Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Auricle Day

To date, I've put in about 44 hours planning out Auricle, and have a pretty decent vision of where I want to go with it. It's easy to come up with course topics -- the difficult part is how they are presented, right?

I've decided to split exercises into three types:

  • See: Standard online quiz format with visual questions and visual answers, such as "Select the P5 out of the 4 displayed chords", completely divorced from any piano keyboard visualization.
  • Hear: Classic aural skills questions with audio questions and visual answers, such as "Identify this interval", again without keyboard.
  • Play: A mix of hear/see questions, but employing an onscreen piano keyboard for answers.

I'm not a music theorist, but when I played one on TV, I noticed that students who were already fluent at piano often did worse at music fundamentals, because the piano had become a crutch. While keyboard skills are important (especially for visualizing chords), students need to have the theoretical knowledge apart from the keyboard as well.

I originally brainstormed a set of three See, Hear, and Play skill trees (like World of Warcraft) for the exercises, but that took things too far into the "isolation of skills" direction, which is equally as useless as any given "Comprehensive Musicianship" approach. That idea eventually morphed into the world map shown below, where the three types of exercises are comingled:

(I plan to add various types of dictation and part-writing after the Sea of Symbols, but don't want to bite off more than I can chew quite yet).

Each circle on the map is an exercise. Clicking on a circle will take the student to a page with exercise instructions and score sheets of how other students have done. Each exercise will have three options:

  • Cram Sheet: A quick review of basics and common shortcuts that might help someone out, not intended to be a replacement for a textbook / instructor.
  • Practice: A recorded, but ungraded exercise run.
  • Challenge: A recorded, graded exercise run. Success at challenges will have three levels:
    • Bronze: Student understands the concept (80% right, no time limits)
    • Silver: Student fully understands the concept (92% right, no time limits)
    • Gold: Student has reflexively mastered the concept (100% right, with very brief time limits on each question)

Students need at least a Bronze medal on each exercise to proceed to the next exercise, and at least a Silver medal on each required exercise to go to the next island. There are also optional activities for things that no one cares about (like modes or the pentatonic scale) that allow students to earn Badges for extra credit and Internet bragging points. Perhaps Badges will have prizes like secret coupon codes from promotioncode.org.

Yesterday was Day 1 of 5 in Auricle Hacking week, but I did not wear a Zuckerberg hoodie. I did, however, write the part that takes a description of Basics Bayou in XML converts to Java, and then renders in a JSP.

I'm hoping to have the very first exercise released next week for some early feedback. If any pedagogic friends have suggestions for the ordering or method of exercises, I'm all auricles!

tagged as music, teaching, programming | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Memory Day: Snapshots

Triking around the backyard in 1983.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Fourth Anniversary Day

As anniversaries pass, and senility robs us of our wedding memories, we'll always have the photographic evidence to fall back on.

tagged as media | permalink | 2 comments

Friday, October 04, 2013

Auricle Day

I didn't get quite as far as I had planned this week, having been distracted by Tomb Raider and Breaking Bad, but I did manage to finish the "world map" logic so it can quickly be templated for future worlds.

tagged as programming | permalink | 0 comments

Monday, October 07, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

Anniversary dinner at Ice House Cafe on Thursday Night.

Because of the government shutdown, we had to hike an additional 1/2 mile just to start hiking!

A turtle named Toby that we met on the trail to Split Rock, outside of Harpers Ferry.

The view from Split Rock.

The path of our eight-ish mile hike.

On a Harpers Ferry ghost tour, which was not particularly scary.

Not pictured: Dinner at "The Dish" in Charles Town, or Rebecca's relaxing massage.

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 1 comment

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Music Tuesday

Sixteen years ago, the weekly performance by music majors was a pretty dull affair. I opened the afternoon with the third movement of the Kennan trumpet sonata, purely on its virtues of not being the first movement, which every other trumpeter in the world played. Not being destined for a trumpet performance degree, I only made it sixteen notes in before flubbing a note.

However, I feasted on the rhythms like a side of contrapuntal fries where other trumpeters just gave up and rebeamed all of the complex meters into 4/4 time. This was helped by the fact that I also transcribed the entire accompaniment into MIDI and spent hours in the practice room playing with a cassette tape (because I dislike people and also paying accompanists). If there ever comes a time where a master trumpet can be fashioned like Voltron, I'll gladly contribute the rhythmic engine of perfection.

    Hear me perform the Kennan, Mvt III (4 MB, MP3) Play along with the Kennan at home (21KB, MID)

Later on in the program, Jason Price gave one of his masterly renditions of a solo work that was the equivalent of a homeless man on the subway talking to himself -- these performances never did much for me, but the other trumpeters would spend hours afterwards discussing his awesomeness.

The hour closed with a saxophone sonata, which can can also be found in the dictionary under "perpetually unnecessary".

tagged as music | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Memory Day: Snapshots

Three years ago today, on October 9, 2010, we were in New Hampshire, celebrating the 31st birthday of Mike (of Mike and Chompy). Happy Birthday!

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Now You See Me (PG-13):
Crossing the heist genre with the magician genre seems like an obvious idea, so I was surprised that something like this hadn't been done before. The movie tells the tale of simple magicians and con men pulling off various bank heists while onstage in front of audiences, and the cop who's trying to bring them down. The whole thing becomes meaningless in the last 10 minutes, but the ride to get there is a lot of fun. Jesse Eisenberg plays the same character as he always does and only irritated me about 50% of the time.

Final Grade: B

The Libertines by The Libertines:
The very first song on the album, Can't Stand Me, is catchy but the remainder of the album rolls downhill into a cesspool almost immediately. In contrast to the first song, the rest of the album is an echo chamber of miscellaneous musical noise with lead singers that are rarely on pitch, barely understandable, and not catchy at all.

Final Grade: D

The New Kingmakers by Stephen O'Grady:
This is an incredibly brief (so brief that it looks like a pamphlet more than a book) overview of the importance of software developers in the new economy, and what companies need to do to woo and retain developers. It's an interesting, if not surprising, narrative, and would probably work best as a quickie read for a boss who doesn't understand how developers are important. For someone already involved in software, there's nothing newsworthy.

Final Grade: B-

Under the Dome, Season One:
This high-concept show about a small town that becomes cut off from the rest of the world by an impenetrable dome had a pretty decent pilot that showed a lot of untapped potential. Unfortunately, the show spent the next twelve episodes going nowhere and getting progressively worse. Among its flaws:

  • Every character starts out as a caricature (in typical Pilot form), but very few characters ever see any growth or development. The lovestruck teen son introduced in the first episode is immediately cringeworthy, and then changes his motivations each episode to support the plot. Is he crazy? Secretly smart? Check whether the episode number is even or odd to determine. The sheriff's deputy comes off as a dumber, equally annoying Michelle Rodriguez.
  • Most of the show involves characters standing around and spouting exposition in boring locales. Not only does the show tell us instead of show us, it also tells us things we should be able to figure out on our own -- there are actually exposition-teens who wander around the town explaining the plot for the viewers while getting into Dawson's Creek-like drama.
  • Many scenes simply exist to move people around to different locations so they're staged for whatever the next big ensemble scene will be. Others exist only to be Windows tablet commercials.
  • Anytime an interesting idea pops up, like a shortage of supplies or a health outbreak, it's merely used to further the nonexistent plot and is generally solved completely by the end of an episode. They solved meningitis in 30 minutes.
The bottom line is that this might have been an interesting miniseries idea, but it's held back by weak acting, weak dialogue, weak plot, and being stretched into a regular multiple season show. Skip it.

Final Grade: F

tagged as reviews | permalink | 6 comments

Friday, October 11, 2013

List Day: 10 More Things I Will Never Understand the Appeal Of

to go with the original 15

tagged as lists | permalink | 4 comments

Monday, October 14, 2013

Chad Darnell's 12 of 12

6:42 AM: Cats stealing footspace.

7:14 AM: Breakfast bagel and the newspaper.

8:04 AM: Playing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

9:38 AM: Back from Costco with swag.

10:00 AM: Reading the work leadership book club selection, Good to Great, while it starts to rain again.

11:00 AM: Playing video games that purport to teach children how to make difficult decisions.

11:48 AM: Rainy day inside with the family.

12:42 PM: Costco's crispy honey chicken for lunch.

1:33 PM: Folding party.

2:42 PM: Cheese, tiger, and How I Met Your Mother party.

5:52 PM: Ahlbin dinner party (spot the kitty).

8:30 PM: Games with Anna and Ben.

tagged as 12 of 12 | permalink | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Recipe Day: Easy Buffalo Meatballs


  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 18 minutes


  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup buffalo wing sauce
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  • Preheat toaster oven to 450 F.
  • Combine butter and wing sauce in a small pot. Cook over low heat, stirring until melted and mixed.
  • Combine beef, egg, bread crumbs, and salt in a large mixing bowl and mix by hand. After wing sauce is sufficiently cool, pour into bowl and continue mixing.
  • Evenly coat the surface of a baking dish with vegetable oil. Roll beef mixture into 3/4 inch balls and pack snugly in baking dish.
  • Bake for 18 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve with pasta or simply toss them up in the air and catch them in your mouth.

tagged as recipes | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Memory Day: Million Man March

Eighteen years ago today, on October 16, 1995, the Million Man March was taking place in DC. Some teachers at TC Williams had bought into the fervor, and were exhorting their black male students to skip school, attend the march, and "participate in something bigger than they were". The rest of the teachers correctly assumed that most people were just going to use it as an excuse to stay home and sleep in.

As an Asian with white adoptive parents, the only impact that the Million Man March had on me was my dad's concession to let me drive to school that day. A surprising number of city bus drivers called out of work, playing havoc with school bus schedules.

As expected, only about 30% of the student body showed up. Although a large number of the missing students did meet the requisite criteria of "black" and "optionally male", several white girls in my classes must have mysteriously grown a penis of participation. This may also be the original impetus for the movie, White Chicks, although that tale's grand spirituality was destroyed by Hollywood when the tagline was converted from "based on a true story" to "inspired by true events".

Most of my classes that day were boring. Depending on the number of missing students, some teachers abandoned all teaching and offered a free study period. According to my journal, none of my classes were memorable, although I did get a certificate for being a Commended Student in the PSATs from Principal John Porter, and Dr. Patel did spend an entire physics period lecturing on how not to fail at life (this was different than succeeding at life, which was a separate lecture we probably got the next week).

In the last class of the day, marching band, I posted new pictures from the last football game on the band bulletin board. My dad was the go-to photographer for the band, and I had the task of putting up pictures (freshly developed in the Price Club photo lab) and selling them for 25 cents each. This is how I learned entrepreneurship -- when you mostly post unflattering pictures, those people will pay to have them taken down, and then you can afford to buy a side of fries with ketchup in the cafeteria. This is also how mugshot websites work today -- I should have patented the idea.

tagged as memories | permalink | 1 comment

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Review Day: Tomb Raider

There are no major spoilers in this review.

I was never really submerged into the cult of Tomb Raider -- I never saw the movie and never dressed up like Lara Croft at a convention. I played the original game for about 10 minutes and only recall being killed by a dinosaur while the game camera was stuck on a wall and stuttering along at 3 frames per second.

The new Tomb Raider game is a reboot / origin story, because that's the fashionable thing to do with old intellectual property these days. (I'm suprised that we haven't seen an origin story for Pac Man yet). What this means to gamers is that you need not be familiar with any of the older games. The story is interesting enough to hold everything together, and while it's not as deep as a Bioshock game, it's still better than Indy 4, in spite of some flat caricatured supporting characters.

Graphically, the game is beautiful. It's nice to be gaming in an era where exceptional graphics are the norm and cutting edge hardware is no longer needed. More important than the graphics, though, is the core gameplay. Controls are tight, leaping through the air across canyons fills you with adrenaline, and the camera shifts perfectly to capture the action at the best action-movie angles. I didn't think I would say this in my lifetime, but this is a 3D game where jumping and climbing things is actually fun and never frustrating. The stealth and shooting portions of the game are serviceable, but I actually had the most fun when no enemies were around, simply exploring, scaling insanely vertical buildings, and gathering archeological relics from puzzle tombs.

There are only two flaws in this game: the first hour or so is essentially injury porn, where the game showcases as many different ways as possible to show Lara getting beaten, impaled, attacked by dogs, or abused. It kind of makes sense from the perspective of an origin story, to show her evolution into a female Indiana Jones, but it gets tiresome almost immediately.

The second flaw is the abundance of "Quick Time Events" where you'll be watching an animated cutscene and suddenly a button appears on screen which you have to press or mash repeatedly. Failing at one of these events leads to death, which leads to starting the sequence all over again from the beginning. These events gave me PTSD flashbacks to the arcade game, Dragon's Lair. Around the age of six, arcade visits would start immediately with 75 cents wasted in this game, only to fail somewhere near the beginning every time. I would then be out of quarters for the next hour, forced to watch my friends who had wisely picked the safe mutual fund of the arcade, Skeeball.

Final Grade: A-

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, October 18, 2013

List Day: Top Ten Worst Eating Annoyances

  1. Post-meal scummy teeth

  2. Seeds in your molars where your tongue can't reach

  3. Unchewable fat strings in cheap steaks

  4. Sandy beach picnics

  5. Tasting a fish bone

  6. Biting an unpopped kernel

  7. Popcorn shells in your gums

  8. Doritos in your gums

  9. Biting your lip

  10. Rebiting your lip in the same spot at the same meal

tagged as lists | permalink | 2 comments

Monday, October 21, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

  • Final lawn mowing of the season

  • Homemade salmon fish tacos and steamed mussels for Friday's dinner

  • Screening of This is the End

  • Further work on Auricle

  • Fall Harvest Festival at the Doukenie Winery with the Smiths

  • Watched the first half of Homeland: Season Two

  • Brie burger at The Counter in the Reston Town Center

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Composing Spotlight: Theme from Dragons' Destiny

Dragons' Destiny is the name of a never-completed browser-based role-playing game I started creating in my freshman year of college. Written in Javascript long before jQuery and other Javascript frameworks were more than coding sperm, the game engine was so complex that it required a cutting edge version of Netscape Navigator (3.0 Gold) to run.

Because designing games is often more fun than implementing them, this particular game was never more than 10% complete. The art and game files are long gone now, and all that remains of the project are a few pages of handwritten notes and some musical themes.

Here is the MIDI theme that played on the title screen of the game:

Listen to the Theme (1:19, MP3)

tagged as music | permalink | 2 comments

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Memory Day: Amazon MP3s

Six years ago, on October 23, 2007, I made my first MP3 purchases through Amazon.

Up to that point, I had purchased all of my music through Walmart, which required the extra step of converting their DRM-draped Windows audio files into MP3s.

Amazon has always had a nice set up for MP3 orders, including the cloud player to keep track of songs after I've deleted them locally. They toss enough coupons out at regular intervals that you can usually get a song or two per month for free, and they now offer free digital downloads with real album purchases.

I tried iTunes once, but uninstalled it immediately after it added multiple extra Apple background services to my machine. Ain't no one got CPUs for that.

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review Day

There are no major spoilers in these reviews.

Do You Want The Truth Or Something Beautiful? by Paloma Faith:
Paloma Faith is another singer like Christina Perri or Gabriella Cilmi with a unique, memorable voice that makes you stop and take notice the first time you hear it. This album is short and fun, but like Christina Perri or April Smith, the songs are better mixed into a broader shuffle because the timbre of her voice should be taken in small doses. One of my favourite songs on the album is Upside Down.

Final Grade: B

The Office, Season 9:
Seasons one, six, and seven were my least favourite seasons of this show, although I felt that it actually improved a great deal in season eight. The ninth season starts out with three of the worst episodes ever, but then course corrects and hits every single funny and poignant moment you would expect from a final season. I was very satisfied with the direction and resolution of this season, especially the decision to stop forcing Andy Bernard to be a weak impersonation of Michael Scott -- less Ed Helms is more in this case.

Final Grade: B+

Breaking Bad, Season 6:
This is alternately called Season 5 Part 2 or "The Final Season", depending on who's trying to make the most money through audience confusion, so I'll do my part to aid capitalism by calling it season 6. These final 8 episodes are a great ride without the sometimes-too-slow burn of previous seasons. It's akin to torching an acre of the rainforest after wasting a lot of time watching that stupid tropical tree grow from a seed. The plot still goes to the opposite extreme from reminding the audience of previous minute plot points (I would have liked a "Previously On" occasionally), but every single plot and resolution has grown organically from things introduced in the very first season.

Taking the series as a whole, I would definitely recommend a full watch, but you may want to be multitasking during a few arid sections of the middle seasons.

Final Grade: A-

Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...And Others Don't by Jim Collins:
I read this for a germinating book club at work. It works backwards from historical data about company growth to distill observations about what it takes to become a great company and sustain it. The lessons are nice talking points, and the company sidebar stories are very interesting, although the book is held back by some of the company choices. For example, Fannie Mae and Circuit City were both hugely successful at the time of writing (2001), and we all know how they turned out in the aftermath. Despite that, this is a breezy read that never gets too scientifically pendantic about its conclusions.

Final Grade: B-

tagged as reviews | permalink | 0 comments

Friday, October 25, 2013

Random Chart Day: Water Bill Trends

I haven't been able to deduce why usage went down so much in October 2012, but I'm pretty certain that no one involved was consuming their own urine.

tagged as data | permalink | 2 comments

Monday, October 28, 2013

Weekend Wrap-up

  • Met Anna at Chickfila for lunch on her birthday.

  • Stayed home on Friday night working on Auricle through a BDD ("beer-driven development") paradigm while Rebecca went out to a PT friend party.

  • Rediscovered the DS game, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.

  • Ate Singapore noodles with pork at a Taste of Burma.

  • Finished the second season of Homeland.

  • Went to a pumpkin carving party at Katie & Joe's on Sunday night. (Ours are the least artistic ones in front of the goomba).

How was your weekend?

tagged as day-to-day | permalink | 0 comments

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Auricle Day

I'm about 60 hours into Auricle now, and still in the stage where I'm writing infrastructure rather than anything actually musical. I have the progression mechanism set up, so students can earn medals and travel the map, with their progress automatically spit out to an activity feed that will motivate other students to do better.

Next up, I'll be writing the code that does the actual quizzing -- randomly generating a set of questions and responses, recording the amount of time it takes to answer a question, and saving discrete metrics like the types of question a student seems to get wrong most often. The initial batch of exercises will be traditional question/answer exercises, with the aural and keyboard exercises to follow later on.

The first exercise to be implemented will be nearly brain-dead, but will prove that all the parts are working. In Notation, students will identify time signatures, clefs, note durations, rest durations, accidentals, and articulations. Questions can randomly pose a graphic so the student can select the textual name, or a question can start with the text and have the student pick the graphic.

tagged as programming | permalink | 0 comments

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Time-lapsed Blogography Day

Eighteen years ago today, on October 30, 1995, I was a senior, and unimpressed with my curriculum.

October 30, 1995 6:26pm Monday

Today was just a normal day. Before class, I went to the guidance office and got my class rank (for this year not last year) and I'm 1 of 512. But anyone with over a 4.0 is 1 so I'm not that special. Theory was pretty dull. There's two guys that don't understand anything that's going on and it's really annoying when they guess random answers to questions. In english, we discussed the book we're reading, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man some more. I don't like the book too much. It's too deep.

Fourteen years ago today, on October 30, 1999, I was composing stuff and going to Halloween parties. Also, the night before, I had given my roommate, Kelley, a copy of Starcraft as an early birthday present and he went on to nearly fail out of college.

10/31/99 10:13pm Sunday

Saturday morning was a brass rehearsal. We practiced ~7~ for today's concert, and then I went costume hunting with Shac, Kelley, and Nikki. We ended up at Walmart and bumped into John, Jason, Rosie and Jen who were also costume hunting. In the evening, I went to Symphony with Shac, Liz, and Nikki. The concert was quite good. After that, I went to Squires and played through the Arutunian in preparation for Monday night's solo competition. I think it will go well. Once done, I took Nikki and Liz to the tuba house for the grain party. A few other people I knew were there but not many. Rosie showed up later on and we all took pictures with each other.

Here is a picture from that party. When math majors asked what I was, I said "a physics major", but I told everyone else "a math major".

tagged as memories | permalink | 0 comments

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Howsereen!

Because of the holiday, I can repost my original mashup of the themes from Halloween and Doogie Howser, MD and call it a real update.

Listen (2:00 MP3, 2.7MB)

Happy Halloween! I hope you are giving or receiving some big candy bars this evening. Halloween, like marriage, is all about giving and receiving.

tagged as green (recycled) content, music | permalink | 2 comments


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