Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Flute quest

Last Sunday was an exciting musical day for our family.

We spent the day at Flute Quest, a gathering of musicians, students, and vendors of the Native American flute.

My wife LeAnne has been learning to play this wonderful instrument for several months, and was very excited about getting more advanced instruction. She attended a workshop by Bill Hoshal, a talented musician and composer.

During the workshop, LeAnne mentioned that she was having difficulty getting her flute to sound right with my guitar. Bill knew just what she was talking about, and walked us over to the vendor area and introduced us to Brent Haines of Woodsounds. Brent specializes in high quality flutes from rare woods, and his flutes are preferred by many professional flute players.

Later that afternoon I attended a workshop on home recording basics with Bill Hoshal and Vince Chafin. They covered the basics of audio interfaces and digital audio workstations using an M-Audio 410 and Cakewalk Sonar as examples. Even though I am a guitar player not a flute player, I still found the information very useful. I'm fairly confident that I could set up a home recording system for under $1000.

While I was in the recording workshop, LeAnne was literally trying every flute at the dozen or so vendors. She ended up buying one of the first flutes she looked at, an F# flute from WoodSounds. She has been playing it every day since and is extremely happy after playing it. Giddy is more like it.

Overall Flute Quest was a great experience. The flute player community are a helpful and welcoming group of people.

One of the challenges I am trying to work through is how to compose sheet music that I work up on guitar into notation for the NAF, an instrument I do not play myself.

One resource that has been very helpful is Flute Tree. They have an online tool for converting a simple text notation into Nakai tablature, along with fingering charts. The sheets generate and print just fine in Internet Explorer, but I have yet to find a way to save the sheets to PDF cleanly.

Our goal is to continue composing, and in a few years have enough songs worked up to record a CD of guitar and flute music. If we ever get there, CDBaby appears to be a great way to publish it. The terms for musicians seem quite reasonable.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Born in peace

Thom Hartmann is doing his radio talk show in Peru this week, where he visited the Caral archaeological site over the weekend.

Caral would definitely be on my list of places to visit in Peru. Nearly 5000 years old, Caral is a candidate for a "mother city" where people in the Americas first moved into urban settlement. While there is evidence of trade and religion, there is no evidence of warfare or fortifications at the Caral site.

Caral speaks to the question of how cities and civilization itself evolved. Did people first move into cities to protect themselves and to organize for warfare, or for trade and community? Caral suggests that trade and community came first.

If civilizations are born in peace, and only become warlike later either because of greedy elites or threat of invasion, it opens the door for the possibility of a more peaceful future for global civilization.

First photo of planet around "normal" star

One of the most exciting stories in science is the growing list of planets discovered in other star systems. Most of these "exoplanets" have been discovered by indirect methods rather than direct imaging.

Today a new photo was released of a planet orbiting a star called 1RXS J160929.1-210524, about 500 light-years away. The star is similar to our own sun but younger. The photograph was taken from Mauna Kea in Hawaii in near-infrared using adaptive optics. The planet, about eight times the mass of Jupiter, is circled in red at upper left.

The discovery still has to be followed up with several years of observations to prove that the planet is actually orbiting the star and not aligned by chance. If it holds up it will be an important scientific first.

I am beginning to hold out hope that in my lifetime, an orbiting telescope will take an image or video of a distant planet with an atmosphere, oceans and continents not unlike this grainy NASA video of the Earth-moon system from 30 million miles out in space. Even a single blue pixel in an image would fire the imagination to life with the possibilities.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Honda announces new hybrid

My wife and I have been on the lookout for a more fuel efficient small car. A few months ago I changed to a new job where taking the bus is no longer practical. I am currently driving a 1999 Isuzu Rodeo to work. We originally got it as a family car. My wife now has a mini-van of her own, and with gas prices rising, commuting in an SUV no longer makes sense if it ever did.

I have thought about getting a hybrid for a long time. I like the old Prius, but the newer Prius seems larger than I need and something about the look has never appealed to us.

A friend at work told me about the newly announced 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid which will be available in the U.S. starting April 2009. The original two-passenger Insight was discontinued in 2006.

The new Insight is a four-door sedan that promises 60 mpg for under $20,000. A comparison to the Prius and other small cars can be found here. We both like the styling.

I put together a spreadsheet comparing the new Insight to other small cars such as the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, and Chevy Aveo based on my actual driving patterns. I haven't heard yet if there will be a tax incentive for buyers of this hybrid but I would assume so. But even without an incentive, the new Insight would save so much more on fuel costs, it pay for itself faster than a conventional small car.

The other option I considered was the electric-gas Chevy Volt, whose production look was leaked earlier this week. The Volt will not be out before 2011 and will cost upwards of $35,000. That puts it beyond what I am willing to pay in this economy.

Honda's president said in 2007 that plug-in hybrids are unnecessary and do no better than regular hybrids to reduce carbon emissions. I'll leave that technical argument for those with more time on their hands. But it seems unlikely that Honda will, in the near term at least, be making a plug-in version of the Insight.

I'm good with that. In ten years from now, when I am ready to trade in my new Insight, plug-in hybrids and electrics will have worked out more of the details and we will know if such vehicles are practical and make sense. Such as, if you don't have a garage, how do you charge up your car? Do you have to run an electrical cord out in the open at night to recharge your vehicle? How do you prevent someone from stealing your juice at two in the morning? Just a thought.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Seeking for the keepers in life

Celebrating the milestone of my 46th birthday this past week has led me to reflect on what is truly important in life.

I have a lot to be thankful for: a successful career, a beautiful wife and two wonderful daughters who amaze me every day. I am fortunate to be living in Seattle, one of the great cities of America and indeed the world.

For most of my life I have defined myself in terms of my professional accomplishments and goals, and in terms of my beliefs, what I am for and against at any given time. All of those have changed somewhat over the years, so I have been thinking about what has been constant and enduring about my life so far and going forward.

One constant has been that I am a voracious scanner of news and information. I am always wanting to know what is going on in the world and what is the next thing I need to be aware of. I also enjoy reading "idea" books that raise important issues and propose big new ways of thinking about the world.

At the same time, I "keep" very little of what I read in the sense that only a fraction of it do I feel compelled to act on. While I have been blogging for five years, I am not a journalist and do not have the time or energy to write about everything I read or have an opinion about. I try to write only when I have personal insight that can add something new.

It's like walking on a beach. So many pretty shells and rocks, but only one out a thousand really speaks to you and says "pick me up". Those are the "keepers". The others you leave alone and walk on.

There are keepers and leave-behinds in everything. In ideas, books, movies, music, games, travel, and even people. The leave-behinds you let go. The keepers you hold onto as tight as you can.

This new blog will be about separating the keepers from the leave-behinds. I hope you will find some keepers here as I put my energy into it in the years to come.

Chris Struble