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 Tag: Musings

The Ratio of Response to Effort

As a creator it's always interesting to see the ratio of response to original material versus forwarded/shared material from other sources. I've heard about this from other creators as well, this phenomenon is described below by "Music Is Win" creator Tyler Larson. He is much more likely to get views/response/feedback for cover songs or some of the less serious, even incidental stuff he posts compared to something original that he toiled at for months or longer.

It just reinforces the idea that it's the work that's the joy, not the finished product and certainly not people's reaction to it. I linger on the very fringes of social media so I'm probably not comparable, but my most watched video by far is a sloppy cover of a zep tune recorded on a cheap webcam years ago. Part of that is the unpredictable nature of sharing and/or the way youtube will suggest or link videos. I could make more of an effort to share/"advertise" my videos, but my best efforts are still directed towards improving my craft. I should note that I realize a better song is going to get more views, so I'm not surprised that more people would be inclined to click on my cover of "Rock & Roll" than on my latest weirdly titled prog demo. 

2012

Before welcoming in the new year (albeit 2 days late), I wanted to give a nod to 2011. 2011 was a good year. Not necessarily a GREAT year, but essentially good on most days, which earns an overall good rating.

The year started with us in Killeen and no immediate or even medium term plans to move or change anything that substantial in our lives. I had just started working for MEB at Ft Hood and by the end of January I knew I couldn't last long term in that position. The highlights of the year were my subsequent decision to seek new employment, and I began looking primarily in the D/FW area with the intent to relocate. Ultimately this culminated in my finding, applying, and getting hired for a Comp & Pen position with the VA at their new FW outpatient clinic.

We put our house on the market and Aeyoung was very fortuitous in finding a home to rent that was not only convenient to work, but very suitable from a layout standpoint and pet friendly. Besides the upheaval of the move and a couple of months of not collecting a regular paycheck in the summer (and the resulting red on the bank ledger), the year otherwise proceeded as normal.

On the family front, Aeyoung and I celebrated our 21st anniversary in April and just continued to happily share each other's lives with our 3 furry children. Our most recent addition continues to attempt to exert her dominance as the favorite. It's funny how smaller dogs seem to have Napoleon complexes.  I incrementally improved at playing guitar and keyboards, continued to run, and near the end of the year I began studying Korean again, although a little more in earnest this time. Hey, better late than never, you know the old saying. 

Onward to 2012. Aeyoung asked me the other day what my new year's resolutions were going to be. I usually have a significant reassessing of my physical fitness at this time of year, so she's used to me swearing off alcohol and fast food and committing myself to exercise. The good news is that I have been a consistent runner for the past two years and this really hasn't changed. The only ironic event is that I did a number on my right calf in mid december when I was out for one of my pre-marathon long runs. This resulted in my not being able to run for the last two weeks of the year, and now I almost feel as if I am starting a new year's resolution by returning to running. I managed to run 1195 miles last year which is okay.

I had 3 significant down periods due to illness and injury, but this last one has been the longest. I'm hoping I can get my weekly average up to a consistent 30 miles or so, although this means I'll have to run 15 miles on the weekend unless I add an extra weekday. My long term goal is still to run a marathon, but this is the second train up in which I've suffered a significant injury setback that essentially has derailed my plan near the end. I think I will need to reassess my general approach to running/fitness and include some muscular strength and flexibility traning to supplement my running/cardio. I also think about 10-20% weight loss may do alot to minimize the injuries. 

Along those lines I'm going to have to commit to less junk food and alcohol (this is really only a weekend phenomena), and start to really manage how I fuel my body for general health and for running. I think my plan for now will be only social drinking (in our case that means concerts), and limit the junk food to only one or two meals a week. Aeyoung will cook this kind of food more often just from a convenience standpoint, so that means I will probably have to step in a help with some of the food preparation. 

Our financial goals for 2012 are fairly simple. Keep doing what we're doing, but do it better. Get the red off the ledger book that was necessitated by the relocation (and is harder to overcome currently because we're paying rent and a mortgage at the same time). The most important objective for the year would be to sell our house in Killeen, although it's hard to gauge how reasonable a goal that is. We will pay a tax penalty of 8K if we sell before August, so right now we're not being aggressive in our pricing.

That will most likely change if we haven't sold by then. Once we can sell that house, our financial goals will be centered on our eventual home purchase in the D/FW area. That's a 2013 and beyond goal. The eventual home purchase will hopefully be our last. We're hoping to get at least a one acre homesite in a planned development that will protect us from urban sprawl in the long term and allow us to stay in that one home indefinitely. We're looking to settle in the Mansfield/Arlington/Grand Prairie area. This will get us a little closer to the middle of D/FW while keeping my work commute to a manageable timeframe. 

My other 2012 goals center on continued learning and development. I want to continue studying Korean, at least every weekday like I have been striving to do. I'll probably start trying to either read some comic books or watch the occasional television program with Aeyoung. I haven't developed my comprehension and vocabulary enough yet for those to be possible. 

In music, I'm going to commit to two initial goals. Learn at least one complete song by ear per month, and compose at least one complete song per month. To learn a complete song by ear, I'm going to start with something a little more simple and approachable like Led Zeppelin or equivalent. I know bits and pieces of many tunes, but I've been dependent on tablature for the bulk of all songs I've ever learned. I've figured out countless riffs and chunks of tunes, but I haven't forced myself to sit down and learn a complete song from start to finish. It's definitely an easier task now than it was when I first learned guitar. The software tools available make it about as easy as possible. I just need to do the work. I'll build up to harder material once I have several complete songs under my belt. 

On the compositional front, my goal is to have a completed song with all instruments, arrangement, orchestration, production, etc. completed every month. I haven't decided yet if I'll make completely new songs from scratch, although that is the way I'm leaning. I have ordered a small two octave keyboard controller to keep at my main desk to help with the songwriting. As a guitarist I find it easy enough to write riffs while I'm playing my guitar, but I think the keyboard will handle the bulk of the overall compositional duties since I can not only write/play melody and chords, but it's also my only interface for drums, bass and synths. 

 

October's Gone, and a Presidential Milestone…

I'm a few days late with this, but October has passed us by. It was a tumultuous month to say the least.  Things have been a little quieter the last few days. Summer is still holding on here with daily temps into the 80s although it's colder in the evening.  They finally finished the new dining facility although the quality of the food remains unchanged. November 11th is the four month mark so we're nearing 1/3rd of the tour complete. November will hopefully mark a decrease in enemy activity as the weather continues to get colder.

Back in the US yesterday, we elected our first African American president, Barack Obama.  This is obviously one of the most significant events in American history, easily the most significant political event in the last generation.  He goes into office with a democratic majority in Congress and arguably the hardest presidential task in history. He's going to have to deal with the ongoing war on terror and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; this will probably pale in comparison to the task of turning the economy around. It's a very optimistic time in our political landscape, hopefully the optimism will be justified.

I'm currently trying to negotiate my next assignment whilst deciding about my long term career options. In October word came out about the new bonus program for the Army PA's and it's very significant if it comes to pass. Final approval is predicted for next spring, and for retirement eligible PA's (yours truly) the amount will be substantial. With the creation of the CSRB bonus program in 2006, I had initially considered signing another contract at the expiration of the first which would lock me in until 27 years active duty. 

However, after nearly a year with a regular unit I was all but dead set against remaining any longer in the Army. Now, after being deployed for four months I have begun to feel different. Most of my dissatisfaction last year had to do with the typical primary care and predeployment mission that dominates stateside military healthcare operations.  The overwhelming majority of patients we treat in the states either don't need medical attention, or are trying to use a medical issue as a means to avoid doing their real job. That will never go away, but after practicing real medicine on a predominately truly sick and injured patient population, I have garnered a new appreciation for my work.

That experience, combined with the changing political landscape and the tentatively planned troop reductions in Iraq have actually got me feeling optimistic about the Army again.  The ongoing struggle here in Afghanistan and the likelihood of continued (albeit decreased) violence in Iraq essentially guarantees that combat deployments will be a regular part of Army life for years to come. However, the optempo may very well decrease to the frequency of one deployment every 3 or 4 years (or even longer) if the positive gains continue. 

My current contract expires in October 2010, when I would be eligible to retire with nearly 23 years active duty.  I can stay in without doing anything since I have to request retirement for it to actually happen.  I'll have essentially one year to think about it after returning from this deployment. The Army typically recommends requesting retirement a year ahead, but no less than 90 days. I'm hopeful that a lot of uncertainty about the next several years (for the military) will be cleared up after President Obama completes his first year in office.  If things continue to improve, I might decide to stick around for another four years.

Not a review as such…

…but a reflection. I made a recommendation to a potential Mac buyer on the Native Instruments forum (software synth makers, among other things) based on my positive experience with the Mac so far. It resulted in a flame from a fervent winsciple about how NI products (and software in general) run so much better on Windows compared to OSX (Mac). He quoted several "tests" that supported this notion by demonstrating CPU efficiency improvements with the same products under both operating systems.

He even admitted to owning a Mac Pro, but stated that he bought it to run Windows because the Mac Pro is "just a windows pc with mac labeling" or words to that effect. He had told the potential buyer he should get a Win pc because of the so called improvements for NI products. Oddly, he didn't state that buying a Mac would actually be the best solution if you truly believed the numbers since you could have the option of running either OS, unlike Win PCs which can't run OSX.

To make a long story short, although I doubted his claims I attempted to load the programs in question into my Windows drive on my Mac (yes, I do run Windows under my mac, but mostly just for a couple of games I can't run on OSX). Scratch a perfectly good Saturday out of my life for that. I spent most of the day loading the programs, and then found I couldn't get my audio interface to work for more than a few minutes before it quit responding and resulting in three BSODs before I called it quits.  I think there may have been an eventual solution and I should add that I have Vista which isn't fully supported yet.  

It just demonstrates the amount of additional hassle that any Windows related operation involves. I had truly forgotten what it's like to need a regular tweak of various components in your computer just to keep it running. I have been using the Mac for a couple of months now, and with the exception of a program update every couple of weeks, I don't have to do anything except turn it on and use it. It's really as simple as turning on a television or other appliance.

The bottom line is that my personal experience with the Mac has mostly lived up to the hype. The thing works, and it works well. It's not perfect, and I have had a few hiccups along the way, but they all were sorted out in very short order.  I can't see ever going back to a Win PC except to run work related stuff if I can't avoid it at home or the odd game that isn't released on Mac.

Who needs milestones?

Not me, no sireee. I (ahem), passed a certain chronological milestone a few days ago and realized I should probably put my thoughts down about it. Trouble is, I'm not really thinking about it that much. It will sink in later when I have to fill out a form where the age range is something like 20-29, 30-39, Ancient and decrepit, etc. Age is clearly a state of mind, but it's something that the younger take great pains in reminding you of. Apparently they're going to be young forever. 

I'm fairly happy where I'm at in this part of my life. I have some regrets and some accomplishments I have yet to achieve, but my age isn't going to preclude me from reaching them. It's safe to say that I still wouldn't make it in professional sports even if I could be eighteen again. I hope I'm only at the midpoint of my life now, I'd like another 40+ if I can have them.

 

Are You Special?

We have all heard that phrase from a parent or other guiding figure in our childhood, that we are special.  As a kid, I think most of us take this to heart and really believe that we are somehow different than everyone else and are approaching a singular destiny of some sort.  As we get older we start to realize that we weren't the only ones hearing this phrase from our parents and the conspiracy is revealed. Not that it's a malevolent conspiracy or there isn't a positive benefit from these encouragements.

Having been to many different countries, most of which are economically far poorer than the US and other wealthy western nations, I have seen that being special all depends on your frame of reference.  As a child my daily concerns were getting through school so I could come home and play, read a book, or watch tv. In some countries "hide and seek" is not a game, but a means of staying alive for one more day. If the situation is calm enough, they are given the privilege of scrapping and scraping for fresh water and a small morsel of food to get them through to the next day so they can do it again. For these children, special means you made it into adulthood with your physical body intact and your spirit still alive enough to carry on.

Anyone reading this is far more wealthy than most of the world. Having a computer and internet access is something fewer than 1% of the world's population enjoys. That is based on stats I pulled off the web, so it may be a percentage point or two wrong, but it still shows how unique the experience of surfing the web, reading email, or reading anything for that matter is. Not to mention running water, electricity, safe neighborhoods, access to healthcare, education, etc. For most of the world, these things are dreams and not something they would ever take for granted. Most of us reading this probably do. 

Considering this, my cards are looking pretty good if I'm sitting at a table with people from places like Haiti, Chad, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Kosovo, or Iraq.  Does this make me special?  Have I taken the opportunities I could have in life and done something with them?  I like to think I have tried to make the most of my situation and put in a good effort in most things I do.  Still, have I really lived up to my potential?  Have I taken all the wealth and power afforded to me in western society and really made something of it?  It's a question I really can't answer right now. I have to wonder what the playing field would look like if everyone was on an equal footing. 

So, are you special?