Friday, January 31, 2014

Strange Has Always Been With Us

You know about sex toys: You'd think this is a modern phenomenon, but it isn't, they go back to the Paleolithic Era. Of course, blow-up or silicone girlfriends are relatively new, but still, Perry Como charted with "Glendora," back in 1956. It was a novelty song, but it's a little creepy even so ...

Glendora by Stanley Ray, sung by Perry Como, 1956 

I'm in love with a dolly named 'Glendora'  
She works in the window of a big department stor-a!
Eyes of blue, hair like gold,
Never been young, but she'll never get old
Oh Glen-dora . . . I wanna see more of you!


O' Glen-dora . . . O' Glen-dor

Oh Glen-dora . . . I wanna see more of you!

She's so shy that I don't know how I found her
With three big body guards always workin' around her!
One just nods, an' two just grins,

An' three got a mouth full of safety pins . . . 

Oh Glen-dora . . . I wanna see more of you!



I stand left an' I stand right,
Outta my head 'cause I'm outta sight . . .

Oh Glen-dora . . . I wanna see more of you!

Late last night at the store they did some changin' . . .
An' I stood watchin' when they started re-arrangin' . . .
She lost her wig, she lost her arms,
An' when they got through she lost all of her charms,

O' Glendora . . . what did they do to you?

O' Glen-dora . . . O' Glen-dora . . .
O' Glendora . . . what did they do to you?
O' Glen-dora . . . O' Glen-dora . . .

O' Glendora . . . what did they do to you?

(Good evening, friends ....) 

Living in the First World

A little under the weather here, inside and out. At least the outside is just cold rain and not snow and ice.

Had to get a new universal remote for the TV. Back in the day, before remotes, you got up and walked to the tube and fiddled with the knobs. Nothing was automatic, and the picture would do all manner of funny things, roll horizontally or vertically,  compress, snow, and you had a row of knobs to turn to balance things. Sometimes you had to climb up on the roof and turn the aerial to get a signal.

The remote we had was going bad. Push the buttons, nothing happened, or sometimes it would do other than it was supposed to do. Probably I would have just gotten up and fiddled with the controls on the TV and put off buying a new one, but these days, there are no controls on the TV, it's the remote or nothing.

I  changed the batteries, didn't help, so I tooled on over to Best Buy and got a user-friendly new one. 

It's the cat's pajamas. Has a button says, "Watch TV." Push that, everything that needs to happen for that lights up, presto. Done? Push the power-0ff button, tah dah!

Once can get apps for one's iPhone or iPad if one wishes, but I would rather a remote that can live in the drawer of the little table next to the chair in the living room. 

The old universal remote I had worked by copying the signal from the separate remotes for the TV and VCR and whatnot. Don't have a VCR any more, but the new one, you plug it into your computer, go online, then download the control codes for whatever brand of whatever you have, and there you go.

If, for some reason, things don't work as they are supposed to work, the remote's help button asks questions: Is this the problem? Hold on a second: Did that fix it?

Great living here in the future ...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Zukulele Sound Sample

So, a quick and dirty sound sample on the new uke. You'll have to excuse the crappy playing, and the recording is a Blue Yeti mike straight into QuickTime on the Mac, no equalization, no tweaks on the sound at all, so it sounds better than that.

Glad the phone didn't ring, nor barked the dogs ...

I'll do another sound check in six or eight months when it has had time to open up.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More Ukulele Porn

Top: Woodley White Tenor; middle, Michael Zuch tenor; bottom, Alan Carruth tenor

So, the collection, and probably–probably–all the ukes I'll be owning for a while. Each has unique playing qualities and sound, and should cover all the needs I'll run into any time soon.

No, but, really.

These are tenor ukes, but interestingly enough, they are all slightly different sizes. The White is widest and thinnest–it won't fit in either of the other two ukes' cases. The slotted headstock makes the Zuch the longest, and the bottom is less rounded than the Carruth. The Zuch also has a slightly wider fretboard, 1-1/2" as opposed to 1-3/8".

The Zuch won't fit in the case that came with the Carruth, though it does work the other way around. 

The White has warm, woody tones. The Carruth is very bright and loud. The Zuch is midway twixt the other two, moderately bright and loud, but has to open up. For those of you who don't know what that means, wooden stringed instruments tend to change tones over time, particularly those with certain kinds of soundboards. While cedar seems to be pretty much open to begin with, spruce changes, as the wood "settles," which means several things: The glue sets, the finish hardens, and some other more mystical, hard-to-pin-down things that result in a fuller, more resonant sound as the instrument ages. It might take six months or a year or longer for spruce to open up. (In the case of violins, they might keep opening up for decades or centuries …)

The White is koa, that being the wood-of-choice in Hawaii since they started making these things, and what high-end makers went to when they copied ukes elsewhere in the world, and thus has a lot of brothers and sisters. There are tens of thousands of koa ukuleles in assorted sizes, probably more.

The Carruth and Zuch, not so much. As far as I can tell, there are only a few ukes made from osage orange, and none that match mine with the other woods. 

Google shows only one ukulele with tulip magnolia back and sides, and that's the Zukulele. 

These are not the most expensive instruments by a long shot, but If I'm not around, the ukes I don't take with me will be locked in the gun safe ...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

NUD (New Ukulele Day)

This last image is closer to the true color, which is kind of a gingerbread shade.

I didn't put anything in to give you the size, but in the first photo, that sound port on the upper bout is just a little bigger than the last joint of my thumb.

I have been playing ukuleles for less than a year, and I claim no expertise in any aspect of them. I have, however, been fortunate enough to lay hands on several top-of-the-line instruments from well-respected luthiers, including Woodley White, Alan Carruth, and Gordon & Char Mayer, so I do know what a well-made and beautiful ukulele looks, feels, and sounds like.

The Zukulele that Michael Zuch has made for me is as good as any I've had a chance to play.

In his signature on UU, Michael has the term "Aspiring Luthier."  He has a full-time job, and does this for love, but I'm thinking he should drop the first word in that sig. He has made more than a couple-dozen of these, and I believe this one by itself certainly qualifies him as more than "aspiring;" he's there enough to drop the modifier.

This is a lovely instrument, clean, with a great tone, especially considering it hasn't opened up at all. I expect that six months down the line, it will sound better still. It is Low-G,CEA, and the action is smooth, the intonation great.

Here, the specs:

Back & Sides: Tulip Magnolia
Top: Adirondack spruce
Bracing: Sitka spruce
Neck: Spanish cedar with carbon fiber reinforcement
Neck joint: Mortise and tenon with bolt
Rosette, headstock overlay, end graft and heel cap: Brazilian rosewood
Fretboard and bridge and pins: East Indian rosewood
Bindings: Faux tortoise shell with B/W/B purfling
Inlays on headstock, fretboard and pins: Mother of pearl
Finish: Nitro-cellulose lacquer (over epoxy sealer and pore filler where needed)
Tuners: Grover Sta-Tite, for slotted headstock, with replacement buttons
Strings: Worth BT-LG Fluorocarbon

As you can see from the pictures, there uke is clean and form-follows-function. That works for me, though I've got nothing against tastefully-done bling. When we started talking about this, I allowed as how I had two things I wanted: Low-G tuning, and a slotted headstock. This latter is a want based on having played classical guitars for a while and I like that look and feel.

Other than that? Luthier's choice.

Michael had a set of back and sides in Tulip Magnolia which had a great tap-tone, he said, and he'd never built one using that wood. How would that be?

I'd never even heard of Tulip Magnolia as a tonewood. Go for it. 

Would I be interested in a sound port? 

Yes, I would. 

Would a fretboard a bit wider work, since I was coming from classical guitars?

You betcha.

What about trim?

Go with what looks and feels good, you're there, I'm here ...

So he did those things, and I couldn't be happier with the result.

The build went quickly, and the uke left Michael's shop in the middle of the Arctic blast that froze most of the U.S.

I expected it to be fairly bright, given the spruce top, and it is, which is good, since I think that works for fingerstyle playing, a thing to which I aspire. 

As soon as the strings settle in and I have some time, I'll do a sound sample and stick it up. 

This is just soooo cool!


My wife and I decided to go out for lunch, to celebrate this 'n' that, and give the Zukulele time to warm up in its case before I opened it, so we went to our favorite rustic Italian place. Got there, sat down, and there, on the decorative table next to us … ? 

Tulip magnolia branches with blossoms …

A coincidence, of course, but really, it seemed awfully auspicious. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cutter's Wars #3

The Vastalimi Gambit seems to be doing okay on (By okay, I mean, in the top 53,000 in paper and 27,000 in Kindle, so I'm not buying the Rolls just yet.) Only a couple reviews, but at least a couple people liked it ...

The final book in the Cutter's Wars series is turned in and tentatively-scheduled for January, 2015. There will be more work done on it, CE ms, galleys, cover art, etc., but in the back-and-forth with my editor, I did a bit of back-cover blurb work. This isn't what will show up on the book, but it is a general idea. Attend:

The Fog of War. The uncertainty that came with bullets and bombs and enemies charging or retreating, You could never be sure exactly what was happening on the battlefield, no matter how many eyes and ears you had watching and listening. Never ...

After a couple of assignments that involved a lot more intrigue and skullduggery than Cutter Force Initiative ever wanted, the unit is looking forward to being part of a straight-up, short-term industrial war on Earth.

Cutter agrees to a support role offered by an old Army comrade who is now a general in a larger military force, and the pay is good, the unit happy. All they have to do is basic ranger stuff, sneak-and-peak, shoot-and-scoot, with no responsibilities for the overall effort, which is a welcome relief.

Set in a section of SoNorAm called Tejas, Cutter’s forces hit the ground to gather intel in preparation for what is to be a simple and quick engagement.

But, of course, it’s not that simple. What starts out as a corporate fight to occupy a valuable piece of contested territory quickly goes sideways, and once again, Cutter and crew find themselves in the middle of situations in which things aren’t as they seemed on first look, and the unit must determine the truth or lose more than just a battle.

It’s hot, it’s wet, and there are old enemies as well as new. There are duplicitious aliens with religious issues, genetically-engineered forests, boots-on-the-ground battles, bar fights, big game hunting, and some really nasty weather. The solution to the final problem is serious business and if they screw it up, they won’t have to worry about getting in trouble, because they will likely be dead ...

Never a dull moment in CFI.

Plenty of gunsmoke and action for the team, and some surprising events that will change them dramatically in ways no one ever saw coming. 

Who wins? Who loses? Who lives? Who dies? 

The answers lie in The Tejano Conflict ...

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Bullet Technology

Check this out. Fan rounds …

Of course, most shooters of any skill will look at this and allow as how if you can't hit your intended target, you ought not to be shooting, and I have to wonder how wide most shooters in panic mode miss,  too. Will this kind of thing do any good? Maybe. 

It's surely spooky to watch that whirling dervish hitting targets, though ...

More First World Problems ...

Yeah, I went down to Starbucks, but my coffee got cold/
My Rolex needs windin', my Mercedes is gettin' old …

From Whitebread Blues

My leaf blower shorted out last week and died. Plug wire had been getting chippy and there came a bzzzt! and the extension chord and leaf blower cord became one as the prongs and socket welded themselves together …

So I had to get another leaf blower and extension cord …

For years, I resisted the very notion of a leaf blower, which I considered a noisy abomination spawned by the Devil to ruin Sunday mornings. I had a rake, by God, what kind of pansy needs a leaf blower?!

Turned out, on me, it didn't look so bad, and it was ever so much less work. Never use it before ten a.m weekdays, noon on the weekends, my attempt at balance.

After one of the driest Decembers on record here, the forecast was for a week of rain, ending in a visit from the Pineapple Express, which means a lot more rain, so I wanted to get the leaves off the walks and patio, and also clean out the gutters, which were full.

Why a leaf blower in full-on-winter January, when most of the country is freezing its nuts off?  Because my stupid gum ball trees out front are still dropping leaves, that's why. Last to lose 'em in the winter, last to green up in the spring. 

These kinds of tree lines the walks up and down my street, and mine are always the last and last, go figure.

So, got the blower. Got on the ladder and hand-scooped out the gutters. Even though it was a dry December, there was still a half-inch of water under the dried leaves, go figure that, too.  Cleared the walks. Which already have more leaves out front from the retarded gum ball trees.

All done, at least for now.

Came the rain, and I felt good about having beaten it to the task.

Then the clothes dryer died. Well, it had a major heat-attack, in that the drum still rotated but there wasn't any warm air, which meant that it takes about three days of tumbling to dry one's clothes. Last time that happened, it was a thermal fuse, repair guy was in and out in fifteen minutes, relatively cheap. 

This time, it was the heating element. Not as quick a fix, and not as cheap, but still less expensive than a new dryer. He also found a quarter that had gotten into the werks and was worn almost completely smooth, so now le drier runs fine and is also a little less noisily.

Had the plumber out a couple weeks ago for a couple of leaks. All fixed. Well, except for the one out back that drips a little when you run water through the hose. That would have involved tearing out sheetrock and fairly big bucks for something that a bowl under the faucet takes care of just fine. 

First-world problems are often those which, if you throw money at them, go away. If you have the money, of course, which in this case, I did. So I don't get to bitch about them. 

If you want to see how people who have no right to gripe do so anyway? Drop by Some of these are so laugh-out-loud funny you will, but mostly, you'll just shake your head and wonder how some people have enough wherewithal to remember how to breathe ...

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

New Uke

Adirondack Spruce / Tulip Magnolia Ukulele

So, it's done, the new Zukulele, and on its way. Trekking across the frozen country, and I hope that Arctic blast dropping the temperature and wind chill way down into the basement doesn't craze it ...

I'll put up specs later.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Accidental Blues

Funny how easy it is to write a blues song when you aren't trying to write a blues song.

I'm in the middle of a scene in Stemwinder in which my protag is teaching a blues class to a group of fay players in faerie. Basic I, IV, V stuff, and so as he is telling them how to do it, I came up with three verses of a song, "Rat Catcher Blues." Just off-handedly, and it's actually
not too bad. Third verse is a reprise of the first, but in the past tense, and there is room for, oh, sixty or eighty more verses if I want ...

Here's a teaser from the novel, now a little over halfway through the first draft:

Nobody else had any questions. “Okay, let’s try it. And remember, I’m an embee*, we have have very low standards and lousy ears, so don’t worry about hitting bad notes.”
They laughed, which is what he wanted. 
“Counting it down ... one and two and three and–”
He did an intro as he talked and then nodded on the first note.

Gonna catch me a rat, darlin’, I heard him creepin’ round your back door/
Yeah, gonna catch me a rat, baby, I heard him creepin’ round your back door/
When I get done with that rat, honey, he won’t creep round here no more ...

Reach smiled as he listened. They were pretty good. There was somebody, probably that little woman on the violin whose instrument seemed a few cents sharp, and a couple of clams that buzzed from the old fay with the parlor guitar, but not bad.
Lot of worse ways to spend an evening.
Even as he played, he wondered how Scar was doing, chasing shapeshifters in the outback. She had been gone but two days, and he missed her. 

I see you behind that barrel, rat, you can’t hide yourself from me/
I see you behind that barrel, rat, you can’t hide yourself from me/
I’m gonna take my knife and cut you, gonna laugh while I watch you bleed.

One night early on in his first trips back and forth across the border, Reach had found himself in a dump of a bar in Memphis. There was an old bluesman drinking rye next to him. The old man was pretty soused and talkative, and Reach bought him drinks and listened. Sometime during the evening, the old man said, “Listen up, kid, here’s the secret to songs, hell, secret to all stories. Ain’t but two things worth writin’ about: Love and death. Get ‘em both into your song as much as you can.”
It struck a chord at the time, and Reach had see the truth of it more than few times since. All the memorable blues, all the memorable rock songs, were about love, death, or both. 

Cheap wisdom, for the cost of a few shots of rye 

*stands for MB, "monkey-boy," a term of derision used by fay about humans ...