered Pall Malls, and got into more barroom brawls than the rest of Hollywood's movie starts put together. Most of which he won.

"Baby, I Don't Care" seemed to be his philosophy of life, although Server makes a point of his professionalism: Mitchum showed up for work, knew his lines, hit his marks. He was a happy drunk at first who could get mean as the evening went on. He told wonderful stories, was a great writer of both prose and poetry, and could be generous and tight-fisted at the same time. He composed songs, sang a few, sort of, and had a hit record with a song he co-wrote, "The Ballad of Thunder Road," from the movie in which he starred as a moonshine runner. (His son played his younger brother in that one.)

He slept with half of Hollywood's leading ladies, and a bunch of unknown beauties who never made it to the top, and while he was fairly serious in his affair with Shirley MacLaine, there was never any chance he was going to leave his wife.

He couldn't sit still, and he took work that would let him travel all over the world. As soon as he got there, the party began. 

He was in some of the scariest of the southern gothic noir movies, playing the heavy. Night of the Hunter, Cape Fear. He was usually cast when they wanted somebody big and tough, and while he entertained the crews and had them laughing, a lot of actors and actresses playing opposite him were actually frightened of him. He had a sleepy-eyed, dangerous look that could be made to serve any emotion on screen. He'd underplay a scene and the director would want to re-shoot it, only when they saw the dailies, Mitchum's offhand performance came across on film perfectly. He was a better actor than he was given credit for, but overlooked at Oscar time.

He lived hard, killed himself with booze and cigarettes and reefer, and it was a question of whether the lung cancer or emphysema would get him first. That he made it to a month shy of eighty was amazing to everybody who knew him. 

And it's fascinating to follow him down, albeit the book is a bit long, detailing most of the movies he worked upon. Server lays out the don't-give-a-shit attitude over and over, but there is an anomaly he doesn't speak to that caused me to raise an eyebrow. Late in his life, Mitchum had a face-lift, and Server mentions it, but only in passing. He was being considered for the lead in Atlantic City, a role that went to Lancaster, but when he showed up looking forty-five instead of sixty-five because of his plastic surgery, he was out. For a man who affected not to care much about anything, this seemed an off-note, and I would have liked to heard how it came to be. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Another TV show being shot in Portland is Grimm. (Currently, there are three in production here, including Leverage and Portlandia. The later two are cable, the new one, NBC.)

Grimm's premise is simple: A local cop is one of the last of the Grimm family line–those brothers who told all the gruesome fairly tales later to be cleaned up and made antiseptic by Walt Disney. Only they weren't made-up, but what the Grimms actually saw.

Werewolves and vampires and zombies, O my ...

It seems that the evil creatures among us are hidden by glamour, which prevents normal people from seeing them as they really are. Grimms can see them, and since they can, they are the default monster-slayers.

The monsters know this, and when they spot a Grimm, they try to take him out.

A little Nightstalker, bits of Harry Potter, some Buffy, all the elements you need.

Our Hero, Nick, is a Portland police detective who starts to see these critters and thinks he is losing it. His Aunt Marie, who raised him, shows up, a bald woman pulling a tiny Airstream trailer, and as she's telling him what's what, they are attacked by a monster wielding a scythe. Nick manages to cap the monster, but Marie is injured. She gives him a special guard-it-with-your-life key and is hauled off to the hospital.

And oh, by the way, your parents didn't die in an accident, they were killed fighting monsters.

Say what ... ? 

Later, Nick goes into the Airstream and pokes around, finds the Book of Monsters, and ...

There's also a B-story, a werewolf killing joggers and kidnapping children for midnight snacks, and a fiancee Nick is about to marry that Auntie has told him he has to get rid of ...

The atmosphere in and around Portland is a starring character, green, moss on the trees, local hiking trails and buildings. Might do for us what Twilight did for Forks, Washington.

Or not. It's a big rough. The show has promise, and since it is local, I'll watch it to see the scenery. The coming attractions depict a friendly, joined AA-kinda werewolf, and that could be interesting.

My favorite part so far is Aunt Marie's Airstream trailer. This is a bit smaller than the camper my wife and I have, so it's tight on the inside. Or, it should be, but apparently the magic extends into n-space, so that the inside of the tiny trailer is about the side of a rock star's travel coach, since it is easily twice as long and wide as it looks from the outside. (There is a width limit on these things, otherwise you have to travel with a truck and flashing yellow lights and big signs what say OVERSIZE LOAD. If you are my size and you stand in the middle and stretch your arms out, there's not going to be more than a foot from your fingertips to the sidewalls, unless you have slide-out walls, which the Airstream doesn't.)

I want to see if they address that ...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Something to Work Upon

I'm still jamming with the Closet Musicians, and while that is fun, most of what we play is not technically difficult, even for me; a lot of three-chord rock, folk, or blues. The harmonies and timing are where I stretch, but the guitar? Not so much.

So I've been working on that at home, trying to keep my fingerstyle repertoire, and venturing into lead with pentatonic scales. And to that end, I figured I'd challenge myself with stuff that is a bit beyond my reach.

Or, in this case, waaay beyond my reach. Like Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits doing "The Sultans of Swing."

I won't be going up to the fifteenth fret to make it cry and sing on my twelve-frets-to-the-bout classical. Nor will I be able to bend a high note up a full step, but I might be able to pick out some stuff closer to first position. Be interesting to try.

I'll let you know how it goes. In a year or two ...

Friday, October 28, 2011

What's in a Name?

Saw a commercial for the Kindle Fire, and heard this quote, which is where they got the name. I had kinda wondered–if not enough to go look it up. Interesting.

Voltaire: “The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.”

Thursday, October 27, 2011


If you have reason to carry a handgun concealed upon your person–say, you've gotten death threats, transfer large amounts of cash or jewels hither and yon, or are simply being prudent in places where life and limb might be at risk? You can, if you are a citizen come into his or her majority, and neither felon nor a nutjob, in some states, obtain a license to pack such hardware.

Not all states allow this, but most do. There are various requirements in those that offer carry permits; check your local laws. 

If you have a valid permit in one state, there are other states that recognize and offer reciprocity. If you go here and click on the state in which you have a current license, the generator will show you the states that will honor your permit. Just in case you need it.

The video is to show that it is possible to conceal a handgun upon your person ...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Breaking News: The Rich are Getting Richer!

I'm serious. There's a news headline on Comcast: The rich are getting richer ...

Really?! How amazing is that!!

Geez Louise ...


I just finished reading Tom Russ's short memoir, Four Guitars (More or Less), an exploration of his relationship to music and more specifically, to acoustic guitars. Russ, a professor at the College of Southern Maryland, started out as an accordion player until bitten by the rock bug, whereupon he switched to guitars.

The title of this post GAS, stands for "Guitar Acquisition Syndrome," and for those who have it, no explanation is necessary. If you've never heard of it, this is a compelling need to find and buy a new instrument that, at the time, will seem perfect. But not, alas, for long. In short order, the need comes back, and like the quest for the Holy Grail (which it essentially is) the addiction can be fought but never completely defeated ...

(GAS can also stand for Gun Acquisition Syndrome, which is a variant of the same disease, as is Knife Acquisition Syndrome ...)

Hi, my name is Steve, and I'm a guitar addict.

Hi, Steve!

According to Russ, the average acoustic guitar player owns seven guitars, and most of them don't play out in public, but jam privately or woodshed at home.

Russ spends a fair amount of time detailing his personal jones, and how he eventually came to terms with it. 

Sort of ...

He also offers some history of the instrument, some statistics about who plays and who makes them, and that we are living in the Golden Age of Acoustic Guitars. He talks about woods, dips into carbon fiber, and offers up a nice overview of the ins and outs of the unamplified life. It's well-written, informative, and a fun read, particularly from a college professor.

I find guitar memoirs to be interesting, not the least reason being because of how I see myself in them. Russ, like so many of us Baby Boomers, got his first guitar, played a few chords, then stuck it in a closet and seldom touched it for decades. 

Me, too.

Then he came back to the instrument with a renewed interest. Bought some new ones better than the old ones, and started teaching himself, using the internet for instruction.

Me, too.

Then he realized that he needed a real teacher, who could point out stuff he was missing, and began taking lessons. Got into scales and theory, though not in a major way. Learned to play some fingerstyle and chord/melody stuff.

Me, too ...

Then he wrote a book about it. 

Me, too ...

Prince Charming and the Seven Dwarves

So, the silly season is upon us again. The race for President is off and running, and from where I sit, it looks like Prince Charming versus the Seven Dwarves ... only ...

The Prince's running shoes are a bit worn, he really needs to quit smoking, and there are some serious hurdles in his lane.

In February, 2008, I posted a blog entry called Expectations. Here, four graphs from it:

".. as much as I like what Obama has to say, and his manner of delivery, and I'd be happy with him running against McCain, I know to my core that he isn't going to be able to deliver everything he is promising. Carter couldn't do it, Bill Clinton couldn't do it, and they were both as smart as anybody since Jefferson. Hillary won't be able to, nor will McCain.

It's like wishing you could fly by jumping up in the air and waving your arms; it would be wonderful, but the aerodynamics aren't going to allow it on this planet.

The politics of hope are not the same as the politics of accomplishment.

This is Obama's biggest drawback. If he does get elected, the expectation level is astronomical. And while it is true that if you reach for the stars, you don't come up with a handful of mud, and that a man's reach should exceed his grasp, people who believe Obama is going to completely fix the broken state of the U.S. are living somewhere between Sleeping Beauty's Castle and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride."

Not as good as when I predicted the iPhone, but close enough.

Yeah, it's the Dwarves, none of whom do I believe can do any better a job than Obama has done, and most of whom would–I believe–make things considerably worse than they already are; I voted for Obama and will again. And despite his successes in foreign policy and whacking terrorists and all, "It's the economy, stupid!" will almost certainly determine the outcome. He's got his work cut out for him 'twixt now and election day, if he wants four more years. 

(And I still think that wanting the job should disqualify you from having it, and that there should be a lottery, the winner of which has to be President. It's as as good a way as any ...)


Channel surfing the other night and I came across the Crossfit Games on ESPN. Never heard of these before, so I opened the channel.

Happened that it was the women's finals–men were on a different night–so my wife and I watched a few minutes.

It was not the thing to watch if you think you are in shape, because pretty quickly, you realize you aren't.

Most of the women were fairly-strapping farm girls, but some of them were shrimpy. One of the leaders was like five-three and a hundred and nineteen pounds. None of them had that James Earl Jones voice that indicates heavy steroid use, they looked healthy. They seemed to be having so much fun. They were cute. 

We watched some of the events, which are designed to show both strength and endurance. They traversed a set of monkey bars, hand-over-hand. Did squats holding a 95-pound barbell locked in an overhead press. Did handstand pushups against a wall. Skipped rope, double-swing, single-hop. Pushed a three-hundred-and-something pound sled, all done against the clock–and repeated three times ...

Man, were these women fit. Sub one-twenty pounds doing squats with most of her body weight in a locked-arm overhead press? Pushing a sled that is almost three times her bodyweight?

Impressed the hell out of me.

Now, contrast that with the Oregon State Police, who are looking for a few good troopers. To pre-qualify, you have to pass the physical, and that adjusted for age. This requires, for a 25-year-old man, the ability to do, in a two-minute timed test, forty pushups. Then two minutes to do fifty sit ups. And to run two miles in 16:36.

Hell, even I can do that. 

(They don't have a category for a man my age, the oldest is 62–sixteen pushups; 26-sit ups; twenty minutes for the two miles.)

Last batch who tried out for the OSP? Seventeen of thirty-eight made the PT cut. 

Welcome to Wall-e, America. Well, almost ...

Monday, October 24, 2011


Any time a famous person dies, there always seems to be some sniping going on during all the news accounts of his or her passing. 

There were people gave Mother Teresa shit after she died. I expect the Dalai Lama will catch some of that when he shuffles on. 

Yeah, I can understand how one can get fed up with hearing the same stuff over and over. When the Challenger space shuttle blew up, I had to turn my TV off–they kept showing that explosion over and over and over until I couldn't stand it. As they did with the twin towers on 9/11. My knee-jerk reaction when I see either of those now is to change the channel, or go refill the water glass. 

Like pop forty rock or cute TV commercial that are fun the first three or four times you hear see them, but that grate after the ninety-eighth time during one single day, TMI is TMI.

Steve Jobs was, by most accounts, a dick to work with. Self-centered, driven, and living in fantasyland to such an extent that it probably killed him–had he gotten the surgery to remove the cancer when it was encapsulated instead of waiting nine months and drinking herb tea? Maybe he'd still be here. 

He ragged on everybody around him, apparently had the managerial skills of a blind walrus, and no concept of sparing anybody's balls in public. 

But when I scan Facebook and see comments from people on my friend list that say, "Hey, Jobs wasn't so hot!" I just shake my head.

Really? How many billions of people are making phone calls, listening to music, or reading stuff like this online using a computer or touch table that your company created?

He created Apple, then came back after they fired him and pulled it out of the toilet to make it the second most valuable corporation in the country behind Exxon, and for a while, ahead of them.

Only a sales guy? Are you fucking kidding? The man could have sold matches and gasoline in Hell, and gotten premium prices for both. 

Don't have to like the guy, but if you don't respect what he accomplished, you are missing a critical piece of your brain ...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Aw ...

Action Figure

So, Hasbro is having a contest to allow votes on their next Star Wars™ action figure. One of them in the running is Guri, who is near and dear to my heart, being as how I'm her daddy ...

How cool is that? 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Sands of Time

Long ago, and not that far away, I had several writer pen pals. This was before the internet spawned email, and in those bygone days, one corresponded by writing or typing upon sheets of paper using a mechanical device, and then folding these missives and putting them into envelopes and mailing them, via the United States Post Office. (It cost $0.15 to send one. Come January, it'll be $0.45, though I don't really exchange snailmail any more,  save with my mother.)

 I know, I know, it sounds barbarically slow, and it was, it took days, sometimes even a week to travel one way, but that's how it was.

One of the guys with whom I exchanged these quaint communications started into the writing business about the same time as I. I saw his stuff in some of the 'zines to which I was sending my stuff, and while I don't recall how the conversation got started, we struck one up and it was most lively.

He was a good writer, very funny in his letters, and while we weren't anywhere within visiting range, we did keep a steady, if slow, flow of mail going back and forth. We were newbies, toiling in the word mines, and happy to talk to somebody who understood the process. Not just the writing part, but also the selling, the publication, and all the elements that wove it altogether. Writing is a solitary business, and one finds one's companions where one can.

After a few years–this was in the late 1970's and early 1980's–I had a stack of letters stuck away in boxes and I thought that we had a mutual respect and admiration for each other's work.

What I didn't realize was that my pen pal was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription meds. Something happened, there was an accident caused by too much booze and pills, and his wife finally put her foot down. Get clean or get gone. 

Which he did, and so far as I know, has continued to do, and all's well that ends well, right?

Well, not exactly. Shortly after he finished rehab, he stopped writing letters my way. At first, I was puzzled, and later, after reading something he published, I realized what the problem was: The happy-go-lucky addicted version of him was no longer how he saw himself. Part of the twelve-step program allows that once one steps onto the part of sobriety, one might have to dump some old friends, or risk falling back into evil ways. And besides, if I liked him when he was stoned, then my feelings were based on a false image.

I think it was some combination of those two things. He wanted to leave his past behind, and I was part of it. We had never met, and never bent an elbow at a bar, but there was an association, and there you go. 

Well, shit happens, and I went on my merry way. I had other folks with whom I exchanged letters, and c'est la vie.

Fast forward to Facebook times. Curious and nostalgic, I looked the guy up on the web and dropped him a note. Polite pleasantries were exchanged, then nothing more.

Okay, so we're done. AMF.

Recently, I got a mass-mailing note from him, wanting to know if I wanted to be on his newsletter list. It came because I was in his address book, nothing personal attached to it.

So, do I want to be on his newsletter list?

No. Our Venn Diagram intersected briefly thirty-odd years ago, then didn't, and the water under the bridge, the sands through the hourglass, the passing seasons have put us into different worlds. People sometimes say it's never too late, but sometimes, it is ...

The Real Nitty Gritty

Those of you who are acoustic guitar fans to the extent that you know something about the boutique makers of such things probably know who William "Grit" Laskin is. 

He is a player, a maker, and he also does inlay work. Want to see some really fine stuff, check out his inlay page. 

I can't afford his base prices, much less the custom-inlay on top of that, and his waiting list is a couple eons long, but if I win the lottery? I'm going to see if I can buy somebody's place in line ...

Check out, for instance the portraits on the headstock above, that's Stephane Grapelli and Django Reinhardt. And what is really impressive is that's all done in inlaid shell ...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Geek Patrol

Back in the day, a geek was a sideshow freak who, usually in a cage, looked fierce, and bit the heads off chickens, among other disgusting acts. The term has a somewhat different meaning today, think pocket protectors and thick horn-rimmed glasses and minds filled with minutiae. But they come in all kinds now, not just making straight A's in physics and chemistry and lacking all social skills. 

(Give yourself five points if you already knew the original definition of "geek.")

And the rest of the test:

1. If you know that "Frankenstein" is the name of the doctor who created it, but not the monster, give yourself five points. If you have ever corrected somebody who got it wrong, add five more points.

2. If you can speak a word of Klingon, add five points.

3. If you know Captain Kirk's middle name, add five points.

4. If you know Luke Skywalker's aunt and uncle's names, five points each.

5. The monologue opening to the old Adventures of Superman TV showTen points

6. Do you know who coined the term "sci-fi?" Ten points. If you know that the only proper use for it is in regard to a bad science fiction movie, and you have ever corrected a mundane for mis-use? Ten more points. (Five more points if you know what "mundane" means in this context.)

7. Five points if you know the words to "Freebird." Five more if you know how the band came by its name.

8. Who wrote "Diamonds and Rust?" Five points. Who the song is about? Five more points.

9. The caliber of Billy the Kid's Lightning Colt? Five points.   

10. If you never end a sentence in a preposition, five points. If you know what a preposition is? Five more.

11. You know who Pete Best was? Five points.

12. If somebody says they are into martial arts and you immediately ask them "What style?" five points. If you feel superior no matter what they say? Five more ...

The highest possible score is 120 points.( Except if you checked my math, in which case, add five more points to whatever you got.)

0-25 points, you aren't living in the same reality most geeks live in, you are more or less normal.

30-50 points, you are a borderline geek, but can pass for normal in most places. You can eat with your mouth closed, and you can have a social life, if you really want one. 

55-80 points, you are a serious geek, and most of your friends–if you have many–probably find you obnoxious when they can't avoid you.

85 and above, you probably don't have any friends who can communicate with you save by email, and when people see you coming, they leave the room, muttering, "Oh, crap, look who it is!"

For the record? I scored five points shy of the maximum ...

New Story

Should be up on in the next couple days. A hardboiled mystery fantasy story. And the excerpt:

“Jolly Roger”

Steve Perry
She looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her. She was a tall, leggy blond, maybe twenty-two or -three, long hair piled up on her head, blue eyes, busty, bubble-butt, a body you could bounce quarters off of. She wore a green dress cut low in front, with short sleeves, a miniskirt that barely covered her crotch, and some kind of foofy sandals. Oh, yeah, gorgeous–
Gorgeous–but this is L.A, right? Out here, the women who wait tables or clerk at 7-Eleven are all actresses, come to Gomorrah to break into the Biz, to be the next Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson. What they were in summer in SoCal can drive a man into terrible lust, all the potential starlets looking for their big break and willing to do whatever it takes to get it. 
I’ve seen them come and seen them go, starting out with the big smiles and fading to casting couches and heartaches. A shame. The Biz eats them up and spits them out.
She sat in the chair across from my battered wooden desk, and there was a fresh, clean smell to whatever perfume she was wearing, nothing I recognized. Essence of outdoors, new-mown hay, pine forest, sea breeze, all mixed together. 
I wondered where her home was: Kansas? Idaho? Some backwater town where she had been the Corn Queen or Miss 4H? So pretty that everybody thought she really should be in the movies ...
“How can I help you, Miss ...”
“Margaret. My friends call me ‘M.K.’”
I nodded. There was a time when I would have wanted to be her friend more than anything, I couldn’t look at a beautiful woman but that I visualized her hair being spread out on a pillow, but these days, a bottle of scotch and a good book call to me more. My junk email now has an ad for Viagra almost every day, and AARP had been sending me invitations for a couple of years. Getting up there, and it was something of a shock, since I never expected to live past forty, given my lifestyle.
Hell, growing old.
I waited. 
She said, “I’m looking for somebody,” she said. 
She produced a thumb drive and handed it to me.
I smiled. Of course.
Back in the day, detective work was long nights and cigarettes and shoe-leather, you cultivated sources on the street, in bars, the guy at the porno theater ticket booth, the streetwalkers at McArthur Park. You hung out at Tommy’s, because there was always a cop there for chiliburgers who would let you buy him supper and who’d be willing to pass along this or that. Marlow, Spade, Archer, even Jim Rockford, they were all tough guys who could take a gun-butt to the skull in the morning and have the case solved by happy hour. Men who could think, and who could act on it, and devil take the hindmost.
Now? Now, it is all computers and search engines, keeping a good hacker on your speed-dial, social butterflying on the internet. Anybody with half a brain can Google stuff, and if you have a few bucks, join a couple of databases and find out pretty much anything you want to know about anybody, and a whole lot more you really don’t want to know. What would have taken me a week to dig up thirty years ago? You can find in thirty seconds online. 
These days, privacy really is an illusion. 
Operatives now? Most of them couldn’t tail a street sweeper around the block; couldn’t punch their way out of a wet paper bag. Take away their computers, they got nothing.
I sound like my old man. These kids today ...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Look Out the Window

It was supposed to be a sunny, balmy weekend hereabouts, so we decided to crank up the camper and spend a couple days at one of our favorite sites in the Gorge. This is a small park, only fifteen or so slots for RVs, but the season is over, the camp host gone, and the woman who takes the reservations said it was mostly empty.

At one point, we briefly had the place entirely to ourselves, and there were never more than four rigs there.

Of course, it rained most of Friday night, was foggy and cloudy most of Saturday, and rained again Saturday night but hey, this is Oregon, we know better than to believe the weather guys. We did get some sun breaks today.

Yesterday, as we were lying about and reading, we looked up to see a small cruise ship pulling into the dock along the little channel where the fishermen usually have their rods set. There's a bridge over this little side passage, so the boat was gonna have to back out, but lo, there it was, The National Geographic Sea Bird, tied up nice as you please. 

Crew put down a ramp, but nobody but a couple of them debarked. 

This is a small ship, but the biggest boat we'd seen there. Four decks, hundred tons, shallow-draft, with thirty-one outside cabins for sixty-two passengers, in some cases, a couple more. Twenty-four in the normal crew, 152 feet long, with a lounge, gym, and assorted small boats and kayaks for the passengers to play in. 

This we learned though the aegis of the internet as we watched them put the gangplank down. Instant access to knowledge, here in the future. 

After twenty minutes or so, a couple of tour buses arrived, and passengers left those and began to board the ship.

We walked the dogs down, and were surrounded by passengers who'd had to leave their critters at home. What happens if you are a dog person and away from your pack? you offer affection to somebody else's dog if you come across one. 

We learned that this was a week-long cruise from Portland, retracing part of Lewis & Clark's expedition. Out to the sea, then upriver, stopping for hikes and museums and viewpoints and like that. 

Costs for the trip range from just under two grand (double occupancy), to $4600 if you want a big cabin to yourself. Includes meals, park fees, bus, like that, but not airfare, nor alcoholic drinks ...

This is a sister ship to the NG's Sea Lion, which sails the Inside Passage to Alaska.

Today, a motorcycle club pulled onto the dock, for a break and to use the bathrooms. Forty bikes, some of them with passengers, but hardly outlaws. Mostly middle-aged riders, gray-tops, probably three quarters of a million bucks worth of hardware, easy, big Harleys, Yamahas, Hondas, some traditional three-wheelers, a couple of the new two-in-front-one-in-back trikes. 

Always an adventure ...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Let There Be Light

Most of you have probably heard that the business of lighting your house is changing in the U.S. Federal standards are coming into play that require greening up your bulbs, and as a result, the standard incandescent bulb most of us grew up with is going to fade out. So to speak. In the U.S., this starts with 100 watters in 2012, and ends with the 40w in 2014.

Psst. Hey, Mister! Want to buy a light bulb? How about a standard-sized toilet? 

Already there are retailers who aren't carrying the old-style bulbs–my local Costco is one. 

Probably you have seen or have installed some of the compact fluorescent bulbs. The are spiral loopy things that use mercury, screw into a standard incandescent socket, and offer the same wattage but use less power to deliver it. 

Then there are the new LED bulbs. These use diodes, which have been around a long time, but have now been amped up to produce more light, and use even less power.

Halogens are in there, too.

Each has advantages and disadvantages: 

Incandescents (I's) are cheap. They come on instantly. They produce various colors of light, you can get them in crisp or soft versions, and the basic model's yellow glow is what most of us my age have lived with since we were born. The current basic model lasts for about 1000 hours burn-time. 

I think I must have had Tommy Edison's originals in my reading lamp, right after we stopped using candles.

The CF's cost more, but last from seven to ten times as long, and draw less power. They can also be gotten in different tones, from yellow to white. The disadvantages are that they don't come on instantly. There is sometimes a hesitation of a half second that is disconcerting. Switch goes up, and ... then the light comes on. Some of them do wink on immediately, but only at a quarter brighteness. Over the next fifteen or twenty seconds, they come up to full brightness. And they seem to be affected by temperature. Colder it is, the slower they are. And you aren't supposed to chuck them into the trash, because they have mercury in them, they need to be recycled properly. 

Halogens are bright, but spendy, and they get really hot.

The LEDs are the newest kids on the block. They come on instantly, can be had in different tones, and don't need to be handled specially when they burn out. They last twenty-five to fifty times as long as standard I's. What does that mean? Well, if you stick one in your reading lamp and spend three hours a day or so using it, it might last anywhere from twenty-three to forty-five years, depending on the wattage.

I'll say that one again: twenty-three to forty-five years. 

Fans of my work might remember the Kookaburra Beacon from the Matador books ...

Of course, the catch here is that they cost a fortune, and probably will take four or five years to earn out. They won't last that long in a fixture you use more often

Still, last time I was at Home Depot, I saw these, and I had to get one. Nearly twenty-five bucks a pop, so I won't be replacing all the bulbs in my house unless I win the lottery. (And wouldn't that make a nice police report? Anything missing, Mr. Perry? Why is it so dark in here? 

If all the lamps in my house were LEDs, that would amount to grand theft light bulb ...)

So I bought just the one, an EcoSmart A-19. 

The specs are: 850 lumens of "warm white" light, using 13-watts of energy, instant on, dimmable, Energy Star compliant. 

It works so that I can't tell the difference between it and what was there before. I bought another one for my wife's lamp. And that's it for the light bulb budget this year. 

The price will be coming down–there's a Chinese version already that runs fifteen bucks, and the Indians are working on one that will undoubtedly drop that even more. At some point, it could be viable to use them everywhere, and wouldn't that be a living-here-in-the-future moment? Your light bulb might outlive you ...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reefer or Revolver?

Apparently, the Sheriff of Washington County, Oregon, has a conundrum. State law requires issuances of concealed handgun licenses to a minimum qualification, and pretty much this means if you are a citizen here, aren't a felon, dope-fiend, certified nutjob, and you take a class in gun safety or demonstrate by your history that you know which end the bullet comes out, the statute is shall-issue in your favor.

However ...

If you have a Medical Marijuana Card in the state of Oregon, which allows you to legally grow and smoke your own weed, according to state statutes, this, according to the Sheriff's Department, puts you ipso facto in violation of the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968 if you tote a gun around. Or even own such hardware. 

The language gets arcane and obtuse, as legalese is wont to do, and I won't try to parse it for you, you can do that yourself using the link below. Good luck if you aren't an attorney.

The federal statute basically says that certain classes of people are forbidden the possession of firearms, and one of these classes includes dope-smokers. So it is the Sheriff's contention that issuing a CHL to somebody who admits to smoking reefer is illegal, and that federal law trumps state in this case.

The tricky words here are possession and concealed. You'd think the latter requires the former, but apparently there is some hair-splitting about that, at least as far as the Sheriff's Office is concerned. I suppose it boils down to this: If you get a CHL, that doesn't mean you will carry a gun, or that you even need own one. One makes a presumption. 

You don't have to own a car to get a license to drive–you could use somebody else's, or rent one, to take the test. In Oregon (and in Washington) you don't have to demonstrate proficiency with a handgun per se to get the license, though I wonder how one splits that hair to take a CHL class. Is holding somebody else's piece in a class considered possession? Is that even required? Can you learn safety by looking at pictures? 

What if you were a competitive shooter before you were a dope-smoker? That could grandfather you in on the educational requirement, or at least it used could. Or if you passed the class before you ever toked up? 

Interesting can of worms, ain't it?

If you have to show up at the range with a pistol and demonstrate your skill with it, does that put things in a different light, vis a vis being a doper with a gun?

The Oregon Supreme Court has already allowed that possession of a firearm by (illegal) drug users is a no-no, so the notion that local law has to issue a license to carry an illegal handgun according to the feds apparently makes them nervous down at the courthouse in Hillsboro.

Hard to blame them, isn't it? 

Given the raids in California on marijuana dispensers by the feds, this would seem to be something they consider worthy of their time and our money, and it is not inconceivable that the Sheriff's could worry that he and his officers could be collared by the feds for issuing concealed carry licenses in the face of the federal law.

The Sheriff has decided to see if he can get SCOTUS to address it, thus filing this petition.

Given the court's docket, it might not come to pass, but it's a wonderful example of the horns of a dilemma, isn't it? You can get a Medical Marijuana Card in Oregon, but they can fire you from your job if you toke up even at home and then flunk the drug test. 

On a personal level it doesn't matter, I'm not gonna be courting reefer madness, no vipers here; on a legal level, it's a snafu. I think they should decriminalize this stuff and tax it; probably go a long way to balancing the budget, hey?