tagged Music

Music free to download and use for your projects

If you're interested in legal, free music downloads, for listening or to use as background for videos or other projects, here are three possible sources for you.

Musopen is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to making compositions that are in the public domain actually available. They produce recordings of classic music, which they then place in the public domain. You can also find sheet music at their website.

Jamendo is a platform for indie musicians. All music there can be downloaded for free and is available under a creative commons licence. Most seem to be limited to non-commercial use with derivative works distributed under the same conditions, but there is a section of their site where you can look for more open licences.

At Incompetech, Kevin MacLeod offers music, mostly "soundtrack" kind of things, under a creative commons Attribution licence, with an option to license pieces for a one-time fee if credit is not possible or not wanted.

Blog tags: Resources

NaNoWriMo is nearly upon us

...and a lot of people are going to give writing a novel draft in November a shot.

Last year went pretty well for me, with a story I had sort-of plotted out; my ideas are rather more vague this year.

What I remember from last year was that a major stumbling stone were names. The story took place in a constructed world, and I didn't want to use too many real world names for characters... I think that never-touched-again manuscript is still full of people called [insert name here]. Which does bolster the word count a bit, but, well, it was a bit time lost for every character who showed up that made me think, "OK, so what do I call them?" before I gave up.

Therefore this year I'll make up a list of names that sound right for the location, so I can just pick one when a new supporting character shows up.

For names from the real world, I may turn random name generator at A quick test run chosing only German names makes it look like the generator honours the category choice for last names, too. I wouldn't rely on the site alone for actual real world settings, since there's no telling when a given name was actually used, but it's good enough for my science-fantasy. It should help getting some names that are not from English or German in there.

Other things that might be good to determine in advance:

  • What's a polite way to adress someone?
  • What ranks are there in the police/security force?

I'm sure I'll think of more, once November starts.

I'm Anke at the NaNo website, in case anybody would like to add me as a writing buddy.

What are your last minute preparations?

Blog tags: Resources Writing

Important tip if you use image backgrounds on your website

We all agree that having someone wait 10, 20, 30 seconds for a website to load if that can be easily avoided is a bad idea, right?

Yet if you are using a big graphic as your backround, it might be what's happening: Depending on the background colour, the text may be unreadable while the background graphic is loading. The solution is to define both a background image, and a background colour that is similar to the colour of the image.

I've made a quick mock-up to demonstrate the effect.

Blog tags: Resources Websites

Quick chocolate cake recipe

From the "good things need to be shared" section, a recipe that's been floating around my mother's side of the family, for some really delicious chocolate cake. While rich in sugar and fat, it doesn't involve flour, so it should be suitable for people looking for gluten-free recipes.

200g are 7.05 ounces.
If I'm reading a cups-to-grammes conversion list correctly, we're talking
8/9 cup butter
1 1/3 cups ground almonds
8/9 cup sugar
I presume 1 packet vanilla sugar would be 4 teaspoons; the brand we have says 1 packet is "for 500g of flour", 500g being 1.1 pounds. You could probably replace it with a little vanilla aroma, or leave it out entirely.

200g butter
200g dark chocolate (60% cocoa content)
200g ground almonds
200g sugar
1 packet vanilla sugar (meant for 500g flour)
1/2 packet (2 teaspoons) baking powder
4 eggs

Melt the butter and chocolate.

Add almonds, sugar, vanilla sugar and baking soda, and mix.

Whisk in eggs one by one.

Put into a round pan and bake for 40 minutes at 160° C (320 F) upper and lower heat.

The original recipe I got called for sifting powdered sugar on top after letting it cool, but I don't think that's neccessary. It's plenty rich as it is.

Blog tags: Resources
tagged Plants

Experiments in Gardening: Air Layering

I've been meaning to try air layering - a method to propagate plants that seems to me less risky than cuttings - and now that circumstances suggested to me it would be a good time, I thought I'd document my attempt, so it might serve as a sort of how-to.

First, let me introduce you properly to one of my Japanese maples.

This is the one that went feral. It was a grafted one with leaves that had white edges, but that graft died either last summer, or the summer before that, presumably because I too often neglected to water it.

Blog tags: Plants Resources

Ruminations on Grammatical Gender

This is one for the people who are interested in languages.

So, German, like some other languages, assigns "gender" to nouns. You can tell the gender from the article, which therefore should memorize the article with the word, if you ever have to memorize German vocabulary. "Der" is male, "die" is female, "das" is neuter.
Tables and the sky are male, vases and traffic lights female, books and windows neuter. There may be some weird logic behind it when you go far enough back in time, or maybe not, but it looks pretty arbitrary, and it has for most words nothing to do with biological sex. Since the same goes for animals, which often do have a sex, so that gets a bit confusing.

the dog = der Hund
the cat = die Katze
the horse = das Pferd

In consequence, any dog (and frog, and most species of bird) of unknown sex is referred to with "er" ("he"); any cat (and spider) of unknown sex is referred to as "sie" ("she"), and any horse of unknown gender is referred to as "es" ("it").
You cannot just change the article to change the gender. "Die Pferd" isn't a female horse, it's a mistake. The word for a mare is "Stute". And, yes, that is grammatically female, too; at least that much logic is in the system. Incidentally, a gelding is "der Wallach" - castrating a stud still leaves him male. Some people get weird ideas in that department.

One rather prominent example where the biological sex doesn't match the grammatical gender is the German word for "girl", that is, "das Mädchen". That's because that word is a diminutive (of "Magd", meaning "maid"), and all diminutives are neuter.

There are some words that can be more than one gender. "Gelee" ("jelly") can be male or neuter, depending on whom you ask. Other words mean different things depending on gender. I don't know many examples, but here they are:
"Die See" is the sea, while "der See" is a lake.
"Das Tau" is a rope, "der Tau" is dew. (As far as I can tell that's a coincidence, two different etymologies arriving at the same syllable.)
If someone says she's driving to Shanghai "mit ihrer Honda" ("with her(female) Honda"), she's going by motorbike, if she says she's driving "mit ihrem Honda" ("with her(male) Honda"), it's a car.

So, "the Harley" is female. "The motorbike" is neuter. That's because the German word, "Motorrad", is a compound noun formed from "der Motor", which means what you think it means, and "das Rad", which means "wheel".
This is one of the few hard-and-fast rules: In compound nouns, the gender is always that of the last component noun.

I've been trying to find some other patterns, but
Nouns formed with -heit or -keit at the end are always female - "die Dummheit" (stupidity, stupid idea), "die Wirksamkeit" (effectiveness), "die Menschheit" (humanity)

Talking about trees: There may be certain rules of the thumb you can find. While "der Baum" (the tree) is male, pretty much any species of tree whose name does not end in "-baum" and which is native to Europe is female - die Birke (birch), die Eiche (oak), die Buche (beech), die Fichte (spruce)... "Exotic" trees on the other hand are more commonly male: der Ginko, der Eukalyptus, der Baobab.
A similar pattern can be found with river names, although a bit more muddied. There are some male rivers around here, most prominently the Rhine, but a lot of rivers in Europe are female (including the Loire, Thames, and Volga). On the other hand I can't came up with a female river outside of Europe. The word for river, "Fluss", is male, too, so that might have something to do with it.

I'll leave it at that for now, hoping conlangers or writers or just apprentice language geeks get something out of it.

Blog tags: Resources Language
tagged Animals

The thing with wings

Dragon wings tend to be more or less bat-based, but photos of bats in flight tend to be rarer than ones of birds in flight, making studies a bit more difficult.

For birds I recommend the deviantart account of Cheryl Moore, where you can find a great number of photos of birds in flight - most of them white birds, meaning there is no pattern on the feathers distracting from the shape.

As for bats, during the last week some photos of bats drinking from a pond in flight went through the bits of blogosphere I watch. Looking up Kim Taylor brought up Warren Photographic, which has more (albeit smaller) photos of bats in flight.

On Deviantart I found one compact tutorial on bat wings by cactusart.

The wing tutorial by Kandice Zimbleman-Wang may be a bit weird on the formatting and spelling side, but content-wise I find it very helpful.

For the sake of completeness and comparison, you could look at pterosaurs wings, too. (What intersts me more after a bit of poking around wikipedia are the various head shapes, though. Fascinating.)

Useful stuff for digital photos and other image files

Thought I'd share/make note of a few (Windows [Vista]) tools I use for my image files.

Bulk Rename Utility
Exactly what it says on the box: It lets you rename files in bulk. It doesn't look particularly pretty, and the load of form fields/options at the bottom may be intimidating at first glance, but I found them pretty self-explanatory when reading them one by one.
I use the "File" field on "fixed" setting together with Numbering to change the filenames of photos I take from IMGXXXXXXXXX.jpg to 2009-07-21_XXX.jpg, which helps a lot with sorting them.

With this program I can add titles, descriptions and keywords to jpg files. This is not only useful because the Windows Explorer can search these fields, but also because various websites and scripts pull that information out when you upload them, including Flickr, Picasa, and Menalto Gallery2. Saves some work if you upload your images to several places.
iTag is my favourite among the tools I tried so far because it lets you include linebreaks in the description (unlike Picasa or the function built into Windows Explorer), and ladjust the size of the form where you enter things - particularly the fact that the latter enables you to view all keywords you entered on an image.

SyncToy not only useful for images, but all kinds of documents, but here goes: A very basic program to synch up different folders. I'm sure there are better ones, but this works for me.

Blog tags: Links Resources

Art-things going "click" in my head

Sometimes, it takes some additional input to understand advice.

One thing is the "draw lines with one long stroke, not by adding up lots of smaller lines" one. I never understood how that would be possible, until I came across advice on how to improve your handwriting saying you should use your shoulder and back muscles, not your wrist and fingers for writing. Doesn't mean I can magically DO it, but at least I have some idea of what I might try to learn.

Another are the scribble pictures. I remember doing those in art class back at school. Here's the idea:
You scribble random loops and lines on a piece of paper
Then you look at it, and turn it into an image of whatever you happen to see in it.

I thought the idea was drawing over the lines as they were on the paper, so mostly I ended up with blobby rubbish, like snakes without heads, three-story mushrooms, or faces like this one:

Then I came across a tutorial at deviantart, which is not safe for work due to nudity, and looking at the example... You could add stuff. You could turn a circle into a face, or a hand. Yeah, I see how that might actually be fun, rather than frustrating, and result in more interesting images.

[caption id="attachment_392" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Here's the original scribble; lines darkened digitally to make sure they show up; actually I use very light pencil lines. I also turned the sheet around a bit until I spotted something..."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_394" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="I saw a head and a wing, and went from that..."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_395" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Added feet and tail and refined some details. Would look better if I traced it on a clean sheet in ink, but I'll leave it as the little warmup practise it is."][/caption]

I guess that's a good time to upload some of the more interesting results of those warmup-practises.

The following four are other sketches, from my figure drawing class, and people who want to avoid nudity should avoid those.

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