Yearly Archives: 2008

The recession reaches me in my dreams

I dreamed last night I was fired from my job.

It's one of those dreams that makes total sense while you're in it, but when you wake up and go over the details, the absurdity of the dream becomes apparent. (Although the underlying theme is really not so absurd, on a very basic level.)

The dream started when I received a note from the manager of my group — not my direct manager but his boss. It was in a very business-y tone and said something about going over resources for the upcoming year. In other words, he wanted to talk to me about getting fired of laid off.

I was in my Hunter College dorm room in New York City from 1993 — the school of nursing has a dormitory — when I got the note, and I was sneaking out of some neighbor's room in just my underwear. So I had to go back to my room and get dressed. (No, I don't know why I was sneaking out of someone else's room, and I'm pretty certain it wasn't a guy's room. No, I can't explain that one either.)

 I got dressed and went down to the first floor of the dorm, which had turned into Sinclair Library on the University of Hawai`i at Manoa campus. Or something looking like Sinclair Library. In the dream, it wasn't Sinclair Library at all but my office. I was wandering some of the back offices, looking for my boss' boss, and I ran into one of the managers from another group. I jokingly asked how she felt about my getting fired, not really knowing whether that was the case. She looked pretty upset when I mentioned it, which meant she knew before I officially knew.

I eventually found my boss' boss out on a terrace, and we sat down at a table with one of those outdoor umbrellas. I asked him point blank whether I was going to get fired today. He said no — I was being laid off on Monday. I had a bit of hope when I heard the answer "no" but felt only slightly crushed to hear I was being fired anyway.

He asked me what projects I had going on, and I mentioned some of the applications I was moving over to Code Igniter. I asked him what would be the reason I was being let go, and he rattled off a laundry list of issues. In summary, I got too cocky thinking I would be secure in my position, which has no oversight and no accountability. I also let my ego get the better of me, thinking my skills were too invaluable to be expendable to the group.

I realized it was only Thursday, and I had all day Friday to get my things together. I decided just to go home — to my parents' house in Honolulu, not my apartment in Austin. It's dream time — the fact my company is located in Austin has no bearing on the fact that in the dream, it looks like Sinclair Library, is located minutes away from my parents home in Honolulu and is on the first floor of a college dormitory in New York City.

I got home, expecting that my lay-off would be inevitable given the state of the economy, and I tried to square it all away in mind. I lost a job that I had been feeling somewhat ambivalent about for a while, so aside from having to face the unemployment office again, was it really that bad? In fact, I kind of looked forward to the job search. The last time I was out of work, web development gigs dried up because the bubble in tech burst. In this recession, I still get an occassional spam from a third-party recruiter pitching my jobs with acronyms totally not listed in my résumé.

I was thinking all of that as I walked up to the garage of my parents' home. Both of them were home, and I broke the news to them.

Then I woke up.

The reality of the dream melted away to the reality of, well, reality, and I remembered my last positive review, the work I'm doing on the web-based interface, the code I'm porting to CodeIgniter. I have a pretty good reputation at work, and I can debug problems with scripts that other people in my department can't. No, I'm fairly confident my job is secure.

But after that dream, who really knows?

Hear the Wind Sing

I'm at the point where the studio work is getting in the way of my Holidailies commitment. So why not combine the two? Here's one track I've been working on this evening.

Eponymous 4 – Hear the Wind Sing

It's probably the weirdest song I've so far recorded. It's got backmasked Japanese announcers, overly processed vocals, and arhythmic parts. The lyrics are based on Murakami Haruki's first novel of the same name, Hear the Wind Sing. The music is what I imagine Arcadia would sound like if Meredith Monk and John Zorn replaced Nick Rhodes.

I wrote it for a composition concert back in college. I wanted to convince this guy I had a crush on to sing it. He was too busy, and the logistics of performing this piece proved a bit much. For the longest time, this song was in a key way beyond my range, so I decided to transpose it to something manageable for my limited abilities. I finally recorded the vocals late in 2007, and I have to say I was quite impressed.

Thing is, there are so many things happening in this song that levels are out of whack, and the sound quality is far, far too hot. I need to go back and mix with a more judicious hand, but for now, I have a gist of what the song should eventually sound like.

Beyond my abilities

There are many reasons I focused on composition when I studied music in college, but as I'm working through these demo recordings, perhaps one has come into greater relief.

I'm a terrible performer.

I keep saying how I'm not a singer, but the extent of my lack is apparent when I try to tackle some of my own seemingly deceptive songs. For the last two days, I've been doing battle with a song that's in 3/4 time, with a lengthy melodic phrase. The rhythm is pretty much quarter notes, but the phrase is such a length that a trained singer may find it tiresome. A no-talent such myself finds it excruciating.

I've also written songs where closed vowel sounds like "ih" and "eh" get long notes. The wider you can make your mouth, the better long notes would sound. But those vowel sounds lose their character if you open your mouth too wide.

Another song leaps from A to E-flat — the Devil's interval.

Why do I do this? Because I'm not a singer. If I sang more, I would probably stay away from scales with diminished and augmented intervals. If sang at all, I would make sure long notes were matched with open vowels, and I would keep phrase lengths manageable.

But I'm a writer. A songwriter, a composer, what have you. I'm the kind of person more interested in what a melody would sound like with diminished and augmented intervals. And as a lyric writer, I don't care if open vowels ended a phrase — I'd just want the right word to convey whatever vague mood or message I want to establish.

And so I end up creating music that I can't really perform myself.

But if I catered my writing to how I perform, would I really be engaged with compromises?


I know I should stop, but I can't. I know I have it, and I should stop to get rid of it. What is it? Ear fatigue.

Ever since I bought the monitor speakers, I've been working pretty much day in and day out, trying to get a feel for what works and what doesn't. The speakers displaced my computer speakers, which are now situated in a way to make everything I play through them sound different.

And because I've been listening and analyzing and analyzing and listening, I'm really not sure what is something is supposed to sound like. That's ear fatigue.

On the monitor speakers, every frequency is played pretty much equally, although the whole sound tends to be a bit muddy. (I get what I paid for, and while each speaker cost $135, higher end monitors cost at least $250. Each.) On the computer speakers, I get a lot of brightness from the speakers and low end from the subwoofer. On my monitor headphones, every frequency is even and clean, but on my regular headphones, the bass and treble are exaggerated into the "disco smile". Then in the car, everything gets muddy.

With all that data running around in my head, it's no wonder everything just sounds weird.

Instead of just hearing music, I'm listening for the effects of frequency ranges when I turn this knob or change this setting. And it's not just my own stuff. I'll bust out some Utada Hikaru or Neutral Milk Hotel and compare and contrast the listening experiences of each.

I really need to stop.

Or I really need a sabbatical.

I'm not inclined to stop because it will be a long time before I have another stretch of personal time. I've pretty much discovered the day job and the commute to and from drains my ability to have a decent recording session for vocals, so I must wait till the weekends. I want to improve on the stuff I recorded around this time last year, then use the weeknights to mix.

With any luck, I can start posting entire albums for real.

But tomorrow again, I soldier on, running errands when I can manage to tear myself away.

I need a haircut. I need an oil change. I have some blood work scheduled on Tuesday morning. I need to go to the bank tomorrow and again on pay day. Sometimes, I wish these things could take care of themselves.

Christmas swag, addendum

I just got back from a gift exchange with Double-A at Musashino. I also got my sister's Christmas card in the mail. So these items need to be added to the list:

  • Philip Glass, Mishima
  • A vampire-themed calendar

Double-A saw Mishima listed as part of my Kronos Re-Acquisition Project, an effort to reacquire CDs of Kronos Quartet albums I never upgraded to CD or had sold for cash in the past. That pretty much leaves Osvaldo Golijov's The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind and Tan Dun's Ghost Opera. I'm saving Ghost Opera for last because it's not really a great piece.

The calendar makes mention of a "Day Walker", an idea I once described to her for a novel I've been trying to write since the early '90s. If I haven't gotten it done by now, there's little chance of it happening. (I have a novel on, by the way.)

My sister sent cash, serendipitously in the amount I withdrew from the bank yesterday to pay for tonight's dinner. I like how that balances itself out.

Should I bother mentioning the $310 pair of monitor speakers I bought on Friday? By its proximity to Christmas — the day after, specifically — the purchase date would indicate yet another exorbiant gift to myself. No, I think at this point, I'm considering it a business expenditure. They will certainly be considered as such at tax time.

I went with the KRK Rokit Power 5, which gets pretty good reviews despite its relative cheap price. I tried to mix one of my original song on them, but I didn't get results that really satisfied me. I think it's more a problem with the song's arrangements than the speakers themselves. So I worked on a SUPERCAR cover instead, and when I got through it, I was encouraged how well the mix sounded when I switch to my computer speakers.

But all that working put a pinch in my elbow — Pac Man elbow of lore — so working today took a bit more effort. Maybe tomorrow I should work on vocals. That's what I'm supposed to be doing with my vacation time anyway.

Oh, and here's the SUPERCAR cover:

Eponymous 4 – FAIRWAY

Christmas swag

I'm at the age where it's easier for my family just to hand me cash and to let me get what I want for myself. They can't get me anything simple like a Wii or an iPod Touch. No — I would ask Santa for exotic stuff like bass traps, monitor speakers, scores by Morton Feldman and Steve Reich or albums by VOLA & THE ORIENTAL MACHINE and KAREN.

I also live 2,000 miles away from the closest immediate family, 4,000 miles from the majority of my family. And the number of friends on which I'm willing to spend money is barely a handful.

All that to say, I don't do many gift exchanges. I participated in one last night at a dinner party, on which I spent $5.25 trying get there because I got lost on some toll roads. (Go Christmas spirit.) I've got a gift exchange coming up with Double-A, which is really just an excuse to eat at Musashino. That's about it.

So this list of Christmas swag is … minimal.

  • A Røde NT1-A condenser microphone.
  • Sony Sound Forge 9
  • Mastering Audio by Bob Katz
  • In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
  • Feed the Animals by Girl Talk

The Mastering Audio book was purchased with funds provided in part by my mom, who has this running gag for Christmas. It's great. She'll buy this tacky Christmas toy and find nooks and crannies into which she'll stuff cash. And she's been pretty clever about the places she'll put it. Some years required tweezers.

I tell people I bought the Røde microphone with my company bonus, but in reality, I put that thing on Guitar Center credit. I usually get some form of cash for Christmas, and my plan is to use it to pay part of it down. It's a more intersting and simpler story just to say I bought it with the bonus. Is it really Christmas gift if I still have to pay for part of it? I'll consider it one since I've been meaning to buy another microphone for a long time now.

What I did buy with the bonus was Sony Sound Forge 9. I've been wanting to upgrade since I started working on some Eponymous 4 tracks with Japanese titles. The MP3 render supported only ISO-8859-1 tagging, and I needed UTF-8. Sound Forge 9 supports UTF-8.

The Neutral Milk Hotel and Girl Talk albums were purchased while I was Christmas shopping for my nephew and niece over at Waterloo Records. Maybe I should just consider those my usual CD purchases in a month.

The dinner party gift exchange limited purchases to $5, so I came away with:

  • A journal
  • A USB flash drive
  • A budget 2-CD set of classical music used in movies
  • Soap
  • A Swiss Army knife
  • A bag of dried tropical fruit
  • An electronic organizer

I actually like all of those gifts. I streamlined — I bought two packs of Moleskin journals that come three in a pack and split them up among everyone. Yeah, not very personalized.

I'll amend this list if anything else arrives.

Back to life, back to reality

Yesterday, I wiped the hard drive on the old Dell Dimension clean and installed Windows 98, the operating system which shipped with the computer back in Dec. 8, 1998. (A little more than 10 years, actually.)

I spent a good part of the day hunting down old discs with drivers, installing anything Windows 98 couldn't find. It was nice to get the graphics card driver installed because looking at 640×480 monitor with 16 colors is a bit lo-fi for my taste.

Once everything got set up, I couldn't help notice just how speedy the computer ran. With XP on it, clicking anything would tax it for seconds at a time. It was excruciatingly slow. Back to its original state, it ran like a charm. It almost had me thinking it might be able to withstand a upgrade to Windows 2000 and no more.

But I have to reel myself back in. The hardware components are out of date, and a 500 mHz processor is not enough power to drive a modern day blow dryer. I even fished out the original receipt from the order. (Oh, yes you better believe I kept it. An old apartment was broken into once.)

Back in 1998, the computer shipped with a 13GB hard drive, 96MB of RAM, a CD burner and a ZIP drive. Yes, a ZIP drive! Your iPod probably has more space than that machine had in 1998.

Right now, I have a 40GB drive in there — yes, very spacious — and 512MB of RAM. I even put in a PCI card to support USB 2.0 and a network card. No, I didn't opt to get a network card in 1998. I was still on dial-up.

No, this computer must join its brethren into obsolecense. I guess that will be my secondary holiday project, in addition to studio time.

It does feel weird reviving the patient, only to know it's going to get gutted.

In Memoriam: Dell Dimension L500c, ‘nemesisvex’, 1998-2008

In 1998, I bought my first computer with my own income. The computer I had been using was an old Acer model, which was given as a birthday gift in 1995. But the Dell Dimension L500c, which I named NEMESISVEX in the Windows settings, was the first I bought with a loan I took out from the credit union.

I built many a website with this computer. In 2001, I used it as a web server to deliver and various other sites in the Vigilant Media network. Maintaining it got tired — and unreliable for users — so I moved all my sites back to Dreamhost.

When the computer I used as a developement server died in 2005, I bought a new machine — which is also now getting long in the tooth — and moved the Dimension into that role. By then, it was 7 years old and far past its prime. It had only two USB 1.0 slots, and its processor could handle only 512 MB of RAM. Large hard drives of the 120 GB magnitude needed to be partitioned. But I decided to max the machine out as best I could, even installing Windows XP on it!

I created some of the very first Eponymous 4 demos on this machine, before its limitations made it difficult to handle the demands of digital audio. I even wrote a novel with it.

For the last three years, it's served as a Shoutcast server, an FTP server and network buffer between the outside world of the Internets and my primary computer.

Last night, I thoughtlessly installed numerous XP updates. When the machine rebooted, I got a boot error. I tried it again and got the same error again. Huh. At that moment, I knew it was time. I could have fought a brave and valiant fight, rolling back the updates or reinstalling XP. Instead, I switched out the drive with an old one from the Windows 2000 days to see if it would boot up. It did not.

The only work I have on that machine is my web development, and with the numerous hard drive enclosures in my stead, I had little incentive to pump new life in a machine that should have been retired the moment I bought a new computer.

So I shut it down. I put the drive in an enclosure and moved my web sites over to my current desktop. At some point during the vacation, I'm going to wipe the old drive clean and install the factory settings. I will bring that machine back to 1998, then haul it down to the Good of Will. An old 15-inch Sony Triniton will most likely go with it. I want to bring the 14-year-old printer as well, but I don't have a replacement in the budget.

It'll be nice to reclaim some space, but it also means reallocating a number of resources. Relaunch the Shoutcast server? (Unlikely.) Install a newer FTP server? (Very likely.) Reconfigure the firewall? (Depends.) And getting that machine ready for donation is going to eat into studio time.

Still, that machine was a real trooper. And I pushed that thing to do a lot.

Now I want to shop for a new computer.

Going nowhere

Fact: I grew up in Hawai`i, and my parents still live there.

Fact: Starting tomorrow, I'll be on vacation for 10 days.

Fact: As of this writing, Christmas is two days away.

Given the length of my vacation and the fact it's the holiday season, it's easy to assume I might be traveling all the way to Hawai`i. A number of co-workers making small talk have asked me the very specific question, "Are you going to Hawai`i for your vacation?"

It's not a vague question, such as "What are your holiday plans?" or "Are you doing anything special for Christmas?" It's a very specific, "Are you going to Hawai`i for your vacation?" The answer surprises them — no.

For some reason, the specificity of that question has been bugging me, more so than the surprise I get from my answer. Yes, a trip to Hawai`i would require a lengthy stay because it takes an entire day of travel to get there and another to get back, and historically, any long stretch of time away from the office meant I was back home. But is it so odd to take vacation time for the express purpose of not coming to the office? Using vacation time doesn't necessarily require taking an actual vacation. (In the same way sick time isn't necessarily taken because of illness. Not that I ever do that, no.)

Then there's the surprise at the thought of going nowhere for 10 days. I fail to see why that should be such a weird idea. I would love to take more vacations where I do nothing but stay at home, get neglected chores done, wander about town aimlessly, maybe even chip away at some fun work. Some of my best vacations in the past followed that agenda.

The people who ask this question tend to have families, and I don't think they can't frame the holidays as anything but social.

But this time of year is one where I can take a lot of time off and not burn so many vacation days. And I'm using it to get as much work done for Eponymous 4 as I can. I spent four days recording vocals last Christmas vacation, and I haven't been as productive since. I'm almost of the mind to reneg on all the social commitments I've already made. Rather, I'm ruthlessly instituting a first ask-first answer policy. If you're the first to invite me, I'll probably accept. Everyone who asks afterward gets a no.

The Thanksgiving weekend went by fast for me, even though I took five days off. I had gotten so focused on recording, the days flew by. I hope I can do that again for this vacation.

That's my idea of a vacation. Evidently, it's not anyone else's.

Wardrobe downgrade

Early last year, I thought I found a replacement for the green jacket. At that point, I was well ensconced in the 200s of my weight. I needed a new green jacket — which turned out to be blue — because I had grown out of it. As I would later discover with the new jacket, it didn't handle a shift from cold to warm temperatures as well. The green jacket does great in chilly weather, and when fortified with layers, it holds against some downright cold temperatures as well.

Last year, I didn't take out the new jacket all that much. The winter was really temperate, and since I had started my exercise regiment in Fall 2007, I could actually fit back into my green jacket again. So in reality, I haven't really worn the new jacket since I bought it nearly two years ago.

I took it out today in order to brave the rock bottom temperatures this morning, and I made a startling discovery. The jacket didn't fit me — it was too big! Damn, I thought to myself, this thing is hardly hugging my body. How is it going to keep me warm?

Despite the loose fit, the lining of the jacket kept me remarkably warm, especially with a sweater serving as a second layer. But I have to admit I'm slightly disappointed. I like this jacket, even if I don't get much chance to use it. But now that it's too big — or I've gotten smaller — the fit that won me over no longer applies. I'm keeping it around, though, because it kept the cold out, and that's pretty important for a jacket.

A few days ago, I took out a clean pair of jeans from the closet and did the ritual filling-of-the-pockets — wallet, phone, pen, keys, lighter, breath strips. I put the jeans on because I was on my way to do an errand, and I hadn't yet looped the belt. Without it, the jeans needed just a slight tug to fall off. Another bittersweet victory! It looks like I can fit into a smaller size jean. But dammit, I made my last long-awaited downgrade back in April, which I should have done back in October 2007. Again?

About two weeks ago, I went to Azul Tequila for dinner with Double-A. We went to Target afterward because I wanted to find some sweatshirts so I can go to the gym in cold weather. I usually go for extra large, but when I tried one one, it looked like a potato sack. For amusement, I also tried out a small, and while the fit seemed flattering enough — through margarita goggles, at least — I didn't want something so tight on me while I worked up a sweat. So I bought a pair of large sweatshirts.

Haven't worn them yet because I've so far chickened out of going to the apartment gym in cold weather. (That doesn't mean I'm not working out — I have a pair of dumbbells I use in the apartment on such inclement nights.)

I could maybe trade all these extra large t-shirts in my wardrobe for large, but I don't like clothes that cling to my body. It feels restrictive and itchy. So I wear what I've been wearing.

A downward change in wardrobe size is empirical evidence my workout regimen has indeed worked, as if the scale reading weren't enough to indicate as such. But it's a hassle too. Clothes are a low priority in terms of budget — practically no prirority next to gear, music and software — so these sizes changes come at a time when I'm not really flush with cash. (But when am I ever flush with cash?)

I also don't really want to commit to a wardrobe overhaul till I've gotten past this plateau that has me stuck at 170. My aim is approximately 155 to 160 (more likely 160.) That's when I'd like to show off for real. And what's not to say any new clothes I get now won't face a similar situation if when I reach that goal? Therein lies the conundrum.

I didn't mind it this much when I was getting bigger. Probably because a lack of work went into achieving that girth, and it happened over time. I've went in the other direction in the course of a year. That's kind of drastic.