Sweet Tea, No Lemon

The way it's supposed to be.

May 31, 2007
by Ken

Estoy Aprendiendo (I’m learning)

My attempts to learn Spanish have been going on for a long time now, yet my comprehension abilities are still very limited. In recent months, I’ve been back at it, and in the process I searched the net for useful resources.

  • A new podcast series of free Spanish lessons at CoffeeBreakSpanish.com is well worth checking out. The material is aimed at beginning students.
  • For an interesting discussion about the process of learning a language, check out this email list Language-Learning Yahoo Group. The published articles stop abruptly at #34, back in 2001. Still useful info though.
  • Another podcast series, this time not lessons but instead a discussion of the methods and resources useful for learning Spanish. Check out TryingToLearnSpanish.blogspot.com.
  • One of the more useful tips I got from the Trying To Learn Spanish podcasts is to use Mexican “telenovelas” to improve my listening comprehension. Use your DVR to record these Spanish language soap operas from cable or satellite, and be sure to turn on the closed captioning feature of your TV during playback.

May 20, 2006
by Ken

Waiting for the Great Red Spot

It takes a confluence of events to make a good evening for the telescope and last night delivered just that. By mid-afternoon, I had noticed the clear blue sky outside my window as I worked, and, just to be sure, I consulted the Clear Sky Clock for my area.

The Clear Sky Clock predicts viewing quality using four separate forecasts. Of great importance of course is the lack of Cloud Cover. You want to be out on a night where the moon isn’t visible for optimal Darkness. Those two criteria are fairly easy to predict, with the latter being merely mathematical and the other covered on your local weather report. The last two parts of the Clear Sky forecast are more unusual. Transparency in the atmosphere depends on the amount of water vapor in the air. Even clear skies can contain a high amount of water vapor and lead to a less than satisfactory viewing night. Rounding out the forecast is Seeing, a factor affected by turbulence and temperature differences in the atmosphere. You’re seen how things viewed through the turbulent air above hot pavement seem to shimmer? The same effect causes objects viewed through a telescope to be unclear.

Last night, all four factors were favorable in my area, which created a good night for astronomical viewing. In my yard, I have another issue to contend with. I only have a clear view of about a third of the sky, with the rest being obscured by trees. Fortunately, one of the premium astronomical targets currently spends much of the evening in a prime viewing location from my yard. That target is the planet Jupiter.

With good viewing conditions forecast, I was hoping for a chance to observe Jupiter’s Great Red Spot. The GRS is a huge storm visible in the cloud patterns on Jupiter. Since Jupiter rotates around its axis in just under 10 hours, it’s important to know the times when the spot will be in view. In particular, the best times to view the spot are around the times when it transits across the ‘central meridian’, which is the midpoint of the face of Jupiter that we see.

I used an online tool to check the time for the next transit of the Great Red Spot, and I was pleased to find that a transit would occur around 12:40 AM. I set the scope up in early evening and enjoyed viewing a variety of objects in the sky while waiting for a chance to get my first glimpse of the GRS. My favorites for the early evening were the globular star clusters Messier 3 and Messier 5. At low power, these look like hazy round areas of light, but with a higher power eyepiece, you can distinguish some of the individual stars around the edges of these clusters which are thought to contain half a million stars.

As midnight approached, I started trying out various combinations of eyepieces and filters to see which gave the best view of Jupiter’s cloud bands. Since Jupiter is a very bright object in the sky, I found it easier to view through a filter that blocks much of the light. Once I got accustomed to the view and started looking, I was able to see the Great Red Spot and watch it move across the face of Jupiter for about an hour. Very cool!

All in all, it was a great night. My only complaint was the attack of the mosquitoes, who decided they wanted to participate as well. Jupiter and my first view of its Great Red Spot are well worth a few mosquito bites though.


February 23, 2006
by Ken

Saturn and Sor

The clouds broke just long enough tonight to get the new scope out under the stars. After a few minutes of getting oriented, I pointed the telescope to Saturn and was rewarded with an amazing crisp view of Saturn and her rings. Within fifteen minutes, the clouds had returned, and my maiden journey came to a quick close. But wow, what a great first experience.

Once I came back in, I resolved to finally get a presentable recording of the Fernando Sor piece posted. So, here it is:

Fernando Sor Opus 6 Number 8 MP3

There’s still plenty to be unhappy with in this recording and I plan to continue working on the piece. In my opinion, the main thing that could use improvement is intonation and clarity of the notes in a few sections. I’m also not altogether happy with the dynamics of the piece. I’m finding it tough to get as much variation in volume as I think would be appropriate.

Advice and comments are welcome.

However, I’m sufficiently pleased with Estudio 1 that I’m willing to start work on another of Sor’s pieces now.


February 22, 2006
by Ken

The night sky awaits

Today, the FedEx guy delivered a new toy to my house. A few days back, I ordered a Meade LX90GPS 10″ telescope from Astronomics in Oklahoma.

This afternoon, I unboxed the scope, set up the tripod, attached the optical tube assembly and aligned the viewfinders. Unfortunately, the sky is cloudy tonight and it appears that it may stay that way until I have to leave for a scheduled Vegas trip in a few days. It looks like the planets will have to wait some more.

Meanwhile, I just get to stare at this impressive piece of optical engineering in my living room. But, impressive it is. Man, I didn’t know it would be this big!


February 15, 2006
by Ken

Just 298 notes

The Fernando Sor piece is less than 2 minutes of music. Just 39 measures and 298 notes.

Putting a lot of effort into such a small thing is something I haven’t done in a long while. I feel something of what it must be like to be a woodcarver, starting with a nondescript block of wood, working and working at it until the art within is revealed. There’s certainly no doubt that my initial read-through of the Sor was the musical equivalent of a block of wood.

Sightreading on the guitar poses an interesting problem. In comparison, consider the piano. Each note is at a single location on the keyboard so sightreading is the process of making sure that your hands are in a position that allows you to find each note as needed. On the guitar, that task is complicated by the fact that each note can be found at several locations on the fretboard. A skilled sightreader on the guitar must be adept at scanning ahead and looking for ways to make the notes physically possible. Years ago while studying with John de Chiaro, I remember being amazed at his ability to see around the roadblocks of a piece so quickly.

When I began with Sor’s study, what I did can’t be described as sightreading. Instead, it was a meticulous working-out of the details, measure by measure. I look forward to the day when I’ll be able to truly sightread a piece that moves around the fretboard so much.

For now, I’m still polishing up a few rough edges, including that darned spot between measures 4 and 5 which still produces a clunker now and again as I play through. The goal is in sight though, and I hope to post a recording soon.


February 13, 2006
by Ken

Belizean Vacation

I’m just returning from a week-long vacation in Belize. (See my Photos from Belize.)
Snorkeling, Maya ruins, and a helicopter tour over the Cockscomb Basin were the highlights.
If they came out OK I’ll soon post some underwater photos from snorkeling at Glover’s Reef.

Belize was awesome! Thanks FocalClick for sponsoring the trip!


February 4, 2006
by Ken
1 Comment

Moments of joy

Perhaps my blog post on Sor’s Study #1 was therapeutic. Whatever the cause, when I returned to my instrument the difficulties of the last few measures faded and I had a real breakthrough with the piece.

As my left hand fingers finally found their way to the notes, the experience of fresh enthusiasm is a simple feeling of joy. It is the collection of moments like that which provide the reward for my meager attempts to play.

Equally rewarding is appreciating the perfection of works by a master. I was reminded of that last night while reading from a collection of short stories by Mark Helprin. The Pacific and Other Stories is full of the same awe-inspiring prose as his novels. It is rare to find a book where I’ll sometimes back up and read the same page again, not because I lost focus but instead because I want to relive the sensation of reading it. Helprin accomplishes that time and time again. Highly recommended.


February 3, 2006
by Ken

Starting with Sor

After several years away from it, I’ve picked up the classical guitar again. I have a copy of the Andres Segovia edition of Fernando Sor’s Twenty Studies, so I decided I would begin with the obvious: Estudio 1 in that collection of sheet music.

“Estudio 1” in the Segovia book is actually Sor’s Opus 6 Number 8.

Thanks to the fine folks at Tecla and Hebe Online, you can also find a copy for free here:
Fernando Sor Opus 6 Number 8

The free copy doesn’t come with Segovia’s help in the fingerings, so be prepared to spend some extra time on that.
If you’re a fan of guitar tablature (I’m not), you may want to look here as well:
Tabs for Sor Op6 Num8

There’s also a free online copy of what is supposedly Sor’s original:
The entire list of Sor original scores
The Opus 6 Number 8 original

Note that there is an apparent error in the original (!) in measure 13, where the C should be C#. Most but not all later editions have this corrected. For example, this piece is also in a book edited by Carcassi, and the error remains.

I was unable to find a free MP3 online of anyone performing this piece, but I did find a site with Midi files for all the studies in the Segovia book. It’s here:
MIDI files of Sor Studies
For Study # 1, the MIDI file is not very musical, but it will at least give a sense of the melodic lines. That listing is also a convenient place to cross-reference Segovia’s study numbers with the real Opus and Number for Sor’s works.

I have devoted a few hours to the piece so far, and it’s still a struggle. The first tough bit comes between measures 4 and 5, where it’s tough to make a smooth transition to the first chord in measure 5. It’s a stretch of the 4th finger of the left hand on the 2nd string, and it’s all too easy to muffle string 1 with the side of the finger.

I’ve mostly worked out the problems through the middle of the piece, and now I’m struggling to put together the portions from measure 32 to the end. There are lots of spots in that section where you hold a note (usually with the 2nd finger of the left hand) while repositioning the other fingers around it.

At first glance, this piece seemed more like a technical study, but there is a surprising amount of music hidden inside. Eventually I hope to achieve a presentable performance that I can record and post here.