Saturday, December 30, 2006
Even More Blogging Cellists
There are now
Yesterday, when I reviewed my Counter Stats, one of the hits to this site came from a Dell/Google search that looked for "blogs cellists". I spent some time scanning through the 1,300 offered hits, I found 9 more cellist bloggers. Most of these have been around for at least several months. (I also found all the other cellists' blogs that I had previously listed in my sidebar, including my own blog.)
These new links include Luke Stanley's video postings on Cello Journey - although not technically a blog, it does offer commentary on each new posted video.
I've been able to include most of these in my "Google Reader", which catches and notifies me of any updates. Three or four of these blogs don't have site feed capabilities, yet.
While some of these blogs appear to be dormant, the majority are pretty active.
I've also added a few new non-cello music blogs to my list.
Our celloblogosphere is growing.
I just found another cello blog via Jason Heath's Double Bass Blog (see sidebar).
One of the bloggers I'd just added to the list left a comment about another cellist blogger to include. Thanks, Micha! I wish I could remember more of my high school Deutsch lessons, so I could more easily read both his and Sylvia's blogs. Oh well, there's always Babelfish...
Also, a new member logged into the CelloHeaven forum and listed her blog site. [It seems her blog has been dormant for a year... but, whatever.] And I ran across another one, randomly.
So now we're up to 39, total.
UPDATE (January 14, 2007)
Gottagopractice sent five more blogging cellists to add to this ever-expanding list. Thanks GTGP!
We're now up to
Nice work on your cello blogger research! Actually searching for blogging cellists is one of my favorite pastimes when I'm sitting here procrastinating. BTW, great music on Alban's blog.
Then the counter will record every hit to your site and where, if any, the referral came from. You can then click on your own counter and view your site's viewer history.
Cello, Celli, Cellist, (though it looks like she ran out of steam around Thanksgiving)
The Maestro's Cello
Am I not who I think I am
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Friday, December 29, 2006
Playing with Glasses
Now the problem. No matter how close or far away I put the music stand, I can't see the notes without glasses. If I wear the bifocals, I have to tilt my head back in order to use the magnifiers, causing a crick in my neck. I tried lowering the music stand so I wouldn't have to peer through those small little bifocal windows, but it didn't help much, I still can't scan the whole page, or read ahead. So I have to wear my readers when I play my cello. Even though reading glasses aren't really intended for use at that distance (about 2-1/2 to 3 feet), they have worked out OK, which pretty much takes care of the issues about reading the music at home.
But now, when I go to orchestra, I can only see my music. The conductor, her baton, and anything else going on in the room are pretty much blurred out by my reader glasses. I end up having to wear them lower on my nose and peer over the top of them to see what else is going on. So, I once again find myself tilting my head back to see the score, I may as well just use the bifocals...
I think what I really need is a reverse bifocal, with the bottom part taking up 2/3 to 3/4 of the lens and leaving the top portion for distance vision. My optomotrist said he'd never seen this type of setup (after a quick glance at me to see if I was kidding him or maybe to see if I was crazy...)
I'm guessing most other musicians who wear glasses have a similar problem. But how do people deal with it?
As for myself, I don't need reading glasses yet, but I have 'normal' glasses to see things at a distance (TV, the conductor). A few years ago when those really small frames were trendy I had a hard time finding a fashionable frame with which I could read music and see the conductor without having to lift my had a whole lot.
Another vision-challenged player in my orchestra group painstakingly rewrites his music with bigger notes and wider/darker staff lines, using oversized sheets cut down from poster paper.
I think I'll bring some music to my optomotrist and ask if there is a middle distance prescription that might work for me...
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Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Z gave me an amp for christmas. It's a basic beginner's guitar amp, so it's not necessarily a perfect match for the cello, but with the separate high, middle and low adjustments, I am able to beef it up for the cello's range. So, it pretty much sounds like what I hear through my headphones. The amp has no reverb functions of its own, but it does play back the cello's internal reverb output.
However, the amp has a gain adjustment, which lets me distort the cello all the way out to Jimi Hendrix. That can be captivating! The best part is that it lets you convince yourself you're much better than you really are. Now I see how some guitar players get away with it. I'm going to have to control myself, or I'll end up wasting a lot of time trying to imitate a rock star cellist. To keep myself balanced, I play my trusty acoustic two days for every one day on the electro.
It is weird hearing my playing coming back at me from the front like that. It does help me hear my intonation better - which sure motivates me to intonate better.
In the last few days, I realized I've finally progressed to the third phase of my learning process on my two newest pieces. My first step involves some sight-reading and just finding the notes and working on the basic rhythms. For the second step I isolate the tough parts and work them repeatedly for as long as it takes to make them feel natural. The third step is integrating these tough parts into the whole piece and playing it through at 60% to 75% of tempo. I'll stay here for as long as it takes until it all comes together, and then move to the fourth step where I start picking up the pace. Eventually, I get to the final step, where I work on quality. Usually, when I move into the third phase on a piece, I feel ready to start working on some new pieces as well.
I've tracked down (sort of) the LeClerc piece that I've been working on. It came from a book called "Violoncello Duos for Beginners, Vol. 1", arranged by Arpad Pejtski, and published by Editio Musica Budapest. But I still haven't found out the actual name of the piece.
Interesting how you break down your process of learning a piece. My own process is quite a bit more haphazard.
I wish I could confirm that my learning process is actually sucessful...
My learning process is terrible, but Mrs. Lopez hasn't said it's wrong, so I'm sticking to it. XD
You are right, Madeline. I guess I should go ahead and work on recording one of my older pieces a-la Ji-Mi Ma.
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Saturday, December 23, 2006
"Special Topics in Calamity Physics"
I off-handedly picked up this book from the library's New Releases shelf mostly because the title was so unusual. The blurb didn't offer much to go by: a bright teenager and her rambling father move to a small town in North Carolina where she becomes involved with an offbeat circle of friends; leading eventually to a murder. Still, I brought it home along with a few others and it sat at the bottom of my book pile for three weeks while I read several other books.
This morning I finally picked it up and started reading. Suddenly it's seven in the evening and I don't know where the day has gone. She is such a captivating writer; I find myself drawn into so many of her descriptions that I have to stop to re-read them, just to appreciate the skillful combinations of words that evoke so many images. I'm only halfway through and I'm hoping it won't end. There's this, for example, from Page 378:
...a woman with a sizable crooked nose, and all the other features crowded around it as if trying to keep warm on her arctic white face... Sergeant Detective Fayonette Harper narrowed her eyes. With her salt-white skin and bristly lava hair, she was a harsh person to take in at close range; it was a swipe, whack, kick in the teeth no matter how many times you looked at her. She had broad doorknobbish shoulders and a way of always moving her torso at the same time as her head as if she had a stiff neck.
"Special Topics in Calamity Physics" is the first novel by Marisha Pessl, from Asheville, North Carolina. She's developed a cool website for the book. An astoundingly good writer; I am eagerly awaiting her next work.
Merry Christmas, Guanaco.
Merry Christmas to you, Pink Fluffy Slippers!
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Wednesday, December 20, 2006
These are the Dark Times...
It's the engineer in me, I guess, but I find myself zeroing in on the rate of change rather than the actual hours of daylight... "by next week we'll be gaining 55 seconds a day...", not "by next week the daylight will last 5 hours and 45 minutes..." Even though I KNOW that the days will start getting longer immediately, the rate of gain will be infinitesimally slow for the next month or so. We really won't notice much improvement until mid-January, when the rate of change begins to become noticeable - up to 3 minutes or so a day. By the spring equinox, we'll be gaining about 6 minutes a day. Then the rate slows down again as we swing into the long summer days.
By the way, wasn't it Arthur C. Clarke who proposed installing giant mirrors in space to reflect more light onto the northland? What happened to that idea? Oh, yeah, the funding got earmarked by Alaska's own Ted Stevens into bridges to nowhere...
Still, for all that, WINTER IS ONLY JUST BEGINNING! We'll be reaching 14 hours of daylight before the snow accumulation has melted away. That's probably the hardest time. We'll be past the equinox, daylight savings time will have come back, and still we'll be looking out our windows at nine-thirty in the evening at the last shadows from the sunset on the dirty snow still sitting on the ground.
April's the time of year when we run across those odd items that have disappeared under the snow over the long winter: Z's left-hand glove that vanished in January; the 5/16" wrench that slipped out of my frozen fingers when I was pulling the battery out of the old Suburban so I could warm it up overnight before plowing the driveway in late December; the red flag marker that indicated where the right edge of the plow was, which fell off and got packed into a berm; the pieces of junk mail that got away when Y slipped and fell on the ice dusted with snow in November; the massive chew bone that the UPS driver gave to Maggie in February (she always takes them out and buries them); the frozen souveniers deposited all winter along the driveway's snow-walls by the neighbor's dog who was too lazy (or arrogant) to head through the deep snow into the woods to do his business (we can only hope that Maggie returns the favor); and while I'm at it - all the moose droppings; the lid from the margarine container that I'd filled with diesel and gasoline to help light the slash piles from last fall's tree clearing; my crowbar that I used to lever the last fallen tree off the moose-path; the dead stalks in our garden reminding us of how lazy we got about weeding by the end of the season; the brown lawn that didn't quite get going last summer. Yes, all these fond memories of winter that come back to haunt us in April.
Still, it's not all bad. Like last year I have my cello to pass the long hours trying to make pleasant music. Although, unlike last year, this year I'm actually getting caught up in the music itself. Looking back on it now, those first few months with the cello sure took a lot of optimism to get through. I noticed today that I was starting to put some expression into my bow on some of my older pieces. This morning's session started off very rewarding, with deep rich tones and relatively error-free fingerings. But then I stopped to take a break - I actually didn't want to but I thought "everyone says I'm supposed to..." After the break, the magic was all but gone. My fingers started getting in the way again... Still, that first 1-1/2 hours are what keeps me going.
I've changed my warmups somewhat - focusing on longer bowings, trying to get an even sound out of the full bow in both directions; paying detailed attention to planes, pivot points and angles; mentally and visually following all the muscles that I'm using to make each stroke; and watching the arm opening and closing, and noting wrist and hand "postures". While still "watching" my bow arm I work on my scales and basic extensions and shifts. These first forty-five minutes go fast. Finally, I have to reach over and turn on the metronome to get me to change direction and start working on the pieces themselves.
The other day I played the whole time with my electrocello. It was different. Good. I liked how all my pieces sounded. I didn't really find any difficulties that I don't already experience with my acoustic. I've not used the reverb much. I figure I have a long way to go before the reverb function will actually be an honest embellishment, and not a coverup. Now, I've started thinking about amps. I don't need a stage amp, just a small one for my practice room. I'm a total greenhorn in this area, and I'm open to suggestions...
By the way, check out this novel approach to online radio, called Musicovery - it lets you choose your era and genres and then proposes a "path" for your customized listening pleasure. I tend to hang out on the "dark side" musically where I've found some interesting offerings - (with lots of old Van Morrison). Give it a try.
Aww, cool, you have an electric cello. I'm jealous. (Kidding, kidding) I'd like to give a suggestion, but I know zip minus one about electric cellos. Except that they cost too much and I'm not getting one. Grr.
P.S. You spend 45 minutes on warmup? 45?! Wow...I spend like thirty seconds doing the C major scale and jump right into my pieces...does it help?
I'm way too inexperienced to know if a 45-minute "warmup" really makes a difference, but it does help me loosen up and work out all the kinks in my shoulders, arms, fingers, etc. I try to concentrate on intonation and shifts, as well as work on several scales. I do think it has helped for me to steadily repeat these again and again.
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No name, yet...
EDIT A day later. . .
He now has a name - here, we'll call him D.
Monday, December 18, 2006
If the delivery comes before midnight, I'll get to share my birthday with my grandson. Funny how that works out sometimes...
They haven't decided on a name, yet. They have a couple in mind but I think they want to wait and see which one fits. Our granddaughter is now 4 and is eager to start helping mom take care of her new little brother. A while ago she carefully selected one of her dolls to be her surrogate baby brother.
Even though her mother has been faithfully posting lots of photos over the years, each time we see her, I am still quite surprised to see glimpses of so many familiar faces from my family pop up in her expressions as she plays with her toys or interacts with us. It's so uncanny to see my mother's eyes and so many of her expressions. Although I certainly recognized some family resemblances in my children as they were born and grew up, it may be that I don't see her often enough to have become accustomed to all these characteristics blended together.
When Z was born fourteen and a half years ago, and opened his eyes in the delivery room and smiled at me, I briefly - but strongly - felt my father's presence in the room. It was an emotional moment. I actually gasped for breath. He'd died suddenly three years earlier. I'm not at all religious, but I felt reminded of something very fundamental about life - the continuity of our genetic code as it combines and recombines in passing from one generation to the next.
It's hard living so far away from them...
UPDATE: The Next Morning
Baby D arrived at 2:30 am today, with mom and baby doing fine. He only missed my birthday by a few hours.
I feel for the kid, having a birthday so close to christmas was never fun. My mother actually used to "combine" presents...
Happy BD to you also.
And also bravo to you for your participation in the Christmas concert.
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Saturday, December 16, 2006
Getting back on the horse
A brief rehearsal just before the Christmas concert went very well. Joining us were another cellist along with a bass and several violins, from the larger orchestra. They definitely helped round out our sound - and we did sound good. I hit all the notes and timing and felt pretty good upon retiring to the warmup room. We had an hour and a half to wait before going back on, so I slipped into the back of the hall and enjoyed the other performances.
When our turn on the block came after the intermission, I felt really comfortable, my intonation was actually quite good, my rhythm and timing were perfect and we all played well together for the first 3/4 of the piece. Then somewhere, somehow, it went awry - I could feel it. While most of the group plunged on I - and I think several others - got lost. I thought I nailed my re-entry after a ten-beat rest, but I'm not positive. It took me a few measures to realize I was lost, and I started air-bowing until I could tell for sure where I really was (air bowing turned out to be harder than I thought). Finally after a dozen measures or so I spotted an opening and got back in and finished on time with everybody else. There was plenty of applause, and no boos, so apparently it was well-received (or at least sympathetically-received) by the audience.
We were playing a medley of tunes that included less than four measures for each christmas tune. Normally I'll learn the melody and then be able to tell where I should be as I hear it being played by the others around me. That wasn't so easy for this piece, because the cello part had so little to do with the melody of the 18 tunes mashed together, and except for the rehearsals, I never really had a chance to listen to the entire piece.
Whew! For those few moments I was totally at sea, adrift without a clue. What a strange sensation. It sure soured my initial elation at playing well. I knew that piece.
But, from this perspective (24 hours later), it really wasn't so bad. I feel a lot better than after my first fiasco in October. Our next performance is in May, where we'll put on our own concert with five pieces... We're taking a three week break and then will start back in after the New Year.
Today, I got up early and played two and a half hours on my various lesson pieces. It was relaxing to not have to stress about the performance piece for the first time in weeks. Tomorrow I'll work with the electrocello.
Something I've learned by hard experience that you might think about in the future: cues. Sprinkled liberally throughout, but especially in the tricky ensemble parts. I usually just make a note about entrances ("trumpets" or "clarinets") but sometimes sketch in a rhythm motif that heralds the cello entrance. Also useful in chamber music to note who is giving the cue for an entrance (and thus whom to look at).
. I do feel better about the whole thing. I've given up trying to figure out just where things went wrong, it was hard enough to figure it out as it was happening. In the end we all did come back together and finish in unison, that's good.
GTGP, I'll watch for various "cues" when we start working on our next set of pieces. Thanks for the tip.
I never considered "air bowing" when I get lost with my band. I just sit there, bow in hand, staring really hard at the music.
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Thursday, December 14, 2006
Trying out the electrocello
I went ahead and spent an hour or so trying out the new electrocello today. I like it!
It sure produces a different (but remarkable) new sound. Still, it's definitely a cello. The c-string and g-string sounded clean and vibrant even at low volume, but I had to increase the volume a bit to hear a similar effect with the d-string and the a-string. At lower volumes the a-string sounds... stringy(?) - probably has something to do with me spending too many years in a noisy work environment. I was very conscious when I missed a note; but it seemed to help me redirect my fingers to the right places. Yamaha's built-in reverb system (which eats batteries - by the way) has three reverb settings, which offer some cool opportunities for experimenting with sounds - leading me to spend too much time today fooling around with harmonics. I can see I'll be interested in a different type of music with this one.
The electrocello is heavy (7 lbs, 11 oz) with a somewhat thicker neck. That didn't seem to be a problem, though. Since I usually play with my eyes closed, with the knee extensions and chest and arm supports, it pretty much felt like I was playing a normal cello. With the headphones and the cable to the tuner and metronome, I did get tangled up a few times. I suppose I'll get used to that. One day they'll build wireless headphone setups into these things (and Ipods too). I'm not used to tuning without my computer's on-screen tuner. I hooked up the electronic tuner, but it was a bit awkward - it didn't read the c-string very well. This will push me to learn to tune by ear. The metronome mixed directly into the cello output made it easier to play along with it.
Tomorrow is the recital. I worked the piece over quite a bit today, both with my acoustic and the electrocello. We don't go on till the second half to the evening's program, leaving us more time to stand around getting nervous. Will I eventually reach a stage where I'll look forward to performances?
Good luck with your recital.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Adding a shortcut icon
First select an image or create your own (I blatantly lifted mine several months ago from somewhere). Upload it to FavIcon from Pics, which immediately converts your image into a *.ico, icon file. They also give you a *.png version of that same image which you will need for Blogger. Download and extract these files to your computer.
Then open a "Create Post" window in your blog and use the "Add Image" feature to upload the *.png version of your icon to your blog. (You should know that you don't even have to publish this post to be able to use it in your template.) Now click the "Edit Html" tab in your "Create Post" window and highlight the icon that you just uploaded - note that Blogger adds all sorts of language to manage the image, but all you need for this is the part in the second half that identifies the url in blogger where the icon is located - it starts with 'http' and ends with 'png'. Don't select the quote marks...
Now in another window (or tab) open your "Edit Template" and insert the following tag anywhere between the (<)head(>) and (<)/head(>) tags inside the template (remove the parentheses):
(<)link rel="shortcut icon" href="favicon.ico"(>)Go back to the "Create Post" window and copy the url location of the image that you had just highlighted and paste it into the new line you just added to your "Edit Template" window, replacing the words 'favicon.ico'. That's it. Hit your preview button to see if it worked.
Now that I've written it all out, it seems kind of complicated, but if you've done any work with html editing it shouldn't be too hard to figure out.
Now in Beta
The Blogger/Blogger-Beta world has been wobbly lately. Yesterday it wouldn't let me post any comments in a Beta blog using my (non-Beta) Blogger ID. That was getting frustrating so I went into their FAQ section to find out what was going on. Then before I knew it, I had ended up switching over to Beta. They are now warning that the switchover will become mandatory very soon anyway. I really couldn't figure out why I had been so reluctant to do it. Actually, it was easy - it took me only three or four screens (since I already had a gmail account) and then it cranked internally for about 10 minutes and sent an email telling me I was now converted. So now I'm in beta.
Friday's recital is coming up fast! :0
I'm going to be ready. I've been playing through our one piece a bit faster than we've been doing it in rehearsal, and I've sorted out my counting issues. I'm not happy yet with my G# extensions - I've been tending to intonate these a little too sharp. That's my practice goal for these next two days.
I've only tinkered a bit with the new electrocello. Superstition, maybe, but I want to focus on the recital. Saturday morning, I will start alternating my practice sessions for a while to see how it goes. The reverb settings sure make it interesting, as do the headphones.
Although I currently don't have any neighbors close enough to hear even my loudest playing, I have always been super-sensitive to others being forced to listen to my inept attempts to learn music. My attempt to (re)learn the clarinet at age 24 ended abruptly when I realized I was annoying my neighbor who would hyper-patiently close his window - just across the narrow gap between our apartments - every time I started warming up. I just couldn't play unselfconsciously after that and sold the clarinet. Someday I hope to be able to play the cello much less self-consciously, but that's a long way off.
Good luck with that G# extension. I'm going to work my brain here and guess that the piece is in A major?
It's supposedly in D-Major, but about half of the Gs are played G#. It's a medley of 18 christmas carols in 72 measures, jumping around several times from 4/4 to 3/4 to 2/4 etc.
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Monday, December 11, 2006
It came this afternoon!
It's a Yamaha SVC200 "Silent Electric Cello". I ordered it just a week ago from Cellos2Go. I didn't get an amplifier; that might come later. For now, the headphones work great.
It was really easy to setup and tune. It sounds like, um, an electric cello. Nice! I like it. Now I can join a rock band. I like the strong ringing tones (C on the a-string for example).
I connected my electronic tuner to the electrocello's output port, making it easy to tune. I don't think it really needs the fine-tuners, the worm drive tuning pegs are cool. Inputting the metronome's signal through the cello's electronics lets me hear it through the headphones with the music.
I only had a few minutes to play around with it before leaving for rehearsal - our last one before Friday. It took a while, but I think we got there. The dynamics aren't going to be perfect, but I think we'll all keep up, more or less, and we should be able to finish all together.
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Saturday, December 09, 2006
"For The Love Of It"
Much as my parents lived to play bridge and spent as many as three nights a week playing with various bridge clubs, Booth and his violinist wife play in numerous quartets and chamber music weekends. He says his love of music is best fulfilled when sharing the experience with others like himself. He compares learning the cello to climbing a mountain with no summit, if you're lucky you'll find an occasional plateau where you can rest and enjoy the view, but then you continue the climb. Although he relates some of his anxieties, frustrations, and feelings of inadequacy, more importantly he describes the soaring euphoria when it all does comes together.
I am just starting to understand what Booth says about playing with others. Although at our weekly orchestra rehearsals I am usually so intent on not screwing up my part, lately I've begun to "hear" and enjoy the music itself, as we are all playing it, together.
I've been focusing on our recital piece with just six days left to perfect it. I still don't have it right yet, but I am getting closer. This week I will try to play against the RealAudio download, although it's at a faster tempo than we've been rehearsing. I've really been working on counting. The other day, I realized that I was even counting it out on my treadmill - and it helped a lot. I've largely neglected my Suzuki pieces (not completely, though). I haven't worked much on the newest pieces. Cellos2Go sent a newer, heavier New Harmony Wolf Eliminator, which seemed to take care of the "booming" tone that I'd been hearing on my open d-string.
Ellen G, called yesterday to tell me that my new Yamaha SVC200 Silent Electric Cello is in, and she's shipping it on Monday!
GTGP, I like that feature in the Windows Media Player, (although it doesn't work with CDs), but Real Audio doesn't offer it (at least in the version I have). Now if I could just figure out how to record that RealAudio clip and then play it back with Media Player....?
BTW, this also works for streaming video and radio, etc.
Thanks GTGP! I am indebted...
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Friday, December 08, 2006
Google's Blog Reader
Google Reader, from Google Labs, lets you subscribe to (almost) all of the blogs that you follow. When you log in to your G-Reader, new unread posts are highlighted so you can now read through them like any mail or newsgroup program.
The only drawback, IMHO, is the inability to access the comments through the G-Reader. The comment feature is what makes the blogworld so interesting. Not only do you get feedback on your own blogs - it's nice to know there are others out there who are reading and thinking about what you are writing :) - you can also feedback to other bloggers. After a while, you even get to "know" some of the commenters by their comments.
At the very least G-Reader should include the ability to link to each blog's comment function without having to link first to the blog site.
You can add a Google "Next" button to your Bookmarks Toolbar, which pages through your unread subscribed blogs - but it links you directly to each blogsite rather than through the Reader. You can also add a "Subscribe" button to your Bookmarks Toolbar to instantly add a new blog to your Reader. Since it's still in beta, there undoubtedly will be a few more improvements coming - two minor fixes I'd like to see (so far) are an "Unmark Message" button, and the ability to edit folder names.
I wonder how each site's Hit Counter programs deal with this? Does each blog record a hit every time I log into my Reader?
Another great application from Google! I suspect they're eventually going to take over the online world - Watchout! Microsoft! Once again, I wish I had bought their stock way back when.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Still, we couldn't justify plunking down $100 for a tree trucked to Alaska from a tree farm in Washington state - by the time it gets here it would already be shedding its needles like ... um well, like a dead christmas tree sheds its needles, I guess. Instead, we bought a six-foot plastic tree with built-in lights. So our christmas tree ritual had evolved to hauling the oversized box out of storage and wrestling to unfold the "branches" and fit all the sections together. Then we'd carefully bend all the compressed branches into the approximate shape of a "tree". That was the easy part.
Now, I'm not an electrician, but I did wire my own house when I built it, so I do understand the basics of electricity. Still, I'd spend a considerable amount of time every year lying on the floor under the tree (from that perspective I could imagine I was Alvin scampering among the branches), trying to figure out once again how (and of course why) it was wired so illogically. Each of the sections has several male and female plug fittings, and some have three or four plugs stacked together. Eventually I'd remember that the main power connection was one of the plugs in the middle section (!) not at the base where any sane designer would locate it. But by now, I would have already unplugged and replugged several of these lines, and of course at least half the strings would not light up. By the time I did get the lights sorted out I would usually be pretty disgusted with it all - having exhausted my small reserve of patience and most of my vocabulary of cuss words - so I'd retire from the scene, leaving the rest of the decorating to Y and Z.
This year, though, we just couldn't face putting up that plastic monstrosity again - beside the grief of putting it up, it just felt too phony. With a big box store arriving on the scene a few years ago, the price of imported trees has fallen somewhat. So, we decided to spring for a "live" tree once again. No pine-scent air freshener "ornaments" this year; we're getting the real thing!
To get into the mood for tree shopping, this morning I played several carols on my cello. When I sight-read off the printed music from my teacher, I did OK, but if I just played from memory (once I got the first few notes right) I found I played these simple tunes even better without thinking about the actual notes. I guess I've progressed far enough that my fingers knew where to go without too much conscious direction. So, to add some challenge, I then went back and played a few of the harmony parts.
We ended up selecting a small 4-1/2 foot tree that was carefully sculpted into a perfect cone. Now all I have to do is sort out all the light tangles that have festered in the bottom of one of the christmas cartons these past few years. Somehow, I suspect we'll end up driving to town again this weekend to buy new lights too....
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
This week, I tried to order a new guinea pig cage for Floyd - almost double the size of his current one. I started feeling bad after watching him turbo in ovals. He races to one end and makes a sudden stop, does a quick (almost instantaneous) end-for-end flip, and then he's racing back in the other direction. The changeover is so fast we can't actually see it happen. Then he races to the other end and does it again. The new cage is fairly large - on wheels. Supposedly it weighs 40 pounds.
The first online pet supply store I contacted agreed to send one with a shipping charge totalling $20 - which included a $9 Alaska surcharge. A day later they upped the shipping charge to $79, telling me the only way to send stuff to Alaska was priority first class mail, or FedEx overnight. I told them it was not true, that UPS ground-ships to Alaska - we use it all the time. They emailed back and said I was wrong, that UPS doesn't ship ground to Alaska, so they were going to have to mail it. Obviously they knew more about shipping to Alaska than I did, what was the point of trying to set them straight? I told them to cancel the order. The next online pet supply store I contacted said they'll ground-ship via UPS tomorrow for $17.
Everybody who lives in Alaska has at least one story about shipping gouges. Once we were gouged an extra $30 for a rather small package containing just three CDs. It showed up on our credit card after we got the package. We tried to return it, they said they wouldn't refund the shipping gouge. We appealed to the credit card company; they wouldn't help. That's when we learned that shipping charges are not disputable even if they are added after the sale is made. At least that first online pet supply store called before gouging us.
Usually Amazon gets it right with shipping. Once I even got a 200# shop tool shipped free! It took two weeks, but well worth the weight. But some of Amazon's "partners" still screw up shipping rates to Alaska. We constantly have to watch that. This year we'll probably do at least 90% of our christmas shopping online - no local sales tax and (usually) reasonable shipping.
After all these years it's disconcerting to once again encounter another myth about Alaska. That brings up another one. I've been holding this in for months, but I finally have to say it: There are NO Penguins in Alaska! The only penguin in the northern hemisphere is an occasional lost Humboldt penguin that strayed too far from his Galapagos Islands base. Coca Cola and Madison Avenue have created an urban legend that polar bears won't eat penguins at Christmastime if they can have a coke instead. Unfortunately polar bears don't live in the southern hemisphere where all the penguins are.
Actually there used to be an arctic penguin, "penguinosa borealis". Sadly we ate them all years ago, before the big oil discovery on the north slope. We rendered their fat for lamp oil and heating oil, then we ate the meat; I think the hides were used to make kayaks or something. There was a super-secret penguin slaughterhouse on a remote Aleutian Island that was quietly decommissioned in the late-1960s. Sorry, Coke. Sorry, Mike Gravel. Sorry, Dooce. Sorry, Dennis Miller. Sorry, Hannover Zoo. Sorry, Mike Lynch. Our secret almost got out in the late 1970s, when our distinguished senator tried to earmark federal research funds to find out what happened to all the penguins up here (that and a new domed resort near Mt. McKinley). We didn't want to face up to our part in exterminating a whole subspecies, so we quickly voted him out of office. After all these years, I just couldn't stand the guilt any longer and had to spill it out. No wonder we are so incapable of managing our resources that we have to rely on the rest of the country to do a better job for us. Sheesh. Even Tennessee Tuxedo had us all believing that penguins hung around with walruses. Here's a recent children's book that perpetuates the Tennessee Tuxedo myth. To be fair, Tennessee and Chumley did live in a zoo (I wonder if Randy, My Name is Earl's brother, channels Chumley?)
I did it! I ordered a Yamaha Electric Cello from Cellos2Go. I really like dealing with Ellen G. She doesn't have one in stock, so I'm not sure when it will come; but I can wait. Time will pass fast enough anyway.
I also ordered some new strings. I'm feeling a little frustrated with my d-string. Depending on where I slide the wolf-eliminator, I get this deep booming ring on the open D, even on the first finger D on the c-string. If I move it far enough the Es boom instead. It seems way too loud. My teacher said it didn't sound bad to her - it was a good ringing tone. To me, it's too loud. Still, something sounds different these last few days. There are three possible connections - the recent extreme cold/dry spell, the new strings, the new wolf eliminator. More than likely all three factors are involved to some degree. I want to take it to a luthier in Anchorage and have the setup checked out. Maybe the soundpost needs a little tweaking.
Lesson 21 today was much better than the last one. I like being the first student of the day, because I can arrive 20 minutes early, get set up and do a few warmup scales, so that when my teacher arrives I'm ready to start playing. I still had a few clumsy moments, at first, but all-in-all it went well today. We played a few duets; sight reading. Not bad. I played some of the harmony parts on a few Christmas songs, just for a change - that was interesting.
We spent a lot of time working through several of my "tough segments". I got some good ideas about how to work through these. I had been doing some of the cross string shifts wrong. I was essentially just trying to "reach" for it, rather than consciously shifting on the one string and then, when my hand is positioned right, cross over for the new note. Another fix involved a more rapid string crossing on an upbowed sixteenth note slurred set. I have to bring my arm out more, not just up, when I cross from the d-string to the a-string. Also the bow change needs to be almost instantaneous as well as accurate. (Like how Floyd does his turnabouts when he's turboing in his cage.) We worked through four or five of these, today.
After looking through my new rhythm book, she lent me one of hers. Mine is a quite a bit more advanced than I'm ready for.
By the way, as a followup to Sunday's blog, HP called to say my new laptop battery would arrive FedEx on Friday or Monday. Then they emailed back to make sure I was satisfied with their handling. Wow! I am impressed! Thanks, Hewlett-Packard!
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Sunday, December 03, 2006
I'm thinking about buying a silent electric cello, the Yamaha SVC200.
Too often I find myself wanting to play for another half hour or so in the evening, but it would intrude too much on everyone else in our somewhat compact house. I've been thinking about building a sunroom off the southeast side of the house, with lots of windows that we could open up in the summer and use as a screened porch (sanctuary from the mosquitos). We'd put in an open-front brick fireplace/oven and install our "parilla" (a unique barbecue grill) that we brought back from Argentina for just this purpose. Although I don't eat meat (except for an extremely rare BLT sandwich), I like cooking barbecue and I really like using this type of grill. In the winter we'd close all the windows to keep the room warm, yet we'd be able to enjoy the bright midday sun hanging low in the southern sky. This would also be my music room. One day...
In the meantime, a lot of what I'm wanting to learn on my cello involves repeating specific fingering and bowing patterns, which I'd like to work on in the evenings. Also, it appears we'll be traveling a bit next year, and I can't imagine going cello-less. My cello is too precious to let it bounce around in the back of the motorhome for 10,000+ miles. Also, my cello would be too loud to play in campgrounds and RV parks. The Yamaha will ride well, and even fly if I need to. I don't know yet what I'll do with my real cello while I'm gone. I can't leave it at home without humidification. Do people store their cellos at luthiers when they have to leave home for an extended period? If not there, where else?
The computer I'm writing this with is just 11 months old - I bought it for blogging. I also use it for my consulting work, which lately has increased a lot. Last week I needed to use this computer at a client's jobsite, but the battery was dead, and it won't recharge. I downloaded HP's Battery Analyzer, which reported the battery was no good and needed replaced; it also said the battery was no longer under warranty. That didn't sound right. The computer has a one-year warranty, why wouldn't the battery?
After a few minutes sorting through the HP website, I emailed a note to HP's technical group. They forwarded it to a service group, which responded WITHIN THE HOUR ON A SUNDAY EVENING(!) that HP actually would honor the warranty, and requested details on make, model, and my particulars. Their email said a new battery should be on its way by Tuesday! I have never had such an easy time resolving this kind of problem. Is it possible that HP has figured it out - that customers remember how easy (or hard) it is to get service and support? Still, I'm suspicious. It was just too easy.
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Saturday, December 02, 2006
For our part of the upcoming community Christmas concert, our string orchestra will play a medley of Christmas songs that includes several changes in rhythm, with several rest periods for the cellos. Not really a difficult piece, note-wise, although it has made me pay extra attention to the fourth finger extensions on the d-string and the g-string.
My biggest challenge is counting it in my head - starting with mostly quarter notes then switching to half notes in 4/4 time, then to dotted half notes and half-quarter note measures in 3/4 time, and then to a sequence of eighth-note/eighth-rest measures in 2/4 time. I've learned the fingering and can play even the trickier parts at tempo. But I find myself losing track of the half notes and then the dotted half notes. Since the cello part doesn't carry much of the melody, I can't rely on the tune itself to keep me on track.
Finally, after several days of frustration trying to play it through, today, I put the cello aside and just counted the whole piece aloud four or five times, then just the half note measures four or five times. Then, I slowed the metronome down, picked up the cello and played these half note measures slowly while counting aloud. After several tries I was finally able to speak the beats and play the notes at the same time (equivalent - to me at least - to patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time). Then, a little faster, until I got to tempo and was finally able to play it all the way through. Two weeks left to get this perfect....
I've not been able to devote as much time as I've intended to the two latest Suzuki pieces. Still, when I do, I feel as if I'm progressing. I've put a lot more time on several of the older pieces that still had "tough segments". I think I've completely overcome a few of these segments, and I'm making good progress on most of the rest of them. I sure hope I'll be able to demonstrate these at my lesson this week.
This week we found out that Ipods aren't designed for washing machines. Egad! You'd think that Apple would have taken into consideration that their most loyal fans are 14 years old, who are only now learning to put their jeans into the laundry hamper themselves - but learning to empty out the pockets first is a whole different issue. How hard would it be to make the darn things waterproof? At first, I didn't want to try popping the cover - in hindsight I should have, at least I could have dried it with a hair dryer before the hard-drive rusted. Anyway, after a day or so sitting near the heater, we plugged it in and the screen lit up(!) (no information, but there was light), then the hard drive started clacking, and then it died.... bummer. Z is devastated.
Hippos are descended from the same ancestors as whales. There's a town in South Africa, called St. Lucia, where hippos wander through town, feeding on lawns at night. Z added it to his list of places to see one day...
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