Saturday, May 30, 2009

Playing the Banjo?

Songs? Technique? Fundamentals?

Yes... but.

I think folks get in too big of a hurry in general. Very few seem to really spend anywhere near the time they should polishing and refining even the simplest things they know. Sure, that sort of thing takes a while, but the results are worth it.

Knowing a few things, understanding why those things work, and how to take them apart and reconstruct is essential, and that's not something you learn by going from song to song to song - or roll to roll to roll.

For a clawhammer player just being able to play a bum-ditty or a basic drop thumb pattern isn't the end of the process. The same applies to a Bluegrass player; 32154215 isn't the end of that roll. You really need to know how to take those pieces apart and move things around. Memorizing patterns really doesn't get you there.

Wax on! Wax Off! Repetition is essential. Listening is essential. Take your time and have a finished product that you'll be proud of. Not only that, you'll have gained skills that you can utilize when you move to the next tune. Do that enough and you'll have skills that will help you in the jam when those tunes come up you've never heard before.

An analogy, and I'll shut up...

Imagine you have to build a step stool. What sort of tools do you need? I'd say for a beginner you could use a handsaw, a hand drill, screwdriver, and a combination square. Mind you, it won't be the most ornate step stool, but it would be recognizable as one. Furthermore if you built a couple hundred of them they'd look pretty sharp. You know, one could spend their life in pursuit of this sort of perfection right here - taking a few simple tools and becoming a master of them. Others like to try new things.

So, they buy a router. Suddenly there are a lot more options and you can do things that you just couldn't have done before. Your step stool now has nice rounded edges and the joining edges look great.

Some folks wind up building a nice wood shop with all sorts of tools: planers, joiners, table saws, band saws, and even a CNC lathe. :)

Imagine how fancy your step stool could be.

The tools, however, are only part of the equation. You need knowledge of each tool and a lot of practice.

Same goes for your banjo playing.

You have to decide. Do you want to be the guy with the huge shop? Do you want to be the master of a few tools?

It's totally up to you. Do you want to be Norm Abram or Roy Underhill? Or maybe you'd just be happy being Bob Vila doing a bathroom demolition? ;)

Spit. Polish. Repeat!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Netflix - It's a Love-Hate Thing

A little over 2½ years ago I signed up for Netflix. It was a joyous moment. I imagined all the cool movies I could have delivered right to my door. I made my queue of about 150 movies and sat by the mailbox. Today I got my 300th DVD from Netflix.

Without going back to look, I don't remember the first movie I got, but I'm sure it was great. (Okay, I went and looked. It was The Lake House). I've watched all sorts of stuff: westerns, dramas, documentaries, comedies, concerts, and all sorts of other things - things I'd probably not have bothered renting from a regular movie rental place. It was just so easy to click the "Add" button and have the DVD added to my queue. The things I wanted right now I moved to the top. The things that didn't matter I let sit quietly in the queue until they showed up in my mail box.

The joy didn't last long though. Oh, it wasn't Netflix's fault - not directly. Sure, I think that since they're sending out the DVDs they may be responsible, and I'll go into how they deal with their end of the problem later. The problem - scratched and broken DVDs. Broken ones are really rare, and I blame the USPS for that stuff. I expected a broken one from time to time based on my experience with the USPS. However, the scratched ones are my main gripe.

Just what the heck are the other Netflix users doing with these DVDs? Some of them look as if they've been used as an air-hockey puck at the local poolhall & gameroom. Seriously, how does this happen? Do they drop them and the scuff them across the floor when trying to pick them up? Do they put sandpaper skids in the tray of their DVD players? Are the other Netflix users using them for dinnerware? I don't get it. Do people really just abuse these discs because they think it doesn't matter? None of my personal DVDs have scratches, why do these?

Message to other Netflix users: Stop screwing up my DVDs before I get to watch them!

It's very irritating to be a 3rd of the way through a show to have everything freeze up or skip. At that point I usually remind myself that I should have probably made sure it was clean beforehand. So now I go through the process of ejecting the movie, cleaning the disc, starting the movie again and trying to get back to where it got stuck or jerky; all the while hoping that it will work this time.

Most of the time I can get the DVD to work. Sometimes I have to skip forward a bit to get to a working section of the movie. That's anonther aggravation, because I paid to watch the whole thing; if I wanted to miss parts of a movie I could have gone to the theater and got up to go to the restroom or get more popcorn just as the "best part" comes on.

So that's the "hate" part of the relationship. Sure, like any sort of endeavor there are bad parts. All in all, that's probably the worst of it, and Netflix is pretty nice about resolving the problem. You just log in, tell them the movie doesn't work and they'll send you a new one out. Of course you lose that day, but at least they don't make you send the defective one back before they send out a (hopefully) working copy.

Netflix is a great idea. In a perfect world it's a perfect solution to getting the movies I want to see. In a not-so-perfect world, it's a not-so-perfect solution, but I'm happy and I've saved a little money. I've also watch a lot more DVDs; I've considered turning off cable because of it too.

Well... that's probably enough of a commercial for Netflix. I'm not one to rant or rave about much, but did want to share.