Archive for July, 2019

Chelsea and Grace Constable

Saturday, July 27th, 2019


Bluegrass ≠ Old Time

Saturday, July 27th, 2019

Lady fiddling

In my days of playing in acoustic bands, people would come up and ask me if the instrument I was playing was a ukulele (it was a mandolin). To me, that was kind of like mistaking War and Peace for a coloring book (lol rude srry). But I understood. Not everybody knows the name of every slightly unusual acoustic instrument out there.

Another common mistake is to call every acoustic band you hear a “Bluegrass” band.

When I got more and more into acoustic music, I found that I was drawn to a particular style known as Old Time music. I like that name, but it is rather misleading. If you told someone completely unacquainted with acoustic music “I like Old Time music” they might assume any number of things. Perhaps anything from big-band jazz to Frank Sinatra to Renaissance harpsichord music. More likely, they’ll think of Bluegrass. They might even tell you about how there is this bluegrass festival near the town they grew up in, but they never went.

Old Time is none of these things, although it shares closest kinship to Bluegrass. To understand the difference, it is probably easiest to first understand what Bluegrass is. The story goes that Bill Monroe invented the style of music in the 1940s. His band was called The Bluegrass Boys, after the slogan of Kentucky. It wasn’t until maybe 20 years later that people started copying the style of Bill Monroe’s sound en masse. There were festivals popping up all over at the time, and a descriptive term was needed, a name for the genre. Hence, “Bluegrass”. You’ll hear this story over and over even today at Bluegrass Festivals.

What was Bill Monroe’s sound? Well, Bill Monroe was a mandolin player, and one of the distinctive roles that the mandolin played in this style was a “chucking”, or a quick chord strike on the off-beat of the music. Bill went through many different musicians, but one genre-defining name was Earl Scruggs. Earl played the five-string banjo with fingerpicks and a three-finger style where all the strings were plucked in sequence. This has become known as Scruggs style banjo playing and is still dominant today among bluegrass banjo players. Bill was also known for his “High Lonesome Sound”, which is a good way to describe the vocals in his music and bluegrass today. Vocals tend to be in a fairly high register, especially for males, with many songs in the high key of B (“B” is for bluegrass!). Perhaps one of the most important traits of bluegrass is harmony singing.

So that’s Bluegrass. How does that differ from Old Time? Old Time is the kind of music that was going on before bluegrass, in the Appalachian hills. This music was often played on porches and at square dances. The songs were based on well-known melodies but could go on for really long periods. “Solos” just aren’t necessary. Entire songs are almost like solos, in that the musicians are constantly throwing their own variations and flair into the melodies. The songs ebb and flow as a whole, rather than follow standardize compositions. Singing is often in short phrases broken up by long instrumental periods. Harmony happens with the instruments in the melodies, but less so with vocals. Melody is very strong, with fiddles leading the party. Mandolins are rare, but if present, also are predominantly melody. Guitar and bass are very consistent and do very little melody. Even things like walking a chord transition is enough flair to go a long way. The banjo is perhaps the most distinctly different. Instead of plucking the strings as in three-finger style, the hand is held in a claw shape and the fingernail strikes down on the strings while the thumb pulls the drone string. There are many variations, but this style of banjo is known as clawhammer or frailing style and maybe the easiest way to distinguish Bluegrass from Old Time.

Unique Traits of Bluegrass

These things are unique to Bluegrass music:

SHITKICKIN’ – Del McCoury – Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms

SLOW – Seldom Scene – Heaven

Unique Traits of Old Time

These things are unique to Old Time music:

SHITKICKIN’ – Freight Hoppers – Four Cent Cotton

SLOW – Reeltime Travelers – Little Bird of Heaven

Animated Knots

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

What a treasure of a site.

At least once a year I find myself needing some kind of knot that I don’t know how to die but assume exists. Recently it was a knot where you tie it first, then can tighten it by pulling after you’ve tied it.

Looks like that’s probably this one.

Charlie Peter

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

Nice save. Original on reel-to-reel. Dubbed to 3/4″ cassette. Dubbed again to digital. Sounds pretty good for all the churn.

Yeah, Dad. It’s great that we won’t get any wetter than we already are.

Wednesday, July 24th, 2019

I can’t quite explain why, but I think of this Calvin & Hobbes strip a lot.

I thought of it the other day when we had a totally broken page on production on CodePen, and I was going to push a test fix that I wasn’t entirely sure would fix it (the bug wasn’t reproducible on local dev). I was like, shrug, it can’t get any more broken than it already is.

Sound & Fury

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Did NOT see this coming from Sturgill Simpson, but I’m excited for it.

👍👎 Phish

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

I love Rob Weychert‘s review of being taken to a Phish concert. Rob certainly wasn’t won over, but an even-keeled attitude was forged:

Like most people, I don’t believe taste has objective value, and like most people, that doesn’t stop me from behaving as if it does. I guess it’s got to do with status seeking and tribalism. Spending some time in the Phishbowl was a good opportunity to interrogate that, to ask whether the things that keep me from joining the ranks of the Phishheads really matter, to ask if we’re even all that different in the first place. As Carl Wilson puts it in the aforementioned Let’s Talk About Love, “A few people have asked me, isn’t life too short to waste time on art you dislike? But lately I feel like life is too short not to.” Besides, it’s worth remembering that my scorn is best reserved for art and culture that actively perpetuates harmful, regressive attitudes. Some of my own favorite musicians have some pretty shitty things to answer for. As far as I can tell, Phish doesn’t.

My own relationship with Phish is complicated. It was late high school for me, and most of the way through college that I was deeply obsessed. I have maybe a few dozen shows under my belt and many, many binders of burned CDs of live shows (I really need to get rid of those). I genuinely liked the music. It’s sweeping and nerdy and intricate (at times). It’s friendly but in an adult sort of way. That scene helped me build some really strong friendships and set me on a life path of caring about the right sort of stuff for me.

But then I just kinda go over it. Well, more like overdosed. My brain kinda rejected it for a long time after that. Not in a total role-reversal way where I thought all Phishheads were idiots and the music sucked and what-was-I-thinking kinda way, but more that I just actively pushed it aside and changed. It’s the same reason I can’t watch Seinfeld or The Big Lebowski anymore. They are amazing, I just OD’d and gotta move on.

My music passion since then, and for a much longer stretch of life, has been folk whatnot. First bluegrass, then a widening into really any sort of traditional acoustic folk, then a narrowing into largely old time.

These days, Phish is just light nostalgia. I can absolutely tolerate their music. I might even get a little into it if I hear an old favorite and I’m two beers deep. But it fades as quickly as it arrives, and I don’t seek out any new releases.

It’s left me in a weird spot. When I meet someone super into Phish, I kinda squint a little in a really? kinda way, but more likely than not try to reminisce with them as best I can. (I do have the official PHISH book signed by all of them I bought at a show in Minneapolis which also got me backstage access, which is fun to share. But that’s a story for another time.) Likewise, when I meet someone who really hates Phish, I also kinda squint in a really? kinda way. Like, why bother? It’s weird fun music and a lot of people like it. I guess it’s just an awkward spot to be kinda skeptical of both people that like and dislike a band.

Banjo Emoji

Sunday, July 21st, 2019

I don’t think it’s actually arrived yet (sometime in 2019?) but I’m all about having a banjo emoji.

I’m not exactly marginalized by not yet having an emoji for one of the main instruments I play, so clearly the bigger story here is multi-person skin tone emojis. Hats off to all of them, really.


Thursday, July 18th, 2019

A Slack I’m in was popping with sick Jolene JPGs and I wanted to make sure to never lose them so.

Better Arms than Legs

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

I broke both my arms. Both! It kinda sucks. It’s not gruesome like a big thick bone snapped in half, it’s fracturing at the radial heads of both elbows. One elbow has horizontal fracturing and one vertical. Both kinda equally damaged, but the right feels better than the left.

It happened while mountain biking. There is this particular obstacle that has long been my nemesis. To an average mountain biker, surely it’s no big deal, but I’m a beginner and a rather big dude to boot. It’s just a straight drop-off of a log. Maybe 12″ at a low point, 18″ high. For my whole first year riding these trails, I’d just hop off and walk over it.

Walking is part of mountain biking.

The dude from Cog Wild who took me on a beginner training ride with my father-in-law last year.

But this year, I tried going over it really slowly with my butt way back, and it worked! I felt good about it because it was another thing I’d figured out and overall I’ve been getting much better and more confident mountain biking. I’ve gone over it maybe 10 times that way now.

But this last Sunday, I was out just for a quick ride before I had to pick up my wife from the airport, and I decided, for who knows what reason, that I’d just fly off it at speed rather than go super slow. Surely that’s what normal mountain bikers too. This is not a particularly nasty stretch of trail, it’s just a little pop down.

I changed my mind at the last second. I was going too fast. So I braked a bunch, but my front tire went over while I was slowing. With my hand on the front brake, the tire locked entirely, then it hit the ground stopped. They say moments like this feel like they happen in slow motion, but I think this happened in actual slow motion. My body moved up and up and up and I just knew I was going to fly over the handlebars. And I did. I didn’t have time to think about a graceful landing, I just put my hands and arms out and used them to brace the fall.

It was super painful right away. No grace period of adrenaline to remove the pain. My first guess was that I sprained both wrists and elbows.

I was about 3 miles into the woods, so it took me about an hour to walk my bike back to the truck, where a helpful fellow biker helped me get the bike back into the truck. Then I drove home, stupidly enough. I had to get to the airport remember. It was painful but adrenaline must have helped there. By the time I got home, I knew I couldn’t make it to the airport, so I had to call my friend Tim to help drive there. Thanks, Tim (and Jeremey!).

After getting Miranda and Ruby home, I went straight to the hospital. The nurse at the hospital (who, incidentally, recommended not going to the hospital for this kind of thing but going straight to an orthopedic specialist) said that I was the third mountain biker she’s had today, and she’s just one nurse at one place injured people can come in Bend. Dangerous sport, apparently.

Fortunately, I can still work because it’s my elbows and not my wrists. X-rays showed the fracturing in the elbows but clean wrists. At the hospital they let me pick one arm to put into a splint just to ease the pain of supporting the arm. At the ortho two days later, they removed the splint. No splint, no casts, no slings (although I’ve been using the sling a little just for a break). I’m supposed to be healing with movement so that it doesn’t lock up while it heals.

I don’t really know how long the healing is going to be. Few months is likely.

A few people have asked if this informs any website accessibility thoughts I have. Not really, I’m afraid. The first few days it was helpful to have the on-screen keyboard on macOS because it was easier to use a mouse than a keyboard, but that’s about it. I don’t think I’ll need to explore special hardware or dictation tools or anything.

Not being able to lift, push, or pull much weight at all is a bummer, but it’s definitely preferable to many other injuries. Not being able to walk, I have to imagine, is much, much worse.