Unbundle

October 15th, 2014

As none other than Neil Young, who I just watched on Colbert this morning, sits tables behind me at Starbucks, I want to talk about some good news of the day, a show of progress if you will: HBO has announced it will start an online streaming service of some kind that does NOT require a cable subscription of any kind! Hallelujah! It certainly took long enough, but this is just excellent and I will be one of the first to put his money where his mouth is! It’ll probably be more than the $15 add-on it is now, but hopefully not much; I’m saving $25 by not patronizing Time Warner anymore, and would gladly pay that for perhaps Showtime and HBO on my computers. Now let’s hope that other talented content providers get on-board and we can shake this thing up a little….

BTW, Neil Young was promoting some music player device that gives you “100%” where an MP3 player gives you “5%”. He is of course strictly speaking correct, simply because the bitrate of the latter is normally a tenth of hat a CD has, and the former probably uses 96Khz, 24Bit audio. Of course our brains are so easily fooled, and I bet you 99% of all people would not be able to distinguish between the two formats, especially with the sonically limited material we listen to today.

Well, I decided to look it up: the device is called the PonoPlayer and costs $400. The corresponding Ponomusic service promises to always provide the highest resolution file-formats available for any particular content, with 44 Khz 16-bit as the lowest. The player does many formats up to 192Khz 24-bit….there you have it!

Yet another voice

October 10th, 2014

The new season of the Voice US has started, with two new ‘coaches’ to boot! Let me say, the vocal ability in this panel of superstars has certainly not gone up with the addition of Gwen Stefani and Pharrel, that’s for sure. Blake Shelton is not a particularly great singer, so I guess that leaves Adam as the best of the bunch…..ouch….a few of the contestants are going to far outclass the pros in this dog and pony show!

The blind auditions were divided into 4 episodes this year and featured some pretty good performances in the first three as always. But then there was number four: mostly a recap of the first three, with barely enough new footage and blabbing to call it a program. Wow, regurgitating already! It did show some footage of coaching sessions of some of the people who made and it was quite painful actually; it seems the well was not very deep this year and we’re going to have some painfully average contestants. Miss Stefani has already made it clear during the auditions that she’s more about fashion than music…..this could be the last season…

Maturity

October 9th, 2014

After thinking about my childishness post from yesterday, there are a couple of things I want to add to the discussion. There are more problems in our modern culture caused by our desire to stay young forever; I believe that it leads directly to that crazy lack of sense of responsibility that has made people sue so readily. A good friend of mine just got married and now some lady is suing the establishment where the ceremony took place because she broke her ankle. Mind you, not only had the groom specifically stated in the invitations that the venue was in a hilly, rocky place, thus flat shoes were highly recommended, but the place was very well maintained and sensibly laid out. When my friend explained to her that even though he bought insurance, he’d be on the hook for a $1000 deductible, this lady who not only has full health insurance but actually works for Kaiser(!!!!), kept repeating she’s not suing him, then offered repeatedly to reimburse him from her expected settlement. This type of utter lack of comprehension of decency does not fit an adult.

Another example that so common is how people behave in regards to customer service, in restaurants or stores for instance. The expectations are oftentimes so unreasonable, it’s incomprehensible. Why in the world do grown people feel they can act like spoiled brats? Is it because their parents never raised them?

Let me say that I understand the desire to stay young, of course I do. It’s great to not have to worry, to live freely, as in a sandbox. It’s awesome to believe that the day you die is so far away, it’s not worthy of consideration. Even deeper goes the fear of losing the ability to play, instead of work, if you know what I mean, but this is where the solution lies I believe. You see, you don’t have to lose playfulness at all when you grow up! Just because you are responsible for a couple of kids, it doesn’t mean you can’t make time to get in a few rounds of XBox. It’s of utmost importance to keep playing, to balance your life, no matter how much your wife nags you; standing up to her is part of the adult thing… ;-)

Childishness

October 8th, 2014

How do humans improve when they mature? What are the problems children typically have that adults don’t? First of there’s irrational fear: monsters under the bed! Part of growing up is learning to channel the mechanism of fear that protects us; we start with the simplest of stories, in which there’s a clear distinction between good and evil. As we mature, we’re supposed to realize there are many shades of grey.

Then there’s responsibility for your actions. Kids are allowed to explore the limits and go over the edge once in a while. By the time you get your own housing, the idea is that you know how to manage money, that you pay your debts, have learned to budget. The immature thing is to blow rent money on something fun, with no regard to future consequences; to think in the short-term!

How about compromise? Of course there are differences between different people, but in general the older you get, the more you should start appreciating compromise, because you know getting along is more important than getting your way. Children get a few fresh starts for building friendships if needed: new school, new round, new prizes.

Finally there is confidence! As a human learns, he or she should feel more and more confident; that just comes with finding what you’re good at, finding where you belong, and who with. Again, some of us are less secure than others, but generally there should be an improvement.

So why this list? Well, many times I talk to my friends in Holland about the US and for years I’ve told them that to understand Americans is to realize they want to be children forever! Grown men yelling out they’re going “to Disneyland!”, 40-somethings being thrilled with the ridiculous ‘compliment’ of being asked to prove they’re old enough to buy beer. Those are the benign side effects of the desire to be young forever. The bad are the incredible irrational fear of the typical person here: of being robbed, killed, generally the world coming to an end! There’s talk of “evil-doers”, almost like politicians are talking about the evil witch in a fairytale! Compromise? Forget it! Politicians are digging in like neighborhood kids who don’t have anything to lose by standing strong. And look at what women, and now increasingly men, do to themselves to look younger; risking your life for a fight you’re gonna lose just doesn’t make any sense. The insecurity present in so many women here puts to shame the agony of the 13 year old girls I remember from school.

It really needs to change if we want to have a chance at happiness, don’t you think? We must take responsibility like the adults we are; we must realize that we have to care about others, unlike a selfish child who has nothing to worry about but itself. This is a cultural thing, and culture can change.

 

E-bull-a

October 7th, 2014

In this day and age of misinformation, everyone is a doctor, and a better one than those official ones you hear from on TV or in newspapers too! Who doesn’t know someone who swears red meat stays in your colon for weeks, that gluten is bad for everyone, that milk is bad, that vaccines cause autism. So what about Ebola? Many, including some pretty smart people I know, are complaining our government isn’t handling the situation well, although that’s of course a result of our overblown political situation as much as it is the result of the irrational fear that seems to permeate the United States. Here come the masks and gloves while flying……

As far as I see it, it’s being handled quite well, and just today there was an extended article in the LA Times about some very well informed doctors who aren’t quite sure everything the establishment assumes about the disease is true. So what is commonly accepted? First of, that Ebola does not spread without contact with bodily fluids of a person who’s actually exhibiting symptoms. Secondly, that even in a household living with someone who’s sick, the chances of transmission are about 1 in 7! That’s right, it’s not even all that contagious in close quarters! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not serious, because it certainly is, but we have to put it in perspective. It’s not a new disease and it has been contained quite well multiple times before, by using well defined procedures. The reason it’s getting out of hand in West Africa is because they don’t follow them! Guess what is common over there: snake oil and ‘alternative medicine’!

I just don’t get it, this resentment and disbelief towards modern medicine. I know it’s far from perfect, but how in the world can we forget that it rid us of polio, measles and so many other diseases that used to be so common. Billions of man-hours have been invested, by some of the smartest humans that ever lived….but somehow many are more likely to belief that cute waitress that hasn’t read a newspaper in her whole life!

So what do we do? We chill out and in the meantime continue enjoying life. We’ll see how many people turn out to have been infected in Texas. According to actual experts, there might be one extra. We will learn that this virus is not the one we should worry about. Influenza is the one that’s far scarier, and it only becomes a pandemic once every 60 years or so! And as long as we don’t even think twice about hitting the road in that deathtrap we call a car we have no business being so damn frightened of any infectious disease right now! That’s the gift that modern medicine has given us…..

Work

September 29th, 2014

Work has been good this year; actually, it’s been really good! Not only have I never made more, I also get to do mostly gigs I truly enjoy. From traveling to distant lands, to weekly performances with Jeff Robinson and at St. Paul’s that have given me a chance to really get some time on the keys, to some awesome recording sessions for various talented folks, it’s truly been a blessed year. So far I’ve made just over $36K, more than in all of 2013, and with plenty of stuff coming up, this should be the best year I’ve ever had! Now with my health insurance premium at $70 a month instead of the $560 it was going to be, rent at $1100 and my basic monthly nut at around $1700 without food, I’m actually making a good living! I have two of everything I need, am in good health and have fantastic friends. Most of the money I got from my mom’s inheritance has been spent, but not much of it frivolously; I’ve invested in gear, making my albums, the mini-tour to Holland from promoting the first, and upgrading my computers.

Every time I hear people bitch about how only the rich benefit from the stock market, I feel a little sad. I just sold my ING stock I bought for $1100 for $1800. Made 60% on my money in 4 years! When I told one of those complainers (alley buddy!) he said: “That’s not such a great return!” Why do we argue with idiots? Some just don’t want to be happy… It seems I’ve timed this well; I’m left with about $8000 in stock and savings and a pretty solid outlook for work to come, making more than I need. Now it’s time to start building up some savings and investments. At 44 that’s pretty late, but at the same time, I certainly don’t plan on retiring at 65, and seeing Ronnie Gutierrez’ dad still kicking ass at 82 I feel good about it. My published music catalog brings in about $1000 per year these days and hopefully I can add to that in the years to come.

When I first really thought about moving to L.A., and I was reading the Musicians’ Institute catalog and such, I’d been doing some research about the business here. In magazines like Guitar Player these were occasional stories about working musicians. What sold me on it was that at that point, guys on a solid tour would work 6-9 months out of the year and make, if I recall well, $60-$90K. When I first got to Hollywood, a 1 bedroom apartment much like the one I live in now cost $500 per month. You don’t have to be a math genius to realize that times have changed. Not only are there very few tours anymore that go out for that long as music has splintered, simultaneously the advent of computers and backing tracks has taken away the need for real talent and thus lowered the pay tremendously. Most big Pop stars will pay their band members $1500 a week if they’re lucky. Even if you go out for 6 months, you’re only getting $36K. And I’m talking playing stadiums! Most of the time, you’re lucky if you can work 3 months out of the year.

Thankfully I’ve always been taught to keep learning, to try and figure out where the needs lie, and try to find a way to develop skills to become needed. The decision to really study piano/keyboards again has turned out to be a good one. These days more than half my gigs in town are not on the bass anymore!  I’m on track to doing close to 150 live gigs this year, which is just about the perfect number; plenty of time for studying and play, enough to keep my chops up.

So, this year might be the first year I’ll make more than the median income for the US which currently stands at $43K. That is for a family by the way, although I live in one of the most expensive areas in the country of course. I guess it makes me decidedly middle class which is pretty awesome considering how much I actually enjoy my work! Now, the ‘mean’ income, or what most would consider the average, is $60.5K; that’s my next goal, although it becomes increasingly difficult when you realize that most regular gigs around here pay $100 and 600 gigs in a year is beyond impossible! With most big shows or weddings at $400 per gig I would need to do 150 of those, which is realistic. So far, my own music has only cost me, but I still believe that can be turned around if I keep at it.

In the meantime I’ll just keep at it! I love learning new music, new instruments. Perhaps it’s time to take some singing lessons……

“The Media”

September 25th, 2014

First of all, why in the world has Media become a singular noun? It’s literally the plural form of Medium. We even say “the police are”, and that’s a singular in most languages.

Secondly, it’s time we stop lumping all media together. You heard it all the time, media getting blamed for this or that, being biased in one way or another, not reporting something. The bottom line is, we have to differentiate! In my opinion, the L.A. and N.Y. Times are good papers, somewhat liberal, but if you know how to draw your own conclusion very fair and thorough sources of information. At the same time there are MANY other sources so making blanket statements about all of them is just not helping because it makes people write off ALL of them. Instead, we need to watch them, check them and share discrepancies we find. We need to keep them honest, or at least as honest as possible.

We need to do that with each other as well. I can’t begin to count the number of times where someone I know would dismiss all media because “they don’t report the truth”, only to start spewing numbers that are so far from reality they seem just made up. Whether it’s about employment figures or other economic signs, who the hell thinks he can determine them better than the Times? It’s quite amazing. Reminds me of my old neighbor, pretty smart young kid, who thought he was a whiz with numbers. He actually believed that 50% of all health care expenditures was on insurance and malpractice, because his friend “is a doctor” and he pays huge amounts! It turns out, the highest estimate I could find that’s supported by actual research and written down is less than 10%, pretty much exactly like I told him the night before. This guy got literally mad at me, because I’m just a musician and he’s got some degree having to do with finance.

And now we have more and more people who pretty much get all their news from Facebook. Guess what, that leads to only hearing what you already believe, doesn’t it? You get fed the diet that goes along with all your friends, a feedback loop of great danger actually. It’s very similar to what happens to societies in big cities as opposed to small towns. In the latter, you can only be so misguided before the whole group pulls you back in. If there’s only one doctor, chances are you’ll benefit from the millions of man-years of research that went before him. If there are thousands, you can always find one that’ll tell you what you want to hear: vaccines cause autism for instance. Then, you believe it more, because a doctor told you so!

Let’s face it, television news programs have taken a serious dive on the major networks. Especially the big local versions are all about ratings, a corrupting factor of biblical proportions! At the same time, anyone with cable or antenna can get PBS and thus BBC World News! You see, you can’t lump all media together for dismissal!

For now, just about any big newspaper is a solid source of information; you can’t believe everything you read, but if you do it regularly and from as many sources as possible, you can draw your own conclusions. You have to differentiate between the news and the opinion pieces of course, and sometimes read past the bias, but even a Republican can get most important information from the LA or NY Times. Certainly they are a better source than your buddies, or Fox News!

Schadenfreude

September 25th, 2014

\ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\. : a feeling of enjoyment that comes from seeing or hearing about the troubles of other people.

Why do I feel like pointing out the flaws in the land of the Big Fruit? Is it perhaps because of the incredible arrogance displayed for so many years, originally led by the Grand Poobah Steve Jobs and then perpetuated ad nauseum by his followers who are rewriting history to make it so Apple invented all that’s good?

Fact is, one of the Baristas at my regular Starbucks just upgraded his iPhone 4 to a……..Samsung Galaxy S5, calling Apple a joke. What’s even more telling is the tone with which both the Daily Show and Stephen Colbert have talked about the 6 and 6+; how long can something be the butt of so many jokes and still be hip?

Now think about this: Apple has been the most valuable company in the world for a while now, with billions in the bank, and what have they come up with? Two phones that are little more than playing catch-up with Android and a watch, in a whole year! Look at what Samsung has introduced: many computers, a few watches, probably ten phones, televisions and other appliances…. it’s really quite incredible how big the difference is. And then Apple releases iOS 8.0.1 so bad that they have to pull it! Still, they sold 10 million 6 and 6+’s to people sight unseen, that’s how much people love this brand. It’s crazy.

From here I don’t see a way out of the hole Apple has dug for itself. iOS is becoming more and more unstable, with the newest version crashing 70% more than the last, and major compatibility problems for older apps, some of which might never be updated. With more than 80% all the world’s smartphones running Android, it has become the first platform to develop for and although right now iPhone users are on average richer, thus more interesting for some companies, the lack of interoperability of its ecosystem only means it’ll become more and more marginalized just like happened to the Mac in the days of OS9. There’s just now way Apple can compete with all the other guys pushing the limit and it’ll rather die than play along.

Speaking of computers, a buddy of mine just bought a new (used) Mac Pro. He paid $600 for a 2009 (!!!!) machine with a Nehalem 2.93Ghz quad core, just a little faster than a Haswell i3 dual. This machine is for studio use, so 4 internal drives is a good feature and the plan is to put a Motu 424 in there, which is still one of the very best low-latency solutions and maybe the most stable. The guy he bought it from had gotten the new Mac Pro, the trash can model. Of course his desk was filled with peripherals and cables: external hard drives and such! Again, form over function, in the worst way. I have to say, it kind of scares me that anyone could fall for this.

The big Thunderbolt experiment seems to be backfiring on Apple too as Intel has not been getting on board. Now Motu has dropped the 424 because new Macs don’t have any PCIe slots anymore, where you can still build a new Windows machine with even a PCI slot. We’ve ended up in a situation where we’ve taken a step back in functionality because real-time input monitoring is not an option unless you’re spending huge wads of cash, or buying something used! Golden tip: Motu 2408 MK3’s with card are going dirt cheap on Ebay, as low as $350. If you have the slot, this is the way to go, with a cheap machine and a copy of Sonar you’ll have a rock solid system that’ll blow away anything short of Protools HD; for under a grand……

OK, I’m done with my schadenfreude; it’s time to let it go and let the chips fall where they may! Just don’t come knocking when you realize it’s time to get off the Apple bandwagon and now you need to figure out how to get your data out of the walled garden. Why don’t you ask the ‘genius’ at the temple, I mean Apple Store?

UPDATE:

In response to what some users have dubbed #bendgate, Apple says handsets which bend when placed in pockets will be replaced — on condition of a “Visual Mechanical Inspection.”

Bendgate

September 24th, 2014

That’s what they’re calling it: BendGate! Between the botched 8.01 iOS update which was pulled only after rendering a lot of phones unable to make calls and this, Apple is not having an easy time with this launch. It turns out that they might just have made the iPhone 6+ too thin. In a typical form-over-function move, not only is it uncomfortable too hold, but the structural integrity is so light that these devices are literally bending just being inside people’s pockets. The unfortunate part of them being made of aluminum is that they don’t bend back! Some actually go as far as to say you shouldn’t carry them in your pants, but that’s quite ridiculous of course. Apple hasn’t responded to allegations yet, but even the BBC has reported on it now.

bendgate

To get back to the iOS update, it’s playing out pretty much as I expected: as complexity goes up, and Apple has to catch up to at least some of the feature set of the competition, they’re losing control of their own code. In addition, older apps are not scaling properly to all these new resolutions, and older phones are not taking well to the new OS. I believe it’s only going to get worse as Google and Microsoft keep improving their ecosystems. We had a nice voice-control shootout last night in the alley, between a mid-range Android device, an iPhone 4S and my HTC 8x, all similar in specs. Windows Phone was the clear winner, with even the ability to change an existing appointment by talking. Now we realize how we’re all paying the price for the early adoption of the iPhone, by the fact that so many companies don’t make proper apps for Windows Phone yet.

Compatibility Part Deux

September 23rd, 2014

After writing about the woes of iOS8, I decided to see about update my ancient Galaxy Tab to the newest ROM available. It’s the original 7″ one with 3G connectivity built in. It can actually be used as a phone, something that at that size seemed beyond ridiculous, but is now not even all that weird! Releases in October 2010, it came with Android Froyo or 2.2, and was only updated to Gingerbread or 2.3. The CPU is a 1GHz Hummingbird Cortex-A8 chip, RAM severely limited at 512MB. When the geeks started making new ROMS after Samsung gave up on this thing, at first they didn’t run very well. Android was getting pretty bloated and anything less than 1GB had a lot of trouble even booting up; when we realize you can run Windows XP very, very comfortably on that much RAM, we realize there’s gotta be a way and Google stepped up efforts to make KitKat (4.4) run at least usuably on half a gig.

samsung-galaxy-tab-ofic-2

So, I found the newest Cyanogenmod nightly build and flashed away. Installed the smallest G-apps I could find and you know what, this thing is not bad! Animations look fine, Calendar, Contacts, Gallery all run fine. Now, what I’m worried about is Now, Maps and Browsing. The built in browser works decently actually; it starts up fast, and only bogs down with really complex pages. The newest version of Maps is basically a slide show, not really usable. The beautiful thing about Android is that you can “sideload” apps, or install them not from the Play Store but straight from the APK file. I had saved an older version and it runs excellently, voice navigation and all!

So now the big one; I downloaded the Google Now launcher fully expecting it to make my Tab unusable. Actually, wow, it works fine! Not as well as my Moto G of course, but totally workable! Voice recognition is excellent! Add in the fact that T-Mobile is kind enough to give me 200MB free 3G data every month forever and this just became a very handy device to keep around.