Monday, January 26, 2015

Still here, and then some

So I've been out of touch for a handful of months.  I've had my head down doing Web design and development since late October.  Although I've still got some things to nail down in order to get fully operational as a Web contractor, my first client site has just gone live.

So there's that.

Muhl Chiropractic and Rehab Center


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Happy Halloween

Time for a general status update, I suppose.

The Web work is providing an income, but it's a slow trickle at the moment.  I can really only maintain one contract at a time, and I'm still in the thick of my current one (which is being produced at a discount).  It will be a few weeks before I can take on another, and on the advice of crowdfunding gurus, I'm holding off on the Kickstarter campaign until January or thereabouts.  So to induce some revenue flow, I'm looking for work in town.  Retail work, food service work, seasonal work, any kind of work work.  If you're in the Waco, Groesbeck or Mexia area and have a line on something, please leave a comment to let me know.

I've prepared three scripts for the Kickstarter presentation video, and am in the process of procuring the props I need to film at least two of them (thereupon to pick the best one for posting).  I have a good idea of which one I'm going to go with, given that creativity is the principal draw.  It will entail doing some recording of some of my music, and I'm hopelessly out of practice.  I have at least regained the calluses on my fretting fingers, but if I can only spend an hour or so practicing every day, it will be two weeks before I'm in shape to record some of my trickier guitar solos.  I have recorded some of my keyboard parts, but to my disappointment, have found that only one channel of the stereo output from my synth is getting recorded via Cakewalk SONAR.  I may have to redo some of it using a different program, to rule out a software problem.  (In the absence of my ProTools workstation, I'm having to use my laptop as the recording console, and maybe the only audio input at my disposal--the microphone jack--is the problem.  That will require special handling, as all of my studio output is in stereo, and I can't just double the outputs, as many of the effects induce interactions between the channels that would be lost.  The obvious solution--and the most painful--is to simply record each track twice, once per channel, and then blend them.  But oh, the possibilities for timing mismatches and slipups...)

So problems abound, but to a soldier philosopher, all problems are opportunities.  We'll see how it goes.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

A pro tip

I've got no real problem with using a keygen to cough up a product key, if you're a valid user of a product.  Sometimes product keys get lost; sometimes the original install media get misplaced.  I get it.

In attempting to get my recently-relocated recording studio up and running, I've had to make some adjustments.  I no longer have my ProTools machine at my disposal, so I've sought to use my laptop in conjunction with some other recording tools.  In particular, I was interested in installing Steinberg Cubase LE.  I had received the install disk several years ago in a bundle with one of the devices I purchased (my Xenyx mixing console, if I remember correctly), and as is my practice with OEM discs, I copied the disc's contents onto my warez share and left them there.  Fast forward to today, when I don't have that disc at my disposal and needed to install the software.  I pulled it from my share, began the install, and found I needed a product key.  I'd never gotten around to saving the PK in my keys file.  It's on the disc sleeve, somewhere, but that disc and its sleeve are in storage. Somewhere.

So in order to get the install finished, I resorted to looking up a keygen online.  (First I attempted to use the legacy product keys that the vendor posts on its website, but none of those worked with my product.)  I downloaded an executable from kdgbase.com.

Don't go there.  Don't use any of the addresses in the next portion of this weblog (I have pasted them here, but I have not made links of them).  Copy and paste the URLs and then add them to your firewall's blacklist.  Boycott these SOBs.

Once I downloaded the keygen executable, I scanned it for malware.  Then I installed it.  It immediately connected to the Internet and downloaded and installed at least five other programs.  I spent several hours performing a system scan and uninstalling everything.  There was evidently no real malware involved, just guiltware and adware, but I seriously resent any attempt to install anything without my explicit consent.  It's as simple as that.

<Do NOT use these links>

lss799.yourfiledownloader.org
http://www.kgdbase.com/get_it.php?id=4290541
http://lss799.yourfiledownloader.org/j5GGQmDRul4t+IgUO5bhdCXXsD51pbdtYrfgfi750WAv/tRnGvaaLkSjgDZO5chaGO3GQUGVmwJS2cRWDNkyVU6NdwMslXskL5AwTGyPfOoqwSK3ZCZt8iZhIPw1blXkP35AsRZiSP0AfU7AHmFBxlMpE8QeSVrASxUb2hsVAvtYQCKK515vzedYJNvVTDiu6wFk86Nwa/KhcG33vDwIvvtxVOOTYFvikWBd54w7EJeTaFOXwA8dntUQIobeVbPVylHt

</Do NOT use these links>

Block the domains kdgbase and yourfiledownloader.  Find another source for product keys if you need them.

[UPDATE 10/28/2014]  I've found and eliminated something called "Application of the Day" that was either installed with this keygen, or rode down with some of the video editing software I recently downloaded (LightWorks in particular, which uses a Web installer to download most of the executable content).  Not sure if this is the end of the episode, but you have been warned.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The demise of thrash: a hypothesis

I haven't yet read the book Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!  The Story of Pop Music from Bill Haley to Beyonce, by Bob Stanley, and I probably won't any time soon...my current reading stack is simply too high to admit any new members, and my interest in rock music doesn't incorporate much pop.  Nor have I (or will I soon) read any of the several recent books about President Ronald Reagan, in particular The Invisible Bridge:  The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan, as I doubt that Perlstein is truly objective about Reagan's accomplishments.  But I'm sure I'll eventually get around to both, as that stack diminishes, since they both deal with aspects of American history that I'm interested in.

I have, however, read book reviews of both.  There's an interesting intersection between their subject matter that I find more dear than pop music:  the rise and fall of heavy metal.  If we dissect "pop" from rock, by way of admitting that American popular music predates rock 'n roll and runs in a parallel, oft-overlapping stream, we can focus on the particularly rock elements that serve as the bedrock craton for all blues-based musical forms, namely, the reliance on a I-IV-V chord progression and its close relatives; the reliance on a minor pentatonic scale, with its naturally doomy-and-gloomy sound; and the embellishment of that progression and scale with traditionally diatonic elements. You'll find these same elements in pop, jazz, and early rock 'n roll and all its descendants, including heavy metal (which often additionally incorporates elements regarded as "gothic," such as exotic scales).

Metal is particularly interesting to me, as it satisfies some measure of the requirement for deep and somber music (in much the same way that classical does); it also offers heavy, serious sensibilities, political import, and, almost as often, theater, humor and self-parody.  Sometimes, as was the case throughout the 80s hair-metal movement, these last three elements are unintentional, and therefore lamentable, but if we define "heavy metal" as a branch of rock music heavily concerned with supernatural and spiritual themes of good and evil, death, destruction and war, then we can largely dispense with "pop metal" as a commercial anomaly, crafted for maximum sales potential rather than evolved to cater to a particular set of aesthetics.  Other than a tendency to involve loud vocals, the only thing pop metal has in common with heavy metal is a dependence on distorted electric guitar sounds.

What is of historical import about heavy metal is that its origins, like those of psychedelic pop (hippie rock, what is now largely known as "classic rock"), lie in the geopolitical situation of the late 1960s. Hippies and Port Huron militants weren't the only groups alarmed by the Vietnam war, the apparent racial disparity in the draft, and the perception of widespread social and economic injustice.  What all of these situations have in common, at root, is government policy; what is particularly relevant, of course, is the Cold War, which can be argued as the ultimate source of all protest music.

And heavy metal, at its outset, was protest music.

Black Sabbath arguably touched off the movement, although the Beatles, the Who, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin all contributed mightily to its inception.  Nonetheless, none of those other bands were wholly heavy metal bands; Sabbath was the first to approach the making of music, and of albums, in a purely metallic context.  Its members hailed from Birmingham, a particularly depressing outpost of the British Industrial Revolution, all sad and wet and besooted with coal smoke.  The members were angry at the world and wanted to share that anger.  Although they wrote of similar subject matter, they approached it in different ways.  For instance, rather than sing that "war is not the answer, for only love can conquer hate," they called governments and military brass "war pigs," asserted that they love violence for violence' sake, leaving fighting "all to the poor," and described a scenario in which Satan, pleased at the destruction they've sown, "laughing, spreads his wings."  ("War Pigs", from their 1970 album Paranoid.)

As Hunter Thompson put it, the desire for victory on the part of the hippies wasn't "in any mean or military sense; our energy would simply prevail."  This form of spiritual protest by way of presumed cultural / moral superiority had no chance of succeeding in the face of what Thompson acknowledged was the "grim meathook reality" of life in a competitive environment.  Nonviolence has been shown to be effective in raising awareness and pushing society toward acceptance in a civil rights context, but to be fairly useless in changing society beyond that.  True, Nixon did cave in to public pressure in deciding to withdraw troops from Vietnam, but the "public" in this instance involved, by then, a great deal more than just the hippie movement, and the "pressure" involved a great deal more than nonviolent protest.  The practitioners of heavy metal as a form of protest were more closely aligned with the SDS radicals and Weathermen than with the hippies, and so the first great schism in rock music came about.  Although "classic" rock entails all those elements of pre-New Wave music that can be viewed as having a psychedelic element in common, in truth the heavy metal audience and the prog-rock audience were two substantially different populations (albeit, as always, with some overlap).  The rise of punk in the early-to-mid 70s drove another wedge, this time between the punk audience and the entirety of "classic."  Both progressive rock--the heir to hippie music--and metal exhibited, in the opinion of the punks, an overblown pretentiousness that robbed rock music of its primitive immediacy and blunted its emotional impact.

But although this scorn for pretentiousness is the superficial rationale, and the one most cited by the musical press, it seems to me that we cannot ignore the end of our involvement in the Vietnam War as a causal factor.  The punk crowd--disaffected youth--had just been denied the nexus of protest that their predecessors had seized upon.  They still had a lot to be angry about, but lacked a focal point.  Nihilism was the inevitable consequence, and drug-induced self-destruction became the new face of youth.

Progressive rock never quite died away, although it fell from prominence as punk rose, and as garage rock and disco garnered increasing market share of album output.  Heavy metal eked out an existence that kept it largely beneath the radar--punk remained all the rage until well into the 80s--right up until the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which introduced American audiences to a rapidly-diversifying new field, dominated by Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and reaffirmed the prominence of Sabbath as all-father of an increasingly-relevant form.

New Wave came into being as the nihilistic 70s gave way to the self-absorbed 80s, and punk acts softened their tone for a more mass audience.  This is often credited with burying disco.  In my opinion, the NWOBHM played at least as substantial a role in that.  And so, coming into 1981, the elements were in place for the emergence of thrash:  a still-angry, still-fast punk tradition, in search of a new sound, and a vast panoply of metal sounds just looking for American adoptees.  The thrash-metal fusion of rapid-fire, staccato punk rhythms to metal guitars and vocals is, like blues, jazz and rock itself, a uniquely American invention, but just like the rest, it required the initial importation of sounds developed elsewhere.

And the time was right in a geopolitical sense as well.  Although the Reagan presidency remains one of the towering achievements of American exceptionalism, vindicating both classical liberal economic theory and the triumph of market economics over command economy principles, it was--and is--one of the most maligned administrations in history, painted as unfeeling and rigorously moralizing, even authoritarian, by its opponents.  Of course, there was little if any of the conformist emphasis of the Eisenhower 1950s, whence rock had originally come; and even if the Drug War, a child of the Nixon era, was expanded under the Reagan administration, drug use, including that of psychedelics, expanded even faster.  What Reagan really represented, to the larger arc of history, was a return of the Cold War, an economic and ideological conflict that had all but lain dormant during the naively idealistic Carter administration, which was focused on domestic problems, struggling simply to keep the nation afloat during the Stagflation era (brought about by misguided Keynesianism, which, to be fair, is as much Nixon's fault as Carter's).  Carter's achievements, such as they are, took place almost exclusively outside our borders.  The late 1970s were an economic and social hell, and therefore ripe for protest music; but because the administration was a pacifist, liberal one, engaged in furthering peace between warring nations in the Middle East, there was little for protest music of the traditional kind to seize upon.  One might say of protest music that it, like the warhawks it lambastes, is born in war and knows little else.

But with the return of Cold War sabre-rattling, even in the absence of direct armed conflict (and therefore of a draft), the spectre of nuclear devastation was resurrected, and thus was metal given its new raison d'etre.  Witness "Blackened" by Metallica (...And Justice For All, 1988), part of an 80s oeuvre that also includes "Disposable Heroes," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and "One" (a Grammy winner in 1990!)  Witness also "Rust In Peace," "Peace Sells...But Who's Buying?" and a handful of others by Megadeth.  But we don't need to confine our discussion to thrash, as Iron Maiden maintains a long tradition of war songs, covering conflicts as varied as the Crimean War, WWI, and WWII. The difference is that whereas Maiden decries the massive destruction and glorifies the men who sacrificed their lives, in a lyrical, almost literary fashion, the thrash bands take a more satirical approach, vilifying those who bring war about in no uncertain terms.  It's "War Pigs" at punk velocity.

But thrash was destined to be short-lived.  By the end of the 80s, the "Bach 'N Roll" movement had become predominant (sharing the stage, unfortunately, with pop metal, which at least offered some similar measure of guitar virtuosity).  Led by Yngwie Malmsteen, this thread deemphasized vocals and lyrical content; its foremost practitioners (such as Tony MacAlpine), by the early 1990s, were releasing entirely instrumental albums on the Shrapnel label.  Megadeth got some renewed mileage out of the first Gulf War; I saw them in March 1991 at Pink's Garage in Honolulu, shortly after our victory over Iraq, at which Dave Mustaine roused the mostly-military audience with an early use of the "Crush 'em" catch phrase, as in "Did we crush 'em or what?", just before launching into a rendition of "Holy Wars."  (I guess sometimes an anti-war sentiment can take a back seat to aggression, when marketing your sound to an Army crowd.)  But Megadeth has since fallen from prominence (a situation perhaps hastened by Mustaine's being Born Again); Anthrax is nowhere to be found; and while Slayer and Suicidal Tendencies have continued touring, they've released little of note in the past two decades.

As for Metallica, their sound has notoriously evolved since the 1980s, taking on a more downtempo, melodious form, with much more personal lyrics focused on mental health, substance abuse, inerpersonal relationships and feelings of shame and inadequacy. Justice was a step in that direction, noted by critics for having shed much of the band's thrash trappings in favor of a more "progressive metal" sound.  It's worth pointing out that the album's release, 1988, coincides with the end of the Reagan administration, and comes well after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  While the band still has many die-hard old fans, and may have won some new ones with the "Mellowica" approach, they are most certainly no longer a thrash band.  Megadeth, the other thrash contemporary still making solid records, has also shifted its tone considerably, which probably explains their relative longevity.

It's my opinion that the end of the Cold War robbed metal practitioners of the late 80s of subject matter in the same way that the end of the Vietnam War robbed prog-rock practitioners of the early 70s.  As the fraternal twin strains of self-indulgence (hair metal) and global paranoia (thrash) found themselves on the precipice of the 1990s, the world was changing too rapidly to sustain their base. Metallica found new life by adapting their sound; Megadeth has gone on to release many more albums than they did throughout the 80s, and has taken a wide range of political stances on issues such as canned hunting, but has yet to regain the relevance it held throughout that decade.  The hair metal bands have been relegated to the role of novelty acts, useful in forging reunion tours but devoid of new content.

But metal isn't dead.  Far from it.  It has lost some of its earlier luster, but it has also diversified. Prog-metal has filled the void left by thrash.  And in this new era of stateless warfare, of terrorism and Islamofascism, there is still plenty to be gloomy and angry about.  But the new brand of metal, typified by bands like Tool, Disturbed, and to a lesser extent the nu-metal bands that were quite popular a decade ago, focus less on global issues and politics than on depression and sex and desire. The second Gulf War, and the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, being relatively low-intensity affairs, failed to offer the same galvanizing influence that Vietnam and the threat of thermonuclear war did. The kids are still angry, but now they're angry at their pimples and their girlfriends and the cheerleaders who won't go out with them.

There's still guitar virtuosity, but now there's a growing interest in vocal virtuosity as well.  But the focus is on songwriting more than anything else:  about the wit and bite and turn of a phrase that reveals the inner torment of genius.  This is what makes Tool such a viable candidate for leader of a new movement.  If more new bands buy into Maynard's approach to swaggering--through pointed lyrics rather than a low-slung Kramer guitar--then metal will continue to flourish, perhaps enjoying yet another renaissance, its third (the NWOBHM and thrash movements being the first two).  As Stanley puts it, "Along with country, it's quite likely it will outlast every other genre in this book."

So whether anyone in the Reagan camp can legitimately take credit for engineering the demise of thrash metal, and the cultural decline it was thought to evince, it's certain that they bear some of the blame, merely for outcompeting the Soviet Union.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

The rat in the pool

Day One, just prior to rescue.



Day Two, just after rescue.


Day Three, just after rescue.


It's clearly becoming used to being handled.  Is it a pet yet?

I'm currently developing a theory about the domestication of rats, that posits that they originally stumbled into the swimming pools of ancient peoples circa 8,000 BC.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sweatbandicity

Country living has some advantages over city living.  I can just walk a few hundred feet from the house and wet my line in a pond and catch something like this green perch.  (When sport fishing, I use hooks on which I've flattened the barbs, to make the release part less traumatic for me and the fish.   This big fellow has almost certainly been caught at least once before, as that's how my Dad restocked the bank tank, which had completely dried up a couple of years ago:  by relocating fish caught in the front tank.)




Since moving here, I've had to make multiple trips out to the storage warehouse in Mexia where 95% of my personal belongings are kept.  Mostly I'm there to either put up stuff that I can't use here, or dig up stuff that I need here.  The search efforts often involve opening a lot of hastily-labeled boxes, some of which have been so abused that they're in need of replacement.  So I'll put some effort into repacking goods and reorganizing the warehouse and relabelling the boxes.  It's hot, sweaty, dusty work, and tedious, even dangerous, when done alone.

Last week I was in there to find some things and put up some things and rearrange and relabel.  I was looking in particular for clothing that could be used to make me presentable for job applications and interviews and business luncheons and award ceremonies and international diplomacy.  But mostly, I guess, for job applications.  I found the clothing, and, serendipitously, found, atop the clothing, a sweat band that I bought to use with the exercise equipment (and so, of course, was hardly used at all, all nice and bright white).  I put it on so that I wouldn't have to use my grubby hands to sweep sweat from my face while I worked.

My apartment, the one with the extensive computer network and the well-planned hobby workspace and the kickass man cave and pet space, was a marvel of organization, for reasons involving the vast panoply of shelves I'd collected over the past decade.  I had walnut shelves and pine shelves and cherry-wood shelves and white-painted shelves and butterscotch-painted shelves.  I had steel shelf racks and chrome etageres.  I had hidden shelves tucked away beneath my coffee table's top, for stashing remote controls and whatnot, and I had ugly shelves of particle board and plywood for my robotics and rocketry projects.  With the right shelving, in the right amounts, you can turn a medium-sized two-bedroom apartment into a workshop and multimedia center with enough chick-friendliness to justify calling it "home."

When I'd first stuffed my belongings into the warehouse, I'd leaned my queen-sized mattress, on edge, against the back wall and stacked about fifty pounds of wood shelves on the top edge.  I ended up with a rather irregular, troublesome arrangement of belongings, since it required two trailer loads to move everything, and the layout couldn't be fully planned in advance.  So on that last trip, a week or so ago, I was trying to shift the irregular stuff--the furniture and the exercise equipment and the curvy, slopy television that is impossible to stack things on--toward the back, so that I wouldn't have to move it out of the way on future visits when all I wanted access to was the boxes.  I was up against that mattress, up against that back wall, trying to wedge some chairs and barstools into the corner, when I leaned too far into the mattress and tipped that stack of shelves over, right onto my head.  Fifty-odd pounds of painted and stained-veneer particle board fell squarely onto the back of my head, as a unit.   If I hadn't been wearing that sweatband--and if it hadn't ridden up high on the back of my head--the impact might well have killed me.  It certainly would have scrambled my brains but good, knocking me out, pitching me forward onto my face on the concrete floor, with possibly more shelves and boxes landing atop me.  I might have remained there, passed out, slowly succumbing to heat exhaustion or suffocation, for hours until the Fam decided to come check on my status.

As it is, I very nearly lost consciousness.  The impact was padded by the sweatband, and the stress distributed over a larger part of my skull.  Even now, a week or so later, my cranium aches, but not nearly as badly as it might had things gone differently.  I had to lean back into that mattress to keep my footing, and it was a good twenty seconds or so before I was again fairly in possession of my faculties.  When I could logically string together the sensation of impact, the blackness and the seeing of stars, the THWACK of the shelves landing on the concrete floor, and my current lightheaded, slightly tilted circumstance, I decided to put my hand up and feel my scalp, to detect any swelling or bleeding that might be underway.  When my fingers touched the terrycloth of the sweatband, I--only for a moment--thought I had in fact been scalped, and that a senseless, dead flap of skin was now hanging down from the point of impact, presumably exposing shiny white cranium to the dusty air of the warehouse interior.  The latest version of the Visible Head.

The sweatband might have saved my life; it probably at least protected me from serious injury.   Finding it, and feeling the urge to put it on, strike me as yet another aspect of synchronicity.  Or of serendipity, at least, and in this instance, I think they're essentially the same thing.

Fast-forward to today.  I've been helping Dad put together a little shelter for a picnic table out by the front pond, for relaxing in the shade when fishing or just hanging out at the pond, watching the fish chase the dragonflies.  We had some thunderstorms a couple of days ago, and it's been humid and overcast much of the time since then.  The fish, normally most active at morning and evening, have been operating as if it's morning all day, and they've been splashing and jumping and slapping the surface while we worked.  When we finished the main effort early this afternoon, I decided to try it out for real by bringing my rod and reel, and setting my tacklebox and my camera down into the shade.  I tied a few leaders, using those flattened-barb hooks, and set up an experimental bass rig using a soft-plastic swimbait (too light to cast effectively, so I threaded a small bullet sinker onto the leader).  I first caught a large grasshopper and used it with a bobber to test the bluegills' response, and got a resounding Aye.  They like grasshoppers.  After several strikes, once the grasshopper got too worse for wear to draw any self-respecting perch, I switched over to the bass rig.  I alternated between casting deep, across the middle of the pond, and casting shallow along the banks.  I got strikes on all the deep casts, but nobody wanted to let me set the hook.  (I'm finding you have to play the rod a bit differently with these flattened-barb hooks.  I'm still working on the technique.)  On my third near-shore cast, something hit the swimbait hard, just two feet from the bank, in water that probably wouldn't have come up midway on my shins.  After a brief but vigorous struggle, I landed this largemouth.



This is probably the biggest bass I've ever caught.  I suspect this catapults me from the rank of dilettante squarely into the category amateur.  I couldn't weigh or measure it, so I quickly photographed it before releasing it.  My hand should provide a sense of scale, but unfortunately the photo's perspective doesn't do the fish justice.  The body seems to taper off too rapidly.  My best guess is that it was fourteen inches in length and in the neighborhood of four pounds.  The bass population of the front pond consists entirely of fish that my Dad and I caught about five years ago in a cousin's pond and relocated; prior to that point, there was nothing but assorted perch, mostly bluegills.  He has since relocated some of those original bass to the back pond.  None of the bass were extraordinarily large when originally caught; they've evidently thrived quite well since.

I was wearing the white sweatband when I caught it.  That's two good things that have happened while it was soaking up perspiration for me.  I'm thinking I should start wearing it more.  Do I start calling it my "lucky sweatband" now, or do I wait for something else cool to happen?