Rose Garden! The Home Edition.

Here at Chez Happycrow, we HATE mowing grass.  Even with a scythe, which is a valuable source of must-needed exercise for a guy who used to walk everywhere and do martial arts four or five days a week, and now drives a cubicle and a car.

Not counting, of course, much-needed breaks for cat yoga.

Not counting, of course, much-needed breaks for cat yoga.

So we’re doing legacy roses, grape arbors, crape myrtles, and bamboo.

  • Legacy roses are awesome. And, mostly unkillable.
  • Bamboo is awesome. And, mostly unkillable.
  • Grapes are awesome. And once established, mostly unkillable.
  • Crape Myrtles are awesome. And once established, mostly unkillable.

Sense a theme? This is “jungle rules” gardening.  Put in four invasive, aggressive, hard-to-kill plants that you like. Let them duke it out.  Here’s just the roses and some of the young bamboo culms. I’ll follow up later in the summer with the crapes once they’re blooming out.

rose10 rose11 rose1 rose2 rose9 rose7 rose8 rose5 rose4 rose3

Down the road, the legacy roses here will get their old canes trimmed out, and pegged up high on the bamboo, which will act as living scaffolding in order to create arbors you can walk in and under.  Right now, our roses stop traffic on our little street… if it comes off as hoped, in three or four years we’re hoping that they’ll bring traffic to our street.

Friday Night Geekery: Early Thoughts on the World War Z movie


Here’s the first trailer.

Now, for the four people I know who aren’t Nerd-Americans like myself, World War Z is a goddamn good book.  Go buy it, even if you’re not really all that into zombies.  Like all fabulous works of fiction, it’s not actually about what’s advertised on the surface.  In this case, World War Z is about socio-politics and really UGLY hard decisions.  It also has a heaping dose of what I like to call The Iron Laws of Survival.

  1. If you screw up, you’re dead.
  2. If any of your buddies screw up, you and they are dead.
  3. Failure to formulate a correct course of action, and to execute it effectively is, in Scene Two, effectively defined as “screwing up.”
  4. Failure to screw up does not guarantee failure to be rapidly and unpleasantly dead.

and, since this is a very adult book, rule #5:

Your willingness to be rapidly and unpleasantly dead is the only thing which may allow others to survive.

The writing is, among other things, smart.  And the more astute the reader is, the more Brooks’ writing pays off — the book is full of subtle allusions and asides to reference prices that are being paid “out of sight” of the main plot and action.

So the question is:  how do you take a really good, really sophisticated, really subtle book about the Zombie Holocaust, and put it on the screen in a way that will grab the interest of not merely the fans, but also people who have no interest in the book whatsoever?  This is a huge consideration: like most geeky topics, this is a movie that has barely avoided the “ash-heap of no funding” on at least two occasions.  Like the Lord of the Rings movies, concessions are to have to be made to keep it accessible to a public which frequently will not care one whit about  the most important themes of the original work.

Compromises have to be made.

Fans are currently very upset with what they’re seeing in the first trailer, and in the directorspeak of “Brad Pitt saves the world.”  The direction and imagery is Roland-Emmerich-style “disaster movie ends the world” stuff.  It provides a sense of what’s going to happen, but conveys absolutely none of the sophistication of the book on which it’s placed.

That said, there are some grounds for optimism:

  1. The trailer is very clearly showing the beginning of The Crisis.  So we don’t actually know how much of the rest of the movie will play out, and there’s still plenty of ground for optimism that Pitt’s character will somehow be involved with the “Redeker Plan.” (I won’t spoiler this, but those who have read the book know what I’m discussing).  The script released in 2008 had some serious deviations, which were unfortunate (particularly as I have great respect for its writer), but there’s been significant rewriting and reshooting.  Right now, there’s no reason to assume that the inevitable deviations will be all that far afield.
  2. The visuals are stunning, and the opening of the action is disturbing.  Having decided to follow the UN employee from the beginning of the action (which most zombie movies avoid, in favor of a cheaper and considerably-easier “second day starts the action” approach), they do it well.  Many viewers don’t like the fact that these are “zoombies” (zombies which can run), or the way they tend to swarm.  One of the swarm depictions, however, where the zombies are “ramping” up the large concrete wall, IS very much “per the text,” and is a sign that the writers and directors paid attention.  That’s important, because this isn’t something where people can simply camp out on rooftops and be safe (this is an important detail in several parts of the book, which astute readers can use to gauge the trustworthiness of some of the book’s narrators — some of the storytellers either don’t get or aren’t sharing the full picture).  I have no personal qualms with “zoombies,” as they’re a lot scarier to deal with than walking zombies are — necessary for the general audience.
  3. The plot provides you with a protagonist who is anonymous in the book:  the UN employee who gathers the data.  Along the way, they do something that’s very smart:  provide a reason for people who might just want to watch Brad Pitt to care about the action.  Zombie Holocaust Narrative is something that’s “fantasy adventure” if you’re a single male who has combat training and appropriate survival skills.  It is unmitigated horror for a married man or woman working through the question “how do I keep my children alive?”  In the real world, when disaster strikes, our first thought is to get with our family, make sure they’re all right, and keep them that way.  A true Zombie Holocaust would be that story, written out over and over, across billions of us as we try (and mostly fail) to do just that.  It is smart writing to recognize the fundamental problem Pitt’s character endures in having to constantly place himself in danger for the benefit of the Greater Good. (And the original, clearly drawing from Studs Terkel, pulls no punches about the need to sacrifice for the Great Good when faced with something that is bigger than any one person).
  4. It has “angry electric bass noise.”  A lot of people HATE this, but I am a firm believer that there are times when over-the-top soundtracking is the only thing which will meld with a scene — music is critically important for a movie’s success (try to imagine the Schwarzenneger conan without Basil Poledouris’ bombast– it wouldn’t work).  The angry, klaxonish sound works here.
  5. The actors are good.  Now, granted, this is a trailer — but it’s a very effective one, partially b/c the child actor goes a completely believable job of being shocked, horrified, and completely, utterly baffled.  Now, this may, as some trailers re, be the best two minutes and thirty seconds of the movie — but it’s a promising start.

All in all, it may simply turn out to be a big-budget zombie movie, rather than the “this is deep enough to force serious critical attention” movie that a close following of World War Z would involve.  But so far, outside of unnecessary but totally justifiable nerdrage (I’m still pissed at Peter Jackson for screwing up the March of the Ents!), it’s too early yet to count this one out.

What People (Like Me) Are Thinking About on Wednesdays

How about… attacking a castle with your bare hands?

L’audace, or, Enormity

It’s working on 1 a.m., and I am a complete insomniac. I don’t normally bother people with “inner Happycrow” posts. Y’all don’t need to put up with that stuff. But if you’re up late tonight, well, this is one of those posts.

I finished the rough draft of this novel thingy as mentioned. Okay, no big deal, it’s an adventure story with some thinly-disguised (but hopefully still readable) polemic.

After talking to my brother (who’s spent the last few years hanging out with booksellers) and my sister-in-law, (who has been one, and is a very serious writer in her own right), I became convinced that self-publishing probably isn’t the way to go. After all, I wrote the thing, dammit — why shouldn’t I see how far the thing can actually go once it’s been edited?

That means getting an agent. There aren’t a lot of them, fewer who do escapist genre adventure stories, and you basically have to sell yourself to them. Because the alternative is that your work sits in a “slush pile,” where it may or may not be looked at for 9-12 months… while you’re not allowed to put it on anybody else’s slush pile. Not because publishers are schmucks… but because there’s so much writing and so little publication money out there. And, of course, since the point is to sell said story, and see how far it can go, that means trying to get either a good agent, or one of the best agents. Anything else is “seeking failure”: aim for the top, and you might just hit the middle, right? Aim for the middle, and…

That’s a lot of arrogance from a guy who wrote an adventure story just to see if he could.

But then, I’ve already been published… just not as a fiction writer. I’ve got a fencing article out there in print, been a technical editor for a tome on weaponry so monumentally ginormous that it literally weighs in at just under ten pounds, and written… well, written a couple of articles. Actually, I’m a very successful writer. Just in the wrong field, and for the wrong reasons.

Let me explain. Back in 2002/03, I realized that there was a major flaw in the interpretive methods generally used in my field. I did some homework, and tore up about at least a month’s pay in equipment in order to perform the experimental archaeology that would answer my questions about archery and armor. The article that came out (and here’s part of the arrogant part) was expressly intended to expose that interpretive flaw, and thus “punch higher than its weight class,” forcing not only an acknowledgment of the thesis, but also the forcing the entire historiography to change its comparative methodology and spend more time down in the trenches “doing the math,” replacing a bird’s-eye view with the “worm’s-eye view” (a phrase stolen from the back cover blurb of a Glen Cook novel).
Yeah. Arrogant. Stamp it on my forehead. So, being hopelessly arrogant, I conceived two other articles over the course of the next couple of years. They were literally intended as an “article trilogy” designed to do unto the historiography at large what the first article does on an introductory scale.

One of the articles is considered a “bombshell” even before it’s published, and faced truly severe “pushback.” Fortunately, the editors were convinced that the thesis was worth fighting for, and fought the publisher’s external reviewer every step of the way as I turned in draft after draft and clarification after clarification until finally the article was approved.

Boy do I owe those guys a hell of a nice dinner.

The last one isn’t considered “bombshell” per se, but in theory it’s a captor mine. It got reviewed by two of the biggest names in the field: guys who sneeze, let alone forget, more than I’ll ever know. I’m truly fortunate that the first of the editors/critics “gives good comment,” because the final product is much better and significantly wider-ranging than the first draft, and should be generally accepted. But if that holds true, it contains ideas that simply wreck many of the assumptions taken for granted by the previous historiography.

These guys, too. At minimum some really kick-ass wine.

Yeah. Arrogance. This from a guy whose latin compares badly to that of geeky Harry-Potter-inspired eighth-graders.

And it worked.

My work has been publicly held up as an example of how research of its type should be performed. I’ve already completely altered the research career of a (vastly-better-trained) colleague in Hungary, whose most recent article states that article #1 ~”will force the complete reappraisal of the historiography of the High Middle Ages.” (Meaning, within this particular field, of course, not the whole enchilada. No human could approach that without some sort of sci-fi cyborg technology.)

None of this is exaggeration.  I oscillate somewhere between giddy and appalled (at the prospects for my sadly-engorged ego).

What’s this have to do with trying to land an agent? Well, besides demonstrating a thick skin, deep debts I owe to other peoples’ patience and helpfulness, and a tendency to long-term (even grandiose) thinking, not much.

But it has a metric crapload (3% more full of crap than an Imperial crapload) to do with why I’m up at 1:30 in the morning, unable to fall asleep. I can’t sleep because I lay there before bed tonight, did the mental math…

and am simply stunned at the depths of my own arrogance.

I smell like wet dog.

Well, actually, I smell like wet MOOSE… because I managed to flesh and mostly membrane a moosehide today.

I learned two things:

  1. Keep pressure hose off concrete, or else vibration will eventually wear a hole in said hose.
  2. Moose softens INCREDIBLY easier than cow. I’m starting to really understand why the brain-tanners refuse to even touch cow. I’m very likely, should I be able to source hides for tanning, to start working more in deer and elk and moose, simply because it’s so much less work to soften.

UPDATE:  It’s looking pretty good now, and is sitting in the frame sun-to-fur so that it can finish drying out.  I’ll take a couple of pics once I take a break.  I’m beat, and I’ve gotta be at the gym in two hours.

  1. (on softening)  Yeah.  That in spades.  Unless somebody wants tooled saddlery stuff, I’m not looking back.  Fergit cow.  I just softened sections of that hide that would have taken a semi-industrial process in cow, on the fly as an impromptu “break,” as I hot-stuffed another side of leather.
  2. A bigger and better (bulk-rate) frame would have helped.  I had to lose a couple of corners by the back legs because my frame wasn’t big enough to let me work them right.
  3. The fur itself has a really nice russet shine to it: the alum bath really seems to have brought out some of the color.  I’m thinking of rolling it up when it’s done and I’ve cleaned the fur off, and storing it wrapped up in a bag with cinnamon oil or something to block the scent, so that my wife objects.  She’s never had a dog, let alone a wet, dirty dog, and while the smell will diminish rapidly once it’s dry, it just seems like the “married” thing to do.

Or, maybe, I could rub it down in rosemary or lavender or something like that.  Rosemary, probably.  I just can’t see “lavender moose” as anything other than a bad disco trip.

Why I love the medieval conference at Kalamazoo

This led to innumerable hilarities as women who couldn’t have got a date in a men’s prison rejected the advances of ugly men who felt they were slumming.

Herr Doktor Professor Boethius von Korncrake visits Kalamazoo…


No, not carpentry, and not Beltway politics.

The frame I made isn’t big enough for the little beefer I pulled out of the freezer that’d been soaking in my tanning agent.

And that means I can’t even think of fleshing the moosehide yet… not until I’ve built a couple of SERIOUSLY large wooden frames from 2×4’s… big enough that they’re going to have to attach semi-permanently to the back fence or something… am going to experiment with “loose softening” per the “Hungary tan…” but it’s still a serious issue, and the one remaining issue keeping me from having a side business ready to fly.  (Well, that, and I really do need large blocs of time that can be devoted solely to the work.)

Once that’s done, day-care issues can become a secondary feature, as the times when I’m not so heavy adjuncting, I’ll be able to be near the house for munchkins while earning some bread in the process.  And, that’s a nice thought.

Iobagiones Castri

(just blowing steam here, guys)

are equipped with sabres?

Why, damn you, why? What power in 11th-and-12th-century Europe equipped rabble with swords? Was Hungary just that rich? And if they weren’t nobles, and they weren’t serfs… were they not rabble, therefore? But, in this case, why didn’t they have horses? Or, if they did, why didn’t they fight on them?

And if archers are supposed to hold ground, why are they not being equipped with spears for the purpose? You don’t *hold ground* with a sword… you go hack the guy’s legs off with it!

Argh. There are times when Hungary’s appalling lack of written primary source material just chaps my butt.

It’s not like they were some fourth-rate backwater like England, barely able to take on the Welsh and Scots without the aid of logistical and military geniuses… these guys regularly go head to head with the **HOLY ROMAN EMPIRE**, fight off the Cumans on a fortnightly basis…. you know, the Cumans? The guys who single-handedly crush the 4th crusade? And they’re constantly intervening in the Kievan succession, and were a pain in Byzantium’s royal ass. So we know they weren’t morons, or they’d have gone the way of the Avars. But noooo, they had to hang out in the rough neighborhood, the one where the Mongols and the Ottomans show up… so no poncy elaborate Rolls for me, thank you very much….


It’s five to midnight…

And I’m waiting for another piece of hide to dry so that I can pressure-test one of a couple of different theories…

yes, I’m a geek.  But, if I’m as successful as I *hope* I’ll be, I’ll be a geek who can support his hobbies with the proceeds from another hobby…

Does this planet make me look fat?

How about this one?

Getting serious about the Moon and Mars

Okay, so we want to go to the Moon.  And there’s serious evidence of water on Mars.

So why aren’t we going?  There’s certainly no shortage of Americans yearning for a new frontier, and perfectly willing to train up on waldos and whatever else would be involved in creating a new set of colonies.  We’re even reasonably sure what that sort of work would entail.

But NASA’s plans aren’t serious.  The Moon in twenty years?  Based on the gradual refurbishment of 1960s technology?  So that five people can stay there for half a year, doing who knows what?  Lift, now that the ABM Treaty is done and gone for: if the US were serious about getting into space, it would pioneer and Orion drive and be done with it by putting the equivalent of the USS Enterprise into orbit with every launch, with sufficient tonnage both to carry water shielding against radiation and to possess rotating decks for spin gravity.

Believe it or not, this ain’t science fiction any more.  So why isn’t it being done? It’s not like we can’t contain the radiation effects at the launch site — they had that figured out in the 1970s.  So what’s the deal?

Terra Preta at Home

It’s been making the rounds here and there, and has finally gotten into Nature. (Note to self: cancel Wired, keep science rags, pick up Nature).

Was changing my clothes after a quick run, and reading 1491 (my new bathroom book: smart people may be able to read it all at one go), when they finally got around to discussing the Amazon as an engineered entity.  Okay as that goes… but just earlier I’d read up on the “Dead Zones” caused by runoff fertilizer. 

If Terra Preta can be applied to a wide variety of soils (and since the main ingredients seem to be charcoal and fish bones, I don’t see why not), then not only do the coal-mine folks stand to pick up an entirely new and highly-profitable new product, but home gardening might start getting a LOT easier.  Back in Hungary, where they have an equally-amazing soil, you can practically stick arrow shafts into the dirt and come up with cedar trees.

And there’s an easy way to find out:  the “Army of Davids” approach with folks testing at home.  All you’ve got to lose is some effort, if you have a firepot out back like I do… and the gains, theoretically up to 800% in growth, might finally square the circle between pissed-off environmental activists and farmers who know how hard it is to actually generate the Green Revolution food supply that all of us 21st-century Americans take for granted.


Follow-up on the Buff Leather post.  I’m hip-deep in a moosehide.  Fluffy.  Sure can see why it was the expensive option for buff coats:  the hide is MUCH stronger than cow, albeit thinner.  Couldn’t get all of it fleshed and membraned today, b/c of a problem that means it needs to soak so I can get it to lay out flat, but it should be able to be laid out tomorrow, and finished up next week.  Pictures soon (but I’ll only include one of the gross ones).

Buff Leather

I have climbed the learning curve, and can now produce buff leather in my garage.  It’s thick, it’s soft, it has drape (or, it should, if it continues to dry as it has), and the grain looks exactly like the grain of historical examples, including variations within the theme (aka, I can explain why the King of Portugal’s harquebusier coat has a different visible texture than a buff coat from the Tower of London).

All I have to do now is set up a fleshing post (for which I have the materials handy), so that I can work raw hides, and you name it, deer, moose, cow, etcetera, will all be within reach.  Reindeer is spendy, but creates a particularly awesome lightweight and breathable suede…

so yours truly is going downtown to get a DBA on Tuesday, and is opening his very own part-time tannery.  I’m thinking “Happycrow’s fine leathers.”  But that’s awful pretentious-sounding, so we’ll see.

Building a library


(I know that the handful who’ve commented didn’t collectively look at this post 160 times yesterday…) 

This Christmas we’re going to bring the Bunny’s library to Texas.  It’s three generations worth of books in Hungarian.

And when that happens, yours truly is going to have “small library syndrome.”  Because my wife has a couple thousand volumes, and I was a Navy Brat who always had to give his books away, and then kept doing the intercontinental shuffle.

So, by field, what would you add?

Military history and science:  Is it worth having Jomini, even though he’s dated?  What are the titles one should have for reference, and what does a reasonably knowledgeable civilian really need to have?  (Mike, pipe up: you saw how my wife devoured your stuff this summer)

Math/Science:  Which books are written in a way that make useful skills and concepts easy to learn?

General History:  Which books illustrate the human trends that one definitely needs to know, even if your old man does history and is quietly pushing you towards the sciences so he can get into space?

Poetry:  I have a big blank here, b/c I grew up reading what Baby Boomers think is cool.  One more faux-poetry piece by Maya Angelou or E.E. Cummings, and I’ll puke.  Besides Kipling and Robert Service, who am I missing?

Art:  Technique and Appreciation

Economics:  Does a Hayek fan need to own Keynes?

Geography and TravelBalkan Ghosts aside… what really gives you a sense of a place?

Crafts and Trades:  I have leatherworking books.  What else teaches you things you need to know, or are useful skills, w/o a bunch of fluff, sales pitches, or misinformation?

Bookshelf of Bad Ideas:  Speak up, Blackpine, I intend to make this a reality.  But on a budget, which of these morons is a must-have for the collection?  Besides the obvious works of Soviet Agronomy?

Lit:  Heinlein.  The Illiad, Aeneid, etcetera.  What else?

Basic Programming:  *Is there* a language anybody can pick up and use for trivial programs the way folks used to use regular BASIC or Pascal, without a forty-hour learning curve?

Hurting People, Retail:  Obviously I need savate references, and I still have my copy of Dempsey floating around if I can find it.  Who am I missing that I really need to read?

There’s not a blushing, shy person reading this blog.  Not one.  Unless you’re lurking.  And then you don’t count.  Come on, I *know* the rest of you have opinions…

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