Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Leap Motion Controller - Review


So, my latest Kickstarter perk got here, a new piece of hardware, the Leap Motion Controller.  I kicked in a few bucks six or eight months back and got a reduced price.

In theory, it's a really cool idea. It picks up the movement of your hand over it, can separate and recognize individual fingers, and there is a program that will allow it to do pretty much what a smart mouse will do. It's about the size of a pack of gum, connected  to your computer via USB.

There are some visual toys and games you can get for free.

It's mostly 1.0 on the available software; you probably know what that means, and I expect that a lot more stuff will eventually be programmed for it, art, CAD, like that.

The hardware works okay. I had a bitch of a time getting into the site to download the software; it didn't like my email and password, and I wound up changing the latter five times before it worked. You log into their Airspace site, click on the software you want, and it installs it automatically.

I got a couple of the basic programs and some of the pretty art things, and got it working, but I am sad to to say, it's not ready for prime time. Rather like the ultra-light-pressure keyboard I once had that was so sensitive that if a drop of water fell onto it, it would type a letter, this device requires a most steady hand. Getting the skill so that you can reliably open and close windows, click or double-click the mouse, scroll, drop-and-drag is going to need more practice than I'm willing to do. You have to have a precision that is akin to stacking greased BB's. Want to tap the red close-window button or highlight text? Open menus? I can't manage it consistently. Even with my arm propped on the chair support and everything steady, restricted to small finger motions, it's iffy.

I'm thinking it will need hours of dedicated training. And I'm sure there are folks who will manage this and love it, but not me.

If you have a tremor? Won't happen as it is now.

Maybe the next gen software will add some kind of steadi-cam or smart-ID hot button functions. As it stands, it's a fun toy to play with, but it isn't ready to replace my track pad.
Not even close.

Too bad. I had hopes for this one.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Gig



L. to R: 
Meredith, Daryl, Steve, Mary, Jim, Dan, Harold, Anna.
Off to stage right, Steve C., on the hot pink ukulele


So Saturday, another gig. A little more nerve-wracking than playing at the assisted living place, because most of the audience this time consisted of real musicians ... 

This was an annual backyard party thrown by a musician and teacher. A man who plays like eleven instruments. He invites other musicians to come and play, some of whom are really good. Food, beer, a stage he built. First-class.

We didn't want to follow anybody, since we figured they were all way better than we were. They had us up third, we had four songs prepped and a couple of alternates, and we did five:

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

Folk music, gospel, rock, and blues. 

Nine of us, singing and alternately playing: A kazoo, a banjo, banjolele, three guitars, two ukuleles, a gut-bucket bass, harmonica, a bell. And even bongos ...

Fortunately, we had Steve C show up, and since he is also a Real Musician™, he made us sound better. Rode like fifteen miles on his bike to get there, uke strapped to the back fender.

We goofed on only one song, adding in an extra verse, but nobody seemed to notice; nobody booed or threw beer, and they asked us back next year, so we considered that a major victory ...





Friday, July 26, 2013

Happy Music of the Day



This is a Chapman Stick, an electronic stringed instrument that is played with both hands working the fretboard. I have a guy who plays one in an upcoming book, thought this would be fun to share ...

Oh, and this guy:



Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Muscle Pass


Came across this by accident, thought it would be fun to re-post. The classic coin manipulation called "The Muscle Pass." Done with a Canadian silver dollar.

Drove me half crazy trying to figure this out first time I saw it done.


video

Perils of the Pit



The river that was Guru's yard has been diverted, and it has been dry enough this summer for us to reëstablish the sand pit for silat training.

Not so much a pit, actually, as a big pile of sand spread out for a gelanggang–a circular workout area. It tends to creep down the slope toward the chicken yard and needs be shoveled back uphill, but it makes for a nice slow-your-feet-down training surface. 

Churning in ankle-deep sand is not the same as moving on dry ground or a nice concrete garage floor. If you need lightning foot-speed to make a technique work, you need a workaround, 'cause it isn't happening there.

Of course, falling onto sand is somewhat softer than the concrete. Then again, dropping onto a knee repeatedly to practice shoots for single- or double-leg takedowns, and then being tossed by the defender hither and yon for continued groundwork does involve some abrasive action to one's bare skin.

Note to self: Don't wear shorts to class in the sand. Those sand burns take longer to scab over and heal than they used to take ...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jockery

The gym where I lift is not what you'd call hardcore; Park & Recs took over a middle school and tricked out an aerobics room and weight room, plus they teach yoga and guitar and dance and crochet and like that in the classrooms up and down the hall. Not a sexy place, and most of the folks who use the iron there aren't dressed to be seen.

Even so, there are the usual machines, a few thousand pounds of plates and dumbbells, and certainly sufficient gear for anybody who wants to do so to get a good workout.

Though it isn't hardcore, there are some things that amuse me no end. We have our share of pencil-necks who make a whole lot of noise, grunting and groaning and dropping their weights, to the end of moving very little poundage.

You know, the guy who goes to the squat rack and proceeds to do curls with the empty bar? Or does a set of dumbbell flyes with fifteen pounds and drops  them from a foot up? 

Usually these are young fellows, and if they think all that huffing and puffing and clanking impresses anybody other than unfavorably, they are sadly mistaken. 

Two really funny things happened recently during my workout. For those of you who sometimes go to public gyms, let me see can I amuse you:

Pencil Neck was doing squats in the rack with what looked like 160. Blowing out a lot of air, rattling the bar when he locked out. So, okay, I can't say anything because I don't do squats any more, it's incline leg press for me, but still. 

Big beefy guy I'd never seen before, ragged shorts and cut-off sleeves sweatshirt moves over to watch. The squatter finishes, clangs the bar into the slot, walks off breathing hard.

Beefy smiles, steps in, and proceeds to do curls with the barbell. Six reps, 160. Now, that's not  a steroid monster's numbers, but still, it's a lot stronger than I am. Brzycki Formula says that guy might be able to do a one-rep max of 186. 

The Pencil Neck who'd been squatting was surely impressed. 

At that moment, I decided that sometimes a guy doing curls in the squat rack is okay. 

Second event:

A couple of teenage boys, maybe twenty-ish, are doing chin-ups on the bar. (Pull-ups, the palms face away from you; chins, the palms face toward you.)* First one guts out four. Second one laughs and manages five, beating his buddy by a rep. Calls him a pussy.

They move over to the triceps press-down station, same machine, and load a small amount of weight onto the stack.

A small woman in shorts and a a T-shirt moves to the chin bar, jumps up, grabs it in a palms-forward chin grip (chins are harder than pull-ups, in my experience.)

She proceeds to do six reps in good form.

I wished I had a camera so I could have gotten the expressions on their faces.

Pussy, huh?



* Pointed out to me by folks who know better–thanks to Mich and Coach–that I got the chins/pullups designation wrong: It's the opposite, and pull-ups can be remembered by using the anatomical position "pronated," to remember this: P=P. Mea culpa. I fixed it, and thanks for the correction.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Quigley Down Under



Okay, the usual excuses–the light was bad, my arm was sore–plus I'm only five months into ukes in general and but one month into this particular instrument ...

Originally, I went to find the sheet music or tab for Quigley's Theme, but it wasn't to be had, Basil Poledouris having up and died shortly after the movie came out,  so I did it myself. Not what you'd call majorly impressive, but since it is my first tab/arrangement, I am not displeased with the results.

For the gearheads, this is via a Samson USB mono-mike directly into QuickTime. I added credits fore and aft using iMovie, but the sound isn't tweaked or sweetened.

I'll come back when I can do "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Something in the Way She Moves ..."

RIPD


My son and I saw RIPD day before yesterday. I don't know why it's getting so much flak; it's a summer movie, and yeah, there aren't any surprises in the plot, but it has the EFX and action and if you can channel your inner ten-year-old, you'll have a fine time.

It's kind of a mash-up of Ghostbusters and Men in Black. And it's worth seeing for the song by Jeff Bridges and T-Bone Burnett alone, sung over the final credits, "Be the Better Man." I'm gonna learn that one. 

Bridges, as you may recall, starred as the mostly-washed-up country singer in Crazy Heart. He did his own singing there, and it was T-Bone who scored that one, as he has more than a few others movies and TV shows. Bridges performance here is more akin to Rooster Cogburn and delightfully hammy, in a Wild Bill kind of way. Mary Louise Parker is droll as the go-go boot wearing Proctor; Ryan Reynolds is okay as the born-again-dead-cop; and Kevin Bacon is, well, Kevin Bacon, and he steals every scene he is in. 

Got to love James Hong and Marissa Miller as Reynolds and Bridges' avatars, and they steal every scene they are in, too. I was at HBO, I'd listen to a pitch for a dramady series starring these two as buddy cops. Seriously.

This the best movie you will see this year? Nah. And the 3D version, for which I accidentally bought tickets, won't make you forget Avatar. But there are worse ways to spend a Sunday evening ...

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

CQ, CQ ... ?


In the sorting out process that follows a death in the family, bits and pieces float up. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes sad. How and when they strike can be triggered by almost anything.

My father was an amateur (ham) radio operator. The "ham" is a pejorative term going back to "ham-handed," applied to bad telegraph operators. 

For those of you not old enough to remember a time when there weren't desk-top computers and the internet, amateur radio was the Facebook of its day. People would crank up the wireless in the evening and send messages in Morse code; later, the ability to send and receive voice came along, and they did that. They'd twirl the dials through the frequencies, sending out a "CQ," signal, looking for other radio buffs. 

When long distance telephone calls cost an arm and a leg for three minutes, ham radio operators would cobble together phone patches, and somebody in Louisiana could talk to somebody in India for free, as long as the connection lasted. For years, Daddy ran the Old China Hands phone patch.

"Cee Que," came from a French word, sécurité French being the official language of radio operators back in the day. It was basically a "Hello, anybody there?" invitation to talk. Eventually, the FCC decided you weren't supposed to do that, just cast around for listeners, but the older guys still did it. 

Ham radio was sometimes very powerful, depending on the hit-or-miss atmospheric conditions; one could connect to somebody halfway around the world–but not the next state over. You never knew until you tried.

My father switched to the 2-meter band some years back, erected a seventy-foot tall rotating antenna, and talked to people from all points on the globe. 

His call letters were W5LVX, and he had a map on his office wall showing people to whom he had talked. Every continent, including Antarctica.  

Until his dementia got bad, there was always a radio shack at our house. Many operators had them in their cars–not talking CB, citizens band–and sometime would play games wherein one of them would go somewhere in town and hide, and the others would hunt the rabbit by triangulation and field strength to see who could find him first.

My mother told me that when Daddy got bad, he used to talk in his sleep, and sometimes, he would be on the radio:

"CQ, CQ, this is W5LVX, anybody there? I need somebody to come and help me leave this institution and get home! CQ? Anybody?"

He lived in that house for fifty-two years, but in this case, "home" meant my great-parents farm in Leonard, Oklahoma, a few miles south of Tulsa. I saw the place only once, when I was small, and in what had been my father's room, there was a crystal radio set he'd built, inset into the wall next to his bed. He would have laid there with earphones on in the early 1930's, listening to whatever radio stations he could pick up late at night. The house didn't have electricity in those days, so to boost the signal, he would have had to use a small dry cell battery.

 We have come a long way in communications since then, but W5LVX has signed off, and is, as they say in ham radio circles, silent key ...



Monday, July 15, 2013

Musashi Reincarnated ...


Matador, original art by Michael Lamanna

So, it turns out, that when Ace reverted the rights to the Matador novels, one got lost in the shuffle. Since the most recent one, The Musashi Flex was still up as an ebook, I assumed that meant it was technically "in print," and that Ace would keep it on Amazon.com and such places. Well, no, it turned out, they didn't, and they didn't tell me. The e-version was taken down, and I found out when  fan who wanted it in that format asked where he could get it. 

Outside of borrowing it from an e-library or a pirate site, it wasn't available.

So, I figured, once I got caught up with books that are due and in the pipe, I would stick the electronic version back up. Have to have a new cover, but it just so happened that I came across this lovely piece of art, above, that would be perfect. So I contacted the artist, a most reasonable fellow, who was willing to allow me to use it for a modest honorarium. And I saw that tiny bit of red in the painting, and came up with this design, which I like.

I'm talking to Dan Moran at Fat Sam books, who is my e-publisher of choice, a terrific space opera writer, and a helluva nice guy, despite the fact he is a stone Lakers fan, about possibly putting it up on his site, and then eventually I'd port to other ebook stores. 

Yeah, yeah, I know, the other Matador books I promised, I haven't forgotten 'em, it's just that life keeps getting in the way ...

Once I get the current WIP done for Ace, I'll address this. I'll put up a note here and on other social media and all like that, so completist collectors can get a copy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Thank You, Mr. Toto


A short and amusing tale, if you would ...

The new toilets we had installed recently were by a Japanese-American company, Toto. They came with slow-closing seats and lids. What this means, if you haven't experienced such, is that there is built into them a spring or hydraulic device or maybe an elf, that, when you tip them toward the bowl, cause the seat and lid to fall in slowmo.

The seat settles softly in silence.

We didn't ask for this, it came standard, and at first glance, I was not impressed, Really? Who cares?

But: One gets used to the things, and there is a kind of ... I dunno, something amusing about tapping the seat and watching it fall s-l-o-w-l-y ...

So at my mother's house, after finishing a whiz, I reached up and tapped the seat toward the bowl, and it slammed down really fast, BAM!

No slow-close lids there.

Oops. That was worth a laugh out loud at my own expense ...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In Joke


During the flight from PDX to BTR last Friday, my son and I had a layover at DFW. Enough time to grab a bite to eat, so we found a Tex-Mex place, Pappacito's, which was pretty good. 

No silverware on the table, because it was inside the security gate, but you don't need a lot of instruments to eat a burrito. They did bring us each a fork with the meal.

Son decided he had to get a picture of me looking at the reproductions of the paintings on the wall, and it took a second for me to realize why.

Oh. Yeah. That ...

Scenes From a Funeral




1925-2013


Fourth of July, six a.m., my cell phone rang. I couldn't get awake enough to answer before it stopped, but I saw who the call was from–my niece back in Louisiana–so I knew what it meant. The question was, which of my parents was it about?

I called back, got my brother-in-law:

Daddy had passed.

I knew the call was coming eventually, but it was still unexpected. He had late-stage Alzheimer's; his COPD was apt to be ultimately fatal, but neither of those are sudden, you usually see them coming, you have time to prepare. 

What happened? Daddy fell, cracked his hip. In the hospital and stable, they discovered he had a kidney infection, so they were working on that before surgery to fix the hip. Figured he would be good to go by Monday.

He seemed relatively fine. My sister and the family were on vacation at the Gulf coast, save for my brother-in-law, who was going to stay at the hospital. Go join your family, they told him, he's doing okay, come back Monday. They hadn't put out the word, were waiting for the surgery to be scheduled before they called distant family.

So my brother-in-law left. A couple hours later, the nurses gave Daddy his meds, his vitals were fine; thirty minutes past that, they checked and he was not breathing. 

Still warm by the time my mother and the live-in caregiver got to the hospital, but moved on.

Cause of death? Could have been a stroke, heart-attack, pulmonary embolus, those are the fast ones. His breathing was shallow and morphine slows the rate, maybe he just decided to go and quit breathing. At this point, it doesn't really matter. Post-surgery, in a wheelchair, unable to do rehab, mental state bad and growing worse by the day? It was unexpected, a jolt, but a blessing.

If you have been around a patient with advanced Alzheimer's, you understand why it is a blessing.

Sudden death throws a family into turmoil and overdrive. Planes to catch, services to arrange. I called my sister, but it went straight to the message box. There was a reason for that, I'll get back to it in a minute. So I called her husband, got updates. Sent notes to the west coast relatives. Got a call from my son, who wanted to go. 

Not the best time to pass away, a major holiday. Lot of people are off work. We got flights, packed, left early the next morning.

A nephew picked us up. We arrived to a house full of family, with neighbors bringing food, because that's what you do. Used to be casseroles, now it seems to be platters; and pound cakes, of course. Enough to feed a small army.

We couldn't locate my brother. He was supposedly living in Alabama. None of the phone numbers we had were good. My brother-in-law put in a call to the local police in my brother's town, they went to deliver the message, but apparently he didn't live there any more. 

My sister had a number for my brother's wife in her cell phone, but she had just lost the phone. Well, actually, she had been mowing my mother's lawn and her phone had fallen onto the ground and she ran over with with the riding lawnmower. And when I say that, I don't mean she rolled one of those fat little tires over it and cracked the case, she hit it with the blade and spewed a sleet of bits every which way. Sim card was recovered, but the numbers weren't stored on it.

This created some distress, not being able to find my brother. And some resentment: Your parents are in their late-eighties, not in the best of health, wouldn't you consider leaving a forwarding address or a number where you could be reached, just in case?

We went early to the memorial center. Family only, then the public viewing of the open casket. A good turnout, family, friends, old and young. 

I noticed that the memorial center had its own branded water bottles. 

Funeral home water, imagine.

My sister and her daughter and the great-grandchildren were the closest to Daddy, and they took it the hardest. Mama, still mostly in her wheelchair after her stroke, had a complicated relationship with Daddy, and I won't dwell on it; but when I pushed her to the casket and she stood, she said, "Oh, they combed his hair wrong." and she reached down to finger-comb it into place.

That undid me. 

My niece wrote the obituary, she found old photos and framed them, there was a slide show on a big monitor, lot of pictures from my son's archives he'd scanned in.

My middle sister, with whom there has been more than a little family discord, came to the funeral, but that wasn't a healing experience for anybody.

The Baptist minister at my mother's church, a pleasant man, conducted the service. He didn't really know Daddy all that well, but he did his best. Although he used a metaphor about stains that had my son and me wondering what he could have possibly been thinking.
Stains?

My pre-teen grand-niece got up and read a letter she had written to Paw-Paw. She had to stand on a chair to top the podium. Those of us who could hear her, there wasn't a dry eye when she was done. I got up to speak. My relationship with my father was complex and often contentious, but I told one funny story to illustrate how hard-headed he was, and allowed that I was just as hard-headed. Not to place to air grievances, speaking at a funeral, and that was all done now, wasn't it?

Looking at somebody in the box puts things into perspective.

The pallbearers were grandsons and sons-in-law. There were a couple of Navy ratings who stood at attention at the family plot and folded the draped flag to give to my mother. It was hot, damp, and the threatening thundershowers held off.

We went home, we visited, told stories. One thing you need to understand if you aren't from the south is that almost everybody there can tell a good story.

People dropped round. More stories. Some about folks I knew, some about people who knew people I knew, or were distantly related. Some went on about how so-and-so, who was kin to so-and-so had died. 

My son and I stayed over for a few days. Went and visited my other in-laws, my wife's side. Had long conversations with Mama, and waited for the thunderstorms to come and wash away the heat. It did rain a little a few times, not enough to cool things down. The big boomers slipped by to the east and west and echoed but distantly. I would have preferred the lightning and thunder and pouring rain. The drama would have been appropriate.

And so home again. 

Whatever your relationship with your parents, once they die, that stops any further conversations. My father was well past any meaningful dialog, he hadn't known who I was for at least a couple of years, so I'd said my good-byes, knowing this would be the way of things. As a reminder of mortality, you know that once your parents go, you are next in line. 

My wife has a view I'll share. If you are at odds with somebody, imagine looking down on them in their casket. Consider how that might inform your actions.

How I got to be who I am was affected by many things, and certainly my father was a major figure in that, for good and bad. 

Bye, Daddy. Rest in peace. 






Monday, July 01, 2013

Bravery



Had to put this one up, I couldn't resist. (I once had a character known as "Ferret" in a novel ...) This baby ferret takes on a stuff toy ten times his size ...