Sunday, December 26, 2010

That's it for the Banjo versus TV project!

It's time, my loyal readers (Hi Mom!), to end the Banjo versus TV project and to start a new banjo(ish)-related project in its place.

"Why?" I hear you ask, because you're kind of loud when you cry out in surprise.

Because TWINS! That's why.

From left to right: Baby B, J.R., Baby A

I've really enjoyed doing the Banjo versus TV project since I started it in 2008 as a new year's resolution. I have, since then and with only a short break, kept that resolution and have spent as much time on my banjo as I spent watching TV. It's been very, very good for my banjo playing.

But with the twins here, a few things are changing. For one, the redhead and I are determined not to have the TV on all the time as we're raising the twins. If I'm only going to watch a meager amount of TV, what's the point of matching that with a meager amount of banjo time?

Also, too: There's just not going to be a lot of time for blogging.

If I'm going to continue exploring the banjo — and I am — I'll need to try a different approach. An approach which will...

  • take into consideration the limited amount of time in a new father's schedule,
  • figure out how to integrate amateur banjodom and parenthood,
  • be a little more forgiving of delay than a track-my-time-really-carefully and blog-about-it-once-a-week project,
  • but still be fun.

So watch this space for my next project: New Daddy Banjo.
Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Zuni Elf on the Shelf

The redhead and I were discussing how creepy Elf on the Shelf™ is, which led to me suggesting that we just get the Zuni doll from Trilogy of Terror and put an elf hat on it, which led to Photoshop, which led to this.

Zuni Elf on the Shelf

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 2010: Stork with twins

2010 Stork with twins 2010 Stork with twins (closeup)

This year's addition to my gallery of Halloween costumes: Stork with twins.

Note that this is 100% costume. The actual twins will arrive soon, when the actual stork brings them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

I won the #bwayplot contest!

The other day I was watching Jesus Christ Superstar on Ovation TV and I actually paid attention to the annoying lower third ad:

So I fired up my little-used Twitter account and tweeted a few plots. A few days later Ovation announced the winners and, whodathunkit, I won first place!

First prize was a pair of tickets to a Broadway show in the winner's area. I picked Hair, which is coming to Chicago in March.

Here's my winning tweet. Click on it to see what Broadway show I summarized. Float over it for a hint.

You've got that banjoes strummin' / And plunkin' out a tune to beat the band, / The whole plantation's hummin' / Since you brought Dixie back to Dixieland

I summarized a bunch of others, too, like:

Our fine four-fendered friend


No you can't / Yes I can

Honestly, this one's so obscure that a hint won't help

Potiphar was cool and so fine / But his wife would never toe the line / It's all there in chapter thirty-nine / Of Genesis

Try to remember

If you miss it, you'll have to wait 100 years to try again

I have to admit that this one was my favorite:

That's Professor Harold Hill, Harold Hill

After posting this one...

Somewhere that's green

...I felt that I was being too wordy. So I summarized the same show in four words...

In an early year of a decade not too long before our own

...then another in three..

What are you waiting for?

...until I finally found one I could summarize in two words.

You do not need a hint

IMO, the best posts from my distinquished competitors were...

Not 'The Unsinkable Molly Brown' -- the other one



Monday, October 4, 2010

Steampunk keytar idea

It's just occurred to me that the Hohner S32 Melodica...

Hohner S32 Melodica

...could be modded to make a steampunk keytar.

I mean, it runs on a stream of air so all you'd need to do is to connect up the steam! And it's only $38.99 at Amazon.

Yes, I know that other people have created so-called steampunk keytars...

...but those are electric instruments wrapped up in gadgetry. I'm talking about making music from actual steam heat!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Banjo versus TV week 129: My hideously deformed toenails

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 8/15/2010 through 8/21/2010. J.R. has fallen way behind in his banjo blogging but is in catch-up mode and is rapidly gaining on the present week.

1 week behind2 weeks behind3 weeks behind4 weeks behind5 weeks behind
Banjo 731 hrs, TV 720 hours

(I'm going to do us all a favor and censor some of the nastier photos in this blog entry. Watch out for those external links, though. Yuck.)

My hideously deformed toenails will help me become a better banjo player.

Before I explain how this is good for my banjo playing, let's look at this timelapse of two months of growth of a human fingernail following an accident...

...and consider some educational bullet points about fingernails and toenails. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

  • Nail growth occurs in the nail root (radix unguis) at the base of the nail, under the skin.
  • The visible part of the nail doesn't actually grow. It just gets pushed forward by the cells that are growing in the nail root.
  • Since they don't grow, when visible nail cells have been damaged or infected they're not going to get better. You've got to wait for natural nail growth in the nail root to push the damaged cells forward to the tip of the nail where they can be clipped off.
  • Completely regrowing a fingernail takes approximately 3 to 6 months. For toenails it's approximately 12 to 18 months.

When I started treating them several weeks ago, the nails of both of my big toes had been infected with a fungus. (Onychomycosis, probably.)

To treat them I'm following the advice in the wikiHow article How to Cure Toenail Fungus With Vinegar. Basically, you soak your toenails in vinegar once or twice each day for 10-15 minutes per soak. In such an acidic environment the fungus is unable to infect the newly-grown cells. Eventually the old, infected cells will be pushed forward to be clipped away and the fungus will be gone, leaving behind only nice, beautiful toenails. As you know from the above bullet points, that process will take 12 to 18 months.

I've decided to make the best of an ugly situation and use this toenail thing to my advantage. I've placed in The Fortress of Banjotude (which I described in last week's entry, remember?) a 9in x 13in baking dish with cover...

...that's just big enough for me to put my feet into. I keep it stocked with enough vinegar to cover my toes.

You're welcome.

Once or twice a day I set a 15-minute timer, soak my feet in the vinegar and (on the good days when I'm not sidetracked by other stuff) practice my banjo.

What's the only thing a banjo player can look down on?  His toes.

Voila! Treatment and practice!

It's been working nicely so far. The last several weeks of new nail (approximately an eight of an inch) are pink and lovely, a severe contrast to the nastiness of the old nail material.

My banjo's sounding better, too.

Also in the last week:

I was on a trip out of town (kind of in the middle of nowhere, really) when my banjo developed a problem. The hole for the fifth string tuner had apparently widened and the tuner kept slipping out.

Don't be ashamed; it happens to everybody

Fortunately there was a pile of wood chips nearby...

Chips ahoy! This would make a desktop image

...and I always carry a pocket knife...

Victorinox Deluxe Tinker, if you must know I was able to create a tiny shim that wedged the tuner into place until I could get back to civilization and effect the proper repairs.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog

Banjo versus TV week 128: The Fortress of Banjotude

A check-in on the Banjo versus TV project — J.R.'s ongoing plan to spend more time on his banjo than on TV. This post covers 8/8/2010 through 8/14/2010. Hey, this catch-up mode is really working! There are now only six Catsup Bottles of Behindness!

1 week behind2 weeks behind3 weeks behind4 weeks behind5 weeks behind6 weeks behind
Banjo 730 hrs, TV 715 hours

I mentioned a couple of updates ago that I've finally put the time into setting up The Fortress of Banjotude – the banjo practice area that I first described when I was making banjoversary plans last year. You remember those plans, right?

  1. I will treat my banjo training like sports training
  2. I will create a terrific banjo practice area
  3. I will be deliberate about learning songs

No link for that last one because I never did get around to describing the plan.

But over the last few weeks I have finally gotten around to executing on that "terrific banjo practice area" plan and I think I've put together a top-notch practice area.

Here's what The Fortress of Banjotude has. And yes, I went cheap on almost all of these things. It also helped that I've spread these purchases out over more than a year.

The key ingredient is my newly-finished silent practice banjo. It's an Oscar Schmidt OB5 banjo that I've outfitted with Sam Farris' Silent Banjo System – a replacement mesh head that doesn't vibrate the air but that works fine with an electric pickup like the K&K Hot Spot.

Silent Banjo System Standard Remo head vs. Silent Banjo System head

Using this banjo I can slam on the strings as much as I like without worrying about the neighbors (or the redhead) being bothered by the noise.

"Then how can you hear yourself play?" I hear you ask, because I'm right there with you.

I can hear it because I connect the pickup from my silent banjo to the preamp on my Behringer Xenyx 502 mixer...

Behringer Xenyx 502

...which mixes everything together to feed either into my Audio Unlimited 900MHz Wireless Stereo Headphones...

Audio Unlimited 900MHz Wireless Stereo Headphones

...for quiet times or into my Logitech S220 2.1 Speaker System with Subwoofer...

...if I want to be loud.

"But why do you need a mixer if you've just got the one input from the banjo?" I hear you ask, because I'm still there.

That's because there are other cool things in The Fortress of Banjotude that make noise and which need to be mixed in to, er, the mix.

For instance, I picked up a used Radio Shack MD-1210 MIDI keyboard...

Radio Shack MD-1210 MIDI keyboard

...which has the advantages of being cheap, having accelerated keys and hosting a library of 100 drum machine sounds. So instead of a boring tick-tock metronome I can practice to the rhythm of CLUB POP, BOSSA NOVA, TEX-MEX or whatever strikes my fancy.

I also mix in the audio output of a used IBM ThinkPad R40 laptop...

IBM ThinkPad R40 laptop

...on which I have installed:

I connect the laptop to the MIDI keyboard with a E-MU Xmidi 1x1 USB-MIDI interface.

E-MU Xmidi 1x1 USB-MIDI interface

...which lets me use my MIDI keyboard as both input and output for my music software.

Take all of that and toss in the variety of utilitarian items (chairs, music stand, tuner, etc) that I described when I first conceived of The Fortress of Banjotude and I've got a practice area that I really, really love.

Also in the last week:

I've been using all of that stuff described above to practice Theme Time, the song that my banjo instructor David recommended the other week. I've been following the practice-no-faster-than-you-can-play-it-without-mistakes philosophy. I started at 45 bpm and gradually increased the tempo to 60 bpm. It's going to be a while before I can play it at 160 bpm like Jimmy Martin.

Cross-posted at J.R.'s Banjo Hangout blog