11.16.2014

Entire history so far

I've been lately thinking about the past. Hopefully not in a mopey, nostalgic way. It just seemed like a good time to look back and see where I've been. It's a personality flaw of mine to never stop and smell the roses. I'm always charging on to the next problem, often causing myself stress in thinking I'm not getting anything done. I have to remind myself sometimes that I have gotten a few things done.

The quick list and brief rundown of every band I've ever been in. There may be a few short lived entities I've forgotten. Like my first live performance ever. My freshman year of High School, some homecoming function. I remember playing a few Metallica covers. I can't recall what the name of that group was. Some of my dates are fuzzy, too. It's still kind of surprising to me how much I've done, how many bands are on this list. And if my count s right today today I've been involved in one way or other with 22 official album or ep releases.

Perpetual Motion - (c. 1991-1992?) mostly Metallica, Maiden and Primus covers, a few originals, played some shows, morphed into:
Three Blind Mice - (c. 1992-94) played shows, recorded: S/T, Red Beans and Mice
Fishboy - (c. 1993-1996) mostly a duo project, a couple acoustic shows, recorded: Elders, Driving Down This Road, Improv
Big Brown Newport - (c. 1994-1996, semi-active again as of 2010) I played bass, played a lot of shows, recorded: BBNII, Part Time, Mogwai, Appleton Session
Strange Land - (c. 1998-present) lots of shows, recorded: Foundation ep (1999), Anomaly (2001), ProgPower ep (2002), Blaming Season (2004), Catharsis (2008), Singles (2011-12), ∆v (2014)
Catherine Scholz (c. 1999-2000?), played shows, help record/engineer some songs for an ep.
ABS Blues Band (c. 2008-2010), played some shows, mostly covers, a few originals. No completed recordings
Soaker - (c. 2005) recorded some tracks, no shows
The Well - (c. 2008-2010) played shows, recorded some demo tracks
Trinity Demask (c. 2010-2011, still on call to sub) played a bunch of shows
Delusionist - (c. 2010-2012) played shows, recorded demos
Solo - (c. 1998-present) played a heap of shows, recorded: Book Of Ashes (1999), Driving Empty Miles (2001), October Dust (2004), This Is What It Sounds Like Inside My Head (2007), Anode (2014), untitled/unreleased (2014)
Stone Soup Soldiers - (c. 2010-present) studio project, recorded: Street Art (2012), various film work

Other notable groups:
Greater MKE Youth Jazz Ensemble
UWM Jazz Ensemble (recorded a cd)
Wisconsin Conservatory of Music Classical Quartet

I've been awarded an engineer of the year award from the progressive rock hall of fame (sadly mostly defunct). I've teaching private music lessons since 1993. I've taught at many different locations, and even have a student online in New Zealand as of this writing.

I have a number of songs placed with song libraries, and the Stone Soup Soldiers project has had some success with independent films and the Outdoor Channel. In 2014 played occasional bass and guitar with The Most Ever Company, led by composer Dexter Ford. Mostly oddball prog influenced by Captain Beefheart, Zappa, Yes, and others, along with random covers (sometimes played straight, sometimes mutated).

11.03.2014

Mass Effect

I've never written a video game review. I'm not a hardcore gamer by any means. But upon having completed one pass through the trilogy, I feel compelled to discuss Mass Effect. Perhaps that's just a sign of its quality. The story is over and I need to talk about it. And yeah, it's probably odd that I'm reviewing/defending a game several years after the big kerfuffle. I started this post a while ago, and as of now I'm on my 3rd time through. I don't want to leave the Mass Effect world.

Character continuity
Mass Effect allows you to import your character from the previous game. This means that decisions you make in Mass Effect 1 have impact on the rest of the series. If you can play all 3 on one system, do so. If you can't, try to get you hands on the interactive comic prequel add on. It summarizes the events of ME1 and 2 and allows you to step in and make most of the major choices that appear in ME 1 and 2. Offhand I'd say it covers 80% of the major choices, and there are only a couple of things that would have been different in my ME3 game otherwise. 


Emotional attachment
I'm a sensitive person, and I like getting lost in a story. Maybe it's just me, but the Memorial Wall on the Normandy made me catch my breath the first time I saw it in ME3. These were people I'd saved, who saved me. Friends, colleagues, romantic relations. And here, staring me in the face, a stark reminder that choices I made meant they ended up dead. At the end of ME3, just before the final mission, you get the opportunity to say goodbye to all your teammates and friends. About halfway through this the first time I realized "Holy shit, I'm never going to see these people again." I'm not ashamed to say there were several places throughout the games that made me cry. And kudos to the score composers to adding to the game so effectively.

Sometimes life's choices really are all crap. 
When Mass Effect 3 was released there was apparently an uproar by longtime fans over the ending. Bioware quickly released new content for the games that was meant to give a more proper ending to the series. Like I said, I'm not a hardcore gamer, so I don't buy games new. I wait until they are cheap, so I was able to play all 3 back to back, no waiting, so I guess I avoided some anticipation let down others may have felt. Depending on how you play the game, there can be 8 or 9 outcomes in the final act (I think... essentially 4 choices with varied details). Upon its release many complained that there wasn't enough control, that all the previous decisions they had made meant nothing. I read these criticisms, and when I got to the end I thought "Sometimes when life presents you with choices, they all suck. You have to pick the one you feel like you can live with." Throughout the game there are choices you have to make that determine whether major characters, even whole races, survive. It's a Kobayashi Maru, but unlike Kirk, you can't cheat. I didn't feel let down by the ending, and the extended cuts tie up enough loose ends. There is no Hollywood ending to this game, and frankly, if there had been, I would have felt cheated by that.

A little bit of everything
At one point in the game the pilot, Joker, makes a crack about not getting caught unless people start singing the Russian National Anthem. This is a little joke reference to the movie Hunt For Red October, but apparently some people either didn't get it or felt like being pedantic and bitched about how it wouldn't happen because there's no air in space. Lighten up people. And speaking of humor, ME has it's moments, especially if you get the ME2 Shadow Broker and ME3 Citadel add-ons. There were many laugh out loud moments and that just makes the immersion all the more complete. "What kind of weapons does this thing have!" "It's a TAXI. It has a fare meter!"

Once more around the sun
Movies, though iconic, are short. Simplified. ME borrows more from literature and thus is more expansive and deep. I found myself thinking Mass Effect had many a nod to great Sci Fi literature like Rendevous With Rame, Ender's Game, Ringworld, and others. Mass effect is so large in scope and so immersive, it's no wonder video games like this and others are so popular. A story with a Star Wars or Lord Of The Rings level scope, and you get to participate in it every step of the way. And because ME has such variety, you can play through several times with radically different results. Well worth every moment.

(http://io9.com/5886178/why-mass-effect-is-the-most-important-science-fiction-universe-of-our-generation)

4.11.2014

Approaching 40

I'm coming up on 38. Not all that old by most standards. At this point in my life I can't say things are bad. They aren't what I'd hope them to be, but I have enough to do more than just survive. Last year around my birthday I spent a lot of time contemplating my life. I really questioned whether I'd been doing it right. I chose a life that wasn't normal, and in doing so I have no real guides to judge by. I don't have kids and never will. I don't have a "normal" career where I move up some ladder to eventual retirement. I lack all those signposts of life most people seem to have.

This year I've thought what being in my 30's has meant. Not too long ago people started saying the 40 is the new 30, or 50 is the new 40. I don't know whether this is just a pithy saying or a genuine reflection of improving medicine and technology helping us live longer. But I wonder if I can extend that thought. Have my experiences in my 30's been more like what someone used to go through in their 20's? Where once one would have graduated college, gotten married, and started a family by 30, those things took me much longer. College took me 5 years. I lived with my parents until I was 26. I didn't get married until I was 28. I didn't start a good job until I was 24, I didn't start something you could call a career until I was 30. My marriage ended when I was almost 33. Looking back, there were a lot of things I postponed for myself during that time. Now at 38 I feel like I'm doing things I should have done 10 years ago. But would it have been possible then? Probably not. Is this just me, or do many people have this experience?

I've been reading the Stoics. It's a philosophy that suits me well. I think my introversion is a natural fit to being a Stoic. Stoicism is misunderstood. The most important aspect is the idea of training yourself to experience joy in what you have, and to not worry about what you don't have. Stoicism has a lot in common with Zen Buddhism, but with more emphasis on civic involvement than on isolated contemplation. While this philosophy makes a lot of sense to me, it's always a battle to implement.

Setting aside the details, the general thing/wish/want I have at this point in my life is growth. Mostly of the educational sort. Unfortunately a master's degree or beyond is out of my financial reach, as is any kind of formal training. I have been teaching myself some new skills, including some advanced guitar repair. But, trading time on these activities against paying work isn't always easy. Is this something that should have happened in my 20's? Maybe at a time I could have stayed up until 2am everyday and not felt horrible the next day? I must be missing some of that "30 is the new 20" health technology.

I am where I am because of choices I have made. Some choices were wrong, some were right. Some were right at the time but turned out bad in the long run. I can't change any of that. I can only continue to make choices in this moment. That's another tenet of Stoicism. The past cannot be changed. The future is unknown. And right now, there are things I can control, and things I cannot. I need to focus down only on the things I can control right in this present moment. Again, never easy. But no one ever said life was easy.

2.05.2014

Stop working so hard

Here's how I look at it. Yes, I've got bills to pay and I have to eat. But every day I remind myself that what I choose to do today is paid for with hours of my life. And I have no idea how many of those are in the bank. Stress kills, and that surely puts an end to my use of those hours. Beyond not starving or freezing to death, why spend any time at all doing something you don't really want to do?

http://business.time.com/2014/02/03/10-reasons-to-stop-working-so-hard/?hpt=hp_t3

1.29.2014

Reason in 2014

If I could wish for one thing in 2014 it would be for the world to embrace reason. Why should I be shunned for asking for evidence? Haven't we had enough woo woo and "one weird trick"? It must be some innate aspect of being human to need quick fixes, to want to believe for no reason other than somehow it fits our biases, or fill some void we are to frightened to examine closely.


For example, just look at this list of apocalypses (apocalypsi?): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dates_predicted_for_apocalyptic_events. Over and over people, for some unfathomable reason, want to believe the world is going to end. And in every case they are wrong. They will continue to be wrong. The only people on that list likely to be correct (read: have any evidence, theoretical or otherwise) are the scientists contemplating the fate of our world a very long time from now.


Facts matter. And if you don't have any, then don't expect me to automatically agree with you. Let's define facts as well. Verifiable, testable, repeatable. Observable to everyone. Widely researched and written about. Facts are not something your brother's friend's uncle told him somebody told him about. Facts are not whatever some talking head on tv says is true. Facts can be gleaned from experts, but you need to know how to judge experts. Understand their background. Jenny McCarthy is not a medical expert, she's just famous. Depak Chopra uses lots of scienc-y words and makes many references to quantum physics. He has no training at all in physics and his use of those terms is an offense to humanity. I'll even pick on someone I like. Neil deGrasse Tyson is an expert, but I wouldn't automatically believe what he told me was wrong with my car. He's an astrophysicist, not a mechanic. Just because someone has a website doesn't mean that whatever they are selling is a panacea for all your ills.


The world is grey, not black and white. Declaring something all good or all bad is almost always unfounded. GMOs are not universally evil. Eating only vegetables isn't a problem solver for everyone. The ideas of democrats or republicans are not all great or all catastrophic. The world today is far too prone to having the pendulum swing wildly from one side to the other. If you think "big pharma" is evil and greedy, you must also follow the money behind your preferred treatments. Hate Sysco? Ok, but who owns your organic producers? EVERYONE trying to sell you something should be questioned.


One thing a person relying on reason should do it not jump to conclusions or fill gaps with assumptions. If you don't have facts, if you get to a place along a line of research or discussion where you would shave to say "I don't know", that's ok. Say you don't know and continue researching. It is not reasonable to say you don't know, therefore god/aliens/fairies did it. If you really believe it was god/aliens/fairies, it would be unreasonable of you to expect everyone else to accept an explanation based solely on faith and belief. Choosing to have faith or just believe because you want to or it makes you feel better is ok, but that isn't an excuse for closed-mindedness or belligerence towards others. If you do have evidence, you have to accept that not everyone is convinced by that alone, especially if they already have other long-held beliefs. Belligerence doesn't help much here either. Getting fired up is ok, but watch out for just attacking other people.


If you're position of belief lacks evidence, don't just bitch about it or blame "THEM" for some conspiratorial suppression. Scientists WANT to understand. They WANT to study the world. If there isn't adequate study of a certain issue, blame politicians for not providing the funding for research. Blame famous people for being ignorant of science while they use their bully pulpit to deride science. And blame the people (yes, ourselves) for not putting pressure where it's needed.


Hand in hand with reason is time. It takes time to do research, whether in a lab or online. Reasonable arguments can't be offered and rebutted in sound bites and photo memes. The internet in general is a terrible place to look for rationality. It will take a conscious effort to change that. I would ask the whole world just to slow down a bit. Shortened time scale force you to react with your cognitive biases and emotion, and that's not good. It takes time to dig in to a question, to form an argument for or against. With no time allowed, we agree with those we already agree with, and disagree with those we don't like. "Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it, so that when men come to be undeceived it is too late; the jest is over, and the tale has had its effect.” - Jonathan Swift


Here's another reason to slow down. The world doesn't change that fast. Really, how different is the world now than it was 10 or 20 or 50 years ago? Calm down, think of how choices and actions will affect you both tomorrow and 10 years from now. I ask you also to think about how the choices we make today will affect the world 100, 1000, even 10,000 years from now. Despite all the exoplanets that have been discovered, we are still the only official intelligent technological life in the universe. We have an obligation to survive and continue to further our understanding of the universe. If we don't, we may as well turn off all the lights and go back to subsistence farming.


Despite my rant, I'm asking you to be reasonable, especially in the public square. At home, do whatever you want. But when you step in to the space of society we all share remember that there is a human being on the other side of that other computer screen. I think in some situations, particularly in the functioning of a civilization, we must sacrifice our personal conceits and whims for the benefit of all. However, as we have discussions in the public square, be forewarned that any claims made will always be subject to scrutiny. If you choose to make claims based on faith or whim alone and you are criticized or given evidence to the contrary, you may hold on to your beliefs, you may defend them as you can, but cries of censorship or hate are unfounded. Take a little more time to think about what makes us the same. There is so much hate everywhere I look these days, and it's mostly over such minor issues. We are all human beings and we have an obligation to treat each other decently even if we disagree.