Friday, September 25, 2015

Climb a Tree ...

Knew a guy once was a consummate liar. A master of mendacity; a primo prevaricator; a man, who, in the words of the old saying, would climb a tree to tell a lie rather than stay on the ground and tell the truth. If his lips were moving, he was lying ...

Why? As nearly as I could tell, it was always to make himself look better. He wanted people to like him, and he wanted them to admire him. So he never told a tale but that he was the hero of the story, and his heart was always pure, his motives righteous, and his actions justifiable.

Caught a fish? Why, it has huge, would have been a record, seriously! except that his stupid brother dropped it and it got away!

Or that gorgeous woman? They were going to get together and roll around breaking furniture, but her boyfriend found out and threatened to kill himself, and she couldn't let that happen. But she wanted him.

He showed up once looking like something the cat dragged in, all scuffed and bruised.

Jeez, what happened to you?

Well, I was doing a favor for a friend, hush-hush, not entirely above board, can't tell you any more, and I went to this bar and started asking some questions. Stepped on the wrong toes. Got jumped by three guys. Managed to hold my my own and give better than I got, but I took a few hits.

Wow. That's heavy, dude.

And he shrugged and said, Hey, life in the big city, man ...

Through an odd quirk, I later found out what really happened: He was on a motorcycle, hit a wet patch on the road and put the bike down ...

Could have been a funny story, spun right, but that would have made him look less than completely adept, so he didn't go that route.

Once upon a time, I thought he would have made a great fiction writer, but as I got into doing that, I realized I was wrong. Sure, we make stuff up and lie like a warehouse full of Persian rugs, but the good lies always have truth in them, and the great lies are almost always completely true. He couldn't seem to get there.

Eventually, we tuned him out. He had to find others who didn't know his game, until they caught on, then he had to move along.

I wonder sometimes what happened to him. Dead? In jail? Or, the CEO of a major corporation?

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Eye Candy?

Having been pressed into service to pick up one of the grandsons from high school this week, I had occasion to be parked in my car in the lot when a comely young woman who, by the nature of where we were, had to be in her mid-to-possibly-late teens, walked in front of me.

She was wearing tan tights, and it looked to be as if they had been air-brushed on.

Not to be considered a dirty-old-man staring at a teenager young enough to be my granddaughter, I could not help but notice that she wore nothing under the tights, and such was the thinness of the material that I could not help but notice she had, um ... how to say this? ... ah, golf-greened the lawn. Actually, scalped it right down to the ground.

As it were.

I didn't seek this out, she walked in front of me.

I am as happy as the next man to look at an attractive woman passing by, and nor am I tights-shaming anybody, but I had to wonder: What was she thinking? Did she not have a mirror? Was she an exhibitionist?

Black yoga pants, maybe. Tan tights?

And how is it that the school here in suburban Oregon allowed her to dress thus? Had she been wearing a skirt or shorts or even a long shirt over them earlier? 

My daughter, when she was in high school, wanted to wear her pajamas to school, which was for a few days that year, all the rage. We said no. So she put her clothes on over her PJ's and once at school, shucked the outer layer. We found out later ...

Um. I guess the point here is that things sure have changed since I was a teenager. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, and on some days, I'm not sure which is which ...

Saturday, September 05, 2015

It's Not the Heat ...

Because low humidity can cause damage to wooden musical instruments, and because we had an especially hot and dry summer, and winter heating tends to dry things out, too, I humidify my guitar and ukes. 

What this consists of is usually an old pill bottle with a rolled up sponge in it, with holes punched in the top and bottom of the bottle. You soak the sponge, shake out the excess water, dry it off, and plunk in into your instrument case. The moisture slowly permeates the case and keeps the humidity in the 40-60% range, which is, theoretically, ideal. 

Such devices are good, but require frequent attention. A good partner with these is a small hygrometer, which tells you what the humidity is inside the case.

There is a commercial version, made by Oasis (see the images) which has in it water-absorbing beads. You fill it with water and cap it, and the moisture seeps through the osmotic material of which the thing is made. 

This device is hooked to the strings and put inside the instrument, the notion being that the body needs the treatment more than the neck or headstock, it being thinner and more prone to cracking if it dries out.

So I got one of these to see how well it worked, and it keeps things going for a week or two without needing a refill, which is much longer than the pill-bottle system.

As you can see from the picture, the device isn't large, about the side of short , fat, cigar.

You open the case, remove the humidifier, play, then put it back.

Most recent excursion to The Lehrer, at the open acoustic jam, I got there, got a beer, unshipped the uke, and in the doing of that, dislodged the humidifier without noticing, whereupon it fell into the bottom of the uke.

I played the whole session without knowing it. At the end, when I was packing up, I realized what had happened.

So much for mindfulness ... 

Though I have to say, it didn't seem to hurt the sound too much.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Protest Music

Back in the day, when I first started learning how to play guitar, fifty-some years ago, there was a subset of folk music called “protest music.” Redundant, the term, since folk music has always had a thick vein of that particular ore running through it, but there you go.

Most of those at the time were anti-war songs. 

Soon as I had three major and one minor chord, I started writing protest songs. This was in my pre-hippie days, circa 1966, right about the time I got married. Anti-war, but also anti-hypocrisy.

Here’s the first one I did. Bear in mind I was nineteen, and soooo earnest, me planning on being the next Dylan and all …

Gather ‘round all you Christians and God-fearing men/
Gather ‘round all you righteous who never do sin/
Come hear me my good folks from near and from far/
Come hear me you hypocrites who pray … and make war.

Ah, you say that they kill for evil and might/
And so you must kill them for goodness and right/
But when dust has settled, it still must be said/
All the losers on both sides are still … just as dead.

You go to your churches and pray for the Reds/
Then you go out and you cut off their heads/
You know God is with you and you’ll surely win/
All you pious damned hypocrites … and God-fearing men.

Gather ‘round all you Christians and God-fearing men/
Gather ‘round all you righteous who never do sin/
Come hear me my good folks from near and from far/
Come hear me you hypocrites who pray … and make war.

The more things change, the more they stay the same …

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Moving On - SFWA

Somewhen about 1977 or so, I joined the writer's organization, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, SFWA. Thirty-eight years ago, and at the time, fairly big deal for me.

The qualifications were, you have to have sold a novel, or two short stories, to an approved, paying market, which back then, meant on of the big publishing houses in NYC, or one of the three or four American SF magazines still alive.

Later, the organization tried to expand its reach to include the rest of the world and add in "fantasy," and the acronym changed, but it didn't really stick. SFWA, pronounced "siff-wah," and there we were.

This joining marked me as a professional writer in my chosen field, and I remember getting the letter from Mildred Downey "Bubbles" Broxon, one of the SFWA officers, telling me I had been accepted as a member, and being absolutely thrilled.

Over the years, there was a lot of wrangling in the organization, this issue or that, and the house magazines, one public, one for members only, carried a lot of back and forth which at times got heated and nasty.

Being a member didn't really get you anything at the street level. The officers worked to improve contracts, they put out how-to stuff, listed markets (which were usually closed by the time the Bulletin or the Forum arrived) and did this and that. Not really a toothless tiger when it came to dealing with publishers for member grievances, but not much past a house cat tom. 

Mostly, it was a boys club, and there were a thousand or fewer members who, at various conventions, would go the sponsored hotel suite to drink beer and grouse about the biz.

Now, the numbers are up and somewhat diversified, though it's still mostly boys who read the stuff ...

Back when there was a perceived problem with George Lucas and Star Wars novelizations and royalties, SFWA, via one of its overzealous officers, actually cost me work. To make a long story short, they included me in the list of people who wanted to face off with Lucasfilm after I had expressly told them not to do so because I absolutely did not want to do that. 

(A faction of SFWA was unhappy about the lack of royalties being offered for novelizations, even though the flat-fee being paid was the highest in the field at the time.)

Suffice it to say, they didn't exactly bring George Lucas to his knees, and there was some fallout when it was done.

One doesn't bandy the term "blacklist" about carelessly, but a bunch of us SFWA members who had been writing for Star Wars doing novelizations and comics and games and such quite successfully all of a sudden weren't getting our calls or emails returned, and that seemed awfully coincidental. My first effort there was way up the NY Times Bestseller list, and I was, I thought, one of their fair-haired writers, but several years elapsed before I was allowed back into the fold. Some of the SFWA'n's never made it back at all.

Well, the responsible party for that is no longer with us, and I won't speak ill of the dead, at least not by name ...

Um. Anyway, each year, I got a guide, a list of the other members, addresses, email, agents active in the field, and that was pretty much what my dues bought me. I never volunteered for office, didn't go to the meetings, and the house organ 'zines were pretty much my only contact with the organization.

Still, I ponied up the dues each summer and stuck around. Some writers I know quit in high dudgeon, rejoined later, then quit again. Lot of 'em in the field have left, or never been members in the first place, and it didn't seem to hurt their sales.

All of which is to say, when the bill arrived this time, I looked at it, and decided that paying ninety bucks a year to be able to say I am a member of SFWA? Not worth it. Outside of that initial rush of being on the list of working pro writers, I'm not sure it was ever really worth it, but I hung in there. Until now. 

Adíos, SFWA.  Mystery Writers of America? You might be next ...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Perfect Student; the Instant Master; the Rookie of the Year ...

There is a cliche in martial arts, that of the perfect student. Been done forever, and here's the basic version: A young person, boy or girl, from out in the hinterlands, shows up at the martial arts Master's place. Generally not accepted as a student right away, eventually the kid gets in, and s/he is the perfect student. In a matter of months, maybe a year, the student sweats blood, breaks blisters and bones, and learns the system so well that s/he kicks the other long-time students asses regularly, and fights the Master to (at least) a draw. 

Is this possible? In a perfect storm kind of way, yes, one has to allow that it is possible. I can't recall ever seeing or hearing about it in the real world, but maybe I'll win the lottery, too. It could happen.

How likely is it? Probably on a par with winning two lotteries at the same time. That ten-thousand-hour rule doesn't always apply to every thing, all the time, but the logic is solid. If there is a guy who is relatively adept studying and practicing a thing every day for ten years. somebody who walks in the door and can do that thing better in a few months is either some kind of physical genius ... or a fantasy. 

People who like to think it is more likely often point to the Rookie of the Year. Some kid point guard gets drafted into the NBA, he kicks ass and takes names, and outscores a slew of other point guards who have been doing it a long time. Happens every season, doesn't it? and there you go.

Not so much, no.

The newbie in the NBA almost certainly has twelve or fifteen years of practice at basketball. He shot hoops in the driveway or at the gym every day, was on his primary, middle, and high school teams, maybe did a year or four of college basketball, summer camps, and now he's stepped up to the big league. It's a whole other level of skill, top of the pyramid, but he's not some guy on the street who doesn't know a basketball from a bong. Yeah, he has to up his game, but nobody who steps into the NBA and gets to be rookie of the year comes from total inexperience with the sport. Doesn't happen. Or at least it hasn't happened that I can find it. 

More likely is, somebody who has been training for two or three years and who has a lot of talent, can stay with players who have ten or fifteen years of practice, but less natural ability. 
Michael Jordan was a world-class basketball player, some say in the top three or four ever, but he was a lousy baseball player. How we know this is that he quit basketball for a while and tried to play baseball in the minor leagues. He was smart enough to give that up when it was obvious it wasn't his game. Lot of minor league baseball players were way better than Michael.

Because it has been done so often, and because most people involved in MA know this Perfect Student scenario is primarily hogwash, writers have come up with ways to explain how somebody who doesn't know anything about a thing can get better than somebody who knows a whole lot about that thing in a short time. 

Couple quick examples: Tom Cruise, in The Last Samurai. And Bob the Nailer (Bob Lee Swagger), in The 47th Samurai.

In the former, Cruise, an ex-calvary officer from the U.S. is captured while training troops "modern" combat in 19th Century Japan, and over the course of his captivity, learns kendo/iaido well enough to stay with the village's master. 

The set-up is that Cruise is a warrior, turned into a drunk by his experiences in battle, but a hero when he was in the saddle and sober. He's quick, and a natural. Able to handle a sword pretty well, albeit a different kind, so learning a new system,  he has a good general idea of how to move and not get killed. He has to work at it, but after most of a year, he's there.

Iffy, but still, an attempt to explain something that is a stretch. In writing, this is sometimes called "hanging a lantern on it." If a thing is unlikely or even impossible, but you need it to happen, you do it, point it out, and you let it go. 

"Hey! That solid state screen blew up! That's impossible!"

"Yeah, but, dude, look at all that fire and smoke!" 

This is the writer telling readers, I know this can't happen, but I did it anyway, and because I did it like this? You can't bitch about it. 

In Stephen Hunter's 47 Ronin novel, he knows better than to have his old fart hero, who is retirement age and patched together with pins and plates, learn enough in a few hours to beat a bad ass ninja-type sword-on-sword, so he had a cheat. I won't tell you what it is, in case you want to read the book, but it is very clever, and while it probably wouldn't work, I was willing to suspend my disbelief enough to grin and nod when I saw it.

Supposed to be a movie in the works. I sure hope they don't screw it up. 

Mostly, the Perfect Student/Instant Master/Rookie of the Year is not gonna happen, and if s/he does? Better the writer has some clever reason to get away with it than not ...

Monday, April 27, 2015

Marylhurst Instrument Show

Sunday Concert Schedule

Went to the show at Marylhurst as we usually do, and if you were local and you skipped it, you missed a great time. Lots of handmade instruments, guitars, fiddles, basses, charangas, flutes, harps, lutes, banjos, and ukuleles. Great mini-concerts, fifteen minutes each of excellent players showcasing instruments. We saw half a dozen of these, including Travis Stine on ukulele, doing his version of Jake's arrangement of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," on a tenor uke by Mark Roberts.

Three bucks apiece for admission. Can't beat that with a stick ...

Some ukulele-related images:

Woodley White, above

Pat Megowan tenor, above

Mark Roberts ukuleles, above

Kerry Char ukuleles, above

Howard Replogle, Ebi Ukkuleles, above

Mark Roberts, above, with the side-port tenor uke


Travis Stine, above, below, 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Lap Steel Guitar

Hey, check out Mike Byers' new toy, a homemade lap-steel guitar:

Sound sample here.

Way cool ...

Saturday, April 11, 2015

New Urban Fantasy Novel: Stemwinder

So, I am about to finish the copy-edit on the current book-in-progress, Stemwinder: An Urban Fantasy in 4/4 Time. Probably the subtitle and the cover image are enough clues to tell a potential reader there is music involved.

Bear with me and I'll spin you a tale connected to this biz, and a decision to which I have come regarding this particular book ...

So I am past the Geez-what-a-pile-of-crap-this-is! and to the transient stage where It-doesn't-seem-absolutely-awful, and still a ways from the Hey-this-is-better-than-I-remember-it! phase, which usually comes a few years down the line.

(When I look back at some of my early stuff, I am sometimes pleasantly surprised. I wrote that? Wow. That's not bad ...)

Um. Now the decision comes as to what road I should take to get the new novel into the hands of readers. The choices I see are two, and hereunder, a comparison and a conclusion.

Traditionally, I have gone traditional, i.e., I cleaned the ms up, printed out a copy (and later, emailed a copy) to my agent, and went on about my business while she shopped it around and looked for a New York City publisher to buy it. 

Sometimes, I offered up three-chapters-and-an-outline, which sped the process up a bit on the front end. 

When things went well, my agent would make a sale within a couple of months, the publisher would put it into their schedule, and a year or so later, plus-or-minus, the book would hit the racks.

Part of that process involved me getting some kind of advance against future royalties, and this stipend ranged from so-so, to not-bad, to whoa! depending on the project and publisher, and how well I had been selling other books. If the new title sold well, I got more money. If not, I still got to keep the advance.

Um. Anyway, when things didn't go as well in traditional publishing, the book took a long time to peddle, the pub date stretched out to a year-and-a-half or longer, and they divided the advance up into bits that came in three chunks: on-sign; on delivery/acceptance of the manuscript; on-publication. 

When they really didn't go well, the book came home to live on a shelf in Steve's garage. Some times I'd go back and rewrite 'em and try it again; others abide on the shelf still. Few of us bat a thousand.

When the book market crashed for many of us mid-listers in the nasty recession of 2008, I started poking around in early ebookery, and now have a goodly portion of my backlist up in a couple of places, most lucrative one being, where I get a small monthly check for titles long out of print. It's free money, they never go out of print, and I don't have to do anything past the initial listing.

There were a couple of novels my agent didn't find thrilling, so those I also put up as original ebooks, and they sell a few copies, too. Since my publisher no longer wants any of my Matador titles, any more of those I write will go straight to epub, too. 

Now, the either/or:

The good thing about traditional publishing is the advance. The bad things include the process of submission, waiting, wrangling with agent and editor, and elapsed time before the book sees the light of day, plus a short shelf-life.

With ebooks, these are reversed: No waiting, no wrangling, publication the next day, but also, no upfront money. Yes, the royalty rate is much, much better than traditional, unless you are George R.R. Martin or Stephen King, but in my case, the copies sold this way will be smaller in number and spread out over a longer time. At the end of a couple of years, I might make just about as much money in dribs and drabs as I would have in an advance.

Or not. No way to tell.

One of the things about this particular book is that it is skewed toward readers who are musicians. There are things in it that I hope will make singers and players smile, including some lyrics for songs, and gearhead stuff about guitars and ukuleles and amps and such.  I hope that I'm good enough so the gist comes through in context, but it might be that a publisher will worry that non-musician readers won't get it. And if they don't, it therefore might not sell a lot of copies.

I dunno, there are a lot of musicians out there. If 10% of them bought the book, I'd make millions, and the publisher would make tens of millions ...

Thing is, I don't want to take all that material out. I find it interesting, and I can't help but believe that enough readers will also find it interesting so there will be some market for the novel. Again, no way to tell. 

This is where ebooks shine. They allow a me to produce a work that, even if it does have a limited audience, I can still write it like I want without having to worry that I make a traditional publisher sufficient profit to justify their outlay. I don't begrudge them that notion, if you don't make money, it's harder to stay in business, but I am at a stage in my career that writing what I want and saying it how I want to say it is more important than making a lot of money. Who knew I'd ever get there?

So, yes, this will be an ebook, unless a print-publisher comes calling, and agrees to do it as I wrote it, and I won't be holding my breath waiting on that ...

Onward and upward ...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Smooth Operator ...

Let's get this out of the way right up front: You are going to die. Not a matter of "if," but "when," and maybe you don't like that notion, I don't care for it myself, but there it is.

How do I know it is true? Look around. See anybody here who was here a hundred and fifty years ago? Show me. Even if Methuselah lived to be 969–and I would want to see the birth and death certificates, thank you–he's not here any more, either.

The Taoist master back in China? Sure. Him and Bigfoot and the Yeti are roomies, right?

Now, what happens after you shuffle off this mortal coil is open for discussion: You might go to Heaven, you might be reincarnated, you might go out like a candle, but the flesh you wear is going to break down, and whosoever is paying rent is going to move out. 

Period, full-stop, end of the organic road. If you can't see this or don't believe it? Have your meds adjusted. 

Are there things you can do to add years to your natural genetic tendency? Probably, though the jury is still out on most of them. 

Choosing your parents wisely seems to be of some benefit.

Conversely, are there things you can do to shorten your stay here? 

You know there are. Smoke too much, drink too much, eat too much, sleep with the wrong people, engage in risky behavior, your number could be up quicker. The Reaper is coming to your party sooner or later, but ... why hold the door open for him?

So diet and exercise and pills made from goat gonads and meditation and prayer and intermittent fasting notwithstanding, eventually Death will feast upon you.

He's gonna get me, too, which I still don't like, but there it is.

All that is more or less beyond the scope of this discussion. What I would offer is that there are some things that will affect the quality of life you have, and those things are there if you want them. Can't change the destination, but you might be able to make the ride more fun.

Diet, exercise, mediation, prayer, intermittent fasting those are candidates. I dunno about the goat gonad capsules ...

"Quality of life" here goes to to how you feel and move and your capabilities to go through life and do the things you need and want to do. Might have medical maladies or physical problems you can't fix, but some of these can be improved. 

Which exercises? What foods, or spiritual practices? You have to figure those out for yourself. If something makes you feel better, more alive? Probably a good start. And yes, some of you will say that bacon-wrapped Triple Whopper with cheese and a side order of Monstro Fries and thirty-two ounce Coke make you feel better, and I suppose that is possible, but I don't believe it. You might love the taste, I surely do, but feeling like a beached whale after you eat something is not feeling better. It's the price you pay for overindulging, and you and I both know it. No wool is being pulled over eyes here. 

All that sugar, all that fat, all those calories? You can choose to go there and that's your choice, but there are consequences.

Of course, you could eat healthy, work out like a body Nazi, free your life of stress, Om yourself to bliss each day, and you could still fall over dead of a stroke or heart attack tomorrow. Shit happens. But some of it is the ride and not the destination, and getting up and feeling great is, in my opinion, better than getting up and feeling like crap. Don't think so? How about how you feel on a great spring day with all cylinders working smoothly as opposed to how you feel when you are abed with the flu? That's when you appreciate how "good" feels, isn't it? 

Being fit, on a good diet, they won't keep you alive forever. But they might make the time you have so much more enjoyable.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

iPhone 5 Camera Problems

Got an iPhone–not the very latest one–and it's the cat's pajamas, except that after a few days, the camera stopped working. Black screen, neither front nor back cam working, zipola.

So, I went onto the net, saw this wasn't uncommon, and looked at the list of fixes.

Tried them all. Some of them seemed to fix it, but that was temporary. Next time I opened the camera app, I got ye olde black screen and controls that didn't do anything useful ...

There were a bunch of things suggested: soft reset, hard reset, (force-closing the app, powering off and on), resetting the phone's preferences to factory, toggling, trying third party cameraware, erasing third party applications, yadda, yadda.

If none of those worked, as I understood it, chances were it was a hardware problem, and best I get it replaced. So I sent a note to my carrier and said, "Hey, camera ain't working, here's what I did, now what?"

But while I was waiting for an answer, I scoured the boards, and came across this:

*WORKAROUND FOUND* - I know there are a bunch of tricks that don't work. My wife had this same exact problem on her 5, which I took to the Genius Bar today and they told me I had to shell out $250 for a new phone. I went home and started playing. *FYI My wife's quicklaunch screen had the Flashlight dimmed out and that would not work either... This fixed them both!

1. Go into Settings
2. General
3. Restrictions
4. Select "Enable Restrictions" - Put in a passcode of your choice / 0000
5. *When the restrictions become available, de-select Camera and Facetime
6. Back out to home screen (Camera should be gone)
7. Reboot phone (hold power and home until phone shuts off)
8. Turn phone back on and go back into Settings > General > Restrictions
9. Enable Camera and Facetime
10. Disable Restrictions
11. Back out to home screen (Camera should be available)
12. Swipe up to quick launch - Flashlight should be available
13. Check Camera, rear facing camera should be functional

If this works for you please spread the word, this is NOT a hardware issue, but a software one, the people @ the Genius Bar should be doing this for customers instead of recommending they buy a new phone

Now, I dunno if this will do you any good if you are having the same problem. And to be honest, I dunno if it will still work come the morning, but at least for the moment, it did fix things. If you are desperate, it would be worth a shot ...

EDITOR'S NOTE: Nope, didn't do the trick. Stopped working again. A last-ditch effort involved wiping all the phone data and reloading the software from iTunes back-up. That didn't fix it, either, so new hardware is coming ...

Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy 1931-2015

Crap. Another one gone ...

I met Nimoy once, worked with him on a book project. Here's the link to that post:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Ukulele in Progress - Bling

I am pleased and privileged to own three handmade ukuleles, from luthiers with high-level skill and artistry. Two of them were made for other folks and I bought them, one used, one because the sale fell through. The third was custom-built with my input. The luthers are, in order of acquisition: Woodley White, Alan Carruth, and Michael Zuch.

Above, top to bottom: White, Zuch, Carruth

Above, top to bottom, White, Zuch Carruth.

They are all, insofar I can tell, outstanding instruments. All tenors. All strung low-G. Quality woods and tuners, and they all sound different, but great, to my ears.

As you can see in the photos, all of of them are made with minimal bling; by that, I mean little in the way of decorative inlay. They are all bound and purfled. The White has an abalone shell rosette and a stylized heart inset into the headstock, with small abalone fret marker dots. The Zuch has a solid wood rosette and a script-Z inlaid into the slotted headstock, along with MOP fret dots. The Carruth has a classical-guitar style rosette, but no other inlay, not even fret markers.

With the White and Carruth, that’s how they came, and I allowed when talking to Michael Zuch that plain was fine with me: Inlay and custom decoration add to the cost of an instrument, because they take a lot of time and effort from the builder.

One of them now lives at my daughter’s, and I play the other two about equally. They are way better gear than I am a player.

When I started talking to Beau Hannam about another instrument, I didn’t intend to have any more bling on it than on the others. I did want it to have a couple of accents, one of which was snakewood, and Beau allowed as how this wasn’t a problem.

Pretty much I told him the same thing I told Michael: Build something you like; that if somebody asked you to hold up a uke that represented your best? Make that. 

As the build went on, Beau would ask, when he came to different places, if I wanted to add something. Sound port? 

Wasn’t in my original plan, but Michael had also asked about this on his build, and I liked the results, so that seemed okay to me. 

So, Beau said:

How about some bits of snakewood in that Michi-style rosette? And to bind the sound hole? 

Yeah, go for it. 

You’re a science fiction and fantasy writer. How about some elements that might bring that out? I have some agate that kind of looks like the surface of Jupiter I could put in the headstock, does that sound interesting?  

It does. Go right ahead.

Hey, I’ve got some walnut burl, want to see that on the headstock?


On the butt, around the pick-up jack, more snakewood?

Oh, yeah.

The heel cap? Got some more snakewood.

By all means.

Tuners? Here are some choices. And you know, with the high-end Robson’s, you can get those with snakewood buttons.

Then we should certainly do that.

Now, about the fret markers, I have some Tahitian Black MOP we can use next to some snakewood …

Well, why not?

So what we have is a nearly-complete instrument that, from the photos I have seen, is absolutely gorgeous, and with more accoutrements than I had considered when we got started. With any luck, I'll have my hands on it in a few weeks.

Couple others recently arrived:

They say that you eat with your eyes first, and I believe it. While the bling might not make a difference in sound or playability, it does add a visual wow-factor element I much enjoy. Nothing wrong with that from where I sit …

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Battery Blues

Came out of silat class on a chilly evening this week and when I turned the key in the ignition of my automobile, I got that little solenoid clicking and naught else. Enough juice to light the dome light, not enough to crank the engine. 

Well, crap!

Got somebody to jump it off without electrocuting either of us, made it home, and next day, same deal. Battery was nearly dead.

There are several things that can cause this: Alternator, voltage regulator, a short in the electrical system, or a bad battery. Given that the car is nine years old and still wearing the original factory-installed battery, that was my first thought. Generally, after five or six years, the batteries give up the ghost, usually on a cold day.

My mechanical abilities are slim, but I can pull a battery out where it is accessible. Never seem to have exactly the right tools, but that's why God made Crescent wrenches and pliers, and I managed to get the old one out, drive in the wife's car to Les Schwab's and swap the dead one for a new one. 

Cannot believe what those suckers cost these days, but it's been like fourteen years since I bought one, and this was the top-of-the-line Extremo Mondo Whatevero model, good for seven years, yadda, yadda. Came home installed it, car cranked right up, and, I hope, problem solved ...

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Play that Funky Music, White Boy ...

Photo by Chuck Gilman

So, I have mentioned that I go to the local pub, The Lehrer, for an acoustic jam. This is great fun, the group varies from a handful, to as many as eighteen, and there are some talented instrumentalists and singers who show up. 

Most recent session, there were two harmonica players, two percussionists, a flutist, an acoustic bass, eight or nine guitars, and one ukulele. None of us amped save the bass player, and we asked her to do that because we couldn't hear her.

I used to go to the blues jam, but everybody there is amped, and I wanted to retain what little hearing I have left.

On that subject, here's something I learned: At the blues jam, the volume starts out fine but quickly ratchets up. Every time one of the guitarists does a solo, the knob gets cranked, because with eight or ten other guitars playing rhythm, you can't hear the lead. And heaven forbid that any of the guitarists should, you know, turn it down so that could happen.

By the end of the session, the volume on the amps is at eleven, and how loud that is? My amp, which is a small, but decent thirty watts, turned up full, isn't able to deliver sound I can hear, with it by my feet and pointed right at me.

Contrast that with the acoustic folks, who, when somebody takes a solo, somebody else says, "Bring it down!" and everybody plays quieter, so you can actually hear the one guitar across from you doing the lead. And I can, the whole session, hear my unamplified uke just fine. Doesn't matter if anybody else can, but it helps me if I can ...

Sometimes Chuck brings a little amp and a vox and instrument mike so the song leader doesn't have to work too hard, but even that isn't necessary. 

Reminds me of a bunch of folks sitting on a porch somewhere, drinking beer and playing and singing, with a fine time being had by all. And when it is over, nobody is wandering around saying, "HUH? WHAT? SAY AGAIN ... ?"