Friday, January 31, 2014

The Book I Wish I Had When I Started Running

I recently downloaded Bruce Van Horn's new book, You Can Go The Distance
This is the number one book I would recommend for those getting into running or who have run a bit but want to step it up a notch.

Bruce is very motivational, follow him on Twitter @BruceVH for a steady stream of positive thoughts and motivational quotes.

Bruce makes you want to go out there and do it.  He makes you want to go the distance.  And he helps your realize you can.

When I started running I knew nothing.  I had poor form, no idea about hydration, eating right, training (I trained too much and injured myself many times), and no mental fortitude to run a Marathon.

I then went one a multi-year journey of learning.  I ran, I did clinics. I got to run with CBC Ottawa in the 2007 Gotta Run series.  I tried many training routines.

In short, I took the long road to learning what Bruce puts down in a concise and easy to read book.

Don't do that, get this book, read it and go the distance!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fitness Tracking: Bring DIY biomedical technology to your home or school | MAKE

This project shows the power of the Maker Movement. These guys are opening up a field of research to DIY which unleashes numerous problems that can now be worked on by others with a lower cost of entry.

Do I have a use for the DIY E‎MG (Electromyograph) module? Not really but what can I think of that would be cool with this?

How about when cycling if it graphed your muscle output along with speed, watts, and altitude change. Would this give us more insight after collecting multiple sessions as to whether we should back off
 this training session or go harder?

Can the EMG readings of our muscles show us if we are over/under trained?

Can we make cheaper, consumer products with modules like this to allow anyone to easily unlock their potential? 

I have found that as I have trained, there are many questions I ask myself. Should I push harder today? Should I do that extra workout? Should I back off?

A work out plans is just a guide to how to reach a goal.  The guide is usually one that someone else has used which will help you prepare.  Guides are available for many distances and as long as you put in the time and keep to the guide, you should be able to complete the distance trained for.

The amount of training for a marathon for example ranges from 3-6 runs a week.  Then there are cross training days or sessions.  How can some go so far on so little training and others on so much?  Are some of us overtraining and some under training?

We are all different training plan/guides are just that, a guide used by someone else that worked for them.  Can we get more quantitative with our training and be able to customize it on the fly to avoid injury, burn out, and ultimately to increase our potential?

I know you can wear a heart rate monitor (HRM) all the time and look at your resting heart rate (HR) in the morning to get idea of your level of training. Too high above resting HR (and historical morning HR) and you are getting sick or have over trained.  So, you'll need to dial back today.

Can we make this even better with EMG‎ monitors?  Can we get a reading of how hard we can push our muscles for their peak workout?

I feel that the current wearable fitness tracking devices and apps are just the infant stages of where we can go with technology to help us achieve more in our physical pursuits.

What would you do with a wearable EMG?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Arduino Meetup: KingMakers

James, of Guitar Jam Night, joined a Meetup of Arduino makers, KingMakers, a couple years back.  Back then there were about 50 people.  Now there are over 500 and I finally joined up.

I figured it was time I started to learn a bit more about building electronics since I have so many ideas I want to create which span hardware and software.  So, let's jump in.


I attended my first session on Sunday, January 26.  It was a two hour session on adding a Real Time Clock (RTC) module to your project called Time to Get Wired.

What is an RTC?  It is a battery operated clock that lets your project know the date and time so that between reboots, power outages, etc, you project knows the time to be able to fire events.

I have a couple projects in mind that could use this and it was one of the "things to figure out" that I had on my list.  So, a session on how to do this, including a sample project, and an RTC module was too good to pass up.

Round Table

Like most Meetups, this one started out with a round table where people spoke about projects they are working on, demoed projects, and asked for advice.  That took about 30 mins and was a nice introduction to the level (beyond me) of projects the group is working on.

I took my 8 yr old son with me with the direction, listen if you want, join me to do the hands on if you'd like, or just read your book.  He read his book mostly but he did listen in to the round table and liked many of the projects.  Once the hands on session was nearing the end and most of us were chatting again he joined in to look at some 3D printed Zelda coins/diamonds that one Maker is creating in place of poker chips.  My son got to take some home so he thought this whole Maker thing is pretty cool.

Main Session

During the Main Session, Dan Tebbs, the organizer gave a presentation on the I2C (Inter-Integrated Circuit) Devices, of which the DC1307 RTC module is an example of.  The presentation was great, quite a few items were over my novice head but I knew enough to pick up a lot of tips.

For example, the fact that using higher resistors not only lowers the voltage on the line but reduces the amperage being pulled which will result in a slower switching response from your I2C.  This also means lower battery consumption such that in cases where you do not need to have a high bandwidth (fast switching) I2C you can use higher resistance resistors to prolong battery life of a project.

Logic Analyzer

As a software programmer I can find the lack of visibility into my hardware projects frustrating.  You do print statements everywhere to get an idea of what is going on.  This only takes you so far and is a long way from a software debugger.

Enter the Logic Analyzer.  I never knew about these before the Meetup today and this was a tangent on the main session about I2C devices.  The Logic Analyzer we reviewed was the Saleae Logic.  This is an 8 channel analyzer that basically gives you a view into what your circuit is doing.

The consensus with the group was that a logic analyzer like this is much better than an Oscilloscope for probing your circuits.  It is also handy for reverse engineering other IC or I2C since it shows you the digital signals coming from a chip.  The group also felt that no one had worked on a project complex enough yet to need the 16 channel model so the 8 channel model is sufficient for most Makers.

The nice thing is that it is also less than an oscilloscope and has some nice features like recording sessions, setting triggers on high/low line voltage changes, and other things I have no idea of. 


The hands on session included sample code, an RTC library, and lots of help for those needing it.  There were sample images of the circuit layout and for those that needed the RTC we were using they could purchase at the session.

The circuit was not very interesting to view, but here it is:

The more interesting bit was the serial output from the RTC:
¥ RTC is NOT running!
2165/165/165 165:165:85
 since midnight 1/1/1970 = 1381621585s = 15990d
 now + 7d + 30s: 2013/10/19 23:46:55

How I Plan To Use A RTC

Here's some ideas of how I want to use an RTC in my projects:
  • Keep track of time to fire events at a preprogrammed time.  ie. turning on a relay to start/stop a pump, fan or heater.
  • Display time on a project that includes a LCD.

What I Like About Meetups

I love that people are passionate about their hobbies.  I am one of those people.  

I love that one way to learn more is to teach others.  Dan and the other Makers today were a great source of information and were all welcoming.

If you are interested in a topic you should check to see if there is a meetup in your area about the topic.  Else, maybe you should start one.

As for the Redmond, WA area, if you are interested in Arduino and Making then you should check out the KingMakers.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

21st Century Science Fiction: Part Three

Part three in the book review series for the book 21st Century Science Fiction.

See Part One, Part Two.

Bread and Bombs by M. Rickert


Foreign family moves into a close knit community in small town America.  Only small towns left after a long war we know little about.  The family is from the country that America is fighting.  Suspicion on all sides leads to deadly consequences.

My Take

Reminds me of a futuristic retelling of WWII interment camps for Germans or Japanese.
The summary in the book is correct, what is left out of the story is as interesting as the story itself.
Nice way to paint a future where what we take for granted and enjoy today could become a thing of fear in the future.

Tk'Tk'Tk by David D. Levine


A lone human trying to sell software for computers on a planet of aliens where they know not our technology but use biological machines to built what they need.  Who needs software when there is nothing to run it on?

My Take

Death of a salesman.
Sometimes it is not the people not buying which is killing your career, it's the fact that there is no purpose to your career, at least on this planet, pilgrim.

The Nearest Thing by Genevieve Valentine


Androids, stock market pressures, employees bending company mandates to make the next great thing.  The only thing missing are company issues uniforms.  The company issued housing and wage disparity are not missing though.  

My Take

A dystopian look at future technology development that does not feel far from today.  I liked the Android angle.  I enjoyed how the story was grounded in how many feel the world is headed.  Some with too much money getting a ton of privilege at the loss of privacy.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Private 1 Hour Guitar Lesson

I have a private lesson coming up with a jazz/blues/country guitarist from Montreal, Jordan Officer.  I have my Father-in-law to thank for this since he backed Jordan's latest album, which was a Kickstarter, at the 1 Hour Skype Lesson Included level.

I first heard of Jordan, who's father is a family friend, when he was playing lead for the Susie Arioli Swing Band on Pennies From Heaven.  This is one of my favorite albums.  I love Jordan's playing and Susie's voice.  Well worth a listen if you are into Jazz ballads.

So, I am going to get to talk to a great guitarist.  I have a list of questions I am composing.  Tell me what you think.
  1. Any barre chord tips?
  2. Top blues guitarists to study?
  3. Most popular tunings and keys you find yourself reusing with various other artists?
  4. How much does a studio recording cost?
  5. Where would you play to get experience as a guitarist starting out?
  6. What peddles can you not live without?  Why?
  7. What strings do you use?  How often do you change them?
  8. Favorite Amp
  9. Guitar? Fav? Why?
Anything else you would ask a full-time musician?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Each Child Is Unique

As a stay at home Dad, I now have more time to volunteer at my sons school.  I was a little worried at first that I would not know what to do, but apparently being a parent was all the training I needed.

I have had a blast, the kids are funny (like an episode of Kids Say the Darndest Things), I have gotten a chance to see how kids strengths manifest themselves, and I now understand the difficulty for teachers to address each students needs.

As a parent I want my kid to do awesome, we all do.  Sometimes I didn't really get it when a teacher explained my child was having difficulty with an area.

I used to be frustrated and wish school did more.  Why is there so much homework for a Kindergarten kid?  Aren't they supposed to teach this at school?  Why am I doing this?  I have a job.

When I was working I was swamped with thoughts about work.  Deliverables, new features to design, and a steady stream of emails.  Just trying to disconnect from the constant communication of a team working in timezones from Seattle to the Ukraine was difficult.  There were problems, checkins, quick fixes, reviews, and more, required at all hours of the day.

Now I see, after being in the classroom that it is a fine balancing act for a teacher to try to get the material across to a wide variety of skill levels.  It really does take that extra effort from us parents to help our kids over the rough patches.

I have seen a wide variety in skill level with Mathmatics (addition, number recognition, subtraction), Creative Writing (understanding of certain, possible, impossible), and just plan attention span.  Some of these kids get a topic and are whizzes.  The same kids are not always the whizzes for each topic.

This is why my son has needed help.  He is good in some areas but really struggling in others.  This is the main reason I left work for a few months.  To help out my kids in the areas they are struggling.

The volunteering has been enlightening and as a parent I understand a little better how my role at home can help my child.  I know I wish I had done this earlier.

If I could make a suggestion to past me it would be to look at my schedule for the next month, and then consider taking one or two days to work from home so I could volunteer for as little as an hour.  I do just a 45 minute session, twice a week, with the kids helping them one on one or in groups of two to work on an individual skill.

I know work would still be there once my hour was up.

If you are left struggling to understand what schools do today and why you need to help so much, maybe you might want to try volunteering as well.  It really has opened my eyes.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Scouts and Achievements

I don't seem to remember Scouts the way it is today.

I remember doing a lot of my badges and such at Scouts.  I know my Mom egged me on to do the work on my badges at home as well.  But how much of the heavy lifting on those projects were my Mom?

This topic comes up since my oldest (8 yr old) is in Scouts.  It seems like the bulk of the work is on the parent to organize these activities and help get the badges/achievements/etc done.

Perhaps that is the way I am approaching it and I should just say, "Hey, you want to earn your next level, then suck it up buttercup, read the book, and just do it."  I will check in with my Mom and see how it worked in our house, back in the "old days".

I'd like to help foster a sense of independence in my son to achieve goals on his own.  But I wonder, is that a taught lesson or an innate ability.

I know a lot of friends that tried Scouts for a short time or never did try since their parents felt it was too much work.  Was I just lucky to have a Mom to do the heavy lifting to get me off my ass to achieve these things?

If I can't remember then perhaps my extra prodding today will lead to goal oriented adults in my sons like I am today.

Parenting is like this multi-year study in which you get to know if you screwed up or were a success a long time from now.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Post Race Followup

Ahh, post race day.

I forgot the familiar feelings:
  • Aching
  • Tired
  • Grumpy
  • Did I mention Tired?
  • Kind of in a stupor
Thankfully, the day after was laid back and I got in a long nap.

For anyone that has not raced and pushed themselves or just gone out and run/rode/swam for multiple hours at an event.  Expect the couple days after a race to be slower (unless you are in uber shape).  Don't plan anything big and expect to need some down time.

Saturday I was on a high after 2.5 hours of pushing myself on the mountain bike.

Sunday I was bummed and wondering,  "What did I do yesterday?  It was fun I think?  But now I am kinda just stunned."

Nothing I have not experienced before after a big race day.  I wish I was in better shape for this one, but it was a good kick in the ass to get me back on track.

Now a couple days later and I am mostly recovered.

As bad as it can feel sometimes after a big effort like that, I like this motivational quote:
It is easier to wake up early and work out than it is to look in the mirror each day and not like what you see.
Doing a big event like this can really remind you that you are more than what you are today.  Each day you can go out there and be a little bit better.

You just gotta stop looking in the mirror and do it. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Album Review: Lishy Lou and Lucky Too!

I heard about this new album (Lishy Lou and Lucky Too!) from Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band on NPR while driving home from the pool with my youngest.  I turned down the article a bit and I hear from the back seat, "Turn that up please, I was listening."

Here he was, in the back listening to the reviewer talk about the album.  No wonder.  It is a kids album with lots of pop numbers and jokes.

We added it to our Rdio queue when we got home and have added it into our rotation (thank goodness, I have something else they want to listen to other then the Frozen Soundtrack).

The songs are fun, with silly lyrics, but the best part is they are catchy and besides the lyrics could be on the radio.  So, this is a very easy album to listen to and enjoy with the kids.

The premise of the album is that it is a Radio Show.  There are bits with jokes and such which the kids like, and then lots of music.

Well worth a listen if you need something new to add to your playlist with the kids.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Football in the USA

It's hard to not get caught up in Football Mania living in the US.  Kids are encouraged to wear their colours/jerseys to school and church on/before game days.  Everyone talks about the game, many with too much seriousness.

It really is a way of life down here.  Much like the insanity that ensues in Ottawa when the Sens are on a winning streak or are in the playoffs.  Canadians can not poo poo Americans for their love of a sport.

Canada : Hockey as United States : Football

Thankfully, the NFL playoffs and Super Bowl are much shorter and don't drag on into summer like the NHL playoffs.

The kids are really getting into it with all the hoopla at school and their friends.  They are making Seahawks themed colouring pages, hats, banners, etc at school and church.  Church even showed a Seahawks versus 49ers montage today and there were comments to the effect that God was on our side.


Well, that ridiculousness said, we will be tuning in for the big game come February 2nd.

How can we not?  Our new home team is in the Super Bowl!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Race Report: Stinky Spoke 2014

Heart Attack Hill at start of race.
Well, the Stinky Spoke has come and gone.  Thanks to my friend Dan for suggesting the event and allowing me to tag along for the ride.

The event was fun, not hardcore, and really just an excuse to go riding in January, up a wicked hill, and raise some funds for Little Bit.  Timing was not tracked and the event had an open start, that is you could start any time from 9-10am.

I saw the route and profile view before the event so I had an idea of the course in my mind.  That still did not prepare my out of shape legs for Heart Attack Hill and the remaining ups.  Here's my result on Endomondo.

Terrain profile and my speed, terrain in grey, speed in green,

I figured I would be doing awesome if I came in at 2 hours so the 2:30 time was not unexpected after the first hills.  I really wished I had been able to climb more of the hills but my legs were not up to the challenge today and I hike'a'biked many/most of the hills.

Here's the route (sorry, map is not clickable, need to use the Endomondo link to see that):
Route of the Stinky Spoke, 2014

On downhill I was a monster.  I would make sure to give room between myself and the next rider so I could bomb down the hill.  At times I thought, is this old bike going to hold up or explode after one more jump.  But as many times past, it brought me through in one piece.

The after party was great as well.  Massy Ferguson played at the after party which was at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, WA.  A heated tent, food, beer, and music after a long ride; it doesn't get much better than that for a day of mountain biking.

My Classic Riding Selfie, stopped this time, not rolling.
Will I do it again?  Most certainly and after seeing the swag that people got for fundraising, next year I will work at fundraising so I can snag a sweet long sleeve riding jersey.  Those were very sweet.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

21st Century Science Fiction: Part Two

Part two in the book review series for the book 21st Century Science Fiction.

See Part One.

Strood by Neal Asher


Aliens have made contact and brought their advanced technology including medical treatments to the people of earth.  They appear friendly but something does not feel right.  Can Nigel trust these creatures?  Are they sinister and hiding a plot to eat him and all of humanity?

My Take

Had me guessing what was coming next.

An interesting take on what first contact with aliens might be like.

I especially like that they ignore politicians and deal with the scientists first and foremost.

Eros, Philia, Agape by Rachel Swirsky


Do androids dream of electric sheep?

What does it mean to be human?

My Take

Lots to think about here.

If we give our gadgets free will, will they still love us?

How would an android discover what it means to be human?

At what point does AI cross the boundary and learn to be truly human in thought if not in flesh?

The Tale of The Wicked by John Scalzi


A cat and mouse space battle is nearing it's completion.  The hunter has tracked the crippled alien ship across jumps and the next jump will end the battle.  Will the battle end as either captain thinks?

My Take

Of the stories I have read so far, this is the one I want to see made as a TV show right now!  Man, this show could explore a lot of angles.

I really want to say more but I am trying not to ruin the story for you.  If you are into Battlestar Galactica and/or Star Trek then I think you'd love the premise in this story.

Evil Robot Monkey by Mary Robinette Kowal


What happens when we increase the intelligence of monkeys?  How will they deal with the increase in reasoning?

My Take

Zoo keeping is just another form of parenting.  Replace monkey with 4 year old and story does not change much except the kid can talk.

Toy Planes by Tobias S. Buckell


Every country deserves a right to interstellar exploration.

My Take

A short and sweet sci-fi story with an element of nationalism.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Snap Circuits

My oldest got a Snap Circuits Kit when is was 4.  He loved it, but being for an 8 year old it saw a lot of broken projects that Dad assisted with to get going.

Flip forward to this year and he got one again (he got one from his uncle which is good since most of the original parts from the first are missing).  Being 8 now he is having no trouble with it and hooking up lots of projects.

Today, I decided to give it a try with our younger son, 5 years old.  He was ecstatic to get to play with it.

It just so happened that today was sharing day at school and the letter of the day was D.  One of his best friends in class brought in the same Snap Circuits Kit and his D word was "Diode".  Tell that is not cool for show and tell in kindergarten.

So, the fact I had planned to do the Snap Circuits today hit home today when his friend brought the same kit to school to show.

We built a couple of the basic projects.  Then I hooked up the Space War with Alarm and Lights project.  He loved it.  He liked experimenting and changing circuit components.

There is also a blown resistor in the kit (I assume that a circuit was hooked up wrong, needless to say the resistor is a full on resistor, nothing goes through it).  He used the blown resister to close sections of the circuit.  He did this for about 20 mins, just trying out different combinations.

It was fun to watch and observe as he explored.

If you have a 5+ year old and are going to help with circuits, this is a cheap way to introduce circuits to them and have some fun.

For 8+, just buy it for them and play with it when they are not around, like I do ;-)

Now, to go disassemble the resistor and replace it with a new one (a benefit of being a GeekDad is I have some resistors lying around).

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Your Brain is Going to Explode, But It Will Recover

You decide to pick up a guitar and learn how to play.  That was your first mistake ;-)

First comes the numbness and searing pain from tender fingertips that have never pushed down a fine wire string like this before.  Part of this is inexperience, with your fingertips, but also with your technique.

You make it past that initial rite of passage.

The finger pain does not cause you to quit and you have found your new addiction.

You are onto the next levels.  You learn chords, songs, rhythm patterns, etc.

Then you learn to pick.  This is a whole new level of insanity as you try to move your right hand independently from your left which is probably holding down a chord that is fairly static (ya, I know at first it does not feel static but after lots of practice it will).

Your brain does convulsions!  How will you ever get your right hand to move in sync to the beat and hit the correct strings?

Well, you practice, practice, practice.  You play slow, I mean stupid slow.  You play when no one else is around because you suck so hard.  When family/friends are around you feel sorry for them.

Then one day, you are picking a song.  Boy this sounds cool.

Then you are picking everything you already know with chords and switching it up, picking the song, and then strumming.  This is fun, neat!

Time Passes....

As always occurs with anything skilled based, you plateau.  Your playing feels a little flat.  You are not challenged any longer.

You want more.  The beast must be feed with more knowledge.

Next you try Alternate Picking, String Skipping, Arpeggios, Legato, Sweep Picking, and String Bending.  Sometimes combining several of these.

What hell has your brain entered?  The madness; left fingers moving, right hand jumping between strings, up strum, down strum, bending 1/2 step, whole step, multi-fret jumps.

Don't make it sharp, not to flat, keep the beat, don't hit the wrong string.  You are overwhelmed.

Your brain is going to explode!!!

Then...slow down...take your time.  Speed up gradually.  Repeat.  Repeat.  Repeat.

Keep adding another hour to the 10,000 Hour Skill Bank.

It will come.  You'll get it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

21st Century Science Fiction: Part One

I am reading a anthology of new Sci-Fi writers, 21st Century Science Fiction.  This is really a great book to pick up if you are looking to expand your Sci-Fi author stable.

Here's a review of the first 3 short stories.  I'll follow up with more as I read them.

Infinities by Vandana Singh


A small time mathematician in a small town in India rekindles his interest in the pursuit of mathematical proof.  A discovery he has chased since childhood challenges his faith and belief in Allah while he is surrounded by ethic/religious fighting.

My Take

Interesting for the inner monologue and desires that drive those passionate about math and religion.  The interfaith relationships and the strains of those in India is an interesting look at the insanity that religion can wreck on communities with various faiths.

Rogue Farm by Charles Stross


It's a not so distant future.  Modern day ideas of genetic code swapping and the ability to morph the cellular structure of other living beings has caused a rift in this future society.

There are those that choose a simple way of life, living off the land using technology and hard work.  There are others that have reached an "enlightened" state of being who live off the land through advancements that allow them to control the very DNA makeup of the land to suit their purposes.

My Take

Mind altering.

I loved this one.  Lots of modern science that I feel is on the cusp of turning into something bigger is played out in a rural setting.  Feels like this could be only years away or centuries into the future.

I will be looking into more work from Charles Stross.  He has a knack for tying many technologies together into a picture of a future that is grounded in a story that could be pulled from todays papers.  Rural folks just trying to live in peace while city folks encroach upon their land with no thought given to the devastation that their encroachment can cause. 

The Gambler by Paolo Bacigalupi


A refugee to the United States trying to make ends meat in the future news reporting world.  His ideals get in the way of his ability to shine and threaten his job.  Will he take the easy road or will he gamble one more time?

My Take

Great, but isn't this just the world today?  The only thing I think separates us from this world is maybe the tech to be able to control the story so well  and the direct link of cause and effect to stock price.

I feel we are at a cross roads where more and more physical jobs are going to disappear and more people will make their livelihood online.  This offers a glimpse of where ad revenue and sensationalism is taking the combined human conscience online.

Will our ability to drive profit for a corporation tie us more closely to our immigration status?  Lots of interesting questions raised from the stand point of a foreigner working in the United States like myself.

In the end, remember folks, we want happy stories, the 3 S's (sex, stupidity, and schadenfreude), nothing sad or truly informative.  Please, I hope we are not headed here.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Letter War

My youngest is having some trouble deciphering letter case and with recognizing a couple letters.  So, how to make learning letters fun?

I came up with Letter War.  This is like the standard card game of War but instead of a deck of playing cards you print out a deck with upper and lower case letters on the cards.  Now play the game with the letter deck and score like this:

  • Uppercase beat lowercase letters.
  • The ranking from lowest to highest is: a..z,A..Z
  • If the same lower and upper case letter is played then it is war.  This is less common in this deck of course.
Pretty simple I think.  Let's look at some examples:
  • E and t are played: A wins
  • A and a are played: War
  • J and M are played: M wins
  • c and v are played: c wins

Monday, January 13, 2014

Improvising with Backing Tracks

When practicing improvising it can be helpful to have something to play with.  A practice partner is great but if you don't want to drive them crazy as you work out licks a backing track is probably better.

Thankfully we have the internet.  Head over to YouTube and do a search for "backing track" to find a long list of tracks to practice with.

Even better, narrow down your search like I did recently with "blues backing track in d major".  I found this one I liked: Blues Backing Track in D Major

Another a little more soulful I am using slide with is: Slow Soulful Blues Guitar Track in D  For this track I am especially trying to work on pauses in the improvisation.  As well, I am trying to repeat licks to come up with something that is interesting to listen to.

For a much better example of improvisation and to watch a more detailed discussion of improvising check out Justin Guitar's: Major Scale Pattern 1: Basic Improvisation lesson.  This gave me a lot of insight on how to get started.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Guitar Improvisation

I consider myself still a beginner guitarist.  As such, I find it amazing when I listen to other guitarists who can just come up with licks on the fly.  I have a friend, Carlos, who can play amazing finger picking style classical guitar.

Carlos can turn any song into something beautiful and melodic.  One day, Carlos played some for me and I asked him what he was doing.  What could I study to learn that?

His answer, I don't know.

He does not know?  How can one not know?

He explained he just knows the guitar so well, the position of all the notes.  The notes to make up chords, scales, etc that be can just ad-lib a song.

Heck, how do I do that?

Another friend, James, my practice partner is good at scales and improvising with those scales.  I have done scales practice as well, but I still had not really gotten improvisation.

An aside for a moment.  Recently, I have mostly been playing slide on my acoustic guitar.  I have it tuned to Open D which means the guitar notes are different from standard tuning.

For a refresher:
  • Standard Tuning: E-A-D-G-B-E, from 6th to 1st strings
  • Open D Tuning: D-A-D-F#-A-D, from 6th to 1st strings
For more tuning info, see Guitar Tuning.

So, back to improvisation.  When improvising you generally want to stay within a scale to keep it sounding good.  So, let's look at what we can do with Open D.  The D Major scale is D - E - F# - G - A - B - C# - D

Taking our D Major scale we can start to experiment with improvisation.  First though, to really walk around the guitar neck we will need to know the notes on the frets.  Here is a rough sketch I made for Open D.  I do this when I am learning a tuning so that I can reference the notes and to try and help me drive the notes into me head.

So, I started with this and began improvising on a single string (1st string) while picking chords.  This sounded not bad.  Here's a rough track I did while improvising.

I am pretty happy with it but I want to explore more and see where I can take that first attempt.

Let me know what you think.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Are you reading to your kids? No I mean, really reading to your kids to foster Creative Writing skills?

I have been informed by my boys teachers that they need to either be read too (my youngest) or be more creative thinkers (both).  Like what?  They have vivid imaginations and we read to them every night (seldom does a day go by that we do not read 3-10 books with them).

So, what is up?

We read to them but we are not always analyzing the book and breaking it down.  For my youngest, this means asking him to explain:

  1. What happened in the beginning of the story?  Who is the story about?  What is the location and situation?
  2. What happened in the middle?  What as the problem that occurs to the characters?  How did you think they might solve this?  (Ask that last one in a new book only part way through when the problem is presented and watch their imagination run wild, you hope.)
  3. What happened in the end?  Was that good for the characters?  What would you do?
So, ok, we are reading but are we reading and analyzing the books in depth?  I would have to say no.  So that is something that has been added to our routine.  The number of books has gone down but the quality of our reading will go up I hope.

For my older son, he has to cover the same issues but we need to ask more open ended questions so that he can come up with creative answers to them.  We have a couple books that ask such questions at the end and I will lean on those a bit.

So far that has gone well.  Only tired that a little bit so far.  What can I say, we are more math oriented parents.  Math comes easier to us and hence the creative writing/thinking is something I am struggling with a bit.

I'll post more as I find other things that work with this area.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Mmmm...Cereal: Or Teaching Fractions the Edible Way

Fractions, addition and subtraction are some math topics I am working on with my youngest (Kindergarten).  Fractions in kindergarten, ok, I am sure we did that when I was in Kindergarten.  What can I remember.

So, hmm, how to teach this and make it fun.

Chex style (Gluten free in this house) cereal to the rescue.  Those little guys are great.  Nice little squares to make 4x4 for Whole, 1/2, 1/4 fractions.  2x4 for Whole, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 fractions.

We worked on fractions and then moved into addition and subtraction.  Subtraction he felt was the best since we got to eat the cereal ;-)

So, that worked out well for me.  He was engaged, was a little slow on some of the subtraction and addition at first but he got into it and was answering problems with gusto by the time we finished.

We did homework later in the day when his older brother got home.  After our cereal math earlier in the day I was wondering if he would be up for more homework.  Was he up for it?  He did all and more.

I have found that my being super engaged with the boys, now that I am not thinking about work, is helping ramp up their enjoyment of learning.  I will try to continue to harness that and make learning fun enough they don't realize they are learning.

Tonight we rewarded the boys, since they concentrated on their homework and got it done so quickly, and well.  We had an hour before bedtime, something unheard of in this house before I went off.  Our oldest asked for a game, Ticket to Ride, which we all decided would be a good reward.

The youngest worked with his Mom as a team.  He was in charge of sorting the cards, counting out train car cards, counting out train cars to place on the board, and building stick figures with his train cars (he takes after me, there).  We played a game in just under an hour.

The boys came up with some fun rules.  The youngest player gets to add his age to his score (he did not need it though, his Mom and he beat us already).  They also enjoyed the idea of subtracting the oldest players age from their score.  That would be me.  They had a grand time decreasing my score so that I came in last ;-)

So, all in all, a Math filled day.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Fundraising for Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center

I hate fundraising and I usually do it by just donating the minimum for events myself.  But hey, it can never hurt to ask.

So, for Stinky Spoke I am raising funds for Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center.  From their page:
Little Bit's mission is to improve the lives, bodies, and spirits of children and adults with disabilities through equine-assisted therapies, and to be an inspiration and educational resource to the therapeutic riding profession both regionally and nationally.
If you are in America and would like to donate (and get a tax receipt) to help people with disabilities take advantage of equine-assisted therapies then please donate at my fundraising page:



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Guitar Practice FAQ

I've had a few friends ask about what I do for guitar practice.  Here my Guitar Practice FAQ.

  • What websites do you use?
    • Justin Guitar: The main source for self taught training I am using.
    • Get Instinct: An innovative guitar lesson site that uses javascript to deliver a play along/scoring lesson.  Well worth a try.  Also handy for looking up and learning riffs.  Lots of fun can be had in the riff library.
    • Justin Guitar Youtube Channel: I just subscribe and get regular updates in my email when Justin posts new vids.
    • Ultimate Guitar Tabs: Well not sure I need to mention it but hey, beginners like tabs.
    • Six String Recess: New but great info and tips.
  • What do you practice?
    • Chords
    • Rhythm guitar: Strumming patterns
    • Finger strength exercises: Hammer-Ons and Flick/Pull-Offs.
    • Aerobics: Riff and techniques like finger picking, string bending, vibrato, etc.
    • Scales
    • Timing: Keeping a beat, keeping rhythm, and playing at different speeds.
    • Doodling: Where I just play with chords and try applying my practice to come up with original songs.
    • Songs: Songs last?  Yes, I used to practice songs more often earlier on but now I practice them less as I spend more time working on technique and doodling.
  • How do you practice?
    • Practice Partner
      • Once a week (we miss a few) I practice with a friend.  We do some warmups like aerobics and then play songs.  We play for about 2 hours.  The partner really helps keep you motivated, allows you to practice playing with another musician, and allows you both to introduce new techniques you are learning and push each other to do better.
      • I highly recommend finding a friend to play with.
    • Solo Practice
      • The majority of my time is spent practicing by myself.  This is where recording yourself becomes useful so you can listen back to how you are doing.
  • What books do you use?
  • How often do you practice?
    • I try to practice daily but usually it works out to about every other day.
    • Regular practice is huge to helping you improve.  You really get out of anything what you put in and that goes for guitar as well.
  • For how long?
    • I aim to practice for 15 minutes if I have "no time".  This lets me get in at least a little practice.  Normally this turns into about 45 mins or more.  When I am doodling or practicing songs I don't track that time and it can be hours.
  • What software do you use?
    • GarageBand for Mac  
      • Recording your playing and then listening back is a humbling experience.  Trying to get a piece perfect the entire way through is difficult and listening to yourself will help you pick up areas to improve.  
      • Listening to yourself play solo will let you hear if you are adding dynamics effectively to make your playing stand out.
    • Rocksmith
      • I use the Xbox 360 edition.  This is worth it for the USB guitar cable which I also use for recording with GarageBand on my Mac.  
      • The game is fun and it really has helped me learn neck positioning so that I can move around the neck of the guitar faster and land frets more consistently.
      • The scales practice is also out of this world for speeding up your playing.  It is a great finger workout.
    • Soundcloud
      • I am just getting into this and use it with my practice partner to share stuff we are working on privately.
      • This is very handy for sharing music with friends of practice partners.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

First Day Back to School for New Year or Loot Alternate Rules

Monday was the boys first day back to school.  I got to get in some guitar practice, some reading, and a stationary cycling workout.

On the tutoring of the boys front I front loaded the fun to follow, wrestling with Dad, with homework first.  The boys love to wrestle and so they quickly did their homework and we went wrestling.  They love to tag team me and pile on for the title of World Champion.

After some rough housing we took a break and played some Loot.

The problem with Loot though is that the rules were a bit complex for my 5 year old.  Hence we came up with some adjustments to target areas my youngest needs to work on (Math) and which were easier to understand (given our other favourite games, like Uno) and to play.  I did this by enlisting their input on which rules would be good and not mentioning my ulterior motive to work on Math ;-)

So, we quickly adopted our Scourge of the High Seas rules:

  • Most gold coins on a card or pirate skulls on a card wins a round.
  • If the gold coins and pirate skulls are tied the Pirate card wins.
  • Losers have to pick up a card.
  • Adopting an Uno rule, when a player gets down to 1 card they must call "Plunder" like a Pirate or they have to pick up two cards.
  • If a Pirate captain is played they beat all other cards.
  • If two or more Pirate captains are played then you must draw 3 new card face up.  The hand with the most gold wins the round.
  • The first player with no cards wins.
  • If the deck gets exhausted then the discard pile is reshuffled and used again until someone runs out of cards to be the Scourge of the High Seas.
We then switched the rules again.  This time we played Pirate Knock Downs:
  • Line up the Gold cards against the wall.
  • Each player takes 7 pirate ship cards.
  • Each player takes turns throwing cards at the standing Gold cards.
  • If a player knocks down 1 or more gold cards they take them.
  • The knocked down cards are replaced.  Then the next player takes their turns.
  • The player with the most gold at the end is the Pirate Winner.
  • In case of a tie, a shootout is played (we did not need this rule).

Are Technologies Cocooning Side Effects Needed for Deep Space Exploration?

Let's consider Mars One, the project with the goal to start a permanent human settlement on Mars.  What's a day like for the first colonists?  How will technology help them to survive physically as well as mentally?

I recently heard the common refrain that technology is driving us apart and creating a personal cocoon that we are individually being drawn into.  Our interactions are becoming smaller with people in face to face situations but larger in virtual settings.  Is this just a part of the natural evolution of the human species?  A necessary step for long duration missions off Earth?  I think it is.

Let's face it, there are not a lot of people who will be going on the first missions to Mars and beyond.  How are they going to deal with the boredom and tedium of months in space traveling to Mars and then years living on a planet with no modern day amenities?  It's not like you will be able to go to the grocery store or head to the theatre or go for a run in the park.  What are they going to do to relieve the boredom?

Phillip K. Dick touched on this in the short story, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.  From the wikipedia entry:
In the story, a man (Victor Kemmings) regains consciousness during a failed attempt at cryosleep on board a spaceship. The ship's artificial intelligence cannot repair the malfunction and cannot wake him, so Kemmings is doomed to remain conscious but paralyzed through the ship's entire ten-year-long journey. To maintain his sanity, the AI replays Kemmings's memories to him. But when this goes awry, the ship AI asks Kemmings what he wants most -- and the answer is that Kemming wants the trip to be over and to arrive at his new home. The AI constructs such a scenario for Kemming and plays it to him over and over for the next ten years. When the ship finally arrives at its destination, Kemming cannot accept reality and believes his arrival to be yet another construction.
As well, I feel he touches on the subject again in A Maze of Death.  In this story, the astronauts are trapped in a perilous situation they can not escape.  They are bound to die and as such have decided to spend their final time in virtual reality reliving the same scenario over and over.  This allows them to forget the reality of floating in space, waiting to die.

Yes, not happy stories but then Phillip K. Dick is not about mirth and joy.  He does present interesting takes on how people could deal with long durations of boredom so as to try to stay mentally stable.  I will let you judge if the characters in the stories stay stable.

So, where do I see a connection?  I spent a couple years deeply engrossed in virtual reality playing Asheron's Call, an early fantasy MMORPG.  I gave up months of my life to the game.  During this time I formed relationships with people I have never met in real life.  I travelled a virtual world that I can still to this day see in my mind like I was there.

I don't remember these times as me looking at a computer.  I was there, in a physical form, with my friends, standing on a mountain after a long day of dungeon crawling, watching the sun set on our virtual world.  I was there, surrounded by my friends in combat against virtual creatures.  It does not in my minds eye feel like it was someone else, it feels like it was me there.  Minus the death and running.

I think that connections to Earth like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, the greater internet, social media, and virtual reality gaming will be critical to helping space travellers stay in touch.  It will be a critical component to keeping their mental health in check.

Monday, January 6, 2014

A Space Investment Bubble

I was reading the Asymco post, On the future of the Internet and everything, and I started to think, if Internet investment is set to start drying up over the next 2 years then where will investor money go?

We'd all love to have invested in Apple when they first started out.  But alas that is not the case for most of us.  So, if I was a gambling man where would I look to invest next?

As a child and to this day, I have believed humans will colonize other planets.  I can not think of a better long term investment than in companies planning to turn Science Fiction into reality.

To me this seems obvious, look at these initiatives and tell me this is not a sector where investor money will start to flow:
There is the obvious, SpaceX.  Heck, their mission statement includes "enabling people to live on other planets." Where do you take my money?  Well, they are not taking investments yet, this led me too: The Motley Fool's, Since You Can't Buy Stock in SpaceX…

So, am I crazy?  When will the space bubble begin?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Batman: Knightfall

I was reading The Verge Classics: Batman Knightfall BBC Radio Drama, and figured I would look into the original comic.  The series tells the story of Bane, his origin and battle with Batman.

I love origin stories of characters and to find out the original take on where Bane came from was an instant draw.  I am into the first volume of 3 and picked them up at the library.  Go go Library!

The volumes are not short so you probably only need to pick up one at a time.

The origin story of Bane is well worked out and is much stronger than in the Dark Knight Rises movie.  You get a better understanding of who Bane is and what made him.  In the movie I came out of it feeling he was a lackey for Talia al Ghul.  

In Batman Knightfall, Bane is his own man with a single determined goal, to destroy the Batman who embodies his personal childhood demons.

So, if you enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises and are a comic reader, then you owe it to yourself to check out this series.  If just to get another take on Bane.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mountain Bike Race: Stinky Spoke

Today I got invited to the Stinky Spoke Mountain Bike Race.

Ok, let's do an inventory.

  • Out of shape: Check
  • 1 Mountain Bike Ride in past 6 months: Check
  • More than one Mountain Bike Ride in past 6 months: Nope
  • Race includes a large vertical gain: Check
  • Past years have seen snow (I know, like really, snow in Seattle, who'd have thunk it), sleet, rain: Check
Ok, let's do it.

Now, how to maximize my training for a race in, did I forget to mention, 14 days!  Yes, January 18, 2014.

Well, tonight I am doing squats and kettle bell to put my legs in pain.  Then tomorrow running.

Then I will figure out the rest the next two weeks as I attempt to not finish in last place :-)

Let's rough this plan out:
  1. Sat: Strength Training (Kettle Bell, Squats, Lunges)
  2. Sun: Run
  3. Mon: Ride
  4. Tue: Swim
  5. Wed: Ride
  6. Thur: Run
  7. Fri: Ride
  8. Sat: Run
  9. Sun: Strength Training (Kettle Bell, Squats, Lunges)
  10. Mon: Ride
  11. Tue: Swim
  12. Wed: Run
  13. Thur: Ride
  14. Fri: Easy Run
  15. Sat: RACE!!
That's looks crazy compared to my last 6 months of "training."

How far?  How long?  Heck if I know, let's wing it with 40 mins for runs, 45 mins for swims, 1 hour for rides, and 20 mins of strength training.

I will report back here with progress.