Saturday, June 30, 2012

How Do You Get That Sound?

The quick-and-dirty lesson on playing guitars, at the basic level: How do you make the notes come forth?

Traditionally, there are three ways: Plectrum (pick), fingers, or combination thereof. (One can, with electric guitars especially, also slap the guitar with various things, including one's hand, to product tones, and even use the fretting hand alone to hammer the strings.)

If you are a dexter, the right hand does this plucking and strumming part, while the left hand presses the strings to the board to form notes or chords. 

Picks usually get divided into flat and finger picks, and these are easily recognizable. The flat pick has a plethora of designs, but the basic model is a rounded triangular thing, maybe a credit card thickness or less, and one plucks the strings or strums them sequentially. Most of the rock and blues solos you'll see are done with flat picks, as are most bluegrass, jazz, and folk music.

There are folks who use a pick with two fingers and the other fingers on that hand plucking the strings, a hybrid style. 

Finger picks, usually metal, slip over your fingers to produce metal or sometimes plastic fingernails, with the thumb version usually jutting the pick itself out at an angle from the side toward the string. One can strum or pluck.

Fingertips come from classical and flaminco music and instruments, with the more modern "fingerstyle" playing arriving with steel-string acoustic guitars.

Bare fingertips fall into several categories: Organic nails, artificial nails, and no nails. 

In classical pedagogy, there is a long-standing argument as to which sounds better, nails or not, and the majority of players opt for fingernails. The actual playing most often involves the nails and fleshy pads in combination. 

Most classical or flamingo players opt for their own fingernails. Due to the abrasiveness of steel-string guitars, a lot of players there drop round the Vietnamese nail parlor and have acrylic nails applied. Playing flaminco also involves using the back of the nails, rasqueado, which is hard on them. 

Classical teaching is fairly rigorous with which fingers do what on which string. Each digit is assigned a name, from the Spanish, where the classical guitar was mostly designed, i.e., Torres-style instruments.  (Later, the Germans did some improvements, ala Hauser-style.)

P-I-M-A, for "Pulgar (thumb), Index, Middle, Annular (ring). The pinky is seldom utilized on the non-chording hand. There are rules as to which finger plucks which string, cross-picking, free-strokes, rest-strokes, angle of attack, la da da da dah. 

I won't wander off into that realm, I'd never find my way back. Suffice it to say that fingernails are important to most of those who play classical guitar, and if you break a nail, it can be anything from annoying to a Big Fucking Deal.

If you are about to step on stage to play for a couple thousand people, this falls into the BFD category.

There are all manner of repairs, ping-pong ball pieces glued on used to be high on the list, and there are temporary nails that can be applied with those rubbery glue spots in an emergency. 

What I've found that works well for a broken-but-not-detached nail is simple. A thin layer of super-glue, upon which a flat bit of Kleenex is laid, then another drop of glue, and smooth it out with a toothpick. This will last anywhere from several days to more than a week, and can allow you to play normally until the nail grows long enough to file the broken part off. 

As you can see from the image, this happened to my middle fingernail, and here is the repair. This is visible if you are looking, but not so awful people will stop and ask, OMG, what happened to your finger?!

Tim Brookes, in his book Guitar: An American Life, quotes a player saying something to the effect of, Yeah, we got into playing guitar to get girls, and now here we are middle-aged men talking to each other about our fingernails ...

Friday, June 29, 2012

We Interrupt This Program for a Special Bulletin!

Oh, no! Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are getting a divorce! Oh, oh, the ... humanity! Oh, woe, it's the end of days! It's–it's–!

Uh ... wait a minute. Let me rephrase that a little:

Who gives a sour owl poot? 

Is it because he's a Scientologist? Gay? Short? Too controlling? Leaves the toilet seat up?  None of the above? 

Unless you are him or her, if you spend more time than it took me to write this fretting about it, you need to get a life. Truly you do. 

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Musical Changes

When I started playing guitar, every time I'd try to cover a new song, I tried to do it just like the original artist(s) did. Same key, same speed and tone and as close to the same everything else as I could.

I quickly realized that wasn't gonna happen.

At first, it was because I couldn't play the right chords, so when I came to a finger-buster, I changed it to something I could manage. D or Bm? They sound a lot alike, share some notes, so what-the-heck ...

Anybody else remember how hard that first barre-F chord was to learn, much less get into and out of from anything else?

And of course, a nylon-string acoustic guitar simply won't make some of the same sounds that electric Fenders and Gibsons running amps, mixers, and a speaker-stack to the ceiling will make. 

Can you say, "No sustain?"

Then I realized that some of the bands had played nasty tricks by using alternative tunings and not telling anybody. You wondering why it doesn't sound like Keef? That's because his guitar isn't tuned like yours.

Plus, he's Keef.

You can play slide on a nylon-stringer, sort of. Well, if you know know how to play slide. I tried it a little bit and realized it never was going to sound right on my instrument. A Dobro it ain't.

And Duane Allman I'll never be.

As I got a little better with chords, I was able to ape some more difficult songs, but even so, if the key was up in chipmunk range, it was either change that or screech. Having my voice break on a high note surely won't dazzle you enough so you don't notice I got no guitar chops.

Along the way, I realized that making the song mine meant it was okay to screw around with it. I wasn't ever going to sound like Keef or Carlos Santana or Stevie Ray or Clapton, not going to be doing tribute bands, so that gave me leave to slow stuff down or speed it up, or go to a different style. But that's okay. I'm not them; hard enough just to be me. And it's cheaper to change the song than buy a new guitar.

My jam group still gets nervous if we stray too far from the recorded versions of songs they know, but they mostly don't understand that when I simplify an arrangement of one they like so they can manage it, that ship has already sailed. 

Somebody says, "No, we have to play it in the original key," I tell them we can try, but they won't be able to hit the high notes on the vocals, nor play some of the chords in that key.

Even among the groups that sang the originals, there's some taking the stuff down a couple steps because they can't hit the high notes any more, either. Nature of the vocal instrument for most folks.

Brings us to "Layla."

(I'm a Clapton fan. Saw him live once, arena-rock, and while he was expert and didn't hit a lot of clams, it lacked a certain enthusiasm. Got our money's worth, but really, he could have phoned it in, and yeah, he's good enough so it would still be better than most, but still. Where I'd love to see him would be in a smoky bar doing an acoustic blues set with Buddy Guy and John Mayer, because that's where his real passion lies. He's a rock-god, but at heart, a blues man. Working the arena is for the paycheck.

When you go to a live show featuring a legend you love, you want to see 'em having a good time, getting lost in the music. A few times, we've plunked down fair money to see one of our heroes and come away sad: Either they hadn't taken very good care of their vocal instruments and had lost some steps, or they were going through the motions as they thought about all that money. 

During the Simon & Garfunkel show, the air between the two was thick with anger, and that colors the performance. We can hit our marks and deliver the stuff because we are professionals, but there's no love here, and we can make a shitload more cash this way than on our own.)

Being as how I have a classical guitar, my version of "Layla" must need hew closer to the unplugged than the Derek and the Dominoes version, which is waaay better and much more fun. Without the five-guitar wall-of-sound, Duane Fucking Allman doing slide, plus the piano at the end, that's not gonna be happening in my world, even with the transducer into my 2-watt amp cranked all the way up to 3 ...

Still, I like the electric version better, so I'm working up a new intro that's more in that direction than the intro to the unplugged version, and a tempo somewhere between the two. Again, nylon-string riffs ain't gonna cry like a Strat where full-step string bends are no problem. No way.

So, in theory, what I'll wind up with is a kind of hybrid version that sounds something like the electric,  and something like the unplugged–though probably not all that much like either.

And, as Sonny Bono said, the beat goes on ...

Guilty Pleasure

American Ninja Warrior, a game show, albeit one that is physical, is my latest guilty pleasure on the tube. A copy of the Japanese version, Sasuke, the premise is simple: There is an obstacle course, fastest man through it wins. I caught one of the Japanese shows on G4 a few years back, but didn't get into following it. (I say "fastest man," although the competitions are open to both men and women. I haven't seen any women make it past the first cut, or even all the way through. There's a reason for that: competitors need tremendous upper body strength, especially gripping power. Not to say there aren't such women: Luci Romberg, a stuntwoman, made it as far as the pipe-slider, a lot farther than a lot of men, but ...)

The American version, in its fourth year, has some differences, and the way it currently works is that there are regional competitions to choose the fastest hundred players, who will go to Las Vegas to compete for the grand prize, a cool half a million bucks.

The course in Vegas this years is apparently the one used in Japan, called Mount Midoriyama, and this is the first time it's been held here.

The course varies slightly among the three regions, but the basic obstacles are the same or similar. They have names like quad steps, bridge of blades, spinning log, devil steps, warped wall, salmon ladder, and if you get to the last one, you face a long climb up a cargo net, at the top of which is a stop-plate you hit to get your time. 

The game favors parkour players, rock climbers, and gymnasts–a lot of the time you are hanging by your hands, holding onto ropes, metal hoops, stairs, or bars. There are pro football and basketball players, cyclists, martial artists, and it isn't just about strength but also dexterity and timing. The biggest guy I saw complete the course was 6'4" and two-fifty, and he was strong, but slow. The little guys do better.

A fast time is around two minutes, the average is slower. If nobody completes it, you get credit for how long it took you to get as far as you did, and the top finishers get to the finals.

There are things you watch on the TV and you sit back in your chair and think, "Huh. I could do that." Not this. I don't think I could make it through the course if they gave me all day and ten free falls. Even the best players look exhausted when they get done after two whole minutes. 

Guitar Porn

My nephew Jon, whom I have mentioned here from time to time, got a new toy. He's a clever lad, works in the gaming industry and is a much, much better guitarist than I. Majored in computers, minored in music.

The new game upon which he has been working, BandFuse: Rock Legends, was just shown off at E3, and will be out some time in the not-too-distant future.

Um. Anyway, as guys who are into Strats sometimes do, the new axe is a composite. You see a neck and pick-ups you like, but the body doesn't do it for you, so you buy it for parts; then you see a body you want, and you get that. You assemble the parts, a voila! new guitar. 

Kind of like that gun scene in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, where Eli Wallach's Tuco puts together a revolver in the store ...

My silat teacher, also a guitarist of great skill, does this. Hunts down various parts–you can't do it with every kind of electric guitar, but Fender's Stratocaster lends itself to this, puts them together, sells the result, and starts over. 

GAS, aka "guitar acquisition syndrome" infects most players sooner or later. And since, according to guitar zine sources, the average guitarist has owned at least seven guitars, if you haven't, why, you are behind. (I'm halfway convinced that number was generated by players so they could tell it to their wives when they found themselves lusting over a new guitar: "Honey? The average player has seven and I only have five, so you see ... ?)

Jon's new Strat has a chambered black korina body,  natural wood bindings, solid maple neck, and–off into territory about which I know very little here–Lindy Fralin vintage hots. 

The image is sans strings because he had to glue the nut into place. He has a buddy who knows from set-up, so they'll do that, and then the moment of truth will arrive. If it plays half as good as it looks, it will be a winner. 

Now he has to decide which strings to use ...

If he puts up some music playing it, I'll stick a link to that. 

Knife Porn

Chuck Pippin had somebody take pictures of Wink, the knife he made for me, and he has them up on his site. Have a look.

Monday, June 25, 2012


I had planned to do a post about bad drivers, especially those of the living-in-a-different-time-dimension kind. You know, you get behind one of them, they'll be doing twenty-two mph in a forty zone. Come to an intersection, you know that whenever they pull out into it, you don't need to look for cross-traffic because there won't be any between you and the horizon. If they keep going in your direction, you vow that come the next intersection, no matter which way they turn, you are going a different way ...

Um. So I went looking for a still from the Goofy cartoon wherein he drives and has some serious road-rage issues, but I came across this motorcycle, and I had to put these images up.

This is just, well, I mean ... 

Words fail me ...

It was a Joke ...

Yesterday, I thought it would be funny to post a joke on my Facebook page. I wrote this:

"So, guy came by to visit, brought some beer. I opened it and poured some, but it's so dark and strange-looking! Sure ain't no Bud. Hmm. Maybe it'll make good slug bait to keep 'em off my strawberries ..."

Since it was aimed at a particular friend, I didn't expect others who read my posts would necessarily get it. Couple of them knew who I was jabbing at–as do most folks who drop round here. Hint: his initials are the same as the first letters in the words "Barium Enema."

What I thought was really funny were the responses from folks who believed I was serious. They wouldn't have any way of knowing, most of them, since we haven't ever met, save 
online. But it does show that a Facebook friend is not the same as a drinking buddy ...

For the record, I do like microbrews–I tend to favor Black Butte Porter and Hammerhead  at the local brewpub, and whatever is on nitro–if it's not some fruity concoction. 

I haven't had Budweiser probably since high school, before I was old enough to drink legally.

Friday, June 22, 2012


When I see that TV ad for CDs late at night, The Best of the Eighties! I like to joke that the term is an oxymoron–wasn't all that much going on musically that did it for me, especially in the early part of the decade. 

There were some songs I liked, even though a lot of them were pop and bubble gummy. Hall & Oates, Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love." Joan Jett, The Clash. I took my daughter to an INXS concert once and sat there wearing ear plugs, reading a book, she almost died of embarrassment, which was, of course, why I did it ...

These were the days when MTV actually did music videos, and I watched them now and again to see what the kids were into. 

Some of these were way past pretentious, including the one above, even though I do like the vocal version of "Every Time You Go Away," by Paul Young.

And the haircut. Maybe I'll go retro and grow my hair that way. Kind of an electric mullet ...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Fire in the Sky

Yeah, cell phone cams are crappy, even though the newer ones are getting better. Sometimes, the camera you have is enough to capture a little bit of something. 

Here's sunset, in Beaverton, around 9:20 p.m. today. You should have been there, it was gorgeous.

Here's One ...

Count the black dots ...


Went in this week for a teeth-cleaning. I'm always fascinated when the hygienist jams a needle-tipped instrument into my mouth like Van Helsing driving a stake through Dracula's heart, then frowns under her mask and says, "Wow, your gums are bleeding ..."

No shit? You are digging around like a 49er with a pickaxe on speed who thinks he's found the motherlode, it feels as if I'm being tortured for information this way because the waterboarding didn't work, and you are surprised to see blood?

Man ...

Monday, June 18, 2012

In One Person

It will come as no surprise to long-time readers here that I am a fan of John Irving's writing. Like most of the world, I discovered him upon publication of his fourth novel, The World According to Garp, which went on to be made into a movie, starring Robin Williams. Then came The Hotel New Hampshire, and eight subsequent novels, all of which I read, several more of which have been, or will be, made into movies. 

The books have all been better than the movies, though Irving did win an Oscar™ for his script adaptation of his novel, The Cider House Rules.

(I reviewed Last Night in Twisted River, his most recent book before this one.)

If ever a man mined his own experiences for his books, Irving has. The line between what what is real and what is cut from whole cloth is always tricky–the tendency is to assume that stuff that sounds the most autobiographical is autobiographical, but that's not always the case. Good writers will lead you astray.

Here is a graph from the wiki I found amusing, that shows some fun themes and subjects that show up in Irving's novels, and if you read the bio at the wiki, you'll see how much of his background is utilized in his work. 

Irving was raised in New England, went to a prep school, never knew his biological father, was a wrestler, had a thing for bears, and all of his books reek with sex, much of it far from the one-man-one-woman mainstream kind.

Look at the graphic: If reading about homosexuality, incest, group sex, or transsexualism bothers you, don't pick up an Irving book: He goes there, a lot.

Mainstream writers tend to shrug plot off, though Irving less so than most. These books are more about tone and mood and character, and these are horses of different colors than a whodunnit or space opera, which is where I spend most of my fictional time–I'm a simple man–I like plotted stories more than those without it.

Now and then, however, one can spice up the stew, and for me, that's Irving. In One Person reads like memoir, which will make separating the real from the made-up more difficult, if that is your wont. 

The novel's protagonist, Billy, is a writer who went to a prep school in New England, who wrestles, albeit later on, hasn't met his biological father, and who is a conflicted bisexual in his orientation. 

The opening starts with Billy's crush on the town librarian, Miss Frost, who is not quite what she seems, and the course of the novel is mostly concerned with the protagonist's ins and out in his shifting back and forth from male to female lovers. He also has a crush on his step-father, and on one of the all-boy school's star wrestlers. The book covers a period from the 1950's to the present, and jumps back and forth from one era to another.

The man can write. I still remember how, as a beginning novelist, I came across a line in The Hotel New Hampshire, a book featuring a most-dysfunctional family, about a police car nosing through a parking lot like a shark, and thinking to myself, Well, crap! What a great metaphor I won't ever be able to use because he did it!

Um. If this kind of stuff is your cup of tea, then enjoy the brew, strange as it surely is ...

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Writer Speaks

One of the fun things about being a writer, least it's fun for me, is that you sometimes get asked to speak at various functions. There are conventions, writing groups, schools, autographings, whatnot, where they are interested in having a writer drop round to blather on about this 'n' that for a time.

I had a chance to do one of those this week, and it was somewhat unusual in that it was a social club in Portland. A big, locally well-known social club that, when we first moved to this area, was for men-only. They have long since changed their standards, of course.

I got the gig via Ray and Jean Auel, who suggested my name, and it was a novel experience. 

My wife and I met the co-chairs of the book club in the bar for a drink. We adjourned to the library, a fair-sized room with floor-to-ceiling book shelves all the way around. I got an introduction, and we were off.

It was a small group; we pulled our chairs into a semi-circle and chatted about whatever came to mind; mostly I answered questions. They were attentive, intelligent, and there was some good back-and-forth.

A couple of the attendees were medical doctors. Since my background has a bit of medicine in it, that was interesting. One of them is actually a world-famous heart surgeon who co-invented the first artificial heart valve used in humans. He was considering doing a movie or maybe a series connected to this kind of surgery. Would there be a market for that, he wondered?

Oh, yeah. I'd watch it. 

These were smart, successful folks. None of them had actually read any of my stuff; in fact, most of them weren't science fiction and fantasy fans at all. Always intriguing when you realize your audience doesn't have common touchstones regarding the subject you are there to present. Somebody knew Asimov's name. Some of them had heard that Ray Bradbury had passed away, but they didn't know who he was or why it was a big deal; they'd never read anything by him, either. 

When you are involved in an area of interest, you sometimes lose sight of the fact that there are all kinds of people out there who have never heard of it.

One of the doctors I used to work with when I was a PA, a man who was in his thirties at the time, hadn't read a novel since he'd been in college, and that for a class. He read the newspaper, medical journals, like that, but he didn't read for pleasure. 

As a reader, that always kind of astounds me, especially when the guy I'm talking to is highly-educated. I can't even imagine not-reading. 

After a while, we decamped to the dining room, and had dinner, then went on our ways. 

An enjoyable, somewhat surreal experience, it was ...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Karma's Warp and Weft

The theory of Karma ("action") allows that, eventually, everybody gets what they deserve. If not in this life, then in the next incarnation. But Karma is more complex than that; the definition varies across half a dozen religions, Hinduism,  Sikism, Buddhism, Jainsim, Falun Gong, and New Ageism. 

As I parse it from my half-assed study, Karma goes to all actions, and this includes relationships that might be established in one life and continued in subsequent one. Until your actions, which can include not only what you do, but what you think, get all sorted out, you are condemned to stay on the Great Wheel of Birth. Once you work everything out and Do The Right Thing, then you can escape the Wheel and either ascend to a higher spiritual plane, or if you elect, stick around as one of those Realized Beings who helps others get there.

This is a little on the simple side, but consider the source ...

Anytime you interact with another person, you twine your Karma with theirs, and that eventually has to come round and be worked through.

Back when we were meditating, we had a spiritual teacher come over from India to give us our personal mantras. Up until then, we'd been using the entry-level mantra. (This term is a sound that one intones to achieve a state of no-mind, either aloud or silently, and most folks know about Om, which is supposedly the universal sound.)

Um. Anyway, Dadaji, one of Baba and Ma's top lieutenants, all in his orange robes, came over and sat with each of us in the back room of our rented house by LSU. Eyes closed, facing each other in a cross-legged sitting position, he would tune into our vibrations, determine our level of spiritual achievement, and then give us our personal mantra based on that. 

In this particular Hindu tradition, mantras are magic sounds, and as such, never to be revealed to another; so doing voids the warranty, rendering the magic inert.

Dadaji's own spiritual development, we were told, was such that he could leave and return in ten years and he would be able to tune back in and recall each and every mantra he had given out.

I was pretty impressed with this, and looked forward to testing it. 

A brief digression: Later, after discovering that all was not entirely copacetic in our chosen cult, the local meditation group began to have suspicions that perhaps some of the things we had been told were, um, open to question vis a vis the truth. 

One day in a discussion of the weekly lesson, one or the other of us allowed that we had come across our own magic sound while reading one of the texts we all studied.

Hey, me, too! Which, uh, chapter was it in?

Really? Mine, too! Which page?

No shit?! Mine's on that page, too!

Which paragraph? 

Which line ... ?

Well, son-of-a-bitch!

Hey, Bob, how about you? Your mantra on this page, too? It is?

Aw, fuck!

Cleverly, we thought, we were able to determine that the entire  group had been gifted with the same "personal" mantra, without ever speaking it aloud. So it still had the magic. 

Except that, of course, once we realized this, that killed the magic pretty damn dead ...

We were pissed-off. 

Now, a spiritual teacher with any wits could have simply told us, "Look, you are all karmic wrecks and at the bottom of the mountain, so you all get the next-level mantra, but it's the same because you are all essentially the same, that's how it goes.

But allowing instead that we were all going to get our own special magic word and that it would be unique was, we thought, a shuck. Kind of hard to believe folks once you realize the wool has been pulled over your eyes. 

Our meditation group dissolved shortly thereafter.

No wonder Dadaji could come back in ten years and remember what he'd told us. Big deal.

But back to Karma: Dadaji was a celebati. And so concerned with the worry that he might mingle his Karma with that of a woman that if a woman in our group offered him a glass of water, he would take great care not to even brush his fingers against hers when he accepted it. Even a touch would create unwanted Karma. Tricky stuff, Karma.

All of which I told you to get to this story I wanted to tell: 

When I was in Louisiana earlier this spring, come Sunday morning, my mother wanted to go to church. We were raised Methodists–sprinkle, don't dunk–and that was Mother's church long after I left home, but twenty years back, she switched to Baptist.

So I got my father dressed–he never went to church, but I couldn't leave him home–packed up my mother's walker, and off we went to the Comite (pronounced "Co-meet") Baptist Church. I dropped her off, took Daddy to the store to buy groceries and ran those home, then went back to pick up Mama. 

While I was putting the walker into the trunk, somebody called out my name: "Hey, Steve!"

I looked up to see a tall, heavyset, gray-haired woman in her sixties smiling at me. She came over, hugged me. I had no idea who she was.

She said, "You don't have any idea who I am, do you?"

I confessed that was so.

She told me her name. Didn't ring a bell. Well, that was her married name. She told me her maiden name and that did trip an old memory. 

Fifty-four years ago, my mother was an assistant coach for a girl's summer-league softball team at the local park and rec near where we lived. This woman–call her Sharon–had been on the team. She would have been about thirteen or fourteen, and I would have been ten, going on eleven. She was a tall, skinny jock, and the team had gone to the state finals. I remembered her and her sister, also a player. 

I never would have recognized her, nor she me, save she knew my mother and made the connection. 

That's a pretty thin thread, but it was still there after all this time. I find that, as Spock might say, fascinating ...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


So there's this TV show, Mythbusters. For those of you who don't know it, two mechanically-minded fellows, Jamie and Adam, design experiments to prove or disprove some commonly-accepted beliefs. 

Some of these are outright hilarious, such as trying to see whether soda or steak produce more intestinal gas. Or what happens if a bird hits an airplane's windshield in flight. Does a duck's call echo differently than other sounds?

Last night, they went after the "Don't bring a knife to a gunfight." saw.

There were three scenarios. First, the knife versus gun face-off, ala The Magnificent Seven. James Colburn, the knife guy, gets challenged by a gun guy who thinks he's faster. Colburn has a switchblade, they do a high noon, and Colburn wins.

Jamie had a water balloon that approximated the weight of a knife, Adam a paintball gun. A starter pistol was used, allowing both men to move. 

In the first run, both scored hits ai uchi. But subsequently, Adam proved you can dodge a knife after shooting, but that you can't dodge the bullet (demonstrated on an earlier episode), and he won every round. Shoot, then dodge, the gun wins. (I confess I don't believe you can throw a water balloon as fast as you can a knife–liquid in a sack has a different kind of elastic inertia than a solid steel bar, but the main point is probably still valid; you can dodge something thrown by hand if you are far enough away and see it coming.)

The second scenario was regarding two swords, and the contention that the guy who swung first would lose to the guy who was ready and waiting. That reaction would be faster than initiation of action.

I had never heard this one, nor did it make any sense to me. No way.

Using kendo gear rigged like fencers' to show a light when a touch was made, and a random who-goes-first light, this one went as I expected. Yes, if one of them took a full cut to attack, i.e. the classic head-splitter, the other could short-circuit it by a partial strike. But if both used full swings, the attacker won every time. No surprise, the reaction is always going to be a beat behind with this set-up.

The third scenario, also rigged with electronics, was the Tueller Drill, that is, a drawn knife against a holstered gun. The knifer charges, and the gunner goes for his piece. In this one, the knife-wins range they came up with was eighteen feet. Outside that, the shooter got a round off before the knifer stabbed him. Inside that, he did not. Jaime used the knife, Adam the gun.

The classic Tueller Drill says twenty feet, but that's with a duty rig or concealed, and in this case, Adam had a low-slung fast-draw rig and a lightweight pistol. A real fast-draw expert would be able to get a shot off closer, and there are some fast enough to nail the knifer at six feet.

So two of the three myths were busted, and the third validated.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Steve Machine

Hey, check out Steve Van Harn's jam group at their coming out gig! 

Rock on, Steve! That's him in the back; he should be wearing shades ...

Friday, June 08, 2012

Spring Reading List

I don't read as much as I once did. Fewer books, fewer magazines, though I now check blogs, so that takes up some of the room. As I look at what I've been reading for the last few weeks, I have managed to keep my paddle in the literary waters:

Brad Paisley's Diary of a Writer
Thomas Perry's Poison Flower
Stephen King's 11/22/63 and Dark Tower: The Wind Through the Keyhole
Joe Lansdale's Edge of Dark Water
Ace Atkins' The Ranger, The Lost Ones, and Lullaby (this last, a Spenser novel)
Phillip Kerr's Field Gray
Michael Stanley's Death of the Mantis
John Sandford's  Stolen Prey
Gregg Allman's My Cross to Bear
Greg Rucka's Alpha
Tim Powers' Hide Me Among the Graves
Kathleen Riley's The Astaires: Fred & Adele
Elmore Leonard's Road Dogs
Robert Crais' Taken
Mo Hayder's Skin
Carrie Fisher's Shockaholic
Tom Piazza's Devil Sent the Rain

Currently in the queue:

Christopher Buckley's Supreme and Boomsday
John Irving's In One Person
China MiƩville's Railsea
Larry Correia's Monster Hunter: Legion
Kristen Iversen's  Full Body Burden


Edward Maisel's seminal book Tai Chi for Health. This one was first published in the mid-1960's, and I picked up my first copy around 1970, when it was still pretty much the only book in English on the subject. Yang style. 

Plus the local daily newspaper; The New Yorker, (weekly); The Fretboard Journal, and Guitar World Acoustic.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Got an Extra Two or Three Million Bucks?

Doing some research, I came across a catalog for the Pugliese Collection of famous 20th Century artifacts, including this PDF of some gun stuff. Lot of movie props, but also guns owned by J. Edgar Hoover, Elvis Presley, and Jack Ruby's Colt Cobra snubbie, with which I and millions of others saw him shoot Lee Harvey Oswald dead on live TV in 1963 ...

Fascinating stuff. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury

Last of the big four from the Golden Age of science fiction has passed away. The ABC's and H, as they were known: Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, and Heinlein. Bradbury made it to ninety-one. 

If you don't know who he was, there's no help for you here ...

When I started writing, I came across a Bradbury how-to advice piece, said something to the effect of, If you write a short story a week for about twenty years, you'll start to get good at it. That was my goal, though I made it only about forty weeks before I crashed and burned.

Adios, Ray. You told some swell stories. 

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


Just finished reading through the galleys for the first Cutter's Wars novel. The copy editor did a nice job, and most of what was fixed was related to house style, so it was easy to run through and read. I did a few stets and altered a couple lines, but when you can read the manuscript and reconcile it in a couple hours? Piece of cake ...

Funny, how things have evolved. "Galley Proof," which is the term for the copy-edited manuscript sent to the author and editor for approval, is an old printer's term, comes from the oblong shape of the tray used to hold moveable type. 

(And I love it that a manuscript they are done with once the book is in print is known as "foul matter ...")

When I started in the biz, galleys came back as one of the mss copies I submitted, with editor's and copy editor's marks on it, usually in colored pencil. Words that were misspelled, used wrong, punctuation, awkward compositions, all like that, were circled, lined through, given proof reader's marks, which you were expected to know and use, and sent back for me to deal with. 

Other minor revisions going to sgory content usually came in a cover letter.

Major revisions were addressed in a separate cover letter, usually following a phone call with the editor. Luckily, I haven't gotten many of these.

Proof reader's marks are interesting.

If there was an unintended space, then the delete mark, which looked kind of like a curly French fry, and a pair of arcs, above and below, were used to tell the printer to close the space. Italics, capital letters, insert punctuation or letters, hyphens, em- or en-dashes, all had their own marks, and you can find those in most style manuals, or just by searching the web. Or by clicking on the illustration above to make it larger.

You don't need to do that, though, since like buggy whips and typewriters, editing has moved along, and CE'ed manuscripts are now mostly done electronically. My most recent couple of books were edited using Word's Track Changes and Notes functions. 

How this works is, the editor or CE changes this or that, and it shows up in the left hand margin, telling readers what was done–e.g. deleted or added words, etc., with the changes showing up in a different color for everybody who fools with the manuscript. 

The yellow notes will ask questions–Did you mean this or that? This name doesn't agree with one you used earlier. What does this term mean? 

The writer can agree or disagree or explain as necessary. Save it, attach it to an email, and poof! it's gone. No more foul matter, since there isn't a paper ms on either end. I submitted this book in as an electronic file, and it won't exist on paper until it is done and printed for the racks.  

Welcome to the future ...