Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The next level

I have enjoyed learning how to play the banjo. I feel like between my fun riot of an instructor and the group of people who jam together weekly, I have made social connections while I am learning something new. As far as I'm concerned, that's what this life thing is all about. 

I've thought about how I ended up playing old time music, and it's one of those funny things. A friend from the dog park just happens to play fiddle in this kind of music. My goal for learning to play the banjo was to be able to play as part of a group of people sitting around and playing. I don't need to solo and as yet can't quite swing singing and playing at the same time. It's a good fit.

After a little over a year of playing, I can tell that my beginner banjo is just that, a beginner banjo. When the third string is pressed over the second fret, it's supposed to be an "A" tone. Play that string open and it's supposed to be a G. My banjo cannot be tuned to do this. Tune to the G and the A is flat (or sharp, I can't remember, but it sounds funny). Go the other way, and the G is weird. I use both a lot, so this is a bit of a problem. 

Enter dad's Christmas gift money. Looks like it's time to buy a new banjo, so I've been looking around and I think I have found what I want. With dad's gift and some of the craft show bucks, I can throw in a some money and get a new plunker. The above picture is what I'm thinking of - isn't it nice? You're thinking, a banjo is a banjo is a banjo. Here's what I like about this one. It's an open back banjo. There's no resonator like in bluegrass banjos, so it sounds more old timey. It's got what they call a scoop neck, so the first part of the neck up from the pan is a little lower than the rest of the neck. This makes it sound plunky, too. Finally, look at the neck. It is largely unadorned, which I like. It's got a little shooting star motif by the fifth peg, but otherwise nothin'. Some banjos are almost gaudy in the neck inlays, IMO, and it doesn't affect the sound. 

A friend is looking around to see if there are any vintage banjos for sale right now that might also be what I want. Apparently some of these old instruments (100 yrs or so) can sound really nice and they are in good shape. If he doesn't find anything in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to order this one. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The dog has no idea

It was a busy week at work last week. The big presentation went well and I was pretty stressed out about it, so it's taken a few days to get back to feeling normal. I'm grateful that as a (mere) contractor, I was given the opportunity to make my pitch in the first place and to talk about that value of what I do.

I stayed later than I usually do on Thursday and Friday, and wasn't able to do my usual after-work trip to the dog park with Sally because it was dark. I've noticed, now that she's six, she does OK with a walk instead of the good running around she does at the dog park. As an aside, I'm pretty sure she's likes the dog park for the human interactions too, as she will go up to everyone in the group of people that I hang out with and stand there until they pet her.

Anyway, usually after two days (I walked her Wednesday as well, instead of going to the dog park) of walks, she's a little restless around the house, which can lead to mischief on her part. But it was close to 6 pm Friday when I got home, so we walked again. The funny thing was that I felt kind of bad because she got "only" a 30 minute walk. Poor dear. Without the head collar even, as she dislikes it so much that usually all I have to do is show it to her when we're walking and she's pulling, and she'll stop pulling on the leash. Smart cookie.

I tried to tell her how good she has it, between the good chow, treats, no siblings, use of the bed all day in peace and quiet, but she has no idea. There are dogs, I tell her, that have to sleep OUTSIDE, whose owners actually hit them for normal dog behavior, who run around loose and get hit by cars. She, having no frame of reference (sleep at night? outside?) has no idea of how good she has it. I guess that's how it's supposed to be.

Friday, January 25, 2013

My geeks and me

I classify myself as more of a nerd than a geek, but I'm geeky enough to want to participate in these pub quizzes that have recently come to one of the local breweries in town. Yesterday I finally got my chance, with two friends recruited from the group of board game people (themselves a veritable well of geekdom) that I play games with a couple of times a month.

I had a great time. We had to label parts in a frog dissection, and answer all manner of questions. I guess the questions for the week are the same for all the many locations where the quiz is held. We were almost the oldest table of people there, but that's OK. All the better to answer questions that aren't about current TV shows or pop music, although we do need to find a couple more people who might know some of that stuff.

Yea for doing new social stuff! I also had a vanilla porter beer - yum.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

OK, now that that's done...

Sorry for the blogging silence. I've been working on a presentation for work for the last few weeks that has occupied a big space in my mind. The presentation was yesterday, it went very well, and I'm hoping that my boss will tell me in the next day or two whether I'll have my contract renewed and whether my status will be changed from contractor to a "fellow", which would be a little more secure.

My boss and I met with his boss and his boss's boss, who is the Director of the division. There were also two high-up administrative folks there. It was a friendly crowd, but my task was to detail the projects we've done, what we're working on and then talk about future projects to sort of show that I'm valuable to the organization.

My boss and I started talking about these projects a few months ago, and they have to do with genetically characterizing insecticide resistance in the mosquitoes we work with. Yeah, I don't really know that much about it either. But I downloaded about 40 papers and read most of them, and got enough of a basic grasp of the research (it's actually pretty darn interesting) to come up with three ideas for projects we could do.

They all seemed to think these were good ideas, and I was really happy to hear my boss's boss expand on the things I said, making the connection between what we do and the mission of the division.

Things are going well at the moment. It's good to have this thing done and turn my attentions elsewhere. Once I hear for sure that I'll be renewed, I'm going to embark on some home renovations (updated kitchen! new windows! the deck I've been whining about for 4 years!) that I'm sure will provide plenty of blogging fodder. I'm still making bracelets, but still bouncing back from a holiday push I'm not sure was necessary. It's time to start thinking about the garden, and I need to redo my irrigation system this year and shore up those old bookcases I've got for raised beds. I think I can get one more year out of them.

I'm going to try to blog more, and set a 15 minute limit to post. There may be pictures or there may not. Here's one from one of the greenhouses at the Denver Botanic Gardens when Mr W and I went there in December to see the lights.