Saturday, August 31, 2013

Another Cycle Round the Sun ...

Music for this year ...

Out walking the dogs this morning, couple guys across the street talking to each other, one of them says, "Happy Birthday!" 

Wasn't talking to me. 

Another of life's odd coincidences. That somebody down the road got birthday wishes just as I walked past on my birthday. What are the odds of that?

Friday, August 30, 2013

Local Music

Saw this uke player (Travis Stine) play at a wine tasting in Forest Grove, along with Alex Taimanao, on guitar. Some serious musicians, and the wine (Volare Pinot Noir, 2009 Reserve) excellent, too ...

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fly Skeet

Seen this? Housefly shotgun, uses table salt. You need one, you know you do. You can take 'em on the wing! Or salt your fries across the table!

Sunday, August 25, 2013


So having decided to get better at playing the ukulele, I selected some songs to fingerpick, one of which is Paul McCartney's Blackbird. It's a piece I can play on the guitar, in G.

So I went on YouTube and found what I thought was the best-sounding version on the uke and decided that was the one I wanted to learn. It's in C, which is a better key for the uke, and for my voice.

There is a reason it sounds the best; it's the most complex, and the hardest to finger.

 Of course it is.

Be a while, but I will get back to you ...

Also on the to-learn-list:

Something in the Way She Moves
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Quigley Down Under
Ashokan Farewell

Already have the chords for Hey, Jude ...

Oh, and a technical note: Whilst playing the most recent gig, a come-to-realize moment, regarding volume ...

My ukes are pretty loud for such instruments, but that's a relative term. A loud ukulele is kind of like the world's tallest midget. When the banjo and mandolin and steel-string guitars and various tympani crank up, the uke disappears. This might be a good thing if you are prone to hitting clams, but when I was at the farmer's market strumming away, I couldn't hear myself playing, because when the electric guitar starts, the acoustic instruments just run and hide ...

Which brings us to amplification.

Back when I was at my first jam group, I had something of the same problem with my nylon-string guitar. The other players suggest that I get some kind of small amp, to add just enough sound to achieve parity with the steel-strings.

Which I did. Got a tiny amp, a Roland MicroCube, about the size and shape of a car battery. A grand two watts of power, but with a piezo pick-up stuck to the front of the guitar, it gave me more than enough juice.

The stick-to-the-front transducer wasn't pretty and it required some extra tape to keep it in place, but it did work. 

I decided that since I will be likely be playing out more, given that the CM's already have another gig lined up at the assisted living place this fall, I should consider having a pick-up installed in one of the ukes. I hunted around and found the go-to guy for such things in Portland, Ryan Lynn, and he didn't see any problem doing it, so that is in progress. He's busy, so it will take a week or ten days to get to it.

What this means is, I can use a standard quarter-inch jack and cable from the uke to the amp, and kick the volume up. Ideally, I need a dedicated acoustic amp, and failing that, some kind of pre-amp between the other end of the cable and the amp, but there are a bunch of those around and not really expensive, so, depending on how the thing sounds after the pick-up (K&K Twin Spots) is installed, I might become more of a gear head ...

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I've been corresponding with Duncan McGeary, a writer from Bend, OR, and during a back-and-forth on how I would have written this or that, I offered an observation. Much like the ones wherein the villain does things that will result in the hero kicking his ass, or the post on mystery heuristics, in which I offer my take on those rules-of-thumb, this one is a hit on the vampire tale.


"Why, when a cop finds a body drained of blood with two holes in the corpse's neck, isn't the first thought–the first thought–in his mind, "Oh, shit, a vampire!" Or, at the very least, "Oh, shit, some psycho who thinks he's a vampire!" I mean, it's all over our entertainment culture, you can't miss it, and for the cops not to have that thought strikes me as totally unbelievable; it kills my suspension of disbelief. Really? Has the cop never seen a TV show, a movie, a comic book, a novel? He doesn't have to believe in real vampires, but if he doesn't acknowledge it? Right away, the cop is a dunce, albeit the writer is making him such for a plot device that, for me, doesn't play any more. 

Stop any ten people on the street and posit this scenario: The cops find a body in a motel, it's been drained of blood, and there are two puncture marks on the neck, over the big blood vessel. Who you think might have done it?

How many do you reckon won't say "Its a vampire!" 

I haven't written a vampire story in twenty-odd years, and that one was a short and comic tale. In it, I had the vampire wearing sunblock and a Kevlar vest; at the time, these were still relatively-novel concepts. Both have been exploited a lot since, and again, it makes me wonder. If one of the few ways you can kill a vampire is with a stake through the heart, why wouldn't one with half a brain have a trauma plate over his heart to turn away stakes, arrows, or wooden bullets? A fireproof gun safe for a coffin, only able to be opened from inside? A really good watch or an iPhone app  that warns them dawn is coming? Wouldn't you take such precautions? I would.

Not, nowever, if the plot device needs to have them kinda stupid. If they are that stupid or arrogant, we need to know that ..."

Paying Attention

I've been nose-to-the-grindstone here of late, so I haven't been keeping up with the news. I know who Bradley Manning is, the Wikileaks and all, and that he just got thirty-five years in the pen, but I somehow missed that he is a woman trapped in a man's body ...

I guess I need to pay more attention ...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hey, Jude

Got the pathologist's report back on the skin tag removed from Jude's chest last Thursday, and the key word here is ...

... benign ...

Even though they would have gotten it all either way–they took out a big margin–any time you can get past the "cancer" word is good.

Couple Books

Been a while since I did any book reviews, and there are a couple I wanted to bring to your attention ...

I first became aware of Carsten Stroud with his 1992 novel, Lizard Skin. A tour-de-force, off-the-wall romp featuring a loosey-goosey Montana state trooper and a bunch of craziness; I was hooked by his writing and sense of lunatic fun.

So I looked for his other titles, found them, and have enjoyed them all. 

His most recent novels have gone much deeper into Stephen King territory, first with Niceville, which is ever not-so-nice, and the sequel, The Homecoming. There is a third book in what is billed as a trilogy, currently in-progress. 

The man can write, and the books are peppered with bits that the observant and relatively-literate reader who likes old movies will find amusing. A line from The Scarlett Pimpernel here, a comparison to an actor in a certain film there. Odd data that spark recognition and grins, at least in this reader.

Niceville is as spooky as Derry, there's a fair amount of gunplay, and what evil lurks there manifests in deadly ways. These are not for those easily made uneasy. People are murdered, bad things happen to children, and there's a monster at work that make the town a place you wouldn't want to pass on the freeway at eighty wearing blinders.

But the man can write, and he does carry you along turning pages. Check him out, and any of his books will do–they are all good.

Duncan McGeary wrote a trio of fantasy novels back in the early eighties; apparently life happened, he bought a business, (Pegasus Comics, in Bend, OR) started a family, and with this and that, he drifted away from writing.

Fast forward thirty years ...

McGeary is back, and the first novel in a new series, available in ebook on, starts with Death of an Immortal. Terrell is not your sparkly, sweet, doe-eyed kind of vampire, he's a monster. He's not happy with himself, and he'd rather not be, but he can't help it.

There's a subplot with an abusive cop; it's mostly set in Oregon, and if you like your undead to be more along the lines of  Fright Night  than you do Twilight, these will be your cup of gore ...

There are other vampires There is a lot of chomping and blood and some sex, newly-turned vampires arriving in the undead state both hungry and horny.

If you like the first one, the second one is about to be released, and he's working on a third.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard

Elmore "Dutch" Leonard

One of the greats in modern genre literature, Dutch Leonard, has passed away from complications of a stroke suffered last month. He was 87.  

His stories and books are too many to list here, but here's the opening of the wiki:

Elmore Leonard
Born (1925-10-11)October 11, 1925
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
Died August 20, 2013(2013-08-20) (aged 87)
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, United States
Occupation Author, screenwriter
Genres Pulp fiction, Westerns, crime fiction
Elmore John Leonard Jr. (October 11, 1925 – August 20, 2013) was an American novelist and screenwriter. His earliest published novels in the 1950s were Westerns, but Leonard went on to specialize in crime fiction and suspense thrillers, many of which have been adapted into motion pictures.

Among his best-known works are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre, Mr. Majestyk and Rum Punch, which was filmed as Jackie Brown. Leonard's short stories include ones that became the films 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T, as well as the current TV series on FX, Justified.

I was a long-time fan, read all his books I could find, and have reviewed Justified here, along with some fun connections to Leonard's other work in his most recent Raylan.

We never met, though we did once exchange a couple of letters, back in the papermail days.
He had written a book about a prison escape, (Out of Sight) which was later made into a movie starring George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, and in the book, got some gun stuff wrong.

That was unusual for him, so I dropped him a note. Did he know that the chances of the character using a .38 auto pistol were really slim?

Actually, yes, he said. He had written .380 auto, and a helpful copy editor had "fixed" it for him, assuming he had made a mistake. He hoped to get the next edition of the book changed back. 

It was an affable exchange, and as I recall, his letter was handwritten. 

Adiós, Dutch.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Yet Another Gig ...

The CM's had a short gig at the Woodstock Farmer's Market in SE Portland today. Steve Cooper, a Real Musician™ asked us to sit in for a few numbers during his gig at the outdoor market. He and a bass player, Bill, were doing a couple hours, but Cooper is a kind man and made room for us–literally–in the little kiosk next to the people making carrot juice ...

I had planned to play standing, so I brought the ukulele instead of the guitar, which has no strap, nor provision for one, so I can't play the guitar unless I'm seated. Turned out there was a chair for me anyhow, but there you go.

We had six tunes more or less ready, and since it was kid's day and a lot of activities were set up for children, we selected some goofy and kid-friendly songs.

1.  Sloop John B
2. Don't Let the Rain Come Down (Crooked Little Man) 
3. The Lion Sleeps Tonight
4. Puff the Magic Dragon
5. Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?
6. Portland is My Home Town.

We did a respectable job, though I had been expecting that Cooper would lead and we'd back him, he was worried about his electric guitar overriding us, so he just strummed an uke and let us play until the last number, one of his originals.

One funny: I was checking the list of things for kids to do, here, when I came across one called "Cornhole," under the auspices of one "O'Tingley Cornhole."

Well, what kind of gig have you gotten us here, Mr. Cooper? 

My immediate reaction was to send it to Jay Leno's headlines; turns out it wasn't what my mind-in-the-gutter thought, but  a game like horseshoes, using wooden boxes and tossed bags of corn.

Something of a letdown, that ...

Um. Anyhow, we survived another outing. Getting to be old hat. After all, I can now say, "Yeah, I played at Woodstock ..." Where do you go from there?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Been a busy week hereabouts. 

My nephew and his fiancé are on a long camping trip and they swung by for a visit. Been here a few days, we had a barbecue and the family over for meet 'n' greet. Lovely young woman, the fiancé.

Both Jude and Layla have had their sorta-annual visits to the vet, which cost a small fortune, and Thursday, Jude is having surgery to remove a lump on his chest. The needle biopsy was not definitive, but the treatment is the same either way. That won't be cheap, either.

There is an upcoming gig for a Real Musician™ I know from our jam group who is letting us back him for a few numbers at an outdoor market. I need to learn to play and sing six songs on the ukulele by then, and then is coming up soon.

There's an upcoming martial arts seminar to benefit my teacher, whose medical problems caused a scare. He's fine now, but the bills for the treatment are large.

My wife hurt her back working out,  and while it wasn't majorly crippling, it was enough to slow her down. 

The old dog we recently acquired, Crombie, is doing very well, better than expected, but that's one more little thing that has to be attended to–she's not quite used to the house and we can't leave her alone until she recognizes that peeing outside is the way to go ...

And, of course, the novel upon which I am cranking  away at a speed I thought I'd left behind, back in the good old days, is no less overdue than it has been.

The Mini needs new tires and Costco not only doesn't have any, they can't get any in that size.

Odd how it happens. Rolling along, things under control, and all of a moment, we get busy. Sometimes it is precipitated by a big event; my father's passing and the trip to and from Louisiana, with its sequela. 

And sometimes, it's just, you know, one little thing and then another and another and all of sudden, they add up ...

And the beat goes on ...

Friday, August 09, 2013


Ten days or so back, a kid walked into Beaverton City Hall and told the clerk he was ODing on mushrooms. Banged his head again a receptionist's glass wall. 

She called for help. 

A trio of police officers came out to talk to him, but he got agitated and aggressive, offered that he was gonna kill somebody, so they tackled him. (Link above takes you to the video.)

The kid–he's eighteen, skinny, dressed in shorts and T-shirt–managed to pull a pistol from one of the officer's retention holster as they went down and cook off a shot. Supposedly there are three levels of retention with the Beaverton police holsters, and I don't know what level was in use. 

One of the cops got a death grip on the Glock, the others piled on, and they pepper sprayed and tased the hell out of him. According to the report I heard, they were at contact range with both the spray and the tasers, and they had to stop the pepper because it was affecting the officers but not the suspect. Tasers went seven rounds, along with a couple of solid knees, none of which helped, and it took three more officers to finally control the kid.

Now this is an unfortunate event. I never heard of anybody on mushrooms doing this kind of dance, and there was a report that there was cocaine in the kid's system, which would explain a lot more than psilocybin alone. 

But the point of this post is, attitude alone will take you a long way. Imagine if this kid had serious training in a fighting art, or a knife ...

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


I loved the first RED  movie, Willis, Parker, Malkovich, Mirren, Freeman, Dreyfus. It was a hoot, the old ops in the field, so I expected I would like the sequel, cleverly entitled RED 2. 

I loved the second one, too.

It is even sillier, less realistic, and everything a summer movie for grown ups should be. Old pro actors having fun, clever dialog, cartoon violence, and the last drop on a long and tall roller coaster. Bang! Boom! Whack! Screech!

Some nice touches the youngsters will miss: At a funeral early on, the organist plays "You Can't Always Get What You Want," an obvious homage to the funeral scene in "The Big Chill."   

Mirren pretends to be the Queen of England in an asylum scene. How many time has she played the role? And Anthony Hopkins ...

Most of the first cast is back, with some new/old faces, and as an old guy, I hooted and hollered. Silly? Absolutely. Fun? You betcha.

I found that reviewers who didn't like it tend to be young, no surprise. The younger they are, the less they approved of it. Rotten Tomatoes critics give it 41%, but the audiences are at 70%.

As is often the case, the critics are ... well, let's just say ... uninspiring. A few words for them:

There will come a time, I am here to tell you, that you will start to root for the old guys (and gals). You won't remember I told you so, and by then probably I will be gone, but gray and wrinkles are out there, kids, and if you make it past your extended adolescence, they will be waiting for you ...

Monday, August 05, 2013

The Vastalimi Gambit

Behold, the cover for The Vastalimi Gambit, the second book in the three book Cutter's Wars series. 

Pub date is 31 December 2013, so if you are staying home New Year's Eve ... ?

You can pre-order it here, or here.

I'm pretty happy with the cover, since I didn't expect to get Kay, it being photo-based like the cover for The Ramal Extraction, but Ginjer (my long-time editor) prevailed. When I pointed out that Wink–the guy in the foreground–had his finger curled around the trigger, which is not a good gun-safety thing, the art director fixed that.

Always nice to work with editors and artists who attend to the small details.

Ace is now an imprint of the megalith publisher created by the recent merger of Penguin Books and Random House, jokingly referred to as "Random Penguin," in some circles.

I like that name, Random Penguin, it has a certain ... je ne sais quoi, no?

At one point, the collection of imprint lines got pretty long as houses merged; here is a book from Ace/Berkeley/Putnam/Penguin/Random House. 

And now I need to get back to finishing the third in the series, which is overdue. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on this one; I hope it's not an oncoming train ...

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Goin' to the Dawgs

L. to R: Layla, Crombie, Jude

We have inherited a new dog. 

Well, actually, an old dog. Oldest dog we've ever had.

Crombie is seventeen, a Cocker Spaniel, and they average 12-15 years. She is pretty much deaf, eyes are cloudy, though she can still see; she's very thin, and has a couple of age-related medical problems. 

She belonged to my nephew and his wife, in San Francisco. They have a two-year-old son and a newborn boy, and keeping track of a terrible-two and breastfeeding a newbie takes a lot of energy, not leaving much for an old dog who needs attention. 

When my wife went to visit, she saw the situation, realized that the dog's quality of life was not what it could be, and offered to take her.

We were worried about integrating a new critter into the household, what with two long-established dogs and a cat, but we've be able to do it before, and figured we could manage it again.

We collected Crombie at the airport yesterday. Set up the baby gates and fences and kennels and introduced her to Jude and Layla and Balou.

The reaction so far? 

The dogs looked at her and shrugged. A dog? Yawn.

The cat came round, hopped up onto the counter, looked at Crombie. Another dog? Yawn ...

We have been careful with food, since Jude will eat anything he can get his teeth into, we don't want him running Crombie off. When we put food into her pen, he gobbles his and then stands at the fence staring longingly at Crombie's dish. She doesn't eat as fast as he does.

A starving grizzly bear doesn't eat as fast as Jude does. We had to get in a special bowl with little knobs in it to slow him down so he didn't accidentally inhale his supper. Plus he's on a lower-calorie diet, because we have let him get too big. So he's hungrier than usual.

Crombie seems to be adjusting okay, though she's not used to as much space, nor to spending much time outside. We have a fenced-in back yard; the SF branch of the family lives upstairs in a one-bedroom apartment.

Um. Anyway, so far, so good. We'll see how it goes, and we'll be sticking close to home for a bit to make sure things stay on an even keel.

Never a dull moment.