Locations from IP addresses and the mobile future

March 24, 2013 internet, systems No comments

Let me start with mentioning that I’m writing this post on March 24, 2013. This kind of stuff is sure to change over time.

One of the things about the Internet is that it doesn’t have location built in. You don’t get to know where someone was when they wrote you an email, website operators don’t get to know where their visitors are when they visit the site. People don’t get to know where the craigslist servers are which put all those bytes together that make up a listing, and so on, and so on.

So people try to approximate. Because it is deemed to be useful information: country, region, city, latitude, longitude, ZIP code, time zone data and more. Even if it is not absolutely reliable, you can still derive some information, some picture. Different services are available, some free, some quite inexpensive, and some quite expensive. Most come in a form of a database file that you download, after paying for a license to use the data. Periodic updates to the database are made available. Web services are also available; this is where  an IP address is submitted, over the Internet itself, to the service provider, and they immediately respond with their location data for this address. You can read more about IP Address Location at wikipedia.

Of course, these services don’t work when people use so called proxies and VPN‘s. In fact, proxies are set up precisely for the purpose of fooling services which are ordinarily restricted by location (e.g. for accessing Netflix or Spotify from non-US locations) into handing over the goods. Such proxies are not particularly costly to use.

Now, when you look at determining location for mobile devices, these models become quite questionable. Surely the network is not aligned with city boundaries, and surely a mobile device’s Internet address does not change smoothly as you move about. Of course, you can move faster than a database update.

So I thought I’d try out different IP Address location services – with my mobile device, using the “Data Plan,” not our home’s router or Wifi. I was in Vancouver, British Columbia, most definitely, the whole time.


Source Reported Location
http://www.ip2location.com/demo Calgary, Alberta
http://www.iplocation.net/ Calgary, Alberta
http://www.ipaddressguide.com/ip2location Calgary, Alberta
http://ipinfodb.com/index.php Calgary, Alberta
http://www.maxmind.com/en/geoip_demo Toronto, Ontario
http://www.infosniper.net/ Toronto, Ontario
http://www.ipligence.com/geolocation Vancouver
http://www.geobytes.com/IpLocator.htm?GetLocation Vancouver, BC
http://freegeoip.net/ Vancouver, BC
http://showip.net/ Vancouver, BC (this is said to be based on the free version of MaxMind, the paid version of which placed me in Toronto)
http://www.hostip.info/ “Location: … actually we haven’t a clue.”

So, you see, some got it right, and some did not. (I didn’t even bother to read or record the latitude/longitude that were given in some cases.)

Car Collisions at Hastings and Kamloops

January 12, 2012 economics, generic, systems No comments

I walk my daughters to school, once or twice a week (my partner takes them on the other days). It’s ten blocks. They wake up early, so it’s mostly a stroll, no rush; about ten blocks through the quiet side streets.

On the way back I take a different route, along the busy Hastings Street in East Vancouver.

Three times in the last few months, an accident happened at the intersection with Kamloops Street. Car crashes. The first one was while I was at the intersection, talking to a friend at the traffic light.

The third one was the most severe. It happened yesterday, January 11, 2012; this time I had a camera with me:

Hastings Street goes from left to right in this picture, and Kamloops from the top to bottom-left; top is South, right is East. The “other car” had already been moved out of the intersection. Here’s a Streetview link.

I don’t know if anyone was hurt. There was an ambulance, but no movement around it.

All three accidents happened when the 3-lane traffic along Hastings is stopped through a traffic light, so that pedestrians can cross, and cars can cross that are going along Kamloops Street. The cars coming from Kamloops/South collide with cars going East on Hastings. Either the Kamloops cars cross too early or too late, or the Hastings cars ignore/fail to notice the traffic light. I don’t really know.

Now with passing this intersection twice a week over ca. 12 weeks (school started in September), and coming across 3 accidents, it seemed to me the other 3 days of a week should generate the same number of accidents, so it would come to 3 (accidents) * 3 (other days) / 2 (“my” days) = 4.5 “other accidents”, for a total of 7.5 accidents in ca. 3 months. Statisticians will probably point out that this is not a good estimate. But let’s make it 7 accidents in 3 months, or 7 *4 = 28 accidents in a year.

Statistics / Mapped

That seemed like a lot to me. So I asked another friend if he knows where to get more definite statistics from the city. He pointed me to one of his contacts, who in turn remembered a recent map put together by Eric Promislow:

ICBC Car Collisions 2006-10: A Google Map Visualization

It displays accident counts by intersection for the City of Vancouver, for the years 2006 to 2010. He obtained the numbers from the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) – who get the reports from the police.

Nicely done, Eric.

So, for the intersection of Hastings Street and Kamloops Street, there were 117 collisions reported between 2006 and 2010. By year, the counts break down like this:

2006: 17
2007: 23
2008: 25
2009: 25
2010: 27


So, a more or less regular pattern. One collision roughly every two weeks, for the last 4 years. Predictable. Regular. If you take a look at Eric’s map, you’ll see there are quite a lot of intersections with even more collisions. (In fact, just one block west on Hastings Street, the intersection with Nanaimo Street has many more accidents: 300 for the period, but I never saw anything of those.)

It almost looks like the only ones to be surprised about any of those collisions would be the participants, bystanders and witnesses. When I mentioned the first two accidents to some friends from the area, they said, yes, there are crashes there “all the time.”

Now my calculation from above looks spot-on: I estimated 28 accidents for 2011, and there were 27 recorded for 2010. But all accidents that I counted occurred around 9 o’clock in the morning, since I was walking home from the school.

So I thought, if Eric had the data by time of day, I would be able to compare. But he didn’t. He wrote, “ICBC withholds finer-grained info, claims privacy issues.”


I have a few questions:

  1. Do the accidents at the intersection of Hastings and Kamloops Street occur mostly around 9 o’clock?
  2. Do the morning accidents at the intersection of Hastings and Kamloops Street occur mostly when a car crosses from the South along Kamloops, and the other car is going East on Hastings?
  3. Do  intersections with a similar number of collisions have anything in common? What kinds of commonalities?
  4. Does it make sense to blame the accidents only on the individuals involved?
  5. Does the City of Vancouver track this data and analyze for prevention?
  6. Does the City of Vancouver carry any responsibility?
  7. What aspects of an intersection can be improved?
  8. How many hours of additional driver training reduce the number of accidents by how much (regular training, one-time training)?
  9. How many km/h of speed limit reduction result in which reduction in the number of accidents?

About point 3: due to the large numbers of existing collision-prone intersections, and the predictability of collisions occuring, if indeed commonalities exist then one can try out different strategies to lower the numbers, and compare what works and what doesn’t, for example with A/B Testing. Better than doing nothing (my impression). Especially if you think across several cities. I’m not aware of this happening.

Another friend of mine pointed out that causing an accident is not (even) considered a crime. I think that would go a bit far, mainly because establishing who is at cause is quite difficult. But I think it’s worth noting: causing damage, and potentially traumatizing, if not physically hurting, innocent bystanders is actually legally sanctioned to that degree. The proven (proven by statistics such as these) risks are accepted or better, ignored by car drivers.

On the other hand, if 6. was legally accepted, and the City of Vancouver would have to pay for their share of responsibility in a lot of the accidents, I think it would not be able to afford keeping the streets open.

Also, thinking further about this I noticed that car insurance companies are compromised in the sense that for them, the more accidents, the better: more business, more revenue, more stability, more profits. As far as I know, in British Columbia, ICBC is not privately owned and controlled, so that should help working these problems out.

Oh, well

You know what? I just realized, there were two other accidents on the other side of the intersection in the last few days. But I came across these when picking up my daughters from school, on the way home, so shortly after 3 o’clock. This is getting a bit much. And 2011 looks even worse for this intersection, because my estimate should be based on higher observation counts.

But most of all, I prefer and recommend walkingcycling or taking the bus: that’s what I call civilized.

Update August 2013

One and a half years later. Things change. I witnessed no more accidents. Didn’t check the statistics though. Writing this post made a difference?

Maths named after mathematicians

January 5, 2012 math No comments

A finishing carpenter friend of mine recommended I try to use Pythagoras’ Theorem when I asked him, out of desperation, for advice on a difficult math problem that I am stuck on.

When I reported no progress, he asked what other topics in math are named after people, after all, Pythagoras lived a long time ago.

So here’s a very simple list (for now not even in a good order). Please use the links to learn more about what is being named.

There are many, many more, especially from the last century. For example, I left out the Tutte Graph. Wikipedia has a list of things named after mathematicians, however it is still far from complete.

To finish, I’ll list one of a different kind: the Erdős number is the distance to Paul Erdős in terms of coauthorship. (My Erdős number presently is 4)

Of mice and traps

December 19, 2011 bc, economics, systems No comments

Two or three summers ago, we had problems with mice in our house. We have a live trap, sometimes it works. When there are not too many mice, it is quite all right.

I usually get the task to empty it, which is not much of a big deal. I take it to a sports field that is half a block away. After opening the trap, the mouse jumps out. The first two times, crows snatched up the mouse pretty quickly. So now I usually stay around for a while, and the mouse manages to disappear in the grass.

This time, while I was waiting, a man came by, walking his dog. He asked, so I explained, yes, it’s a mouse trap.

He became really angry. i was shocked, because to me it was all really harmless. He asked whether I knew that dogs use the field. He asked if he should call the police. I said yes, since he was pretty intimidating in his anger. Of course, he didn’t. I didn’t know what he was so angry about, I was just glad when he finally left.

Funny thing, and I did notice something odd during this confrontation, when I returned home with the trap, I thought to check it, and actually, yes, the mouse had returned to the trap.

I took it back right away (Mr. Angry wasn’t around anymore).

Later, thinking this over, the only explanation I came up with was that I never mentioned to him that it was a live trap; he may have thought it is a glue trap, or some kind of poison trap. I guess, in his mind, he would not like his dog to sniffle into one of those. So, at the time, using one of those was quite outside of my horizon. At the same time I think a live trap was completely outside of his horizon. Hence the dispute.


The live trap didn’t work well enough. After a few months we got an exterminator to help.

He was a nice man, and we had a friendly conversation about mice and this and that, so at the end I thought I’d ask him a question that I had been wondering about, especially with the saying in mind, “building a better mouse trap”: What would he think a mouse trap designed by Steve Jobs would look like?

He said, “Oh, the guy who does Microsoft?”

Well, no, that’s not who I meant. I think that would be quite a horrible trap. Spreading viruses comes to mind.


Quite a while later, I told an acquaintance about the exterminator and the Steve Jobs disconnect. She was super excited about the idea of a mouse trap designed by Steve Jobs himself. She said, it would be so nice and elegant, you would want to put one in every room of your home.

The One-Two-Three Man

December 19, 2011 bc No comments

A few years ago, returning from a bar (quite a while after midnight) and smoking a last cigarette on the porch of our home, I noticed a man walking in the middle of the street. Wearing a reflective west, and carrying a hockey stick, he kept saying “One, two, three, four, five, six , seven, eight, nine, ten, Push!” One word per step. This is in the dark, nothing else really going on in the neighbourhood.

I call him the One-Two-Three man. No-one else I asked knew about him, and I never saw him anywhere else.

But one day we were selling something through craigslist. I forgot what it was; it wasn’t anything special. The One-Two-Three man came to buy it!

I asked him about his “walks”. I think he said he couldn’t sleep, or wanted to lose weight.

Saw him yesterday again. (Except, this time there was no bar involved)

Accounting for a better world

December 30, 2010 economics, generic, systems No comments

In another weak moment I was pondering progress and whether in some sense people have become better, or the world has become better. It’s a huge topic of course, look it up through a Google search, “Is the world improving?” It will show you a lot of pessimism. On the other hand, Noam Chomsky, an unusually harsh critic (which is excellent since he knows and understands so much), said “Slowly, over time, the world is becoming more civilized, in general“.

My immediate prompt was seeing all this technology around me, an “iphone” here, SSD memory there, oodles of websites with free photos, people coming up with new stuff like bitcoin, quora, about.me, groklaw.net, some dubstep music. It adds up, and it made me think how fast everything is nowadays, and whether people were really slower in the past. There is no one around coming up with loads of, for example, impressive symphonies or novels anymore, as far as I know. There’s loads of average products that one hears about, like for example, Windows Vista. I think being prolific doesn’t quite mean the same anymore. So it’s not clear cut to me.

How to measure?

Now my pondering led me to think about how could one measure this, how could one find an objective answer, how to do a better job at resolving the question. A connection with my personal ongoing tasks of filing tax returns led to this: as you’re probably aware, accountants are updated about all kinds of goings-on in a business. Wouldn’t it be nice if one could look up the “books” of fifty years ago, 25 years ago, and find “the data”.

I run a small company, The Buckmaster Institute, Inc, and I can well see how accounting is useful, if only in providing one perspective. Every little piece counts, after all. I can understand the accountant’s approach, I have learned from conversations with some professionals. I know about software and how it is used for accounting. I have recommended against the naive use of spreadsheets (still need to write those stories up). I have personal insights into the amount of effort that goes into accounting.

Resource Allocation

Have you heard about economists talk about “resource allocation”? For example, free markets are declared to be good at “allocating resources efficiently” by to some of those economists. Then this improvement in resource allocation should show up in the “books”, no? In as much as a drop in the efficient allocation of resources would be a sign that the world is getting worse, we might find evidence for the world improving in the financial statements of the businesses of today. Compare the figures to the financial statements from decades ago and we would see whether the world is getting better, maybe only in some small area. But it would be a start.

Doesn’t work

I think you’ll agree it’s not going to work. They very likely didn’t record the right numbers and amounts.

Should we call it -1 points for the accountants? Or would you go so far as assessing a full  -10 points?

Or do you disagree? Please elaborate by posting a comment below; that would be exciting to learn about! If you think a mere comment would not do your insights justice, please contact me (@stephanwehner on twitter, and we’ll take it from there)

Related Questions

Other slightly related questions that I have not been able to resolve are:

  • What are the recent breakthroughs in the accounting world?
  • Who are the heroes of accounting (what Steven Hawking is to black holes)?
  • Who do young accountants look up to and draw their inspiration from?
  • What are the present “open problems” in accounting? Which obstacles are hindering the full bloom of the profession?
  • Whither accounting: Is there a roadmap? Or is it all just  happy-go-lucky?


Any hint or pointer would be greatly appreciated! Don’t think your insight might be insignificant. Please don’t think there is a limit on space or time, and we cannot handle all responses. Please help by leaving a comment now. Thanks so much.

Couple of thoughts about evolution and economics

August 19, 2010 economics, systems No comments

I saw a documentary about Charles Darwin a few months ago. I think it was part  of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things.

Evolution and natural selection are of course endless topics with many different and interesting aspects. So I’m writing here about a few thoughts that occurred to me while watching the documentary. Please leave corrections or pointers to related articles in the comments, if I got something wrong or missed something!

So, I used to think this was a good way to think of natural selection: Let’s say your eating potato chips, then towards the end, the bag has only small chips − the big ones are more likely to be pulled out. I’m sure this corresponds with your personal experience. Pretty intuitive isn’t it?

Well, watching the documentary, I realized that it’s not that easy. The potato chips example is primitive in the way that the chips don’t change over the time. They don’t interact while you’re eating. This simplicity might make it a good example, but it really doesn’t capture enough of the phenomenon.

The curious thing to me about evolution and economics is that I got the picture that people learned about evolution and what marvelous creatures are produced by simply letting natural selection do its work. Just around that time (late 19th century) it became popular to think: Why not build society on this principle? Let the best survive, why bother with the inferior (apply to employees/products/politicians/strategies)

And in as much as the theories that evolved (it might be fair to say this thinking led to neoclassical  economics) may be behind a lot of amazing features and products of modern society, I think overall there is also a sense of profound failure.

So what I wanted to write about here, is that in fact, these economic theories did not actually copy over the findings of evolutionary studies.

You see, there is  this distinction that biologists make between sexual and asexual reproduction. What biologists are telling us is that sexual reproduction can produce better organisms, better in the sense that they are more likely to survive, or better in the sense that they fill the available “space” more completely, are bigger, stronger, and more complex overall. (In general, what makes natural selection so general is that what “better” means is very open, and cannot be preconceived)

(Usually you think of sexual reproduction as it involving a male and a female producing offspring. A simpler variation of asexual reproduction may be that it simply takes two, instead of just one organism, to reproduce.)

Sexual reproduction can be viewed as unfair on an individual level, but also as a bad idea on a species level. After all, its form is: if a pair of individuals have the same sex, then they cannot mate, they cannot have any offspring; no matter what, and there are no exceptions. Who cares how superior they are, and even if they are the two best individuals of the species: tough luck.

So here’s a question: what would be the analogous set up of sexual reproduction in economics?

Here is one way: you divide the economic population (people + organizations) into red and blue people.  Red people can only work for blue people, and vice versa. Red people can only buy from blue people, and vice versa. What on earth would that look like? I really don’t know. At first glance, you might call this a sophisticated variation of racism—horror. However, biologists are hinting this might be a better system. Overall, the population is going to have a stronger economy; individuals get to follow their rational preferences,  maximize their utilites, while companies maximize profits, and everyone just acts independently on the basis of full and relevant information.

However, since I already mentioned neoclassical economics, I think the form of sexual reproduction, with its strong “You cannot mate” can also be found in the big pain point of the corporate world: regulations. After all regulations put constraints on what corporations can do. You have probably often personally heared about complaints from the business world. (In fact do they complain about anything else, besides taxes?) However, what we see in natural selection is that even the most basic, and brutally unfair, rule such as we find in sexual reproduction can actually work out.

Rock, Paper, Scissors with Handicap

May 10, 2010 rps No comments

So I was playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with my daughter the other day. (It was her idea; I didn’t tell her about the game, my previous blog post about Rock, Paper, Scissors, nor about the new rpsmatch.com site). She won, and I lost a few rounds. Then I noticed: she wasn’t using “Paper”!

So I  thought of this variation on the game: one player is not allowed to use one of the weapons. All other rules stay the same.

To make it more interesting, the other player would not know which weapon is not allowed. How to do that? The handicapped player chooses one card from 3, each card showing a different weapon. The player is not allowed to use that weapon. Only after the winner is determined is the card shown to the other player for verification. If the handicapped player cheated by using the forbidden weapon, then they lost!

I doubt this change gives the non-handicapped player an advantage.  But you never know. The number of draws should decrease, though. Then again, maybe not. Would be nice to figure it out (mathematically)!

Rock Paper Scissors for Three Players

April 5, 2010 generic, rps 3 comments

In the summer of 2009, if not to say, a long long time ago, Sharon Twiss asked on twitter: “can groups of more than two use Rock-Paper-Scissors?

In case you’re not familiar with the game,  Rock, paper, scissors (wikipedia link)  is played by two people. “Rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper, and paper beats rock”.

A basic way to play the game with more than two people

It took me quite a while to find this article about Rock, Paper, Scissors at indopedia.org, which explains how the game can be played by more than two:

The game is easily adaptable to more than just two players. This variant works remarkably well, even for large groups. The rules are the same, with the following exceptions:

  • If all three weapon types are played, or only one type of weapon is played, the round is considered to be a draw. A new round begins.
  • If there are only two different weapon types showing between all of the players, then all of the players showing the losing weapon are eliminated.

A different way for three players

Let us add another “weapon”, called Lizard, like this:

Weapons and winning sequence for 3 player Rock Paper Scissors

Weapons and winning sequence for 3 Player Rock Paper Scissors

(I based the illustration image on another one from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Pierre_ciseaux_feuille_l%C3%A9zard_spock.svg by Nojhan )

The game for three players is played like the original version, with this order

  • Lizard beats Scissors
  • Scissors beats Paper
  • Paper beats Rock
  • Rock beats Lizard

Count to three, and on three, each player chooses one of the weapons with their hand.

How to determine the winner with the extra weapon?

What you do is look at the sequence of weapons chosen. For example, here

Blue player: Lizard, Yellow player: Scissors, Purple Player: Paper

Player Blue: Lizard, Player Yellow: Scissors, Player Purple: Paper

Player Blue chose Lizard, Player Yellow chose Scissors, and Player Purple chose Paper. Lizard beats Scissors, Scissors beats Paper. So you would say Player Blue, who chose Lizard, won, right?

What to do when two players choose the same weapon? Let’s say like this:

Blue and Yellow player: Lizard, Purple Player: Paper

Player Blue and Player Yellow: Scissors, Player Purple: Paper

Both Player Blue and Player Yellow chose Scissors, Player Purple chose Paper. Scissors beats Paper. There are two winners, so now Player Blue and Player Yellow play a round of 2-player Rock-Paper-Scissors to determine the winner.

Let’s look at this case,

Blue and Purple player: Paper, Yellow Player: Scissors

Player Blue and Player Purple: Paper, Player Yellow: Scissors

both Player Blue and Player Purple chose Paper, and Player Yellow chose Scissors. Scissors beats Paper, so Player Yellow won. No need for a 2-player round.

Obviously, if all players choose the same weapon, then it is a draw, and the game starts from the top.

Two different versions of this game

Now we come to a case that has no equivalent in the 2-player version:

Player Blue and Player Yellow: Lizard, Player Purple: Paper

Player Blue and Player Yellow: Lizard, Player Purple: Paper

Two player chose the same weapon, and the other player chose a weapon that neither beats the other weapon directly, or is beaten by it. (They are opposite in the circle).

Here I see two options. Either this is declared a draw, or the player who chose the single weapon is declared the winner. I think time will tell which is the better choice.


I’ll try to explain the advantage of adding another weapon in a separate post. Stay tuned!


Thanks go to my friends Sara and Gerry who played this game with me yesterday. Sara won.


All illustrations licensed under Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic


Put a website together that allows you to play the game over the Internet: rpsmatch.com. You can either play with one (standard “Rock, Paper, Scissors”), or two other players (“Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard”). Operated by my company, The Buckmaster Institute, Inc.

// This probably still needs some editing, will keep updating //

La Cumparsita: Piano Lesson with Linda Lee Thomas

March 19, 2010 music No comments

Last fall I practiced Nocturne No 9/2 by Chopin on the piano (on youtube: Horowitz, Rubinstein, Shebanova, Yundi Li). I found it pretty difficult, because it’s very delicate, and for me there was a lot more stretching, and the left hand moves a lot farther distances than in the Moonlight Sonata). The right hand needs to play louder than the left hand and the pedal is absolutely necessary.

“Discovering” La Cumparsita

I managed to play it reasonably well by the time we had our piano party, after which I wasn’t sure which piece to practice next. I looked through some score books that I discovered in my bookshelf. I could recognize most titles, and tried them out and nothing seemed appealing, when I got to a piece titled La Cumparsita. I didn’t know it, so I went over to trusty youtube, searched for “La Cumparsita piano“, and came across a lot of nice versions, but I found this rendition by Alberto Dogliotti just amazing. Isn’t that wonderful?

Little bit of background

La Cumparsita is originally not a piano piece. From wikipedia:… it was written by Gerardo Matos Rodríguez, an Uruguayan musician, in 1917. It is among the most famous and recognizable tango songs of all time. The title translates as “The little parade” and the original lyrics begin: “The little parade of endless miseries…” It was named cultural and popular anthem of Uruguay. (There are some more links further down)

Starting to practice

So I tried going through the scores that I had. They didn’t come out anything like what I found on youtube. I went to a music store, to buy scores, but they had none (to my surprise). So I searched the internet for other scores, and found this one. I practiced that for a while but didn’t find it too satisfying.

Pointed to Linda Lee Thomas

I mentioned my latest ambition to my friend Chris Startup, a professional Jazz Saxophone player. He recommended I should ask Linda Lee Thomas for help.I called her up and left a message and got no reply. So I thought of looking her up on the Internet. Oh my, she is the principal pianist for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. I mean I’m really not that good of a player. I called a subscriber of the Vancouver tango mailing list, Gabriela Rojo, if she knows someone and she also recommended Linda. Ok well, I called again. She was very encouraging! I told her I am kind of stuck because I have no scores, and she said that’s right, I need to “make something up”. She would be away to Argentina, the heart of Tango, until the beginning of March. We could meet after she returns.

“Making something up”

So ok, I tried to make something up. I simply changed the left hand from the scores that I had: just repeat the whole chord + the octave (in the scores the chord is broken up) in quarter notes, and at the last 8th play a half note down. I thought that sounds like tango, and it took me quite a while to complete that for the whole piece. I also modulated the volume a little bit (in fact it gets quite loud). Sorry, I don’t have a recording. Its really quite simple. Still it is enjoyable; for example, I heared my family humming the tune after my playing. On the other hand it is far from what I found on Youtube;  they do a lot more with the left hand, but I couldn’t figure out what it is.

The Lesson

So I thought that was a good basis for a lesson with Linda; I called her up at the beginning of the week, and we arranged to meet today! My hope was to find out what happens in the left hand. From what I could tell it was playing a few bass notes, then contributing to the melody, breaking up the chords into much less notes than my scores had, and how I was playing it.

So now let me explain what I learned at this lesson.

I started to play what I had put together. I didn’t make too many mistakes, still she praised me for getting this far by myself. She said I must have a good ear. I guess I cannot tell, but maybe that helps. However, she said the way I played it is the “American” way, as opposed to the “Argentine” way, the American way being associated with Ballroom dancing, which is looked down upon in the Latin tango world. Hey, that makes sense. I guess I was after that Argentinian way.

So she sat down and played the Argentinian way: yes that is great, that is what I want to learn. How to get there? I really need to practice a phrase over and over again, so on the spot I find it difficult to duplicate. So she reduced it to a lot less notes in the left hand. Let’s just break up the chord, play its notes as individual quarter notes, but then syncopate the first note – play it a little earlier.

Ok, I think I got that. Now we made it even more simpler: play the root note of the chord, and then the same note an octave higher. With the melody in the right hand that already sounds a lot better!

As far as I understood the right hand then plays the chord notes added below the melody note (which is pretty standard for the piano I guess), plus maybe an octave lower.

Well, that is as much as I could reproduce on the spot. She scolded me for using what she referred to as the American phrase, which is the last-but-one bar in the scores that I have. This is associated with the “American” tango. Instead, what she plays at the end of part A (the piece comes in parts A-B-A-C-A), is d-g, possibly completed to chords, possibly the chords broken up into very fast notes. It really sounds very nice!

Now I also asked her about how she starts the piece. While getting to understand the syncopation, she was playing the right hand (and me the left), but she would always have a nice introductory phrase. I wanted to know how that works – I’m not quite able to grasp whole chords and play them. So this phrase has two parts, the first one of which is just F-F#-G which she pointed out as an important element. After that follow three chords, G-minor, F-major, E-flat-major. Then with the D-minor chord the tune starts.

I asked about using the pedal. With my version, I couldn’t make out any use for it. But when playing just a few notes in the base, and the melody with higher notes, it makes sense to use the pedal to make the bass notes last.

She pointed out that Tango likes to take up the full range of the piano, all high and low notes, “just play it higher, and then lower”.

As I mentioned earlier, I couldn’t immediately play that much of what she showed me right on the spot. I hope that I now can better hear what is going on. She gave me a list of names to find artists  for inspiration:

I think what is not in the scores is what you can only learn from teachers, and really at the heart of learning music; here there are no scores available. So thanks a lot to you, Linda, for sharing your knowledge!!

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