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 guitarcenter.com 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." 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Home Defense, Again, Yawn Yawn

So, when you home invade me in New Mexico, you'll be met by a deadly fusilade of gunfire, and you will die immediately. Goodbye, you made a bad choice.

Less so here in stupid Massachussetts. Every firearm I own is fucking illegal in Massachussetts. Every single one. So I'm reduced to killing you with an edged weapon. I have a bunch of those, and as much as I hate the idea of actually using them, I will, I guess. How fucked up is this place. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Massachusetts, you suck.
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Friday, November 09, 2012

Small Stuff

Big Dog, Little Dog

I have a big dog - I like big dogs. I also like small things, miniature things. I drove a tiny sports car for years. Tiny things like that car or my mom's little dog are cool.

This gives an idea of how
tiny this amp is.
Big sound though.
As I learn to play the guitar, 15 minutes a day, every day, I'm surprised that in 15 minutes I make real progress at it. So as a reward for steadfastness and progress, like Dylan at Newport in 1965, I'm going electric. Albeit at a smaller scale.

The sound varies a bit depending on
where on the top you put the thing.
I'm sticking with my Yamaha F335 acoustic, a full size laminate top guitar that has a big, pure acoustic sound. I'm amazed at how good it sounds for it's price. To electrify, I'm using an Orange Micro Crush amp, which is so much better than the bunch of micro amps it competes with - the Marshal mini stack, the Mini Fender, and the Danelectro Honeytone, that it's not really in the same class. I like all those amps for what they are, but the Orange is the only real amp, because it gives nearly perfectly clean sound undriven, which is what I really want, and good crunch when driven. I care less about crunch, but I like it for fun. This is  a great little amp, head and shoulders above it's peers.

This Dean Markley piezzo pickup  is a gem too - wood covered so it looks vaguely like it belongs on my guitar, and it sounds great to me. 

This kit is a happy little compromise that appeals to my rarely seen sense of balance and underindulgence, and is great quality stuff that is a joy to handle and use.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Cape Cod?

Phoebe and I are spending some time on Cape Cod, where I grew up. I think living out west has changed me into someone who really can't stay here.

When I first got to Santa Fe, New Mexico, it felt like too small a place, and I wondered if I wouldn't like a bigger town like Albuquerque better. Not so. Santa Fe turns out to be plenty big, much bigger than the cape, culturally for sure.

The drabness and dreariness of Cape Cod in late fall is oppressive. No sun-dappled harbors; just pine trees, dead oak leaves, overcast, rain, and the sameness of the people.

The one upside - seafood. The best quahog chowder ever, better than you or I can make. Real fried clams. Real steamers. Striped bass.

But food doesn't make, or save, a place. This is not home. We are strangers in a strange land, and we both know it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Orange Micro Crush Amp

I added one of these to the kit today. It's an Orange Micro Crush PIX CR3. It's a tiny practice amp, and it's way cool.


I wanted to reward myself for making progress on the guitar, and reaching a point where I believe, with relentless daily practice, that I will be able to play in the presence of people without causing discomfort.

As with cars, I like things that are either really tiny or really big (my last two cars were a Mazda Miata and a Ford Crown Victoria P71 PI). This amp is one of class of tiny, battery powered amps that includes the Danelectro Honey Tone set, a Marshal stack, and a couple of Fenders. Given Fender's history of making tube amps that are prized today, I thought I might end up with Fender.

There's lots of youtube reviews comparing micro amps if you are ever shopping for one.

The Micro Crush is head and shoulders above the pack, in that you can get a clean tone from it, as well as lots of crunch/distortion. It's also more expensive, made of wood and metal instead of plastic, has a real Orange 4 inch speaker, a real cloth Orange grill, rubber feet, and a tuner, which is a really great thing. None of the others have any of these things.

Running my Yamaha F335 through it using a Dean Markley transducer pickup, it sounds pretty cool. Turning the distortion switch on at low volume fattens the sound and adds a tremelo effect, probably because I'm not in perfect tune. Distortion off yields a nice clean acoustic sounding tone. It's loud enough.

It isn't a tube amp, but with a tasteful amount of chorus I think it will fill a room nicely. This is a good amp at a great price.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Learning to play acoustic guitar is a lot like learning how to manage data in big relational databases. Without the help of the people who have done the work already and on who's shoulders you stand, you have no chance. And when they show you what to do, it's daunting. Play an open F? You're kidding, right? But they show you. I'm told in time one can do it.


It's not just muscle memory, it's brain too. It's reptilian like thinking. I'm banging away at Horse with No Name, a simple song, and decide to try to sing a verse, and the wheels come flying off the playing in one  second. Overload. Like trying to decide the merits of adding an index on a text field, or storing denormalized data in a field.

I couldn't do my database work unless really generous genius's like Doug Lucy had shown me how to model data. This is the way of us humans, and our progress.

I'm really liking playing music. Even just for 15 minutes a day.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Joe West at Cowgirl, Santa Fe

Another great band at the Cowgirl this Sunday, Joe West and Friends. Second set ranged from Django to a French song you'd recognize if you heard it to Mack the Knife, and everything in between, and it all worked together wonderfully. They are back at the Cowgirl next week and so are we.

Ben Wright playing lead on the left gets my vote for the hardest working man in show business today. Not a bit of slack in his performance.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Facebook and Dinner Guests

I think people should behave on Facebook more as if they were at a dinner party. Facebook is a social medium where there are no normal social consquences, unlike that dinner party. You can say anything you want, and you aren't not asked to the next dinner party as a result - you just keep posting. You just get to keep talking. Unlike normal life, where if you insist on inflicting your political views on people, they stop inviting you over for a meal.

It's useless as a platform for putting political beliefs out there - we just skip over the political screeds. Because it's not dialogue, it's just a megaphone. Dialogue is conversation, and Facebook ain't that. And when was the last time you welcomed someone with a megaphone to your dinner table?

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Good Day

Swing Soleil at the Cowgirl

Some days are better than others. Today was better than most.

Slept good, woke up good, then off to the Cowgirl for lunch. We both had poached eggs with hollandaise on a big bowl of smokey, brisket hash. Delicious. This has become our go-to weekend lunch restaurant because of the always great food, great bands, and dog friendliness.

The band today was Swing Soleil, doing a bunch of Django Reinhart stuff and other jazz, lots of stuff I'd never heard before. The guitar in this shot is a gorgeous custom, made in Finland of all places. This band's musicianship is really something too.
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Friday, September 14, 2012

Michael and Ana

Santa Fe, looking east
So I walk into the local music store in Santa Fe today to check out guitars (the Takamine EG440's are looking pretty appealing right now, but who knows) and one of the always helpful floor guys says "Look! It's Phoebe and...that guy who wants an acoustic/electric.". I'd had her in there once before.  A little later a girl in the store walked up and said, "Can I say hi to Phoebe? I know her from Santa Fe Tails." That's our doggie daycare place. I'd never seen her before in my life. She'd seen Phoebe there I guess.

Santa Fe is a pretty small town, and it has it's share of celebrities. Actors, mostly, who have homes here. Phoebe seems to be turning into a local celebrity, I think because she's so big, and unique looking. I've only ever seen one other Shiloh Shepherd since we've had her.

It gets weirder. Later that day, I'm walking Phoebe back from her evening pee and poop, and a couple in our apartment parking lot hail me - "We read your blog! You're the guy! That's the dog!"

I'm thinking that now Phoebe has stalkers or something. I walk up to them and say "Bullshit. No one reads my blog. What's really going on?"

Well, they actually have read the thing. They stumbled onto it researching Butterfly Springs Apartments where we all live. I must have a post in here about the apartment. I never thought anyone but my family and good friends would ever read this stuff.

They are Michael and Ana, and their kids, and they moved here From Tulsa, Oklahoma. Nice people. New friends.


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Saturday, September 01, 2012

Alberg Pictures

My Alberg 30 Annabelle was a great boat in a lot of ways. Forgiving, built like a tank.

Comegy's Bight on the lower Chester River, on a cruise
to Chestertown with Doug Lucy and Miles Parkinson.
Miles  was  maybe 4 months old then.

Same Chestertown cruise. Doug
out inthe dinghy doing
photo duty. Me below
looking after the boy.

But, she was a hard boat to drive in light air, heavy at 10,000 pounds and could have benefited from a taller rig. But in big winds she flew, although she sailed on her ear to weather. Here's Joe and me, before I renamed her, in 20-30 knots with a reef in, jib rolled down to 100% from 130%, and still putting the rail under in the gusts. It seemed like we were putting the spreaders in on the big gusts. That was a cold, wet ride. What a great day.

Domino Sugar in the background

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Good Day at the Cowgirl

After the dog park, we spent a lazy afternoon at this great place.

The Cowgirl Restaurant

Phoebe was less crazed than she looks in this photo
Tequila, agave, jalapenos in a glass
Our great Cowgirl server
Gazpacho with goat cheese crema. Yes.
Outrageously good tacos
Jamaican Jerk wings. Holy cow.
Our Parisian neighbors
Our lovely French petsitter

Our new favorite local band, Wild Frontier. Country band, and they opened
the second set with Funiculi Funicula. The sharp eyed among you know why. 

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