Back in the saddle

I’ve been pretty good about my habits while we’ve been sheltering in place during this great lockdown. I meditate and write every day, but I’ve been breaking my streaks when we take these trips out of town. There’s no place like home, as they say, so I’m glad to be back in my comfort zone.

Journaling in RemNote before I start writing in the morning seems to be weeding out much of the minutia from these posts, and will probably make them more pertinent to others, although I don’t think anyone is reading this regularly. I haven’t paid much attention to traffic from it other than the number I see when I log into the dashboard. That’s fine for now. I need to finish writing my Substack newsletter, but the day has already slipped away from me.

The girls were very troublesome this morning, and after they left to go to their grandmothers I got sucked in to work management. I didn’t get much of what I wanted to get done. Mostly I was micromanaging one of my co-workers, who I’m now having to manage because he’s incapable of any critical thinking. It’s insane. And and I delved into the operations a bit more I figured out that my boss has made some pretty bone-headed decisions around how things are working between the two of them. It’s insane. My boss is focused on this subcontract work that we’re doing for another firm, supporting printers at local facilities. My co-worker, E., who is responsible for doing the work, doesn’t even have clearance to get on the facilities, so my boss has to meet him and take him. And I’m not even getting into the situation around the dispatching. My boss is all in the middle of it. It’s no wonder why we’re dying, he’s having to micromanage E. instead of hiring someone who can think for themselves so that he can work on growing our business. Totally insane.

On the bright side, I did have some fun today. I stopped at Barnes and Nobles over the weekend to pick up some rainy day games, and came across a copy of the Hamilton piano and vocal score. I was planning on picking up a copy on Amazon, but they were out of stock, so of course I went searching online and found a copy via Reddit. I started searching from there and found an archive of Broadway Junior songbooks. Broadway Junior are condensed versions of classic and Disney musicals, and I found a trove of the Disney piano and vocal books. For Frozen, I found the soundtracks and accompaniment tracks on YouTube, as well as a community theater that had put the actor scripts up online. I was showing the girls and we were singing along with them, and I think it’s going to be awesome. Elder has been telling me that she “hates” playing piano and that she just wants to sing, so this is perfect. She even asked me if we could recruit the neighborhood kids to put on a show. So cute.

I seriously spent way too much time thinking about this today, and I have a feeling I’m going to be spending way to much time with the kids, listening to these over and over.

Even for a Monday, I am really exhausted. We’re also preparing for a tropical storm hurricane Isaias to get here in a day or two. It looks like it’s making landfall, which is good for us cause I’m not worried about wind and rain so much as I am about storm surge. We should be fine, but I had to move all of our outdoor things into the shed and the garage, which was tiring. And I’m going to have to do some grocery shopping tomorrow, which is probably bad timing on my part. Well, at least we have plenty of frozen meat in the freezer, canned vegetables and rice in the pantry. Plus, my latest batch of homebrew will be ready next weekend, so I think we’ll be fine.

Seeking joy

I’m writing this at the end of the workweek, perhaps the last thing I do before I decide that there is nothing more productive to be done today and crack open a cold one and plop my butt in front of the TV or a video game. Today’s has been slightly better than the rest of the week. Yesterday’s storms seem to have broken the five day three-digit heat wave, allowing the kids some outside time with their friends. I was not terribly productive at work, although I am managing to get some things done with my cryptocurrencies that are way overdue. I’ve mostly been knocking out little random things that weren’t necessarily on my lists, distracting myself from working on any big projects for the past day or two.

I’ve been limiting the girls television in the morning to PBS kids, instead of letting them watch whatever they want. Elder gave me trouble about it earlier in the week, but they’ve been misbehaving and being disrespectful quite a bit the past few weeks, and something needed to change. I am seeing some improvement in how they’re responding, and I’m trying to adjust my behavior as well so that I’m not being unfair. I’m having to take more of a hands on approach with Elder’s math and music lessons. Leaving her to herself is causing her to miss some of the more subtle points about what she’s learning. In both cases she’s trying to rush through everything without taking the time to read the question. And in cases where she’s getting the right answer, she’s missing the method that they’re demonstrating which makes it easier to do the calculation in your head. Similarly with music, she’s mostly focusing on the fingering numbers instead of the actual notes. With Playground Sessions, with the instant feedback of the score, she’s paying more attention to the visual feedback than she is to the actual notes she’s playing. She’s not listening.

And trying to tutor her myself seems to trigger some sort of defiance in her, where she either fights me and shuts down, or acts passive aggressive and refuses to answer correctly. Or again, perhaps she’s not listening to what I’m asking. Today I took my time with her and tried to be patient, and we were able to work through everything correctly, even with her difficulties.

My BEAM mining seems to be going well. I’m currently gaining about six dollars a day in crypto. I haven’t calculated my power consumption, but I was able to reduce my power consumption quite a bit and increase my hashrate by ten percent, so I’m doing better than the calculations. I’m probably netting more than three dollars a day right now. I’m going to wait another week to decide if I’m going to unload it. I’d have to make sure my Binance account is still good and figure out a way to automatically move the coins based on my pool earnings for the week. After two and a half years, I still haven’t traded any of my coins.

Yesterday I decided to use some of my Microsoft Partner Network benefits, namely my Visual Studio credits, to spin up an Ubuntu instance in Azure and see if I could sync up multiple blockchain nodes on one host. I was able to get BEAM and ARW up and running, but I shut it down earlier today until I can figure out exactly how I want to structure things. I fixed a firewall issue with my AWS node that I’m using for IDEX, so I think I want to run the nodes on it and keep wallets accessible from here at the house. I haven’t accessed so many of my bags in some time, so one of the first tasks is going to be getting my XDNA node up and running. I’ve got enough for a small masternode, about sixteen hundred dollars worth of fiat, so I may as well get that back online and start earning. The IDEX node isn’t using any CPU since the Ethereum node has been offfloaded to

Other than that, I just paid some house bills and checked my accounts. I linked one of my credit card rewards points to Amazon and found that I have over five hundred dollars worth, so I’m trying to resist the urge to blow that all at once.

And at work today I did have a call with the embedded systems firm. I was amazed at how they operate. No version control, no test driven development. I was shocked really. I’m going to start by going over their developer setup environment and converting the build process to something that can be automated as part of a new build chain. It relies on some custom Eclipse version from their hardware supplier, which integrates different Texas Instrument libraries. So hopefully I’ll be able to help them build out a brand new CI/CD pipeline for the project that they’re starting in the fall. I don’t know where it will take me, but it feels good to be able to put my computer science degree to good use in a professional environment. We shall see where it goes.

So I’m going to go crack that beer, dig into some hot wings in about an hour and try to watch a movie with the girls. This week marks the anniversary of the moon landing, so hopefully we can watch a show about it. I can’t stay up too late tonight watching Dark or playing video games, cause there’s a lot of projects that need to get done tomorrow morning, and I don’t want to waste too much of the morning sleeping in.

Here’s to a good weekend.

Play us a song

My first instrument was a small Casio keyboard that I got for Christmas when I was maybe three or four. It had a small ROM cartridge that plugged into it with some songs on it that you could play. The keys, there were maybe three or four and half octaves or so, had small lights on them that would light up when you needed to press them, and you could play along with the songs in this manner. It’s been so long that I have forgotten what it had on it, I think one of them might have been Flight of the Bumbleebees or Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Jingle Bells was one of them, for sure. I didn’t get much more serious with it.

When I was in first grade I wound up in the school orchestra, playing violin. I’m not quite sure what happened, but according to my dad I lost the instrument or something, so that was the end of that.

When I was about fifteen, my best friend Thomas showed me his inheritance from his grandfather, a 1950-something model Gibson hollow-body. At some point, Tommy asked me if I wanted to start a band, and I was like ‘hell ya’. I asked my dad if I could get a guitar, and he gave me some lame, dad-like excuse that I was going to my grandmother’s for the summer and needed to save my money. So off I went on a plane with my little brother for the summer, and when we got picked up by my grandmother, she asked what I wanted to do.

“I want to buy a guitar.”

I spent most of that summer watching MTV, trying to pick up as much as I could by watching More Than Words, Nothing Else Matters, and Mama I’m Coming Home on constant rotation. And that began a life-long love affair with the guitar that has had its ups and down and remains somewhat cool to this day. I dare say I’m decent enough at it, having taught myself and learned enough over the years that I can teach myself pretty much any song that I want to. Not that I’m the best technical player, but I can pass a decent solo if I put my mind to it. And I can sing and play, so I’ve had a lot of fun over the years as a front man with a band or as solo performer.

One thing that has always bothered me is that I’ve never been able to read sight music. Guitar players have tablature, which is basically play by numbers, and I’ve always been good at using that to learn whatever I couldn’t pick up by ear. But put a piece of sheet music in front of me and I’m dead. I once tried out for the local art school when I was in high school, but I got too frustrated during the audition and gave up.

A few years ago, after getting more into electronic music production, I bought a 61-key keyboard and started trying to teach myself a few songs. I picked up a couple books and printed out sheet music to some stuff I wanted to play, and started learning how to play by reading the scores. I dare say I was able to teach myself Fur Elise, all of it mind you, not just the theme, but the two breaks with all the technical runs and everything. But the keyboard got stored away to make room for my other hobby du jour, and everything I new drained away.

I still play the guitar, and even bought a small ukulele for the girls, and about all they can do with it is open strum it and sing. I’ve tried teaching them how to fret the strings, but so far, no good. So I figured I’d break the keyboard out of the closet and let them start playing with it. Dare say I was greatly disappointed with how little I had remembered. But the girls took to it like a new toy and all.

The only question was how to drive their learning. As I expected, there’s an app for that, and after a bit or research bought a month of Playground Sessions, and have been letting my oldest play with that. It’s a game, basically, and of course I wanted to use it to. The problem is that the subscription is single-profile only, and I didn’t want to go in there and blow through all the basic lessons and complete her work for her. So yesterday I ran through the demo of Flowkey, which is much different from Playground. A quick review:

Playground Sessions is a much more sophisticated app. It has more of a traditional sheet music view, and there’s a couple options for speed, and whether the notes or finger positions appear above the score. The lessons have accompaniment, and it plays through, marking on the score where you hit the correct note, and it gives you a score based on your accuracy. Eighty percent is passing, and each ‘lesson’ has four or five sections that build on each other before a challenge section. My daughter is obsessed with the accuracy score, wanting one-hundred percent before moving on. I try to get her to move forward, progress by resting before coming back, else she gets to frustrated.

The PS subscription includes a number of free song credits per month. There are multiple versions of songs based on skill level, and they’ve got backing tracks accompianning them. They’ve even got Old Town Road, which was a must-get for my kids. All of the classical music is free, but I was disappointed that the top level of the advanced-hard songs were still simplified compared to the actual scores.

Flowkey, on the other hand, is a bit more pared down app, but is superior in other ways. Now first off, its web based, which is cool, but makes progressing through the lessons a pain. Even the first lesson, which is When the Saints Go Marching In, requires you to load 4 different lessons to learn about four bars at a time, before trying the whole thing. Needless to say, I didn’t spend much time messing that that.

Where Flowkey really shines, though, is that they unlock the entire music library after you go Premium. And this is the real deal. Now, like Playground, the popular music follows a modified score that incorporates the vocal melody in it. I would rather have the full score, actually, but that’s a minor quibble. Instead of showing several lines of staff and playing through it like a metronome, Flowkey has one continuous line of staff. The top screen shows a performer playing through it, with graphic aids to show exactly which keys are being pressed. This is both useful and inspiring. Flowkey doesn’t have the fingering numbers like PS, so it’s useful to figure out where to put you hands or how to switch between several chords in succession. And Flowkey has a wait mode, so that it will pause until you find the right note.

And I love just watching the performers on some of the more challenging pieces. It’s hard not to be impressed with Let It Go, forget it. And I was grinning ear-to-ear watching the score and hands whizzing by the keyboard for Bohemian Rhapsody.

Overall, I’m not sure which one I like better. I think Playground Session has a better lesson structure, although it’s very metronomic, whereas Flowkey, well, flows better. It’s more human, rather than just grading you on accuracy. And having unrestricted access to all the songs instead of the limited mode with Playground is nice. (PS has the entire library unlocked for annual subscribers, although not lifetime… ??)

So for now the jury’s still out. I’ll see if my daughter maintains interest in it for now, we’re about a week or two into it, and she still hasn’t gotten through the right-hand lesson. This dad, though, is having fun.

And I might just learn to sight read yet.