Category Archives: About Me

Some Things Change, Some Stay The Same

Many nights, I perform a wind-down ritual with the cats, just chilling in the living room with the music going.  Recently, that had transitioned to watching some TV on DVD – Simpsons, Futurama, and most recently, Frasier.  But I even more recently found myself hooked on an old TV show called The Rockford Files.  This show ran from 1974-1980 and was about a private investigator.  In 1980, that mantle was passed to Magnum PI.  Maybe I’ll make it there, but there’s like 125 episodes of Rockford Files to get through.

The 70’s.  I grew up in it.  I can’t say I was really old enough to appreciate much of what was going on, but to watch TV shows set in that time now is like watching Little House On The Prairie back in the 80’s.  Watching a 70’s show is slightly nostalgic to me, but Rockford Files was an adult TV show, so I couldn’t really relate to what was going on if I think of myself back in the 70’s.

However, I am an adult now and I can compare being an adult now to being an adult back then.  And it’s with reluctance that I say some things were better back then.  But of course, some things are better now.  Let’s do some pros and cons.

I’ll start with the biggest thing I love about how things were back then.  No people.  Imagine the population cut in half, or even more so.  Imagine roads that weren’t packed with cars – 2-lane roads at that!  Imagine going to Las Vegas and going to the pool and only about a dozen people there.  If there’s one thing I hate about modern times, it’s all the fucking people.

Ok, now a con.  No 911.  No cell phones.  Maybe this is really a pro, but it’s crazy in this police drama show that someone gets shot or hit by a car and people run to a pay phone, put money in it and call the operator to contact the police.  That’s really how things were back then.  And the reliance on pay phones, the lack of caller ID, the existence of pay toilets, it gives you a real shock to see people functioning like that.  I can’t imagine not having my cell phone with me.  If my car breaks down, what am I going to do?  Go to someone’s house and ask for help?  Flag down another car for help?  Good luck getting any help or even not getting yelled at or assaulted.

Another con – smoking.  It was big in the 70’s.  It’s going to be a century before it finally goes away.  Drinking was pretty acceptable, too.

A dual pro/con is the cars.  They sure looked nice back then, but they were fucking massive and handled like shit.  Car chases in the 70’s are a joke.  And in a police drama, there’s at least one car chase EVERY episode.  It’s interesting to consider how modern shows limit the outdoor scenes and mostly deal inside, where 70’s shows are like 80% outdoors scenes.

Then there’s the equal rights stuff.  And I’ll give Rockford some kudos here.  They show women and black people in positions of power.  I am pretty sure it was still considered progressive at the time.  But the show does suffer from the trope of the helpless, emotional woman who gets seduced by Rockford in many episodes.  The dude lays his clients a lot – he gets paid to fuck.  Glad to see this concept retired.  However, speaking of progressive, the theme song has some 70’s Minimoog synthesizer lead lines – 10 points for that.

Ok, and to finish up the bullet points, the part that has gone unchanged.  The police haven’t changed much at all.  One line by a cop who was demanding Rockford get out of town sounded like it could be said today.  To paraphrase, because I don’t remember enough to quote: "If we see you here again, we’re going to pull you over and while you’re reaching for your ID, we see you’re reaching for a gun, and it’s all over before anyone realizes a mistake was made."  This is in 1974.

I’ll summarize my enjoyment of the show.  The Rockford character constantly gets himself into bigger and bigger trouble throughout every episode.  All the police hate him, doesn’t matter if they’re local, in the state, or across the country.  He gets beat up a lot and throws a lot of punches himself.  Aside from the necessity of keeping him alive for the show, that just wouldn’t happen today.  He’d be dead in a drive-by shooting with no physical contact.  Or simply shot with no chance to talk his way out of anything.

As you’re watching the show, you think, get your phone and take a picture – oh you can’t.  Call the cops – oh you have to find a pay phone.  Just text them really quick – oh you have to call and hopefully they’re home.  Check the map – is there one for the current town in your glovebox?  Wait, you can just walk into a business and talk to someone?  You call a business, ask an actual person for a person that works there, and you get to talk to that person?  You can walk through an airport?  Hailing cabs?  Going to a nice restaurant without a reservation?  Walking on the sidewalk?  "Computers" are esoteric devices used by massive companies and are shown as serious high technology.

It’s just everything that you do normally today that’s not available back then, and seeing things that stymie you today were a piece of cake back then.  That’s the real wonder of the show, for me.  It’s within my lifetime all this change happened.  And yet, nothing in law enforcement has changed.

Being Stupid Outdoors

Somewhere around 10 years ago, I got into hiking, which is a more impressive way of saying walking outside.  The local terrain doesn’t really constitute what I would call hiking, since it’s just flatland.  But regardless, it is outside and it is on a trail, so I can say that I hiked trails.  I was a hiker.

I did that for some time and eventually it kind of stopped being a thing.  I just slowly stopped doing it.  But recently, I’ve decided I want to start doing the hiking again.  it was a tentative beginning, I wasn’t sure if I would still enjoy a physical activity and honestly, I didn’t see any way it would be fun.  It sounded boring now, but whatever I was or wasn’t doing around the house was as much or more boring, so I also didn’t have much to lose.  And anyway I needed to do something to take positive strides in my health. 

I was 10 years younger back then, and as you get older, that nice round milestone becomes more and more significant.  However, I never have seen myself as the actual age I am.  Maybe I’m deluded or stupid or something, but I don’t think I am my age.  I probably think and act my age, but I don’t perceive myself that way.  The point I’m trying to make here is, however I was then, that’s how I think I am now, and I’m probably not.  And that’s not smart.  My new experiences with hiking have been a collection of smart and not so smart things; mostly the latter.  So I will chronicle the most recent events.

A couple weeks ago, we had a tropical storm moving in.  This caused me concern, not because of the storm itself, but because of the coming rain.  All of the nearby trails have been flooded from the summer monsoon and it pisses me off.  If there’s a couple days without downpours, the flooded trails can turn into muck instead of lakes, which makes the hike more tolerable.  The first time I had visited this particular trail, I had left the house and a mile down the road realized I did not change into my hiking boots, I still had my sneakers.  "It’ll be fine," I said.  "This trail is not as low as the other one I go to."  When I get there, right past the entrance gate – lake.  I had to go back home and change into my boots.  I haven’t made that mistake again.

Since that time, I’d been back to that trail and the water had gone down, mostly.  But today I was trying to get in a hike before the tropical storm hit.  I checked the radar and it looked fine.  I did not consider, and I should have known, weather here changes fast.  So I get a mile or so out on the trail and I’m seeing some dark clouds forming.  "It’ll be fine."  Then it becomes obvious that it’s not going to be fine and I need to get back to the car, like soon.  The moment of my realization was captured by my fitness band.

Screenshot_20210814-161341

I suffered a few minutes of downpour, but I escaped the worst of the storm, and there was no nearby lightning, which was the bigger concern, since these trails are open fields.  Lesson learned?  I got caught in another downpour on another day and I was far enough out on the trail to cause me to don my rain jacket I carry in my pack.  So, no.

Last week, I decided I was going to do a bigger hike, which at this point in my redevelopment is over 5 miles.  If you think that’s weaksauce, remember I am doing this while the temperature and humidity are over 90.  To reduce UV exposure, I wear a long-sleeve sun shirt, but I’m still wearing shorts.  I need to get some water-wicking hiking pants.  I reset my GPS and set my exercise band and go.  And very quickly, the sweat starts to go too, because I’m upping my pace to cover more ground quickly.  10 years ago, I could cover 5 miles in an hour.  Based on past hiking records, I move about 75% of that speed now and I need to get that speed back.

I have a trail map and I refer to it frequently, but it’s disintegrating from being soaked with sweat in my pocket.  At some point, I checked my band to see how far I’d gone.  My sweat-soaked sleeve had impersonated a finger and cancelled my recorded hike.  That had happened about 1.5 miles in.  No idea how far I’d gone since then.  I checked my GPS and it said I was about 2.5 miles.  Ugh.  Onward I went, referring often to the soggy paper map for what path I wanted to take to loop me around and back close to the entrance.

I ended up on an unmaintained part of trail and worse, it was flooded.  I thought I’d be better off pressing forward than backtracking so I navigated the water best I could.  Luckily none was over ankle deep so my socks stayed dry.  Still it slowed me down.  I checked my GPS to see where I was, relative to the path I had taken so far.  The GPS battery is dead.  Right now, I have no idea if I am better off going forward or backward or exactly where I am on the trail.  I really have no idea how hikers survived without GPS units.

As luck would have it (because it ain’t been brains), I had purchased replacement batteries and packed them just before leaving for the hike.  With a quick swap of batteries, I had GPS again.  And I saw that the GPS had died some time ago.  So now, I had no reliable track from either my band or the GPS to tell me how far my hike was today.  Yay.  I’m done.

The trail continues to be flooded, so at the first sign of a cutoff path that would lead me back to my prior track, I took it.  Granted, it was not on my paper map, so I was making an educated (if that’s even possibly appropriate at this point) guess.  The trail dried out and and I also continued to dry out.  After a certain point, your body won’t absorb moisture quick enough to replenish what’s been lost, and I feel I was there, or close to there.  I was mouth breathing at this point.  My gait was unsteady.  I was walking with a forward lean.  None of this was good.

But as I’m not writing this from the afterlife, I did make it back to my car.  Not without getting bit by a deer fly, twice.  It’s almost been a week and I’m still suffering from the bite on my knee.

Despite the stupidity I’d accomplished so far and my knee still swollen and itching (but not sore or painful), I decided to grab a quick hike after work yesterday.  Again, I planned this as a 5+ hike.  I would go to the trail nearest me to start as soon as possible.  I got on the trail at about 5:30.  The first mile was a warmup pace, then I sped it up.  I didn’t have a trail map, but had a decent memory of the trails and the path I wanted to take.  After a short trail ended in a tiny loop, I doubled my path and ended up on the big loop.  I had been on the trail a couple weeks ago and it was totally flooded, so I hoped things had improved.  I was pleased to see that the area that stopped me before was dried out.  And I kept going.

Probably about 50% of the way through the trail loop – lake.  About 30 feet of water with no high spots and certainly more than ankle deep.  I had plenty of expletives to summarize the situation.  I had no choice but to backtrack my whole track, which was over 3 miles at that point.  Not only that, but the sun was going down.

Once I got all the swearing out of my system, I just resigned myself to my fate.  And no point in pretending to be tired, sun’s setting, gotta go fast.  And so I did.  I upped my pace to the quickest of the entire hike and went back the entire length of the trail.  And lets not discount the fact that mosquitos really love dusk, in a swamp.

All told, that hike was 6.75 miles, accomplished in exactly 2 hours.  So far, my dumbest hike this year.  But there’s still plenty of days left in the year, plenty of chances to beat that record.

Screenshot_20210826-211540

Aerobic training effect: "Improvement".  Fuck you.

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.

IMG_20210715_172910

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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

image

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:

IMG_20210424_102515

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:

IMG_20210424_101235

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.

IMG_20210423_174910

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:

IMG_20210424_101116

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.