Dunn’s River Falls, Jamaica

I have to admit that I was absolutely ecstatic when my wife suggested this as a trip when we went to Jamaica. Mostly because I had read the fine print that she obviously ignored.

This excursion is a bus ride to the middle of nowhere, followed by trekking up a waterfall (hiking up said waterfall. About 900 feet, but straight up, and in water).

I was on board from word go. The wife, on the other hand, became less excited with every passing second. Our marriage was at it’s strongest when this photo was taken:

That photo, incidentally, was taken just before she realized that we were about to march up a waterfall.

The first stretch of the climb is pictured here:

If you’re searching for the word, I will throw it in here: terrifying. There is something about the natural beauty of waterfalls that allows you to forget that they are nature -in its purest form- flexing some muscle. When you stand at the bottom of said waterfall, knowing you have to climb it, you remember that nature has won EVERY battle against man. But, with the liberal application of Red Stripe, anything is possible.

But that’s just the one stretch, right? Nope. It got harder every time. The second run was way more vertical (and terrifying) than the first.

I had a bit of a frog in my throat before we tackled this leg of the climb. But, having been married as long as we have, Dani and I found a way to suppress those emotions. We made our way up this section of the waterfall hand-in-hand (with terror lurking in the background) but we made it.

What you don’t see in the still images is that we lost (I think) four members from our group along the way. They didn’t die or anything, but they had to bail along the climb because they simply couldn’t do it. There were some real (and not trivial) health conditions which struck the members from our group, but the group which reached the top of the falls was not the same group that started at the bottom. All I know is that the group that ultimately crested the falls was not the group we started with. But we soldiered on.

By the bridge, we had definitely lost at least four or five from our group. I don’t blame them at all. This hike was hard as fuck. The wife and I made it though, with thumbs up and bitching sun burns to prove it!

Unfortunately, the biggest (and theoretically most frightening) part of the climb was yet to come. Our group was down a few guys (who had exited safely in jump-out points along the way). We still soldiered on. This leg of the climb is, sadly, not pictured. It did, however, force me to flip on my ‘guy switch’. I took a step up the waterfall, then went back to help all the women up the waterfall, then went back to join the wife. By the end of this portion, I had at least four women reaching for my hand on every step. This was all about trying to preserve what was left of the group. We can all make it!

But, as we near the top, the cameraman asks us to pose as we fall backwards into the water. Dani is … less on board than me… Victory is in our sights, so we may as well let loose.

After about an hour on that river (waterfall) we have both helped numerous other people who also wanted to grasp the … what … knowledge that they climbed the falls.

I guess what it all comes down to is this: You either can or can’t. We made it through, and did our best to help others along the way, but not everyone is wired for success.

Big smiles and success. We beat that waterfall’s ass! And we will continue kicking ass for all of time…

Refinishing a guitar – a work in progress

A few weeks back, I had the brilliant idea to try to use one of those websites to print out a ‘guitar skin’ to try to finish a guitar with some of the imagery from one of my book covers (no link to the site because the resulting image sucked so incredibly hard). Let me say here that I had absolutely zero percent confidence that it would work, and that confidence was not misplaced. Do not try any of these services for a photo-realistic image.

The image I used was one I created specifically for the project. That image was the full-sized version of this image (I am using a screen-friendly 2500×2000 version of it here, but the image sent to the manufacturer was a much less reasonable 10000×7800 @ 300dpi -which should have been suitable to print an image roughly 50×40 inches with reasonable detail):head

eyeIt turns out that they couldn’t pull off even an image even one third that size. To the right, you’ll see the eye from the above picture as rendered on the final print they sent me. This is literally the image, in 1:1 scale as printed on the ‘skin’ that they sent me. Not only is it not photo-realistic in quality, it isn’t even bad, 1996-ish, 14400 download over a sketchy connection quality. It is absolutely terrible. There are two reasons I am not mentioning the site which rendered this horrible image by name (three if you count potential lawsuits). The first is that I believe I would have received the same results from any of the guitar skin websites. The second is that the skins they sell really are pretty amazing, provided you choose from their selection of pre-made custom skins -which, while amazing, are probably rendered in about 256 colors. As mentioned previously, I knew going in that the thing was going to suck, but I rolled the dice anyway.

thewholethingSince my expectations were exceedingly low and I didn’t want to put this sticker on one of my real guitars, I trolled eBay for a couple of weeks to find a suitable victim. I ultimately purchased this Ibanez G10 (despite disliking Ibanez guitars, but for no real reason) because I got it for under 100 dollars and it had a double-locking Floyd Rose Tremolo (which itself costs more than a hundred dollars). The caveat with this guitar is that it had some horrible damage around the knobs (picture below) and at a couple of other spots on the front of the body. I didn’t think that would be much of an issue since it would be covered with the glorious ‘skin’ anyway. Note that the picture doesn’t do justice to the extent or depth of the damage: the paint was damage, the wood was damaged, it was far worse than I’d anticipated.

damage

All of which didn’t matter since the skin sucked so bad.

ibanez1Once I realized that the guitar skin wasn’t going to work -and also having realized that the guitar actually sounded pretty good- I decided to try to finish the thing anyway. First up: get the old finish off. This is the early stage of that process, when I was using a heat gun to try to get through the clear coat. This was a laborious process which was very prone to mistakes. The correct amount of heat applied at the correct time was a difficult thing to nail down. It resulted in the spotty results you see here. And this took a very long time, for results which were … well … what you see here. After spending several hours trying to strip it with this method, achieving the results you see here, I finally gave up on that approach. My new approach was sandpaper. Sandpaper is cheap and I could throw a lot of it at the project, so, next step, sand that fucker!

In about an hour, using a 60 grit sandpaper, I got the guitar to the state you see here:
sanded

Well, I got the front of it to that state. The back and sides were still untouched:
back

At this point I was still thinking I could just refinish the front of the guitar and call it good enough. As my brother-in-law pointed out, though, that would have looked fucking horrible. So I resigned myself to sand down the back and the edges. Pro tip: to get to the inside curves near the neck, I emptied a 16oz Coors Light can (a number of them, actually, for unrelated reasons), refilled it with water and wrapped a piece of sandpaper around it. I used the sandpaper-wrapped aluminum can to hit a number of other places as well. Scholars may argue that I was doing so only to make sure I always had some empty cans lying around and they could be right. But, for the inside curves near the neck, the can worked perfectly:
ftopview

The back was a much easier process, since it is almost completely flat, compared to the curves on the front and sides of the thing.
back2
I thought it looked pretty darn good at that point. I also mistakenly believed that the finish was fairly smooth. It so wasn’t. What followed was a week of the most frustrating painting of my life.

5primerThis is what the guitar looks like after five coats of primer. While the image does little to show the imperfections in the paint, suffice it to say that if it looked as good in person as it does in the photo, I would have stopped right here. It did not, and I did not. I continued the priming process, which ran thusly: spray a coat of white primer, allow to dry, sand down the high spots (removing about 90% of everything I had just sprayed on), wipe it down, spray a coat of gray primer, allow to dry, sand down the high spots (removing about 90% of everything I had just sprayed on), and repeat. First layer white, second layer gray, third layer white, and on and on. I don’t know why, but the primer seemed to disappear into the same low spots in the grain like there was a vacuum sucking it in. I’m not talking about trying to hide the initial damage from the first image in this post; that was hidden easily with a bit of fake wood and one coat of primer. I’m talking about the actual wood grain not being smooth. And no matter how much primer I threw at it, I couldn’t make it go away.

I burned through -very literally- five full cans of primer during this process. This is what it looks like after the fifth can was empty and I finally enacted the ‘5-can-fuck-it’/mercy rule:
primed

Unfortunately, even at full size, I don’t think you can see the issue with the grain coming through the paint. If it looked that smooth in person, I’d be pleased as punch.

silver So, to finish the guitar, I chose to try out something wildly different (at least for a guitar… I think) which is to use Alclad II Electric Blue to try to give it a bit of an anodized look. I decided before I started the process that I was going to try to give the final product some faux tiger-stripes in an effort to distract from the flaws in the base coat. The first step to using the alclad is to coat the guitar in their proprietary silver paint, which I did. That looks like what you see pictured here. Now, with such a shiny finish, you can definitely see some of the wood grain that was bedeviling me throughout the process. It sticks out, just as I thought it would, like the proverbial sore thumb. It looks fucking horrible. Thankfully, though, this is the base coat. I knew it wasn’t going to look great, and the results back that up. But I still had to lay down some color coat. I did that with the electric blue color mentioned above, taking care to add some thick lines every so often to give it some vague tiger-stripish looks. There was no specific method to this beyond adding them where I felt like they should be:
firstcoat

I started this process by lining around the edge of the guitar and the openings for the pickups and termolo with a fairly liberal line of paint. It doesn’t show much in the image, but I did so knowing that if I didn’t, it would naturally thin around any sharp edges because of paint run and my own tendency to stop before over-spraying. The result actually looks quite good, though not quite as good as the picture. It left me thinking I need to do a bit more and make the stripes a bit darker, but I ran out of paint. I ordered more paint to continue (and I also need to paint inside the opening for the tremolo and touch up the edges around some other openings) but it looks pretty okay. It will be a couple of days before I can take another crack at it, but on a scale of 1-100 on results, I’d say I’m at about a 71 right now.

After waiting an impossibly long three days for my additional paint to arrive (I ordered a second bottle of Alclad II Electric Blue and a bottle of a slightly darker Alclad II Cobalt Blue -which doesn’t exist on Amazon) I finally got to give this thing another coat. I really like the way the very dark cobalt paint is interacting with the lighter electric blue:

morepaint

If you click the thumb above to see the full resolution image, you will see a lot of the wood grain that I simply wasn’t able to hide. And again, I’m sure it could have been hidden with the proper amount of time/sanding/patience, but I possess none of those. I mean really, if anyone is looking that closely at my guitar, it must be because I am playing so spectacularly that they have decided to perform some impromptu fellatio. If that is the case, they will be so deeply mired in the regret of their actions that they will be exceedingly unlikely to notice the wood grain through the paint.

The image is a fair representation of the actual color and look of the current paint, though. At the top right, there are a couple of lines of paint that look like they might still be wet; that is what they actually look like. They are absolutely dry, but they look wet. That is the only thing about the current state of the paint that I’m disappointed with.

For those of you keeping track at home (and I’ll admit that is probably a very narrow audience; even I wasn’t keeping track and just had to do some napkin math to come up with these numbers) the amount of paint on this guitar body right now is: 5 cans of primer at 12oz each, 1oz of Alclad Silver Candy Primer, 1.5oz of Alclad II Electric Blue and about a half an ounce of the Alclad Cobalt Blue which doesn’t exist on Amazon. Bearing in mind that a lot of the primer was ultimately sanded off, I think it’s still fair to say that the paint alone added a good quite a bit of weight to the guitar (discounting, of course, that a spray can of primer is probably two ounces of pigment and ten ounces of shit that evaporates. And I sanded most of it off anyway. Not to mention that I stripped the old finish completely off. The old finish had some fairly weighty epoxy like clear coat that probably far exceeded the amount that I added).

clear and dullThe next step was clear coat. The clear coat I chose to use in this case was Alclad II Klear Koat matte. I chose matte because I didn’t want it to end with a mirror-like finish which, in my estimation, would draw the eye to the imperfections in the wood a lot more than a less shiny finish. This image (at the thumbnail size here) does a pretty good job of showing how cloudy it looks after the matte clear coat. The matte clear coat went on quickly and in very thin coats. I had my airbrush set to 30psi for this process and, discounting all conventional wisdom, sprayed around twelve very light coats on day one, separated by about five minutes each (which is to say that by the time I got to the bottom, I started back at the top). Which is a fancy way of saying that I pretty much sprayed clear coat for an hour straight on day one. On day two, I repeated the process. I did no sanding between the day one and day two coatings.

I used so many coats because this is a guitar which will be picked up, swung around, and generally mistreated in the way a scale model car will not. There are at least twenty coats of clear coat on this, which will hopefully be enough to absorb some of the day-to-day abuse.

shinyHere is what the finish looks like after a bit of wet sanding and polishing compound. As I said, I finished this with a matte clear coat in the hopes that once sanded and polished (which simply must happen or it will look horrible) it wouldn’t be quite so mirror-like and reflective. That didn’t work. While this image does little justice to just how shiny the fucker is, suffice it to say that I can literally style my hair by the reflection in the paint. I’m trying to be upset about that, but really the finish looks so damn good that it’s hard to not be happy with the result. The finish does. The surface prep leaves a great deal to be desired.

Having now completed the painting and finishing phase of the project, I’ve had a bit of time to think through what I could have done to make this better. I think my problem comes down to that I was trying to do the traditional method of sanding->primer->base coat->color coat->clear coat. While that works for a lot of things (maybe even this thing if I had a bit more patience) I think a better route to go with this project would have been sanding->primer->clear coat (many, many layers)->finish sanding->base coat->color coat->clear coat. I say that because the finish was amazingly smooth after the layers of clear coat went on (it runs into the cracks/crevices and smooths itself to a nice, level finish) and I can’t help but thing that getting few layers of that between the wood grain and the base coat of paint would have made the finish look significantly better. In fact, I’m considering buying another junk body just to test that. If I happen to find a B.C. Rich Warlock guitar on sale for cheap because of shitty paint or broken electronics, I may just give this another shot.

If anyone has scrolled all the way down here, I’m sure you’re only interest is in what I used to finish this guitar. Here is the list:

  • Cheap heat gun (20 bucks at walmart or other stores).
  • Sandpaper -60 and 150 grit to strip paint (at walmart or any hardware store)
  • Sandpaper –1000, 1500, and 2000 grit to wet sand.
  • Primer – 5 cans of Krylon primer from walmart or any hardware store -though you won’t need nearly that much with proper surface preparation.
  • Alclad Silver Candy Base -1oz. Get it on Amazon or a hobby site.
  • Alclad II Electric Blue -2oz. 1 bottle wasn’t enough to complete the finish on a guitar.
  • Alclad II Candy Cobalt Blue -for the darker stripes. I got mine on eBay and it may have been discontinued because it is not available from any online retailers.
  • Alclad II Klear Koat matte -4oz. I didn’t use quite the whole 4 ounces, but I came pretty close.
  • Novus polishing kit from Amazon. If you purchase nothing else from the list, this is a must have. This stuff polished even my matte finish clear coat to a mirror-like shine. Well wort the money. You can buy smaller portions if you have no other potential projects.
  • Total cost of this project: including the guitar and heat gun, I’m just about $200 dollars into this project right now.
  • Was it worth it? For the experience, absolutely. For the finish of the guitar, I think so. I made a short video of the results to show the sheen:

    I’ll follow up with some notes about hardware in the future.

    Meeting Peter Fletcher

    In my time working at Love’s, I have met all kinds of musical acts. Since it is a truck stop, and since there are a number of venues nearby where such acts play, and since we are the only truck stop on the east side of town, lots of tour buses stop in. I have met the guys from the fairly current acts Authority Zero, the guys (and girls) from Paramore, the guys from Korn, the guys from Lamb of God, and the drunken little twerp Sammy Adams. I have also met some of my childhood favorite bands like Ratt and Bret Michaels. And while I’m not a fan of country music, there have also been a bunch of current country acts in the store that everyone else went all gaga for. I don’t even remember their names to list them here.

    I’ve so far been able to maintain my composure throughout these meetings, which, of course, is the goal. They are usually stopping in after a concert in the wee hours of the morning. They want to use the bathroom and get back on the road (except Ratt, who stopped in at about noon on a Sunday. They were so happy to be recognized that they stayed for a good half an hour taking photos, signing autographs, and thanking everyone for supporting them). They don’t want to turn every minor stop into an autograph signing public appearance. The exception to that one being the guys from Authority Zero, who stopped in before they became quite so popular. They were happy to take photos and sign autographs for a bunch of people while they were there. The flip side of that was Bret Michaels, who was an incredible douchebag, not only refusing to sign autographs or take photos, but blatantly ignoring nearly everyone who attempted to speak to him.

    I’m not sure if I’ve ever detailed any of those meetings here. I doubt that I have, because you care less than I do, and frankly I care very little myself. It was neat to meet them, and especially so to meet Ratt, who have already passed their prime and thus have learned a bit of humility. Still, hardly worth mentioning. But a few months ago, I happened to meet a musician that I had never heard of, and it was that experience that prompted this post.

    It was very late at night, or probably very early morning, when the guy you see pictured to the right came into the store.pf He was very friendly, soft-spoken and polite. He was looking for some fingernail glue or crazy glue to fix a broken nail. He felt it necessary to qualify that by mentioning that he was a musician and needed it to reinforce his cracked nail while he played his guitar. Being something of a guitarist myself, I assumed that he must be finger-picking, and probably on an acoustic guitar, for that to matter.

    While I walked him to the aisle where we keep the glue, I asked him about his music. Before he responded to the question, he asked me what type of music I enjoy. Since old age is getting to me, my tastes now have switched from growly metal to symphonic metal and classical -although, oddly, I don’t really care for classical symphonies all that much, preferring solo piano and violin pieces- which I told him. His face lit up and he smiled wide. He told me his name is Peter Fletcher (perhaps hoping I would recognize the name, which I didn’t) and he plays classical guitar. He invited me to come and see him perform at a show the following night in Tucson. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the show.

    I walked him back to the register and rang up his purchase. He thanked me for my help and my time. I went back to whatever it was I had been doing before he came into the store. A few minutes later, he came back into the store with a CD in hand. He said he would give me a copy if I promised to listen to it. Something in his tone made me think that he doubted that I would. Once I assured him that I would listen to it, he once more thanked me for my time and left the store.

    When I got home that night, I immediately ripped the CD into my music library and listened to it. It is pretty amazing. It has been on my playlist since that night, and I even downloaded another of his albums a couple of weeks later. They remain on my playlist (along with hundreds of other albums, but there nonetheless) and every time one of the songs comes on, I remember that I forgot to send him a thank you. So while I was writing him a thank you, I decided to mention him here as well.

    I still don’t know a great deal about Mr. Fletcher other than that he is a guitarist. I don’t know what level of fame he may have achieved or if he makes a living solely as a musician. What I do know is that he was the kindest musician I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and I truly wish mainstream musicians would learn a bit of humility from him. It was very refreshing.

    Here is a snippet from his track Bach Cello Suite Bouree if you’re not familiar with classical guitar:

    For more information about him or for links on where to purchase, visit his website at PeterFletcher.com.

    Dish Network resorts to extortion — Just to be petty

    As near as I can tell from my sloppy record keeping, I started using Dish Network in early 2003. The service was significantly cheaper than my local cable company at the time, and since I owned the house the dish itself wouldn’t be an issue. Over the next 11 years, my bill ranged between 70 and 110 dollars a month, depending on which services I currently had set up. For the sake of my argument here, I’m going to round that all to 85 a month over the course of 11 years. That’s about $11,220 I paid to Dish Network over the years. My payments were on time, and I never had an interruption in service. I was really their ideal customer.

    Then I moved. Dish Network doesn’t provide any sort of internet service in my area (they do offer a partnership through Hughes net, but it is ridiculously expensive), so I had to go with someone else. In mid March 2014, I called to cancel my service. The deals they were offering me by the end of that call were truly unbelievable: $19.99 a month for a year with free HBO/Cinemax and my current top 150 plan. If I hadn’t had to go elsewhere for internet, I would have jumped all over that. I told as much to the kind representative I was speaking to.

    During my conversation with the representative while trying to cancel the service, she said that I “may have equipment that is subject to return”. I asked for her to verify if the equipment needed to be returned or not because I was going to be moving out in less than two weeks, and she said -and this is a direct quote- “If any of your equipment needs to be returned, you will receive a return shipping box in 3 to 5 business days.” So I held on to the equipment. After a month passed I logged in to my Dish account. Current balance: a credit for 22 bucks and change. No note of equipment needing to be returned. So that’s that.

    Then in June I get a bill from Dish Network. Note that this is three full months after my account had been closed. My current balance is 77.75. So I sent an email to their customer care department that said:

    You sent me an email saying that my account (which has been closed for several months now) has a bill due. I am not able to login with my account number. I am also not able to login with the username that I used there for several years. I also can’t login with my phone number. How am I supposed to view/pay this alleged bill?

    Around 1am the next day, customer care responded with the following:

    Dear Donnie,

    Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We understand your concern regarding your account and we’d be glad to assist you. We do apologize for the confusion and inconvenience this may have caused.

    Our record shows that your account has been disconnected and your online account is no longer accessible 60 days after disconnection.

    However, you still have a ending balance of $77.75 that includes your two Unreturned Equipment Fee plus taxes. For a complete list of payment options available and instructions on how you can pay your bill online, please visit www.mydish.com/support/ways-to-pay

    If you need further assistance, you have an option to visit www.mydish.com/chat to start a live chat with a Customer Service Representative.

    Thank you for your email.

    So now I’m getting irritated at the unreturned equipment fee showing up three months after the service was cancelled. But I also figured it was cheaper in the long run (factoring in hits against my credit) to just pay the bill than to try to argue it. So I tried to pay online through the link they provided in that email reply. It didn’t work. I can’t log in to pay a bill because my account has been closed for more than 60 days. That’s probably even more irritating than the 77 bucks was in the first place. So I respond to their email with the following:

    I do appreciate the response, but I disagree that the link listed below (www.mydish.com/support/ways-to-pay ) will allow me to pay my bill online as suggested in your response. I can’t register an account to make a payment for exactly the same reason that I was not able to use my old account number to login -which was the reason I contacted you to begin with.

    Please provide me with instructions on how I can make this payment online.

    And as long as I’m hitting on inaccurate information in your response, I’d also like to mention that when you say, “you still have a ending balance of $77.75 that includes your two Unreturned Equipment Fee plus taxes” I’d also like to point out that when I disconnected this service -three full months ago- your agent said, and I will quote, “if any of your equipment needs to be returned, you will receive a return shipping box in three to five business days”. Sixty days later, when I still had not received a return shipping box, I threw the equipment in the trash assuming that it was not something you wanted returned. It was, after all, several years old. Now three months -or approximately 60 business days- later you are asking me to pay for the equipment. Fine. As long as you provide me with a way to make this payment online I will do so. But know this: I will never again consider Dish Network for any service. After having been a customer for many years, I really feel that this is a very petty way to be treated.

    Thank you for your time.

    Donnie

    Which they responded to two days later with the following:

    Dear Donnie,

    Thank you for your reply. We apologize for the confusion and inconvenience this may have caused but we’d be glad to assist you regarding your payment and equipment.

    Please be advised that below is the address on where you can mail your payment:

    Chicago
    Dept 0063
    Palatine, IL
    60055-0063

    Additionally, mailed payments may take 7 to 10 business days for us to receive and post to your account.

    You may also process your payment through the following options:

    Toll-free Automated Phone System: 1-866-263-1911

    Credit Card Payments: 1-800-894-9131

    Moreover, for the type of your receiver, the shipping box will be automatically sent to the address on file on the 36th day (timing based on holidays/weekends) from deactivation date and we have send the return kit has been delivered to your address last May 12th.

    For immediate assistance, you can visit www.mydish.com/chat to start a live chat with a Customer Service Representative.

    Thank you for your email.

    Sincerely,

    Laine A.B / CG0

    TID:OR – Infiniti

    DISH eCARE

    The bold portion there is mine. It says that the box will be shipped on the 36th day after deactivation, meaning that the representative that I spoke to initially flat-out lied to me. What’s more is the provided options for payment seem sketchy at best. I’m supposed to ship a check to “Chicago Dept 063”? That doesn’t say anything about Dish Network in it, nor are either of the phone numbers the famous 1-800-333-DISH number that is in all the commercials. The whole thing stinks of fraud. Plus they seemed to have missed my point entirely. I was trying to be cordial, but also get the point across that they shouldn’t make me pay the 77 bucks. Maybe I needed to be less subtle?

    At this point I debated simply not paying it and turning this over to the better business bureau. I was plainly lied to about this. They didn’t provide me a return shipping box when they say they did. I attempted to pay online and they would not accept the payment. Dish Network is 100% wrong on every count here. But… They are holding my credit report hostage. If I don’t pay it, I get a black mark on my credit report, and they know that. So they’re willing to lose any potential for future business with me over $77. That is about as petty as anything I’ve ever heard of a national company doing.

    But thankfully, I am not without recourse. I may not have the clout of Dish Network, but what I do have is the ability to post what really happened, use words like lie, fraud, extortion, and scam to make sure that if anyone ever searches for “Dish Network scam” they will land here on my site and be able to read about just how petty this giant can be. And as the saying goes, if I can stop just one person from getting Dish Network’s service, my work is done. Because if I can get through to just one person, this $77 will have cost this media giant over $10,000.

    So I called the 1-800-333-DISH number and made a payment by phone -using their actual phone number, and not the questionable numbers they sent to me. But I take solace in the fact that if anyone ever visits:
    Shadowtwin.com
    DonnieBurgess.com
    ReaperCell.com

    They will get to read all about it. That’s not counting the potential future hits I’ll get when someone searches for “Dish Network” with any of the big terms “Scam, extortion, lies”, etc. Plus I’m going to go plug the article on social networking sites to make sure that I get the word out.

    Enjoy the ill-gotten $77, Dish Network. I hope the price you pay for it is hefty.

    Proof that I’m getting old

    I just hit 50 40, and it’s starting to show in my choice of music. While I still like the heavy, pounding stuff most of the time, I can appreciate a good voice like I never thought possible. I’ve always enjoyed symphonic metal, and got turned onto Nightwish a couple of years ago. I found myself thinking that the women’s voices in the song were so good that they were getting lost in the music. I’ve continued discovering new symphonic metal acts, almost invariably thinking the same thing. It isn’t as if the songs are bad because the music overpowers the voice; it’s more that I just wondered how good the voice would sound without all the drums hammering in the background. So over the last few days I sought out and purchased some music from some former Nightwish singers, and it is amazing.

    Anette Olzon’s solo album is a vocally driven masterpiece. There aren’t a lot of instruments playing and the ones that do compliment her voice well. I’ve found myself listening to this album over and over again, just to hear that angelic voice. Here is one grabbed at random from her album:




    Another ex-Nightwish singer, Tarja Turunen has also been putting out some solo albums. I’ve purchased one of these as well, and again the voice is simply amazing. Unfortunately the composition of some of the songs just doesn’t work. It’s as if she is trying to get the grand, sweeping, epic sound of an orchestra but doing so on a budget. The end result is frequently that there are synthesized instruments that seem out of place and just don’t compliment the vocals. Some of the tracks, though, are pretty amazing. My personal favorite is the song “Until Silence”:


    Now if 40 year old me was to tell 20 year old me that I actually bought both of these albums -and enjoy them even when no one else is around, I’m pretty sure 20 year old me would kick my ass (and he easily could; I’m horribly out of shape now).

    Of course not everything I listen to now is the hypnotically tranquil voice of a siren… I think 20 year old me would be happy to know that I am still digging Poisonblack‘s new album Lyijy (they’ve dropped the gothy stuff for more of a blues-driven, in-your-face rock. This is pedal to the floor, highway 1 driving music. Of course in some cases (the video below especially), it’s best not to listen to the lyrics..



    I figure at this rate I’ll be listening to opera exclusively in another twenty years. Well, that and whatever skull pounding metal I can get my hands on. I guess the tastes just grow more divers over time.

    The Stand

    I finished reading Stephen King’sThe Stand a few months ago. I’ve been holding off on writing anything about it because I wanted to give myself a bit of time to hopefully gain some objectivity about it. I knew nothing at all about the book going in -having not even read the back cover of it before starting- and it was definitely worth the read. Unfortunately, it was also made into a tv mini-series in 1994. I made the mistake of watching the mini-series less than 24 hours after finishing the book.

    Don’t ever do that.

    That was part of the reason that I wanted to give myself some time to develop some objectivity about the story. While the book was really very good, the mini-series was utter crap. It was very clearly slopped together quickly to make a couple bucks, and I can hardly believe that King signed off on it at all. The book is enormous, and there’s just no way they could put all the events into the 6 hour mini-series. I get that. After watching the mini-series, though, I question why they even tried. But I’ll get to that later on.

    As for the book, it was almost the most amazing novel I have ever read. Almost. I’m going to assume that everyone who is going to read the book has already done so, and start dishing out the spoilers now.

    The nickel version of the plot is this: The government develops a plague to use for war and then accidentally releases it into the public. It kills more than 99% of the population. The survivors begin forming into groups which are eventually absorbed into two larger groups. These two groups hate each other, of course, as is necessary for the plot. The climax leaves one group weak but not destroyed… The implication being that it can all happen again.

    The first one-third of this book was simply amazing. It was pretty confusing for the first hundred or so pages as the characters were being introduced, because it was bouncing between four or five primary characters. As the plague was initially released, we see each of the primary characters dealing with those around them dying. Since it was all happening at the same time it made sense for it to be told that way. Once I learned the character names, it got much easier to follow. And much more compelling.

    King again does a masterful job of creating the primary characters in this book. Even not having touched the book in months, I can still remember Stu Redman, Fran Goldsmith, Harold Lauder, Larry Underwood, Nick Andros, Tom Cullen, Nadine Cross … I could probably go on if I spent a few minutes thinking about it (let’s not forget Trashcan Man!). Each of the characters that is introduced has his/her own faults, and each of them reacts to the deaths around them very differently. Whether it was the weak, nerdy kid who was a little too shy, or the middle-aged guy who was a bit too selfish, or the teen-aged girl who wound up pregnant just in time for the end of the world, King creates very rich personalities and problems for each of them. I could identify with each of them in some way, and had images of them in my head long before I watched the mini-series (not one of the characters was portrayed in the way I saw it in my head). The rich backstories really added to my empathy for the characters and kept me reading until it all started to come together.

    The spread of the plague in this book is portrayed, in my opinion, exactly as it would happen if this were to happen today. Obviously a disease like that would travel quickly and it wouldn’t take long to infect every human on earth -that’s not the important part of the story. The part of the story that grabbed me, and made it seem so real, was the lengths to which the government was going to attempt to cover it up. Early on, as there still seemed hope that the spread of the plague could be contained, the military was ordered to cut of all communication and roads into and out of towns as they became infected. Anyone attempting to leave would be executed on the spot. Media outlets were fed misinformation about the severity of the disease (repeatedly saying it was nothing more than a slightly worse version of the flu), and if the media outlet tried to detail any of what was actually happening, again they would be executed. As more and more towns and cities were destroyed, and millions of millions of people were dead, the government was still denying that anything was wrong. Uniformed armed forces were still enforcing the kill orders right until their own deaths from the disease. It was a very chilling portrayal of how such a disease would spread, and of how the U.S. government would do everything in their power to deny it. It seemed so very real because everything that happened did so in exactly the way I expect it would in that situation; the entire population of the world completely destroyed by an American government that refuses to admit that it made a mistake, or that they were working with biological weapons in the first place. The first third of this book really should be required reading in civics and sociology classes.

    The end of the world didn’t have a great deal to do with the plot of the story though. It was the situation that caused the events to unfold, of course, and it is what set the primary characters in motion to reinvent themselves. Beyond that, this could have happened anywhere. The plot really was about Harold Lauder, a wimpy teen who was never very good at anything, falling in love with Fran Goldsmith. Fran subsequently fell in love with Stu Redman, and that left Harold feeling alone and outcast. He began a slow decline into madness that would last through the end. There was a lot more going on for sure, but that was really the main plot, and what held the book together. This is also exactly why this didn’t transfer well to video: Most of what drove the plot was Harold’s slow evolution from wimpy kid to madman. Most of this took place in thoughts, dreams, and general brooding, and while that can be told quite well when you are able to read what the character is thinking, when you are able to see only what they are doing it’s just a bunch of actions that don’t seem to have any reason or purpose.

    The middle third of the book introduces the characters Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg (the Walkin’ Dude). This is, in my opinion, the worst mistake of story-telling in history. Those characters are instantly and clearly portrayed to be God and the Devil -or more likely working for God and the Devil. They exist solely to draw the survivors together and separate them into two groups: good and evil. The story at this point is taken from a compelling story about the survival of the species and the madness of one man to being about the battle of God vs. the Satan. It was just so unnecessary. Harold would have continued his decline without intervention by Randall Flagg. His mental state was documented so well, and his turn to ‘evil’ so complete, that without any outside influence he could have been the one that started the opposing group. The group of ‘good’ would have come together naturally, as survivors looked for others. Any who were rejected, or even those who just felt rejected, would still have joined the opposite group. That would have changed it from having one group that was clearly on the side of good and one clearly on the side of evil to two separate groups, each driven by their own agendas, and each with their own logical, believable reasons for how they came to be there. Making it absolute good versus absolute evil had the effect of seeming to remove any responsibility of the people involved. It seemed like it was no longer about what happens to society as it is destroyed and has to rebuild, but instead it is about God and Satan playing chess with slightly more real characters.

    As the story moves along, God’s group sets up in Colorado while Satan’s group chooses (surprise!) Las Vegas. This is, I believe, the major reason that the good and evil was introduced to the story: Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg appear to the survivors in their dreams and guide them to the settlements. That is the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for why they would be necessary to the story at all. However this would be easily done away with, as it would only be a matter of a few days before the survivors started hitting the local Home Depot stores en masse to pick up gas powered generators for their homes. Gasoline would be fairly easy to come by at every service station, and the survivors would naturally go to where the gasoline was easiest to obtain: big cities. Within a few days or weeks, people would want to know if anyone else was out there, so short wave radios would find their way into use. It would probably be under a month before the vast majority of the survivors found each other to start forming groups without intervention by the forces of good and evil. Infighting would come fairly quickly thereafter, which would ultimately lead to the two separate groups (though probably with a lot of smaller groups as well. This could be happening as the story unfolds anyway though; the story focuses on these two groups of people, but it is mentioned several times that even if the disease was 99.9% fatal it would still be several million survivors. I found that number fairly staggering, but the math is correct).

    Aside from the good and evil drawing the groups together, everything seems to go exactly as you expect it would. In short order the surviving groups start to form governments (or at the very least hierarchies), towns are being rebuilt, power is being restored, etc. The two groups could coexist indefinitely if not for the constant prodding from God and Satan. Unfortunately for the purposes of the story, God and Satan are on equal footing as far as who is more evil. Both groups are being instructed to destroy the other group without any provocation. It is the reader’s knowledge that Randall Flagg is evil; his atrocities are laid our fairly well so that you know you aren’t supposed to root for him. That knowledge doesn’t exist for any of the characters though (at least not the ones hell bent on destroying him). All they know is what some old lady told them. Just like all the group of evil know is what some old dude told them. Acting blindly on the command of one person, lacking even the slightest hint of evidence to support the story they are telling, puts the groups of good and evil on decidedly even ground. This is yet another reason that the ultimate good vs. ultimate evil just detracts from the story.

    The biggest issues caused by the good vs. evil bit, though, is in regards to the climax of the story. Mother Abigail instructs four of the characters to go to Las Vegas to destroy Randall Flagg. She tells them they must go immediately, with only the clothes on their backs. Further, one of them will not make it there. Without much hesitation, the group does to go -still without anything more than her word that Flagg is evil. The problem is that the climax comes about when Trashcan Man brings a nuclear warhead into Las Vegas and it detonates -thus destroying everyone in the city (and presumably a fairly large surrounding area). This chain of events was set in motion long before the group arrived in Las Vegas, and would undoubtedly have happened whether they had gone or not. It simply wasn’t necessary for them to be involved at all. If we continue to imagine what it may have been like without good and evil driving everyone, we can imagine that Harold Lauder (and/or his sympathizers) are plotting to destroy Stu and his group, they hatch a plan to get a bomb of some sort into town, Stu’s group finds out, a showdown ensues as the two groups battle over control, Harold dies in the conflict, done. Would that story be better? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t think that matters though; the point is that making this a battle between good and evil takes accountability away from the characters to a great extent. Taking away that accountability takes this from being a real-world, cautionary type tale to being a mere fantasy. That is my biggest issue with the book.

    All that said, this really was a good read. I have never cared nearly as much for characters in any book as I did for the primary characters in The Stand. I wish the story had been told a bit differently, and I think it would have been a much more powerful story if it had been, but as it is it is still a very compelling story, and one that will leave you thinking about it long after you’re done reading.

    That was the book. Now for the mini-series. Don’t watch it. If you’ve read the book and you watch the mini-series you will just be disappointed by how far it strays from the original story. If you haven’t read the book, you will be confused as to why some of the things are happening, a lot of what the people do doesn’t seem to be for any good reason at all, and you will ultimately be disappointed.

    A good example of stuff being left out is when Harold sees Fran and Stu together for the first time (I can’t remember if they were having sex or just kissing). In the book, we go into Harold’s mind for a time as he tries to rationalize it, argues within himself, begins to get angry, and ultimately Stu’s fate is sealed. After this point, Harold is constantly wearing a fake smile -the type normally reserved for televangelists- and it is very clear that something has snapped in him, and it is only a matter of time before something very bad starts to happen. In the mini-series, that was condensed to a 2 second shot of Harold smiling and clenching his fist. It just didn’t resonate the same.

    Many events in the mini-series are out of order to how they happened in the book. In most cases it made the story flow a bit better, so I won’t fault them for that. The amount of stuff that had to be left out, though, is astronomical. The sympathizers of Randall Flagg all had their own reasons why they were following him: one was saved from a prison where he had been slowly losing his mind while chomping on someone else’s leg for food before Flagg saved him from a slow death. Another was tricked into following him by the introduction of a guy driving a fast car and raping him before Flagg has him torn up by wolves (although it was most likely Flagg that made the raping happen in the first place), etc. There is a logical reason why the characters are following Flagg -none of that is in the mini-series. Likewise the entire portion relating to Mother Abigail is stripped down to a couple of ten second dream fragments. If you’ve read the story your mind can fill in the rest. If you haven’t read the story, I would imagine that you will probably wonder why someone would set about to walking 2000 miles across the country based on seeing a wheat field in a dream one time. Tom Cullen is a ‘simple’ man (suffering from some form of retardation). In the book when the decision is being made to make him into a spy, there is much ado. The group argues over whether he should be exploited in such a way, and it is made clear that a statement is being made on human nature: The same mistakes that doomed the race the first time will do so again. In the movie, there is no discussion at all, the group of ‘good’ doesn’t even bat an eye before using him as a weapon (which also further clouds the line between which group is good and which is evil).

    One thing that the mini-series did do well though was tie up the plot hole the book created regarding the group of good traveling to Vegas. In the book everyone just dies, end of story. In the mini-series, Mother Abigail appears in a vision -clearly, now, the hand of God, and tells the three who are about to die that without their sacrifice the evil could not have been defeated. Again, in the book that nuclear warhead would have gone off with or without them and no such divine vision was granted. That was really the only redeeming quality about the series though, and you have to sit through six hours of either frustratingly sparse story (if you’ve read the book) or disjointed crap happening for no real reason (if you haven’t read the book) before it gets there. Hardly worth viewing in either case. And on my short list of biggest irritants in the history of cinematic license, they switched the sex of Fran’s baby from a boy (in the book) to a girl (in the movie) so that they could name her Abigail.

    Well this has was supposed to be a couple of paragraphs suggesting that you read the book. I believe I may have missed that mark… 3000 words later… Do read the book, don’t watch the mini series.

    There’s a hole in the wall…

    The only real downside to living in a mud house that was built in 1894 is the occasional huge fucking chunk of the house falling off bit. Now I don’t know just how familiar you are with adobe, but it really is just dirt and water, so when a little chunk of it falls off, there is nothing keeping the rest of it from following along because, well, dirt tends to fall with nothing to hold it up. On either side of the text you can see what it looks like when a huge fucking chunk of your mud house falls off (downward angle to give an idea of depth, it goes back about three inches on an 18 inch thick wall). In this case the huge fucking chunk had fallen off one time before and someone had attempted to patch it with some sort of bonding agent and drywall tape, which, of course, didn’t hold (now for extra credit. A bonding agent is a type of glue. Drywall tape is a fabric tape that has tiny little threads running through it for strength. So, tape with threads and glue. Pretty much the same thing as duct tape, eh?). So it fell off again all as one huge piece and it has been leaking dirt out -hourglass style- ever since. Every time I walk by the damn thing it reminds me of just how lazy I am; here I see my house falling down around me but I am just too damn lazy to do anything about it.

    So today while I was out and about I decided to take care of this once and for all. I bought some Rocktite concrete patch (I would have to buy another 25 lb before the project was complete), matched up some paint, and bought some assorted nails. The nails were because I figured if I were to hammer some nails into the opening at all sorts of different angles it would keep the repair from falling out as one big chunk. I have no idea if that is going to work or not, but what it looks like is to the right there. There are about twenty nails driven into the hole at all sorts of angles, I can make out eight of them in the picture there. And once I had the nails in all I had left to do was fill in the hole.

    The repair after that was pretty straightforward. All there was to do was put layer after layer of the patch into the hole, taking care to not do more than three-quarters of an inch or so to each layer -this type of stuff has a tendency to crack as it cures if it is too thick. I was scared as hell that I wasn’t going to be able to pull this off after I started to put the first layer in. It was difficult to get the stuff to stay in the hole and it kept falling out. I made a terrible mess out of the floor before realizing that the easiest way to approach it was to wait fifteen minutes after mixing each batch -right until it was nearly set- to apply it to the hole. I was leaving myself only two minutes or so to get it in, but I already have experience in that (Hoy-O! I’ll be here all week!) To the right you can see what it looked like after I had all the patch in but before it was sanded and painted. I encourage you to look at this one full size and marvel at just how bad it looks.

    Finally this is what it looks like after having been sanded and painted. I have no idea why this picture came out so red, it doesn’t look like that in person. This hasn’t been cleaned up yet either, so you can still see a lot of the patch around the floor. It also isn’t completely dry (the patch or the paint) so you can tell where the repair was made. Because the adobe walls in the house are not smooth -multiple textures, but also different repairs have left a lot of scarring- I didn’t spend a whole lot of time trying for perfection here. The idea was to get it sealed up before the rest of the mud leaked out. For the amount of time I put into it I think it looks pretty good. I’m sure I could have gotten smooth as a bowling ball if I was willing to put a couple hours into sanding it, but that would also require something more than the little orbital sander I have and that is just way too much time and effort.

    Incidentally, at the same time as this repair I was also working on another repair of exactly the same type but one that involved a corner near our restroom. That one did not go nearly as well as this one did. I had to basically rebuild the bottom 12 inches of the wall with concrete patch which Im sure will hold just fine, but the trouble was in trying to square off the corner. Hard as hell. But again, the primary objective is structural integrity, not vanity -or so I tell myself so that I won’t just sob myself to sleep tonight.

    Applying sideways logic to pedophilia!

    I remember having seen the movie Brainscan on video back in the 1990s. I remembered liking the movie quite a bit back then, and thought that the story was clever enough that I should force my wife allow my wife to enjoy it with me. Surprisingly, the special effects on this held up fairly well for being 15 years old; there isn’t anything so fake that it takes you out of the movie (possibly one scene where we see a foot being cut off, but eh, I haven’t ever amputated a foot, so who knows). The story was still good enough to make the movie watchable, although the huge surprise twist ending aspect was completely lost to me since I had already seen the movie, but also to my wife -since it was foreshadowed pretty much from the opening credits. That is the risk you take when you try to go back and watch movies you remember fondly from your younger years though; you may have simply been easier to fool when you were younger.

    At some point during the movie, the main character is watching a young lady through her bedroom window (here I use the term “young lady” relatively; she was supposed to be around 15 years old for the story of the film, though I can’t figure out which actress it was, so I can’t find her true age) and it appears as though we are going to get to see her topless. I turned to my wife and said, “Ooh, I think we get to see her tits!” And the wife said something like “She’s too young for you to be looking at them.” To which I replied, “This movie came out in 1994, she’s at least 30 now.” Game, Set, Match. Right? Well, it turns out that the wife thinks that just because she was (or was supposedly) underage at the time the movie was made it makes it perverted to look at her naked -despite the fact that she has obviously passed the age of consent in the mean time…

    Leave it to a woman to come up with some crazy shit like that.

    Which leads me to the sideways logic and its application to pedophilia. For the purposes of this example I am going to have to make a lot of suppositions. I know that the situation could never present itself exactly as I will describe it, but nothing in life ever does. I want to try to separate this down to its barest form to try to determine exactly where the moral boundary is, where the legal boundary is, and whether the moral and legal boundaries even intersect. This is purely hypothetical, of course, and the only question I am concerned about is the end question, not how or why we arrive there…

    A family lives in a house with two small children. Unbeknown to anyone, there are cameras hidden in the bedrooms of the children. The cameras run to a DVR somewhere that records thousands of hours of footage, but it is never viewed by anyone. The children live in the same house until they are in their 30s, at which point they discover the DVR. The video contains a lot of footage of each of them totally naked, dressing, undressing, etc. Knowing there is a market for such material, they decide to sell the video. Is this wrong?

    Legally, of course, this is wrong. Distribution of naked images of children is a crime. The legal theory, however, is that it is exploitation of the children, and in our scenario there has been no such exploitation, as the photos were never seen by human eyes until the children were fully grown, they were never made to pose for the photos, and they themselves are the ones that are distributing them. So while it is legally wrong, it seems that the basis of the laws that make it wrong do not take the welfare of the children into consideration at all. But illegal is illegal, and distribution of this would be against the law.

    How about morals? Is it morally wrong for them to distribute this? I am asking if it is morally wrong for them to distribute it here, not whether it is morally wrong for someone to look at it. Obviously it is morally wrong to look at photos of naked children, but is it morally wrong for them to sell them? If it is morally wrong to sell the photos, is it morally wrong to give them away?

    Personally I think it is definitely immoral and illegal to look at the photos. However I can’t really get my head wrapped around how it could be immoral or illegal for them to sell them. I am absolutely sure they would get convicted (if caught) of distributing the photos of naked children, but I just can’t imagine a jury convicting someone for selling photos of themselves.

    What do you think?

    Health Care in the news

    As you likely know, I generally try to steer clear of posting anything of a political nature on my site. I do make such posts on occasion, this being one of them, but generally I stay away from them just because so many other people are so much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am. Also, I doubt anyone has ever said, “I need some leftish, candid political views, I’m going to go to the site where that guy posted naked pictures with a guitar.”

    The subject of health care, though, is one that I feel strongly enough about to throw my opinion out there.

    First things first, universal health care is a very good thing -if executed properly. Whether or not it will ever be able to be executed properly in the U.S. remains to be seen, but we are moving in the right direction. A properly executed system will have many long-term benefits for the country as a whole. None of which I want to go into right now.

    What I do want to go into right now is something that I was thinking about on the way home: the GOP seems to be a lot like GM. I am basing this all on my perception, and do not mean anything here to be taken as actual fact. This is absolutely unresearched.

    GM started making those huge, gas-guzzling SUV’s back in the 1990s, and they were popular at the time, but so were the economy cars that Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, and others were putting out. GM made a couple half-assed attempts at economy cars, but they were generally unreliable and didn’t come with nearly the same warranty as their foreign counterparts. GM was focused on building ever larger SUVs, almost as if they conceded the market for economy cars to the foreign companies, assuming there would always be a huge base buying their road hogs.

    By the mid 2000s gas prices and public sentiment had pushed most Americans out of their SUV’s and back into smaller cars. GM still hadn’t made a serious attempt at a reliable, inexpensive, light car, and hadn’t done anything to try to improve the unreliable tag that their small car offerings came clouded with. So Americans bought foreign cars, and a LOT of them.

    By the late 2000s GM wasn’t selling any enormous SUVs, but that was their stock and trade. They couldn’t scramble to put together a reasonable small car fast enough. And since they had let the reputation of their small cars go straight to shit from their first attempt, they couldn’t have sold it if they did.

    GM went bankrupt because they wanted to continue making enormous, gas-guzzling SUV’s even though that wasn’t what people wanted.

    The Republican party seems like GM right now. As the baby-boomers are slowly dying off the party is getting younger and younger. While some of the core ideals seem to be ageless, others seem to be dying out with the baby-boomers. Some of the things that still make the baby-boomers bitter like women voting, social security -although they probably don’t mind collecting it-, medicare- things that their generation were staunchly against 50-60 years ago are not only accepted today, but most of the party can’t even remember a time when they weren’t that way. The core of the party is getting younger and their values are changing, but the GOP is still only offering their 1950’s version of an agenda. If they don’t watch out, soon they could be just like GM; Offering something that was popular some time ago, but everyone has moved on to something reasonable, if they aren’t offering it, the people will get it from a competitor.

    “Tailgate” the movie

    If you know anything about me at all, this video needs no introduction. Sit back and enjoy. If you don’t know anything about me, this video still needs no introduction, although it won’t seem like nearly the same cinematic masterpiece if you don’t know about my propensity to put things off for as long as possible.

    Now, without further ado, I give you “Tailgate” the movie:


    Now wasn’t that the funniest thing since sliced bread? The timing is a bit off in some places, but it was hard to take it too seriously while I was editing it.