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Ukulele & All That Jazz - 
 

And now, a brief "Yay Me!"

As of my last entry I have successfully completed NaBloPoMo '07, allowing me to post the spif "mission accomplished" image in my sidebar (thanks, Sara!) and to pat myself unmercifully on the back.

The rules were simple... "Post every day for the month of November. That's all you have to do." And I did, sometimes even more than one entry.

Don't know how long I can keep up the frantic pace, but I hope to at least not slow down to the crawl I was at before.

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The Marauders

Thanks to being a part of the Ukulele Cosmos Forums I discovered this trio of young ladies from England.

Go right now to The Marauders MySpace site and check out their great tunes, especially their cover of "Space Oddity."

You'll regret it if you don't!

No. Really. Go now.

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I get to use a new blog feature

I came home tonight, fired up the laptop, and discovered that some asshole had spam-bombed comments on posts going back a year. 15 under one name, 7 under another and 5 more under a third name.

Ah... but all under the same (now banned) ip address.

Never had to use the ip ban feature before. We'll see how it works.

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What a lovely voice!

My Google Alert today took me to a blog posting on the PCWorld site by a guy named Phil Shapiro. The blog is called Community Voices and the specific post is titled "When Will YouTube Reach a Billion Video Views Per Day?"

It's a terrific post and I encourage you to go read it.

But, what I really wanted to post about is something Mr. Shapiro linked to in his post, to wit, this lovely family sitting in their backyard and making music. Check out their version of "The Rose."

If the embedded video doesn't work for you, check it out on YouTube.

I think Sarah has a wonderful voice and presents the song beautifully. Grandpa kicks a bit of ass himself. According to the comments, he turned 80 a bit before they recorded this.

What a nice world it is where ordinary people, far away from you, can share special moment like this with you.

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Mayor Resigns, Claims Abduction By Satan Worshippers

They just do things different down in Arkansas.

What more can I say?

(Hat tip to Clicked.)

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Secret recordings revealed

A few days ago Snake Suspenderz got a couple good takes from our rehearsal and I blogged about it but I didn't want to reveal the songs until Thaddeus had a chance to dump them from his Zoom H2 into his computer at home and massage them a bit. Well, here they are!

The first one is a tune from Walt Disney's, The Jungle Book, called I Wanna Be Like You. Like all of our "rehearsal tapes series" this was recorded live in my living room (in this case on November 23, 2007) using Thad's Zoom H2. It's for entry in November's Ukulele Cosmos Forum Open Invitational. Click on the song title (or do the right-click/save as thing) to download this tune.

Howlin' Hobbit: National reso soprano and vocals; Thaddeus Spae: bass trombone; Andrew "Sketch" Hare: drums; Dean Hedges: upright bass, mouth trumpet and harmony vocals.

The second tune is a wonderful noir piece by Craig Robertson called Nicotine. Once again you can download it using its title (though due to the nature of the hosting you simply click rather than doing the right-click thang) or you can listen via the little embedded player here:

(If the player doesn't show up for you the tune is streamable both lofi and hifi from these links.)

Howlin' Hobbit: ukulele and vocals; Thaddeus Spae: bass trombone; Dean Hedges: upright bass; Andrew "Sketch" Hare: drums and harmony vocals.

Do let me know what you think!

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Maybe I'm good for a prize after all

So, as anyone who's regularly tuned in here knows, I'm trying to meet the NaBloPoMo challenge of posting at least once per day during the month of November.

I signed up as a discipline thing since I have trouble doing more than a couple posts a week (if I'm lucky) but they do offer prizes (a list of 60 or so though some folk are giving more than one). I hardly ever win anything so I haven't been holding my breath. But I'm sitting here tonight and got to wondering what gives with the prizes. So I went to that page and checked it out.

The prizes are awarded thusly...

The gal who runs NaBloPoMo assigns everybody who participates a number. She has a random number generator in her computer and she fires it up. Once she gets a number she goes to that person's blog and checks to make sure there's an entry per day. If so, the person gets the first prize on the list and she moves on to the next one. If not, she fires up the random number generator and goes at it again.

Now, I just decided to take a run through the little "randomizer" feature on the NaBloPoMo site. You keep clicking the "next random blog" button and the random number thingy kicks in and sends you to a different blog.

But!

A lot of the blogs haven't been keeping up and, further, some of the sites aren't even blogs. They're sites advertising products or services that had just signed up to NaBloPoMo on the off chance someone like me would stumble on them.

Whaddaya know? I might just be in the running for a prize after all!

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Ukuleles in the news

If you only follow the press here in Seattle you'd think that ukuleles didn't exist. Unless Jake Shimabukuro -- or someone near his level of fame -- comes to town, there's little to no mention of them. Yet just about every day my Google news alert on the word ukulele brings in more news items.

Most of them are simply announcements -- so-and-so is playing and such-and-such a venue and they're going to be playing a ukulele -- but there are also more fully developed articles.

In most of these latter cases it's a matter of the so-and-so being a local act (often in a smaller town) and the paper gives 'em a few paragraphs. I suspect it is because they (the papers) are amused that someone would actually go out and play the uke in public. The worst of these scenarios is the small-town scribbler who has delusions of being metropolitan and confuses a snide attitude with being worldly and jaded. Feh on them!

There are also an awful lot of articles about senior citizens forming and/or involved in ukulele clubs. I suspect that, while often gentler, these have more than a dollop of the amusement factor going as well.

Then we have the full-out, "Hey! There seems to be some sort of ukulele renaissance going. Who knew?" sort of articles. These seem to be more diverse as far as the size of the town goes, but even the ones who're trying to be gentle about it either trot out the same ol' tropes or simply get things wrong.

Imagine my joy then to see an article in the San Francisco Chronicle called The Return of the Jumping Fleas! that was not only in a major metropolitan paper, longer than a few paragraphs, and generally pretty factual but was also well written and told from a genuinely interested point of view.

Sub-titled, "Or how we learned to stop worrying and love the ukulele" it covers a visit to Mike DaSilva's uke shop, uke clubs and members, a ukulele teacher, and quite a bit of history, both ukulele-specific and more general to the geographical area. It's a great read.

Kudos both to the Chronicle and to the author, Ian Lendler.

Now if I could only stir up a bit more press here in town. (Buy hey, I have plans!)

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More Snake Suspenderz rehearsal recordings

We had a late Snake Suspenderz rehearsal tonight. It started late and it ended late. After working all day at the Market I was tired, grumpy and out of sorts while waiting for Thad (the last to arrive) to get there. But... while the rest of us were waiting...

I played a recording of a Craig Robertson tune. Nope, I'm not going to say which one yet. All I'm going to say is that when I first heard it my jaw dropped because it was like he had written it for us Snakes.

Usually when I want, really desperately, to learn a Craig tune I simply email him and ask him for the chords. He's quite generous in that fashion. This time we had Dean guessing them and by the time Thad arrived we had most of them but it wasn't quite right. The problem is that Dean thinks like a bass player (well, duh!) and ukulele chords are often "hinted at," especially when you get into the really jazzy "algebra chords" that I love so well. In other words, the chord positions on a uke can be played as a number of different chords, depending on what the bass note is.

But we were close.

So Thad comes in and I'm saying, "This is nearly it, man but not quite right. Help us out here."

So he suggests a couple things and we're closer. But still not quite there.

Then, in a rare example of Hobbit's ears getting out his fingers, I tried a couple variations and, lo!... we got a version of this tune together.

Thad had brought his Zoom H2 this time and we laid down several takes. Can't wait to hear 'em!

We also did a few takes of a Disney tune that we often do live. Nope. Not going to tell you that one yet either.

Thad will dump them out on his computer, gently massage the balance between parts -- while leaving the raw, live vibe going -- and when we choose the best one of each of the tunes, I'll post them online and let you all hear them.

I'm going to have trouble getting to sleep tonight, just from the anticipation.

Tsk. I'm such a tease!

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Traditional Thanksgiving entry

I may get all energetic later and do a "real" blog entry, but I thought I'd take a moment here to wish a Happy Thanksgiving to all my US readers (and a generally blessed day to all, no matter where you live or what you celebrate).

You don't have to live in this country to feel thankful about gathering with friends and other loved ones, perhaps feasting and drinking or maybe just sittin' and chattin'.

We have 4 or 5 friends coming over later and the Fallen Angel is going to be doing the traditional holiday yummies. At least two of us will play a little music, all of us will eat, drink and chat.

The cats (including our current "guest kitty", Sabrina) will no doubt get a few human howlinhobbitd treats as well as plenty good scritches and other buzz-worthy activities.

If that isn't enough to be thankful for, I guess I don't know what is.

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A collection of lovely oddities

Turns out that the hardest part about keeping up with NaBloPoMo is not finding something to blog about -- I have a whole Google notebook full of goodies as well as random notes elsewhere -- it's staying awake after the wonderful dinners my sweet Fallen Angel cooks for me long enough to blog them!

I decided to hit the notebooks today for a few random things and sort of do a blog post mashup. First on the agenda... Money Turns Real. This is a post from earlier today in the J-Walk blog that leads to this marvelous picture of someone holding up a $5, $10, $20 and $50 bill against the buildings pictured on the back of each.

Next up is the Idaho Thrillbillies (Brook Adams and Mike DaSilva) doing their version of the Ballad of Larry Craig on YouTube. You can click the preceding link to view it on YouTube if the embedded video below isn't showing up for you.

Yep, it's recorded in the bathroom at Mr. DaSilva's luthiery shop.

Next is more YouTube goodness... this is Lev and Thumpbot playing "Crazy". Again, click the preceding link of the embed isn't working for you.

A little out of tune maybe, but groovin' nonetheless!

Lastly, here's what happens when Improv Everywhere confronts Abercrombie & Fitch (the one on 5th Avenue in NY, NY) with living, breathing examples of their "shirtless chic" ads. Corporate tightassedness (is that a word?) at its finest!

Hope you enjoy this potpourri. It has to be my most broadly tagged post to date.

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Cheap keyboard

Yesterday the Fallen Angel and I ran several errands including a stop at the nearby Goodwill store. We picked up this keyboard:

cheap keys!

The thing had no cord with it but there was a large display of wall warts right near it and, after checking the back of the keyboard to find out what we needed, we located one for only $1.99. (Click the pic for a larger popup version)

The keyboard itself was priced at $15.99 but it was a pink tag. Mondays every item with a given colored tag is $1.29. Yesterday it was pink tags.

So, total cost for the thing (after sales tax even) was $3.57!

Yep, it all works. True, most of the sounds are kinda chinchy, but the piano sounds are good and so are the organ sounds. A few others are quite usable. It has a mode where the keys light up when you press them and another where they light up to illustrate the demo songs.

The note names on the keys are courtesy of the former owner but I think I'll leave 'em there for a bit.

I'll have to learn to play it with at least some facility as there's no midi out for it... just speakers and a headphone jack. But I can go right from that jack to an input on my mixer and record with it.

Fun new sounds! And cheap too.

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Tiny art

Earlier this month J-Walk posted a little blurb about toothpick history. Part of it was a link to Bob Shamey, of Ligonier, PA and his gallery of carved and painted toothpicks.

Regular readers of my blog will know that I love this sort of stuff, but it is just plain weird.

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Abbey Road Medley

Here's Brook Adams doing a medley of Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End on solo uke and vocals.

In case the embedded video doesn't work for you check it out on YouTube.

Brook is from Eugene, OR and has a fantastic uke site.

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Boston uke players lead to Scotch Eggs

The following is an example of how my web surfing often goes (which I consider rather fortuitous) and also how my brain mostly works (which can sometimes be fortuitous, other times... not so much).

Earlier today my Google alerts on the word "ukulele" sent me to a site called Bostonist for their article about Ukulele Noir, my online buddy Craig Robertson's baby.

The article didn't tell me anything new but did manage to re-awaken my longing to get my ass back there and be a part of it. (I'm actually working on it but it's a slow process. Anyone want to donate some frequent flyer air miles to me?)

However, the little header at the top of the Bostonist page had a list of cities that included Seattle. "What's this?" I pondered as I clicked the link. Why, it's the Seattlest site, that's what.

Always on the lookout for new contacts in the Emerald City (for gigs, press, whatever), I perused a few pages until I came across an entry titled Seahawks 24, Artery Clogging Fiesta 0 and there, at the top, was a lovely picture of something they called Scotch Eggs ("...with their deep fried sausage and Cheese-It shell.")

Yum!

So I hit the "read more" link (that's where you're taken if you click my link above) and the rotten bastards disappointed me severely by not printing any of the recipes they mention.

Luckily I run the FireFox browser and had already intended to add AllRecipes.com to my search bar.

So I did, and I searched on Scotch Eggs and, lo! they had not one, not two, but four recipes for Scotch Eggs!

I'm not so hot on the deep frying bit but a couple of them mentioned you could bake them too. And the mustard sauce looks yummy.

Look out, arteries!

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The birthday "mini-vacation"

My sweet Fallen Angel's birthday is on 11/13. A few years ago, having been sort of stuck in town for a long time prior, we decided to take a vacation around that day and ended up renting a car and driving down to Newport on the Oregon coast. We did nothing of any great import. Simply ate, listened to live music, walked on the beach, went flea-marketing and generally hung out together. It was a marvelous 3+ days.

Circumstances since then have precluded us doing anything like that.

This year the FA made a couple hats as gifts. One for a friend of ours who's birthday is a few days earlier than hers and one for our mutual boss at Pike Market, Charlotte -- interestingly enough, my mom's name too -- who's birthday is the same day as the FA's.

Charlotte and her husband Daniel also have a little shop up in LaConner, WA so I, half-jokingly, said "Why don't we go up and hand deliver Charlotte's hat. It'd get us out of town for a day."

The FA was not interested in traveling on her birthday (she had other plans) but thought that getting out of town, at least for an afternoon, was a grand plan. So about noon on Wednesday we set out for LaConner. It's not quite an hour-and-a-half's drive from here.

LaConner has a little tourist district, several blocks of chi-chi shops and such and that is where our boss's shop is located. We went and found parking right around the corner from it and proceeded to spend the next 4 hours or so wandering around in the shops.

"Mayor Max"Neither of our bosses were in town (figures, eh?) but we met their nice employee, Shirley, and the FA bought a pair of elbow-length gloves in snakeskin patterned pleather from the shop. While we were in there I looked out the front window and spotted the handsome kitty you see in the picture to the left. (Like all of them in this post, you can click on it to get a popup window with a larger version.)

Shirley says, "Oh yes. That's Max. We call him 'The Mayor of LaConner' because he walks up and down the street here, greeting people and meowing around the restaurants until someone comes out and feeds him."

Mayor Max accepts an offering from his publicIndeed, as we left the shop we saw him out in front of the LaConner Pub and Cafe (where we later had lunch) and there was one of the employees of the pub out for a smoke break and feeding Max bits of cheese and fried bacon. When we ate there I had the fish and chips and the FA had the prime rib sandwich (with au jus). They were both excellent and we were seated overlooking the waterway (river? inlet?) that runs under the Rainbow Bridge and out to the upper Puget Sound.

Where else to you get to meet the mayor and give him scritches? I ask you!

While the FA was buying her gloves I was wandering about having a smoke. I looked into the window of a shop called The Wood Merchant and was captivated by a bench they had there. It was all in maple and its lines were so simple and elegant that I had to go in and check it out. It was, as I had suspected, about the same as three month's rent, but it was lovely nonetheless.

The lovely clockWhile looking around in the shop I noticed a number of clocks on the wall, one of which looked like just what the FA would love (she collects clocks). It was well beyond what cash I possessed but I was sure that she'd enjoy taking a look at it so I called her in and showed it to her. She liked it alright. She bought it. Yes, that's its picture there. The little triangle of dark wood showing at the one side is its pendulum. It's currently hanging in the FA's work/office corner in the back of our kitchen.

We reached the end of the tourist blocks (visiting a whole store devoted to teddy bears!) and started to head back. But look! A chocolate store! The FA went in to buy some goodies and I stayed outside, rolling and smoking a cig and spending 51 cents at one of those machines that squishes a penny into an oval and puts a design on it. There were four to choose from but only one of them was "LaConner specific" so, naturally, that's the one I chose. It shows the Rainbow Bridge (which is painted International Orange, not in rainbow stripes... what's up with that?!) but I thought it'd be a nice souvenir of a wonderful afternoon and evening spent with my sweetie.

the Rainbow Bridge pennyWe're going to be doing something like this a bit more often I think. Except for the clock, it wasn't terribly expensive and we both had a great time.

And I think when spring rolls around next year I'm going to head up there with my little folding chair and ukulele(s) and busk for the obviously rich tourists the town attracts. A little planning never hurt anybody. Even on a mini-vacation!

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Put a discouraged "mood smiley" here

It's been a very discouraging day.

Only one sale for me at Pike Place Market today.

No band rehearsal for the third week running. Me and the bass player sat here and decided "something must be done." He and I need gigs. For both personal sanity and monetary needs. We're going to record something duoish tomorrow and maybe hit an open mike just to do some playing for live people.

Meanwhile I'm tired and I'm going to shoo the cats into the back of the house, close off the front half and snuggle with my sweetie.

A more fun and upbeat sort of entry will happen tomorrow (concerning yesterday's "afternoon vacation" that the Fallen Angel and I took).

Good night.

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Stupid spam games!

Today I emailed a response (re: an upcoming gig) back to the other three cats in Snake Suspenderz. I immediately got a bounceback on Dean's mail. Seems Hotmail is blocking one or more of Gmail's ip addresses.

"We're blocking it because someone has complained that spam is coming from it!"

This not only means I can't email the bass player, I also cannot email my sweetie because she uses Hotmail.

You can't tell me that they don't know it's one of Gmail's ip addys! And that it is shared by many people, and the greater majority of them aren't spammers.

Chump fucks. Another reason to switch to Linux, kids. The less kudos and bucks that go to Redmond the better.

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Hot Dang!

Richard Hefner, your kind and generous host at ezFolk.com, just wrote and told me that the deep-link download function was fixed! (There's a huge amount of configuration choices with the Jamroom software that Richard uses and everytime there's an update there are changes. He just "missed a switch.")

I host all original (or public domain) tunes for both myself and Snake Suspenderz there at ezFolk. You should check it out yourself! There is a huge amount of free music to listen to/download as well as tracks for sale, instructional material for a variety of instruments and more!

Lots of professional and dedicated amateur musicians there. If you're a musician or just a music fan, click the link and look around.

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The Ukulele: a threat to public order?

1922 seems to have been a bad year for the ukulele. Check out these two articles from the New York Times archives.

Please note that I'm leaving all the bad spelling, excessive commas and other grammatical errors intact. I find it pretty amusing that the second article spells ukulele correctly in the body of the piece after mis-spelling it in the headline.

UKELELE CAUSES A RIOT.
Owner on Promenade Arrested in Chicago Railway Yards.

CHICAGO, July 15.--Jeremiah Goldringer went out for a walk today with his ukelele under his arm. A riot followed.

Railroad detectives saw Goldringer in the Pennsylvania Railroad yards shortly after dawn, carrying a strange instrument.

They gave chase and a crowd collected. Goldringer was finally captured and sent to the Psycopathic Laboratory for examination.

The New York Times Published:
July 16, 1922

HAWAIIAN TRIES SHARK FIN.
Uproar In Chinese Restaurant Follows Offer to Pay With Ukelele

Kile Nui, a Hawaiian of 379 Forty-eighth Street, Brooklyn, yesterday, according to the police, demanded Poi, a Hawaiian dish, in the chop suey restaurant of Lee Gun, 3,291 Third Avenue, Brooklyn. Failing to obtain the poi, he compromised on shark's fin soup and offered to pay after consuming the meal, it is alleged, by playing a few tunes on the ukulele.

Lee Gun called Kile Nui a few, names in Chinese, and Nui, it is alleged, answered in Hawaiian. The argument grew heated and, it is charged, Nui, feeling the futility of words, hurled plates, cups and saucers, while patrons of the restaurant and Lee Gun dodged. Nui is alleged also to have kicked through the front door.

Kile Nui was arrested by Detective Honan and will be arraigned today in the Fifth Avenure Court charged with disorderly conduct.

The New York Times Published:
October 13, 1922

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Veteran's Day

I don't give a damn what side of the political fence you're on. I care even less what you think about the current scene. Today you should be thankful for and honor those who went and were willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of your freedom and safety, and for their sense of duty and honor.

Thank you, veterans, past and present. Some of us still believe. And those who do, care.

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The new prohibitionists

MADD has completely outlived its usefulness. They "captured all the flags" they were after and then realized that, unless they did something else, the gravy train would stop.

So, instead of being against drunk driving (a worthy issue) they've come to just be against drinking. Period.

Didn't we try that once? It caused a bunch of grief. In fact, we're doing it again with drugs but that's the subject of another rant.

They've gone so far away from their original mandate that it caused their founder, Candy Lightner, to come out against what they were doing. They fixed that by firing her. That's right. They fired their founder and are now busily trying to write a revisionist history of the organization.

Ms Lightner is so alarmed by some of the developments that she's actually lobbied for the American Beverage Institute, a trade group of restaurant and hotel executives. She took sides against her former allies over states wanting to pass laws lowering the blood alcohol level at which a driver is considered legally drunk from .10 to .08.

The problem here, kids, is that it's the drivers with a blood alcohol level of .10 or greater that cause 80% of the accidents. So lowering to .08 looks like they're "still fighting the good fight" when in fact they're fighting to line their pockets.

A whopping 28% of the money they raise actually goes toward their "mission." This is added to the fact that the .08 limit raised the numbers of people being arrested for DUI by about 60% without actually lowering the number of accidents.

But they're not stopping there. Recently they sent a "cease and desist" letter to MAIA (Mothers Against Illegal Aliens) saying that they (the MAIA) must stop using the "Mothers Against" part of their name. WTF does that have to do with stopping drunk driving?

They're not going to be satisfied with undermining the Constitution -- ever hear of the "random roadside sobriety tests"? -- or flat out lying with the major "facts" they pound out about drunk driving, they're aiming for a spiritual rebirth of Carrie Nation.

So who are they taking on recently? The USMC. That's right, the Marine Corps has (wisely) decided that if we can send 18 to 21 year olds to distant climes to get shot at, blown up and otherwise abused they can certainly have a beer when they're back at base. But MADD is up in arms about it.

So, next time you're hit up for money from them, or they ask for your vote of support, remember the 28 cents on the dollar, remember Al Capone's rise in the last alcohol prohibition, and, in the words of that other great prohibitionist... just say no.

(Hat tip to The Agitator. I was also led to some of these links by another blogger I read regularly but my notes -- and my memory -- are failing me here.)

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The Entertainer is ready to work out on

I packed up my laptop today and took a jaunt to the local Fedex-Kinko's. Within 20 minutes I walked out with the printout of The Entertainer ukulele tablature.

Yeah.

I've not really tackled it yet. But some tonight and lots tomorrow should give me a good start. Recording available as soon as I think I've got it down.

Um... don't hold your breath. If it ends up to be anything like 12th Street Rag it'll be a bit.

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Larry Lessig's 2007 TED talk

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is an invitation-only event where the world's leading thinkers and doers gather to find inspiration and share ideas.

In March of this year Larry Lessig brought the crowd to its feet with his presentation on How creativity is being strangled by the law.

If the video doesn't show up for you below, click the link above to watch it. If you work and/or play at all in creative fields (especially the arts and music) you'll consider it 20 minutes well spent.

(Hat tip to Andrew Dubber at New Music Strategies)

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Broken printer blues

My friend FranSpain sent me a pdf of Scott Joplin's rag, The Entertainer, all nicely tabbed out for ukulele. I've noodled with it a bit and decided it's well within my reach and, since the Fallen Angel is having a "girl's night out," I thought I'd print it out and start really working on it.

I passed the file over to the Windoze box that has the printer on it -- I still haven't taken the time to get networked printing happening between my Linux laptop here and the Windoze printer server -- and toddled into the back room to print it out. No dice, baby.

The color cartridge seems to be working but the black one is refusing to print. The little telltale says I have plenty of black ink, but it just won't come out. Yes, I've considered the possibility the the telltale is just wonky, but I remember when I bought the cartridge and we just haven't printed that much since then.

OK then. Let's just email it to Kinko's and go pay for the printing. It's worth it, right?

Yeah.

Well, the local Kinko's (about a mile from here) is open 24 hours a day... Monday through Thursday. On Fridays it closes at 9 pm. Y'all notice what time this blog is being posted?

The nearest 24 hour one is in the University District, about 6 miles from here. Our car is gone (remember the girl's night out thing?).

Damn. It's just a real pain trying to learn something from tablature when you're having to scroll up and down on the screen.

At least it got me fired up to do a blog posting. I'd hate to futz up NaBloPoMo this early in the game.

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Collected weirdness

This morning's news read was absolutely prime for the just plain weird topic so I decided to put the three weirdest together in one post.

We've all heard about the toy recalls because of (amongst other things) lead in the paint, etc. Well, now they're recalling these hobby bead toys because, when swallowed, their coating metabolizes into the date rape drug.

I'm not making light of the danger to the little kids, but how in the world are you supposed to test for that?

About 35 years ago there was a spate of this next sort of thing that also included the rear doors on, IIRC, DC-10s. Scary? Yes. Just plain weird? You bet. Plane forced to land after engine falls off.

Oddly enough, I was out fishing in the Columbia River with my little brother during the "doors dropping off planes" days and as we were heading for the rendezvous with Mom we ended up trespassing on the Portland, OR Int'l Airport. Rather than being handcuffed, tazed and generally abused like we would be today, we were taken on a tour of the "underground" where all the bizarre luggage handling equipment is and I was allowed to sit in the co-pilot seat and help start one of the jets so they could taxi it over and... well... bolt the door back on.

I think this last one is my favorite. Priest arrested for stalking Conan O'Brien It says in the article that Conan isn't commenting on this. I think he's probably embarassed that, instead of attracting some unhinged babe stalker, he gets a priest.

I mean, I'd be embarassed.

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New geek toy

I just noticed yesterday that there was a subtle change in the interface at Gmail. I sort of said... "cool" and then ignored it.

But tonight I needed to enter a new contact and lo! the entire contacts interface has changed for the better. Ok, that gets a "way cool!"

But after noticing that I decided to look a little closer at the main interface. Yep other changes there including...

Their little chat client was working right here on my Linux box. When they first introduced it in beta it was a Windoze-only thing so I've pretty much ignored it.

But tonight I got to chat with three of my ukulele pals online, including Brian Hefferan, one of the most under-rated hot uke players out there. (He's also a hella nice guy.)

Wot larks! And, as the Doifter said, "Just what we need, another way to waste time on the intarwebs!"

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Head On

This is a marvelous installation at the Deutsche Guggenheim by a Chinese artist named Cai Guo-Qiang.

99 life-sized wolves entering a room and swarming through mid-air to collide with a glass wall.

Wish I was one of those rich folk who could hop a jet and go see it live. Maybe I'll get lucky and he'll tour the piece.

The Seattle Art Museum is major enough to be a stop on such a tour.

Isn't it?

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Eric Joisel: Origami Artist

Thanks to Will at Clicked I found Eric Joisel and his art today. The link that Will posted was to his Creating the Barbarians page but you should definitely peruse the whole site.

I especially liked his Sirene. (I have a thing for mermaids, what can I say?)

You should also check out his faerie orchestra.

This kind of wonderful whimsy is, IMNSHO, the very definition of what it means to be human. My hat's off to Eric and his wonderful art.

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A Shocking Display of Sinister Puppetry

This past Saturday night me, the Fallen Angel and our landlady/housemate Gyan went to the Theatre Off Jackson to see Dracula: A Case Study. I used the tagline from it for the title to this post.

What? A Dracula puppet show?

Well, sort of.

The setup is (to quote the playbill):

"A handful of survivors from Bram Stoker's original tale have been locked up in Dr. John Seward's insane asylum, their minds having proved too fragile to withstand Dracula's terror. Dr. Seward has developed a fascinating new therapy to restore his tortured patients to sanity. They are using puppets to relive the events of the novel and to reach an understanding of what REALLY happened when they fell under Dracula's evil spell."

The Cast

The play, written and directed by Brian Kooser (someone I know from the Fremont Arts Council), has only 6 people in the cast but they play multiple parts since all of them also act as puppeteers and/or musicians. I'll list them here, starting with the three non-musical cast members. I'll only be listing their "main" parts as they switched off on who was running a given puppet and it would get confusing listing all the permutations here if you haven't seen the play.

David Goldstein as Dr. John Seward. He opens things up by addressing the audience as if we were there to witness his grand therapeutic technique(s) in action. To wit: using puppets as "disassociative devices" so that his patients can hopefully break through their terror and madness to discover what really went on.

He's sort of cheery and lightly amusing at first, but as the play progresses bits of his own lunacy break through.

Holly Chernobyl as Mina Harker (nee Murray). Supposedly the main patient that Dr. Seward is trying to "cure." By the end of the play you're not 100% sure that she isn't the only one there with any shred of sanity.

I thought Ms Chernobyl was the best actor in the cast. (Not that the rest were bad, mind you.) It was her character that had to make the most points about reality, not to mention she was the one with the most physically demanding role, literally being thrown around by her hair by...

Gavin Cummins as Abraham Van Helsing. Large, blustery and obsessively convinced that his role in life was to be the "holy warrior," ridding the world of its evils and monsters while simultaneously "protecting" the delicate females of the species, whether or not they particularly wanted said protection.

Ah... and now the band! Renfield and the Belles of Bedlam were played by 3 members of Ensemble Sub Masa. They were outstanding!

Constantin Pârvulescu as R.A. Renfield. No spoken lines whatsoever but he played violin and was one of the Composer/Arrangers for the music. This was especially important as parts of the story were told completely with the music. He was dragged out both at the opening and right after intermission dressed in a straightjacket and spent much of his time panting and tongue-lolling like a dog.

Despite his lack of lines one of the best scenes in the play was between Renfield and Seward where Renfield tries to explain what's going on in his fevered brain. He brings out serving dishes with assorted puppets in them and Panseluta (see below) sings a song about flies and a spider eating them and a rat eating the spider and a cat eating the rat culminating in... well, I'll not give that one away in case the play has another run.

pic of a utogardon - a "struck cello"Marchette DuBois as Panseluta, Belle of Bedlam. She played accordian, toy piano and an odd instrument listed as an utogardon (a struck cello from Moldava -- aka Eastern Transylvania -- perfect, no? The picture to the right is the best I could find on the intartubes. You can click it for a larger image in a popup.)

She was the other Composer/Arranger. She also (in her make up) reminded me quite a bit of Magenta in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Not a bad thing in my estimation.

She has a fabulous voice. On a couple occasions she was singing duets with the saw and it was eerie and beautiful.

Nina Darko Vukmanic as Klara, Belle of Bedlam played upright bass, saw, and parlor guitar.

The Puppets

Most of the puppets were "tabletop" puppets. Very simple and designed to look like the cast and others that the cast interacted with. There were also shadow puppets used as well as a huge monster (skeletal dragon) puppet.

One of the best of them was a torso set up like a crude anatomical model. Van Helsing is describing Dracula (the monster) as hollow inside and he removes the lungs, entrails, etc. from the model. He then gets carried away by his emotions describing his nemesis and grabs the stumps of the arms between his own biceps and continues moving around, gesticulating, etc. while delivering his speech... in essence, giving life to this hollow monster or perhaps becoming one himself. That was a powerful and well done scene.

When the puppets are first introduced they got a titter from the audience. But soon the fabulous lighting (designed by Patti West), the excellent stage blocking which allowed the different cast members to play their parts while switching off who was running a given puppet and the skills of the cast as puppeteers weaved their magic and the audience was drawn into the puppets as characters rather than as props.

And there lies my most severe criticism of the play. I have to digress a bit here to set this up...

I was talking to Gyan afterwards and she says one of the first things a puppeteer in the US asks is, "Why am I telling this story with puppets?" In other words, how can I justify the puppets? Apparently, no matter how good you are, adults in the US just expect puppets to either be funny or kidstuff (or both). Most puppeteers apparently fall into this trap and play the puppets that way.

So, even though the play itself was quite dark, a psychological play, much of the "comic relief" -- a necessary element, I know -- that Brian (and/or Joshua Okrent, who was listed as "script doctor") added in was either on the corny joke side or in an overly slapstick style.

I would much rather have seen it left in the dark vein. My message to Brian (and any other puppeteer wanting to work for adults) is: trust your audience! Sure, you got those initial giggles, but you worked past them! People were suspending disbelief right and left and getting into the story, whether it was being told by the cast as humans or by the cast as the voices of the puppets.

Once you've got the audience on your side, don't drive them away.

Were you to do this in the dark way it deserves you'd set it apart... instead of being a piece of novelty amusement it could be a wonderful facet of the fringe theater scene, appreciated for itself.

As we were standing up to leave some guy near us said, "Well, that was funny."

No, it wasn't. It was a terrific piece of theater marred in spots by playing down to that level.

Don't write for that guy. There's enough hip folk in Seattle to attract an audience of adults who won't care that the puppets aren't doing kid stuff. They'll just dig it as theater. Aim for them!

Rather than end on that rant I do want to point out that the play was very good and I enjoyed myself immensely. Kudos to everyone involved.

Give us more!

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New strings on Little Kahuna

As part of my catching up on assorted tasks this weekend I got one of my new sets of strings on my Glyph soprano. Woohoo! Nothing I like better than to hear the change in tone (and volume) when I do that.

It's no wonder the uke was quieter, harder to tune, and not nearly as sweet sounding. The backs of all the strings had little notches at every fret position, some of them going nearly halfway through the string! Not to mention the dust, bits of skin and other icky stuff clinging to them.
Speaking of icky stuff, another good part about this process is that while the old strings are off the uke I cleaned up the body with a damp cloth and took the 0000 steel wool to the fingerboard and frets. So it looks prettier too! 

Of course, I'm now in the part of the process where you tune, play a song or so, tune again, play a song or so, ad nauseum. But, I'm experienced in these matters and I know they'll stretch and settle in soon.

Here's where the rant part comes in. (You did notice this entry had the "Rants" tag on it, didn't you?) Don't worry, it's a mild one.

How can all you people (and you know who you are) possibly claim that leaving your strings on for years and years makes no difference?

I often wonder what a performance by one of you sounds like. I mean, if you can't hear such a vast difference in tone do your ears even tell you if you're out of tune? Or key?

And aren't you often the same one who cries about getting no respect when you trot out your uke? John Kavanagh keeps notebooks of the string changes on his instruments. I'm not sure I'm ready to go quite that far, but I'm definitely going to be changing more frequently.

How long has it been since you changed strings on your favorite uke? That long, eh?

Go change your strings.

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Curse of the Ukulele?

Here's one for the "just plain weird" file. It's a column in the Des Moines Register (the Iowa Des Moines, not the Washington one) about some of the struggles their downtown renewal project has had. Amongst talk about one of the major boosters of said project dying, massive varieties of tequila, and eating crow the columnist talks about the "Curse of the Ukulele" that apparently hit the town right after someone stole Tiny Tim's uke.

Hmmmm...

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Drew Carey on medical marijuana

Reason magazine has started a video domain (reason.tv) and there's a series called The Drew Carey Project. The second episode just came out and it's about medical marijuana. Pass this one around. And kudos to Mr. Carey for taking his beliefs public on this and other issues. What a pleasure to hear a calm, sane, reasoned voice.

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NaBloPoMo off to a good start

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm going to be trying to post at least once per day, in accordance with the minimal rules of NaBloPoMo.

The rules, in case you're wondering, are "post at least once per day during the month of November." See? I told you they were minimal.
What I didn't mention yesterday was that one of my reasons for doing so was to see if I couldn't maybe attract another reader or two.

By golly! It worked!

I've already got a comment (from someone who's pretty local as it happens) who is also doing the NaBloPoMo thing. Of course whether or not she sticks around is another whole story.

I figured it would only be fair that I went and checked out her blog, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, since she was so nice about checking mine out. And you know what? She's funny. Really good writing style and the kind of wry way of looking at things that I enjoy.

Her name is Kristy (I feel ok about revealing this since she left it with her comment) and her husband is, or at least was at one point, a ukephreak. With them being local it makes me wonder if I know him.

Kristy, alas, doesn't like the ukulele. And should she care to take the time, she could probably tear hell out of my grammer (especially in the comma department) and write scathing critiques in the comments. (Feel free, Kristy, if that is your wont. Not only am I not thin-skinned -- in that area at least -- but I'm always interested in improving anything I do.)

In any event, go check out her blog. I'm going back for a bit more random wandering right now.

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Christmas in November

After a long, tiring and tedious day at Pike Place Market I came home to discover that the mailman had brought me:

1. My package from Elderly Instruments containing my three new sets of Aquila NylGut concert gauge ukulele strings and the new vellum (i.e. goatskin head) for my banjo uke. Tomorrrow I install one of the string sets on my nice Glyph ukulele and sniff around on the nets to find that cool tutorial on replacing the banjo uke vellum.

2. My rawhide guitar pick from Mike in Homestead, Florida. He doesn't have a website listed on his card so when I get in touch to say thanks I'll find out what he'd like listed as far as contact info and do a post about him and a review of the pick. I'm thinking that tomorrow I'm going to try to lay down a guitar track to go with the solo uke rendition of 12th Street Rag so I'll have something to base my review on. Mike does a variety of hip craftwork, including custom hand tooled and stitched motorcycle seats.

I'm going to try doing the NaBloPoMo thing this year. This means a blog post every day this month.

Well, if I'm not dead or in jail, right?

Meanwhile, I'm sleepy and I have a full day tomorrow.

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