Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Houston, We Have A Slam Dunk...

Being a freelance writer, quite frankly, sucks, and that suction seems to get just a little stronger every year. The pay is - if you're lucky - stuck at the same "you're-shittin'-me?" subsistence level at which it's always been, even as the cost of business and living continues to rocket into the stratosphere. Cost-of-living adjustments? To a freelancer, a COLA ain't nothin' but a can of pop, and one which they can ill-afford most days.

And if you're unlucky, you've either lost paying markets altogether or what markets you've managed to hang on to pay far less than they once did. These days, "content" is king. Good writing? Optional.

When you're a freelancer your entire career, such as it is, is on spec. There are no expense accounts, no benefits, no health insurance, no retirement or 401(k) matches, no prospects for advancement or promotion, no job security, and what paychecks do intermittently show up in your mailbox generally only get there after repeated dunning on your part. And then, when you finally open the envelope? That's when the desperate, nervous laughter starts...

Throw in the increasingly common demand that you sign away all future rights to your work through "all rights" or "work-for-hire" contracts (and thereby denying you the legal ability to make a little more money to supplement the pittance you originally received) and it's easy to see why most freelancers I know (excepting perhaps the single, childless ones) are looking to leave full-time freelancing altogether and find a real job.

I'm no different, and I make no bones about the fact that if a decent job came along I'd jump at it, even if it meant giving up writing. It's been my primary full-time occupation for a long time now. I'd miss it. I'm not a world beater, but I'm not bad. I've written for some very good and very large books, and yes, there's a certain cachet to writing for some publications. But cachet don't pay the bills.

So all that's background for why I was perusing the federal job website a few days ago. (And fellow writers, the job code for us writer/editor types is 1082, if'n yer interested. A further list of job codes can be found here).

And while I was perusing the employment opportunities, I stumbled upon the coolest job want ad ever

Job Title:Astronaut Candidate
Department:National Aeronautics and Space Administration
Agency:Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
Job Announcement Number:JS12A0001


$64,724.00 to $141,715.00 / Per Year


Tuesday, November 15, 2011 to Friday, January 27, 2012




Full Time - Permanent




Few vacancy(s) in the following locations:
Houston, TX
View Map


This announcement is open to all qualified U.S. citizens.


NASA, the world's leader in space and aeronautics is always seeking outstanding scientists, engineers, and other talented professionals to carry forward the great discovery process that its mission demands. Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That's what it takes to join NASA, one of the best places to work in the Federal Government.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has a need for Astronaut Candidates to support the International Space Station (ISS) Program and future deep space exploration activities.
I think I fall very nicely under that "other talented professional" category. No, seriously, I think I'd make a helluva good astronaut. Think about it: I'm creative (because, like, most writers are, right?). I'm ambitious, I run my own business (never mind that it's bankrupt). I can work on a team (as long as they're not a bunch of assholes). I'm extremely daring (won't get into it...). And probing mind? Why, my mind is a veritable proboscis of probing. Literally. I've got this... thing coming out of my head, like a proboscis. I was planning on surgery to have it removed, 'cause it's always getting caught in car doors and elevators, but after seeing this ad I think I'll hold off on that.

What's not to like? The pay's decent, you get a great office view, you can whiz in your suit whenever you want, and you get to float all day long. Of course, Houston kinda sucks (sorry Houstonites) and there is that omnipresent risk of fiery, instant death. But on balance, it sounds like a pretty cool job. Think I'll get the resume polished up, send it off and see what happens.

I'll keep you posted...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's Cain's...

Cain's Ballroom is a legendary, historic, and much-beloved concert and dance hall in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Best known as the place where Bob Wills got his start, way back in the 50s, Cain's has since become one of the top (and most famous) concert venues in the nation.

Everyone plays Cain's. Well, I doubt you'll ever see a Justin Bieber or Katy Perry concert there, so I guess I should say that everyone worth a shit plays Cain's, regardless of genre. Indie rock, folk, metal, alt country, acid bluegrass, whatever. All good artists eventually make their way to Cain's (I even seem to recall Scampwalker blogging about seeing Les Claypool at Cain's sometime back.) As an example, here's one I'd love to see, the Heartless Bastards, playing April 17...

Anyway, I sort of vaguely knew about the history of Cain's, how it fell into disrepair back in the 70s before undergoing a musical renaissance. Typical artistic riches to rags to riches story. And as a Sex Pistols fan, I knew the group had played Tulsa on their infamous 1978 U.S. tour (I didn't attend, BTW. In 1978 I was still driving a Big Wheel...). But I didn't know that the group's appearance at Cain's is widely credited for bringing the venerable spot back to prominence...

From this story in the Oklahoman

Larry Shaeffer and Scott Munz already had taken a chance on the decaying Cain's Ballroom building.
The two restored the aging music venue from its dilapidated condition in the late 1970s.Now they were about to take another chance with a new style of decadent music.

In 1978, Cain's Ballroom — originally known for western swing and country music dating to the 1930s — became one of only seven venues on the American tour of the British punk rock band the Sex Pistols. The Cain's show was the short-lived band's sixth stop on the tour. They never returned as a band, but they left a legacy.

"...Jeff Moore, historian at the Oklahoma History Center and project director for the proposed Oklahoma Pop Museum in Tulsa, said Cain's is the last operating venue the Sex Pistols played in America. “I think what the Sex Pistols show did historically is that it redefined Cain's as a venue for rock 'n' roll,” Moore said. “It was this historic moment where the Sex Pistols in a weird sort of anti-establishment way swept the state, not quite like The Beatles, but in a new way and lead this punk revolution that had a long-lasting impact on music.”

There was no punk rock scene in Oklahoma, he said. But about 800 people managed to navigate wintry weather that night. Many were curiosity seekers, but others were dressed in the new punk rock style that had been seen in New York and London. “I was glad to grab a date with them (Sex Pistols) because they were right up my alley,” Shaeffer said.

The show drew a lot of buzz. A number of undercover Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents and Tulsa police officers were in the crowd, waiting for members of the band to expose themselves, Shaeffer said. The Sex Pistols American tour was planned carefully to pick venues in conservative parts of the country to stir up publicity, Shaeffer recalled.

"...There was a hole in the Cain's dressing room where Sid Vicious is said to have slammed his fist into the wall. It was cut out and the section of wall is in a display in the Cain's office today.
Shaeffer says the Sex Pistols did not put Cain's Ballroom on the map, Bob Wills did that. But he admits that show put the ballroom back on the map to stay.“I was just barely keeping the place going,” Shaeffer said.

Is there a YouTube clip of this historic performance? Silly question. Of course there's a YouTube clip of this historic performance...

Pretty damn cool. And the comments at the end are hilarious. I can just imagine a bunch of my poor fellow Okies half-expecting some good 'ol southern-fried crap like Lynyrd Skynyrd (play Freebird, man!), and then getting Pistol-whipped...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sudden Impact

So what do you get when a Cooper's hawk-startled Eurasian collared dove slams into the living room window at full speed?

The Shroud of Turin, avian version...

And you'll be happy to know that no dove was harmed in the making of this Art, primarily because my model managed to pick himself up and fly away before I got a chance to grab the pellet gun and finish the invasive little bastard off...

On an unrelated note, it's been a long time since I've monkeyed with the blog's format, themes, etc. I'm not planning on anything major, but one thing I'd like to update is the blog roll. I know that some blogs have switched hosts, others have gone defunct, still others I've discovered and just haven't placed on the blog roll, etc.

So...if I'm missing your blog on my blogroll please tell me and I'll add it. There are some good blogs out there I need to start reading more often...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

N Is For Chad Who Died of Ennui*

Events and responsibilities have transpired against me, so I won't be hunting the last day of the Oklahoma quail season. Which is today.

And since I won't be hunting today, thus begins the thirty (more or less) most boring days in the Gregorian calendar; that cold, dead, lifeless, joyless, huntless, fishless period between the end of quail season and the beginning of fishing.

Maybe I should take up predator hunting, but the last thing I need is another expensive hobby. Maybe I should hunt the conservation order light goose season, but we have no snows around here, and even if we did, the last thing I need is another expensive hobby.

This would be the perfect time to have a short-term existential mid-life crisis, preferably one involving warm climes and fish, but I can't even afford a stay-crisis (you know, like a stay-cation...) much less a full-blown one.

So I'll just sit here, little head poking above the windowsill, waiting, waiting, for spring, trapped on a poverty-induced Mobius strip of boredom.

*with apologies to Edward Gorey and the other 25 banally-deceased Gashlycrumb Tinies

Monday, February 13, 2012

Kelly Kettle Initial Impressions

My plan was to quail hunt this weekend. The weather's plan was to screw up my plan. The weather's plan worked out. Mine didn't. Instead, I stayed inside all weekend stuffing logs into the woodstove and perusing flyfishing catalogs for items I have neither the skill to use nor the money to buy. I also played around with something called a Kelly Kettle.

What's a Kelly Kettle? Well, it's a double-walled kettle with a big hole in the middle of it that you build a fire in to boil water. Here's the website with all the particulars.

When I'm on a hunting or fishing trip I usually take a little one-burner propane stove for heating up water for tea, coffee, etc. It works well enough when the wind's calm, but not so much when the wind blows. Since I live in Oklahoma, where the wind blows pretty much non-stop, I've been looking for a wind-proof alternative to my propane stove, something I can take on a fishing or bird-hunting trip and use to boil water quickly and easily right on the tailgate or ground.

I've read a lot about the Kelly Kettle and other "volcano" kettles on the bushcraft sites and thought that might be the ticket. Look for a full review over on the F&S site when I get the chance to actually use it in the field, but I did play around with it in the backyard this weekend, and I gotta say, I think it's going to be a nice little piece of kit, as SBW would say.

I was, quite frankly, shocked at how quickly this thing boils water with such little fuel. I gathered a little grass and tinder from the yard, placed it in the stainless steel base the kettle rests on, struck a firesteel to it, and placed the kettle on the base as soon as the flame got started. I fed a handful of dry twigs through the hole in the base, dropped a few more down the chimney, and literally within a couple minutes I had water boiling. All this during a bitterly cold, strong, and gusty wind, the kind of wind in which I'd have a hard time keeping my cheap little propane jobber lit, much less heating water.

Like I said, I'm withholding official judgement on it until I'm actually in the field and can see how it works with whatever fuel I can scrounge from the roadside, but it's certainly promising. SBW warned me that some Kelly Kettles tended to leak a bit from the handle and stopper rivets, no biggie and an easy fix, but mine didn't leak a drop on its maiden voyage.

 About five minutes after I took these pictures the snow started and the wind really started howling. Being a wimp, I poured the boiling water out the kettle and went inside. My helper, however, stayed outside tending to his own "campfire"...

And about five minutes after that, the welfare wildlife showed up, looking for a handout. Persistent bastards. They'll just stand there and stare at me through the windows. It's a bit unnerving. I haven't been feeding them hardly at all this winter, and in fact when they show up I'll yell at them like that cranky old man that every neighborhood has. "Get out of here, you hooved locusts! You're wild animals, fer christssake, go forage!"

And as my ruined peach, plum and apple trees can attest, they oblige...

Friday, February 10, 2012

I Want This Gun...

And I really think one of you should consider buying it for me

1969 - Beretta SO3 - Old World Craftsmanship - Hand Made Side Lock!

SO3 - 12ga, 28", 2-3/4", Briley Chokes (SK / SK M / IM / F), Vent Rib, Ejectors, Boehler Antinit Steel Barrels with English Stock - LOP of 14-1/4" over a Checkered Butt, with Drop of 1-3/8" to 2-1/8", and Neutral Cast. Weight 7 lbs. Outstanding Condition - 98+% since being refinished. Very tight. Looks and feels like a NEW gun.

Why would I want this gun instead of an original SO3 that hadn't been refinished, with tubes installed? Because guns like that are so far out of my tax bracket that even daydreaming about them makes me feel ludicrous. Make this gun a 20 in original condition with a solid rib and choked IC/M and there you'd have perfection, but alas, I'm not perfection-grade. I'm "merely adequate" grade.

But this gun has been monkeyed around with just enough that (I'm assuming) it will probably go lower than a regular SO3, perhaps even low enough to cross my daydream threshhold. I'll say $2,500 to $3,000.

Which does bring up an interesting question: assuming it would sell in that price range, would you rather have the sidelock 12 gauge Beretta or, say, a late fifties-early sixties vintage 20-gauge Browning Superposed with 28-inch barrels and a solid rib (they were all RNLT back then I believe), which is the rarest and most desirable configuration of the old supers (I'm talking grade 1 supers here, not the pigeons, Dianas, etc). Most of the field-grade 20-gauge supers with that configuration are going around three grand or so, so I think it's a fair comparison.

Hmmm. That's a tough one. I've always, always wanted a 50s-60s era 20 gauge super, but I'm gonna have to go with the SO3 here. What a lovely piece of work those old Berettas are.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Refried Mallard: London Calling

Another in a series of recycled blog posts from years past. Because I'm lazy.

I did add the lyrics to "London Calling" below the pic. That wasn't in the original post, so that's something, right? I haven't made it back to Europe since writing this in 2009, so I haven't had a chance to implement my plan.

But I will...oh, yes, I will...

                                                 "The ice age is coming, the sun is zooming in
                                                 Engines stop running and the wheat is growing thin
                                                 A nuclear error, but I have no fear
                                                 London is drowning-and I live by the river."

This is a picture of a person I don't know talking to a couple other people I don't know as he attempts - using an unknown technique and bait - to catch a fish, the species of which I (surprise, surprise) don't know.

And thus sums up my knowledge of European urban angling. The photograph was taken in London along the Thames on my first trip to Europe a few years back. My plan was to strike up a conversation with him in the international language of the brotherhood of anglers, ask him all kinds of questions about British fishing and expand my fishing horizons beyond my own provincial Amero-centric boundaries.

That was the plan, anyway.

As I walked up to him after the two people in the picture finally left I heard him muttering to himself. I don't know exactly what he was saying, but since it contained multiple instances of the phrase "fockin' tourists", my fear of getting thrown headfirst into the Thames outweighed my curiosity and I just walked on by. In hindsight, I don't blame him a bit.

I had tried the same thing a few days earlier in Paris with a dour-looking Frenchman who was tight-lining a spinning rod along the left bank of the Seine.

I suspect he spoke perfect English, but (again, in hindsight) if I were being heckled by an American buffoon who thought that speaking English slowly and with a ridiculously affected fake French accent would help me understand what he was saying, then I'd probably just ignore him, too.

How bad was it? Imagine the unholy lovechild of Casablanca's Captain Renault and Inspector Clouseau.

"Excusemwha. May eye ask what eat eeze you are feeshing for? Eye am an Ameri-cahn and I too enjoy zee feeshing!"

The man gave me a look of unadulterated contempt, or maybe horror, it was hard to tell, spoke something in rapid-fire French and then turned back to his rod in a manner that implied in no uncertain terms that this tortured conversation, such as it was, was over.

I've since learned to just shut up, smile and say "Bonjour" to absolutely everything.

So suffice it to say I don't know much about fishing in Europe. But damn it, that's going to change.

My wife is a high school humanities teacher, and every three years or so she (and by extension, I) take a group of her students on a trip to Europe. Twice now (not including the trip on which this picture was taken) I have walked along the banks of the Thames, the Seine, the Arno and the Tiber watching other guys fish and wondering what they were fishing for.

Next time, it's gonna be me. Next time, I'm packing a three-piece travel rod, a Calcutta 100, a small tackle box (after I figure out what kind of tackle to take) and I'm going to fish every one of those rivers. I will have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. I'll try to talk the Suburban Bushwacker into helping me out with the Thames, but the others will be Terra Incognita, pure guerrilla fishing.

I may not catch anything, but at least I can say I did it instead of wondering about it.

I have no idea how many laws - both international and sovereign - I'll be violating with this plan, but I'm sure it's legion. And I don't care. What are they going to do, throw me in fishing jail? Besides, they've got to catch me first. All I have to do is act like I belong there, like I have every right to be fishing that spot.

And if anybody questions me, I'll just smile, say "Bonjour" and run like hell.

Brilliant, no?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ghost In The Machine

I was watching an episode of Top Gear a few years back (the rightful UK version, not that unspeakably stupid and moronic American travesty. Seriously, why do we feel the need to constantly "Americanize" television shows whose charm lies in their very Britishness? The Office is the only one that's ever come close to pulling it off. Rant off...) when Clarkson and Company asked the question "what's the most beautiful machine ever made by man?" (I'm writing from memory here, so I may be paraphrasing a bit).

The answer was "the Spitfire," and while I think the classic English double, as well as the traditional recurve and longbow, are equally beautiful (if you can classify them as "machines") I am not inclined to disagree with the Top Gear guys' assertion. Many people believe the Supermarine Spitfire was not only the most beautiful airplane of the WWII era, but one of the most beautiful airplanes ever made.

But my personal favorite has always been the Vought F4U Corsair. No, it can't compete with the Spitfire for sheer elegance and beauty, but for a history-obsessed kid growing up in the seventies, hanging on each episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep every week (until it got cancelled, damn it) the Corsair with its menacing midnight blue paint and awesome gullwings was - to use the patois - the shizzle.

This one resides at the Commemorative Air Force museum in Galveston. I took the pic last summer on our Galveston trip. She's a looker, isn't she?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Google Search Fail...

For the sorely disappointed customer of Vietnam Post and Telecom Corporation in Hanoi, who typed "japanese girl nake" into Google and (at least according to my Sitemeter info) somehow ended up here...

Sorry about that, man. You got the girl part right, and she was always naked, the little slut. But alas, my naked little girl was all English...

Old Crazy Is The New Normal

                                                  Beaver County, Oklahoma. March 28, 2006

When the residents in my little corner of the state went to bed last night, we...

1. Were still firmly in the grips of an "extreme" category drought as defined by the folks who define such things (NOAA, USDA, NWS, etc.).

2. Had received virtually no measurable precipitation for the month of January (at least at my house) and no snow whatsoever, and in fact had received no measurable snow at all this winter.

3. Had been wearing shorts around the yard and daydreaming about gardens, turkeys, and fishing (at least I was) due to extended periods of January (and February) temps in the 60s and 70s.

When the residents in my little corner of the state woke up this morning, we...

1. Were under a tornado watch.

2. Had received up to golfball-sized hail (bush-league stuff for a spring storm, but a bit odd on the second day of February...

3. Had received well over three inches of rain, with some areas pushing four inches.

To put that in perspective, my county of residence received just over 13 inches of rain for the whole of 2011. And that's putting a somewhat rosy bloom on things, as the northern parts of the county received less than that (about 12 inches at my house). Areas a bit north and west of my home received far less than even that (6.2 inches for the entire year in some parts of the panhandle).

So in one eight-hour period, in the middle of what used to be called "winter" we received large hail, severe storms, the threat of tornadoes and close to one-third of the total rain we got for all of 2011.

Welcome to the new normal. It's going to be an interesting weather year...