Backwoods Banjo (338th new thing).

November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

My friend Kallen took up the banjo about a year ago. She downloaded some iPhone apps and pretty much taught herself. I was thoroughly impressed. I tried learning guitar a couple times in my life, with a teacher, but I always eventually stopped practicing and let it fall by the wayside. Thus carving out the time to practice alone, when you could be doing any number of more instantly rewarding things is a job well done. And on Day Three Hundred Thirty-Eight Kallen taught me a little banjo.

We decided the evening could be a combined banjo lesson-doggie date. Kallen’s pooch, Boris, is a great foil to my pup Murphy. It’s weird how dogs play differently with other canines, and Boris and Murphy instantly turn into a happy growling Tasmanian Devil whirlwind of fur and face.  They twirl around the room in a blur of white and brown, bumping into tables and knees and walls, eventually breaking away for a game of tug-of-war or chase.

After the dogs had fallen into their whirlwind routine and Kallen and I had consumed a little wine and a lot of pizza (mushroom and roasted garlic, holla), we settled onto the couch as Kallen pulled out her iPhone and began to show me a few banjo learning apps.

I was amazed by what technology can teach you these days. Within the banjo playing application, the user can slow down or speed up the lines of sheet music to play along. I sat with the banjo tucked in my lap and strummed along with the fingering diagram. On the slowest speed, and I probably missed a few notes.

Next Kallen began to teach me to play the infamous theme from the 1972 film Deliverance, set and filmed in my home state of Georgia. Funnily enough, the first time I watched the film was in a remote cabin along the shores of Lake Rabun, near Clayton County where the movie was shot. Authenticity, right?

The Teacher

First Kallen strummed along…duh nah nah nah nah nah nah nah naaah… She played the opening notes a couple times and then passed the instrument along to me to give it a go. It took a few tries to find the proper fingering, but before long I was picking the notes in between mistakes, in a highly unintentional staccato fashion.

Once I had mastered the simple opening line, we moved on to the next row of musical notes which sound like the beginning of  “Yankee Doodle.” Duh duh duh duh duh duh duhn…I know, my words are amazingly clear in conveying the music.

Slow and Steady

All of this took enough time to where we decided it was time to let the (still) playing dogs outside. We took a couple glasses of my latest homebrew with us. And I managed to lock us out, pulling the door closed before Kallen made sure her key was on her person. Oops.

Thus the banjo lesson ended and the next lesson in climbing and trying to reach Chad, Kallen’s boyfriend, without our cell phones (safely tucked inside) began. Eventually we made it back inside as the man of the house returned from band practice. It was pretty late by this point, so I gathered Murphy and headed home. I hummed the first lines of music I had learned that evening for about a week afterwards. And probably will for the next week too.

Genius! (268th new thing).

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

I broke my iPhone. It still worked, but the back was shattered. I was devastated, in that “Oh, I’m such an idiot!” way. Fortunately, a coworker told me that the Apple Store can fix the phone for cheap (or free if you flirt well). On Day Two Hundred Sixty-Eight I headed to the Genius Bar at the back of the Apple Store to see what could be salvaged.

Of course I arrived twenty minutes early for my eight o’clock appointment with the Geniuses. The friendly sales assistant suggested I look around or grab a coffee or check out Anthropologie…really, I look like an Anthropologie customer in my Kohl’s jeggings and Old Navy cardigan? Sweet. But I knew any store I stopped into would shower me with temptation, so I opted instead to plop my butt on one of the hard benches lining the walkways of the mall and attempt to deplete my broken iPhone battery with some Words With Friends.

Before I knew it it was 8pm and my turn at the Genius Bar. I sat down at the long table top lining the back wall of the minimalist store and waited. After about five minutes with no red-shirted employee greeting me I found one myself and let him know I had an appointment. He checked me in and told me to hang out until my name was called. I sat back down on a little stool and was quickly asked to move for a customer with a poorly iMac. “But I have an appointment!” I wanted to scream. Instead I moved down a couple chairs and (im)patiently waited for my name to be called.

Before long an employee behind the counter called my name. She looked at my phone and told me the back could be replaced for thirty bucks and the whole thing for a hundred fifty. I went with the first option, and she said she would be back in a few minutes.

Five minutes later I had a fixed phone in my hands. I was so giddy I started to talk about how I am doing something new every day and how the Genius Bar was that day’s activity. She was intrigued enough to ask me to write down the blog address. Hell, for thirty bucks I got a new iPhone back and a potential new follower of this blog. Win-Win, I think.

Face Time (247th new thing).

January 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had skyped with my mom before via my phone, but never had I used the rear-facing camera. So on Day Two Hundred Forty-Seven I decided to test out Face Time, a new feature found on the iPhone 4 (and also on my 4s).

I began with my coworker Joel, who was sitting in the next room over. Our conversation went something like, “Hi Joel! Look, we’re Face-Timing!.” “Yup. Cool.” “Yeah. See ya in a sec.” “Alright. Bye.”

I was hooked.

Next I called my mom, via Skype, and this time using the second camera instead of having to turn my phone around so she could see me. We chatted for a few minutes until I had to get back to working.

Finally I called Patrick, who was lounging on the couch at home. He showed me our dog Murphy, who was kind of perturbed by the idea of seeing my face talking to him on a phone screen. I was able to catch him mid-growl.

I don’t think I have used the Face Time feature since, but I can definitely see how useful it could be. As long as both parties were in Wi Fi range, of course.

HDR Photography (243rd new thing).

January 14, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’d first heard about HDR photography from my friend Jenny. She was showing us various pictures online where this technique was used, to eliminate parts of a photograph that were over exposed and bring out the parts that were underexposed. Except that it didn’t involve dodging and burning, but rather using an imaging editing software like Photoshop. The pictures were amazing, mostly landscape scenes with tonal variations based on the sun’s position.

I looked up how to create my own HDR picture, and the process was relatively simple. You bracket for the brightest and darkest parts of the image and take multiple shots of the same scene (trying very hard to keep the camera still). Then you load the images (two or more) into some fancy computer software and it merges the images together, creating a perfectly, although unaturally exposed final picture.

On Day Two Hundred Forty-Three I tried out the technique myself, photographing a sunset in the small harbor near where we stayed with my parents in Folly Beach.

I wasn’t able to create the final HDR image until I had the proper software. I used a downloadable software called Photomatrix for the tonal mapping process. Here is the result of a series of four images, over and under exposed, merged together.

It looked ok, but not nearly as awesome as some of the pictures I had seen online. I wondered if I hadn’t overexposed enough for the shadows.

I only discovered later that my iPhone was also capable of HDR images, without having to load pictures into computer software on my computer. I played around with those, but eventually downloaded an application called “HDR Pro.” And I haven’t looked back. Here are pictures I took the following day with the HDR Pro app:

The road to the beach

The path to the beach

The moon and the dunes

The sunset and the dunes

The moon and the beach. Full circle.

And now I understand HDR Photography. And more importantly, how awesome my iPhone can be.

Oh, Siri, you silly thing! (241st new thing).

January 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Patrick and I received our iPhones an estimated three weeks early. Once we set them up on Day Two Hundred Forty-One, I began to all the hype about Siri, the iPhone’s digital personal assistant. I had a conversation with a computer program.

I began my interaction with Siri by asking for directions. She pulled up my maps application. Cool. Next I verbally sent a text message and had her dial a phone number. Really cool. I added relationships in my contact list (“Carlton Scott is my dad”) and made a few imaginary appointments in my calendar. After exhausting the majority of the program’s practical applications, I had some fun, asking the woman in my phone more personal questions.

While I wasn’t overly creative with my conversation, there are all kinds of suggestions online to probe the sense of humor of Siri’s programmers. Call her a name and she will calmly retort, “that is your opinion.” Ask her the meaning of life and she comes up with a obtuse answer. Ask again and she responds slightly differently, but still full of wit. It felt like I was playing with a pull-tab toy or a saucy Cricket doll.

Now I don’t really talk to Siri as much, although it’s always a happy surprise to find a sense of humor in technology. I just hope she stays efficiently witty and doesn’t go all crazy and burn my phone. According to sci-fi, it could happen.

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