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NullVoid » 2007 » August NullVoid » 2007 » August

Archive for August, 2007

Piano Diary (2) Programming for My iPod

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 -- By ET

How to effectively use iPod to learn piano/guitar is an interesting question.

In iPod/iTunes, I can generally generate playlists and give star ratings to songs I like.  And those with high star ratings should be the ones I focus on learning and practicing.  The question is how can I systematically manage my mp3 library to achieve this goal.

First of all, it is nice to find lyrics and chords for the songs.  And there are many websites offering them for free.  Usually the songs will be listed and there are multiple pages of them.  I wrote a program to grab (1) song name (2) artist name (3) lyrics (4) chords, and store them in a mysql database.  The perl modules I used are LWP, DBD::MySQL (DBI).

Then I can generate a list and search in my mp3 tags for these songs, using MP3::Taghttp://www.ibm.com/developerworks/linux/library/l-cpmp31.html provides an excellent review of the functions to process mp3 files with perl.

Sometimes, the chord file is stored in .rar format.  I can use Archive::Rar to process these files.  First download the file with LWP::Simple’s mirror (‘source url’,'newfilename’), then open and extract the content with this rar module.

What if I don’t have the song?  This is a good question, as if a song has a guitar chord, it usually means it is a good song, and I should get it. After matching with my mp3 library, I generate a list of songs to look for (now I have the title and the artist information from the chord library).  I simply search CDDB database to find out the album, and put it on to my wishlist on Amazon, all automatically processed (thanks to the API offered by Amazon).
Since I have thousands of songs, the process described here saves me huge amount of time.  It’s a lot fun to program these too.  The life is so much easier with so many of  ready-to-use perl modules.

Piano Diary (1) Books

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 -- By ET

I did some research about the books people use to learn piano. For beginners, usually the following are the standard books. Hanon, Thompson, Beyer, and Czerny.

I found Hanon to be unrealistic, as it emphasizes pure hand repetitions. This definitely does not work for me. Subconsciously, I would quickly figure out the pattern and just type the pattern without thinking. And this would make it impossible for me to learn the positions of the notes.

Thompson is for very little kids, so I don’t think this is suitable for adults.

Beyer is very interesting, I think it is quite suitable for me. There are 106 pieces, and I can immediately start to play the pieces between 20 to 40. It usually takes about a year for kids to reach the 106th, I believe it will be faster in my case.

Czerny has a few books, there is one called 599, one 849, one “24 left hand”, etc. For beginners, 599 is suitable. There are 80 (as I remember) pieces. It starts from very simple pieces, and the first half reaches the same level as Beyer. It takes about two years for kids to finish all 80.

There are many other books, for example, I finished reading “Teach Yourself to Play Piano”. It includes a lot of discussions about music theory, which is very good for me to catch up. There is another one called “How to Learn Music by Ears”, and one called “How to Play Popular Piano in 10 Easy Lessons”. I think there can be many of this kind in the library, I, of course, searched them out on the Internet.

Piano Diary (0)

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 -- By ET

This is the prelude to a series of my piano diaries. In this series of posts, I’ll jot down tips about how I learn piano.

As I said in the last post, I started learning piano after reading serious statistics for sometime. So my approach is very different from traditional ways of learning piano.

First, just comparing my progress with xuanxuan’s, I realized one thing. The traditional way of practicing piano does not work for adults. I don’t have time and the patience to go though the simple repetitions that she uses to get familiar with piano. She can learn for a year just to tap on C D E F, C D E F, E F G -, etc, I really can not.

Second, since my capability of learning is better than hers (she might have a better memory, and maybe better hand-eye coordination), I would like to see how this can help me.

Third, I have experience with guitar, and turned out that this is very helpful.

Overall, while for children we may emphasize practicing, in my case, I would like to win with superior learning methods.

My goals:

I found that for many kids, when they get started, they (and their parents) don’t really have a clue about the goal. They just type the keyboard mechanically like, … well a machine. Then those who are talented would show, and a few of them may pursue piano as the career. My goal is not to reach grade 10 after 8-10 years of practicing, there is no meaning for me to do that. I’m not really in the stage to climb to the acme of the mountain of music. I just want to have some fun with piano, and be able to sing songs, and play simple music like “Canon”, or “Kiss the Rain” (“Kiss the Rain” is not easy, as Jill told me, but compare this with those pieces by List, it is easy). So this method I’m using will be significantly different from those used in traditional piano books. I hope after one year, I would be able to reach this goal. Of course, the idea initiated my learning piano – sing songs with piano, would be reached far sooner than a year.

Yiruma himself playing


The sheet, I can not post the sheet here, even I have it, gotta respect the copyright…


Learning Piano

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007 -- By ET

I started to practice piano on July 10th.  The fact that I’m spending some time to learn it is not coincidental.  A few things can be traced as the root of this newly established interest.


In terms of timing, I have worked very hard for the marketing science conference, and when I came back from Singapore, I spent a whole week working on Bayesian Statistics to prepare for making some progress on that project.  Then I felt very tired, as I spent on-average 15 hours a day to read the books/papers and to program.  Between then and my two big trips to Beijing/Shanghai and Boston, I have about one week.  For this one week, I just want to find something for me to relax.  And just about the right time, the piano for xuanxuan has arrived.


In terms of location, there is nothing more convenient to have a piano in your house. :-)


When I was visiting Jill and Gordon in Chicago, we had a lot of fun singing with Gordon playing the guitar.  Jill is a good pianist, she started piano when she was young, and, of course, was taught to learn classic music.  And Gordon mentioned that it was not hard at all to learn to play the chords on piano and use a guitar fake book to accompany singing.  Since we were buying the piano for xuanxuan, I thought maybe I can learn to sing songs on piano.  


The first thing I learned on piano is the prelude part of “Right Here Waiting”.  Then I learned the whole thing of “Everything I Do, I Do it for You”.  It’s really amazing that these only took me one day to figure out.  Of course, I use very crude ways to play them: I play the melody on the right hand, but once I have the chords added on the left hand, they became beautiful music. 


Then I had some idea, maybe I should learn to play piano, not so ad hoc as I was doing then, but really learn to play well.  This starts my journey of figuring out how to learn piano as fast as possible.

Should I Stay with United Airlines

Monday, August 27th, 2007 -- By ET

Each time when I fly United, I get into some trouble.

First of all, I think Jade was on the black list due to the fact that her name and birthday coincides with some criminal.  As a result, each time I travel with her, we would be checked at the airport.  She always has this “SSSS” written on her boarding pass, which sort of means that she needs to be searched carefully.  However, this has nothing to do with the stories we encounter with United.

On our trip from Boston to Hong Kong, we were told that our flight has changed.  The nightmare starts there, at the gate, the flight attendant mentioned casually that “have a nice flight to San Francisco”.  Wait a minute, I thought we were flying to Chicago.  Turned out that they just rerouted us to San Francisco, and I found that the boarding pass we got was only to Tokyo.  That not only means that we are having this one more leg on the trip, but also that we don’t know how to get from Tokyo to Hong Kong.   At SFO airport, we had only less than an hour to catch the plane to Tokyo, then I talked to a customer service person.  She took more than 40 minutes to type on the computer, then eventually asked “do you know you can’t take kids with American citizenship outside the border without a permission?”  I was so furious: isn’t this an immigration question that is supposed to be asked by INS rather than a UA employee?  Finally, she decided not to issue me the boarding pass from Tokyo to HK.  We went to the gate, and it closed immediately after us.  At Tokyo airport, we got the boarding pass, and when we finally arrived HK, it took us more than 32 hours door-to-door.

Then on our recent trip from San Diego to Hong Kong, our flight from SAN to SFO got canceled again and again, until after the 4th time.  I talked to a UA agent, she almost agreed to reroute me through Chicago, and we would have to stay one night in Chicago. Then there was a flight, combining people from 3 flights going to SFO.  We were able to get on it because I’m a Premier flyer with UA. The connection time for us was less than 30 minutes.  Fortunately we made it, can’t imagine to wait overnight with two hungry and tired kids.

In my most recent trip from HK to Boston, the original plan was to go through Chicago.  And the agent rerouted me to SFO again, due to the previous bad experience, I said no.  Then she asked if I agree if she put me on first class, I said yes.  The flight was fine.  Then in my second leg going from Boston to Minnesota, the flight got delayed for multiple times again.  After waiting for 4 hours, the plane took off.  When I arrived, I found that my luggage was gone.  Not just me, everyone on the same flight got luggage mis-placed.  I checked the belt, and found that the luggage coming out were supposed for San Francisco. I had a professional conference in Minniapolis, and I was wearing NIKE,  shorts and a t-shirt that says “UNDERCOVER”.  Took 24 hours for the luggage to arrive, and I literally wore that kind of funny outfit to the conference.


UA’s online bagtrack service has some information, but it is not up-to-date.  It gave me no information until after the luggage got delivered.

The take-away from these:

  1. Next time when I travel, I’ll carry a small bag with necessary stuffs stuffed in it.
  2. I’ll put a tag INSIDE the luggage giving my name and itinerary, in case the airline tags get messed up.
  3. Online check-in can’t save too much time, especially when your flight gets canceled.
  4. I might consider other airlines next time, Cathay-Pacific, or Dragon Air, maybe Singapore Airline, UA just exceeded my imagination of messing up all the flights.

iTunes University @MIT

Saturday, August 25th, 2007 -- By ET

If you have an iPod, and want to keep studying new things, you can actually download MIT lectures and watch them.

Just go to this page. You can find a lot of courses to choose from. This is part of MIT’s opencourseware project.

The following is a screen shot for the course “Differential Equations”.


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