Monday, December 22, 2008

Reeling in the years

Tomorrow (23 December) is my birthday. As is my annual tradition, I shall remind everyone that I share that birth date (though not the year - he's older) with Eddie Vedder, among others.

As is also my tradition, I shall reveal my age via an old (also older than I am) fortune telling/philosophical system. This year I am Ko - the Revolution hexagram in I Ching.

Alas, using this system I have no chance of any changing lines, and thus no opportunity to become any younger (or, fortunately, older).

Feel free to interpret my hexagram and any associated trigrams. I need all the help I can get.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Can't buy me vocal lessons

OK, maybe I can. Point is, I may need 'em. My guitar teacher sent me an odd email this morning. He asked if I'd ever tried to sing "Can't Buy Me Love" by The Beatles. I replied that indeed I have sung along with that song, as I am a Beatles fan and enjoy that one. His reply? He's planning on recording it and wants to know if I want to do vocals.

Whoa...hold the train.

As you may have noticed in the link above, he has a tendency, when he says "record," to mean, "store digitally and upload to YouTube." (The piece he is playing, "Time Odyssey," is his original composition I saw him play live with a band - a rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer. It is terrific.)

Now it's interesting enough that he wants my voice recorded for posterity. But video?! And he knows what I sound and look like. While neither is anything to write home about, of the two, my voice is definitely prettier than my looks. Let's just say I don't shop in the skinny side of the store, and it has been explained to me that due to my rather generous size, I don't have the same clothing options as most of the world.

So what's a body to do? I love to sing, but to be recorded? And maybe put out on YouTube? I won't even put my picture on any of my (numerous) blogs due to the ostracism I get from friend and foe for my looks.

So naturally I said yes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Geekdom v2.0

I finally see some progress in guitar. I've learned a couple of really nice blues riffs that allow me to improvise, and I'm learning a song by George Harrison - one of my all-time favorite artists!

I've noticed some major differences between music (at least the amateur side of it) and my previous obsession: magic. First, there are canonical methods for learning music. With guitar, for example, you start by learning a few basic (open) chords, then you learn some scales - usually starting with pentatonic, but that probably varies by teacher. You then practice various scales, including chromatic scales just to learn how things sound up and down the neck of the guitar. Then you start putting things together, and learning how rhythm and melody fit into the mix.

In magic there really aren't any such methods, with a couple of exceptions. Mostly it's haphazard: learn a trick here, a couple more there, get a business card, turn pro. :-)

Other differences are in the attitudes of the people I've run across. Magicians seem to be a whole lot of broken social misfits. And yes, if you're asking, I include myself squarely in the "broken social misfit" camp, if no longer in the magical one. Musicians, on the other hand, seem to be mostly more easygoing, with fewer neuroses. I'm not sure if it's the whole "soothes the savage breast" thing, or if music just attracts a different sort of person. In other words, I'm not sure if it's a cause or an effect.

Then again, before taking any of this too seriously, please look at the very top of this page and keep the blog title in mind.



Welcome to new reader and old friend Eve. Our email exchanges have been fun.



To paraphrase Paul's mother in Dune, it's interesting that I hold up a general garment and some claim it's cut to their fit.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

November 5, 2008


Saturday, October 18, 2008

I guess that make me the Antichrist too

I received an email today from a family member, a portion of which I'll reproduce:
1. 1968 Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed by a Muslim male extremist.
2. In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred by Muslim male extremists.
3. In 1979, the US embassy in Iran was taken over by Muslim male extremists.
4. During the 1980's a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by Muslim male extremists.
5. In 1983, the US Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by Muslim male extremists.

It then went on to list a number of similar incidents, then capped it all off with a reminder that Barack Obama is a male of Muslim descent, and a claim that
The Anti-Christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuasive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal....the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, he will destroy everything.

I originally wasn't going to reply, but then I decided that, by being silent I was complicit in this utter nonsense. So I hit "reply to all" and tapped out my single sentence response:

"It usually doesn't make any difference to the type of people who send out these kinds of things, but given my preferences, I would prefer not to receive any more of this racist crap."

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Am I qualified to be president?

Who are these people who want to lower the standard to lead the free world? I'm talking about the people who think it's a good thing to be "one of the common people"?

Look at history, and those we have considered to be great presidents. Every one, every single one, has been smarter, wealthier, and better educated than the average citizen. To belabor a point, I'll repeat it again: EVERY SINGLE ONE has been smarter, wealthier, and better educated than the average citizen. Sure, Abe Lincoln started out poor, but considering the standard of living of the time, he did better than most.

While it is admirable to strive to do your best at whatever you do, there are certain fields with higher expectations and greater responsibilities. We expect our health care professionals to adhere to a higher standard of excellence than we do, for example, our megastore greeters.

There has been talk this election over who is an elitist and who is most like "you and me." To borrow words from a website I recently read, elitism isn't a bug, it's a feature. From
...I see elitism as nothing more than a dirty word people have attached to something that ought to be considered a noble goal: the pursuit of excellence rather than mediocrity in all walks of life, whether personal, professional, intellectual, artistic, or otherwise. After all, what can you be, if not an elitist, other than an advocate of mediocrity? Frankly I think there's far too much mediocrity in the world.

I think that [some] have allowed themselves to be sold the negative definition of elitism, which is that it's a bad thing practiced only by snobs who think they're better than you. Mediocrities want you to accept that definition of elitism, because it gives them a name with which to dismiss people who are simply more informed or better capable of defending their ideas in the court of public opinion (or anywhere) than they are.

Don't be fooled. Elitism is a good thing. Everybody alive ought to be elitist. Having high standards is to be admired, not disdained.

Here's the thing: ordinary folks are great. Some of my best friends are ordinary folks. I have friends that are hairdressers and accountants and guitar players and magicians and computer programmers and such, and they're great people. Heck, I think I'm pretty good people. But I don't think there's a single one of us "Joe Six-packs" that's qualified to be president (or vice president). Not even close. And on a similar note, many of those "elitist" presidents of the past were ones who passed some of our greatest legislation, and seemed to be some of our greatest communicators.

So where is it stated that the toughest job in the world, in one of the toughest economic times in my lifetime, should be run by "just plain folks"? Wouldn't you rather have an elitist? I know I would.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Different Drum - er, Guitar

So I was at one of my guitar lessons and my teacher asked if I still wanted to trade guitars. He has several, and he was going to sell one on eBay, but it was one I happened to really like. In fact I had joked one time about swapping with him. Well, here he was, making the offer.

So I have a guitar with much easier action than my old one, and I'm really liking it.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Guitar progress

I'm moving along on learning guitar. I've learned that the experts are right: playing an electric is easier than playing an acoustic. Also, if you set the distortion to "kill" then it's hard for anyone to tell if you've hit a wrong note. :)

I can play some of the dreaded barre chords now, and along with some pentatonic and ionian scales I'm actually learning a song.

My recommendation? Don't wait until you're forty-mumble to learn to play guitar.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Goodbye to another friend

The details that I have are sketchy, but one of my mentors in magic died this morning.

Jim Smithson was a kind and funny man, a good husband, and he made a lot of people smile. There are a heck of a lot worse things you can do with your life.

I don't believe Mr. Smithson is going to a better (or, for that matter, a worse) place, but at least he is done with the pain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


But I'm not the only one. Even if I quit it won't make any difference.

The above can apply to murder, extortion, tax evasion, copying magic books, burning a CD or DVD that isn't yours, or stealing a line from another performer.

Just because some of the behaviors are less wrong doesn't make any of them right.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

For those of you who might need a laugh

As I had posted previously, one of my guitar teachers gave me an assignment to write a song. Because I'm a masochist at heart (and in various other organs) I've decided to post the lyrics.

The song was inspired by my niece. I had just returned from watching her graduate from high school.

So here, without further ado, is "Rebecca's Song":

I rem-em-ber you
When you were just two
And we got to-ge-ther at Grand-ma's pla-ce

I rem-em-ber when
You had just turned ten
And you smiled around that stick-y ice cream fa-ce

Look at her she is all grown now
Ready to be out on her own now
No longer just a cute young girl now
A fine young woman here to take on the world

And then at fif-teen
Has it on-ly been
Thir-ty six short months since I saw you la-st?

How the time goes by
And some-times I cry
When I re-a-lize good-byes come so fa-st

You were al-ways there
I was al-ways here
Kept a-part by miles
Swept a-part by years
But I don't have to be stand-ing near you
Be-cause my heart can al-ways he-ar you

Look at her she is all grown now
Ready to be out on her own now
No longer just a cute young girl now
A fine young woman here to take on the world

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Well, I did it...

...I wrote my song.

And in the tradition of most first songs, it sucks.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

...or maybe I *will* be the next Boyce and/or Hart

So my next assignment, from one of my two guitar teachers, is to (you guessed it) write a song. I now know just enough musical theory to be thoroughly dangerous.

I'm going to get a little help. I plan on buying a program called Guitar Pro that will help me play my composition as it develops. I may even pen some lyrics. If I get brave and adventuresome I could possibly even post a midi where people could listen.

Oh, btw, the lesson is to make the verses sort of sad and the chorus "epic". I'm thinking "All By Myself" meets "Bohemian Rhapsody." With a bridge reminiscent of a portion of "Toccata and Fugue In D Minor." Except in C.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Mentalism and movies - I disclaim the connection

I have heard far too many mentalists* brush off the use of disclaimers** with a statement like this:
"What if an actor came onscreen at the beginning of the movie and told you that he was just an actor and wasn't really the character he played, and the whole thing you were about to watch was just a story. Wouldn't that hurt your enjoyment of the movie?"

I've heard/read that statement or similar from people too numerous to mention. You'd think that an avocation as seemingly creative as mentalism would come up with different agruments (it's like all of the creative geniuses who use "out of the box" to describe creative thinking). However, my bigger argument with this is that it doesn't hold. The analogy just isn't there. Why not? Let's explore.

Who goes to movies? Most everyone. Who knows about movies? The number increases. There are magazines and websites devoted to movies, and to the various components thereof (actors, special effects, etc). A good chunk of these magazines and websites cater to the general populace. Actors are interviewed on tv and in print. (Which would, in a sense, be a version of a disclaimer: "See? I'm not really Iron Man.") In short, there is a cultural understanding about the nature of movies and how they work.

Now let's take mentalism. ("Take my mentalist, please!") Who goes to see a mentalism show? A small number of people. Who goes to see a GOOD mentalism show? That number shrinks. Considerably. And while there are websites and publications that deal with the intricacies of mentalism, the vast majority don't cater to the general public. In fact, the average person on the street is much more likely to have heard/heard of/seen Jonathan Edward, Sylvia Browne or Allison DuBois than Max Maven, Banachek or
Derren Brown. This means that the cultural expectation for those who deal in psychic phenomenon is that one is either
a. real, or
b. a big old slimy fraud
depending on one's perceptions of the aforementioned Edward, Browne, and DuBoise.

While I agree that it may be bad theater to tip your hand prior to the show, I think many take it too far. To extend the analogy, it doesn't lessen my enjoyment of the Indiana Jones movies to see an interview with Harrison Ford, where he tells us that in his next film he will play a completely different character.

I know there are people who are going to believe no matter what. After one of my own shows I had a lady call me and ask if I could tell her where her missing opera tickets were. But guess what. Even with the cultural knowledge regarding movies, there are some people who believe them. Watch the documentary "Trekkies" to see some examples. Or check out the number of people who have listed "Jedi" as their religious affiliation. Just because I think some people are deluded doesn't mean I have to feed the delusion.

I know I won't convince many to change their tune here, just as their "argument" doesn't convince me. If anything, though, I'd like them to take a look at that hoary "but what if an actor..." analogy that so many use and see it for the straw man it really is.


* For the uninitiated: a "mentalist" is an entertainer who specializes in the theatrical pretense of psychic abilities.

** A "disclaimer" is an acknowledgement that one is indeed not a real psychic.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Masochism Tango

Guitar lessons have been tough; I feel like I haven't had enough time to practice, and that I haven't progressed fast enough (fast enough for what, smart guy?) and I'm getting a bit frustrated.

So if one feels overwhelmed by what one is doing, and feels pressured by too little time to do it, what's the obvious move? Why, get a second guitar teacher, of course!

That's right, music fans, I now have (count 'em) two people giving me too many lessons to tax my already stressed-out brain and fingers.

Stay tuned for the Pete Townshend finale.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Katie Barre The Door

I have hit my first major guitar stumbling block: barre chords. I've got fairly small (and apparently fairly weak) hands, and they just don't want to stretch to those positions just yet.

My instructor gave me my first song to learn last week - Skynyrd's "Tuesday's Gone" - and one of the first chords in that sucker is an F#m, which is (you guessed it) a barre chord. It opens with an A, which was new but not too difficult, then an E, which I already knew, then our unpleasant little friend. I've twisted the guitar and my body and my hands, all so far to no avail.

So how to get past this dilemma? I'm thinking ukulele.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Not Ready For Prime Time Player

The guitar practice is moving along nicely. I made a big jump last night, for no apparent reason. Suddenly I could transition between chords fairly well, when just the night before it was quite the chore.

On a completely different note, I took an ITIL certification class and test at work. I passed the test, which means that I'm officially ITIL v3 certified.

I can tell by the thunderous silence how much this means to everyone.

Friday, May 02, 2008


I'm measuring my guitar ability by the number of chords I know compared to standard musical styles. When I knew three chords I was a punk. Now that I know five I'm pre-folk. I'm getting pretty close to knowing all the open chords. (Let's not be mistaken here: I'm using "knowing" in an academic sense. I don't "know" these chords in the sense of being able to reproduce them in anything resembling music.)

Next week I plan on tackling this song.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Guitar lessons - continued

I now know enough chords to officially be in a punk band. My assignment this week was to practice transitioning between the chords I knew, and explore their sonic intricacies (changing volume, changing rhythm, etc).

I even wrote a little song. It's called "I Can't Transition Between These Chords Very Well." It's a work in progress.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Celebrity Obsession

Information overload
Kiss a prince, turn into a toad
Point and stare, hound and goad
Feel all smug when they implode

Google, MySpace, CNN
"Weren't you someone, way back when...?"
Look them up in Facebook, then
Just forget them once again

Britney, Brittany, Carmelo, Wentz
Convicted with no evidence
And they ain't got no defense
Because this whole thing makes no sense

We sit and watch them on tv
And live through them vicariously
Wasting our lives in this lunacy
It all seems such a waste to me

I came up with the first two lines of the first stanza while I was sitting at lunch, daydreaming. They seemed to have promise so I ran with it.

The AAAA BBBB rhyme scheme is a little uncommon, but that's how it played out. Sue me.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Me and David Gates

Those of you who read my blog with any regularity (both of you) know that I love music. You may even know that one of my regrets is that I never learned to play an instrument.

Well, my friends, I shall eliminate one item from my regret list. This past Sunday, at the urging of my wonderful wife, I bought an acoustic guitar. I've also signed up for lessons.

Given my age and that I've never played before, I know I won't be giving Jimmy Page or Bert Jansch a run for their money, but one hopes that, with some time and struggles, I'll soon be able to scratch out a couple of semi-recognizable tunes.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday in the...

It was a brisk, clear spring morning. Despite the cooperative weather I was filled with trepidation. (It's not as messy as it sounds.) For the first time in ages, I was about to enter

Was I ready? Could I handle it? And did I have my towel?

The lecture was scheduled for 2:30. I was due to meet a friend at 1:45 to carpool. Despite my best intentions I made it on time.

On the drive to the lecture we discussed trivial things: the excess of clover this year, the political race, the possible threat of nuclear war. I think I hid my blind panic well. Besides, he can replace the upholstery in his car, right?

Rick Maue and David London were on the bill that day. I had corresponded with Mr. Maue some years ago so I knew he was a fan of one of my favorite musical artists. I happened to have some memorabilia of said artist, and I gave a piece from my collection to Mr. Maue. (Pronounced "maw" for the uninitiated. If you're initiated, feel free to pronounce it any way you wish.) He seemed to appreciate it.

There were only five attendees at the lecture. There were two reasons for that:
1. a previously scheduled event
2. not enough advance publicity

More on the sparse attendance later.

Mr. London opened the proceedings. He started by saying he rarely did card effects, so naturally he opened with cards. The effect was clean, clear and a stunner. It was in the "twisting the aces" genre but with a couple of kickers. He was on for far too short a time. I liked the effects and bits he taught, but far more than that, I really appreciated the way in which he explained the development of each piece and of his character. He also talked about his act as an organic whole, which was a shock as far as lectures are concerned.

We ("we" being the aforementioned five) asked periodic quesions, and Mr. London would provide detailed answers. He said that even though we were the smallest group yet, we were the most engaged group they had yet seen.

Mr. London only had about 30 minutes (as I said, far too short), then Mr. Maue took the stage. And by "took the stage" I mean commanded the stage. Another thing I appreciated about both gentlemen is that they gave their all despite the meager turnout. Mr. Maue obviously thinks about all facets of his magic - both as a performer and as a teacher - and he is remarkable in both capacities.

I'm really hesitant to describe any of the effects he performed and explained because I don't want to spoil the surprise should any magicians be reading this and get an opportunity to see him. Trust me, he'll fool you. Let me just say this; at one point, after performing one effect and just prior to teaching it, I turned to David London and said in all sincerity, "I don't want to know how it's done." I was sorely tempted to walk out of the room. He had just toasted my brain and that's a feeling to treasure.

After the lecture we all went out to dinner, and had even more of a grand time. It turns out that Mr. Maue and I have very similar musical tastes. (And yes, Rick, I have This Old Road. It's every bit as wonderful as you said it would be. I especially like "Pilgrim's Progress" and "Final Attraction." Have you picked up Jackrabbit Slim yet?)

Both Mr. London and Mr. Maue kept stating that despite the small turnout they were really pleased with the lecture because we were such an engaged, focused audience. It could be that they say that at every lecture stop, but hey, it was nice to hear.

To recap, it was a terrific way to spend a Saturday afternoon. I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to run off and read some lecture notes.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

And in the end...

So anyway, a couple of times recently I've had these really bad abdominal pains. Both times were similar; the pain was agonizing for 4 - 5 hours, then it gradually diminished until it disappeared over the course of three days or so.

I've had two different tests so far with zero results. (And for the smart asses in the crowd, that does not include an eeg.) The first was an ultrasound, then today I had a colonoscopy. The doctor I had couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a barber or a proctologist, so he flipped a coin to see if it was heads or -- never mind.

The worst thing they could find in the 'scope was diverticulosis, which is sort of pre-diverticulitis, which would not account for the location, duration or intensity of the pain I had experienced. So in other words, the lab rat gets to run some more mazes. I'm hoping the next few involve considerably fewer laxatives.

Friday, March 28, 2008

King Pong

Once upon a time I was a pretty decent table tennis player. At one time or another I was my state's junior (under 18) and Over 40 state champion. Not simultaneously, of course.

I have not played in a number of years due to a knee that is roughly three times the age of any other part of me. I haven't even touched a paddle since, oh, 2004. I also used to be a pretty good coach - sanctioned by the US governing body for table tennis and everything. I still have the card to prove it: says "Certified Coach" right on the damn thing.

Why do I bring this up? A voice (or, more to the point, a keyboard) from the past contacted me the other day. We had corresponded back in the day. He wanted some ideas for promoting his club. (I still need to get back to him on that...)

In the course of the conversation he mentioned a specific style of play with which he had trouble. I asked a few questions and gave him some advice. He came back yesterday, ecstatic. He had beaten some players he had never beaten before, using my advice. So without ever seeing him or his opponents play, based on a couple of lines of chat, I was able to successfully coach him.

The kid's still got it!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A hole in the bucket

I rarely remember my dreams, but I (sort of) remember my last dream last night. I composed two songs. One was a pop ballad, and the other was a peppy little dance number. They might even have been good. The problem is...I don't remember them!

For those of you who know about dreams, you know that if you don't record the details really quickly, they tend to fade. Fast.

So but for the aid of a recording device, I might be the next Gamble and/or Huff. Or Chapman and/or Chinn. Or Mann and/or Weil. Or Goffen and/or King. Or John and/or Taupin. Or Jagger and/or Richards. Or Boyce and/or Hart. Or Bacharach and/or David. Or Gibb and/or Gibb and/or Gibb (but not Gibb).*

*But never Lennon and/or McCartney, or Dylan. First of all, who could be? Second, those comparisons are the kiss of death. The only person to survive the curse of being called "The New Dylan" is Springsteen, and I think his latest album title explains how he did it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

...but can I handle it?

A friend has been having some "life issues" lately. He contacted me yesterday and asked if I wanted to go to a magic lecture on Saturday. I felt obliged to accept. We haven't seen each other for a bit and I'd like to see him, and I'd also like to provide some moral support if necessary.

It will, however, be the first time I have shown up in a gathering of magicians in a long time. The last couple of times I tried I left feeling vaguely...dirty, and, well, ashamed to be a magician. In fact, I gave up that moniker (if I had ever earned it) based on those meetings and feelings.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Too late

I think it was Julian Lennon who sang
Now it's much too late
For goodbye

My father-in-law died late last night. We'll be leaving in a few minutes to get with family and to help make funeral arrangements.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Nearing the end

My father-in-law is in the hospital and they have stopped all treatment for the leukemia. Nothing is helping any more: not the weekly blood transfusions; not the chemo; nada. He can't swallow very well so his diet is pretty much liquids, ice cream and Jell-O.

I'm taking a couple of days off of work next week. My wife and I will be driving up to say our goodbyes some time this weekend.

I wish I could end on a hopeful or pithy or poignant note, but I got nuthin'.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

10 things i've done that you probably haven't

Apparently this sort of thing is getting around on some blogs, so here I go:

1. Played in the National Table Tennis Championships (and came that close to beating a nationally ranked player).

2. Met Penn. Talked to Teller!

3. Been published in both fiction and nonfiction.

4. Performed stand-up comedy for money.

5. Participated in a Vietnam antiwar rally (I was an 11 year old radical).

6. Got my college degree about 21 years after my first college course.

7. Reaffirmed my atheism approximately two months after joining a church.

8. Got high school p.e. credit for trampoline.

9. Once went for three consecutive days without eating (believe me, it wasn't intentional).

10. On an entrance exam to an alternative high school, outscored the history teacher on the history exam.