Sunday, June 30, 2013

Jim Kelly

Jim Kelly 1946-2013

Apparently Jim Kelly just passed. Man.

No details yet, but he was only 67.

Back in the day when I was a green belt at Gordon Doversola's Okinawa-te school on Sunset, Kelly would come by now and again to train, and we used to spar. 

Adios, Jim.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Internet Fail

Back in 1990, Tom Selleck and Alan Rickman starred on a western, set in Australia in the mid-1800s, The movie was Quigley Down Under. It was memorable for two things: Quigley's Sharps rifle and the music.

The score was by Basil Poledouris, who did a slew of other movie scores, and had that Magnificent Seven, Big Country tone and twang. I thought it would sound good on a guitar, but I couldn't find the music anywhere, so I filed it away.

Fast forward a few years; I happened to catch the movie on TV, and I still liked the music. Might be fun to do on the uke ...

According to the Internet, it still isn't available, that music. Poledouris passed away, and it doesn't look like he ever put the sheet music on the market.

I have the CD of the soundtrack, but, according to Goggle and Bing and several dedicated music search engines, there is no score to be had, for love nor money.

Some guy did a short version on a guitar on YouTube, but didn't show his fretting hand, nor post a tab. A pianist worked out a different section, but not the main theme.

So, if I want to learn how to play this, I have to do it the old-fashioned way: I need to listen to it, then  pick out the melody, then figure out where to embellish with chords and double-stops and fingerpicking. Which includes melding a clarinet, guitar, tuba, banjo, and a full orchestra together, on a tenor uke.

Well, a man's reach should exceed his grasp, right?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Top of the Mountain - Ukulele & Guitar Porn

New Carruth ukulele, above.

Rosette detail.

With the Woodley White Pu'uwai koa (top.)

White, left, and Carruth.

Back of Carruth.

Cameraman reflected

Two Carruths, the classical guitar and uke, Osage Orange.

Carruths - back view.

Side view.

Okay, save for some updates now and then on my playing progress, which will include some sound-samples, this should be the last got-a-new-uke post. Anything is possible, but I really do feel done now.

The new Carruth arrived yesterday, and it is, like its bigger brother, a cannon. Loud and clean. 

Alan allowed that how he came to uke-ery was through a student of his who left plans for one for him. When he looked at them, the instrument seemed over-built, and it was Dave Hurd's book on building ukulele's that indicated a uke was like a small classical guitar that informed Alan's build. He's pleased with the result and so am I.

The saddle and nut are both compensated to get proper intonation up and down the neck, which means the little white bits on the front of the lower bout and just under the headstock have been carved and sanded for each string's height. Twelve frets to the body, which is usual for classical guitars, but not ukes, which tend to have fourteen. 

It's not a perfect match for the guitar, which has a cedar top as opposed to the spruce, but backs and sides look remarkably similar.


Sound check:

Editorial update P.S.

One can get into things like fate and destiny and all and argue for or against them, but it is sometimes interesting how you start down one road and look up of a moment to realize you are on another, and unexpected path. 

When I started into uke-ery, I did it reasonably. I found a good, cheap, entry-level instrument. That way, if I didn't like it, I could sell it, and even if I couldn't sell it, I wouldn't be out much.

But, of course, I did like it, so I immediately started looking for a way to upgrade, to get the perfect uke at a price that wouldn't break the bank. I found a couple of local luthiers who, upon examination, seemed to have good reputations and well-liked instruments at a reasonable price. That was the way to go, I figured. Support the local folk and get a good deal, what's not to like?

I tried to contact 'em.

First guy didn't respond to email or paper mail at all. The second guy did respond, but wasn't particularly interested in hearing what I had to say. I asked about features, mentioned some tone woods, and he allowed as how they weren't going down some roads, and I could almost see him shrug. Eh. 

Generally when given a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that demonstrates somebody doesn't really care what I think? I leave it. If you are going to order something custom-made, you should at least get a chance to tell them what and why you want it. If they want to explain why what you want is a bad idea, that's fine, but ...

So I smiled and nodded, and went looking elsewhere. I won't bore you with a repetition of how I came to own the Woodley White 'ukulele, nor the Carruth, but what I wound up were two instruments that reflect years of building classical guitars. Both of them have qualities I love–sound, set-up, playability. I thought the White in koa had a far and away better tone than some I tried that cost a lot more. The Carruth is the other end of the spectrum, but now I have both of those covered, and I can't imagine I could find anything nearly as good for what I paid, which, in both cases, were bargains. 

In neither case did I expect to find myself buying these, but sometimes, you go with the flow, and where it takes you is a joy.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Way of the Dodo

So, the word out from The Oregonian, our local newspaper, is that they just fired almost a hundred people and will cut home distribution to four days a week–Wednesday, Friday, Saturdays and Sunday, filling in the other days with a digital version for subscribers. You can still trundle on over the newsstand (read: Safeway, there being no newsstand around here) and buy copies on the other three days.

Like watching the old films of the Hindenburg as it burns and crashes: O the humanity! Cue the theme from The Titanic ...

End of an era. Move over, dinosaurs. Hello, Mr. Dodo!

Digital papers make money, print ones tend not to so much, although it sounds as if the Big O was actually still making a nice profit when they decided to toss out the staff and piss off the readers. One of the first to go was the only liberal columnist they had.  (I find it telling that they will still deliver to some places, including some nursing homes. Says a lot about the readership, doesn't it?)

For years, my daily routine included getting up, pouring a cup of coffee and reading the morning paper, maybe even tackling the crossword puzzles. 

I've slipped into the digital age, I read a lot on my computer and iPad–magazines, books–but the experience of reading a newspaper spread out on the table isn't going to be replicated by anything electronic, unless we get a computer table and they lay out the e-version differently than the one the Big O is currently fielding. Which is one of the most difficult documents to access you can imagine.

More than a couple times, I've seen something in the paper that I wanted to show to somebody. Finding it in the e-version is like looking for a particular grain of sand on the beach. Searches you'd expect to locate it don't. I know it's there, know where it should be, but it isn't. Intuitive, it ain't.

Reading a paper online doesn't let you scan and skip the way it does with newsprint scattered hither and yon. And there are a lot of places to get e-news that are laid out better than The Oregonian does it. Comcast/Infinity's splash page is fine for headlines. And anything of substance shows up on FaceBook with links ...

I'm not sure what I'm going to do, but they may be losing a long-time customer. I'm waiting to see what they tell me when the paper stops showing up.

Got to go. I can't find my buggy whip. Maybe it's behind the typewriter in the closet ...

Friday, June 21, 2013

Winter is Taking Its Time Getting Here ...

Came across a listing at AbeBooks, showing that George R.R. Martin's first volume of the never-ending Fire and Ice series (A Game of Thrones)  is worth more than I paid for it.

Considerably more.   

When the novel came out, I was doing frequent reviews for the local paper, and I convinced them they should let me do an interview with George, who was touring to support the book. This was in 1996. Which, if you do the math, was seventeen years ago, and how close are we to the end? The monsters haven't even come over the Wall yet ...

Um. Anyhow, I went to the signing, bought a copy of the book, had George sign it to me. We chatted, he allowed he was doing the trilogy, and maybe, maybe a fourth book, no more, and he gave his fans permission to shoot him if he did more volumes ... 

I wrote the review/interview, and went along my way. 

I liked it:

"Martin has created a rich and colorful novel, laced with courtly intrigue, defeated rivals, barbarian hordes and magical Others. Herein are all the elements of a great fantasy novel, melded with action, politics, coming-of-age, duty, honor and human frailties.

"You would be hard-pressed to find a contemporary writer who does it better, and you need not wait for the next installment to enjoy this book, for while it is part of a series, it stands alone enough to satisfy by itself."

You heard it here first ...

Fast forward to 2013. My copy, read once and stuck into the autographed rack of the shelf, is not in mint condition. The edges of the dust-jacket are a little wrinkled, there is some dusting on the page edges, so it's in whatever condition that makes it, and I can't tell what "extra-fine," or "fine," or "not awful" means. The better the condition, the more it's worth, and the 1st editions, signed, apparently can pull in $1500 and some. I'd guess mine is probably worth $800-1000, given what is being offered.

So I'm thinking maybe it goes into the gun safe in a plastic bag ...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Rhymes With Orange: Once More into the Uke ...

Classical guitar
Cedar-top, Osage Orange back and sides, by Alan Carruth, September, 2006

Okay, I know, I know, but his is too good a tale of serendipity to let pass. First some background:

I've owned guitars since I was sixteen, but didn't get to seriously trying to learn how  to play until around 2001. I had a cheap and not-very-good classical guitar, 
circa 1965,  parked next to the file cabinet, and quickly realized it wasn't going to do what I wanted, so I got a slightly better one and started saving my money. 

Along the way, I bought and sold a couple, got a good one, but, you know, I was looking for the Grail ...

In the summer of 2005, I connected with New England luthier Alan Carruth, and we chatted about a custom-made instrument. We went back and forth.  He was experimenting with the wood Osage Orange, which, he said, was a drop-in replacement for rosewood,  sounding halfway between Indian and Brazilian in tone when used in the back and sides. The main drawback, he said, was that it was a bright pumpkin color when fresh, though it would eventually darken to a rich brown. Not traditional, and a lot of classical guitarists are very much that, they want rosewood, so he wasn't getting much interest in using it.

Those of you who don't know, Brazilian Rosewood is a hardwood traditionally featured in high-end classical guitar bodies, it's rich, reddish-brown, sometimes figured, and is now endangered, on the CITES list, and you can only get it from tree stumps, old furniture and doors, or if you have a stock old enough to pre-date the listing. A top-grade set of Braz adds a thousand bucks to the cost of a classical guitar up front. And it's called rosewood because that's what it smells like when freshly cut: roses.

There are some countries around the world where, if you try to take your Braz guitar across the border, they will confiscate it if you don't have the correct paperwork showing the wood's provenance. That would ruin your whole day.

Osage Orange is a trash-tree, used for wind-breaks and fence posts and sometimes, long bows, and not the least bit endangered. Produces a fruit that look kind of like a green brain.

Back to Carruth: Alan is a master maker, flat-, arch-top, harp guitars, violins, violas, harps, dulcimers, and so on. He has a reputation as one of the leading experts in the field of  stringed instrument acoustics, when he talks about sound, people stop and listen. 

Go for it, I said. I don't mind freaking out classical guitarists who might see my axe. His prices were beyond reasonable, (and have since gone up) but I got a kinfolk deal and was thrilled. There was a waiting list, little over a year, and I got on it.

So, fast forward fourteen months, and there it was, the Carruth guitar. Beautiful, exquisite tone, way beyond my ability and never going to be what was holding me back. So, I went into the light, top of that mountain, done buying guitars, and I've kept to that.

Seven years later, it's 2013, and I found myself becoming enamored of the jumping flea, the 'ukulele
Bought some, traded 'em, got more, found two that were terrific, and that's it. Said so, right here I did. Two, my limit, no more, finito, all done!

I was mistaken. But it really wasn't my fault, because of what happened next:

It occurred to me that Mr. Carruth could probably produce one hell of a uke, if he had a mind to do so, but there weren't any shown on his site, and googling failed to come up with any. Too bad. But, just for fun, I dropped him a note and asked him if he'd ever made any ukes, or had considered it. I was picturing in my mind what an Osage Orange uke would look and sound like, and how other 'ukulele players might react to seeing one.

Hey, wow, what kind of wood is that? 

Even if he would consider it, his lead time has probably gone out further, so it would be a year and some away, but, hey, it was a nice fantasy, and fantasy is what I do ...

Got a note back: Well, coincidentally, Alan said, had just made a couple tenor ukes, one of which was in Osage Orange, and the customer who was interested had decided to buy a house and that discretionary income was gone. It was available, no waiting. Would I like to see a picture of it?

Would I?! Yes, yes, yes-yes-yes! Send the picture, send the picture, send it now!  

And it was, of course, gorgeous. A mini-version of my guitar. And I knew the quality of his work, so the only question then was, could I afford it?

And guess what? It turned out I could ...

Behold ... (Not my images, these are from Alan.)

It's got an Engelmann-spruce top, Osage Orange back and sides, and most of the dark wood is walnut, though the fingerboard is apple with a walnut stain. The white wood in the trim is Maple, and there's a bit of Bloodwood and Pink Ivory in the rosette. The tuners are open-back Waverlys. 

More pictures and a sound-check when I actually get it ...

Okay. I'm at the top of that mountain, too. Now I'm done buying ukes ...

Real Musician

Chapdelaine's latest. Man, he's something else. 

Silly Song

Okay, now and then, the strangeness of my mind surprises even me. Yesterday, I had an appointment in the morning, about a twenty-minute drive from my house. Weather was nice, so I had the top partially opened on the Mini, which makes it loud enough so that listening to the radio is iffy. As I drove, a song popped into my head. Well, a line from a song, anyhow. And that was all my perverse brain needed ...

It was bordering on obscene, or at least tasteless, and I have no idea from whence it came, but I wrote a verse of it in my head as I drove, managed to get a line or so into the chorus.

Wrote the rest of the chorus on the way home, and the second verse when I got to the computer. 

Found a simple chord progression, and done. I haven't recorded it yet–not sure I am going to do that–and it's probably not safe for work, unless you are in the adult products industry, so if somebody is apt to read over your shoulder, maybe you want to leave now ...

Silly Song

C, Em, F, G:

1. Woke up this morning with a boner on me, didn't mean nothin' 'cept I had to go pee/
Sleeping all alone in a big old bed, ain't got no woman might as well be dead/
Went and got coffee, turned on the TV, home shopping channel and what did I see?
Silicone vagina and brand spankin' new; can do anything a real vagina can do.

Chorus: (F, G, F, G, C)

 Don't need a battery, one size fits all/put her in your backpack, take her to the mall/
Silicone vagina, hey, she's really first-rate/whole lot safer than an actual date/
Never gets pregnant, she never gets mean/ clean her up easy in your washing machine.

2. Now Silly and I we are truly in love, whole lot nicer than a vaseline glove/
We do it in the bedroom, we do in the car, we do it in the bathtub, we do it in a bar/
We do it everywhere, and let me tell you Mister, we do it in a three-way with her gorgeous twin sister!

(Chorus - repeat last line and out …)

Monday, June 17, 2013

La Musica! La Musica!

Yeah, yeah, another uke post, but what can I say? It's my new hobby, and it's still calling my name. Might not be the droids for which you are looking, and if so, move along; I'll probably get back to something more interesting later.

Maybe ...

Um. Anyway, I decided that I need to have some goals, else I'd spend all my time working to get the book done. Not that I won't have to burn the midnight oil for that anyhow, and will, but to the musical end, and giving myself plenty of time past the book being turned in, I have three George Harrison instrumental pieces, plus a McCartney, I want to have learned come fall:

1. While my Guitar Gently Weeps (Jake Shimabukuro's version, via Corey Fujimoto.)
2. Here Comes the Sun (Herb Ohta, Jr./Jennifer Perri's arrangement.)
3. Something ("Dominator"'s arrangement.)
4. Blackbird ("Jim's" arrangement.)

I can play two of these on the guitar, though that doesn't really help for the ukulele, which versions are in different keys, with quite different fingering.

The Fujimoto and Dominator arrangements are supported by tutorials on YouTube, for those of you who might want to give 'em a shot. No tab for Fujimoto's version, but he lays out the chords and picking pattern in precise detail: Put your pointer finger on this string and fret, and your pinky here ... so you can learn it without having to know the names of the chords (which he does mostly tell you.) I have a pretty good start on this one, and while it won't sound like Jake, I should be able to manage to make it recognizable.

Dominator has generated a tab to go with his tutorial for Something, which includes a solo approximating the original, and it's well-done, even to showing things like how to pre-bend a string a half-step for the third-note opening the melody.

It is true that a thing may be explained simply if the teller understands it properly. Of course, being able to understand it is not the same as being able to do it ...

Sun is the easiest, mostly just picking the chords and putting in some simple fills, and they are all included.

Not overly ambitious, four songs in three months, but repertoire is more interesting than eating my vegetables (learning chord progressions and scales), even though I know I should do that, too ...

Stay tuned. We'll see how much progress gets made, come the end of September.

Meanwhile, on the band front, the Closet Musicians have another gig, end of July. This is at an annual get-together, a bunch of musicians at a barbecue and beer party. On the one hand, we are only doing four songs; on the other hand, it will be in front of real musicians. It's one thing to play for a bunch of folks at an assisted-living home, with our music stands and books to hide behind; it's another to play on a stage with only the instruments and voices. Most of the folks in the group haven't memorized the four pieces, even though we have played them scores of times together.

1. Sloop John B.
2. Way Down in the Hole.
3. Can't Help Falling in Love with You.
4. House of the Risin' Sun.

None of these are musically complicated, two of them with only three or four chords. But playing in front of real musicians ... ? 

Maybe if everybody has enough beer beforehand–including us ...

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ranger is Up

As I warned you earlier, the forthcoming ebook of Stellar Ranger is now come forth ...

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Serendipitous Research

Been doing some incidental research for the book-in-progress–having to do with Arizona Cypress trees in south Texas, actually–and wandered into a back alley that looked too interesting to pass by ...

This is often the case with research, and it is one of a writer's banes, always lying in wait to pounce when you go out hunting. You are after a rabbit and of a moment, find yourself tracking a bear. This can happen with something as innocuous as looking up the spelling of a word and getting hung up in the etymology–ah, so that's where that word came from! Middle English from Old French, via Latin, from Greek! Who knew? And isn't that fascinating? 

Well, maybe not to non-writers, but to a wordsmith, there is magic and mystery to be found amongst the odd combinations of letters and languages. Much as a carpenter will feel affection for a nicely-made chisel that belonged to his grandfather, writers find joy in the tools of their trade.

Did you know that "livid," means "bluish?" So that when you picture somebody whose face has gone livid with rage, it doesn't mean "red," as I thought for years, it is quite the opposite. Or that the horseback-fighting with wooden lances, "joust," was originally pronounced "just?" Or that "hopefully" does not mean "I hope."

Do you care? Perhaps not, but it makes for interest among those of us who still rail against the incorrect use of "hopefully." Because so many people have used it the wrong way for so long, it has now gained a new sub-definition that allows it to be used thus. The language shifts; one cannot get too attached to it. There once were gay caballeros and that adjective meant lighthearted and carefree, had nothing to do with one's sexual orientation. I can remember back that far. Now? the primary definition of "gay" isn't what it was, and almost nobody uses the original meaning for worry it will be misunderstood. 

Oh, that Larry, he's a character!

Yes, he's a gay one, isn't he?

Really? Larry is gay?

Not that knowing where the word came from is relevant to the spelling I need to keep my narrative flow going, it's just that when some doors are open, you can't walk past without looking to see what's inside. Tell the truth: If you are walking through the French Quarter at night and the guy passing out circulars at the strip club opens the door to give you a peek, do you glance that way?

This was why, before the internet's instant spellcheck, I kept a words-only speller on my desk, just to keep from falling into the word rapture of the unabridged there in the rack.
A dictionary is like a candy store to writers; one can wander around oohing and ahhing for a long time.

The unabridged is in a box in the garage now; with Google, you don't even need to know how to spell a word to find it. Get close, and Google is most helpful: "Camouflige? Did you mean 'Camouflage ... ?"

Why, yes, thank you, that is what I meant.

Something's lost, something's gained, in living every day. 

This gets ever so much more tricky when you are looking for material more substantive and you get sidetracked. The DZ movie script with Reaves I mentioned here? Came about when I was researching and happened across an article on  caves in the U.S. How many there are and how extensive they are? Amazing! Who knew? I mean, I had been to Carlsbad and Mammoth, and a few smaller ones in Oregon and Washington, but there are miles and miles of linked caverns hither and yon, many still unexplored, and the writer's question: What if ... ? popped up and bam! the engine that drove the script was right there. What if there was a cavern system down in the southwest, New Mexico, say, that ran under the border with Mexico, and almost nobody knew it existed? Almost nobody knew, but some thieves found out ... ?

There are all kinds of stories in that. And we told one. 

And I told you this so I could sneak into some ukulele stuff (much like using my made-up cave system outside Las Cruces.) Although the image above should have been a clue.

This concerns the wood used in making stringed instruments, particularly the uke, and the tones they produce.

Basically, most of the sound of a stringed instrument like a guitar or uke comes from the way the top and back interact. With guitars, especially classical ones, the back is usually made from a hardwood and the top from a softwood, and the sound produced is a product of which ones you pair. The sides are, depending on the expert you scratch, more or less acoustically-inert, though there is some discussion upon this. Most agree that the sides matter less than the front and back, the placement of the sound holes, the strings, and so on. 

With ukes, according to this site, instrument tone can be defined on a scale ranging from "warm," to "bright." On the far left, the sound gets mushy; on the far right, it becomes brittle, but twixt those two, you get tones that go from warm and woody to cool and bright, and several other mostly-subjective modifiers. 

For those of you still with me, a graph, showing how one maker of ukuleles sees (and hears) the various woods they use:
On the warmest side, we have koa and mahogany. On the coolest side, rosewood and maple. Somewhere in the middle, there lie sycamore, mango, myrtle, and walnut. Not that each set of wood will be exactly the same, but that one can generalize.

There are other woods, of course, but these are the most common for ukuleles, with koa being the traditional Hawaiian material of choice. And since I'm a fan of warm and woody tones, it's not surprising that I like the sound from koa more than the others.

There. Now you know something you didn't before, and if you are a writer, it will lodge in your brain and wait for a chance to be utilized in one of your stories. Or maybe wake you up in the middle of the night from a nightmare where you are being chased by an all-girl ukulele band bent on your destruction ...

Sunday, June 09, 2013


In our version of silat, there is a fair amount of blade work. A lot of it is with short knives, which we can define here as in the 4"-8" range. Some of it is with longer blades, and currently, we are playing with a machete-length blade (using sticks), of 18-24." Last class, we decided on the spur of the moment to do this, and most of us hadn't brought our practice blades, so we used sticks from Guru's yard. 

 I have a cut-down bokken from Cold Steel, courtesy of Edwin, of a dense and hard plastic that can do battle with an axe handle and survive. Would that I had it at class: the trimmed axe handle Todd used killed two of the wooden sticks I was using in a ten-minute stretch. Busted in half.

The main point here is to not think of this as a stick, but as a short sword, and to always keep your edge and point in mind. A stick is not a blade, and even though they may be utilized in a similar manner at times, the sword is a more efficient and effective weapon. You can use it like a stick, but you can also slice and dice and stab. Better,  else you'd have seen the Knights of the Round Table or the samurai or the vikings all armed with cudgels and not long swords, katana, or battle axes ...

The problem with practicing a weapon you aren't apt to really use is that you need a fair amount of time in grade to get even minimally adept with it. If you were carrying such a thing on a daily basis you could unhusk it and wave it about at odd moments to burn in the moves. Carry a tactical folder, you can practice pulling it from your pocket and opening it in places where nobody is watching. Walk into the mall sporting a sword on your hip, there isn't going to be any place where somebody won't be watching you, and maybe some of them will be police with hands on their sidearms ...

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Ukulele Eye Candy

The Beatles, sans John, playing blues on ukes, 1994

And did I mention that I decided to swap my mahogany uke for another one in koa? Well, I did, along with a bit more of my money, since the new one is an upgrade from the Mainland.  

In the guitar world, this is called GAS, i.e. Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. Uke players called it UAS, for what should be obvious reasons. But I'm done. Two is my limit. 

No, really. I mean it. Seriously.

Got a terrific deal, and hereunder the twain:

Above, top: MM tenor in koa; Pu'uwai tenor, koa, bottom. The MM is slightly narrower across the bouts, but a hair deeper through the body.

Below: Pu'uwai, left, MM, right. Note that the tops are book-matched. (Book-matched, which means they take a piece of wood and split it, open it like you would a book, then glue the mirror-images together along the edge.)

The new one came equipped with a pick-up, a K&K Twin-Spot, which is similar to the stick-on transducer I got with the Roland Micro Amp, for my guitar. 

Plug it in, it makes things louder, and with the reverb cranked up about 2/3rds on the British Combo setting, I get a nifty echo-EFX that works great for "Hotel California ..."

Gotta get back to work, book is waiting ...

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Everybody Back in the Pool ...

Once, I was was serious swimmer. Not for competition, but I was a lifeguard, WSI, teaching kids' lessons, and it was my primary source of aerobic exercise. 

When I got into running, planning on doing the marathon at Boston, I quit swimming seriously.

When we moved here from Louisiana, I had been running six miles a day, but an ice storm convinced me that lap swimming was way mo' bettah in the dead of winter, so I got back into the nice indoor pool.

For a year and some, I swam laps five times a week, about a mile's worth. It took a while; by the time I trucked to the pool, swam, showered, and got home, it was burning up about an hour and a half a day. Plus my hair was turning green, my skin getting scaly, and sometimes they'd crank up the chlorine in the pool so high that it was inducing asthma attacks in some of the swimmers ...

So I eased off laps at the pool. Got back into martial arts, found a gym with weights, walked assorted dogs, had it covered.

The visiting family has in it a teenaged boy who will sit in front of the X-Box all day and all night if we allow it, and now and then, we need to pry him away from the tube and go do something physical. He likes basketball, is quick enough to dribble between my legs and drive to the goal, so we did that. And while we were at the gym day before yesterday, he swam laps.

So today, I offered to take him to the pool and rather than sit there in the bleachers watching, I figured what-the-heck, I'll do a few laps, too. How hard could it be? Like riding a bicycle, right?

I dug out the goggles and ear plugs, and Speedos. I made some fresh swimmer's ear mix–that's alcohol and white vinegar in equal amounts, with a touch of gylcerin. Put a few drops in before you get wet, under the silicone plugs, then a few more drops after you dry off, it help keeps you from getting otitis media, aka "swimmer's ear." 

It is like riding a bicycle. Kind of. I recalled the basic strokes and could do them just fine. I've been in pools and paddled around and treaded water and all, but it has been twenty years since I swam laps. The water was too warm, and after thirty minutes of back and forth, I was done. Really done. 

The wind in my sails isn't what it was ...

Maybe I should start hitting the pool a couple-three times a week again. We aren't getting any younger around here ...

Supporting Your Instrument

When I started playing classical guitars, I propped my left foot on a special foot stool and rested the guitar on my left leg, which was the standard position at the time. This angles the neck up at about 45%, which was good for accessing the fretboard past the money chords.

Later, that position become increasingly uncomfortable, and some of the classical guitarists I know were having problems with sciatica, and I looked around for a support that would allow me to keep both feet on the floor. There are several kinds -- pillows, leather thingees attached with suction cups or endpins, and I settled on the the latter, a Neck-up, from Hamre Music, in Vancouver, WA.

Works great, hasn't seemed to hurt the finish on the guitars, and while it would slip off now and again, I play sitting down, so the guitar didn't hit the floor. I swapped out the small suction cups for larger ones, and added a couple, and I'm pleased with it.

When I started playing ukulele, I had some trouble finding a position that would allow me to approximate the neck angle I liked. I can strum fine, but fingerpicking gets trickier the further up the neck I go, things start wobbling. Even though I play sitting down, I figured I'd get a strap, since one of my ukes came with strap buttons.

Then I checked with the Neck-up folks and found that they also make a mini-version, suitable for smaller instruments, like mandolins, narrow-bodied or children's guitars, and ta-dah! ukuleles, so I ordered one of those.

Forty-three bucks, shipping included. It does the trick for me. It will prop on either leg, though it doesn't help if you play standing. Might be something to look into if your lap seems a bit roomy for your uke. You can roll the strap up enough to get it into a large uke case under the headstock, or carry it in your gig bag.

The Dark Zone: Movie Update

I might have mentioned in passing that a script Reaves and I wrote some time back–The Dark Zone–has been optioned. It's a caper movie that serendipitously came out of some research I was doing regarding caverns and cave systems in the U.S., and we ran with it.

We deliberately wrote it tight, and without a lot of EFX, so it could be shot low-budget. If you find a producer with access to big bucks, it's easier to tech stuff up from low. Not as easy to go the other way if the effects are integral to the story. 

As these things go, experience has taught me that the initial rush of enthusiasm–Oh, boy, oh, boy, they are gonna make my movie!–needs to be seasoned with a large sprinkling of reality. The business of Hollywood is more about the deal than the movie, and there is a long journey twixt writing a script and seeing it realized on the silver screen.

Many, many screenplays have been written, relatively few make it to your local theaters, direct-to-video, or cable. I can't recall the ratio, but it's probably something like this: For every thousand scripts that are written and submitted, a hundred get optioned; for every hundred that get optioned, ten make it past turnaround; for every ten that make it past turnaround, maybe three get made; of those three, one or two might actually get released. The old joke is, in Hollywood, if you stop ten people on the street and ask them how their script is going? They will all tell you ...

The main problems can all be boiled down to one word: Money.

If you have enough money to throw at your problems, you can make any movie you want. If you don't, not so much.

You can make a pretty good low-budget picture if you have enough drive and talent and luck. There are well-known examples that cost peanuts but went gold, and you never know. People win the lottery, too.

So in this case, the producer/director, Phillip Darlington, has some chops–he's been in the Biz for a while, done some stunt stuff, acting, and knows his way around a camera, since he is a professional photographer. He's also a diver and a caver, both of which are elements of the script, so that is a big plus. He knows caves and underwater, he can make that real.

Doesn't have a lot of money. But he does have enthusiasm, and he has put together a trailer using actors and stunt folk and some well-shot but not-expensive footage to try and convince investors to put up money. 

He's got a real chance, I think. I've seen the rough cut of the trailer, and it looks terrific. Once that is cleaned up and ADR'ed and all, he will be using it to generate interest. There will be web pages and social media and fund raising online and like that. There's already a placeholder Facebook page, here.

There are a lot of folks outside LaLaLand who would like to be in the movie biz, even if only to be able to tell their friends, Hey, I helped get this movie made, check it out! Maybe Phillip can connect with them. 

It won't be easy, given my experience, nor will he be looking at a James Cameron budget in any event. I've sold options on my stuff a dozen times and nobody has yet been able to invite me to a world premiere. (Just as many Bothans died, so have many hopes on the boulevards of broken dreams down in sunny SoCal.) 

I can't show you the trailer yet, but it will be polished and made public in the not-too-distant future, and when it is, I'll put up links hither and yon. Stay tuned. 

To paraphrase Flatnose Curry talking to Butch Cassidy: "We're rootin' for you, Phillip ..."

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Black Steel

 Balinese Wedung, above;
Keris pejet, below.

Enlarge the image above and look closely, 
you can see where the hot steel was pinched with 
thumb and finger tips. Try that one at home.

Alan Maisey's latest keris catalog is up. If you have a hankering for Indonesian steel, have a look.