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May 30, 08

Stronger feelings for a departed friend

Out with the old, in with the new...in my last post, i shared some of the unexpected feelings of nostalgia and loss with the trade-out of my old Steinway L. The new baby has arrived and settling in nicely (pictures will be posted soon), but in the interim, i was surprised to receive this passionate email from one of my readers - he makes it sound like i posted one of my children for sale onto eBay! (many thanks to Michael for his permission to publish his remarks):

Geeze, Hugh,

I enjoyed visiting your blog, tipped off by a Google news update on the keyword Steinway.

And so, I hope you'll take this in the right way: YIKES! How could you do that to a Steinway?

It was built, checking the SN with the Steinway age finder, between 1972 and 1973. A mere adolescent in piano years.

And to have afixed shipping labels, et al...

I can't stand to see pianos and dogs abused.

Now I'll have to wait to see what you traded it in on. It had better be a Fazioli because you just sent out a piano with wonderful potential. Your spit didn't cause the brass to flake off; brass doesn't flake. I can't account for the pedals - that's strange, but they can be relacquered and unless the strings have "popped" because of incredible pressure on them thus damaging the pin block (for shame) it looks so repairable.

Anyway, I don't expect a reply - I'm just heartsick.

- M


- to which, i sent the following response:

Thanks so much for visiting my blog! My goodness - what a passionate response! While i can certainly understand your feelings on hearing how a once-beautiful piano received so much abuse over the years, that's an unfortunate everyday fact when you have to pound out a lot of high-intensity repertoire. The concert D at Curtis gets pounded to a pulp every year. My two Steinway B's in my office are pretty badly thrashed now - fortunately, we have a terrific in-house technician at Curtis who's promising me a new set of hammers over the summer!

My home Steinway was a baby L - way too small to sound any good, in my opinion. There was always this bizarre inharmonicity in the scale that made it impossible to tune completely correctly, and i think the small size prevented it from being able to produce a good tone (difficult for any grand piano that size/shape, regardless of make). i guess i'm spoiled with B's and D's.

I've heard wonderful things about the Fazioli, but i actually haven't had an opportunity to try one out yet. For now, the piano i've just traded my Steinway for seems to have a lot of wonderful potential...


...and subsequently, received this follow-up:

But of course you can post my chastisement on your blog. But you need to tell people I'm not necessarily an old (which I am) whiny (which I sometimes sound like, even to myself) b****y idiot who has nothing better to do than gripe at the perceived follies of other folk.

Instead, cast me in the light of someone so in love with pianos that he'd rather watch back-to-back "Reservoir Dogs," "Pulp Fiction," and an endless series of Bush Speeches and Cheney leers than the one scene in the old Laurel and Hardy masterpiece: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Music_Box_(1932_film)

I couldn't stand to see the movie The Piano again; find Shine to be as rusty nails on a chalkboard; and Lang Lang's gyrations akin to ... well, it's akin to nothing but it sure is distracting.

Anyway, I can see, now that I know it's an "L" that you might not want to keep it up, but let's hope it's not being used for kindling.

I've screamed at good friends who dared to put a drink, sans coaster, on my polyurethane'd Kawai and came close to firing a cleaning lady for putting Pledge on my B. And God forbid someone attempt to dust the top of the black monster with circular motions and anything but an imported Chamois skin and water...

I've got a friend in Chicago who sells Faziolis and they are fine, fine pianos. Should you move that direction sometime, please let me know so I can let him know.

And now that I have granted Piano Dispensation, I'll be reading your blog to see what you replaced the Steinway with.

Mike


Of course, i couldn't resist looking up the movie clip from "The Music Box" on YouTube to see what Mike was talking about!



My goodness, all this drama over a piano!


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March 12, 08

Temping with the Philadelphia Orchestra

Best temp job i've had in years - i'm a regular pianist for the Philadelphia Orchestra's auditions and conductor rehearsals, but this is the first time i've actually worked on stage as part of the subscription concert series. This is definitely being chalked up to "learning experience" - Monday's rehearsals saw me flubbing and floundering most of my entrances in the Bartok and particularly in the "Mercury" movement from the Holst, making me a prime target to become the conductor's pinata. Carmina didn't require nearly so much careful coordination with its simplistic, repetitious melodies.

"The Miraculous Mandarin", my foot...that work should be called "The Masochistic Mandarin" instead. Bartok, simply put, is a meanie.

Nevertheless, i'm having a blast, and my tablet pc is still turning out to be a life-saver. I found that scanning miniature scores is much better than full sized scores, since the smaller book format lends itself to closer spacing of the staves and a larger note font in general.

Bartok mini score example

As i mentioned in my previous post, i have an aversion to orchestral tacet counting. The Bartok in particular requires exceptional coordination with the clarinet solos and several other poly-rhythmic tricksy entrances. I absolutely love being able to use my tablet pc's highlighting capabilities within PDF Annotator to quickly see my part buried amidst all the others, as well as creative fingering and beat markings to help me keep on track.

Despite Monday's shaky start, i think yesterday's rehearsal went much better overall. I found myself in a bit of a Goldilocks moment: Monday's pinata beating said that i was too soft. Tuesday's pinata beating said i was too loud. As Luis Biava put it, after cooking the steak too well-done and then too rare, it's now time to aim for "medium". LOL - he's so great!

Sorry for the brevity of this post and its scattered composition - i have to hurry and snarf the rest of my breakfast and take a shower before driving the kids to school and heading out to the orchestra's morning rehearsal. Here are some pictures from my temporary life with the Orchestra:

My partner in crime, David Booth:










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December 04, 07

Freedom!! (Finally!!)

The New PATCO Freedom Train Pass cardAfter over a year of waiting, the new PATCO Freedom Train Pass smartcard is finally available for general purchase!

The steep rise in gas prices last year turned me into an avid PATCO rider. The trains themselves are older models that run just fine, but the fare collection system hasn't aged nearly as well - old-fashioned magnetic swipe cards that frequently get rendered useless by accidental proximity to electronic gadgets (like my Curtis optical ID/entrance card) and antiquated ticket dispensing machines that require you to feed the coins with the care and precision of a skee ball match. Having ridden the uber-efficient train systems in Korea several years ago and envying the way most riders just tapped an open turnstile with smart cards tucked in outer wallet pockets made me wonder time and again why we didn't have a similar system here in the ol' US of A. Well, now that wait finally seems to be over.

Cards can be purchased at the Broadway Transportation Center in Camden. The folks there were very helpful and even gave a personal demonstration on how to use the new ticket dispensing machines which can either give you 3-day paper magnet passes, or can be used to 'recharge' your Freedom smart card. I opted for the automatic withdrawal from my debit card, which will recharge the card in $30 increments (or more, if you decide) once the card's balance reaches $5.

No more penny arcade ticket machines, no more change dispensers that spit my old dollar bills back out, no more waiting in long queues for 10-ride tickets at the human ticket window (only open at certain hours of the day) - my Freedom card has me actually excited to ride the train now!

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November 23, 07

Post Turkey-Day Thoughts

Um...how NOT to fry a turkey...or better yet, just DON'T -



Alton Brown has a better turkey frying method, but i think i completely lost interest after the zip tie step...no entree should be THIS much trouble...



Alton Brown from Food Network TV, by the way, has the hands-down best turkey recipe i've ever run across - it was a repeat hit at last night's Sung household with all its briny goodness leaving nary a nibblet leftover on our 13 pound bird.

ShopRite, our local supermarket chain, has a terrific accompanying website that has a great selection of recipes with javascript shopping list generators. Free membership signup is required - the Herbed Beef Tenderloin and Caesar Salad with Cilantro and Green Chile Dressing recipes were especially delicious compliments to our meal. This was my first time cooking a 4 pound beef tenderloin and i didn't realize it would cook as quickly as it did - fortunately, my trusty probe thermometer did its job and kept the beef nicely medium rare.

Kyungmi and i had entirely too much fun cooking together yesterday, with a wonderful evening spent with family and dear friends from church - i hope your Thanksgiving holiday is filled with love, gratitude, blessed contentment - and an absence of turkey fryers!



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October 20, 07

Murphy visits the Sungs (as in, Murphy's Law)

Figures...just when we're getting ready to knock out our very last debt (besides the house), ol' Murphy strolls along for a visit and attempts to take over the spare sofabed - or at least, in this instance, the furnace!

During a sudden chill a few days ago, we couldn't get our pilot light to stay on. Fortunately we have a friend who used to work in the commercial heating and air systems industry, so he was able to stop by to take a quick look at the problem. UN-fortunately, he shook his head when he saw just how old our furnace actually was - probably close to 25 or 30 years old - and that we desperately needed to replace it, especially given the possibility of carbon monoxide leakage with systems this old.

Well, if that wasn't bad enough,a few days later i had to go in for some dental work to fix my back right molar which had broken in half. The first dentist had assured me no root canal was necessary, just a crown to fix the break. But when i signed in at the dental office, they immediately proceeded to bill me for a root canal. I insisted that the examining dentist told me that wasn't necessary, so they amended the bill - only to discover that once i sat down in the examining chair, the root canal specialist adamantly declared that yes, indeed, a root canal was absolutely necessary.

Sigh. Tack on another $500 to a $350 crown.

Thankfully, we now have Murphy-repellent in the form of a budget and a fledgling emergency fund. Thanks to some leftover from Kyungmi's big bonus, we have enough to cover both the costs of the new furnace AND my extra dental work, WITHOUT GOING INTO FURTHER DEBT!! A year ago we would've piled the emergency expenses onto our credit cards. THIS time, we're able to simply pay cash. Now is that awesome or what??

Next article: our tale of two contractors.

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October 16, 07

Daily Inspiration for the Practice Room

If you haven't seen this yet, then you really must spend some time over at Dr. Chris Foley's Collaborative Piano blog and his excellent new series of articles titled "31 Days to Better Practicing". Dr. Foley is a master pedagogue with the gift of breaking down materials into bite-sized components, and this series is no exception. Reading through the suggestions ranging from setting a regular practice schedule and warmup exercise ideas, to establishing short, medium and long-term practical goals for your music is sure to inspire you to more constructive and artistically infused practice sessions (and let's face it - at some level EVERYONE hates to practice, especially yours truly!)

Some of my personal favorites (so far) from the series-in-progress include:

  • Practice Links - A nice collection of tips, tricks and articles from several authors with topics ranging from 'why we need to practice scales' to '5 quick and easy memory tricks', among others.


  • More Practice Links" - Chris has collected a number of great essays and articles on practicing from various online resources here. Be sure to check out his link for finding interesting piano repertoire via Pianopedia!


  • 5 Things to Remember About Fingerings - effective fingering strategies is a personal passion of mine, and Chris does a great job of outlining the reasons for taking this step seriously right from the beginning.



  • Keep up the great work, Chris! A definite "must-read" for musicians at every level!


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    October 12, 07

    The Debt Snowball Avalancheth

    Kyungmi picked up an amazing bonus from work today. Six months ago, i would've bolted for the nearest music store or eBay listing for Tablet PC's and snagged a few expensive toys - but now, after five months of working our Debt Snowball patiently, diligently, and intensely, my first thought was actually to use the windfall to knock out the second-to-last debt and take a huge bite out of the last remaining one, the home equity loan that threatened to become a new member of the family with its own bedroom! Now how's that for a change of heart?

    i'm re-reading the first article i wrote at the start of this financial fight for freedom, and i'm almost chuckling at the memory of the fear that swept over me when i realized just how big the financial hole was at the time:

    I just finished the very first step of Dave's plan: writing out my first monthly budget. Even though all my finances are recorded in Quicken, this was still a very painful, brain-numbing exercise. Bad news is that the debt i tried so hard to ignore actually is turning out to be a much bigger troll under the bridge than i had realized...


    ...and now, fast forward to today, when i called the loan officer to pay off the balance early on our back windows' installation (real physical windows, not the blue-screen-of-death kind - last time we will EVER finance home improvements, btw!!) - what a pleasant surprise to learn that instead of the stated remaining balance of $5,805.85, the early payoff amount was actually only $3,274.27! i guess the larger amount was the balance if i kept paying minimum amounts for the remainder of the loan's life for the next 5 years or so, with the smaller amount reflecting the immediate savings sans accrued interest. Once i heard that, i fired up my Nuvi GPS and drove straight to their office to hand them a check and be done with this once and for all. The lady at the desk smiled as she printed out the payoff receipt and said, "If there's anything that we can do to help you finance something in the future - "

    "NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!!" i laughed, shaking my head and throwing up my hands in defense. "We're just about to start attacking our last big debt and plan to be completely debt free!! NO MORE DEBTS FOR US!!"

    The lady did a double-take. i must've sounded like a cult zealot!

    "Gee...that sounds like a good idea...", she said wistfully.

    By the time this month is up, i hope to have put a mighty blow to the troll under our fiscal bridge - close to half of that monster will be hacked away right off the bat! With no other little debts diluting our financial muscle, we'll be able to throw everything we have to whittle that beast down fairly quickly. Incidentally, one of the most amazing things about this debt snowball has been seeing how money that once was so scarce is now virtually pouring in from all directions! Learning to set up a monthly budget has helped us put a tight reign on every single dollar that comes in, instead of having money flow through our fingers like loose sand. i might be overly optimistic, but perhaps in another 5 or 6 months (?) we might actually be done with ALL of our debts (except the house)...wow, i can almost smell that day coming!

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    October 06, 07

    Black Coffee Economy

    It's funny - coffee seems to be such an important aspect of more areas of my life than i previously realized! When i first started dieting several years ago, i was shocked to discover how many calories were being packed in with each loaded spoonful of sugar and cream! i used to throw in 5 packs of sugar for each cup of joe, stirred into a california blond with loads of cream. Upon cutting down the sugar and cream intake, i was able to manage my weight much more effectively.

    As many of my current readers may know, i've been on a fiscal diet since May. Coffee, again, turns out to be a major budgetary factor. Getting 3 cups of Starbucks a day at $1.50 - $3 a pop depending on the extravagance of the drink, that quickly adds up to a whopping $90-180 a month! Alas, i had to say "farewell" to my beloved daily Starbucks fix, and have since been drinking budget brands at home and these Korean instant coffee packs at work.

    Korean Instant Coffee packs, along with some Korean Teas

    Well, now we come to the present day. i just received the results of my blood work for my Term Life insurance application, and my wife is shaking her head at me...turns out that in addition to slightly elevated cholesterol, my blood sugar is inching up as well. Looks like i'll be taking my coffee black from now on...


    ...welcome to my new black coffee economy...sigh...


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    September 08, 07

    The Money Food Fight



    Since May, we've knocked off over $7,000 from our debt snowball - feels pretty good to be on a roll! Still a long way to go until we can scream "we're debt free!!!", but it's amazing how one starts to find extra ways to save money once the determination set in. It really does feel like we've been giving ourselves "bonuses", as several folks have commented regarding the home budgeting process.



    As i review each month's budget, i've been banging my head trying to find new ways to save little pockets of money here and there - as i mentioned in my "Dandelion Wine" article, i've gone as far as changing/downgrading car insurance, starting the process of switching away from whole life to term life insurance, and even learning how to cut my kids' hair! One area i hadn't actually considered was the grocery budget. We're not extravagant eaters, and we stopped buying junk food for the most part, but i couldn't help wondering if there was any way to trim a $250/week expense for food shopping.



    i happened across an advertisement on the Dave Ramsey Show for MealtimeMakeover.com, an online grocery and dinner planning service from www.e-mealz.com. For about $5 per month, you receive weekly shopping lists that can either be tailored to Wal-Mart, Kroger, or "Anyplace" supermarkets (the latter being my option) to take advantage of both seasonal and sale items. Typical dinner plans feed 4-6 people, and the meals can be customized to an extent to accommodate low-fat, low-carb, or other options. They claim that by following this shopping and cooking plan, you can keep your weekly shopping bill to about $75.



    Well, i'm putting the plan for a test spin and will report back the results in about a week or so. One thing to keep in mind is that the plan only covers dinner meals (i emailed the webmistress about considering lunch plans for families with kids - she told me that it's in the works, so be sure to keep an eye out for that), so you'll still have to contend with lunch and breakfast budgets if you plan to cook all those meals as well.



    Another complication is ethnic cooking. Shopping at the Korean grocery store can be quite expensive, but necessary in my family's case. i'll have to figure out the best balance between the meals we replace on the online plan and our regular Korean diet, but my wife was able to pare down some of the Korean shopping already this morning (only about $30, as opposed to the normal $100+ for an HMart run...) My bill at the local supermarket came to about $120 - like i said, extra padding needs to be considered when including breakfasts and lunches in your shopping, but this is still a huge improvement over picking up groceries willy-nilly...



    Of course, no online plan will work if the meals taste lousy...wish us luck, i'm trying the Chicken Mushroom over Linguine recipe tonight...



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    September 03, 07

    Dandelion Wine - the Last Drops of Summer

    As the final hours of Labor Day draw to a close, i'm borrowing a title from an old Ray Bradbury book celebrating the memories of childhood summers to reflect on all the various ways we tried to mitigate that perennial summertime lamentation, "I'm boooored...what can we do today?"

    Here is our top ten list in hindsight of great activities to placate summertime doldrums:

    10. Save Money

    Well, that was the intent - to be honest, our summertime budget was blown way out of the water due to having lots of cousins visiting for extended periods of time, but we came up with some pretty creative ways to pare down our monthly expenses, such as:

  • learning to cut hair - i invested a month's worth of haircuts in a nice clipper and scissors set. Good thing my boys are so good-natured to put up with some of my frankenstein cuts (bald spots, anyone?) Ah well, there isn't a bad enough haircut that 2 weeks of growth can't cover up...


  • changing life insurance policies - this is a tip from Dave Ramsey: opting out of our whole life plan and moving to 20 year term insurance is setting us up to save about $100 per month, in addition to getting a $7,000 kickback from our accrued life insurance "savings" to help pay down our debt snowball. The folks at Zander insurance have been very helpful so far, so you might want to check them out .


  • changing car insurance - at the risk of sounding like a TV commercial, we saved hundreds by switching to GEICO...and personally, i think a poor starving pianist would make for a much funnier commercial than a silly caveman in therapy...


  • trimming digital fat - this one is really painful: i just canceled the unlimited data plan from Verizon for my Samsung i730 Pocket PC phone. That means no more web browsing at the supermarket checkout line, but i am saving $40 per month...


  • turning off stuff - our electric bill last month was terrifying, thanks in part to having an extra family's kids holed up in the basement playing DVD's and video games constantly. Having all my computers and amplifiers left on 24/7 certainly doesn't help with containing power costs, so the new rule for me is turning off all computers, electronics, and lights that are not in use. Besides, having the hassle of waiting for bootups keeps me from wasting too much time in Facebook...



  • 9. Drink Wine

    Kyungmi and i had a wonderful time in the New York Finger Lakes region, staying at The Fox and The Grapes Bed and Breakfast and visiting wineries along the eastern shores of Seneca Lake.

    The Fox and the Grapes Bed and Breakfast - Five Stars from Kyungmi and me!

    The white wines are really outstanding, particularly the Rieslings, but we managed to find some terrific reds as well. Hands down the best reds we found were at Damiani Wine Cellars - their various Cabs and Meritage were some of the finest we've ever tasted!

    Kyungmi tasting wine with winemaker Lou Damiani

    We also enjoyed some yummy reds at Chateau LaFayette Reneau, and were particularly impressed with the Chardonnays and Rieslings at the elegant Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars.

    Kyungmi outside the Lamoreaux Wine Cellars

    Getting ready to taste some amazing white wines at Lamoreaux Landing


    8. Read Great Books

    Who would've guessed that standing in line for 3 hours in the middle of the night for a book would be so much fun? Yes, i was part of the Harry Potter mayhem (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)), dragging along Paul and his cousin Ho-Won:





    A wonderful lady at Borders bookstore has been incredibly helpful at pointing Paul and me to some other great young adult reads, such as:



    The Maximum Ride trilogy by James Patterson, starting with The Angel Experiment (Maximum Ride the Angel Experiment). Think teenage X-men with super short attention spans (each chapter is no more than 3 or 4 pages long - makes for quick reading and fast-paced action)


    The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan, first of the "Percy Jackson & The Olympians" triology - great for kids who want to see Greek mythology hipped up in modern settings with a wacky sense of humor:



    A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, that fantasy/sci-fi classic from my own middle school years:

    The above books had my teenage son falling back in love with reading and both of us scouring the Borders racks for more.

    On my own end, i was completely swept away with that international best-seller, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini -



    i was actually in tears as i listened to the audiobook ending driving through the Finger Lakes region.



    The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials, Book 1) by Philip Pullman gets high marks for exquisite craftsmanship, but failing ones for abysmal theology. I started reading this to see if my kids would enjoy this, but found that i have to steer them away for the time being. Even though the protagonists are children, the themes are quite dark and graphic - better suited for mature audiences in my opinion. First in a trilogy.

    7. Make Yummy Stuff

    I used to bake bread from scratch by hand every week. Unfortunately, my current schedule has pretty much ruled that out, given that the whole process requires at least 3-4 hours to accommodate all the yeast risings and final baking time. i suppose it was a very good summer indeed given the fact that i was able to get back to making a loaf of sandwich white after so many years' hiatus!

    Getting the kids involved with cooking projects is always lots of fun. Paul had a hand in cooking steaks for dinner one evening, using my oyster sauce marinade:

    Score both sides of steak with sharp knife
    Combine enough oyster sauce and minced/crushed garlic with a bit of water to make a marinade that can be brushed onto both sides of steaks
    Pan sear in hot oil to desired doneness


    Eric and Timmy loved making lemon/lime-ades with my old glass hand juicer:

    Squeeze juice from 4 lemons and 2 limes (or just 6 lemons for plain lemonade)
    Fill remainder of pitcher with cold water
    Add sugar to taste (we use about 1.5 cups of sugar)


    Other cool summertime treats included making homemade orange ice cream and replacing store-bought popsicles with Snowcones made with my old Rival ice shaver and a variety of flavored syrups (another money saving idea, by the way)

    My kids' new best friend, the Rival ice shaver!

    6. Play Games

    Believe it or not, kids can actually get sick and tired of video games. Yes, really! A few remedies were found in some old-fashioned board games - i never really played many of them as a kid, so the novelty was just as new for me as it was for my boys. What a great way to spend time bonding together! We particularly enjoyed Risk and have just started getting into Clue. We plan to get started with Pictionary - 20th Anniversary Edition soon as part of our "new" family activities night.

    One day, Paul discovered my old role playing books and was reading through the rules for Tunnels and Trolls. My personal game of choice as a teenager was The Fantasy Trip by Steve Jackson Games (TFT has been out of print for years and years, 'replaced' by the GURPS game system). I tried running through the basic rules for TFT with Paul, but he never really warmed to the system. Instead, he caught on with a fascinating fantasy card battle game called Magic: The Gathering.



    i never realized how complex, rich, and incredibly strategic these card games could be! Relatively easy to learn with a few basic rules, yet amazingly varied in action - lots and lots of fun getting into this granddaddy of collectible card combat systems!

    Eric did some snooping of his own into my teenage library of old strategic board/book games and dug up Starfire! by an old company called Task Force Games:

    Eric having way too much fun with my old copy of Starfire!

    He's been poring incessantly over the rules and descriptions of modular weapons systems, bombarding me with questions about Shearing Planes, Overload Dampeners, Multiplex Missile systems and the like...i was afraid the actual gameplay would be over his head, but once we got started it was actually a breeze and a lot more fun than any of us anticipated! Ahhh, the good old days of pre-silicon gaming when the powers of a pencil and a pair of 6-sided dice ruled the universe!

    5. Ride Bikes

    Here's a great site for biking trails in New Jersey:

    http://www.state.nj.us/transportation/commuter/bike/tours.shtm

    You can either have trail maps sent to you by snailmail or downloaded as PDF's. We visited the trail in the Pine Barrens around the Batsto Historical Village. Nice smooth roads that stretch on for miles, and some great woodland hiking for those who aren't so cycle-inclined.

    For some reason i couldn't find my old rear-window hanging bike rack, so i had to get a hitch installed to my minivan for a new carrier:

    My new hitch and bike carrier

    Pricey, yes - i can feel Dave Ramsey wagging his finger at me - but well worth the investment in family fun!

    Gearing up in the Batsto Village parking lot

    4. Get Pets

    Paul initially wanted a snake - Kyungmi adamantly put her foot down in opposition. We settled for a Great Horned Mountain Lizard instead, but the poor thing died after only about 3 weeks or so, due to ingesting a piece of bark bedding ("impaction" i believe was the term). The second Horned Mountain Lizard didn't fare much better and had a nasty attitude to boot - we returned that in time for a store credit and replaced it with a much more docile Chinese Water Lizard. Looks just like the gecko in the Geico commercials. I'll try to post some pictures of "Liz" as soon as i can. We replaced the bedding with moss to prevent any more impaction possibilities. i never realized watching lizards gulp down crickets in the morning could be so entertaining!

    In familial fairness, i let Eric and Timmy pick up a pair of dwarf hamsters. Cute little buggers!

    Eric, Timmy and Chi-Ho enjoying the new Dwarf Hamsters

    One of the hamsters is quite the speed monkey, running around at full tilt and climbing the walls and ceilings like a primate. A few days after buying them, she somehow squeezed through the wire walls and escaped in the basement. She kept darting out from under the piles of junk in my office, only to scurry away each time we tried to catch her. The solution was to get one of those mouse traps from Home Depot, the kind that features a one-way door into an empty plastic box. Sure enough, within 10 minutes of setting that trap, i heard her munching away happily on the apple and peanut butter bait within. She hasn't tried to escape since.


    3. Learn to Program

    The folks at MIT have put together an amazing open source program for kids called Scratch that teaches the basics of programming within a graphic environment akin to playing with Legos:



    The interface is well designed for kids - Paul and Eric were programming their first games within minutes. Even Timmy joined in the action and designed a "Spider-man" game with the built-in drawing tools. In addition to the excellent program, there is a seamless interface with the Scratch community, where participants are encouraged to both share and download projects from other users, making for one of the best interactive learning environments i've ever come across.

    Here's an image link to Paul's "Bleach Battle" game - the speed of this thing is quite impressive!



    Eric's and Timmy's games to be posted up as soon as they finish refining them!

    2. Play with Glass

    After enjoying the Finger Lakes region, we enjoyed some family time at the Corning Museum of Glass.

    Kyungmi at CMOG

    More Bundt Bowls than i ever care to see in one place...

    The artwork was stunning and the live glasswork demonstrations were very impressive. The big hit of the museum for my family was the hands on studio crafts:

    Making a glass flower

    Kyungmi makes an ornament

    Eric works on glass wind chimes and Paul makes a glass bead

    Timmy works on a sand blasting cup project

    Keep in mind that glass needs about 8 hours to cool safely - fortunately, the museum offers a shipping option for completed projects. Great fun!

    1. Visit Family

    This was voted #1 by all the boys - what better way to spend the summer than by being with cousins and visiting Grandma and Grandpa at the farm?

    Wonderful memories, great souvenirs, and even some new skills and activities to boot - definitely a summer to remember!

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    August 31, 07

    Santa Claus visits British Airways

    After all my travails over missing my digital piano for 46 days, a letter quietly surfaced from British Airways Customer Relations in my mailbox today, containing a very generous check. While it wouldn't have covered the cost of the digital piano if it had remained lost, it's still a greatly appreciated gesture to make up for the hassle of missing my Casio Privia PX-110 for so long. Bravo to British Airways for having the decency to make amends when mistakes are made! I can only hope other airlines are this mindful of this type of customer service (but i won't hold my breath...)

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    August 11, 07

    V-Day Post Op Report

    My first attempt at V-day actually took place three years ago. i visited one of my wife's colleagues for an initial consultation and description of the procedure. Funny how i somehow managed to "forget" to schedule the actual operation afterwards...i guess the descriptions of cutting and cauterizing have a peculiar amnesiac effect on me...

    This time around, Kyungmi managed a bit of professional arm-twisting to cajole another colleague to fit me into his otherwise jam-packed schedule. My preference was to be admitted to the hospital for the procedure - i wanted to be completely knocked out with general anesthesia. Unfortunately, no beds were available within the given time frame, so we had to stick with the outpatient office option, where Valium would be administered along with much hand-holding and local anesthetics.

    As we walked into the office yesterday morning, the receptionists were quick to point out how obvious our motives were from the "deer in headlights" look in my face and the gleeful salsa dance that propelled my wife behind me! As we sat in the waiting room, Kyungmi asked if i could have the Valium administered right away to save time. A look of shock passed across the nurse's face - hadn't i already taken one? Evidently i hadn't read the pre-op instructions carefully and - uh - "forgot" about getting the Valium prescription filled, which i was supposed to have taken an hour before the procedure. The nurse shook her head in doubt, explaining that the doctor was pretty strict about requiring Valium and that we'd most likely have to reschedule. But before i could wipe my brow in relief and walk away from this second attempt, Kyungmi leaped out of her seat and marched straight back to twist the remaining arms and make sure we went ahead with the operation. "I'll be his Valium!" she declared!

    Oh, great...i started imagining the necessity for a big bone to be shoved between my teeth to suppress the screams and the need to bite through my tongue from the pain. Maybe leather straps to bind my hands and legs apart to keep me from escaping? Perhaps branding irons were being heated to a white hot glow at that very moment for the final touches...

    The moment of truth came. Kyungmi was a very good dose of Valium, holding my hand as i prepared myself and lay out on the operating bed, but the operating doctor promptly had her dismissed ("I never operate in front of family!" he declared). He explained that there was actually a dual purpose for the Valium - not only as a calming agent, but also as a muscle relaxant to prevent the "turtle effect".
    "The what?" i asked.
    He explained how fear makes a turtle recoil its head and limbs...ah, yes, the analogy made sense. The funny effects of fear...

    I tried not to look at the rack of tools being laid out, but it was hard to avoid seeing them out of my peripheral vision. Fortunately, a good conversation about music and musicians went a long way in calming me down. The doctor did an excellent job of explaining what to expect at each stage. The worst part of the operation was actually the very beginning, with the pinch of the needle and the slight burning sensation of the anesthetic. There was one other uncomfortable moment in the middle where an increase in pressure required a bit more anesthetic, but besides that there really was no pain at all. I kept my eyes fixed on the ceiling the whole time - i just didn't have to stomach to watch any part of the procedure. The strangest part was the smell of burning flesh, but fortunately it was only a smell and not a sensation.

    A few minutes later and that was that. i was able to walk out of the office with really no pain, although the anesthesia began to wear off after about 30 minutes. Most of the pain feels like my jewels were kicked pretty roughly, and i'm noticing some black and blue bruising today, but the incision site itself doesn't hurt at all (Kyungmi was amazed that everything could be done with such a small cut! Apparently we have Chinese doctors to thank for that technique.) The Percocet painkillers really put me to sleep yesterday afternoon and through most of the morning today - haven't slept that well in years! i think i'll stick to Advil for the rest of the recovery, as the pain has significantly subsided already and i'd rather not sleep the entire weekend away.

    So there you have it - V is for Vasectomy, and it was far less painful that i dreaded, though i'll be walking with a John Wayne swagger for some time to come...

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    August 10, 07

    V-Day

    ...wish me luck...gulp!

    www.hughsung.com www.hughsung.com/blog Hugh Sung http://hughsung.com http://hughsung.com/blog

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    August 07, 07

    Lost Luggage Lessons

    Bad experiences can have a good bit of their sting removed if lessons can be learned from them. Fresh from the miraculous recovery of my Casio Privia digital piano from the clutches of British Airways' cargo caverns, here are some thoughts to prepare intrepid traveling musicians:

  • Typically, airlines will reimburse up to only $300 per lost bag. Insurance will upgrade that amount to only $1000, so ALWAYS purchase travel insurance if you will be bringing valuables through checked bags.


  • Keeping in mind the limits of travel insurance, try not to pack anything valued over $1000 in checked bags.


  • Irreplaceable items should NEVER be placed in checked bags; they should be stowed in your carry-on bag.


  • Consider equipment rentals as an alternative to the risk of traveling with valuable items. I read somewhere about double bass players maintaining a network for loaning instruments to traveling bassists for concerts and auditions - my experience with Robb's Music in Boulder, Colorado was a good example of being able to rent a decent Roland RD-700 (not the SX model) complete with keyboard stand, speakers, and cabling for a reasonable price and the absence of luggage hassles.


  • There once was a group of brass players that had the frustrating experience of losing one of their bags at a Florida airport - what made it so frightening was the fact that a trombonist's mouthpiece was among the lost articles! To reinforce the "invaluables" ideas for traveling musicians, here's a partial list of items NOT to pack in checked bags:


  • Mouthpieces

  • Music (this is where having scores in digital format can be a tremendous advantage for travelers, especially pianists!)

  • Reeds

  • Reed equipment (oops, just realized that this includes knives for shaping reeds - a real "no no" for carry-on luggage, unfortunately...looks like this kit stays in the checked bags)

  • Extra strings

  • End pin stoppers (or at least, be sure to wear a belt with a buckle, just in case!)

  • Passports (seems obvious, but you'd be surprised...)

  • Pen (especially if you're traveling overseas, with all those customs forms to fill out)



  • I'd love to hear from you if there are other "DO NOT PACK IN CHECKED BAGS" items to be added to this list!

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    August 06, 07

    A Piano Comes Home

    After 45 days, British Airways policy declares lost luggage "officially lost". This past Friday was the 45th day, passing by grimly without any word from BA. i was waiting for the insurance forms to be mailed out to me to start the dismal reimbursement procedures, bracing myself for the financial hit i was going to take for the loss of my Casio Privia PX-100 digital piano, my M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB digital audio interface, and the irreplaceable Justice Visions Camera Document Scanner, along with the slim ATA keyboard case and other sundry items within.

    Imagine my surprise when, on the evening of the 46th day, my phone buzzed in my pocket during a screening of "The Bourne Supremacy" (Kyungmi has been dying to see this movie!) with word from a British Airways driver informing me that my long lost bag was being delivered directly to my house! No explanation was available for how it was found or why it took so long, but those things didn't really matter anymore, overshadowed by the thrill of having my piano resurrected from luggage-Hades!

    My Casio PX-100 Digital Piano, back from the graveyard at Heathrow Airport!

    Aside from a busted plastic name tag cover and evidence that the bag was jostled around violently enough to dislodge one of the tough velcro pads securing the piano within the case, everything seems to be relatively intact. The PX-100 powered up just fine - i'll have to test the JV Camera Document Scanner and the M-Audio device as soon as i get a chance.

    Funny how hard it is now to maintain my fury at British Airways - but don't get me wrong, i'm going to be thinking long and hard before i commit to putting another piano through check-in baggage...


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    Welcome!

    Thank you for visiting this site! I hope you'll find this to be a friendly place to learn about and discuss the fascinating technologies available for the Classical Musician. A great place to get started is with the ongoing "Getting Started" series. Remember, the worst questions are the ones you never ask, so feel free to email me!

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