Happy Pi Day 2020!!!

A couple years ago I created a piece of music for "Pi Day" from the first 256 digits of Pi. I won't bother to go into the details for that experiment, save to say that I simply took the numbers from Pi and added those to a root note of a major scale and let the notes fall where they may. This was a pretty simple exercise, and I'd been kicking around an idea for a much better exercise ever since.

With that in mind, given the proximity to St. Patrick's day, I decided to create a new piece with an Irish feel.

Here's what I did for this experiment:

I chose to use a 5-note pentatonic scale instead of a 7-note major scale, and I did so because there are 10 numbers in our base 10 numbering system, and 2 x 5 = 10. With that in mind, in my first draft of this experiment, all of the notes in the piece were derived by using a pentatonic scale with a 2-octave range, and mapping the numbers 0 to 9 from the first 252 places of Pi to the 10 notes of the 2-octave scale. (I'll explain why I used 252 places of Pi later.) This first draft placed the piece within the range of an Irish Tin Whistle, and I chose the key of D Major since that's the predominant key for that instrument.

However, while I was entering the notes and listening to the playback, many of the notes were often too far apart from their surrounding notes, with very strange octave jumps, which made the whole piece sound random. With that in mind, I decided to use modulus division to cut the range in half, thereby forcing all of the notes into a 1-octave pentatonic scale. In other words, if a number from Pi was over 5, then I subtracted 5.

This change for my second draft of this experiment resulted in a much smaller scale of "D E F# A B" to work with, and the 1-octave scale fell within range of the bagpipes, so I added drones for "D A D" beneath the melody to add to the illusion of a piper playing. However, during playback with a bagpipe sample, something sounded weird: every time there were two notes of the same pitch next to each other, it sounded odd. I quickly realized that was because an Irish musician won't hold a note for two beats - they'll use ornamentation to separate the identical pitches so it doesn't sound like one continuous note.

My good friends Randy Clepper (www.randyclepper.com) and Mark Wade (www.markalanwade.com) have taught a lot of classes about Irish ornamentation. I leveraged some of the things that I learned from them, and I added "cuts" to each of the sections where there were two notes that needed to be separated. By way of explanation, a "cut" is when you play a quick grace note above the note that is in the melody line. So if you have a A followed by an A in the melody, you would play the first A of the melody, then jump up quickly and play a B before returning to the second A of the melody, making sure to land the second A of the melody on the beat where it belongs. (Depending on the instrument that you are playing, you would play a cut by playing the first A of the melody, then hit a grace note A before jumping to the grace note B, and returning to the second A of the melody. It's like a really fast triplet.) Once I added the Irish ornamentation throughout the piece, it contributed significantly to the Celtic feel.

The drum beat was another exercise in self-indulgence that was fun to do. Because this entire experiment is about math, I chose to create a "Slip Jig," because they're in a 9/8 time signature. Hardly anyone uses that time signature, but it added a lot of possibilities. The accents that I chose were based on the steps that Irish dancers would use for a Slip Jig, which are beats 1 3 4 6 7, which creates a | X - X X - X X - - | beat. Since I play bodhran, I added rolls where I might use them if I were playing in a session.

Lest I forget, the 9/8 time signature is the reason for using the first 252 places of Pi. In my previous Pi Day experiment, I used the first 256 places of Pi, because 256 is one of those golden geek numbers. Since I already had those numbers lying around, I divided 256 by the 9 from the time signature, which resulted in 28.4. I rounded that down to 28, which gave me the number of measures that I would create. So 28 measures of 9 notes each meant that I only needed 252 places for this experiment. (See? It's all so simple, isn't it?)

And last but not least, the 157 bpm tempo that I chose to use was derived from taking 314 (e.g. "3.14") and dividing by 2. ('Cause, you know - more math.)

The Coronavirus Crisis, Conmen, and the Combover Crusader

Someone that I know just posted the following opinion piece from CNN, while simultaneously peddling this article as 'truth:'

In coronavirus crisis, Tom Hanks is more of a role model than Donald Trump

Wow. Just... wow.

I have seen some opportunistic articles try to spin and twist political gain from what is essentially a random act of nature, but this article?

Wow, again.

That has got to be the stupidest article that I have seen thus far. Seriously. CNN has apparently decided to absolve themselves completely from any vestige of responsible journalism and integrity.

If you've read my blogs before, you will see that I am no fan of our current President. In fact, I often refer to him by John Oliver's pet name of the "Drumpf." (I thought that nickname seemed fitting for Trump, even if it's a grade-school insult that was coined by someone who might otherwise have been mistaken for a grown adult.)

Nevertheless, I would agree with an ever-increasing number of people who feel that the Drumpf is a narcissistic twit. But if people at CNN (and their readers) are going to start pointing fingers, then let's look at some actual numbers from the CDC for COVID19 and the 2009 N1H1 outbreak:

  • As of today, the total number of COVID19 cases in the USA are 1,215, with 36 deaths. (CDC: https://bit.ly/2U4uRxg)
  • In comparison, a single year of the 2009 N1H1 outbreak yielded 60.8 million cases, with 12,469 deaths. (CDC: https://bit.ly/2U5Fb8k)

Where was the panic in 2009? Where was the righteous indignation about our then-President's inability to get out in front of that pandemic in a timely manner?

Our current President - despite being a narcissistic twit - has effectively shut down a great deal of the country in order to slow the spread of a disease that has affected only 0.002% of the population that was affected by H1N1. And yet people are crying for his head on a platter.

This 'crisis' is being exaggerated by the press, for which I am sure they have an ulterior motive - though I do not know what possible purpose crashing the stock market and terrorizing the population will achieve. (Apart from receiving millions of dollars from advertising revenue that is generated from increased traffic to news websites as panicked lemmings search in vain for information during a time of misinformation.)

Nevertheless, articles like the one my friend posted are perfect evidence of modern media's nefarious intent. I'm generally not one for conspiracy theories, but the following meme is starting to look a little more like reality each day...


Momentarily disregarding people's hatred for the Drumpf - who is THEIR PRESIDENT whether they accept it or not - many opportunistic lowlifes are attempting to sow division at a time when people should be unifying. They are wholly dismissive of the facts regarding how bad this disease is (or isn't), and how this administration is handling the situation. While at the same time they are giving their beloved President-of-Choice (the Drumpf's unprincipled predecessor) a free pass for his years of dishonesty and ineptitude during his tenure in office.

Regardless of how people feel about the facts that I have just shared - they're still the FACTS. And facts don't care about their feelings. Facts don't care about their hatred. Facts don't care about their bias. And THAT is the ACTUAL 'truth.'

UPDATE: When this blog was first posted, I had written, "This 'crisis' is wholly manufactured by the press...," which was not what I actually meant. What I meant to convey was that the press was spending far too much time on the issue and winding the populace into a general panic, thereby creating a great deal of pubic panic that could have been avoided. I have amended this post to reflect that I meant that the press was exaggerating the crisis, not manufacturing it.

Squirrels are Better than Birds

True story - when I lived in Seattle, I had a bird feeder hanging from a tree branch just outside my office window. But birds seldom used it, because squirrels kept raiding it. After a while, I decided that the squirrels were far more interesting than the birds, but I had to make it a challenge for them (and fun for me).

First I added one of the plastic semi-circular baffles to the feeder, which prevented the squirrels from climbing down from above. The squirrels learned to jump up from below the feeder using objects in my yard, so I moved the bird feeder a little higher, and then I watched with great amusement as the squirrels would continue to jump from the ground, but miss by a good distance. Then they would climb back up on the objects in my yard, and just stare at the feeder - as if to say, "Huh. That worked yesterday."

Then they learned that they could jump from the trunk of the tree and grab on with just one claw before crashing to the ground, but that was enough, and they resumed their raids. So I moved the feeder a little further out on the branch, and watched with great amusement as the squirrels would now fall far too short and hit the wall of my house with a dull thud. People would come in the office to talk to me and hear, "Clunk. ... Clunk. ... Clunk." They'd look at me quizzically, and I'd say, "Meh. It's just my squirrels."

After a while the squirrels learned that it wasn't going to work, so they'd climb the tree and just stare at the feeder, and I could tell that they were weighing every option available to them. Mind you, I kept refilling the feeder with store-bought squirrel food this entire time. Even though I was making life difficult for them, I was still trying to keep them well fed.


Eventually I noticed that the birds had returned, but by then I could not have cared less about them. Seeing birds on my feeder meant that my squirrels had been defeated, and my heart went out to them. After all, the squirrels had worked so hard for so long.

I decided to cut the squirrels a break, and I moved my feeder so that it was back in long distance jumping range for them. I never saw the birds again, but that didn't bother me at all - because almost every day from then on I saw a squirrel hanging on the feeder upside down by one claw. We'd make eye contact for a moment, and I knew they were grateful. Or annoyed. One can never be too sure with a squirrel.

Transcribing Black Flag by King's X

I had this song stuck in my mind for a few days, and occasionally the best way to get a song unstuck is to transcribe it. With that in mind, here's my transcription of the King's X song "Black the Sky" from 1994. (See https://youtu.be/OtOb2_3YOCE for the original song.)

This piece is a perfect illustration of how cool "Drop B" tuning can be... and transcribing it made me seriously regret selling my 7-string guitar. Winking smile

Once again, my transcription is pretty faithful to the original, and here are the main differences that I can think of:

  • Ty Tabor used a wah pedal to play the guitar solo, but I used an autowah for my transcription playback. That's because I didn't feel like manually notating all of the wah pedal wizardry that Ty was doing. Was that laziness on my part? Perhaps. But the autowah sounded good enough for me.
  • At measure 14, Ty changes the chords on the first pass and the second pass through the chorus. However, I wanted to make the transcription a little easier to read/write, so I notated the chords from the second pass through the chorus. Was that laziness again? Perhaps. Deal with it.
  • I have to admit, there are parts of my bass arrangement that lend themselves to Tim Starace's excellent bass cover of this song on YouTube. (Tim plays it much better than I would, though.)

On a related side note, I have transcribed a few pieces by King's X, and one thing that I've learned to appreciate is Jerry Gaskill's drumming. I grew up listening to guys like Neil Peart, Bill Bruford, Carl Palmer, Mike Portnoy, etc. In other words, I predominantly grooved to the giants of the Progressive Rock genre. But there are certain drummers - like John Bonham - who lay down a steady groove that underscores a lot of cool stuff that's going on in the rest of the piece. (See https://youtu.be/UvOm2oZRQIk.) With that in mind, Gaskill's drum parts are never mind-blowing, but they definitely create a solid foundation. (And of course, Jerry sings harmony while playing, so he's got that going for him, too.)

General Snetkov versus Ralph Kramden

I've shared on here before about how I had been COL Abrams' translator on the DDR border when GEN Snetkov (the CDR of GSFG in the late 80s) came through. (See https://bit.ly/2PIjcD9 about that.) But something that I don't think I shared here before was how much I thought that GEN Snetkov looked like Ralph Kramden.


My German Skills are a Little Rusty

I attended a reunion this past August in Fulda, Germany, with some of the folks from the 511th MI Company. As we were leaving a restaurant after dinner one night, we bumped into a traveling Bachelor Party that was making its way through streets of the city. They were already a few sheets to the wind, which undoubtedly explains why they appeared to think that I was a hilarious attraction. (I have that effect on drunk people, so it seems.)

Anyway, they were sounding off with a series of German idioms, and after each one they would laugh uproariously and ask me to join in. This didn't seem possible to me, as I hadn't lived in Deutschland for 30 years, and even then I had been a Russian linguist.

However, as luck would have it - somewhere in the back of my aging mind was the sole German idiom that I had managed to retain for all these years, which I recited to the assembled crowd:

"Freier macht die augen auf, heiraten ist kein pferdekauf!"

This had the desired effect - they laughed even harder than before, shook my hand, offered me a beer, slapped me on the back, etc. After offering me some pomme frites, (which were stored in the groom's hat - ugh), they bid me "Auf Wiedersehen," and they wandered off to continue their evening's festivities.

Unfortunately, that idiom loses a little in translation, (especially when using Google or Bing translate), but trust me - it's pretty funny for a soon-to-be-groom to hear. What it says, in essence, is: "Open your eyes, free man - getting married is not like buying a horse."

Nevertheless, it's nice to know that occasionally your long lost language skills can still come in handy.

Open-mouthed smile

The Sin of Omission

Yesterday, the US and the Taliban signed a deal to bring an end the 18-year war in Afghanistan. That news was on the home page of the Associated Press (AP) website (https://bit.ly/2x0hg2n), the United Press International (UPI) website (https://bit.ly/2uKQXMU), and multiple links were on the home page of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) website (https://on.wsj.com/3ciD0qk, https://on.wsj.com/2I9wk00, https://on.wsj.com/2VxSKjj).


But what about the websites for MSNBC? CNN? BBC? There was nothing on the home page for any of those websites. They all seemed content to prattle on about Joe Biden in dozens of largely redundant articles in the wake of the South Carolina primary. That's right, you read that correctly: instead of highlighting the cessation of hostilities in the longest war in US history, most of the "mainstream" news outlets would rather gush adoringly over the career of a compulsive liar, serial groper, and reigning champion of political plagiarism. Because giving Uncle Joe hundreds of hours of free political advertising is far more important than saving the lives of US servicemen.

Make no mistake: the omission of this incredibly important news story was intentional, and the omission of this incredibly important news story was morally wrong.

I posted something to that effect on Social Media yesterday, and several of the Drumpf-Haters that I know quickly came to the defense of these news outlets. These kind folks sent me links to articles that were buried a few links deep on each of the respective news websites. However, my assertion wasn't that those news outlets didn't have any articles at all. My point was to question what is most important, and why some news agencies are intentionally burying news stories that do not fit into their biased narrative.


As of now, CNN's home page still has nothing on Afghanistan, BBC's home page still has nothing on Afghanistan, and MSNBC's home page still has nothing on Afghanistan. Yet there's still wall-to-wall coverage of Uncle Joe, and that was the point that several people seemed to miss. Don't get me wrong, I was glad to learn that if someone was willing to search long enough, they would eventually find something about what's going on in the world on those websites. Of course, people would already have to know that there's something going on in the world, and then manually look for articles about it themselves... but that completely negates the need for using those news outlets to keep up with current events, doesn't it?

To be as blunt as possible, I'm sorry for those of you who cannot stand the Drumpf. But I promise you, his day will eventually come. In the meantime, the results of the South Carolina primary are not more important than the end of an 18-year war. I mean, seriously - it's South Carolina. Who honestly cares about South Carolina? Most Americans can't even point to South Carolina on a map.

Look, I get it - all of the "Never Trumpers" that I know cannot stand the Drumpf. And even though I have made it pretty clear time and again that I do not like him, either, I recognize the fact that Drumpf-Haters feel as though their lives have been in bondage to the Great Orange Combover for the past few years, and therefore any news that might give them hope of his imminent demise should (pardon the pun) trump anything else that is going on in the world. But the rest of country - and the rest of the world - does not see things that way. Regardless of its importance to the Drumpf-Haters, Biden's win in South Carolina is simply not more important - nor is it more time sensitive - than an end to nearly two decades of war.

Someone I know attempted to defend the indefensible by stating that peace in Afghanistan "was not breaking news anywhere anymore." That idea is - of course - ludicrous. Most of the non-left-leaning news agencies have prominent links to that story from their home page, while the left-leaning news agencies do not have any links.

And. That. Was. My. Whole. Point.

Let's take a look at the home page of the UPI website; they have information about Biden, and the Coronavirus, and yet they still have links about the peace deal.


Now let's look at the WSJ website; they also have information about Biden, and the Coronavirus, and yet they still have links about the peace deal.


As I just illustrated, when you look at the websites for the AP, UPI, and WSJ, those news outlets are more concerned with reporting everything that's going in the world, rather than reinforcing a biased narrative to their political base like the CNN, MSNBC, and BBC websites are doing. Make no mistake, as a former journalism student, I get the fact that news moves quickly. And with that in mind, news stories will come and go from the home pages of websites rather quickly. However, I don't think that peace in Afghanistan was highlighted on any of the home pages for CNN, MSNBC, and BBC - because that story unimportant to them. And because they want that story to be unimportant for their readers, too. Yes, they have articles somewhere on their websites that readers can discover if they go looking for them; that way they're covered from a plausible deniability point of view.

But here's the thing, the reason why the Drumpf won the 2016 election was not because of the electoral college versus the popular vote, nor was it the fact that Hillary Clinton was the worst possible candidate to run on the Democratic ticket, nor was it because of Russian collusion, etc. The main reason why Clinton lost the last election was because many of these same news agencies who are currently hiding the real news from the world were telling the American public only what they wanted everyone to hear, and omitting everything else. That is dishonest. That is immoral. And that is bad journalism.


Based on their behaviors, I would label news agencies like CNN, MSNBC, and BBC as part of the Drumpf-Hating crowd. In the months leading up to the 2016 election, these news agencies produced a never-ending stream of biased drivel about Hillary's numbers in the polls, and how great Hillary was going to be as President, and how the planets were going to align, and how peace and prosperity would magically fall like fairy dust from the heavens, etc. But that's all it was - a fairy tale. Because if you don't report the actual news, then you're sitting in an echo chamber listening to others parrot back to you what you're saying and only what you want to hear.

So, to bring this full circle - the problem with CNN, MSNBC, and the BBC is not that they are not reporting the news at all; it's that they are predominantly only reporting what they want people to hear, and omitting everything else. The Drumpf-Haters that I know are not the least concerned by that, of course, because those news agencies are saying what the Drumpf-Haters want to hear, too. The news agencies of CNN, MSNBC, and BBC want the Drumpf to lose in November, and the Drumpf-Haters want the Drumpf to lose in November.

With that in mind, if you're a Drumpf-Hater, then sure - okay - fine - whatever. If you want to bang the drum louder for Biden or Bernie, then so be it. Go ahead and wax poetic about how Uncle Joe or Crazy Cousin Bernie or any of the other Democrats are going to beat the Drumpf. Follow the news on websites that make a habit of omitting what is actually going on the world. Be my guest. But when you do so at the expense of following everything else that is taking place, then don't be surprised if this November bites you on the ass. Again.

PS - On a related note, another debate for another time is the question about what is actually "news" these days, and what is entertainment that is masked as news in order to sell advertising.

English isn't English

A colleague recently reminded me of George Bernard Shaw's famous quote that "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." I have lived through many situations where I have experienced that sentiment firsthand. And with that in mind, I'd like to share a story about a conversation that I had when I was working with the British RAF:

RAF: "You troffing today?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Yamming?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Nose-bagging?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Scoffing?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Bucking & gagging?"

ME: O_o

RAF: "Are you eating lunch?"

ME: "Yes."

The Assumption of Privilege is Racism

I saw this video when it came out, and I've always been bothered by it, because it is based on a flawed assumption, draws the wrong conclusion, and promotes a message that is toxic to diversity.

The textbook definition is racism is to act on one's pre-existing biases based on ethnicity; therefore, to espouse the concept of "White Privilege" is an unmistakable form of racism at its worst. To put it another way, if I walk into a room and you assume that I have some form of "privilege" based on my skin color, then for all intents and purposes you are a racist.

Because here's the thing - I grew up quite poor in a single-parent home, then I married young, and fell even deeper into poverty when I lost the dead-end job that I had when we were married. I had no career, no skills, no education, and no prospects for the future. My skin color didn't amount to anything; I was simply another nameless face in a crowd of nameless faces that would take any work to put food on the table. I eventually landed a job cleaning low-income houses after the occupants were evicted. I was paid by the hour, under the table; no insurance, no benefits, no hope.

Out of desperation, I joined the military, which offered me two hopes for the future:

  • I would have an actual/steady paycheck for the first time in my life.
  • I might finally have money to go to college when I was done.

I served eight years in crappy conditions that you can't even begin to imagine, but my perseverance and hard work paid off. I eventually got out, got my degree, and then I was hired by a great company.

It's Just Like Camping They Said

Here's something for you to consider: for everyone who served with me in the military, it didn't matter what color our skin was, what gender we were, whether our parents were together or divorced, how much money our families had, etc. Everyone was dogmeat when they got off the bus at Basic Training; the Drill Sergeants made that quite clear.

When we graduated from all of our initial training and got to our respective duty stations, it still didn't matter what color our skin was, what gender we were, whether our parents were together or divorced, how much money our families had, etc. All that mattered was how good we were at our jobs. If we were bad at it, we got to remain dogmeat. If we were good at it, we got promoted. Those were the rules. Period. (Of course, I am certain that there were racists scattered throughout the military, because in any large group you're going to have your fair share of idiots. But on the whole, none of that mattered.)

Here's what else I noticed: some people's illusions of who had "privilege" were just that - they were illusions. I knew a guy from a well-to-do African American family who went to private school and complained about the clothes his parents bought him when he was a teenager; he joined the military to run away from home. On the other hand, I knew a Caucasian guy who grew up poorer than me; he had to take a job at 12 to help put food on the table for his family. He had to buy all of his own clothes for as long as he could remember, and he commented that would have loved to have had parents that could buy him any clothes.

At the end of the day, the color of their skin was not a factor for either of these two soldiers' lives; one had privilege, and one didn't - but their skin tones don't fit into the "White Privilege" narrative, so you never hear about people like them. But here's the thing: I knew hundreds of stories just like those throughout my time in the military. One way or another, we were all dogmeat, and all that mattered was what we did with our opportunities.

As an FYI - both of those guys I mentioned left the military, got their degrees, and founded their own companies. Neither of them got to where they were at based on their environment growing up; they both succeeded by accepting the fact that they were dogmeat, and they both worked their butts off so they wouldn't remain dogmeat for the rest of their lives. Which is what I chose to do, too.

Several years ago the author Louis L'Amour put it this way: "Up to a point a man's life is shaped by environment, heredity, and the movements and changes in the world around him. Then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be. Only the weak blame parents, their race, their times, lack of good fortune, or the quirks of fate. Everyone has it within his power to say, 'This I am today; that I will be tomorrow.' The wish, however, must be implemented by deeds."

Choosing the Right Guitar Strings

I've shared a lot of Rick Beato's videos on social media before, but humor me. The following video has a great explanation and demonstration of the difference that the gauge of string will make.

I'm not sure which string gauges my fellow electric guitarists use, but long ago I settled on two off-the-shelf sets that go on all of my electric guitars:

That being said, I experimented for several years trying to find the gauge that I was most satisfied with when playing electric guitar. In the late 70s, I was fortunate enough to have a guitar store nearby that sold individual guitar strings. (The long lost "Sunshine Music.") So I experimented with buying specific strings and finding what worked best for me. I eventually settled on a custom set that ranged from .008 to .038, which - of course - sounds like the range for a stock .008 set, except that I had altered a few of of the the middle strings for specific tone/strength differences. Once that store folded, I was forced to go back to off-the-shelf sets.

Back in the day, I loved the Ernie Ball .008 to .038 gauge; they were bright and easy to abuse with multi-note bends. But they had one glaring problem for me: in the early 1980s I used the whammy bar - a LOT. (Hey, it was the 80s.) But with that in mind, I completely destroyed all of the strings in a gauge that light; those strings simply could not stand up to the whammy bar abuse. I eventually switched to .009 gauge just to reduce the frequency of broken strings. But the main weakness that I was running into was where the string wrapped around the ball end; that was the primary culprit for most of my string breaks. At one point in my life I would break at least one string per gig, and since I never kept the spring cover on the back of my Strats, the ball end would shoot off like, well - a bullet, which should not be confused with the Fender strings I would later use.

And that makes a great segue, because I soon discovered the Fender Super Bullet Light .009-.042 strings, which had a molded end instead of a ball end. That design change meant that I could abuse the heck out of those strings with a whammy bar and they could stand up to everything I threw at them. Since I was predominantly playing Strats and Kramers that both could use Super Bullets, they became my string of choice until sometime in the early 2000s.

All things change over time, and I eventually drifted away from my Strats and Kramers, which was primarily due to my wanting to shift back to the sound of double-coil humbucker pickups. (And yes, I could have mounted humbuckers on my Strats, but I decided to change back to Les Paul guitars... 'cause - you know - they're Les Pauls. Oh, and an Explorer, too.) However, the Super Bullet strings did not fit into the Gibson stop tailpieces, so I needed to find a new set of strings. After trying several sets, I decided on the D'Addario EXL120BT .009-.040 strings, because I wanted the strength of the .009-.015 high end strings with the lighter .022-.040 low end strings.

So, there you have it - 40+ years of electric guitar string choices condensed into a few paragraphs.