Monday, April 29, 2013

Sound Check v2

So, the side-by-side sound check of the two ukuleles. EDITOR'S NOTE: The first recording had some problems, so I've redone it, made it shorter, and gone back and forth with the comparisons, which should make it easier to hear.

First, the excuses: It has been nine weeks since I got the mahogany ukulele, so my playing is, um ... well, the word "crappy" comes immediately to mind. So if you listen to the comparison samples, you'll note some buzzes and clams. Then again, I play them both equally crappy, so that balances out. (Actually, I might play the cheaper one a little better, such as that word applies, since all but a few days of my practice has been on that one, the new one having only come home to live here two days ago, and you do get used to the instrument you use the most, but for the purpose of this exercise, let's call that a wash.)

So don't listen for expertise if you listen, see if you can tell a difference in the tone. I can say that the koa is easier to fret and barre, because it is set up with a lower action and it sounds better to me, but I am subjective. Even if I were blindfolded, I could tell the difference in the feel. 

Since the experiment is a single-blind, in that you can't see which axe I'm using, sound is all you got.

Have a listen:

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Side-by-Side: Mahogany and Koa Ukuleles

Kris asked, so ...

The ukes are both tenors, but slightly different sizes; the Koa is a tad bigger across the bouts. The Mahogany's headstock is a little shorter. Scales are about the same, as are the fretboard widths, though the Mahogany's looks bigger because the rosewood is lighter than the ebony. 

The Koa has a Gilbert-style bridge, which is strung a bit different than the Mahogany's standard classical-guitar style bridge.

Both have one-piece fronts and backs. The Mahogany has a slot-head with classical-style tuners; the Koa has standard post tuners. Both have bone bridges and nuts. 

The Mahogany is plain, no rosette, no purfling, no binding, with fret markers on the board at five, seven, ten, twelve, and fifteen. The Koa has the same frets marked, but with three added, and side dots, which the Mahogany lacks. 

I think the wood looks great on both of them, but the Koa  is more attractive to me. 

Click on the images and you can get a fair amount of detail. 

Koa, left; mahogany, right, above, flash picture.

Mahogany, left, Koa, right, above, natural light.

Mahogany, left, Koa, right, above, natural light.

Mahogany, left, Koa, right, above, natural light.
Back views.

Speech! Speech!

Got invited to talk to the library group at the University Club in Portland, courtesy of the writer-in-residence, who knows me. Any particular subject? I asked. Nope. Whatever you want, twenty minutes?

No problem. I can do twenty minutes when the refrigerator light goes on ...

They had nice library with signed covers by other writer guests, some of whom were really heavyweights: John Irving, Norman Mailer, Jean Auel, Phil Margolin, like that. As usual, I would be fighting above my weight class ...

We had a really good dinner, three kinds of wine, salad, crusted halibut and a fried mashed potato fritter and asparagus, a berry and cream desert, all really well-prepared.  

There were two of us, a mainstream writer who is a professor at the local U, and me, and she went first. Did a thoughtful, scholarly talk on the way she writes, motivations, like that.

I got up, and spun a tangled web about how to overcome fear of public speaking, introverts, science fiction conventions, being mugged in New York City, and other stream-of-consciousness blather I can't recall. But I made them laugh, and that was the goal. 

That's usually my goal. 

At such a gathering, most of the attendees–and there were what? A hundred or so?–won't have read anything I've written, nor are they apt to do so. So that's not the way to go. 

At the end of the talk, what I want them to remember was that I was a funny character who left them smiling and not tapping their fingers on the table wishing I would get the hell off the rostrum, puleeze!

It went well. There was a brief Q&A at the end, we signed a few books. I talked to a young writer and answered a few of her questions. That was that. 

One of the perks of my job. Sometimes you get free food and a captive audience ...

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Ook Ook

Okay, the last ukulele post for a while. 

Maybe ...

Having determined that I want to learn how to play the jumping flea, I got an entry-level tenor uke that was a good deal for the money. If you want to revisit it, plug "uke" in the search pane and have a look.

After playing the thing for a few weeks and enjoying it, I further determined that I was going forward, and that pretty quickly, I'd want another  and somewhat better instrument. (You don't want that being what holds you back, you want it to be you doing that. You can get better. In theory.)

So I started doing more research, poking around, and hoping to find a local ukulele maker who had my philosophical mind-set, i.e., sound and playability were primary, not bling.

Since these suckers can get spendy in a hurry and dazzling in their flash, I wanted to narrow my focus to those folks of like mind. 

Locals, local woods, not-too-lengthy waiting lists.

I found a couple who seemed to fit the profile. I dropped them emails to see how far out their lists were, what they would do or not do, and not incidentally, the cost. 

One wants to get a decent axe, at a reasonable price, in a timely manner.

One guy wrote back and didn't seem too interested, being a part-time maker with a day job and several months of work in the shop.

Other guy, I didn't hear from.

There were a couple others, but way outside my price range.

So, I knew the handmade instrument show was coming up at Marylhurst this weekend, and while I had no plans to buy anything there, I thought I could check out a couple of other makers who had tables. Turned out there were four of 'em, all in the bi-state area, save one, who used to live here but who retired to Hawaii and had gotten used to doing the show.

I saw the first couple, there were some fine instruments, they were willing to do custom work. Prices were still beyond my reach, but it was something to think about. Nice ones in cherry and walnut

Then I came to Woodley White's table. 

White, who was a luthier specializing in high-end classical guitars here in Portland for years, with Jeffrey Elliott as his mentor, moved to the Big Island, and there, had added ukuleles to his guitar-making. (Aside: In on of the Clancy book, I blew up a room full of guitars, and there were some from White and Elliott in that room.)

I couldn't afford White, either. He likes koa, a beautiful figured Hawaiian wood favored by high-end uke makers, which has a lovely tone, but which adds $$ to the cost up front. Such instruments were not even on my radar.

 Go ahead, he said, have a look. So I picked up a tenor, and O what a lovely sound it had, even in the too-loud room.

And guess what? It was used. The owner was buying another one, he wanted a different style headstock, and while it was two-and-a-half years-old and had a couple of dings and scuffs, it was most reasonably priced. 

I mean really reasonably priced ...

We chatted. My wife egged me on. I found that his idea of what sounded good matched mine. He only used wood harvested responsibly, and his line is called Pu'uwai, "heart" ukes, and did I mention that the one I played sounded lovely? New strings, which were going out-of-tune quickly, and a re├źntrant G. Could, I wondered, he set that up for a low-G?

No problem. 

Could I take it to the cafeteria and try it in a quieter setting?

Sure, go ahead.

So ...

All the pieces just, you know, fell into place. It was fate ...

Welcome to Steve's new ukulele. Those of you not into ukes or guitars, this will sound like blah-blah-blah, and you can skip it. Body of koa, probably Spanish Cedar neck, ebony fretboard and rosewood binding, some kind of blue wood purfling and paua shell rosette and fretboard markers, including side dots, and a little stylized-heart inlay in the ebony-verneer headstock. Bone nut and and Gilbert-style bridge Grover closed-back tuners.  

Came with a fake-alligator hardshell case. 

It is the bomb, it really is ...

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Eye Yi Yi

It's now twenty hours after the heavy-duty eye dilation drops and I'm still halfway open and seeing rainbows and blurs. Compounded by the exceedingly bright flashes that accompanied the various exams and turned white to pink. (Well, the pink has faded, at least. Since they used the mondo drops–but not the Mucho-mondo atropine–I might have a day or more before things go back to normal, such that that is. 

Blue eyes take longer, for reasons having to do with pigment and uptake and like that.

The Mucho-mondo drops, usually used in babies and small children for complicated things, might leave 'em dilated for a couple weeks. Whoa.)

This was the follow-up exam with the specialists I spoke of a few posts back. 

I trucked from room to room, this test, that one, including the infamous glow-in-the-toilet fluorescent die injected into a vein while a cameraman snapped images of ye olde eyeball ...

Thought I was kidding?

Three hours in the clinic and it's all in their computer. The diagnosis?

AMD. Well, probably. Age-related macular degeneration. Maybe secondary to that event in the mid-eighties, the cause of which was and still is unknown. Or maybe not. Maybe God knows, but the doctors don't.

Wet or dry? Probably 95% chance it is dry, but we'll recheck in a month to see if there's a slow leak. Why? Because if it's wet, i.e., vessels leaking serous fluid and whatnot into the macula, that is worse–and better. Worse, because it goes downhill fast. Better, because it can be treated with lasers and injections and maybe stopped. Maybe.

Dry rot? Too bad. Eat a lot of leafy green veggies, don't smoke, and hope it doesn't get worse, or that it takes its sweet time doing it. Which it might. And those floaters? Get used to all those gnats flying about when you look up into the blue sky. Get more of those as you age, too. 

The best news? The other eye is fine, no signs of this, so it should be good for a while. At least until it eventually clouds over and I have to get the cataracted lens out. Which, if you live long enough, happens to virtually everybody, cataracts.

Gravity always wins in the end.

Moving on ...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Was Twenty One Years ...


... when I broke this brick, and apologies to Paul Simon ...

Cleaning up the office, getting rid of a lot of old crap, because come the new carpets and floors and stuff, we'll be repainting my space here and since everything has to be moved out to do those things, might as well make it a little easier.

You accrue a lot of knick-knacks when you have an office at home, fanboy toys, mementos of the good old days, but one day you look up and realize that either the memories weren't so good, or in some cases, are gone. Why did I put that doohickey there? 

When you have chotskies everywhere that don't get any attention save being dusted, better they go into a box and into the attic. Or away altogether. 

So the brick.

Forty-four years ago this month, I had the notion that breaking bricks with my hands was a good idea. I was, as you can see from what is written on the brick, twenty-one, and invincible. 

So took my bearded self out into the back yard, not far from the alligator pear tree (that's avocado for those of you who don't know the term.) I set up a stack of bricks, laid one across them, and with my spouse working the Polaroid instant camera, did my best imitation of a "karate chop" and broke the sucker. There is the moment of destruction.

The brick, not my hand. 

I did that for a few years, until somebody slipped a firebrick in on me, and that was the end of that trick for me.

The brick will stay on the shelf, next to the mugger's knife from the visit to NYC in 1982, but a whole lot of other clutter is going elsewhere ...

The Truth Waits ...

... for eyes unclouded by longing.  

Which in this instance means I won't be spending too much time with the truth today ...

The grass has riz. Flowers have bloomed every which way, the sun is shining through clear skies, and it's gonna hit seventy-five degrees F. here today, maybe a tad warmer, which has resulted in spring fever.

Spring fever. Those of you unfamiliar with the term, it means that my desire to work is nil. Not so much that I want to go bask in the day, though walking the dogs is more fun when it's not raining and forty degrees; it's that the desire to play hooky permeates everything. 

Didn't want to get up from the cozy bed, don't want to crank on the book that's due next. Don't want to think about responsibilities I slip into with my clothes each day. Kind of feel like playing the guitar or the ukulele and staring out the window at passers-by is overly ambitious ...

But, okay, a little work here, for the writers ...

Pursuant to the Stellar Rangers ebook coming out, which I happened to mention in the post immediately prior to this one, I picked up a yellowing copy of the novel last night and started to read it. 

But before I get too far down that road ...

Writers, like actors, have different relationships with their work. Some never look at stuff they've done before. Once it is finished, they move on; that story is over, finished, no point in going back and noticing all the spots that weren't spackled and painted cleanly because you really can't fix it. (Yep, I could touch-up an ebook, it being a new edition, but some of the touch-ups go to things like fixing yesterday's future. Book was written nearly twenty years ago, and some of what was cool and futuristic tech looks a little dated. I could change the CD-ROM into a biomem or visual purple storage, but the tone would still be off without a major rewrite. I read a couple books of collected short stories by John D. MacDonald once upon a time, in which he had gone back and tried to update things like how much a new radio cost, or what a train ticket ran. It clunked–and that didn't happen much with Travis McGee's daddy. The reason was that a fresh coat of paint wasn't enough. Sure, he could make the radios and bus tickets more expensive than they'd been when he'd written the stories in the 1950's, but listening to radios instead of watching the tube, and taking the Greyhound instead of riding in one's car were part of the times-tone. Better he should have left them period pieces; didn't hurt Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler.)

In the course of a book's creation and going off to market, writers are apt to read it several times. There is the day-to-day re-reading of what's partially done. A read for errors once the draft is finished, and again after the rewrite. Once the editors go over it, there is the copy-edited manuscript. Then the galleys. And when it is published, a final read to check for typos. So five reads, which is enough for most of us. It goes onto the shelf. Slightly fewer reads with an ebook, since there isn't a copy-edited ms, nor a galley, but still.

Now and again, after a decade or two, I'll pick one of my books up and start into it. I find it interesting to see how I treated certain tropes and situations of which I am fond in earlier incarnations. Oh, yeah, that's where I came up with that the first time. Huh.

By and large, rereading the old stuff is not an unhappy experience. I was on a panel with Ursula once, and a fan asked her if going back and reading her early stuff was painful. Actually, no, she said. I'm usually surprised with how much better it was than I remembered.

Me, too.

So, there is something to be learned from revisiting stories from long ago.

So far, I'm enjoying the ranger as he moves through his adventure against the bad guys. There are some fun touches, nods to the Matadors, guns, martial arts, and one I had forgotten: The old rancher he's working with is named "Gus Kohl." If you are a fan of McMurtry's Lonesome Dove, and how can you not be? this is a pretty obvious pairing of names in a bow to the master.

Um. Okay. All done now. Let's go see how I can fritter away work time doing something else ...

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ride 'em, Cowboy ...

In my checkered past, I did a couple books for a packager, Bill Fawcett, after having written some short fiction for some anthologies he put together. The novels were Stellar Ranger and Stellar Ranger: Lone Star. I count these two novels as westerns, although they are obviously marketed as science fiction. I think the old Texas Ranger quote is, "One riot, one ranger." Our version was "One planet, one war, one ranger ..."

(How to tell if something is science fiction? If you can take all the science out and the story still works, then the tale is probably something else. If you can substitute a six-shooter for the raygun, horses for the rockets, and it works just as well? It's a western ...)

Um. Anyway, they were fun to do, and while I never had any desire to pen any more in the series, I recall them fondly.  I recall that Bill came up with the ranger's name: Cinch Carsten. At one point, when I was feeling particularly dull, I cast about for a name for my ranger's planet, and my gaze fell upon the reference book shelf,  just there to the left. It lit upon the thesaurus ...  and thus the name of the world became ... Roget ...

Turns out a lot of the books Fawcett did, like The Fleet series, are now being put forth as ebooks, and so Stellar Ranger is about to join these. 

The original cover had somebody who looked kinda like Chuck Norris in a sliver jacket and cowboy hat, a blaster in one hand. The new cover goes right to fringed buckskin and oilskin duster and matching hat, with a silvery earpiece com and high-tech gun in a cross draw holster. I don't think that's the Horsehead Nebula in the b.g., but it ought to be ...

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Eye See You

In the mid-1980's, I had a glitch in my right eye. Woke up one morning, there was a grayed-out patch that looked kinda like the Nike Swoosh, just off-center to the right. Not good. 

Hied myself on down to my optometrist, who said, "Huh. Never saw anything like that before!"

Which is not what you want to hear when somebody is looking into your gone-funky eye.

Toodled on over to the ophthalmologist ASAP. Exams, tests, including one that involved having a fluorescent dye injected into an arm, and then close-up photos of the eyeball as the dye hit it, a fluorescein angiogram. This made my urine glow in the dark for a couple of days, which was cool.

The swoosh faded, leaving some small pigmented spots that made the Amsler Grid wavy in a couple places, and gave venetian blinds and power lines little humps if I caught them at the right angle. 

After much ado and poking and prodding, there came a tongue-twisting diagnosis of convoluted medical jargon that contained in it the word "idiopathic."

This is the key word in a diagnosis, which, if you don't know what that means, I'll translate for you: "We don't know what caused it or where it came from." I got "idiopathic," along with the advice: Keep–pardon the pun–an eye on it, and come back if it changes.

For twenty-eight years, it was stable. Now and again I'd do the grid test, which you can do at home. (Download a copy of the Amsler Grid and print it out. Hold it at reading range, close one eye, then repeat the process with the other eye. The lines should all look straight. If they look curvy or have dark splotches? Probably good to get yourself on over to your eye doctor and have it checked. Because this can happen in one eye and not the other, the good eye will often compensate for the bad one, and you might not even notice the problem. See the helpful images below:)

Normal Amsler Grid, below.

Not-so-normal Amsler Grid, below.

Recently, things got a little worse. Still have 20/20 with glasses straight on, but the blind spot is a little bigger off to the right, so I went to have it checked. 

Eye getting worse is worrisome. 

Doc dilated things, looked around. There it was, but a little bigger. Huh.

Didn't look like AMD-that's Aged-related Macular Degeneration, which is the leading cause of vision-loss in people older than sixty. (At the risk of TMI, there are two forms of this, "dry," and "wet," the causes of which are ... ah, idiopathic. The dry is by far the most common, 90%, and aside from specialized vitamins that seem to help some people, there is no treatment. The wet form is worse, it's more aggressive, but can be treated with coagulants and lasers and all. One can turn into the other, and both affect central vision. 

Neither get better, but sometimes they don't get worse.

Typically, people with AMD lose central (macular) vision but keep peripheral, so they don't go completely blind. They don't know for sure what causes these, but there are some things that seem to help lower your odds of getting it: Don't smoke. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under control. Eat a lot of leafy green vegetables. Be born male, and from a family where nobody ever got this.)

So my ophthalmologist wants me to go get some more tests, see another eye guy. 

To what end? I asked.

Well, to track it. So we can see if it gets worse. Get a new baseline, all like that.

Well, I repeated back, if it gets worse, I figure I'll know it, right? Probably nobody will need to tell me. And if you don't know what causes it and there's no treatment, and probably I'll get that same idiopathic diagnosis, um ... what is the point?

You have me there, he allowed. Still, maybe tracking this will add knowledge to our base and someday help figure out what's causing it and maybe help somebody down the line.

Point taken. 

So in the near future, I'll probably get glow-in-the-dark urine and all like that. 

Never a dull moment ...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


"Evil," I believe, was originally a religious term. It has no legal standing, but what happened in Boston yesterday was certainly evil. Profoundly immoral and malevolent. 

If they catch those responsible, there is no real justice available to balance those scales. I would turn them over to the families of those who were killed or maimed and allow them to deal with them as they choose. Stoning is too good for such psychopathic vermin. 

People who deliberately bomb groups of civilians–and I don't care who these people represent or who they are–are evil. It always cuts deeper the closer to home it is, but a group of wedding-goers in Pakistan are no less human than they are here. Calling it "war" doesn't make it right.

I don't care why they did it, there is no justification for it. None.

Yesterday was another sad fucking commentary on those who should not be breathing the communal air.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Blog Numbers

I have a StatCounter button down at the bottom, which gives a tally of total page hits since it was installed. One can open the program and parse the stuff, find them on a map, total by day or week, first-time viewers versus returns, like that. When I started it, the numbers were low, then gradually they moved up to around 15,000 hits a month and leveled off.

Except that about four months ago, the numbers fell dramatically. Instead of five hundred hits a day, I was getting between two and three hundred. Huh. Maybe I'd worn out my welcome ...

No big deal, and I went on about my business. Then I happened across a stat counter on the Blogger page itself, buried down in the Settings. So I clicked on that, just to see what it showed, and oddly enough, those numbers were averaging twice as high as the StatCounter's.

Whereas StatCounter says total hits yesterday were 252, Blogger says 455.

Hmm.  Somebody seems to be counting something that somebody else isn't. I wonder which, if either, is right ... ?


No, not the kind with swords, the kind that goes round the yard ...

Specifically, the back fence, whose age I don't know, save that it is older than thirty years, and probably closer to forty, since it was here and gray when we moved in three decades past. We've replaced the other two sides long past; enough so one of those needs it again.

It was seven feet tall, the back fence, which was allowed, back in the day. City code doesn't go that high now; anything over six feet requires a special permit.

After a couple of years, most of it was still good, but the bottom had gotten pretty rotten, so the neighbor got a guy to come take it down, cut a foot off the end, and put it back up. 

But, as you can see, the wood has finally gotten to the point that a squirrel running along it, or a cat leaping up can snap the top segment right off, got a couple of gap-toothed spots, so we have to get it replaced. A good neighbor fence, which means it looks the same on both sides, split with the the neighbor will run us about seven hundred bucks each–two estimates–and they'll haul away the old wood, so that's what we'll do, soon as we have a couple not-raining days strung together. 

Then, of course, there is the roof, the counter-tops and sink in the kitchen, and the floors  and new carpets in the queue ...

When you own a house, you don't get to call the landlord for repairs ...


Some years ago, I was on a how-to-write panel at a science fiction convention whereupon I chanced to sit next to a writer I didn't know. This fellow was, I came to learn, part of a collaborative team, and recently added. (His collaborator had a successful series going, and the man to my right joined up. As far as I was later able to determine, he didn't have any other novel credits.)

So we are talking about this and that, and this fellow–let's call him "Kenny,"–was going on at some length about the writing process, allowing as how when it came to rewriting, there was Only One Right Way, and he was hammering it home with a pretty heavy maul. 

Pretty much when a writer tells you there is Only One Right Way to craft a story, he is full of feces right up to the scalp follicles. What works for him or her might not work for others at all, and no two writers I know do it exactly the same. So I offered that there were other paths up the mountain.

No, he pedanted pontificatedly, such paths were not as efficient ...

I wanted to laugh, but managed to hold it to a chuckle. Really? I was on a different path and had written and sold more novels than Kenny and his collaborator had by a multiple of seven or eight, so I didn't buy that he was the guy to be giving me lessons on much of anything.

Be like me sitting next to Ursula LeGuin and telling her she was doing it wrong ...

I have noticed over time, probably you have, too, that often, the people with the least amount of knowledge about a thing sometimes offer the most advice about how it should be done.

I didn't slide over and slap him as one might an hysterical friend, to snap him out of it, though I confess the urge was there. It takes all kinds, everybody has to be someplace, and it was just a panel at a con, move along, Steve, it matters not in the grand cosmic scheme of things.

But, still: throughout the rest of the presentation, Kenny's arrogance shined through. Let me count some ways ...

It might seem something of a reach to define personal arrogance by remarking upon a person's clothes, but his costume was such that he was Making a Statement, though I'm not at all sure what it was. I won't say what he wore, that would give him away to anybody who has seen him.

(Back when I first started writing, I bought a pipe and a cord jacket with leather patches on the elbows, just in case anybody might miss that I Was A Writer (ECHO WAH-WAH EFX OVER: "Writer ... writer ... writer ...") so I do understand that young and foolish cuts you some slack. Kenny was not so young, but give him a little bit.)

There were microphones on the table, it was a largish room, and although I pride myself on having enough voice to reach the back row without amplification, Kenny didn't have those chops, and he refused to use the mike. Now and again, somebody in the rear of the room would yell "Speak up! We can't hear you!" when Kenny offered his pearls of wisdom. That pissed him off. Jaw muscles dancing, and teeth gritted, he would raise his volume for a line, then drop back to the level where he'd been. When the folks in the front row are leaning forward and cupping their ears to hear you, you know the ones by the back wall can't make out what you are saying. Which was just as well, far as I was concerned, but ...

Kenny seemed truly irritated that people didn't have better hearing. And that must be the problem, because it certainly couldn't be his fault.

Eventually, mercifully, the panel came to an end, and as I gathered my placard and jacket and all to head to my next panel, somebody came up to ask Kenny a question.  About martial arts.

It seemed that Kenny was also an expert martial artist, and after a few moments eavesdropping, I had heard more than enough of that, too, so I shook my head went along my merry way. 

It stuck in my memory; first impressions, especially bad ones, sometimes do, but I wasn't going to lose any sleep over it. With any luck, I'd never run into him again, and Bob's your uncle ...

Now, I told you all that, so you'd understand this:

Recently, I was on a website upon which there was a lively discussion of a somewhat contentious happening at a science fiction convention. Hardly a surprise–cons are notorious for conflict, happens all the time, many enemies get made, people storm off to live in France, there are parties you can't invite this fellow and that one to, and grudges last until everybody connected to them dies. In this case, somebody behaved badly and somebody else was taking them to task for it, and readers were choosing sides, as they are wont to do. It was so awful! No, it wasn't that awful! He should be tarred and feathered! He should get a medal! The usual back-and-forth. I didn't have a horse in the race, not having been there, but I read along ...

... and there, weighing in, was Kenny! Allowing as how he was a man of the world and above such squabbling when he attended cons, and a couple of other choice tidbits involving his manly manhood and ...

I could not help myself. I logged on, and basically told them the same story there I told you here, without mentioning names or places. Because it seemed, I dunno, so ... well, karmic and all ...

Now understand, I don't expect that Kenny will for a New York second, see himself in my story; the nature of who he is wouldn't allow it. There might be people who recognize him, but if you do, don't post that in the comments section, I don't want to give him any photons. 

I just want to note that sometimes life gives you these little opportunities, and while, as often as not, you should turn away, sometimes, you just can't ...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Times Done Changed

When we got married and moved out to LaLaLand, I got my first full-time job, working at an aluminum jobber that fed the airplane construction industry in SoCal. We sold extrusions, plate, rod, bar, like that.

Each day, I got up, put on a white shirt and tie and dress trousers and leather shoes and like that and toodled off to work, starting in the follow-up department; that would known as customer service these days. My job was to check on orders, call or wire customers who were wondering when stuff would ship or why they hadn't gotten it yet, like that.

The money was not great, it being an entry-level position, but I got a raise after six months, another six months later, and it was sufficient to keep us clothed, fed, and with a roof over our heads. We were not living high on the hog, but we weren't in abject poverty.

That was forty-six years ago, and inflation has, um ... risen considerably. I won't go on about how much a gallon of gas or a loaf of bread or a movie ticket used to cost compared to now; I will, however get to the point of this piece:

Got our tax packet back from our accountant. With what we already pre-paid in quarterlies, and what we have to pony up for Uncle's cut for last year? Our tax bill is more than four times as much as I earned when we went to live in L.A. And that's with all the legal deductions that come with running two small businesses ...

Not complaining here; just pointing out a nickel doesn't go as far as it used to go ...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Diminishing Returns

When Mazda came out out with the MX-5 Miata, back in 1990, I lusted after one. At the time, it was being touted as an MG that would, you know, actually run, starting right up when you turned the key and all. (We had an MG Midget for a time, and it mostly ran on prayer and capriciousness, when it felt like running at all.)

The Miata at the time was so hot that to even test-drive one, you had to put up a $500 deposit (refundable) and wait in line. List price, and don't even bother to try and dicker, because there is a line behind you waiting if you don't want to pay full freight.

I ponied up the five hundred and went to have a ride.

Driving it did not decrease my lust a whit. I wanted it, I really wanted it. 

But the times were wrong, money was tight, it was not a practical automobile, no back seat, the luggage space sufficient for a handkerchief, so I couldn't get it. I was sad, but that's how life goes sometimes. 

Fast forward five years. Times had changed, and my dear spouse gifted me with the first year's lease payment for my little red sports car. Eventually, I paid the balloon at the end, and it was mine.

I loved that car. It wasn't raining or freezing, the top was always down, and that was accomplished by unlocking a pair of latches and lowering the lid, which could be done one-handed while sitting in the driver's seat in about four seconds. 

I drove it for twelve years with nary a mechanical problem, and only had to replace tires, batteries, like that. It never once broke down, it was the most dependable car I have ever owned.

One fine summer day early on, I was out and about and chanced to pull up next to a guy in a drop-top two-seater Mercedes. I smiled at him. He returned my smile with what I thought was a condescending sneer. After all, his car cost five times as much as mine did.

In that moment, I had a thought: No way is this guy having five times as much fun as I am.

Which brings us to the Point of Diminishing Returns. Yes, a Rolls is ever-so-much-nicer a ride than a Ford Focus on a lot of levels, but past a certain point, you are paying for something other than transportation. In the case of the two-seater sports car, I was, I thought, getting as much of an experience as the guy in the Mercedes, save for maybe the envy of those who knew how much his car cost. My Miata took curves like it was on rails, it looked good, felt good, and it always got me there grinning. 

Where one draws the line vis a vis what you get for what you pay will vary; what is important to one person will be less so to another. Twenty grand for the Miata versus a hundred for the Mercedes? It weren't me, babe.

Which brings us to 'ukulele porn ...

Yes, yes, I know, I have blathered on about the little jumping flea a lot of late. That's because it's my new enthusiasm, and one is wont to blather on about such things. There is a general point to be made, trust me.

So, I was online looking at 'ukulele porn. Which is not nekkid folks with musical instruments, at least not generally, but photos of the ukes put up by folks who own them.
I started digging and came up with some threads on uke sites about what you get for what you pay, and realized these are like most other things, in that, past a certain point, you aren't paying for improved function but for eye candy. 

There is a crossover point somewhere at the high-end factory-made instruments that are then set up by working luthiers, and the low-end handmade ones that are sans frippery. The handmade instruments are, by almost every account, apt to be better, simply because of the care that goes into the making. Not always, but usually. 

Past that, you wind up paying for bling, because the mother-of-pearl rosette and the abalone inlay and purfling don't make the tone nor the playability better. 

The consensus among the serious uke folks–if that's not an oxymoron–is that there is a huge difference between a hundred dollar uke and a thousand dollar one; less so between a thousand dollar and a two thousand dollar one; and even less than that twixt the two grand and four grand axes.

It is true that the various woods and the intonation set-ups matter. But if you go for the hand-selected flamed koa and pay extra for it over the less-striking koa, you won't hear it in the tone. Not to say that eye-candy isn't fun, and that people who look at it won't ooh and ahh over it, but that the point of diminishing returns insofar as the way the thing sounds and plays will be reached, and after that you are buying something else.

Which is not to say this isn't a factor. Bling isn't necessarily bad; it's part of the cool factor, and a consideration. This? Oh, yeah, the body is made from a rosewood door taken off a two-hundred-year-old church in Brazil they tore down a while back. Can't get that grade of Braz any more, it's endangered, you know. Gorgeous, isn't it?

It's just that if you are looking to stretch your money as far as you can, form follows function is generally a better road than "Oooh, pretty! Shiny!"

Monday, April 08, 2013

Adventures at the Mall

Took the youngest grandson to the mall today. Got him lunch at Panda Express, let him play on the kiddie playground, like that. 

As we were riding the up escalator to leave, he decided to throw himself into a racing dive just as we reached the top. He does stuff like that. Dives onto the mall floor and "swims" along. On the floor, it's cute. On the escalator, not so much. 

He let go of my hand, dove, hit belly-first right at the top. Snagged his shirt in the strainer teeth as Grampa snatched him up in a reflexive panic. 

The machinery ate the bottom his shirt seam off, but no damage to the underlying skin.

No harm, no foul. Good way to give Grampa a heart-attack, though ...

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Fear of Public Speaking

I've heard it said more than a few times that Americans fear public speaking more than death. Given a choice between offering a speech at the luncheon or having a root canal, most folks will opt for the dentist ...

Not me. I got over that in college at Free Speech Alley. Not to say I don't get butterflies before a big speech, I do, but that edge of fear adds to the experience, kind of like riding the Matterhorn Ride in Disneyland. Not much real danger, but it trips the circuits ...

There are all kinds of ways to deal with this fear, but I came up with a new one after reading a piece in Quiet, a book about introverts in our society. Which, largely, I am, even though I can put on the lampshade and entertain, that's not where I gather my power.

Introverts like to be alone, and I'm a writer, go figure. 

In the piece, the writer mentions that this fear is possibly hardwired back to the veldt. 

When you were out foraging and you noticed something watching you, it was, likely as not, considering eating you. Whereby, when you noticed, your survival mechanism told you to haul ass and up the nearest tree, monkey-boy, hubba-hubba! 

Them's that were slow maybe didn't get to pass on any more genes, having become the saber-tooth's lunch.

Fight-or-flight, and standing at the rostrum, she says, might trigger it.

So it occurred to me to turn that situation around: Consider yourself the top predator in the room, and when you look at the crowd, think about which of these tasty critters you'd snack upon first ...

I'm gonna use that next time I get up in front of an audience and see whether or not they laugh when I offer it. And how nervously they laugh, if they do ...

Monday, April 01, 2013

A True and Terrifying Story

I hesitated to put this up today, it being April Fool's Day, but it's true, I swear, you can look it up. A while back, looks like 2009, a handicapped man on the "It's a Small World" ride got stuck when the ride malfunctioned. It was only for half an hour or so, but during the time he was subject to the insidious ear-worm of the song they play during the ride.

He was wheelchair bound and apparently subject to panic attacks

If you have ever been on the ride, you know the song. You can't forget it. Even me mentioning it here calls it to mind, doesn't it?

Ride it once, know it forever ...

Apparently it took three hours to get the guy stabilized medically after they got him off the ride. 

So he sued for mental distress, and won. Unfortunately, he only got about eight grand. Not enough. Disney officials weren't pleased, but just because they work in the happiest place on Earth doesn't make them so ...

Crooked Little House

There's a house in an adjoining neighborhood whereby I sometimes walk the dogs. Big brick home, relatively-modern, close to the park. Two-story, probably set somebody back close to a quarter-million.

Some new folks moved in recently, and the first thing they did was cut down the big, beautiful oak tree in the front yard. I thought that was a shame, but maybe they were worried it would fall on the house or somesuch, so I shrugged it off.

Then they decided to do some yard work: A knee-high ornamental brick wall by the sidewalk; a short fence along the driveway, and a taller one next to the house, with a decorative slat-top, bound by a running top piece.

Crappiest work I can remember seeing in a long time. All of it.

The bricks are crooked to the point of higgledepiggly, and whatever mortar mix they used apparently turned to sand as soon as it dried. 

The fence is worse, no two slats in the upright seem to be parallel, and the effect is something like something you might see around the abandoned house that the kids dare each other to approach in the horror movie ...

Apparently the terms "square" and "level" never crossed their minds.

When you look at how Tobacco Road the construction is, the tendency is to use that to explain cutting down the oak tree. Yeah, you think, doesn't surprise me ...

Now, to be charitable, it could be that the fellow who moved in and who did the yard work has some kind of disability, and he did the best he could. And that he doesn't notice that it's not very good. And nobody wants to be the one to tell him.  

Could be a lot of things, but it goes to show that having a nice place doesn't automatically confer the ability to keep it looking that way ...

Online Workshop

Rory Miller and I are reprising our online Martial Arts for Writers workshop on Savvy Authors this week. Probably most of you who drop round our blogs have seen much of this stuff, but if you are interested in the subject, you can log onto Savvy Authors, plunk down your money, and get some Q&A to go with the lessons we post there.