Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Major Scale: CAGED System

Every since I started playing guitar back around 1987, the only scale I ever learned was the minor version of the Pentatonic scale and I know all five patterns of it. Yes, the major version is the same thing with different root notes, but I never really played it and had difficulty making anything sound good when I did.

Anyway, the point of this post is to report my dissatisfaction with attempting to learn the Major scale (not Pentatonic) and all of it's patterns using the CAGED system. My issue is that every where I look on the Internet, they show different pattern blocks. One site will show pattern "A" starting with the "X" note, and the next will show it starting with a completely different note. While when playing and knowing the entire scale it doesn't matter, it does initially when I'm trying to learn it for several reasons. First, is consistency of the basic pattern! Consistency is important when learning things on the Internet some people are poor teachers or just poor at explaining some things. One person may have a very good explanation of something, but have poor examples that it is applied too that make it very difficult to understand. While another site may have very nice examples, but the person who posted it is very poor at explaining things.

Matching mixing and matching quality content of the same thing can make learning much easier. Except when they describe what you're learning completely different! I saw a nicely drawn out picture of the five different major scale patterns. It even listed the fret the first note started on (from the low E, not the root note) so you would know where each pattern started for whatever key it was in. The problem was, were it started on the G note on the low E string (3rd fret) didn't match up when it reached the G note of the higher octave. (15th fret of the low E string). As a matter a fact, it skipped right over the G note without even touching it!

I've memorized three of the patterns now to the point that I can use and mix them together and actual make something that sounds decent. I must say, since I've started learning these, I feel like I've opened so many more possibilities that I didn't have only knowing the minor Pentatonic. Everything had a big time blues sound to it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Linux, Moonlight, and MLB.com

The state of the Linux desktop has been improving quickly over the last few years, but was still never quite there. I'm a big Texas Rangers fan. (can't accuse me of being a bandwagoner!) One thing I really hated was I couldn't watch MLB.tv on Linux. If I was able to get it to work, it stunk, and then they switched to Silverlight which I really had issues with.

Well, with the baseball season revving up, I headed over to TexasRangers.com to see whats going on. Usually, I just check it out on my Blackberry during the offseason. Well, I run a dual boot at home. Ubuntu and Windows XP Pro. XP Pro when I run Windows only software or visit websites that just don't function in Linux. (ie, any MLB website when I wanted to watch video) Well, I clicked on a video and it said I needed Silverlight and ask if I wanted to install it. Sure, I said, and it started installing Moonlight which is Linux's Silverlight counterpart. Once it completed, the video ran perfectly! There was no moving plugin files, no symbolic links, no tweaking of anything, and best of all. No pop-out video player!

I can't tell you how excited I was when this happen. Combine this with Compiz / Beryl / Compiz Fusion looking like they are going to settle their issues and work together not to mention what exist looking pretty good as it stands now. I am very excited with progress of the Linux desktop. Sometimes I still have issues with sound in Linux. Not that it doesn't work, but with apps locking up during operation and locking out all sound until I kill the frozen process with the kill -9 command. That is something that must improve along with 3D on Linux. It's a shame OpenGL failed to keep pace with DirectX especially since it was created and released well before DirectX existed. Yes, you can run DirectX on Wine, but Wine is a stopgap for a bigger problem, not the answer to the problem.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Don't purchase guitars online!

So, I've made this post to vent about a guitar I puchased on the Internet. Yes, yes I know. Like many things, a guitar may not be something you want to purchase on the net due to what you might end up with. The guitar I was purchasing was brand new from a reputable retailer. (Amercian Musical Supply)

I puchased an 2007 black Ibanez RG370DX. The guitar was beautiful to look at, but it was completely out of wack when it arrived. It had clearly sat in a warehouse or something with severe temperature changes. I'm guessing it was in the warehouse during the Summer months and here in the Winter months before I purchased it.

Anyway, I worked on it the best I could (I'm not a pro guitar tech) but while I could get it playable, it was still not right. The low E string had a nasty buzz on it and even the A string had more buzz that it should have. Not even close to my current guitar. So, I took it to one of the best guitar techs in the NYC area and had him work on it. He made it even more playable, by more adjustments and even leveling a few frets that while weren't really bad, were a still not perfectly level. After all that it still wasn't right.

Needless to say, I shipped it back and got a refund for the full price of the guitar. Of course, I didn't get a refund on the tech work I had done. One thing that seems to be true among all guitar makers though. The newer the model, the more poorly it's crafted. I had a 1987 Fender Strat Squire II that I paid $160 for in 1987. I saw that same guitar on Ebay for almost $600 now. A new Start Squire today on Ebay is like $80.

So, after that nasty experience I don't think I'm going to test the waters of buying a guitar online anymore. The only reason I did this one is I got a pretty good discount on it, and you cannot find that specific model at local retailers anymore.

The whole reason for it was I was going to replace (though not get rid of) a 1997 green Ibanez RG270DX that I bought used from a local music store for $170. It had some electrical shorts, but I fixed them in 10 minutes with a soldering gun. The RG270 plays great otherwise except that it had the low end stock pickups in it. Since I do like the RG270 so much I've decided to take part of the money from the RG370 and just upgrade the pickups in it. I'm replacing the stock ones with Dimarzio ToneZone in the bridge, Dimarzio HS-3 single coil in the middle, and a Dimarzio PAF Pro for the neck. I wanted the Dimarzio Area '61 for the single coil, but it only came in white and while I love the sound, I could bare having an really odd white pickup in the middle.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

KDE 4.2 Review

KDE 4.2 has come out and word out there is that it has finally caught back up to KDE 3.5 in features. So, I upgrade my Ubuntu to 8.10 and then installed KDE 4.2.

First I would like to say that I do like KDE 4.2. It's fresh and I can see a lot of potential in what it can become. It has a lot of flash to offer and ability to customize different aspects to make it the way you want it.

Now, the downside of KDE 4.2 is that I was forced to switch back to Gnome because it crashed so often. Just adjusting the task bar caused it to crash at least ten different times. Using it to copy some music to my Blackberry cause corruption to the filesystem on my 8GB SDHC card. Then it froze my entire system causing corruption to my root filesystem. Needless to say, I had to boot from a rescue disk and fsck my root filesystem. Once I fixed the filesytem damage, I log back on with the intension of switching back to Gnome and it freezes again, this time corrupting the current kernel making my default boot corrupt. Lucky, I keep the last three kernels bootable.

I booted from an older kernel and from the login menu I chose Gnome and logged in. Removed the newest kernel and then reinstalled it. Everything now runs fine. I still have the KDE login menu, but it logs into the Gnome desktop.

With what I saw in KDE 4.2 I can't wait for KDE 4.3, but KDE 4.2 just isn't usable.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Chess Tactics Server

As tactics are one of the best ways to improve your game, consistent study of tactics is important. There are many ways to do this and one of the most common are tactic books. The problem with many tactic books is that they can have a host of errors in them. My absolute favorite way to study tactics is the Chess Tactics Server.

While overall it's not perfect (which I will discuss later), It is the best and most enjoyable way to study tactics. Not only are you trying to solve tactical issues, it sets you up like a real game. The server shows you the board and them moves for your opponent after six seconds and it becomes your turn. You are also timed on how long it takes you to move and your score for solving the problem is altered by how long it takes you to solve the problem. This includes getting a negative score for taking too long to solve the problem!

There are currently almost 24 thousand problems to solve (way more than any book you can buy!) all of them pre-rated on their level of difficulty. The ratings used at the Chess Tactics Server are based on the Glicko rating system.

The negatives of the server are minimal, but sometimes annoying. First, it doesn't check for legal moves. Of course if you're studying tactics, I'm sure you actually know what is a legal move is. Sometimes you may accidentally click on a square adjacent to the correct square causing an incorrect answer. While this is something I would fulled accept if I clicked on an actual legal move by mistake, I find it extremely annoying if it wasn't a legal move in the first place. While I understand it was my mistake, in an actual game of chess you are not allowed to make that move and are required to correct the problem. Though if you place a piece on a legal square by accident, you aren't allowed to correct that problem.

Even though I don't like it allowing illegal moves, that doesn't detract my overall enjoyment of the Chess Tactics Server. I would love to get a version of this for my mobile phone that I could update with any new tactics that may come out. My commute on the train to and from work everyday would become so much more enjoyable!

On that note, I give the Chess Tactics Server a rating of a 5 out of 5 stars. I would give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars due to my one issue, but with every other tactics studying tools (books, etc) being so poor in keeping my attention, it's hard not to give it 5 stars. The dimensions it adds like showing opponents move first, having fully rated problems, rating your progress and even basing your ratings on how long it takes to complete a problem make it truly enjoyable. It creates a challenging game out of tactics study.

The Chess Tactics Server is a first class study aid and first class enjoyment!

Until next time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

REVIEW: Rapid Chess Improvement (Michael de la Maza)

First thing I want to note is that I have not read this book. I have on the other hand read a pair of PDF files from ChessCafe.com called 400 points in 400 days that was written by Michael de la Maza and appears to be exactly what is in the book from what I saw scanning through the book at Barns and Noble. The only difference is the PDFs appeared to only be the meat of the subject without all the page filling fluff.

The first thing I would like to say is I agree with de la Maza's methodologies of training tactics and the fact that early on the better you are at tactics, the better you will be at Chess. What I disagree with is his philosophy that about learning openings, middle game, and endings. He believes they are not important until you begin training to obtain Master level. de la Maza states that if you setup a Chess game with two computer opponents and set one to master level on positional Chess and the other at master level in tactics that the master level opponent in tactics will win most games. I agree with de la Maza, but that doesn't make it the correct philosophy to train at Chess!

Look at it this way. Say we have two players who study Chess 10 hours a week. John only trains tactics for 10 hours a week. Bob trains tactics 9 hours a week, but also studies positional Chess like openings and middle game the last hour of each week. John maybe a bit stronger at tactics, but his tactics are going to be harder to implement when Bob has a much more soundly defended position. Bob on the other hand will have his strong tactical knowledge and what will amount to a less sound position to attack because of John's lack of knowledge when it comes to the positional Chess game.

One of the first things you are taught in Chess is that any advantage you have over your opponent puts you in a better position to win. Having at least a basic understanding of positioning in Chess is a great advantage to have over an opponent that doesn't. Even if it cost you an hour a week of tactical training.

You want to improve your Chess quickly? Train long and hard at tactics. That I agree with de la Maza and recommend his book. Just do not completely discard what positional Chess can do for you. If you're serious about Chess, you cannot discard it.

Until next time.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The failure of books about openings

I find most books about openings or even books that talk about openings almost a complete failure. Openings are so much more important than (Ruy Lopez) 1. e4, e5 2. Nf3, Nc6, etc. You find books that talk about the Ruy Lopez and they talk about other Ruy Lopez variations. What most of them don't tell you is that say you decide you want to play the Roy Lopez, your opponent doesn't have to follow the Ruy Lopez or any of its variation's pre-written moves.

What does that mean to the player? Well, if you following the opening even though your opponent is doing something completely different, there is a chance he/she could exploit a weakness in your position. Different variations in openings are created to protect or exploit different weaknesses in your or your opponent's defenses. It means if you don't understand the opening and its positional consequences then you are in a position of weakness. The weakness can come in two forms. Positionally on the Chess board and the fact that you do not understand your position. Your move could be positionally sound and considered a strong (!!) move, but because you don't understand it, you may not be able to exploit it as well as fall victim to its weakness.

My problem with books that show openings but do not explain the positional meanings is that they teach you nothing. The algebraic notation for Chess openings are all over the Internet and you do not need a book for that. Walking you through almost an entire game using an opening is not necessary either. In my opinion, a book should be about a single opening. It should explain the opening, the theory behind the opening, its positional strengths and weaknesses and best moves for at least the top 10 most likely opponent moves, the best counter moves per game turn up until development is pretty much complete.

Understand, this would make for a huge book and yet it would pretty much only discuss a single opening with a few variations based on your opponent's decisions. Understanding all aspects and theories behind an opening should lead to better positioning when entering the middle game which will lead to better Chess.

The reason I write this post is because never once in my minimal amount of Chess playing have I ever had someone follow more than four moves into an opening. Well, at least an opening that I know the moves of anyway. When that happens, I tend to get exposed in my positions. Sometimes I'm able to recover and maybe even pull out a win. Other times my position gets exposed and it turns ugly quickly. Especially against players over 200 point above me.

Until next time.