Fun Guitar Stuff

January 7, 2008

Wandering around, I came across a piece of software (haven’t gotten to try it yet, however) called “Guitar & Drum Trainer” from Renegade Minds. It allows you to play mp3’s and slow them down to make the track easier to learn. It also has some fun live graphs and charts while the track plays.

I’m curious about combining a tool like this with some good old fashioned cheater tabs (like at guitaretab.com). While learning to play (some semblance?) of the track, you can play along at a speed more comfortable to your skill level and then speed up to true tempo. I’m thinking this would be much easier than struggle trying to keep up with the track from the start.

Also, from guitartab.com, I found guitartricks.com. Seems like a neat concept … video lessons contributed by various instructors in many different musical styles. As of this writing, they are doing 24 free lessons and then only $10.95/month for full access. I’m curious how the quality of each lesson is (video, sound, and instructional effectiveness) … maybe I’ll give it a shot one of these days.

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Trying To Capture The Holiday Lights

January 5, 2008

After my meeting last night, I drove around downtown for a bit in search of the building they have lit up for the holidays (shown on the news and stuff as filler video). I finally found it, and after circling a few times in the dark, I found parking.

Even with a tripod, I’m still moving too much (I think) for clear shots, but I did get a few that are tolerable. Here’s one:

Holiday Lights

(Focal length: 38mm, 1/1.3 sec @ F/5, 0 EV, ISO 200)

And a fun one out of focus (intentionally)

Out of focus fun

(Focal length: 200mm, 1/2.5 sec @ F5.6, 0 EV, ISO 720)

It seems my Nikon D70 won’t let me use the timer in Manual mode, so I’m sure I contributed a bit of shake from handling and button pushing. Does this *really* make me want a new 18-200mm VR Nikor lens? YES! And I really need to get around to getting a remote control “clicker”, too.

Also, a new body would be cool, with a larger LCD screen. The D70 is a great camera, but the tiny LCD screen is hard for me to see how I’m doing and do course corrections in the field (when you need to do it).

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Venturing Out Part 2 – Non-Socrates Method Meeting

January 5, 2008

I went to another meeting last night … similar but different to the Socrates Cafe. Ironically, our meandering topic intersected with some of the discussion of the night before, but the format is essentially a self-regulating free-for-all. Over all, I think it worked, although there were times where I found myself tuning out as we continued to beat a dead horse when someone didn’t “get it”, and we got stuck in a vicious cycle.

The characters at this meeting are very interesting as well … as much as I was able to infer from those who interactively participated. One plus for this sort of format is the lack of bottling up your thoughts until you want to explode, but yet will never really have a way of sharing your views, as is the case with the Socrates method implementation. This informal method doesn’t require everyone to participate, so that is a downside, but there are likely cases where someone just has nothing to contribute. Since they are never put on the spot, they may be more likely to continue to attend and suddenly find themselves in a position where they *do* have something to contribute.

During the discussion, a statement from (seemingly multiple discussions) 4 years ago was resurrected, and that led to an interesting discussion, as well as insight about some of the members. I believe the statement was “The rock is spirit”, which lead to a full, but yet off-topic, discussion about if the “rock *has* spirit”, and the concept of “spirit” itself. After exploring this path, another redirection of the topic became the effect of specific phrasing and how it affects the intent of the speaker vs the understanding of the listener, and how that can radically change the conversation. In this case, the two statements are completely different, and caused the contributors to go off on a totally different path. My conclusion, concise language is critical, but also that modern language alone cannot consistently convey the speaker’s true intent.

In any case, one of the contributors decided the best path to research the “rock *has* spirit” statement was through the American Indian beliefs, and he did so with great effort. He claims to understand, to some extent, the commonality across their belief structure, and, in their world view, the rock does indeed embody the common spirit. He has, also through his extensive research, decided to become a Christian, and therefor is at odds with the Indian belief structure. I find I do have great respect for him in the sense that he is willing to research and consider “facts” that he may ultimately decide are untrue, but he seems willing to concede that others may believe them to be true (although he “knows” them to be false). This, of course, brings me back to the conversation about what is a truth and how we accept a truth (the make up of supporting “facts” vs “faith”).

Do I think the rock *has* spirit or *is* spirit? I think I don’t know! I do know there are a lot of “things” out there that I cannot detect with my human sensory inputs, but yet they do exist. I may not be able to define them, and certainly not in our limited language structure, but I believe they do exist (more “faith” than “fact” support).

Consider the idea that when people refer to “spirit” or “connectedness” or “<fill in the blank>”, they are often thinking in religious connotations. Consider that a lot of religious concepts were (and still are) employed to justify things we see or think may happen (the Greeks and Romans had individual gods for much of these mysterious tasks, such as lightening). We now “know” that lightening is a result of charged particles in the atmosphere, but if we didn’t “know” that, would Zeus still be a part of our daily lives?

The Christian religion has dumped all of these great responsibilities on one God, who really should attend some management seminars and learn to delegate better (it’s a joke, get over it!). Regardless of the differences between the Greek/Roman gods and Christianity’s God, the underlying responsibility for what makes these charged particles exist and do what they do is because it is His will.

So, following along, as science learns more about how things work, they are finding more and more proof of how “things” (people, objects, gases, etc) interact and interrelate at a sub-atomic level. Could science be starting to get closer to describing with language and formulas this “spirit” or “connectedness”?

Just as with lightening, we, as a collection of societies, can allow multiple explanations for things we hold true. Acceptance of this allows us to consider that science vs religion does not need to be absolutely diametrically opposed, or one *must* be wrong. There are obviously some areas that are in direct conflict, but that is not the point of this proposition.

Final answer, do I believe the rock *has* spirit or *is* spirit (or both)? Still don’t know, but I still believe there is a lot of possibility out there and that I don’t know so much that don’t even know, I cannot draw a conclusion yet. (my “gap” is made up of more skepticism than faith, I suppose?) I’d like to think that such a thing does exist, but perhaps that’s just the human desire to gravitate toward being social vs isolation.

Back to the group conversations, did I enjoy both experiences? Sure. Will I become a weekly contributor? Who knows. I know I’m certainly interested in adding additional data points to my experience with both in order to draw a better conclusion.

We’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.

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The “Absolute Truth”, and My Foray Back Into Civilization

January 3, 2008

OK, so I finally got out of the house and tried to go talk to human beings in person (I work from home … long hours). Naturally, I started it easy by going to a meetup of the “Socrates Cafe” group, and the topic was “Is it possible to have philosophical inquiry without positing absolutes?”, and a corollary of “If philosophical inquiry incorporates absolutes, how is it different from religion?”. Yeah, my head is still swimming …

A nice fellow, Andy, ran the meeting since the organizer, John, wasn’t able to make it, and I think he did a pretty good job of balancing passionate and interesting speech with the point were it becomes soap boxing. The format of the meeting follows the Socratic method which has both advantages and disadvantages. I’m not sure what the ideal group size is, but it seemed that our group was perhaps a person or three too big, as it took a long time to get around the circle. Also, not knowing the other players, it made it difficult for me to select the victim for my question and follow-up, so I picked on the topic presenter (who I also sorta know since he’s my father 🙂 ).

Since the topic was a good philosophical topic, i.e. dealing in the definitions of “absolute” and the belief in “absolute”, it naturally lead to a lot of semi-off topic or tangential or just completely “what??” questions and answers. But that in itself was interesting in the manner that each person interpreted the topic and how that shaped their questions and answers.

One gentleman certainly sounded like he wanted everyone to believe that he was very smart, and spouted chapter and verse of the classic philosophers (Plato, et al), but I never did figure out what *he* thought or believed. Perhaps, he believes that what he thinks they said that is right is absolutely right, and he is smart enough to know which parts of their dissertations were right and which were not. I couldn’t tell for sure, but he certainly sounded confident that he was absolutely right. I will concede that he was extremely passionate and excited about hearing himself educate us, but he talked so fast that I had to concentrate to keep tuned in.

Anyway, this brings me to the term “absolute” and its variants. It was part of the core of the conversation. I commented that I found the term “absolute truth” odd since “truth” should be “true”, so the “absolute” part is basically redundant, no? Do we consider that “truth” has degrees to it, and at which point is the “truth” “close enough” to be considered “true” or “absolute”?

Pondering this, it made me consider the following:

The gap between what we believe is “truth” or “fact” and what actually *is* the (absolute?) truth or fact defines our level of uncertainty. As, in many cases, we may never know if we have determined the truth in its finality (i.e. “absolute”), however we may *believe* we have gotten “close enough” to consider something the truth or a fact.

That gap is significant.

In fact, I would propose considering referring to that gap as “faith” (not necessarily religious based). As that gap becomes smaller, the leap-of-faith to consider the “fact” as “truth” becomes easier to swallow, but still, to accept the “fact” as “absolute truth” requires accepting it based on all of its current merits (proofs, probability, sensory confirmation, etc) as well as some amount of “gut”. As Stephen Colbert points out, never let facts get in the way of the truth. 🙂

Consider the situation where the gap between belief in a truth and its absolute version is larger. For example, I believe that electrons flow through the power lines and make my electrical devices function. However, I’ve yet to *see* an electron move, much less even feel them shuffling their way through my power cord. I can remember some of my electrical theory and that fosters this belief that I have in the “truth” that electrons flow through a seemingly solid copper wire and make stuff go. But since *I* cannot prove what is precisely happening to the extent that it is an “absolute” truth, I have a component of “faith” that fills in the gaps in my direct knowledge. This is necessary to support my belief that the proposition that electrons flow through the copper wire and make things go is “true”. We have plenty of evidence that this is true (hey, my monitor *is* lit up, and if I lick the power cord, I get a nice ZAP!), but we also had a lot of evidence that the world is _FLAT_ — we no longer believe in that “truth”, however.

Taken to the extreme, we have “truths” that are based more on faith than discernible “facts”. As I understand my father’s definition of religion, a religious truth is something you *know* to be true, in spite of a potential lack of perceivable evidence (for or against is insignificant). To me, this is the ultimate “gap filler” for a “truth”, and may be the only way that one can fully believe a “fact” to be the “absolute truth”, as I fully believe that all things we consider a “truth” have some component of faith within their proof.

And that’s the Absolute Truth!

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More Gluten Free / Casein Free Info And Links

December 12, 2007

Here are some more quick notes from some documentation that I had created for the caretakers involved with J:

  • No more eating out (there are a *few* safe restaurants, but we’re being very selective because of cross-contamination … if the owner/operator has Celiacs disease, the chances of it being safe are *much* better, as they should understand the consequences) … the CF part, however, is less common
  • No more McD’s chicken nuggets, fries, etc. no more pizza, mac-n-cheese, or cheese for that matter
  • No more cheese sticks, singles, or BUTTER
  • No more milk or milk products!
  • MINIMUM soy products … soy supposedly has a chemical makeup very similar to casein … in a few months, if he’s showing improvement, and it looks like his “Leaky gut” (if that’s what he has) is much more healed, we may use some additional soy products
  • We have to be *extremely* vigilant with his eating when not at home (i.e. school, therapy, etc). We are preparing a letter detailing his GF/CF diet to release to all of his caretakers. Luckily, most of them are familiar with the diet, so it’s more a notice than to educate
  • We’ll have to start making his lunch and snacks to send with him to school, too
  • There are quite a few GF products now in the specialty sections as well as the “health”-type stores … HOWEVER, they may not be CF, so we have to be extra careful
  • Certain cookware will have to be for J’s food only (like anything cast iron or anything we can’t be 100% sure we are getting completely clean/safe)
  • Even some juice is suspect because of the additives and colorings

Everywhere J goes, he carries his lunchbox with GF/CF snacks in it. That way, if we are delayed getting somewhere, he always has safe foods to eat.

More information and links …

Somewhat understandable article about the GF/CF – Autism connection.

Scientific article with information about the GF/CF – Autism connection.

Food manufacturer in Australia (Whole Foods carries them): Orgran

Deby’s Gluten Free (link) – Local bakery in Denver, CO (but they ship, too) – they also have a small restaurant, and it sounds like they may be changing their name and also getting some products in King Soopers! They already provide product to some local restaurants (like Beau Jo’s mountain pizza), but since we have to worry about the casein free component, eating out is pretty much not happening.

Link to video on Good Morning America here.

Vitamins from Kirkman are recommended in a enhanced dosage by autism.com … we ordered a “trial” size of the 2 powders and most of the liquids (except those w/o Vit A & D).

Candia may also be an issue, so, it’s on the hit list after we see how the GF/CF diet goes. Some treatments like ThreeLac seem to get good reviews, but we want to make only one change at a time.

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Gluten Free / Casein Free / Soy Free (usually) foods that we like

December 11, 2007

I’m going to try to put together a list of GF/CF/SF foods that we’ve been using for our nephew J (who has Autism). Hopefully, this gives someone a head start on their own GF/CF adventure.

Keep in mind that ingredients change over time, so always do your own homework and call the company (almost all products have 800 numbers on them now) and verify everything. I spent a few hours shopping the stores and calling on my cell phone right there in the aisle. Just do it!

Milk Substitute

We’ve tried rice milk (often not “safe” per the packaging), almond milk, hazelnut milk, even hemp milk (can’t do soy milk). We’ve settled on Almond Breeze almond milk by Diamond. They have a sweetened (with evaporated cane juice, not sucrose) and non-sweetened. I prefer the sweetened, my wife prefers the unsweetened (I think it tastes too nutty, where the sweetened tastes more like 2% milk to me). J seems to like either, but we bought a bunch of the sweetened at the Vitamin Cottage when they had a per-case deal. We use the vanilla flavor for use on cereal or cooking (it’s a bit more watery than 2% cowmilk and not enough fat to make a good binder, tho) or just drinking. We use chocolate flavor for drinking because he (and I) like it! We also found some “juice box” sized containers from Pacific that we use for travel, when we can put it in a sports drink bottle for him.

Pasta

J *loves* pasta, and I can’t blame him! At first, that seemed like one of the harder ones to solve, but actually, I think we’ve found some really good substitutes. There are some that are made from brown rice that are very popular, but I actually don’t care for them as much (will get the brand some other day).

The ones we use the most are made by Mrs. Leepers and are made from CORN. They have corn pasta spirals that work very well for us, and he likes them with “butter” sauce (Fleishman’s unsalted margarine sticks, yellow box, green ribbon) or red sauce (just a decent tomato sauce that is GF/CF/SF).

Mrs. Leepers also makes a tri-colored radiator pasta (I think it’s brown rice based) as well as a tri-color spirals (may also be rice based) … he likes both of them, too.

Oragam makes some nice products as well as Dr. Schure (forget the actual spelling). More info on them later.

Hot Dogs

What kid doesn’t love hot dogs? Normally, we’d head right for the Hebrew Nation product, as I think they have the best taste, but they use soy in their products. If you are only on a GF/CF diet, get Hebrew nation, but if you are also SF, look for Bar-S brand. We’ve found them in Safeway, King Soopers, and even Walmart. Per their website, all of their products are GF/CF/SF except for their corndogs.

Butter / Margarine

So, no milk products, so butter and all of its friends are right out. Even a lot of margarines have soy in them as an emulsifier. We found Fleishman’s unsalted margarine sticks (yellow box, green ribbon) is safe, per the manufacturer. It is unsalted, so we just add some kosher or sea salt to the mix and it all works out. It doesn’t really add the qualities of butter, as it melts more into just an oil, so that’s a little disappointing, but considering we can’t do milk products, cream is pretty hard to come by.

If you can do soy, there are a lot more choices out there, but we don’t so I can’t really tell you about them.

Cheese

Sorry, we’re at a dead end here — we’ve only found one thing that was GF/CF/SF and they wouldn’t even use it on Fear Factor.

Juice

Most juices are OK, but you have to be careful with anything using artificial coloring. Some artificial coloring isn’t GF, so we just stick with pure products — besides, they taste better. Our apple juice has “apple juice” in it. Simple, eh?

Meat

Most meats are OK, but deli meats (roast beef, turkey, etc) may have non-GF/CF safe ingredients. Boars Head is safe per the manufacturer, and I think it tastes better than a lot of the other brands out there (bonus!). Also, we’re not willing to try rotisserie chicken for the same reason … it’s too hard to know what the seasoning and prep ingredients are. Most seafoods seem to be OK, in the unseasoned state … anything that is a “prepared” food, do your homework and error on the side of caution.

Breakfast Cereal

We’ve tried a few of the GF/CF cereals out there and the best (and most kid friendly) we’ve found is by Envirokidz. The kids like:

  • Gorilla Munch (like Kix?)
  • Koala Crisp (Coco Pebbles)
  • Amazon Frosted Flakes

They didn’t care for the Panda Puffs (peanut butter), but I liked them. They are very good cereals made from simple ingredients (evaporated cane juice instead of sucrose again) and taste very good. NOT ALL ENVIROKIDZ CEREALS ARE GF/CF!! Be careful and read the labels.

We tried a granola type cereal and it just tasted and felt like clumps of sawdust.

Snacks

Well, cereal is always easy, and there are some very good GF/CF “cereal” and fruit bars out there. Gluteno makes some, but double check the labels. LARABAR bars are very, very good and are GF/CF/SF/kosher/etc/etc … just simple, pure ingredients.

Popcorn! We buy Safeway’s store brand *organic* microwave popcorn (unbuttered). Simple ingredients, and I confirmed with the 800 number they were safe. This popcorn tastes so good, in a blind taste test, you’d swear there was butter on it. J has a sandwich sized ziptop bag of popcorn in his snack box at all times (unless he’s just eaten it!).

…more to come…

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Our experience with Gluten Free / Casein Free and AUTISM

December 11, 2007

So, we’ve been hearing about the positive effects that a Gluten Free / Casein Free (milk products) diet can have on kids on the autism spectrum, but we like to try to make only a few changes at a time, so we can observe the results as accurately as possible. We have some family members with Celiac disease, so we are familiar with the Gluten Free restrictions, but Casein Free is a new challenge for us.

Even worse, some of J’s favorite foods include Mac & Cheese, breads, cheese, MILK (glug glug), and more pasta. See the problem here?

To add even more complexity, there seems to be some concern about eating Soy as well, so we’ve attempted to eliminate that as well. Well, that makes cheese substitutes just about non-existent. We did find one almond cheese that did not appear to have any casein or soy, and it tasted … well, bad.

So, we finally jumped in the water, and it was *not* easy. But, if there was a chance that this could help, even 10%, it would be completely worth the effort! We started poking around in August 2007 and seriously started implementing it in September 2007. They recommend you don’t try to go “cold turkey”, but we worked around that by allowing some comfort foods that we couldn’t eliminate immediately anyway. It seems to have worked out OK.

One thing that we do is we taste *everything* we give to J … if we wouldn’t eat it, unless he says he likes it, we don’t make him eat it.

Overall, we’ve been able to replace his diet with on that is GF/CF/SF (soy free, for the most part), and the results seem to be very encouraging. Just over 3 months later, he does seem to be more lucid when he communicates,;we are seeing more spontaneous conversational communication (not just stuff like “school bus!” when he sees a school bus, but real conversational bits); he’s “home” more often and has been able to accommodate more intricate tasks requested of him; etc.

Some of the things that he’s done just out of nowhere makes your jaw drop — it’s amazing.

Now, lately, he’s been in a bit of a funk because of the transition back to the parents, but when he’s not in the middle of a regressive behavior, his skill performance has definately increased. Also, we do expect regular progress because we *know* he’s capable of mainstreaming — it’s just a mater of work on everyone’s part to help him get there, but the progress he’s made in some areas does seem pretty encouraging.

Of course, all of this is still purely anecdotal evidence at best, and we’re trying to be as objective and pessimistic as possible, but we’re still pretty happy. 2-3 word phrases have become 4-5 word phrases in short order, and although his need for prompting has remained fairly high (which we attribute to stress and anxiety from the transition and uncertainty), the intensity of the prompt (gesture or a single word vs a phrase or full sentence or physical prompt) has greatly reduced.

We’ve been doing as much as we can to work with the parents to find foods that he likes and are easy for them to prepare … we cook a lot at home, but with their schedules, that’s not as likely, so we are trying to help them find foods that will work, rather than them put him back on a McD diet out of convenience.

We have a Whole Foods / Wild Oats that we shopped at a lot to get started, but we’ve been able to find more products at the local Safeway and King Soopers, too … also at the Vitamin Cottage (locally owned chain) as well as some Internet mail order sites. I probably should do a separate post for the foodstuffs, as this one is already long enough, plus I think I can edit it after the fact to modify the list.

Short story, we think it worked for J. I don’t know how much time we’ll get with him after the transition, so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to observe his behavior and also get accurate data on how his diet maintenance has been going, but if I do, I’ll post updates.

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