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There’s a men’s clothing store in my area called Why Not Boutique. That store has some pretty unique men’s clothes. I finally got around to taking photos of some of their wares when I was walking around the mall on New Year’s Day.

Shortly after I took these photos, I decided to play around a bit with GIMP, which is an open source alternative to Adobe Photoshop. I took the heads of one of my friends and superimposed it on some of the suits currently on sale at the Why Not Boutique.

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On my birthday last month I announced that I had self-published my first book. I had every intention of providing more details about it once I finished this hands-on class I was taking through Lynda.com (which I can access for free with my library card) while I was simultaneously working on this book but then a few things happened. First I got diverted by the winter holiday season. I had every intention of writing more about it soon after New Year’s Day but then this opportunity for a new day job suddenly landed in my lap and I spent much of my time learning the ropes. (Basically I’m working for a small company that specializes in making government documents accessible for people with various disabilities ranging from blindness to not having functional limbs. Right now I’m working on documents from a federal government agency that the company received shortly before this whole federal government shutdown drama began last month. The government still remains shut as of this writing.)

So here is the cover for my book, which is called The Cash-Strapped Person’s Guide to Thriving in the Digital Age.

You can buy my book online in two formats. If you prefer the old-fashioned printed paperback book, you can buy it at Amazon.com. If you prefer an ebook, you can also buy it at Amazon.com. If you’re the kind of person who refuses to shop at Amazon, you can buy the ebook version through Smashwords. As for non-Amazon alternatives to buying the paperback version, you’re out of luck. Unfortunately Amazon has cornered the market on regular books and I haven’t been able to find any alternatives that doesn’t require me to shell out money in advance (such as BookBaby).

So now you’re wondering what this book is about. My book deals with how people who are cash-strapped can still take part in the digital economy through such things as buying used equipment at various online places like eBay and using free software.

Here are the details of how I came to write it. Ever since my husband abruptly left me in 2011 with zero warning, I’ve had to suddenly deal with being cash-strapped. My husband was the one with the well-paying job so I pretty much went from financial security to financial insecurity while I was still recovering from my second hip surgery just three months before he left. The fact that finding a job has become much harder didn’t help me at all. But then, in early 2012, I managed to run into a friend of mine whom I had lost contact with around 2008 (the year that I got my hip replacement and he had moved from an apartment that he was renting). His name is Phil Shapiro and he is a big advocate of open source software. It was through him that I learned about how there are free alternatives to paying monthly subscription fees in order to access the latest versions of software like Adobe Acrobat and Microsoft Word.

Phil’s biggest cause is bridging the digital divide between the haves and have-nots. In fact, he was the subject of this 2000 Washington Post article. When he’s not working at his day job in the computer lab at the Takoma Park library, he’s writing freelance articles for websites like OpenSource.com. He also does book reviews and other videos on YouTube and he practically lives on Twitter as much as Donald Trump (except Phil’s tweets are far more rational and less incendiary).

While Phil introduced me to the idea of free open source software, I became more aware of this alternative to the software from the big corporations when the first makerspace in my area opened called the Greenbelt Makerspace. Last year another makerspace, known as The Space, has also opened and it also is a big advocate of open source as well.

On top of it, I learned that there is a trend towards libraries embracing the makerspace and open source concept. Some, such as the library in Savage, have entire areas dedicated to STEM and STEAM where people can do things like check out musical instruments and use a 3D printer.

While more and more people are embracing the idea of using free software (that is not bootlegged or pirated) on equipment that’s not exactly top-of-the-line, there are still plenty of people who are unaware that there are free alternatives to paying monthly subscription fees to Microsoft and Adobe that can churn out files that are not only compatible with software from those two companies but are just as good in quality as the files created by the big corporate software companies.

I finally got an idea of writing a book that’s more accessible to average non-tech geek people as the result of a job interview I went on last year. It was with a t-shirt printing place that specializes in designing and printing in bulk unique t-shirts and other clothing items to the specifications of the client’s preferences. The place was especially geared towards events and groups like softball teams, family reunions, and printing promo items for local companies. During the interview the hiring manager looked at my resume and noticed that I mentioned Inkscape. She asked me what it was and I explained to her that Inkscape is a vector graphics program that is a free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. When I told her this, her eyes lit up and she said that she needed to look into this because she said she was getting tired of paying monthly subscription fees to Adobe for its Creative Cloud package (including Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign).

I ended up not getting hired by that place (who didn’t get around to informing me that I wasn’t hired until they sent an email seven months later informing me of that fact while offering a free coupon for a 20% discount for a custom made item of my choice—I never took them up on that offer but I wrote a blog post about it).

I soon realized that there are plenty of other people who are just like that hiring manager who continue to pay money to use software while being unaware that there are free or low-cost alternatives that do just as good a job as the subscription software. Not everyone knows an open source guru like Phil Shapiro nor does everyone know about how it’s possible for low-income people to access computer technology despite not being able to afford to buy the latest and greatest. I also priced both the ebook and paperback versions cheap enough to make it easier for cash-strapped people to afford.

With the way the economy is at the moment and with the increase of corporate greed (which includes the creation of monopolies and price gouging), I think a book like this is needed. I finished this book and uploaded it for sale online shortly before the federal government shutdown and there are government employees and contractors who are now furloughed in what is now the longest shutdown in U.S. history. I think a book like this is needed more than ever before.

Well, anyway, I’ll sign off now and start promoting my book on social media and other outlets. I’ll definitely provide updates on the progress of this book as they become available. Remember you can buy my book at the following locations.

Paperback version: Amazon
eBook version: Amazon and Smashwords

Back in 2014 I was practicing with the open source vector drawing program Inkscape (which is touted as a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator). I decided to trace over a photo of two dogs who became Internet sensations. One was Boo (located on the right in the below graphic), who got his start on Facebook after one of his owners posted photos of him on that social media platform. Those photos became popular and he was soon known as Boo the World’s Cutest Dog. The other was Buddy, who was Boo’s older brother and closest friend.

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Soon after I finished that digital drawing, I uploaded it to OpenClipArt.org, where you can still download it for free. I even used that vector art as the basis for this tutorial I wrote for OpenSource.com on how to trace over a photo in Inkscape.

I followed Boo on Facebook and I’ve always enjoyed seeing the latest cute photos of him. At first it was just him and Buddy but then his owners added a third dog, a Golden Retriever known as Bluebeary Pie who soon grew taller than the two Pomeranians. Then Boo’s human owners had a baby daughter of their own and that child was sometimes in the photos with Boo and the other dogs that were taken from angles where the child’s face was partially or fully obscured. (It was obvious that the girl’s parents wanted to protect her privacy.)

Boo was a star but he basically remained a typical dog who was blissfully unaware that there was a Wikipedia page about him. He was also unaware of the spinoff products based on his image, including a brief three-issue comic book series. Boo seemed to take his fame in stride as he frequently traveled with Buddy, whom he was closest to. But then Buddy died in 2017, which apparently Boo took very hard. After Buddy’s death the family added another dog to the household, a sheepdog named Benny. Despite the addition of Benny, it was apparent that Boo really missed Buddy and had never quite gotten over Buddy’s death. Nearly a week ago Boo’s owners wrote this sad yet eloquent post on Facebook:

Dearest friends of Boo,

With deepest sadness I wanted to share that Boo passed away in his sleep early this morning and has left us to join his best friend, Buddy. Our family is heartbroken, but we find comfort knowing that he is no longer in any pain or discomfort. We know that Buddy was the first to greet him on the other side of that rainbow bridge, and this is likely the most excited either of them have been in a long time.

Since starting Boo’s FB page, I’ve received so many notes over the years from people sharing stories of how Boo brightened their days and helped bring a little light to their lives during difficult times. And that was really the purpose of all this…Boo brought joy to people all over the world. Boo is the happiest dog I’ve ever met. He was so easy going that we never had to bother with training. He made the manliest of men squeal with delight over his cuteness and made everyone laugh with his quirky, tail wagging personality.

Over the years Boo met some super cool people, a lot of crazy talented people, but most of all so many kind people…friends who gave him endless love, people who prioritized his comfort over getting that perfect picture, partners who understood that Buddy ALWAYS had to be included, and last but definitely not least, the amazing doctors, therapists, and staff at Adobe Animal Hospital and Sage Veterinary Centers for the countless hours of care and dedication they poured into Buddy and Boo.

I brought Boo home in the spring of 2006 and so started the greatest, most heartwarming friendship of all time. Shortly after Buddy died, Boo showed signs of heart issues. We think his heart literally broke when Buddy left us. He hung on and gave us over a year. But it looks like it was his time, and I’m sure it was a most joyous moment for them when they saw each other in heaven.

Boo, we love you with all our hearts and will miss you until the day we meet again. Have fun running around with Buddy and creating adorable mischief wherever you guys go.

Thank you to all of you for following along on their silly adventures over the past 10 years. They sure had a LOT of fun.

With love and our deepest gratitude,
Boo’s humans

I felt sad reading about Boo’s death but he lived the equivalent of 84 human years, which is nothing to complain about. Boo’s death was also covered by the major media outlets like CNN and the BBC as if he was a major celebrity. In addition to doing that vector graphic of Boo and Buddy, I also saw various spinoff products based on Boo on store shelves over the years. Here are the ones I shot with my smartphone.

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Originally posted on December 26, 2014.

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Originally posted on December 19, 2014.

And last, but not least, here’s a stuffed animal version of Boo alongside another Internet animal celebrity, Grumpy Cat.

Internet Celebrities as Stuffed Animals

Originally posted on July 28, 2014.

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I attended my first-ever Edcamp one month ago. I was accompanying Phil Shapiro, who needed some help with setting up this exhibit that he was displaying and I went along. He had also recently purchased this used smartphone off of eBay that can shoot 4K video and photos and he wanted me to handle photography/videography duties using that smartphone. (It was a Samsung Nexus and he got it cheap because it had a cracked screen.) This particular Edcamp was held at Loyola College’s campus in Columbia, Maryland.

Going there opened some family memories because I had a now-deceased uncle who attended the Loyola campus in Baltimore although I don’t recall ever hearing him reminisce about his days there when I used to visit him at various family gatherings. I only knew that he was a Loyola alumni.

The Columbia campus resembled a modern-day office building, which looked nice but it definitely didn’t look like a college or university. (I attended the University of Maryland at College Park, which has many brick buildings with Greco-Roman style columns.) When Phil and I arrived, we knew that we were in the right place because we saw these signs.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp provided a free breakfast of bagels and cream cheese. They had an opening session where the organizers greeted all of the attendees. Edcamp is definitely unlike any other conference I’ve ever been to. At an average conference, there are usually workshops, panels, and speeches that are planned and scheduled ahead of time. At Edcamp, workshops and other events aren’t planned ahead of time. Basically people show up and just volunteer to lead a workshop or panel based on an idea that he or she has suddenly come up with. While the breakfast and opening session is going on, volunteers start to create a schedule using Post-It Notes along with room assignments. The attendees could then take a picture of this schedule with their smartphones.

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

All of the attendees were given swag starting with this Northrop-Grumman bag.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Northrop-Grumman also provided this missile-shaped pen that has three separate inkwells in three different colors.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

The bag was also filled with all kinds of goodies ranging from stickers and buttons to promo flyers for various education technology-related products.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

What was really cool was that I got this free blank book that I could use as a sketchbook.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

When Phil and I arrived at Loyola the first thing we did was to set up his exhibit in the designated hands-on room, which featured exhibits that people could touch and play with. Phil had something he called an Open Source Petting Zoo where all of the computers at that exhibit were running the Linux Mint operating system with various open source applications like Libre Office (which is an open source alternative to Microsoft Office) and Inkscape (which is an open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator).

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

There were people who were interesting in testing out the Open Source Petting Zoo.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

The hands-on room had other things on display that people can look at, touch, and even play with.

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

 

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

 

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

You know that you’re at a technology-oriented conference when you see a robot.

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

I even got my first-ever look at the Google Cardboard. During the day I managed to use it to view 360 videos for the first time, which was pretty cool.

Edcamp, Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Once I managed to help Phil with setting up his Open Source Petting Zoo, he said that I was free to check out the rest of the conference. The one workshop I attended was about Google, which had one two other people, including the guy who was giving the workshop. We chatted a bit but it was pretty informal. When the first workshop ended it was time for lunch, where we had our choice of sandwiches that came from Jason’s Deli. During the lunch there was an impromptu panel that sprung up. Phil volunteered to be on the panel even though the topic wasn’t decided on until the last minute. So I sat in the audience and shot pictures of that workshop with the smartphone that could shoot 4K photos and videos.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

So here’s Phil Shapiro in the middle in the next photo.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Here’s a wide shot of the entire panel.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Here’s another wide shot of the panel, this time with Phil Shapiro holding the microphone.

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Here’s a closeup of Phil with the microphone.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

I even got silly and switched to my own smartphone so I could take this last photo of the panel using my smartphone’s Hatsune Miku app.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

After lunch I spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the hands-on room, which had a variety of neat things to try. It was raining on the day of Edcamp so it was no big deal spending the entire day indoors. I managed to get a glimpse of this lake with a walking tour that’s outside of the campus building. If the weather had been nicer, I definitely would’ve spent some time walking by the lake. Instead I had to settle for taking photos from outside of a window.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp also had a drawing for door prizes. When we first arrived we were all given raffle tickets that we could drop into any prize bag. One of the prize bags I put my ticket in was for this writing software that had me interested because I had majored in journalism in college. I won that prize. I received this bag that was clearly marked Loyola College.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

When I pulled out the flyer I saw that this software was aimed at teaching students how to write. Except that I’m not a full-time professional teacher. I’ve taught Sunday school at my Unitarian Universalist church a number of years ago until I burned out after my second year and I quit after that. I’ve ran a Zentangle workshop for adults during the Enrichment Hour at the same church. I also served as an assistant teacher for the Takoma Park, Maryland chapter of Girls Who Code but that was a part-time gig and I wasn’t the main teacher. Phil said that he might find a use for it. I hope so because I would hate to waste this prize.

Edcamp at Loyola College, October 27, 2018

Edcamp ended around 2 or 3 p.m. so I helped Phil with dismantling his Open Source Petting Zoo and put everything in his car. I was glad that he was driving that day because it was raining like crazy that day. Afterwards Phil was interested mainly in the 4K video I had shot that day. Of the footage I provided to him, he chose to highlight only two of the videos that I made on his own YouTube channel. One was of people checking out something called Merge Cubes in the hands-on room.

The other was of people testing this kit where kids can easily create their own video games.

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Three years ago I took a stab at creating an interactive story game using the open source compiler Ren’Py. I was mostly following a free online tutorial but I added a few original flourishes of my own in order to make it a little bit more original.

I haven’t done anything with Ren’Py since and I think it’s because I had a problem with learning the code and it got to be complex at times. (It was reminiscent of the times I attempted to learn Pascal and C++ in an effort to learn new skills so I can get a higher paying job only to have both attempts end in disaster.)

A friend of mine, Phil Shapiro, encouraged me to give Twine a try. He even did this book review about Twine where he praised it.

Like Ren’Py, Twine is an open source program. Like Ren’Py also specializes in coding a type of video game that’s basically a high-tech version of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. But I found Twine to be much easier to learn than Ren’Py because you need to know a little bit of really basic HTML code (and that’s only if you intend to use image and music files).

I did my first game, which is basically a practice game where I loosely based the story on Phil Shapiro’s day job in the computer lab of the local public library. (There are lots of fictionalized elements in this game, including one where I got my inspiration from an episode of the classic TV series The Twilight Zone.) Here are a couple of places where you can play this game, Phil the Library Computer Lab Guy, right now.

Play it online through Neocities.org.

Download it to your computer hard drive so you can play it offline through itch.io.

Have fun! 🙂

Passover

The day after St. Patrick’s Day I helped a friend of mine with his booth at the annual Maker Faire NoVa that was held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I had attended previous STEM Maker events in Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Washington, DC but it’s the first time I ever checked the Northern Virginia one. I have to admit that this event was the largest event of its kind that I had ever attended. To give you an idea as to how big it was, here’s a video I shot of this event.

And now it’s time for the still photos. I knew I had come to the right place when I saw this statue of George Mason (whom the university is named after) all dressed up for the occasion.

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These signs were further giveaways that I was at the right place.

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Maker Faire NoVa

The reason why I was there was that I was helping a friend of mine with his table. His name is Phil Shapiro and he frequently hangs out on YouTube and Twitter. He wanted to demonstrate Inkscape, which is the free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. He brought a couple of Linux laptops that he made available for people to use. At the last minute he decided to have one of those laptops run Tux Paint, which is a free open source graphics program that is made for kids under 7, which turned out to be a good move because a lot of visitors were kids. The kids seemed to really like Tux Paint so it was all good. In any case, here is what the sign looked like.

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Here are a few shots of the table that I took before Maker Faire NoVa opened to the general public.

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Here’s Phil Shapiro at one of the laptops setting everything up before the show began.

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And here’s Phil showing off the two laptops with Inkscape and Tux Paint to the general public.

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One of the many kids tried his hand at drawing with Tux Paint.

Maker Faire NoVa

Near our table was one that was manned by Bob Coggeshall, who’s famous in the Unix world for inventing the Unix command sudo.

Maker Faire NoVa

Maker Faire NoVa

There were all kinds of projects that were run off of Raspberry Pi, such as this vintage teletype.

Maker Faire NoVa

There were also all kinds of 3D printed projects that looked amazing.

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There was a refurbished gumball machine that dispensed 3D printed charms for only 50 cents.

Maker Faire NoVa

It was at that gumball machine where I made my one and only purchase from Maker Faire NoVa: A tiny 1-inch printed 3D printed Darth Vader who’s seated like a Buddha. I only paid 50 cents for this cool item.

Maker Faire NoVa, March 18, 2018

There were also some vintage bikes that the public can ride.

Maker Faire NoVa

Maker Faire NoVa

It was at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first-ever real life glimpse of a Bitcoin mining machine.

Maker Faire NoVa

It was also at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first glimpse of American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year doll. Her name is Luciana Vega, she’s into STEM and her big ambition is to be the first person to explore Mars.

Maker Faire NoVa

This boy was showing his work in progress on his latest project. He was in the process of building his own BB-8 robot from the Star Wars movies.

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Maker Faire NoVa

There was just a variety of things I saw at Maker Faire NoVa that were simply astounding.

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George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is pretty big. In fact, I think it may be as big as my own alma mater (University of Maryland at College Park). I briefly went through the campus Barnes & Noble store, which had copies of Michael Wolff’s controversial bestseller about Donald Trump’s first year in the White House called Fire & Fury.

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I really had a blast at Maker Faire NoVa. It helped that the weather was in the 50’s that day so I was able to wear a light jacket instead of my heavy winter coat for a change. I even saw my first robin of the year while I was walking around outside going from building to building while checking out the event. (The entire event was spread over four buildings.) Sadly that warm weather was a short-lived thing because the weather turned really cold and rainy the next day followed by a snowstorm.

The only downside about that event is that for about a couple of days before that event I started to have stuffed sinuses. By the time of that event my throat felt more scratchy as I talked more and more with the general public while I worked at Phil’s booth. My legs had grown stiff and sore by the end of the day due to the huge amount of walking and standing I did throughout the day. The following day I felt extremely tired and sick. I ended up spending most of the next week sleeping (with the exception of the couple of times I went out in the snow where I did some shoveling two days after Maker Faire NoVa). I even ended up skipping the big March for Our Lives on the following Saturday due to being sick. But the video, photos, and fond memories from Maker Faire NoVa made it all worthwhile.

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During Labor Day holiday weekend, I spent the bulk of my time at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival where I purchased this songbook for $2 from the used books tables.

First Day of the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 1, 2017

Using MuseScore, I rendered the first song listed in that book, “Elsie From Chelsea.” As I was looking through that book, I saw that there were songs that I definitely recognized, such as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.” There was even one song printed in that book that I had already rendered in MuseScore, “Just A-Wearyin’ For You,” because I bought the sheet music for 25 cents at that vintage yard sale the previous summer.

So I decided that I would only use MuseScore for songs that seemed to be more obscure to me since most people know what “Give My Regards to Broadway” sounds like because there have been so many different recordings of that song. And anyone who has ever seen the Judy Garland film Meet Me in St. Louis would have heard the song of the same name.

I looked at the second song in that book, “Streets of Cairo (The Poor Little Country Maid)” and I didn’t recognize the title or the lyrics so I decided to copy the notes into MuseScore. When I heard the tune, I recognized it as a song my mother used to sing from time to time that went “All the girls in France wear tissue paper pants.” On top of it, I’ve heard the melody in numerous cartoons whenever there was a desert scene or a scene involving a belly dancer or a sexy exotic dancer. But the chorus to the “Streets of Cairo” song was unfamiliar to me because it suddenly changes to a slower tempo only to revert back to the familiar faster tempo when the next lyrics begin.

The Wikipedia has an interesting entry on that song and confirms that it has been known by other titles but “Streets of Cairo (The Poor Little Country Maid)” was the original title. Had I known that this song was something I actually recognized, I’m not sure I would have taken the time to render it in MuseScore. But I did and I even made a video where I threw up the original lyrics. Enjoy!

Like I wrote last week, I had found this used music book, which I only purchased for $2, on the first night of the annual Greenbelt Labor Day Festival.

First Day of the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, September 1, 2017

This purchase gave me an opportunity to try rendering more songs through the open source sheet music program MuseScore. The last time I did something like this was last summer when I purchased some old sheet music for only 25 cents at a vintage yard sale.

So far I rendered one song from this songbook called “Elsie From Chelsea,” which was written and published in the 1890s by Harry Dacre. Once I finished with the input into MuseScore, I exported an audio file which I then imported into iMovie and made this video. I put lyrics on the screen so you can get an idea as to what the song is about. The graphics in this video are the same graphics that accompanied the song in the book.

Well, anyway, enjoy!

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