strumzilla

​A blog/journal about my life and the stuff I like. Popular subjects include music, guitars, gear, books, movies, video games, technology, humor.

Filtering by Category: Literature

Hey Folks

And by folks, I refer to the singular. It's been a fairly action packed few months. I was really busy with school in the fall semester, especially near the end. I discovered that the workload and complexity of the courses as I proceed through my degree plan were increasing to the point that I was burning myself out. I managed to pull off the grades, but I felt I was sacrificing true understanding and deeper absorption of some really important concepts. So, in reaction I have decreased my courseload to two going forward. The heavier courseload was predicated by my (I think now, false) assumption that I needed to take a full courseload to receive all of my GI Bill benefits. I had actually been told that by multiple advisors at Berklee, but I managed to get the supervisor of financial aid to weigh in and he said otherwise.  Apparently taking two courses for 3 months would be the same as taking four courses for 1.5 months. I won't know for sure until I look at my explanation of benefits after this semester is complete, but I think it's accurate. It's a huge relief and weight off my shoulders. I'm not taking these courses at Berklee just to check a box or get a certificate. I'm taking them because I truly want to learn this material. 

There's not much new to report at work, same behavior from the same jackasses. I compiled a DBQ report for October which essentially was unchanged from the report a year ago. Submitting this report to dickless did result in more maneuvering as expected and he actually endorses the idea of counting exams for providers in the interest of capturing workload. That being said, it's apparent that the same non-performers are being protected and given credit for "other duties" which essentially means they're getting a pass since he's unwilling to grow a pair and actually do his job. I'm not surprised, it's essentially what I expected from him. My only faint hope is that eventually when the contract supports runs out (if it does) he'll be left to explaining why the clinic can't meet the demand to his bosses. He probably already has detailed plans on how he'll tap dance his way out of that scenario if/when the day comes. I just can't bring myself to give a shit what he and the other oxygen thieves are getting up to. Life's too short.

On the homefront, we finally got Aeyong her new car, a 2016 Toyota Highlander. It worked out pretty well, and it's a really feature packed nice car. We traded in the Ranger, so I've got the Pathfinder now. We saw Patton Oswalt and Kathleen Madigan on back to back nights at the Majestic last month, and they were both hilarious. I got a cool one off poster that was made for Patton's Majestic show featuring him as various Star Wars characters. On that theme, I've mostly gotten all the concert and music posters framed and put up in the drum room as well as the upstairs living room. I bought four different framed artists renderings of Jimmy Page, David Bowie (as a statue head from the Man Who Fell to Earth), Kate Bush in a sort of airbrushed painting from the back photo of Hounds of Love (probably my all time favorite photo of her), and then an alternate view of Battersea Power Station (from Animals) in black & white with a small colorized flying pig. I think it's the same photographer who shot the album cover, just an alternate view. 

Continuing in the home decorating theme, I sort of grabbed the torch from Aeyong and attached jet packs to my feet before taking off. Aeyong had bought a Daenerys Targaryen doll from one of the local stores a year or two ago. We had incrementally bought these little pop figures (cartoonish versions) of the other GOT characters in the subsequent months. I had seen an article or video showing various Star Wars characters from The Force Awakens, and this led to more exploration into miniatures and figurines. I added several pop figures from TFA including Rey, Finn, Kylo Ren and Captain Phasma. This led to further investigation, and long story short, I've ordered several miniatures from Star Wars, LOTR, and GOT. This includes premium versions of Darth Vader, C3PO/R2D2, and Rey with BB8. The pop figures are little rubber/plastic dolls and fairly cheap, but the premium format figures are made of quite sturdy material and feature multiple poses, articulations, working lights, etc. 

I have some cool versions of Tyrion and Arya that we've already received. Also coming is a miniature of Strider (it's called Aragorn, but he's definitely in ranger mode with this figure). I also have ordered some really cool Weta miniatures and artwork. The biggest is a huge miniature of Smaug laying on his pile of gold with a tiny Bilbo underneath. I'm also getting a miniature of Bag End, and I've got my eyes on Minas Tirith. We're also getting some lovely prints of various LOTR/Hobbit scenes - a wide angle Bag End with Gandalf at the door, a close up of Bilbo looking out the front door, a wide angle of the Argonath with the fellowship in canoes crossing the water, and a shot of the meeting pavilion from the Hobbit where Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman held their dawn counsel. 

The really cool thing is that Aeyong is into it, and actually wants to display the artwork and miniatures around the house. My first instinct is to keep most of it in the home theater area, but ultimately we're going to run out of room and it will naturally spread. I don't care if this fits with the better homes and gardens of vacuous assholes aesthetic. This is the stuff we're into, and we can do what we want with our house. It's a bit childish I suppose, but in a repeating theme for this blog and my adult life, I still like the stuff I liked as a teenager and I learned a long time ago to do what makes me happy not what meets other's approval. Stephen King made a comment in an updated preface for a comprehensive version of the Dark Tower series (which I've finally got around to reading, mea culpa) that his adult personality and tastes were basically established by age 19. I think that's essentially true. I know most of the stuff I really value was already present in some shape by that age. I've expanded my tastes a bit and I've accumulated a lot more music, books, movies, etc. in the intervening years, but I essentially still love the same stuff.  Continuing the geek acquisition theme, I got a really cool Marvel Graphic Novelish omnibus of the Dark Tower series that I need to hold off until I finish the proper series. I'm on the Waste Lands at present. I had gotten on a bit of a coffee table book kick in the last year which included Jimmy Page's photo biopic, the Kate Bush photo book created by her brother, a comprehensive three volume set of my favorite webcomic Ctrl - Alt - Del and several others. My geekdom spreads its tendrils like kudzu. 

I've gotten some new albums over the past few months. I especially love Beck's 2014 album (yes, the one Kanye had to interrupt the Grammy presentation about), Morning Phase. This is easily one of my favorite albums, and it's gone on the stress reduction anti-depressant album list (sharing space with the LOTR soundtracks, Zero 7, Metheny, Emmanuel and a few others). I've also added a few more Radiohead albums, and I really love Kid A.  I went back and got three Big Audio Dynamite albums as well as The Big Heat by Stan Ridgway. This was after Matt had posted several 1985 era tunes on Facebook. I had forgotten how much I loved that music. This isn't the complete list, but I also added Mozart's Requiem and Symphone Fantastique by Berlioz. 

The past few months saw some devastating losses, but one positive addition. In music we lost David Bowie, Lemmy, Scott Weiland, and several other key musicians. In my personal life, we had to have Bridget put to sleep in November. She was 15 years old, and the small benign growth on her abdomen had grown so large it was affecting her movement, breathing, and she was beginning to behave erratically.  We grew concerned that she would hurt herself, as she was doing things that didn't make any sense. Aeyong was finding her digging in the back yard for hours in the early hours of the morning. She just seemed confused and not herself in the past few months. She didn't seem comfortable or happy anymore and we had to make the hard decision. We had a similar experience with Lucy. Once they got to the point that their personalities changed and they no longer seemed comfortable, it was time to let them go. It's still the hardest thing we've had to go through. These are our children, and as much as I loved and miss my parents, their loss didn't hit us as hard as losing our pets. The silver lining is that we noticed our two other dogs were missing her (unsurprisingly), but we also have grown accustomed to a three dog dynamic since we first got April in 2007.  So, on that note, I charged Aeyong with finding us a new puppy. She looked at several shelters and eventually found our new chihuahua (mix?), aptly named Skittles. She could have also been called skittish or skitters, but Skittles seemed appropriate. She was a rescue and she still has some of that street mentality (she apparently wasn't fed well and has a predilection for plants, acorns and various other flora). She is a sweetheart and I think she knows she is a member of our family now. 

I would be remiss if I didn't further discuss one of the most devastating losses I've ever experienced as a fan of music and the creative arts in general. Two days after the release of Blackstar (on his 69th birthday), David Bowie suddenly passed from this world. Apparently well aware he had terminal cancer, David composed and produced this album as a sort of swan song and parting message, and it's proven to be an amazing piece of work. I can't give the album an adequate review in this space, and neither can I adequately express how much David and his work meant to me. I'll do my best in the future, through spoken word and music alike. For what it's worth, his loss has proven to be just as devastating for artists around the world of every age and genre. Almost anyone of note has expressed their immense sadness at his loss and the profound effect he had on their lives. The number of tribute songs and covers are too numerous to count. I have been working on versions of his music for years, and so a short term plan (which was already in the works long before he passed) is to put together a cover version of "Life on Mars" with me performing all the parts including vocals. This project derived from a desire to put together an audition for the Music Composition program with Berklee (I'm currently in the Music Production program, but want to dual major), but it's also been a long term goal to further my musicianship, production, etc. skills in being able to cover entire tunes by myself. Life on Mars was one of a few select tunes that I felt capable of not making a complete ass of myself in the process. We'll see. 

I'll have a shoe with cheese on it...

‎"Anha nemo afichak orze ma jelloon meshes. Emmas mae fothaan majin anha zalak volderat kristasof yeri."

Yes, you guessed right. It's the Dothraki translation for: "I'll have a shoe with cheese on it, force it down my throat, and I want to massage your Grandmother" 

If you're doubting the accuracy, that's translated by the guy who created the language for Game of Thrones. At my request. Quite the indulgent philologist, if I do say. And I do. Be do be do.

Feel free to use it in conversation. Thank me later.

'Tis been awhile

It's nearly November and I've been firmly ensconced in my new job for the past few months. Life has settled into a fairly predictable pattern. We're still trying to sell the Killeen house, fortunately we have a new realtor that actually has been trying to justify their 3% although the house probably isn't much more likely to sell in the near future. The Killeen market, while being healthier for sellers than DFW is still very much a buyer's market and very much down.

On the homefront the most significant developments (in my narrow minded view of the world) have been a substantial upgrade to the home theater and this year's most significant musical gear upgrade, the Axe FX II. On the home theater front, we now have a system that truly discourages going to the movie theater anymore. The only reason to go to the theater now is for those movies we're really dying to see or just an excuse to do something. The specific equipment upgrades include a new Epson 9700UB HD LCD projector, Golden Ear Triton 5.1 surround system, a Yamaha Aventage RX-A3000 receiver/amp, apple tv 2.0, and a Carada 117in viewable screen. We now have a home theater experience that I can be happy with indefinitely. I don't foresee making any changes unless something breaks beyond repair or until 4K becomes the new standard. Watching movies on that size screen with the new speakers is actually better than most theater experiences we have and I'm not talking about the ability to pause, go to the bathroom, lack of screaming kids, etc.

I just got the AxeFX II last week and haven't really had time to reveal how significant an upgrade it represents. I love everything I have discovered so far, and one nice new feature is the ease of achieving quality tones with minimal effort. Great tones were in the Ultra, but it took a little more work and tweaking. It seems with the Axe II that great tones are just a few clicks away. There definitely is a higher level of clarity and responsiveness. It's somewhat equivalent to the difference in sound between my old home theater system (klipsch center and bookshelf front l/r with unmatched kenwood surrounds and sub) and the new matched Golden Ear 5.1 system. You just hear so much more detail and the quality of the different timbres is so much higher. I don't think I'll ever be an audiophile or tone chaser to the level of an Eric Johnson, but I have a new appreciation for what higher quality equipment can do to the listening/playing experience. With the guitar, it still holds true that the most important aspect of sound comes from the player's hands/brain, but having powerful sound processing that is so user friendly and streamlined really helps the process. I'm going to start alternating my electric playing with my acoustic so I can continue to progress on both fronts. I've been in a fairly strictly acoustic phase for several months and while I've made some decent progress, it's been to the detriment of my electric playing. Part of the appeal of the acoustic is analogous to piano in that it's easier to play fully formed songs as a solo artist, where with the electric I'm mostly working on guitar parts that are part of an ensemble/band.

The amount of divergent interests and goals I have in my life makes it difficult to pursue them all with any regularity. I'm trying to get back into studying Korean while I'm also trying to write, compose new music, continue improving on three different instrument disciplines, working on my ear and theory, fitness, etc. Not to mention I have a full time job and like to chill out with a good movie or book on a regular basis as well. I guess it's still a good thing when you so many different interests that there isn't enough time in the day to pursue them all.

Book Review - The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss - go ahead and get the flatulence jokes out of the way, you'll feel better. Now, a brief review of one of the most promising first novels to come out in the Fantasy realm in many years. This is the story of the hero Kvothe, through his own eyes.  The story begins with Kvothe, many years after his most famous exploits, under personal exile as a tavern owner. He is recognized by a traveling chronicler who convinces him to tell his story and the telling is where the bulk of this story lies. It's an interesting story device since the juxtaposition between "now" and "then" actually works on multiple levels, slowly revealing important points while adding to the suspense since although we know he must have survived the "then" story, we have no idea where the "now" story may finish.

Kvothe begins life as member of a traveling group of actors and minstrels.  He possesses a tremendous gift for learning all manner of things quickly and is well trained in a variety of disciplines by his parents and other members of his troupe. His troupes chance encounter with a former member of the Arcanum (a higher order within the University, the realms highest center of magical and scientific learning) exposes young Kvothe to a wealth of new knowledge, some of which is very dangerous. Partially learning the "name of the wind" is one of the most difficult and dangerous bits of knowledge he is exposed to by the Arcanist.  His idyllic childhood is abruptly interrupted by a tragic event which will shape the arc of his subsequent life. He eventually finds his way to the University and the story concludes with him still a student. Along the way are many trials and tribulations, friends, enemies, arcane knowledge, scientific discoveries, all told in a first person narration style that draws you completely into the story.

This is one those books that you read in a few sittings and decide to skip television and the internet for a few days until you finish it. Sadly, the second novel isn't due for release until March 2011 which means it will probably be 2015 or later before the series concludes. This is just a very satisfying read; Kvothe is a very appealing character who is equal parts brilliant, brave, funny, shy and ultimately is a very convincing, complex character that isn't the typical cutout hero. Fans of George R.R. Martin and Robert Jordan will eat this up and even J.K. Rowling fans who want something more adult will enjoy this as well. Highly recommended.

Book Review - Cryptonomicon

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson - A B&N browse and pick. The story is a few years old (I think 1999) and jumps back and forth between World War II and the turn of the millenium. It centers around a few main characters in WWII and their descendants, and it's focused on the cryptological (then) and information security (now)business. The cast of characters includes a kind of cryptological savant, a marine grunt, spies, treasure hunters, damsels in distress, lions, tigers, you get the picture. Ok, mostly it's about the spy business from the side of cryptographers (go figure with a title like Cryptonomicon) Stephenson shows quite the touch at handling the science (which he appears to be quite versed in) as well as offering a plausible and interesting plot. He also does a good job of handling multiple plot lines as he jumps back and forth between past & present and between different characters. This is often a risky venture and very few pull it off while maintaining the urgency of the story (George R.R. Martin has very succesfully written his entire Song of Ice and Fire series with this technique). Perhaps best of all, he is very funny in the most geeky sense of the word. Some of the metaphors he uses to describe a painful or exasperating experience are laugh out loud funny. I don't know how much of the technology described is real, but it all sounds convincing when he describes it. I really like his writing and will be reading his other novels when I get time.

Movies - The Golden Compass looks good

In the realm of fantastic fiction directed at children/young adults, Harry Potter is the reigning champion by any yardstick. J.K. Rowling doesn't have a monopoly, however. I grew up reading C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander before I moved on to J.R.R. Tolkien in my early teens. If it had been written back then, I'm sure I would have read Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. I have actually picked these novels up at the bookstore several times but  never got around to reading them. By all reports it's in a similar vein to Harry Potter but with a more adult sensibility to it.  Riding the wave of cinematic success of HP, LOTR, and Narnia the first novel has been made into a feature film and there's a really cool looking trailer here. I'm looking forward to this now and I'm more inclined to read the first novel before I see this.

Book Review - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke - another B&N browse pickup. This novel is set in a similar time period to two recent "magical" movies (The Prestige and The Illusionists, respectively) and describes a Napoleonic war era England in which magic is a historical art/science that has fallen out of regular use by most of it's practitioners, who are called theoretical magicians since they all study and discuss it in great detail, but none of them actually can perform any magic. It follows the titular characters who both have different ways of actually practicing the magic and both have different opinions of what it's proper use will be in the service of their own priorities and those of the country. It's been called a sort of Harry Potter for adults, and I guess that's somewhat fair in that it is very English in tone and it's about magic. If you're main foray into literature has been HP, then this may not be your cup of tea, but lovers of good writing with an element of the fantastic will probably like this.

Book Review - One Train Later

The autobiography by the brilliant guitarist for the Police. This covers his entire life until this point with a large portion detailing his musical career before the Police which unknown to me prior to reading this book was actually pretty successful. He was a member of much of the 60s musical movement in England and the San Francisco/California psychedelic movement. He bounced around to various bands and gigs and was pretty well known to many of the big players in those days including the Stones, the Who and others. He played with the Animals and had a variety of backup/session type gigs including Neal Sedaka to name just one. He was heavily influenced by Jazz at an early age and it's the variety of musical experiences he had that allowed him to develop such a unique sound within the Police that had never been heard before and has been copied but never equalled in the time since. It's a good book for Police fans and a great book for Andy Summers fans. On the tail of finishing this book, the news broke that the Police have reunited and are touring this summer. I just finished watching them open the Grammy's last Sunday (they sounded fantastic by the way, they haven't lost anything in twenty plus years apart) and have now found out they will play Dallas in June. I plan to be there if at all humanly possible. I was fortunate enough to see them play across the street from where they are playing this June on their last tour (Synchronicity). Update: I was able to buy two tickets for 17th row center floor at the Dallas show in June. I'm just slightly stoked, to put it mildly.

Book Review - American Gods

I saw this while browsing at B&N and it caught my eye. I have seen his novels on the shelves for awhile now but never picked anything up. This won every major Fantasy/Horror award the year it was published and it looked like a nice modern fantasy with elements of Clive Barker/Stephen King set in America at the turn of the new millienium. After reading the novel I considered it a good read, although I had my doubts as to whether it was worth all the awards. I'm not sure about the other novels it was competing with, so maybe that's not fair. Gaman introduces some pretty cool concepts in the ideas that Gods of all religions and myths survive based on the faithful and their support. As people began to emigrate in great numbers from Europe to America around the time of the colonies, many of the old religions and Gods began to lose supporters in the old world. This eventually motivated many of the Gods to come to America as well, in an attempt to follow the faithful. The story focuses around an ex con and his hiring by a mysterious character with a nebulous past. Without giving the plot away, it's based on what happens when the old Gods have to compete with the new "American Gods" of television, the internet, etc. The God's avatars are all fairly normalish characters walking around in the story and interacting with each other. It's definitely a nice modern twist on the concept of religion and set in the backdrop of a very different America.

Book Review - Stairway to Heaven

Stairway to Heaven by Richard Cole - this is basically the diary (or at least a very subjective retelling) of life on the road with Led Zeppelin by their primary tour manager, Richard Cole. It is mostly filled with stories of life on tour, including all the crazy stories that surround the band. Yes, the shark story is there in full detail. It's a interesting read in that it does reveal some character traits of the band members that may not be as readily obvious through their music and interviews. Since he was their tour manager, there isn't much about their studio time and the development of the songs and albums, which is what I would consider the most important aspect of their legacy as a band, although their touring is probably what made them most famous. This is mostly for the real fans of the band, but it is told by someone who was truly on the inside so it gives details you won't find anywhere else. I also recently re-read "Hammer of the Gods" which treads much the same ground as Stairway to Heaven



Book Review - An Equal Music

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth - tells the story of a classical violinist in a professional touring quartet in Europe. It's equal measures of the musician's life and relationships among the various players. It also is very focused on the failed relationship between the violinist and another student and his regret at losing her. After a chance sighting of her in London he spends the next several chapters trying to track her down only to find that many things have changed and neither of them are like they were. The relational aspects of the novel border on lifetime channel material, but the life of a touring classical musician rings true and is interesting for anyone who is a player or musician or has an interest in that life. I read this after seeing it recommended by Neal Peart on his website.

Book Review - A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (Non-Fiction).

It's a laymans guide to the history of science and an enjoyable read. There are bits that apparently get lost in translation when Bryson tries to decipher some of the more theoretical topics, but this isn't meant to replace textbooks or research articles. If you like the Discovery channel but sometimes find yourself wanting a little more, you'll probably enjoy this book. I have particularly enjoyed some of the analogies he makes (quotes?): if you reduced the Sun down to the size of a pinhead, Pluto would still be 35 feet away, and the outer edge of our solar system (everything within the gravitational field of our sun) would still be farther away than the eye could see (the edge of our solar system is tens of thousands times farther away than the distance to Pluto). Those sorts of quotes really altered my perception which was mostly based on those illustrations in my old science textbooks (you know the ones which show all the planets in relation to the Sun, complete with Mars being in the shadow of Jupiter, etc.) There are many great analogies like that which really help to gain a perspective on how complex and amazing the natural world is, and how insigificant and temporary modern man is in the age of earth and the universe.



Book Review - Devil in the White City

Devil in the White City by Erik Larson - an interesting dual tale of two men, one the primary architect for the 1893 Worlds Fair in Chicago that was a stunning achievement in architecture, science and modern innovation for its time, the other being one of the first (if not the first) American serial killer who exploited the tumult in Chicago during this momentous season, preying upon many young women who were attracted at the opportunities that this event and city promised. A really fascinating story that works on many different levels and shifts between a great historical novel about American innovation, perseverance and the realities of living in turn of the century Chicago and the intricate web of deceit, misdirection and malevolence masterminded by a well respected Doctor who used his power to commit unthinkable acts of violence. This tale seems so fantastic that it's hard to believe it's actually based entirely on true events without a great deal of embellishment or artistic license.

Book Review - The Runelords

The Runelords series by David Farland - an interesting premise for a fantasy series in which Runelords are powerful men and women who gain superhuman abilities by proxy. They use magic to take certain attributes (brawn, stamina, grace, eyesight, hearing, etc.) from willing (and sometimes unwilling or unaware) subjects who are in turn promised lifelong protection from their patron in turn for relinquishing these priceless gifts. The tale centers around a prince named Gaborn (of course it does, it's an epic fantasy isn't it?) who must battle the Wolf Lord (an epithet for another rune lord who has taken the attributes of dogs and wolves as well as humans) Raj Athen who is trying to become the "Sum of all Men" by taking endowments from thousands of subjects that may eventually grant him immortality and immense power. As the series progresses (I read the first four books, another is forthcoming this November, but it's about the children of the main characters in this story) another main rival is introduced in the form of a race of insectoid creatures known as the reavers and their powerful leader. They will all battle for the fate of the Earth (again, it's Epic Fantasy, what did you expect?) with several unexpected twists as the tale progresses. Overall it's a decent read. Not on par with Robert Jordan for page turnerish goodness, much less George RR Martin and his Song of Ice and Fire series.