Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Change of hair

Maybe this is an "end of the year, starting a new year" activity.  And it's also just something I do every three to six months.

And, it's in part a reaction to a comment at my Krav Maga class.  The teacher guessed that I was about 50; I'm actually in my mid-40s.  Oops.

He probably over-estimated because I'm substantially receding, and I have a large patch of grey in my beard.  So when I let my hair get shaggy, it emphasizes my hairline; and when I let my beard grow out, it shows the grey.


As usual, here's a series of photos as I do my half-yearly "trimming back the shrubbery" haircut.

Photo 1:  Full hair, full beard:

Photo 2:  Trimmed the beard; from this view you can see the grey as a halo around the darker area around my mouth:

Photo 3:  Trimmed the hair:

Photo 4:  Trimmed the beard with clippers:

Photo 5:  Actually shaved; probably the first time in half a year: 

So:  comparing photo 1 with photo 5 -- did I lose five years?  Could I pass for 35?  38?  41?  :)



Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tiny house with good design

I liked the design of this tiny house.

Also this one:  green green green green green!


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Wrong sign

I suspect that The Lady thinks I'm crazy for allocating any brain-space to this:  but, I dislike incorrect language.   

This is a sign at the local McDonald's:

So:  if it said "Open 24/7" or "Open 24-7", that would be correct:   it's repeating a common phrase -- which omits the (implied) units (hours per day; days per week).

And if it said "Open 24 hours, 7 days", I would accept that:  it would mean "open all the time".

BUT -- because they included the units ("hours"), at the end of the "24/7" -- it now reads "Open 24/7 hours" -- which is 3.43 hours.

That's not very long.


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Nice chuck box

When you're camping -- more "car-camping" than "backpacking" -- it seems like a chuck box would be a nice way to keep everything together.

And, you could probably borrow the designs for a toolbox or portable workstation.

I came across this by accident, when doing a YouTube search.  But, I like it:  nice design.


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Monday, December 29, 2014

Review of the new Annie movie

Saw the remake of Annie this afternoon.  It re-used most of the songs from the original Annie movie -- "It's a Hard Knock Life", "Tomorrow", and etc.

Given that I didn't really want to see it, it did manage to win me over after the first ten minutes or so.  But the whole family cried (or at least, teared up -- neither of the boys will admit to crying).

So, pretty decent. 

But Big Hero 6 was better.  ;)



Lost my pens

We went out to a movie this afternoon -- and in the process I managed to lose all three of the pens that I keep in my pocket.

I hate being without a pen, so I always carry a pen or two in my right front pocket.  Usually I'll have a colored pen (green, or maybe red), for underlining in magazines that I read, and also a black or dark blue pen for writing.

And, as I've mentioned before, I actually bought a six dollar pen that writes really smoothly -- because I actually can feel the difference as I write, and I write in my notebook nearly every day.

So, I had the "nice" pen (blue ink), a green ball-point pen, and a dual-tip pen (red, black).  We were early to the movie, so I read my book while the kids used my pens to fill in a "kids' activities" sheet.  B2 finished early and handed his pen to me -- but because the other two kids were still writing, and because sometimes they like to vary their colors, I put my pen back on the table.

And then The Lady said that it was time to go see the movie, so I stood up (with my book) and walked off.

It wasn't until after the movie, when we had stopped off for burgers and I reached into my pocket for a pen, that I realized that they were still on the table at the movie theater.  Gah.

I went back and looked -- but they were all gone.  I asked one of the movie theatre employees if perhaps someone had turned them in, but figured that someone would've just picked them up and put them in her purse.  But she checked their Lost and Found, anyhow.  Nope.

She said that they wouldn't have thrown them away, because they're always running out of pens.

So, at least they didn't end up in the bin:  someone, somewhere, is getting some use out of them.

It bothers me because that was probably nine dollars worth of pens (and I hate losing nine dollars), and because I had actually selected those pens to be -- if not "optimized", at least "better than the other options".  So they weren't just "any old pens".

So, I'm a little bummed -- but I'll get over it.


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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tool box and pocket knives

I got these for Christmas from The Lady -- although technically I picked them up and handed them off to her...

The toolbox is actually sold by Aldi as an "artist's box".  But I'll use it as a wooden toolbox.

Because it was unfinished wood, I wiped it with a few coats of Danish oil or tung oil.  I used to use boiled linseed oil (BLO) as a simple finish -- but now I only use BLO on tool handles, and Danish oil/tung oil is my general preference for everything else (except for things that get painted!).  My paternal grandfather tended to use Danish oil, as well.

Tung oil/Danish oil doesn't particularly protect the surface -- but I believe it at least seals up the pores, so it's less prone to staining.

Exterior -- before:

Exterior -- after:

Interior -- before:

Interior -- after:

So, it made the wood darker -- which was really my main goal.

Also, I got these two "vintage" pocket knives, which we picked up at an antique mall about a week ago.

They were a little dull, but I sharpened them up (including the corkscrew!).

There were many pocket knives at the "stall" at the antique mall -- but these two appealed to me.  Probably the color.  If you click on the photo, it will enlarge, and you can see the patterns (marbled?) better.

I haven't carried "regular" pocket knives in my "everday carry":  instead, I've had two multitools, or a multitool and a Swiss army type of knife.  But I'm going to start carrying one of these instead of the Swiss army knife.


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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tiny home for a tall student

I like this one.  Good design.

Although:  Even though I enjoy these "tiny homes", I notice that that anyone who live in them doesn't have a space-intensive hobby -- no model-building, no sculpting, no woodworking, music recording...

Instead, they sit around and read, or they write poetry, or watch movies on their laptop...


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Friday, December 26, 2014

Review - Big Hero 6

Basically, a boy robotics genius inherits the “medical robot” (white, puffy, inflatable) from his older brother.

It was well-animated, great script, laughs and tears, engaging story, satisfying ending; ayep!  Very much liked it.

Made all of us cry two to three times during the story – so it must've been good!



Wednesday, December 24, 2014

I want this someday

I read about Tweed brand mixing consoles (from the '70s?) in a magazine article.

My web search led me to this page, including a catalog of Tweed mixers (see the link on that page).

I particularly like the one that I've linked to (see photo to the left).  Someday...  [sigh...]

There was also an article on that website about the "original" 4-track cassette recorders.  This one is very similar to the model that I had.

Or, rather -- I still do have it.  It's in a box somewhere.


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Multitools review website

Found this website by accident.  This link goes to the cumulative list of reviews of multitools.

I like multitools.  :)



Saturday, December 20, 2014

Turning logs into lumber

On Tuesday morning of this week, I noticed a pile of short logs on the footpath.  The city workers had been coming through and trimming branches that posed a hazard to the power lines:  they must've taken down a tree as well.

So, on Tuesday evening I stopped by.  I mostly have enough wood -- but I couldn't bear to pass these up.  Plus, they had a pink-y coloring that I thought might be useful.

I chose two of the wider, longer pieces and put them in the kids' wading pools until the weekend:  if you let logs dry out before you split them, they start cracking -- which ruins the usefulness of the resulting lumber.

This next photo shows the "kit" that I used.  I had a chopping block (another short log), and I put the "new" log on top, and hewed off the bark using the hatchet.  Then I used the two splitting wedges and the heavy hammer to split the log into eighths.

For the initial, "full-diameter" split, I used the handsaw to define the split line.  For the remaining splits, I "walked" the wider chisel across the length of the wedge to create a faultline, then used the wedges the complete the split.

The split "drifted" a little bit as it passed through the log, such that the exiting portion wasn't as straight as the entry point.  But, that's OK.

Then, because the wood still had a bit of sap to it -- it's summer here, so the sap was "up" -- I'm seeing whether soaking the resulting blanks in the kids' wading pool for a week will dilute some of the sap.

(Note to environmental types:  most of this water is rainwater from the recent storm -- although I did "top it up" a bit.)

Once these blanks have soaked for a week or so, I'll put them somewhere out of the weather for two or three years, to season.  Once I decide to use them, I'll convert them to boards with a scrub plane (you'll get the notion in the first 30 seconds), and turn them into a box, set of small shelves, or -- something.


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Friday, December 19, 2014

Brain dump of music advice

OK -- here's a "brain dump" on various pieces of advice for songwriting musicians.

This is an extension, of sorts, from an earlier blog entry that also gives advice -- although that earlier entry focuses more on career aspects.

Note that I've tried to group my thoughts by theme -- but the themes themselves may not be in the optimal narrative order.  Ah well.


IMO there are two types of songwriters: those that "just" write the words and melody lines (and basic chord structures), and those that also include the arrangement and recording/producing aspect as part of "the song".

If you're the type that also things in terms of the arrangement and "studio trickery" (e.g. "For the intro, let's have someone singing backwards!!!"), and you're at all technically-minded -- this is good.  It means that you can do a lot of your own production work -- which removes a layer of impediment between the sounds in your head and getting them down on tape (or, "on disk").

IMO, a song is a good song if it passes the "singing in the shower" test.  If a person only hears your song one time -- and the next time they find themselves singing/humming it in the shower -- then it's a good song:  it's catchy enough that a person remembered it.

If you write lyrics, and then keep singing the "wrong" words -- it probably means that revised words are actually better.

Always carry a notebook with you, to jot down ideas.  I used to use the "scraps of paper" method -- but these end up getting lost.  Better to have a series of notebooks.  (Roald Dahl, the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, kept notbooks.)  Also:  try to transcribe your ideas into your computer, on a regular basis -- in case you misplace your notebook!  (I'm missing the lyrics to a song I wrote -- I don't remember where I put my previous notebook:  gah!!!)

Royalties:  for "recorded" versions of the song, all the band members get equal royalty payments for the "sound recording" (as it's technically called). And then the songwriter(s) get an equal payment (I believe). And then the producer (who decides "Hey -- you should add an extra chorus on the end. And we should add some piano behind verse two...") gets the same amount as the songwriter. This means that if your four-person band has a #1 single that sells a zillion copies -- and **you** were the sole songwriter **and** were the producer -- then they each get 1/12 of the total royalties -- and you get 2/3 + "1/4 of 1/3" of the royalties (I **think** my math is right).

Presumably for this reason, the band R.E.M. has always shared songwriting credits: **all** songs are credited to "Berry-Buck-Mills-Stipe". That's pretty cool.

From Wikipedia: "All songwriting is credited to the entire band, even though individual members are sometimes responsible for writing the majority of a particular song.  Each member is given an equal vote in the songwriting process; however, Buck has conceded that Stipe, as the band's lyricist, can rarely be persuaded to follow an idea he does not favor.  Among the original line-up, there were divisions of labor in the songwriting process: Stipe would write lyrics and devise melodies, Buck would edge the band in new musical directions, and Mills and Berry would fine-tune the compositions due to their greater musical experience."

Also, if someone does a cover version of the song, then **you** still get "songwriter points" ("points" = "royalty credit") -- and your bandmates and the producers get nothing (because the cover version only owes the songwriter -- because they've **recorded** a new version). This is why some movies and t.v. shows use cover versions of a song, rather than the original version: it's cheaper -- less royalties.

Copyright:  You can copyright your songs for a reasonable price:  you fill in a form, and send the form plus the supporting documentation (e.g. a recorded copy of the song) to the Library of Congress. When I last did this (20 years ago?), you have a choice between copyright the songwriting, or the sound recording itself.  Go for the songwriting.

It costs the same to copyright an "album" as an individual song (I did an "album").

By filing, what you're really doing is proving that your version of the song came first, before someone's rip-off version. Although -- in this day of YouTube, the "uploaded on" date might be sufficient proof of "who was first"; dunno.

Music lessons:

My view is that music lessons have their role -- but for most songwriters you could better spend your money elsewhere.

My position is that what people **really** need is someone more experienced than themselves to "mentor" them and serve as a resource ("am I holding my hands right?"; "why is my amp making that weird sound?"). Beyond that, you "learn by doing".

If you're inherently interested you will practice a lot, and get better. And if you never get around to playing, and the **only** reason you actually practice is because you know you have a lesson coming up on Tuesday -- well, maybe you shouldn't be playing that instrument...

I would agree that an exception would be to, yes, take some lessons if you want to play highly technical music (e.g. classical; jazz).  Or, if you want to play in a specific style (e.g. "heavy metal" guitar).

But if you're just playing an instrument as one of your "sound-generating tools" that support your songwriting and recording -- then you will end up writing to the level of your ability, and getting better over time, the more and more you play.

So:  you could pay for lessons -- or you could buy a guitar AND an amp AND some effects pedals -- and figure it out yourself (with the help of knowledgeable friends, and/or the internet). :)

True, an actual instrument teacher will give you tips and tricks. But so will reading relevant magazines, much practice, and geeking out with other users of that instrument.


If you had a thousand dollars to spend on music gear -- and you're a songwriter that records your own songs...

Depending on the style of music that you enjoy -- or "no style -- just whatever suits the specific song" style -- with some of that $1,000 I'd suggest picking up a guitar, an electric bass, and some sort of keyboard (even a cheesy Casio-ish one). If you perform "out" you'll need some sort of guitar/bass amp -- but if you're mostly just recording then you can just plug directly in.

With the above set-up, you can basically create any music you need to.  Oh:  and a drum machine, and a soprano recorder.

If your primary instrument is the keyboards, then the world is your oyster:  you can "fake" any other sound you need.

If your primary instrument is a fretted, stringed instrument (ukulele?  guitar?), then you can "wing it" on most other fretted, stringed instruments (mandolin, guitar, bass, balalaika, banjo...). And if you purchase one of these "additional" instruments, you'll teach yourself pretty quickly.


If you're just beginning guitar and don't have a strong preference between acoustic and electric guitars, I'd say get an electric guitar:  although getting started with an acoustic is slightly cheaper --  you can make an electric guitar sound (mostly) like an acoustic if you play "clean" -- plus, you can make a bunch of additional sounds with effects pedals.  Whereas with an acoustic guitar, you  can really only sound like an acoustic.

Plus, if you're a female:  we need more women playing electric (IMO).

Broadly speaking, electric guitars have single-coil or humbucking pickups.  Single-coil guitars have a "thinner" or more "cutting" sound, whereas humbuckers tend to sound "heavier" or "fuller".  So it depends on the type of sound you like.

If you have small hands:  short-scale basses do exist.  Or, you could try playing a guitar through an octave pedal (although there may be a slight delay).  Or just do keyboard-based basslines.

If possible, buy a used instrument:  cheaper, and they have more mojo.  Try pawn shops, eBay, Craigslist, etc.  But, bring someone that knows about that instrument, so that you don't buy a bad instrument.

And reserve a little bit of money to get the guitar and bass "set up" (e.g. intonated, setting the action [string distance from the fingerboard]) -- although an experienced guitarist or bassist would be able to do that for you.

Recording gear:

If you're recording to a computer, you may want to pick up a USB recording interface, rather than just plugging in to the "microphone input" of your computers.

Unless you're micing a full drum kit -- or using multiple mics to record many instruments live -- a two-input unit should suffice in the early stages.

Technology is advancing so quickly (and home recordists do upgrade!), so you'd probably be able to pick up a used one that's only a few years old. Something like this would be fine -- -- but also see --

Behringer has a reputation as a slightly cheesy brand, but I've found them perfectly fine -- and well-priced. But for the slight cost increase, I'd probably suggest the Prosonus unit for $90.

In the late '90s I used to order online from both Musician's Friend and American Musical Supply. I ended up preferring AMS -- but I don't remember why. And that was 15 years ago -- so their customer service and range of products have possible changed.

Drum kits:

I always feel bad for drummers because their gear is so expensive compared to entry-level guitar or bass gear -- and because it's hard to find a place to practice (the size of a drum kit, plus the noise (no volume knob!).

Depending on your aims (e.g. "you've always wanted to learn the drums"), you may want to consider a drum machine (I recommend something along these lines -- -- **much** cheaper if "used", of course (I have an old Boss "Dr Rhythm" unit, but I don't know if they're now priced as "collectable"...), or perhaps an electronic drum kit.

Electronic drum kits don't "feel" the same as "real" drum kits -- but they are **similar** -- and have the **huge** advantage of being somewhat smaller and having a volume knob (and a headphone jack!). And the arm-leg coordination that you develop **will** cross-transfer to "real" drum kits -- although there would be additional nuances to learn.

BTW -- if you look at "musician wanted" ads, there tend to be more "Drummers Wanted" ads than "Drummer Available" -- so if you **do** get good at the drums, you'll be highly valuable! ;)

My number 1 drumming tip: During the song, keep the snare drum going.  Unless you're going for an "effect".

My number 2 tip: Simple is perfectly fine (e.g. Meg White). As long as it's steady -- and suits the song. ;)

Tip #3: If you do get an "acoustic" drum kit -- there are at least five distinct sounds you can get off a high-hat. ;)

And at least three distinct sounds per "regular" cymbal. And three sounds per snare. Including this.

Recording tips and tricks:

I'd super-recommend subscribing to Tape Op magazine. It's a recording magazine that's free to subscribe to if you live in the U.S. (the advertising pays for the publishing costs), and it has a very strong "DIY"/"Do what works" orientation. This means that they treat 4-track recording as equally valid as ProTools-based digital recordings through $120,000 mixing boards. And they have a wide range of articles, tips, and gear reviews -- beginner through advanced -- e.g. how to mic a guitar cabinet, gear reviews, interviews with producers and engineers, etc.

Reverb gives a sense of space. So vocs with no reverb sounds more intimate, like the singer is right in front of you; loads of reverb makes the singer sound more distant (although there are tweaks to this).

ALSO, no reverb can make the singer sound **bigger** ("in your face"), whereas reverb can actually make the singer sound **smaller** (e.g. "lost in a big room").

Try to own at last two mics: different microphones have different tonal qualities, so you can strategically use them to optimize the sound you want. It could be that one suits your voice better, or whatever instrument you're recording.

Stereo micing -- even if the mics aren't "matched" (even completely different mic models!) can add a lot to a recording. For example, point at two different parts of the instrument; or have one pointing AT the instrument, and one pointing away (to get the "room sound"). Then pan them slightly L and R, to achieve separation.

Dynamic mics (e.g. the Shure SM57; reasonably priced, and an industry standard) don't have the same fidelity as condensor mics. (Not necessarily "bad" -- just "different".) Ribbon mics lose a little top-end detail -- but that makes them good for sources that can be a little harsh, such as brass or certain voices.

Cascade Microphones makes really good ribbon mics for an incredibly reasonable amount of money. But that's probably a "later" purchase. :)

Bathrooms can provide some usable natural reverb. Walk-in closets can provide some nice "dead" recording booths (although it won't kill the bass frequencies -- just the mids and highs).

Use EQ to "carve out" space for different instruments -- esp. if you have a full mix with a lot of instruments in the same frequency range. For example, my vocs and the bass strings of a guitar are in the same zone -- so I'll slightly cut the guitar in a certain frequency to let my vocs stick up.

Also with EQ:  do wide boosts, and narrow cuts.  Unless you're going for an "effect".

Panning will also allow separation between instruments.

A clever trick for turning a mono signal into quasi-stereo (i.e. slightly fuller-sounding) is to copy it to another track, then delay that track by just a few miliseconds. Then mix the delayed track just a little louder -- and pan the two tracks to opposite sides. Psycho-acoustically, we perceive first-arriving sounds to indicate the sound source (e.g. if the sound reaches your L. ear first, and THEN your R. ear, you interpret the sound as being on your left). But we also use the relative volume to gauge the location. So if you tweak these two parameters -- but in opposite ways -- then the two interpretations cancel each other out.

People are conditioned (evolved?) to focus on voices -- we know what voices are "supposed" to sound like. So make the vocs sound good, and then make everything else fit around it. (Unless you're **intentionally** trying to make the vocs sound muffled, etc.)

Similarly, if you only have a limited number of mics (or channels), and you need to record vocs plus something else, at the same time, then put the better-sounding signal chain on the vocs.

Compression can make things sound punchier and/or stronger -- but it also changes the tonal quality a bit. Compression is powerful, but a little tricky to get the hang of. But it's fine to start with "recipe" settings.

A highly-recommended compressor -- at a reasonable price -- is the RNC--1773.

If you end up geeking out over the recording aspect, you will end up owning a range of mic pre-amps, compressors, reverb units, etc. -- or their equivalent plug-ins. But if you end up using recording in a purely utilitarian manner, that's legitimate, too (of course!).

Have fun with samples and sound effects! (The Beatles did it (e.g. "Yellow Submarine"; you can too!)

The fidelity of the recorded song is important -- but 1950s and 1960s music still sounds fine today -- because the songs themselves are catchy (Buddy Holly!!!  Beach Boys!!!  The Beatles!!!).  So, a catchy song with an "acceptable" quality of recording will trump a masterfully recorded, boring, song.

Music career:  

Some musicians "start their own label".  This gives you control, and lets you keep more of the money -- but it also means way more time invested in the "business side", which means less time actually writing and recording music!  (Likewise, "being your own managment".)

If the "business side" appeals to you, then that will influence your decision, of course. But you only have a certain number of hours in the day -- so any time spent promoting your music, shipping copies of your CD (and bumper stickers, and posters...) is time you're **not** spending recording and songwriting. Although, the internet age has automated a lot of this -- so it's a lot less labor-intensive because a lot of this can be outsourced to "t-shirts and coffee mugs on demand" websites, music-purchasing websites, and the like.

Umm -- I think that's it.  For now.  ;)


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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Geeky birthday gift

Because my parents live in another country, they often just send me some money and have me purchase my own gift -- something that I would enjoy.

As I age, I find myself buying gifts for myself that my younger self would find horribly disappointing.

For example:  for my 2014 birthday, I spent $15 on a large sheet of plate glass (Woo-hoo!!!!).  Plus a bit more for some sandpaper.

The above photo shows the glass on our back porch bench -- for scale.  Shiny!

And, to the left, here, is the finished product:  strips of sandpaper, in ascending (labelled!) grits.  The larger sheet is also for flattening my Japanese waterstones:  I have a super-coarse one (faster-cutting than the coarsest sandpaper), and a super-fine one (basically, a smooth piece of stone; just for whetting).

I believe that most people call this the "Scary Sharp" approach.  The notion is that, when sharpening, you start at the coarse grits and work your way through all the successive grits.

The disadvantage of this approach, compared to using sharpening stones, is that you have to buy new materials more often: sandpaper doesn't retain its abrasiveness as long as a whetstone.

But, the advantage is that you always retain a perfectly flat surface -- whereas whetstones eventually get "dished" and you need to flatten them. This approach also provides more gradations in the level of abrasiveness.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Better to anger than to hurt feelings

Even though I'm middle-aged (right?), I keep having new insights about humans and human interactions.  Here's one I figured out yesterday.

If you (accidentally!) insult someone, it's better that you make them angry, rather than hurt their feelings:  if they get angry, that means that they're throwing it back on you, and keeping the insult outside of their core self.

Whereas if their feelings are hurt, then they internalize the insult, and carry it with them.

I suppose an implication of this principle is that if someone insults you, it's healthier to get angry than to be hurt by it:  keep it outside of you.



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lesson learned

One of the things about exercising is that I learn more about how my body works.

From past experience, I already knew that I feel crummy -- i.e. "nauseous" -- if I do a full-scale workout after being "away" for a while.  For example, back in Seattle I took a semester off from kung fu (I had a class that conflicted):  after the first kung fu class upon my return, I had to dash to the men's room and throw up.  Yep.

So, I prevent getting sick from exercising by doing one or two partial-intensity workouts in the week leading up to it

I've now learned something else:  if I'm working out and I drink diluted juice during the workout, instead of water, then afterwards I end up feeling crummy and throwing up.  Although doing sit-ups as part of the workout possibly didn't help.

So, OK -- I get it.  ;)


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Monday, December 15, 2014

Tall grass

It seems that Australian plants -- including grass! -- have evolved to chill out when it's dry -- and then make use of wet weather when it does occur.

I'm pretty sure it was only three weeks since I'd last mowed the yard.  But, we've been having storms about twice a week for the last month.

My kids are pinching stalks of grass that are aprox. their own height.  That's how much it's grown since then.



Sunday, December 14, 2014

USB flashlight

A USB rechargeable flashlight?  From Swiss+Tech.

Pretty nifty, and at a reasonable price:  US$11.  Plus S&H, I presume.

I kind of collect USB-powered devices (fans, etc.)  One of these days I'll have to pick up one of these things.


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Ancient multitools

I like multitools -- esp. the tiny ones.

Thus, I was pleased when I found this by accident when Googling for something else:  a multitool wiki!

Of particular note:  the wiki's "historical multitools" page -- i.e. multitools that pre-date the "Leatherman" patent (apparently in 1983).


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Thursday, December 11, 2014

I am on my break

Usually I run errands during my lunch break.  But, a few days ago I sat at my desk and checked e-mail.  To indicate I was on a break, I wore a hat.

A co-worker asked why I was wearing a hat:  was I cold?  Nope -- it symbolizes that I'm not slacking -- I'm off the clock.

He pointed out -- correctly -- that it doesn't successfully communicate that message, if no one knows what "wearing a hat" is supposed to mean.  Good point.

So, today, I used the power of language to clearly communicate my situation.

Curiously, three different co-workers took photos with their cell phones.  Lego Architect was kind enough to send me his copy.  :)


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Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Hat-tip to The Bloggess for alerting her readers to this video.



Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A tale of two Linuxes

So, almost exactly a week ago, I blogged about getting a used PC for eighty bucks, and installing Crunchbang on it -- a type of Linux.

To recap:  about two weeks before Dec 3, my laptop (which I had purchased used, more than five years before), had finally stopped working.

I believe it was Sunday, Nov 30th that I picked up the used Dell desktop PC and installed Crunchbang Linux on it.  The "distro" (i.e. "flavor") of Linux was intentionally bare-bones.  It had some quirks -- but I got used to them.


I was trying to convert some audio files to mp3 format.  Under my laptop running Mint Linux (was it v. 15?), Soundconverter worked just fine.  But under Crunchbang, it would start, but then lock up.

So I downloaded and installed an alternative:  WinFF.  This, too, would start and then lock up.  So, that's no good.

I also didn't like the way thatCrunchbang treated copying folders with the same name as existing folders:  instead of warning you that "a folder with that name already exists", it would just copy the "new" folder over the existing folder -- asking if you wanted to have the "new" files within the folder over-write the existing files of the same name.  I didn't like that.

It also didn't have a built-in "control the 'repeat' speed of your keyboard" app:  I had to do a web search, then install the app for that.  And even when I adjusted the settings, I could barely tell the difference in the "repeat" speed.  Huh.

But the final nail in the coffin was that Crunchbang lacked important safety protocols.  I had a dodgy USB flashdrive.  I was was attempting to clean it up, and when I turned the PC back on the USB flashdrive was already in a USB port.  The computer asked for my login, accepted it -- and then got stuck.

When I powered down, removed the USB flashdrive, and tried to reboot, I couldn't successfully get past the login screen.  I checked the BIOS, and the boot sequence had the USB ports as source #4.  So, as near as I could tell, the PC booted, let me log in, started loading up various devices -- and when it got to the "bad" USB drive, instead of shrugging and moving on, it someone allowed the USB drive to damage the installation.  So in otherwords, Crunchbang appears to lack a safety "diversion" that lets it retain its integrity when it encounters bad devices on startup.

And I could never get it to work again.

Luckily, I had done a full backup just the night before.  So except for a handful of Linux-related webpages I had saved -- largely in response to the "mp3 converter not working" situation -- I didn't lose any work.

So:  I'm back to Mint Linux.  Installed it Sunday, Dec 7th, during the afternoon and evening (I got interrupted a little).  This time I'm using v. 17, because that's what was on the installation DVD-ROM that I had.  Looks the same as the version I had on my laptop, near as I can tell.

And the Soundconverter actually works!!!

And I've adjusted the (built-in) "keyboard repeat" speed -- and it is noticeably faster, once I adjusted it.

So, ha!  Sorry, Crunchbang:  you still need some work.  :(

(Pretty sure is was v. 11, but I don't know the sub-version:  whatever version was current as of Nov 2014.  32 bit, and this is a 64bit machine:  could that have been the problem?  But all the other software seemed to work...)

Interesting to use, though.  But I can't afford the time it takes to rescue delicate OSes:   It took most of a day to install it, and then a full evening to install and set up its replacement.  Plus the lost time trying to get the audio files to convert to mp3.

And I did enjoy its simplicity.  Even though I had to learn how to use "sudo apt-get update" and "sudo apt-get install NameOfSoftware".  I might actually get to use that with Mint Linux, if I ever want something that's not in the official repository...


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Sunday, December 07, 2014

Video of people who were TOO attractive

Found this by accident.  The incidents are interesting, and I like the narration:  both the words, and the English accent.




Songwriting amount and style

A few days ago I spammed a few people with mp3s of a few of my songs.  One of them said that some of the songs were reminiscent of Jonathan Richman (of The Modern Lovers).

I'd heard of The Modern Lovers, but wasn't familiar with their work.  So, I Wikipedia'd and YouTubed 'em.  Ah!  Yep -- I can see some stylistic similarities.

For example, I'd heard the Joan Jett version of "Roadrunner" -- but I didn't know that The Modern Lovers had originated it.

Previously, I'd just used The Violent Femmes (e.g. "Blister in the Sun") as a reference -- and maybe a bit of Buddy Holly and Green Day as well.

Here's one by Jonathan Richman that I could certainly see me writing.

Another note regarding my songwriting:  I've not recorded anything since before moving to Australia ten years ago.  But, I still write songs as they occur to me. 

Sometimes there's a few months between songs.  But sometimes I crank out a few:  I accidentally(!!!) wrote five songs in the last week and a half:

-(11/27/14) Boomerang Bird

-(11/28/14) Redhead in the Yellow Dress

-(12/3/14) Maybe She Just Needs a Hug

-(12/5/14) Grumpy Bear

-(12/6/14) Cystic Fibrosis ((unfinished))

For all of these, I have the song structure, full lyrics (except as noted), the melody line, and a general sense of the instrumentation.

This is why commuting by public transport is good, BTW:  if ideas come to you, you can write them down.  :)

So, I'm thinking that maybe instead of worrying about getting my music gear properly set up -- maybe I should just plug a mic into my computer and let 'er rip -- and not worry about making the recording pristine.  I've always been open to having "versions" or "mixes" of songs:  the demo version, the album version, the "live" version...

But, not this weekend.  Or next weekend.  I got stuffs to do.



Saturday, December 06, 2014

Strange words in a strange land

Last night I used the word "hankering" (specifically, I "had a hankering for an ice cream cone").

I live in Brisbane, Australia.  I wonder how many other people in a 100km radius used the word "hankering" that night?

Possibly three.


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Basement guitared

So, this Thursday at lunchtime I finally did it.

A month or two ago I had the idea that I would bring in an extra guitar and guitar amp to work, and rock out during my lunch break.  Not every day -- just now and again.

I did some reconnisance.  Initially I had thought that I might play guitar at the first (top-most) level of the parking garage under our building.  But it turns out that a security person is posted there, to monitor the cars coming in and out.  And I didn't want to bother them.

So I decided to do it on the bottom-most level:  B3.  I looked around, and, yes -- some of the concrete pillars have electrical outlets.

And I found a location that was among a "zoned-off" area, where people park their bikes:  there were metal railings around this area, so I could set up there and be safe from cars.

But -- the international G20 meeting was coming up -- hosted downtown, near where I work -- so I didn't want to freak out the building security by doing things that were "unexpected".  So, I waited until it passed.

In the mean time, I ferried in the various components of my kit:  an electric guitar; a (very) small amplifier; an effects pedal or two, with their power adaptors; a guitar tuner; guitar cables; and an extension cord.  Also a GFI (see the postscript).

And then I waited a few days after the G20, because each lunch break I had an errand to attend to, instead of playing guitar.

But finally!  This last Thursday:  I loaded up; a co-worker (Lego Architect) was inspired to snap a photo (see above); and I headed down.

I stopped by the security person that monitored the entrance to the parking garage, to let her know what I was doing.  She didn't say "No".

Setting up only took a few minutes.  To emphasize the natural reverb, I pointed the amp away from me -- so that I'd get proportionately more "reflected" sound than "direct" sound.  And I cranked up the amp more than I usually do at home -- but then stood as far away as I could, given the length of my guitar cable.

And it sounded goooood...  :)

I rocked out for about a half hour, then packed up.  During the time that I was playing, a building maintenance guy stopped by and we chatted.  And he didn't say "No".  He was more intrigued than anything.

Once I packed up, I stopped by the security person at the entrance.  The shifts must have changed, because it was a different person.  And she didn't say "No".  In fact, she complimented me on my playing:  she said that she could hear it from where she was, and it sounded good.  She welcomed me back any time -- and she said that more people should do "random, individualistic" things.

So, yes:  I'll do this again.  :)


P.S.  For what it's worth:  used a no-name Flying V with humbuckers, into a $30 Aldi "Overdrive" pedal (which sounds much better than a $30 pedal).  

Used both the overdrive and some gain to further overdrive the solid-state "Falcon" brand amp which naturally overdrives from the get-go (no "Pre-" or "Gain" knob, just "Volume".  

The Falcon amp is oddly loud for such a small amp, and oddly full-range given the small speaker (although the cabinet is closed-back).

P.P.S. For safety, I used a Ground Fault Interruptor (GFI) -- what Aussies seem to call a "Residual Current Device" -- between my extension cord and the power outlet. 

A GFI differs from a circuit breaker (e.g. what's in most power strips):  a circuit breaker cuts off the electricity only when the current is past a certain threshhold -- that is, after you've already been electrocuted for a while.  In contrast, a GFI cuts the power when it senses that its losing power to ground (or "to 'earth' ", for the Australians) -- regardless of the amount.  So, a GFI is much safer. 

A lot of building codes now require GFIs in bathrooms -- for when people drop their hair driers into the sink.

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Friday, December 05, 2014

Woodworking workbench useage video

Much cleverness.


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Mister Funnyboy

In The Lady's family, the tradition is that people submit “wish lists” for birthdays and Christmas. This makes it easier for the gift-givers -- although people do sometimes give things that aren’t on the list. (Certainly, it makes it easier for people who are difficult to buy for.)

B2's (very logical) list (future programmer?) is of the form:

“-Monster High DVDs -- that aren’t on The Girl’s list

-Ninjago DVDs -- that aren’t on The Girl’s list

-Lego sets -- that aren’t on The Girl’s list

-Video games -- that aren’t on The Girl’s list...” 

In contrast, B1’s/Blondie Boy's (numbered!) list started out “legitimate" -- including “pencil case", “alarm clock", and “a big pack of pens" -- but then he abruptly skipped to #99(?!), and said:

“Things that Mommy said ‘No’ to, but I still want them!!!!!!!!!!!! ‏ 

-Booger gun 

‏-Burger gun ‏


‏-Car” ‏

His verbal explanation for “car” was that he didn’t have his license yet -- but he would eventually. ‏ (He's 7yo.)

Little Mister Funnyman. ;) Let’s see how he is as a teenager.


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Great Krav class

Had another Krav Maga class.   **Really** enjoyed it:  it's everything I've been searching for in a martial arts class for the last fifteen years.

Did some review of previous sessions' techniques, including a "friendly" escape from a one-handed shirtfront grab.  Then did an extension of that, where you've messed it up and your arm gets tangled -- how to turn it into an armbar-style takedown.

Then did a defense against a two-handed shirtfront grab -- with the anticipation that the attacker is trying to headbutt you.  It ends up with a wristlock and a takedown.

I **love** arm throws and wristlocks!!!  (Sometimes I miss Aikido a bit...)  So I particularly enjoyed this session.

The other thing that was great about that nights' session was that we closed out the class -- as we often do -- with a controlled free-for-all:  in the school hall (basically the gym), four of the painted lines formed a rectangle, which was the zone in which everyone wandered around.

Four of the students were attackers, and everyone else defended.  The attacker with the kick shield would "boomf" another student, who would then defend and retaliate.  Two of the attackers had medium-length sticks, and would attack the beginner students with a "pin" across the chest (which would then get countered), or -- against the more senior students, with an overhand strike (which would get blocked and countered).

And the fourth person -- me! -- had a dagger (a short wooden dowel), with which I would attack people with a circular attack, and they would block and counter.

With all of these, the more senior the defender, the broader the range of counter-attacks they would throw.

Well, this time -- I'm not sure why -- the instructor joined in.  (Usually, he just watches.)  So when he was nearby, I took a stab at him -- and because he's advanced (of course!) part of his counter was a weapons take-away, plus a wristlock takedown.  Except, because he was being considerate, he didn't complete the throw -- he just put me off-balance a bit.

"Go ahead -- throw me!"  I said.  He looked hesitant.

"It's OK -- I've had two semesters of Judo!  Go ahead!  Wait -- reset!"  I backed off -- then re-attacked.  And, he did the takedown -- and I slapped the floor, and "fell" safely.

(Hm.  I can't remember whether the floor is concrete, or fake wood.  Certainly it's not a "sprung" wooden floor...)

A few minutes later, he was "open", and in my vicinity -- so I attacked him again.  This time he threw me right away.  (And took the "knife" away.  And helped me up.  And gave it back.)

So:  two takedowns, including a wristlock -- and I got thrown by the instructor!  A good night.  :)

P.S.  Technically, it was only one semester of Judo.  But I've had a little Aikido as well.  So it probably equals about two semesters of doing "hard falls".

I don't remember much about the throws or wristlocks.  But golly, I do remember how to fall!  :)

P.P.S.  He's a really good instructor.  If you're in the Brisbane area, you should stop by.


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Wednesday, December 03, 2014


Sorry -- haven't posted for a while.

About two weeks ago, the laptop that I bought used, about five(?) years ago, for AU$230, finally bit the dust.

For the last year or so the keyboard had not been working properly, so I had to use an external, USB keyboard:  not too bad.  But recently I think the "up-arrow" key was stuck in a "pressed" position, because the cursor would keep moving to the top of text windows (and lists of files, within folders).  This made the computer awkward to use (although I figured out that tapping the "down-arrow" key would over-ride the "up-arrow" tendency).

But finally:  it just wouldn't boot.

Luckily, I had backed everything up just two sessions before -- so I'd only lost some notes to myself, plus one or two webpages that I'd saved to HD.

Browsed the local online classifieds (, for a replacement.  This time I'm going back to desktop units:  they're modular, so if the screen, keyboard, etc. goes wonky -- you can swap it out with ease.  I found a local guy who had a range of business-surplus Dell desktop PCs for sale.  All of them came with a keyboard, mouse, and a flat-screen monitor.

I was deciding between a AU$50, AU$80, and AU$100 machine.  The difference between the $50 and the $80 choices was that the $80 machine had twice the RAM (2GB vs. 1GB).  The difference between the $80 and $100 machine was the processor speed:  I think it was 2.4GHz versus 2.6GHz.  So I went with the $80 machine:  I'd pay $20 for the bump up in RAM, but not bother with the proportionately small increase in speed.

Took it home, and -- for something different -- installed Crunchbang, which is a bare-bones version of Linux that's designed for older, lower-spec machines.  It intentionally omits a lot of guff:  the fancy bells-and-whistles, fancy desktop thingies, and the like.  I'd recently read a comparison of five low-impact Linux distros, and this one was in the top two (based on my criteria:  straightforward to install, straightforward installation of new software, and can play YouTube videos).

The other option was a Ubuntu-related distro, called Bohdi Linux -- but I figured I'd give the non-Ubuntu flavor a chance:  Ubuntu already has enough market share.  :)

So far I like Crunchbang well enough -- although I've actually had to dabble with the "terminal" (basically, like working in DOS instead of a Windows environment) to install some additional (free!!!) software (graphics, recording, and video editing software).  And unlike Mint Linux -- which I had on my laptop -- which lets you browse by software category (e.g. "games") -- with Crunchbang you have to already know the name of the software.

But, some websearches, and some notes to myself, let me achieve what I needed to achieve.  So, sure.

Also:  Crunchbang seems to have a quirk where if you're trying to save a folder with the same name as an existing folder, instead of automatically saving a copy and calling it "copy of ____" -- it appears to just re-save the contents back into the original folder.  Huh.

Other than that, though, it's working well:  I've just finished a session of doing some audio editing of some audio files of two hours of interviewing that I did of my late grandfather.

Also -- for you newbie Linux users -- I've noticed with both my Mint Linux laptop, and my Crunchbang Linux desktop machine -- that you have to turn on the router after starting up the web browser.  If the router is already on, and then you turn on the computer -- it says you're connected, but your web browser still can't figure it out.  So you have to go turn off the router, then turn it back on again.  Easy enough -- but a bit of a nuisance.

Also, Crunchbang doesn't seem to have a "check the integrity of your USB flashdrive" app -- whereas Windows and (I believe) other Linux distros do.  Yeah, it has fsck -- which I believe stands for "file system check" -- but that's only through the terminal, and I haven't taught myself how to use it properly.  I was hoping for something where I just right-click on the USB flashdrive icon and choose a "scan the disk for errors" option.

Ah well.  It's free.  And interesting to use.

Oh:  and I tried to use the laptop again, just to see if I could salvage those extra two days' worth of work.  And it started up!  But now I don't trust it:  I don't want an un-reliable computer.  So:  never mind.

But I did grab the additional files from it, and copied them to my "new" computer.


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