As if one blog weren't enough for this crazy pianist, eh?
With the launch of my new blog, The Prosperous Musician, i wanted to set up a new RSS (really simple syndication) feed to make it easier for folks to either subscribe to updates by email, or to insert the feed into their favorite blog reader (i'm currently using iGoogle.com). Nucleus CMS, my current blog content management system of choice, has been a wonderfully robust system overall - i've particularly enjoyed its capability to create and manage multiple blogs simultaneously (see: www.visualrecital.com). As for my RSS feeds, i've been a longtime user of Feedburner, but aside from my main blog here, i never got around to figuring out how to correctly set up multiple RSS feeds.
Fortunately, the support forums at Nucleus came to the rescue, as they almost always do - turns out i needed to submit the following tag to differentiate the separate blogs:
Problem was, where in the world could i find - or create - the blogid=#?
Turns out, Nucleus already provides blog id's - you just have to know where to find them:
By hovering your mouse over the little globe thingy next to each blog name, the tip should pop up giving you the blogid followed by a number - THAT'S the tag you need to use to identify the unique feed. Without the blogid, i assume blog #1 will get the nod for the default feed.
Fortunately, for those of you using free online blogging services like Wordpress.com or Blogger.com, the setup for your Feedburner feeds isn't nearly so aggravating, so i hope this little bit of under-the-hood techno-jargon doesn't scare you from setting up your own blogs!
i can't think of many teachers better than good ol' experience, and certainly this past week's Visual Recital workshop at the Hamilton School proved to be a gold mine of learning on all fronts!
The session began with an initial visit with a group of the school's 4th - 6th graders. Cellist Susan Babini and pianist Michael Mizrahi had been introducing the group to the first movement of the Sonata in F major, Op. 99 by Johannes Brahms. Realizing that we were going to have limited class time with the kids, i chose to "pre-empt" the design of the visualizations by selecting a general theme and creating the visual backgrounds ahead of time. I wanted to present ideas that would be as contextually familiar to the West Philadelphia students as possible, so Bonnie Slobodien and i brainstormed the idea of "Two Views of the Schuylkill River" (wow, you know you're from Philadelphia if you can not only pronounce that word correctly - "Skoo-Kill" - but also spell it from memory!!) The basic idea was to show contrasting elements in the music, such as:
The Schuylkill River is the main body of water that runs through Philadelphia, featuring a major highway on one end and a lovely park on the other. Initially i was going to stick with just a riverside highway scene and a blank riverside park trail background, with the idea that the students would be encouraged to draw things that move fast on the highway (cars, trucks, motorcycles and whatnot), and contrasting things that you would find in a peaceful riverside park (trees, flowers, clouds, ducks, boats, etc.) Analyzing the Brahms made me realize that almost 8 minutes of music comprised the first movement, and that there was plenty of opportunity to feature other contrasting sections. I eventually came up with the following added backgrounds:
the Fast scene, featuring the Schuylkill Expressway
the Slow scene, featuring Kelly Drive (the scenic route next to the river)
a busy street scene, representing a part of town that lies next to the river and under some big highway overpasses - this was going to be the "busy" theme
Boathouse row, a picturesque series of crew houses used by local universities and crew clubs right along the river - this would be the "peaceful" theme
The Art Museum - this would represent the "majestic: grand" theme
The Ben Franklin Bridge at night - this would represent the "majestic: exciting" theme, with the students primarily drawing fireworks for this scene
We had two back to back classes to work with, for a total of about 60 students. Given the time restraints, we kept the art medium simple: crayon pencils on white paper, to be cut out and pasted with glue sticks onto black construction paper backgrounds.
What an amazing output of creativity! Giving the students empty scenes to work with, they all vied to produce several items for EVERY one of them!
Note to self: i thought that pasting the cut out pictures on black paper would make it easier to isolate the images for transparent backgrounds, but it turns out to be actually more tedious. Time can be saved by eliminating the cutout/gluestick actions, and the scanned images can be "lassoed" manually, copied and pasted onto transparent backgrounds, and saved as PNG image file formats.
Unlike the Mad Cow visual recital workshop in Colorado, i at least had about a week to scan in the images and place them into the scenery. Well, a jam-packed week so it turned out, what with the Greenfield Competition finals, all the rehearsals in preparation for that, and Karate graduations for the kids and me...it was a challenge to find the time to get this all done (which led to late, late night programming sessions...which then led to - kaff kaff - this yucky cold i came down with...)
Primary programs used for creating the visual backgrounds:
ArtRage 2, a fantastic program that can realistically simulate paint, markers, crayons, pencil, and a host of other physical media - works exceptionally well with Tablet PC's
Inkscape, the open source vector drawing program. I really fell in love with the simplicity of use with this one - i had been a longtime CorelDraw user back in the old days, so this was like working in old familiar territory. The "technical drawings", such as the Ben Franklin bridge, the highway and the yellow dividers, and anything else that required symmetry or precision was best crafted with Inkscape.
Primary programs used for cropping, cleaning, and in some cases making animations with the students' pictures:
Macromedia Fireworks - i'm sure i could use GIMP to extract the scanned images and paste them onto transparent backgrounds, but i just work faster in Fireworks...
Macromedia Flash - several kids came up with pictures that were almost identical (sunshine, flags, etc.), so i took advantage of some simple Flash layering and alpha fades to make animated blends between the pictures and exporting them as animated GIF's
Initially, i was only going to have static backgrounds with all of the image "actors" moving in automated loops within each scene. The only trigger points would be to advance to the next scene. Fortunately, i was able to get some great help from the developer of Liquid Media to create an "unlimited ammo" trigger system. Using the X-Keys USB 12-port switch interface, i was able to incorporate 3 pedals - one to advance the scene, and two others to be used by the musicians to trigger events within specific scenes. For example, in the Fast highway scene, there was an active background of the highway zipping along and cars traveling over it. If the cellist stepped on her pedal, a series of special cars would drive by at a faster speed. If the pianist stepped on his pedal, helicopters would fly by the sky overhead.
Here are some pictures from Monday's VR workshop:
Mr. Guy Cannon's music classroom setup at the Hamilton School:
Susie giving a cello lesson to a curious student:
Michael surrounded by eager pianists:
Our indefatigable director of Education and Outreach from Astral, Bonnie Slobodien, encouraging the students to "respect our friends by listening quietly" - well, that lasted for a few seconds at least...
The main man himself, Mr. Guy Cannon - a cooler music teacher i have yet to meet!
Michael and Susie prep the students for the world premiere of "Brahms on the Schuylkill River":
Michael demonstrates how the cars can be triggered to zip by on the highway scene:
Student balloons float over the Art museum and Susie's head:
Susie and Michael performing during the Boathouse Row scene:
One concern that Bonnie and the musicians had was having the visuals overwhelm the students' reception of the music. I think we came up with some great activities to balance the excitement of having one's own artwork animated to live music and the need to encourage stronger listening skills:
I came up with the "Ta-DA" game on the spot, where the students were challenged to recognize and count the number of times the "Ta-DA" theme was played - ie, the 16th note to tied quarter notes motif that runs throughout the theme (highlighted in yellow):
When the theme fragment returns at the beginning of the development section, the "Ta-DA's" turn into "Oh-NO's!", highlighting the change to minor and its resulting shift in mood:
The Ta-DA's come back at the end as "Hoo-Ray" (or something to that effect), reflecting the heroic final statement of the motif in the last few measures - we thought of the association with something proud, noble, and majestic - like fireworks!
Interesting to point out how a rhythmic fragment can change somewhat, turning from 16ths -> half notes into 8ths and quarters.
Another listening game involved everyone closing their eyes and the musicians playing a random section of the movement. The students would have to guess which scene the music was associated with, then open their eyes to see if their guesses matched what was on the screen. It was quite remarkable to see how quickly they matched the musical associations we established with their artwork!
The most fun was having two students at a time come up and press the pedals to trigger the action themselves in synchronization with the musical motifs. This worked so well that i'm going to try to design future Visual Workshops with more pedals so that larger groups of students can get involved in activating the visual triggers in conjunction with the elements they hear in the music.
(Another note to self: kids remember everything they draw. I mean, EVERYTHING - i fit in almost all the pictures, but had to contend with a handful of disappointed faces when i didn't have time to scan in this turtle or that car or that balloon...next time, put EVERYTHING into the Visual Recital!!)
I had several video cameras running, but no hands to actually push the "record" button - what with all the activity and excitement, i just didn't get a chance to lay down a lot of video or audio. What i need in the future is a team of interns to help me set up the documentary equipment...well, i'll go through the few minutes that i did manage to record and see if i can pull together a short clip. If not, i'll make sure that i plan the videotaping at the next Visual Recital workshop in Greenport, NY more carefully.
whew...quite a long-winded blog post today! Lots of exciting ideas, lots of stuff learned - i'm already excited about the next project!
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.
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!
Under the Microphone: Tales and Tips on Recording CD's
This has been an incredibly busy few months with recording projects. Last month saw me shuttling back and forth to Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where i recorded the Janacek and Hindemith violin & piano sonatas with Victor Danchenko.
Our engineer extraordinaire was Ed Tetreault, who did a fine job of locating the acoustic "sweet spot" with his beautiful set of Neumann microphones.
Note how the microphones are turned slightly away from center - that helped to give a wider stereo pan and a "fuller" tone to the recording. Here's a shot of the internal microphone setup for the piano:
Peabody has an amazing audio tech setup with a terrific Sony mixing board and even one of those dummy-head microphones that is supposed to produce incredible stereoscopic recordings by simulating the physics of the human head! I'll try to dig up my pictures from our previous session working on the Shostakovich sonata (must be in one of my other computers...) Ed was talking about me coming back down to Peabody for a tech lecture and demonstration at some point next semester for the recording arts students, so i'll keep y'all posted if that comes to pass.
Fast forward to last week, which found me spending about 3.5 days in New York City recording an album of Hebrew Melodies with violinist Maurice Sklar at the prestigious Clinton Recording Studios in Manhattan.
Everything about this project was high-end top quality - we worked with Da-Hong Seetoo, perhaps the finest classical music recording engineer in the field today with several Grammy's under his belt (Da-Hong produced most of my CD's to date with Aaron Rosand and Jeff Khaner).
A gorgeous Hamburg Steinway was rented from Pro Piano, complete with piano technician who was constantly on hand to keep the instrument in tune and the hammers nicely scratched (Hamburgs tend to have very hard, densely compacted felts on their hammers - long lasting for sure, but with a tendency to sound a bit brittle unless scratched just so on top).
The Clinton studios are the most sound-proof recording spaces i have ever come across in Manhattan. Bruce Springsteen apparently was just in the other day working on an album, and the space is used for a lot of orchestra movie music scores.
There's even Ed Sullivan's old Steinway (American made) sitting in the studio - a nice, cozy instrument, warm to the touch and ear...
Recording is always grueling work, and this project was certainly no exception. The great thing about having an engineer like Da-Hong is that he's able to make the sessions go by with great efficiency while catching all the details that need to be fixed with laser-like precision. Here are some cool new tips i picked up from this last session:
The best way to mute a violin for recording is to stick a rolled up dollar bill between the strings under the bridge (i'm sure a $20 bill will sound exponentially better...lol)
You won't believe how warm this makes the violin sound without muffling the high end! Apparently this is a trick well known by orchestra musicians who rush into rehearsals late with missing mutes...
The best way to stop a plucked string is with the fleshy part of your right thumb just in front of the bridge.
One way to estimate the time it will take to record and fully edit a CD project is with Da-Hong's "10-to-1 ratio" - in other words, he usually estimates that each hour of music will take about 10 hours to record; each hour of recording will subsequently take 10 hours to edit (for a total of 100 editing hours). Keep these numbers in mind when budgeting the use of a professional engineer for a top quality project.
Most musicians work best in 2 hour chunks. Sometimes this can stretch to 3 hours, but most folks usually burn out by that time and their playing deteriorates to the point where takes in the third hour become useless. Total daily output shouldn't exceed 8 hours (ex: 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, 2 hours recording, 1 hour break, final 2 hours of recording, go back to hotel and crash for the day)
Virtually every CD project i've done takes up 3 days of recording. Budget your time, money, and energy accordingly.
Coffee=good. Candy=good. Complex carbs=good. I keep a constant supply of black coffee on hand, along with chewy sugar candies like Bit-O' Honey and Skittles or Fruity Mentos. Beware the post session sugar/caffeine crash though...
Keep a sense of humor through the session. Don't waste time apologizing for flubs and musical mishaps - s*tuff happens, get over it and do another take. Smile now. Weep later.
BTW, Da-Hong's new session setup allows him to record continuously and mark takes on the fly without interruption. This is an AMAZING way to record, as it keeps the work flow incredibly smooth and seamless! No more, "Hold on, let me get the machine rolling...ok...Brahms, movement two, take 12..." Every recording engineer should learn how he does this!
I just came across this Reuters article a few days ago, with an irresistable intro-hook paragraph:
"They say if you can make it in New York you can make it anywhere. But these days, it seems you haven't really made it unless you have that most prized of status symbols - your very own page on Wikipedia."
A few lines down, it points out the fact that unlike social networks sites like MySpace and Facebook, Wikipedia does NOT allow you to post articles about yourself. (Wikipedia, in case you're not familiar, is the world's largest online encyclopedia that's open for anyone - yes, anyone - to submit and edit articles to.)
Of course, naďve moi didn't initially realize that when i plopped over to Wikipedia a few weeks ago, signed up for a free account and promptly started to Copy-Paste my biography into the Wikipedia article framework. At first, all looked fine - but then when i tried to test the article and refresh the page, a glaring banner had suddenly appeared along the top, announcing itself as the "CorenSearchBot" or something to that effect, warning that the text i had inserted had been directly copied from an external source (uh, yeah...like, my own website?). Well, i tried changing a few lines around, omitting sundry details, and re-pasted the edited biography -
No go. Man, that search bot was tough to fool!!
I then studied a few other biographical articles within Wikipedia to get a flavor of the language style required and came up with a fairly decent draft.
Moments later - and i really mean, MOMENTS! - several new angry banners began appearing all over my article like neon parking tickets on a Philadelphia street, declaring that the piece was in imminent danger of being summarily deleted and banned from the Wikipedia universe. Several administrators angrily demanded to know if i was the self-styled author of the subject under question. I answered affirmatively, and tried to defend the new 'neutral' tone of the writing. Several more mentions of auto-biographical violations were thrust upon me, and it started to look pretty bleak for yours truly to retain even a micron of Wikipedia real estate...
Well, i think an apologetic stance helped somewhat, and even a plea for help as i really had no idea what was going on, and felt badly that i was evidently in the virtual equivalent of tresspassing in a library with muddy shoes on. Fortunately, several other authors began chiming in and checking out some of my reference sources - an absolute requirement, by the way, to have a prayer of hope to be considered "notable" enough for inclusion in the world's largest online encyclopedia. The Wikipedia gatekeepers looked kindly on my references, and even spent a good deal of their own time cleaning up the text and adding footnotes and proper text alignments and the like. The key was to immediately keep 'hands off' of directly editing the body of the article - i was free to submit reference, media, and text suggestions within the discussion page, but directly authoring my own article was a "no no".
Therein lies the key. You cannot author your own article, but certainly a hired press agent can do so on your behalf (as i'm 99.99% sure most of the uber-popular classical musicians' articles are authored by). Otherwise, you will need to rely on your own notoriety and the kindness of fans and strangers. Newspaper and magazine articles are an absolute necessity to substantiate any portion of your article, so the more you can have on hand (Publication name, article author, date of article, and - if possible - page number and/or URL link) the better equipped you'll be to keep your virtual stake in the Wikipedia ground. This can make things very difficult for unreviewed musicians and composers, but then again it creates incentive to get out in the public light and let your local publications know about it as much and as often as possible until something gets written about you.
After several trips to the Wikipedia I.C.U. and much discussion between administrators, it looks like Hugh Sung has at least a decent foothold in Wiki-posterity for now. i'm not quite sure how "prized" this is as a "status symbol", but it's certainly neat to have seen the process from the inside out.
Every once in a while i get these terrific questions from folks who either visit this website or who have seen one of my videos on Blip.tv or YouTube.com. Here's one that gives me an opportunity to summarize some of the technologies that i use on a daily basis as a paperless musician:
I'm an amateur pianoplayer and also a computerfreak like you. Some time
ago I also dreamed about playing the notes from a tablet-pc and than I saw
your youtube-Video... It seems, that you already have scanned much music
scores, haven't you? My question: How do you digitize the paper best and
can you send me an pdf-example of that technique (Chopin would be nice...
I'm so glad you came across my YouTube video! Sorry for the delayed response - work has been really crazy for me lately!
There are several ways of getting digitized scores into computers like tablet pc's - the first place would be to check out online vendors like www.EveryNote.com - you can also purchase CD libraries of scores from CD Sheet Music. For examples on the image quality, check out my blog article here: http://www.hughsung.com/blog/index.php?itemid=20
You can also download a large number of scanned scores from www.imslp.org, an online archive of public domain works. Quality will vary from score to score, but for the most part everything i've downloaded so far has been very legible and representative of the quality you can expect from scanning your own scores.
I've been using a digital document camera scanner, but the model is no longer being manufactured. If i hear of any comparable models that can replace what i've been using, i'll be sure to post an article about it. An option you might want to try is to purchase a copy stand holder for digital cameras and use a digital camera to scan pages by taking pictures of them. http://www.hughsung.com/blog/index.php?itemid=392
You'll need to have a high resolution digital camera for this operation. A program you might want to use in conjunction with this operation is called Snapter http://www.snapter.atiz.com/
Early versions of the program were buggy, but i've read that the more recent versions are getting better. Haven't tried the recent version myself yet, as my camera doesn't produce high enough resolutions for the pictures, but i'll be sure to try it once i upgrade my camera.
Hope all this information helps. Feel free to email me if you have any further thoughts or questions.
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!
i've just added a neat new sidebar widget that plays previews of my track offerings on AmieStreet.com - tracks can be purchased directly from the widget and then heard in their entirety. Setup was a little tricksy tricksy - it involved extracting a bit of code from AmieStreet's own artist promo flash player code that looks like this:
For the "playlist URL" in the widget settings, you want to extract the following code portion (look for "playlist_url=") -
"artistId__9685" refers to my Chopin album ID number.
I've set the player to start automatically when my blog page is opened. If this gets too annoying, please let me know and i'll turn the "auto-play" off. I'll try to get more selections uploaded soon so that regular readers aren't bored to tears. Please support classical music on music distro sites like AmieStreet.com and purchase a few tracks! (As of this writing, they're still really cheap - $0.13 per track - so let's see if we can't get the stock price inched up a bit, eh? Many thanks!!)
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...
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!
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)
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)
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!
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:
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:
Pricey, yes - i can feel Dave Ramsey wagging his finger at me - but well worth the investment in family fun!
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!
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!
This one is thanks to CNet.com - Wubi is quite simply an amazing, truly simple Linux Ubuntu installer that doesn't require burning a CD or partitioning your hard drive! My previous struggles with getting Ubuntu onto Jayne (my ornery new computer that has issues and a bone-headed attitude) seemed to leave me with serious deficiencies - not being able to read NTFS file formats (NTFS=Windows-friendly), not being able to access the wireless card with the Ubuntustudio version of the kernel, constant boot hangs and freeze-ups that were wildly unpredictable, the list went on and on.
Wubi ingeniously dispenses with the hassles of installing the Ubuntu OS ("Operating System") on a Windows XP machine by creating a single folder containing all the necessary files, and by some Linux magic it creates virtual partitions that preserve full disk access throughout the NTFS universe. Various versions of Ubuntu can be selected for install (i opted for the multimedia-intensive Ubuntustudio version). A few brief requests for customized inputs (username, password, etc.) and Wubi either proceeds to download the Ubuntu ISO files, or it can work with an existing ISO from your hard drive.
All OS upgrades/installations should be this simple! Wubi is not only simple, but actually better performing than the "regular" Ubuntu installation route! Oh, excuse me - am i drooling with delight over the keyboard? Sorry about that - it's just so amazing to find something this simple, effective, and powerful that actually WORKS!!
Thank you, CNet, for the wonderful heads up about this terrific app! Be sure to check out CNet's informative video on the Wubi installation experience. Whoopie for Wubi!!
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:
Music (this is where having scores in digital format can be a tremendous advantage for travelers, especially pianists!)
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)
After installing Ubuntu, the "friendly" version of Linux onto Jayne, my newly donated RAID-capable pc, i found myself in a strange situation - something akin to having a custom-built Maserati with no wheels, or a Hamburg Steinway D with no keys - a beautiful operating system with tons of potential, but about as useless as eye candy for the working musician. The main problem simply is that i couldn't find drivers for the audio equipment i needed to interface with Linux, specifically my M-Audio Firewire 410 Mobile Recording Interface. M-Audio has a strange way of teasing folks with links to Linux drivers that spit out "n/a" - what's the deal with that?? Creative Labs doesn't even bother for their E-MU digital audio interfaces (another strikeout for my recently donated E-MU 0404 USB digital audio/MIDI interface), and all of the Linux/Ubuntu forums on the topic are filled with pleading net-urchins begging for developers to dole out respective drivers. I'm sure there's a way to get my basic MIDIMAN 1x1 USB interface cable to get recognized by Ubuntu, but installing drivers in the Linux universe is a major pain - the EZ-USB MIDI project is anything but "EZ".
There are lists of compatible sound cards and digital audio interfaces, but frankly i'm not in a position to spend even more money on an OS that is frightfully immature with regard to audio and MIDI manipulation, even if the software is mostly open-source. Maybe if an older soundcard like the M-Audio Delta 1010LT gets donated my way, i'll be inclined to give the Linux thing another whirl, but for now i think it's better left as an Office alternative (and a good one at that). The current ratio of Linux geeking to productive output just isn't in the musician's favor yet, save for those who really enjoy splitting headaches.
Lest i leave the impression that the Linux audio/MIDI world is completely bereft of helpful resources, here is my list of Linux Links for the Musician:
Linux-Sound.org - a directory of Linux-compatible music hardware and software
Music Education with Linux Sound Tools - this is a terrific article with links to lots of neat programs (some are cross-compatible with Windows) for the active music teacher/student. Almost makes me wish i could really get Linux to talk to my microphones and Roland RD-700SX...GNU Solfege in particular looks like a terrific program!
Digital Brinkmanship: Fiddling with OS's (and crashing drives!)
You think i'd learn to leave well enough alone...
A new computer with spiffy specs, and i just had to take it apart to see if i could 'improve' things a bit...i thought the machine had RAID capabilities, but for some reason the driver was missing (RAID is a means of using multiple hard drives to work in parallel, increasing computing speed and/or providing an automatic mirror backup). Even after re-jiggering the hard drive cables to their "correct" order, i still wasn't getting the RAID capabilities to work. So, after some Google researching, i tried the software-RAID approach, which required me to change my hard drives to dynamic drives within Windows XP.
Uh-oh. Bad move.
Upon rebooting, the Grub booter (a Linux program that installs itself in the master boot record, allowing users to select between multiple operating systems) hiccuped and spat out a mysterious "Error 5". Don't you just hate gobbledy-gook computer messages? Why couldn't it be, i dunno, INFORMATIVE?? Saying something like, "By the way, Linux doesn't operate within dynamic drives - sorry!" So there i was left, in boot-limbo - nothing going forward after "error 5".
In a panic, i scoured the web for solutions - i tried booting up from the Ubuntu boot CD (i don't have the original XP disks - hey, the computer was a gift! can't have everything!), but even running the Ubuntu OS from the CD wouldn't allow me to reinstall onto dynamic drives. There didn't seem to be any way to directly edit or remove Grub from the master boot record (the MBR is the very first partition a computer reads for booting/loading instructions). This wasn't looking good.
Luckily, i came across the MBR Tool, a freeware app that seemed to be designed specifically for danger-geeks like me who just have to play boot-roulette for CPU thrills! This magic tool has an option to burn itself onto a bootable CD-R - pop that baby into the moribund machine and you're whisked into a no-nonsense DOS-era menu where you're given several Master Boot manipulating options.
From the main menu, i selected option 4: work with a MBR (backup, restore, display etc.)
In the next menu, i selected option 9: write/refresh bootcode (/RBC)
Thereupon removing the MBR Tool CD, i rebooted the machine - held my breath - panicked at the black screen of...er...nothingness...
...then felt my heart leap as the ol' familiar Windows XP load screen bloomed like summer grass onto my happy monitor!
That was scary!! Almost thought i'd have to go to the store to plunk down way too much money for a full version of Vista...anyway, now i'm happily repartitioning my drives and preparing them for a software-based RAID setup. That of course means that Ubuntu is no longer on my system...reasons for that will be in my next blog post.
In case another lost soul is scouring the web because of a lost windows password situation, i came across a neat linux-based password-recovery program that can be burned onto a bootable CD-R. Not that this particular program was needed in my instance, but between the MBR Tool and this Password recovery app i hope this post helps some crazy geek out there wringing their hands over their own dual-boot Windows/Linux nightmare. My heart bleeds for you...boot in peace.
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!