Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Very Public Service Message

With delurking week pretty much over, I'm resetting comments so anonymous comments are no longer allowed. This is purely an anti-spam thing.

Resuming life as we know it....


Time to disappear again down the photographic rabbit hole!

Let's get the Flummoxing Felines out of the way first, shall we?

And then there's some recent food and such. The Daughter nagged me into deep dish pizza (I already don't make it all that often because it's fairly labor-intensive, and I make it even less now that The Wife is on a gluten-free diet and this is a virtual memorial statue to gluten):

Ramen with fried egg. I only have Ramen a few times a year, because of the salt. But I do love it once in a great while. (Hey, you know what makes Ramen really awesome? Having it with some buttered rye crispbread on the side. You dip the rye crisp into the broth and it's heavenly. That's a combo I learned from my father, way way way back when. To really be emotionally authentic, it has to be the round rye crisp, with the hole in the middle. It comes wrapped in paper and you break off the piece you want. Not the nicely-cut rectangular rye crisp! That gives you the right flavor, but shapes matter, folks!)

I really love sugar-sweetened Dr. Pepper. It's pricey (almost four bucks for a four-pack), but it's a bit of a luxury. Just awesome stuff, though.

Labels on Asian food products make me happy.

The coming of fall means the reappearance of candy that isn't easy to find other times of year, like Oh Henry bars.

The Daughter also confronted her first day of tenth grade with the requisite enthusiasm.

Fall is coming quickly! September was, like the months before it, cooler than usual (after an odd burst of hot weather to start the month). As the weather starts to turn cool, my fascination with the sky usually fires up a bit. I love the sky, and my normal shift at work starts each day when the sky is often doing some amazing things....

I don't want the earth to feel neglected as I look up at the sky a lot, so here's the ground.

I continue to do stick-figure doodles in my occasional free time at work. I make no claims to the genius of xkcd, but it's a good way to make a few little points here and there. For instance, there's a trope that shows up in fantastic fiction now and again that irritates the hell out of me:

(I'm looking at you, The Dark is Rising sequence!)

Diagramming the wisdom of Kenny Rogers:

I'll be posting a review at some point, but this one sentence perfectly sums up my love of science fiction in general and my admiration for the series The Expanse in particular:

Patience, grasshopper!

I didn't care for this book:

Our next door neighbors are doing construction on their house. Looks like they're adding on so their elderly dad or dad-in-law can move in with them. It started with the removal of a couple of trees that would have encroached upon their house's expanded footprint. Which meant...lumberjacks!

And let me tell you, folks, it's always fun to listen to guys like this talk. No swearing, just a funny run of comment through the job. At one point, a fellow who has climbed thirty feet up and is cutting branches off shouts down, "Uh, I think I cut the wrong thing!" Whoops.

My next car will likely be something bigger than my current Buick Century sedan (although not monstrously huge, just a bit bigger). Still, if I had money right now, I'd find this jalopy enticing. It's sitting at a VW dealership just down the road.

I sorted my washers and bolts. Actually, I didn't sort all my bolts, just the quarter-inch, twenty-count thread ones, because that's what I use the most at work. This is exciting shit, folks.

Here's a screw I ran up against at work. I have a set of bits for tamper-resistant screws, which are basically normal screws with really oddball heads so they're tamper-resistant simply by virtue that very few people own the drivers to budge them. This thing was even too obscure for me, though. I got it off using needle-nosed locking pliers and a lot of salty language. I don't recall what it was on, but there was nothing about the gizmo that screamed out "Holy shit, we gotta keep the riffraff from removing this screw! Grab that center-pegged pentagon screw! That'll stop 'em!"

I knocked off one major project at New Casa Jaquandor: replacing the dining room light fixture with something better. The old fixture was a perfectly nice fixture, but it was misplaced. It wasn't well-suited for hanging above a dining table, being a low-hanging fixture with a single halogen lamp that shone straight down, casting a fairly small pool of light on the table instead of illuminating the room. No such problem with the new fixture, which is (a) awesome, and (b) so bright that the next big project will be converting the existing switch to a dimmer.

And, of course, there's the usual stuff of my life...writing, overalls, writing in overalls, et cetera and so forth.

And these last, because even though I've posted them here already, I think I'll need them in the future:

Friday, September 19, 2014

How do I get to Carnegie Hall?

A reader asks a good question:

How much should a 10-year-old trumpet player practice daily?

As in all such things, it depends. Such guidance should really be given with the advice of the kid's music teacher, who knows a lot better than I what kinds of material are being practiced, what skill level the kid has reached at this point, and so on.

For instance, 10 years old put a kid roughly in the area of 5th grade, which likely means they very likely have no more than one year of trumpet playing under their belt. That's not a lot. If they started in 4th grade and have been playing a year, then twenty minutes a day is probably reasonable. If they're just getting started this year, then twenty minutes a day is probably more of a goal to reach by the end of the year than a perfect starting point; for beginners, fifteen minutes is probably a good starting point. I would try to get to twenty minutes by the end of the year, and then try to reach 30 minutes a day by the time they've reached junior high. If they're still playing in high school, and if the kid is showing real interest in playing, then the target should be an hour a day. And all this might well be tossed out if it turns out that the kid has some serious passion for music, because then they'll want to practice more than any arbitrary goal anyway.

Studying a musical instrument is something that requires discipline, but it also requires motivation. It's easy for practice, especially for beginners, to settle into a drudgery that's just something to get through as quickly as possible. For most kids, music lessons start as a social thing, in school, as part of a band; the act of sitting in a room by oneself "practicing" isn't really something that a 10 year old kid has a great deal of experience with, so it's hard for them to get the habits down, and learn how to practice. My own experience was that I spent the better part of a year or two just flailing around, not really practicing much, until teachers and my older sister took some time and showed me how to practice. Giving a kid a piece of music and saying "Work on this" is well and good, but if the kid doesn't know how to work on it, then practice time becomes a boring exercise in playing through a piece badly a few times and then putting the horn back in the case.

I had a teacher once who had me working on some concerto or other -- maybe the Haydn, maybe the Arutunian -- and he said to me, "You can play this concerto just as well as Maurice Andre can. (Maurice Andre was one of the greatest trumpet players of all time.) You can play every note just as cleanly and precisely as he can. You know what the only difference is? He can do it faster than you can." This teacher taught me to slow a piece down to the point where I could play it perfectly, even if that meant slowing it down so much that it was unrecognizable. Then, he said, gradually increase the speed. If you find you can't play it perfectly at a certain speed, back it off again and work at it until you can. Eventually you get it so you can play it up to tempo. (And at the same time, this process develops all the various skills along the way so the next piece won't take so long to get to tempo.) That's what I mean by teaching how to practice. This guy, Mr. Rudgers at the Bristol Hills Music Camp, showed me a good way to work at a piece. It helped.

Another thing is that you never know if, or when, the motivation is suddenly going to strike. A kid might frankly suck at the trumpet for two, maybe even three, whole years before they wake up one morning and decide that they'd rather not suck anymore, or that Wow, that other kid is really good and hell, I can be just as good as that kid if I work at this and hey, maybe practicing isn't so bad in the first place. I know that can happen, because that's the way it was with me: I was a shitty trumpet player and got made fun of relentlessly by the other kids in band because I was shitty until I decided "OK, I am now going to work on not being shitty." That's not a decision you can make for your kid. Eventually everybody decides they're going to be good at something. If it's music, great. If not, then at least they'll hopefully learn enough to have a greater appreciation for music in the future. And besides, a person can be passionate about more than one thing. My active life in music is long over, and occasionally that's a source of rare regret for me, but had I stayed in music, it well may be that a couple of princesses never take to the stars. Who knows.

I'd also suggest that parents should not treat practice time as a daily home recital. All the parent should really do is enforce the agreed-upon duration of the practice session, and that's about it. Unless you're a musician yourself, don't say anything, other than an occasional "Hey, I can hear that your sound is getting a lot better!" Do not say anything like "Gee, Timmy, that one piece you played sounds like you need to work a lot more on it." Believe me, Timmy knows, and shame is not the emotion you want Timmy carrying into his interactions with music. And even if you do know a lot about music...back off anyway. It's really for the best. Parental expectation is also not a great thing to have to struggle with when you're also trying to remember the fingerings for D-natural and A-flat. (Along these lines, unless the instrument is the piano and therefore the thing is wherever it is, let the kid practice in their room or some other room with a door. Don't make them practice in the living room while you're there paying bills or watching the evening news or making dinner in the adjoining kitchen. Practicing should not be done with an audience, and the only reason practicing should be heard by parents at all is to know that it's getting done.)

Let's see, what else? Oh, yeah -- when I say "twenty minutes a day" or "an hour a day", I don't mean each and every day. Practicing seven days a week isn't wise, in my opinion. Now, passion may arise and then the kid will practice every day because they love playing, but even then, I'm of the view that a day off is good. It's good mentally, for what I hope are obvious reasons, but it's also good physically. Playing an instrument involves the use of muscles, and in quite a few cases (especially among the wind instruments), the muscle use is strenuous indeed. If you don't believe me, watch a great trumpet player sometime, or a horn player, or an oboe player, or any instrument. Making air vibrate the way it's supposed to inside a wind instrument requires making the muscles of one's face and neck do things that they don't normally do. Those muscles are collectively referred to by the word embouchure, and like all such muscle groups, they can be overstressed, injured through misuse, and worn out. The effects of a hard practice session or rehearsal on a trumpet player's embouchure are similar to the effects on a weight-lifter's muscles after a lifting session, so for the exact same reason, wind players should take a day off here and there, or if they do play, it should be something low-stress, like long tones in the low register. That's more the equivalent of stretching than exerting. I always found, though, that after a week of playing several hours a day (between group rehearsals and practice sessions), taking a day to not play at all (often Saturdays while I was in college) made me a lot stronger when I played again on Sunday.

For a 10-year-old, it's probably best to set a daily time as practice time, as much as that's possible. Eventually it will hopefully become sufficiently ingrained that they'll practice on their own, but to start with, the expectation that every day at, say, 5:30 they are to go practice for their fifteen or twenty minutes will help. Maybe let them not practice on Fridays or Saturdays, or some other weekday if they're on a soccer team or something like that.

And finally, maybe try not calling it practice. I once knew a drummer who said, "I don't practice. I play." The word "practice" just has the sound of required daily boring routine. Saying "Hey, Timmy, it's 5:30! You need to go play your trumpet for a while!" simply sounds better than "Hey, Timmy, it's 5:30, you need to practice." Practicing sounds like what you do until you're good enough to play. Maybe we'd have better luck with our kids and their music lessons if we enforced the idea that it's all an act of play. I have a notion that we call it practice because in that way we can trick our ever-so-Puritan American minds that we're not actually wasting time learning to play music, and I say, the hell with that. It's all play. Playing is good.

So let your kid play.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Something for Thursday

Want to hear something pretty today? Sure you do. Here is Sarah Chang performing Massanet's Meditation de Thais.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

You know, I still have people telling me how much sentence-diagramming rocks? You people got issues, man.

Onto the next thing. By way of a writing update, here's some wisdom from Mr. King:

It seems to me that every task, even things we just love doing, has some component that we just don't look forward to and grind our way past because the entire task is enjoyable on balance, even if that one part of it stinks. For me and writing, it's proofreading. Full-on editing, I like, but proofreading is like a weeklong trip in the company of Ms. Dully McDullerson. Important and essential work, but I'm never gonna enjoy it. (Plus, reading the book basically twice in two months is tough, although there is a benefit in that I'm bursting with ideas for the future volumes in the series now, which is nice.)

So there's the question: what's the "dull dreary drudgery" part of some task that you otherwise love doing?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Well, there's one "Aerial Dancer" off the streets....

Well, thank God that's over.

Seriously, this was just a terrible season of MasterChef. There were some fun moments and some contestants I liked enormously, but as the season ground on, it really took on an air of relentlessly shuffling toward a preordained conclusion: the coronation of Courtney. That's pretty much exactly what happened.

Look, I wasn't there and obviously didn't taste the food, so it's entirely possible that Courtney really did get through the entire season of MasterChef competition without ever making a single misstep. But the constant adoration piled upon her by the judges, coupled with her unimaginably irritating displays of self-love, got more and more annoying with each successive episode, culminating in last night's finale. Joe Bastianich, of all people, turned in the most incoherent commentary of praise for Courtney of the season when he praised a dessert that Gordon Ramsay panned, saying that her dish of meringue cookies with some sauce and cherries with a bit of salt added "pushed the limits of a dessert". Umm...OK, Joe. The whole thing reeked of desperation on Joe's part to continue the season-long tongue-bath of the most irritating contestant in the show's history. (And that's saying something. You know I love you, Joe, but ye Gods.)

Of course, none of that might have even come to pass had my favorite contestant, the borderline-manic Leslie, not mistaken salt for sugar in his final cake. Oops. (Although this confuses me -- would a cup of salt instead of a cup of sugar result in a cake that one can chew thoughtfully and then swallow with a look of puzzlement, as Gordon Ramsay did? I've no idea, but it seems to me it should have resulted in a case of "GAHHH get this out of my mouth ptoooie!"

Anyway, as I say, thank God that's over. This does mean, however, that we're going to see Courtney sporting her insufferable Dolores Umbridge-in-her-twenties act at least once next season, so there's an episode I'll make sure to attend with lots of reading material. I'd also like to see the show get away from the team competitions, particularly the ones where they run a kitchen someplace. I watch Hell's Kitchen to see chefs trying to run a kitchen; I don't care if any of these "home cooks" can run a kitchen. But if they're going to have team competitions, I'd like the losing captain to not be able to save themselves from elimination. That's pretty bogus, and it did provide the moment the cemented Courtney as an asshole in my opinion this year, when she saved herself after helming the losing team; she said something like, "Well, our problem was clearly not the fine leadership I provided, so I'm saving myself." Ugh.

So anyway, there's that. Not the best year for MasterChef, alas. Not every season can have the greatness that is Monti Carlo, but still -- did I have to endure the cooking competition show's answer to Boston Rob?

(Don't forget to delurk, people! Say hello! Say something!)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Unlurkify thyselves!

I haven't done this in a while, so here goes: it's Delurking Week! Say something. For the next few days I'll open things up to anonymous comments (although if spammers start swarming, I may need to cut things off early). I'll still leave the moderation on and CAPTCHA thingie on, though. One can't be too careful.

Say hello!

(No politics, please -- just spread some good cheer. Thanks!)