Friday, July 27, 2012

Learning Classical Guitar, the Saga continues!

Ahh ... the pursuits of Summer! Finally, it's time for some R&R. I know, perish the thought, but its time for some non Math related activities! In fact, I'm off for the whole Summer for the first time in 30 years! Can you believe it? I'm still pinching myself. I guess this is a practice run at retirement? Now I finally have plenty of time to devote to walking, biking, swimming and eating right! For me, the Summer is a spiritual time to regroup and fortify myself mind, body and soul for next school year. I like to focus on outdoor activities for exercise and a good diet. Its also time for more soulful activities of Wood and Stone such as playing chess and classical guitar. I'm attending to some of my old hobbies such as gaming, reading and catching up on genre TV and film.

I haven't blogged much about this but, not only am I a Science Fact slash Science Fiction geek, but I am also a huge Classical Music geek! I am into all periods of instrumental music from chamber pieces to orchestral. I'm especially enamored of all forms of "Classical Guitar." I played the violin from 7th to 12th grade in school some 33 years ago. I was 1st violin for all 4 years of High School. I was even the Concert Master and Conductor from time to time. So, a few years ago, I thought I could teach myself how to play Classical Guitar! I love all periods of guitar repertoire: Baroque, Classical, Renaissance and Modern. I've played Violin, Mandolin, Guitar and Lute. I love Baroque, Spanish, Flamenco and Celtic tunes too! So, in my "copious" free time, I've not progressed very far, but it's been a fun journey. What follows, therefore, is a Math slash Physics Teacher's take on alternative tunings for the Modern Acoustic Guitar with nylon strings. I suppose I'll have to take off my Computer Science hat since we haven't dealt with microprocessor clock speeds in Hz since Grace Murray Hopper and the Harvard Mark I!

First, I tried classic finger style guitar a la Andres Segovia and Fred Noad. The problem with Modern Standard Guitar Tuning is that it mixes 4ths and 3rds? Since I'm used to the Violin which is tuned to all perfect 5ths, the fingerings and deciphering standard notation on the Guitar turned into a massive headache for me. So, I ended up using a lot of TAB. You know, if I were a High School student today, for all that everyone thinks I'm a math and computing genius, I would be classified special ed! I have a very bad memory and I'm dyslexic. So, I really have a hard time learning new things. That's why I'm a Math teacher, I derive everything I need from scratch each day depending on the topic at hand. That way I don't have to memorize much. Now, I even need reading glasses to see anything small or close up. I blame TI for that. I've been peering at Graphing Calculator screens everyday for the last 20 years. If they were like today's iPod screens which are back-lit, hi res and hi color, that would be one thing. However, the TI screens are all dark, low res and grey scaled ... ugh!

Standard Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: B3 246.9 Hz (3rd)
string 3: G3 196.0 Hz
string 4: D3 329.6 Hz
string 5: A2 110.0 Hz
string 6: E2 82.41 Hz

This is the standard tuning for the modern acoustic guitar. All the strings are tuned a perfect 4th apart with one exception. The interval between strings 3 and 4 is only a 3rd. Its very confusing to play with such a tuning when you're used to all 5ths tuning on the violin!

Then I tried the flamenco style when I got myself an Esteban Guitar. The price (I got it off QVC) was not bad for a decent guitar, case and amp! The problem with the Esteban technique is that it was not based on standard music notation, nor was it based on Spanish, aka modern, guitar TAB. It was based on playing by ear or by watching the fingerings on his VHS tapes or some wacko notation he made up!

Alternate Flamenco Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: B3 246.9 Hz (3rd)
string 3: G3 196.0 Hz
string 4: D3 329.6 Hz
string 5: A2 110.0 Hz (5th)
string 6: D2 73.42 Hz

There are a lot of variations when tuning the Flamenco Guitar. This one is called the "DAD" variant. Its simple to retune a standard guitar by dropping the 6th string one step from E2 to D2 giving a 5th interval between strings 6 and 5.
I finally broke down and went back to my violin roots learning Mandolin Scores. Playing the Mandolin is a lot like playing the Violin except you use a pick. Also, tuning the Mandolin is a lot like tuning the Violin with perfect 5ths except its like a Lute in that it has courses not just single strings. Courses are 2 strings tuned to the same pitch. So, the Mandolin still has 4 pitches like the Violin, but it has 8 strings! Playing the Mandolin was fun and brought back memories of my Violin repertoire. However, the timbre of the higher courses were too tinny for my liking.

Standard Mandolin/ViolinTuning
High (reference)
course/string 1: E5 659.3 Hz
course/string 2: A4 440.0 Hz
course/string 3: D4 293.7 Hz
course/string 4: G3 196.0 Hz

This is the tuning I'm used to as it uses all 5ths as intervals between each pair of strings. BTW, retuning a guitar is easy if you have an electronic tuner. I have a cool app on my DROIDX smart phone called gStrings. It samples inputted audio and tells you what frequency and note you have tuned a particular string to ... very handy!

Standard Viola Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: A4 440.0 Hz
string 2: D4 293.7 Hz
string 3: G3 196.0 Hz
string 4: C3 130.8 Hz

Note that this tuning is just like Violin tuning except the 4th string starts a 5th below.

Standard Cello Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: A3 220.0 Hz
string 2: D3 146.8 Hz
string 3: G2 98.00 Hz
string 4: C2 65.41 Hz

This tuning is like the Viola except that every string on the Cello is tuned an octave below the corresponding string of the Viola (note all frequencies are half as much, eg A 440 becomes A 220).

Standard Bass Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: D3 146.8 Hz
string 2: G2 98.00 Hz
string 3: C2 65.41 Hz
string 4: F1 46.25 Hz

Bass tuning is to the Cello as Viola tuning is to the Violin since all strings are a 5th lower!
Finally, I discovered a great music teacher, Allan Alexander and all his scores and CDs on EBay! I consider myself lucky to have had 2 great music teachers in my life. Pedro Biava was my first teacher. He taught me the Violin and conducted the High School orchestra. He was also director of the Longwood School District's Music Program. He started it on a prayer and grew the program to great success over his 30 year career. He also played a mean Cello. My second teacher is Allan Alexander. I discovered his website (see link above) and his EBay store. That's where I purchased all his score books and CD bundles for learning to play the Guitar and Mandolin. His master piece, however, in my opinion is "The Guitarist's Lute Book." This ingenious book was all about playing French TAB for the 6-course Renaissance Lute on the modern Acoustic Guitar simply by down tuning the G string to F# and placing a capo on the 3rd fret thus achieving Standard Lute Tuning on the guitar. Also, learning French TAB was easy, with Allan's help! It's like Spanish TAB, except instead of numbering the fingerings as 0,1,2,3,4,5 letters a,b,c,d,e are used. Also, the letters are in a fancy font: c looks like r so as not to confuse it with e and d looks like a lowercase Greek letter delta. BTW, I can be forgiven for playing TAB here as most, if not all, surviving Renaissance Lute music was recorded in French TAB (sample below).

Standard LuteTuning
High (reference)
course 1: G4 392.0 Hz
course 2: D4 293.7 Hz
course 3: A3 220.0 Hz (3rd)
course 4: F3 174.6 Hz
course 5: C3 130.8 Hz
course 6: G2 98.00 Hz

The first thing I learned from Allan was how to tune a Guitar as a Lute. Simply take a standard Guitar, tune the 3rd string down a half tone from G to F#. Then place a capo on the 3rd fret!

Now, I finally decided to try my own tuning! I wanted to go back to 5ths tuning on the Guitar so I could easily play it as a Mandolin. I'll call mine Cello Guitar Tuning which is somewhere between the New Standard Tuning (NST) and MandoGuitar Tuning. The California Guitar Trio in the YouTube above is known for using NST. With my tuning I can play finger style guitar with mandolin, violin and even Cello Scores!

All 5ths Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: B4 493.9 Hz (too high)
string 2: E4 329.6 Hz
string 3: A3 220.0 Hz
string 4: D3 146.8 Hz
string 5: G2 98.00 Hz
string 6: C2 65.41 Hz

This would be the ideal tuning as the intervals between each pair of strings is a perfect 5th. However, the standard high E string on the guitar will snap when tuned to 493.9 Hz! The solution here would be to get a string with a slightly smaller wire gauge and replace the E string with it. I'll have to experiment with other gauges.

New Standard Guitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: G4 392.0 Hz (3rd)
string 2: E4 329.6 Hz
string 3: A3 220.0 Hz
string 4: D3 146.8 Hz
string 5: G2 98.00 Hz
string 6: C2 65.41 Hz

NST was put forward to solve the problem of streching the high E string too much. The compromise here is to give up the perfect 5th interval for just the highest pair of strings and tune to a perfect 3rd instead. They say this makes for easier chords but I'd like to stick to all 5ths somehow.

MandoGuitar Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: A3 220.0 Hz
string 3: D3 146.8 Hz
string 4: G2 98.00 Hz
string 5: C2 65.41 Hz
string 6: F1 43.65 Hz (too low)

MandoGuitar takes the tradition of the Classical Guitar player's playing treble clef violin or mandolin scores as is, without transcription, tuning the guitar an octave lower. The standard high E 329.6 (an octave lower than the high E on the Violin) is retained but the rest of the guitar is tuned in 5ths. You could probably play Cello repertoire as this tuning will include Cello tuning A3, D3, G2 and C2! However, F1 is too low a frequency even for the highest gauge string.

myCelloGuitar1 Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: A3 220.0 Hz
string 3: D3 146.8 Hz
string 4: G2 98.00 Hz
string 5: G2 98.00 Hz
string 6: C2 65.41 Hz

Here's my solution for fixing the MandoGuitar F1 problem! However, G2 on string 4 is still a bit too loose.

myCelloGuitar2 Tuning
High (reference)
string 1: E4 329.6 Hz
string 2: A3 220.0 Hz
string 3: D3 146.8 Hz
string 4: G2 98.00 Hz
string 5: C2 65.41 Hz

Here's my final solution for the MandoGuitar F1 problem - just 5 strings! G2 and C2 on strings 4 and 5 are a bit easier to play. So, get rid of the standard D string and restring! In other words, move the 2 lowest strings from positions 5 and 6 up to positions 4 and 5 then retune to G2 and C2. 5 strings is enough for what I want to achieve: a Guitar on which you can play Violin and Cello scores easily. Maybe a higher gauge string 6 would work, but the guitar would have to be redrilled too.

Bach, johann sebastian prelude from suite no.1 for unaccompanied cello sheet music - 8notes from A Jorge Garcia

So, in conclusion, my favorite tuning is Allan's 6-course Renaissance Lute! However, I will try some Violin and Mandolin repertoire on my CelloGuitar. I'm using CelloGuitar1 right now, but I will be trying CelloGuitar2 or all 5ths with a thinner string1. I always wondered how the Classical Guitarists play Bach's Cello Suites on a standard guitar since the transcriptions would have been horrendous! Now I know, they just retuned to 5ths!

Well, that's all folks. I hope you enjoyed my latest blog on Summer diversions. I know it's unusual for this blog to touch on genre related topics and hobbies and such. You can expect, however, a few more along this vein this Summer! 

Generally Speaking,

Monday, July 23, 2012

Khan Academy: Savior of the American Educational System?

The video above is an entry in a contest. These Khan Academy critiques, in the style of MST3K or Mystery Science Theater 3000, are about making a screencast of your own critiquing a Khan Academy video. This challenge is called the MTT2K Prize: Mystery Teacher Theater 2000 Prize. Many of Khan's videos are good introductions to the topic at hand. However, many teachers complain that the Academy is being touting as "all things to all people." In other words, can these videos take the place of actual classroom learning? The "Powers That Be" now feel justified in cutting teachers' jobs and subscribing their school to the Academy instead! Many educators, however, feel that Khan is a "Jack of all trades, but a Master of none." Many of the videos have subtle, if not blatant, errors and misconceptions not altogether obvious to the layman. Why not let the professional educators be the judge?

What follows is a reply to a related thread on the ap-physics edg, aka listserv, about the effectiveness of Khan Academy videos in the context of the flipped classroom:

It doesn't take funding from a Jaugernaut like the Gates Foundation to make, edit and index educational videos on YouTube! I've been doing so on a budget of spit and shoe polish for some 5 years now. I'm not saying that my videos will save American Education or that they are the best educational screencasts ever made. I simply screencast all the new material from one given course each year live as I teach. I teach primarily Math and CompSci now, so I'm not the savior for Physics. But I now have over 5 years worth of video resources to show for my efforts on YouTube for my students' benefit. 

I have 3 different Calculus courses, 1 of preCalculus and 1 of AP CompSci plus a few SAGE tutorials on YouTube. I will continue to record one course each year. I will focus on courses that I haven't had the chance to record yet or rerecord a course when there's a significant change in content, technology or delivery. 

For instance, next year I will record my preCompSci class for the whole year as I never had the chance to record it before and since its expanding to a full year for the first time. Also, next year I am experimenting with new technology (using SAGE instead of a TI-83) in preCalc, so 2 years from now I will rerecord preCalc. I am also using a new textbook this coming year in AP Calc BC, so 3 years from now I will rerecord that class! I recorded my Summer Calc I and Calc II a few Summers ago. I will have to record AP Calc AB sometime before I retire.... 

I am doing all this recording as much for the students in my class and online as I am for myself. Now, I have a record of YouTubes as well as SmartNotes and code for the courses I teach most often to help me prep and improve future classes! I also get students from other schools here in the States and internationally that don't have access to these classes that email me about their successes and are very grateful for such a resource. I find their successes most gratifying as well!

Sample Quote from my YouTube Channel, CalcPage2009:
@calcpage2009 "Hey Mr. Garcia. I just want to say thank you so much for posting all of those videos of your AP Computer Science class. My school didn't offer AP CS so it was up to me to find some way to educate myself on the topic to pass the test. Your videos were a crucial part of my self-learning process. I totally didn't understand gridworld when I tried to study it myself, and then your videos were able to clear up just about everything about it. Thanks to you I got a 5 on the AP Test. Thank you for the help."

My Reply:
@justforfun610 "Wow, that's great! You really got a 5 on the APCS Exam after watching my videos? Lucky for you I decided to record this course this year for the first time! Sorry I didn't get to finish GridWorld Part IV and some of the final project...."

Here's a note I got on my Edmodo page for APCS:
Joey O: "Learning with u guys has been such a previledge and I will remain grateful. I have begun teaching some of the material I learnt to my peers here in Africa!"

So, do these videos fix what's wrong with the American Educational System? No! Am I going to rush into flipping all my classes next year? No! Should YouTube or Khan Academy replace teachers in the classroom? No! But, screencasts of your own classes for your own use do have thier benefits! My students especially like being able to review old videos for material they are rusty on. Also, they can make up work very quickly when they are absent.

***UPDATE*** I had several email queries about my "recording studio" aka screencasting setup. So, here's some of my my replies:

Reply 1: 
Whenever I'm recording a keyboard intensive course such as AP Computer Science where I'm typing a lot of code during class, I'm sitting in the back of the room at my PC but I still have the wireless mic on in case I have to move around the room or go to the SmartBoard briefly at the front of the room. I designed my room for AP Computer Science students, so this is a natural way for me to teach. I even setup all their monitors so I can see what they are doing from the back of the room! However, I do use the SmartBoard and VTI from the front of the room a lot in Math classes.

I've been using a Radio Shack 75 MHz wireless lapel mic like
this for years now. The one pictured is not 75 MHz but its otherwise just like mine. Its not the best mic in the world but its reasonably priced. I got it for $50. I added a warranty policy from Radio Shack for $5 and had the whole thing replaced for free a year later when I snapped the wire on my lapel clean off! I've been told that there's better mic solutions out there, but whenever I try one like this I always go back to the Radio Shack model!

Here's a picture gallery of my room right after I got a SmartBoard for the first time:
SmartBoards, FlatScreens and IdeaPads, oh my!

Here's how I setup my hardware:
CIS(theta) Natty 64bit Ubuntu Install Fest!

Here's some more about my "recording studio:"
ScreenCasting 101 - To Be Or Not To Be?
SmartBoards in Linux? They said it could not be done!
Setting up for LIMACON is hard to do!
SmartNotebook for Linux, I Presume?

Reply 2: 
Thanx for all the kind words! I'm glad you got something out of my blog. I hope you visit often. I have some 300 posts dating back to 2009 mainly on teaching Calculus and Computer Science with technology in the classroom. Please feel free to use any of my freebies from my blog's side bar: screencasts, smartnotes and code! If you are interested, I also have a link to my EBay store here and at the bottom of this page!

BTW, I use a Radio Shack 75 MHz lapel mic! It has served me well. It has 2 components. One part is the base which plugs into an AC outlet and also connects to the headphone output socket on my PC. The other component I put in my pocket and is powered by batteries. It has a wire to a lapel mic that I usually clip to my tie or shirt just under my chin. Beware the batteries you use! I found out the hard way that the unit I put in my pocket eats batteries for breakfast. Ordinary alkaline batteries would literally last only a few hours of recording time. You really need to get some of those Lithium Ion EverReady AA batteries which will give you weeks of recording time say 1 or 2 periods per day! 

Also, the Graphing Calculator Emulator I use in my screencasts is VTI: Virtual TI.

***UPDATES SQUARED*** Here's a related email query I just recieved:

"Hi Mr. Garcia,
I am an instructional technologist at a small girls high school in Queens, NY. One of my teachers was very excited to see one of your videos and shared it with me to get some answers to a big questions she has after watching 

In your lesson, you are talking with students about getting a new SMARTBoard. Your students clearly believe they are a waste of money, and you clearly had a $300 alternative.  We are on an extremely limited budget, and I am looking for alternatives to SMART boards.  CAn you tell me what device you were using in the video?  And is Ziggy a name for the IT calculator or is that the name of the interactive tool you are using.

I am very impressed by your website and work. I intend to share it with all of our math teachers!

I would appreciate your help and hope to hear from you soon!"

Here's my reply:

"Thanx for the kind words and for sharing my materials! I'm more than happy to answer your question.

(1) As you can see, I was "SmartBoarding" long before I even had a SmartBoard. I was using Smarttech products, however. What you see in the video is a combinations of SmartNotebook with the Smart Airliner Slate. The Airliner is really another name for a Wacom 6x8 Graphire BlueTooth Tablet otherwise used by graphic artists. It is very easy to connect to your PC but it does take a little getting used to writing on it. This tablet is not like the more modern iPad or Xoom as you cannot see what you write on the tablet itself, but it has proven quite useful. I still use it as a portable SmartBoard when I'm on the road at a Math Conference or when teaching my Summer course at the local college.

(2) Ziggie is my nickname for the TI-83 Graphing Calculator. What you see on the video is Virtual TI software which lets you emulate the TI-83 by copying your calculator's OS to the PC.

(3) If you want to record for YouTube as I do, all you need to add is screencasting software and a mic. I like an online screencast solution called and the 75 MHz Wireless Lapel Mic from Radio Shack."

A. Jorge Garcia
Applied Math, Physics & CS

Well, that's all folks!

Teaching with Technology,

Friday, July 13, 2012

Great Science Fiction & Fantasy: What not to watch ... on TV?

Ahh ... the pursuits of Summer! Finally, it's time for some R&R. I know, perish the thought, but its time for some non Math related activities! In fact, I'm off for the whole Summer for the first time in 30 years! Can you believe it? I'm still pinching myself. I guess this is a practice run at retirement? Now I finally have plenty of time to devote to walking, biking, swimming and eating right! For me, the Summer is a spiritual time to regroup and fortify myself mind, body and soul for next school year. I like to focus on outdoor activities for exercise and a good diet. Its also time for more soulful activities of Wood and Stone such as playing chess and classical guitar. I'm attending to some of my old hobbies such as gaming, reading and catching up on genre TV and film.

This posting was supposed to be about great SciFi TV that you can't watch on TV much anymore, but you can see, mostly FREE, on Amazon Prime and on your Kindle Fire. I'll get back to that, but first, here's an update on more current SciFi you can watch on TV! BTW, I've had Amazon Prime for years to get free 2-day shipping on all my books. Recently, this service was upgraded to include tons of TV episodes and movies, many for FREE. It's like getting NetFlix for FREE! Well, not FREE actually, as I was already paying $69 per year for Amazon Prime. I will also note if each series is available on Amazon Prime and Kindle Fire and provide links to sample episodes. BTW, Amazon Prime is built into your Kindle!

What follows is a list of my top 10 genre TV shows, past and present. The first 4 are the current shows and the last 6 are off the air listed in chronological order of appearance on TV. I'm not playing favorites here, but I am partial to Merlin of late!

(1)    OK, I admit it, this is my guilty pleasure. I got hooked on Supernatural when I was home sick with the flu a few years ago and caught a pile of reruns on TNT. I know, I know, this isn't Science Fiction nor is it Fantasy, its more like Horror, but the whole stopping Armageddon story arc was fascinating! This past season was post apocalyptic and not all that exciting until Arch Angel Castiel (youtube link) came back. It was interesting how they got Bobby, Sam and Dean's pseudo father figure and mentor demon hunter, back into the fight as a ghost for a while and touching when they finally let him go.

(2)    Now, this series is a lot of fun for the Fantasy genre, unless you think Camelot was real! Merlin chronicles the adventures of the young wizard. That's right, we meet Merlin before he's come into his full power. In fact, he's Prince Arthur's man servant??? I think it took 4 seasons (youtube link) before Arthur becomes King and takes Excalibur from the stone! There's even a great dragon character with the perfect voice of John Hurt. I caught the first season by accident a few Summers ago as a filler on NBC. Then, this series was snatched up by SyFy and each season is better than the last. I think it originated on the BBC.

(3)    Wow, what a shame this one was cancelled. So, I guess I lied, you can't watch this one on the air after all! The first season is on Kindle, so enjoy. TerraNova (youtube link) is about a family from 2149 that goes back 70 million years to start a colony in the midst of dinosaurs and all kinds of weird threats. Good thing too, the future is overpopulated with few remaining resources - you can't even breath the air without a rebreather! TerraNova was on during the Fall of 2010 for a half season on Fox. I thought it was coming back in the Spring for another half season, but it never did. Gotta love those half seasons! It was cancelled before the Fall of 2011. I hope SyFy picks this one up as it had a very promising beginning. Fox finally got a genre series on that I liked! Sorry, I never really got into the X-FilesHeroes or Fringe....

(4)    Falling Skies (youtube link) is great! It's about a present day family thrust into combat with invading aliens and the aliens are winning! The alien invaders have destroyed every major city and taken many humans as slaves. There's but a few resistance forces left. Noah Wyle plays the father, Professor Mason, of three boys. This history professor soon becomes a leader in the 2nd Mass. This resistance cell is in Massachusetts and is fighting the aliens in the spirit of our own revolutionary war against the Red Coats (hence, the history professor connection)! The first season was produced by Spielberg and the current season is being produced by Noah Wyle of ER and The Librarian fame. After each show, has an interview with cast and crew conducted by Wil Wheaton. Don't miss this series currently on TNT!

Now, back to what not to watch on TV. I've been watching great SF&F TV and Movies since the 1960s as recommended below and reading great SF&F novels since the 1970s. I remember the days before VCRs and DVRs when you had to watch every single first run episode live! I think I've watched every single first run episode of all the Star Trek series live since the very first season in 1966 even when VCRs became all the rage. In fact, I still have every single Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS that I taped live starting with my first VCR in 1987! BTW, I am using SF&F here to stand for Science Fiction & Fantasy as opposed to Science Fact & Fiction as in the case of I-CON and my EBay store: SFFBCLUB, the Science Fact and Fiction Book CLUB.

What follows is a list of my favorite SciFi TV shows that I've been watching loyally over the years. I think that I've seen most as first run episodes with the exception of the first Twilight Zone series and the first Outer Limits series. I recommend all these shows, however, I highly recommend those with an (*) mark. For instance, the original Twilight Zone was far superior to the remakes. However, the 1995 version of Outer Limits on ShowTime was a vast improvement over the original! Also, I note whether or not each series is available on Kindle Fire and whether its FREE on Amazon Prime. For the starred seasons, I also linked my fave ep! BTW, please note that the Kindle Fire is not just a great ebook reader, its a fabulous 7" Droid Tablet with WiFi!

1) Twilight Zone, 1985
1) Twilight Zone, 2002
     I grew up with the Space Race and Star Trek: The Original Series. In conjunction with that, I was introduced to the wonderful world of reruns watching I Love Lucy, Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. When anyone brings up the best Twilight Zone (youtube link) episode, they always go with the Shatner episode with the gremlin on the wing at 20000 feet or "The Eye of the Beholder." However, my favorite episode, by far, is "Time enough, at last" with the legendary Burgess Meredith (linked above). This episode is about a poor old bookworm who can't seem to find enough time to read. Of course, there's a classic twist at the end, but I won't ruin it for you if you haven't seen it yet. T-Zone has always been one of the best written shows on TV. This show follows in a long tradition of live plays on early TV and SciFi short short fiction. Don't forget that Rod Serling also wrote the first Planet of the Apes movie in the same twisty style!

2) Outer Limits, 1963, $1.99 per episode on Kindle Fire
     The New Outer Limits link I selected is actually a remake of an original series episode. "I, Robot" (youtube link) stars Leonard Nimoy and is loosely based on the Asimov stories about robots. What's interesting here is that Nimoy starred in both episodes. In the original version, I think he played a minor role as a newspaper reporter. In the remake, directed by Adam Nimoy no less, Leonard plays the defense attorney in a case where the Robot is accused of murdering his creator!

3) Star Trek: Voyager, 1995, ALL Seasons FREE on Kindle Fire
3) Star Trek: Enterprise, 2001, ALL Seasons FREE on Kindle Fire
     Star Trek is, IMHO, the best of the lot. The acting was good, the Shakespearean themes were current and the music was based on impressionist classical scores! I remember growing up on such fare in the 1960s. Then, of course, there was nothing but reruns in the 1970s until the Star Wars franchise changed all that in 1978! The rest is, as they say, history as Star Wars took off in theaters and Star Trek: The Next Generation took off in the 1980s back on TV. So, these linked episodes are indeed my all time favorites. For ST:TOS, I chose the episode that introduced the Romulans for the first time and the great Mark Leonard (who, for some strange reason, I confuse with Martin Landau from Space 1999). Leonard (youtube link) played the Romulan commander of an invading force with a top secret weapon. This weapon was a powerful plasma cannon coupled with the first cloaking device. This episode was a great game of cat and mouse with Kirk giving chase in the classic style of a WWII silent running submarine movie.  Leonard, of course, went on to play Spock's father in later episodes of both TOS and TNG as well as the movies. ST:TNG's link is "The Inner Light." I think this one won an Emmy for Patrick Stewart. In this episode Picard is swept up in a dream life on another world. He actually experiences an entire life on that planet and learns all about the other 1000 year old culture now defunct. This is one of the most impressive episodes of TNG. Dr. Crusher chalks it up to an ordinary dream but Picard even remembers how to play a recorder after he returns to his normal self - something he never knew how to play before. That flute comes out in subsequent episodes too! How amazing it must be to experience an entire lifetime in just 15 minutes of real time be it a dream or not! There's lots of great DS9 episodes, but I had to pick "Trials and Tribbulations." Gotta love those Tribbles! This ep is marvelous as it includes Sisco and Dax traveling back in time and joining the crew of Kirk's first Enterprise during the the original "The Trouble with Tribbles" story!

4) BattleStar Galactica, 1978, $1.99 per episode on Kindle Fire
4) Caprica: 2009, $1.99 per episode some FREE previews on Kindle Fire
     The original BattleStar Galactica was a bit campy, but the newer version was great! Too bad its over! Edward James Olmos (youtube link) was awesome as Admiral Adama. The writers really fleshed out the whole Adama family dynamic. The new female StarBuck and Boomer characters were fantastic too. Speaking of campy, I've avoided those shows that were not really "hard SciFi." Which shows am I referring to? Here's the 1960s short list: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and Lost in Space. I can't list anything in the 1970s as there was no new SciFi TV to speak of! The 1980s and 1990s were great due to Star Trek, StarGate and The New Outer Limits. Here's a more recent short list: Hercules, Xena and Legend of the Seeker. Of all these campy series, only Seeker is FREE? Actually, I don't mind Lost in Space so much as I like Billy Mumy who was also in Twilight Zone, Babylon 5 and even TNG. The jury is still out on the likes of Dark Shadows, Night GalleryDr. WhoSpace 1999, DarkSide, SeaQuest DSVQuantum Leap and Farscape. Note: the Space 1999 and DSV links are not Kindle links and DarkSide is the only series I couldn't find on Amazon.

5) Crusade, 1999, $1.99 per episode on Kindle Fire
     I remember meeting Joseph Michael Straczynski at I-CON years before he started work on Babylon 5 in earnest. He had some mini screen plays and short stories about the space station that he read at the con, but that was about it. I could tell right away that Michael was very talented and was going places! His stories, his world and his characters were nothing short of genius. Too bad Babylon 5 was cancelled early! Yup, you heard right. Michael had fleshed out a 5 year story arc which was very dense. However, the original network, PTE: Prime Time Entertainment which aired on WOR Channel 9 in NYC, cancelled Babylon 5 after only 3 seasons. Luckily, SciFi (not yet SyFy at the time, don't get me started) picked up the series but only for one more year. So, Michael had to condense the last 2 years of his story to 1 year. I still don't know how he did it. Maybe that's why he still had material left over for Crusade? I almost didn't get to see the pilot episode of Babylon 5. At the time, cable TV was not yet that common and I was on rabbit ears (google it). So, I was waiting with baited breath for the long awaited pilot in February of 1993. Wouldn't you know, that was the same day that the World Trade Center was bombed for the first time? Darn terrorists decided to load up a MiniVan with exposives, park it in the subbasement and blow it up. Luckily, that did not bring down the towers but 6 people were killed and many more were injured. So, neeless to say, power was out in the building and the antennas on the roof were not serving up Channel 9 that night. I was actually able to watch the pilot in March when they re-aired it which was not usually done. The link above is of a great episode with Michael York as guest star. York plays a traveler that everyone seems to think is delusional when he claims to be King Arthur. The only one who believes the story is G'Kar (youtube link) who is dubbed the Red Knight! G'Kar was my favorite character possibly because he was played by the phenomenal Andreas Katsulas. Bill Mumy was a regular star and Walter Koenig played a secondary character in the cast. Did you know that Walter, of ST:TOS Pavel Chekov fame, is soon to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame?

6) StarGate: Universe, 2009, ALL Seasons FREE on Kindle Fire
     Thank goodness for StarGate. Of all the SciFi on TV, I think this is the one series to keep alive the spirit of wonder and exploration that was at the heart of Star Trek. The writers, characters and actors in these series were all grand! StarGate also had a lot of humor and references to other great series. The SG-1 link above is one such story about Major O'Niel's getting stuck in a 24 hour time loop with Teal'c at the base and all the funny problems they get into trying to unravel the problem. I especially like the treatment of the scientists in these series. The Atlantis link above is about two of my favorite scientists in the series. Dr Jackson from SG-1 and Dr. McKay from Atlantis work together when a hidden lab on Atlantis is discovered. Now that I think about it, there was a comical episode of Atlantis where McKay goes back to Earth to attend a conference during a short leave. Who does he encounter there but Niel DeGrass Tyson and Bill Nye (youtube link) playing themselves! There was even one actor there that was supposed to be Stephen Hawking in his iconic wheel chair complete with synthetic voice. That character was never shown from the front, so I don't think it actually was Hawking. It would not be unheard of that Hawking make such a cameo as he has done so on TNG.

So, as you can see, this is the best thing since sliced bread, don't you agree? The Kindle Fire with Amazon Prime is just like Youtube but for free full-length commercial products! I am all for free, online, on-demand, video streaming of all my fave TV series on any Flash enabled device such as a droid smartphone or tablet as well as any Linux or Windows PC.

Well, that's all folks. I hope you enjoyed my latest blog on Summer diversions. I know it's unusual for this blog to touch on genre related topics and hobbies and such. You can expect, however, a few more along this vein this Summer! Here's some other blogs I've written along similar veins:

***UPDATE*** Here's some cool San Diego ComicCon 2012 YouTubes:

Generally Speaking,