I cannot lift this.

The 13th Warrior is not an especially good movie, and it is not an especially good translation of the Crichton book either.  That said, there is one part in it which I really liked when I saw this, what, 12 years ago? and I still like it today.  It comes to mind quite frequently.

The basic plot of the movie is that a smaller Arab fighter is recruited against his will to fight alongside Vikings, who are simply indifferent to him, ignoring him, speaking in their own language, and giving him exactly zero support.  He is left to figure things out himself.  Wikipedia says "Ahmed learns Norse during their journey by listening intently to their conversations. He is looked down upon by the huge Norsemen, who mock his physical weakness and his small Arabian horse..." which seems approximately consistent with my memory--it HAS been 10+ years since I saw it.

At one point, they are off to battle and someone chucks him a giant 2-handed sword to defend himself with (he's used to a sabre or something closer to a rapier):

Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan (reproachfully): I cannot lift this.
Herger the Joyous: (laughs) Grow stronger!

Honestly, 95% of the time in response to complaining or analyzing why something didn't go the way I wanted, this is all I need.  I can lament about luck or failing to reach my goals or the problem being located extrinsically...  Grow stronger!  And it's not just for complaints, either.  I actually feel pretty energized by this most of the time.

Theorems of hobbies and music, random musings

Not particularly scrabbly content continues...

1.  A hobby is an activity that brings your imperfections to light so that you may loathe them, and by extension, yourself.

2.  Learning a musical instrument is the kinesthetic process of turning songs you love into songs you hate.

I started writing this post last Wednesday after I had my lesson on Tuesday night.  It's Tuesday again now, so I've had another week to gain perspective :)

I had played 16-odd bars of Ode to Joy perhaps 200 times in the 10 days leading up to last Tuesday, in addition to a lot of other songs.  I used to quite like the melody, but I've heard myself play it (badly) so many times that I was about ready to snap.  There's a lot to take in, and I found it pretty frustrating to know what I want to do but have some failing in:

-- fingering
-- picking
-- sight reading
-- thumb positioning
-- in general, tone.

I played all of my songs a bunch and then when I got to my lesson last week, I performed really poorly.  He played along with me a couple of times, and the aural feedback in my ear was something I wasn't used to, and I literally couldn't play a lick.  Everything was confused, and I made a ton of mistakes--performance anxiety in front of someone sort of seems what it was like, but I wasn't really nervous or anything.  I completely understand that I am paying this guy to hear my mistakes and have him suggest things to make it better.  I did get flustered, and skronked my way through 30 minutes.  He was really nice about it and of course I was disappointed that I wasn't able to show off the best version of what I could do, but c'est la vie.

Adding to this was that I didn't have a pick that was the same thickness as I'd been practicing with--all I had was some really flimsy thing that I honestly might as well throw out, so everything just was all goofy.  It's a mental note to get everything together so that I'm ready to go for the lesson.  Also, I find that it takes almost half an hour to warm up and really feel like I've got it together enough to play as well as I can.  After 75-90 minutes my left hand just starts to get too tired, so it's the classic inverted U shape for performance.  Tonight we've got an Xmas concert for the kids, so I won't get to warm up before my lesson, so I guess I'm sort of prepared for another skronkfest.

Just like anything, there are also good days of practice, where things feel more effortless, and bad days, where I can't do anything quite the way I want to.  My wife said "it's the practices that feel bad that you learn the most from."  I guess a lot of it is practicing the stuff and letting your brain rewire overnight to have your fingers do what they're supposed to.

Other things I've started to do:  

-- regularly have a metronome on when strumming and practicing my songs.  I hope this helps me develop my sense of rhythm rather than just becoming a crutch.  Time will tell, I suppose.
-- learn some scale patterns (just major and pentatonic) in closed positions
-- strum chords and practice transitions between them.  This is slow and painful.  My left hand gets pretty tired pretty quickly, but I figure even if I'm not achieving all that much musically, this has to be done over the period of weeks, it will help build up calluses, will make my hand muscles stronger in the exact range of movement that they need to be stronger, work on my rhythm, etc.  On goes the metronome and I go until my hand is too sore to do it anymore :)
-- work on some music theory worksheets in all my copious spare time
I miss being able to work on it over the lunch hour, like I used to be able to drill words for an hour.  That adds up to 200 hours of practice a year (ok, gotta eat lunch too, and could do that while hitting the space bar but not playing guitar) that is wasted.  Someone should invent something.

One goal is to get good enough by next December (that's a year) that I can reward myself by choosing a nice, expensive-ish acoustic guitar and choose it based on how well it plays for me, and what tones I like best.  

Guitar Zero

Having fun with lots more practice.  Since I'm starting a really basic music program, I had lots of work assigned on strings 1 and 2 this week.  It's not particularly musical (in fact, some of is more likely to amusia than amuse ya) but hey, fundamentals are important so I grind them cheerfully like learning the 2s.

It's possible to try and make something interesting out of most of these things, anyhow: one "song" on the very first page was titled "Spanish Theme" and goes 


So rather than just treating it as a fingering exercise I was trying to figure out some sort of chord that would end it to replace the final E, and what sort of scale it was in.  So I settled on Am as what I thought fit best with the music.  I talked with my teacher about it yesterday and he said he thought the song fit best into a Phrygian scale (I mean, we're playing 3 notes here).  He thought that Am did fit nicely; he also suggested E, and said even C if you wanted to be sort of janty or even whimsical.  He finished with "of course there's no 'right' answer here."

I have some other piece titled "Blues" on page 2 of this book which is something like (sorry, from memory)

BBDE | GEDC | BBDE | G F |  BBDE | GEDC | BBDE | G G |  and then some more, finishing with DDDD | CCCC | BBDE | G G

which is pretty uninteresting as written with quarter notes in 4/4, but if you put a blues shuffle to it, it actually sounds quite a lot better, at least to my ear!

I actually almost deleted this post because it shows what an amazingly massive beginner I am and I really hate not projecting competence.  I know this is like a scrabble post about 

AA is actually a word; it means lava!

But whatever... I've been enjoying the guitar and writing about it is fun too.  This week I'm all Yankee Doodle and Love Me Tender and Ode to Joy and Rockin Robin and Au Clair de Lune, as per Zamez' recommendation ;-)

Learning an instrument as an adult

My 5-year old son has been playing piano for about 10 weeks now and (admittedly, everyone thinks their kids are special and unique snowflakes) he seems to definitely be showing some aptitude for it.  He's a bright little fellow who is good at symbol translation of any sort--reading, math, and now it seems music too.  

  I took maybe 3 years of piano lessons as a 8-11 year old.  I recall practicing unenthusiastically and very rarely, and being more interested in watching TV or reading a book or playing games on the Apple II+ or just generally having freedom to do nothing.  As a result, I made very little progress from an objective standpoint. 

I like to have a project to improve on.  It's one of the things I enjoy most in life.  Fast forward a quarter of a century, put away varying degrees of obsessiveness on

chess: a hard game where I plateaued in skill, and competitive nerves made unfun,
World of Warcraft for a couple of years:  feels like improvement, but is an illusion, since no change in ME is actually ever made--there's no skill, just time.  Never again will I work on an improvement project which does not result in improvements in ME and what I can do
Scrabble:  less hard game but with the same competitive issues I still have
Starcraft II:  never got as serious as scrabble: didn't train, so never got quite as annoyed, but never got good, and eventually plateaued and learned to ragequit

Working with my son has (re?)kindled some interest in music theory and playing an instrument for me as well.  A few weeks ago, I took the plunge and bought an electric guitar.  I figure that all that cardboxing taught me how well a regimen of study/practice, applied daily over the course of a couple of years, can lead to real improvement.  

I also started guitar lessons, since I'm basically a blank slate, and I believe in shaving on someone else's face.  Why learn a bunch of bad habits and then have to correct them later?  My first lesson was a couple of weeks ago with a substitute teacher for the guy who will actually be teaching me.  I could have deferred but I was excited and wanted to give it a whirl.  

The guy I got (the sub) was a 20-something guy who played in a band.  It was pretty clear this guy didn't have much experience teaching guitar, and wasn't all that interested.  It was his last lesson of the day, he knows I'm some guy who's bought a guitar and is here for his very first lesson ever.  He spent as much time talking about how my fingers were going to kill and look at his fingers and boy is it hot in here and if you want to look cool don't play in classical position as anything.  He wrote down a bit of tab for me to practice and tried to sort of wrap up after 20 minutes of a 30 minute lesson.  He also was pretty quick to say "hey, do whatever feels good" and "the beatles didn't know how to read music and look how they did" and "all sorts of amazing players have funny technique" and "use whatever you find on the internet, man".

I left this lesson pretty discouraged about the lesson quality.  I mean, I mostly know how to educate myself using books and the internet.  I don't need to pay anyone $22.50/half hour to tell me to go look on the internet.  I don't need to pay anyone to tell me "do it whatever way is easiest for you right now."  I can read "place the left hand on the fretboard with your main finger oriented topwise and your pick transversely contrapositive (20 degrees magnetic north) to the strings" and try and translate that into playing.  What I want from a guitar teacher is someone who can save me the hours of trying to figure out that sentence and you know, help me put my fingers in the right configuration.  And here I mean "right" in the sense of "it might be tougher now, but you'll have less to unlearn later if you decide you want to play more technical pieces."

So I went to my second lesson with some trepidation and plans to finish out the introductory set of 8 lessons if this guy was a dud too and find another guitar school if necessary.  Was worrying about it being awkward still taking my son to his piano lessons at this music place while moving on myself, etc.  I googled the name of my actual teacher and found out he was a first year music student and figured he might be more of the same.

After my second lesson (the first with my real teacher), I left elated.  He's a young guy, probably early 20s, but the difference between him and Subby McRunouttheclock was night and day.  He's been playing for 14 years, teaching for 6 and half.  He's a classical guitarist so he has lots of technique.  He's a first year music student, but he's been in university a few more years than that (i.e. not a 17 year old out of high school).  He can communicate to me on a really analytical level, which I appreciate.  I had a whole bunch of questions about hand technique and he patiently explained best practices.  I asked about his plan for teaching, and he said that depended on me--did I want to learn to play some rock (learn some chords and licks, dick around), or did I want to do music and theory?  I said the latter, and he got me going on a book/program.  It appeals to me for a number of reasons:  I'm interested in the theory, I'm pretty sure I'll benefit from and embrace a structured program (in the same way I was able to create a program for myself for scrabble word learning) and regular focus, and I figure if I learn the fundamentals from a beginner program with a teacher's help to correct mistakes before they become bad habits, I can branch out to whatever musical specifics turn out to interest me in a couple of years: right now, learning blues and classic rock are my leanings.  I don't have music running through my head all the time, or any burning desire to compose right now, or anything like that.  I'd like to spend a little time getting my technical chops up--like in Scrabble, just being able to find most of the bingos gets you quite a long way--and over time pick up the "strategy" of music. 

Anyhow--I was excited about the fact that I'm going to learn to do something new and neat, and that I found a teacher that I think I can really work with.


Wherein I played 3 games with George. I cannot ever remember being luckier than last night. Haven't studied a word in a year+, at a bar, didn't care about the outcome... of course it all comes together. Total randomness.

Incidents of luckworthiness:

--Averaged 504 over 3 games, all the blanks against 302 average.

--Played 10 bingos to his 1

-- ZAed or AXed or XIed at least 3 or 4 times 50+

--Edleyed tiles out of the bag repeatedly.

Game 1:

From BFLNRRW, I play off BR(E)W and accidentally draw 4. I turn them all up and laugh, showing George BUUS and ask him if I should just throw the S back. He reminds me that I should hide them and he'll pick 3. Oh, right. He turns up BUU and throws back the B (bad luck for him on the S!!) and I play UNFURLS for 87. COME ON!

Game 2:

From JINRTUV I reluctantly decide on JUT(S) for 22 keeping INRV. I think to myself, "well, there's an open O there, just need an E for an OVER word. So I'll play it. Like... OVERNI ... CE. " This is my EXACT thought, and the ONLY OVER word I think of. I then draw E. C. E. I am not making this up.

Game 3:

Turn 1 I go second. DFLORST. He hangs an E.
Turn 2: ALNOPST. There are hanging A,O,R.

-- I get to win a few lucky challenges. He plays WAGONET* on turn 1 (WAGONETTE is good, we both have studied this and thus both are a bit hesitant) on turn one. I have DILOOR? and see the double double, but decide instead to challenge
and play something like LIDO

-- I hold unplayable CEIQTU? and he hangs an R, I get to play CEIQRTU? (only playable, so lucky) and it ends right before a TWS finishing at o14 and I play it anyway expecting it just to be "let's waste tiles to trade scores since I'm up by 150" but instead I draw the D for 69 and he has to forgo.

-- Even the stuff that didn't play was fun, I got to find all sorts of fun words that didn't quite play
DEEGNOPU -- I had played BAUD instead of DAUB to avoid slotting a D at a15, but had I DAUBed it was there

AnIONIC (missed MORAINIC, that woulda been nice)
C(R)ITiQUE (then D for 69 more)

-- block about 5 of his bingos including a 3x3

George was a really good sport about all this. He said last week "Scrabble is a great game, and a lousy sport." referring to just how streaky it can be. I concur. Such a complete luckboxery--what a silly game. We had fun and I'll file this one away for some time when it goes the other way. Part of it was not caring at all, and so being free to just look for everything, but didn't need much on a night like that :)

My first ever honestly annotated game

So I've been a year removed from studying and playing seriously. A coworker of mine (comes to Scrabble club, somewhere 800-1000ish strength) likes to play and wants to get back into it for the summer. I got a text from him when I was walking past his office coming from a meeting asking for a game, and since it was zero out of my way I decided to play a game with him.

I decided in honor of my first game in 6 months over the board to annotate the game, but instead of doing the usual "silence for good moves as if it's expected" tradition I wrote down everything I could think about the game.

Because of the way the tiles fell it turned out that I played a much better game than usual, which I was partially disappointed about (because this game looks no different than my usual sort of brag games) but also partially a bit chuffed about because hey I played one good game after a bunch of months. Anyway, hopefully you might enjoy an unedited stream (good and bad) about what I was thinking during this game. It's my plan to post some more games that I play against him (about 1 a week or so?) warts and all with my thoughts unedited. Since I'm currently not emotionally invested in Scrabble too much (not that I love to lose or play worse than I used to) it is a fair amount easier :)

Pretty sure I'm a couple hundred points weaker than at my best. Against that, I actually enjoyed the game :-)


Edit: oops, screwed up a comment on DETAILS. supposed to be on next move.

Double Edit: I love my Reuters sentence re: walking by office.



I have donated #100 to the WGPO for the best performance by a
senior. This will be given for best performance over expectation by a
player 65 or older regardless of division. If the recipient also
qualifies for a best performance over expectation in his or her division
the $100 will be added; otherwise it will be a separate prize.

Moreover, plans are being made for me to endow this prize in
future world cups (or whatever WGPO chooses to call its major annual
event) so that it will endure as long as the WGPO does, which will
undoubtedly be longer than I will endure. It stems from a desire I have
long held to give something back to the source of much pleasure and
achievement for me for nearly 40 years, and in a larger sense for nearly
60 years. (I played my first game of Scrabble in 1953.) A windfall
from my pension fund early this year made that possible.

Stu Goldman

Given Stu's particular preference for including a little British in his scrabble, and one who is not afraid of the octothorp, do we think that this is GBP #100, as advertised, or simply $US?

On calling the director when opp is drawing incorrectly

It seems to me that you should just do it, each and every time.

There were a number of posts about potential cheating and/or irregular drawing in a few tournaments in the last couple of years. Some people have related that they feel that there was no way to prove someone was cheating, and that feeling like they might have been cheated tilted them for the remainder of the tournament.

Deciding in advance to call the director each and every time achieves a few things:

1) it informs your opponent that you want the rules enforced during your game.

2) it gives the director some history over the course of a tournament and even over multiple tournaments, should the TD list be used. Yes, one poor drawing technique moment is not actionable (and likely should not be unless obviously just plain old cheating). 3 or 5 or 10 might be.

3) The onus of "should I have acted? I hate myself for having let this person cheat me (maybe?)" is removed.

4) The *decision* during the game of "should I call the director?" is removed. You make the decision in advance. The director will do what he/she wants to do--but regardless of the decision, YOU have done all you can do. There are bad calls in sports. I think it's easier to get over a bad call than a "I didn't do anything and got cheated as a result" feeling.

As an aside, you don't have to be a dick about it at all. Just when you see irregular drawing, call the director over, inform the director and the player quietly about it. And do this every time the drawing is irregular as neutrally as possible.


Ran across this in some forum.  

look at this comparison: a "terminally bad" player who plays janky decks, rarely wins any matches in FNM, just playsfor the fun of playing, and doesn't have any tier 1 decks (and wouldn;t know how to play them anyway). He plays MTG when he wants, has fun, and after he loses goes and does somehting else

now look at the obsessive compulsive spike. After spending hundreds upon hundreds of dollars and scouring the internet for hours about the best deck to play and how to play it, and spending countelss matches playing the same old deck over and over and pver again to get good at piloting it, any loss he has at an FNM is a deep sort of anguish for him, he gets mad, huffs and puffs, feels like crap cause he lost even though he made no mistakes, and sulks for the rest of the tourney.

One of those players is a better competitive player than the other. but the other guy is getting way more out of the game than the spike ever will.

as soon as MTG becomes your vehicle to try and prove somehting about yourself, you need to get out of the game, stat.