Thursday, October 31, 2013


Jack, 2013. Got family visiting, kids, dogs running around, so my attention wandered at bit, but it's the usual process: Cut and scrape and dig away everything that doesn't belong.

Apologies to Edvard Munch ...

Monday, October 28, 2013

Um ... Okay, I Was Mistaken ...

Adirondack Spruce/Tulip Magnolia

Okay, so I said I was done with UAS (ukulele acquisition syndrome), since I have two tenors that embody the opposite ends of the warm/bright spectrum.

I thought this was true. I mean, really, I did.

Here, the obligatory aside: One uke is rigged so I can plug it into an amp, and I have a mike I can use for the other, if need be. My electrification rig consists of a Roland Street Cube, a Shure SM 57 vocal/instrument mike, K&K pre-amp, and a couple of passive pick-ups; one in the uke, another is a transducer by Dean Markley I can stick to a guitar or uke with earthquake putty, and assorted cables twixt and tween.

I am endeavoring to lobby the jam group to add some electricity to its tool chest, too. I listened to the recordings of the last gig, and got some feedback from my spouse, and while the harmonies are nice and the instrument playing not too awful, the volume/mix is not so good. Could hardly hear some of the vocalists, and couldn't hear the harmonica at all. If everybody had a mike and even a micro-amp, that would be much better.

Back to the ukes: I thought I was done, truly I did. But, uh, well ... um ...

I came across a luthier named Michael Zuch, and lo! guess who is getting a third instrument in the jumping flea category?

This will be the last one. Really, it will.

For sure.


Maybe ...

It's a story, but suffice it to say, Mr. Zuch is building this critter for me. It'll be a while before I lay hands on it, but it has begun, and for those who follow such things in my posts, a few items of note:

It's another tenor, sound board will be made from Adirondack spruce, back and sides from tulipwood, with slot head tuners and a slightly wider-than-usual fretboard. 'Twill sport a sound port on the side of the upper bout, which is a second hole that allows the player to hear it better.

Zuch has built some fine instruments, but he's never done one with this wood combination, and I think that is maybe a little bit of the draw for him. He's a part-timer builder, and does it for love and not money. He mostly builds them for good players who need but can't afford handmade instruments, and while I'm not in either category, I was pleased no end that he agreed to do one for me.

The initial pictures are above, and as he progresses, if I get more images, I'll add them to the blog.

The current book-in-progress, my urban fantasy, Stemwinder, which features an itinerant blues guitarist who travels back and forth between Earth and Faerie, will have him dabbling with uke-ery in his gigs, by the by. This is also a labor of love on my part, will have a lot of musical stuff in it; plus some spying and murders and slavery and all.

Stay tuned …

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Let There Be Light ...

I'm one of those people who carry a flashlight around most places I go. Back in the day, when we moved to this neighborhood and I'd walk my dogs at night, this was a good idea, because there weren't any streetlights, and now and again, I'd need to see something that city glow wasn't enough to reveal.

I got a diver's light, mucho waterproofo, a little four-cell AA that I carried in my jacket or back pants pocket.

This was perfect. Not too large, had a bright beam and a lot of throw–which, as I understand the term, means it projects a focused beam a long distance. (A laser would have the most throw, whereas a lantern would have little, like a table lamp.)

It's still my jacket-pocket carry once the weather turns wet and cool.

But having been inside a large hotel once when the power failed and the emergency lighting said, Nah, I ain't working today, sorry, I wanted a small keychain light, just in case.

Yeah, yeah, iPods and iPhones and like that have a flashlight mode, but them's weak tea.

The cheapo keychain lights aren't much, so I upgraded to a AAA Fenix E01, which is about the size of my little finger. The single LED was much brighter than those throwaway squeeze jobs, and the AAA battery easy to replace.

More than a few times, I've been fumbling for something in my car, or looking for something I dropped, and this light has done the trick. Convertibles don't have a dome light, and the one over the rear view mirror is dim. 

So the Fenix was rugged, dependable, a great ECD. (That acronym I came across recently, hadn't noticed before: Every Day Carry ...)

Um. Then I found out that Fenix makes a AA model, the LD 15, which is slightly larger, but since I use AA batteries for all kinds of things and have rechargeables in that size, I figured what-the-heck, so I got one.

This is larger than the AAA, of course, but not so large I can't use it on my keyring, and it is waaay brighter, plus has two modes, a dim one that will last for thirty-some hours, and a brighter one good for like an hour and a half. Not much throw, but for what I usually need, this is fine. 

So that's the current EDC darkness-banisher ...

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


If you are an ukulele fan, the name "Jake" is in the same realm as "Cher;" no last name necessary. Jake, the Hawaiian kid who played that killer version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" on YouTube to the tune of twelve millions hits, is not your father's uke strummer. He's not in the same galaxy with Tiny Tim, ain't no tip-toe through the tulips here ...

Um. Anyway, Jake is on tour and he makes it to Portland toward the end of a long road trip, playing the Aladdin in April of 2104. All things going well, I'll be there to hear him.

Might check and see if he's gonna be in your town, he can knock-your-socks-off play that jumping flea, and then some ...

Monday, October 21, 2013

Life is a T-shirt ...

You probably know about CafePress, but if you don't, it's a place that lets you submit designs for assorted merchandise, T-shirts, mugs, tote bags, key chains, fridge magnets, and so forth. They will make the thing, and you can buy a one-off, or sell products through their site.

I was getting some new T-shirts, to replace my largely-black collection (these don't show the stuff you spill on yourself when you eat in the recliner watching TV as much as other colors) and decided to make one for my ukulele habit ...

Costs a bit more than buying a cheapie at K-Mart, but they are a fairly good quality, and if you buy more than one, the cost comes down.

Probably I'll design one for our jam group: The One and Only Closet Musicians! And probably I'll stick the design up for my silat group, too. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013


(All photos by Rich Greco)

The word "gig," in regard to music, apparently is an early jazz age contraction of "engagement," which kind of tells you how much reefer those dudes must have been smoking. No way I get "gig," out of "engagement," though I suppose "gag" wouldn't have worked ...

Um. Anyway, the Closet Musicians had another one Saturday, at the assisted living place we played last winter. Went well, we didn't screw up on anything, and most of the stuff we are happy with was tight. 

The venue was smaller than I remember it, and more of the patrons were wheelchair bound or using walkers, but the crowd was about the same size, and there were a few folks I recalled still there.

I mostly used the guitar, but played uke on a few. If I had practiced a bit more, I could have played the jumping flea on all of them. Some day ...

We played for twenty-five minutes, took a ten-minute break, then another ten songs, just under an hour altogether. Since we do only a couple of abbreviated solos, courtesy of our new banjo player, the songs tend to mostly run under three minutes. Twenty-five songs, one encore. Not like they could do a standing ovation even if they wanted ...

Most of the group went out for burgers afterward, but we bagged that, having a cat we wanted to check on, plus a dog who has to go out every 3-4 hours. We'd leave her out on a nice sunny day like it was yesterday, but she barks more or less constantly once she realizes she's alone, and since she's deaf and getting on to blind, she thinks she is alone sometimes when we are in the same room ...

I'll put up some pictures when I get 'em; the banjo-player's husband brought his mojo camera and shot a bunch, plus a couple of vids.

Set List:

12. MA


21. ALL I HAVE TO DO IS.....


The Cat Came Back ...

Rear: Jude; front, Ballou, left, Layla, right.

So the cat took off Sunday last after breakfast, as he usually does, and didn't come back for supper. Nor did he show up the following days.

We went looking. Checked the animal shelter's website lost and found, no soap.

Then, Saturday morning, a meowing at the back door, and there puddy was. Probably down 35% in bodyweight, skinny and hungry. He ate a little, slept on my lap, then on a rug for most of the day. He's weak, but otherwise seems healthy. 

We don't know, but think he must have gotten into somebody's shed or garage and got shut in. Gone six days, and we thought he'd gone to use the Great Litterbox in the Sky ...

Back to his normal routine ...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Back into the AvP Universe/Cutter's Wars

Got an email from a guy who is ramping up a board game in Europe in the Aliens/Predator universe. He has gotten the rights from Fox, and would I be interested in writing a short story of 5000 words or so that would essentially open/introduce the game's rulebook?

Basically, the piece is backstory. When it ends, the game begins.

Sure. Why not? Been a while since I played there, but a short story, and he already had the plot and characters? Piece of cake.

I asked for a good, but not an outrageous word rate; he agreed to it, and I sat down and cranked. Lotta xenomorph acidic gore, facehuggers, and full-auto rock and roll ...

Took a couple days, and he only change they wanted was to dial the R-rated language down to PG-13. Took a global search and five minutes to fix that.

They still have to get it approved by Fox, but I wouldn't think that would be a problem.

I'll let you know if they get the game up and running, appropriate links and all like that.

2nd book in the series, due out December 24th, 2-12

And on the book front, the third and final Cutter's Wars novel is turned in and has found favor with my editor. Well, except for the title, and she was right about that, it needed to be changed.

When I outlined the series originally, I used The Dixie Conflict as the working title, since I wanted to have it take place on Earth and in the American South. As I went along, the setting became mostly Texas, around San Antonio, and while that is technically the South, the term "Dixie" didn't feel quite right. Anything below the Mason-Dixon line is legal, but somehow Texas and Florida don't resonate like Virginia-Georgia-Alabama-Mississippi-Louisiana. Ginjer suggested that we wanted something with more of a Tex-Mex flavor, and so that's what we are kicking around. So we will use "Tejano," in the title instead of "Dixie," i.e., The Tejano Conflict. 

Back to work on one of the several spec project I have going ...

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Copper and Magnets

I didn't know this, this is waaay cool.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Geeky Video of the Day

Okay, so I'm a uke player and I think this is a lot of fun, geeky as it is ...

Bad Boys - Two Incidents

This is the dashcam video of the shootout on I-84 a while back. An Oregon State Trooper pulled over a car for speeding. A man stepped out–he had children in the car–and refused to get back into his vehicle when directed by the officer. Then he pulled a pistol and started shooting as he advanced. Hit the trooper once, not seriously, and took a round himself, though it is hard to tell exactly when. 

The shooter then ran to his car and drove off.

Half a mile later he slumped over and died. I think OSPs mostly carry Glock .40 S&W's, which is a pretty good stopper. But even with a solid hit to the body, the perpetrator managed to drive off.

It's not a magic wand.

The children were unhurt.

Second incident involves a bunch of motorcyclists in New York City. A stunt rally, and at one point, they boxed in an SUV containing a guy, his wife, and small daughter. In the vid, you can see one bike slow down almost to a stop. You don't see when the bike gets hit, injuring the rider.

He was dicking around, and getting bumped was his own damn fault.

Everybody stopped and the cyclists decided to whale away on the SUV. Now these were not outlaw bikers, at least they didn't look like 'em.

The driver, doubtless terrified for his family and himself, drove off.

And over a couple of the cycles and their riders. These folks sustained serious injuries.

I looked at the video. You've probably seen it.

I don't blame the guy in the SUV. In his place, I expect I would have kept going, and run over a bunch more if they tried to stop me. If I am going to get killed and wind up in Hell, I want whoever was responsible to be holding the gate for me when I get there. Seems only fair. 

They chased the SUV, boxed it again, stopped him, bashed the shit out of his vehicle, smashed out the glass here and there, then pulled the guy out of the car and beat him.

They were outraged. They behaved like a bunch of assholes, but they were mad. 

Parts of it were captured on the riders' helmet cams. Another duh. Let's video our crimes, hey?

In the first event, we see a cop doing his job against a crazy with a gun. albeit not as well as he would have liked.

In the second, we see a bunch of crazies looking for trouble and finding it. 

I can't say I have any sympathy with the shooter or the cyclists who got run over. You feel sorry for their families, one cyclist might not walk again, and the shooter died in front of his children, but what the hell were these people thinking? 

Thursday, October 03, 2013


I lost an old friendship today. No, that's not right–the friendship has been gone for a long time, but I finally acknowledged it today. Sent my Adiós note, and there you go.

Pointless to go into details, who said or didn't say what to whom, and I have done my grieving piecemeal over a couple of years. I saw it coming. 

I'll wax metaphorical: Like a a slomo train wreck, I jumped up and down and waved my arms, yelled myself hoarse: Stop the train! But to no avail.

Another old saw, with an addition: Some days, you get the bear; some days, the bear gets you. 

Some days, the bear doesn't show.

Interesting how these things go. High-profile break-ups between people in the public eye focus it and get tongue clucks: Oh, Martin and Lewis called it quits, what a shame! Lucy and Desi got a divorce. How could they? Simon and Garfunkel are pissed off at each other. You see those and you shake your head. Wow, these guys were so good together, how could they just ... call it off?

My case is hardly in that class. Just an old buddy I ran with for a long time I thought was my friend and turned out not to be. Not a major tragedy that involves anybody outside our immediate circles. He has his reasons, his life got interesting, in the Chinese curse sense, but in the end, I just dropped off his to-do list.

How do you fix that?

I tried, but it was crickets and dwindling echoes, and in the end, didn't happen. If you are building a bridge across a river, you need some help from the other side, and if you don't get it? The folks over there don't want you crossing. At some point, you have a come-to-realize moment and you pack it in.

At least I did.

Ah, well. As Vonnegut used to say, "And so it goes ..."

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy
(AP photo)

You will probably have heard the news by now, but writer Tom Clancy died last night.

Same age as I am, 66. 

Some personal reflections:

I worked for Clancy, though I didn't really know him. We "met" back when I was on AOL, probably in the early 90's, during a discussion about snubnosed revolvers. There was a line in one of his books to the effect that such weapons were useless past a few feet. Since he was something of a gun-nut, with a shooting range in his basement, I was surprised to hear this. I pointed out that even a so-so handgunner such as myself could keep them all on the silhouette at fifty yards all day with a .38 Special snubbie, but he didn't believe it. 

I was sorry I never got a chance to go to his range and show him. I was but a small fish in his well-stocked pond.

Of course, my time in the trenches on the Net Force novels starting in the late 1990's was considerably more important than the pros and cons of short-barreled revolvers. There were ten of these books, which I wrote, (and later co-wrote, with Larry Segriff,) near-future stories in which I got to pretend I was a techno-thriller author. I had fun with them, especially the first few, working under the aegis of Marty Greenberg and Steve Pieczenik. I never tried to write like Clancy, but put my own spin on things, such that it was.

There was also a YA series, but I had nothing to do with that one.

Early on, I came up with a device that, for all intents and purposes, was the iPhone; I got to introduce the art of pentjak silat to a large audience; and play with virtual reality in holodeck-like computer scenarios. Got classical guitar into a couple, all kinds of boomware, some gun fun facts, and how to beat somebody up real good using a cane.

I dabbled in politics, military stuff, and secret federal agencies. It sure beat working for a living.

One of the novels came out of a Google search in which I plugged in the search term "Death ray." That got me to HAARP, extremely-low-frequency stuff. In the novel, I had the evil scientist driving people crazy using the ELF. That guy who went bananas at the Navy yard recently thought that was what was happening to him, but I don't think he got it from me–it's a common delusion among a certain strain of schizophrenics, that somebody is zapping their minds with various kinds of waves.

There was a Net Force TV miniseries, starring Scott Bakula, which I'm sure he'd like to forget, since it was maybe the worst such ever aired. Bad. Really bad ...

Working for Mr. Clancy paid a lot of bills around here, and allowed me to tuck some away for retirement, plus it put my name on the New York Times Bestseller list ten times, (including a couple when I wasn't getting cover credit.) 

Adíos, Tom. 

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Can I See You Now?

I started wearing specs at fourteen. I should have done it a couple years earlier, but I was a shrimpy geek, and I didn't want to add "four-eyes!" to the mix. Only reason I got them when I did was that I knew I couldn't pass the vision test to get my learner's permit to drive.

That was the trade-off. I got to drive, and I got to be a shrimpy four-eyed geek. 

In a couple years, I got contact lenses. These were hard and large, covered your eye and half your face, and were so uncomfortable as to be a miserable experience. I gained frown lines in my forehead from the constant stress by the time I was seventeen, and those turned out to be permanent.

Another problem was, I had to wear sunglasses, because, at least in my case, the contacts somehow intensified the light. I had to put on shades to walk to the mailbox or risk going blinder than I was. I felt like a vampire.

When I went to work as a lifeguard, I began buying Polaroid shades. Polarized lenses don't just darken, they also cut glare, and allow you to see under the surface of the water, which is an advantage if it is your job to save kids who sink and don't come back up. 

I got used to these, and they became my shades of choice, especially while driving. When I gave up contacts and went back to glasses, I had clip-on shades, and eventually, prescription sunglasses. Of course, getting out of the car and going into the market required a glasses swap, going and coming. Still does.

There came Transition™ lenses, a wonderful invention that allowed you to wear regular glasses inside but once you stepped into the bright sunshine, they darkened. Wonderful! Well, except that they were triggered by ultraviolet light, and for those of you who don't know, ordinary window glass stops nearly all of this, so the Transition lenses don't do squat when you are driving your car, unless you have the top or the windows down. Which is fine in the summer.

Since road glare is mostly what I need to handle when I'm out and about, Transitions aren't doing me much good. And even if I am in the yard or walking the dogs, the lenses don't polarize. That bright, blinding glare off the road? It turns into a darker, but still blinding glare ...

Ah, but here comes Transition Vantage™! These, supposedly, not only get dark outside, they also polarize! 

So I got online and had a look ...

Not so great, apparently, according to reviews. There are three drawbacks: 1) They still don't work behind glass. 2) The polarizing effect isn't very good. 3) They stay dark for a lonng time after you go inside. 

Oh, well. Won't get those ...

But Transition is trying to get there, and the latest from them is called Driveware™
This supposedly gives one several modes. They are always polarized. They are pale in dim light, but since they have the ability to react to both UV and visible light, they will darken inside a car, and once out of it, darken even more. They aren't designed for inside or night use, they never clear completely, but if it is gray and rainy and then the sun accidentally breaks through, they are supposed to adjust for that. As the light gets more intense, they go from a pale yellow to Serengeti brown to old copper.

Not perfect, but closer. 

I'll find out. I had to get new glasses and decided to spring for new sunglasses, too. I opted for the new lenses. A little more spendy than the ones I had before, but I could a) use the old frames, which are more or less aviator-style, and b) I got them at Costco, which makes them about as cheap as you can get glasses outside of going to the Chinese websites. 

My son has gotten into an Elton John thing with glasses, and he picks them up for twelve or fifteen bucks a pair online, which is outrageously cheap. He doesn't need but a single lens prescription yet, so he can get ten or fifteen pairs for what one of mine cost ...

When I had insurance that paid for it, I went to boutique eye place with all the bells and whistles, and my glasses would run six hundred bucks plus. Same prescription at Costco is less than half that. We are talking blended multi-focal, high-density, anti-scratch-coated Transition™ lenses.

The Holy Grail for glasses for me would be a pair that were clear indoors and that turned to shades appropriate to whatever brightness you find yourself in, and that polarize to adjust the glare. 

The best contact lenses I've tried still get uncomfortable when I'm tired; Lasix surgery might cure my nearsightedness, but I'd still have to wear reading and/or computer glasses. It's a pain in the butt to keep the suckers clean in the weather we have here, but there you go. 

One keeps searching. The Grail could be out there, somewhere ...

Editor's Note:

Got 'em. Couple photos, below, of how dark they are inside, and then after a couple minutes in the late afternoon sun.