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Tuesday, 05 January 2016 00:00

Flying in the Cloud

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Years ago, when I decided I wanted to write code for a living, I figured I should write code for myself so that I could (1) get better at it and (2) write software that would be useful to me. Inspired by the open source movement, I envisioned myself managing projects of my own and joining the great hackers of the land. Alas, being new to the field it was enough of a challenge to write code that worked. I focused more on building toys to learn a new language or development tool than on creating a new product for the masses. This focus paid off, and eventually I was able to get a job as a programmer. I got paid to build experience working on software that people actually used. My side projects fell by the wayside as I elected to spend my off hours on another of my many hobbies. Every now and then I would come up with an idea for a new application, but there would always be an existing open source project that did it better.

Earlier this year I decided to finally get moving on a life-long dream and learn how to fly an airplane. Pilots are required to log their flying time, and a license requires a certain number of hours of training and solo work under specific conditions. A pilot's log is proof that they have met these requirements. On the advice of my instructor, and like thousands of students before me, I purchased a standard flight log from Amazon. It looks like this.

The Standard Pilot Log from ASA

When the excitement of joining the ranks of those who need such a log had subsided a little, I asked my instructor about digital alternatives. Surely something so important shouldn't be at risk of being lost by such antiquated hazards as burning in a fire, having coffee spilled on it, or being simply misplaced, right? His answer was quite a surprise: some people use pilot log apps, or copy them to Excel, he said, but the paper copy is considered the official record. He then told me a story about an instructor of his who had his log stolen from his car. Thousands of hours of flying, training, and instructor endorsements were gone, and it took months to reconstruct them from a variety of alternate sources. "You should at least photocopy your log to make sure this doesn't happen to you", he advised me. How someone under the age of 30 can suggest this as an acceptable form of backup in an age where each of us carries the collected knowledge of the human race in our pockets is beyond me.

To be fair, there are several pilot logbook software products out there. But I was not all that impressed with the open source offerings. I want something that:

(1) is open source
(2) can serve as a backup to my paper log
(3) is accessible on all my devices
(4) lives in the cloud

I use my own implementation of ownCloud to manage my calendar, contacts, and other data needs. The next step seemed obvious: I would write an ownCloud pilot log book app. My php was a little rusty, but their app framework is well designed and easy to learn. It didn't take me more than a couple of weekends to put together an app that met my minimum requirements. And the best part? I'm already using it. It's a useful app! I'm very excited about this. Of course, it's still new and a little rough around the edges, and I have no idea if other people would find it worthwhile. But you never know if you don't try, right?


For more info check out my Software Projects or the app's GitHub page.

Monday, 16 November 2015 00:00

As I take me a drink to the middle of the street

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This is a conversation that I actually had this evening:

Susannah: Good news! I found a gin drink that I like.

Me: Really?

Susannah: Yeah, it's a cocktail at Dry 85 called My Homie Dre and Tanqueray.

Me: ...your new favorite drink is gin and juice?

Susannah: What? No, it wasn't gin and juice, it was gin and citrus and....damn it.

 

'cause that's how we do here in Nap Town.

Sunday, 15 November 2015 19:00

Sounds

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I spent a good deal of time this weekend writing music. When we moved out of the house I filled a plastic box with the bare minimum I would need for a portable studio, and I finally had the time to test it all out. I have to say it worked out pretty well. The heart of my setup is my Dell XP15 laptop and Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB audio interface. The interface works flawlessly under Linux, and the 16GB of RAM in the laptop means I can record many tracks and use lots of effects in Ardour without any crashes or obscene amounts of latency. The downside is that I no longer use technical problems as an excuse for not writing music.

The blank page is scary. I try an idea - maybe a drum pattern, or a guitar riff - then come up with reasons why I don't like it. Sometimes I'm right, I guess, but probably not as much as I'd think. My biggest challenge is in moving past the initial idea and towards something complete. I have tons of half formed ideas on my hard drive, but very few completed songs. When I was assembling my studio gear I had dreams of being the next Steve Vai or Joe Satriani by writing cool instrumentals on my guitar. Now I'm not sure if that's the direction I should be going. Perhaps it would be better to find a collaborator or two to add melodies and/or lyrics to my stuff. It would be pretty cool to be able to bounce ideas of off someone else.

After several hours across 2 afternoons I came up with an idea that I think can be turned into a song. Here's an excerpt.

Doesn't sound like much, does it? I'm beginning to see why bands spend years in the studio. But it is a lot of fun- it's cool to know that something exists where there used to be nothing.

Thursday, 05 November 2015 19:00

Down Under Alexandria

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Last Thursday Susannah and I went to see Colin Hay at The Birchmere in Alexandria. Hay is probably best known as the former lead singer for the band Men At Work, and the only songs of his that I knew before going to the show were that band's hits. Hay had a memorable appearance on the show Scrubs where he played an acoustic version of the song Overkill, so seeing him in a solo acoustic performance sounded like a good idea. We were not disappointed. Most of the songs were new to me, but I really liked them. Hay has a distinct voice, and he does some cool things with melodies. Plus, he's a really good guitarist- instead of just strumming chords as he sang he played some fairly intricate parts, or much more intricate than I can play while singing. In between he'd tell jokes and stories and was very entertaining.In fact, here's an example from some other show:

 

 

I always forget how much I like Down Under. The song has a sort of novelty appeal to it, but it's actually a great pop tune. This is basically how he played it at our show, and I think it works very well in this format. We had a really good time at the show, and would totally see him again. Excuse me as I add his albums to my playlist.

Friday, 11 September 2015 00:00

All the Small Things

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My life has been crazy for the past few weeks. The big news is that Susannah and I finally began our world travelling adventures. We left Ashburn, VA, our home of 10 years, and moved into an apartment in the historic section of Annapolis, MD. Ok, so I might be overselling it a bit when I say "wold travelling", but all journeys start with a single step, right? Anyway, in addition to experiencing new places our plan was to devote more attention to things we've always wanted to do. I envisioned a life of relative leisure where I spend the day working from the comfort of my home office and nights and weekends learning how to fly (more on that in a future post), playing and writing music on my guitar, taking more pictures, writing on this blog, and a gazillion other things. But at almost a month in, things have yet to turn out that way.

Most of this is because I've been crazy busy at work and I've had to work lots of extra hours and weekends. That isn't fun, even if I get to do the work from home. But there has also been an ever expanding list of crap that has to get done: moving stuff in and out of storage, unpacking boxes, getting some furniture for the new apartment, getting more car inspected and registered in Maryland, etc. By themselves, these are small things, but all of them together add up to one big thing that takes up all my available free time. Everything seems to take longer than it should. That's life, I guess.

I suppose what I'm getting at here is that I still have a million excuses as to why this blog never gets updated. Some are legit, most aren't. But that's life too, I guess.

Monday, 29 June 2015 00:00

Little Black Dots

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I've been working on creating a practice routine, but progress is slow. I figured I would start with the scales in multiple positions part of my plan by writing out some exercises and posting them here. I have the exercise, but I haven't had time to create the post I want. It's coming, just not as soon as I'd like.

In the meantime, I also made some progress with the sight reading portion of my plan. On Saturday I went to the Loudoun County library foundation's annual giant book sale. In addition to a stack of new novels to read, I found this for $1:

Like the title says, the book contains the melodies of a 100 Irish folk tunes, including a number that I have come to know via my Dropkick Murphys Pandora station. Most of the songs I've never heard before, but the melodies are simple enough for me to site read. And the few I did know already are easy enough to sing while playing, another area of my guitar playing that needs work. For the past few days I've spent time learning the tunes in multiple positions on the neck. It's pretty cool. Experienced readers would laugh if they saw how simple the tunes are, but I deserve no less for ignoring this necessary skill for so long.

The book originally came with a cassette, which was missing by the time I got to it. I wonder if I could find a copy online....

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