The Enigmatic Ukuleleverter

I’ve been puttering around with learning to play the ukulele for the better part of the last year. Progress has been pretty good, and although I don’t typically play for audiences, I can at least get through a fair number of songs without embarrassing myself (which, I’m convinced, already puts me one better than, say, Tiny Tim).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: you’re thinking that I’m getting into the ukulele because I’m looking for fame and chicks and being able to hang out in sequined jumpsuits and ruckus with hottentots. All that is very nice (that is, if you’re Jumpin’ Jim Beloff), but for me, I’m more interested in the art of the ukulele. I’m interested in plumbing the the instrument’s shadowy depths and discovering its hidden macabre secrets. That’s me: the Ukulele Shadow Master.

To this end, I’ve been continually trying to build my ukulele repertoire. Typically, when I’m looking for songs to play on the ukulele, I’ll just go to the guitar tablature archives at Harmony Central, find some chord sheets, and just play the corresponding chords on the ukulele. It’s an easy, no-muss way to get started playing the instrument (seriously, with the tab archive and a simple chord sheet, anyone who gave a rats ass could pick up this instrument and be playing a song or two in a single afternoon). Playing songs directly off of the guitar tabs actually sounds pretty reasonable most of the time, and is supa fun. But, of course, to be a Ukulele Shadow Master, playing mere chords isn’t really enough. Which brought me to my next exercise in coolerosity: playing fills.

Let me just go ahead and mention that none of the stuff I’m going to mention here is particularly hot shit as far musicality is concerned. I freely admit that I still basically don’t know what I’m doing as far as playing an instrument. This is all just stuff that I’ve picked up after putting in some time on the ukulele, and actually, it’s probably all wrong. That’s all okay though because, after all, you’re not going to learn how to be a Ukulele Shadow Master from any book or actual accredited instructor. They won’t teach you this shit – because they’re all too scared. Onward!

So anyway, fills. Fills, to me, are basically everything in a song that that is not an actual chord. These can either be an actual melody line, a little jangly emphasis bit, or a solo-type bit that you throw in at some point to impress everyone with your virtuosity. This is where any instrument starts to get tricky for me. The problem is that I don’t have a particularly good ear as far as music is concerned, and when this is combined with my basic lack of knowlege about how a fretboard is laid out, bad things sometimes happen. I have managed to stumble through some arrangements on my own, since it turns out that most of the jangly bits you hear in most songs are basically just arpeggiated (hit each string individually instead of as a a single strum) chord structures with a couple (3 or 4) random notes thrown in between, which I can sort of handle. So all you have to do is go back to your chord sheet and play the chord as blonk-blonk-blonk instead of BLONK!!!

So that’s pretty much my comfort level with the ukulele for the moment. It’s all very nice, but it’s not really enough yet. One problem I keep running into is that non-chord based melody lines still present a problem to me, especially when converting them from guitar to ukulele. This frustrated me to the point where yesterday I sat down and wrote a program to do it for me. Thus, I humbly submit Jeff’s Ukuleleverter. Please bask in its 733t-ness.

The idea behind the Ukuleleverter is that it allows you to basically follow along a line of guitar tablature (say, for instance, Sting’s lovely Saint Agnes and the Burning Train), click the appropriate links on the coolio guitar fretboard at the top, and then the Ukuleleverter will convert it to the appropriate ukulele tablature. I wrote this from scratch both because I think it is a useful tool, but also because I wanted to take some time to actually puzzle out how octaves and other mysterious musical bits actually function.

The guitar’s tonal range (top) compared with the ukulele’s (bottom). Weep.

What I discovered as a result of this exercise is that the ukulele has a really limited tonal range. I suppose that this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering that the ukulele is cartoonishly tiny and the guitar is oafishly big, but I was still sort of surprised when I sat down and drew out a diagram of the disparity. Making matters worse, the stock ukulele tuning doesn’t even bother using all four strings to expand its range, but instead uses three strings in the expected fashion, and then tunes the fourth string as a completely redundant fashion. I guess this is done to fill out the chords and generally make everything sound ukulele-ish, but it sure doesn’t help the process of translating things from the guitar. Lots of ukulele players tune their G string down an octave to make the instrument function more like a guitar, but I’m not sure I want to, you know, be unpure or impetuous. After all, people who trifle with the ukulele often wake up in the morning to find their tires slashed.

The answer, I suppose, is that it isn’t really fair to the ukulele to expect it to accept guitar music verbatim. It is a fussy bitch of an instrument, and it deserves (nay, demands) its own unique discipline to get it to really perform. Am I up to the challenge? Of course. I am the Ukulele Shadow Master.

Drinks with Hunter Thompson

But upon seeing Hunter Thompson’s body, she embraced him. “Since he’d done this, I did not want to make it difficult for his spirit,” she said. “I wanted to make it loving.” [source]

So since nobody else seems to be saying it–the adulation dropped on Thompson since he perforated himself has truly made John Ritter look like a pariah–I will: Hunter Thompson was a complete wackjob, which was cool, but he often seemed to have a screw loose for the sake of having a screw loose (at least judging by most of the stuff of his that I’ve read), which I find strenuously uncompelling. And not only was he batshit insane, but his family apparently is too.

Good riddance, as far as I’m concerned. Or, <ghostbusters>I’m gonna miss that guy. I’m gonna send him a fruit basket.</ghostbusters>

Jesus Drove My Hot Rod.

The rain was coming down pretty hard, but Rob stomped down on the old car’s accelerator anyway. The engine roared as he slid in the clutch, dancing his right foot back onto the brake. We surged forward, then slammed back into our seats at the stop sign.

“See what I mean?” he grinned, eyes crinkling behind grandpa glasses. “Plenty of grunt there. There’s so much torque in this thing, you can start from second just as easy as you could from first. Watch…”

And he punched it, the exhaust crowing a deep bass rumble. The grey hood knifed through the intersection and he whirled the wheel hard onto Foothill Boulevard. Rocking through the gears, he showed off all the way ’til fifth, which he proclaimed to be a good one for loping along.

His idea of loping had me pressed so hard into the black upholstery, I was sure my back would have a reverse tuck and roll by the ride’s end. The rain kept splattering.

“Now the steering wheel’s a little small, but the old one felt like you were driving a bus,” he continued. “And the speedometer doesn’t work, but that’s fine for me, ’cause I’m just going with the flow of traffic most of the time. The odometer’s busted, too, and the gas gauge stopped working. Basically, I just fill up every now and then to make sure I don’t run out– this isn’t exactly a sipper, you know.”

He’d had the hodgepodge car for a year– 64 1/2 Mustang body, fiberglass Shelby style hood and side scoops, a rebuilt 80’s era 5.0 V-8 to run it and a 9” Lincoln rear end for better acceleration. The radio didn’t work, the emergency brake had been disconnected so the car had to be perpetually in gear or stopped with a block of wood he carried for such contingencies. He proclaimed the exhaust to be “nice and dirty.”

Rob had driven his share of sports cars, an ’89 944 Porsche with a peppy four-banger, an ’87 Mustang GT with a disappointing automatic. But he’d grown up watching the high school kids pace their pony cars with Chevys, thundering off the line with that unmatched classic American power. And now that he was grown up, with a good job, living in La Crescenta, he’d wanted to get an old straightline car to relive the glory days.

“Here, give her a try,” he said, pulling into a Big Lots! parking lot and killing the engine. “It’ll take you awhile to get used to, but she’s a lot of fun.”

We did a quick Chinese fire drill, dodging the rain around its metallic fenders. Rob filled the bucket seat, I felt like a midget. With a flick of my wrist and a tap on the gas, it roared to life. Raw, unreined horsepower pushed us out of the lot, the tires gripping the slick pavement as I desperately tried to keep cool and avoid crashing his muscle car.

Rob was selling her, letting the car that started in a whirlwind of smoke go to a good home. He hoped it’d be me, but I’m just not slick enough with a wrench. It would have been sad, ‘cept for the six-speed electric blue Lexus he’d gotten to take her place.

He’d lived in San Diego originally, first in Coronado, then in Rancho Bernardo. We stopped at a light, which turned green as I popped the gas and felt the rear tires pushing so hard the back end of the car started to steer forward ahead of the front. Man, that car had kick.

“Told you to start from second,” he laughed. “If she wants to go, she’s going to do it.”

I asked him why he’d traded that for LA, which he didn’t much like. The car stalled out several times as I struggled to learn the balance of the clutch and gas. She liked a drink before she came to a stop.

“Work,” he said, “I’m a pastor.”

That struck me as being a little funny. He nodded.

“Back when I had that GT, which I ended up trading in after a year or so, since I couldn’t stand that automatic, I used to park it out behind the church,” he said. “After services one Sunday, I was coming out to it and there was a crowd gathered around. They were wondering who’d be driving a car like that and when I said it was mine, you should have seen their jaws drop.

” ‘Pastor’s got a hot rod!’ one of them said. So I said, yup, sure do and I got in. Fired it up, hit the gas and I left two black trails of rubber right there across the church parking lot… yeah, I like to keep people guessing.”

After cruising away from a cop who looked very interested in the noisy exhaust, thick tires and shining pipes, I took him back to his house. I was in love with his car, but I knew it wasn’t meant to be. Too many flaws, too little time. He sympathized, not being a mechanic himself.

To show me what could have been if we’d both had more money, more space and bigger dreams, he rummaged through the trunk to find some of his Mustang magazines. Take ’em, he said, and get a look at this restomod on the cover. It married the old style with a revved up engine, straddling two generations with both flash and power.

“That is one beautiful automobile,” Rob marveled. “Of course, you’d pretty much have to sell your soul to get something like that.”

SRTV in the News

I was pleased to see the UCSD student run television station SRTV (with which I used to have a minor affiliation) on San Diego’s local news this evening (although NBC didn’t have the cajones to post an article about it on their website, I did manage to find a mention on this random blog). Apparently, they let The Koala have a late night show (again), and The Koala subsequently started broadcasting porn (again). This time around, though, The Koala had the, uh… good sense to air a porn that their editor made of himself instead of broadcasting some boring Playboy nonsense.

This sort of thing makes my heart rise up and take wing. -sniff- Good times…

Every Day the 14th. Can ya’ll dig it?

Not flowers. Not chocolates. Not candy hearts. Not cards, not teddy bears, not jewelry, nor even fancy dinners.

All it takes to make my Valentine’s Day is a warm unfettered smile from a passing stranger. I offered one in return and there’s tons more where that came from.

Booyah!!! You have just been smiled at. Pass it on, will ya? Happy Valentine’s Day!

BTW, I’m well aware of how corny this post is. Pbffffftttt!

Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior

Prepare to get your ass kicked and simultaneously witness the emergence of a new martial arts action star. Move over Bruce Lee, watch your back Jackie Chan, Jet Li who? Thatís right. Tony Jaa will kick the shit out of all of you.

This movie is insane. INSANE!!!! (Yes, it deserves that fourth exclamation mark.) Iíve just come back from a showing, and my jaw is still wide opened. The stunts that man can do. He flips, fights, punches, and kicks without the aid of ropes, wires, or CGI, (thatís right folks) and he does it all with gravity defying agility, tenacious ferocity, and superhuman dexterity. It’s all real, hardcore, and exhilirating to watch. Prepare to be AMAZED.

This movie works perfectly as a showcase for Tony Jaaís unbelievable physicality. The plot is simple at best and the acting cringe-worthy, but thatís not the reason to watch this movie. Anyhow, a former villager steals a revered Buddha head from a rural Thai village. The monk who has taken in orphaned Ting (Tony Jaa) and trained him in the art of Muay Thai enlists his help to retrieve the precious amulet and save the village. The villagers pool their money and send Ting to Bangkok where he will literally kick ass for the next 90 minutes. Seriously. Itís pretty much nonstop action from there. The amount of onscreen fighting is ridiculous. He will jump over cars, through coiled barbed wire, and on top of peopleís heads. He will elbow, pound, and kick his way to victory in illegal street fights. He will get set on fire, people, and still manage to get his crazy legged ass-kicking done. He will do things you wonít believe and want to see again, and lucky for you, you will because the movie employs replay editing of the major stunts from different angles. Even the chase scenes are good in this film. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior is the most satisfying martial arts action flick Iíve seen in years. YEARS!!!!

(out of a possible 5)

New Cell Phone

I unwittingly sent my trusty old cell phone through the wash a couple of Sundays ago. I was hoping it’d survive, being as I didn’t hit the power button first thing when I figured out what I’d done about five minutes into the soak cycle and pulled it out. Parenthetically, if you ever get your own phone, or any other electronic device, wet, don’t turn it on until it’s completely dried out. Theoretically there’s not much reason that it shouldn’t work OK once it’s completely dry, though depending on the type of water it was immersed in, the usable lifetime of the device has probably been halved. It’s the combination of water and electricity that breaks stuff like this.

Anyway, unfortunately, the phone was on when it was in the wash, so after blowing a week drying it out, I slapped in a new battery, hit the power button, and got dick. The thing is deader than my idea for a chain of Michael Jackson-themed preschools.

I finally got a new phone yesterday. (If you’ve called me in the interim, I haven’t gotten your message–sorry about that.) As is the rage with cell phones these days, this one comes with a built-in camera. If you don’t believe me, here’s proof:

The most important picture ever taken.

If this picture looks familiar, you must read us pretty carefully.

New Server is getting a new server. Who’s excited? Who’s excited?

I’m configuring it now. I’m out of town from Saturday through Tuesday, and I probably won’t be done before then, but it should be up and ready to go later next week. Regular JesusH readers will experience a possible service outage as we transition (though there’s no reason this has to happen, and we’ll do our best to skip this step), followed by a much faster and more powerful browsing experience when everything gets sorted out.

Irregular JesusH reader experience will be similar, but proportionally diminished in impact, on account of their not being here that much.

Just Another Day

Twenty-five years old. It sounds so old. I have had so many unique experiences during this time. So many people have come and gone throughout the years. Some have been there since the beginning and have stayed for the majority of it, some have entered in at different points, and some have left all together for greener pastures.

Twenty-five years old and what have I to show for it? I’ve been pretty lucky. I’m educated. I’m pursuing a career that makes me feel like I’m making a difference in young people’s lives, a career that I excel at and enjoy doing every day. I am surrounded by a small coterie of friends and family whose love knows no bounds. I have a roof over my head, a full stomach, all of my limbs, and am in perfect health (well, except for the cold I have today.) Lastly, I am married to the man of my dreams. A man who treats me right, who makes me laugh, and never fails to make me smile and shiver with delight when I think about the way he looks at me.

Twenty-five years old today. And what am I going to do to mark this momentous ocassion? I am going to gleefully do the above mentioned man’s laundry. Ta-ta.

Tumbleweeds blow through.

So it’s been a while.

Deb took me to the symphony this weekend. I’m not sure if this is something I should admit publicly or not, so I’m just going to go ahead and do it–the highlight of the show for me was right after the final piece ended, when the conductor did that bow to audience, turn around, smile at symphony benevolently, turn back around, bow again, walk right off stage for one second, walk back, bow again grabass. The whole symphony stood up at that point and–Holy Cow! The symphony has a black guy in it! That’s so cool!

I never would have guessed because we had seats right in front of the stage so we couldn’t see many of the players. Those we could see were exclusively white or Asian.

There’s my death-defying-brush-with-culture moment for you.

Oh, happy birthday tomorrow, Phet!

Amazon Prime

Amazon just launched a new premium service called Amazon Prime. For $79 a year, you can get free two-day shipping on orders and for overnight shipping, you pay just $3.99. However, I don’t order from them often enough to really make it worth my while to sign up, but I think it’s a neat concept and I’m interested to see what other features they’ll include. As it stands right now, I’m pretty content with using their free Super Saver shipping on orders over $25. It may take longer to arrive, but for that price, I can’t think of too many items that I couldn’t wait the few extra days to get my hands on. Except for maybe this bad boy. On second thought, I can even wait 8 extra days from now to get my crane kick fix. **COUGH COUGH SHAMELESS B-DAY PLUG COUGH COUGH**

SanDisk Cruzer micro mp3 companion product review

I’ve already bitched about my iShuffle a little bit, so it’s only fair that I give equal time to the other, similar mp3 player I purchased at about the same time, the SanDisk Cruzer micro mp3 companion, because this is going to make the guys over at Apple look like brain scientists.

Shuffles worse than Stephen Hawking.
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