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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Where is my FEMA Money?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

I Need Counseling and a Big Giant EBT Card

I have a few more tips about hurricane preparation.

1. Never, ever trim your trees around power wires. Like I just did. I guess I don’t agree with this one. I mean, sure, okay, if you’re completely inept, don’t trim your trees. Don’t tweeze your own nose hairs. Sit in bed and wait for someone to put your shoes on for you. Because you are dangerous. But the rest of us have to take chances once in a while. I figured a 1% chance of instant death was well worth the near-certainty of being able to surf the web and look at lolcats after the storm.

I don’t know a whole lot about power lines, but I’m pretty sure 250 volts can’t blast through rubber insulation, run through a tree branch, and kill a guy wearing rubber-soled shoes.

It didn’t today.

2. Hire other people to do all the work. I kind of dropped the ball on this one. Now I have this strange, weak, droopy feeling all over my body, and a mysterious clear fluid is coming out of my skin. According to WebMD, it’s called “perspiration.” Nasty.

They wouldn’t have helped, anyway. I don’t speak Spanish. I would have been yelling at them to trim the tree, and they would have been trying to fix the toilet. Or using my computadora to register to vote in los American elections.

3. Forget your diet. If you have one. Eating during a hurricane scare is like eating junk food that says “natural” on the package. It doesn’t count.

4. Lunch meat, lunch meat, lunch meat. If you remember nothing else, remember this. When the power goes out, you will feel stupid with all those cans of cold soup. Lunch meat and a cooler will power you through the lean days. And you have a great excuse to use paper plates and plastic cups.

This is a great time to stock up on bagged chips. They last forever, they have tons of calories, and they’re chips. For the sake of comparison, salad will wilt in two days, it has the same amount of calories as fog, and worst of all, it’s salad.

I laid in two bags of Ruffles cheddar and sour cream flavor. Or is it “chedder ‘N’ sour cream”? Can’t recall.

I feel good about the day’s work. I have increased the likelihood of continued phone and power service from maybe 15% to 75%. Tomorrow I will have ample food. I am certain to have light, because in addition to the tree job, I found some yahrzeit candles at the store. These are depressing Jewish candles you’re supposed to light on the day someone died. It may be disrespectful to use them as emergency lighting, but they were really cheap, and they’re not perfumed, so they were just what I needed. Besides, I’m sure someone has died on October 5.

If the tree thing had gone poorly, those candles would have been really handy.

I decided to check. This is horrible. On October 5, 1763, August III, who as you all know was the king of Poland, died at 66. He was probably one of my three favorite Polish kings. Little-known fact: he invented the accordion. To scare cats out of the palace.

I may be slightly loopy right now, so bear with me. I got up at 4:30. And that’s not Warsaw time.

The weather is beautiful right now, if you consider the inside of a rice steamer illuminated by a MIG arc beautiful. It’s bright and painfully sunny, with very little wind. The humidity makes the air feel like molten rubber. It’s hard to believe the world is going to be over in a few hours. Usually, before a hurricane, you get creepy overcast days with breezes and intervals of rain as the cloud bands pass by.

I’m going to charge up the compressor in case I need to use the air hammer to get into those Ruffles in a hurry. Preparation is everything.

I’m pretty sure those chips are all-natural.

Depending on the quality of my tree trimming, you may hear from me tonight and tomorrow. If not, assume the worst. It will make the week more exciting.

Apollo 13.2

Tuesday, June 21st, 2016

Mars Attacks…my Last Nerve

Yesterday I decided to watch The Martian to kill time while the birds were out. Now I am annoyed.

Spoilers ahead. Duck and cover.

This movie is about an astronaut (Matt Damon) who gets left behind on Mars. The rest of the crew thinks he’s dead, so they go back to earth. Then they find out he’s alive, so NASA goes nuts trying to bring him back. Because life on earth without Matt Damon is unthinkable. Without him, his duty to preach sanctimoniously to the public would fall on Leo DiCaprio, making it necessary for him to charter twice as many carbon-belching jets.

The rescue job is not easy, because Mars is not very close to the earth. At best, in the story, it takes over a year just to get him new couture underpants from Dolce & Gabbana, let alone bring him back.

I don’t care about the nerd issues. Some people, I’m sure, are flipping out because of minor technical errors and deceptions. They’re probably upset because the sand storm that drives the crew off Mars couldn’t possibly be as damaging as it is in the movie. Stuff like that. Hey, this isn’t science class. News flash: there is no such thing as warp drive, either, and during your lifetime, there never will be. Get over it.

The plot issues are what bug me.

First, the deus ex machina problem. More accurately, let’s cut off two letters and call it what it is: deus ex China.

Ancient Greek dramatists often ran out of bad ideas, just as dramatists do today, and one of their fixes was the god machine. They would rig up a contraption that lowered a totally new character onto the stage. This was the machina, or machine. The character was the deus, or god. The god would wave his magic wand, click his heels together three times, and make the gorgon disappear or afflict the Spartans with the pox. Or whatever.

These days we don’t see Greeks being lowered with pulleys all that much, except in German nightclubs, but we do see similarly unsatisfying copouts in movies and shows. It’s a crappy trick to play on an audience. You spend an hour or more developing a terrible problem for your protagonist, and the audience tries to guess how he will fix it, and then you slap them in the face with Proteus or Poseidon or Steve Jobs, swinging in on a rope.

I mean, obviously, it wouldn’t be Proteus today. It would be Bruce Willis or maybe Sylvester Stallone, whose machina would probably be a walker or mobility scooter. “Stop, or my Certified Nursing Assistant Will Shoot!”

I love obscure references.

Screenwriters should take the time to come up with clever solutions, instead of sandbagging people with unsatisfying cavalry charges from left field.

I also love mixing metaphors. And to joyfully split infinitives.

In The Martian, NASA tries to send a supply ship to Mars, and it blows up. Matt Damon is a dead man, right? And he can forget about that crate of Clinique moisturizer. Or maybe they’ll come up with some clever plan! But no, nothing like that happens. Instead, they cut to a mysterious office in China, where two Chinese people start talking about giving their secret Chinese rocket to NASA for another shot.

Come on. Where was this rocket six months earlier, when the whole world was clamoring over the potential earth-shattering loss of Matt Damon? Nowhere. The writer hadn’t thought of it yet.


Maybe it was still on the truck to Harbor Freight.

By the way, the rocket doesn’t have a fuse or a colorful wrapper with something like “Dancing Fire Dragon Cluster” printed on it, and it’s not launched from a bottle. Chinese technology has improved a lot.

I think it’s safe to assume the owner’s manual is incomprehensible. “For make mission Mars, to apply pressure dial A in direction of Mongolia.”

Here’s another thing: one of Damon’s main torments is the presence of disco music. The mission’s commander is a woman, and woman have hellish taste in music, so she only brings disco, ignoring the desires of the rest of the crew. When the crew leaves the planet, the only music Damon can find in the Mars shelter’s computers is garbage like “Ring my Bell” and “Push Push in the Bush.”

The cruelty is appalling.

Here’s the question: how does anyone get to Mars in the smartphone/micro SD card age without a ton of MP3’s? It can’t happen. Totally impossible. I think my phone has 80 gigs of storage. Not sure; whatever it is, it’s full of demotivational posters and pictures of Grumpy Cat. Anyway, there is no way NASA would let a crazy woman strand people in outer space with Leo Sayer, in an age when you can store 400 albums in a card smaller than a Chiclet. And if she did, he would kill himself after a week. He would boogie-oogie-oogie out of the airlock and do the hustle with his helmet off until he died.

Pretty lame, right?

When Damon sets up a communications link to earth, he is able to send email. If he can send email, he can receive music files, right? Apparently not. We can put a man on Mars, but we can’t send him The White Album.

Here’s another problem. NASA decides to send the crew transport ship back to Mars with stuff for Matt. He has to launch a rocket NASA left on Mars and rendezvous with the crew ship to get food. Being Matt Damon, he’s probably hoping for Evian and organic free-trade seaweed paleo yogurt.

Okay…if he can rendezvous with the ship and pick up food…WHY CAN’T HE GET ON THE SHIP AND LEAVE?

Final problem: Apollo 13. Hello? We’ve been here before. Unforeseen technical problems on a space mission, followed by frantic cooperation between astronauts and brilliant people on the ground, garnished with numerous astonishing McGyverisms that keep people alive. And Apollo 13 was a real mission, and the movie was better. So what’s the point of The Martian? It’s not even the first survival movie sited on Mars. Does anyone remember Robinson Crusoe on Mars? Maybe not. But it happened.

I haven’t seen the end of the movie yet. I assume Matt will live, although the person who wrote this thing may have the unfortunate idea that it would be original to let him die. Unhappy endings are not new to cinema, so I feel like he might as well live. If the movie ends with him sitting on a rock, watching the sun set on Mars, feeling peaceful about becoming a piece of frozen jerky, I will probably have another rant to throw.

They say there are no original plots. Maybe that’s true, but we can do better than this. The movie is entertaining; it shows what NASA disasters would be like in the lolcats era. But it’s not The Third Man. More like The Thirdteenth Reheating of the Corpse of Apollo 13.

I guess I’ll fire up the DVR and see if Matt Damon dies. I’m not optimistic. I own a lot of Chinese tools.


Well, now I’m even more upset. It looks like the plan was to bring Will Hunting back, not to drop off Chinese food. I totally misunderstood. But I still feel vindicated, because I remembered another plot hole.

To take off to get to the mother ship, Damon has to get to another rocket. His crew left on one rocket, and NASA had another one miles away, waiting for a new crew.

So…he’s sitting around for months, starving, scrounging for tools and food…and he knows he can get in his rover and go to the other rocket, where he can find useful goodies.

Why doesn’t he go? Why? Why?

I much prefer space entertainment that doesn’t even try to involve reality. Give me Captain Kirk with a flip phone and a phaser, engaging openly in intergalactic racism and genocide without a care in the world. Hipsters in space? You can have them.

Trapped Near the Inner Circle of Fault

Sunday, June 12th, 2016

People Who Live in the Real World Wouldn’t Understand

I had to clean bird cages today, so now I’m in the mood for anything other than bird cage cleaning. I will write again.

Yesterday I was reminded of one of the big paradoxes of the Internet: being able to shop for things from the convenience of your home results in giant delays instead of time savings.

That’s kind of a distortion, but here’s what I mean: when you try to buy anything on the Internet–even paper clips–you will learn so much about the choices you have that you will spend more time studying and searching than buying.

Yesterday I had to solder something, and I saw that I was out of good solder. I still had bad solder; the kind that never seems to work right. I needed the good kind.

Two years ago, I would have driven to Radio Shack and bought whatever I saw. I would have been finished in 20 minutes. This time, it took me something like three hours. I learned things about solder while I was shopping, and I fell through the Internet-shopping looking glass, where you find out that the thousand things you believed before breakfast are, sadly, impossible.

There are lots of different kinds of solder. I did not know this. I knew about two types: lead-free, which sounded unwholesome, deluded, and leftist, and leaded, which, I figured, had to be the best, because, hey…lead. Anything that contains ingredients hippies hate will always turn out to be the best kind available.

I am not even a little scared of lead. I used to chew lead split shots because I liked the taste, and while I may be strange, I never got stupid or incontinent or whatever. Based on what I’ve read, I think the government keeps adjusting lead standards to silly levels in order to keep EPA bureaucrats employed. If lead was that big a deal, I’d be in an institution. I’m sure it’s toxic, but lots of stuff is toxic, and most of us manage to survive.

I started rooting around on the web, and I learned that there are lots of solder types. When it comes to electronics, the three main types are plain old rosin-cored, RMA (rosin mildly activated), and RA (rosin activated). Also, there are different leaded alloys. Two of the popular ones are 63% lead/37% tin and 60% lead/40% tin. I think. Maybe the tin goes first. On top of this, cored solder can contain 1.1%, 2.2%, or 3.3% flux. The word “flux” refers to the rosin, which is a substance that eats oxidation when it gets hot. Again: I think. Basically it cleans the joint.

Let’s see. There’s more. Solder comes in lots of diameters. You can get 0.015″, 0.020″, 0.025″, 0.031″, and up. If solder is too big, it tends to go all over the place when you solder little things. If it’s too small, it takes forever to fill a joint.

It gets worse. Chinese solder is not reliable. Big shock there. So you have to look for quality brands.

You have to wonder how bad Chinese solder is, since most of our electronic devices are full of it.

I also found out you’re supposed to clean solder joints. I had never heard of that. When you solder, you may unintentionally (or in my case, intentionally) leave melted flux on your joints. It’s ugly, and if I understand things correctly (doubtful), some types of flux can cause corrosion.

I went nuts researching this stuff. I looked at all sorts of nerd forums. I wanted to spend $20-$30 on a pound roll of solder, and I did not want to get the wrong thing.

By the time my eyes had gone buggy from scrolling, I had determined that what I wanted, probably, was 63/37 0.025″ 2.2% RMA solder, from Kester, AIM, Alpha Metals, or Multicore. And it’s impossible to find.

I’m sitting here thinking about the guitar amps I’ve built. Are they going to explode because I used the wrong solder?

I learned that it’s really hard to find the solder I specified above without paying a ton. I had to compromise and get 3.3% flux, which some people say is better anyway.

Now I have to wonder: was I better off when I simply drove to Radio Shack and bought the wrong thing?

The bad solder I already had came from Home Depot. I took a look at it and saw that it was Bernzomatic brand solder. It’s for electrical connections, but it’s not the right thing for electronics. I threw it out. Then I thought maybe I would need it for something, so I took it out of the trash. Then I thought about throwing it out again. Then I put it on the desk and stared at it.

I should also admit that I solder incorrectly a lot of all the time. When you solder, you are not supposed to heat the new solder directly and melt it onto the tip. You’re supposed to heat the wire and apply the solder to it, so the wire melts the solder.

Yeah, right. Try that some time. Your insulation will drip off or go up in smoke, unless it’s Teflon. In real life, you do whatever you have to. I plan to try to solder better, but I’m not going to melt components and insulation.

As for cleaning the joints, I don’t even know how. I think you use a Q-Tip with alcohol on it. I have never had a joint go bad, but maybe I need to try to do things right.

I read that rosin fumes cause asthma. Geez. What am I supposed to do? Solder in the front yard when the wind is blowing? Wear a sweaty respirator? But then I think about the hundreds of guys I know who’ve developed serious asthma from soldering. The ones who didn’t die first from lead poisoning.

I jest.

As I researched, I learned more stuff. You have to try to set your soldering iron so the heat is right. Different solders melt at different temperatures, and some electronic parts can be damaged by excess heat. I sort of knew that. My iron goes to 5, and I have been known to operate it at 4 because it seemed to be hard on PCB’s. But there are irons that actually display the temperature with digital meters. I’m not going that far. That’s just crazy.

Arrgh. I’ll probably go that far. Some day.

It’s frustrating when you splurge for what you think is the best tool available, and then you find out it’s second-rate. I feel like a guy who bought a Bose stereo and showed it off for his friends before learning the awful, humiliating truth.

I’m not sure what my advice is. I’m tempted to tell people to pretend they never read this.

The solder I finally ended up with is Kester 24-6337-9718. If it’s horrible, I’ll tell you. I fully expect to be unable to tell the difference between this stuff and Radio Shack Random Idiot Solder.

If you’re still going to real stores and buying wrong stuff, you should probably keep it up. You will never know the difference, and you will save lots of time. I love the Internet, but sometimes you just want toothpicks; you don’t need the best OSHA-approved, fair trade, organic, North American hardwood toothpicks.

If you use rosin-cored solder and you get asthma, leave me alone. If I told you to jump off the Empire State Building, would you do that, too?

The Earth Still Turns Without Disco

Monday, April 25th, 2016

Don’t Party Like it’s 1979

My Internet friend Heather noticed I was gone from Facebook and came by to comment, saying this:

Be glad you stepped away from Facebook, the deification of Prince has been just insane.
You would not believe the ugly things that have been said to me because I pointed out that the man was a Jehovah Witness, thus destroying their fantasy that Prince did not immediately ascend to the throne at the right hand of God.

I have seen very little Prince worship on the Internet, but that’s because I’ve avoided it. It must be a nauseating, discouraging spectacle. I can’t even guess what Facebook looks like this week. In some circles, it must be bigger than the death of FDR.

I thought his music was boring. I can’t understand why anyone ever sat through an entire song. But that may be because I simply didn’t have the particular supernatural influence that convinces people he’s wonderful.

If you’re not protected by the Holy Spirit, all the other spirits can make you believe or perceive nearly whatever they want. They shape our desires and reactions all day. Surely they can convince you Prince was better than Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday.

People are still talking about his “clean” lifestyle. The man was treated for a drug overdose and then died several days later in a manner entirely consistent with a second overdose. Okay, sure, his cousin says he was clean. What would your cousins say about you a day after you died? That you were a jerk?

The world is hopelessly screwed up. If you want proof, just consider this: Satan is the god of this world. What more do I have to say? When the lowest, most foolish creature in the universe is a world’s god, things are pretty bad.

Our perceptions are very distorted. We are raised in a soup of spirits that lie to us constantly, and we are surrounded by their human stooges, who repeat the lies around the clock. One of the benefits of being Spirit-led is that the deception starts to fall away from you. When that happens, the world and its values start to look insane and depressing.

My desires keep changing. I want that to continue. I don’t want to desire poison and death any more.

A long time ago, I had a comic strip in development with an editor. I knew I was good at what I did; I had no self-deprecating illusions about it. I expected to succeed. As motivation, I cut photos of fishing yachts out of magazines and taped them in places where I could see them. I figured I would get one if I got rich.

Today, you could not pay me to deal with a yacht. A nice one burns around 150 gallons of diesel per hour, or maybe $450. It takes three people to run one well, and it takes four to fish one. Every year, it has to go to the yard, and you will pay thousands just for basic maintenance. Dockage is expensive. Where I live, the sea is too rough for fishing maybe 40% of the time. Also, a yacht attracts shallow people who think about nothing but drunkenness, money, and sex.

I used to watch Top Gear all the time. I enjoyed watching them try out million-dollar Ferraris and Bugattis. Would I want to own such a vehicle? Never. I’m not even interested in driving one. I’m content to watch other people.

You can only get two people into a supercar. Every time you park it, you provide a target for envious vandals. Everything associated with it is ruinously expensive. You can’t even drive it legally; not if you want to use a significant portion of its capabilities.

I know people who have gotten rich. They probably think they have the world by the tail. It’s really the other way around. They have to deal with employees, lawyers, economic fluctuations, regulators…forget that. They also have to deal with tremendous temptation. Businesses run into potentially fatal challenges all the time, and very often, there is an unethical or illegal way out. I don’t want to face that.

I’ve had designs on really atrocious women. One was an atheist. Others were shallow. None really cared about God. I was looking for stupid things like chemistry. Attraction and psychological compatibility are important, but if both partners aren’t Spirit-led, they will grow apart, and one will draw the other away from God. Once you’re away from God, you’re the tail, not the head. You suffer defeat after defeat. You’re exposed. I don’t need that in my life.

My musical tastes have changed. I have a big collection of albums, and I got an Ipod so I could play them in my truck. I rarely use the stereo now. I want to talk to God while I drive, and the stereo distracts me. At home, I listen to secular music from time to time, but I can’t take it for long periods. The only thing I can put up with for hours at a time is praise music. Or silence.

I don’t see the world as my oyster. I see it as a cesspool I have to wade in for a while. It’s the roof of hell. The only way to do well down here is to focus on what’s above. The presence of God is like a pair of waders.

I seriously believe people who like Prince’s disco music and his image are supernaturally deluded. He played guitar extremely well, and he did arrangements, but that makes him a highly skilled technician, not a real artist.

If you want to hear a good keyboard player, listen to Oscar Peterson. If you want to hear a truly superb guitarist, listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan. If you want to hear a top-notch singer, listen to Etta James. If you want to hear good songs, listen to Cole Porter, Hoagie Carmichael, or Hank Williams. Then go back and listen to Prince and see if you still think he’s superhuman.

The feeling I get when I think about going back to the low tastes of this world is like the feeling a college student has when he wakes up at two p.m. with a hangover, in a bed with dirty sheets, surrounded by the smell of spilled bong water. I don’t want it any more; I get the feeling parolees have when they think about going back to prison. You have to put away childish things.

This world is not a good place or a place where you can build a permanent home. It’s the second-lowest level of creation. It’s so low God doesn’t even keep a throne here. It’s the Section 8 trailer park of the universe. Enoch tells us heaven has seven levels, and we’re under the lowest one. That’s not a good place to site a future.

Prince was a little picture of Satan. He led the musical worship of himself. He focused attention on himself, not God. He was effeminate and spoiled. He devoted his life to bringing himself glory. He corrupted other people as hard as he could. He turned other musicians into little replicas of himself. If that appeals to you, fantastic, but there is nothing about it I like.

It’s so strange that our culture was simultaneously infected by two entertainers named Prince and Madonna, who attacked Christianity while displaying Christian symbols. And those are their real first names, which makes it even weirder.

I’m glad I’m off Facebook. I’m glad I have fewer hard little heads to contend with. It seems like America just turned a downward corner, like a ship upending itself before it sinks. I don’t want to be close enough to get pulled down by the suction.

It Just Got Real

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Write a Check, and Someone Will Talk

When you’re old, you have seen a lot of things. You have seen a lot of things that resemble other things. You see repetitive patterns in earthly events.

Sooner or later, you start to know what’s happening earlier than other people. Then if you’re not careful, you start to think you don’t have to reason any more; you have so much confidence in your generalizations, you may feel like you can rely on them to the point where analysis is a waste of time.

That’s something for me to keep in mind. Nonetheless, it looks like I was right about what killed Prince.

It’s not like it was rocket science. A musician has a drug overdose, and he dies several days later with no signs of trauma. The most likely explanation was obvious. But Prince was someone people idolized, so they were blind to his faults. I never idolized him or liked his music. It’s not hard for me to be critical of him.

The Daily Mail, which is a real newspaper not to be confused with The Onion, just published a long interview with a man who calls himself “Doctor D.” He says he sold Prince painkillers for years, to the tune of two $40000 every six months.

Is it a lie? Could be. Maybe The Daily Mail has decided to completely give up on being taken seriously, and they published the story without any effort at vetting it.

Probably not, though.

Now I’m wondering if someone will be arrested for making a straw man drug buy at a pharmacy. If Prince had to send another person into a pharmacy the day before he overdosed, he had a reason, and it wasn’t to buy Q-Tips.

It is said that his sister, who also has drug problems, is going to inherit his estate. There is no will. It just falls into her lap, with no supervision or restraint.

Maybe she’ll be like Priscilla Presley, and she’ll build it into something even bigger. On the other hand, maybe his entire song catalog will belong to someone else within five years, and she’ll end up broke.

It’s obvious that I’m not a Prince fan. If you’re wondering why, maybe it will help if I show you how I was introduced to Prince.

In the early 1980’s, I was in the dorm room of a college girl who admired Prince. Here is the poster I saw on her wall. I had no idea who it was.

prince in shower with cross

Apologies to those who are offended. I’m a man, so I don’t see it as provocative, but maybe others will disagree. I just see it as gross and sad; a mistake.

I remember asking her what she could possibly see in a person like that. She thought he was tremendous. I could not understand why a woman would want a feminine man.

I still don’t get it. I don’t care much for disco music, which was what he played. I don’t care much for androgynous performers. I can’t relate to a person who wants to seem effeminate. Also, the in-your-face phoniness of Prince is unappealing to me. I guess I should learn to accept the fact that virtually all of show business is phony. I have not.

He promoted himself a little too hard for my tastes. He claimed he played 27 instruments on an album, and on the street, people turned that into, “Prince can play 40 instruments.” It turns out he was a drummer, guitarist, keyboard player, and bassist (the bass is 2/3 of a guitar). You can turn that into 27 instruments by dividing guitar into electric and acoustic and performing similar divisions for keyboards and percussions. You can divide the keyboards into the piano, the organ, the synthesizer, the electric piano, and so on. I don’t think anyone seriously believes he was a complete master of 27 completely distinct instruments.

I could say I play eight instruments if you include “Oh, Susanna” on the harmonica. It would be pretty misleading, but you could say it.

Try to find him playing instruments on the Internet. It’s not easy. You can find the guitar and the keyboards right away. The other 25 instruments are much more elusive.

Yes, he was an excellent musician, but that’s about it. He couldn’t fly. He wasn’t the smartest person on earth. The weird outfits seemed too pretentious to me. Eric Clapton can play in jeans and reading glasses.

Maybe younger fans don’t know about this poster. Yesterday a young friend of mine praised Prince for his masculinity, as contrasted with Michael Jackson, who was a homosexual who liked young boys. I don’t see masculinity in this poster. Do you? Call me crazy, but the little purple suits, high heels, and lace shirts don’t seem masculine to me either.

Prince was not a good person. He encouraged sexual sin with missionary enthusiasm. He promoted smaller entertainers and brought them into his mess. He tried to convince Denise Matthews (the former Vanity) to call herself “Vagina.” He wrote songs that were filthy and crass, not sexy. He celebrated pride and fornication. He was very corrosive to American sexual morals, and it was deliberate. If he had written music I liked, maybe I would be inclined to make excuses for him, but to me, disco is disco.

The dealer in the news story claims Prince had crippling stage fright, and that the drugs allowed him to ignore it. That comes as a surprise. You would think a man with his talent, success, and musical competence would have no regard for the negative perceptions of audiences, and you would expect forty years of performing to get him past his phobias. Very strange.

I’m not glad he’s dead, but I realize he was a horrible corrupting influence. I think his contribution to music, especially songwriting, is greatly exaggerated, and that gives him the illusion of godhood, which makes the corrupting influence stronger.

Some people are claiming he avoided drugs and alcohol. Maybe it’s an error in judgment, but I trust a drug dealer much more than an entourage member. Those people are selected for their pliability. Entourage members are the reason Eddie Murphy thought it was a good idea to make a music video. He put that in his act, lampooning their praise: “Eddie…you a GENIUS.”

What will happen to the entourage now? If he didn’t have a will, they’re going to have to get jobs, like right now. What a faceful of cold water that must be. I wonder if they ever tried to get him to make some kind of provision for them.

I have never had an entourage. I don’t know what it entails. It’s an interesting situation. One day you’re supporting a bunch of people–codependents, maybe–who have no job titles, skills, duties, or contracts, and the next day you’re dead, and you left no one to write checks. It’s like going away for a month and forgetting to fill the cat feeder. It’s like what happened to Chauncey Gardner in Being There.

If I were Prince’s sister, I’d have a security team in that compound, preventing people from stealing silverware. I’ll bet the unused portion of the last prescription disappeared already, and the cops, not being entirely stupid, will have questions about that.

Maybe there’s an entourage exchange out there somewhere. Michael Jackson dies, and Prince and Floyd Mayweather hire the cream of the newly disenfranchised. Don Imus and Howard Stern will eventually contribute some inventory.

If you’re a hot entertainer who can’t function without an array of at-will gofers and personal assistants, you put people in a precarious position. Bundini Brown would have been in a bad way if Ali had died in the ring.

The smart hangers-on marry their hosts. That gives them lasting power.

Weird. It’s all weird. The life, the death, and the warped perceptions. I never found him interesting until this week.


Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016

You Can’t Assert a Right You Don’t Have

A long time ago, my dad bought my sister’s house. He had already paid for most of it; his intention was to give it to her. He bought her out because she had ruined the place, and he was in trouble with the code enforcement people.

We started renovating it, so he could rent it out. The process was slow and full of problems.

Everything but the outer walls had to be replaced. People don’t believe me when I tell them how badly the house had been damaged. I shot video and took photos, because I knew people would not be able to grasp the magnitude of the destruction. After she left and took everything she could salvage, we spent four figures on removing junk, all of which went to the dump.

09 10 16 dead roach hanging at barbarossa

New floors (and subfloors). New drywall. New appliances. New wiring. New roof. New lawn. You name it. It all had to go.

The problems we ran into were ridiculous. We hired a contractor with glowing recommendations, and he did a tremendous amount of substandard work and then left. Neighbors who should have been thrilled to see work going on complained about the construction mess, and we had to fight the city. Construction was eventually halted because the work was no good, and the house was designated “unsafe.”

It took months to get that fixed. The City of Miami does not care if you lose everything you have while they wait to issue permits. They will literally let you go bankrupt before they will speed anything up. They sat and did nothing, and there was no way to motivate them.

Then Florida Power & Light decided the electrical service had to be switched from “residential” to “construction.” They never said what that meant, but for weeks and weeks, they refused to do anything to get the change made. They can’t be fired, and they have no competition, so it doesn’t matter to them if you lose rent money for two or three months.

We hired a new contractor (with glowing recommendations), and he was slow. He made a lot of excuses. He kept billing for new things.

The walls had been replaced, but because the first contractor didn’t follow the code, the new walls had to be replaced.

During all this time, I was praying and using my supernatural tools, but things kept getting gummed up. I did not understand it.

One day last week, I thought about the price my dad paid for my sister’s interest, and I realized something: one part of her payment had been held up.

When he bought her out, he held a mortgage on her part of the house. She developed lung cancer, and instead of saving money, she had spent everything she had. She had not bought health insurance. She started out with very expensive treatment. When she was broke, she came to my father and asked him to foot the bills. To teach her a lesson, he made her sign a note for six figures.

When he bought the house, the mortgage was part of the deal. He was supposed to record a satisfaction of mortgage and let it go. But when I brought it up to him, he refused to do it. I didn’t argue with him, because it was between him and my sister, and I didn’t want to wade back into the snake pit. I knew he would never hold her accountable for the debt, so I didn’t think it mattered.

Last week, I sat up in bed and realized that in God’s eyes, the house still belonged to her.

The house fell apart because it belonged to a proud, malicious individual who brought curses on herself. It seemed to me that the construction problems came from this root. Any spirit sent to destroy her possessions would still have the authority to do damage.

I got up the next day and made him sign a satisfaction of mortgage. I took him to get it notarized, and I recorded it by mail.

Why write all this? Because the house has gone nuts since I recorded the mortgage. Whenever one of us visits, there are several workers there, putting the place in order. That’s new. In the past, we would go over and see no sign that anyone had been there in weeks. We could not get the city or the contractor moving.

The contractor has stopped being belligerent and unreasonable. Things I thought were not being done are being taken care of. The stress is gone.

The reason I write about this, potentially subjecting my sister to criticism, is that God taught me something wonderful: our actions matter. Life doesn’t instantly fix itself when you accept salvation, and it doesn’t necessarily fix itself when you develop a strong prayer life (my expectation). You also have to find out what you’ve been doing wrong. You have to admit it candidly, without excuses (or as we like to call them, “explanations”), and you have to ask for help correcting things.

Maybe you have debts. Maybe there is someone you treat badly. Maybe you owe someone an apology. The most likely problem of all is pride coupled with denial. You have to ask God about these things and get his help putting them right. Until then, you’re bailing a boat at one end while water comes in a hole at the other.

My old churches, Trinity Church and New Dawn Ministries, did not teach accountability or repentance. They taught that if you believed God and gave preachers money, everything would work out. As a result, Trinity can’t pay its bills and New Dawn is a tiny, failed church in a rented room, after years of yammering about the prosperity gospel.

The pastors of these churches, personally, are failures, so the people who follow them are failures. The failure of Rich Wilkerson, the pastor at Trinity, is less obvious, because he borrows and hustles, but the church is not prosperous. No one who has a lot of debt is prosperous. They just look good until the bills come due.

This can be extremely helpful to you, if you take it seriously and put it to use. Start asking God what you’re doing wrong. If you think you’re not doing anything wrong, ask him to get off the throne, because obviously, it rightfully belongs to you.

I experienced something truly wonderful yesterday. I have been unable to make myself pray consistently in the middle of the day, and it has been a real problem, because prayer is like food. You can’t do it once and then forget about it. You have to do it over and over, at relatively short intervals. When you neglect it, things start to go badly, like the battle in which Moses held Aaron’s rod over his head. When he held it up, the Hebrews did well. When he lowered it, they started to lose.

I have been praying and praying for help with this. I like to pray at around 5 p.m., because it’s a good midway point. I try to go at least 20 minutes in tongues. I keep asking God to give me grace to do it. I don’t need willpower; that brings pride. I need supernatural help.

Yesterday I had a burger, and then I sat on the couch for a bit, to watch something stupid and digest the food. I started feeling euphoric. I thought it was just my blood sugar going up, but then I realized it was supernatural. I felt peace and joy, and an absence of stress and anger. I knew it was God, resting on me, so I gave in to in and started praying. It was great. I felt him moving, doing various things. I knew things were being ordered and harmonized. I was getting correction.

I can’t say enough about it. Being in God’s presence is a gift and an honor you can’t buy with money or earthly power. There is no way to get it unless you please God. People simulate it with drugs and alcohol, but those things don’t compare, and they always come with a cost that exceeds the benefit.

In summary, it has been a really good week, and I expect things to keep getting better. I hope people listen and try the things I’m doing so they get what I’m getting.

Music continues to go well. Sometimes I feel sure my hands are going to swell up and refuse to cooperate, but when practice time comes, they are always ready to go. I am starting to sound a little bit like a musician from time to time.

Last time, I wrote about my old “Wingman” amp. It started life with two output transformers and four 6BM8 tubes, for a total of 15 watts. Recently, I took two output tubes out and got a nice sound, so I decided to rehabilitate the amp.

I was not sure whether I should go with two tubes and 7 watts or four tubes and 15 watts. I played around, switching tubes in and out. I learned that I had the wrong rectifier (5Y3) in it, so I put a bigger one (5AR4) in it, and the sound got even better.

I have all sorts of amp parts lying around. I have a bigger power transformer, which I intended to put in the Wingman, thinking it would clean things up. Somehow, I had gotten the idea that four tubes added up to 30 watts, so the new transformer was the correct size for that amount of power. I found out I was wrong; it was only 15 watts. I checked the existing power transformer, and it was rated for 15 watts. I was all set!

I cleaned the amp up and built a new cabinet for it, and here it is.

02 29 16 wingman amp with new cabinet and nameplate

The sound is very clear and warm, very much like the four-EL84 Rocketman amp I designed, but I would say it breaks up a little earlier. Not sure. In any case, it has a singing quality which is hard to describe. When you play through it, it’s like the guitar becomes a wind instrument, like a muted trumpet. It’s exquisite.

I have been modifying my pedals, and I decided to open up my Way Huge Fat Sandwich distortion pedal to see what I could do to cut down the gain. It turned out I had the internal drive pot set too high, so I turned it back down and fired the amp up. Magnificent. Like listening to an angel cry. Warm, round, expressive…marvelous. I liked it so much I found a second Fat Sandwich on Ebay, used. Now I’ll have one in the garage and one in the house.

I have bought a lot of pedals, but it’s not because I want a lot. It’s because I want a few really good ones. You have to try a fair number in order to find what you want. And even then, I had to open them up and change parts.

The amp parts I still have are going to have to go somewhere. I believe the best move is to build one more Rocketman, since the first one is a little rough, and I may make another Wingman. After that, I will be set for a while. I have a couple of speakers I need to put into a cabinet, so that’s also on the list.

For quite a while, I’ve been asking God to show me the things in my life that please him. I’ve been asking him to restore them, repair them, replace them, make them work, and so on. I ask this for everyone on my prayer list. The stuff with the amps and guitars seems to be his answer. Very nice.

I am not out of the woods yet, but at least I know I’m in the woods! That’s more than most charismatic Christians can say. They go down with the ship, thinking the Coast Guard is a minute away when it’s actually still at the dock.

As always, I hope this is helpful. Let me know if it bears fruit in your life.

Per Diem

Friday, February 12th, 2016

Sufficient Unto the Day are the Blessings Thereof

I have nothing but good news to report. At least for me.

I thought I was saying something positive, but now that I’ve typed it, it looks sad.

It is sad.

When I was working on a kibbutz in Israel, I spent time pruning olive trees. They told me that in order to get one productive tree, you have to plant about 800 trees. About 1 in 800 produce olives. The rest are cut and burned.

Is that true? Search me. I only know what they told me.

People are not much better off than olive trees.

Americans are very spoiled. We used to honor God fairly well, and he made us rich and strong. We still have a lot of wealth piled up, as a result of our former humility and gratitude. Because of this, and because we are isolated geographically, we think the world is a nice place. Most of us are only familiar with the US, and things here are good, so we think the world is okay.

The world is not okay. It’s a horror. There are people all over the globe who don’t have running water or electricity. In 2016. People die from diseases that can be prevented with soap. Freedom is fairly rare. Slavery is common. Look around. The world is a mess.

We tend to see the world as a pleasant place in which we spend time trying to be good until we move to the next level. We see it as heaven’s anteroom. In reality, it’s much more like hell. It’s hell’s roof, literally.

Satan runs the earth. Jesus said so. He called Satan “the god of this world.” That’s why things don’t work well here. That’s why there is pain and injustice. We elected Satan and made God an alien.

God interferes with Satan’s work a lot, but Satan still holds the lease.

Most people serve the devil all their lives, obeying the compulsions of demons and their flesh, and then they die and go to hell to burn, like the 799 olive trees that didn’t bear fruit.

God probably designed olive that ways on purpose, as a symbol. In the Bible, trees symbolize people. Olive oil is God’s anointing. Fruit are people who develop in God’s kingdom. They are future trees.

The primary purpose of our existence is reproduction. We are like eggs, and we have the potential to become God’s children (not just his creations). Most of us are like eggs that are never fertilized and wash out with a woman’s monthly fluids.

If you don’t produce fruit, there isn’t much purpose in keeping you around. There is even less purpose in helping you. It would encourage you to continue walking in rebellion.

God told me powerful things almost thirty years ago, and I basically spat on them.

He owed me nothing. I was not his child. I was like a deserving convict on a penal island. By “deserving,” I mean deserving of punishment. He reached out to me, and instead of showing gratitude and amazement, I decided his gifts were unimportant and optional. So I wandered around, weak and lost, much longer than I had to.

He told me to pray in tongues a lot every day. That, alone, would have made me a success. But I put it off and inserted around 15 years of dead time in the center of my life.

A few years back, he started giving me grace to pray in tongues, and I reached a point where I prayed for hours every day. I started receiving real power and revelation, and my status changed. Now I’m much stronger than I used to be; I’m like the Karate Kid after discovering Mr. Miyagi and listening to his wisdom. The enemies that used to beat me are taking a beating, themselves.

That’s very good. But I can’t transfer it to other people.

I’m just like God. All I can do is persuade and urge. People are just as stupid as I was, and they do whatever they want. They are incredibly blind.

God has a way of making us suffer with the problems we have inflicted on him, so I can see why life is like this. He couldn’t tell me a thing, and now I can’t tell other people anything.

I don’t think it will change. The pattern is not going to change before Jesus returns. Most people will harden their hearts and go to hell. On the other hand, there is no reason why God won’t let me reach more people. The ratio of rejection to acceptance is not going to change, but if you reach more people, the absolute numbers can increase. If you only change 1 in 800 people, and you reach 8000 people instead of 800, you get 10 instead of 1.

Something to wonder about.

To get back on point, I have positive things to report about myself.

I feel like I’ve achieved escape velocity.

In the oversimplified physics they teach to undergrads, they tell you that if you’re on a planet, and you move upward fast enough to give you kinetic energy greater than the potential energy you will accumulate as you leave the gravity field, you will escape and leave the planet. That means you’ve reached escape velocity. Gravity may still be pulling on you, but you’re going to win.

It doesn’t really work like that, because of air resistance. But it’s still a neat analogy.

I believe I have reached the point where I am not going to lose any more.

Last year, I believe it was, I received the words, “I will have total victory for now on, because you are for me.” I believe I have that right. Does that mean I’ve never lost a video game since then, or that I always find a great parking space in front of the store? Does it mean I’ve never cut myself since then? Does it mean I never have to take medicine? No. It just means I eventually come out on top, in every conflict.

That’s good enough, believe me. That’s all anyone can ask. A friend of mine said something the other day, and it gave me confirmation. She said the Bible says no weapon formed against the servants of God will prosper, but it doesn’t say weapons won’t form. I’ll take it.

The 34th psalm confirms this, saying, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivereth him out of them all.”

I keep getting delivered. There are plenty of annoyances in my life, but they aren’t making any headway.

The other day I was arguing with someone who is very crabby, manipulative, and childish, about a minor inconvenience he had had to endure. He was essentially asserting that it was my job to make his life free from all discomfort and effort. I argued a little, and then I remembered my supernatural tools. I spoke defeat to him and to the demons that use him against me. I spoke it right there in front of him, quietly, while he wasn’t paying attention. That was the end of the yelling. Instantly, he started cooperating, and we resolved the issue. I won. God’s authority overcame the problem.

This kind of thing happens to me all the time. It won’t work if you don’t have faith, and you won’t have faith unless you’re praying in tongues every day. But it does work.

The things that are happening with my hands are extraordinary. I’ve written about how God has allowed me to play instruments, even though I used to have swelling, pain, and stiffness from guitar exercises. The adventure has not stopped.

Over the last few weeks, there have been a number of times when I’ve awakened and felt like my hands were swelling and starting to be a problem. I sat up and prayed in the Spirit, and I spoke defeat to the illness and the spirits that caused it. I spoke defeat to my own flesh and said it was forbidden to harm itself or to have joint issues. Every day, I have been able to practice without problems. I have had slight discomfort at times, and I have a tiny bit of detectable swelling in one joint, but that’s all.

I have spoken defeat to the spirits of joint problems during the day. I’ve actually said, “I’m too strong for you now,” and, “You don’t have enough juice any more.” Not glorifying myself; just acknowledging the work God has done in me.

I have even picked up the flattop guitar and the mandolin again. These are instruments that wreck your hands. The strings are very stiff, the action is horrible, and the picks are like quarters. I play both every day, and my hands feel better today than they did weeks ago.

I’ve found that God won’t always destroy a problem instantly, for good. There are some enemies you have to crush every day, just as you spray your house for bugs once a month. Hey, as long as they stay crushed, I’m ecstatic. I can play my instruments, and I have extra motivation for prayer and submission. What’s not to like?

I’ve been fixing my amps up. I got my old Fender Bassman clone cleaned up, and I use it for practice. I also revamped my “Wingman” amp, which is a Bassman front end with two 6BM8 tubes for output. I used to have two output transformers and four tubes on it, but it sounded flubbery when driven, so I removed one transformer and two tubes. Now I love it. It sings.

I just need to make wooden cabinets for them now.

A Christian buddy of mine–the former head of the armorbearers at Trinity Church– has decided he wants to learn guitar, so we are going to work on a new amp. That will be a lot of fun.

He has been dealing with the sudden challenge of prostate cancer. Instead of going the TBN/Osteen route and blaming the devil and claiming it’s not his fault, he acknowledged that he opened a lot of doors with a lifetime of sexual sin, and he took responsibility. He has ramped up the prayer in tongues. He is very excited about seeking correction and subduing the flesh. It’s wonderful to see.

The amps give us an excuse to hang out.

I feel that God has said that music will be my last great adventure. I certainly hope so, because it’s the only one I ever really wanted.

It’s very hard to get used to being blessed. Yesterday I prayed for God to help me with it. An inability to trust your blessings and put your weight on them reduces the joy you get from them. I want to settle into it.

My left hand feels wonderful. There are a lot of things I’d like to do on the guitar, but a little part of me says, “That will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That will put you in the doctor’s office, and dust will start settling on the guitars again.”

I prayed for God to help me with this, and faith rushed through me.

I realize how much I deadened and contaminated myself when I was living for Satan. I often feel like I’m at the bottom of a well dug in granite, sealed with hardened material I packed in from above. I feel like I buried myself down there, under a column of petrified excrement. I did not understand how I was supposed to live or how good life was supposed to be, so I created my own ridiculous, counterproductive, weak defense mechanisms and hid down there under them, waiting for death.

Traditional Christianity teaches us to suffer and wait. In reality, the Holy Spirit wants us to have hearts and minds like God’s. That implies healing and restoration. You can’t be like Jesus if your heart and mind aren’t whole! It doesn’t make sense.

God will rebuild you from inside. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how much time you have left. True, you probably won’t make as much progress if you repent at 90, but you will make progress, and it will be worth it.

Only God has the solvent that will penetrate and dissolve the column of crud you’ve piled on top of yourself.

Apart from salvation, this is what we should be pursuing. Forget the TV money lies. If you have this, the money and women and so on that other people crave won’t matter to you.

I am offering my testimony, even though I am tempted to hold it back in case my hands swell up again. I am putting it out there. This is what God has done for me, as of today. Every day, his method works. If it worked yesterday, and every day so far this year, surely it will work tomorrow and every day for the rest of my life. I’ll take the chance that I might have to retract all of this, just so you will be encouraged to set out on your own voyage.

Pray in tongues every day, speak defeat to your flesh and the spirits that want to control you, exalt the Holy Spirit, and ask God for correction and healing. It works. It’s free. You can do it from your couch. You don’t even have to tell anyone.

Or you can be like me and come back in about 15 years.


I have to apologize. My brain must have been in the wrong gear. I worked on ALMOND trees, not olive trees. I was told that only one almond tree in 800 bears fruit. I suppose, then, that you can disregard my guesses about olive oil and the anointing and so on.

Aaron’s rod was almond wood.

Hands of Silver

Friday, January 8th, 2016

Steel Rusts

One of the nice things about cooperating with God and getting his power flowing in your life is that stuff that used to not work will start to work. Right now, I am having that experience with music.

Longtime readers with incredible memories will recall that I took up the guitar and quit because I developed strange knots on the finger joints on my left hand. Last year I started playing again.

I am not a hundred percent positive what caused the joint problems, but I do know that I was doing a highly questionable exercise routine at the time. It was called “Hands of Steel,” I think. I found it on an online teaching site. The motions were repetitious and stressful.

I thought I had repetitive-motion injuries.

I’m not so sure now. Last year I banged my right pinky on my compressor, and weeks later, a knot developed on one of the joints, just like the knots I had had on my left hand. I didn’t think I had injured myself. There was no real pain or bruising. But the knot rose up anyway, for no other apparent reason.

It’s almost gone now. I still don’t know that happened. You would think that if repetitive motion was the problem, my right hand would not have developed a knot, since I don’t do much of anything with the pinky on that hand.

I will definitely stay away from “Hands of Steel.” I think it’s a really stupid and dangerous method.

Last year I picked up the banjo again. There is something about the banjo that improves my playing on other instruments. When I play the banjo regularly, my musical memory improves a great deal. It’s also good preparation for the guitar. There is a lot of work for both hands, and none of it is strenuous.

I got back to the piano, and I started sight-reading practice again. Then I picked up the guitar.

After playing the banjo for several weeks without touching the guitar, I apparently changed my touch. I used to have a “death grip” issue with my fretting hand, but it appears to have gone away. Fretting too forcefully is bad for your playing, and it also leads to fatigue and injuries. It may be what made my joints hurt. Anyway, now the guitar is much easier.

Several of my guitars were messed up in one way or another. Two had pickups that were too shrill, and I had put off trying to figure that problem out. One, a Telecaster, needed a different neck pickup, and although I had bought one (Strat Texas Special), I hadn’t installed it.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve straightened the guitars out. I learned something interesting: piercing “icepick” tones from a guitar pickup can be caused by putting the pickup too far from the strings. Most people say it works the other way around, so if you listen to them and try to fix it, the problem gets worse, and then you give up. I moved the pickups on a couple of guitars and got better sound from them, and I went from a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates bridge pickup to a Seymour Duncan Alnico Pro II on one instrument.

Today I moved the Strat pickup to the Telecaster. I had to get a special pickguard, because the Strat pickup is bigger than the original pickup. You can hack up the original pickguard, but it’s not a good solution. I bought a pickguard from Guitar Fetish. I now wish I had spent more and gone with Warmoth, because the Guitar Fetish pickguard required some filing and sanding to get it to fit. Anyway, it’s on the guitar.

I made myself a new pedalboard. I have a big Pedaltrain about two feet wide and 20″ deep (I guess), and it’s just too big. I took a piece of wood about 9″ across and 12″ long, and I cleaned it up and glued another piece of wood to it to prop up one side. I painted it with truck bed paint, and I screwed rubber feet to it. Then I added some velcro from Home Depot.

It’s really excellent. Storebought pedalboards start at about $35, and even small ones are big. And they don’t use solid wood the way I did. This one is perfect for three pedals. I have a daisy chain transformer that powers it. No fancy low-noise stuff. I’m not totally sure why people need those things, although I do have one on the Pedaltrain.

I tried to get my pedals in good shape. I fired up a Boss Blues Driver and a Way Huge Fat Sandwich. The Fat Sandwich has a magnificent tone, but it’s too distorted. At the lowest setting, it’s pretty crazy. I’m going to try to find out how to modify it.

I considered getting a Way Huge Red Llama, which is an overdrive pedal (less distorted than a distortion pedal), but then I remembered my old Tube Screamer TS-9.

I got this thing in about 1997, when I got the Strat I never play. I never liked this pedal. It had no edge, and it didn’t sound warm. I should have sold it.

I checked around and found out that there were some modifications that might make it better. The original Tube Screamer is the TS-808 (I think), and it had different resistors in the output. I found out the correct values and stuck them in there, and it sounded a little better.

Then I read that it was possible to warm it up by making the clipping asymmetrical.

A guitar signal is AC, which means it’s a voltage that goes up and down around some zero point. Most of what we call “distortion” is clipping. That means part of the voltage extremes gets cut off. Imagine an arch shape with the top sliced off. That’s what it’s like. The voltage ordinarily goes up, hits a round peak, and comes back down. When you clip, it goes up, hits a flat ceiling, and comes down.

The Tube Screamer has a couple diodes in it that affect the clipping. Because the factory diodes are identical, the clipping is the same regardless of which direction the signal is taking. If you change one diode, you get clipping which is different on one side of ground than the other.

For some reason, this makes clipping sound warmer. Look it up; I have not bothered to study it, so I can’t explain it. I could say something about “even harmonics,” but really, would that make it clearer? Doubtful. It would sound like an explanation without actually being an explanation.

I opened the Tube Screamer up again, pulled out a clipping diode, and replaced it with an LED. Then I put it together and tried it out.

It’s just about perfect now. The tone is warm and inviting. It responds well to the pick. It’s somewhat louder than it used to be. Now when I use the pedal, sometimes I just sit picking notes so I can enjoy the tone.

I have piles of guitars, and several are pretty nice, but I keep going back to the cheapest one: the $300 Epiphone P93 Riviera, from China. The action is a wonder to behold. It plays itself. The sound of the Lollar P90s is open, with an inviting edge that grabs you by the throat.

01 02 16 Rocketman Riviera and new Pedalboard in garage

It’s actually a little frustrating. I would like to get this kind of experience from my more expensive instruments, but it’s not happening. My Japanese Burny Les Paul clone is the closest competitor, and it’s only about 90% of the guitar the Riviera is.

I would like to have one more guitar I really enjoy using, because no matter now much you like a guitar, sometimes you want to play something else, and you don’t want to go from a perfect guitar to a really good guitar. You want to make a lateral move.

I keep watching my finger joints. They haven’t gotten sore or swollen, and I practice a lot these days. I speak defeat to the spirits that work against my flesh. I forbid my flesh to have joint problems. I use the tools I’ve been given. So far, no issues.

My playing is getting better very quickly, and I’m finding the way through doors that seemed closed in the past.

One big help: I found a good instructor. The guy I was using a couple of years ago was great in many ways, but he did not have a systematic approach, which I needed. This week I found Justin Sandercoe, and right now, he’s my teacher.

He’s a Tasmanian guitarist, and he created a website full of free videos. He goes step by step. He explains everything. He even creates practice lists.

He doesn’t teach people to fake it and flail, the way most teachers do. You have to learn proper technique, scales, and so on. He eventually goes into the CAGED system, which is something I would really like to conquer, even if I don’t rely on it much.

You can find him at Justin Guitar.

Things are breaking loose. I can do things I couldn’t do before. Suddenly, I am much better at writing blues licks. Instead of writing stuff that sounds like a white kid from Connecticut wrote it, I write stuff that sounds like the blues, and I do it easily. What a relief. And I actually play sometimes, instead of just practicing. Isn’t that really the point of all this work and expense? You can sink your life into music and never learn how to do anything but practice.

I’m thinking about making a slightly larger pedalboard and finishing up the two-speaker cabinet I never started, and I may put my Bassman clone in a different chassis, to kill the noise. I have parts for a few more amps. I should put them together. But mainly, I’m excited about the music.

I will let you know if things continue to improve. I has been great so far. I can’t tell you how great it is to wake up every morning and realize my hand doesn’t hurt. If you’ve ever been healed of anything, you know what I mean.

Nerd Tools

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

If You Can’t Learn in 2015, You are Beyond Hope

Today a few things about my progress in various areas.

First off, I found an incredible circuit analysis video.

As I have mentioned before, I have been trying to get back into (“back” is a kind exaggeration) electronics. I started watching MIT’s free online course, 6.002.

I found the book pedantic and tedious, and the professor didn’t explain things all that well. I started using other sources and compiling a notebook.

I came to realize that the MIT guy was not doing a good job. He taught things that were not useful, and he omitted things that were very useful. He may have a brain the size of a Subaru, but he is not the perfect teacher.

When you study electronics, you want to know what people who work with circuits actually do. You don’t need to learn a bunch of crap that only manifests in the real world in the homework problems of students.

Over the last week, I started writing my own method, and yesterday I checked Youtube for resources. I found this video:

You won’t believe it until you watch it, but this guy sums up six weeks’ worth of college lectures in 90 minutes, and he does it slowly.

The MIT guy taught me things that I can’t use. He told me about the “lumped matter discipline” and…other stuff I don’t remember. You don’t need to know all that. It’s filler for pedants. If you take out the junk he incorporated and you add some great things he left out, you get the video above.

Take a look. If you learn the material in the video, it will make any other class you might take make sense.

I’m sure there are huge benefits to the MIT course, once you have your legs under you, but you have to start with a solid foundation.

The video guy recommends LTSpice, which is a free program that lets you draw circuits and then run them in a virtual…space or whatever. Easier than breadboarding. I have the program, and the learning curve seems pretty flat. I was able to turn it on and draw a circuit without studying. You can find it by Googling.

I’m also enjoying a graduate-level solid state physics course. This is the course that killed me as a physicist. Well, this and quantum. I got burned out, and they had me on ADD drugs that made me nearly crazy, and I got a D in solid state.

The professor who taught the course was awful, and the department at UT Austin was not helpful at all. It was a horrible experience, losing physics. A slow-motion trainwreck on a locomotive with the brake lever welded open. Of course, even though UT was not exactly nurturing, it’s my fault. I was out of God’s favor because I chose to be.

It would be wonderful to master this course and do problems successfully. Just a closure thing.

I found this guy on Youtube. It’s easy to find undergrad physics on the web, but graduate stuff is less available. Someone uploaded his videos, and they came up in a Youtube search.

His name is Sandro Scandolo, and he teaches at an instution called ICTP, in Italy. Even if you don’t know physics well at all, if you’re technically inclined, you will enjoy the first lecture. His style is wonderful. Patient, conversational, and very organized.

ICTP has a website, and if you burrow around in it, you can find other graduate courses. You can download them as flash or Apple movies. I leave finding them to you.

I plan to watch the whole course, even if I don’t do problems. I am smart enough to understand this stuff even if I don’t take the time to put it to work. Simply understanding it will make me feel better.

If you want technical texts for home study, I can recommend two resources. First, Scrib’d. You may have moral qualms about it, so caveat emptor. It’s a site with zillions of PDF uploads. You pay nine bucks a month. Much of the material is not copyrighted, so you can read it without feeling bad. Another resource is Amazon Marketplace. When you look for a hardcover text that costs $200 in the US (they have gone up that much, believe it or not), you will often find links to people who sell gray-market paperbacks for under twenty bucks. Same books. No infringement. I have two of them, and a third is on the way.

If you go crazy and decide to study solid state, get Ashcroft. I also found a book by a guy named McKelvey. Very nice. Kittel is a torture device. Naturally, it’s the book UT used. I still have my copy. I should waterboard it.

People say Kittel was a genius, but that doesn’t mean he could write books people could actually learn from.

CAD is going well. I have no complaints about Fusion 360. I’m sorry I paid so much for Alibre and Dolphin, but I did my best to find good programs, and that’s what I came up with in my first attempts. I’ll post a jpg of a part I’m making.

09 22 15 Fusion 360 Lathe Tool Post with extraneous crap removed

I’ve always sneered at 3D printers. Now that I can do CAD and send files to a printer, I sort of wish I had one. I checked into them last week, and I found that I was right to sneer. They’re still toys, and they make rough parts made of weak materials. If you have $500,000 you can get a really nice one that makes things you can use, but I think I’ll pass.

Maybe I should get a crummy one now just so I’ll get to know the technology.

The Autodesk Fusion 360 forum is a lifesaver. That, alone, makes it worth downloading and using. I tried CNCZone when I was struggling with Alibre and Dolphin, but the kids on that forum tend to be nonhelpful and self-absorbed, and they can also be rude.

I am back to music study. I returned to Sightreading.com. I recommend it. It produces random pages of music for practice. They’re not tunes. Just notes. It’s helpful because you will involuntarily memorize tunes as you work on them, and once that happens, it’s not sightreading. You can’t memorize random junk, so it keeps the proper area of the brain working.

That’s all I have right now. I hope it will be useful to someone.

Organ Transplant Complete

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Yah di Buckety…

I have a new adventure to report. I have entered the world of tube organ ownership.

Here’s the story.

In the Twenties, a man named Laurens Hammond invented a circuit that kept good time. He used it to create the first accurate electric clocks. He created the Hammond clock company.

At some point, he realized he could generate accurate tones using his gadgetry. He decided to make some kind of novelty machine that made sounds, but his accountant suggested he create musical instruments instead.

This is how the Hammond organ was born.

The Hammond company made organs for about forty years. They used tube amplifiers and other weird old analog circuitry. And they were amazing. They were nothing like as big or expensive as pipe organs, but they were able to compete with them musically. They exuded mojo. Eventually jazz and blues musicians discovered organs, and we ended up with classics like “Whiter Shade of Pale” and “House of the Rising Sun.”

Eventually transistors and digital circuits ruined the market for Hammond organs, and Hammond’s competitors beat it to death with cheesy features that allowed people to push a couple of buttons and essentially make their organs play without much human input. Hammond folded, and later, his competitors folded. Now you practically have to pay people to take tube organs, except for four or five Hammond models that have developed a following. Even those can be had for one to three thousand dollars, which is very little, considering the complexity and quality of the instruments.

I have a friend named Travis. He plays on my church’s worship team. I believe he plays 12 instruments. Right now, he’s on scholarship at the Frost music school at the University of Miami. He has been pushing the team to go for a little more soul, and sometimes he throws in some organ licks on a small, crummy keyboard they use. Our pastor is also trying to steer the team in this direction.

I told the worship leader they could get a great old organ cheap if they watched the ads, but he thought it would take up too much room. Unfortunately, by the time he turned the idea down, I was already hooked on Craigslist, and I had found several nice Hammonds for sale.

The one that finally got my attention was an E133. This is a variant of the E100, which is one of the last good Hammonds. Someone was advertising it for a hundred bucks. I believe she originally wanted a thousand, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you watch Internet organ ads, you will see them start very high and end very low. Sometimes owners will actually pay to have organs hauled off.

Her organ sold for something like two thousand dollars when it was new (c. 1965), so she was probably shocked to learn that it was nearly worthless.

I had a hard time getting in touch with her. Her Craigslist ad expired, and she was slow to respond. Finally, I got ahold of her, and I made a deal. I would give her a hundred bucks for the organ if it was basically sound.

Enter Travis.

The E133 is one of Hammond’s heavier organs. Not the heaviest, but it’s a console, which means it’s bigger than a spinet. The M3 the hit “Green Onions” was played on weighs around 250 pounds. The E133 is maybe a hundred pounds heavier, before adding the pedals and bench. I decided Travis was going to help me carry it.

Here’s something really sad. I got a pickup so I could haul heavy things, and as it turns out, that plan has not panned out all that well. The organ errand demonstrates my point. It was supposed to rain on the day we planned to get the organ, so there was no way I could use an open truck. I had to rent a van. So aggravating.

I could not figure out how to get the organ to the van, but then I remembered those nylon forearm straps they advertise on TV. The invention is called the “Forearm Forklift.” You run the straps under heavy things and attach the free ends to your forearms, and this allows you to stand relatively straight when you lift. It makes moving heavy things easier. On Youtube, people move refrigerators with people sitting on top. I figured those straps were for me. I bought a pair.

We drove up to Davie, where the seller lived, and we threw the straps under the organ. Yes, it did move. But because it was so low to the ground, it was necessary to bend down pretty far, negating part of the benefit of the straps. Also, the organ threatened to tip to the side, which was not encouraging.

By a miracle of God, we got it to the driveway and put it behind the van, hoping to tilt it gently onto its back, via the rear doors.

At this point we learned something fascinating about lifting straps. Travis said he wanted to put his end of the organ in the van first and then help with mine, and that sounded okay, but when he got his end onto the van floor and let go of one strap, all the tension on that strap disappeared, and of course, the organ headed for the pavement with me shrieking as I strained to hang onto it.

I was positive we were about to drop over three hundred pounds of fifty-year-old cabinetry and tube amps on this lady’s driveway. All my organ dreams, up in smoke. Embarrassing.

By a second miracle of God, we stopped the organ and got it into the van, and then we requested and received a third miracle to get it down onto my driveway.

Here is Travis, trying the organ out. This is probably one of the happiest moments of his life. He likes that organ.

10 02 14 hammond e133 in garage with Travis

The organ had a few issues. For one thing, it had that “I’ve been in a house with cats” smell, big-time. For another, it made a funny hummy sort of noise. It also had a coating of crud on it. Some mysterious yellow substance. I obliterated paper towel after paper towel, removing filth from the keys and plastic surfaces. It may have been nicotine. That’s not as bad as the other things that it may have been, so I prefer to think that’s what it was.

The vibrato didn’t work, although I didn’t realize that. Also, after we ran it a while, it made hooting sounds. Oh well. A hundred bucks, right? How can you go wrong?

Since Thursday, I have been taking the organ apart and putting it back together. I learned some fascinating stuff.

Mr. Hammond’s organs do not have sealed bearings. Maybe they didn’t exist in the Sixties. Instead, a Hammond organ has a trough running down the midde of it, and that trough is filled with Hammond oil (actually about the same thing as air tool oil). The trough has a sponge in it, and from various points in the organ, cotton threads run to the sponge. At their other ends are weird bronze bearings. There are two plastic funnels over the trough. You pour oil into each funnel, and it goes into the sponge, and then it takes a three-week-long journey down the threads and into the bearings.

I’m not kidding. It really works that way. If you buy a Hammond organ today, and it needs oil, expect it to be ready to play three weeks after the day you oil it.

The hooting sounds came from bearings in the tonewheel generator. I’ll bet you want to know what that is.

You may know what a hurdy gurdy is. Probably not. It’s a gourd-shaped instrumend with strings. Inside it, there is a shaft with discs mounted transversely on it. When you crank the shaft, you can select strings and make them contact the moving edges of the disks. The disks act like violin bows; the rubbing makes the sound.

A Hammond organ is basically an electric hurdy gurdy. It has a motor at one end, and a shaft runs down the length of the organ. On the shaft, there are tonewheels. These are disks with notches around the edges. There are magnetic pickups, like guitar pickups, next to the disks. As the disks turn, the notches vary the voltage in the pickups, and you get a signal that produces a tone. The more notches a disk has, the higher the frequency of the tone.

The beauty of this system is that you can blend signals from multiple disks.

Over the keyboards (“manuals”), there are drawbars. These are sliding bars that determine how the tones blend. If you pull a drawbar all the way out, it maximizes the output from a certain wheel. Or certain wheels. I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s sort of like a graphic equalizer. If you always pull the drawbars out to certain lengths, you will always have the same sound. Jimmy Smith, the jazz organist, made a splash by using the pattern 888-000-000 on the nine drawbars of his organ. I should also add that the organ has two manuals, and each manual has its own set of drawbars.

The drawbars explain part of the organ’s appeal. An organ’s tones are not pure. Because you’re combining tones, every time you press a key, what you really get is a chord. If you’re a musician, you know that chords have a more satisfying sound than discrete notes.

The organ I bought is not the most desired Hammond. That would be the B-3. Generally, big rock acts used these to perform the classics we all remember. There are similar organs that are a little less desirable, like the RT2, the A100, and the C-3. The E-133 has some of the B-3’s good points, but it lacks others. And it has some silly features that have to be removed in order to make it sound its best. It’s a fantastic instrument, though. And for a hundred bucks, it’s the deal of the century.

A B-3 will run you two grand or more. I am not blowing that kind of money on what is essentially an impulse buy. But I’m willing to spend a hundred to get 85% of that experience.

Working on the organ is a nightmare. It’s very tight in the cabinet, and nothing is modular, in any sane sense of the term. It would probably take two hours to get the tonewheel generator out. The vibrato is generated in a little can at one end of the organ, and I had to remove it twice and bang around on it to get it working. It takes one hour to remove and one hour to replace. It probably has eighty parts, and they are very small, and they like to fall out of your oily hands and roll under things.

Today I got the vibrato working, and I am well on the way to having the hooting fixed. I still have to fix one pedal. If you don’t know, the pedals on an organ are bass notes. They’re very cool. One of mine is missing a small piece of metal that actuates the switch that plays the note.

I washed the whole organ with Murphy’s Oil Soap, and I should really do it again. I polished it with Scott’s Liquid Gold. The cat stench is just about gone, and now I’m not afraid to eat after touching the keys.

I told Travis he has a lifetime pass to play it.

Once it’s reasonably healthy I may move it out of the garage.

The folks at my church say they want it. NOW. Oh, no. Sorry. You get to wait for the next one, and someone else has to deliver it. I’ll find it and I’ll make it work. That’s more generous than it sounds.

If you like old organ music, get out there and find an old Hammond. Steer clear of other brands. If you’re not handy, you can get a Hammond digital B-3. The Suzuki company bought the name, and they make a fake B-3 as well as a compact version for the stage.

Sooner or later people will rediscover these things, and then you’ll be sorry. Or not.

Anyway, I got mine.

What You Speak and Believe Matters More Than What You Do

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

Put the Horse Before the Cart and Move

Felt like blogging some more.

I love music, but I had some problems with my left hand. The knuckles on three fingers swelled up. I think I got this problem because I was using an online guitar lesson program intended to strengthen my hands. It was full of harsh, repetitive movements done to exhaustion.

I quit playing the guitar and pretty much forgot about performing, shifting instead to writing music. That’s rewarding, and it’s more important than playing, but playing is not something to be discarded lightly.

A few months back, as is often the case, my pastor got a word that he was supposed to pray for physical healing, and I went up. After the service, my hand felt better. I resumed practice. Now I’m playing the banjo, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, piano, lap steel, and dobro.

I’ve put the mandolin and electric guitar on the back burner. I focus mainly on the piano and slide guitars, and I keep up with the banjo, because practicing everything I know only takes around 20 minutes, and it appears that practicing my first instrument improves my ability to remember and play pieces on other instruments.

The mandolin is not a big priority, but I did hear a piece in my head, so I wrote it down in Finale, and I put up a Youtube in which the computer plays it. I should record a version using an actual mandolin, but I haven’t done that.

I have had to go for prayer again, and I have found that stretching and a thing called “friction massage” protect my left hand, but basically, I am healed. It’s a big blessing. If I had to pick one thing I wanted to do more than anything else, it would be music. And God tells us he will give us the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4).

You may not believe it, but you can bless yourself with added ability. One day I got the idea of speaking increased talent to myself, and increased strength, agility, and endurance to my hands. When I sat down to practice the piano, I played a boogie woogie bass line I wrote, and suddenly my hand just took off. I was flying. And I didn’t get tired. The rest of me sat still and watched while my left hand kept going and going and going.

The Old Testament is full of this kind of thing. They blessed and cursed all the time, and they expected it to work. The entire Arab/Jewish situation is based on a few things Isaac said to Jacob and Esau before he died. Over a billion people are living in circumstances he spoke into existence. It shouldn’t surprise us that we have power over ourselves and the little things we see around us.

I got the idea of learning to play dobro from my desire to get used to using fingerpicks on the guitar. Dobro players use the same picks banjo players use, and I’m a banjo player. I figured I would get going on the dobro, and that would get me used to playing six strings instead of the four and change the banjo provides. But it seems like the dobro is turning out to be a goal in and of itself. The various types of slide guitars can do things a fretted guitar can’t.

The best instructional material I’ve found (I bought several things) is a DVD set by a player named Rob Ickes. You can find it at Amazon. I can’t find any Rob Ickes videos I like, so here is Jerry Douglas playing “The Boxer.”

I thought the lap steel would be included, sort of, in learning the dobro. It looked so similar. I shopped around and ordered one. I almost got a used one; some of the best can be picked up for $300. But I heard bad things about the pickups, so I decided to get a new Eastwood with a humbucker. It’s very nice. Totally Chinese, but the workmanship is as good as a Gibson guitar, and the pickup has a sweet, warm sound.

It turns out the lap steel, at least for me, is considerably harder than the dobro. To play dobro, you use a steel bar with a nice handle carved into it. The lap steel is played with a round cylinder of metal with a hemispherical end, and it’s hard to hold onto. You have to master vibrato and string-muting in order to play the lap steel, to a much greater degree than is necessary than the dobro. So the dobro is going very well, and the lap steel is taking more time.

Here’s a guy who inspired me to take up the lap steel. His name is Doug Beaumier. He’s playing an old Gibson Century 6 guitar. His work shows what can be done, if you have the skill.

Here’s another exceptional player, Bishop R.P. Hall.

I don’t know what kind of future I have with the lap steel, but it’s nice to have good amps ready to use. My latest amp is perfect for the job, and it also works with the dobro.

The dobro I bought is a Gretsch. I didn’t want to invest heavily in a new fling, so I went Chinese. I can’t complain. It’s an excellent instrument. The fit and finish are just about perfect, the materials appear to be top drawer, and it sounds great. It has a Fishman pickup installed (these run over $150 all by themselves), and I got the guitar and pickup for $420. My amp is perfect for it. It doesn’t sound like an electric guitar. It sounds exactly the same way it does with the amp turned off, only louder.

You may have dreams you’ve written off. They may not seem important to you. What you may not know is that God gives people dreams, and the ones you dropped may be very important to him. It depends on what they are, of course. If you’ve dreamed of opening a strip club, it’s not God’s idea. But God does have a mission for you, and he will give you desires that are compatible with that mission. God is a good father and a good boss; he does not want you to spend your life doing things that aren’t rewarding.

If you can develop closeness with God, you can jump-start your God-given dreams. You may have blown it in the past, but God is like GPS: he re-routes. Whatever you can get from God at this stage of your life will be far better than anything you will receive if you do it on your own.

Pray in tongues. Fight the spirits that try to control you through your flesh. Learn to bless and curse. Dedicate yourself to God’s purpose. Keep at it consistently, asking for prayer when needed, and things will start to blossom. And it will never stop.

This is what being seated in high places with Christ means. We were created to live in authority, not defeat. We aren’t supposed to be proud about it, but it is our intended destiny, and there is nothing wrong with seeking it.

It’s working for me, and God didn’t create this scheme because of one person’s needs. Everyone is eligible.

Give it a try and see it work.

Achievements of Note

Thursday, June 13th, 2013


I’ve hit a new stage in my music studies.

For several months, I’ve used Musition software to improve my timing. It throws up rhythm patterns, and I have to tap them out on a keyboard. It’s fantastic. I got to the point where I did a good job of reading syncopated rhythms and everything from 3/4 to 12/8.

I used a a piece of Android software called Interval Recognition, to train my ear. It works very fast. I can now identify any interval between unison and an octave by ear. I do 60 intervals a day, and it’s very unusual for me to get one wrong, unless I’m distracted.

I also used an old program called Note Play to improve my ability to sight-read pitches. It puts up notes, and you play them within an allotted time. If you succeed, you move to the next level, and it gives you scores.

These things were great helps, but they had limitations.

Note Play has a big (huge) jump in difficulty between some of the levels. It gives you individual notes. Then you get one-hand intervals. Then you get a left-hand chord plus right-hand notes. Then it goes to counterpoint, which means individual notes for each hand. That’s a tough jump. And the time allowed is very short, so you end up failing over and over and having to restart the game, which is annoying.

I found a program called Alfred Interactive Musician. It has an activity similar to Note Play, but it doesn’t shut me down over and over, and the increases in difficulty are more gradual. That’s very helpful.

Interval Recognition was great for ascending and descending intervals, but it’s not so great for harmonic intervals, where you hear two notes played simultaneously. The poor sound quality of my phone and tablet, even with high-end earbuds, tends to make notes indistinct. It also seems to turn major sounds into minor sounds. Don’t ask me why, but cheap electronic tones always seem to have a little bit of a minor quality. If you go into a casino, you’ll hear rows of machines playing the notes E, G, and C in various combinations, because major chords are supposed to sound cheerful. You’ll also notice that there’s a funny edge to the sound which is not cheerful. I don’t know why this happens, but it seems to be a real phenomenon.

I’m still using Interval Recognition for ascending and descending intervals, but for the others, I’m using my digital piano. The sounds are better, and I believe I get better results.

Musition has several major limitations. It does not produce ties, and you can’t read rhythms unless you master ties. It also uses a metronome sound, which keeps you under pressure. Unfortunately, it also prevents you from keeping your own time, and it causes your ear to remember the metronome instead of the sounds you’re making. On top of that, it doesn’t produce extended tones. It’s just “tap, tap, tap,” so a whole note sounds like a 32nd note.

My answer to that is to print out JPGs of Musition exercises and read them without the PC. I can sound out the notes so they sound the way they should, and I have to keep my own time. This improves my ability to hear the rhythm patterns in my mind before I utter them. I don’t really need the perfection of metronome-driven timing. No real musician grades himself on how accurate he is. That’s stupid and counterproductive. I needed the metronome at first, to get me started, but now it’s a hindrance.

I am trying to get into sight-singing, but I’ve had some technical issues to overcome. I’ll figure it out eventually. I also found a program to teach me how various chords sound, but it’s an Android program, so the tones are not very realistic. I don’t really want to sing from a printed page. That’s not the point. The point is to get the printed music to make sounds in my head, and this is a way to do it. People who comment here have suggested it.

If you don’t understand music, and you’re too lazy to master an instrument, you can improve your musical comprehension by doing the things I’m doing. You don’t need an instrument at all. It may be that after you get this stuff into your head, an instrument won’t intimidate you any more. Every kid should learn this stuff. There is no excuse not to. It’s not a lifetime commitment. A one-hour course that lasts one school year would do it.

As I’ve written before, Arthur Rubinstein used to “practice” piano works by reading the scores away from the piano. You shouldn’t underestimate the power and importance of ear training and studying written music. This stuff is more useful than playing. A monkey can be trained to repeat the same movements over and over, but he won’t understand it. That’s what happens when you play without study. You can’t write music well. You can’t read it. You won’t understand it. That’s not where you want to be.

The Stephen Hawking Piano Method

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Study Music in Spinning Class

My musical studies are as exciting as ever.

The more I learn about the importance of timing (or “rhythm,” depending on your favored term), the more I realize conventional music teachers are blind. In fact, the musical world, generally, is blind. They’re obsessed with pitch and harmony. They have it all backward. Timing and dynamics, for most musicians, are more important, and a failure to master them is the main reason musicians fail to progress. I’m sure of it.

If you read about famous pianists, you’ll see a lot of bragging about absolute pitch, which is the correct term for what people refer to as “perfect pitch.” A person with absolute pitch will be able to listen to a chord on the piano and tell you every note. In fact, if someone drops a tray of dishes, a person with absolute pitch may be able to tell you the note every dish sounded when it hit the floor. Musicians get very excited about this ability, because they think pitch is what it’s all about. But very often, you will also run into statements by musicians, saying absolute pitch was of no value to them, or that it actually caused problems. And many great musicians don’t have it. Schumann didn’t.

Oddly, there seem to be no accounts in which famous musicians brag about their rhythmic talent. I suppose you would run into stories like that if you read about drummers, but I’ve never seen a biographer brag about a pianist’s ability to handle difficult rhythms. Sometimes they compliment a pianist’s rubato, but that’s not really the same thing. In fact, “rubato” can actually be a fancy way of excusing a musician who can’t keep regular time. Classical pianists are often overrated as technicians. Some of the best played sloppily.

There are some instruments that require good relative pitch. This is the ability to compare notes. If you play a horn or a fretless string instrument, you’ll need to be able to identify and produce accurate pitches, the way a singer does. But this is not a rare gift. In fact, just about everyone has it. And if you play the piano or a fretted instrument, it means almost nothing. You can’t play a sour note on a piano. The pitches are predetermined at regular tunings. And you can use a machine to tune a guitar, and after that, any note you fret will be in tune.

If you want to write or play music with real skill and understanding, you will have to be able to read, hear, and feel complex timings. That’s just how it is. If you can’t do these things, you will always be confined to the shallow end of the pool.

I’ve managed to get to the point where I can reliably tap out any rhythm I read, from 2/4 to 12/8, syncopated or not. On my teacher’s advice, I haven’t fooled with rhythms that contain 32nd notes. But everything up to that point, I can read. I hear the rhythms in my head before I tap them out. And I can write rhythms that I hear. This is a tremendous advance. If I head music in my head, and I want to write it down, the rhythm is the hard part. The pitches, I can figure out later. A monkey could do that.

The other day I went to church, and I ran into a friend who teaches piano. We talk about music a lot. He had a rhythm assignment he had written for a student who hadn’t shown up. He said I could have it. I took a look at it, and I could read it instantly. I leaned back and tapped the whole page out on the wall. No problem. It was a one-handed exercise, which made it easy, but it still shows how much I’ve improved.

I don’t care about absolute pitch, and there is precious little hope of developing it at my age, but now that I have rhythm under control, I realize I need to program intervals and harmony into my brain. I can identify any interval between unison and an octave (my fridge’s icemaker plays a major 6th), but I still have trouble identifying fast intervals in songs, and I can only identify about 60% of the harmonic intervals I hear. A harmonic interval is two notes played simultaneously. I haven’t been taught much about them, but it seems evident that if you can identify harmonic intervals, you are well on your way to hearing chords in your head, and that will be helpful with composing. I have always had the ability to write one staff of music and then automatically come up with harmony in the other staff, but I need to go beyond that.

More and more, I am realizing that music is a thing of the mind, or maybe of the mind and spirit. It is not a thing of the body. Glenn Gould said we play the piano with our minds, not our fingers, and that was just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is, you don’t need an instrument to be a musician, and in fact, it may slow you down at first, because it will distract you from the process of getting music into your head.

I’m not using the piano as much as I was a few weeks back. I’ve realized I do my best work away from it. When I develop the mind of a musician, THEN I’ll be ready to work on the hands. I can now practice music while driving or showering; I don’t have to be anywhere near an instrument. I simply do mental exercises, like a physicist doing a gedankenexperiment.

Arthur Rubinstein said that he could perform pieces he had never practiced. He would get the score for a piece and read it over and over without an instrument handy, and by the time he got to the piano, he was able to play it. I think that says it all. He got inside the music, to the point where playing it was almost an afterthought.

It has always bothered me that my parents made no effort to get me musical instruction. People commonly believe that you can’t become a really good musician unless you learn early, and I have bought into it. But now I think that’s not quite true. It may be that an older student will have a hard time mastering an instrument, but the progress I’ve made lately shows that we can learn the other stuff very quickly. I’ve learned rhythm in a few months. I beat intervals in a few weeks. I’m sure I’ll beat harmonic intervals in a short time. My age is not slowing me down. I don’t see myself becoming the next Horowitz. There are some things you can’t fix. But if I can write music as well as someone who started young, I still have something very valuable, and it’s what I was after in the first place.

If you’re old, and you want to become a musician, my advice is to learn to tap out rhythms at sight, then worry about sight-reading pitches, and then concern yourself with pitch and harmony. THEN think about buying an instrument. You should be able to do these things in six months, and then when you hire a teacher, you should be able to zip past a lot of the truly tedious stuff. In fact, these are good things to do even if you have no desire to play or compose, because they’ll enable you to understand the music other people make. And EVERY kid should have to do these things. I can understand choosing not to force a kid to spend years playing an instrument, but if the little goofs can sit through math and history, they can sit through music class and train their ears and learn theory. It won’t kill them.

God really does restore. More things are possible than you think.

Saved by Syncopation

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Keep Your Knees Bent

I’m on fire today. Two whole blog pieces.

I thought I’d write a little about my music studies.

I haven’t written any music in a while. I’ve become obsessed with learning to read rhythms, as I’ve said earlier. Quarter-note triplets have been driving me nuts. They’re so slow, it’s hard to get a feel for them. I made a lot of progress with an exercise my teacher taught me. You beat out “Carol of the Bells” with two hands. One hand plays quarter-notes, and the other plays quarter-note-triplets. You switch hands. You use your feet. Eventually, you start to hear both rhythms, and that helps.

That was useful, but I went beyond that. I made a Youtube video with a soundtrack featuring this rhythm. I made the triplets higher in pitch than the quarter notes. When you play the rhythm with your hands, the pitches are the same, so the rhythms are not as distinct.

My Musition software is trying to push me to a new level full of 32nd notes, but my teacher told me to forget it. It’s more important to get a grip on 16th notes and rhythm figures made of them.

A rhythm figure is a four-beat fragment of music which takes up the space of one quarter note. You can have a quarter note, or you can have a mixture of eighth notes, rests, and sixteenth notes. There are about 15 of these things, because the combinations are limited. When you can read these fluently, you will understand written music a lot better.

He has me studying the slash notation versions of these things. Slash notation consists of rhythm figures with slashes and X’s instead of note heads. Each 16th note is a strum. A slash is a fretted string or chord. An X is a deadened string or chord. It’s musical shorthand. Practicing reading these things will get common rhythms into your head. I was supposed to start doing this yesterday, but I was really busy, and I discovered something very distracting: syncopation.

As you may know, “syncopation” refers to unusual rhythms. It means rhythms a classically trained ear won’t expect. We are used to hearing waltz timing and 4/4, with the emphasis on the first beat, but you can also emphasize any other beat. A jazz musician named Buddy Bolden is famous for popularizing “Big Four” rhythm, which emphasizes the second and fourth beats in 4/4 time. I think. Anyway, there is a lot of syncopation in American popular music. It’s mesmerizing, because it teases your ear. It makes you wait for things instead of getting them when you expect them. It’s hard to describe, but if you listen to some syncopated music, you’ll see what I mean.

My software will provide syncopated exercises, but I tried it a while back, and I was hopeless, so I dropped it. This week I decided to try it again, leaving out the quarter-note triplets. I’m using 4/4 time, but you can do it with other timings, like 3/4 and 2/4. If you can do 4/4, you can do the others. You don’t have to exhaust the possibilities.

This stuff is amazing. It sounds like real music. Compared to non-syncopated rhythm, straight timing (my term) sounds like really bad marching band music, or Muzak. It sounds primitive and simple. I’m no expert, but my experience so far suggests that studying syncopated rhythms is about a thousand times as effective as studying straight timing. It keeps you off your balance. It familiarizes you with more fragments of rhythmic “vocabulary.” Studying straight timing is like studying formal French or Spanish. It will not prepare you to deal with real people using real rhythms. Just as a student of French will be hopelessly confused when he hears slang, a person who studies straight timing will be helpless when those weird beats show up. And they don’t just show up in jazz and the blues. They pop up in other types of music, even though music teachers don’t focus on them.

05 03 13 musition syncopated rhythm exercise

This is probably why you can sight-read the crap in the books your teacher supplies, but you can’t get anywhere with the music you want to play. That’s my suspicion.

So now I can’t quit doing these exercises. They make me hear music in my head. Even though they have no pitches, I hear the beats in my head, and pitches sort of show up on their own, because the beats imply them. I think this is the way to go.

I’ve reached the point where I can imagine rhythm measures in my head and hear them. That’s very nice. If I can get this under control, pitch and harmony should follow. Then I’ll be Mozart.

Well, maybe not. But I won’t be totally lost. I’ll be musically literate. This should open the door to real sight-reading, which should open the door to faster improvement.

God’s Perfect Timing

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Here is How Music Works

Life continues to zip along. I can’t believe how well things are going. ALMOST can’t believe. I am careful to avoid saying things like “can’t believe,” “unbelievable,” “incredible,” and “fantastic,” because they all imply unbelief.

I’ve learned some remarkable things about music.

Sometimes I’m shocked at the density of the human race. Every so often, I realize there is something we should have realized ages ago, yet which we somehow managed to miss. For example, we’ve done things to make trash bags easier to tie. We put cinching loops in the mouths, or we put ears on the bags so we can tie them in knots. That took decades. Why didn’t someone do it within months of the debut of plastic trash bags? It’s so obvious, it should have happened much sooner.

Now that I’m starting to understand written music, I’m stunned at how bad teachers are. I worked with a classical pianist for several years, and he never told me important things I needed to know.

First of all, rhythm is much, much more important than pitch. The correct pitches, without rhythm, are noise. The correct rhythm, with random pitches, is music. When you compose, the ability to write rhythms is crucial. If you can write a rhythm down, even if the pitches are wrong, you can easily fix the pitches later. If you can’t get the rhythms right, you’re incompetent and helpless.

Second, written music is like English. It’s broken up into short rhythmic patterns which are homologous to words. If you practice reading rhythms, without changing the pitch, you start to recognize these patterns, and you begin hearing them in your head before you play them. You no longer have to count out the beats, which is impossible at performance tempos.

Third, you should take this language-like quality into account when you write music. An experienced musician will be looking for familiar patterns, just as a reader looks for words, not random letters. If you write familiar patterns, the musician will be better able to play fluently, and your ideas will be clearer to him. They will also be clearer to you, as you work with them.

I use various methods to get this stuff into my head. My Musition software has been incredibly useful. I guess I can say “incredibly” in that context. I can program it to throw up one rhythm pattern after another. It plays a metronome for me, and I tap out the rhythms. Then it tells me how I did. I can program it to repeat things I’m having trouble with, or I can simply progress from one pre-programmed level to the next.

I also take my studies to the keyboard. I have a book of awful classical pieces. They’re simple. I put it on the music rest, and I use one finger to tap out the bass rhythms and one finger to tap out the treble rhythms. This helps me to work the hands independently.

I’m still using my Note Play software to learn note reading. I can’t believe how effective it is. It has levels of increasing difficulty. As I’ve improved, I’ve started to get into things like octaves and playing melodies with both hands. If I can get reasonably fluent, the jump to actual sheet music will be very manageable.

I’ve had some trouble with triplets. I can play triplets over eighth notes on the piano, regardless of whether the triplets are written in sixteenth, eighth, or quarter notes. But doing it from sight… that’s a pain. The short notes aren’t bad, but quarter notes are hard, because they’re so slow. The feel is hard to get into your mind.

I looked at all my software and all of my books, and there were no good answers. I scoured the Internet. No luck. Today I decided to visit my music teacher, and of course, he had the solution on tap, instantly.

He told me I needed to tap out “Carol of the Bells” with my hands and feet. One limb plays triplets, and the other plays duplets. You switch hands. You change things up. Eventually, you get to where you have a sure feel for the rhythms. Then you’re in business.

Now I practice this exercise. I feel stupid doing it, but I know it will work, and as he said, you can do it anywhere. In the car. Wherever. In a few days, I should have a much better grip on triplets. I can read eighth-note triplets very well, but the software says I’m going to have to learn to read quarter-note and eighth-note triplets in the same measure, and that’s tricky. I don’t want to barely get by. I want to nail it, every time. Now I know how to get there.

Once I get fairly sure of my timing, I’ll be able to devote more time to pitch and harmony, but with a simple cell phone and a knowledge of timing, I’ll be able to write tunes anywhere. The phone will let me check pitches, so if I can write the rhythms down, I’ll be ready to go.

Today my teacher told me the stuff I’m doing typically shows up a year or two into a method. I’ve been doing this for what? Two months? I should have been doing it from the start. He said it was insane to put other things before this, and I agree. I’m learning exactly what I wanted to learn when I first took an interest in the piano. If I had continued doing it the other way, I would have died musically illiterate.

I’m obsessive with this stuff now, because I’m sure there is a point after which things get much easier, and I want to reach that point ASAP.

There are a lot of software-based approaches to teaching music, but most of them stink. With the two tools I’m using now, I’m learning quickly and without a lot of frustration. It’s very sad that software companies aren’t doing a better job. It should not be that hard to come up with a good program. And here’s something amazing: Note Play isn’t available any more. They replaced it with something fancier which isn’t as good. Note Play is so small it fits on a floppy, and it’s a breeze to use. I’m amazed it didn’t become popular.

People criticize computer-based music training, claiming it ruins you for real music, but that’s stupid. It does not happen. If you can play with a beat or other aids which are supplied by electronics, you can play when they’re turned off. I had an ear for music before I started, and it’s not going to disappear just because a machine helped me become literate. I know there are some people who practice with metronomes until they sound like machines, but in all likelihood, those people never had soul to begin with, and they never had much of a chance of understanding music. I doubt that the metronome ruins musicians. I think it’s more likely that it permits people with no talent to play music by mimicry, with no depth or understanding. I think this explains a lot of the bad Asian musicians who have incredible technique. There is much more to music than pushing the keys at the right times.

The closer I get to God, the better things get. I come closer and closer to seeing my dreams realized. Stress is leaving me. Things that used to be impossible are working out. Within the next few months, I expect to be able to move to another level in composition. The music won’t necessarily be much better, but it will be much, much easier to write. And I may actually be able to play some things.

If that’s not a good testimony, I don’t know what is.

Keep praying in the Spirit, every day, and remember, the promises of Malachi 3 apply to this, more than they do to money.