New Song – My Ol’ Broke Down Truck

I wrote a country song!  Well sort of at least.  The second in my guitar singer-songwriter experiments, My Ol’ Brokedown Truck is pretty much a traditional country song, although with different lyrics and chord voicings it might be something like a jazz standard from the great American songbook.  I wrote it around Christmastime when I was visiting my parents and my Mum asked me to explain to her Nashville notation.  I did so by way of demonstration, starting by writing down the title and eight bars of chord changes, and then a bridge, and suddenly I had the beginnings of a song. The lyrics also came quite quickly and naturally, and I liked it well enough to to finish it.

I recorded a basic track with guitar, bass drums and vocal. The guitar sound may take liberties with the conventions of the genre, bringing in some energy of bands like Cake or the The Black Keys. The vocal has a low and high harmony part, and I decided it’d sound better with a female voice doing the high harmony. I asked my sister-in-law Mary, who has been in a number of singing groups over the years, if she’d like to do the part. She came in and nailed it, and lifted the song to a whole ‘nuther level.

The hardest thing was to get the right sound for the solo on the intro and middle eight. A sax was definitely not appropriate, and I don’t play pedal steel guitar or fiddle, or banjo or mandolin, and the chords modulate so a harmonica won’t work. I experimented with various synthesizer sounds, trying to harken back to a rare moment in pop music where pedal steel guitars played side by side with analog synths, as exemplified by songs Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Billy Joel’s The Great Suburban Showdown, or Jackson Browne’s The Load-Out. But the right tone eluded me. I ended up using a melodica (a funny little keyboard instrument that you blow into) run thru a boxy amp simulator, spring reverb and tremolo effect.


My Ol’ Brokedown Truck

My brokedown truck and my rotten luck
Have left me here stuck by the side of the road
With my bleeding heart I will make a new start
But first I must get my body home
We’ve made many miles together
Sure in sunny and stormy weather
Well I could trade ‘er in for some shiny new tin
But you’ll never find peace while you roam


We’ve rode many roads together
Fast through foul and fair weather
And I might go far in a brand new sports car
But then how can I carry the load?
So I’ll wait here stuck with my rotten luck
And my ol’ brokedown truck

– John Szinger, 2022

Late Halloween

Jeannie went into the city today and said the trains weren’t bad, but buses and bridges are still a mess. I bought gas; long line. We’ve heard back from enough of our friends now to know that a few of them in Brooklyn and on Long Island have suffered serious damage to their homes from the flooding. Trying to see if there’s anything we can do to help. Either way our hearts are with them. And again our home was full of neighbors and kids today looking to warm up and recharge.

Everyone has cancelled Halloween because of the storm, and rescheduled it for the weekend. We finally got around to carving our pumpkin tonight. It was a big’un, too: thirty-five pounds. The theme this year is mustache. Ask Lizzy. Hope this lightens your mood.

Riders on the Storm, Part II

When our power came back on last night, it was a bit of a surprise. We were only without juice for a little over a day. They’d been saying on the news it could be a week or more, so we were preparing for the long haul. One by one the neighborhoods around here are coming back online, and we were lucky to be on the early side. A lot of our friends are still without power, so Jeannie invited them all over today to warm up, recharge their electronics, and hop on our internet for a while. It’s exactly what we were wishing for last night so, you know, spread some good karma. The kids were still off school today, and mostly it was parents of their friends. It made for a pleasant day. They had a little Halloween party. Jeannie made some pies. I mostly stayed down in my office and tried to get work done. My boss said we’re all telecommuting until the mass transit situation improves.

I was able to patch up our roof today too, by enlisting a roofer who’d come by to work on our neighbor’s house. That turned out to be a lucky break. He replaced some shingles and patched a leak, and the roof is good enough now to last until we get around to redoing the whole thing. Jeannie and I spent some quality time crawling around in the attic, seeing what exactly got wet, which was very little.

These extreme weather events are getting more frequent, so it’s best to think thru the backup power question for the long term. Our two main liabilities are heat and communications. Third I suppose is the fridge, but even without power it’s like a giant cooler. As long as we can get ice we’ll be okay. We had hot water, since that’s gas powered and has a pilot. Our heat is gas powered, too, but has an electric pilot and regulator. If we loose power in the winter it’d be a major problem. For now we were able to just put on sweaters and wool socks. I wonder what it would take to have that run on battery backup or from external power. I’m sure the power draw is minimal, and it’s mainly a matter of hooking up the right components. We’re going to get our hot water heater replaced sometime soon, so when that happens I’ll see about if there’s some kind of retrofit available. Otherwise we’re looking at some kind of homegrown hack, but I can’t imagine it’d be that hard.

Another possibility is to put in a fireplace or wood stove. Then we’d have no worries and be all cozy on winter nights to boot. If only we could get Hockey Night in Canada down here, eh? This is something we’ve talked about since we got our house, but have never gotten around to. Maybe it’s time to dust off that idea and push ahead. My current thinking is to install a woodstove down in our family room in the corner near the furnace room. Or maybe a full-on fireplace. I guess this is a pretty big project with lots of issues to work out, but not bigger than say building a patio, which is something I’ve done in the past.

The other liability is telecommunications. In the old days, when our phone was connected to the world with copper wires, it would never go out. When we got fiber optic a few years ago, they pulled out the copper before the truck even left our driveway. Now we have phone and internet on one glass thread, but it requires power. There’s a battery backup that lasts only about eight hours. Suk.

We hooked up the Prius last night to house via a power inverter. We’d considered buying a generator in case of a power outage, but the Prius makes an admirable generator, plus has a huge battery of built-in batteries to boot. The engine wasn’t even running most of the time. Unfortunately our old power inverter went Kaput some time ago and we only discovered it yesterday, so we had to go out and get a new one. As you might imagine, selection is limited in times of crisis, so the one we got was fairly wimpy, just ten amps. This was enough to power our phone and recharge its battery until the morrow morn. We were also able to recharge our laptops and cel phones one by one, and to get on the internet. We plugged my laptop directly into the Ethernet and bypassed the router and wifi. This created problems down the line when the power came back on and Verizon wouldn’t release our IP address to get the router back on again. Ah progress.

Of course, a heftier power inverter would be a decent upgrade. It’d be nice to be able to power the fridge, at least part time. Still, it was looking like we’d be able to get by pretty much indefinitely under that system, which is good news. We had candles for light, and could cook on the stove but not the oven (again that pesky electric regulator/ignition), and we had hot water. As long as we could go out and gas up the Prius from time to time we could run it as needed to power the essentials.

Tomorrow the kids are back to school, but I’m working at home again since they have only a half day. Jeannie’s going into the city to work, since they’ve announced limiter service on Metro North. Wish us luck!

Ridin’ The Storm Out

Our power just came back on. It went out yesterday afternoon, right after I’d googled the chords to Roger Hodgson’s “Eye Of the Storm”. The kids thought The Doors’ “Riders On The Storm” was too creepy and asked for something more upbeat.

We’re watching the news right now, and feel incredibly grateful and fortunate after seeing everything that’s gone down in Sandy’s wake of destruction. Everyone we know, family and friends, are safe and okay. At least so far. Here we hunkered down and played DIe Settler by candlelight last night and listened to the wind howl. Ate mushy ice cream for breakfast. Worked out how to power our house off Princess Pria with a power inverter this afternoon. We’ll need some repair on our roof, but that’s about it. I don’t know how we can get to work tomorrow, or until whenever the trains start running again. I guess we’ll see.

Camera Eye

I recently acquired a new camera to do the photography for my upcoming origami book. It’s a digital SLR, a Canon Rebel, something I’ve been wanting to get for a long time but never quite was motivated enough to go out and get. I guess I’m glad I waited too, because the product field has evolved and matured and this camera is incredibly full featured. I have an old, old SLR film camera that was pretty much all manual, but the new camera has automatic everything, plus tons of control for every conceivable mode.

Yesterday we went up to visit my brother and his family in their brand new house. It was a very nice occasion because my Mum and Dad were up there too, and Martin and Kathleen felt they were far enough along with finishing the house moving in to have visitors. They have a beautiful place in the woods. I brought along the new camera and tested it out by taking a bunch of pictures.

The Song Remains the Same

It’s coming up a year now that I played a gig with Erik, sparking me to rekindle my interest in playing live music. I just got off the phone with the coffeehouse where we played last summer and they want to have us back, so it’s down to picking a date.

Meanwhile, we’ve been able to get together a few times to jam the last few weeks. We’re continuing to work out new material. We’re up to eight originals, and some of the covers we’ve recently learned include Cinnamon Girl by Neil Young, Karma Police by Radiohead, and Don’t Know Why by Norah Jones. These last two were chosen because of the piano/guitar arrangements. I chose Don’t Know Why because we finally have Heat Wave worked out to the point where it’s playable and musical. I said to Erik half-jokingly “If I was a better songwriter I’d have written a simpler tune. Maybe I should learn some Norah Jones songs to play simpler.” It turns out, however, Don’t Know Why is not a simple song at all, but full of subtle jazz chords. Thing I want to be able to do, however, is carry a song with that light, minimal touch. Old country songs are great for that, and she has a heavy country influence.

Learning new songs is an ongoing process. Before I got my digital stage piano last summer I mainly practiced on an upright piano I got when Lizzy was a baby. Songs would go in and out of rotation, and over time I tended to be more interested in instrumentals that pop songs with vocals. I seemed to collect songs that were interesting enough to make my own. I arrived at a point where I had a set of songs that were my standard set. And while they were all great songs, I felt I had plateaued. But now I can see it’s a really good foundation and covers a variety of styles including stride, modern jazz, and prog rock. Some of them have gone down from playing the full song to just a run thru of the parts, skipping send and third verses, and I’ve joined them into medleys. For the jazz numbers I’ll often play thru the head and not improvise, but sometimes I do. Some are hard enough (mainly the Keith Emerson numbers) that I can only really nail them when my fingers are in good shape. I still try and play thru this set last week. It takes about an hour. I played last night – first time I’d played my piano in a while – and it sounded better than ever.

East St. Louis Toodle-Loo – Duke Ellington
Powerhouse – Raymond Scott
Pannonica / ‘Round Midnight / Epistrophy – Monk
When I’m 64 / Lady Madonna / Martha My Dear – Beatles
Because / I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – Beatles
Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear – Randy Newman
You Got a Friend In Me – Randy Newman
Got A Match? – Chick Corea
Cantaloupe Island – Herbie Hancock
Josie / Hey Nineteen – Steely Dan
I Wish / Sir Duke – Stevie Wonder
Miami 2017 – Billy Joel (intro) / Take A Pebble – ELP
Karn Evil 9, 2nd Impression – ELP
Digital Man – Rush (intro) / The Endless Enigma – ELP (intro)
Letter From Home – Pat Metheny

Out on the Tiles

I’ve updated my origami site with some new tessellations. I had been waiting and planned to refold these designs out of good paper and then take new pictures. But there’s a lot going on with origami and me these days, so I figgered as long as I’m updating my site I may as well throw ‘em in there. I’ll be folding lots of new stuff and taking lots of new pictures soon anyway.

Two of these designs date back to last June, when I created them at the OUSA annual convention. They are what I’m calling the Quadrose and Psuedo-Penrose Stars. The Quadrose Star came first. It features a fourfold symmetry that is easer to fold and has fewer cells (24 vs. 40). In fourfold geometry this is an allowable quasicrystal tiling. But it was just a proof of concept for the Penrose, a spiral matrix of parallelograms that features fivefold symmetry. At first I thought it was a ture Penrose tessellation, since it was in 4space, but the joining rules do not conform to the Penrose tiling. I have since folded several true Penrose quasicrystal tilings, but have yet to fold one out of good paper. They are more challenging because several different angles come together at the vertices. Meanwhile the star will have to do.

The third model is a grid of interlocking pentagons and hexagons, which has some really interesting properties if you look at it long enough. I hope to fold all of these out of good paper soon.

In related news, I just ordered a metric shitton of high-end origami paper from France. It’s from Origami shop, Nicolas Terry’s online store. The thing that motivated me was his claim that he bought up the remaining world’s supply of Elephant Hide paper, which is no longer being made and hasn’t been for sale anywhere the last few years.

Origami Site Update

I posted an update to my origami site at The main page now features larger thumbnails and an update image for the Fox. I added a few new models from 2011 including the Inchworm and the Dual Cube. I still have a bunch more new models to add, including some new tessellations, and while I’m at it take better pics of the Fox, and add the CP for Dual Cube. In the descriptions of the model I’ve added links indicating where diagrams for that model have been published.

April Showers

Spring seems to have come at last, albeit a mainly cold and wet spring. Saturday was torrential rain and yet another round of car shopping. Sunday the weather turned nice and I got to do a few seasonal things outside. (Sorry, but this is all really boring suburb family kind of stuff. No base jumping or even mountain biking, although I have been out on my rollerblades a few times now.) Lawn mowing season is on, and my lawnmower started on the first pull. Woo-hoo! Also washed and waxed Jeannie’s car. (We’re skipping doing the Jeep this year cuz we’re about to get rid of it.) Jeannie’s car is only six months old, but irony of ironies, I had to do some touch up painting on it already. She got hit while parked in front of the bank, going to get a bank check for the Jeep’s replacement. It was a mere scratch, and she had mercy on the 19-year-old girl who hit her with her mom’s car, and decided it’s more trouble than it’s worth to go thru insurance and get it properly fixed in a body shop. These modern plastic bumpers are made to scratched up anyway. So I literally glossed it over, which is fine if you don’t look too closely. I guess you could say the car is broken in now.