Not unexpected

July 12th, 2016

I’ve taken vocabulary tests before, and seen similar results to this one:

Vocabsize

Found at Feral Irishman.

Back to normal

July 11th, 2016

… or a reasonable facsimile thereof.

Marion had family visiting all last week, and I was tapped to help out with driving and hosting duties. We covered a lot of ground, visiting various places from Nederland to Cripple Creek. Good food, but we were on the go from (usually) 8 in the morning until 8 or 9 pm each day. We got them back to the airport Saturday afternoon, and then more-or-less collapsed.

Sunday was Marion’s birthday. We didn’t go anywhere, but I cooked dinner for her. I fixed tagliata, and made a chocolate orange torte for dessert. We had the leftovers for dinner tonight. Good food, if not as good as a few of the meals we had during the past week.

This morning I went back to work, and had a couple of packages on my desk that had arrived last week. One contained some LCD displays I’m planning to play with, and the other contained a Raspberry Pi 3 that I won in a drawing. Fun stuff.

RIP Ralph Stanley

June 24th, 2016

Dr. Ralph Stanley, one of the bluegrass pioneers and a hell of a banjo player, died yesterday at the age of 89. I had a few LPs of his music, but I don’t have them anymore, and the only music of his I have on CD is the song everyone is mentioning today: Oh, Death, from the Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack.

For comparison, the first performance of that song that I heard was performed by Doc Boggs.

Well, that was fun (not)

June 22nd, 2016

Today has not been the best day. It started when I got up – my normal practice is to weight myself and take my pulse and blood pressure right after waking. Today, my sphygmomanometer died. I pumped it up several times, and it displayed the falling pressure and the pulse indication, but it gave me an error each time, instead of the final results.

Driving to work, there’s a major intersection about 1/2 mile from the office, and the cross street is the major one, so I always have to wait for the light. This morning, just as I was braking to join the line of cars at the light, some idiot (I’m using an innocuous description to avoid the profanity that I used when this happened) zoomed past me and jinked into my lane to avoid having to wait behind a gravel truck. I had to brake so hard to avoid hitting him that everything loose in the car went flying. I’m just relieved that I hadn’t stopped to pick up coffee and burritos for the office this morning. When the light turned green, the idiot kept pace with the gravel truck, so that the light turned red before I was through the intersection. He remained ten miles per hour below the speed limit to the next light, calmly sailing through just after it had turned red, thus forcing me to wait for the next cycle.

Nothing much happened at work, apart from a BSOD at the end of the day, just as I was about to save a file I’d been working on.

Driving home, I noticed a heavy brake smell just after I got onto the highway. I didn’t think it was my car, because my on-ramp going home is just after the highway finishes a 7% downgrade that is several miles in length, but I have had some brake trouble recently, so I wasn’t certain. I got off at the next exit, and saw that a semi trailer several vehicles ahead of me had a smoking wheel, so that relieved me. However, just past the next intersection, the pickup in front of me got into the “right turn only” lane to go into the shopping center there. Then, he decided not to, but I had drawn almost even with him. Another flying interior braking event, and I’d avoided him. He got back into the traffic lane, then turned into the second entrance to the shopping center.

Later, and closer to home, I managed to avoid (without any trouble) driving behind a van with precariously-packed back section, and which also had back doors that were open and swinging. I did have a little trouble with a vehicle that decided to cut abruptly from behind it to in front of me, though.

No problems with dinner, but my bad knee has been acting up since then. Blargh.

Happy Father’s Day

June 19th, 2016

I celebrated with my daughter yesterday – she took me out to dinner and then to watch roller derby. It was a good time – I hadn’t seen roller derby in person before, and hadn’t seen it at all since it was on late-night television back in the 1970s. The program is here, but I don’t know how long it’s going to be available – it looks like the sort of link that gets reused.

The original plan had been for us to spend a day at the Denver Comic-Con, but we decided that wasn’t going to work for us, thus the replacement plans. There was a lot going on in Denver and reasonably nearby areas this weekend – Denver PrideFest, the Winter Park Chocolate Festival, and a lot more. I heard a radio interview related to PrideFest that disturbed me a few days ago; I hope I misheard what they were saying. What I think I heard was a comment that they had increased the security so that all 350,000 attendees would be safe. I hope I misheard, because that’s equivalent to half the total population of Denver, and Comic-Con had credible estimates of over 100,000 attendees for this weekend.

Today, Marion and I went up into the mountains to visit some friends of hers who have a vacation cabin off the Peak-to-Peak highway. It was a good day – we had a nice walk in the forest, watched hummingbirds and other avian wildlife, and saw a few flowers (columbines weren’t blooming yet except in a couple of sheltered locations).

Memorial Day

May 30th, 2016

As I have done before, I’m posting two things for Memorial Day. The first is a poem that Robert Service wrote after World War I:

PILGRIMS

For oh, when the war will be over
We’’ll go and we’’ll look for our dead;
We’’ll go when the bee’’s on the clover,
And the plume of the poppy is red:
We’’ll go when the year’’s at its gayest,
When meadows are laughing with flow’’rs;
And there where the crosses are greyest,
We’’ll seek for the cross that is ours.

For they cry to us: Friends, we are lonely,
A-weary the night and the day;
But come in the blossom-time only,
Come when our graves will be gay:
When daffodils all are a-blowing,
And larks are a-thrilling the skies,
Oh, come with the hearts of you glowing,
And the joy of the Spring in your eyes.

But never, oh, never come sighing,
For ours was the Splendid Release;
And oh, but ’’twas joy in the dying
To know we were winning you Peace!
So come when the valleys are sheening,
And fledged with the promise of grain;
And here where our graves will be greening,
Just smile and be happy again
.

And so, when the war will be over,
We’’ll seek for the Wonderful One;
And maiden will look for her lover,
And mother will look for her son;
And there will be end to our grieving,
And gladness will gleam over loss,
As – glory beyond all believing!
We point …… to a name on a cross.

The second is a link to remind you of those who gave their all for their country, and some of the others that it affects:

A veteran is someone who, at one point, wrote a blank check made payable to ‘The United States of America ‘ for an amount of ‘up to and including their life.’

Ok, I get the idea. No garden this year.

May 24th, 2016

My garden area is small, and too shady to really grow good vegetables, anyway. I do try, because I like having a garden. Mostly, what I can grow successfully are herbs, and that’s ok by me. I made a fair amount of a nice oregano pesto with last year’s crop.

This year, however, the weather has been against it. I’ve got a hops plant that I planted last year, which got about 6′ tall by the end of the season. This year, it was about 9″ tall when a late snow hit it in March, breaking the tallest bine. Then, most of the leaves were stripped from it on May 9th, when a hailstorm came through. Small hail, but lots of it. My oregano and sage made it through without trouble, and the strawberries were damaged, but not badly.

Today, we had another hailstorm. One of my neighbors told me that there was 2″ of hail on the ground in places. It was almost all gone by the time I got home from work. The weather report said it was quarter-sized hail, although what was left on the ground when I got home was much smaller. There are no leaves left on the hops plant. At all. My oregano is about half the height it used to be. The sage (with its woody stems) is the same height, but with fewer leaves. The strawberries are no longer visible.

I think I may write off the garden. I’m not sure how far I’d need to go to find a nursery that didn’t have all their outdoor plants blasted by the hail.

Well, that was fun

May 16th, 2016

And I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way. The 9th Denver Ukefest was this weekend, and a good time was had by all. I didn’t make it to Thursday night’s Heavy Metal Uke concert and open stage. I’m not familiar with Book ’em Danno, the band that gave the concert Thursday, although I’ve been aware of them for several years. I’ve been told it was a great evening.

I did see Friday night’s concert. The acts that performed were the Milk Blossoms, whose music I didn’t care for. Julia Nunes, who is quite a good performer, came next. The music she performed was all “relationship and break-up” songs, which got old quickly for me. The headline performer Friday was Daniel Ho, who had a bass player and a drummer with him. Their music was incredible. At one point, Daniel moved from ukulele to piano for three songs. During the third one – called “Waimea” – he abandoned the piano partway through to take up a pair of sticks, performing a percussion routine with the drummer to Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

Saturday started at 9:30am with the first workshops. During the day, I attended five workshops. The first a jazz workshop hosted by Paul Hemmings that was focused on Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” album, particularly the use of modes rather than chords for specifying the progressions. In it, we worked on learning the song, “So What.”

The second was Daniel Ho’s workshop on various ways to “dress up” his song, “Pineapple Mango,” in order to provide a more interesting performance. He covered strum variations, emulating a bass, chord melody, harmonics, and the “Mozambique rhythm,” which involves playing notes by hammering-on with your left hand while you play percussion on the ukulele with your right hand.

The third workshop was an introduction to inversions by John Nash, concentrating on the chord form sequences for finding major chords up the neck, and how to tie them together.

The fourth was an introduction to clawhammer ukulele by Chris McGarry, which I took because I’ve been having difficulty getting the basic stroke down. I think I now have it down well enough to continue on my own for a while.

The last workshop was titled, “Lyricism and Line: How to Make the Ukulele Sing.” It was run by James Hill, and covered slower strums for “relaxed” playing – that is, you’re not going to want frenetic or Formby-style strumming for a lullaby. He also went over using different chord voicings to help make your playing more melodic.

The Saturday concert started with a couple of songs by the Denver Ukulele Community. I believe there were some people from other groups involved in the performance. I’ve been part of this in previous years, but the New Zealand trip precluded my participation in it this year.

The actual lineup started with Paul Hemmings. He brought his bass player with him, but used a local drummer to fill out his lineup. I thought the drummer was miked too high, but I’m not a sound man. Given the subject of the workshop he ran, I was a little surprised and a little disappointed that his music was almost completely blues, rather than jazz. It was very good music, and he seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously on the stage. His bass player, Gaku Takahashi, performed on a U-Bass, and was an incredible player. He had a number of solos, and got enthusiastic applause after each of them.

The second performer was Del Ray. She was a total hoot. A fantastic player, with witty song introductions and interactions with her bass player and the audience, and an interesting repertoire. She appeared at an earlier Ukefest, but I wasn’t able to attend that year.

James Hill was the headline performer, and it was easy see why. Just to mention a few songs, he played “Duke’s Alley Rag,” which he described as the song he practices most and performs least. I didn’t care for it, personally, but it was an impressive piece. He did some of his “chopsticks beatboxing,” which I also didn’t care for. It was interesting, though, and the sounds he can produce that way are incredible. He performed “Billie Jean,” and mentioned (probably not at that time, but I don’t remember) that he’d been selected to be the next in Jim Beloff’s Ukulele Masters book series, and that his book was going to be called, “Duets for One.” Paul Hemmings and Del Ray’s bass player (whose name I didn’t catch) came out to perform “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” He did percussion with his feet for a few songs, which was impressive, and I wonder how many calories that burns, because his feet were moving quite quickly. He also managed to get some involved rhythms going by using both feet. Towards the end of his performance, he performed “Voodoo Child,” and sounded a lot like Hendrix while doing it (his version on YouTube doesn’t sound quite as impressive as his performance in concert). His finale was “Ode to a Frozen Boot,” which is an impressive performance piece. From clawhammer to jazz to classical to fingerpicking to electric to ludicrously fast bluegrass to who knows what else he knows how to do, he’s probably the most versatile ukulele player I can think of.

The finale for the evening (and the festival) had everyone come out on stage to perform a song together, with anyone in the audience who had a ukulele available performing along with them. This is done every year, and this year’s song was “Mama Tried,” in honor of Merle Haggard.

Yes, there is a reason I’m linking this Dave Barry column

May 7th, 2016

I just went through my second one yesterday. No problems, thank goodness.

In other health news, I’ve received a new CPAP that I’m calling “ET” because it phones home. I used it the night I got it, but the next night was the colonoscopy prep, and I didn’t really get any sleep then, so I had it unplugged. The next day, I received a phone call, a text, and an email saying that I needed to make sure it was turned on so it could upload my usage information.

Next week I’m getting a three-month updated set of blood tests done and scheduling a new sleep study. All of my medical procedures seem to be coming due at once.

Just got back

April 28th, 2016

I’ve been on vacation for three weeks, and just got back yesterday. We were on a G Adventures tour – Highlights of New Zealand. Travel there and back was an absolute nightmare. Our trip there involved two flights – Denver to Los Angeles, then Los Angeles to Auckland. Our flight from Denver was delayed for over an hour prior to takeoff because President Obama was making campaign appearances in Los Angeles, so they put a “ground hold” on that airport, meaning that incoming flights (ours among others) were not allowed to take off.

That caused us to miss our connection to Auckland – there are only two flights per day on that route (both overnight), and we’d had seats on the second one. We ran (almost) from Terminal 7 (United) to the Tom Bradley International Terminal (we got there faster than the shuttle bus would have taken us), but the line for security was several hundred feet long (it snaked several times upstairs, then went the entire length of the terminal downstairs), and the Air New Zealand counter was already closed. Fortunately, we managed to find some ANZ people who were still available and who issued us some paperwork and sent us back to United (back to Terminal 7). United took the position that it wasn’t their fault we missed our flight connection, therefore we weren’t entitled to any compensation. At least they arranged for us to get on the next day’s flight. Some of the other people who missed the same connection didn’t get all the paperwork done by United, so when they showed up at the Air New Zealand counter the next day, they had to go all the way back to Terminal 7 again.

The hotel we ended up in overnight wasn’t bad – the rooms were nice enough, but the hallways had a distinct feel of decrepit sanitarium to them. The hotel restaurant was closed, and there were no restaurants in walking distance – well, there was one across the road and about a block down, sort of, but it involved walking more than a mile and a half to get there, and the only restaurant that delivered said they had a 1-hour-plus delivery time. As it was well past midnight by then, we decided to get some snacks from the vending machine and call it good.

For the return trip, there were three flights – Christchurch to Auckland, Auckland to Los Angeles, and Los Angeles to Denver. Our original flight out of Christchurch was scheduled for 7pm, but we were bumped to an earlier flight, which then was delayed. It eventually took off just before 7pm. The transpacific flight wasn’t really a problem, but we’d been awake about 15 hours by the time it took off, and only managed a couple of hours sleep each on the 12+ hour flight. We had a two-hour layover in Los Angeles before our flight to Denver, and that would have been barely enough if the last flight hadn’t been delayed. It took us over an hour to get through customs and immigration, and then we had to walk from the Tom Bradley International Terminal to Terminal 7 (United) and go through security screening again. There’s a shuttle bus, but walking beat it again. Apparently, they are planning a way to let you stay within the security-cleared area while moving between terminals, but they don’t have anything like that yet. We got to the security screening, and they sent us back to replace our boarding passes, because United can’t read the barcodes generated by Air New Zealand, or something like that. Then, Marion had an extended and frustrating experience finally going through security. If the last flight hadn’t been delayed, I’m not sure we’d have made it back to Denver last night.

In between, though, it was a very nice trip. New Zealand is a beautiful country. There’s always a bit of “If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium” flavor to a G Adventures tour, and it seemed a little more evident on this tour. Still, we had a lot of fun, and I wouldn’t mind going back at all. I’ll have more to say (and photos) later.