The Melodica - Unusual musical instruments, part 2

The melodica is an interesting musical instrument. A combination wind/keyboard instrument, you select your notes or chords with the keyboard and blow through the mouthpiece to make sound. You generally just hold it up to your mouth, sort of like a trumpet, although they usually come with a long tube you can use so that you can hold it away from you (easier to see the keys you're playing), or set it down on a table to play two-handed instead of with just one hand.

It has a harmonica-type sound, because internally, it has reeds that vibrate from your breath, like a harmonica. With the keyboard, though, you can do more complex things than a harmonica: complex melody lines or unusual chords or clusters.

Since it's a wind instrument, breath is important. It takes more air to play lower notes (thicker reeds?) or chords, so a good lung capacity is helpful--or else plenty of breaks in the music to catch your breath. Since you need to press the keys AND blow air through it, you can do different things with your technique depending upon how you combine the key presses and air blows. Unfortunately, it's hard to do pitch bends. You can kind of fake it with partial key presses, but doing tremolo with your breath is pretty easy.

While the melodica can be fun to play, the reeds frankly give it a cheesy kind of sound. It seems to me that it takes more effort to make it "musical". Still, it never hurts to have another sound you can throw into the mix, or if you need to "fake" a harmonica. I especially like using it as a rhythm instrument with complex chords, but that's just me.

Be sure to check out the link on the title for more information.


An Open Letter to the State of Oklahoma

The general election is getting close, and I thought I should say something about it:

An Open Letter to the State of Oklahoma:

Dear Oklahoma,

Once again, just as in 2004, I am forced to either voter for the lesser of two evils, or abstain from voting. I can vote for Barak Obama of the Democrat party, or for John McCain of the Republican party, but I cannot vote for Libertarian Bob Barr, Independent Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, Constitution Party candidate Charles Baldwin, Independent Alan Keyes, nor any of the other, lesser known candidates. No Oklahoman can. In fact, Oklahoma is the only state that will not have any other presidential candidates on the ballot. Oklahoma doesn't even allow write-ins.

I must say, I find this very frustrating. Why am I and others to be denied a candidate who truly represents our views? Other states have eased their ballot access requirements, so why not Oklahoma? Is Oklahoma really such a restrictive and exclusive state when it comes to politics?

I know that you're very zealous of the Two-Party system, but remember that two is only one more than one. As issues like the Iraq war and the financial crisis should make clear, the two major parties really aren't offering us much in the way of policy differences. If democracy is really about the freedom to choose, then why are you restricting our choices so dramatically? Clearly, having the vote isn't nearly as powerful as being able to select who or what the people are allowed to vote for.

As children, we are raised to believe that we live in a free country, but excessive restrictions and regulations do not constitute freedom, no matter how free one is to complain about them. This is never more obvious than when the restrictions apply to the electoral system. The state constitution promises Oklahomans free and open elections, and every election cycle, you break this promise. The pre-1974 restrictions were tolerable, although they were still restrictions on elections. Since 1974, you've deliberately gone out of your way to make it excessively difficult for third parties to gain ballot access. With tremendous efforts, they have sometimes been able to get on the ballot, but the resources wasted on gaining ballot access ensure that they have little left to spread their message to the voters.

This is nothing but a protection scheme for tired, failed policies that offer nothing new to the voters. Have you not wondered why more and more Oklahomans are registering as Indepedents, instead of staying with the "protected" major parties? Voting in a primary election is no big deal unless you actually care about who the candidate is for a particular party.

I like Oklahoma. I was born and raised here, so it has enormous sentimental value to me. It also has a relatively low cost of living without sacrificing too much in the quality of life. But I fear that your restrictive policies are holding us back, and keeping Oklahomans from being all that they can be. There is no good reason for Oklahoma to be the worst state in the union for ballot access. It is too late for this election cycle--2008 is practically history, now. But it is never too late to make improvements for the future.


Food, Digestion, and human waste products

And now, instead of more grumbling about government's handling of the economy, something completely different. I'll try not to get too scatalogical in today's post. The human body is an incredibly sophisticated, complex organism. Humans are omnivores, capable of eating a wide variety of things for food sources. Anything we eat or drink that the body cannot use passes through the body and is exited as either liquid or solid waste. But what if you could eat only food sources that the body could completely use?

If there was no unnecessary food item in your diet, then you would not need to go to the restroom. Is such a food possible? Is it desirable?

To make it possible, you would need to eat the right kind of food products, the kind your body can effectively and efficiently make use of, and you would need to eat the right amount that your body needs. I suppose if you ate more, your body could save some of it as fat instead of getting rid of it, but that's not especially desirable either.

I don't think there are any 'natural' foods that wouldn't produce waste. Certainly, switching to a low carb diet has changed my own waste. So I imagine that we would need to come up with some kind of processed food to be the "perfect", waste-free food. That would entail knowing exactly what the body needs and doesn't need so that we can avoid what we don't need. I don't think the nutrition experts know enough about the human diet to do that. At least not yet. And it would be complicated by the fact that your body needs different things at different times, so it wouldn't just be a static variable every time.

Of course, even if it's possible, there's the question of how desirable it is. It seems pretty obvious to me that we could save time, water, and toilet paper (and have fewer plumbing problems) if we didn't need to go to the restroom. You'd never again be standing in line or waiting somewhere, squirming in discomfort until you were free. That seems pretty desirable to me.

However, what would happen to your body without passing waste products? Think of fiber, for instance. People are encouraged to eat more fiber so that they will be more "regular", but other than that, I don't think the body has much use for fiber. That's why fiber can be subtracted when calculating "net carbs" in a diet--the fiber doesn't count. Of course, if you don't have anything else to pass, then you'd be doing nothing but eating fiber to pass fiber through your body, which seems pointless.

Nonetheless, your intestines, kidneys, etc. might need some occasional waste to process to keep them functioning properly. I'm not sure medical science knows enough to say for sure (or maybe nobody's asked them such a silly question!).

This is just one of those weird ideas I come up with every now and then. I don't have any answers for it. Maybe you do.


Our Next President and the Bailout

Both McCain and Obama voted FOR the financial bailout. Hey, one of these guys is going to be our next president! Which financial genius will it be? And where's the REAL opposition candidate? Oh yeah, ballot access laws are designed to keep them off or drain their funds so that they can't really put up a decent campaign.

Our alleged Two-Party system is looking more and more like One-Party every day. When we have no real choice, will Americans finally wake up and admit that the system itself is not merely broken, but fundamentally flawed?