Hammer it in

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I was at Krav Maga (self defense) class. I got partnered off with this girl named Gabby, and we were practicing different punches. First we practiced straight punches. I notice she twists her wrists a lot and throws off to the side a lot. I tried to correct her a bit, but the instructor moved quickly on to other stuff. We start practicing hammer fists, which is essentially hitting in a downward motion with the edge of your fist. She does the same, throwing punches off to the side. I correct her and tell her to just aim straight for my head, and not the pad I’m holding off. This girl couldn’t be more than maybe 120lbs and pretty skinny, but for a second there I was scared she was gonna take my head. A small adjustment made a huge difference. Just like in life. And that’s today’s life lesson well learned!

Blood moon

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I saw something amazing the other night. I was driving, so I couldn’t take pictures, but luckily I am able to use my amazing artistic talent to show what happened.

I was driving along, when I spotted the moon. It was huge and a light orange-red kind of color. At the top of the moon was a halo of grayish clouds.

moon-1

The color of the moon was already pretty amazing, but what happened next was fairly cool. As I drove by, maybe because of a combination of shifting perspective and different lights, the color of the moon started lightening to a more yellow color, and the clouds starting moving downward, as if the moon was breaking through them.

moon-2

At this point it looked like the moon had a stylish gray headband. But time progressed, and the moon kept lightening up in color! The clouds also kept changing, breaking apart as if they were really being spread through the moon.

moon-3

I could try, try, try to explain why this seemed to capture my attention so much, but I really can’t. There was something ethereal and beautiful about the moon simply changing colors and the clouds drifting through the sky.

And yes, this post is just taking up space until I can start writing better articles. I’ve come down with a bit of a cold recently, so I’m not up to my usual antics.

Upgrade to Windows 10

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I upgraded my laptop to Windows 10 today. I used the Windows 10 upgrade media creation tool to create a bootable Win10 USB drive, and then ran the upgrade application straight from within Win8.1. Everything works fine so far. Cortana is a little bit finicky and I’m still learning some of the features. I’m liking how snappy everything feels though. I did an in-place upgrade. I might do a clean reinstall in the future.

The start of something new

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I started something new today. I’m calling it Fictiongraph. It’s a fictional collection of short stories, poems, and letters inspired by public domain and Creative Commons licensed pictures. I’ve only just started, so there’s only a handful of posts. I’m still unsure the format this will take. Whether it will be a weekly update, or if it will be one big sequential online novel/diary.

What am I made of?

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That’s not an existential question. At least, not entirely. I’ve long since been curious about the world of DNA testing. Being able to get a general sampling of where you came from. Being able to find relatives you didn’t even know you had down the street or halfway across the world.

So I got tested. The results were about what I expected; 35% African, 11% Native American, 50% European, and 4% West Asian/Caucasian. In that 50% European though, the test found a possible 9% Ireland DNA. Not completely unexpected, but somewhat of a pleasant surprise.

The real interesting part began once I started receiving messages from DNA matches. I got a message from someone in Philadelphia, ecstatic that she had finally found someone with definite Puerto Rican family on both sides and that lived in the New Orleans area. She told me about an ancestors who was Puerto Rican and lived in New Orleans.

This blew my mind. I had to explain that I only moved to New Orleans a few years prior. I wasn’t aware of any family that had moved to New Orleans. Most of my family outside of Puerto Rico lives in the usual places; Florida, New York, Philadelphia, etc.

To know that I had an ancestor that settled in the area over a century ago was eye opening. To find out that I was related through to this person to someone who had a typical English name, someone who I probably wouldn’t have thought twice of had I not known this, was truly mind-blowing.

I have one coworker who’s wife is Puerto Rican. She even lived in my same neighborhood for a time.

We’re all so much more closely connected than we realize.

Nanodegrees

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Up to this point, I’ve only completed an associate’s degree. I tried to go to back to school, but trying to pick up where I left off brought with it a few problems. Chief among them, I wasn’t allowed financial aid through the school I chose to go to since I would have gone over the total amount of credit hours eligible for financial aid by the time I graduated.

That was a year or two ago. Now I have a decent job with decent pay, and I’m eligible for tuition aid through my employer. I started looking into various options to continue my education, because learning never stops. One of the more curious courses I ran across was Udacity’s Nanodegrees. Funded initially by AT&T (full disclosure, I do work for AT&T as of the time of writing), Udacity nanodegrees offered condensed courses aimed at preparing students for particular jobs such as iOS developer or Data Analyst.

The project-focused approach and self-paced online aspects of Udacity Nanodegrees greatly appealed to me. Being that nanodegrees were started as a joint venture between AT&T and Udacity, I decided to investigate more through AT&T. From what I was able to surmise, I’m eligible for a discount through AT&T.

Hooray!

I’m thinking of signing up for the Android developer course…just as soon as I figure out how to do so through AT&T to qualify for the employee discount.

Sweetwater is awesome

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I recently bought a Kala spruce top u-bass from Sweetwater. The one I bought was a demo model, so it had a nice discount. I certainly can’t complain about their shipping time. It only took two days for it to get to me.

Once I received it, I was over the moon. I took it out and started playing. Everything was great. After a few days, I noticed something peculiar. The outside pocket didn’t have a zipper tab to open it. I emailed Nick Lamendola, the sales guy who was managing my order. It was the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, so understandable he replied and told me he would have some solution for me by next week.

Now, that’s perfectly understandable. It’s a long holiday weekend, everyone’s going home to spend time with family.

On Tuesday he emailed me apologizing for the bag. Even though it was listed as a demo model, and issues are to be expected with these, Sweetwater took responsibility for even that minor thing and offered me an extra set of u-bass strings to make up for it.

Now, these are $25 strings. Those are pretty pricey. My regular bass guitar strings are only about $10 more. The fact that they’d do that has made me a customer for life.

I really appreciate Nick & Sweetwater’s commitment to their customers before, during and long after the sale is made. I’ll be sure to shop with them whenever possible and won’t hesitate to recommend them to any musicians I meet.

Kung Fooled

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I wrote this for a college English class. I thought it would make a nice companion piece to the earlier Rollercoaster of Memories post. This is what happened at my first kung fu class.

I step through the large iron gate which marked the entrance of the kung fu academy, and go up a very narrow flight of stairs, flanked by my cousin, who had asked me in passing the night before to accompany him. I step through a ceremonial gate, which had a very curious looking Chinese charm with a Chinese character and red threads hanging. I spot on the other side of a large room one man shouting at two other men who are performing some kind of acrobatics. Dips, acrobatic flips, moving them hips, they’re doing it all.

They motion for my cousin and me to step towards them, so we precariously do so. Here were some guys practicing what must surely be a deadly art, judging from all the bad guys in movies who knew some style of eagle kung fu, and I was just a scrawny little high school kid, staring uncertainly at them in their disheveled states. To them it must have been hilarious, I imagine.

First thing I remember, the teacher, (referred to as Sifu or Shifu) asked us both to make a fist. This is pretty simple thing, but I was so nervous that I didn’t even make a fist right. They just stared at me, and although they might have laughed a bit inside, were patient in showing me how to do so correctly.

That first night was brutal. I hadn’t properly exercised in the nighttime for a very long time, though I was one of the few students in my high school’s class that actually exercised. We’re paired off with the two students in attendance, one very tall man with a huge head of black hair, and another shorter, closer to my height, with a slight belly and a strange grin on his face. I get the latter. My cousin, being a few inches taller than me and with longer arms, gets the taller of the two.

Afterwards, we warm up a bit, the Sifu shouting “Pushups, sit-ups” and a few more exercises that are too painful to remember. The entire first practice consisted of just the two most basic stances in kung fu: the Horse stance and Arrow stance. Our Sifu, and those who taught him firmly believed in a very strong, basic foundation. Sifu continued to teach in the same way, focusing strongly on the basics of everything, but also acknowledging the desire for new students to learn practical applications of everything learned.

Two very simple stances proved to be a source of discomfort, and in some cases pain. To demonstrate that it was not at all impossible and all the while saying, “You can do what we do with practice”, the shorter, pudgier man, who I later learn is like our second teacher, assumes a Horse stance. He is very low to the ground, and I am amazed at this man’s flexibility. I see Sifu approach him, and stands on him!

Horse stance is like taking a seat with an invisible chair, legs spread out to distribute your weight. I briefly wonder if there really is an invisible chair there, for this pudgy man to hold another man’s weight on his hips. I wonder if it’s like those early 1900s picture of levitations, fake levitations accomplished by erasing chairs and tables from pictures. Sifu tells us how this very simple stance will help us build muscle, and allow us to do this and so much more. I’m extremely excited at this point, though a bit apprehensive at the prospect of having to do something like that anytime soon.

Later, he does the same with the Arrow stance, standing on the back of his leg, a leg striking down diagonally, like a diagonal rod supporting a bridge. We’re told this is expected of us as well. I shudder, for I’m only a 120lb skinny high school kid. How can I hold someone who weighs literally twice, if not more, than me? I’m the guy who weighs the least, surely. The three adults in the room each weigh between 180 to 210 pounds. Massive in comparison to me. “David and Goliath”, I think to myself.

So we start practicing. He made it seem easy enough, right? Surely if this pudgy man can hold another man aloft like that, then I should be able to do this very simple stance for a time, right? Hold it for 30 seconds? I can do that….I think. These are just the basics after all, right? I’m thinking if everyone who has ever been here can do this, I can too.

It’s much harder than it looks. My legs are trembling after just doing it myself for 15 seconds. I think to myself, “How long are we supposed to do this? 30 seconds? Ok, I’ll do it.” We switch to Kung Sek. That’s the Chinese name for the Arrow stance. This is tough, I think, but I can do this! Ok, now do it in the other direction, I hear. As Sifu shouts Ma Sek, meaning Horse stance, I painfully slide into the stance, although finding it a bit more comfortable than just a minute ago when I first tried it.

Now, do that for an hour, Sifu says. We just stare at him; even my gung ho cousin is a bit…nonplussed. We continue to stare at him, until he says something to the effect of “What? Want to do it for longer?” and we quickly snap back to work. My last thoughts before we snap into work? Cousin, I thank you for finally pushing me to do this. If we survive, I will kill you.

Rollercoaster of memories

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May 25, 2007
May 25, 2007 – You have to get in all the fun you can before you spend the entire next week at a martial arts tournament.

 

Back in the summer of 2007, I was somehow convinced to pack my bags and head to the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee, FL to take part in the International Chinese Martial Arts Tournament. I had only practiced kung fu for about a year or two prior to this, so I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready.

We didn’t drop straight into the competition once we arrived in Orlando. We spent a few days touring the parks, which is when the lovely picture above was taken. We went to all the parks in Orlando over the course of a few days, until the day of the weigh-in. Weigh-in day can be pretty brutal. In the days or weeks leading up to a weigh-in, you have to keep a pretty strict diet. But the day of the weigh-in itself can be pretty brutal. Thankfully I didn’t fight that year so I didn’t have to worry about it!

I was only competing in sword and form demonstrations. My regular form didn’t have all the fancy flips the other had, so I only got a second or third place. But when it came time for the sword demo, I…

RIPPED

IT

UP!!!!

I was motioned over to a group of kids my age. There were kids from all walks of life, all heights and sizes. The only common factor was that we were all in our teens. I sat next to two random kids, and we got to talking. After a while, it was finally my turn. I got up there and I blazed through my sword form…until I started doing a fancy twirl of my blade and I ripped my pants leg a bit and stopped, frozen. I could feel the heat, in my face and in the small scrape I had in my leg.

After a few seconds passed I asked the judges if I could start over. They agreed, and I proceeded and finished like a slightly awkward boss. I was a little embarrassed, but I had gotten through it. I got second place.

After the awards were given out, one of the judges walked over and pulled me off to the side and told me “You know, if you hadn’t stopped when you grazed your leg we would have easily given you first place”.

It was then I learned that sometimes you just have to charge ahead, and that it’s ok to make small mistakes. Even if that mistake is to rip up your awesome black pants with red trim.

June 11, 2007 - The tournament is over. My legs are killing me. I can barely hold this position. But I couldn't miss the chance for a good photo op.
June 11, 2007 – The tournament is over. My legs are killing me. I can barely hold this position. But I couldn’t miss the chance for a good photo op.

A new start

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I’ve decided to start my blog anew, after being inspired by another very well put together blog out there. I don’t have much to say right away. I will be updating at least weekly with some new project, epiphany, riddle, song or general rambling about what I did over the previous week.