Think I'll Run for Congress, 'Cause I've Got Some Bills to Pay

More of my musical nonsense …


(Write me in for any office, anywhere, anytime.)

Filmed in the Baen Barfly suite at Dragon*Con, a little ditty about “the only sport for adults.”* Here’s the chorus:

Politics, that’s the life for me
It fits my arrogant, megalo-maniacal personality
I’ll get my name in the papers and my face on your T.V.
And take good care of myself, my friends and my family — yes, that’s the life for me

You won’t find honesty like that in any standard campaign commercial, will you? So I think of this as the theme song for the Anti-Campaign.

Watch it here: Playing Politics.

Many thanks to Tedd Roberts for both the videography and all the YouTube magic.

Hope you get a chuckle out of it — the melody is a little monotonous (sorry), but consider the subject matter. And remember, if you don’t want to vote for any of the folks on the ballot, you can always write my name in!

I’m the Anti-Candidate, and I approved this message.

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*Attributed to Robert A. Heinlein.

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Dragon*Con 2011 Pictures, Part 2: Filk

(In case you missed them: Dragon*Con Pictures, Part 1: My Friends.)

This year I’ve discovered that I really enjoy filk (genre-related folk music) and filking (playing and singing same). Part of that is the warm reception “The Monster Hunter Ballad” has received over the last few months, and part of it is an immense sense of joy at doing something I never thought I could: writing and performing original music.

How did I get into this filking thing? It was an overly long journey:

  • Way back in the mid-90s I penned Titan-rocket-program-related lyrics to a number of different Beatles tunes.* So far as I know they’ve all been lost, and probably just as well. But I didn’t play an instrument, so I never considered the possibility of writing an original Titan tune.
  • In 2000 I got stationed overseas, where during my off hours I wrote a novel** and learned a few chords on the guitar. For my farewell dinner at Thule Air Base I wrote “Home on the Tundra” (to the tune of “Home on the Range”). As proof, you can look at the last page of the September 2001 issue of the Thule Times.
  • In 2008 I wrote the first of what has become an annual series of songs for the Industrial Extension Service: “The I-E-S Song.” It hasn’t made it onto YouTube yet, but there’s still hope … though you can watch the video montage for the 2009 song, “The Economic Recovery Blues.”
  • At MarsCon this January I got the idea for a Dungeons-&-Dragons-based song, which eventually became “Saving Throws” (sung to the tune of “Edelweiss”). And somewhere along the line I got the idea for the Monster Hunter song, which I debuted at StellarCon in March.
  • And at ConCarolinas this June I actually took part in a “Filk Circle” for the first time, and had a great time — which naturally led me to look up the filk track at Dragon*Con.

I played a few songs on Friday night, and went back on Saturday night to listen even though I had a headache. Then I was back again to play on Sunday night — where I took pictures!

First, the director of the Filk Track, Robby Hilliard:


(Dragon*Con Filk Track head honcho, Robby Hilliard.)

That guitar he’s playing looks awfully familiar. (I actually loaned my guitar out a couple of times.) Robby did a great job organizing the track, and his whole staff was very friendly.

Here’s Alex Boyd, who on Sunday night set himself the challenge of playing only original filk that he had made up that day.


(Alex Boyd.)

One of the songs he did was, “Don’t Bring Your Guitar to Dragon*Con.” Given the difficulty of maneuvering through the crowds, he had a point. I bought one of his CDs.

And here’s Tally Deushane, singing “The Dragon*Con Song”:


(Tally Deushane.)

Tally got very tired of singing “The Dragon*Con Song” by Sunday night; she probably sang it a dozen times over the course of the weekend. After Dragon*Con she posted on her Facebook fan page that she had been named one of Glamour Magazine’s “Top 10 College Women of 2011.” If I’d known we had a celebrity in our midst, I would’ve asked her to autograph her CD when I bought it.

Finally, guitars and ukuleles were not the only instruments to be found in the filk circle:


(The anonymous accordion player who wowed us all on Sunday night.)

In summary, a splendid time was had by all.

And meanwhile I keep coming up with new song ideas, which is both a little scary and (to me, at least) a little cool.

___
*I included some of this history in a previous blog post.
**It was okay, not great. I think my second novel is better, though neither one has been published.

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Dragon*Con 2011 Pictures, Part 1: My Friends

It’s hard to believe Dragon*Con was over a week ago already. My life is very blurry these days, so it’s good that I have pictures to look at.

The best thing about conventions, even huge ones like Dragon*Con, is spending time with friends. I wasn’t able to get pictures of all my friends, but here are a few.

Here I am with “Genre Princess” Alethea Kontis and other members of her “Traveling Sideshow.”


(L-R: Danielle Friedman, Alethea Kontis, me, Leanna Renee Hieber.)

Alethea was kind enough to bring me in off the bench to pinch hit for a sideshow member who couldn’t make it. Danielle Friedman performed a lovely New Zealand “poi” dance routine, while both Alethea and Leanna Hieber read from their work.

Note that I’m sporting my Monster Hunter International hat — it seemed appropriate, since I sang “The Monster Hunter Ballad.”

I also got my picture with Mary Robinette Kowal, who this year won the Hugo Award for best short story.


(Me with awesome author Mary Robinette Kowal.)

And who do you expect to run into when you go to Dragon*Con? Why, the person who turned over command of the Thule Tracking Station to you 11 years ago, whom you haven’t seen since! Rudy Ridolfi commanded POGO (our AF Satellite Control Network callsign) from 1999-2000, and I took over from him in July 2000. We only spent a week together, and I never realized he was a Klingon-speaking geek. It was great to see him and to meet his wife, Heather, who is a big fan of Baen Books.


(Two former commanders of Detachment 3, 22nd Space Operations Squadron, Thule Air Base, Greenland: me, and Rudy Ridolfi.)

Note that all of the above happened on the FIRST DAY of the convention! Dragon*Con, of course, is a frenzied and confusing 4-day-long hive of activity. Thankfully, I was able to enjoy breakfast one morning with some of my fellow Codex Writers:


(L-R: David M. Gill, David’s son Justin, Hel Bell, Danielle Friedman.)

My pictures from the Baen lunch didn’t turn out well enough to post, but I have pictures from the filking and random costumed folks that I will post on another day.

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RavenCon 2011: My Schedule

This weekend I’ll be in Richmond, Virginia, for the RavenCon science fiction and fantasy convention. I’ve been to Raven a few times before, and it’s always been a good time.

My schedule for the weekend is pretty light:

  • Friday, 04/08, 7 p.m. — Opening Ceremonies
  • Friday, 04/08, 10 p.m. — I’ll help out with the Baen Traveling Road Show
  • Saturday, 04/09, 8 p.m. — “A Workshop Was Held” — I’ll try to help folks recognize and correct passive writing
  • Sunday, 04/10, 9 a.m. — “Praise and Prayer Service” — some singing, some Scripture, and a time of prayer and Christian fellowship
  • Sunday, 04/10, 11 a.m. — “Why Can’t I Find What I Want?” — asking readers what they want but can’t find

While I’m there, I hope to get some work done on a short story. I’ll certainly have enough time for that … as long as I don’t go to too many of my friends’ panels!

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How Big is the Universe?

Over at the redesigned Baen Books* web site, they’re running features by Baen authors — a short story one time, a short article the next — and the recent article “The Size of It All” by Les Johnson is fantastic. Here’s the opening (with emphasis added):

For ten days in 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope pointed its mirror to a small patch of seemingly empty sky near the Big Dipper and started collecting light. (“Seemingly empty” means that no stars or galaxies were at that time known to be in that particular piece of the sky.) The part of the sky being imaged was no larger than the apparent size of a tennis ball viewed from across a football field. It was a very small portion of the sky. What they found was awe-inspiring. Within that small patch of nothingness was far more than nothing. The image revealed about three thousand previously unseen galaxies, creating one of the most famous of Hubble’s images and my personal favorite. The sky is not only full of stars but also of galaxies and they are very, very far away.

Here’s the mosaic image the telescope produced:


(Hubble Deep Field. NASA image.)

Since that image was taken, the Hubble Space Telescope has produced the Hubble Ultra Deep Field, which revealed ten thousand previously unseen galaxies, even farther away and further back in time, in another “seemingly empty” part of the sky.

It’s apparent that we are nearly insignificant specks in the grand scheme of the universe, and if you read “The Size of It All” you’ll get an idea of just how small our world — indeed, our entire little part of the celestial sphere — is. The question of how big the universe really is always puts me in mind of one of my favorite Chris Rice songs, “Big Enough”**:

When I imagine the size of the universe
And I wonder what’s out past the edges
And I discover inside me a space as big
And believe that I’m meant to be filled up with more than just questions …

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by it all. It’s on those days that I rely most on faith to keep me going.

___
* FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m affiliated with Baen as their “Slushmaster General.”
** Copyright Clumsy Fly Music. Used without permission, but in good faith so hopefully they won’t send their lawyers after me.

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The Monster Hunter Ballad, and a Story Sale

This past weekend at StellarCon, I debuted my first official attempt at true “filk,” in the form of “The Monster Hunter Ballad.”

The song is based on the Monster Hunter books by Larry Correia and published by Baen Books.* Larry was at StellarCon, and I enjoyed several conversations with him over the weekend, but he unfortunately was not present at the DeepSouthCon 50 party to see the debut. However, thanks to the cinematography and web-posting acumen of Tedd Roberts, Larry and everyone else can see my silliness on YouTube.

In other news, I returned home from StellarCon to find a story acceptance in the e-mail: my short story “The Tower” will appear in an upcoming installment of Crossed Genres.

___
*Full Disclosure: I am a “Contributing Editor” for Baen — not an employee, just a slimy contractor, but affiliated with Baen nonetheless.

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Economic Recovery Blues

Introducing my second foray into songwriting: “The Economic Recovery Blues,” the 2009 Industrial Extension Service (IES) Song, now available on YouTube.

And now, the story behind the song …

Friends from the Titan System Program Office at Vandenberg AFB may remember that I penned quite a few Titan-related lyrics to Beatles tunes, but “The Economic Recovery Blues” was only the second time I’ve tried to write lyrics and something of an original tune. Back in late 2008, my first attempt was “The I-E-S Song” — I wrote the lyrics and had the basic tune in mind, and Mark Minervino (my Pastor at North Cary Baptist Church) fleshed out the music. He also did all the instruments and the background vocals — his versatility is boundless — and I just sang the main lyrics. Then I put together a video montage and showed it off at our annual Christmas luncheon.

The original “I-E-S Song” was a big hit with the folks at work. Several of us wanted it to go on YouTube, but the humor was a little too sharp — mostly self-deprecating, but it got in digs at some other North Carolina institutions of higher learning. Maybe the powers-that-be will change their minds one of these days.

I had so much fun doing the first “I-E-S Song” that I figured, why not do another one? So in December 2009 the process repeated. I had the lyrics and the beginning of a tune, and Mark figured out (and performed!) the rest. Because I didn’t get started as early as the first one, we didn’t get this song done in time for the IES Christmas luncheon, so at that I sang another song — this one a work-related lyric sung to “Oh, How I Love Jesus” — and then finished up “The Economic Recovery Blues” over the holiday break. The video montage is rougher than the first one,* but the office folks decided to post it “as is.” So this is the first song I’ve done to be posted online. Hope you enjoy it, if you go in for that sort of office-related-silliness thing.

Meanwhile, if you know of anyone who needs some business consulting in lean manufacturing, “Six Sigma” statistical process control, ISO quality management standards, safety and health, or growth services, point them at the Industrial Extension Service — and at “The Economic Recovery Blues.”

Ah-one, and ah-two ….

___
*A note on the video montage. For the first one, we purchased some nifty graphics off the web; for the new song, I used Creative Commons images and put attributions in the credits at the end of the song.

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Living Up to My Own Essay

A couple of years ago I wrote an essay entitled, “Ignore the Tour Guides, If You Can,” in which I decried the tendency among some worship leaders, praise bands, etc., to distract the congregation’s attention from God instead of helping them focus their attention on God.

Then, in a supreme bit of irony, in January of this year I took over as the worship leader in our church (North Cary Baptist Church, if you’re interested). Which means now I have to remind myself of my own words:

How does a praise band, formed to lead the congregation in worship, become the center of attention? How do singers become vocalists vying for the congregation’s attention instead of leaders helping the congregation to sing the songs? It is, I believe, a natural human tendency to want to be recognized and appreciated for whatever form of expertise we have. And we may convince ourselves, if we believe our talents to be gifts of God, that the applause after a song is somehow directed at God rather than at us. But the human ego still appreciates it, and so the temptation to grandstand is very strong . . . .

For the worship leader, and especially the very talented worship leader, there is a distinction between relaxing into their own worship experience . . . and remaining conscious of the duty they accepted to lead the worshippers in the group setting. Too far in one direction and the other suffers, but the proper choice would seem to be always in favor of the congregation rather than the worship leader or worship team.

The only thing in my favor at this point is that my under-developed musical talent — I rarely even pick up a guitar any more, and my callouses are almost gone — means that I feel singularly unqualified to be in this position. As a result, I try to make myself invisible even in front of the congregation.

And maybe that’s as it should be.

___

P.S. That essay is still available, if you know of a venue that might be interested. (Although I’m thinking about just posting it on my web site and being done with it.)

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Space History, 11.21: The Time Dilation Song

This isn’t the usual “multiple of 5”-year space anniversary I usually post, but it’s too good not to include. On this date in 1975 — according to Wikipedia, the official source for everything that might be true — Queen released the album A NIGHT AT THE OPERA.

What does that have to do with space history, you ask? Because, in the fine tradition of such songs as “Rocketman” and “Major Tom,” this album included a song about space travel: “’39.” Written and sung by Brian May — the astrophysics student who stopped working on his doctorate to pursue music but eventually earned his PhD in in 2007 — the song involves the time dilation effect of traveling at near-relativistic speeds. A science fiction song by someone who knows science.

And that’s today’s space history, kids. Now, back to your regularly-scheduled browsing.

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Great Video: The Barbeque Song

This was posted on YouTube a couple of weeks ago, but I just found it today — and as one who appreciates barbeque in most all its forms, I found the rundown of different styles to be a delightful tribute to one of my favorite foods.

I particularly liked the bit about whether or not Florida is a Southern state* — down to using the outline of California.

Enjoy!

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*To most of us who consider ourselves Southern, it isn’t.

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