4.25.2016

Rock Workshop

My Rock Workshop class via the Madison Music Foundry (MMF) culminated yesterday afternoon with my workshop band's performance at the High Noon Saloon, kind of like a final exam after eight weeks of writing and recording rock-n-roll songs.

It was a fun class and a nice group of musicians. I signed up for the class in early February. Normally, students audition and get placed with like minded musicians of a similar skill level. However, I was on a Caribbean cruise during the audition phase, so the organizers let me submit pre-recorded examples of my bass playing and they placed me appropriately based on that.

During the class, we wrote three songs from scratch and recorded them at Blasthouse Studios, affiliated with MMF, along with an already written song of my own that my classmates liked and learned. Recording was included in the cost of tuition for the class. The songs were put on a CD that we each received a copy of after our High Noon performance. We rocked the show pretty hard yesterday. Everyone put in the time to practice and polish the songs.

There is talk of doing some further rocking with this group, which we named REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY. Maybe I can get them down to Funks Pub for the Sunday jam.

4.15.2016

Phase One Part C - Flying

I finally got a bit of narrative arc to spice up the otherwise banal nonfiction narrative of my trip home to Wisconsin from Denver.

I don't fear flying at all. As I have posted many times, a flying plane is one of the safest places on the planet. 80% or more of the anxiety and angst I have about flying places happens before the actual flying of the plane. And most of that negativity takes place while transiting through TSA security at the airport. Yes, the organization that is supposed to ensure air passenger safety fills me with most of the dread I feel (great or small) during every trip I take by plane. And it's not the terror instilled by the surly (usually, not always) TSA agents that they'll accost me in some way, but also some of the passengers. Most passengers are fairly sane and organized. Why they can't seem to pull their sh!t together when it comes to the simple task of placing bags and bins with personal possessions on the scanner conveyor belt is an elusive and unsolvable mystery, but I find that more entertaining than angsty. Notwithstanding, the lines at security often dismay me. Airports and the  airlines seem to have fairly good logistics when it comes to most things, like parking, flow of traffic, check in, arrival and departure schedules, restaurants and restrooms, terminal transport, etc. So why is TSA security always an overcrowded cattle herding clusterf@ck? I suspect it's because it is the one part of air travel that is mandatory for people to get to their flights. In the other areas you have choices, such as what airline to take or best/cheapest way to get to/thru the airport. But TSA doesn't give anyone a choice and because of that they have no incentive to improve on their system. They could. I know of several cost effective ways, but they'll have to pay me to get them.

Anyway, after the Colorado Springs Shuttle dropped me at the Denver airport, I made my way through security fairly PTSD free and got to my gate with plenty of time to spare. Flight was on time and I chillaxed a bit in the gate area, checking weather, emailing Deborah to tell her I was on schedule, filling my water bottle, and assorted things. I was one of the first people called to board the plane (Zone 1) and got an aisle seat next to a benign couple of liberal elites who didn't bother me. Things seemed to be going well as the plane eased back from the gate and the cabin crew started their safety spiel. During the oxygen mask portion of the spiel, which I wasn't paying that close attention to (having heard it many times before), I heard a loud thunk and looked up to see the stewardess for our section making a surprised face. The thunk had been caused by all her demo equipment (life vest, seat belt, etc.) being dumped on the floor for reasons unknown. But the reasons were not unknown for long. After the stewardess finished her spiel, she stormed toward the back of the plane and I heard her say, "Someone's getting removed from this plane." A few seconds later, the Captain came over the Intercomm to tell us we had to return to the gate briefly "to take care of a matter," which we did. The matter was apparently an unruly passenger. As best I can tell, the stewardess had put her gear on a vacant seat next to a passenger, because the plane was not full. But the passenger must have been put out by the stewardess invading a space that wasn't even his, and he knocked the gear onto the floor. Bold. But also douchey, and he paid by being forcibly removed from the plane.

I thoroughly enjoy those rare instances in life when justice is meted out to douchebags. It happens far too infrequently if you ask me, but no one ever asks me.

Anyway, the plane, now much less ego heavy, took off and the rest of the flight was fairly normal, save for some turbulence.

Phase One Part B

Shortly after publishing my last post, the Colorado Springs Shuttle bus arrived at the Clarion Hotel to pick up me and another woman. Several passengers were already aboard the shuttle, including an obsequious gent who introduced himself as a former Northwest Airlines pilot (I'm sorry...) and his wife or girlfriend who was showing pictures of her sportscar to anyone who would indulge her. I did not. They both chattered less as we got under way and eventually grew silent. I read a Kindle book (http://amzn.to/22AmQMe) and drew a mountainscape on my Note 5 smartphone. The shuttle ride was smooth, again consternating my quest for an adventuresome narrative arc and limiting me to flat character study.

Phase One Part A

I am starting Phase One of my journey back to Wisconsin after a few days in Colorado with my extended family. My sister dropped me off at the Clarion Hotel in Colorado Springs, not far from her house, and in a few minutes I'll board a shuttle bus for the two hour ride to the Denver airport, hopefully staying ahead of the stormy weather predicted for later this afternoon. My flight from Denver to Madison leaves at 3:30 so I should be fine, but that doesn't make for a very thrilling adventure story narrative arc, so stay tuned!

4.13.2016

Ed Force One Sighting

I learned something cool today. My sister Kate and I drove up to the Denver airport to pick up my parents, during which we spotted the rock band Iron Maiden's cargo jumbo jet (the band has a show in Denver tonight), nicknamed Ed Force One (flight 666, etc.). This led me on a short interaction with the Giant Internet Brain where I found out that the plane is actually piloted by the band's lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, who is a commercial aviator. That's pretty cool. The band had been using a Boeing 757 before upgrading to the 747-400 this year. You wouldn't think that the lead singer of one of the world's greatest metal bands would want or need to do anything else, but apparently it's both. He has been in aviation for decades and started his own air freight company in 2011, which allowed him to get the planes used by the band. The record label probably charges the band for tour transport and then pays Dickinson's company to do it. Genius!

4.12.2016

Fire in the Sky


Note: This flash fiction piece was inspired by articles I have read in the news about new planets being discovered that scientists always say are inhospitable to "life as we know it," which always seems like an egocentric thing to say...

The puzzled scientists discovered a small rocky planet around a distant yellow dwarf star.

“That planet can’t support life,” they argued. “It’s too far from its puny host star. It would be too cold with liquid oceans of fused hydrogen and oxygen.”

“It has hardly any of the essential ingredients for life - gamma rays, heavy metals, uranium, and magma,” they said. “You would expire and freeze in the 80% inert nitrogen atmosphere.”

“With only a single sun, any inhabitants would be plunged into total darkness half the time,” they said. “It is hard to imagine even simple life surviving such extremes of light and dark. Obviously…”

The scientists congratulated themselves on their advances in glass cooling technology that allowed them to refract and observe distant light from space, then turned their attention to more interesting worlds - familiar hot blue giants, binary neutron stars, and spinning black holes they said had a better chance of supporting life as we know it.

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Mountain State

I'm at my sister's house in Manitou Springs CO listening to the mountain trolls fight in the distance. Modern science describes them as the thunderstorms that brew over the mountain tops as the warm western winds from California, laden with Pacific Ocean moisture, sweep up into the cold, dry air of the Rockies. But that's just a side effect of troll battles, as close as science can come to explaining the ancient magic.

Driving here yesterday from the Denver airport, I saw rain evaporate halfway to the ground, unable to survive the thin arid air. See picture. It also contains an airplane and some kind of raptor perched on a gate.

4.11.2016

Dubai

This morning I had an Uber passenger from Saudi Arabia, a kid who will be starting college in the fall. He was quite the conversationalist and we chatted quite a bit because I ended up giving him three consecutive rides from place to place.

He told me if I ever want to visit the Middle East, I should go to Dubai (Qatar, I think that was the other place he recommended), because they allow alcohol there, among other things. Saudi Arabia is dry, I guess. I did not know that. How sad for the Saudis...

Point being, Uber might not pay a lot, but I learn new things doing it and that's one of the funnest things, besides just meeting nice people and helping them get safely from place to place.

4.10.2016

Off to Colorado Tomorrow

Monday evening I'll board a plane to Colorado and spend a week galavanting around out there with family.

Stay tuned and I'll let you know when fun things happen.

4.08.2016

Draw(r)ings

I sometimes forget that the reason I got a Galaxy Note 5 smartphone was so I could doodle. I guess. I can also hand write notes to myself, but I seldom do. I seldom doodle either, but I mean to do more of it. I doodle more than I write hand written notes to myself, I guess I should say.

I am reading right now a book by Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert comic strip, entitled "How to Fail at Everything and Still Win Big." It's a self help guide* based on Adams' life and how he tried a million different things before Dilbert paid off, seemingly by pure luck. I am certainly not gambling on my doodling abilities someday becoming my career, but neither did Adams think Dilbert would be his. He just kept busy trying things until something took. Like me, a lot of what he tried involved working in Corporate America for a lot of years, the observations from which have been manifested in the Dilbert comic, to the great enjoyment of millions.

Anyway, I don't really have a point to this post other than to say I might start sharing a few of my doodles with you here. In addition to the Note 5, Deborah and I also have in our house a "Buddha Board." This is a canvas upon which you can paint pictures with water using a brush. It's very ephemeral and fleeting, which has some kind of Buddhist undertones I guess, because the water evaporates, I suspect quite quickly in dry places and higher altitudes. However, I cheat a little bit, because I use my Note 5's camera to snap a picture of what I draw on the Buddha Board before it disappears. This has some kind of spiritual parallel with the belief that taking a person's picture captures a little bit (or all) of their soul, but I'll let you contemplate that.

I was thinking too that, in a way, these short blog posts I write are kind of like literary doodles. They probably suck just as bad as the visual ones, but maybe over time they'll become sufficiently entertaining that lots of people will enjoy them. If you want to get better at something, it's all about the DOING. Practice etc. Talent I think is maybe 10% to 20% of it and practice is the rest. For example, I am fairly talented at bass guitar, pushing 20%, more than enough to "rest on my laurels," as they say in the vernacular (though, that may be the wrong phrase entirely). If I do no practice whatsoever, I can achieve about a B minus level of quality bass playing - enough to impress about 80% of the general populace of non-bass players - like the time I was supposed to practice, but didn't, a Red Hot Chili Peppers song for the open jam stage at Funks Pub. I did pretty well until the bridge, when it devolved into a total train wreck. Entertaining, but not "good" in the strictest sense of the word.

I drew this doodle of my Boston terrier Foster on our Buddha Board. It is one of my better draw(r)ings, which should give you a solid understanding of why a successful career in the visual arts is probably not in the cards for me.

* Note: I am not reading Adams' book because I need self help. I am working on a self help book of my own, and this is kind of like research. I am pleased to find that there are some common threads between Adams' book and my own in progress one. Objectively, I would even propose that if you are looking for a self help book, read his, for two good reasons. 1. Mine's not done yet. 2. He's relatively famous and I'm not. That's not to say I won't someday be accomplished for my work, but I rather shun fame, and people generally.

This post is sponsored by:

Shut Up World (A Free Write)


I figured out on my smartphone how to silence you. Well, not you specifically. The world generally, and by inclusion in that, you. No that you're a bad person or anything. I just need you to shut up sometimes, so I can think. I guess if you really needed to tell me something important, you could come over and knock on the door. But I'll take my chances that most of the time, anything you have to say can wait until later. I have work to do. Important work. It might not seem important to you, but it has to get done, and when the world is leaking through to my conscious mind via my smartphone, that's distracting. I'm not a technologically savvy person. My smartphone is a useful tool, but as with all useful tools, there is a cost. My phone, email, and social media are rolled into my phone, presumably for convenience. But they are also distracting. For whatever reason, it's hard to ignore calls and texts and emails and social media, even though I've never received anything important on any of those things. When you take toys out of the line of sight of very young infants, they totally forget about them. It's only when you bring the toy into view that they reach out and desire it, and if they don't get to curl their stubby little snot covered digits around it, they will draw in breath in a long slow inhale that seems to defy time itself, then unleash it instantaneously in the form of a screaming wail that blisters your eardrums. Anyway, my time draws short for this post. I can now turn off the world while I am working and it is beautiful.

4.07.2016

Positivity

I'm a generally positive person and that's by design. I can't tolerate much negativity or drama before it starts to drain me. So I have strived (striven?) to create a life of positivity, surrounding myself with other positive people and banishing negative nellies and drama kings to the social hinterlands.

Maybe some people think it is selfish of me to focus on my own well being and positivity, but that'd be false and not mutually exclusive with supporting other peoples' well being. One has to be in a happy positive place with one's self before one can make others feel happy and positive. If you have spent any amount of time with negative people, you know how it can suck all the positive energy out of you. But happy positive people can energize you.

Years ago, I visualized what a happy life looked like for me, and that vision has guided my choices and actions. It's a creative and iterative process. I frequently examine where I am and where I want to be and determine if I am going in the right direction. If not, I make changes.

Residuals

It was some kind of volunteer work camp. There must have been a caste system. While we waited for instructions from the overlords on setting up our sleeping quarters, I felt a compulsion to take initiative. I quelled it, because I knew it would not be rewarded and I would be relegated to a lower caste.

I knew this in my gut from previous visits. The camp was completely not set up when I arrived with the other volunteers. It was easy to see what needed to be done to set it up. Why hadn't the overlords done it already? I didn't like them.

It was a test though. They wanted to see if we would take initiative and do what seemed obvious. The gear was in cubby holes and needed to be moved to the camp sites. But this was a trick. The overlords did not want free thinkers who acted spontaneously. They were watching for initiative takers so they could punish and humiliate them. There were nuances designed into the setup process, to mislead and confuse the novices.

I resisted the urge to take action. Instead I played dumb and just looked around mutely with the rest of the recruits. Then I woke up.

4.01.2016

Is Tilapia Healthy?

I made Deborah tilapia for dinner. I decided to do a little digging on this fish because tilapia seems to be much more ubiquitous these days. I can even get tilapia sushi on Wednesdays when my Mastermind group meets. If I am going to eat it raw, I definitely want to know more about it.

Turns out, tilapia in the wild is an undesirable invasive cichlid species that eats vast amounts of plant matter, sometimes disrupting natural aquatic ecosystems, similar to Asian carp. Tilapia is sometimes used as a natural method to clear waterways of algae and plant overgrowth (SOURCE), for example in Arizona. It's an omnivorous fish, so it has been used to reduce mosquito larvae in bodies of water in malaria prone countries (SOURCE).

Its rapid growth and ability to live in overcrowded conditions has made it a popular aquaculture species (fish farming). It eats a plant based diet, so it is a less resource intensive fish to farm as compared with other species, like salmon, which require a meat based (or at least a high protein) diet. The fish yields 30-37% of it's body weight in boneless filets that are high in protein and low in calories, and the meat is firm and mild tasting (not fishy), thus popular with many consumers (and unpopular with some chefs because it lacks any distinct fish flavor).

That being said, the food used to feed farmed tilapia is often corn and soybean based so the fish is not very high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, as some other fish are. However, this is often true of farmed salmon as well, though the latter sometimes have omega-3s added to their feed to increase the levels. Studies have shown that fortifying tilapia feed with flax seed does improve the omega-3 profile of the meat, including the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA (SOURCE 1, SOURCE 2), but fortification is not widely used in practice for some reason I was not able to uncover.

The waste (fish poop) produced from tilapia farms is used to make fertilizer, so waste disposal is not a big issue in tilapia aquaculture. In rare cases, tilapia have been accidentally released into the wild from farms and have caused some problems.

The fresh farmed tilapia Deborah buys from Costco is sourced from sustainable aquaculture farms in Honduras, supposedly regulated for environmental safety and quality control, as described in a recent New York Times article on the fish (SOURCE). North American sources of farmed tilapia are not prevalent, in part because the fish does not survive in cold water, requiring North American producers to spend more on heating to maintain proper temperatures. Some North American producers have used warmed wastewater from power plants in tilapia farms, but this deters some consumers.

In general, responsibly sourced tilapia seems to be a good, safe, low calorie source of protein. Frozen tilapia from China has questionable safety and should probably be avoided. Sorry China!

American Samoa

It was true what they said. His entire life did flash before his eyes as his car spun wildly out of control in a blizzard on the New Jersey Turnpike.

He hadn’t been focusing on the road, but was instead lost in wishful imaginings of basking under the South Pacific sun. I wonder what American Samoa is like? He wondered in the seconds before the accident. It’s got to be better than this.

In fact, he was so lost in thought that he wasn't aware of pressing his foot gradually harder on the car’s accelerator until the whoosh of an oncoming minivan jolted him back to attention. But it was too late. He jerked in surprise, the small movement of his arm turning the steering wheel just enough to nudge the tires off their path through the tracks in the snow left by the cars ahead of him. His car skidded left, then right, then left again as he overcorrected each time. After the third attempt, he gave up, relaxing his grip and letting fate take the wheel.

When the car self corrected, its new path was directly into the headlights of a semi truck coming the other way. He gripped the wheel hard then and screamed, partly in terror, mostly in frustration.

When they said accidents happen in slow motion though, that was false. His perception of time, the fourth dimension, barreled rapidly toward its terminus. In the final quantized instant, the entirety of his life was condensed into a timeless 3 dimensional singularity, a continuum along which he could rewind and fast forward, from the final scream and his white knuckle grip on the steering wheel back to his first memories as an infant. In the momentary infinity, he saw all the things he thought he had done right, getting good grades in school to get into a good college, wisely studying finance so he could get a high paying, albeit mind numbing, accounting job, instead of following his heart into American Literature, marrying young and sticking out an awful marriage, because that’s what he’d thought successful people did.

Nowhere on the slide rule of his 32 year life did he see himself writing the novel he had fully completed in his head. He had told himself over and over he would write it when he retired, somewhere with palm trees, sometime in the distant future.

The moment of his death appeared to him as a black abyss into which spilled the first half of his last scream on that dark, snowy stretch of highway a few miles from Newark, like a freight train engine going over a cliff in slow motion before pulling the rest of the cars, his life, over with it. It happened a few milliseconds before his brain was consciously aware of being liquefied on the truck’s chrome Mack logo, his unwritten novel disintegrating into bits of blood, bone, and grey matter.

The remainder of his scream drew startled looks from the other patrons of the Deluxe CafĂ© in Tafuna, Western American Samoa, including the angelic brunette with penetrating green eyes sitting across from him. He’d been daydreaming between episodes of journaling for the novel.

“Are you alright?” the woman, his girlfriend, asked.

Carl looked left at the other patrons in the restaurant, then right out the windows, where bright sunshine fell on a palm tree lined road. His fists were still clenched.

“Heavenly,” Carl replied, slowly unfurling his fingers.