Friday, December 02, 2016

The Amish

The Amish are an interesting group.  Since we've been thinking of living in the Lancaster PA area, I looked into our possible future neighbors, and I liked what I learned.

They are members of a proscriptive religion, but one that's different from other similar religions in important ways. Put simply, they aren't about imposing their ways on other people. Their rules are only for themselves, just as it should be.

Even if you are born into an Amish family, you must make an active decision to be baptized and be a part of the Amish religion. And Amish-born people who do not choose the religion are not hated, killed as infidels, consigned to hell (just a different kind of infidel death) or any other foolishness. They remain a part of their family, and are treated as family. Again, just as it should be. The Amish impose their rules on people who want to live as Amish, and are reasonable toward those who don't. That's sensible, because the Amish life is hard, and not for most people.

Compare the Amish with other fundamentalist religious groups: fundamentalist Islam, and fundamentalist Christianity. I'll call them collectively IslamoChristianity a la Frank Gaffney's rantings about "Islamofascists". Gaffney is a well educated right wing crank who ought to, and probably does know better than what he espouses.

Look at the war between fundamentalist Christianity and fundamentalist Islam, called the global war on terror by the Bush administration. Certainly, America opposing and thwarting terrorists has been going on long before the Bush administration fabricated reasons to invade Iraq, and before the 9/11 attack, but Bush's was the first fundamentalist Christian-led U.S. administration to act on their religious beliefs as a matter of public policy. Occupying Iraq with no thinking was a stupid recipe for constant war. Islam has their "death to infidels" policy which is a pretty straightforward call to constant war - there are a lot of infidels and it will take time to kill them all.

Amish are pacifists.

Question:  Who doesn't want constant war?
Answer: The Amish
Rightheadedness Score: Amish 1, IslamoChristianity 0.

This "war" started as a simple argument between two extremist sects, both of whom wish to impose their views on morality on the rest of us. The both of them ignored, and continue to ignore the fact that most people aren't extremists, and are utterly opposed to living under religious tyranny.

Amish don't want to tell anyone what to do who didn't ask to be told. IslamoChristians wish to tell EVERYONE what to do, and kill the ones who won't comply..

Question: Who doesn't want to tell you how to live?
Answer: The Amish
Rightheadedness Score: Amish 2, IslamoChristians 0.

The details of their rules aren't important; the willingness of the IslamoChristians to commit large scale, ongoing acts of violence in ongoing attempts to bend us to their respective visions of how to live is important. The 9/11 attack, and the invasion of Iraq, are two examples of utter stupidity. 9/11 just pissed off a reactionary US Executive branch, and occupying Iraq cost so much it probably will doom the US to second class economic status (or worse) forever.

Question: Who is not stupid?
Answer: The Amish
Rightheadedness Score: Amish 3, IslamoChristians 0.

You can see how this is going. The trend isn't going to change.

The Amish, by necessity, live among people who don't live as they do, believe as they do, or act as they do. They are among us, but apart in ways that are important to them, by choice. They live with grace, tolerance, dignity, and they do it without imposing on anyone.

The IslamoChristians are thugs who are willing to kill innocent people to further their aims.  They could learn a thing or two about how to behave in a civilized world from the Amish.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Soft Landing for North Korea, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea - How?

First, some assumptions. I would prefer that North Korea (the DPRK) and South Korea (ROK) are reunited without war. I want to see the ROK not harmed too much economically by having to subsume a pretty dysfunctional infrastructure and economy in the North. That harm has to happen to the ROK economy to achieve reunification. There is, and will continue to be, pushback against reunification by corporate interests in the ROK, although no one will admit this.

Both militaries are itching for a fight, and both are great at what they do well. The ROK military excel technically, much like the US military. The DPRK military are possibly unmatched in unconventional warfare (think US Navy SEALS, only better, and many, many more of them), and extremely innovative in asymmetrical warfare using old platforms. It's pretty smart to crater a coastal airfield runway using BM21 rocket launchers mounted on P6 torpedo boats, a completely disposable platform, and it buys a much needed day of suppressed air support. There are other examples.

So, let's avoid all that. Were I Kim Chong Eun, leader of North Korea, one option I would consider would be to launch a very feeble invasion of South Korea, intending to lose quickly and with a minimum of loss of life. This lets Kim squander, by surrender and mis-use, the North Korean military, his only rival for power, and force the South to take a "we didn't mean to, but we broke it, so we own it" approach. Political and economic objections are thwarted, countries are reunited like East and West Germanies, rebuilding begins, problem solved. I'm sure the ROK has a plan for this contingency, the only fly in this ointment. This is a workable plan, I think.

And the problem is, North Korea doesn't seem to be thinking that way. They are developing a submarine launched ballistic missile capability. A Whiskey or Romeo-class diesel-electric North Korean Navy submarine surfacing 13 miles off the city of Los Angeles with a few hundred mile or thousand mile capable nuclear missiles sends a message. This could easily happen.

The US is floating plans for a pre-emptive strike against North Korea to take out their nukes. Unwise. Our military are completely unwilling to have any kind of ground war on the Korean peninsula, because the terrain there neutralizes our armor advantage, so there would be no follow-up. I'm pretty sure the North Koreans have not revealed the location of all their nukes to us. This plan is a fail.

But I think this is what North Korea is inviting us to do - blow up some of their stuff. How they see that resulting in a soft landing is difficult to see. It might be that Kim cannot compel his military to do the feeble invasion route, and his nuclear antics are his only way to get a big enough conflict to save the DPRK from itself.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Set Based Solutions

In the Structured Query Language (SQL) database world in which I live, the first thing to learn is thinking of information as existing in sets. We learned about sets in third grade, never thinking that we would use that knowledge for anything useful.

Someone needed to have a SQL statement that would always return only activity from the previous day, without having to tell it what day it is now, and have it work independent of human interaction. OK, we can do that.

So, the set we want is records that have a date that is yesterday. We also want to fabricate counts of stuff that happened yesterday in four (or n) domains. This works:

SELECT     TOP (100) PERCENT Client_Name, Abstractor, Abstractor_Name, EntryDate, COUNT(CASE WHEN Payment = 1 THEN 1 ELSE NULL END) AS [Payment Type 1],
                      COUNT(CASE WHEN Payment = 2 THEN 1 ELSE NULL END) AS [Payment Type 2], COUNT(CASE WHEN Payment = 3 THEN 1 ELSE NULL END) AS [Payment Type 3],
                      COUNT(CASE WHEN Payment = 4 THEN 1 ELSE NULL END) AS [Payment Type 4], DATEADD(dd, - 1, GETDATE()) AS EntryDate1
FROM         dbo.vwClientsPaymentsAbstractors
WHERE     (EntryDate >= DATEADD(day, DATEDIFF(day, 1, GETDATE()), 0)) AND (EntryDate < DATEADD(day, DATEDIFF(day, 0, GETDATE()), 0))
GROUP BY Client_Name, Abstractor, Abstractor_Name, EntryDate
ORDER BY Client_Name, EntryDate

We count the payment types using "COUNT(CASE WHEN...THEN...ELSE...END" statements to coerce the different types into their sums.

Then this date manipulation:

WHERE     (EntryDate >= DATEADD(day, DATEDIFF(day, 1, GETDATE()), 0)) AND (EntryDate < DATEADD(day, DATEDIFF(day, 0, GETDATE()), 0))

gets us only yesterday's records, without knowing what day today is. It works every day.

I love working with SQL.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

2015 Strawberries Get Planted

Today was some strawberry planting, while the hound looked on, and the shepherd sort of dozed. Slowly, we become small farmers.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Back to Blogging

After a too-long hiatus, back to this.

I find time most days to write a line or two on facebook, but that is not writing, although Dennis Krivda does a good job of using facebook as his blog - he writes very well,and we listen (sic). But most of the time I am just resharing some left wing postcard, and while that is communicating, it isn't writing. And writing is one of the reasons I started this blog. So back to it.

To catch up:

I have a job now as a database guy and project manager for Presbyterian Medical Services in New Mexico. They are good guys and give care to everyone regardless of ability to pay. Their hospice folks helped my friend Robert last year as he was dieing.

A lucky shot of wheat at Gettysburg NMP, summer, around 2000

We are finally planting crops on our forever land. I see fences and a new physical house downstream, all needing to be built/bought.

I am doing photography again, with a Micro 4/3's mirrorless body and a couple of good lenses. I'm thrilled with the images I'm getting. Phone photography sucked.

I'm reading Strathern's Napoleon in Egypt, and it is great. I have been reading about the ACW battle of Gettysburg for years, so it's refreshing to read some history I know nothing about. Napoleon is interesting. I just finished Guelvo's great but not for everyone single volume work on Gettysburg, and I do recommend it to everyone, but it isn't the first book to read about that battle.

Technology that I use is changing. I use a Samsung tablet for everything, and Android M is coming, and it looks like a great release for me with adoptable memory in microsd cards, a big deal. The only time I need a PC now, in my day job, is to do SQL Server database work.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Oysters, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving looks to be at the Hotel Santa Fe, because of this really fine menu, which includes oysters.

When I left the US Navy in 1987 and lived near Baltimore, Maryland, I learned  that Chesapeake Bay oysters sucked. The bay had no tide to speak of, the water was brackish, and it was warm. All bad conditions for producing tasty oysters.

So I would drive to Cape Cod to get oysters, and to visit my parents. I'd get my oysters from Mr. Smith, who ran the oyster business on Waquoit bay. I'd load up a cooler from the milk cartons hanging off his floating dock where he stored them in the water, and he would charge me five dollars or so depending on what,  I don't know. Then Dad and he and I would stand around and talk about things for a while.

There is disagreement about where the best oysters come from, because just like grapes, there is watery terroir associated with where an oyster was grown. Cotuit, my hometown, was for years said to be the finest place to grow an oyster. Now, it's a polluted mess and oysters grown there must be harvested and relocated to clean waters to get purified. Wellfleet has a good reputation. If I had my druthers I'd go with Mr. Smith's Waquoit Bay. It has fast tides, high salinity, and every oyster I've eaten from there was a lovely thing. 

Instead, I'll be at the Hotel Santa Fe on Thursday, having oysters from God knows where, the first in more than a few years, and I'll be grateful to eat a raw shellfish in the desert no matter where it came from. Plus some prime rib, and the company of good friends, Should be a perfect day.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

New Home; New Farm?

This is our new place.

You can see some greenery in the middle ground of this shot, and the the desert on the ridge in the far ground. Behind the greenery, to the west, and alongside our property to the south (left of the house and behind), is Arroyo Cuyumunque, a big one. The greenery are dormant fruit trees which we'll try to bring back.

Up to that arroyo is an acre of arable land, and a ramshackle old house. We're living in the house, and getting ready to clear the land.

If I knew how, I could ride a horse through the arroyo and up that ridge to the west behind the house and be in a sort of Carlos Casteneda-esque, as I imagine it, desert. I probably should concentrate more on running a backhoe than learning how to ride, since I am unsure what I would do or want to do in that desert, on a horse or anything else. We have the 4WD pick-em-up truck if it comes to that, but I'd feel safer on a horse. I'm a complete rookie in this environment on either. The Chesapeake Bay or Vineyard Sound this ain't.

First things first. Clear land so we can put in raised beds to grow food in the spring. We did a pilot project last spring for that.

Irrigation comes from our own well. Water is a precious thing here, and our well is unrestricted, being installed "pre-moratoriam". We'll devise a trickle system.

We are planning to be a farm in the way that we all should be farmers, in the spirit of the The Continuity Project, who I volunteer for.

More as there is more to share.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Cruising Under Sail - The Boy, Me and the Cat

Was giving a man some help on a capstan when a post pulled out of the ground and a big block and chain snapped in, catching me on the leg and putting me out of commission and into bed for four, pretty uncomfortable days. Visions of weeks on my back with splintered leg bones were finally ended when, with a sharp little click, a misplaced tendon snapped back and I was soon hobbling about. Made a mental note never to try and help anyone again.

- Henry M. Plummer, "The Boy, Me, and the Cat", The Cruise of the Mascot, 1911-1912

Doug Lucy took this picture of us anchored in Comegey's Bight on the Chester River on our cruise to Chestertown, MD. My son Miles was with us on this long cruise at around age 5 months.
I cruised my Alberg 30 Annabelle on the Chesapeake Bay for years, mostly alone, often with great friends like Joe Montalbano, and Doug Lucy aboard, both of whom started out knowing very little about driving a big heavy keelboat under sail and who both developed into great boating companions, with nerves of steel. 

Nerves of steel, because cruising under sail can be a lot like being in war - long stretches of relative ease punctuated by moments of terror.

Strapped down for heavy weather, dinghy on deck and reefs in  main and jib Still putting the rail under int he gusts which were up in the 30s this day. With Joe M. What fun!
Moments of terror like the very first Chesapeake Bay thunderstorm I encountered. Thinking it would be like all the New England squalls I had sailed through without mishap, I left some sail up and nearly put the masthead in the water when the terrible thing hit. The Chesapeake Bay ain't Buzzards Bay. Or another thunderstorm where the engine couldn't resist it and we got turned involuntarily and driven before it in 70 knots of wind. Doug bravely went forward to deploy the 13 pound anchor only find it had been carried away by a boarding sea. I really thought we might lose the boat that day, it was just too treacherous in that storm to be on the foredeck setting up the big spare anchor. Or the day Joe and I set out to weather reports of small craft warnings, which were great conditions for this boat, only to get out there and find that they'd upgraded that weather system to a full gale. We ended up anchored in the lee of of the southern terminus of the Key bridge, cowering there until it blew itself out enough that we could safely put into Rock Creek and anchor for the night. Instead of our usual delicious meal at the Windows on the Bay restaurant, which had closed for the night by the time we made it in, it was chicken corn chowder from a can heated on the alcohol stove for all hands.

Annabelle,  sailing herself wing on wing with the asymmetrical spinnaker. What a good boat.
I never kept a log, because both the great and terrible moments of all those years are burned into my memory. Running back from Rock Hall to Baltimore in a big SE breeze under asymmetrical spinnaker, perfectly balanced while the autopilot steered and I just drank gin and tonics and wandered around the boat., tuning sails for fun and speed. Anchored for the night up a tiny creek in the Magothy river just before Thanksgiving, the only human in sight, origo stove and oil lamp burning, and a light snow falling, sunset before 5pm, dinner and a book and warm berth. Anchored overnight in Fairley Creek with my young son and daughter, looking at the beach bonfires and telling the kids it was pirates burying their treasure, then rowing ashore the next day with them to dig up that treasure I had planted there myself earlier. So many great days out on that great boat.

Francis Scott Key Bridge on the Patapsco River . Sunrise.
But Henry Plummer did keep a log of his epic voyage from Padanarum on Buzzards Bay MA to Florida, and what a story it is.This was over the winter of 1911-1912; aids to navigation were few, and there weren't marinas with restaurants to put in to for the night. They lived off the land and their wits, and their irrepressible spirit..

Mascot, barrelling along
Mascot was a 24 foot Cape Cod catboat, a working vessel from the 1800's that many folks have repurposed for pleasure craft. The Plummers, Henry and his son, and Scotty the cat, brought fishing tackle and a .22 rifle, mostly using the latter to bring down waterfowl, which Plummer always called coot in his log, but I suspect were out of season ducks, for sustenance.  "Coot" stew was a staple on this cruise.

Plummer, like my grandfather did on his cruises back before we all carried cameras, made sketches in his logbook of the high points, and Plummer's are charming, like this one of Scotty having a moment of madness, and some others below

Scotty, maddened
Plummer's writing is wry, smart, clever, and kind. This is a story of three beings living together in close quarters, and how the adventure affected each of them. You could read other accounts of life at sea for pleasure, like Buckley's several entertaining and well written books describing how rich people sail across oceans for fun ("Airborne", and the others, all great), or Starr's excellent "The Schooner Pilgrim's Progress, A Voyage Around the World 1932-1934". But if you read any account of any voyage, first make it The Boy Me and the Cat. The best story of life under sail of them all, period. 

Sunday, April 07, 2013


There is different steel out there for swords, I've learned. Some is handmade artisan stuff, some is junk, and in the middle is stuff you and I can afford that does the job. The job is being used once and only once.

If you are a special forces soldier who kills people for a living, you want the artisan steel, and it's worth all the money for that. You'll use it over and over, and it will always be perfect. Abuse it, it'll come right back.

Me, I need steel that most likely will never be used, but if it is used the one time, will work. I don't care if it's damaged in use, can't have an edge put back on after I use it, any of that. It just needs to take a ferocious edge and hold it until used once. A specialized, not a daily use, tool.

Our new house has big rooms, so big swords are in order. Full length katanas, since shorter swords mean the bad guy is closer, and we don't want to grapple.

I have this great knife, a Cold Steel Kobun Tanto which is AUS8 steel. This is the last ditch weapon, but man is it sharp. It shipped razor sharp, and it will never be used to cut anything except an asshole trying to kill me or mine, so it stays sharp. AUS8 isn't a good daily use steel, it dulls up fast. but for single use it rocks.

Broadsword Tanto

I also have what I think of as the "broadsword" tanto, a big hulking knife that is also AUS8, but isn't as sharp as the Kobun and won't take that kind of crazy sharp edge regardless of sharpening. It's definitely a lesser steel. But it's more than sharp enough to play hell, and heavy enough to knock someone out with a head blow. It's like a ball peen hammer that cuts. I like this blade a lot, and feel like I could win a bad guy encounter with it even if I were shot or injured.

Now that we have big rooms, I think I'm getting a proper sized katana or two.

I've found one made of 1060 steel, differentially hardened and clay tempered for a very sharp edge, but still flexible along it's spine so it won't shatter on contact with bone. No home invader wants his head or limb cut off, so maybe it's a deterrent.

Obviously, when the zombie apocalypse hits, I'm going with the 9260 steel swords. Sure they're harder to keep sharp, but it's the bomb of steel. And they'll be free for the taking once commerce ends.

For cutting humans who are attacking me, this 1060  steel seems perfect for katanas. I hope I never have to do it.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Moving to Santa Fe

We've moved to our new house in Santa Fe. It's fifteen miles south of our old place in the pueblo. I like it here a lot.

I'm glad we can heat the place with this
Things I like:
  • Fenced yard for Phoebe and her new stablemate, who is coming maybe soon?
  • Fireplace heats the place. Furnace doesn't run much at all
  • Five minutes to everything - grocery, restaurants, Trader Joes, dog park, everything. We are in Santa Fe proper
  • Big rooms
  • Patio faces east, afternoon shade, morning sun.
  • Adobe construction
The living room is very echoic with a tile floor, guitar sounds great in here. And I can play guitar outside, yay for that. The neighbors will be complaining soon.

The little fireplace is just like being on a boat in the old days. I'm reminded of cruising in cool weather and using fire on board to stay warm at night.

After a couple of nights, it is noisy, like it's haunted by spirits or ghosts or something. Random clanks, bonks, scrapes, rasps, and howls abound. Anything is possible in my universe; if it's a haunted house, so be it. I don't care. I love this place, so if it is going to be a test of wills and spirits, bring it on. We are living here with or without you ghostly montherfuckers. Your choice. But stop with the noise, it's just annoying. This is our house.

Goodbye apartment

Saturday, March 02, 2013

The Animals, We Eat

I love food and and cooking, and I eat animals. But we're fucking it up. Not just in the ways we kill them, but in our relentlessness in killing them too fast. We all know this, but here's some food you won't be eating in the future. I'm just saying.

Wild Salmon. We've killed their habitat. You'll eat farm raised salmon going forward. Forget Arctic Char, it'll be crap salmon dyed red for you.

Shellfish. In October 1992 I sailed my Alberg 30 past five Skipjacks oystering on Mountain Bar just north of Annapolis, MD. They weren't there in 1993. Pollution closes shellfishing areas on the east coast constantly.

Buffalo. I saw a herd of twenty-odd standing around between Pojoaque and Espanola here in New Mexico a year or so ago. I wonder how many buffalo we killed to make a most plentiful animal most rare?

Swordfish. I predict we'll make this fish functionally extinct in less than one hundred years. Plus, they have a lot of mercury in 'em, so you shouldn't eat any anyway.

Cod. I was raised on Cape Cod. It's said that back in the 1700's you could put a bucket in the water in Cape Cod Bay and pull it up with codfish in it. The cod fishery is nearly dead, and in the future no one will eat Atlantic or Pacific cod, because there will be none.

Canvasback ducks. I used to hunt ducks and eat them. Ducks vary quite a lot in their deliciousness, intelligence, and in their awareness of hunters. Canvasbacks have the misfortune of being both delicious and stupid, and were hunted to near extinction as a result. So we made laws and stopped hunting them. Once out on my boat in the Chesapeake I saw a raft of several hundred canvasbacks. I was shocked, I'd never seen so many of them in one place. Not hunting them worked in bringing them back, in just a few decades. We did the same thing with Chesapeake Bay Rockfish (striped bass). We can save local fisheries, but it will take war to save the international fisheries. The Chinese don't fish the Chesapeake, but they are pulling fish from the pacific pretty fast.

I'm just saying. Our resource management sucks, that we need resource managements also sucks, and Soylent Green is made of people. Gird your loins.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Dog Park, Today

Phoebe and my weather station sensor
Hiking the dog park
We got a break in the bitter cold spell today, so off to the dog park we go, something we try to do frequently. We have a great one here in Santa Fe. It's huge, has bunches of arroyos and other interesting terrain, and is used by lots of people and their dogs, and I'm grateful for it.

The routine is set, and Phoebe knows it well; we always do a long hike, out to the edge of the park, and then beyond, on to land that no one seems to know who owns but is just desert and is just there. She ranges around, vanishes for a time but always returns to a call, looks back to make sure we're keeping up when she gets ahead, and makes sure we don't get too far ahead when she's lagging behind dealing with smells or more interesting humans. Then we circle around back to the area where all the dogs congregate to play in the park proper, near the dirt parking lot. There are usually between a few, and a few dozen dogs there, depending on a bunch of things like weather and the time of day or day of the week.

The dogs all play. People have put lost keys, eyeglasses, hats and whatever else they found on the trails on the plastic tables in this part of the park. Good Samaritans bring bottles of water and leave them every day, lest they freeze in the winter when the fountains are off, so the occasional irresponsible waterless dog owner can water his dog. When we encounter people who have had their dog run off, like ours did at first, we tell them we'll hold their dog here for them if we find and capture him. I've corralled two, but they were escapees from nearby homes that chose the dog park when given the choice of where to go on their own.
In the dog park

One of the things I like about the park is that people are usually comfortable talking as we stand around watching our dogs interact. We have a ready made conversation starter in our dogs. It's a good place to meet new friends. I've made some, and I'm glad for that.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gun Control

If you know me or read this blog, you already know that we keep guns and other weapons in our home for self defense.

I remember thinking after the shootings in Connecticut last week that the horror of the thing was so great that it might be the tipping point and drive public opinion toward stricter gun laws. It's looking like that's happening now.

Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Semi Automatic Rifle .223 Remington 18.5 Barrel 5 Rounds Hardwood Stock

I'm having problems with a lot of what I'm hearing on both sides of the debate, left and right. As per usual, the left wing are demonstrating ignorance about what constitutes an "assault weapon". Which of these two rifles is an assault weapon? Most would pick the Bushmaster on the left. But the Ruger Mini 14 on the right fires the same round, is a semi automatic, takes a 30 round magazine, and has a short barrel, all just like the Bushmaster. It would not be banned under a renewed federal assault weapon ban. But it certainly would wreak the same havoc as the "assault weapon".

This is the stupidity of the ban. These rifles are effectively the same.

So if we're to ban assault rifles, I think it would have to include all semi-automatic sporting rifles to have any chance of producing any outcome at all. The assault weapons ban doesn't do that. I think the ban is completely ineffective.

There are calls to ban high capacity magazines, directed primarily against the Glock 9mm 33 round magazine that can be used in a Glock 26, 17, or 19 pistol. As I've written elsewhere, this is completely misguided. A pistol with a foot long magazine hanging off it is an unbalanced mess, difficult to shoot accurately. This is why you don't see people who's job it is to fight with pistols using these magazines. It's much easier to get more rounds on target, and faster, using normal sized magazines. It just doesn't take very long to eject an empty magazine and insert a full one, a couple of seconds.

That said, a big magazine is probably good on a carbine, but not so much if you have to shoot and move. It is a pretty good rig for standing in one place and shooting unarmed people from what we've seen.

But there is plenty of wrongheadedness to go around. The notion that we should arm teachers that I've heard from right wing people on TV is absurd. Do we really want to limit the pool of people who teach our kids to ones who are willing to participate in a firefight with a well-armed, suicidal maniac? Please.

So, I look at this as a set of likely outcomes we can choose from. The majority of Americans favor stricter gun control laws. I don't think most of them understand what they want to control, but we live in a democracy and every once in a while the majority's will becomes the law instead of ALEC's will. Who knows, this might be one of those times. The achievable outcomes I see are these:

1. Ban so-called assault weapons and high capacity magazines. No change, these horrible massacres continue. The death toll might be marginally lower, or not. This is what most people seem to want.

2. Ban all firearm ownership, with the few exceptions that would have to exist. Confiscate all firearms, compensate people for their seized weapons. These awful killings decrease, and by a whole lot. Criminals continue to have guns, and home invasions increase exponentially. Gird your loins for that terrible shit. This is what I think a lot of Americans want, whether they know it or not.

3. Do nothing, change no laws. Most likely outcome, I still think.

An option I propose as a start to trying to decrease gun violence: You want to buy any firearm? Fine. Go see your doctor, get a referral to a mental health professional. Have a long interview with that doctor, and he declares you fit to own deadly weapons, or not fit. Repeat this every six months, by law, as long as you own guns, because sane people do go crazy. All att your own expense, or better yet have it covered under Obama Care. The federal government decides what that mental health evaluation is comprised of.

Me? Prepare for having no guns. Because barging into my home to do me harm is always going to be as bad a choice someone can make as I can make it be for them,  I think I'm going to get that O Katana I've been pining for, get serious about using it, and try to develop the physical courage to confront a home invader with it, even one with an illegal gun. I know I have an 80% or so chance of surviving being shot if I'm not killed outright, and can get to a hospital. The home invader has a 0% chance of surviving me cutting his head off with a Samurai sword.


Friday, December 07, 2012

Travel Guitar

Today Phoebe and I went to the dog park. Did the long hike, and then came back to the flat bit where the dogs all like to play while their owners stand around and yak about their dogs. While Phoebe played with the other dogs, I sat on a bench and played my big Yamaha F335 TBS acoustic guitar I brought along. Worked on chords. It's slow work, learning guitar.

I really like this guitar, and I've played a bunch of "better" ones in recent days, thinking I might get an acoustic/electric, but I'm sticking with this. My playing doesn't justify even a $300 guitar at this point. Even with a laminate top, this Yamaha has a big sound, and the right neck and action for me. Sure, a $2000 Martin has a bigger sound, but I play for myself and certainly don't need that. There are probably plenty of people who would say that the smaller my sound, the better.

I've been thinking about a 3/4 sized travel guitar that's easier to transport, even to the dog park, fits in the overhead bin on a plane, but still plays like a full size guitar, that is has a neck that's right. The sound varies with these little guitars, but that's not a big problem for me. The few I've played at our local music store I've liked.

The Baby Taylor, I've played. It sounds great. Same with the Taylor GS Mini, although it's too big. The GS Mini sounds just like an expensive full sized guitar. All mahogany bodies on these guys pull the overly bright sound of spruce tops down into murkier territory. Playability was great for me on both

I also got to play the Little Martin, the LX1 I think it was. It's definitely a Martin; I thought the action was a little high, but the sound was big, and WAY bright - solid spruce top. Nothing wrong with the sound, I just prefer the darker sound of the mahogany Taylors.

Lots have been written about all three of these guitars by people who actually know stuff about guitars if you want to read it.

Of more interest to me are the alternatives to the Taylors/Martins.

You all know I'm all about the equipment, and if I practiced guitar as much as I surf guitars at I'd be a playing fool by now. But here's what I'm looking at checking out at Guitar Center in Albuquerque this weekend. These are cheap guitars compared to the Martin and Taylor.


A Spanish company makes the SX TG1. Solid spruce top, but looks like only stores in Europe sell it. It's the right size, and I don't mind the exaggerated parlor-style body. From videos, the price and the solid top I'd almost get one without handling it. Almost.


Luna makes this all mahogany Luna Safari Tattoo. Who knows how it plays? If it's decent it could work.

Yamaha JR1
Yamaha JR1. I know from my big Yamaha that their sub $200 guitars are great, they hold tune and sound good. I'm going to keep the 335 forever.

Mitchell. Who are they?

Mitchell makes a small Dread, their MD10. Who knows? 

Again, not brilliant sound I don't guess from any of these little guitars, but that's not the point. Decent sound, good neck, and more practice time are the goals.

There are others, Breedlove, Washburn Rover, a Takamine, more.

Crosby Striper, a Good Boat
These acoustic guitars, the expensive ones and the cheap ones, all of them, seem very much to me like wooden boats, if they had ever found a way to mass produce wooden boats instead of going to fiberglass hulls. This is a good thing. I like that a wooden guitar requires that some attention be paid to it's well-being, especially in a dry place like New Mexico. I remember my dad filling his wooden 30-odd year old Crosby Striper's hull with water every spring prior to launch, so the planks could swell enough to keep her from sinking in her slip the first night in the water.

A complex tool like a wooden boat or a wooden guitar is a fine thing, and worthy of our attention.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Olympus VR 340

 I wrecked my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot when it fell out of my shirt pocket while bending over to do something, I'm pretty sure, for the dog, like changing water. Just as well, the lens was too soft for a $300+ point and shoot, and it was not a real German Zeiss lens anyway. I then started using my aging but excellent Sony DSC-V3 while I waited to get rich enough to buy whichever Olympus PEN micro four thirds system I'll end up with. The Sony is big and not pocketable, so I decided to buy an interim carry-all-the-time point and shoot camera, the Olympus VR-340, because it has a 24mm lens, the focal length I prefer, and it is dirt cheap.

Back when I shot film, I made 8x10 prints and hung them on my walls. And that was a lot of fun. But now my photos go on my blog if I want someone to be able to view a decent resolution image, and also on facebook, where a decent resolution image is an impossibility and irrelevant. So for those uses, how does a sub $200.00 point and shoot camera perform? The answer is really well.

Here are some examples of what I want in a camera like this, and how this one does in making those type of photos:

1. I want decent documentary photos, unmanipulated, right out of the camera. No adjusting exposure, contrast, any of that. This camera does that well most of the time, so I shoot a few pictures of each scene like this one to make sure I get a usable shot. No hardship there, storage is virtually infinite.

Shot on P, no post processing. Perfectly serviceable
image of a dog and her fans.

2. Ability to make a photo indoors without flash. Flash on point and shoot cameras ruins most indoor photos because of the very low guide number on most on-camera flash. So I don't use it on point and shoot cameras, except for fill light outside. I prefer to use available light indoors.

No flash, handheld by me.
Pushed the ISO to 1600 for this, but got a photo that
shows what I wanted to show. Sometimes the the technical
quality of the image is less important than actually
getting a usable image.

Then again, flash indoors can work, and this little Olympus actually shines in that department. It prefires the flash a lot, usually when it should, and it seems to quench it when it should, like in this photo which should have been ruined by flash, but somehow wasn't. Nice going Olympus.

3. The ability to trick the camera into doing what you want it to do instead of what it wants to do. My first great lens was on a $150.00 film point and shoot, a Yashica T4. with a brilliant real Zeiss Tessar fixed 35mm lens, but no manual control over anything. I learned a lot about tricking a full auto camera into the exposures I wanted with that T4. This Olympus is just as willing to be led by the nose if you know how.

Driving in Elk City. Olympus VR 340. Mis-using one of the 'scene' modes to good, or some, effect.

4. I want good enough raw material to do my 'art' photos. I always come back to the same general place, adding Orton-ish effects, blasting contrast up, and boosting color beyond where it is in the natural world. This Olympus delivers there as well, a function of producing documentary images with enough information that I can push around digitally.

Route 40, New Mexico

5. Nice to have, but I've never seen it work well on any camera, the gimmicky "Scene" settings on this camera actually do work sometimes. This is not something I need, but would not have got this sunset unless I used the "Sunset" scene mode. If I had manual control over shutter speed and ISO, I could have got this shot in a few seconds. Navigating to sunset mode took a lot longer, and I had to know that such a mode existed, but I got the shot as an exercise in seeing if it would work. It did. This camera is also good in the mode where it selects the scene automatically based on what it "sees", but this cannot be trusted is if you really have to get a usable image. You'd be shooting a pro rig if that were the case anyway.

Bottom line: This is a perfectly usable point and shoot, with a good wide 24mm lens. Not the sharpest lens, but still better than some that cost more. For blogs and other online uses the photos you can make with this camera are just fine. For carrying around in your pocket all the time this is a great little camera.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dogs and Language

Alexandra Horowitz writes in her excellent Inside a Dog:

"...despite their marvellous range and extent of communication, it is the very fact that they do not use language that makes me especially treasure dogs. Their silence can be one of their most endearing traits. Not muteness: absense of linguistic noise. There is no awkwardness in a shared silent moment with a dog: a gaze from the dog on the other side of the room; lying sleepily alongside each other. It is when language stops that we connect most fully."

Back when I used to pal around with Cabalists, one of them said to me "Language is a snare and a delusion. It's useful for explaining nothing." while not realizing the perfect irony of a Cabalist expressing that thought with those exact words, nothing being a pretty difficult and important concept for those guys to explain to the neophytes.
Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.
But there is real truth here, I think. I remember when we first started taking Phoebe to the dog park, it was very clear to me that dogs have a real language, understood among all of them, and that Phoebe needed to learn it if she was going to get along at the park (she did). But it's a non-verbal, symbolic language, which has some advantages over our human languages. First, a dog from one country can immediately communicate with a dog from another country  - erect ears, a tail held high (or low), or various postures are all symbols, and are language independent. The second advantage I see, is that I'm sure that the dogs that live in the Gaza strip, for example, feel no animosity toward the dogs in Israel, and vice-versa. They all see themselves as just dogs.

I constantly learn simple truths from this adventure with Phoebe.
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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Inside of a Dog, it's too Dark to Read

I'm reading Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz and it's just great. Refreshingly, it's a book of conclusions based on facts.

Rightheaded thinking from "Inside of a Dog":

"We and our dogs come closer to being a benign gang than a pack: a gang of two (or three or four or more).We are a family. We share habits, preferences, homes; we sleep together and rise together; we walk the same routes and stop to greet the same dogs. If we are a gang, we are a merrily navel-gazing gang, worshiping nothing but the maintenance of our gang itself. Our gang works by sharing fundamental premises of behavior. For instance, we agree to rules of conduct in our home. I agree with my family that under no circumstances is urination on the living room rug allowed. This is a tacit agreement, happily. A dog has to be taught this premise for habitation; no dog knows about the value of rugs. In fact, rugs might provide a nice feeling underfoot for some bladder release.

Trainers who espouse the pack metaphor extract the "hierarchy" component and ignore the social context from which it emerges. (They further ignore that we still have a lot to learn about wolf behavior in the wild, given the difficulty of following these animals closely.) A wolfcentric trainer may call the humans the pack leaders responsible for discipline and forcing submission by others. These trainers teach by punishing the dog after discovery of, say, the inevitable peed-upon rug. The punishment can be a yell, forcing the dog down, a sharp word or a jerk of the collar. Bringing the dog to the scene of the crime to enact the punishment is common - and is an especially misguided tactic.  

This approach is farther from what we know of the reality of wolf packs and closer to the timeworn fiction of the animal kingdom with humans at the pinnacle, exerting dominion over the rest. Wolves seem to learn from each other, not by punishing each other but by observing each other. Dog, too, are keen observers--of our reactions. Instead of a punishment happening to them, they'll learn best if you let them discover for themselves which behaviors are rewarded and which lead to naught.Your relationship with your dog is defined by what happens in those undesired moments -- as when you retun home to a puddle of urine on the floor. Punishing the dog for his misbehavior--the deed having been done maybe hours before--with dominance tactics is a quick way to make your relationship about bullying.If your trainer punishes the dog, the problem may temporarily abate, but the only relationship created is one between your trainer and your dog.The result will be a dog who becomes extra sensitive and possibly fearful, but not one who understands what you mean to impart.Instead, le the dog use his observation skills. Undesired behavior gets no attention, no food; nothing that the dog wants from you. Good behavior gets it all.That's an integral part of how a young child learns how to be a person. And that's how the dog-human gang coheres into a family."