I'm Mike Pope. I live in the Seattle area. I've been a technical writer and editor for over 35 years. I'm interested in software, language, music, movies, books, motorcycles, travel, and ... well, lots of stuff.

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If in your office you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive to every action you had, how much value could you derive from that?

Douglas Engelbart (December 9, 1968)


<July 2024>



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Updated every 30 minutes. Last: 8:55 AM Pacific

  10:40 PM

These are recordings I've made of me playing solo ukulele. Unless otherwise noted, the tunes come from Graded Repertoire for Ukulele: Classical, Volume 1, a book by Jeff Peterson. The arrangements are his.

Johannes Brahms, "Berceuse" (often known as "Brahms's Lullaby")
Recorded September 6, 2021

Matteo Carcassi, "Andantino"
Recorded June 4, 2021

Grieg, "Hall of the Mountain King"
Recorded May 16, 2021

Ferndando Sor, "Study No. 3"

Recorded April 14, 2021

Ferndando Sor, "Study No. 2"

Recorded March 14, 2021

Dionisio Agudao, "Estudio No. 1"

Recorded February 1, 2021

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  04:22 PM

I've been working from the book Graded Repertoire for Classical Ukulele with arrangements by Jeff Peterson. I'm plugging away at learning to translate written music to ukulele strings and learning some basic techniques from classical guitar as applied to the ukulele.

Update I decided to make a single blog entry that tracks these recordings. (The link to this recording is repeated there.)

I could practice the same pieces forever, probably. So I thought I'd finish them as you do when you take piano lessons: perform them. In my case, I thought I'd record the pieces I really liked, and then declare myself done with those pieces. This is my first effort, "Estudio No. 1" by Dionisio Aguado (1784-1849), arranged for uke, as noted, by Jeff Peterson. This is the 4th piece in Grade 1 (of 8), and has been my favorite so far.

Estudio No. 1

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  09:56 PM

On the ukulele (as with guitar), the idea of movable chords is that the shapes you learn for open chords constitute patterns. By adding a barre, you can move the shapes up the fretboard to form new chords. For example, you can take the C shape, move it up 2 frets, and get a D:

If this is a new concept for you, may I recommend my booklet on movable shapes for ukulele (PDF).

In this post I want to talk about the patterns—the relationships—for moving these patterns around the fretboard. Bear with me while I explain this notion.

On the concert uke, there are basically 5 shapes for playing movable major chords[1]:

In addition to making it easy for you to move a C shape to a D shape (for example), this means that there are 5 ways to play any given major chord. Here are 5 ways to play a C major chord:

There's a relationship—a kind of circle—among these shapes in terms of how you can move between these different ways to play the same chord. I'll show you the diagram and then illustrate how it works.

Here's a different, more formula-like way to indicate the same thing:

C shape + 3 frets = A shape
A shape + 2 frets = G shape
G shape + 2 frets = F shape
F shape + 3 frets = D shape
D shape + 2 frets = C shape

What does all of this mean? It means that when you play a major chord using a movable shape—any major chord, any movable shape—you can easily figure out how to play the same chord using the other shapes.

I'll start by illustrating this using the C shape:

Per the diagram/formula earlier, we can make another C chord by taking the open C shape, moving up 3 frets (C shape + 3 frets), and making an A shape:

Following the formula, to make another C chord, we can move up 2 more frets and make a G shape (A shape + 2 frets = G shape):

Keep going. If you're making a C using the G shape, the next C chord is 2 frets up and using the F shape:

Move the F shape up 3 frets and make a D shape, and you've got yet another C chord:

Finally, move the D shape up 2 more frets and you've back to the original C shape:

I say that this pattern is circular because you can wrap around, so to speak. Start anywhere in the circle to make a shape. Move up or down the designated number of frets, make the next shape, and you've got the same chord. For example, here's a sequence of A chords starting on the open A shape. Notice that the intervals (number of frets) between each of the shapes follows the diagram/formula from earlier:

The pattern is also circular because you can move backward, i.e., down the fretboard the designated number of frets. For example, if you're making an A chord on the 7th fret using the D shape, you can make an A chord move down 3 frets to the 4th fret and switch to the F shape. (D shape minus 3 frets = F shape)

A couple of additional notes:

  • For purposes of this exercise, open chords are fret 0 (zero). For example, if you make an open A chord and want to make the same chord in the G shape, the formula says to move up 2 frets. Zero plus 2 is 2, so barre the second fret.
  • Fret 12 is the equivalent of fret 0—in other words, any chord that you make by barring fret 12 is the same as the open chord. If you get to the point where the numbers take you to fret 12, just go back to an open shape.
  • There are similar circular patterns for other chords—minor, 7ths, etc. I'll put those together in the fullness of time. Teaser: the patterns—the number of frets between chords—is the same for minor chords as for major chords; in other words, you already have the circular pattern for minor chords.

And finally, why is it useful to know this thing? Obviously, you don't sit around moving from shape to shape for any given chord when you're playing.

For me, this has helped a bit as I try to visualize where the chords are on the fretboard. When I initially started with movable chords, it felt a bit like they were just scattered around on the fretboard. ("I know there's a C chord in an A shape, but where is it?") I could look them up in the "dictionary" of the movable chords booklet, but as I worked with the shapes it became clear that there were patterns to how the different fingerings for the same chord were related. So I just sat down and worked it out.

I think this is probably an interim measure for learning out the locations of chords. I imagine that after many, many, many hours of practice, you just know where the several C chords are, and the A chords, and the G chords, and so on, and you don't have to calculate it. In the meantime, I keep a sticky note on my music stand with this major chord circle.

[1] As I note in the booklet, there are also 3-string chords and occasionally some open chords that it isn't practical to move because they're just too darned awkward to barre. I'm sticking here with a basic theory of movable chords.

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  10:16 PM

Every year I get out the trusty Hal Leonard Christmas Carols for Solo Ukulele book and see if I can remember the ones I learned the year before and maybe learn a new one. Then I use my primitive home recording setup to record them, just for fun.

Here are recordings of some of them that I made this year. These are all MP3 files that are about a minute long and all less than 1 MB.

PS I'm not a very good uke player.

Note: For technical reasons that I don't understand, you might have to refresh the page after listening to a track before you can listen to a different track. Sorry :(

Away in a Manger

Jingle Bells

O Tannenbaum

Silent Night

Merry Christmas!

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  11:51 PM

Inspired by a Facebook thread today.

Junior highThis music is hip because the older kids listen to it.
High schoolThis music is cool because it's edgy. And deep.
College freshmanThis music is fun because LET'S PAR-TAY!
College juniorThis music is so much more sophisticated than what I used to listen to.
Early 20sAw ... remember this music from high school?
Late 20sThis music is perfect for our wedding reception!
30sShut up, you snotty teens. This is GOOD MUSIC.
Early 40sHa, you kids today don't even realize this music is a cover.
Late 40sHow did this music get on a PBS special?
50sHey, those weasels are using this music for a TOYOTA COMMERCIAL!
60sCan it be 50 YEARS since this music came out?!

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  06:40 PM

Here's a little self-administered test for Americans. (Of course, non-Americans are welcome to play, too, if they want.) Sit yourself down with a blank piece of paper or a blank document in your text editor and write out the words — first stanza only — of the US national anthem. When you're done, check your answers by looking up the lyrics. (Here's one site you can use.)

How'd you do? Something like 2/3 of Americans can't get the lyrics right.

I got to thinking about this because twice in the last few weeks I've seen a sporting event at which the pre-game singer mangled the words to the anthem (most prominently, Christina Aguilera at the Superbowl).

The US national anthem presents some difficulties, I think, in a couple of ways:
  • The words only make sense if you know that it commemorates a siege and bombardment. What "perilous fight" are we talking about here? What's up with the "rockets' red glare"? In the second line, "what so proudly we hail'd," what does what refer to? Not that this is necessarily important, but what war is this?

  • The musical range, an octave plus a fifth, is at about the limit of the range for amateur singers. There's more than one reason that people applaud when singers hit that "home of the FREE". :-)
I mentioned all this on a Facebook post not long ago, and noted that given these difficulties, maybe we should have an easier song as our anthem. This got some responses. One not-surprising response was that singers should know the songs they go out to perform. That's true; if you're a million-dollar singer who gets a gig to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner," you have every obligation to be a pro and get it right. (That said, the vehemence with which Ms. Aguilera was condemned in some quarters was a bit extreme, imo — I don't buy that it was a "disaster," for example.)

What surprised me a little, tho, were the responses that argued that the anthem should not be "dumbed down" just because people couldn't sing it. To me, this seems backward. The national anthem (I emphasize: to me) is something that literally belongs to the people, something that people sing as part of their pride in their nation and in solidarity with their fellow-citizens. Given this, isn't it ideal to have an anthem that anyone can sing, both lyrically and musically? As it is, we generally have to rely on professional singers for good renditions of the anthem, because, as noted, the majority of Americans cannot make it through the song.

The analogy I used was the song "Happy Birthday" — so simple, both musically and lyrically, that even small children can sing it. Obviously, no one is going to come up with a national anthem that's as simplistic as "Happy Birthday," but you get the idea — the song should serve the people, not be some sort of skills test or patriotism SAT.

It's not as if the national anthem is part of the Constitution or anything; it's only been an official anthem since 1931. I get that people like the phrase "star-spangled" and that even if most people can't pinpoint which rockets' red glare we're talking about, it makes a nice complement to, say, the Fourth of July. Still, it would be nice to have a song that would be easier to sing.

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  12:24 PM

That Mozart could be a sly fellow. Music poured out of the guy seemingly effortlessly -- legend has it that the Kegelstatt Trio was written out while Mozart was waiting his turn at skittles[1] -- but maybe it wasn't as always as easy as that. And the man did have to make a living, after all.

Take, for example, the flute concerto in D. According to S. W. Bennett, on the liner notes to the LP The Virtuoso Oboe:
[T]he financially hard-pressed Mozart had an opportunity to earn some money by writing for the flute, an instrument he disliked. A Dutch patron of music and flautist, M. de Jean, commissioned in 1778 a group of flute works, which Mozart had to supply in a hurry. He brought forth three flute quartets and two flute concertos.
You're in hurry, you have some distant patron, and you don't even like the flute. So what do you do?
Of the latter [that is, the concertos] the one in D is undoubtedly the C major oboe concerto transcribed. As "almost conclusive evidence" Alfred Einstein points to the fact that in its D major flute form, the violin parts of the concerto never go below A on the G-string, indicating that the whole work was simply transcribed a whole tone upwards.
Heh. Hey, maybe he won't notice that his commissioned flute concerto is actually an oboe concerto redone to make it more flute-y. But alas, it seems that De Jean did actually notice -- per the infallible Wikipedia, De Jean didn't pay Mozart for the concerto.

An interesting historical twist is that the oboe concerto was lost for many years, and only the flute concerto was in the repertoire. People knew from writings that there was an oboe concerto, but there was no manuscript. But a dude named Paumgartner eventually pieced it together in the 1920s:
This oboe concerto was first published in its present form in 1948, the editors using old manuscript parts in the Mozarteum library at Salzburg, but the music has long been known as the Flute Concert in D major, with the same K. number.
Kids, don't let this happen to you. If you plagiarize, even yourself, your rich patron will find out and will stop the check. And don't forget to make backup copies of your originals, just in case.

[1] Not quite; he did compose like that, but not the trio in question.

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  12:07 AM

This post is strictly about guitar setup; for those who care naught for guitar mechanics, nothing here to see. Catch you next time.

I had an interesting guitar setup experience recently. If you have even moderate experience with guitar setup, this will probably all be old hat. (And if you have none, you probably don't care. So who's reading? Hmmm.)

I got my electric a year and some ago. It's a knockoff of a Gibson ES-330:

I like it fine. As I got it, it had some relatively high-gauge strings (11s, probably). Being new to electric, I had nothing to go by, so I used that guitar as-is. I had a setup done at one point, but didn't have it restrung. During one of my lessons, tho, we were talking about bending, and my teacher had a go on my guitar. "Lighter strings, dang!" was his recommendation, so I had one of the shop guys put on some lighter ones (10). It was sort of a rush job, which more-or-less explains the rest.

The lighter strings were a definite plus. However, it seemed to me that the guitar had developed a slight buzz. (This is where the experienced folks say "duh.") I kept thinking I should take it in for another setup, but didn't get around to it.

One night, tho, I was at guitar school (not to be confused with lessons), and the owner dude (Jay) introduced Ryan, a new guy they had. Ryan was a guitar builder, Jay said, and was open for business. Specifically, you could bring him your guitar for repair or whatever. It was the same price as taking the guitar to a shop, but -- the cool part -- you could watch and, if you wanted, Ryan would teach you to do what he was doing.

So I took my guitar in and watched Ryan do his thing. The first thing he did was have a look at the alignment of the neck and body. Dead straight, he noted. Not good, I asked? Not what you want, he said. The neck should actually "up-bow" a tiny bit (we're talking very small fractions of an inch here).


That way, there would be enough clearance between string and fret as you fingered notes, but the strings wouldn't actually touch the frets (the source of the buzzing). When I'd had lighter strings put on, there was less tension on the neck, so it flattened out a tiny bit -- enough to introduce the little buzzing I'd noticed. Ryan adjusted the truss rod (whatever that is) to loosen it just enough to compensate for the lighter strings. Presto, done.

Ryan then tuned the strings. He started with a gross tuning -- setting each open string to its nominal pitch. But he explained that the in-tune-ness of the strings was not perfect up the fretboard. For example, in a simplistic guitar design, fretting at the 12th fret would not get you an exact octave. Among other reasons, fretting the string stretches it ever so slightly, which of course affects its pitch. (More)

To compensate for this, on electric guitars (and, like, violins and stuff) have a way to micro-adjust tuning. On some guitars, like mine, the strings lie over a saddle arrangement that has screws to adjust the string, known as intonators. Here's a little more detail:
[I]f the bridge is placed at exactly the theoretical position (nut - 12th fret distance multiplied by 2), the fretted notes will get progressively sharper the further up the fingerboard one plays. This is because fretting the strings stretches them by a small amount, raising the tension and therefore the pitch of the notes produced. Action height is normally lowest at the nut and highest at the last fret, so the sharping effect increases with distance from the nut. To compensate for this, length is added to the string at the bridge end. The amount necessary varies from string to string, generally increasing from treble to bass. "Intonation" means adjusting this compensation until the open notes and the 12th fret notes of each string are exactly one octave apart. (Paul Guy, "Tuning the Guitar")
The intonators on my guitar look like this:

Ryan fretted each string at the 12th fret and then adjusted the intonator until the string was in tune at that fret. The resulting stair-step arrangement of the intonators is typical. There are two such stair steps here, one for the wound strings, one for the non-wound strings; note that in each case, the heaviest of the strings is the longest. (On acoustic guitars, the bridge often has different bevels for different strings. Some, like my Takamine, have a split bridge whose arrangement approximates the stairs steps of the intonators.)

Ryan offered to let me do some of this adjustment. I declined, although I'm not sure why; it wasn't a particularly exacting job, nor could I screw up the guitar. (Much.) I was just happy to see what he was doing and be able to get explanations and ask questions. In the end, because the job was so quick, I ended up paying even less than I would have for a regular setup.

I don't have enough guitars that I can keep one around as a junker to practice all this stuff on. It's inevitable that I'll have one eventually, tho. As all guitar people know, there's always another guitar waiting to be bought. :-)

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  11:20 AM

You know what I wouldn't mind? A bit of sunshine. Wrong time (winter) in the wrong place (Seattle), I guess.

Fake reviews prompt Belkin apology. I guess I've just always assumed that some number of product reviews (and restaurant reviews) are by shills. (I'm usually most suspicious of the ones with the really, really bad grammar, haha.)

The #1 Song on this Date in History. What was the #1 song on the Billboard chart on the day that you were born? (Me, it was Elvis Presley, "Too Much.") [via Sarah] [18 Feb 2012: h/t to Rupert Charles for the updated link!]

What the Web knows about you. Check out the list in the sidebar of all the things the author was able to find about himself. [via ... just about everyone]

Facebook and list mania, aka "25 Things About Editors". John McIntyre's editor-specific take on the "25 things about me" meme that's been going around.

[categories]   , , , , [tags] product reviews, Billboard, privacy, Facebook

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  10:01 AM

A short list today. Spending too much time away from the computer. Ha!

How to get someone to answer your questions. Clever strategy, heh. [via Raymond Chen]

How Math Unraveled the 'Hard Day's Night' Mystery. You know that opening chord for The Beatles' "Hard Day's Night"? Guy figured out how they made it. [via Daughter Sabrina]

Spelling Bee. The Visual Thesaurus people have put up a spelling-bee style spelling test that's strangely addictive. [via Fritinancy]

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