Raised by Badgers

Not antisocial; selectively gregarious.

Playing with a webtoy: Bad Translator

Flooring and coating the silent music selection sufficiency have an accepted by the flower pots. Aothintisit in UK.


Here’s a cute little webpage called Bad Translator.

I fed it this, but broken into two parts to accommodate the software’s 250-character limit:

Mad mutant children of the poisoned sky
embrace the rafters with prehensile fins.
Inverted over melted lawns, they scream
the silent twisted landscape’s requiem–
a hymn of praise to those who caught the fumbled
scepter of the human dynasty–
As, jubilant, the scavengers emerge
to celebrate our generosity.

35 iterations later it spat out  Flooring and coating the silent music selection sufficiency have an accepted by the flower pots. Aothintisit in UK.

‘Aothintisit’ doesn’t show up in any of the American dictionaries I have ready to hand here. It seems to be a mangling of ‘authenticities’ that happened somewhere between Bulgarian, Arabic, and Czech, with some initial help from the French. Oh, yes: I particularly enjoy the fact that Bad Translator saves the text of each iteration so you can go back and read through a window’s worth of loss in translation.

Though I likely needn’t point this out, I will anyway: None of this proves anything derogatory about the programming skills of the people who wrote either the translator software or the web script that feeds it. In fact I’d be rather surprised if any team of human translators would produce results that were any more coherent than this when given input such as … whatever the hell that was. Even when dealing with common and straightforward prose, the text is guaranteed to get mangled when bouncing back and forth between languages as diverse as English, Hungarian, and Chinese among many others. This would seem doubly true if the production of pathological results were the entire goal of the exercise.

In fact, if this exercise suggests anything at all it’s that there are some environments where, over the course of many midnight shifts, a human mind can start to wander down some pretty unpleasant paths.

Nevertheless, I still think Bad Translator can be a pretty entertaining webtoy.


Noah? Ah, no.

I haven’t seen the recent Noah movie, and am not inclined to waste either the money or the time required to do so. (Yes, it will eventually come out on video, but hey, there are always clothes, or for that matter cats, to wash.) In general, getting me to take time out for any film requires some serious incentive. In particular, everything I’ve heard about this one so far–mostly that Hollywood loves it, Evangelical Christians hate it, and theologically Conservative Jews aren’t thrilled with it either–has been entirely predictable and at least somewhat consistent with my own pre-release guesswork: namely, that this was going to be a tedious intellectual wank full of industry in-jokes and sly references to the sorts of obscure, hallucinogenically enhanced literary twaddle usually reserved for upper-caste adolescents whose parents pay at least forty grand a year so the brats can (pretend to?) read it in All The Right Universities.

(Aside: Wow. If that isn’t the Run-on Sentence From Sheol, it’s the closest I’ve come to it in a while.)

Anyway, it seems I was only half right. In fact the sly references in Noah were to material that’s at least somewhat available to anyone with loads of time on their hands and two or three neurons to rub together.

Like, f’rinstance, Madonna.

Yep, here comes a Calvinist scholar1 to dissect the Noah flick, and he says it’s Kabbalah to the core. His analysis looks legit. It’s a long-ish read but worth the effort, particularly for people who’ve watched the film and come away scratching their heads and muttering ‘Where the [EXPLETIVE] was that in the Bible?’.

Disclaimer: Not responsible for spontaneous head explosions.

Here’s the link.

[1] Obligatory clarification: I’m making an assumption that Dr. Mattson is a Calvinist, based on his credentials. I don’t do Calvinism myself, but their academic types are often the go-to guys for scholarly discourse in the Evangelical world–sort of like Jesuits but with less spin and no Pope. And no, I won’t participate in an amateur theological fencepost-spraying contest, here or anywhere. I’ve never seen one of those do more good than harm.

Kootenai / Columbia; ID-BC-WA-OR

Last time I was up at the Idaho place, outside Bonners Ferry, I sat in the front yard1 and contemplated Deep Creek, which a ‘wet spring’ had turned into a de facto river. I started thinking, an activity which takes me to amusing places frequently and crazy places sometimes. In this instance, my thoughts ran along these lines:

Hmmm. This hooks up with the Kootenai River in Bonners Ferry, a few miles north of here. The Kootenai flows north into British Columbia (where the spelling of its name changes subtly), into the south end of Kootenay Lake, and back out the west side of that lake. It goes west for a while, then turns back south through BC and crosses the border into Washington. At some point it becomes the Columbia River. That meanders down through eastern Washington and eventually turns west again to run along the Washington-Oregon border all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Ya know, it’s theoretically possible to drop a boat into the water right here in my front yard and eventually step out of it somewhere near Astoria, Oregon. Boy, wouldn’t that be something to tell the kiddies about?

Yeah, and I bet the kiddies would roll their eyes at the thought that some geezer expected them to believe such an obvious crock.

Nevertheless, I haven’t ruled it out.

Even if I can pull this off, though, it’ll take a good couple of years of planning, logistics, training, and financing. Especially financing. There are likely to be at least two other people involved, and might be three.

I lean towards conventional canoes for this. Although I’ve never done more than a four- or five-day trip in one, I’m comfortable with them; also, a touring or tripping canoe will carry quite a load, and be more stable when doing so than when unloaded.

A few others have recommended sea kayaks (real, enclosed, Eskimo-style ones), and the Hobie Mirage sit-on-tops have been mentioned more than once. I’m pretty skeptical of the former; just for starters, they would introduce yet another learning curve. Sit-on-top kayaks, especially the Mirages, are great here in the tropics, but something with a bit more freeboard might be better for Pacific Northwest rivers.

Yes, I’m soliciting opinions on small craft here, informed or otherwise. Thoughts on any other implications of this idea are also welcome.

Local knowledge is extremely valuable too, so here’s a question for anyone who’s familiar with any of the country along that Kootenai/Kootenay/Columbia route: What parts of the trip would be particularly hairy?



(1) Admittedly off-topic technicality: I think it will have to have a permanent house on it before it really qualifies as a yard.

Specific Instruments: Part I

In an earlier post I implied that learning to play a specific instrument is secondary to the goal of learning to play music. That’s very much what I believe, but on the practical level anyone who wants to learn music will need to choose an instrument to start with. With that in mind, here are some relatively brief remarks on three instruments that are among the most popular for the purpose, plus one that I think should be more popular than it is.

Yes, this list is short, and deliberately so. Some future posts will present additional (and occasionally rather oddball) alternatives. The ones mentioned here made the initial cut because (a) any of them can play more than one note at a time; (b) I have experience with them, and (c) All of them come in acoustic versions requiring no electricity, orgone, forsaken children, or any other external power source. (An ever-increasing variety of electric models are available, of course. Still, I favor acoustic instruments for most beginning students, for reasons that would constitute a major topical tangent.)

By the way, I haven’t arranged these in any particular order of desirability. Prospective musicians’ living arrangements, travel patterns, personal preferences, et cetera ad nauseam vary widely and change often.

A final caveat: I present these remarks with the adult or semi-adult novice in mind. Pre-teens introduce a few additional considerations.

And fair warning: Future posts may discuss each of these instruments in much greater depth.

With all that out of the way, then:

The guitar is well into its second century as the clear favorite, for many good reasons. Its range in terms of pitch meshes well with human voices from bass to soprano. The piano covers a much wider pitch range, but the guitar is arguably more versatile in the variety of timbres1 available to it. Although most standard-size guitars won’t fit in the overhead bin of a Boeing 737, and thus don’t quite meet my personal standards of portability, they’re still a lot more portable than pianos (which might not even fit in the luggage compartment and really shouldn’t be put there even when they will. Especially if you’re flying United. They break guitars, after all; I don’t even want to think about the havoc they’d wreak on a piano.) Guitar is the primary instrument in many genres of popular–and indeed not-so-popular–music, thus appealing instantly to semi-social nerds in search of charisma generators. <points back at self with 3 fingers>

Not much can be said about piano that hasn’t been said over and over for the past three centuries or so. It’s one of the canonical instruments for general musical instruction, with an insanely broad pitch range and the ability to adapt to almost any genre of music. Portability is obviously a major issue, with a couple of almost-as-obvious coping strategies: (1) When traveling, try to stay, as much as possible, in places where a piano is available; or (2) Get a cheap-ish electronic keyboard, with built-in speakers, to travel with.

Then there’s violin. Oh boy, is there ever. It’s been around even longer than the piano. Look, I’m biased here: This is currently my primary instrument. It really helps, though, that I’d been playing quite a few other instruments for 40+ years before picking up the violin seriously. It’s technically demanding, remarkably unforgiving, and difficult (most classical musicians would say ‘impossible’) to learn well without some kind of formal instruction. We’re talking about a major challenge for anyone who approaches it without having any prior background in music. For those who stick with it, though, the payoff can be amazing. The violin is often called ‘the world’s most versatile instrument’. It has, demonstrably, the most expressive range of timbres in the acoutstic world. Dark, bright, mellow, brassy, dry, lush, ringing clarity, grating distortion: In the hands of a skilled enough player the violin can do it all. As far as I’m concerned, the only non-electronic instrument that really rivals it is the human voice. As with piano and guitar, the violin shows up in virtually every genre of music.

As long as I’m indulging my biases, I’ll put in a plug for the mandolin. This little Mediterranean noisemaker, which came on the scene in about the same era as the violin family, is my own secondary instrument these days, getting almost equal time with the violin. The mandolin is tuned just like the violin, except that instead of having four strings it has eight, tuned in unison pairs: GG-DD-AA-EE. It uses the same fingering patterns as the violin but is much more forgiving. (Being played with a pick rather than a bow really helps.) Thus, in addition to its own merits, it’s a good ‘gateway’ instrument for people who think they might like to try violin someday but are understandably intimidated by that instrument’s technical demands. Also like the violin, the mandolin fits easily in the overhead compartment of a Boeing 737, which is my standard of portability. Although its presence in mainstream rock music is limited, it’s widely used in most genres of folk music, shows up fairly often in some styles of jazz, and has a surprisingly broad classical repertoire. It deserves to be taken more seriously.

So here we are, for the time being. There’s more to come.



(1) Timbre is a somewhat technical term but a hard one to avoid when dicussing the tonal qualities of musical instruments, so here’s an explanation straight outta Wikipedia:

…also known as tone color or tone quality from psychoacoustics, [timbre] is the quality of a musical note or sound or tone that distinguishes different types of sound production, such as voices and musical instruments, string instruments, wind instruments, and percussion instruments … In simple terms, timbre is what makes a particular musical sound different from another, even when they have the same pitch and loudness.

There are lots of links in the original, of course, so I recommend at least skimming it.

Heads Up

Just to let y’all know, comment moderation is enabled by default. If you make a comment and don’t see it right away, please be patient; it may take anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours for me to get to it.

If this turns out to be too big a hassle for people, I may disable comment moderation, but for now I’m letting it stand. If nothing else, it should discourage the inevitable spammers.

Learning Music

Here’s a template for a conversation so common it would be hard to say how many times I’ve participated in it.

“I don’t play anything, but I want to learn [insert name of specific musical instrument here].”

Um. OK.  Chances are you really want to learn how to make music, using [specific instrument] as your preferred tool.

“Unfortunately, I’m tone deaf.”

You almost certainly are not. Very few people are. You just don’t recognize the different tones that make up any given piece of music, or you do recognize them at some intuitive level but you don’t know what they’re called and what the relationships between them are. That’s because nobody ever showed you in a way that you could make any sense of. That’s a limitation you can overcome, ideally with some help.

“But it’s all so technical!”

Yes and no.

Yes, it can mutate into a mind-bendingly technical exercise, and *cough* some people *cough* <avoids  mirror> can turn a discussion of the simplest ditties into hours of eye-glazing quasi-intellectual wankery. But that’s just for giggles; we don’t have to do it.

Because no, the basic concepts, while technical, aren’t all that technical.

Can you count to four? Congratulations; that’s the main tool you’ll need for grasping the basics of rhythm.

Can you count to six? Cool; you’ve got the prerequisite knowledge for getting into some pretty hairy rhythms.

Can you count to eight? Excellent; the diatonic scale (think ‘Do-re-mi’, or more Anglo-phonetically ‘Doe-ray-me’) and all its variations are yours to master.  Seriously: If you can sing the Do-re-mi song, you’re halfway there.

Let’s take this all the way over the top: Can you count to thirteen? Beautiful. Now we’re getting into jazz and classical territory.

“But I couldn’t possibly learn to make sense of all those lines and squiggles!”

If you’re dyslexic to the point of de facto disability, then we’ve just taken a giant leap beyond my zone of competence and I’d refer you to a professional specialist. (But see below.)

Otherwise, if you’re reading this, you can read English. If you can read English you can read music, because musical notation, in its essential structure and grammar, is an order of magnitude simpler than English.

Also, the ability to read music is not a prerequisite for learning to make music, any more than the ability to read human language is required before one can make up, embellish, tell, or repeat stories. (Reference: Any random 3-year-old human.) I still emphasize reading music because it makes so many great things so much more accessible, but you don’t have to know it from the get-go.

Don’t get me started on tablature, though. That’s a big red button labeled ‘RANT!’. (Executive summary of rant: Tablature, as a tool, is potentially useful within a narrow range of applications. Beyond that range, it’s evil.)

What goes here

The content of this blog will consist mostly of posts that would make people’s eyes glaze over and/or earn a ‘TL;DR’ tag if I posted them on the Book of Faces. Topics will most likely fall into one or more of these categories, in no particular order of probability:

  • Music: Particularly DIY music on acoustic instruments. I play a pretty fair cross-section of those, and a few electric ones into the bargain, and am quick to recommend that anyone with the slightest inclination learn to play at least one.
  • Photography: Analog and digital. Given the choice and the time, I prefer the former, but the latter is also a legitimate art form and is far more convenient. (Provided our technological infrastructure remains intact. That’s another axe I like to grind occasionally.)
  • Guns: I own them. I shoot them. I review them. I have strong opinions regarding any legislation or regulation that touches on my right to do all of the above. I do not, as a rule, spend a great deal of time or energy expressing those opinions, and I see little point in debating them with people who disagree.
  • Knives: Arguably humanity’s second-oldest tool after the hammer. Notice I said tool. Yes, they can be used as weapons, but I very much dislike the idea of doing so. Remember what the first category of post in this list was? Yeah. I’m really attached to my fingers, and would prefer to remain so. Secondly, as a knifemaker friend of mine once said: The ‘winner’ of a knife fight is the one who dies second. That having been said, it’s fascinating that such a simple theme as the knife gives rise to virtually infinite variations.
  • Current events and social trends: Infrequently, and with due caution. Both of these slop over too easily into politics (and religion, assuming for the sake of argument that there’s a clearly defined difference). Of course I have political opinions, but because they don’t reduce to a convenient set of slogans I seldom express them outside the metaphorical voting booth.
  • Crafts and skills: Everything from computer programming to flintknapping; basically, whatever catches my eye. That covers a lot of territory, thanks to a notorious (lack of) attention span.
  • Outdoor activities: Especially sailing, rowing, kayaking, and cycling.
  • Critters: In general. The world is full of ’em.
  • Cats: After all, this is the internet.

Finally, anything else that occurs to me and seems worth posting is likely to wind up here.

I’ve thought about doing this

… For a given value of ‘thought’.

For the past few weeks, and intermittently over the past few months, I’ve threatened to start a blog.

So here it is.

More to follow.

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