Category Archives: About Me

Work-Life Dynamic

I was recently thinking about a job interview I had a bit ago and I was sort of regretting that I didn’t go off on this topic when offered the chance.  I had a different story handy that I used and while that seemed to work, I felt this one would have made a better impression.  I feel like I’ve talked about it before, but that might have been to other people over some related conversation.  But anyway…

Recently, there’s been a spike in discussions about work and labor, partially about wages and benefits, and some about having to work at all.  The idea of universal basic income, deca-millionaires and the inequality around all of that is a good discussion to have, but it doesn’t address business concerns at the moment.  And it doesn’t answer the question they are asking right now: why should I hire you?

I have a couple answers to that.  Before I start, let me say that I do software development for a living.  I have done it for over 30 years.  Saying that is both a pro and a con.  To my benefit, I’ve been through a lot and have a lot of experience.  To someone who doesn’t see it that way, I am writing 30-year old code, which is not what modern businesses want.  The answers have to emphasize the former and dispel the latter.

To begin, the way I see things, there are two types of people that are probably getting interviewed.  You have people who program and you have programmers.  No, I think I’m going to try and make this story industry-agnostic.  So, said another way, you have people who "do it" and you have people who "live it".  Doesn’t matter what field it is, are you getting someone who will do as they’re told and get the job done, or do you want someone who will take ownership of the task and make it their mission to get it done?  There’s actually no wrong answer there; there are places for both types, and as I am of the latter type, if that’s not what the company wants, it’s not going to go well for either of us.

The cliche phrase, "do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life" can be true only if your employer allows that to happen.  While people who "do it" will wait around for guidance or instructions to do things, those who "live it" will actively push to make the job interesting and rewarding, because the challenge comes with the lifestyle.  The "lifers" will be seeking out these challenges all the time, on and off the clock, because that’s part of living the profession.  The "doers" will switch off their business lives at the end of the day.  That’s not to say that the "lifers" are doing company work off the clock, they’re just building their skills in general and if they can apply it to their work, that’s just a benefit – for both employee and employer.

Again, it doesn’t matter what profession or "level" you are, this will benefit you.  If you are in housekeeping and you spend your time reading and learning about efficiency and new techniques for sanitation and you suggest those things to your employer, maybe you’ll get to do them, maybe you’ll do them anyway.  But you are showing initiative, and maybe that’s the key word in this entire story.

The word "initiative" triggers some memories I have of people’s rants that employers are demanding initiative or criticizing that someone lacks initiative, and the employee argues in return, "You’re not paying me for that.  You pay me for the training, and I’ll do it."  That is a valid viewpoint for someone who is a "doer".  It suggests that they are not in a field they enjoy.  I think that’s fine.  You can be competent without initiative.  You probably won’t go as far, nor will you be as happy, but that’s the trade-off for being able to have two lives.

For a "lifer", the new skill being learned isn’t as much about having a bigger toolbelt to move to a new job or to demand more pay, although those are certainly perks for doing it, it’s about controlling your environment.  You know, another cliche.  If you don’t like where you’re at, change it.  Of course, you also have to get used to a lot of rejection.  This isn’t your company and you don’t make all the decisions, but coming up with potential solutions for problems is a life skill that will never not pay dividends.  And if you’re in a company that has a supportive management, you’ll be noticed.  If you’re in a company that has a backstabbing management, you’re in a better position to go to a better place.

So in summary, those would be my two arguments: that I am a "lifer" in that I am constantly applying and honing the skills of my profession, and that I will constantly be advancing new ideas to the company for our mutual benefit.  I would hope that there are more like me out there, but I know that I have only ever worked with one other person that I know practices and learns outside of work.  That’s not a good ratio.

Superstitions

Elsewhere, I had made a post talking about buying new chairs.  Today I am going to pick up one of those chairs and the other I think I’m going to hold off on until a major sale, Labor Day I think is the next one.  But my decision to buy the first chair was more than just, it’s a good chair or it’s a good price.  I felt there was something else that was prompting me to buy that chair there.

One of my friends is very superstitious, not in a bad way, but more in a way of seeing signs in a lot of things that normally I wouldn’t even give a second thought about.  I feel she would understand this.  When I first went to the store, I wanted an office chair.  That term probably conjures up a very specific image in your head and that’s what I was looking for, whether it be a high-back or a low-back version.  At sometime shortly after I entered the store, I had the thought of, did it have to be an office chair?  Because for whatever reason, I remembered that when I was young and poor, I never had an office chair; I had used dining chairs.  I have a very faint memory of buying two chairs from the oddball/clearance section of a furniture store and those chairs lasted a long time and eventually disintegrated.

As you would expect, I was greeted at the door by a salesperson who asked me what I was looking for and I said I wanted to see everything, but was looking for a desk chair.  She let me go off but frequently kept checking up on me.  At one point I told I didn’t have to have an office chair, it might be fine to have a dining chair.  Then I commented that some of the desks in the showroom seemed to be using dining chairs.  And then we passed by her desk and this was her chair.

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I am very convinced that is the exact same chair I was using at my desk 30 years ago.  The color is darker, but everything else is the same.  The chair even still had its original product label hanging on it.  What a nostalgia trip.

Some people might just say that’s a coincidence.  Ok.  It’s also a coincidence that there was a singleton chair in the farthest corner of their clearance section with no matching pieces.  Not a set of chairs or a pair of chairs, just one.  And I was looking for one chair.  Sure, that’s entirely likely.  Well, yeah, I guess it is. 

People want to attach more meaning to things than may be warranted.  After all, aren’t we seeing the greatest mass delusion in history playing out right now?  But maybe having some insight and recognition can open you up to new possibilities.  Maybe if I hadn’t noticed her desk chair I wouldn’t have been inspired to search every corner of the building.  Who knows?

I just went looking.  I found it.  Yes.  That is the same chair.  Slightly different frame, but yes.

Apr 99 Batch (4)

And surprisingly or not, the new chair is going to be in the same function, the desk chair for my recording studio.

Whole-Life Fulfillment

It was back in 2016 that I had made a post talking about my life insurance policies and how such policies were considered to be a bad decision by many economic people and I argued in favor of having the policies.  I had said that at some unknown future point, my insurance would be free.  Well, I was doing some account maintenance and review because of an upcoming significant life change and guess what?  That time has come.  I’m not going to go back in time and try to determine when I actually crossed that line, but I can say in 2021, I have made more in dividends than I have made in payments.

Here’s the actual numbers involved.  I pay about $135/mo for my two insurance policies.  So far in 2021, I’ve paid $945 in insurance premiums.  Now I don’t regularly check the balance of my whole-life policy because it’s not something that really needs any attention.  I’ve checked it three times this year and in those three times, the cash value of the account has grown $1433.  If it’s not obvious, that number is larger than $945.

Insurance is a bill, an expense in your life.  You should consider it lost money.  Even more so because you’re not supposed to get any benefit out of it – it’s for other people.  Not so with Whole Life policies, there is a cash value that you can access in retirement.  Detractors say that whole life policies are savings accounts for people who can’t save, because the deposits are faked as a bill.  So what!  It works.

So if my dividends for the year were anything over $945, I am effectively in the black.  And almost being 50% above my deposits, that is a decent return.  So now that this goal has been met, let’s look a little harder at the big picture.  This should make the naysayers feel more superior.

According to records, I have had my insurance policy since June, 2007.  My payment has actually gone down a little bit as the years have gone by, but $135/mo is a fair average of what I’ve paid a month.  So, how much have I paid to have insurance all those years?  Looks like almost $23k.  What is my current cash value of the account? A little over $17k.  If I want to be slippery about this I could say I’ve effectively paid $6k for 14 years of insurance, which is about $35/mo.  My $100k term life policy is like $16/mo, so I’ve been getting my whole life policy at term life rates.

But that whole discussion is just like dealing with percentages.  It’s bullshit.  Here’s the bottom line.  I purchased insurance at a rate that was not a hardship for me.  I’ve maintained that policy for 14 years.  The policy is no longer an expense and is now an investment.  It is behaving exactly how it was sold to me.

I do not believe whole-life policies are evil if they are crafted properly by a reputable company.

Look At What You Can’t Have

Every once in a while, I do a little "worst-case" scenario and determine how little I need to get by in case of, you know, the worst case scenario happening.  It’s not overly complex, it’s basically reviewing my budget and seeing how things have changed for better or worse since the last exercise.

One of the line items is the mortgage.  Almost 5 years ago, I refi’d into a 15-yr loan with a better rate and I’ve been paying a minimal extra amount on the loan each month.  So one of the things if shit really hit the fan is I would attempt to refi it back into a 30-yr so I could reclaim some of the money I’d budgeted to that bill.  I suppose some people might consider pulling out the equity in the house and surviving on that until things got better, but this is just the way I think.  Don’t give up ground, even if your progress has been slowed.

So anyway, I brought up a mortgage calculator and like a lot of nice, friendly forms, this one had nice sliders to adjust the values.  The page loaded like this.

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Well, I’m not getting a 330k loan, now or ever.  So I dragged the slider down.  And when I did, something crazy happened.  The house picture changed.

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Fucking ouch.  What a punch in the gut.  When you load the page, the site is setting your expectations with "this is what your house will probably be like" and when you eventually say, "I can’t afford that payment," you move the slider and the site says, "Well, now you’re looking at this kind of house."  No stairs.  No ornamental shrubs.  Even the tree is wimpier, suggesting you’re just a beginner.  And while that may be true, it’s not as encouraging as it should be.  Don’t focus on where you will be, focus on where you are right now – smallsville.

But I’m not looking for a loan even in that area.  The calculator doesn’t go where I need it to go, but I tried.

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Jesus.  100k and this is all you get for it.  Well, at least it’s a two story place, which I suppose might be better than what I have.  But the point still stands, getting two sad reminders of where you are, not where you’re going.  Of course, once you are faced with the reality, who isn’t going to dream a little and peek over the fence to see the greener grass?  It’s human nature.  If you feel bad, feeling worse is the easiest thing to accomplish.  Drag, drag, drag.

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Nice.  Bigger garage, columns, bigger tree, fireplace.  But I really want to feel bad.

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Sigh.  Ok.  That’s enough.

Bring Out Your Dead

I have a problem.  Not really, but some would say, yes.  It’s my CD players.  I’ve discussed it little before and maybe joked about it.  It’s still kind of a joke.  here’s the continuation of that joke and my rationale.

So I have, let’s see.  Let me count them… 8.  Eight CD players.  Since the last time I mentioned this, I’ve added a JVC XL-V141, which is a 90’s player, and yesterday, a Yamaha CDX-520 from 1989.  This is the Yamaha:

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My collection all meet certain criteria, partially for my promotional purposes if I get to the point of selling them.  All have physical power buttons (Off is OFF), all have headphone jacks, so the youngin’s can enjoy them without needing a full stereo.  Most have volume knobs for the headphones, which is a excellent touch.  You see, when things started getting cheaper, features got cut.  This is back when CD players were premium devices.  And yeah, these were about $300 when new.  Back in those dollars, which is probably $600 today.

So, I had purchased this neat new player for $25.  I was eager to try it out and clean it up when i got home.  Right away, I plugged it in and gave it a smoke test on a CD and headphones.  Tray opens and closes, that’s good, the disc TOC reads, good.  Ohhh..  It has a chronic skipping problem.  It just stutters all over the track like it’s on fast-forward.  Damn it.

Pop the case off and look around.  I don’t really know what I’m looking for, just something out of place.  It all looks good.  I push a bunch of buttons and I notice that the CD doesn’t skip on later tracks, more on earlier tracks and chronically on the first track.  This is a clue, but I don’t know what it means yet.  This is pretty much what I had in front of me:

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While I’m reading my CD player repair document and looking over the player’s schematics from its service manual (which mean nothing to me), I go back and forth between the computer and the player.  Stopping and starting the player over and over.  Oddly, now it seems to be skipping less.  Then it’s not skipping on the first track anymore.  Is that all it was?  The player was tired and had been sitting too long, maybe just needed to warm back up?  What a crazy solution to the problem.

I tried a few more CDs.  Nope.  Skipping was still there.  So, I considered the problem wasn’t electronic, maybe mechanical.  Maybe the gears and rails for the laser transport needed cleaned and lubed.  I disassembled it and lubed up the moving parts with silicone lube on a swab (not recommended around electronics, but I’m stubborn).  Not any better, maybe worse.  Well, I’m going to have to level up on my repair skills.

The repair manual discussed adjusting the lens tracking and focus using potentiometers on the circuit board.  The troubleshooting guide also said tracking issues would cause skipping.  Ok, let’s do this.  $25 already gone, right? 

I took a picture of the pots before I fiddled with them just to be absolutely sure.

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While a CD played, I slowly twisted the left pot and the skipping got worse.  Well, that’s a change in some direction, so I felt I was on the right track.  However, I couldn’t get things to get any better.  In fact, I experienced something the the guide warned about, with the CD spinning out of control at very high speed.  So, after powering the player down and resetting the pot to neutral, let’s try the other one.  In a couple small changes, suddenly the transport quieted down and didn’t seem to rattle anymore.  The skipping stopped!  This is the setting I ended up with:

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It’s not a major adjustment, but I imagine it’s not supposed to be.  I’ve been testing out the player on multiple CDs and no more skipping issue at all.

So, my little joke of a collecting problem has given me a new repair skill.  Formerly, my repair abilities were limited to changing belts, which honestly is pretty good and has brought a couple players back from the dead.  Now I have a new solution for a new problem under my belt.  I can fix even more players now.  A good hobby is one where you continually grow, right?

Post Travel Review

It’s been a week or so since I got back from my road trip through a few states.  I got to spend some time in a couple and just passed through another, but still, during death plague, travelling is a luxury, or at least it should be.

Anyway, a lot of my time was spent in TX.  I was in a somewhat smaller town surrounded by other smaller towns, but I did take one day to drive to Dallas.  My overall impressions of the state?  I don’t really like it.  It seemed more expensive, for one.  Sales tax was higher and the cost of things in general seemed higher as well.  Gas was cheaper, but not cheaper than other states I went through.

On dining.  It’s nothing I can really fault them for, but there was less for me to eat in TX.  I don’t eat Mexican, and well, TX has a lot of Mexican food for whatever reason.  I lot of the brands I enjoy also weren’t there (at least in the smaller towns I was in).  One other thing is that every restaurant was jam packed.  Actually that was a theme my entire trip.  I regularly found myself eating at my third or less favorite choice just because I couldn’t get in anywhere else.

On shopping.  I had plenty of time to hit all the stores I wanted.  I hit thrift stores, which were generally disappointing, pawn shops, which were universally, exceptionally depressing, and used CD stores, which were generally positive.

On driving.  I was warned beforehand that TX drivers drive fast.  This is true, but despite that, they are still courteous.  I’ll save my ranting for the end, but I will say, Dallas rush-hour traffic is heaps better than normal FL traffic.  For one, drivers choose a lane and stick with it.  They allow you to have a safety buffer in front of your vehicle without having an irrational need to fill that space.  TX drivers don’t ride in the passing lane (of course there are exceptions).  When you only have 2-lane highways, maybe this is more normal.  The one notable exception I recall is someone who rode the passing lane and varied his speed between 65 and 85.  He wouldn’t pass me, nor would he fall behind me.  He was building up a line of cars behind him.  So in an open stretch, I chose to accelerate to over 100 to build a gap between me and him so that the cars he blocked could pass him on the right and get around him.  As far as I know, he’s still driving in the left lane today.

Oddball observation: There are a lot of redheads in TX.

The next state I spent the most time in was LA, an hour away from where I was staying.  My general impression: a poor, sad state.  I hit some thrift shops, which had nothing of any value, some pawn shops, which also had nothing of value, and a record store.  I saw a dead dog in the street and no one seemed to be concerned by it.

When I was coming through LA into TX, I didn’t get a very good vibe from the state.  I mentioned this to my host who commented that her impression of LA people is that they were "crooked".  I thought that was sort of a unique observation, not one you usually make on a group of people.  Then I went to the used record store in LA and I learned.  I’ve heard about stores like this before, but this was the first one I’d experienced. 

When I got there, the building was sketchy as fuck.  There were no windows – none.  The signage was uninviting.  When I went in, the place was like a maze of boxes and rooms.  The first person I saw asked what I was looking for, then had to lead me through the maze to where the CDs were.  I’m not adverse to mess, after all, I shop at thrift and pawn shops and flea markets.  As I looked over every CD they had, there wasn’t anything of real interest, only mild interest.  The couple I did pull out to inspect closer, I noticed there were no price tags on them.  This gave me an uneasy feeling.  Like I said, I’ve heard of this before.  Against my expectations, I hoped they just had a flat price for CDs.

On my way from one section to another, a person I assume was the owner asked me if I was finding everything I was looking for.  I asked what the prices were for CDs and he confirmed my worries.  He said would look up the prices at checkout.  Uh huh.  I pretty much knew I wouldn’t be buying anything here.  But I still looked at everything.  In the end, the only thing in the entire shop that caught my eye was a gold Pink Floyd CD.  Knowing the store’s pricing policy, I looked up the price online.  It sells for an average of $75.  I mentally set my max price for $50.  I took it back to the owner and he saw it and said, "Oh that’s going to be an expensive one.  If you’re interested, I can look up the price, but I can tell you it’s going to be at least $60."  I replied, "Not if it’s going to be $60."  And he left the CD on the table and dismissed me.  So I left.  Crooked?  Maybe, but definitely not someone I want to do business with. 

So anyway, after a couple weeks away, I return to FL.  Immediately, as soon as I cross the state line, I mean, right then, traffic started acting differently.  The highway opened up to three lanes and it became a free for all.  Drivers switching lanes constantly, people weaving through traffic, driving 20 miles faster than the flow, just total insanity.  Then, later on, the density just grew and grew.  Three lanes fully packed with cars, which obviously left no room for passing, making those that wanted to speed and pass even more dangerous, swiping the small gaps between cars left and right to push themselves further ahead.  It was absolutely infuriating.

In the time since, I’ve been very critical of the driving in FL.  Although I haven’t been to CA yet to experience that driving environment, I can say FL has the worst driving of any state I’ve been in, and that does include MA, specifically, Boston.  My experience in Boston was that yes, it’s hectic and rude, but it’s not at 80 mph.  All that jostling happens in city environments at slower speeds.  Driving in FL is like a real-life Grand Theft Auto game.

On a positive note, I did get a lot of CDs.  It’s taking me days and days to give each a full listen.  I did have a great find of over a dozen new SACDs in a thrift store.  I bought them all for $1 each.  SACDs will sell for $40+ easily.  Because I am not of the LA mindset, I did sell off all the extra copies I had, but for $10 each including shipping.  Maybe I made $50 profit total.  But I kept a copy for myself, so my collection is $40 richer, too.  And the buyers (who were as knowledgeable as I) were understandably appreciative of the good price.  That gratitude is worth more than the money.

While I was gone, I had a sitter for the cats.  Unfortunately, Spock never warmed up to her and hid every time she was in the house.  Sky, on the other hand, developed a new language to talk to the sitter.  Sky tried using all her new words on me when I got home and I had no idea what she wanted.  Spock took a few days to get over his pain of abandonment.  My first night back in bed, he crawled up on my chest, which is something he’s never done before.  He’s back to his usual asshole self now.

Currently, I’m waiting and hoping for my turn for the COVID vaccine, so I can have more road trips like this on weekends.  As fun as that was, I’m sort of dreading it as well, because there are a lot of people travelling.  Right now, they shouldn’t be, but when we get safer, I’m afraid it’s just going to be madness on the roads and hotels.  The hotel I booked was sold out both times I was there.  Is it going to be like my dining options, having to go to my third best option for lodging?

Decisions

As mentioned in previous posts, yes, I’m re-exploring music.  I have purchased and set up my recording PC and now I have to focus on the devices.  This had led me to a difficult decision.

I have a keyboard that has been with me for over 20 years – the Roland RD-600.  It’s been an excellent device and I am very familiar with playing it.  However, over the years the keyboard has worn out.  Some keys will break, or more specifically, the hammers on the keys will break.  I’ve dealt with this for many years, replacing hammers one by one as they break.  It’s an annoyance for sure.  I even have a small cache of spare hammers that I purchased from the manufacturer when this first became a problem.

And it’s still a problem.  On day two of having my rig set back up,  I broke a hammer.  I took the RD-600 off the stand, flipped the board over, and undid all the screws to open the case.  Replaced the hammer and flipped it back over to resecure the case.  Put it back on the stand and another hammer had broken during the repair of the first.  I give up.  I put the kb back in its road case and brought out the other keyboard.

Now this other board is an Alesis QS8.  I bought it at a thrift shop for $100.  It had issues right out of the gate with being out of tune.  I was loathe to throw it away though and figured now I could do some tests on it.  I determined that the MIDI functions still worked (that they were sending the right notes), which is what I primarily needed for recording.  I also found the setting where I could retune the device, and things were looking a lot better now.  However, further testing showed that the pitch problems would randomly reappear, requiring another manual retune.  And as far as the MIDI was concerned, there was some random data being spewed out from a wheel controller that I had previously physically disconnected.  So, this device is not suitable for recording either.

I have two bum devices.  My choices are, replace or repair.  Buying a new device of the caliber of the RD-600 or QS8 is a $1600-$2700 purchase.  Along with that purchase comes a new keyboard action, which I may hate.  Obviously there’s going to be more modern features and technology involved which is a distinct positive, if I wasn’t planning on using virtual instruments anyway.

I investigated replacing the hammers in the RD-600.  I can’t recall how much the initial batch cost way back then, but on eBay, each hammer is currently about $10 plus shipping.  It’s probably looking like about $1000 to replace all the hammers in my 20-yr old keyboard.  I contacted Roland directly to order the parts and they simply refused to sell any replacement parts to me and told me to take to an authorized repair center.  Bastards.

So now the question is, spend $1000 or $2000?  To complicate the matter, if I do refurbish the RD-600, I’ll never get that money back.  Street value of an RD-600 has to be well south of $500.  Hell, I only paid $650 for it twenty years ago.  I would spend more on refurbishment than I did when I bought it used.  But, this is a board I am intimately familiar with, and if it lasted 20 years once, it will last again until I’m long gone.  The alternative?  I can buy a new keyboard with new technology (maybe more durable, maybe not), may have better action, maybe not, may be a lot of things and may not.  If I don’t like it, I can sell it.  Sell it for what, 80% of its purchase price?  75%?  Less?  Will I lose more than I would pay for the RD-600 hammers?

And it’s shit like this that keeps me from going anywhere.  Weighing the pros and cons and never making a decision.

Oh, what about the other kb, the Alesis?  Well, I have an open inquiry to a repair shop to see what it will cost for repair.  I’m sure I’ll have to pay a bench fee, but that’s reasonable to know whether the kb should be repaired or checked.  The problem isn’t mechanical like the Roland, but it is electronic.  That could be better or worse.  But it won’t be $10 88 times over.

But I made a decision anyway.  The Roland is going to get refurbished.  I think it deserves a second life and I’ll be comfortable using it for recording.  My decision was made on a few different points.  First, Roland makes no mention of the RD-600 in their support pages, so I don’t think the hammers will be available for too much longer.  Second, I found an eBay seller selling one octave of hammers (7 white/5 black) for $120 with free shipping.  With 7.2 octaves in a piano, I would be pretty safe buying 7 of these, for a total of $840.  That’s not $1000 and it’s not $2000, and it’s not $2500, which is the price of the new keyboard I tried that had a hammer action I liked.

The seller was unwilling to discount his price for a purchase of seven octaves, because he knew what he had.  He knew the part was either discontinued or was soon going to be discontinued and told me as much.  I paid his price.  And I still will pursue repairing the Alesis, for the right price.  There’s a small part of me that wants to rebuild a whole studio with racks of 80’s and 90’s physical keyboards, but holy shit is that an expensive idea.  Obviously, a lot of those sounds are coming back into vogue with new music, so prices have been soaring.  Pawn shops used to be used device gold mines, but I can’t imagine any shop not doing their EBay research and finding out the value of what they have.  So virtual devices will still be the way, with a solid controller.

One More Time Before I Go

A little more information on something I hinted at in a previous post… I’m still quite reluctant to say much about it because I’ve done this time and time again with no success or completion.  Hopefully, without having any expectations, I can meet my expectations.  The "news" is that I have pulled my music gear out of storage and set it up again, with tentative plans to do some recording.

There were multiple reasons I came to this.  I had some inspiration listening to some albums and wanted to see if I could still compose.  I wanted to do some justice to older pieces by re-recording them properly.  My hands and fingers are getting old and weak and I thought maybe playing would return some strength to them.

The last recording I had done was in 2008, when I wrote a bunch of heavy guitar songs for an album.  My voice was unable to perform well enough to do the vocal tracks and the audio was marred with recording glitches like audio bleed from other tracks.  But, the point is, I haven’t done music in over a decade.  Obviously things have changed since then, but I will still be doing things the way I have always known.

Step one was to see if I could even still play anymore.  I pulled out the keyboards and set them up in my music room.  With some headphones plugged in, I tried playing some familiar songs.  To my surprise, the muscle memory was still there.  I remembered most of my old songs, with some stops and pauses to refigure out bits here and there.  The playing was sloppy as I expected and my stamina was greatly reduced, as I also expected.  I only spent about 30 minutes or so that first day to get familiar with the keys again.  The next day I spent another half hour or more with other songs and my stamina had jumped surprisingly just in that one day.  Now, here on day three, the joints in my left hand are sore AF, so maybe I overdid it.  But, the future is somewhat promising.

If I’m going to do this, I’ll need a new computer for recording.  The second computer I had laying around was converted into a web and email server a while ago, so I need to make another purchase.  Here’s the thing.  Technology has advanced SO far since I was last doing this (13 years!), I don’t need to buy a 4-figure computer.  I don’t even have to buy a full-size computer.  I bought a refurbished mini computer for $300 that exceeds the power of any computer back then.  And of course, I needed a new monitor and keyboard.  This time, what I am doing is buying a floor stand for the monitor and a bracket to mount the mini PC behind the monitor.  I’ll place the stand behind my keyboards or mixer and can move it as needed.  New technology is really cool.

Without any real goals or timelines, I’m going to relax and get familiar with the software again.  That has always been an issue with me – the process of recording gets in the way of recording.  There’s a universal image of artists working in a home studio, laying down tracks and fiddling with effects and editing and whatnot, but the notion to me of having an engineer handling and managing all the recording process where the musician can focus on actually playing and making music – that’s the real thing.  And sadly, the evisceration of the recording industry has made that concept a rarity.  Still, I am a one-person team, so I have to do what I can.  In the past, I have rushed all my projects because I have had to wear multiple hats and if I spend too much time wearing one, the others suffer.  In the end it all suffers.

So, It was 2000 when I did my last keyboard album, 2006 when I finished my last Sequence album, 2008 when I finished my hard rock guitar album, and I’ve been wanting to start the loop over again for a long time.  Looking back in the journal, it seems like I had recording aspirations in 2014, but I had other interests going on at the time.  It seems the only time I can really compose and record is when I’m single.  So, now’s the time!  Still, no promises.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Lots of ground to cover here, so be forewarned, and a lot of it is in the no-fucks-to-be-given-anymore realm, so be doubly forewarned.

To begin, all of this now is uncharted territory for me.  Recently I broke 50 years of age and maybe a couple years ago, you could not have convinced me otherwise I would be alive right now.  That plan had been in the works for many years prior and it was actually coming to fruition, meaning I was beginning my plans to hold down the power button on my life.  For whatever reason, I told my doctor about it and after the assistance of some significant pharmaceuticals, I remain.

You might think this is the ideal opportunity to completely reinvent myself, since these days were never planned for, they have no expectations.  But that is silly talk.  This is no "second wind".  That was maybe 15 years ago and I squeezed all the life out of it I had, after all, I had a plan for the finish line.  This is "coasting to the finish line."  This is more a period of reflection and maintenance and existence.  And some of that has been done recently and because it has no repercussions to me in this new uncharted, unplanned life, I have the willingness to jot all of it down.

Whether coincidental to my milestone birthday or not, I received an unsolicited package on my doorstep from my estranged brother.  Within were documents and photos of me and my family from the past.  Very likely, it was everything from my parents house before it was sold off, all of it crammed and scattered in a plastic tub.  Incredibly, of the picture frames loosely placed in the tub, two wooden and one metal frame were broken, and yet, no glass was broken.  The whole package carried a sentiment of "This is now out of my house and is your problem now."  So it is.

Sometimes, actually probably most times, when a new problem is thrust on me, it is pushed to the top of the stack instead of the end of the queue.  This new problem was no different.  So I right away took all the photos and documents out and sorted them on the floor.  I arranged them by photo size and put them into a new box for processing.  The processing I rather wanted to do was throw it all away.  However, my archivist instincts forced me to to evaluate the potential loss of this information, useful to only a few people, really, and of that, only of curiosity.  Since that evaluation result was greater than zero, I had to concede that at least a modicum of effort must be made to preserve it.  So, I chose to scan everything before disposal.

The next two days were spent swapping photos and pages in a flatbed scanner, hours on end, to capture everything in 300dpi.  Thinking back to my early computing days, this would be unfathomable.  The storage required for 300dpi scans of hundreds of photos would be an astronomical cost.  Each picture over 1MB in size?  Back then, things were huge if they were 300kb in size.  So, time and technology were on my side for this effort.  And personal time is also available as I don’t have much going on.  I am able to do another hobby concurrently with this task, however this did take precedence over a future pending project (maybe to be announced).

So, hundreds of photos from my past, many I’ve never seen before, suddenly fall in my lap.  How does an experience like that make you feel?  Well, it sort of forces you to reconcile your past with your present, and for me that wasn’t all that pleasant.

I did not have an unpleasant childhood.  I was extremely privileged.  I was spoiled.  However, I was also very solitary.  I never really had more than one or two friends at a time.  In ignorance of my affluence and despite the lack of socialization, I was a very fun-loving, happy child.  My parents liked taking pictures of me and while I wasn’t exactly a ham in front of the camera, I was willing and I behaved in an a non-self-conscience way that is polar opposite of the person I later became.

I’ve already hit upon one small personal demon so far, and I promised lots of ground to cover, so here’s a personal story tangent.

I’ve not done any real research on this, but I can be confident that in Psych circles there must be a topic of "survivor’s guilt" of success.  I carry that guilt.  In the current age, I feel horrible for younger generations who will never know how good things used to be.  I feel guilty that I grew up in more prosperous times, despite being through two financial crises, I’m more than holding my own.  I happened to fall into technology just as it was blooming and it has sustained me all my life.  I’m just starting to get into the age of discrimination where if I were to lose my job, I might have a more difficult time replacing it.  But still, I don’t think my time will be harder than someone just getting started who needs a BS or Masters degree for an entry-level job.

Seeing my childhood pictures reinforced all my feeling of having an unfair advantage in life.  I’m sure a therapist would say that’s not something that can be changed and I can’t feel guilt for something I had no control over, but discarding that self-awareness isn’t the ticket either.  Look at all the selfish, unreflective, unaware individuals polluting social media and the news today.  The world could use a little more humility and self-reflection.  And that was the crushing emotion of scanning my early childhood photos.  And then we continue on to later photos…

You can sort of see the change in my demeanor as I grew older, ending in the "sullen teenager" photos.  Why this happened, I can’t be entirely sure.  There are plenty of things that could contribute to it: my social isolation starting to bear fruit, my parents getting along less and starting to live independent lives, or maybe it was my brother.  I don’t want to pin all my misery in life on my brother, although we haven’t spoken in years and I have no desire to reconcile.  But to see childhood pictures of the two of us happy, then ending with me scowling at him in a picture with my prom date as he takes the pictures (compared to me beaming in pictures at my GF’s house as her dad took pictures), well, I don’t get along with his personality.  I have enough problem in my life without needing that too.

Then we get to photos after I’ve left home and am living on my own.  This should be peak life right here, young and healthy with no responsibilities, right?  But it wasn’t as good as I wanted.  I recall reading a confession by a famous person who said she wished she had a lot more sex when she was young.  And you know, that really resonates with me.  I’ve recently had some general observations that apply to me specifically, and again, at this point in my life, there’s no real shits to give about the me 30 years ago.

To sum it all up, my problem when I was in my teens and 20’s was that I was a "romantic".  That bullshit should be trotted out in your 40’s.  When you are young, sex is the thing, not love.  Growing up in a tiny, conservative town sort of limits your opportunities, but looking back, I surely could have made more happen.  While I was trying to woo girls with sincere displays of affection, they were being snatched up by more aggressive guys.  I promised stability, they promised fun.  As a 20-something, I had it all fucking wrong.  I was a 40 year old in a 20’s body.  Such a shame.  But thank god there was no social media back then.  If there was, I would publicly and ruthlessly labelled as "cringe", as the modern terminology goes.  "Cringe" has a lot of meaning, but the one I feel applies best here is, "you’re doing it really wrong and you don’t realize it."  It’s embarrassing.

The cringe factor is something that really digs at me when I think of my past.  Consider me and my competition.  For my part, I do the love letters, the poems, the flowers, all the romantic stuff.  The other guy just strikes up a conversation, gets friendly, then either pushes hard or builds a rapport until he gets laid.  His work is simple and risk free, mine requires lots of effort.  Again, this is complete bullshit when you’re young.  And when the guy has had enough of sex from her, he dumps her – no big deal whatsoever.  You might think that’s shitty behavior, but you know what, it doesn’t matter.  He’ll be remembered as "an asshole, but we had fun and he made me feel good," whereas I would be remembered as "that weird guy.  ew."  No contest.

While that’s really in the realm of MGTOW sentiment, I want to stress that if you’re pulling that 20’s shit in you’re 40’s, you are an unredeemable asshole and you deserve to die alone.  There is a time to act like you’re young and a time to act like an adult.  Unfortunately, I never had my time of acting young.

So that sums up my reflections on life from 600+ photos dropped on my doorstep, as well as my reflections on life past 50 that I never intended to have.  Life is good and it can always be worse in hindsight.

Fiction Never More Real

One of my guilty pleasures is comic strips.  I like quite a few, from the daily ones, to the political ones, to the ones that are multi-page in scope.  But, oddly, I don’t like comic books (or graphic novels as they prefer to be called).  Anyway, I have some comics that I follow pretty regularly.  The political ones bring me down and the others lift me back up, so I maintain equilibrium. 

One of the comics that I follow, though, has somewhat become like a stone in my shoe.  It just bugs me.  The strip is Adam @ Home and is about a work-at-home dad and his family.  When I came into the strip, the topic was primarily about Adam’s issues with technology.  But lately, the strips are really focused on his kids.  It’s probably obvious those two topics are the two polar extremes of my entertainment.  And while that irked me, I know that themes can come and go in a long-running strip.  When I go back to earlier strips, there are runs of other topics that take over as well.  I can deal.

But one day, I found out that the entirety of the series was online.  Highly interested, I went and started reading from the beginning.  And you know, considering themes and topics and changes and all, it was a totally different comic strip in the beginning.  It was a strip about a husband and wife and their (then smaller) family.  While Adam was still working at home, it had a lot of Mr. Mom kind of things in it as well as a lot of honest friction where Adam’s wife would come home from work exhausted and Adam didn’t do any housework.  It was turning the whole "stay-at-home mom’s don’t do anything" on the guys.  To be honest, Adam was really being a selfish asshole.  And there was more than a few mentions of his wife being too tired for sex.  Despite that, there was a strip where his wife left work early to get back home and have sex while the kids were at school.  What the fuck?  Is this the same comic strip?

I actually stopped reading the historical strips shortly after the mid-day sex strip because I couldn’t reconcile was then and what was now.  In the present, there is zero, and I mean zero affection between Adam and his wife.  They are never shown embracing or even interacting beyond discussing random, neutral topics, or their kids.  It’s almost always Adam talking to his kids or sometimes the wife talking to the kids.  If I had to read all the strips between then and now, knowing what they would become, it would be more depressing than the political strips I read on occasion.  What the hell happened to this couple?

What actually spurred me to write this post was something so outrageous it just infuriated me.  So, Adam works at home, right.  In the present, he’s a freelance writer taking small jobs here and there.  When not on a job, he’s trying to write something.  A novel, a play, a screenplay, anything.  He’s consistently unsuccessful.  His wife works at a bookstore, but I don’t exactly know what’s been going on during the pandemic, whether the store has been open or not.  I have to assume they have some steady income somehow.

So, the other day, the wife and Adam have a rare conversation together.  The wife wants to confess something to Adam and is unsure how he’ll take it.  What’s the bombshell?  She says she’s written a novel.  So, you know, Adam, being a writer by trade, and yet very unsuccessful at writing, reacts as you would expect.

My reaction is completely different.  This is your fucking wife, your life partner, and you had no idea she was writing a novel?  Do you even communicate?  Do you even pay attention to her?  From participating in NaNoWriMo myself, I was able to crank out a 50k word story in a month, but that was multiple hours night after night doing nothing but writing.  And that’s after many years of blogging and writing in general, so I wasn’t exactly starting from scratch.  One of my friends is a real writer, like published and shit.  Writing is her full-time job.  For Adam’s wife to write a novel from nothing is not exactly trivial.  I’m not saying that can’t be done, I’m saying it should not have gone unnoticed by her husband and her kids.  And if it did go unnoticed, what a fucking sad sack of a family that is.

But it’s just another devastating blow to a fictional family.  You know, as a writer, of words or comics, your goal is to get people invested in the characters.  And it’s painful when your emotional investment in them is discarded for cheap.  Oh, Dilbert of old, where have you gone?  (Off to the land of Narcissism, you cuck!!)  But anyway, to wrap it up, I’m just a little hurt that a comic that started out trying to discuss real relationship issues between a working mom and stay at home dad, and the dad’s continuing difficulties in adapting, has turned into an emotionless cast of characters just moving from one day to the next with no continuity or persistence.