writing music, the spring 2012 playlist.

I’ve mentioned before that I often put on movie soundtracks when I write. Soundtracks usually have no lyrics to distract me, and they’re designed to invoke moods without tearing the audience away from the story, which makes them well suited for scrivener white noise.

I thought I’d recommend a few of the albums whose sections are starting to wear thin on my hard drive from excessive “Repeat All” play:

Music for the Body in the Bathtub – Kerry Muzzey

I like pretty much everything that Kerry Muzzey puts out, but this one is my favorite of his albums. It’s a bunch of dark, emotional tracks whose titles form a narrative arc. Great for writing noir.

Medal of Honor (EA Game Soundtrack) – Ramin Djawadi

Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack for the EA game of the same name is loaded with Middle Eastern-themed dynamic and dramatic action tracks. Great for writing action scenes.

True Grit – Carter Burwell

The soundtrack to True Grit is basically the church hymn “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” interpreted in a  dozen different ways, but it works. I don’t write Western, but if I did, this would be perfect background noise for it.

How To Train Your Dragon – John Powell

I love this soundtrack. It’s a really well done blend of Gaelic and Norse influences—pipes and woodwinds and percussion and whatnot. It’s very dynamic and vital, with some very soaring and majestic tracks. Great for “good mood” kind of writing.

Hole In The Paper Sky – Kerry Muzzey

This is my second-favorite Kerry Muzzey album. It’s the soundtrack from a short film of the same name. The tracks are all very low-key and tender, the kind of stuff you’d find over an introspective montage in a movie. Lovely, lovely work.

L.A. Noire – Andrew & Simon Hale

Pretty much the perfect noire writing music, as the title suggests. This is the second game soundtrack on this list—game OSTs have advanced in quality to the point where the best ones can give the very best movie soundtracks a run for the money.

Game of Thrones – Ramin Djawadi

This is the soundtrack for the first season of the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones. PERFECT for writing grimy, moody fantasy where everyone dies horribly. And it was composed by the same guy who did the Medal of Honor soundtrack. Write his name down—he’s going to be a big name in movie scores.

And there you have some recommendations for writing music, in case you suffer from Playlist Fatigue and need some new material in the queue. I linked to the Amazon MP3 versions, where you can preview all the tracks on each album, but most of them are available on iTunes and all the other online music stores too.

a pop quiz on campus health insurance.

You attend a Catholic university.

Your university offers a health plan that covers everything but contraceptives and abortions.

The current administration pushes legislation through Congress that requires all health plans to cover contraceptives.

Your school decides that rather than making their health plan compliant with the law, they’ll drop it altogether.

Has the legislation in question improved your access to health care, or hurt it?

(Disclaimer: I am not a Catholic—or a Christian of any flavor—and I have my problems with the Church’s hostility to contraceptives. But I knew that stance ahead of time, and that’s one of the reasons why I chose not to attend a Catholic university.)

(Via Popehat.)

earthlings! your regent turns 5 today!

Southern Trip May 2012 068

51% brains, 25% cutonium, 24% stubbornium.

Loves butterflies, Hello Kitty, dogs, her stuffed bear, milk, spinning on swings, drawing, and a million other things.

Hates peanut butter, bedtime, and getting her hair brushed.

Will not accept anyone telling her “you can’t do that”.

Accepts only two possible ways of doing things: her way and the wrong way.

Is one of my two greatest accomplishments in this life.

Turns five years old today.

Happy birthday, little girl. It’s your world out there, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.

I wanted a drawbridge, but it wasn’t in the budget.

This was Castle Frostbite’s portcullis just before we left for our trip:


The state of things last week:

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And today:


I could show you a graph of our bank account balance correlating to the picture series above, and you’d see a rather significant downward curve. The corner of the porch and entry area had rotted to the point that the floor had developed a four-degree tilt, so it was high time to Get Shit Fixed. As always, once the handyman started ripping out stuff, he found more rot, so he ripped out more stuff, and so on. At some point there was a cement truck involved, but now there’s a solid foundation underneath that spot, not just logs dropped into dirt.

The job isn’t finished yet—the outside needs a new wooden stair set, and the inside of the new entry area still has two interior walls to be finished—but it’s coming along. And now I can actually get bulky things into the house via the front door instead of having to cart them around the house to the sliding glass door of the living room.

Got too much money and/or free time? You too can experience the joys of owning a fixer-upper!

turn that sight to “2”.

I served in the German military when the standard issue rifle was the Heckler & Koch G3. I was a light infantry grunt and (later) a drill instructor at boot camp, which is why I feel qualified to make the comments that follow.

Every single G3 pattern rifle with H&K diopter-style sights I see at American gun shops and gun shows has its sights set to the 100-meter “v-notch” setting. THIS IS WRONG. The 100-meter v-notch sight has only three purposes:

  1. Anti-aircraft fire on the full-auto setting
  2. “Sturmschiessen” (suppressive full-auto fire)
  3. Low-light shooting where the diopter sight is useless.

Note that two out of those three purposes require a full-auto sear, which makes them inapplicable to semi-auto HK91s and -93s.

Outside of those rare circumstances, the drum sight of a G3-pattern rifle is to be set to the 200-meter diopter setting as the default. Failure to do so will earn you the disapproval of any former Bundeswehr drill sergeants present, who will at the very least turn your sight setting to the proper one.

it’s not an ipad, but it’s not bad at all.

So Tamara brought her Kindle Fire along when she came up to Upper Cryogenica to house-sit. I got to play with it for a while (and watch an episode of Archer on it), and I was fairly impressed with the little thing. It’s handier than the iPad, and it does most of what I do with the iPad on a regular basis—browse the web, read e-books, do Facebook and Twitter, listen to music, and watch movies.

(My main bookreader isn’t the iPad, but the basic Kindle with the e-ink display. I prefer the look of e-ink to text on an LCD, and the readability in sunlight is kind of a big deal when you often take your e-reader along to the playground.)

The iPad is more capable, and the interface feels faster and more responsive, but I’d seriously consider a Kindle Fire if we didn’t already have an iPad. It’s definitely more portable, and covers 80% of the iPad’s functionality for most users. If there’s anything I dislike about it, it’s the shiny plastic bezel that picks up fingerprints like mad (and makes the device feel a bit cheap), and the limited storage space. Cloud or not, I want to have the option of putting a bit more than a few playlists of music and two or three movies onto my portable media tablet, especially when I travel to locations where Wi-Fi coverage may be spotty or expensive. Also, the 8-hour charge is a bit on the short side. On the whole, though, it’s a neat device and a perfectly cromulent budget tablet at less than half the price tag of an iPad. Only our ownership of an iPad is keeping me from buying one to supplement the e-ink Kindle.

a good knife.

Like many other civilized tool-using ape-descendants, I carry a knife in my pocket wherever I go.

For the last seven or eight years, the constant resident of my right-hand pants pocket has been a red Kershaw Blur. I may have mentioned it on the blog before. It fits the hand well, the blade is fast to deploy, and the red aluminum and black “skateboard tape” inserts kind of set it off from the average pocket knife and thereby satisfy my love of neat shiny things.

Late last year, the Kershaw snapped its torsion spring, the part that makes the blade open by itself once it’s push-started with the thumb. I used it as a regular folder for a while and then got around to asking Kershaw for a replacement torsion spring, which they promptly sent free of charge. I put the spring back in, and the knife was an assisted opener again. It was, however, showing its age. Daily use and pocket carry over eight years or so had taken a bit of a toll—the play in the lockup had gotten a little more loose, the anodized finish had worn off in several places, and the Blur was clearly getting a bit long in the tooth. So I started shopping around for a replacement. For my birthday last October, I decided to splurge and get a slightly more upscale replacement for the Kershaw.

Here’s what I found: the Spyderco Sage 2.


Robin has been toting a Spyderco Native for years, so I was familiar with the excellent Spyderco ergonomics, but this thing makes every other knife I own feel like a chunky pack of gum in the hand.

Prior to the Sage 2, the best (and most expensive) knife I’ve ever owned was a large Chris Reeve Sebenza. Anyone who knows how much those things go for will flinch when I tell you that I lost that one in the move from Tennessee somehow. While the ergonomics of the Sebenza are good but not stellar (sort of like the Kershaw Blur), I’ve always loved the construction: no springs or liners or other flim-flam, just two massive titanium slabs with a blade in between, and a lock that’s so secure that the knife is basically a fixed blade when it’s open.

Well, the Spyderco Sage 2 combines the best features of the Sebenza (the materials and lock design) with the best features of a Spyderco (the fantastic ergonomics). I call it my “Spyderbenza”. The result is a top-shelf working knife that fits the hand like nothing else, and it’s built like a bank vault. The blade is short enough to be legal for everyday carry in most jurisdictions, the blade shape and overall appearance of the knife are sedate enough to not raise eyebrows even in an office environment, and the whole thing just oozes class. The pocket clip is a high-mounted wire clip that makes the knife ride in the pocket in a very unobtrusive fashion. The knife can be completely and easily taken apart with a little torx screwdriver for cleaning and maintenance. The blade steel is S30V, which is one of those new super-steels. I don’t know the exact voodoo behind that steel, but I can tell you that it’s easy to sharpen, and that it really keeps an edge. The scale lock is just as massive as the one on the Sebenza. When you swing the blade out with your thumb, it locks into place with the most reassuring, solid clunk this side of a Mercedes S-class car door.

If it has any weakness at all, it’s the clip. The rounded wire doesn’t wear out the pocket fabric, and it blends in with most clothing very well, but brushing it against a countertop hard enough can make the wire snap. It happened to me a week or so into owning the Sage 2, and I ordered two replacement clips from Spyderco, just to have handy if it ever happens again.

This knife is so good that I wish I could afford two more just like it just to have around…but the way this thing is built, chances are I’d never need the spares. The best part is the price—while it’s not a cheap knife (around $160), it’s a third of the current price tag for a Sebenza, and it offers the same construction and materials in a much more ergonomic package. I’ve retired the Kershaw Blur and all my other pocket knives, although I still use a Victorinox GAK for beater use and odd jobs around the house. The Spyderco Sage 2 is hands-down the best knife I’ve ever owned, and I can’t recommend it enough if you’re in the market for an upscale and high-quality daily carry knife.

(The Sage also comes with carbon fiber scales or blue G10 scales, but those come with different lock mechanisms. I much prefer the solid scale lock of the Sage 2 that’s a bitwise copy of the Sebenza’s lock. I’m also a big fan of titanium. The other versions are quite a bit less expensive, though.)

frickin’ illegal immigrants.

Turns out we picked up some stowaways in Virginia. When we were at our friend’s place in SoVA, I took all the bags out of the car to restack the cargo space. The van was parked on the grass, and…well, you can imagine the rest. I’ve been pulling ticks out of kids and grown-ups since yesterday.

Today I’m bringing our housesitter to the aerodrome for her return flight in the big metal sky bus. Because the aerodrome is in Manchester, I’ll use the opportunity to meet a friend for lunch at Chez Vachon. A nice big plate of poutine won’t fix the tick infestation, but it’ll dull the edges a bit.