Friday, February 29, 2008

Jamming at Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival

I'm having a great time at Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival. A couple friends of Shorty's showed me a trick that will let me keep up with a jam session without – and this is a direct quote – "annoying people" with my newbieness.

That wasn't a comment about my personal skill level; they hadn't heard me play, yet. It was a laying-down-the-law that is part of the background chatter that happens at public jam sessions: the experienced jammers informing their juniors about jam etiquette. (Other pieces of jam etiquette: don't bogart the melody, let everyone who plays your instrument have their share of playing time, let everyone have a turn at choosing the song.)

The trick – which they called "popping" – is this:

  • With your bluegrass finger picks, pluck strings 1, 2 and 3, all at once, on the beat.
  • Fret the chords by pressing to the neck as usual but, at the same time that you pluck the strings, pull your fretting fingers away from the neck just a little bit.
  • The goal is to play the chord, but to have your fretting fingers resting on top of the strings after you pluck. This results in a muffled but accurate tone.
(If anyone knows a more commonly-used term for this technique than "popping" I'd love to know it.)

What does this have to do with jam etiquette? It lets the newbie learn the rhythm of the jam without introducing loud, inappropriate notes into the room. (And by "introducing loud, inappropriate notes into the room" I mean "annoying people".)

How, I hear you ask, do you play the chord that the banjo's tuned to? Suppose you're tuned to open G and you want to "pop" a G chord? In that case you start with your fingers resting on the strings (not pressing them to the neck) and pull them off as you pluck. Again: muffle, don't annoy.

I put this trick to the test and was able to play along with and really enjoy one of the the late-night jam sessions that followed last night's performance.

Here's a short video of the jam session that I took when they switched to the key of E, leaving me behind despite my new trick.

The instruments, panning from left to right: fiddle, banjo, string bass, Dobro, Dobro, guitar and string bass.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 8

Banjo 52 hrs, TV 51 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.

Uh-oh. The banjo got clobbered by the Oscars this week.

Also in the last week:

  • The redhead said, "Hey! You're sounding good. I was actually nodding my head to that one." (I look forward to the day when people compliment me on my banjo playing without using the term "actually".)
  • I'm a little bored with the few songs in my books that are within my current skill range, so I've ordered up:Hope those do the trick, 'cause I'm not sure there's a "Pathetically, Incredibly Easy Banjo Solos" book.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Who are you wearing?

Imagine – as I did while watching the Oscars – that you are a collector of comic book T-shirts who has somehow wound up on the red carpet outside the Kodak Theatre before the Academy Awards, being interviewed while wearing one of your shirts. How would you reply to the ubiquitous question, "Who are you wearing?"

Captain Marvel
"C. C. Beck"
Captain Marvel Jr.
"Mac Raboy"
"Joe Shuster"
"Bill Everett"
Professor Zoom
"Carmine Infantino"
Flash (Jay Garrick)
"Harry Lampert"
"George Papp"
Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
"Gil Kane"
Green Lantern (Alan Scott)
"Martin Nodell"
"Bob Kane"
Kevin Matchstick
"Matt Wagner"
Captain America
"Joe Simon"
Flash (Barry Allen)
"Carmine Infantino"
Fantastic Four
"Jack Kirby"

I am Spider-Man

Your results:
You are Spider-Man
Iron Man
The Flash
Green Lantern
Wonder Woman
You are intelligent, witty,
a bit geeky and have great
power and responsibility.
Click here to take the Superhero Personality Quiz

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My cheap ($9.99) MP3 player

Memorex MMP3642 MP3 playerLooking for a cheap MP3 player? The Chicago-area Osco stores are dumping the Memorex MMP3642 for $9.99 (from a retail price of $59.99 or so).

Why so cheap? Because, I suspect, this unit's flaws are so strong that Memorex doesn't want to deal with it any more.

Here's a quick run-down of these flaws and how to get around them if you, like me, want your gadgets cheap.

  • The included software is lousy and it's been bought up and messed up by Yahoo!
    Workaround: Don't use the included sofware. You'll want to hang on to the install CD for the format utility (see the next item in this list), but aside from that don't install any of the software that comes with this gadget. You can use Windows Media Player or RealPlayer instead.
  • I get the message "Error! Reformat Internal media with SigmaTel formatter" when I insert my SD card.
    Workaround: See my post, How I fixed "Error! Reformat Internal media with SigmaTel formatter".
  • It doesn't come with a belt clip or anything like that.
    Workaround: It fits fine in the extra "cigarette lighter" pocket of your jeans.
  • Stopping or pausing a song means that, when you hit play again, the song starts at the beginning.
    Workaround: Yeah, if you're in the habit of pausing long podcasts you'll have to get used to using the fast-forward feature (which is accessed by holding the "next track" button down).
  • It uses a non-standard USB cable.
    Workaround: Yes, it does. If you want more than one USB cable you'll want to purchase a second unit.
  • It's got all kinds of other quirky flaws
    Yes, it does. You're just going to have to live with the facts:
    • It doesn't work with SD card cards larger than 512MB.
    • When you put an SD card in, the player see only that card and doesn't see the music on the onboard 64MB of RAM.
    • You have to remove the battery to swap SD cards.
    Whaddyawant for $9.99?

Mark your calendars: Shorty's Strickly Bluegrass Festival in Peoria

Via Shorty's MySpace page, here are the details:

What: Annual Bluegrass Festival
Who: Our groups this year are Arlington from MO, Kickin Grass from KY, Faris Family from KS, Martin Family from MO, First Impression from MO, Bluegrass Addiction from IA and Goldwing Express from Branson MO.
Stoney Creek Inn
101 Mariners Way
Rt. 116
East Peoria IL
Thu February 28th 7:00pm: Shorty's Thursday Night Branson Show
Fri February 29th 7:00pm: Festival
Sat March 1st 1:00pm: Festival
Sat March 1st 7:00pm: Festival
Sun March 2nd 9:30am: Sunday Gospel Show
How much: $15 per show ($10 for the Saturday matinee); weekend ticket $30. Thursday show $20 advance / $30 at the door.

You'll have to squint to read it, but here's a copy of the flyer.

Update: The Peoria Journal Star has an article about the festival: "For promoter, (blue) grass is greener here"

Friday, February 22, 2008

Hi hi hi!

Welcome, pals of Bully the Little Stuffed Bull, to the aptly named J.R. Jenks' Blog.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Oh, it's already been broughten!

There is no reason on earth why you shouldn't be following Bring It On Week at Chris's Invincible Super-Blog.

Not only has he changed his site's graphics from... part of the celebration, he's also recapped Bring It On in all of its Shakespearean glory.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Ten Doctors

Do you recognize this person?

The 10 Doctors

If you answered, "No. And what do you mean, 'This person?' There's ten people there," then you may as well stop reading right now.

But if you answered, "Yes! But he got the colors wrong on Tom Baker's scarf," then you really need to be reading The Ten Doctors.

(Yes, I'd previously mentioned this in a 7 Links post, but I wanted to give it the prominence it deserves.)

Banjo versus TV: Week 7

Banjo 50 hrs, TV 44 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.

Having trouble with "Do Lord." I'm finding it hard to transition between a forward roll and a forward-backward role.

This is the first week for which I had less banjo than TV (2 hours 20 minutes versus 8 hours). Darn. But in the big picture, banjo's still ahead. By 6 hours.

Better not let this happen again next week.

Also in the last week:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Steve Gerber, 1947-2008

Steve GerberThe best of Man-Thing's writers, Steve Gerber, has passed away.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Ben's readin' Ditko

Ben is a rock / Ben is an island

Bully started it. Ryan had to go and do that. What else could I do?

(Dial B for Blog explains Mr. A in a three-part series: one, two, three.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Ben's readin' BURT!

Tom Selleck, checkin' out the competition.

I had intended to reply to Bully's challenge with a cute reference to Bully's Underwater Rescue Team, but somehow things went horribly awry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Recycled Chicken Doctor & Pavoratti Tamacun Subwoofing Fun

Seven links:
  1. #4 on Bully the Little Stuffed Bull's list, Fun Fifty of 2007: Doctor Who: The Ten Doctors
  2. Bully's Fun Fifty of 2007: Part 1 of 5. (While you're at it: Parts 2, 3, 4, and 5.)
  3. BK Kick'n Chicken
  4. Rodrigo Y Gabriela - Tamacun (live)
  5. Find local recycling options at
  6. James Brown & Pavarotti
  7. subwoofing

Banjo versus TV: Week 6

Banjo 48 hrs, TV 36 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.

Another good lesson this week. Mike brought his fiddle and I used my newfound (and still unsteady) forward-roll-playin' skills to accompany him. He complimented me because I kept the accompaniment rolling even when he took off on a riff.

I used the appropriate terms there -- "accompany" and "accompaniment" -- but I was so pleased with myself that, to my mind, it was a duet.

Also in the last week:

  • It was too darned cold on Wednesday to go to the free Folk Fest Kick-Off at University of Chicago, so my banjo and I stayed in our warm apartment.
  • I Googled across the Jenks Banjo Band. As far as I can tell, the band's only available recording is a track on the 2002 "Forever Everton" CD, a tribute to the Everton Football Club in Liverpool, Merseyside, England. I listened to the preview and heard a little banjo, but mostly tambourine. Perhaps the lead singer has a Banjo-Tam?
  • Shopped at my Banjo Hangout friend Joanchek's new banjo-themed online store:
  • Studied up on my music theory. Found a handy PDF of the circle of fifths. For a wearable version, see Joanchek's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" design:

    Cute, eh? I ordered one.
  • Netflix promised me some recommendations if I rated Best of the Flatt & Scruggs TV Show: Vol. 2, and I did. But instead of a recommendation I got:

    Flatt And Scruggs Show Stumps Netflix

    Guess I stumped 'em.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Need to create DVD menus

Anyone got any suggestions for software that lets you build a DVD menu system then burn it to a DVD? My requirements:

  • Runs under Windows XP
  • Allows the creation of a deep structure of static pages. (Example: An "about the actors" set of pages in which each actor's bio appears as a static graphic, with navigation buttons.)

I'm trying out DVD Menu Studio by MediaChance, but I'm open to other suggestions.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Banjo sigline in Latin

Any Latin lovers out there? (Oh, that will help my Google rank!)

I mean, can anyone help me with some banjo-related Latin?

I'd like the sig line for my posts at the Banjo Hangout to be a Latin phrase that loosely translates as "Keep on plucking!" or "Pluck 'til you drop!" or something to that effect. I want to command the reader to play (the banjo) and to keep doing it. Kind of like the Marine's motto semper fidelis but meaning "always pluck" instead of "always faithful."

Let me simplify: How do you say "Pluck forever!" in Latin?

The verb "pluck"

It's been a long time since my college Latin. I know that the "plucking" in "Keep on plucking" is a geruned, but I think that I want it to be a command, so the mood should be imperative ("Pluck!") as opposed to indicative ("You are plucking.") or subjunctive ("Let him pluck.").

I'm not even sure which verb I want to use. I think my options are:

It would be satisfying to use some variant of the noun plectrum, which any banjo player knows is the Latin word for the pick that we pluck with.

Via the Conlang Mailing List ("constructed languages") I discovered someone who was trying to translate "Strummin' on the old banjo" into Latin, but that was surprisingly unhelpful. He wanted to say "strum" and I really want "pluck" or "pick".

The gerund "plucking"

On the other hand, maybe the gerund would be nice. I think the gerund form of the verbs I listed above would be:

The adverb "forever"

I found some suggestions for "forever":

  • Aeternus: eternal, everlasting
  • Aeternum or in aeternum: for ever
  • Sempiternus: continual, everlasting
  • In omne tempus: forever (until all time)
  • In saecula saeculorum: for ages of ages forever

Putting them together

So what should I use? Should I go for accurate Latin? Should I use some pidgin Latin which is more easily understood?

  • Psallerā́te in aeternum!
  • Psallerā́te in omne tempus!
  • Dícendum sempiternus!
  • Cantandum in saecula saeculorum!
  • Plectrum in aeternum!
  • Semper plectrum!

Help, anyone?

Update: I keep thinking about that hilarious Latin scene from Monty Python's "Life Of Brian":

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lent and the banjo

Hey, you got your banjo-playing bunny in my chocolate!Here's an email about my Banjo versus TV project that I received recently, and which has relevance on this first day of Lent.

Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 9:31 AM
To: J.R. Jenks
Subject: Resolution Question


Enjoyed the post on your last Toastmaster’s presentation.

In the will J.R. actually do this category, I am wondering about an additional data point.

What has J.R.’s track record been in keeping New Year’s resolutions?

Just curious

To which I replied:

From: J.R. Jenks
Sent: Wednesday, January 23, 2008 10:23 AM
To: "Just Curious"
Subject: RE: Resolution Question

I’m afraid my previous resolutions failed to follow the FranklinCovey 8-point recommendations, so it’s hard for me to say.

I can’t remember any resolutions -- if I even made them -- for 2006 and prior (“3. Write Down Your Goals”).

Last year’s resolution, “Be a better servant,” was vague (“1. Think of Your Resolutions as Goals”) so I don’t think I can claim credit for it, but I *think* I did an okay job at keeping it. At any rate, I was better off for having made that resolution.

Perhaps I can extrapolate from my Lenten habits. For the last 20 years I’ve managed to give up something for Lent and to stick with it for the full 46 days. Usually I give up junk food. 20 years ago, I gave up meat for Lent and never started back up again.

So if I total up the last 20 Lenten seasons I’ve kept a resolution for 20 * 46 = 920 days = 2.5 years. Does that count?

J.R. Jenks

Since that time, I've come to wonder whether "Just Curious" had my best interests at heart when he asked that question. I've heard that he's talking about starting a when-will-J.R.-break-his-resolution betting pool. Hmph.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Banjo versus TV: Week 5

Banjo 41 hrs, TV 31 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.

After the shaming that my instructor, Mike, gave me at the last couple of lessons, it was a treat for both of us that . . . I sounded good this time!!!

Really! About four days before my lesson, my forward roll kicked in. I experienced that moment of learning when my fingers just started playing it on their own. My basal ganglia said to me, "J.R., I'll take it from here."

So the lesson was wonderful. Mike said he was so pleased at what I'd accomplished. We played some duets and he said -- honest! -- "I actually had fun playing with you."

And all was right with the world.

Also in the last week:

  • Attributed to Pete Wernick aka Doctor Banjo: "NO! Try it again! LOOP THAT PHRASE!!!! Don't you know an amateur will play it until they get it right, PROFESSIONALS PLAY IT UNTIL THEY CANNOT GET IT WRONG."
  • The arrival of my Banjo Hangout Players Union t-shirt.
  • Since the lesson it's been kind of a low-practice week, what with one thing or another robbing me of my time. But it's been an even-lower-TV week, so the scale has really tipped in the banjo's favor.

That's Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist Jenks to you

Microsoft.  They know.

I just added MCTS: Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 – Configuration to my collection of Microsoft certifications.

So I suppose I could ask people to call me J.R., M.C.T.S., M.C.P., M.C.S.D.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

My Banjo Hangout Players Union t-shirt arrived

My Banjo Hangout Players Union t-shirt arrived!


Update: I like the new picture better than the first one I posted.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dance, Man-Thing, dance!

Via's Man-Thing movie page, the story that can now be told: Man Thing (sic) Lives Again!

Gracious, that looks like a bad film. And NetFlix just sent it to me.