Saturday, September 27, 2008

Funny Picture Break

Here are some goofy things I've collected over the last couple of months for this purpose. Weird sense of humor, I know.

Blood and Thunder Review

Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West Blood and Thunder: An Epic of the American West by Hampton Sides

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
I picked this book for no reason other than I loved the last book I read by Hampton Sides. His book, Ghost Soldiers, was so well-written and thoroughly researched that he became an instant favorite of mine as an author.

This book was no different. Scholarly, but not dry; dramatic, but objectively so; focused, but set on a broad landscape of the American west, while covering a range of years from the early 19th century through just after the civil war.

"Blood and Thunder" refers to the genre of twenty-five cent pulp fiction novels which were precursors " the modern western, briskly paced and packed with cliffhangers and hair-raising scrapes." The subject of the Blood and Thunder stories and the central character around whom this book is based is Kit Carson.

Yet this book isn't about the exaggerated way in which these novels portrayed Carson, this book was about the "real" Kit Carson. The loyal, meek, witty, intuitive, illiterate tracker of the West.

Though Carson is the central figure in the book, the book is paradoxically not exactly about him. It is a story of Manifest Destiny, of the Navajo nation, of General Kearny, of General Carleton's vision of a Utopian Indian reservation, and even the vast terrain of the west, from the Rockies to the desserts to the canyon homes of the Indians took form as an important character in this narrative.

And the narrative, expertly woven with historical and cultural backgrounds, explanations, quotes from official documents, diaries, and letters, brings the reader along as though the account given is a novel rather than actual history.

Hampton Sides has written objectively, giving the reader a good sense of the mood of the times related to western expansion, the perspective of various Indian tribes and their histories, attitudes of Mexicans, Indians, and white Americans towards each other, and the bleak hardships of life in the West in the 19th century.

I highly recommend this book, especially if your appreciation or knowledge of this time period and geographic region is lacking. After reading it, you will have received a comprehensive picture and a narrative of this era that is balanced and far more than simply anecdotal.

View all my reviews.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Augmented Reality

This is pretty amazing and doesn't even seem possible, but it is! This video is from this year's TechCrunch50 conference and I heard about this company on this week's TWiT.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

House Review

House House by Frank E. Peretti

My review

rating: 1 of 5 stars
How disappointing. I had heard such great things about Dekker and in fact, really wanted to read his color trilogy (Black, Red, White) but those weren't available at the library.

I have a solid history with Peretti, but I hadn't read him since college.

I've been in non fiction so much lately, I decided to take a break from it and get into something light and fun.

Here's the thing about this story. It's a little Stephen King, it's a little "I know what you did last summer," and it tries to be the Christian produced movie with not-so-subtle world-view mantras repeated by the characters as though people use Christianese to summarize their world-view.

I didn't care about any of the characters. I just couldn't get interested. I don't recommend it at all.

Back to my non-fiction, I guess.

View all my reviews.

What I've learned from selling and (almost) buying cars on Craigslist

This may be of some help to you if you ever find yourself in the situation we found ourselves in last month.

A not-quite-right sound began eminating from our 98 Sienna somewhere between Ohio and Iowa on our trek to the mid-west in July. As it got louder and louder, and through a series of other oddities, we were forced to take it to a dealer where we learned that a bearing was going inside the transmission.

This was unnerving, because in addition to the literally thousands of dollars we had dumped into the thing over the course of just 15 months that we owned it, we were in Waterloo, IA and needed to get back to Raleigh. We were advised to not make the trip by one mechanic. The other thought it would be ok and we could decide what to do when we got back.

We took our chances and made it back.

Shortly after that, I began to notice some odd things going on with my car (98 626). After having it examined I learned the following things were about to break: The radiator was just about rusted out, the transmission cooling lines were clogged (due to the rust, probably), the transmission fluid was (as a result) burnt, the bearings were shot in both front wheels, and the whole front end was rusting out and would need to be replaced soon.

So, two vehicles that were going to need some serious money to repair and upkeep, and in both cases, the amount of money needed for their survival was much more than they were worth.

Now, allow me to get to my point: Our decision was to sell both vehicles. Who's gonna take them? Carmax? They took them for a little spin and made their offers. Not too impressive, but at least we had something.

How about Craigslist?

OK--so here's where it gets interesting. if you peruse the auto for sale section of Craigslist, you will discover there are two types of sellers.

The first kind of seller has owned the car for a long time and it is in "mint," "perfect," or "like new" condition, even if it is five or eight years old. It has a lot of miles, but they're highway miles, which somehow is supposed to ease your mind about just how many there are. It's clean. He has all the maintenance records so you can see how much money he's already put into it. He may list a blue book value which is meaningless because it is only an average of what people are asking for that particular model, not what they're actually getting for it. These people have an emotional attatchment either to their vehicle or to the care they've given the vehicle and as a result, they expect you to acknowledge this and reward them by paying a little (or a lot) more than you would from a licensed reseller.

The second kind of seller (this was me in both cases) recognizes that their car is a piece of junk. It may be nearly falling apart, but those issues, though perhaps mentioned in the interest of disclosure, are de-emphasized while superficial qualities of the vehicle (leather, CD player, cruise, A/C) are exaggerated. "Please, yes, I know the puddle of oil in the driveway is not good, but hey, it has an antenna that goes up and down!" These sellers are happy to just get rid of it. They want something for it-- as much as possible--(and certianly more than Carmax), though they'll probably take just about anything you offer them before you walk away.

I was upfront about all the known issues with both of my cars, both in the ad and in person. I let people take them for a test drive and sold both vehicles within 24 hours of their listings, a week apart from one another. Neither of the buyers asked if they could take the car to a mechanic (which I would have certainly permittied--though I never suggested it), but both brought "a guy" who knew a little something about cars, looked it over, and gave his blessing to the sale.

I interracted with a guy who was "me" a week later, trying to sell a Honda Civic. It had over 200k miles on it. He was a mechanic and put some time and money into it. I think he really liked the car and hated to get rid of it. At least that's what he wanted me to think. He had replaced the timing belt, made some interesting alterations to the thing, and was pretty proud of it. He faultered when I asked him if I could take it to my mechanic to have him look it over. He eventually agreed. My mechanic strongly advised against me buying it. I didn't. Looking back, best $40 I ever spent.

The Lord provided us with a car my mechanic was about to sell that he had worked on for several years and I felt pretty good about: his mother in-law's car. So I've got the old lady car, a Buick Century, but it does what it's supposed to do, and I'm grateful.

The person-to-person transaction was a great experience each time. Unfortunately I had to expeerience it three times in two weeks, plus a dealer exchange (that's another post). Use Craigslist to buy and sell, it's a great tool, but I believe you will quickly be able to place every ad into one of the categories given above. This may help you in your negotiations.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

What Hath Hanna Wrought

The tropical storm that flew through North Carolina the other day left us quite a bit of water. This is good because we have been in a drought for the last two years or so, but after this rain fall we may officially be out of it. Of course, the quantity of rain was not good for everyone as many communities in our area experienced flooding. This is the graphic seen on WRAL's weather page. It looks like the 5.19" reading was taken at RDU, which is on the other side of town from us.

Using our handy-dandy rain gauge, given to me by none other than the mayor of Boone herself (Sheri's mom!), we received 3.6" of water in our yard. That would have been over about an 18 hour period.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Practicing the Diminished scales

Time to geek out on a little music theory. I haven't done that in a while.

I've been spending some time working on exercises and scale patterns related to the diminished scales. You've heard of major and minor scales? Well, those are good to know for sure, and any good jazz player should be able to pull a few modes out of the hat--particularly Dorian modes for minor chord passages, Mixolydian for dominant chord passages, and even a Lydian scale mode for #11 passages. (And really, once you learn your major/minor scales, it's just a matter of displacing your starting point and you are instantly in a mode!)

Still with me?

The diminished scale is something I've always been scared of. Instead of seven notes in the scale, like all the scales listed above, the diminished scales have eight notes. This is odd because it is an adjustment for fingering (I still haven't found good fingering for the scales) but it's also an aural adjustment. The octave doesn't come when you expect it to. There's always one more note to go!

The diminished scale is based on an alternated whole step/half step pattern. Because of the way Western music has evolved over the centuries, this means there are only three of these scales before they start to repeat. Here is what they look like.

The reason I want to get to know them is because I have always struggled with how to handle long passages with prolonged diminished chords. More on that later. But I have recently learned that diminished scales are particularly useful over altered dominants. Chords with sharp 9ths, flat 9ths, sharp 11ths, and 13ths can all be embellished by choosing notes from the right diminished scale. Here is an example of how the notes line up over a G dominant harmony, and how each of the notes of the diminished scale play out functionally.

So back to the long prolonged chords of diminished harmony. Duke Ellington's "Caravan" is a good example of this. You can hear a 30 second clip of it on iTunes here. You can see that the entire A section is a prolonged Gdim7 chord. In F minor, this functions as the vii(dim) chord, or functions as dominant. Can you tell which scale from my first example above the melodic material is based on?