Thursday, January 31, 2013


My wife finished--and passed--her course for becoming a Medical Aide today.  She still has to take the state certification exam on Tuesday before she's a real Med Aide.  I am quite relieved that she passed.  I had no doubt she knew everything she needed to, but when she was younger she would kind of freeze when taking tests and do badly because of it.  I think, with growing older, she has managed to grow out of that particular stress factor.

I am still making very slow but noticeable progress with the ukulele, and I'm happy to know that my musical ear hasn't gone bad.  I worked out two more songs today fairly quickly when I got home:  "Bird on a Wire" by Leonard Cohen and that old country song "Fraulein" by...somebody.  Who was it?  I don't know.  (Okay, Bobby Helms--I looked it up).  I don't know all the words to yet it but the music is just one of those three chord songs.  I want to be able to do it as a sort of family joke.*  Yesterday I worked out "Flowers on the Wall," too, which uses only four chords (I, IV, V and vi).  The Cohen song is also a four-chord song, but a little different in flavor:  I, ii, IV and V.  And this is probably going to sound weird, but I've been working on my own "cover" version:  a slowed-down, melancholic version of "Don't Stop Believing."  I think it sounds pretty good, but then I'm not an objective judge.

Right now I mainly focusing on changing smoothly from F to G and G to F, and also working on getting a smooth change into Em from pretty much everything.  There are a few chords that I don't know if I'll ever be able to play:  namely E and B♭.  Also B minor, which is almost the same finger positions as  B♭.  Until I can get a  B♭ down, I can't really play anything in the key of F, and of course not being able to do E makes it hard to play anything in A unless I can cheat by using an E7, which is pretty easy.  I need the B minor so I can play a vi chord in D.

I've already done a little research on tenor ukes.  I'm hoping I feel confident enough by the beginning of next year that I can justify buying one.  I've found a few that are supposed to be pretty good instruments for less than $200.  I think that, with the slightly larger size, some of the chords won't be quite so cramped.  The D chord especially I have trouble with just because of three fingers all squished together side by side, but I can still play it.

I think I'm going to go ahead and get some better strings pretty soon.

My next song project will be to see if there are any Stevie Nicks songs that I can play.  I'm thinking maybe "After the Glitter Fades" (from her Belladonna album) would fit the mold.  It has a very country-ish sound that would probably work with a lot of the other songs I'm trying to learn.  Trivia:  "After the Glitter Fades" was actually released on the country music charts.  I remember hearing it on KKYX several times way back when.  I thought it was kind of funny back then.  Yeah, I just looked it up and it's just a three-chord song.  I thought so.

*Okay, so here's the story.  My family has a tradition of holding summer reunions that started back in the 50s (several years before I was born).  In the olden days, and up until I was a young teenager, this involved camping.  As time went by we drifted more toward non-camping settings, but still someplace where we could all gather and have places to sleep on site for like 3 days and 2 nights.  We have also had the tradition of family members bringing musical instruments (usually that means guitars)** and having sing-alongs on those nights.  I guess it started with a great-uncle of mine who would open-tune his guitar and strum with it lying in his lap while chording it with the back of his pocket knife.  Later his son also brought his guitar (he played it in the traditional way), and a couple of my other cousins also played guitar well enough to get by in these little sing-along things.  Still later, when I was an older teenager, some other relative--I have no idea how I was related to him--brought his gear.  Now, this guy was I guess what you could call a semi-pro.  He didn't make a living playing music, but he did do paid gigs in country dance halls and so forth.  So, he actually had amplifiers and sang into a microphone.  By which I mean, he was loud, and his performance was hard to escape or ignore.  Myself and three of my cousins would get as far away from him as we could and play 42 late into the morning, but there was no getting out of earshot of him.  He wasn't bad--he was actually quite good--but the problem was, he kept playing "Fraulein" over and over.  I mean he would play it four or five times a night.  I guess he didn't have a very big repertoire.  We got so sick of hearing that d*** song and we took to calling him "The Fraulein Guy."  So I'm hoping to be able to bang it out at the next reunion just so I can see the looks on my cousins faces.  As years went by, the people who played guitar stopped coming to the reunions, or died, and nobody does it anymore.

**One year, an in-law of mine who plays sax brought his horn and a CD of backing music to play with, kind of like saxophone karaoke.  I sat there and listened to the whole thing and thoroughly enjoyed it, but he only did it that one time.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Good article at What If?

I really liked this post so I thought I'd share it.  (Albatross, you would probably be interested in this.)

Interplanetary Cessna at What If?
But I've never seen the Icarus story as a lesson about the limitations of humans. I see it as a lesson about the limitations of wax as an adhesive. The cold of Titan is just an engineering problem. With the right refitting, and the right heat sources, a Cessna 172 could fly on Titan—and so could we.
Yep.  I began reading the Greek myths at a very young age because our elementary library had some juvenile versions, and I think it was my second grade teacher who asked me about this.  I had asked her about the correct pronunciation of some of the names (DEE-da-lus?  DAY-da-lus?  EYE-ka-rus?  ICK-ah-rus?) and she asked me what I thought that story was teaching.  I told her, "That he should've used something better than wax to glue the feathers together."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013


This interested me:  10 Totally Random Facts, part 2 at Today I Found Out.  Particularly, the one about calculating the volume of a pizza.

I think I related once before about a guy who called in to order a delivery back in the olden days when I worked at a pizza restaurant.  He asked me how much bigger a large was than a medium, so I told him a medium was 12 inches across and a large was 15 inches.  "Okay," he said, "but how much bigger is it?"  So I used the calculator we always had by the phones to add up prices with, and quickly calculated the different in area--I don't remember what it was now--and told him how much bigger the large was in square inches.  "So it's bigger?" He asked again.  "Yes," I told him, and he decided to order the large.  I wish I had remembered the formula for calculating the volume of a cylinder back then.  I could have really screwed with him:  "But if you order a large deep dish, it would be..."

That article is also interesting for the story of the Japanese soldier who kept fighting the war (WWII, that is) for 29 years after the war ended.  Just like that one guy on Gilligan's Island.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Very brief ukulele update

Still working on smooth transitions between chords, still have a ways to go.  But I can feel that the tips of my fretting fingers are toughening up.  I guess that's something.

Friday, January 18, 2013

A couple of Pat Benatar covers

As has already been made clear, I enjoy listening to cover versions of songs.  I'll often spend time on YouTube just finding as many different versions of some song as I can and listening to them all.  I also like listening to the Coverville podcast.  Last Thursday it was a Pat Benatar podcast in honor of her 60th birthday.  That's where I heard this jazzy version of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" by Isabel Rose that I really like.  That picture of her is terrible; her legs are obviously photoshopped, and badly.  She does lots of jazzy big-band covers of pop songs as well as more traditional jazz standards.  For example, you can find videos of her doing "Aquarius" which is kind of goofy but shows you lots of shots of her legs, and a live performance of her doing "I Need a New Drug" by Huey Lewis.  Anyway, I now prefer this one to Benatar's version.

And as long as I'm on the topic, Benatar's big hit "Shadows of the Night" was itself a cover. Here's the original.

So that was from 1980. Quite different from the Benatar cover, since Byron was a more Dylanesque singer-songwriter who punctuated his instrumental breaks with a harmonica. Benatar's 1982 version was actually an almost carbon-copy of a 1981 version by Rachel Sweet.

I think the big difference here is the record label. Pat Benatar was signed to a real label (Chrysalis), with a real budget, who could produce an album cover that made her look crazy-yet-sexy (an always killer combination), and who could produce a real video with actual actors in it (Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton). Rachel Sweet's album cover (from Stiff Records, whoever they were), on the other hand, made her look like a homeless heroin junkie. Too bad. Google her or check Wikipedia to see much better photos of her (the mugshot isn't her, it's someone with the same name). Sweet's version of the song has a tenor sax solo for the instrumental break, instead of a guitar. She gets extra points for that in my book.

Trivia: Pat Benatar's "Shadows of the Night" was the second video to ever be played on MTV.

P.S.  This isn't meant to be a bash against Pat Benatar.  I still like her, and a few of her hits are on my big playlist.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

X Minus 1

X Minus 1 was an old sci-fi radio show from the 1950s.  As I've said before, I like listening to old radio shows sometimes during my commute home in the afternoon, so I thought I'd give this one a try.  It's from the days of "vintage" sci-fi, of course, back when it was still safe for writers to speculate that Mars (or Venus) could be habitable by humans, and I still enjoy reading stories like that.  Anyway, so far I've listened to the first four plus the sixth one--the fifth one had a download problem and I've just re-downloaded it.  I've recognized two of the stories as chapters from The Martian Chronicles; the others were by authors I'd never heard of but were still good stories, and of course these are dramatized and not just a straight reading.  So if you're ever in the mood for such a thing, I recommend it.  Each one runs about 30 minutes.  Each show also includes information from the announcer on who acted in it and who wrote it.  It was produced by NBC, and the announcer is Don Pardo, although I must say that I did not recognize his voice just from having heard him on Saturday Night Live.

You can download a whole bunch of these shows at The Internet Archive, here.

I also found an old radio show version of The Foundation Trilogy, but I haven't listened to it yet.  It was a BBC Radio production, and the comments about it are, shall we say, "mixed."  But here's the link, if you're interested.

But definitely check out X Minus 1.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Another group to add to my list

I was looking up and listening to a bunch of different versions of "Scarborough Fair" the other day, and I came across this.  I like it.  The Gothard Sisters.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

My Christmas-money gift

A ukulele.  I did some internet research on some uke discussion forums to find out what the best one would be that I could get for $100 or less, and the consensus was the Makala.  I got this one for $70, and it came with a gig bag and a pitch pipe, although I didn't really need the pitch pipe.  I read several recommendations to upgrade the strings on it, though, so I will probably do that eventually.

I've been practicing with it some every day, until my left hand gets tired and starts cramping, and I am happy to report that I can tell I am making progress with it, although I'm sure it will be a long time before I can claim to actually be able to play it.

Of course this is a soprano uke, the smallest one, but based on my progress with it so far, I can already foresee the day when I will be looking for a larger tenor uke.

Thanks to YouTube I've been able to find lots of great video lessons to watch and get some actual instruction with it.  I've also been busily hunting down the chords of songs that I want to build into my repertoire someday.  I already have the ability and quite a bit of experience from my past musical experience/education in figuring out chords by ear, so I've had to tweak a couple of them to get them to sound right, but still it's a lot easier when someone else has already done most of the work.  A couple of them I've had to completely transpose because they were pitched too far wrong for my voice, but that's no big deal, either.  Here's a list of songs I've hunted down and begun playing around with so far.

All My Tears (I'm most familiar with the Emmylou Harris version, but she didn't write it)
Blitzkrieg Bop (there is actually a ukulele tab for this available on the internet)
Boat on the River (an old Styx song from Cornerstone written by Tommy Shaw)
Cool Water (the old cowboy song most famously recorded by Sons of the Pioneers)
I Washed My Face in the Morning Dew (Tom T. Hall)
Orphan Girl (same as All My Tears)
Scarborough Fair (but more the traditional version than the famous Simon & Garfunkel version)
Streets of Laredo (another old cowboy song; I'm most familiar with the Don Edwards version)
That's How I Got to Memphis (Tom T. Hall)
Watermelon Wine (Tom T. Hall)
Whoopi Ti Yi Yo (same as Streets of Laredo)
Angel Band (an old folk/gospel song that has been covered by numerous bluegrass and country artists)
Good Ole Boys Like Me (Don Williams)
Rank Stranger (same as Angel Band)
Downbound Train (Springsteen)
The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore (Jean Ritchie, but covered by numerous country/folk artists)
Angel from Montgomery (John Prine, but also covered by Bonnie Raitt)
Hallelujah (by Leonard Cohen but covered by others, notably John Cale for the movie Shrek)

I've also been practicing 12-bar blues in A and 8-bar blues in C that I learned from a couple of videos.

So far, it has been a lot of work but also a lot of fun.  I hope someday to be able to claim that I can really play it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

A couple of funny things

I just started watching a BBC4 show called The IT Crowd via Netflix streaming.  It's from the creators of Father Ted and Black Books.  I've seen both of those series also, and The IT Crowd is most definitely the funniest of the three.  It's about two socially awkward IT techs who work in the basement of a large corporation and their supervisor who managed to bluff her way into her position in spite of knowing nothing about information technology.  So it's sort of an office-humor kind of show, but it's also about the two tech nerds trying to interface with normal society.  One of the nerds was formerly on Garth Marengi's Darkplace, which I blogged about a few years ago when it was airing on Cartoon Network's adult swim block.  It just constantly cracks me up, and I highly recommend it.

The other thing was my daughter's joke the other day.  She likes puns.  I mean, she really likes them.  I don't hate puns, in fact, I enjoy them.  The only thing I don't like about them is that I rarely can come up with an original one myself.  So we were coming home, myself, my daughter and my son, when she began laughing and telling this joke.  She progressively laughed harder and harder so that she was barely able to finish it.  She said, "Why was...(gasp)...six...(choke)...afraid of...(laugh, gasp)"

My son and I both thought we'd heard this lame pun before, and he quickly answered, "Because seven eight nine."

My daughter, still laughing so hard she could hardly talk, said, "No...because...(gasp) was...a...registered....six offender!"  And then she collapsed helplessly in a paroxysm of uncontrollable mirth.

It still makes me laugh, remembering it.  Not because it was especially funny, but because she was laughing so hard.  Thank goodness they both have a decent sense of humor.

Say it ain't so, Bob

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Weekend/year-end update

Well, we didn't have any year-end celebrations here, although my son did pop some firecrackers with a friend down the road.  I, as usual, simply went to sleep.

Our Christmas was good this year, as it usually is.  I got my son the Lego set of "The Unexpected Party," which is basically just Bilbo's house.  I was pleased that when we were in Wal-Mart just before the big day, he saw it on the shelf and gave me a puppy-dog-eyes look.  By that time I had already bought it so I knew his day would be a good one.  He also got a couple of new Wii games.

My daughter picked out several room decor type items as a flea market several days before Christmas, and said that she didn't want anything else.  She got something else anyway--primarily, she got her ears pierced and a few pairs of earrings.

When my wife asked me what I wanted, I just said, how about a coffee grinder.  For some time now I've been wanting to try grinding my own coffee and becoming a coffee snob.  Later she told me that she had already gotten one for me before I even asked.

My wife's main gift was an electric pressure cooker.  She prefers practical gifts.

From parents and in-laws I received that most basic of gifts:  cold hard cash.  I was told by one of them that I had to spend it on something I wouldn't have bought for myself otherwise, so I did.  I ordered it last week and expect it to arrive this Friday.  I won't say what it is right now, but it will require that I spend less time at the computer and engage in something more productive.  If I make any decent progress with it, I'll talk about it again some other time.

We watched a couple of classic 80s movies recently.  My son had been bugging me that he wanted to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  I don't know where/how he heard of it, but I got the DVD from Netflix and he enjoyed it.  Then we watched another one that I consider a great--or at least, good--forgotten movie of the 80s:  My Science Project.  I think it was a lesser-known movie because it came out about the same time as Weird Science, which was more famous and sort of eclipsed it.  I remember discussing this back in the mid-80s with some friends and co-workers, and we all thought it was better than Weird Science.  Or we liked it more, anyway.  It didn't have any brat-packers in it, mostly it was little-known actors who became character actors later on, plus some people who were already "that guy"* character actors at the time (like Barry Corbin).  Also it had Dennis Hopper as the wacky science teacher.  My son's verdict was that he liked it, so that's all I need to know.

I was disappointed today when I found that Farscape had been removed from Netflix's streaming service, although the DVDs can still be rented.  I was right in the middle of watching it.  That was a show that I had watched back when it was on Sci-Fi, but I hadn't seen every episode.  I wish Netflix would say when a show is going to be removed ahead of time.  I've been cut off right in the middle of several different series' and it's always a bummer.  Such as Sanctuary, Dexter, Full Metal Panic, Third Rock from the Sun, News Radio, and that Conan series from the 90s.  To this day, every time I see Danny Woodburn, I exclaim, "Otli!"

*One of those people who, when you see him, you say, "oh, that guy."