Monday, January 28, 2013

My HP-41CX

One of 3 HP calculators I used in college.  This HP-41CX got me through those ugly Chemistry finals when I programmed it with some interactive formulas.  I was actually telling Sam earlier today about RPN logic and its advantages.  I could have shown him in person but I needed some 4 odd-size batteries.  The HP-41C flew on seven Space Shuttle missions and were programmed to recalc reentry in the event of main navigation computer failure.  To think that any cheap game console today has more computing power than this $400 calculator (at the time) is just mindboggling. Even harder to fathom is the fact that I wore this on my belt at school for a couple years.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Day For Music

I needed a day like today.  I woke up and was getting ready for a short bike ride but the streets were still wet from the overnight rain.  So I picked up my acoustic guitar and played for an hour, followed by some piano exercises for another hour before I ever started thinking about breakfast.  I did sneak in some laundry and dishes to make myself somewhat feel responsible.  They I played electric guitar for another hour just in time for lunch.  Early afternoon, the kids and I recorded our own version of Herbie Hancock's 1973 funk classic "Chameleon" which is one of several songs we played over a span of 2 hours.  Since I missed my bike ride, I elected to take a 2.5 mile run on the equestrian trail down the hill. And while waiting for the kids to bug me for dinner, I played electric again downstairs for at least 1 1/2 hours, trying to perfect a punk version of The Beach Boys' "Surfer Girl" and re-learn a Foo Fighters song.  And finally, after dinner, I did another hour of piano which brings my total to almost 8 hours of playing music.  Fun times.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Going Old School

Sam had a school project that he needed some non-internet references for and while we normally hit the bookstores, I decided to go to the city library instead.  Besides, the City of RC public library is funded by my property taxes anyway, right?  So I signed up the kid for a library but what I had not anticipated is me getting one as well -- until I saw these CDs in the music library section.  Pastorius, Mingus, Peterson -- heavyweights of jazz.
There's also the factor of convenience.  The city library branch we went to was at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center which is close to all the place we eat at (CPK, King's, Corner Bakery, etc) so returning items is not a hassle.  Besides, I grew up with a library card and most kids these days haven't even been to a public library, so I thought my kids might benefit from the same experience.  The only rub is these CDs cost 50 cents to check out -- which is not a bad price considering.  Sam's books?  They're still free.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Story Behind The Groove Machines

New site dedicated to my stringed instruments and the story behind each one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The 1000-Hour Proficiency Model and The Finite Number of Hours In A Day

I have this long-standing belief that anyone who spends about 1000 hours on any endeavor has a good chance of being proficient in the activity of choice.  I subscribe to this belief in learning & education, motor skills activities like sports and most certainly, art & music.  Specifically, learning an instrument from square one.  I also subscribe to the principle that it's never too late to learn a skill -- no matter how difficult the subject matter, no matter your age.  And there's also serendipity, of course, as the opportunity presents itself.
A loaner electric piano became available to me last week and after about 4 hours, I can play simple boogie tunes and a minor ballad -- thanks to the internet, of course.  Well, there's that 2-handed method as well which had been a struggle so far.  Being a leftie, I can do arpeggiated chords in one direction smoothly depending on the hand.  Which means, I will need at least an hour a day for the next year to just get my motor skills in sync with what I intend to play.  So that leaves me with about 600 hrs of learning the theory which puts me at mid-2014 for my proficiency target of a thousand hours.  Althoug, something has got to give in order for me to get this hour a day dedicated for learning the piano.  Art? Cycling?  Guitar playing? Nope. Work? Can't afford to.  Sleep? Maybe.

Monday, January 14, 2013

I Miss Playing Acoustic

I'm very happy to be making music with my kids over the past 8 months but I do miss one thing -- playing my nylon string guitar.  The bonding time I have with them with a full electric band setup is the complete opposite of the solo playing I've done in the past 10 years.  Something about the feel of the nylon against my bare hands, the natural resonance of the guitar body and the total awareness when playing it -- it's just right.  A totally different experience.  So this weekend, I decided to work on this simple melody from Cinema Paradiso, one of my all-time favorite movie themes.  It's a short piece and is a nice escape from all the Rage, Audioslave and Hendrix my kids and I play all the time.  The fact that all my acoustic guitars are always inside cases (to protect them from environmental extremes) makes them somewhat transparent from everyday life.  Out of sight, out of mind.   But as I found out last week, I do miss it for sure.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Old School Classic

South Bay Wheelmen old school wool cycling jersey.  Classic.  But on a 2-hr ride this afternoon with the temperature hovering around 50F, its turns priceless when used with arm and leg warmers.  I actually have 3 of these South Bay jerseys which I'm guessing are from the early 80s.  The old cycling jersey designs were much simpler without the visual clutter of sponsorship and advertising.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Eff This Rag

I got this free rag in the mail thinking it was like an LA Weekly or Pasadena Weekly (which, by the way, I still read on a regular basis).  Nine-O-Nine magazine looked innocent enough until I read this one article on how to grow together as a family.  Why the fuck does the editor think everyone in the IE is a Jesus-freak?  Sure, it doesn't say Christian but "pray" and "higher power" are code-words for what that these people do.  Why not light an incense or practice yoga together (for those who practice the eastern religions)?  Or better yet, why not volunteer at a mission together (for the secular humanists amongst us)?  Since my blue recycling cans are outside next to the garage, the next issue I get won't be polluting the air inside my house.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mixtape Evolution

I was going through some old boxes and found a stash of these old cassette tapes that I had put together at some distant past.  Judging from the songs I had selected, this was made sometime in the early 90s with Guns N Roses' "November Rain" kicking off Side A and The Cure's "Pictures of You" on Side B.  I, for one, do not miss the analog days when I had to copy each track carefully from CD to a cassette deck.  The time it took to make this mixtape was probably on the order of 3 or 4 hours, including typing up and printing a case cover.  The tape hiss, inherent in the medium was annoying at the time as it is today, when I played this tape.  At some point, I just expect the iron deposited on the tape itself to fall off and this tape will be lost for eternity.  Hey, everybody's got some aspect of their past that they're ashamed of, right?  Tracy Chapman, Ultravox and Echo and the Bunnymen in my mixtape are skeletons in my musical closet.
Fast forward to 2000 and making audio CD compilations was the norm.  I made a bunch of these discs and just stashed them in the car for road trips.  I played this one and it sounds just as good as the first time I made it.  Digital is perfect and repeatable, in the event I want to make another CD with the exact same songs in the same order.  I still make some comp CDs today just because I like the convenience of not having to think about what to play in the car.  Each CD took about 30 minutes to make and the hard part is actually marking up the CD with the artist/song selection.  (No Doubt, 2Pac and Ice Cube made my playlist back then but most definitely won't make it in today.  )
And the last evolution (at least the one I've embraced) is the Ipod playlist.  As "must have" for the daily commuter like me each playlist can be created and edited in seconds and adding to the list is as simple as holding down a button for a few seconds.  At work today, as I was listening to songs, I would do just that -- add it to the On-The-Go playlist with the push of a button.  What I added today?  Rage, Audioslave, Rise Against, Foo Fighters.  Ten years from now?  I'll probably still be listening to Rage consider I was listening to it 13 years ago.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Surf Guitar

I love rescuing old guitars from their previous, unappreciative owners.  This is a mid-80s Yamaha electric guitar Model SC300T (yeah just like that Lexus coupe model name) in candy apple red.  I will probably swap out the old pickups with a Fender single coils to give it that true surf guitar sound.  I spent most of this evening adjusting the intonation but not the action -- which seems just about right.  Speaking of surf guitar, I wish I still own the DMV plates I had with my '69 Mustang.  When I sold the car in 2009, I didn't even bother transferring the personalized plate back to me.  Not sure why but now I realize it was a mistake.
Above is the only picture of my SURF GTR license plate taken in 2001 with my future drummer, Sam (left, standing) and bass player, JJ (sitting).  Ironic thing is I was playing mostly acoustic guitar at the time but I just like the music of the Ventures, Surfaris, Dick Dale, etc. enough to get the plate.  I suppose the car also came out when instrumental music was really big.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Board Game Geekery

I'm a believer that games should be simple and with rules that are easy for anyone to understand.  Checkers, chess, backgammon and Scrabble are examples of games that most people at any age could play without having to memorize 100 rules, literally.  The other rule of thumb I have for games is that one should be able to play a round in less that an hour.  So when Sam got Axis and Allies, I just cringed because I knew it was one of those super-complicated strategy games with dozens of rules and could take days to play.  Over the holiday break, Sam studied all the rules and for the past 3 days we've been "practice playing" just so we get the hang of it.  We've played a total of four hours (just a continuation of a single game) and movement on the board is slow but I'm beginning to appreciate the strategy behind domination in Axis and Allies.  Unfortunately, the kids go back to school tomorrow and we'll probably pick up the game later in the week.

Speaking of board games, I don't understand why my family takes such pleasure in beating yours truly.  Christmas eve Scrabble game with my mom, cousin and aunt was my 2nd time ever playing that game and lost by only 8 points in spite of me cooking the ham and entertaining while playing the letter tiles.  I swear it felt like the best Christmas present my mom ever got.  Then there's my younger kid who always celebrates like a world champion after beating me at Tangoes or backgammon.  I might as well paint a bulls-eye on my forehead, right?

Sunday, January 6, 2013

It Was 20 Years Ago Today...

No, Sgt. Pepper didn't teach the band to play.  But 20 years ago, the album that declared to the world that rock and roll isn't dead was released out of Los Angeles. Ten tracks, 52 minutes, 52 seconds.    And one angry, political band was launched to the rest of the world.  And twenty years from now, every male adolescent will be singing Killing In The Name in defiance of authority while their parents and grandparents can only shake their heads in approval.  Approval because they will share the common bond of growing up listening to Zach, Tom, Brad and Tim.  Approval because the lyrics of Rage will forever change the way the next generation will view the world.  Continuity of the species is guaranteed.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Worth The Wait

In 1997, I could only afford to buy one electric guitar and I (wisely) chose an American Standard Fender Strat.  My other choice at the time was an Ibanez Talman because it was relatively cheap and I like the shape, finish and just about everything about it.  In 1998, Ibanez stopped making the Talman altogether and I've been on the hunt for one in the last few years, now that I can afford it.  Enter Craigslist Los Angeles.  This morning, I couldn't get myself to get out of bed so I grabbed the Ipad and put Talman in the Musical Instruments category and lo and behold.  Need to sell fast.  Moving.  Studio City.  I sent the guy an email before I even took off my pajamas.  By afternoon, I am the proud owner of a 15-year old Japanese-made Talman (I believe it's a TC825 model) with a Bigsby tremolo.  After spending an hour tonight re-stringing and adjusting the action, it's good enough.  First tune I played on it.  Hendrix's Voodoo Chile.

So I don't even track or count how many instruments I have.  I know this is an affliction that several of my friends suffer from.  G.A.S.  Article is below.  Guilty as charged.  At least with the kids playing too, every instrument acquisition gets obfuscated behind the "we-need-it-to-get-this-sound" rationale.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Resolution

I had been frustrated with boring results when I attempt to do these photo collages like this one above I did of a meadow in Mineral King, deep inside Sequoia National Park.  For starters, I think I'm approaching this photo collage business a little too conventional.  I try to capture the beauty and openness of a place like a meadow at 9000 ft elevation using a panoramic approach which is fine if I want to get uninteresting results.  At some point around 2009, I had completely gave up on photo collages.  Then I go see a couple David Hockney collages at museums over the past couple years and I know deep in the back of my mind, there is a lot of untapped potential in photo collages.  Because when I saw Hockney's Pearlblossom (below) at the Getty Center in 2010, it just completely blew my mind away.
So this year, I plan to revisit the subject of photo collages with a completely different mindset.  I think photography needs to be become drawing in order to produce an alternate reality that would not have existed otherwise if it weren't for the vision of the artist.  With digital cameras, it's also more forgiving since errors and bad shots literally don't cost me a single dime.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Making Pulp Out of Non-Fiction

I typically do not go to the movie theaters to see the same movie more than once.  So when I go see Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" twice in a span of a week, either it's an extraordinary flick or a set of extenuating circumstances caused it.  When I read that director Spike Lee had rejected the movie (which puts him on the same side as my mother-in-law), it's hard to resist going the first time -- which I did with the kids while we were in San Luis Obispo the day after Christmas.  Although fictional in nature, the movie takes on a very non-fictional subject, that of American slavery -- considered taboo for most of Hollywood and America as noted in the article below.

Simply put, Django rocks as most Tarantino movies do in terms of the action and comic book style violence.  And couple that with the subject of slavery, you have an instant classic centered around a black superhero played by Jamie Foxx.  Django has all the attributes of a cult classic had it bombed in the box office (highly unlikely).  Tarantino had upset a lot of establishment folks with his previous output and Django at least will keep him in the category of "Do Not Take Seriously" for a lot of movie critics.  But screw critics.  The movie was actually very funny with the dialogue and sidebars (e.g. hooded raid scene with Big Daddy played by Don Johnson) so when the kids and I were trying to figure out what to do on New Year's Eve, seeing Django a second time was a simple decision.