Music Teachers: Fraud Alert

There is a new scam going around that targets music teachers. The assholes trawl Craigslist and other sites looking for independent private music teachers to rip off. Basically they pretend to be sending a child from another country to the your location to study, vacation or whatever, and they want to set them up with music lessons while they’re in town. They then send you a supposed check which invariably turns out to be way too much money, they mention they sent too much, and just ask you to deposit the check and send them a refund. Of course the check is fraudulent, and you wind up sending them free money and getting in trouble at the same time.

Yingwen got one of these today and luckily she saw some earlier reports posted on Craigslist that resembled the pattern. Some of the obvious signs are:

  • Email is from another country sending a child to your town.
  • Spelling, punctuation, grammar is crap.
  • Name of sender is totally improbable

More info:

Scam Alert at PianoTeachers.com
Violin Teacher Scam at joewein.de
Teachers.net Classifieds Fraud Alert

Five of Ten

Mac OS X is now five years old.

In many ways much of what reigns true from 1984’s Macintosh experience still reigns true today. But since X came along, so much has changed, and so much for the better.

I almost never like to heap praise on Steve Jobs. He gets plenty of fanatic praise, and criticism, from elsewhere. But Ars Technica’s John Siracusa pointed this out, which just made me grin:

In retrospect, it seems almost ridiculously implausible that Apple’s prodigal son, thrown out of the company in 1985, would spend the next twelve years toiling away in relative obscurity on technology that would literally save the company upon his return. (Oh, and he also converted an orphaned visual effects technology lab into the most powerful animation studio in the US‚Äîin his spare time, one presumes.)

Nice work, Mr. Jobs.

¡Contrapodcastista!

Now finally, something to report of deep significance. Huge.

I think I’ve found the first instance of a podcast dedicated exclusively to double bassists: The BassCast, all the way from Tenerife!

I must say, one of the finest podcasts I’ve subscribed to. Well, I only heard the most recent episode, but I’m giving it excellent marks. I hope he can continue this level of quality in the future productions. Love it! So great to listen to double bass content in the podcast format! I look forward to hearing many more episodes…

I stumbled across this when doing a search for symphony orchestra podcasts. Which I might add are suprisingly light. Yakima is doing one. The New York Philharmonic is doing RealAudio broadcasts which is super great and all, but a subscribable podcast that would automatically find it’s way to my iPod would be preferred. That would rock, right? Get live radio-style broadcasts of your favorite orchestra via podcasting. I’m sure it’s time will come. I loved the format of the NY Phil broadcasts – just iPod the bugger please.

But anyway, how cool – we have a bassist podcast!! This kind of thing makes me smile. 🙂

Back to School

This week I took the first steps towards enrolling myself for another masters degree, in computer information systems. My first class starts at the end of this month. I’ve been eyeing school programs now for years, so this has definitley been a long time coming.

Considering my masters is in music performance, I have come quite far in a technology-based career. I’m proud of the fact that I was able to gravitate towards a career in web development instead of schlepping the double bass all over creation, and to take the time, night after night, to train myself in web technologies. And now I see my position as the lead web developer for a major national scientific organization somewhat of a great achievement, considering my background.

Obviously when I tell people I majored in classical music, they do a double take. The inevitable question is: “How did you go from being a musician to being a web geek?” But if you think about it, music is very closely related to science, mathematics, and espeically computer programming. The conventions of western harmony and music notation are as much an abstract programming language as Java or PHP. Music theory contains instructions on how to represent objects such as pitch, melody, harmony, rhythm, orchestration, and so on. Heck, a simple repeat is like a loop in any programming language. Come to think of it, there’s no reason why one couldn’t compose a symphony in C++ instead of music notation. It would be hard, but I think one could use that or most any other programming language to give instructions on which pitches to sound over a given period of time. And of course, if you wanted a human to play it, you’d still have to be able to export in music notation. And as a matter of fact, there is an XML application for notating music called MusicXML. Ha – so there you go.

Science and music have been closely tied together since Pythagoras wrote about the Music of the Spheres driving the heavens. At it’s core, music is a matematical discipline. Rhythm is division: One quarter note can equal two eighth notes, four sixteenth notes, three eighth note triplets, or an endless number of variations. Harmony as taught by Johann Joseph Fux in his treatise on counterpoint called “Gradus ad Parnassum” can be boiled down to an almost purely boolean process. The study of music in early education programs is shown to make students more adept at science and math overall. Even Einstein himself was an avid violinist.

But despite years of professional experience, recognized industry expertise, and results of the highest standards, it remains that most people just don’t get it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been turned down for whatever position because of the lack of a technical degree. A simple piece of paper. But usually it’s that music degree that got me in the door in the first place, and it is a masters.

I’m tired of having to defend my education as compared with my career. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. And I’ve always wanted to get a technical masters, if ever a decent and relevant program could be found. So it’s back to school with me. I hope that this will help clear things up when I have these discussions in the future, so that the music degree becomes more of a “wow” bonus on top of the technical degree and not a big fat WTF

The hard part has been identifying a program that is either local or entirely online, can be done part time, and is quality enough from a respectable established university and not some ridiculous thing where you fill out some forms and they print you a diploma. After much research and evaluations of curriculum and such, I have decided to enroll in University of Denver’s online program.

The thing I liked about this program was it’s flexibility. The CIS program has several tracks, including two that interested me: web development and information security. On the web development side, I am already pretty accomplished. So I didn’t want to take all my classes in things that I was already good at. On the security side, I have some very good solid experience, but I have a lot more opportunity for learning new things in this area. I didn’t want to abandon one side or the other really – a combination of the two would be optimal for my needs. And this works out perfectly with their individualized option. They have classes in application security and e-commerce security which directly related to web dev, plus the two core security courses prepare you for CISSP certification on top of everything. The security program there is recognized by the NSA, which helps a lot on the credibility level.

Quality-wise, the classes looked to be on-target. I didn’t want to take a bunch of irrelevant classes just to grab a piece of paper. But these courses include things like a bit of JavaScript, a nice chunk of XML, and some ColdFusion programming. All good stuff that I’ve been trying to dig deeper into lately. I’m looking forward to it!

Practice Time

This is in continuation of a discussion over at Hella Frisch on one of my favorite subjects: practice breaks.

One of the primary reasons that Bill Gates/Al Gore/God invented practice breaks is to avoid repetitive stress injuries (RSI). At least computer users these days have software such as AntiRSI for Mac OS X to remind them to take small breaks every eight minutes or so, and a good solid intermission each hour.

One of my main practice tools is an egg timer. I use it in conjunction with a good solid to-do list, block off my list into 5 to 20 minute increments, and make sure that in-between each task there is an appropriately timed break.

Using that break time effectively during the practice session is as important as the time spent playing the instrument. You are giving your brain and motor neurons time to absorb and process what just happened, helping you perform better and memorize. You are protecting yourself against RSI. In taking a break, you are actually enabling your mind and body to attain greater levels of endurance–you can practice longer.

Some of the things to do or to be aware of during these breaks include:

  • Relax and stretch your arms.
  • Roll your head around on your shoulders.
  • Meditate, if you are so inclined.
  • Breathing exercises – practice controlled breathing, especially if you don’t play a wind instrument.
  • Don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids, and grab an energy snack if you need it. Pracicing is a form of physical exercise.
  • Eye fatigue can be a problem. If you are doing lots of music reading, probably the break time won’t be best spent studying for your next final, playing video games, surfing the web, or reading a big old book on PHP programming. (I’m so guilty of this…)
  • Move around. Take a short walk, get out of the room, get some fresh air. This will help you loosen up.

I read considerable amounts of research back in college that showed that breaking study times into smaller chunks helped with retention. (And oh yes I wish I could cite some of those sources here but it has been like 15 years… Maybe I can do some searching and post an update later.) The theory was that there was a bell curve in a learning session, where the first ~10% and the last ~10% of the session held the greatest rates of information retention, and things sloped off somewhere in the middle. So the idea I had was that if you had an hour to practice, I had two choices: If I practiced non-stop for the hour, I’d do really well at remembering the stuff during the first ten minutes and last ten minutes of the piece I was trying to learn, but the middle might get a bit fuzzy. Or, I could break the hour into six 8-minute segments with a two minute break in-between each. Now instead of one big bell curve, I had six nice small ones. The result was that I found it much easier this way to memorize complex pieces of music. Add to that the bonus of avoiding tendonitis and giving my muscle memory more opportunities to pause and reflect, and one will really find this way to be more productive than just blowing through the piece for the whole hour. You practice for less actual minutes per hour, but the time spent is more efficient.

Here’s some related posts of mine on the subject: