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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Nearer My Banjo to Thee (Going Down With The Ship)

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

An acousitic jam session on a pontoon boat in the middle of Lake Tyler sounded like fun, so we all picked up guitars, fiddles, banjos and other implements of destruction and climbed aboard Naomi's leaky pontoon boat and struck out across the lake. Two of the musicians were Gordon and Christy McLeod of the Celtic Group Beyond the Pale. There was a bank president with a guitar, a nonprofit director and guitar, her husband (an unarmed architect), Naomi who was driving the boat, me with my banjo, guitar and assortment of harmonicas and a couple of innocent bystanders. We banged our way through bluegrass, Irish songs, country, western and an assortment of other nondescript tunes, serenading the rich folks sitting out on their very expensive porches in their very expensive houses that lined this exclusive lakefront. We were having a good time.

Gordon got out his fiddle and he and I did a fiddle & banjo rendition of the Jimi Hendrix version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower". Gordon can play just about anything and I did my best to follow. During the set, a couple of our heavier passengers moved forward in the pontoon boat (probably in an effort to distance themselves from the band in the back and any projectiles that might be launched or fired in their direction by irate East Texans along the shore.

As about 400 pounds of ballast moved toward the bow, however, the lead edge of the pontoons caught a wave and drove under the water. Naomi panicked and shoved the throttle forward, pushing the bow even further beneath the waves. As a low wall of water came rushing over the bow, everyone on the boat grabbed their instruments and held them over their heads, wondering how they were going to swim a half mile to the nearest shore while holding their guitars out of the water. Someone grabbed my guitar and held it to her chest like a flotation device. I tried to get it back, but unfortunately, nothing that would float was safe from the panicked nonswimmers aboard who were preparing to abandon ship with anything that looked remotely buoyant.

Fortunately, before my guitar became a canoe, I managed to convince Naomi that speeding up would probably not be helpful and as the propellers came out of the water she backed off the throttle. Since the boat appeared to be beginning its death dive, someone wiseacre with remarkable presence of mind began playing "Nearer My God to Thee" and the rest of us (not to be out smart-alecked) quickly joined in.

The nice thing about having the props out of the water, was that we stopped accelerating toward the bottom almost immediately and the boat lost momentum and settled back by the stern with a thumping great splash. We got the engine shut down and her bow popped back up streaming water from the decks.

Without pause we launched into "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and Naomi turned us toward home.

Since then, we've held our hootenannies on the dock or someplace where we don't need lifejackets. Some who have attended them, hoping to hear music have offered to take us all out again on various leaky boats, rafts and other potential submersibles.

As my grandpa used to say, "Some people got no sense of humor...."


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Knights Who Say "Nay"

Given the glut of superhero movies I would like to suggest a way for a real geek to become a superhero. You've got Peter Parker who becomes Spiderman, Clark Kent who becomes Superman, The Fantastic Four, Bruce Wayne who slips into the Batsuit, Darkman, The Daredevil and the Incredible Hulk, just to name a few.

All you need to be a super hero is a superpower and some assorted evil villains.

Let me suggest a super power that is being misused by evil villains the world over. There are thousands of bright misguided folks in cyberspace who are using their considerable intellects to create viruses, adware, hijackers and programs to steal your identity, your money and your time. These brilliant villains destroy peoples lives, their websites and their credit and force us to load down our computers with so much anti-virus, anti-spam, anti-adware and security software that our computers lumber through their tasks like knights in plate armour.

Where are the brilliant hackers who devote themselves to taking the fight back to the bad guys? Where is the cyber equivalent to Spider Man? Where are our cyber knights in armour, protecting the weak and downtrodden and gullible and unprotected? Where are the heros who say "Nay" to the cyber villains that stalk the Internet and cost us all millions in lost revenue, credit theft and lost time.

I once spent $180 to have a computer at work stripped down and reformatted and lost most of the material on the computer in the process because of a "toolbar" one of my staff was tricked into installing. I spent most of two days trying to get rid of it, but it kept reloading itself every time I rebooted. I never could find the buried file that kept reloading the deleted software. I went to the software's home website and found the home address of the software company. I went to visit them next time I was in Austin, Texas. By the timer I got there, the office was empty and looked like someone had taken a bat to the place - evidently someone who had a similar idea to mine. I hope they were there when he found the office.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a Cyber Justice League of America? A bunch of brilliant hackers on the side of the little guy. How about they track down the sites which upload hijack software and shut them down for a change? Crash their servers, hijack their software, steal their credit cards. Why couldn't our government do that? Half the time these sites are based in foreign countries. Let's put together a cyber-Delta Force or Hacker Seal Team and go after the porn sites and bogus companies that download viruses, hijacker programs or otherwise mess up people's computers. Pound the Internet cafes that serve as home base for the Nigerian e-mail scammers. Clobber terrorist sites! Lock up spammers. That would certainly be something worth doing.

Now those guys would be my kind of superheros!!!

Just one man's opinion...

Tom King

Sunday, June 24, 2007

I've Found One!!

I've been watching the presidential debates for weeks now increasingly in despair for our country. Every candidate I've seen speaks muddled platitudes that mean next to nothing if not less than nothing. They pretend to be talking to us while watching the camera with a sidelong eye. The only one who doesn't that I've seen isn't even running for president - YET!

Someone (I forget who) said about former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson - "That's just want we need is another actor!"

Well, remembering the last actor we had as a president, I'm not so sure acting credentials ought not to be on every potential president's resume'. (Don't panic my liberal friends - Alec Baldwin and Barbara Streisand are actors!).

What's nice about Thompson is that he's also a lawyer, has experience in policy making endeavors, is in a bunch of think tanks, political watchdog groups and is a radio commentator and blogger on the side. You can read his stuff at:

It's pretty exciting reading too. Thompson is, like all politicians aware of the camera, but not in a sidelong do-I-look-pretty-for-the-camera kind of way. Instead, he looks straight through the lens, speaks straight through the microphone, projects through his written words and speaks straight to the people on the other side like you and me who are tired of wimpy politi-speak that sounds like lies no matter how the commentators layer on the frosting afterward.

I hope Fred runs. If he does, there's hope for the country. Don't know who he could get for a VP, but I may watch TV a little more and see if one pops up.

Just one Man's Opinion.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Wonderful Wizards of Odd

I remember when personal computers and video games began to become popular. I remember columnists and television and print media pundits issuing alarming predictions about the decline of education, intelligence and western civilization in general. To hear them talk at the time, you'd have expected that the Internet and computers would, by this time, have reduced us all to disembodied brains in jars being pumped full of mindless government propoganda designed to keep us all cooperative and quiet.

Turns out, the personal computer and the rise of the Internet has probably done more to promote human creativity, individuality and literacy than any tool yet invented. Don't believe me, google something you are interested in - anything at all. I told my kids that once and Micah, the smart alec child, bet me I couldn't find anything about "navel lint".

In 5 minutes, I'd found 3 websites dedicated to the subject - complete with pictures of their own navels and imbedded lint, contributed by viewers of the site. It's true, like television, you can find tons of garbage. Google recently listed "Paris Hilton" among the most googled words of the week. I'm not really surprised. It only proves we have a huge segment of the population that gets a vicarious thrill from peeking at the lives of shallow spoiled rich kids. It's the soap opera crowd and, sadly, there are always lots of us who want nothing deeper than that for entertainment. You can find plenty of pornography and illiteracy and stupidity on the net too - if that's what your hunting for.

The good news is that a person with any sort of brains at all can find plenty of really good stuff with which to occupy his or her mind. Not only that, but bright or really determined people can create their own websites, contribute to encyclopedias from their own peculiar areas of expertise and become columnists and pundits in their own right. Ninety year olds can become rock singers and popular video-journalists almost overnight. Bloggers had their own booth at the political conventions last time - right alongside the network journalists.

The mainstream media finds itself becoming more and more marginalized as the blogger nation grows. The music industry is losing it's hold on the musical tastes of America as we can download songs we like instead of buying expensive albums that only have maybe one track we want. Virtual unknowns can set up their own websites, build an audience, record, market and sell their music, movies or art entirely outside the mainstream.

That's refreshing. It lets those that leftists refer to as "the people" enjoy a level of freedom that is unheard of the history of the world. Those who believe that a wealthy or privileged elite should have the power to tell ordinary people how to live, what to believe and how to spend their money are FRANTIC!!!

The virtual world of the Internet is expanding rapidly and the fastest growing segment is outside the control of the traditional arbiters of public taste. We increasingly demand substance over style. When CBS canceled Jericho, fans set up a howl. There's even talk of running the show over the Internet at 99 cents a download to subscribers. The fact that we can talk about marketing a television show outside the networks entirely or on any one of 100 cable channels tells you something about how the world is changing.

The big networks aren't so big any more. They fight for an increasingly smaller portion of the biggest segment of the audience pie - mostly, it seems, the "reality" television junkies. Meanwhile, the intelligent and individualistic segment of the public is drawn to other places for their entertainment and they are willing to buy what they want instead of wading through drek.

I love folk music and weird songs. I found a website belonging to Joe Bethancourt, a 60 year old native of Arizona who does a version of "Benson, Arizona", the theme from John Carpenter's odd comedy space opera, "Dark Star". I love that song and right away found a copy on the Internet. Do you know how long I'd have had to look to find that song just 20 years ago?

I made a CD that has songs I like to listen to when I'm walking:

1. Benson, Arizona,
2. Hallelujah - 2 versions (Cale & Buckley)
3. Mad World (Jules)
4. Faith of the Heart (Russel Watson)
5. I'm my Own Grandpa (Lonso & Oscar)
6. That's How the Yodel Was Born (Riders in the Sky)
7. Sail Away - Enya
8. As Time Goes By - Sinatra
9. Superman Song - Crash Test Dummies
10. If I Had a Boat - Lyle Lovett)
11. Pass Me By - (Theme from "Father Goose")
12. Grow Old Along With Me - John Lennon
13. Rainbow Connection - Kermit the Frog
14. Waltz Across Texas - Earnest Tubb
15. Waltzing With Bears - ?
16. Over the Rainbow (Izzy K - with ukelele)
17. Don't Fence Me In (Bing & the Andrews Sisters)
18. When I'm 64 - Beatles
19. Gilligan's Island Theme
20 Hobo's Lullaby - Arlo Guthrie
21. I Will - Alison Kraus
22. When I was a Dinosaur - Trout Fishing in America
23. Cover of the Rolling Stone - Dr. Hook
24. Mad Dogs & Englishmen - Noel Coward
25. Ape Man
26. All of Me - Sinatra
27. Sleepytime Cartoon - Trout Fishing in America

All available on the internet from 11 cents to 50 cents apiece.

How cool is that? And I watched a Joe Bethencourt concert of selected songs for an hour for free on You-Tube. How utterly cool is that. I read the news on 10 right wing and 1 leftist blog and cruised a new music site for a folk musician named Josh Woodard who lets you download his music for free - how cool is that? He's pretty good too. I think I'm going to be a fan. As a kid who used to read encyclopedias for fun, all of this is like having a gigantic library at my fingertips. I can download the classics for free - even audio book versions.....

Now that's what I call THE PEOPLE'S ENTERTAINMENT. You want to find out what entertainment is like when the elite are in charge, just check out North Korean television. If you don't like stories about how heroic Kim Jong Il is, you might just want to reconsider moving to that little worker's paradise. So when they start talking about reining in the Internet or "fairness" rules, WATCH OUT!!! They're going to mess up things sure as shootin'.

In the meantime, I'm just tickled that all those wonderful oddballs, kooks and geniuses have a place to display their wares. It's like an informational farmers market and I think it's the healthiest thing to happen to this world in a long time.

Just one man's opinion...