Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Aerosmith had a heck of a run from the late 80s through the 90s, with an outrageous number of hits and excellent albums for a band that initially rose and fell in the 1970s. The last song of theirs that I consider really good is also one of their "social consciousness" songs, where Steven Tyler waxes philosophical about society in "Livin' On the Edge." The band had some hits after this, and a handful of decent albums, but the creative magic that seemed to flow so effortlessly before slowed to a trickle. Music From Another Dimension was a superficial piece of fluff, for example, with a number of tracks that'd make a decent B side on a single, but nothing that made listeners sit up and take notice. That's fine, I suppose, because there are countless bands out there that will never achieve something as good as "Livin' On the Edge."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The GoGos.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Boats, beaches, Bars & Ballads
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, July 20, 2017

How to get caught in a flash flood without really trying

I spent last week in the Davis Mountains of West Texas, camping with my son's Boy Scout troop. While I enjoy camping on occasion, and West Texas in general, this was not my first choice on how to spend the week. But, as things are wont to do, I ended up driving a van packed with 11-14-year-old boys whose idea of high humor culminate in which one can squeeze out the most toxic fart.

The first few days were brutal hot, as one would expect. The nights didn't cool off as much as one would expect in the desert, but the night skies were spectacular, the Milky Way a bright blaze with dust lanes fully visible. I was also amazed to discover West Texas lightning bugs are quite different from the local variety, in that they are aggressive fliers that blaze electric green for up to 6 seconds at a time. Wow. By day 4, however, the weather changed, and began raining intermittently. Until Thursday, that is, when it dropped the intermittent part and rained all evening, all night and into Friday morning.

This was a bit troubling, because we're in a mountainous area with many dry washes and had gotten plenty of warnings about being wary of flash floods. Our assistant Scoutmaster specifically sought out the camp head to ask about the dangers of flooding. "Nothing to worry about," the guy answered. "We have people way up the mountains who will notify us if anything happens. All's clear." So, with the rain easing up, we went on our hike.

The hike took us through Little Aguja Canyon along the mostly dry stream bed. We had about 14 boys in our troop. Several other troops joined us, and once you count all the adults and camp staff, we had a party pushing 60 people. That's a pretty big number, so the hike, which was a short one of 5 miles round-trip taking just about two hours, moved pretty slowly. The line got strung out on the trail so that they had to stop regularly to let everyone catch back up. We reached the Needle--the outcropping of rock pictured above (photo by David O'Neill) about an hour in. I'd thought about bringing my camera, but I didn't have any rain gear and rain continued off and on. So I left it. After a 15 minute break at the Needle, we pressed on toward the Notch, a spring-fed pool that boasted a small waterfall that was reputed to be a gorgeous spot to swim. This deep into the canyon, the air was pretty still and humid, so a swim was looking pretty good.

We met another group of scouts coming back from the Notch at the second-to-last stream crossing. This crossing was actually pretty wet, and tiny tadpoles and baby frogs abounded. They'd started out an hour before us and had enjoyed a good swim. They assured us the Notch was gorgeous and that we were a mere five minutes away. Slowly, our group crossed the stream bed onto a high, grassy meadow strewn with boulders and bordered on one side by the vertical face of the mountain. In the distance, we heard a distant roar. "The waterfall!" folks exclaimed. "That's the waterfall!"

But the roar kept getting louder. Looking through the trees that followed the dry wash along the edge of the meadow, I saw water flowing. Water shouldn't be visible, much less flowing. Our hike leader ran back to the crossing--which the last members of our party had passed--to find it under three feet of muddy, rushing water. She then ran ahead to the last crossing under the Notch and found it in a similar condition. What's more, she discovered a troop of a dozen older scouts caught on the opposite side. She radioed base camp, telling them of the flood and saying "The water's moving really fast." Basecamp answered, "Don't worry, it'll go down in a few minutes. Just wait it out." Two hours later, the water hadn't gone down an inch, and the camp reluctantly dispatched several riders on horseback to help up back.

This is where the fun began. With horsemen on either side of the flooded stream, the men on the hike (numbering about 15) linked arms, elbow-to-elbow, and formed a human chain from one bank to the other. The water was cold, thigh-high, and filled with branches and leaves. And moving very swiftly. The women on the hike (maybe 10) and scouts--some of them under-sized even for 11-year-olds--held on to us as they crossed nervously. A few had their feet swept out from under them, but we were able to grab them and help them get upright again before they went under. More than a chain, I guess you could say we were a human wall. It took maybe 20 minutes for everyone to cross safely. On the other side, we joined up with the group of scouts we'd met just before the flash flood hit, and also the ones who'd been trapped on the other side of the final crossing before reaching the Notch (they'd followed the stream along the opposite bank to meet us, climbing over some difficult rock formations and thick brush to do so). Our group, including horsemen and camp staff, now numbered 93. That's a lot of people. And the flood had not subsided at all. We crossed the stream a couple more times, and skirted up the steep side of the canyon once when the entire trail disappeared under water for a 50 yard stretch. Then we reached the Needle. The scene was... intimidating. Two other washes met here, and although they weren't nearly as flooded as the one we were in, there were rapids galore. The ground changed level several times here, and a sort of raging moat had formed around the Needle rock formation. It was waist deep here, and swift. A simple human chain wasn't sufficient for this water. The horses were none too happy about it, but they carried a thick rope across, which was fastened to boulders on either end. Then we all went across, hand over fist, through waist-deep water, adults interspersed with kids, horses 5-10 yards downstream to catch anyone who slipped into the water. Nobody did. Another crossing demanded the rope, but this time we linked arms over the rope. In all, we crossed that flood 13 times, getting back to camp just before 5 p.m. A 5-ton military truck shuttled us over the final water crossing before camp, and then from the camp sites to the side with the mess hall, etc. The next day, when we packed up to leave, the water had only subsided a few inches.

The thing I remember most is how much gravel ended up in my hiking boots every time we crossed. My hiking boots themselves, several years old, didn't survive the ordeal. Between the gravel and the rocks we stumbled over in the water, the soles were pretty torn up. The insides were coming apart. The "waterproof" aspect of the boots had been pushed beyond all reasonable measure. They went in the trash, never to be seen again.

At no time after the initial crossing was I worried we couldn't handle the flood. It was dangerous, yes, but nothing we couldn't compensate for to get all the kids safely back. The biggest worry of myself, and others, was the constant threat of more, and heavier, rain. Ominous dark clouds gathered and broke up throughout the day, showering us and occasionally rumbling thunder. If a real flash flood, with a six-foot wall of water, came roaring down on us, we'd be in real trouble. That never happened, though, and the kids now have dramatic stories to tell all their friends.

All things being equal, then next time we have a hike in the desert scheduled when it's been raining for an extended period, I believe I'll pass.

Now Playing: Aerosmith Unplugged
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, July 07, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I've been on a Go-Go's kick lately, so it's Go-Go's time on Friday Night Videos! Unfortunately, most of their videos seem to be missing from YouTube, even on the band's official channel. The good news is that one of the videos available is "Head Over Heels," a masterfully-crafted pop earworm. I had the Talk Show album from which this single sprang forth, and it was pretty darn solid overall, showing their growth and maturity as both songwriters and musicians. Alas, which the album did okay on the charts and produced a couple of hits, it wasn't enough to keep internal tensions from breaking up the band for a couple of decades.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jimmy Buffett

Now Playing: David Gilmour About Face
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 8

It's July in Texas! And do you know what that means? It means 90 percent humidity and 100 degree temperatures! It also means my outdoor projects--including the tikification of the back patio--are on hold in favor of things that can be completed in the relative comfort of air conditioning. Fear not--the tiki bar and pool are getting quite a bit of use now as myself and The Wife retreat to our personal tropical paradise on a nightly basis.

The long and short of it is that I'm not likely to have much in the way of build-alongs for the remainder of the summer. Just so you know. But before I temporarily sign off on this particular series, I want to share my efforts on the ceiling. Most traditional tiki bars have interesting ceilings. Very often they're adorned with lauhala matting, fishing nets, bamboo, reed and other texture-rich materials. They look great. They're also almost always inside, in climate-controlled environs. That's not the case with me, and my primary concern was 1) that it not act as a haven for dirt, spiders, wasps, etc. and 2) be easy to clean. Obviously, that's something of a challenge, to hit those targets whilst still being suitably tiki. The existing white ceiling had to go, though, lest I get a scolding from the legendary Bamboo Ben about "No white ceilings!"

Fortunately, The Wife and I had a plan for the ceiling even before we were bitten by the tiki bug. There's a tradition in the Southern U.S. of painting porch ceilings blue. Supposedly this discourages insects (ie mud daubers, spiders, etc.) from nesting there. The blue confuses them, thinking it's the sky, supposedly. We tried this at the old house, painting the unfinished drywall a sky blue. And it seemed to work. A section of the garage we never got around to painting did have mud dauber nests, but the painted sections stayed clean. So for the tiki porch, we'd paint the ceiling blue to simulate a marine environment.

First up, I pressure washed the ceiling. It was amazing just how much dust and grime had accumulated over the years. What had been a dull, grayish-white became a much brighter dull white. Then I used an edger to paint all the corners where the ceiling met the walls. I laid plastic tarp on the ground and taped more plastic to the walls where I was painting, to catch any drips. Regardless of how careful you are, there will be drips. There are always drips. Also, regular broom handles aren't really designed to handle the stress of paint rollers. I snapped two of them and had the roller fall on top of me, making me look part Smurf, before I got smart and bought a metal handle with a reinforced screw thread. No more broken handles.

Note the ugly, UV-yellowed ceiling fans. Until we started painting the ceiling blue, we didn't give them much thought. They kind of blended in with the dull ceiling and went unnoticed. They were effective at moving air on the patio, though, and on hot days make it quite comfortable, so removing the fans entirely was never considered. But oh, how hideous these old fans now look!

Surprise! The Wife gifted me with two new, tiki-appropriate ceiling fans for our anniversary!

Naturally, the old ceiling fan mounts were incompatible with the new ones, so what should've been a 30 minute switch-out ended up taking most of the day. But eventually, I triumphed. And the new fans look fantastic. The lights aren't terribly tiki, though, so I'm reading threads on and taking cues from people like Tiki Skip on how to scratch-build tiki lights. Eventually, the existing lights will be replaced with tiki versions. Two fans down, three to go!

Now, let's discuss best laid plans. In going for an undersea, marine vibe, I took another cue from another home bar build on Tiki Central and tracked down some Valspar color crystals to add to my paint. This is essentially very fine silver glitter, and I added four packets per gallon of paint (It seems Valspar has recently discontinued this product, so finding it in stores became rather hit-or miss, and online options are in price gouging territory). The idea is to simulate a glittery, underwater look, and I have to say the effect is subtle but nice with angled light. The next step, however, didn't work out quite so well. We thought we'd paint caustic ripples--the refracted light pattern you see in swimming pools, etc.--on the ceiling. Simple enough, right? Wrong. I got an assortment of pattern photos and used a projector to throw them onto the ceiling. Looked great! Then I took a lighter blue paint--with the glitter added--and painted over the projected pattern. Looked great! The I turned the projector off. Looked terrible! The fake wood grain texture of the ceiling panels did me no favors, but even without that, it just looked a mess.

We discussed various options for trying to salvage the idea, but ultimately decided it would just be a case of throwing good money after bad. Sometimes you have to accept failure and move on. So move on I did. The caustic ripple patterns had only been step one. Step two is what I hoped would really sell the undersea concept--silhouettes! Again, I used the projector to throw the image where I wanted, and used a black Sharpie to quickly sketch the outline.

I did the projecting and sketching at night, for obvious reasons. Some of the images were too large to do all at once, so I had to break them up into sections, completing one outline then moving the projector and lining up the second section with what I'd already outlined. Tedious work. Also, sweaty work. Even with the sun down, the humidity was sweltering and I was soaked completely through by the time I finished.

In the daylight, I used a 3/4 inch flat brush to paint in the silhouettes. I thought this part would go quickly. I thought wrong. Two hours per silhouette, minimum. Aching neck, aching shoulders, cramping hands were bonus prizes. And, much to my chagrin, a single coat of paint wasn't enough. Single coats looked splotchy and uneven, requiring a second coat to even things out. But the sea turtle--the only one that's received both coats--looks pretty darn good. This one greets visitors when they arrive. Eventually, I'll paint over the ill-fated ripple patterns. That'll be tedious work, so I need to run out of excuses not to first.

Here's the hammerhead shark, the largest silhouette. He's somewhere along the lines of 6-7 feet long. I knew I wanted a big shark on the ceiling, but didn't think a tiger or Great White would present well in silhouette from underneath. A hammerhead was perfect. He still needs a second coat.

I pretty much had to do a manta ray as well. They're huge and instantly recognizable. He needs a second coat as well.

There is more paint work yet to do. Because the water ripple pattern didn't work out, there's a lot more blank blue ceiling that needs attention--there's 64 feet of it, after all. The farthest end will feature a mermaid in profile, but I'm holding off on that one because it will be the most detailed and I want it to be realistic, not cartoonish. That's not an easy target, and I'm still trying to come up with exactly the image I want. And I need more undersea silhouettes to fill in some of the other blank spaces I wasn't anticipating. An octopus seems all but certain at this point, and maybe a sawfish. Beyond that, I'm undecided. Regardless, I'm happy with what I've got at this point.

Now Playing: Talking Heads The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Folks, we're got a holiday weekend of sorts coming up. Yeah, the Fourth is on a Tuesday, which means a lot of us have to work Monday, but still, it's a short work week! Who better to get us in the proper frame of mind than Jimmy Buffett? I remember when "Who's the Blonde Stranger?" came out in 1984. It was during Jimmy's country phase, and it was a decent hit for him on the country charts at a time when chart success had started passing him by. I remember it was a heavy rotation favorite on KULM that summer, and I heard it so often I knew the lyrics by heart. He's always had a kind of special relationship with Texas, which is to be expected considering the fact he wrote "Margaritaville" in Austin. I like how he gets the distinction of different parts of Texas in the song, and really, in the 80s Galveston was kind of a hedonistic Gulf Riviera, still trying to find its identity in the aftermath of the casino closures two decades before. Jimmy looks like he's having a blast making the video, and you have to appreciate the fact that "Frank" is wearing an A&M jersey. It's a silly song, with an even sillier video, and never fails to make me smile.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... ELO.

Now Playing: Wynton Marsalis Quartet Live at Blues Alley
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Sailing Venus: Verdandi Outpost

I am remiss. It's been some months since I last posted an update on Sailing Venus, and there's really no excuse for that. I have not abandoned the project, although work progresses slowly as usual. My writer's group continues to meet, and provides valuable feedback every few weeks. More importantly, it provides a looming deadline that inspires frantic writing whenever time gets tight. That, possibly more than anything else, has kept me plugging away at this novel despite the myriad interruptions, distractions and setbacks that come my way.

Between you and me, chapters 6 and 7 were real bears to write. Originally envisioned as a single chapter, a good chunk into 6 I realized there was no way I could cram in everything that needed to happen without giving all the events and character moments short shrift. At that point I did what writers do and split the chapter in two. For some reason, twice as many words took me four times as long to write. With 7, in particular, I knew where things ended up, but little of what happened on the intervening pages. That proved to be quite the learning experience for me, and necessitated quite a bit of crash research into the Pyrenees Mountains (I was probably more surprised by that than you are).

With those trouble spots behind me, I'm happy to report that chapter 8 is also complete, with work on chapter 9 begun. I've topped 34,000 words--possibly, but not definitively--the most words I've committed to a single work of fiction since The Broken Balance, a terrible, derivative high fantasy mess that I completed when I was 17 years old. That word count places me beyond the 1/3 mark but not yet at the midpoint of the novel. I've hit two of the big milestones set up in my outline (which I'm already deviating from significantly, but it's still proving useful) with the first big action sequence on the horizon. The next two chapters are clearly defined in my head, and have been generally present as a concept from the earliest glimmerings of this story as a potential novel. It's always nice to make these long-gestating writerly ideas tangible on the page.

As I look at my calendar, I see I have 18 weeks to go before the World Fantasy Convention arrives in San Antonio. That gives me 16 weeks--I have two weeks coming up where I will be traveling and unable to do any meaningful writing--during which to complete roughly 12 chapters. At a glance, that should be do-able if I just hit a chapter a week. But I've been averaging maybe a chapter every two weeks, so that looming deadline is nervous-making. In my defense, I seem to be producing good words on the page. My writer's group members have varying degrees of experience, some being published a lot more than me, others a lot less, but they all have offered valuable insight at various times. The last two meetings, more than one has stated that they're reading my submissions less to offer critique and more to find out what happens next. I'll take that as a win.

Here's a sample from chapter 8. Erica's impulsive, leap-before-you-look nature has gotten her into progressively worsening trouble, but that's barely scratching the surface of what awaits the poor girl. Enjoy.

A confusion of voices assaulted her. Strong hands grabbed her and hauled her up from the floor. Ozone tinged the stale, steamy air. Erica blinked. Several ill-defined figures stood around her, all shouting at once. She blinked again, trying to focus. Wan yellow light streamed in through a row of small portholes. Bunks. The portholes were in open bunks, the privacy doors rolled up. Blankets and personal items lay strewn about.

"My dad," Erica managed at last. "I need to see my dad."

"Who are you?" The speaker stared at her intently, his sagging, sallow face crusted on one side with dried blood, his wiry hair glistening with sweat.

"My god, what's wrong with her skin?" a second voice asked.

Erica realized her tattoos had taken on a linear fractal pattern. In the poor light, it appeared as if maggots swarmed beneath her skin. Annoyed, she turned them off.

"I'm Erica Van Lhin. My father's Geraard Van Lhin, Risk Management Chief Inspector," she said. "He's here with his inspection team. I need to see him. Now!"

The cascade of voices fell silent. The Venusian winds howled mournfully outside.

"Child," said a bald woman gripping a bunk for support, one arm in a sling. "The three of us you see here, we're... we're the only survivors.

"Your father's dead."
Now Playing: Ixtahuele Pagan Rites
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Dolph Briscoe dies

On this date in 2010, Dolph Briscoe, the 41st governor of Texas, dies. Briscoe, a long-time Uvalde rancher, is generally remembered fondly from his terms as governor for being a decent guy. But his administration did earn some dubious distinctions. Briscoe was the last Texas governor to serve a two-year term and the first to serve a four-year term. He undermined two efforts to rewrite Texas' abysmal constitution (which remains a trainwreck to this day). Briscoe once appointed a dead man to the State Health Advisory Commission, and if what I've heard is true, called a press conference in the aftermath to reassure the press and public that he hadn't lost his grip on sanity.

But what most people remember him for--and which doesn't appear in most official biographies--is that he is the governor who ordered the closure of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange. Ironically, Briscoe had no actual legal authority to order the Chicken Ranch (or any other brothel, for that matter) closed. But he did, hoping nobody would call his bluff. Fayette County Jim Flournoy certainly knew the governor had no authority to do so, but acquiesced to Briscoe and effectively ended a surreal two-week media circus that captured the attention of Texas as well as the rest of the country.

Governor Briscoe died after ignoring my interview requests for the better part of a year. Way to sidestep that writer, Dolph!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is available from, and anywhere books are sold.

Now Playing: Ixtahuele Call of the Islands
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 7

At this point, I enter uncharted territory with my tiki build. A popular and common component of home tiki bars are carved baseboards and other assorted trim. I have a full-sized router that I've used on my office build, mainly to carve out dados for bookshelves, etc. It's large, however, and not entirely suitable for the more intricate design work of carving baseboards. So I went to Harbor Freight, that emporium of cheap tools imported from China, and picked up a super-inexpensive trim router using a 40 percent off coupon. This small router isn't nearly as powerful, and I doubt it will last as long as my other (15 years now) but it's nimble and better suited for detail work.

I picked up some 1"x6" Ponderosa pine boards from McCoy's (they were cheaper than at the other options, plus the boards had a smoother, more polished finish as opposed to the rough cut of other places). I designed a simple, common alternating triangle pattern using Photoshop and printed it out. Using an Exacto knife, I trimmed out the pattern then traced it onto a more robust piece of poster board. After trimming that out, I taped it to the boards and traced the pattern onto the wood. If that sounds like it's convoluted, or a lot of steps, well, it is.

One thing that's nice about the trim router is that it has a guide attachment that allows one to cut a groove at a set distance along any straight piece of wood. My big router doesn't have that, and to get straight lines I have to measure and clamp down a guide board that's both straight and long enough... it's a pain. This is much more effective, although I have to confess that on my first attempt I didn't bolt the guide tightly enough, and it came loose resulting in an irregular cut. But don't tell anyone.

Once the straight-line grooves were cut (I'm using a quarter-inch half-round bit at little more than an eight-inch depth, for those interested in such things) I set to work on the triangles. Each triangle is made up of six parallel cuts in progressively shorter lengths. As they're oriented at 45 degrees to the edges of the boards, setting up a dependable guide would be more trouble than it was worth. After a tentative experiment on a piece of scrap wood, I knew that I was not yet experienced enough to make the cuts freehand.

I ended up splitting the difference, so to speak, and used a short, straight piece of wood as a floating guide, holding it down with my free hand. This turned out to be remarkably efficient. I ended up taking about two and a half hours to rout the first 8' board, and only around an hour to do the second. This is one area where experience pays big dividends. The work went very much faster (with fewer missteps) as I progressed.

Next up, fire! On all the big home bar build threads over at Tiki Central there are references to artificially aging the wood used for trim, so it has a rustic, live-in look. The first part of this involved roughing up the carved wood with an angle grinder. Once again I headed to Harbor Freight with a 40 percent off coupon and picked up a cheap angle grinder. With the spinning heavy-grit wheel I gouged and grooved and scuffed the boards until they looked like they'd suffered 40 years of neglect in some out-of-the-way dive. Then I applied my little propane torch. I picked this up back in December to heat-tree the bamboo I'd started harvesting (which is something I've yet to discuss on this build-along. I will have to rectify that in the future). I wasn't sure what to expect. How much should I burn the wood? How black should it get? Am I going to start a huge fire and have to evacuate the neighborhood?

Fortunately, once you clear away all the sawdust (this is an important step, so don't skip it--sawdust is eager to burn) the wood is reluctant to burn as long as the flame keeps moving. It doesn't even have to move fast. I just brushed it back and forth like a gentle paint brush. Some parts of the pine darkened instantly, while others held onto their light coloration despite multiple passes. You're not burning the wood so much as scorching it.

At this point, I still wasn't sure if I was doing this correctly, or what the real point was. I applied a wire brush--the same type used to clean a barbecue grill, or used in welding if that's your thing--and rubbed down the scorched wood. The results were dramatic. The blackened, carbonized areas came off as soot, leaving the wood a much more uniform brown. But the biggest change was in the wood's texture. I've seen references to applying flame to "raise the grain" but didn't quite grasp what that meant. Give it more visual contrast? Expand it? Well, I'm here to attest that "raise the grain" is to be taken literally. Whether the grain actually rises or the softer wood between burns away is irrelevant--the end result is a wood surface with dramatically enhanced surface texture, akin to old barn wood that's been exposed to sun and wind and rain for 30 years. Only this way, you get the aged wood appearance without the cracks and rot that accompany exposure.

After cleaning away all the soot and sawdust, I stained the baseboards with Minwax Special Walnut and then applied a couple coats of Spar Urethane to protect the wood from moisture and the elements in general. I've posted so many dull stain and varnish photos for other projects that I'm not going to waste the space repeating. Just imagine several days have gone by and it's all dried nicely, okay?

Returning my attention to the back bar, the bar surface desperately needed trim applied to at least look complete. Since my intent is to match my original tiki bar design as much as possible, this meant getting some 3" moso bamboo clums from Bamboo Branch in Austin. Since I'd learned a lot more about bamboo than I did last year when I built my original tiki bar, I knew I needed to heat treat the culms to give them a richer color and bring out the contrast at the nodes. I have to say, burning 3" culms with my little propane (butane?) torch is a lot more time-consuming than the little 1.5" culms I normally work with. It takes more heat to reach critical mass and achieve the color change with the thicker wood. The result is very nice, and worth the effort.

The surface of the back bar, with the plywood base and laminate surface, is right around one inch thick. I took masking tape and, laying the culms straight, applied the tape to act as a straight cutting guide. Splitting bamboo in half is relatively straightforward, but cutting a strip out of a culm is more of a challenge. I haven't see how other folks do it, but I used a jig saw with a fine toothed blade to make my cuts. When I got to the solid nodes, I lifted the back of the saw to go into it at a 10-degree angle, and that seemed to work well. Once I got both sides cut and lifted the strip out, I used a small hammer to knock out the remaining node wood so the culm would fit on the bar top better.

I test-fitted the culm, and used the jig saw to trim away any areas that were sticking or in the way. Once I got the pieces going on the bar satisfactorily, I measured and made 45 degree cuts on the bamboo trim using my mitre saw for the corner joins. I used long paneling nails to attached the bamboo edging to my tiki bar, and honestly, that was a mistake. Those nails weren't strong enough to hold the bamboo steady, and there's been progressive shifting ever since. This time, I saw no other option than to use heavier wood screws. This meant drilling a pilot hole, then using a bigger bit to cut out a countersink hole.

After attaching the bamboo culms with the wood screws, I covered them with wood putty. The next day, once the putty was dry, I sanded it smooth with 220-grit sandpaper and applied some Minwax Special Walnut stain. The screw-holes are less obvious, but still not invisible. I'll apply some dark walnut when I have time and see if that helps it blend in better with the scorched area of the nodes.

One big downside of how nice this bamboo bar trim looks is the fact that the trim on the tiki bar--which I built before learning about scorching bamboo to bring out color and contrast--looks dull and dowdy in comparison (as can be seen to the left in the final photo of this post). I don't relish the thought, but as some point I'm going to tear apart the original bar, sand down and scorch the bamboo trim to give it the same pop as the back bar.

With the bar trim in place, I was ready to install the baseboards and bamboo tambour panels. You know, show some actual visible progress. A sticking point is the siding on the patio--it's overlapping fiber cement, which is nice and durable but not conducive to flush application of veneers. To compensate, I bought several 8' furring strips and sliced them lenghtwise on my table saw at a 4 degree angle (give or take). The thick end of each trimmed strip is about a quarter inch thick, which matches up with the overlap end of the siding. The 4 degree cut, when attached to the siding, presents a vertical surface upon which I can apply far more interesting veneers. I coated all the cut strips with Flood CFW-UV for added protection, even though they won't be directly exposed to the elements. Furring strips are notoriously non-durable, and I don't want them rotting out on me.

I attached the baseboard using a 1.5" exterior grade wood screw, drilled through a pilot hole into the backing furring strip. I need to go back with dark brown paint and cover up the gray screw heads, which draw the eye. I'm not going to caulk this, because there may be some reason in the future to remove the baseboard and/or wall covering. Not that I plan to, but that's the approach I plan to take.

I remember now that I forgot to mention one thing when discussing the routering of the baseboards above--on the backside of the boards I cut an eighth-inch deep, half-inch wide groove along the top side of the board. Why? To serve as a pocket into which I shall insert the lower end of the bamboo tambour panels. I placed a cut furring strip against the siding corner nearest the top end of the tambour panel (I'm fastening the strips to the wall with exterior wood screws, if you haven't guessed) and then did a test fitting of the tambour. Unfortunately, the bamboo slats in the tambour are fairly thin, and bulged out in the middle, which necessitated a second furring strip in the middle. Once everything lined up, I stapled the tambour into place, taking care to fit the staples between the slats. This is the same process I used on the back bar itself, although I coupled that with glue. Glue is not practical in this situation, and even if it were, I'm making the wall coverings so that they can be removed fairly easily if necessary. At some point I'll come back with tan paint and a fine-tipped brush to disguise the handful of staples that are visible, but for the most part they can't be seen unless you're actually looking for them.

This is a little out of place, but I forgot to include it in my earlier installments. In addition to the wall coverings being removable, I also built the back bar to be removable. It's solid and not going anywhere on it's own, but since I plan on adding a sink, I don't need any accidental shifting disconnecting the water or drain lines. But I didn't want to permanently affix it to the wall with nails or screws. I settled on eye hooks on either end. The anchors are small but surprisingly solid. The back bar's not going anywhere, but it was a snap to pull it away from the wall to facilitate the installation of the tambour panels.

And this is the end result, kinda sorta up close. I like that I decided to go with the tortoiseshell pattern. It adds visual interest. And by cladding the back bar in tambour, it looks of a piece with the wall.

And here's a slightly wider view, placing the back bar in the larger context, with the tiki bar front left. Before the tikification began, there were quite a few elements of the patio that we either didn't pay attention to, or thought were kinda neat on their own. As my upgrades continue, those elements are starting to clash badly. Case in point: That round porthole window. We thought it cute when we moved in, but it's damn ugly in context now. The Wife and I discussed this last night. We like the concept, but the execution is pretty bad. I'd thought to put that off for a good long while, but now I think I'm going to have to tackle it sooner rather than later. Complicating matters is the fact that it's a really large window, and available nautical-styled portholes, be they authentic or fake, are generally quite a bit smaller than needed here. I'm sure I'll figure something out, but nothing is ever easy...

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Bossa Nova Years
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 6

So, last update I'd completed the frame of my back bar and attached the bar top. Next up: Bamboo tambour panels. I realized early on that my tiki bar build, being outside, would attract all manner of dust, dirt, insects and assorted debris. This necessitated serious attention to ease of cleaning and materials that wouldn't collect the crap so readily. I'd originally intended to line the walls with bamboo fence wainscotting, but the more I thought on this the more I realized that would just provide harbor for all sorts of spider webs, wasps and random gunk to hang out in. Then I came across this thing known as tambour panels. I'm still not clear on the origins of the name, but essentially these are rolls of flat bamboo slats attached to a cloth backing. Think of it as flexible wood paneling. The price was right, it appeared easy to work with and it came in a variety of aesthetic styles. I chose tortoiseshell bamboo, which I felt matched the look of the bamboo culms I'd harvested and torched on my own (more on that later).

Here's a closer look at the pattern. The bright sunlight washed out much of the color, but it really is an attractive bamboo. I coated both sides of the panel with weather protectant because, again, while they'll be sheltered from direct exposure to the elements, humidity still varies wildly and my experience with the outdoor speakers showed that reflected UV was a significant issue. I learned during this process that many weather sealants are penetrative, that they depend on being absorbed by the wood surface to work internally. Bamboo doesn't like to absorb such things, so surface treatments are most effective. Live and learn.

Around this time, I decided the back bar should match the wall. I knew I wouldn't use a palm thatch front like on the existing tiki bar. I thought I'd go with bamboo, but that thinking changed to using the tambour panels for the back bar as well. That would unify the look of the back bar and the wall. Being easier to work with was no small factor in the decision as well. The first step was to remove the three cabinet doors from the back bar so I could cut the tambour to size and attach it. Below is the largest door, the one covering the water spigot and propane connection. Since we use that spigot regularly for washing down the patio, adding water to the pool and watering plants, I needed to include storage for the water hose. I attached a hose rack to the door, because this kept the hose out of the way of other things that need to utilize that cabinet space.

The downside of having the hose rack on the door is that the bolt heads stick through the front. I'm sure there are other solutions, but I couldn't come up with any during the build, so this is what I'm working with. A surface that's not smooth. I applied a goodly amount of Titebond III to the edges, corners and space around the bolt heads. As I've written elsewhere, Titebond III is relatively expensive, but close to the strongest wood glue you can buy.

I filled in the remaining space with Titebond II, which is a pretty strong glue in its own right, then used a folded scrap of paper to spread it all evenly across the door.

After that, I applied the cut bamboo tambour panel to the door and wiped away excess glue oozing between the slats before I clamped it down. There was lots of glue, and the last thing I wanted was the boards I was using to clamp the tambour down getting glued to the door as well. So I laid wax paper across the tambour, then laid down scrap boards and finally clamped everything down for 24 hours.

I'd used magnetic clasps to keep the doors closed on the back bar, and earlier had learned they weren't easy to open with my bare hands. They needed handles. Fortunately, I had a lot of moderate-sized bamboo culms drying in my garage I'd harvested back in December and January. I'd torched most of it, so there were some attractive pieces to work with. I picked out three bamboo joints that were roughly 1.75" thick and 6"-7" long to serve as handles. Here's where things got dicey: I didn't know how I'd make them into handles. I had a vague notion, but I didn't know if I could make it work, or if the bamboo would even tolerate my abuse. I marked the bamboo where I wanted the support bolts to go, and drilled that out. Unfortunately, despite knocking out the solid piece in the bamboo nodes, there was not enough leeway to get the 2" long screw and washer into place. So I drilled the hole out at an angle from the inside, going through the node (below).

This made things much easier. I could slip the bolt directly into the hole through the node now, but since the drill hold was much larger, I worried the bolt head would tear through the bamboo when tightened/stressed. So I added a washer to the bolt. Now the bolt wouldn't fit through the node opening, so I ended up slipping the washer in first, then fishing around inside the bamboo with the end of the bolt until I speared the washer, then sliding the combo through the hole. Repeat this six times.

Everything after that was amazingly easy, which is to say, not at all the way my projects usually turn out. I marked the locations of the handle bolts on the cabinet doors and drilled holes through the doors. I found a slender length of bamboo I'd torched and cut half-inch segments with which to sheath the bolts for aesthetics. Then I slipped the assembly through the door holes and tightened them on with a nut and washer combo. I tightened then enough so that the washer inside the handle bent into a U shape. They're locked in pretty solid. I don't think they're coming loose any time soon.

The end result is pretty sweet-looking, I think. The beauty of it is that if it ever starts coming loose, I can simply re-tighten the nut on the door and not worry about the screw head. It's pretty immobile. The only blemish is the open nodes on the handles. I intend to close these up at some point, otherwise the cavities will attract mud daubers, spiders and the like. I'll likely use an almond-colored silicone sealant, because in my experience with the tiki bar, basic wood putty cracks under stress. There may be a better option out there, and since I'm in no rush to finish off that portion of the build, I may well try something entirely different once all is said and done. But still, progress!

Now Playing: Dire Straits On the Night
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, June 01, 2017

The last Chicken Ranch book signing

This is it, Austin! The final, last, ultimate stop on my Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch signing tour. Hard to believe I've been doing this for almost an entire year now. So, if you've been on the fence about getting a signed copy, this is your last chance to catch me in the wild, so to speak.

I will be signing at Barnes & Noble Sunset Valley 1-3 p.m. Saturday, June 3. That's the Brodie Lane location, on the south side of Austin. Interestingly enough, this is the same location where I interviewed author Terry Brooks more than 15 years ago. Time flies, as they say.

While I will still do speaking engagements for the Chicken Ranch book, and hold out hope for Rob Ashford and Kristin Chenoweth to get their version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas produced on Broadway, this marks the last official publicity effort on my part for this book. It's been a wild ride and a learning experience for me. There are things I'd do differently, but overall I have to say that I've been greeted with great enthusiasm (almost) every place I've visited. There are still a few people here and there that think the Chicken Ranch's history isn't worth telling, but I generally ignore them. If you're in the neighborhood Saturday, come on out and keep me company!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is now available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Lisa Ono Bossa Hula Nova
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 26, 2017

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I love the Electric Light Orchestra, Jeff Lynne's afro and all, but if Earth, Wind and Fire ever had their wardrobe stolen, I suspect I know where it ended up. See for yourself: "Livin' Thing".

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Billy Ocean.

Now Playing: Electric Light Orchestra Afterglow
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 5

Tikifying my outdoor speakers isn't the only thing I've been up to. Progress on the back bar continues. Once I had the frame put together, it came time to waterproof it. I didn't use more durable, pressure-treated wood, because 1) the chemicals in such wood doesn't always interact nicely with metal, such as that found in nails, screws, fasteners, etc. and 2) the chemicals in such wood doesn't always interact nicely with human bodies (even though copper-based preservatives have largely replaced arsenic-based ones). Considering the fact that this would be a food preparation area, more or less, I wanted to go with something slightly less worry-inducing. In the end I went with Flood CWF-UV, not because it's food-safe (it isn't) but because I had some on hand. Budget-conscious, I am. But it's less threatening than arsenic/copper, so let's go with that.

Up and down, I coated the entire frame. The bar will be sheltered from direct exposure to the elements, but I don't want to have to worry about rot or mold. There's already a water spigot here, and I plan to make it a wet bar, so the potential for constant moisture and spills is not something to dismiss. The fact that the Flood is cedar-tinted made it easy to keep track of my progress--and see if I'd missed any spots.

Once I finished connecting all the legs, I realized that the pebble-concrete floor was not level. I didn't really want the wooden legs to stay in constant contact with the concrete because of the potential for wicking up moisture, but this clinched it. I needed to put leveling feet on the bar legs. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any of the heavy-duty all-metal ones I've seen in the past (just call me Mr. Over-engineering) so had to settle for some plastic anchor ones. You can see where I drilled out the hole to accept the footing anchor.

And here is the adjustable leveling foot inserted. I'm happy to report that the plastic anchor is holding up, and the leveling function is working properly. No unstable bar for me!

With the legs taken care of, it was time to tackle the bar top. If you'll recall from the start of this project, the size of the bar was determined by a 20" x 8' piece of plywood I had leftover. After coating it with the Flood weatherproofer, I positioned it atop the bar frame so that there was a 4" overhang on three sides, resting flush against the backing wall. I then used my drill--which I've had for close to 30 years and gets more use than any other power too I own--to make pilot holes and then fasten the plywood bar top to the frame with 2" outdoor wood screws.

And this is what it looks like. It's starting to be identifiable as a bar, no? I should add that somewhere along the line I attached the cabinet doors with hinges, screws and magnetic closures. They were all coated with Flood as well. I didn't take any photos of that, but I'll trust your imagination to fill in any gaps.

The plywood wasn't high-grade finish. I could have tried to sand it down and build it up to a smooth finish by applying many coats of polyurethane, but I did some of that with the initial tiki bar build last summer, and discovered it's a whole lot of work for minimal returns. That's why I went with laminate flooring for the bar top in that build. Following that route again had the added bonus of matching the back bar top to the tiki bar top, making the two look of a set, like I cleverly planned all this out from the start. Using the glue I had on hand, I spread Titebond III (the really, really strong stuff) along the corners and edges of the plywood surface, and filled in everywhere else with Titebond II (which is merely really strong). It's not my desire for the bar top to separate, you see.

Our entire house is floored in this crummy faux-pine hardwood laminate. Since I'm in the middle of my office build-along and replacing the floor (from whence the tiki bar top came) it was a straighforward matter to cannibalize more flooring from the office. I was able to pull up a section that was almost exactly 9'x4' which was plenty big to cut out a top for my back bar. A quick side note--one of the big reasons we hate this flooring so much (and we generally like laminate) is that it has very little texture and is very, very noisy. Not at all like the laminate we installed in our previous home. I've since discovered that this is actually a thing called "laminate tile" or somesuch, which is much thinner than traditional laminate flooring. It's also unpadded. Those factors combine to give it all the traits we dislike about it. But it makes for a decent bar top. I'll mix a drink on it, but I wouldn't want to walk on it. But it cuts easily enough with a jig saw, so that's what I did.

Then I used clamps and boards and random heavy things I had lying around to secure the laminate to the glue-coated surface of the plywood top. And squeezed it on real tight. The fit was just about perfect. I wiped up any oozing glue and left it secured that way for 24 hours.

And here it is without the clamps and assorted dead weight. The mini-fridge is about 21" deep, so once the trim is in place, everything should fit just about perfectly. It still doesn't look like much, I know, but I'm about to start prettying it up. It's going to look good--trust me on this.

Now Playing: Christopher Franke Babylon 5: Messages from Earth
Chicken Ranch Central