Music as a language by Scotty West (guitar for beginners)

I appreciated the guitar lessons by Scotty West on YouTube.

Instead of showing off a couple of riffs and other guitar parrot speak, Scotty first explains the basics. His motto: the guitar is just a machine like a typewriter. If you don’t know e.g., a language like English then a typewriter will be an extremely difficult device to master (what are all these buttons with those cryptic line combinations used for?). But once you know the language, a typewriter as a machine is quite easy to get. An excellent analogy!

The videos feel a bit outdated (and he uses cardboards to support his teaching instead of the latest hi-tech smart board) but the content and the pace are really good (even though he is sometimes a bit too talkative). Unfortunately only the first three parts of the course are available on YouTube, but it is still worthwhile to spend some time going through that material.

According to him the 6 main areas of musical language are:

  1. Pitch:
    High or low Notes, Frequency, Patterns,….
    Concepts like Chords, Scales, Melody, Harmony, Intervals, Progressions, …
    “Pitch is an auditory sensation in which a listener assigns musical tones to relative positions on a musical scale based primarily on the frequency of vibration. Pitch is closely related to frequency, but the two are not equivalent. Frequency is an objective, scientific concept, whereas pitch is subjective. Sound waves themselves do not have pitch, and their oscillations can be measured to obtain a frequency. It takes a human mind to map the internal quality of pitch.” [Wikipedia]
  2. Rhythm:
    Beat, Tempo, Timing, …
    “from Greek ῥυθμός, rhythmos, “any regular recurring motion, symmetry” (Liddell and Scott 1996)) generally means a “movement marked by the regulated succession of strong and weak elements, or of opposite or different conditions” (Anon. 1971, 2537). This general meaning of regular recurrence or pattern in time can apply to a wide variety of cyclical natural phenomena having a periodicity or frequency of anything from microseconds to millions of years.” [Wikipedia]
  3. Timbre:
    Sound quality, Tone, Effects, Distortion, E.Q., Instruments, …
    “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.” [Wikipedia]
  4. Dynamics:
    Volume, Loudness, Amplitude, …
    “dynamics normally refers to the volume of a sound or note, but can also refer to every aspect of the execution of a given piece, either stylistic (staccato, legato etc.) or functional (velocity).” [Wikipedia]
  5. Technique:
    Fingers, Physical, …
  6. Notation:
    Read, Write, …

At the beginning of the series he also stresses the fact that you must play an entire song, and not just the riffs that everybody knows. So get to the end of the song, and at the end reflect upon how you did.

Key questions to ask yourself after playing:

  1. Pitch:
    Did I play the right notes?
  2. Rhythm:
    Did I keep with the beat?
  3. Timbre:
    How did I sound?
  4. Dynamics:
    Did I play loud in the loud parts / soft in the soft parts?
  5. Technique:
    Did I cooperate with the machine?
  6. Notation:
    How is my reading coming?

A fairly straightforward set of questions, but it won’t hurt to revisit this checklist once in a while (although I would rephrase question 5 as “Did the machine cooperate with me” :-)).

If you’re not interested in all this music as a language background, then jump ahead to lesson 3 (chapters 1-4) in which he explains what the system is behind the note layout on a guitar’s fretboard. He also gives some tips on how to hold your electric guitar and how to best play the notes. Very enlightening…

While researching the concepts above I stumbled upon a reference to How Music Works, a fascinating program from BBC4″. I don’t know if it is fascinating or not since I didn’t see it (yet). For a digest, jump to the article about it in the Brain Pickings newsletter (warning: you wil spend a lot of time reading all the other interesting material in this excellent newsletter :-)). To be continued…

Was Benjamin Franklin the inventor of the principles behind stand-up meetings?

I spotted the daily routine schedule of Benjamin Franklin earlier, but today I wondered if he wasn’t the inventor of the principles behind stand-up meetings. Apparently he always started and ended his day with two very basic questions:

  • What good shall I do today? (morning)
  • What good have I done today? (evening)

The only question that’s missing is “Are there any things blocking me?”; but since he was into politics I guess he spend lots of time thinking about that as well.

Benjamin Franklin Schedule

When you surf around you will see lots of people “ghasping” about the strict work order he induced upon himself. But isn’t this what most of us do? Making up a list of how we are supposed to get our work done? There is a subtle difference between this and making up a list that you strictly follow to get your work done. Let’s not forget that in real life things never happen according to schedule (must have been the same during his lifetime). So, while it is good to put forth clearly stated goals and objectives you should never feel stressed because again you didn’t couldn’t stick to the plan.

Note also how he labelled blocks in his schedule with “Work”, and not with “Work on Subtask X from Project Z for 17 minutes”. A subtle hint for all the micro-managers among us :-)

Alone in the Universe…

The following (adapted) quote by Arthur C. Clarke captures the essence of strategic innovation:

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the (corporate) Universe (implementing this wild yet innovative vision) or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.”

Quote from Ender in Exile

… something to ponder upon for change leaders :-)

“…When he was little, and tried to build with blocks, he would weep when other children knocked down his structures. But the other children couldn’t seem to understand why he would build, if not to see things get knocked down…”

Orson Scott Card, Ender in Exile

Twitter Word Cloud

According to the Word Cloud below I have been tweeting a lot lately about performance, devoxx, compression, code, and security. Overall it seems I think these topics are nice, great, good, and excellent. But I wonder why the word bad was placed in the center of the cloud… Ah now I see, probably because in connection to enterprise they’re not always given the attention they deserve.

Word clouds, you either love them or hate them – but they are always fun to support claims without evidence :-)

If you want to generate your own:

Twitter Word Cloud

Update: Apparently people retweet me the most when I talk about comic software engineering or about cats. So if you want to improve the social media reach of your corporate twitter account, talk about this:

Why I suddenly felt the urge to get my own domain name

Welcome to my personal online hub.

Instead of creating the traditional “Under construction” page, I will briefly describe why I suddenly felt the urge to get my own internet spot and how I set it up using Go Daddy + Arvixe + Pingdom + WordPress.

Why did I get my own internet spot (and why now)?

I always wanted to have my own domain name. There, that’s it – pure vanity. Unfortunately I waited too long to buy one, so my family name was already taken. But hey, I still got the one and only

No, the real reason behind getting my own domain name is that once you start moving in the real world, so does your website, email address, … You change jobs and all of a sudden you have to manage the issue of not loosing touch with your network. Not limited to a network of people of course, I also subscribe to the occasional mailing list or newsletter. If you ever had to change your subscription settings in more than one of those then you’ll know that it is not an inspiring undertaking.

Oh, I do have a Google account, a Tumblr microblog, a twitter handle,… but these public “free” services are becoming too commercial lately. A lot of decisions are being made on my behalf, and if I don’t agree with them, then all I can do is leave the service (ok with that, they are free services so I have no right to complain). But leaving a service isn’t easy of course since everybody sends email to my prehistoric gmail account or my “followers” on Twitter won’t all of a sudden switch to Google+ because I did so (which I didn’t btw). And that’s where the notion of free ends for me (not talking about the privacy aspect, that’s a different story). If I don’t want to abide to the whims of the moment of a free service then I get into trouble because I loose one of my online identities.

Not any more – if I have an email address then I am keeping it. Forever (unless I stop paying for the domain name of course). I want to be able to decide what to accept, what filters to apply, what commercials to hook me up with, and so on. Or if I no longer feel that e.g., LinkedIn is the place to host my professional details then I want the “free-dom” to put them elsewhere without losing the link. Either on a public service or self-hosted. The “free” I was referring to earlier boils down to that. So that’s why to me it is important to own a domain name. An eternal name with a link to my professional info for example. Right now it’s a simple redirect to LinkedIn, but it may refer to a static page hosted by me whenever I feel the need to do so.

How did I do this?

You don’t need to be rich nor a technical superhero to get your own domain name and to have a location to put your online hub (a.k.a. domain host).

After asking around I was referred to Go Daddy for registering a domain. The procedure was pretty easy, but figuring out a good name was a difficult exercise. I guess everybody starts with inventing grand names which aren’t so funny after you read them more than once. So in the end I simply picked my own name.

Depending on the suffix of your domain you can expect to pay more or less (.com, .net, .org, …). Since it’s for personal use, I decided against buying the whole range. The .be suffix is fine for me (I’m not planning to move to a different country soon).

Before you push the buy button at Go Daddy, do an online search to find a coupon which will get you a reduced rate. In the end I payed $8.45 per year for my domain name. The price of three espresso (why did I wait so long)!

After receiving the confirmation emails I started looking for a server to host my domain and website. Two options were considered by me:

  1. Get a fixed IP-adress from my ISP and set up an old computer to act as a server at my place
  2. outsource all of this and get a server hosted by someone else or in “the cloud”.

The first option was easily discarded. I didn’t have an old computer lying around, and I didn’t want to spend time on “managing” infrastructure (tinkering with an old computer, installing the OS, …). In addition, getting a fixed IP wasn’t something I wanted to spend my money on. So I went for the second option and contacted Arvixe to “rent” some computing space (through a Shared Web Hosting model). People I talked to referred to it as a trustworthy and a stable service – so that’s why I chose it (and also because Belgian ISP’s ask crazy prices for less).

I opted for the cheapest version they have: Linux (of course!), unlimited disk space, unlimited data transfer, possibility to add 6 domains, email, … All of this for just $4.00 per month. If you take your energy bill into account then you simply cannot argue for setting up a private mini-datacenter at home just to host your website. Again, do an online search for a coupon to get a nice price reduction. If you really want a fixed IP then you can also get one from them for approximately $2.00 per month. I did check the prices by e.g. Amazon EC2 (ah the real cloud), but their offers exceeded my needs for setting up a simple low traffic website. A shared web hosting service should be able to handle my site’s traffic. Just for one time I’m less concerned about response time, latency, and throughput – as long as the baseline is stable I’m happy.

The cool thing about the Arvixe server is that it comes with cPanel (a web-based server manager) and Softaculous (an auto installer for software packages). As a result there is no need to be a Linux guru. You can manage it all through a web interface so there is no need to escape to the command line (you can if you want with SSL). Adding the domain name to your Arvixe server requires a transfer of the domain – all of which can be done via a web interface (just follow the instructions).

The installation of WordPress itself (the thing you are staring at right now) was done with one click using Softaculous. The number of packages offered is huge – so you spend most of your time deciding which one to use (Drupal vs Joomla vs WordPress vs … – sigh!) and not on how to configure them. I did try some of the other packages first. A really cool feature of Softaculous is that you can click a “demo” button to get a functional trial version. My choice for WordPress was mainly inspired by its popularity and the ease of use for creating a website / blog. It offers advanced features if you need them and it has a very active community (a lot of advice can be found on the net and there are many plugins, themes, and tools available for download). Out of the box it does what you expect and your first post is online in a couple of minutes if you are a fast writer.

To be sure that my website is always up and running I also activated a monitoring service. For this I use the free service offered by Pingdom which sends me email notifications whenever the server goes down/up. A nice extra is that you get a high-level uptime report as well. Note that you should use a different email address for the notifications than the one hosted by your server, because if it goes down then of course you won’t get the notification emails. I use my work email for that since I check it regularly – but you can always get a non-free Pingdom account that sends SMS alerts.

All of this was set up in approximately 2 hours. If I have to do it a second time then I bet I can do it in less than half an hour. Right now I have added two additional domains on the same server. As long as traffic keeps low I guess the basic package I have set up will do just fine.

Cheers, Dirk