Robert Silverberg

Last month I finished reading an anthology of science fiction short stories called Infinite Stars. One of the best was a story by Robert Silverberg. He’s widely regarded as one of the greats of the genre, yet I’d never read any of his work. It seems like he doesn’t have any single work that really gained any pop culture notoriety or even kind of a “super hit” in the world of SF. Most readers of SF can easily rattle off a list of books by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Clarke, etc. I certainly could. But until now Silverberg was not on my radar at all.

Soooooooo…after a bit of research I decided to read his novel Downward to the Earth. It appeared to be of the same bent as the short story I’d read. I must say it was quite good. I work as a librarian. I keep track of the new science fiction that comes in. It’s rare to find a new SF novel that is less than about 400 pages. It seems that everyone ones to get some of that Game of Thrones TV series type money, so nearly everything is a series as well. So it was really cool to read a novel with big ideas, communicated with style and efficiency, that was only about 250 pages long. For me that’s a 2-day read (if I’m sick, which I am right now, so I’m just laying around all day reading, suffering, or both).

Now, Downward to the Earth is very much of a book of its time. Published in 1970, you are not going to find much in the way of female characters with much to say. I’ve noticed that in more recent SF, that female part of the human race is much better represented. When you go back and read this old science fiction it’s hard not to notice this. This isn’t really a criticism of the work. Just something I thought I’d mention. Having read a bit of Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and the others, I would almost say the male characters are usually kind of secondary as well. The ideas presented in these old SF novels always seem like the stars of the show. The characters are just their to explore them.

Strangely, I find that the more inclusive recent SF seems a bit devoid of interesting ideas. But maybe I’m just looking at the flashy books that show up in the library. I think that Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang, might prove me wrong. A general rule might be “if there are spaceships on the cover, don’t expect your mind to be blown, but you might enjoy it anyway.”

Anyway, back to Silverberg. I’ll probably read a bit more of his work after researching it a bit and deciding what to read.

the Skateboarding Life and my Dad

I went by my dad’s grave this morning. It’s been a while since I’ve paid respects. Our family accountant’s new office is conveniently located about 200 yards from the headstone, and it being tax time I was in the vicinity. I used to go with my mom pretty often, but since she is not able to go anymore it has very much fallen of my radar.

Going there always puts me in this middle-aged state of introspective semi-sadness/semi-peace existential brain-fog. My dad was a good man. When you look beyond my dad’s good-natured clowning, he was always the telling the people he loved that he believed in them and supported them. In his jobs as a coach, teacher, and administrator, he was always trying to lift students and colleagues up.That is the message I hear over and over.

A few months before my dad died, he and my mom were at our house for dinner. He knew I’d recently gotten a new downhill board. He asked to see it. It was the first time he’d ever expressed any interest in my skating. He was in the middle of his cancer treatment. He had to have known he would not be around much longer. I wonder if the reality of his situation gave him some kind of clarity with regard to me and my skating that he hadn’t had before? He was always interested in our lives. A massive supporter of both me and my wife. I feel like he must have been thinking about me quite a lot, and really reflected on what skateboarding meant to me. Anyway, that simple request to see that new board struck a chord with me. I’ll never forget it.

So when  go to Paderborn, Germany for the freestyle contest this year my dad will be on my mind. I don’t care if I win or place. I want to do the run that best expresses the way I normally skate, not something a bit more formualted to get points. I want my runs to be such that if my dad were there watching he’d better understand me.

Soul Searching

Maybe Soul Searching is a little bit dramatic a term, but I’ve been thinking a lot about how I approach freestyle skateboarding this week, and about taking my own advice about always skating like one’s self.

It was percolating (I almost wrote “gestating”) just under my surface thoughts for a while, and I think yesterday’s Alva post really brought it to the conscious mind. In particular, skating my own way at Paderborn this summer, rather than emulating someone else. Truth is we can’t help but skate our own way, and when we try not to, well, the results are horrible. I have this long list of tricks I “want” to learn. They are mostly tricks that lots of other people do. Not original. A list of check-box stuff that will frustrate the hell out of me and not really make me very happy. They will be removed from the list. Going to work on my own stuff. My own ideas. That must be good enough. It is. It is more than good enough.

Yes, I probably spend a little too much time thinking about things.

Style through the decades

The other day on Instagram, Tony Alva had one of those “story” posts in which he did a 2 foot nose wheelie where one of his feet is way to the side, and as he carves around he moves it almost to a G-Turn and almost to a 1-foot nose wheel position before he finishes the move. I really like the way he does them. There’s not a lot of footage of him skating, but at this point in this dumb video from “World of Playboy” he does the move. I say dumb because they obviously wanted him to talk about being a “renegade”, and TA does his best to accommodate them, and well, it’s kind of blabbering. I really think Tony is a better than that, and the editing and questions were probably dumb. But really, the move is awesome. Here he is doing it in a Van’s video, under cramped conditions.

So I did a little interwebs research and found some other images that I really like, because they show him back the early 1970s doing it the same way, then a couple of shots from more recent stuff (including this video). Kind of cool to see him still doing this move. I like that.

All photos stolen from the interwebs. Thanks to the photographers.

 

Alva two-foot nose wheelie style from days of yore.
Logan Earth Ski days.
More recent image of the now middle-aged but well preserved Alva doing the move.

 

Detail of foot position and delightful knee style from the dreadful video linked to above.

Make your own scene

One of the things I love about being a skateboarder, besides skating, is the tradition of doing things for ourselves. Making our own scenes, creating our own publications, etc. But I really really love the art created by skateboarders. From my friends Jeremy Elder (elderhousearts.com), and Mike Moore (http://www.mikemoorestudios.com), to widely known artists who came from skateboarding like Shepard Fairey and Michael Sieben, skateboarding fosters a lot of creativity. The list is long. Anyway, here are a few things I’ve got on my walls…

Owl, by Jeremy Elder.
Alternative Tentacles Jello Biafra board – graphics by Shepard Fairey, board manufactured by Powell.
Fist, but Jeremy Michael Elder.
Sun and bird, by Jeremy Michael Elder.
Skateboards. Photo by Tony Gale.
Various stickers, by Jeremy Michael Elder.
Cockfight skateboard deck, graphics by Michael Sieben.
Fickle Skateboards Austin Motel/Stupidfest 2018 graphic, and Sphinx cat graphic. Both will be on the wall after I finish riding them. Not only is the art cool, but the decks themselves are works of art — totally hand built. Laminate layed up in Lew’s workshop, glued, pressed, cut, finished. Only thing he didn’t do was produce the veneers.

 

 

Some words on Fickle Skateboards and the “Maker” skateboard community

A couple of years ago Lew Ross and his company Fickle Skateboards came across my radar. I think it was David Thornton’s old LuchaSkate podcast interview with Lew that got my attention. About that time there was a new group of skateboarding bloggers coming to prominence. Kyle Duvall of the Parking Block Diaries, David, and a few others were really making their mark. David would later transfer LuchaSkate to the control of Brian Czarski, who would change it to NeverWas Skateboarding. But David’s energy from both the LuchaSkate blog/podcast and the associated Facebook page helped bring some good people to my attention.

In mid-2017 I got wind that Lew was going to be in Austin, visiting and skating with Indiana refugee Jason Renn, Bryce Miller, and some other local Austin skaters. I contacted Jason and made arrangements to go down and skate and meet these guys. When I got to Renn’s place, Lew had a number of boards available for purchase. I bought his “Classic” shape, the review of which can be found here.

Since that time I had another chance to skate with Lew, Jason, and the crew at StupidFest 1, in October 2018. At the time I was riding his Knucklehead shape. As one of the admins of Neverwas Skateboarding, Lew brought me an 8.25″ version of his Bullnose shape, which I just set up and have not had a chance to skate yet as it has been winter.

But I want to show a few pictures of these setups, and say a few more words about Lew’s workmanship.

The Knucklehead (the board on the right)I have is now well-ridden. I find it to be a bit wider than the specs on the Fickle website. The board seems to be about 9″ over the trucks. I think Lew makes adjustments to this boards as time goes by?

At any rate, it’s a bit wider than I expected. I set mine up with Indy 169s, which fit it perfectly. I’ve been using 54mm Spitfires on it, and 1/4″ risers. It’s a big setup. When I rode it in some ditches in Austin I put some 56mm 87a OJ Keyframes on it and it performed really well. I normally like a slightly smaller street board that I can use 149s on, but this board is really nice feels great. It has the same great and comfortable concave as the Classic, the same nice easy curves in the nose and tail kick angles. In other words – great mold. I love it. I think Lew makes the most comfortable concaves I’ve felt in a long time.

You can see I’ve worn the tail down on one side from doing 360s and scraping the tail. So it goes. Story of my life. That’s why I’ve got a tail skid on the Mode Pool board I’ve been skating ditches on the last couple of months.

The other board is the Fickle Bullnose. It’s a pops shape with very full nose and tail. You can see the specs here. I’ve got it set up with Ace 44s and those same OJ Keyframes I mentioned earlier. Wheels may change, depending on how I decide to use it. As you can see from some of the other pics, it has the same very nice concave and mold angles as all Lew’s boards. Look at the curves of the tail – nice and ….errrr…curvy…rather than an abrupt angle. I’m looking forward to trying the Bullnose out.

Lew has his own philosophy about finishing. Actually, Lew has his own philosophy about everything, but that’s another story (a positive one). He doesn’t over-sand his boards. From what I gather, he thinks it weakens them. They aren’t rough, just not “slick”. Likewise, he doesn’t put a lot of paint or sealer on them. The graphics are distinctive, and the boards seem to have a light coat of spray sealer. I wouldn’t call them “rustic”. The finish is fine. It’s just different from what most of us are used to.

I’ll be honest. When I got the Knucklehead I thought it was too big for me. I’m a fairly large person, but it is just a lot more beefy than I normally ride. But it looked really cool, and really, it feels great. The dimensions work really well with the concave and a proper setup. It feels good, and really performed very well in Austin’s ditches, as well as in my normal skate spots. A lot of the clips in my part in NeverWas II were shot while I was riding the Knucklehead in a ditch and on flat. The others were on my Mode 8.25″ pops or my Mode freestyle board.

 

 

 

 

 

So there you have it, my review of Fickle.

 

A little skating

I managed to get some skating in over the last week. After winter I always put my foot on the freestyle board and wonder if I can “still even do this.” The first session doesn’t feel that good. I have to understand and accept that. The trick is just to get back on the board and roll, and get used to it. From November to usually March the weather and holiday decorations at my freestyle spot ( they put up Santa’s Village) conspire to keep me off the freestyle board and just skating a little street and ditch. So by the time I get back on the freestyle board it feels a bit weird at first.

After 3 session last week I finally started feeling good on the board again. Rusty, but feeling solid again. Here’s a little clip of something I do on my street board too. I call it “slide to spin shove-it”. Backside 180 slide into a fakie 360 with a 180 shove-it at the end. I like to do them rolling fairly fast. It’s a high percentage trick for me. I usually make it. Not too complex. You just have to let it flow.

Today is Tuesday. The weather is back to rainy crap, but at least I got a few session in. I’m excited for the rest of the year in skating.

New Turntable

Back in the 1990s I sold about 80% of my vinyl LPs to Half Price Books. We were young, we moved a lot, we never had a lot of space, and I just didn’t want to lug the weight of those albums around with me for the rest of my life. I kept about 30 LPs that I really liked. Honestly, the ones I sold were nothing I really wanted to keep. I bought a lot of stinkers I guess.

I’m no audiophile, but I do like a nice stereo. I got a nice Technics system when I graduated from college. A few years ago I replaced all of it but the turntable with a new system – Yamaha amp/receiver, Yamaha CD player, and Klipsch floor speakers. It sounds great. I hooked up my old turntable and it still worked (I replaced the cartridge). I decided this Christmas to get a new turntable. A vinyl freak friend at work who is of approximately the same income level as me recommended the Audio-Technica LP120. That’s what I got. It is substantially nicer than the little turntable that came with the old stereo. A lot of it is made of metal. It is substantial. Balancing the tone arm was easy enough (I had no idea you had to do that kind of stuff). I’m using the cartridge that came with it. It sounds great.

All these years of listening to little shitty bluetooth speakers, ear buds, etc., had nearly made me forget what a really nice stereo and turntable sound like. The old LPs are in good shape. I have always been very careful with them. A few pops, but otherwise they are crystal clear. Luckily we have kept all our CDs. We have a pretty  good music collection.

So, I’m really enjoying the new turntable. Today is my evening shift, so I don’t go to work until noon. I got up at 9am, made coffee, and sat in the front room (now the Music Room) and listened to two LPs and a couple of 45s. It was so great. Remember when you were young and would just listen to music. Really listen — doing nothing else. It’s the best. Apparently that is my optimum way of starting the day. Sleep in, have coffee, listen to music. I feel great. Need more of that.

Aquaman

I saw Aquaman on Christmas night. I like Jason Momoa as Aquaman, and I like that they are trying to do with the character. But man, that was a hard movie to get through. I have a high tolerance for long movies, but that seemed like it was four hours long. And this is supposed to be the “good” DC movie? Gott dang.

Aside from the plot, which seems to have been written by a 10-year old who just kept thinking things like “and THEN they’ll go to the Sahara Dessert, and then…”, there is one massive plot hole that I simply can’t ignore.

That hole is Superman.

Let’s see. The forces of Atlantis are about to destroy the surface world, in the same universe where Superman exists and is full-on Superman-God-Like,  and it’s up to Aquaman to straighten things out? Did the writers even see Man of Steel, Batman V Superman, or Justice League, or Wonder Woman? Sorry, but that that kind of firepower in your imaginary world, you need to explain where the those characters are.

Participation Trophies

I think it’s OK to give kids trophies for participation. In fact, I think it is good. It’s a good thing.

Some kids never win a trophy. Then some kids win all the fucking trophies. I always hated those kids. One of the good things about not being one of them was that it turned me into a skateboarder.

The kids that never win — well — that makes them feel like shit. It makes a lot of them not want to participate. Participation and trying should be encouraged. I hate it when people are so damn stingy they won’t give a kid the slight break of recognizing that they tried.

End of rant.

Mid-Terms

Well, today is election day for the mid-terms. Beto O’Rourke has been running a punk rock style campaign – grass roots stuff. Ted Cruz has been, well, Ted Cruz, which is to say an arrogant asshole, but is that a surprise? Not really. Apparently a lot of people are cool with that.

Firmly into middle-age, I can’t say I have any real insight into the psyche of the electorate. Are we simply seeing the result of the culture wars that in my mind started in the 1980s (but probably started a lot earlier)? Is the internet to blame for giving voice to all the dark and angry bile just barely under the surface?

I don’t know. I just want everyone to have a roof over their heads, food to eat, healthcare when they need it, and the ability to live openly as who they are and participate equally and without fear in this society. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. Those all seem like the basic shit to me.

 

Strength

I’m not saying I have any special knowledge or whatever. This is just an observation. I’m as guilty as anyone.

Most people really have no idea what strength is. It’s easy to rename stubbornness, pettyness, and smallness as “strength” and continue on the path of weakness, lazyness, and self-deception. You see it all the time. People who pick the easy route and claim they are being strong. It’s easier to close your doors to people, but it’s the coward’s way forward.