Thursday, January 31, 2008

Set your DVRs: Puppy Bowl IV

Puppy Bowl IV
starting lineup

Do you need to record Puppy Bowl IV this Sunday? Yes, you do!

If you miss it, though, don't sweat it. I'm sure they'll sell the DVD again this year, and the DVDs of past bowl games were a bargain. (Right now: Puppy Bowl I $9.95 $4.99, Puppy Bowl II $9.95 $4.99, Puppy Bowl III $9.95 $4.99.) Yes, I own them all. Shut up.

Also, check out this video, surreptitiously shot in the Puppy Bowl IV control room in October 2007.


Utility to convert WMA to MP3

Switch

NCH Switch did the trick.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cool gadget: Tascam MP-GT1 Guitar Trainer

Just a quick note about a cool gadget that Mike, my banjo instructor at Flatts & Sharpe, showed me.

The MP-GT1 Portable MP3 Guitar Trainer by Tascam is an MP3 player with special guitar-learning features. It can play back songs at different speeds without changing the pitch and it can change the pitch without affecting the speed. It loops, it adds special effects. It looks wonderful. Mike loves it.

It lists for $269.00, but Amazon's got it for $169.99. Amazon also has the MP-VT1 MP3 Music & Voice Trainer for $199.00 ($269.99 list). I can't decide which one I'd want. So I added them both to my Amazon wish list.

Cross-posted at J.R. Jenks' blog

Mark your calendars - Battle of the Jug Bands

Decisions, decisions.

On Sunday, February 10th, to stay here in Chicago and see the last day of The 48th Annual Univerity of Chicago Folk Festival?

Or to drive 6 hours each way and see The 26th Annual Battle of the Jug Bands in Minneapolis?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mark your calendars: University of Chicago Folk Festival

The 48th Annual Univerity of Chicago Folk Festival is coming up on Friday February 8th through Sunday February 10th, with a pre-festival kick-off party on Wednesday February 6th.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Banjo versus TV: Week 4

Banjo 34 hrs, TV 27 hours
A weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project -- J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

My car's onboard computer decided to feign an illness this last week, so I missed my banjo lesson while I had the shop look at the problem. (A shout-out to the good people at Grossinger Toyota in Skokie, who didn't charge me a dime for what turned out to be nothing.)

Also in the last week:

  • Encountered my first evidence that this project has made me a more discriminating TV viewer. I was 10 minutes into the episode #3 of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles when I realized that I was wasting my time. I wiped the past and future episodes from my DVR and picked up the banjo.
  • Have enjoyed listening to a borrowed CD set: Bluegrass Bonanza. Thanks, Grant!
  • Also great listening (and free!): The podcasts at The Banjo Hangout. I've been listening to hours and hours of banjo music on my new, cheap ($9.99!) MP3 player.
  • Attended the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night for the first -- and not the last -- time.

Monday, January 28, 2008

My washtub-bass-playin' world debut

J.R. Jenks plays Dr. Donald R. Kanner's washtub bass at the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night

I had the best time with the Windy City Jammers at banjo night at the Lincoln Restaurant in Chicago. My humble banjo-playin' skills aren't even close to cutting it yet, but as it turns out I'm a natural at the washtub bass.

More on that washtub bass when I get the time. For now, enjoy some pictures.

Dr. Donald R. Kanner plays his washtub bass at the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night Richard croons at the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night J.R. Jenks plays Dr. Donald R. Kanner's washtub bass at the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night J.R. Jenks plays Dr. Donald R. Kanner's washtub bass at the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night J.R. Jenks plays Dr. Donald R. Kanner's washtub bass at the Lincoln Restaurant's banjo night

Update: This post just isn't complete without some praise for the wonderful group of musicians that perform every Monday night at the Lincoln. (They drift in between 6:30pm and 7:00pm [or later] then play 'til 10:00pm.) From pros to gifted amateurs to amateurs to, er, me -- everyone is welcome.

It's billed as "banjo night" but the Windy City Jammers are an entire band. I'm told that you never know what instruments are going to show up. This week it was:

  • Three plectrum banjos (four-string)
  • Tenor banjo (four-string)
  • Washtub bass
  • Electric sax
  • Washboard
  • Jaw harp
  • Two mandolins
  • Three violins
  • Accordion
  • Trombone
  • Trumpet
  • Five-string banjo (that's me!)
  • A percussion box with -- literally -- all the bells and whistles, plus a bike horn.

The crowd varied in age from the college kids at the corner table to the Swedish octegenarian ladies who have been the band's groupies for twenty years.

The music stands strain under the weight of the band's three-inch thick, xeroxed songbook. I probably captured about a fifth of the night's selections in my notes: Wolverine Blues, Do You Ever Think of Me?, Pennies from Heaven, Dr. Jazz, Bill Bailey, In a Shanty In Old Shanty Town, I Can't Give You Anything But Love, Cecilia ("Does Your Mother Know You're Out"), Ja-Da, When You're Smiling, You Were Meant for Me, Under the Double Eagle, Sweet Georgia Brown, Somebody Loves Me, and When I'm Sixty-Four.

There was a lot of friendly banter. Nobody picked on me for my lack of experience, but I had to take a little grief for bringing a five-string banjo to a four-string band.

I'll definitely be going back. I just need to find an instrument to play until my banjo skills are worthy of the band.

Lincoln Restaurant, 4008 N. Lincoln Ave. (between Cuyler Ave & Damen Ave), Chicago. (773)248-1820. Banjo night with the Windy City Jammers is every Monday night. Dinner starts at 6:00pm; music from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. $5 minimum.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Comparing my Man-Thing to other Man-Things

I'd like my Man-Thing costume to look less like this:

Man-Thing rises once more!

and more like this:

The coming of...The Man Thing?

Man-Thing #1, January, 1974 Bully the Little Stuffed Bull loved X-Men: First Class v.2 #8 and I did too.

So much so that the comic's guest-star, Man-Thing, is now at the top of my list of potential comic-book-themed costumes. (You'll recall the previous costumes: Plastic Man and Galactus.)

Some Flickr pix to consider:


I'm thinking linen.

Friday, January 25, 2008

How I fixed "Error! Reformat Internal media with SigmaTel formatter"

Note to Memorex Products, Inc.: You're welcome for the technical assistance. Feel free to visit my wish list and get me something nice.

I put a blank, formatted SD card in my brand-new Memorex MMP3642A MP3 player and I got the message "Error! Reformat Internal media with SigmaTel formatter". Like many others, I tried a bunch of things (formatting with a PC, for example) and I Googled for help, but nothing seemed to work.

Here's how I fixed the problem. Hope this helps someone.
  1. Install the "Memorex Solid State Digital Audio Player" software.
    • (Note that the manual says you don't have to do this if you're running Windows XP Pro [which I am] but that you should do it anyway to solve this problem.)
    • Put the product CD into your CD-ROM drive.
    • Run D:\MMP3642\Setup.exe and use the default install options. (D: is my CD-ROM drive; yours may have a different letter.)
  2. Put the SD card into your MP3 player. Leave the MP3 player off for now.
  3. Connect the player to your computer with the USB cable.
  4. Push the power button on the MP3 player. Your MP3 player should show a screen that says "MASS STORAGE".
  5. Start | Programs | Memorex Solid State Digital Audio Player | Format
  6. You should see something like this:
  7. Select the second of the two drives. The first drive is the internal memory; you don't want that. For me, I selected F: (the SD card) and not E: (internal memory).
  8. Type the volume label of your choice.
  9. Hit "Start".
  10. When you're done:
    • Hit "Close".
    • Eject the device nicely, using the Safely Remove Hardware tool in your notification area.
    • Unplug the MP3 player's USB cable.
You should now be able to turn on your MP3 player and not see that error message.

Hema presents seven local Byzantine netgrannys karaoke party

Seven links:
  1. Seven Addictive Scifi Comic Books Free Online
  2. NetGrannys
  3. producten.hema.nl
  4. Runescape Karaoke
  5. Internet Party (NSFW)
  6. 12 Byzantine Rulers
  7. NetFlix Local Favorites (gotta be a member)

Darn It! I missed B-Fest again!

Ken Begg, a high school friend, is the unofficial historian of an annual 24-hour marathon of b-movies: B-Fest. Every year I plan to go and every year I remember it too late! Darn it!

Ken and I went to a lot of movies in our high school days. Particularly memorable for me was the Woody Allen film fest in which I won second place in the Woody Allen look-alike contest.

But I missed B-Fest (again!) and will have to settle for reading Ken's diary of B-Fest 2008. He's been at this for years and has diaries for 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2004. (Hey, Ken. What happened to 2005, 2006 and 2007? Surely you didn't miss B-Fest.)

Ken was interviewed in a podcast about B-Fest here. (It's a 2005 interview and it gives an old URL for Ken's blog and web site. The correct URL is http://www.jabootu.net.)

Next year for sure!

Update: Yes, the figure in the lower right of that B-Fest 2008 poster is the titular monster from The She-Creature (1956), in which Frank Jenks plays "Detective Sergeant."

Update #2: The adjective "titular" means that the name or identity of the character is also the title of the film. The she-creature is in the film The She-Creature. Some of you have filthy minds.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Player piano with banjo attachment

How cool is this item for sale on chicago.craigslist.org ?
Baldwin-Modello player piano with banjo attachment. Needs work.

$150 obo you must move
Call Candy @ 847-***-**** or 847-***-****

Baldwin-Modello player piano with banjo attachment

Location: Glenview, Il
Wish I had the space for it. And a way to move it. And the time to fix it. And the skill to fix it. And a spare banjo to attach to it.

Update: The seller has now (2/1/2008) dropped the price to $100. Won't someone find this gadget a good home?

Monday, January 21, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 3

Banjo 25 hrs, TV 23 hoursA weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project -- J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

Like the previous week, week 3 started off with a painful truth from my instructor, Mike. Yes, I'd been practicing my rolls. But I'd been practicing them too slowly and with the wrong emphasis. So it's been another week of roll practice, interrupted only by the speech I gave at my Toastmasters group.

I'm kinda proud of the music that I performed at that speech, 'cause it's my first success at writing tabulature. Following Mike's suggestion, I wrote my own version of The Ballad of Jed Clampett (AKA The Theme to the Beverly Hillbillies).

Another thing to be proud of? The Banjo versus TV project survived its first major attack: the new season of American Idol, which the redhead and I love to watch.

Also in the last week:

Banjo versus TV at Touhy Toastmasters

At the Touhy Toastmasters we choose a different theme topic for each month's meeting. This month the theme was new year's resolutions, so it was only natural that I give a speech about my Banjo versus TV project. Here are the slides from that speech and the tabulature from the song I (kinda) wrote.

Slide1Slide2Slide3Slide4Slide5Slide6Slide7Slide8Slide9Slide10Slide11Slide12Slide13Slide14


Ballad of Banjo versus TV

YouTube videos in PowerPoint

KeepVI needed to put a YouTube video in a PowerPoint presentation. After a little web surfing and a couple of false starts, I finally hit upon KeepV Flash Converter, which does the job perfectly. And it's free.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Pix from my banjo-playin' world debut

Chris Bell from Flatts & Sharpe just gave me these pix of me at my banjo-playin' world debut from last month. Thanks, Chris!

J.R.'s banjo debut J.R.'s banjo debut J.R.'s banjo debut

Monday, January 14, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 2

Banjo 15 hrs, TV 13 hoursA weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project -- J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

I started the week with a banjo lesson in which Mike gave it to me straight: I've been biting off more than I can chew.
Me: Plink. (pause) Plink. (pause) (scramble to change keys) Plink.

Mike: Stop. Stopstopstopstop!
Because of our vacation schedule it's been a month since our last lesson and, apparently, I've been running amok. (And by "running" I mean "going very, very slowly".) I was trying to teach myself Foggy Mountain Breakdown when I hadn't accomplished the basics of bluegrass rolls.

So my emphasis this last week has been on the basics. I've practiced 7 hours, mostly in repetitions of rolls. The redhead thinks I've been improving.

Also in the last week:

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Frank Jenks

Here's something new for my wish list. I'd like to gather all of Frank Jenks' appearances. So if you're ever wondering what to get me, root through the bargain bins at your local used DVD store and see if you can find any of the more-than-160 movies and TV series that Frank Jenks appeared in.

Frank is a somewhat-distance relative of mine who started off in vaudeville. From 1933 to 1962 he was in movies and TV. He died of cancer before I was born and is buried in Inglewood Park Cemetery in the Los Angeles County, California.

Gathering all of his appearances will take a while. This post will be sticky; that is, I'll keep it updated as I round out the collection.

What I've got

  1. Christmas in Connecticut (1945), which I recorded from TCM On-Demand on 1/12/2008
  2. The She Creature (1956), which I'll be recording off of AMC on 1/16/2008 4:45 AM CST.

What I need

  1. Everything else listed here

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Funniest Blog

Help support the funny by going here right now and voting for the funniest blog. I'll be voting for The Sneeze.

The candidates:There's a write-in option, too, but why bother typing when the obvious winner is The Sneeze?

Update: I visited each blog and charted the funny. Here are my results, ready for peer review:

Charting the funny

Update #2: Polls are now closed, the results are in and the voters got it pretty much right:

The voters speak

Overheard in New York is more funny than the poll indicates and I Can Has Cheezburger? isn't as played out as the voters think it is, but the voters weren't off by much regarding the other candidates. It's not fair that Violent Acres was even on the list because it was obviously doomed from the start. (Insert Dennis Kucinich joke here.)

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 1

Banjo 8 hrs, TV 6 hoursA weekly check-in on the Banjo versus TV project -- J.R.'s resolution to spend more time in 2008 on his banjo than on TV.

One week into 2008; so far, so good. I've been practicing my Scruggs style and watching some reality television. The redhead says it's sounding "almost like music."

Some cads have suggested that I'm going to have trouble keeping my banjo and TV hours in balance once the writers' strike ends. I'll show them. I'll show them all!

Friday, January 4, 2008

Learning with PowerPoint

Worst.  PowerPoint.  Ever.Much has been said about the inappropriate use of PowerPoint, but there's something I really like to use PowerPoint for: learning.

I like to read a technical book with PowerPoint open. Basically, PowerPoint is where I take my notes, creating a presentation as I go. I might use that presentation to teach at a future technical lunch (t'klunch, we call them at AgileTek) or I might not. The important part is that it helps me to organize my thinking and it helps me to learn.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Pinky and the pain

Narf!My pathetically weak and soft left pinky continues to impair my banjo playing, just as it did last October when I was attempting an F major chord for my banjo debut. I got through the debut by changing the piece from the key of C to the key of G (and therefore avoiding that F chord), but now it's time to get serious and build up that weakling pinky of mine.

I'm going to try out some exercises that Old Woodchuck put together and posted at Old Woodchuck's Tabs. He used to call them "Mold a Mighty Pinky" but has since renamed them to "Old Woodchuck's Left Hand Exercises" when he expanded the exercises to include the other fingers.

The first exercise, which Old Woodchuck calls "the banjo-less finger exercise," is similar to one recommended to me by one of my cello-playing nephews, who called it by the catchier name of "finger pops." Here's his description:
Touch your pinkie and thumb together. Now your ring finger and thumb. Now your middle finger and thumb. Now your index finger and thumb. Repeat ad nauseum. That's finger pops.
I'll try 'em both and see if I develop a pinky of steel.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Women in scanty costumes

A new year is a time for self-examination across the blogosphere. What have I accomplished? What will J.R. Jenks' Blog be remembered for? Will it be my observations about technology? My demonstration of personal organizational techniques? Or maybe even my banjo-playin'?

For the answer, let's look at the popularity of my Flickr photos from the last year and see if we can spot a common theme.

Princess Leia at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#1: Princess Leia at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  1742 views  /  6 people count this as a favorite  /  1 comment
Poison Ivy at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#2: Poison Ivy at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  553 views  /  5 people count this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Woozy Winks, Plastic Man and Power Girl at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#3: Woozy Winks, Plastic Man and Power Girl at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  511 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  2 comments
Birds of Prey at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#4: Birds of Prey at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

That's Black Canary on the right, yes?

•  672 views  /  3 people count this as a favorite  /  1 comment
Emma Frost at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #1 of 2

#5: Emma Frost at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #1 of 2

•  404 views  /  2 people count this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Red Power Ranger, Supergirl and Aurra Sing at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#6: Red Power Ranger, Supergirl and Aurra Sing at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  1123 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  2 comments
Emma Frost at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #2 of 2

#7: Emma Frost at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #2 of 2

•  274 views  /  2 people count this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Superman and Flash at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #2 of 3

#8: Superman and Flash at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #2 of 3

•  156 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  1 comment
Galactus hungers!

#9: Galactus hungers!

•  23 views  /  2 people count this as a favorite  /  1 comment
Supergirl and Iron First Wizard World 2007 Chicago 135

#10: Supergirl and Iron First Wizard World 2007 Chicago 135

•  252 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Poison Ivy and Catwoman at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#11: Poison Ivy and Catwoman at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  301 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Plastic Man and Woozy Winks at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#12: Plastic Man and Woozy Winks at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  73 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  1 comment
Supergirl at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#13: Supergirl at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  300 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Indiana Jones, Black Canary and Kon-El at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#14: Indiana Jones, Black Canary and Kon-El at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  288 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Elektra at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #1 of 3

#15: Elektra at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #1 of 3

•  128 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
2007-08-11 Wizard World 2007 Chicago 084

#16: 2007-08-11 Wizard World 2007 Chicago 084

•  110 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
Elektra at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

#17: Elektra at Wizard World 2007 Chicago

•  152 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
2007-08-11 Wizard World 2007 Chicago 083

#18: 2007-08-11 Wizard World 2007 Chicago 083

•  91 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  1 comment
Zatanna at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #2 of 3

#19: Zatanna at Wizard World 2007 Chicago #2 of 3

•  122 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments
2007-11-05 So You Think You Can Dance tour 021

#20: 2007-11-05 So You Think You Can Dance tour 021

•  83 views  /  1 person counts this as a favorite  /  0 comments