Saturday, December 31, 2005

 

I can't believe I wasted even another day on that d...m water system!



One thing went bad after another. What a chain of events! It started yesterday afternoon like this:

Day One (yesterday)
1. We noticed the water pressure was getting low.
2. The pump should have been running but it wasn't.
3. The breaker had not tripped.
4. I inspected the pressure switch; it was off.
5. When I tried to start the pressure switch the pump would just begin and then the switch sparked and the breaker blew.
6. I repeated this several times to see if I could figure out why it was shorting out.
7. I decided the pressure switch was defective and decided to put in the old one I had taken out last summer. THAT WAS A BIG MISTAKE!
8. The old pressure switch didn't spark or blow the breaker, but the pump still wouldn't run.
9. I inspected the control box; no obvious problems; but I decided to put in the old one I took out last summer. THAT WAS A WASTE OF TIME!
10. The replacement box didn't work either.
11. I decided to reinstall the first pressure switch, because it at least sparked or something; but it didn't even try to start the pump; like it had before I started messing with it.
12. So after five hours, nothing; I gave up.
13. Then I decided to inspect the well head; I had to sledge hammer the box to break it free from the frozen ground.
14. Just at a splice in the wiring from the house to the pump, the insulation had burned and the wires were exposed and sparking. I HAD FINALLY FOUND THE PROBLEM!
15. This splice was put in this summer; and apparently a wire was loose and eventually started shorting; who knows how long that was going on?
16. I spent about an hour in the cold with Y holding a flashlight, cutting out the old splice, installing new splice connectors and retaping it.
17. I went back inside, reset the breaker and turned on the switch; and nothing happened!
18. HERE'S WHERE IT BEGAN TO GO FROM BAD TO WORSE. EVERYTHING FROM HERE ON WAS CAUSED BY MY INEPT DIAGNOSES. IT TOOK ANOTHER FULL DAY AND TWO TRIPS TO TOWN TO GET THE WATER SYSTEM WORKING AGAIN!
19. After checking currents all over the place with my VOM, I finally realized the on/off switch was not working on one side; it was switching on only one side of the 220 line. I CAUSED THIS WHEN I REPLACED THE PRESSURE SWITCH; THE ORIGINAL PRESSURE SWITCH WAS ACTING AS A BREAKER; THE REPLACEMENT SWITCH DIDN'T BLOW, TRANSFERRING THE DAMAGE TO THE ON/OFF SWITCH.
20. Unbelievably I had a spare Double-Pole/Double-Throw switch in my meager collection of electricity supplies; and I installed it.
21. That worked! the pump came on! problem solved, right?
22. Amazingly, the brass pressure tank tee was split at the point where the pressure switch screwed into it; and sprayed water all over us. I HAD CAUSED THIS BY OVERTIGHTENING THE FITTING, ALL THOSE TIMES I HAD REPLACED THE PRESSURE SWITCH.
23. We shut down and drained the system for the night.

Day Two (today)
24. I disconnected everything and removed the defective TEE.
25. I drove to town and went to two different plumbing supply stores looking for a new TEE and a gauge; I ended up at Brand X.
26. I got home and installed the new tee, started the pump and it began to leak at the bottom of the pressure tank.
27. I CAUSED THIS BY CROSS THREADING THE BRASS TEE INTO THE PLASTIC FITTING!
28. I pulled everything off again (second time, now) and carefully reinstalled the brass tee into the plastic fitting; making sure to screw it in as far as possible.
29. I reinstalled everything else, started the pump, and IT STILL DRIPPED at the tee-fitting!
30. I pulled everything off again (third time, now) and took the tee to town.
31. I bought a brass 90 to replace the cross threaded plastic one and some plumbers' epoxy and some stretchy-silicone plastic tape.
32. When I got home, I pulled off the plastic fitting, methodically teflon-taped all the threads, carefully installed the brass fitting, carefully installed the tee, and put everything else back on.
33. We started the pump and IT STILL DRIPPED!
34. We shut down and depressurized the system and drained it.
35. I put plumbers' putty around the threads at the brass fitting.
36. After three hours of drying, IT STILL DRIPPED! a lot less, but enough.
37. I shut down and drained th system again and wrapped the joint - over the epoxy - with the stretchy silicone tape that supposedly is also water-tight.
38. IT STILL DRIPS! but much slower.
39. I have given up; the drip is very slow, and we need the humidity; I am hoping it eventually seals itself off.
40. We took long-awaited showers and washed the dishes.

A Most Amazing Evening Playing My Cello
After all that I finally found time to play my cello. What an experience that was! As if to make up for a long frustrating, nerve wracking day, I was making sounds like I'd never heard before. My bowing was unreal. My right hand/arm was producing bowing rhythms and bow strokes that I'd never imagined I could do. Over and over, I played the same strokes rapidly, without changing notes - then I'd begin to subtly alter the stroking, the pace, or the rhythm. It's hard to describe what was happening. The harder I played the more intense and complicated the rhythm and strokes. The bow was flying, hitting different strings in a defined - and evolving rhythm.

Then I started playing harmonics. First by sliding my left fingers up and down the strings - touching lightly from the side. At the same time, I was still bowing frenetically. The cello was moaning, whining, talking, singing. I was running up and down several octaves on each string.

Then I stopped using my left hand altogether and began producing the harmonics with the bow only - still using the frenetic bowings. It was all in how much pressure and distance I bowed the string. That brought out the harmonics without using my fingers. Then I realized I could vary the harmonics - as if I were sliding my fingers up and down the string - just by where I bowed the strings.

That led to another half hour of playing without using my left hand, but producing eery scales and notes, and tunes; again with the varying frenetic bowing.

I finally was so exhausted after two hours that I had to stop. I didn't want to but I forced myself.

I've never heard anyone else play the cello like I did tonite. Admittedly, I've not heard much cello outside of classical music - and my Apocalyptica and Rasputina albums haven't arrived yet.

It was so fine to feel that intensely a part of the music I was making. Now I know I'm going to make it with my cello!

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Friday, December 30, 2005

 

Another day wasted fighting the water system


I spent all afternoon and evening trying to figure out why my water system quit working. All of a sudden, no water. First, I noticed the breaker was tripped. When I reset it, and turned on the pressure switch, it blew the breaker again. That made me think (guess) that the pressure switch was defective, so I put in the one I replaced last summer. That didn't help, so I put in the old control box from last summer. Still no help. I put the new one back in and spent several hours trying to figure out whether it was defective. Finally, I gave up.

Then, I decided to inspect the pump itself. Guess what, there was a short out beside the pump, where I had spliced two cables together last summer. It had burned through all three wires and was sparking to the ground!! So, I went out into the cold with all my tools and splices and tape to repair it. After an hour of fighting, I got it spliced. When we hit the breaker, nothing....

I went back through the pressure switch, and noticed that it was only getting current from one side. That meant either the breaker was defective or the double pole on/off switch was bad. I pulled the switch and fortunately had a replacement. Finally, the pump came on. But as soon as it pressurized the system, the brass fitting behind the pressure switch sprang a leak! It's an odd piece; I hope Home Despot has one like it... It will take a couple hours to replace, tomorrow.

I realized that I no longer understand 220 Volt wiring at all. I can still do 110, since I've done it so much, but the 220 pump system is now beyond me. If you don't use it...

Y just announced that since she couldn't shower in the morning tomorrow, she can't go to town with us - since she can't wash her hair....

The new Dell 24" LCD Monitor is really FANTASTIC!!! I can't believe how large the screen is. It's really nice for AutoCAD. It took only a few minutes to hook it up using the DVI cable - here's to Microsoft's really cool plug-and-play feature. I ended up reorganizing the layout of my sound system and computer parts. Everything seems to fit better.

Today, I listened to Yo-Yo Ma's 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites! Amazing. I'd only heard small parts before. So fine, so entrancing, I'd like to listen to it with a good pair of headphones and no interruptions, like the g.....m water system.

Got a little frustrated today with my cello. I played about an hour and was about to quit. I just couldn't seem to get it. Rather than quit, though, I started into the workbook. It grounds me, sort of. I was able to reconnect, again, and worked out for another 45 minutes. I'd like to be able to say "every day was better than the last", but anyone who is learning music would know that was a lie. There are just going to be some bad days. But I'm glad I was able to get out of it by going back to the basics. I'll have to remember that.

Tomorrow, I'm going to blog about learning spanish at age 47, and then having to live it.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

 

Narnia was better


Z and I saw Narnia today. It wasn't too bad. Not great or anything, but a whole lot better than King Klunk. I can't really remember any favorite scenes or anything... it was all a bit shallow and aimed at the kids. I did like the morphed characters, like the fauns and the centaurs, etc. The story line was a bit hokey. I did like some of the music - especially the cello parts near the end.

The only preview that we wanted to come back for was Pirates of the Caribbean II. Johnny Depp is by far the best actor in the business. He puts himself completely inside the skin of whatever character he plays.

Why does Hollywood invest a quarter of a billion dollars to make a movie and then let some a..hole butcher it with poor or quirky directing, lame plots, absurd casting and characterizations (e.g., Jack Black in King Klunk), and inane dialogue? No wonder the audiences have become jaded. It ain't worth blowing $ on tickets and the overpriced lobby food for a movie that's agonizingly boring. Most of these blockbusters aren't even worth watching when they show up on the cable channels.

Maybe it's because they do have so much money tied up in it that the producers, the studio execs, and their consultants and lawyers all dumb it down with edits and prohibitions in order to avoid offending anybody and to reach the largest possible audience. This process culiminates in a boring "blockbuster".

I'm working on drawing an "exact scale" fingering chart for my cello, using AutoCAD. I want something that is easy to figure out (I'm using colors for each position). Somehow, I also want to show the frequencies for each note and their positions on the staff.

I realized today that I am sight reading the finger positions from the notes on the staff, but I'm not actually recognizing which note it is (A, or D# or whatever). I know the treble clef well from my clarinet and violin (and piano) experiments, but I never used the bass clef. So I've got to spend a bit of time quizzing myself. 8notes.com has a cool quiz page for that; also for key signatures, chords and intervals. I know absolutely nothing about intervals, and only barely a little about chords.

Today, again, incremental cello progress, little by little. I KNOW I am going to get it. I worked today on fingering drills, and then back to the new pieces. I've finally worked through the one full-page new piece (still in pieces) but tomorrow I think I'll be able to play it through all at once. I noticed today that I can tell when I was flat or sharp on a note. I still glance at the PC analyzer to see how far off.

My new monitor arrived today. The screen is HUGE! It's got card slots, USB ports, and DVI capabilities. I can't wait to hook it up tomorrow. It only took a week to arrive. Dell actually shipped it to DHL in Anchorage who then mailed it here ($20)!

Also my new Yo-Yo Ma album: Bach's 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites, arrived from Amazon. I can't wait to hear it. I stopped at the library and picked up some Norah Jones, Van Morrison, and Beach Boy's Pet Sounds for two weeks.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

 

Hippos


Z has been infatuated with hippos since he was 2. His room is filled with stuffed hippos (teddy bears), plastic models, photos, news articles, you name it. Whenever he had a choice for a toy or book, if a hippo themed object was available, that's what he chose. I was the same way with elephants.

Yesterday, Y began to hint rather obviously that she wanted her laptop computer back in the evenings. I've monopolized it every night after dinner since starting this blog. At first it was "fine" with her. After a few weeks I began to sense a little edge to her willingness to let me take it out of her sewing room. But she kept insisting. Yesterday, she suggested we use the $500 BestBuy gift card we got with her new sewing machine to buy another laptop for me to use in the evenings. Now,at least, I no longer had to decide which receiver to buy (I'd been looking unsuccessfully for one that had phono inputs for my turntable). I went to BestBuy's online site and found a pretty good HP laptop for $850. She then offered to put up the difference after the gift card from her recent Ebay sales of her old sewing software. Since my desktop is also a new HP, it will be a pretty good matchup. This one has a built-in Wi-Fi and a workable battery (unlike this laptop I'm using now, whose battery no longer works).

Anyway, BestBuy's online site wouldn't take my order because they only ship via ground. So, once again I called them. It took more than an hour to walk two different people through the issue. Each one told me that their computers wouldn't take the order, either. So I explained that the previous order for a monitor earlier this month was only possible when they entered a dummy address. The first clerk couldn't do anything, the second one, who spoke broken English with an Indian accent over a bad phone connection, finally understood what I wanted and got permission from her supervisor to do the same thing. I was so close to slamming the phone down and driving 6 hours RT to Anchorage to pick one up in person.

I HATE TELEPHONE ORDERING SYSTEMS! What a pain! Their internet site offers shipping to APO and FPO addresses, which like Alaska aren't accessible by Ground Shipping, but won't accept Alaska addresses. Best Buy sucks! I'll never order from them again.

From now on, if I do have to talk to someone on a help line or make a phone order, if they don't speak good, clear English, I'll just hang up and call later. I've gotten fed up trying to explain complicated things to people who barely speak the language, much less have the capability to follow the complicated nuances that led me to them in the first place.

Nothing significant on the cello, today, except incremental progress. I'm still working on that new piece - got a bit further today; tomorrow I'll get it right.

I got an email back from D. He'd figured we had probably left Alaska. I'd like to stay in touch with him. Actually, I'd like to do some work with him - we worked well together.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

 

An old friend, whom I've always respected a lot, contacted me today


D and I worked for Brand X together in the same field. While I worked at our local salt mine, he worked at Headquarters X in Metropolis. We worked closely together on several projects from the mid 1980s through the late 1990s.

Salt Mine X was highly visible in those days, and we often found ourselves the first target for whatever new regulation or audit system that came along. This meant we had to devise new strategies, break new ground, in trying to deal with these new issues. I usually brought D in as a consultant to not only help figure out what to do, but also how to talk our unwilling bosses into going along with us. This meant a lot of trips to Washington D.C. and L.A. over the years, where we'd get together with our task groups and consultants to plot strategies, exchange ideas, etc. Those were the fun years! Lots of responsibilities, lots of power, lots of stress, lots of successes, and lots of money.

D bailed out of Brand X several years before I did, but we stayed in touch on and off. After I left Brand X/Y, we lost track of each other. I always respected D's opinions and ideas. I've sent him an email to try to reconnect.

I played an hour and a half this morning. On some pieces, I see some progress. On others, it's hard to tell. I can tell when I don't find the right spots on the strings, but I still frequently check the PC tuner/analyzer to be sure.

Today I bought a GripMaster finger exerciser. It should improve my control over my fingers and increase stamina and endurance.

I also picked up an album by bond, a string quartet of really hot chicks who dress hot and play a crossover style of classical pieces set to dance beats. Not great, but interesting. Hopefully some of their other albums are better produced without so much of the hip-hop dance beat.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

 

Imposing order on chaos with music


Chaos is the maelstrom of what we don't yet understand, and what we don't yet even percieve.

Long before "life" as we know it existed, nature was creating itself out of chaos; beginning with the transformation of entropy into energy, then harnessing that energy into matter in the form of particles, then atoms, then molecules, etc.

Each step in the process builds more complexity into the equation.

Chaos is eroded by our imposition of order on the world.

Building on what has been done before us, we create reality out of chaos.

Scientists use their theories and experiments to draw strands of understanding out of the unknown.

Authors write their own pieces of reality and populate them with stories.

Philosophers dream up explanations to help us understand reality.

Engineers find applications for new ideas.

Artists create visual images of reality.

Musicians create reality with sounds.

Playing music, well - learning to play music and every once in a while almost getting it right - is my way of bringing a tiny bit of order out of the chaos around me. For just a moment or two I can lose myself in my music...

I'm obsessed with my cello. If I could, I'd play it all day, I think. But after an hour and a half or so, I run out of steam and stop hitting the right places, and I have to put it aside.

Right now I'm playing from three books, all at the same approximate level. Each day I vary the emphasis and routine between the three of them. Usually I focus on two sets and then just run chords for a while. Now, I'll also add some time experimenting with harmonics.

I have a good musical memory. I recognize every tune I've ever liked. If I don't like a tune, I won't remember it unless I hear it over and over again. Once in a while I can play out one of these memorized tunes for the first time without having seen a score. Just some of the basic ones.

Today I started a new piece that I think I've never heard before, so I didn't have a feel for how it was supposed to sound. Using a pencil I marked each string change and any unexpected position. Then I started playing on one line at a time, slowly working out each measure and then putting the measures together, one by one, into a cohesive tune. I'm not finished with it yet, but it's interesting figuring it out and then commiting to memory not only the tune, but how to play it.

Looking ahead in my book, "The Art of Cello Playing", by Luis Potter Jr., I see so much learning / work yet to come. It's pretty intimidating. Yet, I can already look back and see what I've accomplished in just 4 weeks. Enough to know that even if I never quite get "there" as a cellist, I'll enjoy the process.

I want to talk with other cellists who are in the same situation as me, about starting later in life, working without a teacher, yet being enthused and willing to devote a lot of time and energy to learning.

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Sunday, December 25, 2005

 

Z likes his new PSP


Sony sure has an interesting product with their PSP. Wow! Games, movies, TV downloads, music, photos, wi-fi internet browsing! It's only a small step to adding cell-phone, Blackberry, and PDA functions to the PSP to make it a complete portable electronic system. A nice high-quality screen, too.

Anyway, Z really likes it. He has a Nintendo DST, which is also nice, but no movies or MP3 capability. Supposedly, Nintendo has come up with a way to let it use a wi-fi internet connection, too. I wish Sony had not created another size of flash card, since most computers don't recognize it. That means we'd have to buy a flash card burner to store stuff from the PC. I think you can save from the PC to the flash card when it's inserted in the PSP when you use a USB cable.

Z and I bought Y a 128 MB MP3 player so she can download her "walking" music for when she's exercising. She was pretty surprised, after getting all the sewing machine and software already.

Another gray day, no sun. Just cold enough to keep the snow from melting.

I've been looking into Apocalyptica and Rasputina - cutting edge rock groups made up primarily of cellists! There's a lot of excitement about them on the forums. After last night's experimenting with harmonics and sliding up and down the strings, I'm interested in what others are doing outside of traditional classical music with the cello. I've got several CD's on my Amazon WishList. I'm trying to get up the nerve to buy them. I found a Russian site and downloaded a lot of the sheet music from Apocalpytica's tunes.

I played two hours this afternoon, in my bedroom because Z was assembling his new monster Lego set in the living room. It sounded pretty good in that room. I worked the drills for most of the time. I'm getting better and better. For a little while at the end, I played the harmonics again. I'm able to find where to touch the string for the whole scale, and get an eerie - almost flute-like sound. If I slide my finger fast enough, I can get a pennywhistle effect. Another effect sounds sort of sexy.

Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself. - Leo Tolstoy.

Why do Asian blog have so many pictures of prepared meals? and people eating?

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

 

No title tonite


I can't think of a title for tonite's blog entry. I don't have that much to say, either. Tomorrow is xmas. Today was foggy and gray, with temps right at freezing. The gray sky and white ground is almost surreal - a near total absence of color outside. We drove to town this afternoon, and the only color was the muddy brown slush on the highway and just a hint of green underneath the recent blanket of snow on the trees. Yuck! I really hate winter!

My new monitor (Dell 24" widescreen LCD) is coming in the mail from Dell. B ordered it for me using his company discount, saving me about $125 over Dell's $900 price on the internet. Dell says they've already shipped it free of charge, via "Ground". Trouble is there's no such thing as Ground shipping to Alaska anymore. We'll see whether they eat the cost of 2nd day air or whether they'll slow ship it via the Post Office.

I've been messaging on the Cello Heaven forum; but there' s not been too much activity maybe once xmas vacation is over things will pick up.

I saw a disturbing "commercial" on PBS this morning. It starts with a small classical ensemble playing some song (I don't know what), then they start playing faster and harder and wilder. Eventually a violin string snaps, a bow starts smoking on another violin, and then the lid crashes shut on the piano. Finally, the cellist stands up grabbing his cello by the neck, raises it over his head and smashes it onto the stage into a pile of splinters. As the audience applauds, a caption appears saying something about living life passionately - or some such lame comment. I was repulsed by it. Fap! I don't see how being passionate about music includes smashing your instrument. I'd expect the opposite, maybe - but I guess that wouldn't get past the censors. Just because the Who did it... while high in order to attract attention to their band, and then it became just another part of their schtick, like Pete Townsend's strumming style.

Later....

I spent the past two hours this evening playing again. Something different tonite. I played hard, bowing vigorously, and playing with bowing rhythms. I started getting louder and clearer sounds, and found myself "getting" some of the pieces that I've been struggling with all week! Then, for a while, I started playing with harmonics on the strings, touching the strings lightly with my fingers at different places up and down the strings, sliding them at varying rhythms and varying bowings. Really weird sounds, almost metallic/electronic, at times; at times almost like singing. I found I could just tap the string lightly while bowing to cause it to shift to different harmonic notes. I started finding the points to tap and switch notes. Awesome - I couldn't stop myself.

That was fun!

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Friday, December 23, 2005

 

King Klunk


What a disappointment! After his totally excellent Ring Trilogy, I was expecting a whole lot better from Peter Jackson. I almost fell asleep in the first - kongless - hour. I was even tempted to slip next door at the multiplex when Narnia started. The second hour on Skull Island was pretty good. Z and I both liked the Diplodocus stampede, when Kong fought the T-Rex trio, and when the bugs attacked. The rest was just OK. The last hour (gawd it was a lo-o-o-ong movie), was predictable and not that well done. At least it was a matinee and only cost us $10.

I'd still like to see Chronicles of Narnia, but Z had heard some of the hyping that suggested religious overtones, so he's sort of turned off. Maybe one afternoon next week, if we're bored.

I played and played today. I don't really want to put my cello down, even though my hands ache and my fingers no longer obey. Then the rest of the day, the tunes run in my head. I'm wondering if I should do some workouts in the evenings, too.

I sort of feel like I'm in a hurry to learn. You'd think that since I've got no other real commitments in the day, it shouldn't be a problem to find the time to play. But two and half years of indolence have led to some rather inane rigidities in my daily schedule:

I get up at 5:30 and exercise for half an hour.

After getting Z off on the bus at 6:15 I drink a few cups of coffee, eat, check my email, and watch the news.

At about 7:30 I play my cello - sometimes until 9:30.

The rest of the morning just disappears; I like to watch the news again at 11.

At noon we eat lunch and watch Judge Judy.

Then I listen to World Cafe from 1 to 3.

Z comes home at 3 and takes over on the computer for the rest of the afternoon.

The day sort of gets complicated after that, with dinner, TV, etc.

I'd like to practice in the early afternoon, before Z gets home, but it would be hard to give up World Cafe. That is the best radio going. I try to catch it whenever I can. (It does come on XPN's webradio at 10 in the morning, so maybe I can tune in then, so I can play at 1.)

Traffic in town today was obscene. The parking lots were packed, and the highways jammed. Add to that a warming to 32F, sundown at 4:00, yesterday's partially plowed snowfall, and a lot of sand - it was a muddy mess. Seems like everyone was rushing to do some additional xmas shopping.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

 

5 hours, 41 minutes, 20 seconds


The shortest day and longest night of the year. Egad! Now the sun will slowly start coming back, but we won't really notice any change until mid-January. We should celebrate the solstice, but we never seem to get around to it. Probably SAD.

We got about 6 inches of snow last night, so I spent most of the day shoveling and plowing. The old Suburban started right up after sitting idle for 2-1/2 weeks, without needing a jump start. Since the 4WD was finally fixed this past summer, it worked perfectly on the driveway's killer hills, even with the crappy old half-a...sed plow on it. Now I won't have to fight that old !@#$%^ snowblower, anymore.

That took all morning (after two hours with my cello).

Today, I played back through several pages of my lesson book and then turned to the workbook for an hour; each line over and over, long after I got tired. At one point I felt like I broke through some sort of barrier, and was able to play on for quite a while longer than before. I'm trying to resist the temptation to put tape markings back on the soundboard. But today I was able to find the correct positions without too much difficulty... so I guess there's hope, yet. I also spent some time studying theory (see the Dolmetsch website link in my sidebar).

Someone logged into the Cello Heaven forum today who was just starting lessons at age 80! I'm impressed, and encouraged. Also someone new from Alaska - probably Anchorage. Still it's nice to see someone "nearby". I'm thinking about emailing him/her.

I was going to take Z to see King Kong today, but with all the shoveling and plowing we ran out of time. Hopefully, tomorrow...

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

 

The end of AARP


My two-year subscription to AARP has finally lapsed! Whew! I hate their monthly rag, which should have been called "(old) People". All it does is glorify hollywood and the NY glitterati.

As if I care what Susan Sarandon thinks about anything! I used to like her acting, but then she began to play off her acting fame to advance her left wing radical issues, and all of the hollywood illuminati jumped on the bandwagon as if her opinion was more valuable than say, mine! I noticed that AARP has slowly begun to juvenate itself. We see more and more idolatry of 45 year old hollywood has-beens and wannabes. A recent list of 10 most influential people included 3 under 50. Aren't there a few more people over 55 who are doing something useful? But it was AARP's stand on the 2004 election that finally got my ire. Where did they get off shilling for kerry? Better that they had kept their focus on retired people...

Now that I'm on a roll, here are a few more kvetches:

Why does Morning Star Farms package its fake sausage patties in oversize boxes? In a box big enough to hold a dozen patties, they pack only 6.

Why don't computer monitor manufacturers list the actual screen size (viewable width by viewable height) of their monitor screens? I have a 19" CRT. But NOWHERE in any of its literature and specifications is there any mention of the fact that it is really only 18" diagonal, with only a 14.5" x 10.5" viewable screen. So, last week I bought an HP 21" wide-screen LCD monitor from BestBuy, which turned out to be only 18" x 10.5". Not that much different from my existing monitor; so I returned it. (I've since ordered a Dell LCD monitor that is 20.5" x 12.75" - a major improvement in size, and about the same cost as the overhyped HP unit.)

Why do all the new cars have fog lights in the bumpers? Of course everyone who has them feels like they have to use them all of the time. Trouble is they usually only add to the dazzle for oncoming drivers. Especially when they are replaced by amateurs who don't take the time to aim them DOWN at the road. It's not as if you really need them except in fog. But it makes you cool, I guess.

Why do drivers think it's OK to pull out onto the highway right in front of you, gradually pick up speed to about 35 mph, and then after a while slow way down before turning off the highway a few miles down the road? Seems like they could try to be courteous to the oncoming traffic moving at 55 mph or more, and not make them have to slam on their brakes and creep along behind them before they finally turn off.

Why do people think nothing of poking along on a 65 mph two-lane highway (no snow, ice or water on the road, no wind - in other words, for no good reason) for 10, 20, even 50 miles; with a dozen cars following behind? Nobody can get around him. The guy knows what he's doing, yet he deliberately passes up every opportunity to pull over and let everyone by.

Why don't the TV news hosts challenge their talking head guests who come on their shows and proceed to spout out their preprogrammed talking points? The host(esse)s ought to insist they say something original, something not on their daily pushpoint sheets from party central. I really don't care that guest G... X... can outshout guest M... Y... , if all that either of them says is the same exact thing the previous talking heads parroted half an hour earlier. These hosts should take some training from Bill O'Reilly in how to push their guests beyond the spin. It's usually worse in the morning shows.

Why do the politicians in DC act like their only job is to try to turn the electorate against their opponents? It's reached the point that no one can say anything honest or straightforward anymore without immediately being derided and belittled by the other side. Harry Reid, Howard Dean, and Nancy Pelos!, along with that fat old gasbag Kennedy, are among the worst. The demos are particularly evil these days; but the repubs also did it to Clinton every chance they got. Maybe I'm too biased against the demos, but I'm getting pretty sick of it. (And, I am glad that Bush is finally fighting back.)

Why is every controversy couched in the terms "The War on ..."? Lately it's the War on Christmas, before that it was the War on Drugs, War on Poverty, etc. Unfortunately, with all these virtual wars, it's not surprising that people don't really believe or care that we're in a real War, against Terrorism. I think this has added to the general complacency and negativity. It doesn't help that at the same time we're trying to defeat worldwide terrorism, we're trying to end a proxy terrorist war in Iraq by handing off the responsibility for fighting their local terrorists to a novice Iraqi army.

Why does every store and radio station feel compelled to blare out all those inane muzak-xmas-songs at us? (It reminds me of walking down a city sidewalk in Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina, with all the shops blasting music into the street from huge speakers in front of their shops.) I really have no problem with xmas. I don't agree with those who say it should not be religious, although personally that part means nothing to me. I'd almost be willing to cross over to ACLU's side if it would mean radio stations and stores would stop playing that crappy music. What's funny is that a lot of those rehashed old xmas songs are sung by the same hollywood/NY hasbeens who so avidly support the left's campaign against christmas.

Why?

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

 

Trapped?



So, I'm supposed to finish from last night's post, where I said I feel trapped. It's no big mystery.

Until Z graduates from HS, we're not going anywhere. We are stuck in our current location and lifestyle for at least 4-1/2 years.

We live here for free - we only have to pay the utilities.

WE ARE NOT GOING TO SELL OUR HOUSE, EVER!

So, if we moved outside (for a job, or just to live somewhere warm), we'd have to shell out $ for rent or to buy a house. We have looked at many locations around the country over the past few years, and found several that appeal to us as a place to spend our winters.

But none of them have school systems that measure up to what we have here, and that is the primary issue for us. I want Z to attend a decent, safe school with a healthy, positive atmosphere for the kids, and plenty of opportunities. Our local schools aren't perfect, but they are better than any we've seen. The other systems we looked at have lower graduation rates, lower college attendance rates, more disciplinary issues, more crime and "gang" situations. With the increasing oil prices, it appears future school funding crises here have been put off yet a few years more.

Some of Z's friends are planning to move from town to our area - they used to live out here, but moved into town for whatever reason, and now they're talking about coming back out. Z will be ecstatic! They currently go to the same school, but when they get to HS, Z would go to a different one.

There aren't exactly a lot of jobs in the area that I want to do, or could even get hired for, unless I went for something way down the $ scale.

So, here we are. "Trapped", but it's really our own doing. I guess I have to run through the list every once in a while to make sure we're not off course.


The Luthier

Today, we drove up to Anchorage to return the HP 21" wide screen monitor to BestBuy. Since part of it was paid for by a Gift Card, they had to refund the $ to the card, but that is going to take 24 to 48 hours for it to show up on the vapor version of the card. So, after returning the monitor to the store, I couldn't use the gift card to buy anything else there. At first I thought it was absurd, but then I remembered: they've already earned their $ from the initial sale of the gift card, so they aren't going to put a lot of effort into making it easy for me to exchange it for any merchandise.

I also stopped in at the Violin shop, where I had rented the cello last month, to see what a "real" cello sounds like - up close. The place was full of customers, coming and going, and all 3 proprietors were pretty busy. I told the one guy that I was currently renting a cello and wanted to look at some upgrades. I added that I wasn't going to buy one yet, but I'd spent enough time with the rental to know its sound and wanted to compare it to a carved model. He showed me a graphite one that looked pretty cool, and probably had a cool sound, but I told him I wanted to go much more traditional than that. He went in the back and returned with a nice looking Eastman V405 cello. He said the Eastman line has a good reputation, and he pretty much only sold those at this price range. The price tag was $3000. He said he'd sell me the cello, a bow, and a hard case for $3,500.

He sat down and quickly tuned it up, grabbed a bow and played a few chords up and down. It sounded really NICE - warm and mellow, and rich. It has a more handmade feel to it than the one I have now - it's the difference between handcarving to laser cutting from a sheet of plywood. Then - egad! he handed me the bow and stood up to deal with another customer. There I was, sitting in the middle of the small shop with a bow and a cello, with lots of customers standing around. I'm such a novice and a chicken, that I wasn't able to do more than scratch across the open strings once or twice. After a bit, he came out and asked me if I was through testing it. I told him I was in no way ready to play it that kind of setting, yet. All I had really wanted was to hear one up close so I could compare it to what I'm playing now. Then I bought the Level 2 "All for Strings" book, and slunk out.

Still, I really liked the sound. Is it worth $3,500? If, after six months, I've advanced enough to like what I'm playing (and more importantly, I'm still playing and enjoying it), I'll be inclined to go ahead and do it. I will do some research on other celli, first.

So, I didn't get to play today. Tomorrow, maybe I'll be able to make up some time. I did workout this morning before hitting the road.

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Monday, December 19, 2005

 

55 plus one day


A few more ramblings about turning 55...

I suppose this ought to be an occasion to take stock of my life.
Have a mid-life crisis.
Change directions.
Do something different (learn to play the cello!!!)
Buy a sports car.
Run in a marathon.

Yet, in some respects I'm trapped in my situation. Not that there is anything really wrong with "my situation":

I'm getting ready to finally live off the fruits of my labors - after a lot of years of getting paid far more money than I was really worth. Now I don't anticipate ever having to work again, unless I get bored enough to want to.

I've lost 25% of my body weight in the past year or so, through better eating habits and regular, strenous exercise. The hardest part of starting to exercise for the first time in my life was getting started. Now, I couldn't imagine stopping. My health has improved immensely; I haven't had a cold since I began this new lifestyle; I feel more alive, more willing to get up and do things; I sleep better; my cholesterol level is way down; I can now wear clothes and coats I used to wear more than 20 years ago - in fact yesterday I put on my down coat that I bought in 1975 at Sears, and it fit!

Losing weight and gaining health is part of what motivated me to pick up the cello, after so many years of being away from music.

We've actually already lived our "dream" (from when we were in our early 20s) - we did move to Alaska 30 years ago, we did get our 10 acres of land far out of town near a lake and a salmon creek, and we did build our own house by ourselves. It's rather unique, but comfortable with plenty of room for storage and lots of nooks and working areas. It's got nice cedar siding, lots of windows, a large deck, and is quite private. The interior is in good shape and we have plenty of furniture and toys to play with.

Our three kids are all doing well in their lives, and for the most part are happy, well-adjusted, and likely to live prosperously. We have one granddaughter, so far. Z is only 13 - a late surprise (and an opportunity to feel young again as we have been raising him). I was so happy to have a chance to try again to be a decent father. I think I'm succeeding.

We have four cars with only two drivers. Also a full-size diesel motorhome, that is more than half way paid off. We've lived overseas, twice. We've traveled via motorhome to more than 2/3 of the states, and expect that we'll eventually get to the rest (except Hawaii). We've been there, done that, too.

In my old job at Brand X, I flew more than a million miles (mostly first class) to most of the major cities around the country, rented full size cars, stayed in top-notch hotels, ate at 5 star restaurants. The conceirges at the hotels and airport member's lounges Washington DC, Seattle, and Anchorage began to know me by name. My car was always waiting. My rooms were often upgraded to suites, etc., etc. Once, I hosted a dinner at Brennans in New Orleans for 10 colleagues - the bill was for more than $5,000.

Then one day I realized that I hated traveling (total and complete burnout) and I started finding excuses to get out of it. I began to suggest it was time for one or another of my subordinates to get involved. One time, I was supposed to go first to Japan, then onto Korea, and finally to Taiwan to accompany our sales manager as a technical expert. I faked the flu and was able to get out of the Japan and Korea parts of the trip, and then met up with him in Taiwan - the only leg of the trip that was important. I passed on the opportunity to spend three days in Tokyo! and I've always wanted to see Tokyo, just not in the company of that a..hole. Another time, I claimed Z was too sick for me to leave the country for a long stretch and skipped out on a ten day trip to Korea - my boss's boss had to go in my place. But I didn't pass on the trip to Brazil and Argentina - with a few extra days on either side to see the sights (Copacobana Beach!) and to visit some friends in Argentina.

Ever since then, I have an aversion to traveling by air - now that flying has become so much more onerous, with longer lines, more delays, more crowded and stuffy cabins, less amenities. I'd really rather take 4 days and drive one-way to Seattle instead of the day (more or less) that it takes to fly there.

So where was I? Oh, yeah. Counting my blessings, or taking stock...

Y and I have a remarkably good relationship after 34.5 years of marriage. We've done it all together (except my work related traveling). We've been faithful, and supportive of each other. We generally decide on things together, and we both try to please each other in various ways. We more-or-less agree about issues raising Z. We've adjusted to retirement together - dividing responsibilities and giving each other enough room to avoid getting on one another's nerves. There are things we don't agree on (for example she HATES my TV selections), and we do have our differences of opinion about many things. But somehow, we work on it to make sure we think of each other's concerns and try to make it all work. I won't deny my roving eye has always annoyed her, even though I only look and never touch. I can't help but appreciate a well-turned thigh in a short skirt - although those are few and far between in Alaska especially in the winter.

I guess you could say I've got it all. So why did I say I feel trapped in my situation?

More, later.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

55


Double nickels!
Retired!
Old Fogie!
AARP bait!
Over-the-hill!
Nursing home...
Granpa.
Old fool!
What?
Where am I?
Who am I?
Egad!
Harrumph!
Fap!

What can I say? I used to think 65 would be the magical year. The year I would "retire" and begin to loaf. Well, I've been loafing and more-or-less retired for 2 1/2 years already. So even 55 lost its import in that respect.

What is notable about this, for me, anyway, is that now we can get our hands on my lump sum pension from Brand X. Once it's in my control, I don't have to worry about the managers at Brand X (and its successors) looting it for their own bonuses, like what happened to United and soon Delta. No matter what the news says, the Pension Benefit Guarantee Program will only cover 80% of your former pension, and there's a cap for total benefits - and, worse, you can't take a lump sum.

I've already sent in the lumpsum cashout paperwork to Brand X and know the exact amount due - a shocker! With my 401k accounts, we'll have enough set aside to live comfortably off the interest for the rest of our lives. Why the hell not retire!

This is due to fifteen years of really exorbitant salaries (on top of ten years of fair to middling paychecks), while dumping as much money as possible into the 401k account. Unlike most of my coworkers, I kept my 401k reasonably conservative and weathered the tech stock crash without too great a loss. It has since fully recovered and had begun to grow again.

Today, we drove down to Ninilchik and up into the Caribou Hills to look at some property. After three days of warm weather, the 20 mile road was reasonably driveable (even if a bit icy). At the end of the road we had to get out and walk a few hundred yards in to see the lot. The trail was very icy, and there was no way to get a good grip, so we slip-slided along very slowly. The view from the 5 acre lot was awesome - Cook Inlet and all the volcanos. I imagine it would be even more stupendous on a clear sunny day. The problem is that the property was stripped of any vegetation, with no buffer from the neighbors. Also, it was right next to the parking lot for all the outlying cabins, where people park their trucks and trailers and travel the rest of the way by snowmobile. Several of the neighbors had sled dogs, which were howling the whole time we were out there. I couldn't believe we were so far out from civilization only to see so many damn dogsledders. Forget that one.

Yeah, yeah. You're not a real Alaskan unless you are a dog musher, and all that BS. But no one thinks of the impact on the neighbors who have to endure the dogs howling day and night. The only time it is really quiet is when they are out mushing. I can think of no worse hell than having to live near a dog musher. Yet they don't give a damn about their impact on their neighbors. They act like they deserve special consideration because they're keeping alive an old Alaskan tradition.

We've looked at four different properties now, all with different positives and negatives. There is a fundamental conflict between finding land with a decent view and land we can afford. Of these four, only one more-or-less meets the bill. Trouble is, it's too expensive. Somewhat more than we really wanted to pay. Still, we've learned from experience, that it is probably worth going ahead and investing the extra cash - it will pay back in time, if we ever want to sell.

Z made a really nice birthday card for me today. They are always hand-drawn with a clever or witty note. These mean more to me than any gift.

I moved on a bit in my lesson book today. I even played half an hour without the rubber fingercot on my left forefinger. I played early, while Z was still asleep, so I got to use the PC tuner/analyzer. It really helps to find the right notes. I still need to do a lot of work on moving my fingers from string to string without losing the beat or missing the notes.

I've been brushing up my rusty music theory too. I found an excellent site with lots of music theory supplemented with extensive historical information, authored by Dr. Brian Blood: http://www.dolmetsch.com/theoryintro.htm .

There's so much to learn... but what else have I got to do?

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

 

Downloaded Finale Notepad today


Nice program. I like how Finale Notepad plays each note you enter in whatever instrument you are writing for. So, brave me, I wrote out a 20 measure piece intended to exercise switching back and forth between strings. Quarter notes in duplets on a 4/4 scale, but using the four first position notes on A & D strings. It turned out to be harder to play than I thought; I worked a while on it and will pick it up again tomorrow. I still haven't gotten through it at a decent pace. I seem to push the pace too soon, before correctly hitting the proper notes at their right times on a full play through.

The program is really nice and remarkably easy to use. There is even a wizard on startup to set up the piece you will be working in - you select the type of music, the instrument(s) you want to write for, the key, the meter; and then enter a title and author. It opens up a blank sheet. You select what note you want to enter (quarter note, half note, etc.) and then place it wherever you want on the staff with a click. It produces a reasonably good (for computer MIDI) quality cello sound (in my case) as you enter the note. You can move the notes up and down and from side to side with the arrow keys. To hear what you've written there's a little radio console in the toolbar. Very intuitive commands and well-integrated with Windows. I think it uses Sibellus Scorch for the playback, but I'm not sure.

How neat to find stuff like this on the internet - free!

I had trouble focusing when I played Ellwood this afternoon. Z was sitting right beside me, using the computer, even talking to me at one point while I was trying to focus. I couldn't use the onscreen tuner/analyzer to check my fingering. I don't know why I waited so late to get started; I much prefer to play in the mornings - the earlier the better.

We're in the middle of a warm stretch. It's been above freezing for several days - above 40F the past two days. The other night it rained for several hours. Almost all the snow is gone. We might even be able to bury Arthur if it last a few more days. Lets hear it for global warming!


I'm so glad Bush spoke out today about the NSA leaks.

The New York Times ought to be shut down for acts of sedition in a time of war. Where is it written in the constitution that the press has the right (they even say "the responsibility") to print classified information? It's about time; Bush finally stood up and told the demos who was in charge! Whether they approve of him or not, he's the president, not them. They are just going to have to accept the fact that in the end, he is the one going to be held responsible for protecting this country from terrorists, so he's going to do what he has to do in order to do HIS JOB! He's got my unqualified support.

I don't agree with him 100% of the time, but I helped elect him to do what I sure as hell know I wouldn't want to be responsible to do. I don't understand why anybody would want to do that job. What would make a person decide he was the right one to do it, especially since he'll spend a large proportion of his time fending off personal attacks from the other party and the press? But, fortunately, our system requires us to elect a president and then give that person the awesome responsibility to act on our behalf in matters such as these. Thankfully it also only allows one president at a time.

Isn't it funny how little attention the Al NY Times and their bretheren gave to the Iraqi election? The first free and fair election in the Arab Middle East - EVER! A 70% turnout in the face of bombings and random terrorist attacks! Just barely 50% of our oh-so-quick-to-criticize voting population bothered to get up off their fat asses and go vote in our last, "hotly contested" election.

It's amazing how little comment they and Al ABC and Al NPR have given to the import of what has occured over there! You can bet they'll point out every disagreement between the factions as they go through the complicated and challenging process of forming a government and amending their constitution (does this sound familiar?) They can't accept that Bush's plan is finally beginning to pay off. That he was right and they have been wrong, wrong, wrong at every step of the way. Bush and Rumsfeld, et al, have had their share of missteps along the way; more than a few miscalculations and overly optimistic estimates about the status in Iraq; and for sure not much success in international relations regarding Iraq.

I've made the case several times, that no president has been that good at directing a war. No general, either - at least at the beginning, where you will take losses at first as you size up your enemy and then figure out how you're going to defeat him. Hitler, Tojo, Napolean, Ghengis Khan, etc., were not stopped without an enormous cost. No war plan written before these conflicts and gathering dust on a shelf somewhere, was even remotely helping in beating back these attempts at world domination. Lincoln came awfully close to losing the Civil War in its first years, and his general, McClellan, was a boob who didn't hold a candle to Lee. Roosevelt had years to prepare for taking on Hitler and Tojo, and even then he had to absorb several big shocks before he could start effectively pushing back. Still, no one expected it to be that hard to defeat Japan.

Yet the demos seem to have no compulsion about belittling every setback in the war on terror and in Iraq, looking for a scapegoat, and then whimpering that it's time to bail out.

I can't understand that some supposedly literate and rational people don't have a clue about the terrorist agenda, and seem to honestly believe that we can back out and they'll leave us alone. I guess it's just been too long since America had to face the prospect of being overrun by a ruthless enemy bent on destroying our way of life and forcing us to live under their rules.

Last summer (conveniently in time for an election) we did a very public and agonizing self examination of our flaws and failures that led to the 9-11 bombings. Of course the demos took every chance to try and pin the blame on Bush, while they knew it was Clinton's years of issue avoidance that allowed it to come about. This was always tied to the implication that Bush "should have known" and done something to prevent those attacks. Yet, everything Bush is now doing to prevent another attack is criticized, belittled, derided, and appealed to the most appeasing judges in the system.

But, if another attack does happen, it will be Bush's fault!

What a system!

I'm p---d off that Lisa Murkowski voted against the Patriot Act renewal. She fell right into the demos' trap, sprung with impeccable timing by Al NY times, the day of the vote. I couldn't believe it when I saw she voted against it. I sent her an email politely chastising her and asking her to reconsider her position. Sure.., that'll help.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

 

The new monitor arrived today but I'm not happy


(Here's a pic of us stopped this past summer at one of the finest places along the Alcan Highway, called Summit Lake, just south of Stone Mountain in the middle of British Columbia. There's a small campground right off the road, and a few trails to hike, but the best part is the serenity. Since it's so high up and near a pass, it's usually cool, but well worth the stopover.)

Several days ago, I ordered an HP 21" widescreen LCD from BestBuy, and it arrived this evening; but it turns out that it really isn't any different than my existing 17" CRT, except that it's wider - they say you can put two pages onscreen at the same time - whoopee. I wanted a monitor that gives a larger picture (for my aging eyes), not just a wider one. I'm p---d off that they don't make that very clear in any of their ads. I guess that's something we're supposed to know about somehow.

Anyway, now I've got to return it to BestBuy. It looks like their return policy is pretty reasonable. I'll save a lot of money on shipping by returning it to their store in Anchorage. I guess we'll be going to Anchorage next week after all. I'm going to replace it with a 20.1" Samsung LCD - all the pictures show it to be reasonably square (5:4 aspect ratio). We'll hopefully be able to look at several monitors to make sure it's the right way to go. It's also a bit cheaper.

I played my cello for an hour and a half this morning - again until my fingers wore out. I worked the exercises, mostly; but by the time I got to some actual music I wasn't able to get much out. Tomorrow, I'll switch and after some warmups, I'll work on some pieces before going to the workbook. I've been enjoying reading the forums, listening to all the students talk about their celli and their experiences. I'm continuously amazed at how much information about anything and everything is available online.

I've been looking for an downloadable score editor, so I can write a few exercises and then print them out for playing. I want to put in some exercises for switching more accurately between strings; such as DAD, EBE, F#C#F#, or GDG, and variations such as F#DF#, etc.; and the other strings. I want to train my fingers to jump back and forth from string to string and find the right positions. I think I found a free download called Finale Notepad, so I entered my email address and they said they'd email me back a password. I haven't heard back from them yet.

I've seen a lot of people talking about the Suzuki method for learning to play a cello. I'd heard about this method for many years, but I don't really know that much about it. I'll do some research tomorrow to see if it's worth switching over.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

 

Blatantly lifted from other blogs (1):


Oxymoronics
(thanx, Ethan Winer)

A 12-Ounce Pound Cake
Accurate Horoscope
Act Naturally
Adult Children
Advanced BASIC
Agree to Disagree
Airline Food
Almost Done, Almost Exactly, Almost Ready
Alone Together
Anarchy Rules!
Anxious Patient
Appearance Hearing
Approximately Equal
Artificial Intelligence
Assistant Supervisor
Auction Winner (you still have to pay for it!)
Authentic Reproduction
Awfully Good
Awfully Nice
Baby Grand
Bad Health
Bad Luck
Bad Sex
Bad Sport
Ball Club
Black Gold (slang for crude oil)
Black Light
Blue Green
Big Baby
Bitter Sweet
Boneless Ribs
Books on Tape
Bridegroom
Bright Night
Buffalo Wings
Business Ethics
Butt Head
Cardinal Sin
Casual Dress
Catfish
Cautiously Optimistic
Chocolate 'Nilla Wafers
Civil Disobedience
Civil Servant
Civil War
Classic Rock
Clean Litter
Clearly Misunderstood
Clever Fool
Click the start button to shut down
Close Distance
Cold Fever, Cold Sweat
Comedic Tragedy
Commercial Art
Compassionate Conservative
Computer Jock
Concession Stand
Congressional Ethics
Conscious Sedation (hospital term)
Conservative Stock (as in the Stock Market)
Conservative Think Tank
Constant Change, Constant Variable
Crash Landing
Creation Science
Criminal Justice
Criminal Mastermind
Crisis Management
Critical Acclaim
Cruel to be Kind
Cupboard
Current History
Dark Star
Deafening Silence
Death Benefits
Definite Maybe
Detailed Summary
Devout Atheist
Diet Ice Cream
Dodge Ram
Doing Nothing
Domestic Violence
Double Solitaire
Down Escalator
Drug War
Dry Gin, Dry Ice, Dry Lake, Dry Martini
Dull Knife
Educational TV
Elementary Calculus
Elevated Subway
Elevator Shoes
Evaporated Milk
Even Odds
Exact Estimate
Executive Assistant
Express Bus
Extended Limits
Extinct Life
Extra Time, Extra Money
Factory Air
Family Planning Association (you go there to not have a family!)
Family Vacation
Fatally Injured
First Annual
Foreign National
Forward Lateral (football term)
Found Missing
Freezer Burn
Fresh Cheese
Fresh Frozen
Fresh Smelt
Friendly Argument
Friendly Fire
Front End
Fun Run
Functional Illiterate
Fuzzy Logic
Gentleman Bandit
Gentleman's Club
Gentle Turbulence
Girly Man
Global Village
Good Cigar
Good Grief
Good Loser
Good Shit
Gourmet Pizza
Government Organization
Government Intelligence
Government Worker
Graduate Student
Graphic Language
Greater Cleveland
Greater Evil
Group of individuals
Growing Smaller
Guest Host
Gun Safe
Half Full (or Half Empty)
Hamburger Steak
Happily Married
Hard Curve
Hard Liquor
Hard Pillow
Hard Roll
Hard Water
Haitian former President-for-life Jean-Claude Duvalier
Head Butt
Healthy Tan
Heavy Gas
Hermitage (where multiple hermits live)
Hell's Angels
High Minimum Wage
High-Speed Computer
Higher Ground
Highway Underpass
Holistic Healing
Hollow Point
Holy Crap
Holy War
Homeopathic Medicine
Honest Crook
Hopelessly Optimistic
Horse Fly
Hot Chili
Hot Ice
House Boat
Humble Opinion
Ice Water, Iced Coffee
Idiot Savant
Incredibly Convincing
Independent Financial Advisor
Industrial Park
Inexpensive Car
Instant Classic
Internet Security
Invisible Ink
Irate Patient
Jet Lag
Job Security
Jumbo Shrimp
Junk Food
Lamp Shade
Last Initial
Lean Pork
Least Favorite
Legal Brief
Legally Drunk
Legitimate Ruler
Liberal Bias
Light Heavyweight
Limited Edition Print
Limited Lifetime Guarantee
Liquid Crystal
Liquid Gas
Little Giant
Live Recording
Living Dead
Long Shorts
Loud Whisper
"Love to Hate"
Low Altitude
Man Child
Mandatory Elective
Mandatory Option
Marijuana Initiative
Melted Ice
Mercy Killing
Metal Wood (golf club)
Microsoft Works
Mild Abrasive
Military Intelligence, Military Justice
Minor Disaster
Miracle Drug
Mobile Station
Modern Classic
Modern History
Mournful Optimism
Moving Target
Much Less
Music Business
Mutual Differences
Natural Makeup
Near Miss
Necessary Evil
Negative Growth (economic recession)
New and Improved
New Classic
New Tradition
Night Light
Non-Dairy Creamer
Non-Denominational Church
Non-Stop Flight
"Now, then"
Old Boy
Old News
One-man band
Only Choice
Open Marriage
Open Secret
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Cello Stuff
Today I hooked up my computer to the TV set so I could watch the tuner/analyzer while I was playing. I set the microphone at the base of the music stand, and whenever I wanted to check my fingering, rather than look at my fingers, I'd look at the meter to see how I was doing, and then move my finger slightly if needed to find the exact
note (within a few tenths of a Hz). It was different to play that way - especially just after taking off the adhesive tape.

I'm wondering whether or not it's a good idea to see this while I'm playing. It's sort of like biofeedback, where you watch a display of your brainwaves and do some relaxation exercises - pretty soon, you get to where you can relax just by watching and unconsciously controlling the brainwave patterns. If I watch the music waves while I'm playing, would I learn the same sort of unconscious contol of the tones (by proper finger placement)?

I played all morning just doing fingering workouts, trying to get the placements right - and yes, I used the display at times to see how I was doing. I didn't get to any actual pieces today - it took 20 to 30 minutes to work through each page of exercises. I'm also trying to stretch my fingers while not playing.

I've "played" the clarinet, the piano, and the violin - but none well. I never got the same feeling of connectedness with those instruments that I get every time I pick up my cello! I only stop playing each day when my fingers stop working, sometimes I'll then do some bowing exercises on the open strings for a while.









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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

 

Off came the tape


from the fingerboard. Here's a picture of Ellwood, sans tape.

It was sort of intimidating to play without the tape at first, but I mostly found my way to the right positions. At one point, though, I felt like I'd completely lost the D string fingering positions. I switched to the G string and then came back and everything worked fine.

I worked on the fingering workbook for more than an hour, getting up to the full positions on each string. I'm also quickly getting up to speed with sight-reading - even though my previous experience was always on the treble clef.

After looking at various electronic tuners online (with costs ranging from $25 to $50), today I found a place offering a free downloadable on-screen tuning system: http://www1.ocn.ne.jp/~tuner/tuner_e.html .

All you need is a basic microphone. It has a meter where you can manually enter the note you want (e.g. A3) and it displays the frequency (220 Hz). When you play the note, the actual wavelength is displayed and a needle on the meter gives an analogue representation of that wavelength in relation to the preset frequency. You dial in any note you want and then play that note to see how close you come to the desired frequency. For whatever reason, it stops at C#2, so you can't dial in the lowest cello string. However it will still display the actual frequencies way below that. Since C2 is 65.4 Hz, it was still easy to tune to it.

I was surprised how close I have been tuning by ear - using a downloaded MIDI file for each string on my MS MediaPlayer, although D3 was considerably further off (flat) than the others.

Another neat feature lets you change modes so that it deals with whatever note you actually played (it guesses what note you are trying to hit), and then you can see how close you can get to the actual note's frequency. Remarkable! I was able to check all my fingerings, and learned that I have been doing pretty good at finding the right points.

Another feature displays the sound in a wave form. Then when you bow an open A3, it will show the highest peak at 220 Hz, but also smaller peaks at 110 Hz, 440 Hz, etc. It also displays several other peaks - other harmonics and apparently some just showing noise from the bow, etc.

The program also acts as a tuner, generating the full range of notes (in several different electronic formats). These aren't as good a quality as the MIDI piano notes I downloaded from another site, but it's really helpful for checking fingerings.

There are some other features that I haven't yet figured out - the instructions are minimal. All in all, a nice program. And free! Now I don't have to buy one of those little battery operated ones - they all have tiny little buttons with indecipherable icons.

Apparently, there's nothing that you can't find on the internet - eventually.

On the sidebar I've added some links to several interesting cello web sites. Andrei Pricope is a music teacher with lots of downloads, tips and techniques, music, etc. Nice site. The New Directions Cello Association is for non-classical cellists. That's where I hope I can eventually end up hanging out. But I'll lay low on that one until I've gotten a little better at it. Finally, there's an interesting forum called Cello Heaven, geared to newer and mostly younger learners. Lots of good info, here.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 

Time to take the tape off my cello's fingerboard


Steady progress with my cello today. I've held back on new material for a while, focusing instead on the fingering workouts. I've got to train them where to go rapidly, without looking. This means that the adhesive tape has to come off the fingerboard, sooner or later. Initially, I wanted to be sure where to put my fingers, but now I can hear the off-notes, and I know where the fingers should have been. So, I'm ready to make the leap - probably in a day or so.

I want to play longer each day, but my hands stop working properly, and my back starts hurting. The good news is a callous is starting to form on my left forefinger. Listened to Yo-Yo Ma on "Appalachia Waltz", again this afternoon. Now I hear the cello on all sorts of music pieces and even commercials.

Writing this blog leads to overanalyzing my progress at the cello, daily, which makes it harder to actually see any real improvement over the short run. At the same time, Y commented today that she can hear improvements to quality and tone since I started.

The next challenge is to work on switching between different fingerings on different strings and getting the fingering right without losing the rhythm.

I ran across some really funny analogies today, collected several years ago by the Washington Post Style Invitational Contest for the worst analogies from high school essays:

"He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
(Joseph Romm, Washington)

She caught your eye like one of those pointy hook latches that used to dangle from screen doors and would fly up whenever you banged the door open again.
(Rich Murphy, Fairfax Station)

The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
(Russell Beland, Springfield)

McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty Bag filled with vegetable soup.
(Paul Sabourin, Silver Spring)

From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and "Jeopardy" comes on at 7 p.m. instead of 7:30.
(Roy Ashley, Washington)

Her hair glistened in the rain like nose hair after a sneeze.
(Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
(Russell Beland, Springfield)

Bob was as perplexed as a hacker who means to access T:flw.quid55328.com\aaakk/ch@ung but gets T:\flw.quidaaakk/ch@ung by mistake
(Ken Krattenmaker, Landover Hills)

Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
(Unknown)

He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
(Jack Bross, Chevy Chase)

The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
(Gary F. Hevel, Silver Spring)

Her date was pleasant enough, but she knew that if her life was a movie this guy would be buried in the credits as something like "Second Tall Man."
(Russell Beland, Springfield)

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
(Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

The politician was gone but unnoticed, like the period after the Dr. on a Dr Pepper can.
(Wayne Goode, Madison, Ala.)

They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth
(Paul Kocak, Syracuse, N.Y.)

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
(Russell Beland, Springfield)

The thunder was ominous-sounding, much like the sound of a thin sheet of metal being shaken backstage during the storm scene in a play.
(Barbara Fetherolf, Alexandria)

His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free
(Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

The red brick wall was the color of a brick-red Crayola crayon.

The children heard the grandfather clock ticking. It sounded exactly unlike the digital clock in their bedroom.

Mary was as interested in Joey as she was in a two-day old tuna sandwich left on the kitchen table, hidden by a dishcloth. This perplexed Joey."

I read that the SAT tests now no longer include the analogies section. Apparently understanding analogies is no longer a measure of aptitude or education. I guess they decided that it was not PC to expect disadvantaged students to "get" the western-style analogies.

Funny how in the middle of all the liberal's attacks on the country, on the president, and on the conservatives in general, they bend over backwards to not offend any of their own "oppressed" people. I guess it's OK to offend those who you don't agree with.

Z is obsessed with an online computer role-playing game. If I'd let him, he'd spend every waking moment outside of school. So we restrict him to 3 hours a day. A bunch of his friends also log onto the same game, so they hang out together - doing quests, etc. Z has been doing it more intensively than most of the others, so he has a lot more powers and abilities, and they all tend to stick close to him for protection against other powerful avatars. He really types fast when talking to his (actually his avatar's) friends. Although he took a quarter of typing at school, nothing works like the desire to communicate rapidly and effectively. We setup the computer in the living room so we can keep an eye on him.

Z is a good kid, with a positive outlook on life, makes excellent grades, doesn't complain much, and still likes to kid around with us. It's not that I don't trust him, but at his age, temptation - especially for freely available online porn, is way too much to resist. He is allowed to stay up several hours longer on weekends, but I've monitored his history files and he's apparently staying clean.

His other passion is Legos. Most kids outgrow it by 13, but he's still very interested. I'm glad. I think Legos nurture creativity and logical thinking. He is always making more and more complex creations from the various kits.

Enough for tonite.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

 

Summer at Devil's Tower


Here's a pic showing how we used to spend our summers. This one is from June 2001; that summer we wound up in Key West before reluctantly returning home. If you look carefully on the dashboard of our motorhome, you'll see Pikablu, also known as Marrill, from Pokemon.

Today, it was 32 degrees, but clear and sunny. Although the sun was low on the horizon, the sky was azure blue and really bright. The warm rain on the weekend had melted the snow to ice, and now even the ice was beginning to disappear. Our road was miserable, though, and the a-holes at DOT haven't bothered to sand it since Friday. That will teach us to vote for tax cuts!

I worked with Ellwood today in the Fingering Workbook. Each line is a series of repetitive fingerings, in different rhythms, with random variations thrown in. First I'd work on making sure I got the basic fingering right; then I'd add in the variations; and finally I'd concentrate on the rhythm, speeding it up until I could play it rapidly and accurately. Then, I'd move on to the next line. It took an hour to run through the basic first position workouts. My fingers got a good run. I'm going to try to spend at least 45 minutes a day on these Workouts.

And today for while, just for a while, I got it again! Everything clicked; my fingers flew from note to note; the bow floated across the strings; Ellwood was really humming. What a feeling!

I ordered a new monitor today, an HP 21" wide screen LCD ($750), using our $500 gift certificate from BestBuy. What a hassle! First, I tried doing it online, but their website was all screwed up. It kept erroring out on the shipping address, but it wouldn't explain why that address wasn't acceptable. I suspect that it was because they were offering $15 shipping via UPS-Ground. Trouble is, UPS doesn't do ground to Alaska, so I figure the website didn't know what to do with a non-ground delivery address. OK, then I called their online ordering number. The guy I ended up dealing with had the same problem on his computer - he was probably using the same website. Finally after half an hour and going on hold several times for consultations with his supervisor, they supposedly figured out how to enter a "supervisor's override" to get around the address problem. I told the guy several times that UPS ground wasn't going to work, but there was no other way to get the order in, and he didn't know what else to do. We'll see. I won't be surprised to get a call tomorrow telling me it will cost more $.

I was going to rant today about politics. Does anyone believe that what we're watching these days in Washington is anything more than pure politics? I feel bad for the guys in Iraq, having to listen to all the bullshit from home.

Later

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

 

Today I listened to Yo-Yo Ma playing the Cello -


all afternoon at maximum tolerable volume (Z patiently played at the computer - right beside the speaker - I even noticed him nodding his head along with the music). I especially love "Appalachia Waltz" (with Edgar Meyer on Bass and Mark O'Connor on Violin). Wow! Yo-Yo somehow puts his soul inside his cello. One piece, "Druid Fluid", makes tears come to my eyes. So exquisite! Also Appalachian Journey by the same group. It is so inspiring! How do they do it? I got worn out from listening - no, soaring - with them.

After several hours, I had to pick up Ellwood and try to make him sing. For a few moments - just a few - my fingering, my bowing, and my rhythm all came together and I felt really good about what I heard! My fingers seemed to know where I wanted them to go at the same time my bow knew where to move. That was fun!

I feel like I've come a long way in just two weeks - I've played more than an hour and a half a day - sometimes twice a day. I'm hopeful... Leaving it out sitting on the stand makes me pick it up and use it more. The fingering work is getting harder, but my forefinger seems to be taking the abuse OK. This weekend I began working on the C and G strings, and today I started F-natural on the D string. I've got a long way to go, but so far, I am sure enjoying it. There're times that I even feel like I've got it tuned perfectly. Although I don't really know about perfect fifths, yet.

We're going to Anchorage the week before xmas to spend our $500 BestBuy gift certificate - I'm going to get a new monitor. I'll bring the cello back to Petr's Violin Shop and see if there is any adjustment they can make that can cure the nasal tones on the A string. It sounds as if it has a stuffy nose. I read somewhere that adjusting the soundpost might improve the sound quality. I also want to look at their more expensive celli to see what they sound like. Maybe they've got a decent electronic tuner and can show me how to use it. I expect that they'll be happy to help, since at this point, I'm likely to come back in the summer and buy a new, more expensive cello from them.

Y has been playing with her new sewing machine. This evening she came to me all freaked out, that she had already broken it. It wouldn't start up. Finally, I figured out that apparently there's some sort of hardwired combination of buttons that installs the latest operating system upgrade. Even though she'd already upgraded it this morning, I pressed these two buttons (of course she started to freak out) but the machine "woke up" and started to reinstall the upgrade again. Afterwards it restarted as it was supposed to. Problem solved. She's already going to bring it back into the store and get something adjusted, tomorrow.

Today we put up the xmas tree. It's a cheap artificial tree we bought at K-Mart five or six years ago. What a pain! The electrical cords are all laid out rather strangely and the wrong things seem to plug into the wrong places. It took an hour to figure it all out.

Today it rained this morning; it stayed above freezing all day. We're almost melted down to the gravel on the driveway. The hard part, though, is the cloudy weather all day. It's dark enough.

My bet is that Vinnick will lose the election to the upstart, Santos, in a close one at the last minute. The commies who write West Wing just couldn't admit that the country might elect a republican!

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

 

My dog is a freak


M expects at least 3 dog biscuits each morning, one from each of us. If we dare forget to deliver them on schedule, she will remind us - slowly crawling onto the rug (supposedly, a forbidden) and right up to our feet. If we still don't respond appropriately, she stares, motionless, until we obey. She's tricky. She'll pretend that Z forgot his quota, and expect me to cover for him. I usually cave in, I can't take "the look".

M owns a 3x5 rug over by the door. She's free to walk around in the kitchen, but she knows she is supposed to spend her inside time on her rug. Laying on the living room carpet is strictly forbidden. She is allowed to cross the carpet going to and from bed and to come in or go out the back door. But stopping on carpet is not allowed, so whenever she crosses it, she hauls-ass head-down in a coyote slink. At night, as soon as the TV is turned off, she gets up and runs downstairs to the utility room and into her cage, which we close on the way to bed. She's slept in this cage since we got her at a year old. I'm not sure what she'd do if we didn't close the door one night, or just took away the cage.

Outside, M is a released spring, buzzing around from place to place, jumping, slip-sliding on the ice. As she slides around her claws skitter as she expertly holds onto her balance. Sometimes she'll turbo around the house and yard. The more we laugh, the faster she runs, and the crazier the path.

She normally spends the day outside, unless it's really cold. If it's raining or snowing she hides out under the motorhome. Otherwise she hangs out at the top of the driveway, watching the road 150 feet away. Anybody who dares to come walking by, or on a bicycle, a 4-wheeler, a snow machine, or a horse will be suitably lashed at with barking, ruffled fur, and her wolf imitations. No doubt they get the message not to mess with her. Unfortunately she occaisonally carries this assertiveness too far and goes out to the road to chase cars. That'll probably be the death of her.

After supper, Z is supposed to fill her bowl (we torture her by keeping her food in a large open crock in the utility room beside her cage). But M won't touch it her supper until I've finished clearing the table and started washing the dishes. She's hoping for scraps. If I even think of throwing away something that might be remotely edible, she growls lowly "to get my attention". Of course, I have to give it to her. Only after the table is cleared and leftovers put away, will she finally start eating. After I'm almost done with the dishes, she methodically vacuums the kitchen; often squatting down and shoving her nose under the cabinet overhang to inhale a morsel.

Of course she barks and runs in her sleep. This seems to happen more and more often lately.

When she wants out, she'll look at us, wag her tail and sometimes stand up and walk around. Then if I look at her, she quickly turns her head away. If I look away, she then looks back at me. Sometimes we keep this going for several rounds.

Maggie knows the words "go away", "sit", "stay" "lie down", "roll over", "doggie biscuit?", "want to go outside?"

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