Saturday, March 17, 2018

Practicing the Absurd

Weird Al's Hamilton Polka reminded me to dig up these old files. For a brief period when the girls were much smaller, I thought it'd be fun, for absurdity's sake, to arrange popular tunes on the melodica.

"Let It Go" from Frozen

"Game of Thrones" theme. (Naomi's baby noises can be heard near the end.)

And, then, well, a melodica in a house with toddlers became a bad idea. If I ever get back to doing these, I do have an old Casio SK-1 that I can use to arrange/practice on before recording on the melodica. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Piano Year

Next episodes.

If 2015 was the trail-running year and 2016 was the injury-rehab/Hawaii year, then 2017 was the piano year.

In some future post, I'll go into my 2018 project and how it relates to what I learned by dedicating a year to the piano. Again with the age thing, I'd been considering Gladwell's theory of "10,000 hours to mastery" and how it could apply toward activities that I'd already spent a huge chunk of time on.

That is, what else could I leverage from the past that'd be useful in the present? 

I decided on the piano. As a kid, I took lessons all throughout elementary school. As a teen, I completely forgot about it, but then re-learned in college. Since then, I'd play a little here-and-there, the piano going in and out of storage. I could never advance.

I wanted to expand my limited repertoire and see if the heuristics from my professional life could help.

This was the culmination of that effort:

It's a medley of songs and parts learned over the year. I call it "City of Starks & Odd Couples' Game of How Far I’ll Go to Remind You of Old Time Rock-n-Roll, But Just You Wait!"

In reverse order, this is how I got there. I recorded these as I learned (and memorized) the pieces:

Advanced version of "How Far I'll Go" from Moana.

Advanced version of "City of Stars" (w/out slide jazz solo) from La La Land.

"Alexander Hamilton" from Hamilton. Around this time, by chance, the neighborhood antiques shop had an acoustic piano, free to whomever could take it. Playing it -- experiencing the acoustics and the wires vibrating through the keys -- was addicting. It felt alive! 

Even though that piano was in real bad shape, I got hooked and set out to find a decent used acoustic that'd fit in our little house. We adopted this old '57 Howard spinet made by Baldwin. It came from a sweet nearby family that played it heavily over three generations!

An earlier take on "City of Stars" while still learning. (I don't normally record sessions on the acoustic for lack of good mic'ing. It's also so old that it doesn't stay in proper tune for long. But I love it like an old comfy couch. It's got character.)

A couple takes on the "Game of Thrones" theme; second take to fix the timing. Because of the song's range, I had to break out the full 88-key stage piano with hammer-weighted keys. It took some time to get re-adjusted, but it was worth it. MIDI controllers have their place. But they're not pianos.  

"I'll Be Back" from Hamilton (split in two because it was originally posted on Instagram).

Easy version of "How Far I'll Go" from Moana. Yup, 2017 was heavy on Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

"Old-Time Rock-n-Roll"  

Note, I initially started 2017 with a 56-key MIDI controller running Reason on the laptop. At the time, I thought a lightweight 56-key controller was as much as I wanted to invest. I was leaning toward selling my heavy 88-key stage piano, and seeing if a smaller controller would do.   

Here are some older songs from the repertoire:

 "Cheers" television theme

"Get Here" from Oletta Adams. Although I haven't fully committed this song to memory, it is one of my favorites to play.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Don’t Waste Time, Get a DXA

When starting or maintaining a cut, there’s usually some lag-time while figuring out just how many calories you should be eating to maximize fat-loss while maintaining lean-mass.

There’s a lot of trial-and-error. It could go on for weeks and weeks. And when you get into a grove, the numbers are still based on your best guesses. It’s like playing the board-game Battleship, but with moving pieces! This is when stalls happen despite your best efforts.

Enter DXA body-composition scans. These will tell you precisely how much body-fat, lean- and bone-tissue you have. Plug those numbers into various formulas and you can get just how much you should be eating – whether to lose weight, to maintain, or to add for lean gains.

Here’s 3.5 months of my progress. While I lost 9.2 pounds of body-fat, I also added 0.6 pounds of muscle overall! (ie, the extra muscle gave a slight bump in burn capacity!) That tells me the DXA numbers helped provide a sensible and successful nutrition plan. I saw consistent progress from day-to-day and week-to-week. No stalls.

Notice how the overall body-fat weight changed overtime. Using those updated numbers helped target my deficit max as I got leaner; In April, my potential fat-loss max was almost 900 calories per day. But by end of July, the potential max was 600. (The difference, 300 calories, is a light meal. Wow!) Cutting any steeper would put me in the red-zone and I’d risk losing hard-earned lean mass.


When I first got serious about proper nutrition, DXA and similar body-composition scans were prohibitively expensive and only available at select facilities nowhere nearby. Nowadays, however, a scan costs much, much less. And if you live near a major city, a mobile service will even come out to a convenient location! (In the SF Bay Area, there are at least three mobile services and a handful of brick-and-mortar locations.)

That’s one less barrier to the process: The math side and guess-work is all easily and immediately handled.

To get fit, you need only to act on good information; You don’t need any fancy gear, or a gym membership, or to exercise endlessly every day. You absolutely don’t need to starve.

NEXT POST: Keto, maintenance and travel