Thursday, December 29, 2011

Downtown Denver Aquarium

I'm currently in Denver for a wedding so of course I had to go check out the local fish stuff! Too bad I'm a weekend early for the local fish club meeting :(

We went to the downtown denver aquarium yesterday evening and it was truly amazing. I took a bunch of pics from my camera phone and some of them turned out pretty awesome. The link is here if anyone wants to see them.

We also went to a couple different aquarium stores today that I would recommend if you are in denver, nice selections at both. Lots of plants at Fish Den AND they gave me the fish club discount with my HAAS card! They said they were low on plants and fish cause of the holidays and they STILL had a great selection! They had a ginormous flowerhorn there, biggest I think I've ever seen. Then: Some plants, a few unusual fish, and some neat salt stuff at Todd's Tropical Fish.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A couple of recent fish tank pics

Blogging from my phone and some new years goals

Mostly I'm far too lazy to go find the laptop, set it up, log in, post, balh blah blah blah from the computer.  Usually by the time I do all that I've forgotten what I wanted to post anyway.  I downloaded the google Blogger app for my Android we will see how this works out for me.  Hopefully it will lead to me posting more, especially since I originaly intended to keep track of progress in the garden and with other things urban sustainability like....and that has been a complete and utter fail all around.  My total of posts has been completely lame in the last couple years now(!) This blog has been up. 

There's been a lot going on. A lot.  I expanded the garden after the season ended this year...and considering expanding it further before the ground freezes.  I learned a lot this year from it.  Built a pond....expanding that this spring now.  Built a solar heater....planning on v2 now that I've seen v1 in action.  Haven't used my dryer since spring....and not planning on using it any time soon.  Much more I can't think of right off the top of my head, which sucks because its all stuff that would be awesome on the blog. 

I don't do new years resolutions, however, I do have some goals for this coming new year (in no particular order):

1.  Actually blog
2.  Start eating a more paleo diet while still applying the ethics of why I went vegetarian in the first place.
3.  Actually harvest and eat what I grow in the garden
4.  Obtain chickens
5.  Talk fate into rabbits
6.  Build v2 of solar heater
7.  Minimize watering in the garden
8.  Year round use of the clothes line
9.  Better note keeping of garden progress
10.  Get the greenhouse up and running
11.  Grow all annuals for the garden from seeds
12. Get healthy through food, not drugs
13.  Buy local for what I can't produce myself
14.  Visit my bff in california at least once this year

I think that's a good start...I know there are a bunch more things I've been kicking around but most of them fall under those kind of general goals for the year. 

Merry (late) Christmas

- Fin

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Fate's 2011 Resolutions Recap

2011 has been something of a rough year, rather have in the "bad times".    Things are looking up now, and looking back, I see a lot of Fin and I supporting each other.   It's weird how nasty happenstance can make a relationship stronger.  But, that'd be the subject of another blog post.

I'm going to make this recap short.

1. Better manage eating out and bringing lunch to work
EPIC FAIL.  I'm getting slightly better at the end of the year, but Sept-Nov were really awful on this.

2. 3 camping trips for 2011 - with 1 in a new location.
FAIL.  We did however take a few trips across the country.  Seeing Nashville was fun.   Sadly, our vacation time was largely nuked by family challenges.

3. Pay off one more loan.
WIN.   The "Dave Ramsey Plan" is working well.

4. Do more writing / more blog posting.
FAIL.  I've actually been far more focused on piano this year.

5. Ship something at work or home.
WIN.  I hope to post the press release about this when it's out.

6. Improve garden and yard care.
FIN - WIN. ME - FAIL.  Fin made a lot of progress on the garden this year.  I'd like to say I did more, but I worked a lot this year.  Garden looks a lot better now.

7. Return to Martial Arts.
EPIC FAIL.  I've been thinking a lot about this, and most of my return is directly related to money.  I'm considering some alternatives on how to make this inexpensive, but the reality is this is an expensive hobby.

8. Unpack office, file 'to file pile', and unpack 1 garage box.
Mixed.  A couple boxes have FINALLY been unpacked. Office still needs unburied and shit needs filed.

9. Start making molded soap.
 Partial WIN.  I made one batch of molded soap, it turned out ok.  Need to continue on this.

10. Complete at least one carpentry / wood working project solo.
FAIL.  Never really had a solid idea that panned out.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Black Friday Suggestion

If you're going to do some shopping tomorrow, why not support locally owned businesses instead of mega-chains?

Eden Alley notes on Plaza

Consider stopping by the "HMS Beagle" in Parkville, MO or "Brookside Toy and Science" in Brookside.  If you're shopping online, consider using a smaller online store, Etsy, etc...  And remember when shopping for yourself, most of these super awesome "black friday deals", can be met and then some at local thrift stores - with the bonus of supporting various charities.

Happy Thanksgiving All!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Politics of Anger: Introduction

I promised myself to never really discuss politics here.  Political discussions often devolve into shouting matches on the internet.  Still, the whole "occupy wall street" and "tea party" crowd have grown in such popularity that I can't seem to turn around without seeing something new from them.   Fin and I started this blog with the goal of expressing our journey down a different lifestyle, and these two groups converge at a portion of that journey for us.

As a country, we are in the midst of a sudden and dramatic shift in politics.  For years, we've seen the politics of fear.  Now, we're seeing the politics of anger.    When OWS started, I strongly sympathized with the protester.  I saw people out there making a statement.  They say something isn't right, but never what. Now,  the rallying call against elites brings many together, all with different agendas.

This of course, made it easy for the media to distort and misrepresent the goings on.  In turn, other supporters of OWS make post destroying strawman arguments in themselves based on earlier strawman arguments."Official" voices (as much as a decentralized protest could have) didn't help matters either - contradictory statements, sometimes intelligent, sometimes idiotic, sometimes angry, sometimes obscure...   In any case, this post isn't about any of the "output" from the OWS or Tea Party crowds.  It's about "the problem".

Previously working in consumer electronics, I've seen the decision processes large corporations use.  Products are designed for what the company thinks will sell, at the price they think they'll sell for, all based on the current "market".  Anymore that means, frankly, cheap shit.  The "market" here wasn't someone in a dark room making calls for everyone - it was the sales figures coming in at the end of the day.  People wanted widget A for $69.99, so by God we'd deliver.

And what the people want, they got.  Screw the consequences, or the poor 10yo kid that gets to drink lead poisoned water after you trash toxic electronics in a bargain bin "recycling program".  Doing procurement now in a new industry with lower cost constraints, I'd figured I'd look at "buying American".  Try to find someone that produced stuff in the states with provable ethics.  You know what?  They don't exist.  Why?  Because we drive them out of business.

If I'm making the next whiz-bang electronic device, I grab a catalog of manufacturers of various parts.  They give me prices, and a minimal bit of info about the company. I call up the company, and find out about the part, make sure it'll meet whatever requirements I have.  I hope that when I order these parts, they're produced ethically.   I might even ask for information about the company, or make sure they meet various materials safety standards.  At the end of the day though, I have to trust them and still figure out a way to get widget A down to a price people will pay.

The buck doesn't stop at the producers though.  The big box stores purchase from the producer, with the aim of keeping overhead low enough to hit the price point people will buy at.  Perhaps this means hiring minimum wage workers, or gouging people unpaid overtime.

It's hard to see until you take a step back from it, but the middle class works and toils endlessly to have a never ending supply of bigger and fancier toys - smartphones, high definition TV, video game systems.  The same mindset extends to food, as we choke down "all you can eat steak" at the local buffet without any consideration of quality.    And when we run out of money?  Put it on credit.

Our government reflects our society.  Willing, in large part, to mortgage our future and work to further the development of toys.  I can't really blame the government much either. If people woke up tomorow forced to pay 10x as much for a phone, TV, or food, there'd be a rebellion.  I have no doubt in my mind that there are some of the "1%" crowd that plot to expand their empires without regard to anyone.  For that crowd to do ANYTHING, however, requires the implicit support of everyone else:

The engineer that picks a part while overlooking the suicide rate of a factory.  The business owner that hires unrealistically low bidders for services.   The consumer ignoring quality in favor of cost and advertising.   The voter willing to vote for the crooked candidate because they pay lip service to a single issue (here's a hint for both sides - they don't give a DAMN about the big-A word).   The shopper financing everything without concern for never-ending payments.

There's a lot of noise coming from the OWS and Tea Party crowds, but mostly I hear anger.   Some of that anger is directed positively, but a lot of it simply floats around splashing randomly.  I'd like to point out where that misdirected anger needs put:

Look in the mirror

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fate’s Piano Adventures - The Forgotten Moments

William Tell Overture Part 1

In general, classical music exists in little tidbits on the web and radio or as background music for movie trailers. Most performances and recordings show off the ‘popular part’, but leave the remainder of the song out.

Today, I’m not feeling much for writing a long blog entry, so I’ll leave you with two of these ‘forgotten moments’. The start of the William Tell overture (aka theme to Lone Ranger), and the end of the Moonlight Sonata, a popular piece for beginners to learn provided they completely ignore the second half…

Excellent performance of 3rd movement of Moonlight Sonata

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fate's Piano Adventures - Unexpected Discoveries in American Music History

I don't often venture into 'race' here, but I thought I'd take a few moments to write about my current piano adventures, and the topic seems even more appropriate given that it's currently Black History Month.

Getting back into piano, I've found a strong desire to learn more than simply old-school "classical" music (Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mozart...) Last weekend, my wife and I visited a rather large estate sale, and I happened to stumble upon a collection of sheet music. Thinking some of the pieces looked interesting, I grabbed the stack and took it home. Out of the entire stack, one piece in particular drew me in. Yellowed paper, much older than I, marked on the top as "The St. Louis Blues."

Now, while I may have a significant degree of knowledge on classical music, modern music (past the early 1900s) is not my strong point. My radio does stay tuned to stations playing mostly recent stuff, but I'm not a music historian or 'nerd' beyond my little bit of piano. And really, if I had been, I would have immediately recognized the title.

Interested in learning what the song should "actually" sound like after pounding it on the piano for a week, I began doing some research. Quickly, I discovered that this particular song was created by the "Father of the Blues" himself, W.C. Handy. As musician, I can easily recognize the influence of Blues in modern Rock, Metal, Country, and so on. But, I find it fairly amazing that I never really stopped to consider the Blues itself and how it developed. Or the person(s) responsible for its popularization and push into the American mainstream.

The Blues was around before Handy came on the scene, but it was musicians like him that helped popularize and influence American music history as a whole. As time moved on, the St. Louis Blues would become a standard part of Jazz reportoire, played by the likes of Louis Armstrong.

The more I learn of 20th century music history, the more interesting I find the various cross-overs of cultural and racial divides. Even in the past decade, modern music genres have obvious roots in the past crossing racial boundaries:

Studying early and mid 20th century artists like Oscar Peterson, Ray Charles, and now earlier links as well, has definitely aided in understanding how 'Piano' works with modern music, and is helping me, I feel, be better at what I do. Interestingly enough, even some of the most stereotypically "white" music - country - has obvious and traceable influences.

Anyway, I leave you with a video on the cross-over between two of my all time favorite musicians - Johnny Cash and Ray Charles.

More on W.C. Handy:

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NFL shows no talent in finding talent

I like watching the ads and the game. Unlike most people, I'm also interested in the half-time show and the national anthem. Mostly, I'm curious how the singer will present the national anthem, and what tweaks they'll do to it. I also like live music, so I'll pay attention to the half-time show.

I'm not a tweed wearing patchouli splashed hipster who discusses obscure indie-bands in some sorta effort to win a pissing content on being anti-establishment. Nor am I some conservatory trained brat that discusses at length how Lang Lang is an overrated pianist and that any real musician would understand the proper interpretation of some obscure classical piece (and then gripe it wasn't actually classical). I have no aspirations of being a professional musician. I simply enjoy music - I don't really care what form or if it's popular or not. I like major commercial labels, indy, and stuff played at smokey bars in scary areas of town.

I should know now to not expect much from the clowns that run these shows, but year after year has shown nothing but disappointments. I'm not sure what made this year so much more remarkable to me, enough to write about it. Perhaps the butchering of the national anthem. Frilly, showoff singing, while butchering the words. To the performer's credit, at least she kept going. That ability is one of the big separators between amateurs and the pros'.

The halftime show was a disgrace. Hardware issues in performances happen, but at some point I must wonder what's going on. In general, it sounded like whoever ran the mixing board smoked a bit much before the show, passed out, and managed to flop across the board leaving all the levels set randomly. One overly auto-tuned main singer, and then another that cut in and out all the while being out of tune. I almost wonder if some software error forced us to hear uncorrected audio.

I must admit to being partial to the 80's costumes, but the dull lifeless performance put a sour taste in my mouth for a band I occasionally like... I'm not sure exactly why the Halftime shows continue to suck. I thought it was the continued usage of bands well past their prime, but today's show throws that basic assumption in doubt as well. At this point, I'd rather see a college marching band... Maybe something about the huge stage takes a band like the Black Eyed Peas and zaps them of talent, leaving them a group of lifeless zombies stumbling through set after set.

I'm not a big fan of country, but maybe they should consider throwing country acts at it for SuperBowl 46. Hey, they'd probably at least get the words to the national anthem right...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fate's Piano Adventures

Piano Pictures, Images and Photos

Fin recently decided to dive into aquariums and has been some awesome things with our tanks. We now have four active running aquariums, with varying degrees of decor. For a while, we'd both been just coming home and watching TV. But, seeing her interest in taking up a hobby, I've decided to get reinvolved in another long running hobby of mine: the piano.

I've "played at" the piano for roughly 20 years now, and after 2 decades of playing, you'd think I would have achieved some mystical level of awesomeness. While the knowledge of piano has been floating around my brain for 20 years, I've only actively played for roughly 9 or 10 years. And of those, I received formal training for roughly 2 or 3 years. Playing actively for multiple years, then taking a multi-year hiatus results in going back in time abit and having to relearn.

In my high school days, I developed a list of pieces I wanted to be able to play, and started trying to knock them off one by one. I hit a rather massive brick wall on Rachmaninoff's Prelude in G minor. I played it for a few months, but it always sounded forced, strained, and mistake filled in playing.

This was only the 3rd piece in my list... My tastes have changed a bit, though I still really like a lot of Rachmaninoff in general. Were I to take on one of Rachmaninoff's preludes now, I'd probably go after G Sharp Minor Op. 32 No. 12. That said, I'm putting more advanced pieces on "pause" for the time being.

I believe every pianist has 3 levels of playing - "polished", "sortof", and "delusional". A child walks up to the piano, starts tinkering, and may develop a delusional playing level of Horowitz or Mozart. Then, a teacher gets a hold of them and either starts pushing their actual playing level up (letting them decide where they're at), or crushes the delusion making them quit altogether. At first, the "polished" and "sortof" levels stay very close, but some pupils go out and venture into other more advanced works they want to play, perhaps before they have the skill or technique to do it. More advanced pieces can move up "polished", but in my experience only moved up "sortof".

So right now, I can "sortof" play various pieces from Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. But, pieces I can polish and play convincingly (make it sound like it should and add my own feeling to) are on the same level of a 2nd or 3rd year piano student. And some of my "foundations" are more remedial than that. When I started "playing at" the piano again, I decided that I wanted to venture out into other types of playing - Jazz, Blues, Standards. Quickly, I discovered that my high level of "sortof" couldn't overcome my very low "polished" level. And then, I realized that I had deluded myself into believing I was better than I was (at least in terms of technique). So, I went on Craig's list in search of a piano teacher, found one, took lessons for a couple months, then crashed and burned, deciding to just "noodle" and not worry about learning for real.

Then, a few weeks ago, something clicked in my head on some of the advice the piano teacher had given me. Sadly, while she was a good player, I don't think she was the best at teaching, being relatively new (I doubt she was giving intermediate-advanced lessons for more than a couple years, if that). So now, I'm playing again and advancing at a steady pace. Every now and then I take one of the "sortof" pieces of the shelf and discover that I can no longer play a section or can mystically play a section better. The sections I can no longer play, generally tend to be those that never sounded "right" in the first place, and looking at it again, I can move it back up into the "sortof" category but a bit more polished.

In a personal effort to keep my advancement going, I've decided to try to write here about it. Hoping that the effort will keep my thinking about and playing more. We'll see how it works.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Fate's 2011 Resolutions

Yesterday, I told Fin I wrote a couple blog posts. Her immediate response? "So, did you post your Resolutions recap and are planning on posting resolutions for next year?" Me: "...." Well, why not? It's tradition... So, new years resolutions, again:

1. Better manage eating out and bringing lunch to work
Fin and I have a basic "frozen leftovers" system where we freeze main courses for me to grab with my lunches. Still, I find I've slipped on my lunch grabbing for the office. This year, my goal is to get back to eating out only 1x a week, and making that a more planned event.

2. 3 camping trips for 2011 - with 1 in a new location.
This is less a resolution and more of a plan. Next year, I'd like to make 3 camping trips instead of 2. This really depends on both Fin and my schedules, but I think it should be doable.

3. Pay off one more loan.
Making good progress on this. With any luck, this will be nuked from my resolutions list the next couple go-a-rounds.

4. Do more writing / more blog posting.
I've got a few writing projects in my head that I'd like to get accomplished. I'd also like to see myself blogging here more often and about more stuff. I started the year off right on that, let's see if I can keep it up. This years goal is 1 post a month here, and at least half of a book I want to write.

5. Ship something at work or home.
My professional life has seen so many, many canceled projects and products and time sinks over the past few years. I'm hoping to get something out the door either professionally or in my hobby time. By the time this year is out, I'm determined to have SOME software being used by a new customer SOMEWHERE. Damnit.

6. Improve garden and yard care.
For 2011, I'd like to see us have a better looking yard / and continue on making the garden awesome. This year, we did a lot to get the garden started. This next year, I'm hoping to continue that tradition, and help Fin make an even better garden. There's a few things that went wrong last year, and a lot we did right. This year, we should be able to do even better. Better yard care basically means keeping a solid schedule of cutting the grass, triming the bushes, and ensuring the garden doesn't get overgrown.

7. Return to Martial Arts.
With the new job, the work/schedule/money matrix looks a lot better for making this happen. It might have happened last year, except I started in mid-Dec right before the holiday season. With the holiday's past, this should be doable. It's just a matter of getting the motivation now that several obstacles are improved. By December next year, I'd like to have a couple months attendance at a local school. After that, I'll decide if my not returning was do to lack of interest or being overwhelmed otherwise.

8. Unpack office, file 'to file pile', and unpack 1 garage box.
I'm simplifying my unpacking resolution this year to something very specific. There's probably too much crap floating around the house to see everything unpacked, but this should be doable and greatly improve our computer area.

9. Start making molded soap.
At this point, I've made some solid soaps, and an (accidental) batch of liquid soap. With this years Christmas presents, I have some nice soap molds. I hope to make some cool molded soaps. I'm also thinking about maybe introducing color into the soap as well. Right now though, I do like the no added colors and only essential oils for scent though.

10. Complete at least one carpentry / wood working project solo.
I like that I've got family willing to help with a lot of this sorta stuff, but, I'd like to start doing more of this stuff on my own too, now that I'm getting a better feel for how it works.