Geeky Bob

Just a short, simple blog for Bob to share his thoughts.

Be sure to check out my technical blog at www.microsoftbob.com.

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Higher Learning

Many years ago - more years than I care to admit - I worked in the IT department for a local community college in Tucson, AZ. I worked with a great bunch of people during my time at that institution, and now that I have returned to Tucson, it's fun to get reacquainted with my old colleagues and catch up on what's been happening in everyone's lives.

With that in mind, I recently had the opportunity to meet one of my old coworkers for lunch. Our destination was near the University of Arizona, so I parked my car in one of the university's parking garages and set out across the university campus on foot. As I was walking past the mathematics buildings, I happened to overhear one side of an exasperated conversation that a young twenty-something was having on her cell phone. The main source of her consternation appeared to be: "My class has a test in it every day, and the professor never teaches us what's on the test!"

My immediate thought was: "That's good; you're supposed to study and learn the material, then you'll already know what's on the test." This made me laugh first, but after further analysis of the situation, I don't think that it's all that funny. I think that this twenty-something's expectations are a byproduct of today's standardized testing - she expects to be taught what's on the test instead of actually learning the material.

If that's the case, then it's a pretty bad testimony about the state of education in America today.

Posted: Sep 05 2013, 17:28 by Bob | Comments (0)
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The Photo that Nearly Got Me Killed

Several years ago my wife and I entered the Leavenworth Half-Marathon; we had recently both lost weight, and we wanted to do something big to test our new-found health. Because the half-marathon takes place in the Fall, I knew that the leaves on the trees would be changing colors, so I brought my DSLR camera and tripod with me.

On our way back to Seattle after the marathon, we passed by several groves of trees on either side of the road that were displaying a dizzying array of radiant colors. As we approached a road that was announcing a new housing development that was coming soon, I thought this would make a great place to take photos - especially before the developers cut down all of the amazingly colorful foliage to build houses.

As we turned off the main highway between Leavenworth and Seattle, we stopped on a newly-graveled road that led to the future construction sites. To the east of the road was a veritable wall of brilliantly-colored trees, while to the west was an unfenced field with the run-down remnants of a farmhouse and barn.

I got my camera gear out of the car, while Kathleen settled down in the front seat of our car to take a quick nap. I walked along the gravel road, and I stopped periodically to set up my tripod and take a few photos.

Nature did little to disappoint me; it seemed that everywhere I turned I was surrounded by an eruption of vibrant color. My only regret was that I wasn't a better photographer with skills that could capture what my eyes were actually seeing.

I had been careful to stay on the road as I took my photographs for no particular reason; there were no fences that prevented me from crossing into the woods or the nearby field - I simply felt no need to leave the road to line up any of my camera shots. In hindsight, I suppose that I didn't want to track a bunch of mud back to the car.

After a half-hour or so, I had satisfied my inner shutterbug, and I packed my equipment to leave. As I walked back to the car, I realized that if I walked into the field on the west side of the road, I could line up a photo with the barn in the foreground and the grove of trees in the distance.

I have to be honest - there are hundreds if not thousands of photographers who take endless numbers of barn photographs, and that's simply not my style. But on this one occasion, I thought this particular arrangement might result in a decent photo or two. With this in mind, I set down my camera bag in the middle of the road near our car, and I walked a hundred yards or so into the field near the barn.

I set up my camera and tripod, then I lined up a shot, and I set my timer to take a single image. As I heard the shutter click, I happened to notice someone walking towards me from the general vicinity of the dilapidated farmhouse. As the person drew nearer I realized that it wasn't Kathleen, but the stranger waved to me and I waved back cordially. I turned to look at my camera when the stranger's voice was suddenly audible, and I heard him yell, "What the @#$% do you think you're doing!!!"

At that point, I realized that the situation was going to be bad.

Very bad.

As he walked up to me, he swung his arms widely in the air as he screamed a tirade of expletives that made little sense, punctuated by occasional moments of clarity when his threats of beating me to a pulp were all-too intelligible and disturbingly believable.

My would-be assailant drew to a stop within inches of my face, and he continued to hurl fiery verbal spitballs of ill will as I stepped back instinctively. I apologized profusely for whatever it was that I must have done, to which my aggressor shouted that I was trespassing. I apologized again, and I replied that this was my fault entirely; I had seen no signs nor fences to indicate that the property was privately owned. I hastily explained that I thought the land was unoccupied prior to the commencement of the impending development project, while my infuriated companion continuously mocked my every word.

In my former career as a technical support engineer, I had dealt with more than my fair share of angry and unreasonable customers, and I was drawing on every ounce of experience to try everything within my power to diffuse the situation, but nothing seemed to work. My assailant continued to scream at me as I said that I would take my things and leave. As I reached for my camera, my belligerent host screamed, "Don't you touch me!!!", and he jumped back several feet. I explained that I was simply going to pack up my camera, to which he angrily responded, "It's on my land!!! It belongs to me now!!!"

Up to this point in the conversation I had been on the defensive. (Or more accurately, I had been in retreat.) But once he mentioned keeping my camera equipment, I switched gears and strongly remarked, "No - this doesn't belong to you, and I'm taking it with me."

My sudden change in tone prompted a different reaction from my antagonist - he demanded that we call the development company so that I could explain why I was trespassing. I agreed to his terms; after all, I probably was trespassing, even if I had done so unwittingly. But I also thought that whomever I spoke to at the development company would have to be able to participate in a more reasonable dialogue than my enraged escort.

As the two of us walked towards the farmhouse, I had no intention of actually going inside his derelict dwelling. (I've seen too many horror movies for that.) But I suddenly remembered that I had left my camera bag sitting in the middle of the road, and I changed course to recover it. As I did so, my hostile host shouted, "Where are you going???"

I explained that I was going to retrieve my camera bag, but I was now near enough to the car for the shouting to wake Kathleen. As she sat up in our car's front seat, my unwelcome companion suddenly noticed her, and it visibly dawned on him that he was outnumbered. (Even if neither Kathleen nor I were ready to provoke an all-out fight.)

Despite his earlier aggressive stance, my would-be attacker now backed away rapidly, and he yelled at me to leave as fast as possible, and he demanded that I call the property company on my own so that I could explain why I was trespassing. (I agreed to make the call, but of course I never actually did.)

As Kathleen and I drove away, it took a while for the adrenalin to burn off and my nerves to mend. Once we had arrived home safely, I looked through my collection of photos from earlier in the day. I had a few nice photos of colorful leaves, but what I really wanted to see was whether the solitary photo for which I had risked life and limb was worth the potential hazards that I had endured.

I will let you be the judge... here is the actual image:

I think this is the last time that I will try to photograph a barn.

Posted: Aug 30 2013, 12:53 by Bob | Comments (0)
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If You Listen to Liberals About Education, You Are a Bad Person

Earlier today I saw a link to an article by Allison Benedikt titled If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. With a catchy title like that, I couldn't resist following the link in order to read what the author had to say about parenthood.

Before I continue, I should point out two important facts: 1) my children's formative years were spent in a mixture of both public and private education, and 2) at the time that Ms. Benedikt published her editorial piece, neither of her children were old enough for school, so any of her admittedly-judgmental opinions were made from the relative safety of someone who has never had to face the harsh realities about the topics which she was discussing. Ms. Benedikt's self-admitted ignorance at the hands of public educators provides little evidentiary support for her thesis statement, and unfortunately she is too blinded by her own hubris to realize it. No - it is not the well-meaning parents of children in private school who are bad people, it is self-righteous and judgmental people like her who are bad people.

I vehemently disagree with Ms. Benedikt's overall premise; it is not the parents who have realized that public education is a failing system who are ruining one of our nation's most-essential institutions – our present educational system is ruining itself. Most parents with school-age children are all-too-aware that public education is depriving their children of knowledge that is necessary to succeed academically. A perfect example is when the overly-vocal and seldom-intelligent actor Matt Damon abandoned his idealistic rhetoric demanding public education for everyone else and placed his own children in private schools. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Ms. Benedikt will be faced with the choice of whether to sacrifice her own children for the sake of her principles, or to choose what is best for her children based on her maternal instincts.

I also passionately object to anyone who insists that I should not turn my back on any failing system and subject my children to a negative environment in the hopes that the system will improve for future generations. My children are not a social experiment, nor am I willing to gamble with their lives. I do not care if Ms. Benedikt and her ilk intend to fix the schools of the future if the methods to achieve those goals cheat my children in the present.

By the way, each of my three children started in public school until my wife and I realized how poorly they were being educated. After three failed attempts with public schools, we moved each child into private school for their primary education to give them a better foundation, and then we returned them to public schools for secondary education. This system helped each of our children immensely, all of whom have now graduated college and embarked on successful careers.

Without getting deeper into an unintentional political rant, this private versus public school debate illustrates much of what is wrong with most socialistic policies; many "public" institutions fail because they become so weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy that they can barely serve their primary purpose. Public education is not failing because parents are pulling their children out; public education is failing because we do not pay our educators enough, and we do not provide adequate resources for our schools. While it is true that our taxpayer dollars are simply not paying enough to take care of all society's educational expenses, we also have a system that is so top-heavy with needless bureaucrats and inundated with policies which occupy entirely too much time. As a result, our nation is not seeing a sufficient return on investment. What's more, the measures that the Department of Education has implemented to standardize education and hold teachers accountable for their results have been complete failures.

But that being said, here are a few of my grievances with the various excuses that I have personally heard from public educators:

  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to teach your children everything; parents need to be involved, too." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement - parents MUST be involved in their children's education; this should always mean that parents are involved in their children's studies at home, and this might mean that parents should volunteer at their children's schools if that is possible. But I have seen this statement used as a cop-out by far too many public school teachers who wasted our children's valuable classroom time with unnecessary endeavors and sent our children home with a mountain of homework after receiving no classroom instruction, thereby leaving the parents as the sole educators. If this is to be the case, then why do we need teachers? Why shouldn't I just homeschool my children and dispense with the transportation to and from school so my children can meet with a disengaged educator?
  • Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to personalize education for your child." The implication here is that your child is left to fend for himself or herself academically. This is a classic example for one of the primary causes of public education's many failures: people are individuals, and everyone learns differently. In our society we are REQUIRED to accept everyone's individuality – it's what we call DIVERSITY. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, whether you are a man or woman, which religious beliefs you embrace or reject, etc. Everyone is a distinct person, and we must accept their uniqueness – which SHOULD include each child's learning style. But apparently our societal adoption of tolerance and diversity does not extend to public school educators, who appear to have adopted "sink or swim" and "one size fits all" attitudes toward individualism. How barbaric and antiquated can these "teachers" be?

I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'd like to discuss one final point – as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Benedikt's children are not yet old enough to attend school, which prevents me from taking any of her self-righteous drivel seriously. In my opinion, her lack of personal experience in this matter disqualifies her from passing judgment on parents who actually have to decide what is best for their children; close-minded and emotionally detached fools with no personal stake in this debate should be ineligible to weigh in on the issue.

Posted: Aug 29 2013, 02:35 by Bob | Comments (0)
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You Know You're From Arizona When...

Note: A friend had reposted the following list on the Internet... I love these kinds of lists, because they always provide you with a chance to laugh at your surroundings in a way that only someone with intimate knowledge of the area can appreciate.

You Know You're From Arizona When...

  1. You can say "Hohokam" and no one thinks you're making it up.
  2. You no longer associate rivers or bridges with water.
  3. You know that a "swamp cooler" is not a happy hour drink.
  4. You can contemplate a high temperature of 120 degrees as "not all that bad, after all it's a dry heat."
  5. You have learned to expertly maneuver your vehicle under any traffic conditions using only two fingers; a skill usually learned initially in July.
  6. You know that you can make sun tea outside faster than instant tea in your microwave.
  7. You have to run your air conditioner in the middle of winter so that you can use your fireplace.
  8. The water coming from the "cold" tap is hotter than that from the hot" tap.
  9. You can correctly pronounce the following words: "Saguaro", "Tempe", "Gila Bend", "San Xavier del Bac", "Canyon de Chelly", "Mogollon Rim", "Cholla", and "Tlaquepacque", "Ajo".
  10. It's noon on a weekday in July, kids are on summer vacation, and not one single person is moving on the streets.
  11. Hot air balloons can't fly because the air outside is hotter than the air inside.
  12. You buy salsa by the gallon.
  13. Your Christmas decorations include a half a yard of sand and 100 paper bags.
  14. You think a red light is merely a suggestion.
  15. All of your out-of-state friends start to visit after October but clear out come the end of April.
  16. You think someone driving while wearing oven mitts is clever.
  17. Most of the restaurants in your town have the first name "El" or "Los."
  18. You think six tons of crushed rock makes a beautiful yard.
  19. You can say 115 degrees without fainting.
  20. Vehicles with open windows have the right-of-way in the summer.
  21. People break out coats when the temperature drops below 70.
  22. The pool can be warmer than you are.
  23. Most people will not drink tap water unless they are under dire conditions.
  24. Monday Night Football starts at 7:00 instead of 9:00.
  25. You realize Valley Fever isn't a disco dance.
  26. People with black cars or have black upholstery in their car are automatically assumed to be from out-of-state or nuts.
  27. You know better than to get into a car/truck with leather seats if you're wearing shorts.
  28. Announcements for Fourth of July events always end with "in case of monsoon..."
  29. You have to explain to out-of-staters why there is no daylight savings time.
  30. When someone asks how far you live from a location, it's always in terms of minutes/hours, not miles.
  31. Your biggest bicycle wreck fear is, "What if I get knocked out and end up lying on the pavement and cook to death?"
  32. You can say "haboob" without giggling.
  33. You realize that asphalt has a liquid state.

Ah, so true, so true... ;-)

Posted: Aug 28 2013, 02:52 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Thinking Backwards about the Environment

I mentioned to my wife the other day that the question of ecological conservatism is backwards from a political perspective.

The typical definition of Liberals versus Conservatives is that "Liberals" (who are often called "Progressives") are rushing forward in the name of progress (sometimes foolishly) while "Conservatives" are fighting hard to preserve what is already there (sometimes like a stick in the mud; just as stubbornly and just as stupidly).

These two points of view will often fight vehemently against the other on issues simply because they feel that they "have to disagree," and not because they actually disagree. Preserving the planet is one such example - I think that most of the arguments that I hear from one side or the other are more often about disagreeing with the opposing position than about the actual issue.

But here's where it gets really strange: when it comes to saving the planet, somehow it is the "Liberals" who want to conserve, and it is the "Conservatives" who are rushing forward in the name of progress (often foolishly) and irrevocably damaging the planet.

But there's an interesting wrinkle in this debate which is often overlooked within the church: many Christians are Conservatives, and as such they join their fellow Conservatives when it comes to fighting issues like ecology. But according to Scripture, Christians have been charged with taking care of the environment, so they should really be trying their best to preserve the planet. So why do most church-goers seem to be fighting against environmentalism?

As I mentioned initially, this whole situation is inexplicably backwards; it just doesn't make sense to me.

I'll get off my soapbox now...

Posted: Aug 14 2013, 09:20 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Saints or Sinners / Snacks or Snafus

Over the past few years I have sat quietly and watched a lot of people argue across a myriad of political issues on Facebook. There are people who love portions of our government and its policies, while others detest them. The current scandal-of-the-day is that some see Manning and Snowden as heroes, while others consider them traitors.

I have tried my best to keep my silence, because the last thing that anyone needs is another person adding their opinions to a cyber-sphere that is already saturated by divisiveness, ignorance, and paranoia. But eventually an issue arises where I simply cannot remain silent; sometimes our government has unquestionably gone too far.

With all the dangers and terrors in this world from which we need protection, how is it possible that German Kinder Eggs must be banned by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act?

Somehow I am sure that Communists are to blame. ;-)

Posted: Aug 10 2013, 02:55 by Bob | Comments (0)
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The Eye of the Beholder

I have a very easy measuring scale for determining what I consider art: "If I Can Do It, It's Not Art." This may not seem like a complex rule to live by; but when you consider it, it's rather profound. There are a lot of people who will pass off their work as art even though it is actually a bunch of junk.

I have been to a lot of art museums because - I actually like art. But I have witnessed a lot of pieces that are not art; they are elaborate hoaxes by conmen who rebrand their particular style of garbage construction as creative genius.

For example, when I went to the the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Germany, one of the paintings hanging on the wall was a large canvas where the artist had painted a once-inch red dot in the center of the canvas. This was titled "Red Object #2," or maybe "Red Object #3..." I can't really remember. The point being that this painting was obviously part of a whole study the artist had done on... red objects. Of course I'm looking at this creation and I'm thinking, "I can do that; I could have done that with a crayon."

I've gone to the Seattle Art Museum several times, and I find it absolutely amazing what some people consider 'art'. Now don't get me wrong, there are some amazing pieces of artwork inside the Seattle Art Museum. But there was one canvas where the artist had simply painted an already white canvas with the color white. That's it - just white paint; nothing else. Once again I'm thinking, "I can do that."

At a different museum that I went to in Germany, the Lenbachhaus, it was very evident that an artist had stood at the end of several canvases that were lying on the ground and simply threw buckets of red paint at them. Once again, I can do that - it's not art.

I realize that the perception of art is subjective, and there is a lot of truth to the statement that "Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder." But I always fall back on my personal standard that if it's something that I can do, it's not really art - it's just what people pass off as art. (For an example of how I think most modern artists come up with their ideas, you need to watch the movie The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner and see how the character Stanislas creates his artwork.)

Another perfect example of the ways in which we think about art can be typified by an experience that I had when I visited the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. The museum was presenting an exhibition on impressionism, and I'm a big fan for many of the classical French impressionists: Renoir, Monet, etc. During my visit I entered one of the rooms, and there was an enormous painting by Gauguin hanging on the wall. I'm not a big fan of his artwork; however, I at least consider it art because I can't do what he does.

But as I analyzed this particular painting, I was thinking to myself, "I just don't get it; he only used four colors." I started to think about this painting based on my personal scale; I could have done this, so it can't be art. I (embarrassingly) spent several minutes studying this piece, and I tried hard to determine what it was about this painting that other people can see and I must be missing.

It's like the story of The Emperor's New Clothes; at some point you begin to worry what's wrong with you. If everybody else can see it and you can't, perhaps it's a character flaw. Maybe you're just not cultured enough. And this was the mindset that I had while I was wasting away my afternoon studying that single piece of art.

After I had been standing there for 5 to 10 minutes, a ten-year-old boy entered the room with his mother in tow. He took one look at the painting, laughed, and exclaimed loudly, "That's crap!", and then he walked off.

At that point I realized that I had been duped. I learned that I needed to stick to my instincts and measure every piece by my personal standard that if I can do it, it's not art. This philosophy actually helped me enjoy the rest of the day at the museum. I could walk into a room, I could look at a Renoir and say, "Now that's a piece of art." Or I could look at another Gauguin and say, "That's crap."

Posted: Jul 02 2013, 09:03 by Bob | Comments (2)
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Not that it will make any difference...

I am a big fan of movies; and to be honest, I am mostly a fan of classic movies. I have slowly collected a large number of classic movies over the years from several of my favorite actors/actresses: Cary Grant, Ginger Rogers, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, etc., etc., etc.

That being said, I am generally not a big fan of recent movies; more often than not the creative team is too short-sighted, and they frequently fall short of creating a truly great movie. Sometimes the problem is writing, sometimes it's direction, and other times it's the acting. But to be fair, sometimes the problem isn't with any of those contributors - sometimes it's a problem with post-production, and this is why I love to buy "Director's Cuts" for many films. Quite often there is a level of depth that is missing from the movie that was part of the director's original vision, and it makes the movie so much better when you add that detail back.

Here's a case in point: I actually like the movie Far and Away with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Once you get past their bad Irish accents, the movie is a somewhat-acceptable dramedy.

But there are a few scenes that were cut from the film, and unfortunately the DVDs that have been released have never added those scenes to the media. Without theses scenes, parts of the plot have abnormal jumps in the storyline, and it's too bad that a Director's Cut has never been released.

Here are some examples of what I mean:

  • Near the beginning of the movie was an extended sequence near the piano in the Christie's house where Stephen Chase has a private conversation with Shannon Christie. We see Stephen's character soften a little; we learn that he truly cares for Shannon, and that Stephen is not a complete jerk - he's just an arrogant by-product of elitist class.
  • Likewise there was a hilltop scene in Ireland after Shannon and Joseph Donnelly have left for America where Stephen is emotionally destroyed, and he expresses his sentiments to Daniel Christie. Once again this softens Stephen's character a little, and this adds a great deal of conflict to the movie as a spectator - you want to hate Stephen, and you feel like you should hate Stephen, but now you can't. That was a great piece of filmmaking that should have stayed in the movie because it added so much depth.
  • There was an extended scene later in the movie when Joseph was working for the railroad. The shortened scene that was kept simply shows Joseph in a job with no future, whereas the original scene showed Joseph as near-suicidal; Joseph believed not only that he had lost Shannon for good, but that Shannon might not have survived her gunshot wound. Because of this, Joseph was known as the "Crazy Mick" and sent on all of the dangerous missions - because Joseph no longer cared if he lived. This added a whole new dimension to the scene when Joseph discovers Shannon in Oklahoma, because it wasn't mere coincidence to him, he felt as if he was seeing a ghost.
  • There was a brief scene when Joseph and Shannon first arrive in America where they pass under a bridge and they see scores of homeless Irish living in squalor. Later in the movie this comes full-circle when Joseph and Shannon are tossed out in the streets, because they find themselves living in that same squalor, and we get to see just how far they have fallen.
  • There was another scene after Joseph and Shannon are tossed out in the streets where workers were needed for ditch-digging; Joseph volunteers so that he can earn money for the two of them, yet when he turns around at some point he sees Shannon working beside him digging in the ditch. This scene was extremely important to see how the two of them were truly becoming one unit in their struggles together, and it adds a great deal of depth to the scene later in the movie when Joseph and Shannon attempt to hide in the house they thought was unoccupied.

The last two deleted scenes that I described show the many months that Joseph and Shannon suffered together, instead of the awkward jump in the theatrical release between the scene when Joseph and Shannon were thrown out of their apartment (with Joseph beat to a pulp) and the scene when Joseph is begging to help someone load firewood (with Joseph now healed and exclaiming that they haven't eaten in days). Without that detail, the theatrical release is missing a great deal of its emotional impact.

Unfortunately, none of the scenes that I have described have ever been released on a DVD, so they are somewhat lost to the world. My descriptions of these additional details won't bring them back, and it's too bad that Imagine Films won't release these scenes in some format. If anyone knows Ron Howard, you might want to suggest that he release a 25th Anniversary Edition of Far and Away when that date eventually rolls around, but in the meantime - my lamentations won't make a bit of difference.

Posted: Jun 27 2013, 12:04 by Bob | Comments (0)
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Your Tablet PC is Not a Camera

It never ceases to amaze me the number of people who walk around with a tablet PC and try to use it as a camera.

I don't care how many megapixels a tablet PC has - it's not a real camera, and people look pretty silly trying to hold up a tablet in order to use it as one. Not to mention the fact that people with tablet PCs are typically blocking everyone else's view.

Please do yourself and the rest of the world a favor - if you need to take a photo, buy a real camera.

Posted: Jun 15 2013, 14:25 by Bob | Comments (0)
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A=432Hz Tuning versus A=440Hz Tuning

A coworker recently pointed me to the following blog post, and he asked if it had any basis in reality: 432Hz: Crazy Theory Or Crazy Fact. After looking at that blog, I think a better title for it would be "432Hz: Misinterpreted Theory and Misconstrued Facts." I honestly mean no disrespect to the author by my suggestion; but the blog's author clearly does not understand the theory behind what he is discussing. And because he misunderstands some basic concepts, his discussion on this subject offers little by way of practical information. As such, I thought that I would set the record straight on a few things and offer some useful information on the subject.

First of all, the author's suggestion that using A=432Hz for a reference when tuning will put your guitar in Pythagorean Tuning is completely false; all you are doing is changing the base frequency that you are using, but your guitar will still be in Standard Tuning.

Discussing the base frequency is about as effective as discussing the merits of an E-Flat Tuning versus Standard-E Tuning; either one is fine, and it just comes down to user preference as to which one is better. The same thing holds true for choosing A=432Hz over A=440Hz - it's a preference choice. (Unless you have Perfect Pitch, in which case  A=432Hz is probably going to annoy you more than words can say.)

However, there is one major difference: if you choose to record music by using an other-than-normal base frequency, you'll frustrate the heck out of someone who just tuned their guitar with a standard tuner and attempts to sit down and learn your music. ("Hmm... this just doesn't sound right.") And you could retune just to annoy them for fun, of course. ;-]

That being said, any discussion of Pythagorean Tuning and the guitar is utterly useless, because a guitar is not fretted for Pythagorean Tuning. Here is where the real confusion lies, because the author of that blog is confusing changing the base frequency with somehow putting the guitar into a different temperament, which is not possible without re-fretting your instrument. Here's what I mean by that:

The physical interval between the frets on a guitar neck is based on Equal Temperament, which is a constant that is defined as the 12th root of 2. In Microsoft Excel that formula would be 10^(LOG(2)/12), which comes to 1.0594630944. We all know that an octave is double the frequency of the base pitch, so with A=440Hz you would get A=880Hz for the next higher octave. By using the above constant, you can create the following scale from an A to an A in the next higher octave by multiplying each frequency in the scale by the constant in order to derive the resultant frequency for each successive note:

Note Frequency
A = 440.00Hz
Bb = 466.16Hz
B = 493.88Hz
C = 523.25Hz
C# = 554.37Hz
D = 587.33Hz
D# = 622.25Hz
E = 659.26Hz
F = 698.46Hz
F# = 739.99Hz
G = 783.99Hz
Ab = 830.61Hz
A = 880.00Hz

In contrast to the claims that were made by the blog's author, you do not magically get whole-number frequencies (e.g. with no decimal points) if you change the base frequency to A=432Hz; the math just doesn't support that. Here is the list of resulting frequencies for an octave if you start with a base frequency of A=432Hz, and I have included a comparison with a base frequency of A=440Hz:

Note Frequency 1 Frequency 2
A = 432.00Hz <-> 440.00Hz
Bb = 457.69Hz <-> 466.16Hz
B = 484.90Hz <-> 493.88Hz
C = 513.74Hz <-> 523.25Hz
C# = 544.29Hz <-> 554.37Hz
D = 576.65Hz <-> 587.33Hz
D# = 610.94Hz <-> 622.25Hz
E = 647.27Hz <-> 659.26Hz
F = 685.76Hz <-> 698.46Hz
F# = 726.53Hz <-> 739.99Hz
G = 769.74Hz <-> 783.99Hz
Ab = 815.51Hz <-> 830.61Hz
A = 864.00Hz <-> 880.00Hz

When you look at the two sets of frequencies side-by-side, you see that tuning with either base frequency yields only two even frequencies - one for each of the A notes. However, when you use the standard A=440Hz tuning, you have two frequencies (the F# and G) that almost fall on even frequencies (at 739.99Hz and 783.99Hz respectively). Not that this really matters - your ear is not going to care whether a frequency falls on an even number. (Although it might look nice on paper if you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and you rounded every frequency to the nearest whole number.)

Since the frets on the guitar are based on this temperament, that's all you get - period. You can fudge your base frequency up or down all you want, but in the end you're still going to be using Equal Temperament, unless you completely re-fret your guitar as I already mentioned. (Note: See the FreeNotes website for guitar necks that are fretted for alternate temperaments.)

If you had a background that included synthesizers, (and as a guitar player I must apologize for my side hobby on keyboards), you might remember that back in the 1980s there was a passing phase with microtonality on keyboards. If you had a keyboard that supported this technology, you were able to play your keyboard by using intonation that was different than the Equal Temperament, which was sometimes pretty cool.

Why would someone want to do this? Because many of the old composers never used Equal Temperament; that's a fairly recent invention. So if you want to hear what a piece of piano music sounded like for the original composer, you might want to set up your keyboard to use the same microtonality temperament that the composer actually used.

But that being said, before the invention of Equal Temperament, there were several competing temperaments, and each was usually based on tuning some interval like the fourth or fifth by ear, and then finding intervals in-between those other intervals that sounded acceptable. What this resulted in, however, were a plethora of tunings/temperaments that sounded great in some keys and terrible in others. More than that, if you continue to work your way up a scale based on intervals based on sound, you will eventually introduce errors. Using the actual Pythagorean Tuning suffers from this problem, so if you put a microtonal keyboard into Pythagorean Tuning and attempted to play a piece of music that extended past a couple of octaves, it sounded terrible. (See Pythagorean Tuning for an explanation.)

But on that note, almost every guitarist suffers from this same problem, but you just don't know it. Have you ever tuned your guitar by using the 5th fret and 7th frets harmonics? Of course you have, and so have I. But here's a side point that most guitarists don't know - when you tune your guitar by using those harmonics, you slowly introduce errors across the guitar, and as a result it will seldom seem completely in tune with itself.

Here's an excerpt from a write-up that I did for the Christian Guitar website a while ago that describes what I mean:


There have been many different temperaments used in the Western Hemisphere, and many of these centered around specific intervals. For example, start with a C note, then find the perfect octave above; you now have the starting and ending points for your scale. Next, find the harmonically perfect 5th of G by tuning and listening to pitches, then use these intervals to find E, which is the major 3rd. Once done, you now have three notes of your scale and the octave. If you jump up to G and use the same process to find the 3rd and 5th, you get the B and D notes. If you keep repeating the process, you eventually derive all of the diatonic notes for your major scale. On a piano that would be just the white keys.

Leaving sharps and flats out of this example, (the piano's black keys), the problem is that if you keep using the perfect 5th for a reference, you gradually find that the notes in your scale are not lining up as you travel around the circle of 5ths. This occurs because using perfect 5ths will eventually introduce slight errors on other intervals, and the result will be that your scale works great in one or two keys, but other keys sound noticeably awful.

Here's why this happens: after having gone around the entire circle using perfect 5ths as a tuning guide, by the time you get to the octave above your starting note, the physical frequency for the octave is not the same as the last pitch that you derived from tuning based on the perfect 5ths. This is especially problematic when you use one particular note/key to tune an instrument, and then try to play in another key. For example, if you tune an instrument using perfect 5ths and start on a C note, the key of C# will sound distinctively out-of-tune.

The only trouble that some people might have with equal-temperament is that the intervals within the octave are not based on perfect intervals, but rather intervals based on the constant. This causes a lot of problems with people who tune by ear using perfect 5ths, which many guitarists do without realizing when they tune their guitars using harmonics over the 7th fret.

For example, if you were to tune an E note using an A note as a reference point, your ear would want to hear the perfect 5th for E which is 660.00Hz, not the equal-tempered E that is 659.26Hz. Although the difference is very small, it is compounded over time as you tune the other notes within the scale. If you continued to tune using 5ths, your next note higher would be the B that is a 5th over E. Your ear would want to hear the perfect 5th again, so you would wind up with 990.00Hz for B instead of the equal-tempered 987.77Hz. Another perfect 5th would be 1485Hz instead of the equal-tempered 1479.98Hz, then 2227.50Hz instead of 2217.46Hz, etc.


I personally find the math part of music fascinating, and I've obviously spent a bunch of time (perhaps too much time  ;-]) studying notes, scales and tunings from a mathematical perspective. Because of that, I view the whole guitar neck as a numerical system and all chords/scales as algorithms. I know that's really geeky, but it's still pretty cool. In the end, I think that math might be my 2nd-favorite part of music. (My favorite part is turning the amps up to 11 and feeling the actual notes as they tangibly pass through my body - it's like a physical feedback loop. Very cool...)

The net result of this discussion is - use a tuner when you are tuning your guitar, not your ear. And it doesn't matter what your base frequency is when you are tuning your guitar - you are still using Equal Temperament because that's the way that your guitar is made. ;-]

Posted: Apr 22 2013, 12:45 by Bob | Comments (0)
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