Reviews: part deux

July 30th, 2014

Yesterday, I wrote about them from the perspective of an artist, but reviews’ true value is in what they provide for the customer! That is, their potential to have value! In the future, as content creation explodes, they will be even more important to separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak. That’s why it’s of utmost importance that we don’t muddy the waters with meaningless critiques, with analyses by folks who don’t ‘understand’ the matter at heart.

So what’s important? First of, the willingness to truly unleash opinions, to express feelings. That means, sometimes it will not be positive, because nothing is perfect. Secondly, we need informed critics, ones who have wide experience and knowledge. Finally, it’s important to escape potential bias of commerce: reviews of products that also have a paid advertisement in the same magazine for instance are inherently suspect! We all know the power of marketing and we need to minimize the potential power it has on us as much as we can.

In the end, an other person’s opinion can be invaluable; when I first started really studying music, my ears were opened that much further by friends, musicians who I greatly admired, literally showing me the great parts of “Heavy Weather“, pointing out licks, harmonic movement etc. We are herd animals and we are nothing without each other. Customer reviews on Newegg or Amazon have helped me tremendously, although these days there are more and more that are actually so wrong it’s hard to comprehend. Like always, keep that grain of salt handy….

Reviews

July 29th, 2014

So what about reviews? In a world where everybody has an opinion about everything, where even the someone who has proven not to be able to manage his or her own finances feels confident in expressing what we must do with our country’s tax money, what kind of value do we put on what a critic thinks of a CD? Unfortunately, we also now live in a world where we have many folks who ‘belong’ to that category who refuse to write anything negative! How can an analysis be accurate if only positives are highlighted? Add in the fact that many, MANY of them have no clue what they’re talking about, and one realizes that a grain of salt is not nearly enough!

Interestingly, reviews of customers, on Amazon for instance, have become quite important; even though many of them could be accused of not being knowledgeable, in this case it doesn’t actually matter! Enjoyment of music is purely a matter of taste and tastes are limited. One of my big goals in life is to learn to truly appreciate and maybe love as many different kinds of music. It takes an open mind, a lot of effort and time. But, if you’re making a product, and any music you publish becomes just that, it’s important what the customers think, even if they’re ‘wrong’.

A special award goes to ‘reviewers’ who basically just write down a description of all the tunes on a record, without any judgment whatsoever. With everybody throwing out the ubiquitous nonsensical advice to ‘not judge anyone’, it seems to make sense, except, it doesn’t help anyone either. Some of my biggest moments of growth have come out of painful critiques from others. No pain no gain! The perspective of others can be invaluable to artists. It’s a beautiful thing when a reviewer does get it of course, and the inspiration that results can be of great help to keep going in this often lonely journey.

Finally and most importantly though, a true artist goes it alone. She doesn’t care what anybody thinks: the music is what it needs to be, what it always was, even before it existed. It’s nice when someone likes it, but it’s technically irrelevant, because there’s always a chance that no one in the whole world has developed the ability yet to comprehend the magnificence of the work!

Uber-X

July 28th, 2014

My neighbor Brian took me to a beer brewery/tasting room in Van Nuys a couple of weeks ago. Instead of driving, because another of our neighbors was there already, he decided to take me on my first uberX ride. I have to say, it was an excellent experience: the car was clean, the driver calm and collected. Last Saturday I did first solo ride and it too was excellent. I wanted to go see a friend play at the Oyster House, perhaps three miles from my house. Been working my butt off and I didn’t feel like riding my bike, and my friend John was gonna meet me there. Surely we’d end up going somewhere else later, so I fired up the app and waiting time was stated as 4 minutes! I could see the car on a map as it was coming my way on Ventura, then turning onto Hazeltine. A Belgian guy in a Prius showed up, and 5 minutes later, for the amazing price of $4.90 I was at my destination!

The best part is that you don’t need to deal with the paying part, it’s fully automatic. No tipping, everything is handled by the app. No need to explain where you are to the driver, the app let’s you put a ‘push pin’ on a map exactly where you are! It’s highly efficient and truly a perfect example of how we can become a much more efficient world. Recommended!

The Choir: Military Wives (Updated!)

July 27th, 2014

It’s summer so in Holland it’s time for “Zomergasten” an iconic yearly TV show, which is perhaps my favorite thing on this medium anywhere. Presented by a different host every year, it has only one guest who, for the three hours the program lasts, has total freedom to discuss any topic, tell any story or share any observation, while showing video clips from any movie/TV show/documentary he wants. Mind you, there are no commercial interruptions! This years presenter is Wilfried de Jong, a very smart and truly interested person, and the first guest was none other than Freek de Jonge, a living legend in the Netherlands. A true artist, de Jonge discusses many many interesting topics and makes it clear that he’s as free as a human can be in this day and age: his one-man theater shows are completely and utterly uncompromised,  not by commerce, or by the desire to be liked by everyone which plagues so many these days.

In this 180 minute journey, we see a young Charlie Chaplin, discovering his talents in a time where close-up shots had not even been considered yet! We witness the most unbelievable put by Tiger Woods: the movement of the ball includes what looks like about a 90 degree turn, and then a teetering on the edge of the hole for literally seconds before it seems like the growing roar of the crowd provides the last little push it needs to go in! There are many more very interesting parts, but where it really got me was when Freek showed us a few minutes of a British program called The Choir: Military Wives.

It’s the fourth season of a show in which conductor Gareth Malone rounds up groups of people to form a singing group. This is no populist BS though, he works them, but more importantly, literally makes them better people. I’ve said many times the we westerners don’t sing together enough! I haven’t seen the whole show, but in the 5 minutes we got to witness on Zomergasten, at first we see a few dozen women whose husbands are away at war; these are ladies who know each other, but in England there’s not much socializing between folks of different ranks so they don’t know each other well. Also, most are not singers and visibly uncomfortable with the whole situation. In addition, military wives are probably in a similarly rigid system as their husbands, not used to the ‘cutting loose and letting go’ that music begs for.

By the time that they perform in front of prince Charles at Royal Albert Hall (!!!!) their faces have completely changed; I get tears in my eyes writing this, I can see the unity, the peace, the togetherness, the confidence. It’s like they were girls and now they are women. Freek makes some very fascinating observations: “when their husbands come back from the war, they’re going to have a problem!” The women have now far surpassed their partners in this journey of discovery we call life, as the latter have probably regressed in their understanding of balance and happiness. Wives who acted like they had never been listened to have now learned to wield the power of their voices, in the best, most selfless way possible.

One final interesting thing: even though most Dutch public TV shows are watchable online these days, for free by the way, most of the time Zomergasten is not, but this episode was! You know why? Because the restrictions always come due to ‘geographic’ license issues in this over-commercialized world; but true art is not run by money managers! There were no Disney clips, no major network Amercian TV…….. and the result was another perfect example of the potential of this Medium!

UPDATE: found out that the entire three part series can be watched on Youtube in perfectly fine quality! I watched it last night and was so moved……. Choir Director Gareth Malone is quite an interesting character, and at points all his judgements of these women (“they literally have no voice!”) seem quite pretentious and almost vulgar, but then the faces don’t lie and the incredible joy and thankfulness they experience moved me to tears. Wow!

Digital Adapter

June 26th, 2014

Time Warner is at it again: in order to “better serve its customers”, analog transmission over its cables will seize, being replaced by all digital methods for “the clearest picture and best sound possible!”. It means that one can no longer use the tuner in a TV to receive even the lower tier channels, something I’ve been doing for many years. For a limited time you can get 2 free ‘Digital Adapters’ from the company loves to hate, so I ordered them and they arrived the next day. So far so good… the package includes a nice HDMI cable, a cool Coax one, the walwart and the unit itself. After hooking it up, it proceeded to update itself for about 15 minutes, after which it says it could not authenticate and to call customer support. Here we go again….the power adapter is rated at 1.5 amps at 5volts, so this is a unit that can potentially add as much as 7.5w to my total power draw. This better be good…

I call the number and get a person on the phone fairly quickly. After explaining to her I properly hooked it up, as evidenced by its communication with their update servers, the lady does some magic at her end and the units starts working. Already, I’m not impressed: ABC7 looks like crap, like SD content upscaled to 720P, not true HD. Through the analog connection, I DO get true HD for all the channels that are broadcast over the air here! Hell, even my rabbit ears antenna gets a really nice picture, and now I have to have 2 remotes, another power sucking box, another thing that can go wrong. This blows. Well, I guess this is the final straw and I will be cancelling my service with them when the changeover takes effect.

 

NET10 AT&T APN settings for MMS on the Moto G (or other android phones!) that really work

June 22nd, 2014

Persistence has paid off! I FINALLY found a way to set up my Moto G so I can use MMS, or texting with pictures. There are countless pages and youtube videos describing the ‘correct’ settings, but all, including the official instructions from NET10 itself are incorrect, or at least incomplete. After trying at least 20 different combos, here are the right ones, for someone using the AT&T compatible SIM that is:

Name – NET10

APN – tfdata

Proxy – Not set

Port – Not set

Username – Not set

Password – Not set

Server – Not set

MMSC – http://mms-tf.net/

MMS proxy – 66.209.11.33

MMS port – 80

MCC – 310

MNC – 410

Authentication type – Not set

APN type – default, mms,wap

APN protocol – IPv4/IPv6

APN roaming protocol – IPv4

Bearer – unspecified

MVNO type – none

——————————————————-

Now, the MMS proxy can also be mms3.tracfone.com

The most important thing missing in so many posts online is the fact that when you make a new APN, at least on my phone which is running Android KitKat 4.4.2, the APN type is not specified. As soon as i put in “default,mms,wap”, which I saw on some Youtube video, it started working! Another thing to keep in mind is that NET10 wants you to use its proxy for data, but you should not as it increases network latency unnecessarily.

 

 

Streaming

June 11th, 2014

The river of nonsense based on misinformation thickens every day! From idiotic videos ‘proving’ that no airplane hit the second tower on 9/11 (2.5 million views ladies and gentlemen!) to diet advice stemming from horribly wrong conclusions drawn from questionable scientific research, we are in danger! You see, humans put a value on information based in large part on how many others they hear state it. We are herd animals after all, and so we follow. Before the information age, in order for you to hear thousands of people say something, a very large percentage of folks directly around you would have to do so. These days, even if only 1% of a population believes something, but they are loud and active, it can seem like everybody believes it.

Here’s something I do know a something about: performance royalties for music. If one were to believe the internet, Spotify is taking advantage of composers and publishers, paying them horribly low amounts. Nothing is further from the truth actually. Two months ago I did an experiment: I signed up for a paid membership for one month, at $10, and then proceeded to put XR7 on loop. In the last few days I’ve been getting my regular payments for that period and they’re actually good: 1.24 cents per play! That means every time ONE person listens to ONE song ONE time, I get paid more than a penny. Contrary to popular belief that is WAY better than any terrestrial radio ever paid! Not all the songs have come through for this period, including The Robot Song, which I played on repeat separately, but already my little experiment has brought in $25, or actually MORE than I paid for my membership. How that is unfair is beyond me……

Now, I don’t know what the pay scale is at Pandora and it probably is worse, but still, whenever these idiotic musicians around here bitch about the new model, I want to slap them. They post stuff on FB, about how someone had a million plays but only made $100. Well guess what, if your song plays on a broadcast radio station and is heard by a million people, how much do you think you get paid? This is part of the problem caused by the idiotic price of 99 cents that iTunes has instilled on us. It’s outrageous……..

Be Right

June 9th, 2014

Here’s the advantage of wanting to be right all the time….no, not winning the argument at all cost, but actually wanting to be right, to be blessed with correct understanding of the problem at hand, and drawing the right conclusion. It means you’re interested in what’s wrong, appreciative of constructive criticism…….. even if you’re sensitive to it…..

Lowest Common Denominator

May 27th, 2014

It seems like Americans’ love for amateur singing hour is waning. Ratings for the finale of Idol have dropped 66 percent in the last 3 years; yes, you read that right, it has lost two thirds of its viewers! I have to say, my interest peaked a while ago, even though particularly Jena Irene was quite something to watch this year. The thing is, when you see contestants from earlier years, winners and runners-up, come on the current show to promote their latest and greatest, you realize they’re pretty much all average at best. They never have good songs, and especially nothing original or memorable. Just another slice of ‘eenheidsworst’, or ‘unity sausage’, with little to no personality. It’s what one can expect in the quest for the lowest common denominator!

So, perhaps people are not good in picking for themselves; maybe they can’t tell what’s best for them. There are a lot of parallels in politics, aren’t there? One only needs to consider the populist tendencies of doling out ever harsher punishments for crimes. At first, jailing more sounds like a great way to keep crime under control, but further analysis always shows that it doesn’t work. Focusing on the symptoms instead of the root of the problem is a great way to only get deeper into trouble. It’s why almost all successful countries have politicians who govern by fiat from the people. If we let the normal man run the show and make the decisions, candy would be free and school optional. I’m exaggerating, but  you get the point. We need to have folks smarter than average doing the heavy thinking; it just makes more sense. At the same time, we need to watch those in power like hawks; they cannot be blindly trusted and we should NEVER expect that. Exactly that is the work we need to do: make sure that decisions get made based on solid ideas, not corruption. We need to be willing to throw out the establishment at any time and start over, of course in a civilized manner if at all possible.  It’s not perfect, but then again nothing is!

Downside

May 21st, 2014

Man, have we been traveling this little old planet of ours! From Massachusetts to Virginia, New York to Maryland, California to Nevada; we’ve been to Indonesia, Taiwain, Malaysia and now Japan too. Every place is different, although only the US calls itself the best country in the world. So, what does that mean? Is it really? How does one define that? It’s clear that every place has its advantages, but how important is the general happiness of the people? By that metric, I’m sad to say America might be dead last on that list strangely enough.

Oftentimes the discussion turns to opportunity, the ability to move up in the world, and that’s an area where the USA has traditionally excelled. A lot of value is placed there on hope, that one can improve his situation, have a better life than his or her parents. But it’s necessary for folks to believe in it for that to be a true possibility, and I don’t see a lot of hope in the people on the lower rungs of the ladder. It’s a little better on the East Coast, but it doesn’t take a lot of time at the airport in Philadelphia to realize those working at the restaurants for instance have all but given up; they don’t give a shit about their jobs, and lots of customers don’t give a shit about them. LAX is similar with a sense of apathy and lack of interest that’s kind of scary. It’s a monster that feeds itself: there’s NO respect for the little guy, so the little guy responds in kind.

How different is it in Japan? Incredibly so! Politeness is a huge part of the culture here, but it truly goes deeper than that and I firmly believe that fair wages are of paramount importance. When you realize exactly how little some people make in the US, working 40 hours a week, not being able to pay for even the most modest life, especially while their customers can afford to light their fireplaces with $100 bills, that resentment makes a lot more sense. The utter disrespect shown to even the generally well qualified and excellent workers at Starbucks proves the terrible situation. Take the crews at the clubs and theaters we’ve played here: I’m almost embarrassed by how helpful and subservient they are! They apologize for making us wait 30 seconds, even when the cause was not their fault. But most of all, everyone seems truly interested and invested and that last word is the key in my opinion.

You see, it’s really that simple and one place I’ve written about on these pages a few times before proves it: In-N-Out Burger! It’s just a simple fast food place, but the demeanor of its employees could NOT be any more different from McDonalds for instance. The food is a lot better, but that has little to do with it. You know what makes its employees care about their job? The fact that they get a piece of the profit of their particular establishment. Mind you, it’s probably a tiny piece, but it means hard work literally pays off, and directly so! It’s an example of something else I’ve written about repeatedly and that’s the ‘feedback loop’, perhaps the most important mechanism in the universe. Living is more than surviving, or at least the human psyche wants to make it more. We have a sense of fairness that seems to be built in to our basic blueprint and there are experiments that show that some animals have it too.

In US politics there’s a lot of talk about people’s sense of entitlement, and while I’m not saying there’s not a problem there, I truly believe very few, if any, would expect that someone making sandwiches deserves to make the same amount of money as someone leading a billion dollar corporation. At the same time, it just doesn’t make sense that anyone in a country as rich would have to bust his balls 40 hours a week and not be able to pay for a small apartment and food, making less a week than his boss makes per hour. The lack of resentment that one clearly sees in the faces of the common Japanese worker is not fake; it’s a result of a country that truly takes care of its people, a pace that’s elevated ALL of its people!

Now, everything has a downside; that’s a law of the universe, isn’t it? I’ve never lived here, but in many ways it seems similar to Holland, and I know that place very well! The first ‘problem’ in a highly organized society is the system of classes it introduces and the US was of course built on the idea of trying to abolish such a rigid structure of social layers. To a large extent, even the way you talk determines the possibilities you have in the rest of your life. It’s a topic for a future piece, but something very important nonetheless.

Something else, that’s very different here from my homeland, is the subservient role of the female. It’s not apparent in everyday life, but I know that traditionally the woman here in Japan has had no right to an opinion. In general, there is less freedom for everyone to do as he pleases, with very strict rules of conduct in every aspect of life. It’s definitely a system which would not work for any people who have tasted freedom, the way we westerners have! At the same time, when I look at the faces of the hundreds passing by the window of the coffee shop here at the train station, I see a level of peace rarely encountered in the US. And why wouldn’t people be peaceful? This place works! The bullet train GOES! And on time I must add! Food everywhere is excellent, affordable too, all the basic necessities are within everyone’s reach. A bottle of water at the airport is $1 or maybe $1.50, even though the drinking water is perfectly potable.

In the end I think the answer lies in togetherness. That’s what’s truly missing in the US and perhaps western civilization in general. We are so obsessed with ourselves, with advancing our personal situation, that we forget we are on this ride together. More importantly, an individual human is nothing, not even the most extraordinary one! Our strength lies in numbers, in teamwork. It’s a lesson we’ve had more opportunities to learn than one can imagine, but somehow it’s not sticking! Think about sports, religion…… it’s something that is so clear in Indonesia, a place that’s been pulling itself up by its bootstraps. Freed from the rule of my people half a century ago, it’s been growing, its economy now the biggest in South East Asia. Even the poor, living on the street next to rivers that smell like sewers are benefitting; food is cheap and quite good, and the waste of the better off is more than they had before the influx of wealth, so things are looking up, if you know what I mean. It’s probably because it’s such a religious place that there’s a sense of togetherness that’s so sorely missing in my neck of the woods, which is probably the most God-less city on this planet. I’m not advocating more religion, and consider myself a true atheist, but if we’re going to move away from it, we MUST find another way to believe in the collective. It seems like the Japanese have found a way, so perhaps we should stop telling ourselves we are the greatest and learn from others.