Friday, April 27, 2012

Song of the Day: Rush--"Headlong Flight"

This is the new release from their upcoming "Clockwork Angels" album.

I really like how the lyrics are rendered like old movie titles or slogans.

The album's coming out on June 12; pre-sale info for tickets for the the Clockwork Angels tour is at

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Pic of the Day: The Game of Fortresses

Back in 1999, when I was first getting into Fort Pickens, I came across a site I had some hopes for. One Chris Jones was posting scans of playing cards dating back to 1763, a teaching tool for up-and-coming French fortification engineers. Each card in the deck featured fundamental concepts, starting with lines, angles, and basic geometrical shapes (square, triangle, rhombus, etc.); the circle and inscribed polygons; the geometry between a fort's wall and bastions, and so on.

The cards were put together by a Monseur Dumont under King Louis XVI, building on the concepts codified by Marquis de Vauban, The Man when it came to the science of designing, building, and demolishing forts.

Chris made it as far as the suit of Diamonds in 1998; the remaining sets were supposed to be added each quarter in that year, but to this day the place is a cobweb site.

I've hunted through The Google's vast reaches, hoping to find some sign of the cards--maybe someone else scanned them, or Chris set up a new site, maybe even a deck of them for sale (how cool would that be?).


I'd put it aside, wait a few months, and try again, and a couple of nights ago I hit paydirt, landing on an Italian site that had a full-page scan of the entire deck.
From the description at this site, it was printed as a single sheet and intended to be cut up as playing cards or left whole and played as a board game. From what I've translated of the rules (the 2nd and 4th boxes on the top row), the board game is played starting from the lower left corner (Ace of Diamonds), going in a counterclockwise spiral towards the completed fort in the center. Instead of the 1763 date posited by Chris above, the Italians find 1697 to 1712 a more likely range.

It's a variation on The Game of War; both were designed by Gilles de la Boissière.

The 3.6MB full-size pic is still a bit fuzzy when it's blown up enough to be readable, but it's passable. Not as good as having an original item from 1697--especially the source woodcut--but still worth getting geeked up about.

[UPDATE]--I found a site selling modern reproductions of the original deck for about $15 US.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

So the Grinch is dropping out...

Watch that door/ass interface on your way out, you check-bouncing loser :)

Now the wingnuts can stop dragging their heels and coagulate around "Mr. Inevitable" rMoney like we all knew they would a year ago.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pic of the Day: A Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

Hard to believe the 35th Anniversary of the original Star Wars is coming up in a few weeks (May 25). I might unbend a bit from my self-imposed Luca$ boycott to watch it.

Here's a Google Earth capture of the little building in Ajim, Tunisia used for exterior shots of the Mos Eisley Cantina.

The place hasn't been touched since 1976; I read somewhere that it's being used to store bicycles.

Here are some fan sites with shots of the building with and without the set dressing and production blueprints of the set.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pic of the Day: MittBot 2, the Bottening

A bit (get it? bit, byte...oh nevermind) different this time. I originally wanted robot eyes on several different rMoney heads, but after a few days of pondering the ghost-face layer seemed more amusing.

Still not nearly as funny as my "Wild Bill Donohue" face-swap.

I especially like how the eyes line up. This is the friendly-seeming (if douchey, stiff and mechanical) candidate configuration.

Then there's the REAL MittBot, should it acquire presidential power.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pic of the Day: Star Trek Funnies--"Who Watches the Watchers"

Season 3 of "Next Generation." The Enterprise crew has to deal with a malfunctioning reactor on a primitive world being snooped on by anthropologists.

The reactor blows up, exposing the scientists and their "duck blind" (as LaForge calls it) to the natives.

The funny part: the primitive folks build in wood and stone...but tote around compound bows like the specimen to the right. The costumers draped a few scraps of "primitive fabric" on each limb and outfitted the "hunters" with low-slung quivers and aluminum arrows with target points.

What kind of wood is fiberglass? (hahahahaha)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Pic of the Day: MittBot

His handlers forgot to cover his photoreceptors before he went out on stage.

Not my best Gimpshopping job, but it'll do for now.

I'm tempted to start using a "Liars" tag just for him.

"Surviving the Cut"--female Captain gets Sapper Tab

I was watching a rerun of this show on the Military Channel just now; the Sapper Tab is awarded to troops who make it through the Sapper Leader Course. Combat engineers--the ones who build bridges and battlefield fortifications, lay and clear minefields, and that sort of thing.

The training looked grueling--rappelling down a tower and a cliff, basic survival training, anything the instructors could throw at them.

One of the graduates was a captain, a woman. You know, one of those delicate flowers the conservative military experts say are too weak and fragile to make it in battle?

Oh wait--most of those conservatives are cowards who dodged the draft themselves. That "delicate flower" outlasted most of the big, tough manly men in her class.

Adventures Suck While You're Having Them (Sweetwater Creek, 9/16/2006)

The title is something Neil Peart says a few times in his travel book "Roadshow." Man, is that ever true.

The worst kayak ride I've ever had was one of those sucky adventures.

I found a guidebook to Northwest Florida rivers a few years ago. It's pretty out of date as far as roads and landmarks, but still usable, since the rivers are still there.

I wanted to try a different run from the usual one I took with the Movie Freak; this would be the first time one of his trumpet students came along, so we wanted a short ride.

According to the guidebook, the ride along Sweetwater Creek would be about 2 miles, with plenty of shade. We dropped Movie Freak's car at the take-out spot, piled all our stuff into my Tracker, and headed up to the Highway 4 put-in, a bridge over the creek. It was about 11 a.m.

I parked behind the southwest guard rail and we made our way down a kind of steep slope to the creek. Plenty of trees around, so the water was almost icy cold even in mid-September.

We had played up the whole tubing/kayaking experience for the kid, and all three of us were looking forward to it.

We hit a snag within 100 feet of the bridge, but didn't think anything of it. There had been plenty of hurricanes in the previous couple of years and deadfall was common even on Juniper and Coldwater Creeks (our usual). The kid and Freak had it easier; they were riding inner tubes and could just crouch down and float under it.

I had to maneuver the boat to a shallow spot, lever my fat ass up out of the seat (even 6 years ago, my legs were starting to give me trouble), and drag the boat around the snag. Saw some raccoon tracks on the bank, a first.

Back in the boat...and within a couple of minutes the way was blocked again. We voted to keep going, hoping that it'd be better.

It didn't.

There was a Lowe's worth of lumber downstream, and we had to go over, under or around it all. We really should have turned back, but that didn't happen. Each snag was a sucky adventure in itself; one was bad enough that I left the boat, climbed the west bank, and found myself looking across someone's pasture. I went a few yards downstream past the snag, climbed back down, and retrieved the boat, long since having given up on riding it. I pulled it along like an unwilling burro.

We hit another one like that a few hours later, the worst of all--a high, thick wall near what looked like a picnic area on the east bank. We scaled the bank and stopped for lunch, joking that this was a little more fun than we usually had. There really was no going back at this point; we had no idea how far we'd come (not far at all, as it turned out) and just wanted to keep moving forward.

From the picnic spot and a little trail running south, we could see that we could get around three sizable snags...and as soon as we were in the water again, we had to deal with another one.

We killed six hours doing this. By 5 p.m., the three of us were worn out. My shins burned from where I'd banged them on underwater branches. We wearily passed by a picnic area on the west bank, this one with a table and benches.

I don't think there was any discussion of stopping there; we kept going through/over/around several more snags before coming up against another wall of trees and branches. It looked like the creek stopped right there--and for us, it did. We turned around and hiked for that last picnic stop, rested a few minutes, and followed the nearby trail north away from the creek. The trail became a loose dirt road bordering that same pasture I'd seen from the other side, then finally led to a paved road.

At the second house on the right, we stopped to ask for a ride back to the Tracker. Big family, really nice folks. They explained that the creek had been left uncleared by whatever State or County office, and that it had been like that since Hurricane Opel in 1995.


We were loaded into the family truck and off we went, maybe a quarter mile to Highway 4. The Tracker was parked barely 300 feet away.

After more than 6 hours, we'd gone maybe 3/4 mile down the creek (the middle push-pin in the picture).

"Idiots" tag is for us, for not turning back.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Link Dump: Trayvon Martin

Just posted a "link dump" covering the Trayvon Martin killing over at the Kook Blog.

It's amazing what an utter shitstorm of racism Martin's murder has brought into the daylight. Newt Gingrich and his fellow wingnuts used it as an excuse to attack and slime President Obama and even his Attorney General, Eric Holder.

The usual suspects jumped all over Trayvon, blaming him for his own murder (if he hadn't dressed like that, he wouldn't have been shot--standard conservative "victim's fault" boilerplate, echoing their reaction to women who are raped) and rushed to defend the shooter and his Dirty Harry approach to neighborhood protection.

This being Florida, I don't really hold out much hope for Zimmerman being convicted on the 2nd Degree Murder charge, not with the idiotic "stand your ground" crap ol' Jughead Bush gave us.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hacker, Sham, Fraud: Neil Peart?

I've been reading Neil Peart's "Roadshow: Landscape With Drums", the Rush drummer/lyricist's memoir of the band's 30th Anniversary Tour in 2004.

The skeleton of the book isn't the concerts, it's the motorcycle rides between venues. Peart starts out leaving his Los Angeles home, pausing to gather up his co-rider for the tour. The two ride from LA to Nashville, Tennessee (where the tour will open), then on to each new city's amphitheater.

Along the way, Peart gives us little glances into his psyche. His most surprising revelation is in his self-confidence:

If I am uncomfortable with strangers making a fuss about me, and feel embarrassed by any show of admiration, people sometimes accuse me of thinking I am “too good.” In fact the opposite is true—I don’t believe I deserve that kind of attention. I have never thought I was very good at anything; I just tried hard. And nothing came easily. Having one’s childhood personality shaped by being inept at every sport is a cliché, but it had its effect on me.

Later, in my early teens, my first drum teacher encouraged me by saying I had a natural talent, and that meant a lot. But no matter how much I practiced and played and showed off, the more praise I received, the more I felt like a hacker, a sham, and a fraud.

Still do, sometimes, but the important thing was that I kept trying. After almost forty years of playing the drums, I had started to feel a modicum of confidence. Though even that still varied from night to night.

I've seen the guy play live twice and on tape or DVD many more times. It was his band that made me want to learn to play guitar (and, later, bass). If I have any idols in this world, people I look up to, these three guys would have to be in the top ten. He deserves heaps of praise, if only for setting a standard of excellence and living up to it.

But it's good to see a side of him that I'd never known, something that makes him just a vulnerable human being--not because it brings the Thundering Rock God down to my level, but because it reminds me that he's not a Thundering Rock God (he calls himself "a guy who hits things with sticks"). He got where he is by busting ass. He kept trying.

He's a good example of a line from a book I've kept in mind for a couple of years: "Play like you mean it." When I look back at how I was playing in 1995, I can see a vast improvement: I sucked then, I suck less now. I don't think 1995 me was playing like he meant it so much as just trying to keep up. I struggled through many of the songs we played in Soma Holiday.

There are still plenty of times when I'm playing a guitar and suddenly start wondering what the hell I'm doing--I'm a hacker, a sham, a fraud who should just put the guitar down, maybe sell it and all the stuff that goes with it.

Am I a musician? I don't know; I'm a competent technical player, but I don't write my own stuff and I can't improvise for crap--things I think are important for the answer to my question.

I can learn most songs pretty quickly; I just can't improvise on what's there, still have trouble with speed. I keep working at it, getting incrementally better, and something clicks, something basic that I'd missed like holding the guitar a certain way or moving the pick differently, and I find myself suddenly able to keep up with that elusive Metallica riff, but lagging far behind on the intro riff of "The Spirit of Radio" (that Holy Grail of Rush riffs!). I'm almost there, and it only took 23 years to do it. Equal measures (hah!) of frustration and satisfaction.

That's when I set the guitar aside and grab the bass for awhile, forcing flabby fingers to work harder, playing Nirvana's "Breed" or Stone Temple Pilots' "Wicked Garden" or "Vasoline," all of which feature simple but repetitive (and demanding!) bass riffs. No pyrotechnics, just fun and challenging to play. If I haven't been practicing (hahahaha...I'm really bad about that), the bass kicks my ass, leaving hands and forearms near-numb and tired the way you feel after good exercise. If it's really been awhile since I played, I rediscover the pain of building up new calluses and working tired fingers; then comes the pleasure of feeling the bass vibrating like a living, breathing thing, of knowing when I'm playing well, those giddy moments when I nail a riff, even the less-giddy moments when I make a mistake. From that book, that little paraphrase again: "play like you mean it." What the author said was more along the lines of "Play with authority. Play each note like you mean it--even if you screw up. Screw up like you mean it."

At some point, the mistakes and fatigue don't even matter because I can't stop. The song's in charge, I'm along for the ride, and goddamned if I'm hopping off. Maybe it's trite to compare it to great sex, but there's something to that, losing oneself in a moment, a rush, a high, wishing like hell you could have that all the time.

Before I started playing bass in 2003, that feeling was incredibly rare. It changed how I play, listen and react to music, the same way the guitar did in 1989. I got so into it that I hardly even looked at the guitar for several weeks. Too busy learning new songs, going for the next challenge, and enjoying that can't stop vibe. Once I did pick up a guitar, I had a "holy crap!" reaction and a valuable lesson. The song was "Down" by 311. My fretting hand held the strings down with little effort. The guitar itself felt strange, like a dinky toy after 5 weeks of a heavy bass with its bridge-cable strings. I tried STP's "Interstate Love Song" after that, amazed at this new ability. It came more easily than ever before (damn barre chords!). From there, had to go to Rush. "2112" has its share of demanding guitar parts--and for the first time in years, it was my picking hand playing catch-up. I played better than I had in years!

In the years since, I've played one or the other irregularly (I did say I'm bad about practicing), usually grabbing one when I'm bored or taking a break. Those can't stop moments come more frequently, almost regularly, but only if I'm playing like I mean it. Otherwise, I get the hacker, sham, and fraud feeling and know it's time to grab that bass and take my punishment.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Pic of the Day: The War on Easter!

Also works for The War on Christmas!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Forte di Monte (Fort Mollinary)--Monte, Italy

One of the more eye-popping features in Google Earth is 3D terrain. I keep forgetting about it--and then I stumble over a place like this:

This little fort was built by Austrian occupiers (1849-1852) trying to block Italian attempts at independence. It's 410 meters up a spur on Mount Pastel. It went from Austrian to Italian in 1866, eventually modified in 1844 to point its guns north instead of south. If the Italian Wikipedia got translated right, there was a powder explosion in 1945 (maybe set off by retreating German troops?) that heavily damaged the place.

Forte di Monte is odd-shaped, with high walls along the north and east flanks as a landward defense. Two levels of rifle loopholes cover the switchback path coming up the mountain face to the north and the approach from a small village to the east. Going by Lynne Otter's picture of the sally port (2nd pic, from inside the fort), there's at least one flanking cannon embrasure to the right.

The western and southern walls look to be lower. It was built to hold 5 primary guns and 2 mortars when the fort was active, but there were actually 20 guns of various calibers.

The view from up here is incredible--photographer Lynne Otter has a few pics on her blog; lucky65vr has a few more.

Location: Northern Italy, southeast of Caprino Varonese.
LAT 45°34'1.24"N
LON 10°49'50.87"E