19 Jun

piano grade 2 results arrived

I did the grade 2 exam three weeks ago. The results just arrived: “successfully passed in the second grade examination in Pianoforte with first class honours”

Cool, I’ll shove that certificate up on the piano next to last year’s one.

I’m going for grade 3 in September. Was meant to do grade 2 a few months ago, but couldn’t find anywhere close that would do the examination. The nearest was in Louth, but that’s too far to walk.

Here are the examiner’s notes:

Max MarksRequirementsExaminer’s CommentsMarks Awarded
15Scales & ArpeggiosVery good. Good choice of speed but make sure you keep it nice and steady! Very good tone.13
10Sight ReadngVery good. Mind the counting9
10Ear TestsVery good.9
20First PieceSonatina in G: You caught the mood well. Nice fluent performance. Good phrasing, tone, dynamics and technique.18
20Second PieceWaltz: Another lovely performance. Very good balance in left hand melody. Great attention to detail. Very enjoyable!19
20Third PieceSamba: Excellent rhythm throughout. Very good range of dynamics and good use of arm weight. Good control throughout. Well done!18
Total/Additional Comments:Congratulations! Keep up the excellent work!91

As you can guess, I’m pretty happy about this!

I’m hoping the keep up the high marks for the next exam. My teacher says my pieces for that exam are already at “pass” level, so three more months of practice can only improve that!

I’m hoping to have enough money next month (royalties from my last book) to afford a new piano and a camera, so may be able to stick some tunes online soon.

03 May

what I'm up to

As usual, I’m behind on stuff.

I just submitted chapter 3 of my upcoming book “CMS Design with PHP and jQuery”, and chapter 4 was due to be complete and sent two days ago.

My clavichord project stalled when the cumulative number of mistakes made it incredibly unlikely I’ll complete it in a usable fashion.

In work, I’m behind on a pretty large online-store project, but in that case I’m okay with it – I wasn’t slacking; things are just very busy at the moment.

My piano playing has also stalled – I’ve been trying to learn The Heart Asks Its Pleasure First for the last month. I’m stuck on the final page, where the left hand is all over the place and the right has an intricate tune to play. Its all in my head, but I just can’t play it smoothly. Thinking of putting that on the back-burner and going onto Bach’s 2-part inventions instead.


Packt have asked me to review Expert PHP5 Tools. Looking forward to it. It’s got some stuff in it which I’ve read about but never tried. Including: UML design of applications, incorporating tests into subversion submissions, and automated documentation of source (among other things).

My piano teacher found an examiner who will be testing in Monaghan next month, so I’ll finally be able to get grade 2 out of the way. I’ve been practicing grade 2 and 3 tunes for months. Playing 6 tunes every day before I do anything else has been reducing th amount of time I have for the rest of my practice, so I’ll be glad to get this one passed as well.

I’m trying to push myself to get the current book finished as soon as possible. This is difficult as writing a CMS is a much more complex job than writing a cookbook of techniques. The chapter I just finished had 40 pages in it. By the 40th page of the previous book I was already into chapter 3. Chapter 2 wasn’t much smaller either!

When this book is finished, I’ll be starting a new one, on building a clavichord as cheaply as possible. Because I failed with the current one, but learned quite a lot from it, I feel I’ll get it right this time, and would like to document it as I go. There’s a lot of math involved in building a clavichord, and I think I may even get a good programming application out of it!

After that, I’m thinking of starting up contact juggling again, and completing the book, this time with videos.

When I get the time, I’d also like to get back into building robots. I think the gardening robot is a bit beyond me at the moment (involves some very complex AI), but I thought I’d try build a digger bot. You tell it what you want dug, where to put the debris, etc., and it gets to work.

22 Mar


List of things off the top of my head that I want to do:

  • write a book. already had a non-fiction book published, but I’d love to have an interesting an compelling original fiction idea to write about. I’m working on a second non-fiction book at the moment.
  • master a martial art. I have a green belt in Bujinkan Taijutsu (ninja stuff, to the layman), but that’s from ten years ago – found a Genbukan teacher only a few days ago so I’ll be starting that up soon (again, ninja stuff).
  • learn maths. A lot of the stuff I do involves guessing numbers or measuring. it’d be nice to be able to come up with formulas to generate optimal solutions.
  • learn electronics. what /is/ electricity? what’s the difference between voltage and amperage? who knows… I’d like to.
  • create a robot gardener. not just a remote-control lawn-mower. one that knows what to cut, what to destroy, that can prune bushes, till the earth, basically everything that a real gardener does.
  • rejuvenate, or download to a computer, whichever is possible first. science fiction, eh? you wait and see…
  • create an instrument. I’m just finishing off a clavichord at the moment. when that’s done, I think I’ll build another one, based on all the things I learned from the first. followed by a spinet, a harpsichord, a dulcimer, and who knows what else.
  • learn to play an instrument. I’m going for grades 2 and 3 in September for piano. I can play guitar pretty well, but would love to find a classical teacher.
  • write a computer game. I have an idea, based on Dungeon Keeper, for a massively multiplayer game. maybe I’ll do it through facebook…
  • write programs to:
    • take a photo of a sudoku puzzle and solve it. already wrote the solver.
    • take a photo of some sheet music and play it.
    • show some sheet music on screen, compare to what you’re playing on a MIDI keyboard, and mark your effort.
    • input all the songs you can play on guitar/keyboard. based on the lists of thousands of people, rate all these songs by difficulty, to let you know what you should be able to learn next.
    • input a job and your location. have other people near you auction themselves to do the job for you. or vice versa: input your location, and find all jobs within walking distance to you where you can do an odd job for some extra cash (nearly there: http://oddjobs4locals.com).
    • takes a photo and recognises objects in it (partly done)
    • based on above, but can also be corrected and will learn from the corrections (also partly done)
  • stop being damned depressed all the time.

There’s probably a load of other stuff, but that’s all I’ve got at the moment!

20 Mar

clavichord progress: now with strings

I can understand now why these things go for so much money.

I’ve been working on this project for about two weeks and am just now getting a sound by pressing a key.

I’ve also learned a lot, which will be applied when I build the next one.

I originally planned to build a 49-key unfretted clavichord, but didn’t realise how difficult that was going to end up being.

One of the problems with this, is that because the strings are pulled diagonally across the board, hitting one string without hitting its neighbours is a very difficult thing.

This is easier to do if there are less strings.

So, after putting in all 49 hitchpins and drilling 49 holes for tuning pegs, I realised that there was no way I could do this unfretted without extreme precision, which my <€50 instrument was simply not capable of.

image showing 49 tuning pin holes, hitchpins, and the felted balance rail for the keyboard

So, I’ve strung the instrument with only 17 strings, each of which is used by 3 keys (yes, I know – one key will get a string all of its own).

17 strings crossing the bridge to 17 tuning pins

There’s another problem I’ve yet to overcome.

Because fretting involves hitting the same string at different points (the same as a guitar or violin), and I didn’t think far enough ahead, some of my tangents are going to have to hit their strings in positions above other keys…

Looking at other existing fretted keyboards, I now realise why the tangent positions are so staggered:

staggered tangents on a triple-fretted clavichord

I’ve just finished the sharp keys, and will be working on inserting all the tangents later today.

If I’m lucky, it may actually be playable by tonight.

15 Mar

clavichord keyboard and soundbox

Over the weekend, I cut out the keyboard for the clavichord and built the soundbox.

How a clavichord works is that you have strings which are strung between hitch pins and tuning pegs, with a bridge in between. The strings are damped at both ends by cloth called “listing”.

When a key is pressed, a “tangent” is banged up against the string, creating a standing wave between the tangent and the bridge. When the key is released, the tangent loses contact with the string and the wave is then damped.

As I’m building all of this as cheaply as possible, I don’t have proper material, so I’m very interested to see how well it sounds when finished.

I couldn’t find any proper wood to act as a soundboard, so used the side of an old computer case, cut to size. I’ve never heard of a metal soundboard in a clavichord – but then, I’ve also never heard of a plywood clavichord.

My friend Sean dropped over yesterday and gave me a roll of high-tensile wire – the sort of stuff that’s usually used in industry when strength is needed. The wire is made of 15-20 individual wires, each twined to create a single whole.

I haven’t got the tuning pegs created yet, but was able to test the sound of the clavichord by unwrapping a single strand from the wire, and running it from a hitch pin to a screwdriver in one of the tuning peg holes, and tightening it as much as possible by hand, then levering a small piece of plywood under the wire to act as a bridge on the soundboard.

Plucking the string made a clear tone, but hammering and holding the hammer against the string it didn’t make much of a sound. That’s kind of to be expected, though. After all, it’s been said that the clavichord is “the one instrument that can be played by a person on one side of a double-bed without disturbing someone in the other side”.

It will probably sound much better when I’ve made a proper bridge and got proper tangents running.

10 Mar

plywood clavichord project

My piano is going out of tune.

The local tuner says it can’t be tuned. but, seeing as he’s also the owner of the local piano shop, I really don’t think I can trust his word on that – especially as another tuner (in Dublin) laughed immediately when that was said to him.

I’m certain that I can tune the piano, but I’ve been told not to, by both the tuner in Dublin, and also by Bronwyn’s mum, who owns it – apparently the slightest mistake can be costly.

And so, I’m going to build my own keyboard, which I can tune if I want to.

Here’s a picture of the end-goal – a well-made clavichord:

To buy a ready-built clavichord would cost 8000 euro or higher. To get a kit version which you put together yourself would cost 3500 or higher.

I feel that’s a little bit high, so I’m trying to make a simple clavichord, where the materials cost 50 euro or less. I’m not counting the cost of the tools.

So far, the materials have cost less than 25 euro – a sheet of 22mm plywood, and some wood glue.

Today’s progress is that I have the basic shell of the thing created. It’s 100cm x 30cm in size, with internal walls of 10cm.

The keyboard will be four-octaves in length. 49 keys, from C two octaves below middle.

I’ll start cutting the keyboard out tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish off all the woodwork by then.

Then it’s time to start thinking about the strings.

27 Jan

what's up!

Short run-down of what I’m doing lately: nothing.

Less short: I’m trying to get work out the door, get a good run at some personal projects, pass grade 2 piano, get organised, and generally improve my lot.

None of this is working. I think the “get organised” bit is the most important, as it will help the rest of it fall into place.

I usually only post about web-development-related topics here, as that’s the only subject where I feel I can contribute something new and interesting, so I tend to not talk about other stuff. But sometimes, rattling off the current state of the head is good for clearing it.

In work, I can’t really complain – we have a number of largish projects which are slowly creeping towards completion. The hardest thing about them is getting information from the clients, and then a week or two later being told that half the information is not required. I guess my main complaint at work is the inexorably slow completion rate.

On the personal projects side:

There are still a number of small bugs in KFM 1.4, and either I don’t have the time to get to them, or there is no enough information to recreate the bug and the submitter doesn’t give me access to their copy so I can’t see it from their side.

KFM 2 has been halted for a while – the idea is huge, but I simply don’t have the time, and no-one is clambering for it. I’ll get to it when I have time, but I might have to approach it by evolving KFM 1.x into meeting what I wanted, instead of the original goal of building KFM 2 from scratch.

I started a new project, OddJobs4Locals two weeks back, and got a good two-day run at it, then time got ahead of me again. I think this will be a good one, when I can complete it. Useful for students, people with a little spare time, or simply people that just want to make a little extra cash. Not yet working, but it will be soon, I hope… This is doubly interesting to me, as it is done purely through AJAX, so it will be easy to do a smart-phone client or a desktop client when the time comes.

I’m in the back/forth stage of working with Packt publishing to see if they want me to do a second book (the first one has no bad reviews at all). We’ve mostly agreed on a table of contents, and I’m just trying to get the time to combine a few of the smaller chapters together.

On the piano, I’ve been ready for the grade 2 exam since November, and am still waiting to see if there will be an exam near me any time soon – I hate the effort that goes into travelling (I have a family, and no car). I was hoping to do a grade every 6 months. It looks like this might not be possible, despite me being ready for it… The tunes I’m doing for it are Beethoven’s Sonatina in G Major, a waltz by Bela Bartok, and Boys And Girls Come Out To Samba, by Terence Greaves – by the way, I don’t like those videos; there are no dynamics in any of them, and I can hear a number of mistakes as well. No video apparently of the Terence Greaves one.

As for organisation… well I guess I’d better start working with Mantis again.

My lot will have to wait – I’ve a load of work to get done before it can improve.

Meh. Depression taking hold again.

01 Dec

Graham Coxon at the Barbican

Bronwyn and myself went to the Barbican, London, on Saturday to watch Graham Coxon perform.

We both enjoyed the event. Bronwyn was excited to meet friends she had only spoken to online. Well, she’s been excited for the whole of the last week, but it’s all related!

London is big.

The weather was ok for the Friday and Saturday while we were wandering around taking in sights and sounds. We visited the National Gallery, and were handed a sheet saying a candle-lit baroque concert would be happening later, but it clashed with our previous plans.

Arrived at the Barbican. Bronwyn didn’t see any of her friends. We said we’d meet up around the bar, so that’s where we went, and sat opposite it.

We were there about five minutes when I spotted a huge amazing monstrosity of a drum-machine, Felix’s Machines. You have to see the videos of that thing!

As I stood there, Simon from Resigned (also the admin of the Graham Coxon forum) noticed me and waved to get my attention – ah, that’s where they are! We joined a group of Coxon fans.

We had two hours, so we gently infused ourselves thanks to the bar, with some opting for chips and complaining that you shouldn’t need to buy fish&chips just to get some chips (as a vegetarian, I agree wholeheartedly with this, and not just through a hatred of waste).

The show was to start at 8, so we headed down and got our seats.

Simon had thoughtfully gotten us row G (haha – G for Graham. very good. ahem…), which had a walk-space directly in front of us, meaning we could stretch our legs and walk to the toilets without stepping on people’s heads.

Bronwyn decided a new piece of policy was to be created henceforth: when purchasing tickets, people should be measured for height, and really tall people should be confined to the back of the auditorium.

The band came out and the place became loud with cheers.

The sound engineers didn’t do the best job in the world. The band played brilliantly apart from a few minor hiccups, but some of the sound problems were distracting.

When Graham spoke, it was difficult to hear. I was afraid that his singing would be the same, but when he sings, he crouches close to the microphone, and when he talks, it’s like he’s unaware the mic is there.

Some of the songs were technical, involving a lot of finger-picking. An example is Sorrow’s Army. Graham started out on that one, then Robyn Hitchcock joined in a few bars later. Robyn’s guitar, though, was louder, so it drowned out Graham’s playing. This was pointed out independently to me by Simon later on, so it wasn’t just my ears playing tricks.

There was a feedback problem later on at the beginning of one tune, which was quickly and cheerfully quelled and restarted.

One of the three female singers was very loud at points. I didn’t like that – it was like she was stealing the spotlight.

On the far left of the stage, Max Eastley was playing the Arc. At most points in the concert I couldn’t hear anything of what he was doing. Only in quiet songs with only one or two other instruments.

When the songs got loud, they got very loud. Graham was unintelligible at some points as he tried to sing above the sound of the other instruments.

Apart from these gripes (and they’re minor – Bronwyn doesn’t agree with any of the above points), I enjoyed the concert.

I think the only tune I didn’t like was the ending of Caspian Sea, where the band appeared to get stuck in a rut, repeating the same bar over and over and over.

I liked how the music was not perfectly in-tune or perfectly rhythmic, but was just a little off here and there. This gave the music a more natural and “used” feel, like an old rickety piano which is played when the pianist is surrounded by friends – you feel like he’s playing personally to you and it’s not a surgical procedure.

The concert was basically Graham’s latest album, The Spinning Top, with a few extra old songs played at the end.

One of the things I like about this album is the finger-picking. Graham has recently been trying to increase his finger-picking skills, inspired by his love of old blues and folk. His interest in Nick Drake really shines through in the singing, and Bert Jansch (of Pentangle) in the playing.

In a lot of the songs, there is not just one finger-picking “voice”, but two. This could be seen obviously at the concert where Graham was playing one finger-picking riff and Robyn was playing another, yet they meshed nicely.

Overall, I enjoyed this concert and if he does it again with another album, I’m sure we’ll be going over again.

28 Nov

resigned – the band

We were sent an invite to come see Resigned play (interesting name – does it mean “gave up”, or “was signed again”? I’ll ask them tomorrow) at the Water Rats Theatre.

Bronwyn commented, on seeing the dance-floor, that it was “very like Fibbers, except for the smell”. 😉 Fibbers (Parnell st) has a bit of a reputation – especially among those of us that have been frequenting the place more than 15 years.

I visited the toilet at one point there and can confirm that it out-fibbers’s fibbers. It was rank.

Having said that, the people that were there were eclectic. There were punks, industrials, grungers, rockers – hard to put a label on the place when everyone is so different!

Anyway – back to the band – I enjoyed it. I was expecting some hard punk, as “resigned” is a very serious name, but the music was actually quite interesting and not as harsh as I expected. There were interesting rhythms (listen to their track “Hangover”) that make you feel like you need to dance or at least admire it, and at no point did I feel they were copying anyone.

Their last track was dedicated to “someone in the audience”, and they played “Advert” by Blur. It was aimed at Bronwyn and a few other Coxon fans.

We spoke to Simon, Gary and John. The playing was perfect – no sign of effort from anyone; everything was “to a tee”. For example, while playing some tunes, I noticed Simon fiddling around with his effect pedals /at the same time/ as playing his part. Very cool. Not a beat dropped – I liked it.

John said that there was a bad gig a few weeks back where there wasn’t enough practice beforehand and it all fell apart, but it didn’t show tonight at all. Solid playing, and I’d love to see them play again.

We were handed a CD of their album which they refused to accept payment for, for reasons which agree almost with my own philosophy.

My belief is that people should be paid for what they do. Royalties are a bonus, but should not be considered as “earned”.

As an author of a book, this might fly in the face of reason, but the thing is – I wrote my book because I wanted to, and I enjoyed the act of its creation. Anything afterwards that I get paid is a bonus, but I don’t feel I’ve earned it (Yes, I’m very grateful for it (thank you!!), but I don’t feel I should demand people pay me if they accidently find my words online).

I suggested this to Simon, in the case that musicians should be paid for the gigs they play, and everything else is a bonus.

This appears to be the same model that large bands such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead are following recently – basically, it’s all free, but there’s really nothing that compares to seeing it live.

We haven’t gotten to listen to the CD yet, as this laptop does not have a CD drive, but I’m sure Bronwyn will have it on repeat for the next few weeks.

Well done, Resigned, on providing a very good night out, and we’ll talk to you tomorrow before Graham’s gig!

01 Nov

notation viewer, day 2


Spent an hour and added new abilities – you can now view music in the bass clef (and notes will be placed correctly based on that), note stems will be automatically up or down depending on staff position, and you can zoom in or out.

demo (source)

If you want to try it with your own files, create a MusicXML export (I’m using Rosegarden and NoteEdit for my own stuff), and gzip it, then place the gzipped file into the “tests” directory (for example, here).

Next step is multiple staffs, to show left and right hands simultaneously.