Google’s Next Step: Are Print Mail Order Catalogs Dead?

One of the great joys of the holiday season involves receiving the stack of catalogs that invariably clog the mailbox at the end of my driveway.

Not withstanding the hernia I get from carrying them to the house, or the three acres of rainforest timber it took to print them, holiday catalogs provide a never-ending opportunity to look at stuff I don’t want to buy.

Unfortunately, when I do finally decide what I want to buy for those on my holiday shopping list, I find the one catalog I need mysteriously absent from the 6-foot stack.

Fortunately, a new service at Google makes hunting through catalogs to find the perfect gift for yourself or others an absolute breeze.

Log on to http://catalogs.google.com/ and test out Google’s latest offering in an attempt to organize all information on the planet.

At the time of this writing, Google’s database of catalogs boasts over 6,000 catalogs covering everything from golf to music to footwear.

The index allows you to browse catalog content either by entering keywords in a search box, or choosing categories in their directory-style listings.

If you want the latest L.L. Bean or Harry and David catalog (or any other), you can perform a search for a specific catalog by name.

If Google doesn’t carry a specific catalog, you can click the “Help Google Add More Catalogs” link on the main page of the catalogs directory to suggest they take a look at it.

I personally think Google is very serious about developing this service because they do something here I’ve never seen them do before: they provide a physical mailing address and invite you to actually “snail mail” them a catalog you want added.

I decided to put the service to the ultimate test by searching for what, at least for me, represents the ultimate catalog purchase from 2003: the singing trout (a.k.a. the “Boogie Bass”)!

If they could find that honey of a holiday gift, the service gets my seal of approval.

Of course, in a nanosecond, Google found it in multiple catalogs along with such holiday gems as the “singing fish” and the “TV Caddy.”

On a serious note, a search for “Ford F250 accessories” yielded some very helpful information on catalogs where I can get parts and goodies for my truck.

So, this service goes way beyond searching catalogs with only the “As Seen On TV” gadgets, and gets into some serious niche product information.

Back before the Internet, search engines, and online research, catalogs actually represented an inexpensive way for vendors to publish product information targeting a niche audience.

It makes perfect sense that the Web’s largest search engine should start cataloging catalogs and combine print publications with online search.

The only drawback to Google’s new catalog browser is that you can’t circle the items you really want (writing on your monitor tends to damage it) and then strategically leave the catalog where Santa (or your wife) can conveniently find it and catch a clue as to your greatest wish.

But, you can always send Santa a web link to the items on your list!

Piano Learning Software – Your Next Generation Music Teacher

In the jet set lifestyle of the modern world, where squeezing out a bit of time to relax is a luxury that is unaffordable for many. Pursuing your hobby of learning to play the piano and running helter and skelter in search of a reputed piano teacher or piano school where you will be taught with a lot of care, is simply unimaginable. No one has so much time on their hands to search for a teacher and then enroll in his or her class and then attend classes regularly at regular fixed hours.

If you miss a class it will be your loss. If you try to reschedule a class, it will inconvenience others in the class or your teacher if it’s a private lesson. A private lesson on piano instruction can set you back at the rate of $100 per hour. Of course you have the option of going for group lessons which will prove to be cheaper, but nothing is cheaper than piano learning software that you can purchase from any online music store and if you are lucky you can even get a discount on the software.

With the help of piano learning software, receiving piano instruction will become the easiest thing in the world because you will be able to learn playing the piano without putting one step out of your home. You can follow your lessons whenever you have some free time, at your convenience, without being hurried on by a teacher. Nothing else will afford you the pleasure or luxury of learning the piano at your own rhythm and pace within the privacy and ease of your home.

If you get stuck at a particular spot or have difficulty in practicing or getting over a certain piece, you can always contact your instructor through the interactive platform like chat or email or forum or group where you can put forward your problem and share your difficulties with learned fellow students and instructors.

Music Sight Reading

One of the fastest ways to increase your turnover time is to be very good at sight reading. Why? Because if you can sight read to a high standard, you’ve eliminated one stage that many people can find very time consuming – learning the notes.

If you’re spending weeks learning the notes, something needs to be done. If you can start learning your notes straight away, and be able to play the piece through (even if it is at 3/4 pace), then you’ve cut down a lot of wasted practice time. There’s lots of different methods to help improve sight reading, but the best way is practice. Finding a book with lots of tunes in it will help, but there are other things to help out as well.

In the AMEB syllabus, in what they describe as Level 2 (Grades 5 to 8), they expect the candidate to demonstrate in the sight reading:

* Accuracy in time and rhythm

* Accuracy in pitch

* performance at the tempo indicated in the music

* Dynamics, articulation and style as indicated.

Now, for the exam, they’re probably going to give you sight reading that’s a few grades below what you’re sitting for. For example, if you were going for grade 6, the sight reading could well have been considered as syllabus pieces for the grade 3 repertoire. So you’re expected to do a bit more and be able to add in dynamics, articulation and style. For our purposes we don’t need that, as we’re not sight reading below our playing level, we’re sight reading at our playing level.

But what can we do to improve our sight reading level? Grade exams might well be the key. If you’re up to pieces in grade 5, go back and start at grade 1 (or preliminary if available) and use the pieces in there as sight reading. Aim to do one each day, and go through the book. Ideally, do a different syllabus than the one that you originally took the exam in. For example, if you did your exams under the AMEB, then you should probably get the books from the ABRSM or Trinity, or other similar examining bodies. This way, you’re less likely to run into pieces that you’ve already played. If you’ve already played it, then it’s not sight reading.

Start quite low down, and work your way up. You’ll notice that you’ll need to develop some techniques to help you along the way. First of all, as is becoming a theme in my posts, visualise what it is that you’re going to play. Sing it through in your head, and hear the rhythm, if not the notes as well. At the very least you’ll be able to hear some intervals. The next thing you’ll quickly need to learn is the art of being in two places at once. Or possibly three places. However, I’m not into defying physics here, we need to rely on our memory to help us along. In order to process what it is we’re going to play, we need to look ahead. That way, we’re not always reading the note and reacting to it. So instead, what you need to get into the habit of is taking snatches of information. Starting at the beginning of the piece, you might grab the notes and rhythms of the first two bars. You’ll then look at the third bar while you’re playing the first bar, and then have a quick look at your fingers or bow or whatever just to make sure it’s all happening smoothly, and then look at the second bar as a refresher. You’d then look ahead to the fourth bar, while playing the second, and repeat and so on. In this way, we’re constantly preparing our mind for what’s coming up, and also reminding ourselves of where we are, and what we’re doing.

I’ve recently gotten into reading some organisational life blogs. The type of things that help you declutter and reorganise your life to be more efficient. As a lot of the time I’m talking about making our music practice more efficient, I thought this might be a useful place to get hints as to things I could bring across into my music practice. One post by Scott H Young talks about doubling your reading rate, and also of being able to read 70 books in a year. If you’re interested in that, head over and take a gander. Anyway, the trick is to learn how to speed read, which isn’t reading incredibly fast, but instead is knowing when you can gloss, and when to get more dug in, and also being able to process quickly.

It’s like that with sight-reading. Most of the time, you’ll want to be able to gloss – pick up the shape of the melody, and use your musical knowledge to know where the tune is going. Unless you’re sight-reading Schoenberg or some other 20th century artist whose works are hard to guess where they’re going next, you’ll be able to get a fair idea of what’s going to happen. I have fun in sight reading my students works, and guessing what’s on the next page, and it’s surprising how often I’m close, if not dead on the money. You’ll also want to know where you need to stop glossing and actually bog down in the detail. Thankfully with music, there’s often an easy way to know this. The blacker the page is, the more you need to pay attention. Because generally, if the page is black, then there’s lots of notes (both actual note heads, and also stem tails). That generally means that you’re going to need to be aware because it’s probably fast, or a complicated rhythm, or both. That’s the stage where you need to stop glossing and start being really aware of what you’re playing.

You also need to be able to process quickly. A lot of the violinists that I’ve talked to often don’t think of the notes when they’re playing. While this seems like an odd thing, it actually makes a lot of sense. They’ve gotten so used to where the notes are, both on the stave, and on their instrument, that they no longer need to take the step of processing what the actual note is. Instead, what they will often focus upon is what the shape of the phrase is, to help them decide what position to play that part in. That’s the processing part that Scott is talking about. When we start to learn to read, we’re encouraged to say the words out loud, and then as we move on, we stop saying it out loud and say it in our heads. What fails to get taught is the next step of no longer saying the words in our heads and just taking in the information. This is what helps speed up the process. Eliminating unnecessary steps, such as saying the notes in your head, will mean that your mind can focus on other things, such as what notes are coming up next, or what the dynamic or style is, and whether you’re making any mistakes.

Six Steps To Unleashing The Peace Within

We live in a busy and uncertain world, with violence and chaos around us every minute of every day. We are increasingly busy and busy and bombarded with commercialism and advertising from every angle. Like many of us, I have been looking for ways to solve constant information that is excessive to help give my mind a chance to relax and after years of studying and testing try the art of meditation by many major religions such as Buddhism that I have. find a simple six step formula that helps me to let go of the inner peace that really wants to come out.

Step 1 – Find a quiet and calm place

The first step in releasing your inner peace is to find a place that allows you to feel safe while meditating and not being disturbed. Some types of places that you consider sitting on the ground in the garden, near the river, or if you are like me and tied to the city, just sitting in your lounge will be enough. Even though there are some important things you should consider –

There should be a little traffic noise – There is nothing worse than starting to meditate to hear the sound of air brakes in a speeding truck or ambulance or passing police car.

Free from Interference – When you first meditate, you will find it difficult to start but with a little practice, and that is the fun part, you will find out over time that you will get better at it but at an early stage a little interference from the child Your child or voice can make it very difficult.

You Must Feel Safe – With society now becoming like that, you must have a sense of well-being before starting your meditation. If you have insecurity you will find that it is very difficult to let go of your anxiety and most importantly your thoughts.

Comfortable – Most meditation periods will usually last about 20 minutes. When you first start, you may find that it takes 10 minutes to reach the relax point so make sure you sit on a comfortable surface before starting the meditation process. I really believe sitting on the floor but if you find it difficult to sit upright for a certain period of time, just sit on the wall. Doing this can also help you feel safe. If you feel more comfortable sitting in a chair, try your meditation like that. I do not recommend sitting on the couch just because you are at risk that you might fall asleep and while it is great before going to bed, it is not recommended as a result of the meditation process.

Step 2 – Use Light Incense – Depending on where you are, you may find that light incense will help you break through barriers when you first start meditating. If you are like me and are constantly in a hurry and stressful, when you first stop you may find that it is very difficult to focus on your meditation because of the hum that flows through your blood so using light incense like lavender can certainly help.

You can buy incense from a number of stores such as Chinese food stores, oriental food stores or even some mystical shops and there are definitely lots of places on the web where you can buy light incense. Be warned that it is illegal in some countries to buy incense through postal orders and more than that only buy from reputable dealers because you never know what you can import.

Step 3 – Put quiet music

The saying, “Music Soothe Savage Savage” has never been a more true statement then when trying to find your inner world peaceful. Playing quiet music will certainly help calm the buzz you have after a hard day’s work, but be careful about the type of music you choose. You have to make sure you choose music that will slow you down rather than increase your heart rate.

Many meditation teachers will recommend music such as running water, heavy flow or sounds from the outside, all of which are definitely suitable for this process but what I find most useful is music from the Baroque period.

Music from this period has certain elements that make it suitable and more conjunctive to help you find that inner peace. Baroque music is built with 60 beats per minute, which is quite funny with what our hearts should do. What some studies have shown is that listening to music that has 60 beats per minute actually increases alpha waves that cause calm on both the left and right sides of the brain. The result of this is that you will be calm and relaxed, similar if you whistle. Research also shows that this “alpha state” can help your learning process, creativity, and more importantly be calmer.

Step 4 – Focus on your breathing. Breath Enter and Exit

Now that we have the elements we need to reflect on, it’s time for you to try. The way I like to sit when I meditate is to cross my legs and put my hands on my knees with my palms open. If you can’t cross your legs, just sit with your feet flat. If you sit in a chair, stretch your legs slightly and place your hands on your knees.

The next step on the road to peace is to close your eyes and take a deep breath then slowly exhale the air. You need to consistently repeat this process but when you do this, there are some important things to remember. When you first start meditating, you will find that when you relax, the things that bother you during the day will begin to reappear and appear in the forefront of your mind and we must stop it during your meditation period because if you don’t do it, you can be more stressful when you start. As you breathe, just look into the darkness and clear your mind.

If you have trouble releasing it, try this technique. While breathing slowly, concentrate on your mind’s eye at number one and focus on the number when you exhale. Then when you take a second breath, change the number one to two and then focus on the number two and keep that focus when you exhale. With each new breath, focus on the next number. However, if one day your focus moves away from you and you start thinking about making dinner or what you will do tomorrow, then just start at number one. You will find that after a few moments using this process will greatly help you maintain that focus and start bringing that inner peace much faster.

If you have trouble sleeping, I find that using the counting process and breathing process is really very helpful. Once again it takes time to master the technique but the more you practice the better you will get it.

Step 5 – Clean Your Mind

After you have mastered the breathing process and entered a relaxed state, the next step is to clear your mind. This requires a little work and will take time to be conquered but when you conquer it, you will not really feel inner peace. To clear your mind, you will not think of anything but only exist. The key to clearing the mind is to focus on the space around you (while your eyes are closed) without thinking about something.

When you do this, extraordinary peace will emerge. You will find that endorphins will give you a feeling of tingling through your body and you will be very calm. You will find out over time that you can actually change tingling to your own will but who comes with practice.

Step 6 – Feel the Rush of Peace

Buddhists talk about meditation to attain enlightenment and while it can take a lifetime or two to achieve that, I can certainly say that when you get to the point where you have let go of your environment and you in peace it certainly feels like the world completely new. At the very least, don’t stress and feel that constant rumors caused by the stresses of our daily lives, will certainly give you a new definition of normality.

When you feel that your time for meditation is over, slowly let your mind begin to think. You will find that it is actually much easier than you think. Then slowly open your eyes and become more aware of your environment. Give yourself a good five minutes before you are in a hurry to get up but when you do, you must feel a sense of calm d