Thursday, January 29, 2015

Reading is Fundamental

My partner upgraded to the new Kindle Voyage, which is great and awesome and very slick. We're a reading household, so to my mind this is money well spent, in fact. I in turn received the hand-me-down Kindle Paperwhite and I've been experimenting with it over the last week or so. My go-to reading solution for the longest time has been my Nexus 7 tablet, which I bought on a whim and then it took over my life for a while, which was an unusual experience because I didn't expect to want or need it so much having lived without a tablet at all, and then getting an iPad for a while. The change from the full-size iPad to the N7 form factor sealed the deal for me, and I've never even considered a full-size tablet again. Plus, the latest generation N7 has a great screen, a beefy processor/RAM combo, and integration into the Google ecosystem which now basically acts as my adjutant brain.

The downside of an N7 (or really any tablet) is that the screen light turns out to be exactly the right wavelength to keep me up at night. This is bad, because I already have a tendency to insomnia and odd sleep patterns. So I've been trying out the Kindle Paperwhite, which deals with light differently.

I really like the low backlit functionality, and it doesn't seem to keep me from getting sleepy (so far). I also like that now that I have an actual Kindle, I have access both to the lending library from Amazon and also to the library of books that my partner has already purchased (and they get access to mine). The text highlight functionality also works very well on the Paperwhite (in a way that didn't really impress me through the Kindle App for Android), and the social media and goodreads integration is very nifty. And the e-ink resolution, which was my biggest complaint with previous Nooks and Kindles, is really good on the Paperwhite.

My biggest complaint so far is that often turning the page takes a really long time, especially if it's moving between chapter breaks. To the point that sometimes I'll get impatient, tap the page again, and then end up skipping a page which is fantastically annoying and yanks me right out of the narrative flow. The Voyage seems much snappier in comparison, but not enough for me to need an upgrade (at least, right away). I haven't done any reading on the bus, train, or outdoors, so I don't know how it handles the glare, but that won't really be an issue until later in the year.

In truth, the Paperwhite may in fact be the first e-ink single-purpose reader I actually like and will use. I'm certainly using the crap out of it right now. We'll see if that remains true in the days to come.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Daily Jukebox: Brothers in Arms

Feeling pretty poorly for health reasons, but every so often I trip over one of those classic tunes that doesn't fit into my "Angry Women With Guitars" patch and it gets stuck in my head. Like ELO, Dire Straits is one of those bands that I arguably shouldn't like, because they're everything I don't like about music: bunch of guys with a noodly guitar and an inflate idea of their own position in music. Except that Mark Knopfler is so damned talented that it is undeniable how good the music is.

Brothers in Arms is a slow ballad. It's a quiet, careful song, which is pretty different from most of the stuff that came out of Dire Straits, and it gets stuck. It has it's own gravity, and soon you're humming the deceptively simple melody and imagining the broken, almost-whisper of the lyrics in your head, and wondering if there is someone who can attempt a cover of this song and really do something special with it, like Lorde did with Tears for Fears.

And then there's this long, wandering, random guitar solo that slowly fades away and the song doesn't so much end as peter out and you're left wondering, sitting there, if the song made you sad, or if you were sad and so you listened to the song. Which is a thing.

Anyway, that's what's what.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

It Comes In Waves

It's often hard for me to recognize that I'm dealing with a depressive cycle from the inside, because as a general rule my depressive symptoms don't manifest as "being sad" (although there is a significant emotional content). More often, I'll look back over the last couple of weeks and realize that all of the energy just basically drained out of my life. I'm still joking around and punning on Twitter and being clever on G+ or even in person, but I'll suddenly notice that I haven't posted to my blog in two weeks, and I haven't washed any clothes, and I haven't done the dishes, and... you get the idea.

The sudden realization that in fact, I haven't even read a book or listened to a podcast or even checked a news site. The sudden cognizance that I've been letting old movies play on Netflix in the background and I've done nothing but sit in front of my computer and poke at things, not even really engaging in the various and sundry games I might be half-assedly playing.

This latest cycle appears to have queued off the end of my UI benefits. If it weren't for my partner being gainfully employed, I'd be well and truly screwed, but as it is I've taken the tests and signed up and am ready to register for classes on the 27th of February. Which is a weird feeling in and of itself, but it's also curiously both a ways away and very soon now, and I feel a little in suspension, like things are a on hold before the big transition we've been talking about for a while.

I had a series of really promising interviews with several different and engaging places that all said "no thank you" all at once, and then I got the letter telling me that UI was done, and it all sort of piled up at once, so apparently my brain decided to check out for a while.

The good news is, while I have depressive cycles, my particular depression isn't clinical or even dangerous. I'm not interested in harming myself or others, and once I recognize the problem I can usually focus on strategies to cope. And the days are getting longer (slowly, so so slowly), which is good for me. I'm ready to get back on my bike and start riding again. I'm really rather excited to be starting classes, though there's some prep I need to do before I can get really geared up and engaged for that.

There's a plan. There's a will. And there's at least an inkling that things are OK and will remain so for a while. So now it's just a matter of making sure that waiting doesn't make me listless or lazy, and I don't give into the impulse to climb under the covers forever.

But I do need to get more sleep, so...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Day Fifteen: No Cities to Love

So, remember when I talked about Angry Women With Guitars? I'm amazed I've gotten this far without talking about Sleater-Kinney. I got into them with their album The Woods in 2005, which was their seventh album, and I scoured the music stores both on and offline to find their back catalog. They were basically a band invented to play explicitly for me.

And then I found out that they had broken up. Just about the time I got into them. Which is exactly my kind of luck.

And then, last year, they announced they were getting back together. And then they started streaming music. And I hear that moment in an album when there's a song that just sings to you (no pun intended).

That's what I felt when I heard No Cities to Love, which is the title track of the new album.

The album drops January 20th, but you can stream it on NPR.

Obligatory (non)-Youtube Link:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Too Cool For School

Aside from a couple of aborted attempts back when I was a teenager, and therefore incapable of making good decisions or long-term thinking, I haven't had any formal college-level education. I found myself incapable of following instruction sets, which was odd because I rapidly got involved in the IT industry which is effectively all about following instruction sets. And so I skipped the college degree in order to accrue a significant amount of experience in the IT industry in general and in Operations in specific, spending most of my time hammering away at various architectures and ticketing systems and in the meantime teaching myself how to do things like ssh and grep and write SQL queries. 

I had a string of good colleagues and mentors that turned me into a valuable and capable Operations person, but it's also managed to leave big holes in my experience and my brainmap, so while I know where to go to get the information, I often don't have it in my brain on recall at an instant. Those holes are often why and how I get tripped up in technical interviews, because if someone handed me a keyboard and a problem, I could fix the problem, but asking me to have the answer in my head gets me tied up and confused and that always looks great over the phone or in an interview setting.

My partner and I talked about it at the beginning of the year, when I realized I was about to run short of UI, and so I've taken steps to get me on the road to starting school in March. Not a Masters or a Post-Bac, but an actual, honest-to-glob first-level Bachelor's degree in CompSci or CIS (depending on how I do on the placement testing). A chance for me to fill in those holes in my brainmap and get a solid foundation of long-way-round answers to go with my head full of shortcuts and quick tricks. It didn't feel really real before, but now that I'm signed up and scheduled for stuff and I'm getting my ducks in a row, it feels more and more like a good decision, and maybe the best decision, even though it means a bunch more debt and a big swath of tight times in the near future. 

It doesn't mean I wouldn't take a job if someone offered; I would, because two incomes make life easier than one. But I also am committed to school, so if I end up with a job it'll be in addition to my school work, rather than the other way 'round. It's time for me to get some paper on my CV to go with all the experience. And maybe this time I won't get distracted by shiny objects and actually make it to class and do my homework. I've learned a lot since I was 16, including the value of putting in the work to get good at something, and the understanding that following directions even if the directions are stupid is a valuable skill to have (and can often teach both myself and the direction-giver something important). 

I'm at a point where I'm waiting to hear back on several things, and while I'd love to say "yep, I got this gig" in the next couple of weeks or months, I honestly feel like right now it would be OK if that didn't happen. We have made a plan, and we will see it through.

Hey, a Daily Jukebox entry right there at the end!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Going Camping

Today I spent most of my day in a windowless room cut off from the internet and the greater world, with no access to electricity, writing in my notebook, while a couple hundred other people did mostly the same thing. It was called Puppet Camp, and sadly it was not a day-camp where they taught me to make puppets (though, given that this is Portland, I'm sure that's actually something I could do). Today was when a handful of people talked at me about Puppet Enterprise application, which is a configuration and automation management tool from Puppet Labs.

I like Puppet; it's pretty nifty and if I were starting up my own company *shudder* I would probably mandate using Puppet from the get-go to reduce technical debt. One of the speakers today said "There is no future where IT is smaller or less important" and I agree, but I often feel like there are companies out there that don't understand how important dedicated Operations tools and Operations personnel are. The drive seems to be, in a lot of places, to reduce the Cost Center that is the IT & Infrastructure team to as close to zero as possible. In previous iterations of this issue, it's been outsourcing and *-as-a-Service contracts and "monetizing" and "chargeback". In the current iteration, the thought seems to be that if you turn your Ops team in to developers they can produce saleable IP in their "spare" time, when they're not Opsing and can Dev some.

I spent the lunch hour chatting with several people of both flavors: devs who are learning to Ops as well as Ops who are learning to Dev, and the agreement across all camps seems to be that DevOps, like Agile, means somewhat different things depending on who's saying the word, and how much agreement there is among parties in the conversation. Which I suppose is part of the point of both DevOps and Agile: getting parties to agree to terms and goals.

I'll probably go back over my notes and have more thoughts in the coming days, but mostly I wanted to note that being off the internet for the better part of a day induced withdrawal-like symptoms in me so strong that I ended up staring at my computer for the rest of the evening, not even doing anything. Just randomly browsing through my bookmarks, uncomprehendingly.

This post has no conclusion. Maybe tomorrow I'll be more articulate.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Day Eleven: Everybody Wants to Rule the World

I'm a huge fan of covers. Lots of my favourite artists will take a great song (or even a bad song) and do something really interesting and different and clever with it, like Jonathan Coulton's cover of "Bills, Bills, Bills", or Johnny Cash's cover of "Hurt", or Carolina Chocolate Drops cover of, well, nearly everything they've ever covered.

I'm also a huge fan of Tears for Fears, so the idea that someone was doing covers of music I already like was pretty exciting.

And then I actually heard Lorde's version of the song. And I was fucking blown away. It's such a good version of a great song, with a totally different vibe just by changing key and pace. It's a brilliant cover and I can't help but like it basically every time I hear it.

Check it out.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Day Ten: Nobody Loves You Like Me

I've been in a funk for the last couple of days, which is why I missed yesterday (among other things).

Since I'm in a funk, here's a good song from an artist who specializes in that "wait, what?" kind of music I like so much; music that sounds like it should mean one thing but actually means something much darker and much stranger when you pay attention to the lyrics. That artist is Jonathan Coulton, and he's basically made a career off of writing those sorts of songs. For a while, it was just him and his guitar, but then he started to get moderately popular and started stretching his artistic legs, and ended up with a great album produced by They Might Be Giants, which was great in all sorts of ways.

You should check him out if you want some weird and messed up music with really catchy tunes stuck in your head.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Day Eight: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road

The first unabashedly Country album I ever bought as an adult was Lucinda Williams. She's everything I love about modern women's country music: soulful, intelligent, moving without resorting to cliche, she is an amazing songwriter and singer and I'm often sad that my cultural dislike of country music kept me from listening to her earlier in my life.

I'll probably cover "Can't Let Go", another song of hers that does a great job of taking a pretty standard lovelorn theme and does something fun with it, but for now, Car Wheels is a great and fantastically evocative song, and you should do yourself a favour and buy a copy of it.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Day Seven: What Can I Say

I had an interview today, so I'm a little wrung out. So here's some of my go-to music: a woman's voice and an acoustic guitar.

Brandi Carlile drew me carefully back into that folksy, country music that was present a lot of the time when I was was a kid growing up, that I was dismissing out of hand because of the guys with pickup trucks and cowboy hats that I really was afraid I'd become. But the woman's voice in country music is much more complex, complicated, and nuanced than many of the male voices in country music, probably because of the complex, complicated and nuanced place that "traditional Midwestern culture" allows for women in general. Including all of those edge cases and outliers that are present but often unacknowledged. I spent a lot of time denying that Neko Case and Melissa Ethridge and other artists I liked were connected to country, because I didn't like the label Country Music, when in fact I liked and often admired many of the artists. Because when the "Country Music" label comes up, there's a lot of fantastically toxic masculinity bound up in that pigeon hole (a little like the "Rap Music" or "Hip Hop" label, but we'll go there later), which often drowns out the much more interesting, much less easy-to-categorize work.

For a very long time in the US music scene, at least, if you were a woman with a good voice and a strong songwriting talent and could play the guitar, the only kind of music you could make was Country & Western music, because even with all the toxic messages in C&W there was at least a space for women; Rock & Roll and Alternative were flat-out boy's clubs where women just weren't allowed to play, period. The Punk reaction to Rock & Roll was a significant vector for those women who wanted to play but had been pushed out (Poly Styrene immediately leaps to mind as the obvious example). I have a bunch of thoughts about this, and I'll write more at some time when I'm not exhausted.

So but anyway Brandi Carlile was the first artist where I really didn't have an out. She was unabashedly Country and proud of it. So here's one of my favourite songs by her.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Day Six: Mister Blue Sky

So there's this band that I've basically got to watch go from playing five-song sets in the back of gaming stores to doing tours and headlining their own shows. It's been pretty awesome, and they're a great band that I encourage everyone to check out.

They're the Doubleclicks, a sister duo from Portland, Oregon and they're brilliant. I have a t-shirt where my "fan" number is printed on the back, and the number is 001. I'm literally their number-one fan. I've been so excited and happy to see these two artists go from singing on weekends to quitting their jobs and becoming full-time creators and musicians.

Their musical style is a little quirky. The best way I can think of it is that they're a female-version of Paul and Storm, but with fewer jokes about seamen (yes I spelled that correctly). They're also my heroes; watching women who are into subcultural things stand up for not just themselves but for all women has been inspiring and a little shaming to me. As a middle-aged white male, I recognize a number of bad actions I take every day that make it more difficult for people who are not like me to both succeed in the world and simply enjoy their hobbies and their lives, and that's pretty disheartening to me sometimes, that the culture has ground into me a sort of background level of ignorance and horridness that I often don't even notice when I'm doing it to someone else.

But this isn't about me! This is about amazing music by amazing people. I really like the work that the Doubleclicks do, but I've also been enjoying their cover song choices. And then they covered one of my favourite songs ever, and I was like: three things I love! Cellos, ELO, and greenscreen effects! This is a perfect cover for me!

And now I have the song in my head and it will never, ever leave. But that's OK, because ELO is actually an OK earworm, if you have to have an earworm. And I really like this version.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

(Note: if you like the Doubleclicks, you should support them! They have a Patreon and a bunch of music for sale and are touring this year!)

(Second Note: If the Doubleclicks aren't your thing (you monster), then you should find a band you DO like, and support them by buying their music and signing up for their patreon or kickstarter or whatever and going to see them on tour! Art isn't free! Support your favourite artists!)

Monday, January 05, 2015

Day Five: The Worst Day Since Yesterday

Some days, you listen to music that doesn't really reflect your experience, but it's a good song so you end up singing it anyway.

This is one of those days.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Day Four: Swee Swee

Every so often, I have this thing where I'll be poking around on Pandora or Youtube or something and I'll stumble across a group or an artist that is so incredibly the middle of my wheelhouse that I am shocked that I have never heard them before. Like, for a little bit of time I'm actually angry at the world, because I didn't know about this music before.

And then I stop, because now I have a whole new thing to go diving down the rabbit hole for, and that's an incredible gift some days.

I had that experience today, with a group called Mountain Man. It's a three-person voice-and-guitar folk group. They're mostly into quiet hymn and folk tunes, and they remind me strongly of the Wailin' Jennys. They're awesome.

You should check them out. If you're into that sort of thing.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Day Three: Comfort

I am sick.

I hate being sick. I especially being the kind of sick where all the energy drains out of you, but you can't just sleep it off, because you're achy and uncomfortable and blech-y. So you sit and want play games on the computer but you can't because that requires more brainpower and energy than you actually have, so you end up just staring at the computer and maybe watching something you've already seen before because there's no spare energy to process new things.

And that's the mood you're in when your partner comes in and hands you a box of tissues and a mug of hot tea and kisses your forehead and makes you feel a little better, even though you know you're definitely going to die.

Yeah, that's the mood I am in right now.

So here's one half of the Weepies (who will definitely be appearing later in the year, I'm sure) talking about that feeling.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Friday, January 02, 2015

Day Two: The Closer

An ex-partner of mine once joked that a majority of music in my library was effectively described as "Angry Women With Guitars". I'd like to think that my taste has grown since then, but as a general if you were to pull up the playlist of, say, Lilith Fair, I'm probably going to know the majority of the lyrics.

One of the groups that acted as sort of feeder band for my obsession with the kind of music you hear a lot in (just as a purely hypothetical, totally not based on my experiences) Chicago Lesbian Bars is a band called Tegan and Sara. I kinda fell in love with them once I decided that I actually wasn't terribly fond of all that 80s and 90s hypermasculine hairmetal music I listened to in High School so I would fit in with a bunch of people that I didn't actually want to fit in with, when I was secretly playing my tapes of Siouxsie and the Banshees so much that I had to buy replacements.

Tegan and Sara had a pretty good string of albums that catered to a particular audience, but in 2012 they dropped a much more "mainstream" album, much poppier with an interesting change to tempo and beats, but their musician's chops are still there: their voices are still great and still work well together, and the lyrics are snappy and smart as ever.

They're also unabashedly aiming at a younger, much more hungry audience and I think it works very well. It's understandable why there was crossover between T&S and Katy Perry during Perry's last tour; 2012's Heartthrob is pretty much the kind of music that someone who wanted to sing Perry's music to her girlfriend instead of her boyfriend would probably like to hear.

I like it. It's much more strenuously produced and consciously aimed than their earlier work, but I'm not going to criticise an artist for trying new things, especially when it means more people learn of their work. There's still plenty of angry, though. And if I want less of the synthpop vibe and more acoustic guitar, there's always the back catalog.

Obligatory Youtube Link:

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Day One: Rox in the Box

One of the things I realized as I was doing a yearly review of my personal life this morning (sometimes I do that; it's a Jesuit Thing) is that I don't listen to enough music.

I used to listen to music basically all the time; I had songs in my life since the time I was old enough to have an object that made noise into headphones (at the time, a battery-powered portable tape deck). I would order my thoughts and my days by the music flowing into my brain, and if my life didn't have a narrative, at least it had a good soundtrack. But as I've gotten older, I've gotten less into radio and music and more into podcasts, and most of those podcasts are people talking into my brain and me trying to learn something new or interesting. Which is fine as far as it goes, but it does mean that effectively music has disappeared from my life.

I got a little of it back over the last couple of years as a succession of Rock Band games came out, which was a brilliant series and hey if anyone knows where I can get replacement instruments, let me know in the comments? My friends and I would get together semi-regularly to do "tours" and it was a bunch of fun, but life happens and plastic kit breaks and we haven't done that so much lately. And I'm finding myself missing music something fierce.

So, Daily Jukebox. I'm going to make an effort in 2015 to listen to at least one song a day, and post about it. Most of the entries are not going to be nearly this long, but we'll see if I can keep this going. Who knows?

Rox in the Box is the fourth track off the Decemberists' Album The King is Dead, which may be the best overall album they've done so far. It's a folky flavoured Coal Protest style song (which puts it basically in the category labeled "Songs Jerome Will Love Forever", and is ostensibly about the 1917 Butte Mining disaster, but mostly it's about a fantastic fiddle theme and a lyric that perfectly exercises the voice of Colin Meloy, the lead singer.

Obligatory Youtube Link: