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Awhile ago, I got together a big batch of songs to try to learn to play on guitar. A couple of them* I was really enjoying, and liking the sound of, except they each had one chord I was finding impossible to play - sure, I could try to play them, but however slowly and carefully I laid down my fingers, I'd get dud notes.

The problem is that I am not good at barre chords - when I try to press more than a couple of strings with the same finger and simultaneously play other notes with other fingers, it is a mess.

The first thing I tried was the half-assed solution - play a familiar, easier chord that is vaguely similar to the chord I'm supposed to be playing. That was unsatisfactory.

The second thing I tried was just practice the impossible chords a bunch. That didn't really help much - I'd have to get them right in the first place to be able to practice up to getting them right in the middle of a song.

The third thing I tried was researching how to get around difficulties in playing barre chords. I actually watched a couple of instructional YouTube videos, which is something I rarely do. They told me some potentially useful stuff, but also led me to the idea that barre chords really just aren't my style. If I switched to a different guitar or lowered the action and put thinner strings on existing guitars, it might make barre chords easier. But it would also make the guitar much less the sort that I like to play in general.

The fourth thing I did was google for alternate ways to play the chords*. And there, I unexpectedly hit the jackpot! I found a good source for alternate ways to play chords, and both chords had alternate, non-barre options that I found much easier to play, which didn't even require me to slide to a totally different section of the neck or anything crazy.

In fact, in the case of Heart of Gold, I'm pretty sure I discovered how the song was actually supposed to be played, because I find it very unlikely that Neil Young would switch to the annoying chord of annoyingness when he could get the same basic bunch of notes by simply lifting up one finger from the chord he was playing previously!

I guess the moral of this story is, don't assume the most well-known fingering for a guitar chord is the right one for you and what you are trying to play, if it isn't working for you.

* "Something Fast" by Sisters of Mercy, and "Heart of Gold" by Neil Young.
* Most notes on a guitar have more than one spot they can be played. If you count the same note in a different octave, there's even more options. So while chords have common fingerings, there is always another way to get basically the same set of notes. Whether it is a better way or a worse way, depends on the chord or the situation. For an example, click here and select a chord, any chord, and see some different ways it can be played!

Some People Regenerate . . . Get Over It

SomePeopleRegenerate500px-01

I made this bit of art in reaction to the reactions fans were making to the announcement of Peter Capaldi playing the next Doctor on Doctor Who. Every time the Doctor regenerates, there always seem to be people who don't like the new version of the Doctor. To me, they're all just the Doctor.

If any of you would like this image on a t-shirt, they are available for order here through September 27. Any profits go to the Tardis Tea Society.

Thoughts on Iron Man and Batman

Thinking about Iron Man and Batman today. They are both popular superheroes who don't have any true superpowers, but do everything with gadgets. They are both orphans. They also both were born into incredible wealth with family-owned corporations. I wonder how they'd have ended up without the money.

Batman I think would definitely be in a different place. He isn't a supergenius. His incredible gadgets were taken from the family corporation's R&D, and his skills were learned traveling the world. If Bruce Wayne was an ordinary orphan with a lesser inheritance, he would have turned out rather different.

Iron Man, though . . . Tony Stark IS a supergenius who actually created his own gadgets. He created his first electromagnet chest piece and Iron Man suit in pretty horrible conditions, in captivity and secrecy when he was supposed to be building something else. I think much of his story could have worked as well without the inherited wealth. Having the family corporation certainly helped him along the way, but it wasn't required to make the story happen. He was a boy genius who went to MIT at 15 and didn't become Iron Man until many years later. It might have been harder or less plausible, but he could have got there on his own.

Are there any major superheroes who don't have either superpowers or inherited riches? I can't think of any.
I have some friendships where, whenever we see each other, there are big smiles, big hugs, and general excitement to see each other. I have other friendships where we greet each other with much more reserve, no physical contact, smaller smiles, quieter conversation. Large smiles and excitement will occur only if there is some exciting news or something, and hugs are a rare event. And of course, some friendships are somewhere in between.

I generally prefer the hugging model, but I'm pretty easygoing about it and try to pick up on cues from others on what they are comfortable with. What I didn't really realize to myself until recently is the fact that the hugging friends aren't necessarily closer friends than the non-hugging friends. I used to assume that the hugging friends were closer friends and liked me better than the non-hugging friends, unless there was some major cues otherwise. But when I heard a friend say she "wasn't really a hugger", something clicked into place in my brain and I started thinking differently.

For example, when I ran into the former accountant from my work at IrishFest last year, she and I had a typical "hugging friend" greeting, even though we barely know each other, and had never worked closely together or had much personal conversation. She greeted me that way because that's the type of person she is - it doesn't mean we are close friends. On the other hand, when I ran into another former coworker and her partner at PrideFest, we did the "non-hugging friend" greeting, even though we had worked much more closely together and had much more personal conversation. She greeted me that way because that's the type of person she is, not because likes me less or feels less close to me.

Some people just aren't really huggers, or at least tend to reserve hugs for special occasions or people they are very, very close to. Other people like to hug everyone they like, even if they barely know them (though, when they encounter people who are similarly free with hugs, they may form close friendships easier than the non-huggers).

I have realized that I know several people who are probably closer friends than I thought they were, because I had assumed no hugs meant we weren't that close. But when I look at all the other details of the friendships, I realize that some people just aren't huggers and that sometimes the hugs don't really matter.

If you want to be my hugging friend and you're not, it is probably because I've misread your cues. It happens. But it is easily corrected - just start giving me hugs and I will respond likewise. But if I've read your cues correctly and you're just not much of a hugger, that's cool too, I know now that it doesn't mean I'm consigned to some outer ring of friendship.
I never met merle_ in person. In fact, the only communication I ever had with him was through livejournal posts and comment threads. Nonetheless I felt like I knew him and that we had some deep conversations. Perhaps we skipped the shallow ones?

Until I saw his wife's post in his journal about his death (scroll down and see the comment from eryn_ for more details) I was completely unaware of his alcoholism and liver disease, or how he had left his wife when she decided he couldn't live with her anymore if he wouldn't stop drinking. I know that people who knew him in real life had a bit more knowledge of this than those on LJ, as well they should, but I get the impression there was still some concealment.

When I suddenly found out all at once, that he had drank himself to death and died alone, I started doing a lot of thinking about what happens when you try to keep your problems private. If you try to keep your problems private, then your friends don't find out until something drastic happens, and then they're completely puzzled. Even if you can keep it under control so nothing drastic does happen, the secrecy is still a bad thing. Because it's harder to fix something you're trying to conceal.

I told myself that I didn't really know merle_ and that his death didn't really effect me much, aside from making me think. For the past couple days, I didn't consciously think about merle_. But I felt sad and depressed. This morning I woke up thinking about merle_, who I WILL miss, as much as I would miss some of my real life friends were they gone.

Merle's wife eryn_ said, in the post about his memorial, "If you cannot attend but wish to honor his memory, he would have requested that you do something that he would have enjoyed. Merle_ was not one with strong ties to ritual or tradition." I might do that at some point, if I think of something good, but the main thing I will do in merle_'s honor is to fight my tendency to try to keep my own problems private.

My own problems are minor and infinitesimal compared to merle_'s. As far as I know I have no tendency towards addiction nor any major health problems. But I do have my own problems that I tend to conceal and downplay. Anxiety and depression are ongoing ones. After some stress this spring, the anxiety's been worse than it's been in a long time, though it is getting better. Sometimes it takes immense courage to reach out to people through it, and even then I find myself concealing how much I need those I'm reaching out to, if I feel like I shouldn't need them that much. I find it very hard to depend on others. I try to fill my emotional needs through helping other people, so I can feel strong and get comfort through comforting others. It's not altogether a bad thing, but it is limiting.

Of course, I'm also an introvert for whom withdrawing with a book is sometimes what I need (or all I can handle). I said above I have no tendency towards addiction, and that's true when it comes to drugs, but I am totally addicted to books.

As for the depression, I've been telling myself I'm not really that depressed these days, because I've been through so much worse depressions than this, and now I'm able to keep a positive attitude even when depressed, and not despair or wish I was dead. I don't think I need to do anything major to treat these little depressions, but I do need to acknowledge the existence of depression when it crops up, even when it isn't that bad. Not hide it (and myself) and make people wonder what's going on.

So merle_, in your honor and for my own benefit and that of those around me, I'm going to make an effort to be more open about these and other problems in my life, and work on how to do this without hurting or blaming others.

Some thoughts on Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds

Fan fiction and pro fiction are both very large places, which blur into each other here and there. My most comprehensive experience of them both is in Star Trek fandom, the main obsession of my coming-of-age years. In Star Trek, none of the writers own the characters and world they are writing in. They are owned by Paramount Pictures. Star Trek novels have the authors' names on the cover, but are © Copyright Paramount.

There have been times when it was very easy to get a Star Trek novel published, all you had to do was be a decent writer with a reasonable understanding of the characters, write a story that didn't go anywhere too inappropriate, and send it in in the appropriate manner and wait for it to be picked out of the pile. A lot of sci-fi writers grew up as Star Trek fans, and a lot of them wrote fanfic, and some of them also wrote official Star Trek fiction.

I have, on my shelves at home, a large collection of Star Trek fiction (pared down from an even larger collection I read but eventually decided I would never re-read). It includes some fanfic that is better than some of the official fic. It includes some fanfic that is written by the same authors as official fic (because, however well written it is, Paramount is not going to buy your novel that was elegantly plotted to put Ambassador Sarek into a situation where he decides an orgy is the logical choice). The official novels I have read include some masterpieces and some stinkers, and a lot of in-between. The fanfic of course does as well. Some of it, I have no idea why it didn't get officially published. Other writings, I totally know why (hello, ream of Jadzia Dax/Kira Nerys slashfic I downloaded and printed back when DS9 was on the air!).

I think Kindle Worlds could be a pretty cool new thing, but it has limitations - probably necessary ones. It's a lot more like writing an official Star Trek novel than writing fanfic. You're never going to truly own your work when you write about other peoples' worlds and characters. There will be limitations on the content of your official writing of them (no porn, nothing too out-of character, and whatever other arbitrary limitations the owners and creators come up with) and limitations on how it is sold.

If you want creative freedom and ownership of your work, you should make up your own worlds and characters. If you want creative freedom but want to write about other people's characters, you should write fanfic, but realize that it is fanfic, not pro fic: it is unofficial, not something you can sell legitimately. If you are itching to write a story about characters you don't own, but think you can do it within the right limitations, and don't care that you don't own or control it, than Kindle Worlds (or other tie-in fiction) is for you.

I've seen a lot of complaints about Kindle Worlds, but they all seem to be from people who were hoping to see fanfiction treated like original work, and are all sorts of disappointed for this reason. Unless you want to write fanfiction based on works in the public domain or Creative Commons, that's not going to happen.

The other big limitation of Kindle Worlds is that it has a very limited number of worlds available for writing in. That list may grow, but not as much as one might think. Creators that have historically kept a tight leash on spinoffs and frowned upon fanfiction will probably never release their work to Kindle Worlds, however many limitations they could apply therein.

Body Image Bullshit about Breasts

So, I recently read this article on salon.com about one woman's experience of post-pregnancy plastic surgery, because I was bored at work, and because I know someone who is thinking about getting such surgery. One quote from the doctor in the article really stood out for me, because I think it's complete bullshit:

“The areolas are supposed to rest in alignment with the top of the armpit.”

Unless I'm reading that wrong, or the writer heard the doctor wrong, the doctor claims that the top of the colored parts of our nipples should be as high up on the body as the tops of our armpits. I don't know where he got that idea, because as far as I know NO ONE naturally has nipples that high up on their body, unless she's hanging upside-down and her breasts are therefore sagging in the opposite direction from normal. To get nipples up there, you have to not only negate the effects of gravity, but reverse them.

Now most of us have probably never thought about the level of nipples relative to armpits (I sure hadn't until I read the article), so if you're unsure of where nipples start out before breasts sag, look at pictures of babies. Because babies haven't experienced any significant body sagging, but nonetheless, you'll see that their nipples are lower on their bodies than their armpits. So, there's our starting point.

So, when girls go through puberty and grow breasts, do those breasts grow mostly upward, towards their armpits? Not that I've noticed. They grow outward fairly equally in all directions, and inevitably sag downward to varying degrees over the years.

So, I understand about women wanting to reverse the sag of their breasts, but this plastic surgeon appears to be saying that breasts are supposed to be higher up on our bodies than they would be even with no sag. And I find that pretty ridiculous.
There's been a lot of uproar lately over handmade Jayne hats being removed from Etsy and their sellers being served with cease-and-desist letters, in conjunction with an official licensed Jayne hat going up for sale on ThinkGeek. The cease-and desists did not come from ThinkGeek, and ThinkGeek responded by donating all their profits on these hats to Can't Stop the Serenity. The most thorough coverage I've seen of the whole situation is here on buzzfeed.

One thing I've noticed in this is that some people are firmly convinced that Firefly fans making and selling Jayne hats is illegal. Considering the nature of Firefly, fans are probably more concerned with right and wrong than legal and illegal. I'm going to set aside the complex issue of right and wrong here, and talk about whether it is legal or illegal . . . which is really no less a complex issue.

Part of why it is a complex issue is that copyright on clothing is much looser than copyright on most other things, and for good reason. A lot of clothing is very similar to serve similar basic functions, so overly strict copyright would result in things like Levi having a monopoly on blue jeans. Here is a good general article on clothing copyright. So, the Jayne hat is not a good candidate for being copyrighted, trademarked, or patented. It is a very basic classic hat pattern, the earflap hat with a pom-pom. Yes, it has a specific color arrangement to it, but that isn't unique enough to change anything legally. It is a pattern that is very easy for a knowledgeable knitter to recreate from a photo. Fox may have legal precedent to take issue with the marketing methods of people selling Jayne hats, but not so much the making and selling of hats in and of itself. And, in fact, many Jayne hat-makers are renaming their hats and changing the language and images of their marketing to get around this.

I'm going to tell you what Fox should have done if they wanted to keep some control of the knitting of copies of the hat, which was designed and knitted by a production coordinator on Firefly who based it off a watercolor sketch by the costume designer. They should have published and sold a pattern, with standard knitting-pattern restrictions* on distributing the pattern, selling items mades from it, etc. Ideally they would have done this as long ago as possible, back when they first got the inkling that fans would want to knit this hat. A pattern can be copyrighted. Knitters are used to seeing restrictions on the use of a pattern and the items made from it. There would be more understanding of the idea that it reasonably okay to accept money from your friend to knit him a hat from a pattern he purchased for that purpose, but it isn't cool to knit a ton of them and sell them.

If there had been a pattern published, knitters wouldn't have had to create their own patterns, and if they had their hats would truly be seen as knock-offs by people who didn't want to pay for the pattern. But without that official pattern, it was inevitable that knitters would do the simple work of recreating the hat they'd seen on the show, then share their patterns with others on the internet, considering it to be their own work. Then others knit hats from those pattern, seeing no restrictions to what they should do with it. The Jayne hat trend grew and grew until there were large operations making and selling the hats. And then, much too late, Fox decided to do something about it, and handled it poorly.

Even with a copyrighted pattern published for the hat with restrictions on its use, the legality of enforcing those restrictions is still fuzzy*. But it would still be a much clearer situation giving guidelines to knitters to do the right thing.

*Here are two good articles on knitting pattern copyright:

http://www.vogueknitting.com/magazine/article_archive/ask_a_lawyer_knitting_and_copyright.aspx
http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEfall03/FEATcopyright.html

Plan B

So, a few of my friends have been posting about their usage of Plan B (the morning after pill) to try to dispel misconceptions about its use.

http://eyelid.livejournal.com/1538091.html
http://pen-grunt.livejournal.com/257903.html

I thought I'd take a moment and join in with my own, unremarkable story:

It was late 2001 and I had sex in the very early stages of a relationship, so early I wasn't even sure if it was a relationship. Either the condom broke or the guy was being dumb about condom use, I honestly don't remember which, but either way there was some chance I could get pregnant. The guy mentioned the possibility of Plan B, and also suggested I consider going on birth control pills.

Plan B was still prescription-only at the time, but I searched the web and found a place that offered prescriptions for Plan B and birth control pills to women over the internet, all I had to do was fill out some information online. The organization did this because they knew not all women could access an understanding health care provider quickly enough (the organization did require proof that their clients were getting pap smears and pelvic exams if they used their service for more than a year).

So I got a prescription for Plan B from the online place and got it filled at a local drugstore. I recall it wasn't very expensive, my insurance might have partially covered the prescription. I took the pill and it made me very tired for a few days. And I didn't get pregnant. I probably wouldn't have anyway, but it seemed worth doing.

I think it is good that Plan B is now available without a prescription to all ages. Though it is too bad it can cost around $50 - someone in a bad situation who doesn't have much money might have difficulty getting that much together.

Thoughts on my guitar playing

I hung out with my friend Tom M. for awhile tonight at the Music-Go-Round where he works, and, as usual, I picked up various guitars and played them a little.

I have always been way better at playing one-note-at-a-time melodies than I am at playing chord sequences. That's what I understand better and have many years more practice at, and what makes more sense to me. That's also why at one point I declared myself a bass player (or rather, accepted someone else's declaration that I was a bass player) because the style of playing I am comfortable with is well-suited to bass guitar. So I normally play mostly melodies rather than chords when noodling around on a guitar.

However, lately I have been trying to get back into playing chords, to try to write accompaniments to some of the lyrics I write. So today I picked up guitars and spent most of my time playing a chord sequence on them.

And I realized that it was about 10 times easier to play chords and make them sound good on some guitars than it was on others. On one guitar I'd be flying through my chord sequence, and having some random music store oddball compliment my playing, and then I'd pick up another guitar and try to do the same thing, and I couldn't get it to work right (and yes, I did check the tuning on the guitars first, it wasn't anything to do with that).

And it occurs to me that, the latter experience of not being able to get it to work right is what I'm used to. And I wonder if I've ever properly evaluated guitars for ease-of-chord-playing when I've been picking them out. Sure, I've always thrown in a few chords when testing guitars out, but I've done that knowing that I'm not good at chords and that I flub them, and mostly relied on melody-playing and general sound to evaluate guitars. And when I've picked up other peoples' guitars and tried to play chords on them, have I ever considered that the quality of my chord-playing involved not just me but the guitar? Not really, aside from with incredibly crappy guitars.

I am starting to realize that there are some mysterious differences between guitars that effect my chord playing beyond the stuff I normally evaluate (such as action and the spacing of frets and strings, which also effect my chord-playing, but which I'm already aware of). And I should pay attention to it, because why make something more difficult than it needs to be?

And I should re-assess the guitars I have in the house, and see how easy/hard it is for me to play chords on them relative to guitars I tried at the Music-Go-Round that worked best for me on that. Might or might not want to do some more guitar-trafing at some point.

And yes, I definitely need to practice more too.