Friday, October 15, 2010

Nature Photos

Went to a friend's parent's acreage a few weeks ago and took some pictures with my phone. I'm no nature photographer, and you can't really see the detail with these scaled, compressed pictures, but I was pretty impressed with the quality of today's camera phones compared with phones of just a couple of years ago.

If you look closely you can see caterpillar poop on her left hand.

Things That Bug Me About My Android

Let me be very clear, I love my phone. It's a Motorola Milestone running Android 2.1. It's not the newest, fanciest, fastest phone out, but it has a beautiful, hi-res touch screen and a slide out keyboard. The keyboard was very important, as I find a touchscreen finicky to type with. It's also very customizable, and a lot of fun.

A few months ago I bought an iPod Touch to use as an e-reader, and I'm glad I did. I was very close to buying a dedicated e-reader like the Kobo, but I decided to forgo the large, readable e-ink screen and went for shirt-pocket portability as well as versatility.

Of course, having an iPod Touch made me think about getting a smart phone, but my experience with the Touch, as well as other issues I won't get into right now, made me decide against an iPhone. Eventually I decided upon the phone I have.

I did my research before buying, but there were still a couple of surprises. The biggest one was that applications had to be installed to the phone's internal memory; they couldn't be installed to the SD card. This limits the number of apps you can have installed at the same time. Not a huge deal for me as I really don't use most of the apps I have installed and there are always some I can delete without regret, but it's something I would have liked to know ahead of time.

This has been fixed in Android 2.2, but I either have to wait until I get the update to 2.2, or I have to root my phone and install it myself.

That actually brings me to another issue that I knew about before buying my phone, but it bears mentioning. Most Android phones don't allow the user to update the OS unless the carrier allows it. This has led to phones being several updates behind, with no hope of running the newest software. It's quite contrary to the "open" philosophy touted by Android, but that's for another post.

Most phones can be rooted, allowing you to install "unauthorized" software including OS updates, but that's not something most people are willing to try.

I also wish the battery life was longer. It has to get plugged in every day, which isn't a big deal, but when I've been doing a lot of websurfing or gaming it's a close call whether it's going to make it to the end of the day. I've learned to turn off wi-fi when I'm not using it, and sometimes put it into "airplane mode."

And one other thing. Cut and paste. The iPhone got a lot of flak for coming late to the game with cut and paste, but at least Apple got it right. When I select text on my phone it is impossible to see what is actually being selected because my big finger is in the way. I am always selecting too much text, not enough text, or the wrong text. There may be an easier way to do this, but it isn't immediately obvious.

I'll do another post sometime about what I love about it, which is a lot. I might even bash the iPhone a bit. We'll see.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Electric Guitar

It was becoming difficult to practice my acoustic guitar and stay a good neighbor. Many times I like to practice very early in the morning or late at night, and I live in an apartment building, so I would try to play very quietly. I was worried that would lead to bad technique, plus it wasn't very fun, so I decided to look for an electric guitar.

An unamplified electric guitar is not very loud, and with an amplifier you can plug in headphones and crank the sound, it would be ideal for playing at night without waking the neighbors. Plus, I wanted one.

I spent a lot of time searching for an electric guitar, checking out online classified ads for used guitars and checking out pawnshops. The biggest problem I had was that I really didn't know enough about guitars to make a good judgment on the quality and condition of an instrument. I spent a lot of time reading online reviews and learning more, but the more I learned the more I felt that pawnshops were asking too much for used stuff, and I didn't feel confident enough to buy privately.

Ended up buying a new Epiphone SG Custom with a worn cherry finish. I'm very happy with it. It looks beautiful and is nice to play. Bought a Pocket Pod effects processor and a small practice amp to play around with the sound as well. Having lots of fun with it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Practice Practices

Practicing guitar is one of those weird things for me. I'm never really sure when I should be going on to the next step. Do I have to get everything perfect, or just pretty good? Usually I just settle for pretty good, especially as I don't think there's enough time in the universe for me to get anything perfect.

I try to rely on the fact that some skills will be practiced even when learning different skills. For example, for a while I kind of stalled when learning open chords. I spent a lot of time, weeks in fact, practicing transitions between chords before going on the the next lesson. That time certainly wasn't wasted, as I did get a lot better with the transitions between chords, but that's also something that gets practiced later on as well, as with finger picking.

On the other hand, getting the transitions better made learning finger picking easier. I think the time learning one skill is almost a constant, if I didn't spend the time in one section I would have spent it in another section.

The other problem is learning a new skill while neglecting old skills. Sometimes, as with finger picking and chords, I'm still practicing the old skill while learning a new one. Now, though, I'm learning pentatonic scales and playing the whole fretboard. I really should keep practicing my chords as well, especially barre chords, which I'm still not great at.

The solution is obvious: learn new skills while practicing the old skills. It feels like it cuts into my learning time, but that's the way it has to be. If I want to learn faster, I'll have to devote more time to practicing.

Friday, September 03, 2010

New Hobby

About ten years ago, maybe less, my mother bought me a guitar for Christmas. Not just a cheap starter guitar, but a very nice black Art & Lutherie cutaway dreadnought. It was part of a musically themed Christmas, where she put a lot of thought and effort into gifts like glasses with music staffs on them, plates with piano keys, and guitar books. It was actually pretty extravagant.

There was a problem. I wasn't really interested in playing guitar.

I took a few lessons when I was a kid, but never got very good. As a kid I liked the idea of being able to play guitar, but didn't want to put in the effort of learning and the hours of practice that are necessary to get even competent. As an adult I knew I would never take the time needed to play. So I strummed it a few times, and into the closet it went, for years.

Mom kept asking me if I was playing it, and I would reply evasively: "A little bit," or "Haven't really had the time," or "I tried it out."

About 3 months ago I decided I needed to take up a hobby that didn't involve computer keyboards or video game controllers and took out the guitar. Downloaded some videos from the internet and started playing. Found I really enjoyed it, and have kept up with it, so far. I've learned a lot, even though I'm still terrible, and though I'm not shredding guitar solos I'm just enjoying what I can do right now, relishing my progress as I slowly get better, and just trying to play through the difficult stuff.

A guitar is a risky gift to give someone, and if you decide to give one as a present be prepared that it may end up as a dust collector. In this case it paid off, although it was years later. Hopefully I'll be playing and enjoying myself with it for years to come, though I may never be very good.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Hello Again

Ya, I'm posting again, after about 3 years. Not going to focus so much on Linux articles. Some of my how-to articles were pretty popular, but the good articles take a lot of time to write, and I'm too lazy to keep up that kind of thing. Bad articles are easier (and I wrote some of those), but it's harder to be proud of them.

Things are going to even more unfocused than they were before, but there's a good chance I'll write a fair bit about learning guitar. I started playing about 3 months ago, I'm still terrible, but I'm really enjoying it. I may write about my struggles, sites I've found helpful, and perhaps successes.