Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Swoop Of The Hand

Image: Wikipedia
Ok, office story time.

I worked at a place once where they had us stuffed into a rented space in a stripmall/office park (it was hard to tell which one).

In my "office", yes I had a door even, there were 4 of us stuffed into a room about the size of a normal house's kids bedroom. I sat with my back to the door and a co-worker sat with his desk perpendicular to the door such that side of his desk was at my back. There was just enough room to walk past me to get to the other two desks if I did not roll out from my desk.

I am sitting there with headphones on and feel air swooping by my head. The first pass this was normal since I would get a cool breeze, to break-up the oppressive heat in the office, each time someone walked by.

After 3 or so of these in quick succession I turned to see what was on the go.


A notebook was swooping back and forth by my head. It was being swooped by my co-worker sitting behind me.

I took off the headphones and asked, "What's up?"

He: "Fly."

I watched him continue to swat at the house fly. His notebook swinging back and forth by my nose.

It was time for action, how to handle this?


Me: "Shall I take care of this for you!?"

My co-worker paused, looked at his notebook. He looked up at the fly sitting on the ceiling mocking us.

You could see the lights came on in his eyes.

He: "Ahh, no, it's fine."

The swooping stopped.

Back to work.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Pointers for Signing Your First Contract As A Programmer

A couple weeks ago I had decided to go back to work. My wife and I talked it over and said soon will
be a good time so I would start the search. The next day I got a request to look at a contract job from a contracting company. It was interesting so I said sure.

Well, things moved fast. A little too fast I think and I should have taken my time more, since when I saw the contract I had some reservations. I also talked to some contractors and got some good tips for things to look out for.

Here are some things to do when you get an offer for a contract position:
  • Make sure you have the job description and job title.
    • I overlooked the missing title (on a recent offer) since I thought it was clear I am a Software Development Engineer. I was given a Software Development Engineer Test job description without the title and they can read very similar. If you do/do not want to do testing then make sure you are clear on this.
  • Don't settle on an hourly rate until you have had the interview if you can hold off.
  • Don't accept the position until you have read the contract for the position first.
  • Don't go in to read the contract and sign. Get them to send the contract first so you can review.
  • Once you are happy with the contract and hourly rate, then accept the position and go in to sign.
Now, here are some questions to ask based on feedback from fellow contractors:
  • Do you get paid vacation days?
  • Do you get paid statutory days?
    • In general for these two above, you can get pay deducted from your hourly rate to cover these vacation days but be careful. If you do this and have to work overtime you get paid less while working overtime and that extra pay being taken off for the statutory and vacation days is not adding up for more vacation days so you are leaving money on the table. As well, for some contracts if you said you would take 1 week off during the contract time and the client manager that you are working for does not ok that vacation time during your contract, you may lose that vacation pay and hence leave money on the table.
  • Where will you sit when you go to work?
  • Who pays for the desk seat?
    • Yes, some contracts do not include a desk and hence if you want a desk to work at you must pay for it, the hiring client must pay for it, or the contracting company has to pay for it. It may come out of your hourly rate and can be a non-trivial cost. Make sure you know this going in.
  • Who pays for your computer and if on call your phone or data/text/call minutes plan?
    • Again, this may have to be covered by either party in the contract: you, the contracting company or the client. Find out who since this can be an unforeseen expense to you.
  • How do you report your time? To who? What happens when the client supervisor is on vacation who approves your timesheets?
    • If you don't have this straight you go a couple weeks without pay. Not cool, but your responsibility to find out.
  • Who pays for your taxes?
    • You? Your contracting firm? Find out since this will impact how you. I you are taking on your taxes, that is another expense to hire an accountant to help out.
  • Here is my most dreaded issue, the Non-Compete clause, also know as Restrictive Covenant. Is it too wide? That is, does it say you can not take a job in this field? With this company? With another contracting company? For a long period.
    • I just had an offer that wanted me to sign a 180 day non-compete where I could not work at the company I was contracting to and I could not work with another contracting company during that period. This was for a 45 day contract. So for a 1.5 month contract that wanted to freeze me from working at this company or a new contracting firm for 6 months? A little harsh and overboard. I negotiated new terms on this point.
Here are some of the advantages I can see and others have told me:
  • I am paid hourly. I am only allowed to work 40hr/week without supervisor permission to work more. If I work 50 hours I get paid 50 hours.
  • I get to work on a project to ship date and then I can move onto another project. I am not stuck maintaining something.
  • I am told that contracting gives a greater peace of mind. Many contractors are paid for output, not meetings and long term direction setting. So when they leave work their mind is freer and they do not dwell on work issues.
I'll let you know if that is true.

As I do more contracting I will post more updates as I learn more.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

10 Things Nobody Tells You About Moving To America From Canada

  1. Buying a house in the wrong neighbourhood will be a costly mistake. We did it and paid the price. We moved to a better neighbourhood with better public schools and just plain better (not near the highway noise). The costs were the closing fees and moving fees to change houses. A big hit to our savings, but worth it for the better schools and quality of life.
  2. Schooling is different but only by the openness of perceived quality. In the USA, I can choose to send my kids to public school (bad/cheap) or private school (good/expensive). In Canada, in general you send your kids to public school. Very few people I know send their kids to private school in Canada. There is no need seen for it there. In the USA, there are very few people I know at work that send their kids to public school. We have tried both and think both options have pluses and minuses. That said, the public system here is good if you pay up front for the neighbourhood. That is not much different from Canada.
  3. Healthcare here sucks, no it rocks. If you need care, it is fast, professional, and it is a business. It is run like a business and you don't wait in some old ER to see a Doctor. You go to an urgent care clinic, it is modern, and it is clean. They are fast and professional. That is the rocks side. But it costs you. Everything costs you and without good medical benefits you are going to be out a lot of money. You need to be making a lot of money with good benefits in the USA or you need to make decisions about if you see the Doctor for this minor ailment.
  4. Businesses have figured out how to tune themselves for the stock market. Many large companies have a large percentage of their employees as contractors. Why? So they can lay them off whenever they want to cancel products or lines without having to incur layoff packages. It lets them be more agile (good for stock and company) but is bad for employees and company brain trust. Canadian companies like BlackBerry could have learned more from this. Then they could have more silently laid off large numbers of contract employees without the large hit from layoff costs. I expect this will come to Canada as companies like BlackBerry are taken over by leaders that grew up in the modern American school of business management. I expect this was there for BlackBerry on the manufacturing side but expect to see this in the R&D side of the house as well at big companies.
  5. Church is like the social safety net that the Canadian government gives you. In Canada, you know that if everything goes to hell, the government has your back. In the USA, you are screwed. It is up to you. The only place offering any assistance outside of family is the church. They seem to take the place of the Canadian social safety net and as such I think this is why church is so strong here in America. They are picking up the slack of the American government.
  6. Being this far from family will be harder than you think. You know not seeing family will be tough but here is what else is tough. Have a new job? Need help with the kids? You are on your own. WIth Babysitters being $12-15/hour, Nannies being $20/hour, and the long work hours expected from tech workers; it makes for an expensive life to have kids. You will go out little since it is so expensive, costing $30-60 to go out for a night without the cost of the evening. This will strain your marriage since you need to get out with your spouse to be away from the kids and have fun by yourselves sometimes. Try to work in a date night and eat that babysitting cost. Do this early when you move.
  7. If one or both of you go to work for a high tech company expect your workload to increase from what you were doing in Canada in high tech. 10 hour days are regular. 50-60 hour weeks can be expected. It makes so that childcare adds to your bills. You see your kids little, you get little valuable time with them. You can barely squeeze in the level of homework requested of them each day (15-20 mins homework per child + 15-30 mins reading per child / day). It is fucking crazy and that just scratches the surface.
  8. Commutes are hell. Finding a house in the right neighbourhood is tough. But finding one in the right neighbourhood that is a decent commute to work is tougher. More so if you both work in different ends of towns. And usually the Venn diagram of good schools, in affordable neighbourhoods, that are between both your offices do not collide. Sacrifices are made and someone has to have a big commute.
  9. Exercise, what exercise? Trying to fit this in with everything else above is difficult to say the least. It is more difficult here than it was in Canada I find. Everything is more here. More commute. More time working. More school work for the kids. More activities.
  10. You'll wonder why you left.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Cigar Box Guitar: Open D Tuning for 3 String CBG

This week, I will cover the Open D tuning for a 3-string CBG. Last week I covered the Open G tuning for 3 string CBG.

While at a workshop from Michael "Hawkeye" Herman, he mentioned that as a Blues Slide player we should concentrate on the Open G and the Open D tunings. Those are the two most common and though a lot of songs are listed as E or Open E he thinks tuning to Open E puts too much strain on your guitar and risks breaking your neck.

So, to map an Open E song to one of these tunings, you could tune to Open D and put your capo on the 2nd fret so that you are not playing in the key of E.

Fretboard Notes

D Major Scale
And here is what that sounds like on the high D string, the D' on the top above.

D Minor Pentatonic Scale

And here is what the D Minor Pentatonic Scale that we will build the Blues Scale on sounds like, again on the high D string (D' on the top string above):

D Blues Scale

Again see how the Blues Scale is made up of the Minor Pentatonic and has the additional (greynotes below) from the Major Scale that can be used in a blues song. As well, the Blues Notes in this scale is the G#/Ab.

And finally, our D Blues Scale, which again, like the G Blues Scale, has a lot of notes. Remember that the grey notes are from the D Major Scale and are there for embellishment when they sound good. If they don't sound good drop them. That's what I was taught.

Here is the legend for my diagrams.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tackling Exercise

How to train for a 1/2 Marathon when I am back to work full-time with less free time to fit in workouts.
Planning for the 1/2 Marathon
Trial Run in September 

That was one challenge I knew I would have. First things was to take account of my leisure activities and figure out what I should cut out to free up time.

So, out with reading Sci-Fi, at least as much as I was reading. Also out with some of my other projects I had on the back burner (namely some electronics I had planned to work on).

Ok, that frees up the time I no longer have but I still need to fit in workouts. Don't we all have this problem.

To make it work, my wife has switched with me so that she drops the kids off at school, allowing me to leave for the gym, a swim, or a run. So, to fit this in and work it means I just went from an up at 8-8:30 schedule to an up at 5:45-6:00.

Up that early I can get to the gym, workout, shower, and get to work before 8am.

I don't enjoy giving up the late nights and that has been a hard part. But dropping back to a few nights of 6 hours sleep has wrecked me and I have had to go back to a 10pm bedtime.

That's me, early to bed and early to rise now.

The good thing at the office with this arrangement is that most people come in between 9:30-10:30 and work late. Myself and a couple others come in early and leave early, by our coworkers standards but then we put in the same number of hours as them and still make it home to see our kids in the evening.

So, that is how I am fitting in my workouts at the moment.

How do you find the time to get a workout in?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Adventure Day at Point Defiance Park

Today's Adventure Day was to a road trip to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, WA. Our main draw Fort Nisqually which we were lucky enough to visit on the off season. It was not very busy and we got to spend a lot of time speaking with the interpretive staff who are dressed in period costume and are ready to tell you about the day to day life of the fort around the 1840s.

The Fort was established by the HBC as a fur trading post and farming outpost that supported the Puget Sound area. The Fort started as a way station along the path from Fort Vancouver to Fort Langley in 1832. It was turned into a proper Fort in 1833.

While there we had long chats with period actors. One regaled me with the story of his ancestors. We discussed where I worked as a programmer since a programmer in those days was a clerk that did calculations on an abacus. We talked about strategies for creating customer demand to fuel profits such as selling muskets at cost to the natives so that they must come back for powder and bullets. Sounds a bit like today's tactics like selling game hardware at close to cost so that people will purchase games.

The more things change, the more they stay the same was the general consensus we came to.

Michele decided that if one of us starts working half time or we can figure out how one of us can leave work, that chickens would be the way to go. They do a great job of eating bugs in your garden, produce 1 egg/chicken/day, their scratching to get bugs tears up the leaves to increase leaf breakdown, and are all around awesome sounding. Oh ya, and you get to eat them when they slow down on egg laying.

Not exactly practical for a modern life but if you can swing it or have one person living at home and have an acre of land then it is a possible alternative.

As we were getting close to leaving, out came Patrick Haas, one of the other interpretive actors at the Fort. He plays a Gourd Banjo in the style of a banjo that would have been played in the 1840s. He also plays some percussion bones and sticks, as well as a mouth harp.

We spoke a lot about banjos, cigar box guitars, and guitar playing. He also let me know about the 42 year running Northwest Folklife Festival which was going on this weekend from May 24-26 (post to come) at Seattle Center.

It's always fun to meet another guitar player and discuss their particular guitar passion. Be it folk, slide, finger picking, blues, etc.

I am sometimes shy and hesitate to approach people to strike up a conversation. Call it nerves or whatever. I find that in general though it really pays off to open up and make connections. In this case, I made a new connection with a fellow guitar player and I found out about a great festival.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Weekly Roundup: May 19 - 24

Morning at the lake
Second week back to work and it is certainly harder to keep the posts up. I had about 3 weeks of posts queued when I started back to work, so I expect the daily posts to slow down.

I have not figured out a schedule or anything but I did start a new series of posts on 3-string guitar tunings that I plan to release weekly for a while. I also plan to start a series on my training for the 1/2 Marathon in September so expect that to start up soon.

Until then, here is another week of daily posts.






  • I start a new series where I cover a tuning for Cigar Box Guitar and give some diagrams to show the fretboard layout and some scales marked out; first up Open G tuning for 3-string CBG.




  • This Saturday I wrote up an About Me for those that don't know me as well.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

About Me

I am assuming that the majority of people that read this blog know me. You are either a friend, a coworker, or family.

There are some that don't know me and as such I thought I'd share a bit about me. So I posted a new static page with just that: About Me

Friday, May 23, 2014

My Top Posts

Traffic at Droolfactory since creation.
I have had periods of active, not so active, and non-existent posting on this blog. That said, I have had a pretty steady number of pageviews for my inactive periods. How is that?

I am currently hovering at about 1700-1800 pageviews a month. I only just broke past the 1000 pageviews a month this past January 2014. Obviously due to my increase in posts.

Of note, I made only 25 posts from 2010-2013. This year I am over 118 posts. That said, those daily posts are likely to start to die out. With full time work, it is much harder to research topics, and find time to write. But that is for another post.

So, after almost 5 months of regular posts, I thought I'd break down some of my top posts, highlighting them and explaining why I think they continue to have good traffic. For some, years after I have posted them.

So here are the top five and some stats and my thoughts about them.

Number 1: Mac OS X Lion: kernel_task with High CPU

  • Original Post Date: August 28, 2012
  • Pageviews: 3740
  • Why?
    • It's a problem that drives people nuts. Your Mac's fans go nuts. Your battery gets eaten since the CPU is running all out. 

Number 2: Fix for Twitter-OAuth-iPhone Due to Twitter Mobile OAuth Update
  • Original Post Date: February 3, 2010
  • Pageviews: 1969
  • Why?
Number 3: Adding Twitter + OAuth to an iPhone App
  • Original Post Date: December 23, 2009
  • Pageviews: 1400
  • Why?
    • Again, Twitter's growth in 3rd party apps drove a lot of searches to this page.
Number 4: OCMock observerMock and unrecognized selector
  • Original Post Date: August 19, 2011
  • Pageviews: 749
  • Why?
    • Apple's developer testing toolset is getting better with each release of Xcode but Mocks are something they still have not added. This library fills that hole and is used by many developers and testers to write better apps. The library can be a bit to get your head around so this one is still popular.
Number 5: Fixing dyld image not found on Mac OS
  • Original Post Date: July 18, 2012 
  • Pageviews: 712
  • Why?
    • As a dev writing libraries and frameworks to include in other apps, frameworks, and daemons by other teams I have had to help debug multiple linker issues. Especially for bundled libraries that are running in non-standard locations. This is something others deal with as well and hence this post still draws traffic.
Those are my top 5 current posts. I think it will be a long time before some new post unseats these posts. The top two still rank highly in my weekly and monthly traffic numbers. Often being the top 2 for a month.

I am working on a post series that I will be very interested to see the traction of. That is the new posts about tunings and scales for 3 string Cigar Box Guitars. I think these will be posts that gather interest over time as people search for how to tune and play their CBG.  We'll see how they fare in a year or so.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

10 Things People Don't Tell You About Playing Guitar

In the vein of my previous post on running, here is one on guitar playing. Here are things people never
I track my practice as I
work on new skills.
told me about learning to play guitar.
  1. You'll need to pick a style of play to learn. There are a lot. There is lead guitar. Rhythm guitar. Blues, Jazz, Rock, Metal, Classical, Funk. Hell, there are a lot of different styles. You'll want to narrow it down a bit and concentrate on some specific styles you enjoy.
  2. You'll obtain a guitar addiction where you want more guitars. Take it easy on yourself. Just pick your favorite electric and if you want to play acoustic or campfire stuff a reasonable acoustic guitar.
  3. You'll need lessons to progress faster. Most likely since it will impress upon you the need to practice. You will also know when you have it and get faster feedback on when you suck and need to adjust something. It helps. It costs money, but it speeds up learning.
  4. You'll need to practice regularly (like daily or every other day) to get better. This is a no brainer but until I really started to practice regularly I did not see reasonable gains in proficiency.
  5. If you want to sing and play then learn to play, then start singing, and sing regularly. You can not sing the song if you can not play it on autopilot. You can not sing in front of others unless you are singing by yourself while you practice. This means a lot of practice time singing and learning the song. Having a place to jam without driving loved ones crazy helps.
  6. A regular (weekly) jam or song night with a friend will improve your skills. You will be playing regularly. You will teach each other things. You will motivate each other. You will learn to play with someone else, to keep playing even when you make a mistake, and to work harder. It is worth it to find someone to play with regularly. You don't have to be a band, you just have to love playing.
  7. You will start to dislike simple songs and guitar songs in particular. If it is repetitive and has nothing interesting to play in the song then you will start to dislike songs you thought were great until you learned to play.
  8. You will start to hear more in the music. As your ear begins to learn to hear the nuances in music you will hear more happening in the music you listen to. For some songs this will ruin them. For others, the joy of listening will be increased.
  9. You will fret over gear. Which amp? Which pedal? When to get a pedal? Which mic? Which pickup for my acoustic? You'll spend too much time researching and spending money on this crap. Just get the basics and play. Save the pedals, different amps, and other stuff for when you can play, sing, and improvise off the cuff. You don't need all that extra stuff to play. It is just icing on the cake when you are really good.
  10. You will realize there is more to learn than you can imagine. Back to item 1. Pick a style, learn it, and then learn it some more. Then decide from there what to do next.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cigar Box Guitar: Open G Tuning for 3 String CBG

I am starting a new series of posts where I share information about Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) playing. Be that tunings, scale diagrams, classic riffs I pickup, or other such information that may help you learn to play CBG as well.

I know I pick up a lot of information from YouTube videos but I also like to have some of the information I use for practice written down so I can refer to it as I am learning a new tuning, scale, or riff.  I plan to post these on a regular basis (aiming for one a week at the moment) as I work on learning to play the CBG.

Based on the information in this post I experimented with the G Blues Scale on the 2nd and 3rd frets of my Open G tuned CBG and came up with this little riff:

Ok, let's get to it. This week, I will cover the Open G tuning for a 3-string CBG, using the tuning G D G' (from lowest to highest pitch).

So, what is an Open tuning? Well, they are neat in that when you strum all the strings you are playing a chord. In the case of Open G you are playing a G chord.

Now why is this useful? For a slide guitar player this means that you can easily play chords as a barre chord across all the strings. Meaning, you can play chords without having to finger the strings.

Now, to make things more interesting you will want to do some fingering of the strings but in the case of the fret diagram below, you can make reference to the top string (highest pitch) G'. If you strum all 3 strings open, that is no slide or fingers on any strings, you are playing a G.

Fretboard layout for Open G tuning (G D G')
Next put a slide on or make a barre chord across the 3 strings at the 2nd fret. Play that and you just played an A chord. And so on like so:
  • 4th fret = B chord
  • 5th fret = C chord
  • 7th fret = D chord
  • 9th fret = E chord
  • 10th fret = F chord
  • 12th fret = G chord (back to the G chord and we repeat).
So, for a slide player, open tunings are an easy way to play chords without needing to finger complex chord shapes. As a CBG player, I plan to play mostly open tunings since I like to use a slide.

A note on my diagrams:

G Major Scale
Let's start with the G Major Scale on the 3 string Open G tuning. This will be useful later for our G Blues Scale. So let's have a look at it on it's own.

Ok, well that is what the scale looks like but what does it sound like? Here I am doing a run up the notes on the high G' string (the one on the top in the diagram) on my CBG.

G Minor Pentatonic Scale
Next, as we build on our scales and work towards a Blues Scale we will look at the G Minor Pentatonic Scale. This scale is built on by the Blues Scale so you can get into improvisation which is close to a blues scale with just this scale.

Again, what does this sound like? More Blues to me than the Major that is for sure. The Minor scale is also described as sounding sad.

G Blues Scale
A blues scale is a little harder to nail down. The "Blues Scale" is actually several different scales depending on the style of music you are playing and personal preference. So I am going to pick one and show that.

I am using the Minor Pentatonic Scale with the addition of 2 Blues Notes and the additional notes from the Major Scale highlighted in grey (more about those in a moment).

And lastly, our Blues scale we are working with. Again on the top G' string above. Now this one is a little weirder due to the extra blues note and the grey Major Scale notes. More about that after the "scale" since it is less a scale as it is a palette of notes to work with. To hear the number of notes used on the single string, I went faster on the descending scale so you can hear the almost continuous half tones used in blues. There are few notes that are not used in the Blues as you can see above.

A thing to note about the Blues Scale is that it is alright to experiment and add in Major Scale notes as well. Depending on the the given key you are playing in, the addition of some major notes will work, but others may not. Hence, to open your options you can try adding in major scale notes as well. If it sounds good then it is good. Else, don't use the additional notes.

Try the three scales on an CBG tuned to Open G. You should hear the brightness of the Major Scale, the sadness of the Minor Pentatonic, and the blues sound in the Blues Scale. Admittedly you'll want to limit your Blues Scale playing to less notes but you have more to work with here.

Happy experimenting with scales on your CBG.

Note: I am not a music theory expert. I am putting this together for my own learning and as such I thought I would share. If you see a mistake then by all means contact me and let me know.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Alternate Tunings for Guitar

With the addition of the Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) to my guitar collection (it's small, only 3 so far). I have been exploring alternate tunings for the CBG. Open tunings on the CBG work well since you can play whole chords using the 3 strings and a barre chord or slide, easily.

Before the CBG I experimented with some alternate tunings for other songs. Is particular I have used Open-D tuning (D-A-D-F#-A-D) to learn and play Taj Mahal's Country Blues #1:

Go check out the full original here: Taj Mahal - Country Blues #1

I then did some experimenting with that tuning to come up with this original work:

With the addition of slide playing and my research into the Blues and Delta Blues I have been introduced to more alternate tunings. The 3-string CBG limits you again with the 3 strings so open tunings become the course of the day.

Here are some really great resources I have found for alternate tunings:
I wish I had found the Alternate Tuning Guide earlier. It covers a lot of the material I work out myself. Here's an example of my fretboard drawings with chord diagrams:
Only way to remember stuff is to
write it down I find.

Here is how I approach a new tuning when I want to learn it:
  • Draw out a fret board.
  • Map out the notes for each fret.
  • If I am trying to learn a specific scale, like D Major on an Open D tuning, I highlight the notes in the scale and where they lay on the fret board. In general I will draw a fret board with just this mapping to make learning it easier.
  • Then I practice the scale on each string up the string and then back. For each string I am interesting in learning. I do these sets for about 5 minutes at a time, each day as I am learning the new tuning.
I hope that helps you figure out how to use alternate tunings yourself.

Now I am off to practice Open-G on the CBG.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Making Fly Fishing Easier

Arghh!!! What a morning. We have been fishing for days now and have been so far unlucky (we have not caught any fish).

This morning, my oldest and I went down for about an hour or so. While there I had a line out with the spinning rod and I figured I would fix the leader on my fly rod so I could switch to fly.

I tried to tie a Blood Knot, about 5 times with interruptions to help my son with tangles, casting, etc. It was not my morning for tieing knots.

So, I figured I would make this a little easier next time. For one, I decided to snip off my hacked together leader and use a premade one. This cut down my knots I had to tie by several to one.

For those that do not know, a leader is a section of monofilament line (think fishing line like you probably know it) that is attached to the fly rods fly line. A fly line works by weight in the line, not in weights added to the line. So to cast a fly line the fly line does the work of the weight.

Now, that last 7-12 feet of leader is about magic. The leader is a tapered line that starts thick (about the same thickness as the fly line) but it gradually drops in thickness, weight, and strength. Traditionally a fly fisherman would make this leader by tieing about 5 different thickness of monofilament together to create this taper. Today, we can buy this in the store pre-made.

Now, why all this about a leader, why all the work, and what is this magic?

You see the the leader can be customized for strength of test line you want to use so that you can use thicker line to catch bigger fish. That is one piece of the magic. Get this wrong and your leader breaks, losing fish, and fly (flies can get expensive).

The true magic, though, comes in on how the line presents the fly on the water. By this, I mean, a properly prepared leader will allow the line to unroll over the water and deposit the fly gently onto the surface of the water. This allows you to dance a dry fly over the water in a natural way that does the minimum disturbance to the surface while your fly lands on the water. This allows you to trick the fish into thinking your fly is real. And gulp! At least, that's what they say ;-)

So, I decided to make the attachment of this leader easier. I cut the factory installed leader with a couple feet of the thick monofilament still attached. I then added a Perfection (or Angler's) Loop knot to the end of this old leader. Then I was able to easily join the two lines (fly line and new leader) with a loop to loop knot that is easy to tie (slip knots together) and allows me to switch out this new leader quickly with a factory created leader when the time comes in a year or so.

Here are the two lines joined together with a Loop-to-loop Knot, which can be tied only one way:
Loop-to-loop Knot

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekly Roundup: May 12 - 17

Double rainbow outside
Basketball practice last week.
First week back to work after just over 4 months off with my kids. Working at Microsoft is neat. It is a totally different atmosphere than anywhere I have worked before. I am enjoying the new team and project. The new position, for me, of Software Development Engineer Test looks like a great fit for my past experience and I am looking forward to learning how Microsoft utilizes this position.








Saturday, May 17, 2014

Pushing Strings: First Week Back To Work

A local spider, pushing strings.
Well, this was my first week back to work after just over 4 months off. I took the time off to help out my kids, especially my youngest with his schooling. He was falling behind and he needed some directed attention. He has gotten to a point where he was doing great in school and we were lucky enough to find a great Nanny/Tutor to help him for the last 6 weeks of school. So, that allowed me to get back into the workforce and get back to one of my loves, programming.

This time around I decided to try something different and give contracting a try. For those not from around Redmond, here is how Microsoft and many big technology companies operate in the USA. They use contingent staffing, contractors (more correctly, vendors, the politically correct term), to help them build new products, features, or releases. This allows companies to keep staff levels lower, reduce costs from benefits, 401K, severance packages, etc in the inevitable up/down staffing cycles that occur. Wall Street likes this and so do investors.

For those that choose to contract, it can mean a higher salary if you have health benefits from another source, such as our spouse. It also means you can move from project to project and always work on something new. I am used to being a full-time employee and owning the code into the maintenance phase, so this is a first for me. I am being paid to deliver features and once the project ships my contract is over and I then find another project to work on. That's worth a try for a while I figure.

For the first week back to work, we have done a lot of planning. We have our kids in a morning program at school that includes gym and open play time. Like us they now start their day earlier. They get up at 6:30am to be to school at 7:30am. I start my day at 5:45am so I can take the bus at 6am. I jump off at the gym, near work, get a workout in, shower, change, and walk to work. Then at 4 I commute home with my wife. That's for 3 days a week, for the other 2 I drive, one day I pick up the kids early and the other my wife picks up the kids early.

The week went well, for a first week. Starting at a new place is always difficult as you have to get up to speed on the project and start delivering. As a contractor I feel some additional pressure to be productive since I can be let go at any time if my work is not up to par. So, there are less pressures in some senses but additional pressures in other areas. I did not expect that feeling.

Anyways, it was a good first week. I miss being with the kids and I miss them a ton. The last 4+ months with them have been a fun experience. Not easy (laundry, tutoring, activities) but worth it for all the extra fun times we spent together. While off I also had the house always stocked with groceries. Something ran out and I would go grab it. Now, things are missing, and it is only one week back. Now we will be back to the single trip a week since we don't have time to run to the grocery store on a whim to pick up a hand full of things.

As a family with two working parents, it is hard to stay on top of all the demands made of us each day. Work, tutoring our kids, cooking, house chores; the list goes on. Such is life.

So, though it's good to be back to working on a new project, it is bittersweet since home life is much more manageable with one of us home with the kids, laundry, cooking, temper tantrums and all. I have deep respect for those that choose to have one parent home keeping while the other works to support their family.

Oh ya and work? How is it? It's a job. It's new code and new problems to solve. But in the end they are the same old problems to solve. Push strings here. Get strings from there. Display strings.

I once joked in Computer Science class that all we do is figure out ways of manipulating strings. Concatenating, truncating, sending them, receiving them, displaying them, and not overrunning any buffers. Some days programming feels just like that day back in University. Pushing Strings.

Maybe that could be the name of an album some day or a band, The String Pushers.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Canadian Problems

Ahh, Mister Thistle, I see here that you are Canadian. Well then, let me regale you with my knowledge of Canada and attempts to quiz you on your homeland.

The previous situation has happened more than once to me. When it comes up with some new acquaintances that I am Canadian, they feel the need to quiz me on Canada for whatever purpose. This is humourous most times.

Now I am not high and mighty, there is more I don't know about Canada than I care to mention. And don't get me started on my lack of knowledge of America. I am learning stuff here all the time that I had no knowledge of being in Canada thinking about Canadian problems.

Here are a couple I have gotten that I found amusing:
  • What's the national sport of Canada?
    • Lacrosse.
    • I have gotten this one multiple times. Usually by men who have played lacrosse. They are usually shocked I know this.
  • Why are you still killing seals?
    • This one was a long time ago but still it stuck with me.
    • I tried to explain the explosion in seal stocks and the impact on the fishery this was having to no avail.
    • I countered with, how are your Buffalo herds doing?
  • Do you swim in Canada?
    • That is, does it ever get warm enough in the summer to swim in lakes and such? The answer, yes.
  • So you play hockey?
    • No, I don't. I've played road hockey a bit. I have never played organized ice hockey, never owned hockey gear beyond a stick and skates, and never played on a team. I played some pond hockey (maybe 5 times in my life). I can't stop, I can barely cross cut, and I don't think I can do a slap shot.
    • So, no, I don't think I am qualified to say I play hockey.
  • John from Toronto? Jean from Montreal? Nope I don't know them.
    • Can't say I met their extended family but who knows.
  • What kind of beer do you drink there?
    • Not sure why anyone cares but we have beer in Canada. It is good. I don't drink Labatt's Blue or other mainstream beers. I drink the same stuff I drink everywhere, microbrews and European beers. Ya, I am a beer hipster.
The joys of being a foreigner in a strange land.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

10 Things People Don't Tell You About Being a Runner

Leap in!
Inspired by Crystal's post 15 Things Nobody Tells You About Running I came up with some more,
including some male runner related items. So read on to get a list of things that nobody tells you about being a runner but which you get to learn on your own.

  1. If you are not in pain at some point during your training, especially for a 1/2 marathon or longer, then you are probably not training. Told to me by a Doctor who is a runner as well when I complained about the ailments I was getting while training for a marathon. Her take, was, ya, what did you expect?
  2. You will never have paid as much attention to your nipples in your life. They will bleed. They will chafe. They will burn in the shower after a run. And you will put bandaids, nipple covers, and other items on them when you run. Yes, men, you will use nipple cream at some point.
  3. You will experience split toenails and possibly lost toenails. If they split you might even take to wearing nail polish on that nail to try to strengthen it and save the nail (hint: it worked for me and the nail healed back together and I did not lose my big toe nail). I experienced the split nail training for my first marathon. My Father-in-law did not know what to think when he saw the painted toenail. Not sure if I ever explained that one to him ;-) I have had friends lose their toenails, eck!
  4. You will crash after your first big race and stop running unless you work a post running plan into your training schedule. I find I need another goal after a big run or I tend to go into a no run mode. I finished I big race, I can now relax. Months later I have put on pounds and my stamina is shot. I have to rebuild that base again. Don't let this happen to you. Plan another race further out. Always have the next race on the horizon, build in some slack running after the big race, but don't finish one race without your next goal planned out. 
  5. You will get sea-sick while running on the road long distance. This sounds nuts but run with a water bottle on a belt around your waist for long runs and the up and down motion against your gut may bring on nausea or sea-sickness. I had to switch to a water bladder in a back-pack to overcome this during 25-30 km training runs.
  6. You will get the runners trots at the worst time. Maybe it will be the coffee that morning or the pizza the night before and your undiagnosed gluten intolerance, but you will have long runs where you are far from a toilet and have to go. 
  7. You will get chafing between your legs and under your armpits. Bodyglide lubricant will become your friend. Showers will become your enemy when your crotch is in flames at the touch of water.
  8. You will get questioned by family and friends about why you are doing this. You think people will be happy for your new found love of exercise and being in shape. In truth they will question why you put yourself through pain, the long hours, and the weird rituals.
  9. You will drive people crazy with your addiction. See the previous but in general you will talk too much about your training plan, eating plan, and all the intricacies of running. But nobody really cares to hear the details. They love you but there is only so much of your addiction they want to hear.
  10. You will become a clothes fanatic. Wool socks? Padded socks? Individual toe socks? 5-panel, 8-panel, or more panels for your spandex? Which technical shirt will reduce nipple chafing? What hat will not squeeze your head too much during a long run? When you are running for 26 miles these little details will haunt your thoughts. Goodness knows you have enough time to think about it on your runs.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Placing Your Cigar Box Guitar Frets

The cool thing with Cigar Box Guitars is that they are custom. There are no rules is the motto and as such if you wing some of your implementation (like I did) you end up with a custom instrument and then some.

I had been playing the guitar for 2 days when I decided it is time to add some frets and the Piezo pickups. The Frets so that it is easier for the kids (and myself) to learn on this guitar. The Piezo pickups so I have a lo-fi electric guitar I can jack into my amp.

I measured from my nut to my bridge and I came up with 676 millimetres. Of that only 510 millimetres are usable for the frets. How do I figure out the fretting for this?

This is where Stewart MacDonald comes in. He has some handy informational pages on stringed instrument construction and one of those is a Fret Calculator.

Here were the calculations it gave me for my setup:

From this I placed test measurements to see if the generated fret placements work well. Once I tested the locations and made a few adjustments for slide versus chord playing I marked the frets with a black marker and square.

Then some fret markers and additional fret markers along the top of the neck to help the boys find the frets without needing to turn the guitar up to see the frets.

Volia, custom frets without physical frets to make slide playing easier. Note that with medium strings this makes playing the first 3 frets difficult with chords since there is no fret to use to push the string against. So, this may limit my ability to play chords in this region. If it turns into a problem I may add a physical fret to the first 3 frets to compensate for that issue.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Adding Piezo Pickups to a Cigar Box Guitar

I have mentioned the Piezo Pickups in the post about Frets and I have posted a test using the pickups.

1/4" Jack Installed
But how did I record that? Well, Garageband on the Mac, but how did I get it into the Mac? I am using a Rocksmith cable to plug my guitar into the Mac but before we can do that we need something to plug into. This is where the pickups come in. In my case I am using a Piezo Pickup which is a crude microphone.

The Piezo Pickup is actually a Piezo Buzzer (Transducer) that costs about $1.50 at RadioShack. The guide I used to add my pickup can be found at article on Piezo Transducers.

Some tips I have picked up along the way and plan to implement.
  • The piezo pickup will pick up background noise (turning your CBG into a lousy mic).
  • The piezo pickup, due to the above, will cause feedback loops so playing in front of your amp or with a loud amp will be bad!
  • To fix this, put the Piezo pickup in double sided tape that has some foam between the tape sides. Then tape this "padded" pickup into the CBG. This should reduce the feedback.
  • Also, you might need to experiment with pickup location and amp placement.
One of the things you have to do to hook this up is some basic soldering. I am not a soldering master by any stretch of the imagination. I am sure I would fail solder 101 but I was able to do a quick soldering job to put my parts together and electrify my CBG. I find it amazing that so little is required to create a lo-fi pickup.
Lo-fi/High Feedback Simplicity

One thing about the lo-fi piezo pickup route is that feedback has been a problem. The pickup turns the CBG into a cheap/bad mic that you can sing into (as my son tried). It also means any touch, smack, knock of the CBG is going to get picked up and sent to the amp.

That is the state of affairs with my CBG at the moment so I went searching and found an article over at Cigar Box Guitar Parts that has a good refresher on the types of piezo pickups, feedback problems, and placement. Based on that and some forum posts I read, I plan to try the double sided trick I listed above.

Compared to an off the shelf $45+ acoustic pickup with integrated cord, I think the lo-fi option is just fine as long as you setup to play with your amp so you are not causing feedback. And the additional options with using your CBG to do some percussion is an added bonus ;-)

Monday, May 12, 2014

Building a Cigar Box Guitar

While researching my Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) I came across many sources of information. Here is a list of the ones that I used for building the guitar, minus pickups. I will post about pickups later.

The main guide I used was over at Cigar Box Guitars and their How to Build a Cigar Box Guitar tutorial. I found this had the main information I needed to build my guitar. This is the guide I used to build my CBG.

Another good resource was at Cigar Box 101 which includes a downloadable PDF of notes taken while Michael Glenn built his CBG.

The short notes for building a CBG are:
  • There are no rules!
  • There are lots of resources for how to build a CBG.
For an idea of how beautiful these guitars can get look no further than Soul Cat Guitars, found at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, WA. The owner, Dean Moller, creates amazing looking guitars, ukes, and amps.

For my guitar, I winged it on a ton of details. I wanted to see what it would sound like ASAP so I did not get fancy and was able to put it together with a minimum of tools. For the openings in the body of the cigar box I just traced out a pattern and then used a dremel with a cutting bit to cut out the designs. They are not symmetrical but I don't care, it's unique.

One thing about my guitar, you know it is hand made. Nothing fancy going on here.
Headstock is shaped due to a split in the wood, not by design.

The photo above shows my headstock which I had to trim down on one side not by original design. I was trying to line up my tuning nuts like someone suggested and then ran into a split in the wood as I put one of the nuts in. I grabbed the circular saw, chopped off the split, and then drilled a new tuning nut hole. I then sanded this down to ge the design above. I then had to put a screw in to act as a string guide since the alignment of my tuning nuts were off and the 3rd/top one had it's string colliding with the other 2 nuts.

So, even though I planned some things out, I ran into issues which resulted in unique "design" decisions for my guitar. That's one thing I love about this guitar. It did not come out as I planned but it still looks good and is fun to play.

The building of this guitar was a very Agile process. The building of it was very agile, in software speak. I ran into issues I tuned the headstock. I got the bare minimum put together and I stringed it up to test that it played ok. That worked so I took it apart and put in pickups and sanded down the neck so it felt good in the hands. I played it again and the neck was still not perfect so I sanded it more.

Now I have a smooth, nice to hold, custom guitar.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Weekly Roundup: May 4 - 10

Deer in the laneway as we return
from a class concert.
It was a jam packed week getting errands done before I got back to work on Monday, May 12th. Doctor's appointments and lots of odds and ends. Also lots of cigar box guitar work as I added pickups, kept up practice, and had a guitar lesson with Jordan Officer from his recent Kickstarter (thanks to my Father-in-law).

Our youngest had a class Mini-Music Concert for Mother's Day where the kids sung their hearts out. Here he is in his jeans, plaid shirt, and sport coat for the concert, which he picked out himself to look nice for Mom.






  • The second podcast went live. Listen along as Scott and I talk about How to Do Art When You Don't Have Time. I included lots of show notes since talking about art is difficult when you can't see what we are talking about.
  • I talk about playing a fretless Cigar Box Guitar. Playing fretless stringed instruments I always thought would be cool but too hard for me. Well, the heck with it, I am trying it out now to see how hard it really is.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Why a Cigar Box Guitar?

I came across Hollowbelly and had to know more about his guitar (based on the track Shotgun). That got me searching around and reading that a Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) is exactly what it sounds like. A guitar made with a cigar box as the body.

Now, as anyone who follows me knows, this has been an ongoing project for the past week or so. I started to write this post before I got so deep into the CBG but then enthusiasm got the better of me and I built one. So, here is some rationale for Why a Cigar Box Guitar?

These homemade instruments can be traced back to 1840, the first illustration is from an copyright in 1876, and the first published plans for how to make your own were seen in an 1884 publication by the co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America. The plans would later make it into the 1890 edition of American Boy's Handy Book.

Here's where things start to get interesting. These homemade instruments were instrumental in the creation of jug bands and blues. For myself, blues is the heart of rock and roll and something I keep trying to learn more of. A cursory look into playing the modern 3 string Cigar Box Guitar (CBG) shows that many blues licks originated on these instruments.

Speaking of number of strings, Keith Richards even once stated that there was no need for the 6th string on a guitar. Here is a great interview answer about using 5 strings:

As Keith mentions in this, when you are limited to a 5 string open tuning you have only 3 notes to work with. The CBG is the precursor to this and the players had to find ways to do more with less on their guitar.

So, a lot of the early blues can be traced back to these "limited" instruments that forced their players to become more creative to work around the limitations. Very cool stuff for a guitar player.

When I started to read up on this I thought, well heck, I have to make one of these. So that is what I just did. Here is a pic of the new guitar.

So, that's the start of my Cigar Box Guitar journey. I plan to make a 2nd so that my two boys can each have one. Which means I need to make a 3rd for me. My youngest also wants a Ukulele, so why not a Cigar Box Uke! This is getting out of hand as you can see.

I have more posts planned on this subject, so hang on while I bring you along for a trip down the Cigar Box Guitar rabbit hole.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Playing a Fretless Cigar Box Guitar

Here are my thoughts after my first hour of playing around with my new Cigar Box Guitar.
  • It really helps/makes you learn to hear the notes with your ear.
    • With time and practice I think this will help me learn to play by ear better.
  • Goodness, if you thought playing medium or heavy strings on a guitar are hard, try a fretless guitar with the strings raised higher.
    • The first 3 frets or so are almost impossible to hold down.
    • This is good for slide playing but very hard for holding down chords.
  • If you tune to g-b-e then your three strings are the 3 highest strings on a standard tuned guitar meaning you know the chord shapes that fit those strings.
    • This is neat but due to the difficulty holding down the strings I did not like playing this as much.
  • Open-G is g-b-d and I found this to sound nicer when strumming the 3 strings and using a slide it was much easier to play stuff that sounded decent.
  • It is louder as an acoustic than I expected.
    • Going to be great when I hook in some lo-fi Piezo Pickups and add it to an amp but even without it is good.
With a little work I was able to modify Taj Mahal's Country Blues #1 on the fly and come up with something ok sounding. I already posted that: Cigar Box Country Blues

I do plan to add frets with a marker (no raised frets) and some fret indicators along the side to help myself and the boys hit the notes faster. It's also nice that you can adjust the feel of the guitar. You can sand down the back to make it feel just right for playing (It needs more work).

Besides that, playing this has been a joy. I am like a little kid, beaming as I twang away at my new toy making a racket!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Podcast #2: How to Do Art When You Don't Have Time

I know you have been eagerly awaiting this podcast. I know I have. It has been queued up for many weeks waiting to go live.  So here it is, episode #2.

In this episode we talk about how to do art day to day when you don't have time. Mark shares how he uses a sketchbook and blob drawings to keep in practice while teaching his kids the joy of sketching. Scott shares his experiences moving from long term art pieces to pieces he can do in an evening.

Here are links and images mentioned in the show:
Direct Link: Episode 2

Subscribe here: