Thursday, July 31, 2008

Likelihood of you being MALE is 93%

Mike's JavaScript tool confirms my masculinity to a high degree of likelihood.

Likelihood of you being FEMALE is 7%
Likelihood of you being MALE is 93%

So there's that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Fuwa, the betta

The Wall Street Journal's blog, China Journal, shows a page from the sketchbook of artist Han Meilin, who is none too pleased that his original concept for the Beijing Olympic mascots, the Fuwa, went from this... this...

Huanhuan Nini Beibei Jingjing Yingying

...due to his sponsors mucking about with his creation.

An accompanying WSJ article explains.

Then the bureaucrats got involved. "There had to be a panda, even though you'd think the public would have had enough of them," says the 72-year-old artist.

That article also has a slideshow of the brief history of Olympic mascots. Do you recognize any of these? Hover over a pic for the name of the critter.

Schuss (Grenoble 1968) Amik the beaver (Montreal 1976) Waldi the Dachshund (Munich 1972) Misha (Moscow 1980) Sam the eagle (Los Angeles 1984) Hodori the tiger (Seuol 1988) Cobi the dog (Barcelona 1992) Izzy (Atlanta 1996) Olly the kookaburra, Syd the platypus and Millie the echidna (Sydnet 2000) Athena and Phevos (Athens 2004)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 29

A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.
Banjo 199 hrs, TV 167 hours

In preparation for my (upcoming) first lesson with Dave, I was supposed to pick a list of a half-dozen songs that I wanted to learn to play for jams. Here's what I've come up with:

  1. Keep on the Sunnyside
  2. Foggy Mountain Breakdown
  3. Mountain Dew
  4. One Drop of Water
  5. Pretty Polly
  6. Polka on the Banjo

Also in the last week:

  • Brain breakthrough: That C chord I've been playing is really the D chord form, with the index finger portion of the chord chopped off by the nut.
  • It was a travellin' week. Six flights: O'Hare, San Diego, Las Vegas, O'Hare again, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth then back to O'Hare one last time. And I took my banjo with me.

    My observations on flying with a banjo:
    • Read The Definitive Guide to Flying With a Banjo at the Banjo Hangout.
    • Do everything you can to take your banjo on as a carry-on item, but put it in a hard case because you might be required to gate-check it.
    • Reserve a seat near the back of the plane, since that increases your odds of being on the first boarding group.
    • Carry printed copies of the TSA and airline guidelines.
      • Print up a copy of your airline's musical instrument policies (American Airlines's is here)
      • Print up the TSA's letter to the American Federation of Musicians regarding "revised policy and procedures regarding the screening and carriage of musical instruments through security checkpoints at our nation's airports and transport of musical instruments aboard aircraft."
      • Very important point: Do not pull out the TSA policies when speaking to the airline staff and do pull out the airline policies when speaking to the TSA staff. When I was challenged by an American Airline employee I made the mistake of citing the TSA document as proof that it was OK for me to carry my banjo onboard. Mis. Take. The airline employees don't like the TSA and they're only too eager to point out that the airplane staff gets the final word on what comes on board and what doesn't. So we wound up in a confrontational mode rather than a problem-solving mode, with her insisting that I had to gate-check the banjo and me insisting that I was allowed to bring it as a carry-on item. ("You can gate-check the guitar or you can not fly, what's your choice?") I was losing the argument badly, with her having applied a gate-check tag to my banjo and preparing to send it off to the hold, before I was finally able to negotiate a deal with her. (I gate-checked another bag, resulting in me having to pay $15 for the gate-check plus $12 to have the bag delivered to my office after the airline lost it.)
      • I'm just going to leave those letters in my case.
    • Have a banjo-related joke ready for the flight attendants. They'll be more helpful if you've broken the ice. (I use "What do you say to a banjo player in a suit? 'Will the defendant please rise.'")
  • Banjo-related things seem to happen to my office in my absence. Usually these are practical jokes or crimes of passion. This time, I found that various people had dropped off banjo resources while I was away. Some thank yous are in order.

    Thank You #1 goes to whomever left that Reader's Digest article about David Hochman's mid-life-mandolin-learning experience. I empathize with Hochman's desire to start the learning-through-jamming phase of his musical life. (The article is on pages 110-113 of the August 2008 print issue. I'd provide a link to an online article on, but it's not listed there. Come on, Reader's Digest. It's the Internet age.)

    I send Thank You #2 to Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed, who left me an LP of Banjo Spectacular! String Along with the Banjo Barons.

    Banjo Spectacular! String Along with the Banjo Barons ...and 26 other favorites

    Apparently they'd seen it at a library sale and thought I had to have it. And how right they were! Just check out the blurby goodness:

    If you're lucky enough to own a banjo, you can play along with the Barons.

    These unexpected gifts are exactly in sync with my recent less-book/more-jamming direction.

    But there was also a book waiting on my desk, delivered from Amazon. So Thank You #3 goes! for that copy of Tony Trischka's Complete 5 String Banjo Player book-and-CD-and-download set. Hey, my new teacher Dave said we might use it. And you can't expect a guy to quit his banjo-book-buying habits cold turkey, can you?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Chubby Carrier and The Bayou Swamp Band

I saw Chubby Carrier and Bayou Swamp Band play at an Austin event today and they were terrific. I especially loved the washboard player, who wore his washboard like a chain mail jacket.

Go right now and buy their CD. (I got mine autographed).

I was chatting with the bar's sound guy about them. "They're good," he said. "They're really good. I know. I listen to shit bands all day long."

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Sadly, gang of people at dinner last night, someone else already thought of WiiWhaling.

We'll have to get rich quick some other way.

Banjo versus TV: Week 28

A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.
Banjo 197 hrs, TV 164 hours

Yup. Dave and I talked terms and he's my new banjo teacher. We kicked it off with a phone call in which we discussed my banjo past, present and future. I'll be starting my first lesson with Dave on the 22nd.

Here are some of the highlights from our discussion.

  • Where do I want to be a year from now? Participate well in jams. Play comfortably solo.
  • Books: Dave has read my blog (Hi, Dave!) and sees that I've got a lot of books. With Dave, I won't be using books. Maaaybe Tony Trischka's new book. And he does approve of Janet Davis' Splitting the Licks.
  • Recordings: I'll be doing a lot of playing along with recordings.
  • Guitar: Dave really likes my plan to learn a little guitar so I can follow along with the guitarist's chord changes during a jam.
  • Homework between now and my first lesson:
    • Movable chord forms: Work on the three movable chord forms: bar, F and D. Find all of the G chords and all of the D chords.
    • Songs: Make a list of a half dozen songs I want to be able to play along with.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 27

A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.
Banjo 197 hrs, TV 164 hours

I think I've found my new banjo teacher. Dave comes highly recommended by some folks I know in the local music scene. He's got a great bluegrass style and he's the go-to guy for the local jam schedules. Dave and I arranged to meet at a local jam (first Tuesday of the month at the Red Line Bar), which gave us a chance to size each other up. Apparently I passed Dave's sniff test. We'll be talking terms and schedules soon.

Also in the last week:

  • Lately I've been a little stuck, banjo-wise. I think the decision to change banjo teachers threw me for a loop. Combine that with a couple of other projects and you get what I've had the last few weeks: not much banjo time. So I took the banjo along on a Fourth of July weekend trip. I practiced at rest stops...

    ...and I was able to demonstrate the banjo... some of my musically-inclined relatives. (Banjovangelism, I call it.) That did the trick. All unstuck.
  • I got to a jam session without my capo and I had the chance to use the improvised rubber-band-and-a-pencil capo I'd read about in Earl's book.
  • I created a banjo mute out of a $1.47 foam paintbrush. This one deserves its own post, which I'll get to soon.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Dear Maid of Stress

J.R. answers letters that aren't really addressed to him

Dear Maid of Stress,

I saw Dear Prudence' response to your letter. Prudence got it wrong, and I'm writing you so you can do right by your friend at her wedding.

So your friend wants to have a cartoon-themed wedding and has asked you to be in the cartoon-themed wedding party. Take it as a compliment, get over yourself and help your friend enjoy her day.

Your friend obviously believes that you can lighten up and have a good time. I think you're an old fuddy-duddy who wouldn't know a good time if it hit her on the head with an anvil. So prove her right and prove me wrong by getting out there and partying down as Daffy Duck – a character who, like you, is funny because he takes himself too seriously.

To prepare yourself for this assignment, you need to watch the Chuck Jones classic cartoon Duck Amuck.

In short: It's your friend's wedding day, not yours. Get that stick out of your ass and use it to conduct the orchestra for her.


P.S. Send me photos of the wedding. It sounds like it's going to be a blast.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Autoplay stopped working on internal SD reader

I like using the Microsoft Scanner and Camera Wizard to move my digital photos from my devices to my hard drive. But for some reason Windows XP had stopped running Autoplay when I inserted a CD card into my internal SD card reader, so I wasn't able to use the wizard.

After a bunch of Googling and failed attempts at repair, I finally found the Autoplay Repair Wizard at, and that fixed the problem.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Did we meet at Wizard World Chicago 2008?

I really regret that I didn't collect names and contact information from all of the great people I met at Wizard World Chicago 2008. If you're one of the people I met there, please drop me a line at... we can keep in touch.

If we met, you'd probably remember. I looked like this:

Granny Goodness at Wizard World Chicago 2008 #1

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 26

A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.
Banjo 190 hrs, TV 156 hours

This was kind of a big week for me, banjo-wise. I've decided to switch banjo teachers. Mike has been a great teacher, but I want to get really good at bluegrass stuff and his expertise is in frailing.

I'll still be working with Mike, but in a different capacity. One of the banjo jamming skills I'm working on is my ability to follow the guitar. In order to do that well I need to recognize what chords the guitarist is playing. I figure the best way to do that is to learn a little guitar myself, and Mike is a great guitar teacher. So I'll be taking some guitar lessons from Mike.

But I'm looking into some other teachers for the bluegrass banjo. Watch this space for the results.