Saturday, July 26, 2008


Okay. We're supposed to be leaving tomorrow. We hope. Given how today is going, I am somewhat less confident of this than I was this morning.

It's currently 11 at night, and Rob just left to go trade in our current rental car for another. This will be our fourth (4th!) rental car of the day.

First off, if you value your sanity, I would give Thrifty a pass. The last time I rented from them, the service stank, but they did rent me the car I asked for at the price quoted, so I went there again since their quote was again lowest. Big mistake. It was like buying a cow and being told the legs are extra, as are the udder, horns, spots and moo.

Follow this up with a second rental car (specifically requested to have cruise control), which got a flat tire 500 yards from home. Which they chose to exchange for a third rental car - which after we had gotten it packed, turned out to not have cruise control. So we had to unpack it, and then when Rob gets back, repack into the new car (which by this point may very well be car #2 again with a fixed tire).

This is beginning to feel like Groundhog Day.


As of Sunday, me and mine are headed off to Minnesota for a family reunion. A minor family reunion this time. Only my parents and their descendants (and spouses) will be along, for a total of thirteen people, plus the possible wanderer from my sil's family. The more usual form of family reunion has my father's parents' descendants, which runs to considerably more people - five pairs in my father's generations, each with multiple children, most married with children of their own, it's quite the gathering. This one should be much quieter. It will be the first time I've seen my eldest brother and his family in three years, and I'm really looking forward to it. Kids change so much when they're little; my neice and nephew at 4 and 6 aren't going to bear much resemblence to the baby and toddler I remember.

We will have a computer along, but it won't be mine, so I don't anticipate posting while I'm gone. I may check up and respond to comments if I get on-line time, but don't count on it. I doubt we'd bring it at all, but Rob may need to do work so it has to come. I'm crossing my fingers that nothing goes wrong at the plant while he's gone - it's aggravating to have him trying to fix something long-distance while he's supposed to be relaxing - but it's still shutdown month, so I wouldn't take any kind of odds that he'll actually be allowed to have a week to himself. Typically it's between four and six weeks after shutdown ends before he gets a 48-hour period without having someone call with an emergency. Thank goodness this is his last year to do shutdown!

Aaron had his eigth birthday today - he gets three parties by the time all is said and done - one today that was just cake and presents, no guests - one he shares with his cousins at the reunion (they're all summer birthdays) - and one once school starts again so that he can find his friends to invite them. Today was a nice low-key day that mostly consisted of playing with some new toys (Bakugan), and going to Panera for breakfast and Burger King for all other meals.

And I did remember to break out the icepack after lunch - go me!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pathetic Self Care

One of these days I will actually learn to take care of an injury rather than plowing through it.

No, I don't have any new injuries at the moment, thank goodness. The knee has settled back down and is behaving itself, though it does have a new, and very loud, click when bent deeply.

What's annoying is my back, which I sprained back in December, and which stills acts up occassionally. It's how frequently it acts up vs. how much it should act up that is making me annoyed with myself. You see there are three things I can do, any of which by themselves will prevent my back from hurting.

1) I can take ibuprofen at inflammation-reducing levels (I.e. every 4-6 hours whether my back hurts or not).

2) I can lie down and put my feet up, once with ice, or 2-3 times without ice, for 15 minutes each day.

3) I can do back exercises: 1 hour class, 4x a week. This prevents pain after about 3 weeks to a month of consistent exercise, and continues to work until I drop off significantly, defined as missing more than 2 classes/week for more than 1 week.

It says something about me that #3 was the first thing I discovered that worked, and that I figured it out more than six months before I realized that rest and/or taking ibuprofen also worked. In fact, I didn't even try them until a chiropractor pretty much forced me to.

It also says something that once I had worked up the exercise schedule I only fell off the exercise enough to have a recurrence twice between December and mid-May, both times during vacation weeks. On the other hand, now that summer's here and I can't fit the back classes into my schedule, I'm failing to follow through on rest or ibuprofen to the point where my back hurts more days than not - even though 15 minutes of rest/day is sufficient to prevent pain for that entire day. Mind you, I'm not someone who considers sitting (or lying) still a punishment. I can happily lie on the couch for hours reading, if I'll allow myself to do it.

But apparently I'm only permitting myself to actually take care of an injury if it is in some way a punishment for me. Lying around with an ice pack, reading a book is insufficiently difficult or something. Which is getting deeply annoying as I keep hitting evenings, when I pretty much can't go lie down - dinner, karate, baths, bedtimes, etc. - and discovering that oh crap, my back is going to make me miserable tonight, isn't it?

My subconscious is apparently a weird and masochistic place and I'm getting a little tired of it.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

By Request

MALS wanted a more detailed explanation of backward-shaping, so I'll do my best.

I was first introduced to backward-shaping through the work of Karen Pryor, an animal trainer whose book Don't Shoot the Dog is one of a very few books I think pretty much everyone should read. Karen Pryor teaches positive reinforcement and clicker training, and while the book is marketed as a dog-training book, it has broad-based applications for teaching pretty much any kind of animal - including humans.

Backward-shaping involves two things. First is breaking a complicated task down into bite-sized bits, giving the trainee a high chance of success. The other is working from the unknown to the known, so that instead of starting with the part of the task the trainee knows well and progressing into successively less well known parts, you start with a part the trainee doesn't know and move from there into parts the trainee knows better and better.

Most people do this quite naturally with some tasks. When we teach a child to make cookies it's pretty common to start by teaching them to roll the dough into balls and put them on the tray. From there you progress backwards to having them add the fun ingredients like the chocolate chips, and from there to running the mixer, and from there to measuring ingredients. Each time you bake cookies, you start the child on something they don't know (measuring), and then progress into something they know better (mixing) and then into something they know well (making dough balls).

With other things, like pieces of music or karate katas, backward-shaping is counter-intuitive, but the principles work the same. You break the whole into bite-sized bits, something small enough to be taught in a single session, the same way you would if you were teaching (or learning) front-to-back. But instead of teaching the first portion of the sequence first, you start with the last one - the ending chords of the sonata, or the final pass of the kata. Once that's well established you back up to the next bit, and teach it. The trainee then learns the new bit and flows from that new section into the ending section that they already learned. So the training sequence for something that's been broken into five sections would look like this: 5, 45, 345, 2345, 12345.

One major advantage to backward-shaping is that the trainee is always working towards what they know, which tends to end training sessions on high notes, which is good for morale on both sides. One disadvantage is (as noted in the prior post) most students aren't used to learning this way and tend to be weirded out the first time they encounter it. My experience would tend to indicate that it's a pretty valuable technique when you can find people who are comfortable working this way, and I would encourage people to try it and see how it works for them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Had to Share

Funny that it feels somewhat similar from the other side of the process.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bass Ackwards

Hah! I finally cleared Kusanku. Last night was my first lesson on Sunsu (or Suansu, depending whose pronunciation/spelling you go for). This will be my second-to-last empty hand kata, with only Sanchin left to learn. Sensei says he will also start teaching me Tokumine no Kun (bo kata) now, though he intends to start by showing me individual moves first, rather than teaching front-to-back.

I'm kind of tempted to ask him if he can teach it to me back-to-front, to test out a little theory of mine. The rule of thumb in dog training is that you start with the last thing first, so that the animal is always working from the least well known stuff towards stuff it knows better. In theory it should work the same way with human learning. I've done it succesfully with piano music and with memorizing text. With piano music it is frustrating, but it works exceptionally well. It forces me to break the piece up more, and since the end of the practice section is generally the end of the piece, it doesn't reward half-assing things past the point I'm working on. I'm a good sight-reader, so the temptation to do this is strong if I'm working from the front. Generally if I can make myself work back-to-front, the learning process is neither faster nor slower, but when I get to the point of doing the whole piece, my technical playing is much stronger. Whereas if I'm going front-to-back my playing tends to stall out at the "sounds good to a layman" stage.

However, most people aren't used to learning (or teaching) back-to-front. I've tried teaching that way once or twice, and the immediate reaction is "Man, that's weird!" and a shutdown by the student. They're just too weirded out to pay proper attention. Only one of our current students thinks it sounds interesting, but she's learning simultaneously as her two sons and teaching them all the same kata from different ends would likely be counter-productive to their home practice, since they use each other for memory-checking. She did memorize the karate creed using back-to-front, and reported that it worked well.

I am tempted to ask Sensei if he's willing to try teaching Tokumine no Kun back-to-front. I'm the only one learning it right now, and he's generally pretty open to alternative teaching ideas. We'll have to see. After all, he was originally going to teach me Kusanku and Kusanku Sai simultaneously, but after the first couple of classes, it never really happened again - so it may turn out to be moot.

Sensei thinks he's found us an indoor place to go. We'd be renting space from a Jazzercise studio. Advantages: flooring should be good - certainly better than linoleum over concrete. Hours are good. Space is good. Owner will let us advertise, so we have some good opportunity to add some students. Indoors will be very good as the weather moves into high summer. Disadvantages: Cost is higher than Sensei really wanted to pay, meaning he'd have to charge us more than he'd like to, though still only about half of what our prior place charged us. Neighborhood is not bad, but scary enough that the mother of our youngest student (seven), may balk at coming there. Sensei is worried that Sin & Skin, the tatoo parlor next door, may scare her away.

In other news, Rob is currently in Oregon for his first major trip relating to his new position. He's gone until this weekend, whereupon he's home for a week, and then we head for Minnesota for a mini-family reunion (my parents, their kids, spouses and children). After that we're home for a week - and then school starts. It seems like it's been an incredibly short summer, but I'm looking forward to getting back into my normal routine. Trying to fit exercise and writing in around having the children home full-time is a considerable challenge.

Lastly, I'm moving back into proper practicing mode on the piano. I've been hacking around pretty much since we moved from Iowa - I think being music minister there burned me out a little. I'm feeling a little too much of a hacker lately though, so I'm going back to putting in significant daily time on the bench. If I can figure out exactly how, I may see if I can record pieces as I re-add them to my repetoire and post them up here. If I'm feeling especially ambitious, I may even try singing! That would be seriously courting Murphy, however. Despite multiple attempts by several different people, I've never actually been successfully recorded singing. In high school I tried to record a practice session with my teacher, only to have the tape machine go kablooie. In college the choir was doing a professional recording of the Vespers concert so we could sell it for travel funding. The entire recording was fine, except for my solo, wherein the audio engineer, for reasons that will forever remain mysterious, decided to eat a carrot, while standing next to the balcony mike, which he had forgotten to turn off. We had an extra session, specifically for re-recording that section - and the equipment went haywire.

I've successfully made and e-mailed recordings of me speaking, so it's just the singing that's whacked - but if the playing goes well, I may try it anyway.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Teaching Again

We're still in the park. It's beginning to feel pretty normal now. I think I'll miss being outdoors when we find someplace else - though perhaps not once we're well into August!

Sensei cancelled out at the last moment on Wed. and called me to ask if I could teach class. It's the first time I've taught in about six months - ever since Sensei D joined us, he usually takes over when Sensei cannot make it. The last few classes, though, Sensei D hasn't been coming, so I had the ball.

T. had taken a kick in the knee the day before, so we skipped a lot of the prilimary exercises. Between her and me, what we could comfortably to was pretty limited. Her knee is pretty bruised and swollen, but appears to be only bruised. Mine seems generally fine, but has a new and very loud pop (that twinges) on any kind of deep bending. I'm still trying to decide whether it needs more rest, or some stability exercises.

Sensei had been planning on teaching a two-person exercise, one that's very different from anything the intermediate students had seen, very circular with a lot of emphasis on contact, which differs markedly from beginning Isshinryu, which tends to be linear and direct. The exercise comes in two parts, one of which works on its own, while the second interacts with the first (sort of like a two-part round in music). I managed to teach the group part one, and they got the idea fairly quickly, though several of them were still striking rather than flowing. Part two, however, didn't go at all well. Every previous time I've seen this taught, there have been at least two people who knew the exercise. That way the two parts could be shown together. Trying to teach part two without a partner was rather like trying to teach someone how to steal a soccer ball without having anyone who can handle the footwork to steal from.

After that bit of frustration we spent the rest of the class on kata. We had two students back who have been gone several months, so there was much review. For a change the kids were all business - but the two adults kept standing around talking!

All in all, not everything I would have liked, but a reasonably decent class. I really need to brainstorm some ideas for when I teach outdoor classes. My old standby of teaching rolls just doesn't work outdoors.