Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fairness, part 2

Hello again. Last time, we talked a little about what fairness might look like in the context of a competitive game's ratings. From that we stated two conditions that raise red flags for unfairness:

1) Small skill advantages leading to excessively large rewards;
2) Large skill advantages leading to excessively small rewards.

We then talked about someone in the position of, say, Bill Gates, where the reward seems to be massively larger than the skill difference between him and his peers would justify. That isn't to pick on Bill Gates, whom I have nothing against, nor I am suggesting any remedies for this situation quite yet; I'm just observing the situation as it first appears to us.

Today I'll give a hypothetical, very simplified example of the second condition: large skill advantages leading to very small rewards. With any number of caveats about the assumptions we're making with the labels, here are our four friends for today:

First we have Lousy Larry. Larry makes bad decisions almost all the time. He doesn't work hard, he's not motivated at all to get an education, he has little impulse control. His best hope is to find a situation where he can get into a rhythm with a low-level job well enough to get by and maybe build a little momentum or security and not screw himself over too hard. He's almost entirely dependent on luck and outside help for this.

Next, meet Mediocre Mike. Unlike Larry, Mike isn't a bum, not at all. The quality of his decisions and habits is a mediocre mix of good and bad. Two steps forward, two steps back. He can do all right at a job that doesn't ask him to lean in too hard, but sustaining much upward momentum is unlikely at best.

Then we have Good Greg. Greg makes good decisions most of the time; he's maybe in the 75th percentile for that. He works pretty hard, he stayed in school and got good grades, he doesn't crawl into the bottom of a whiskey bottle very often. He would make a fine employee or manager in most companies; he could start a business and have a reasonable chance of success. He couldn't go from a cardboard box to CEO in five years, but he's doing things mostly right.

Finally, we have Heroic Hal. Hal is the inspirational figure that appears in Reader's Digest profiles and seventh-grade reading standardized test passages. He has tons of motivation, discipline, vision, and perseverance. He's a winner. There are very few Heroic Hals out there (though many more might claim to be, but we'll get to that some other time). Even he could find himself overmatched if the circumstances were bad enough, but it would take a whole lot.


How these guys will fare depends an awful lot on the surrounding conditions for upward mobility; no mystery there. Let's say they're dealing with a recently introduced condition that sharply reduces the likelihood of movin' on up - it could be an economic downturn, it could be a change in government policy, whatever you like.

Such a trend would be very difficult to identify in our culture early on, I would say. The most easily visible effect would be that fewer Lousy Larrys get the sort of breaks they depend on. Larry desperately needs someone to take a chance on him, or else he would have no opportunity to prove that maybe he's not so lousy after all. And in this environment, those who could do that for Larry are much less willing to take that sort of risk. But we won't see it - indeed, Larry has always been invisible to us. He has no power and no credibility, as far as we know. He'd probably fail no matter what anyone does for him. We can always say he did this to himself and thus not feel bad about turning him away.

As the effects of the condition advance, we'll start to see more and more Mediocre Mikes in trouble next. In better times, Mike has honest work and a stable base on which to build a life if he doesn't make some catastrophic mistake. But he's pretty easy to outcompete, and a condition where upward mobility is more difficult means that competition is much increased. Worse yet, his margin for error shrinks - Mike makes some bad decisions, and now those can cost him a lot more. But how bad do we feel for Mike? We don't quite feel comfortable calling him a bum, because he's not one. But he makes enough mistakes that we can still say, well, you could have done much more. You could have worked harder, you could have kept your nose cleaner, you could have coasted less than you did. "Mediocrity" is a dirty word in our world, and we never allow it as an excuse, even though most of us are mediocre far more often than we'd ever admit. And so we can still comfortably deny what's happening, if we're the sort that feels better when we do that.

The condition marches on; upward mobility gets harder and harder, and as we've chosen not to see it so far, having little or no empathy for whom it hurts, we've done nothing to arrest it. We need a canary in the coal mine, and Good Greg is it. Greg followed the rules. He worked hard, kept his wits about him and kept his nose clean. His only sin is not being a superstar. And now lots of Good Gregs are found in jobs and situations that used to be the province of Mediocre Mikes. (And Greg has student loan debt that Mike doesn't have…) Can we really blame Greg if he wonders what the point of playing by the rules was? Maybe he would have been Good Greg in any case, but by having Greg at a lower rung of the ladder, both he and we lose out on a large part of the contributions his work and education could have provided us. But we wish him well. Though even then some might still point to Heroic Hal and tell Greg, see, you should have been like that guy. A consistent 10-6 isn't good enough; you have to win the Super Bowl or you're a loser. That stupid, poisonous idea isn't most of us, though, and by the time Good Gregs start scuffling too much, we might start identifying the problem as a problem.


Back to the second of the original statements: we raise red flags when we see large differences in competence given too-small rewards. And that's what we have here. Good Greg's decisions are consistently better than Mediocre Mike's, and a world better than Lousy Larry's. But in a condition where upward mobility is too hard to come by, what we see is a blurring of the distinctions between Greg and Mike, and between Mike and Larry. This has been true in most places throughout human history, which should tell us that it is the natural progression of things: without countermeasures, we have always and will always end up with few winners and many losers, and if you're a loser in that scheme, it matters less and less whether you were pretty good but not good enough or whether you were awful. It all tastes the same after a long enough time.

This hypothetical also assumes that we're living in a meritocracy, that it is proper or ennobling to conceive of people's life outcomes as a competitive game, and that people's categories of ability are fixed, all of which are dubious claims at best - but maybe we'll get to that next time.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fairness, part 1

I've found myself thinking a lot about fairness lately. Most of us would agree that fairness, as we define it, is among our core values; we react viscerally to what we perceive as injustice - yes, in particular injustice done to ourselves or those we care about, but I'd like to think most of us are more broad-minded than that.  Very few of us would not like to see a fairer world, and while we're here, we'd like to make the world a little fairer if we can. But there are so many definitions of "fairness", and of related ideas such as "justice", that we have a hard time coming to any sort of consensus about how to resolve complex situations fairly.

So what I'd like to do, if I find the time, is write a few entries examining fairness in different arenas and from different perspectives, to help me (and perhaps you the reader) frame some of the many questions related to the idea of fairness. We'll see what I get to; I have a lot going on these days, even as part of me feels it isn't enough. I'm sure you can relate.

I'll start in the world of games, since I know that world better than I know many others - in particular, games that are competitive and attempt to rank individual players, such as chess or Scrabble. What do we as players want from our competitive environment? We want it to reflect the relative abilities of the players, with as much fidelity as possible. That means we want small differences in ability to lead to small differences in winning percentage and rating and large differences in ability to lead to large differences in those things, roughly on a proportional scale. We want the best players to be identified as best over a sample of games large enough to feel right to us.

Chess uses what's called the Elo rating system, which assigns a numerical rating to players based on their winning percentage adjusted for the strength of their opposition. Scrabble also does this, though it sets the curve a bit differently, taking into account the variance in the quality of tile draws in the game. To illustrate, if Player A is rated 350 points higher than Player B in Scrabble, the rating formula expects player A to win about three out of four games. In chess, a 350-point difference means that the higher-rated player is expected to win about seven out of eight. Why is chess not eight out of eight, you may wonder; after all, there's no luck involved in chess. Shouldn't the superior player always win? Well, a 350-point difference in Player A's favor does not mean that Player A will always play better than Player B does. Abilities aren't static - they fluctuate. Player A might play like a 2200 player in one game, and more like a 1600 player in the next, particularly if the first game offers themes and positions that Player A is much better at solving than the second. Or maybe Player A didn't have enough caffeine or rest in game two, or has some sort of inferiority complex with certain opponents; humans are weird.

Is it inherently unfair that an inferior player might win a game? In Scrabble, you'd better get used to it. No one would deny that 350 points of rating represents a significant difference in skills. If you took a bunch of 2000-rated players - there are about 15 players in North America rated that high - and evaluated them on word knowledge, anagramming, board vision, strategic skill and ability to handle tournament pressure, every 2000 player would come out ahead of every 1650 player in every area almost all the time. But the 1650 player will win a quarter of the time, the chance of flipping two heads in two coin flips. Easy to do once or twice, but the more games in the event, the more difficult it becomes for the lower-rated player. A 1650 player, assuming the rating is accurate, wouldn't be expected to win the U.S. Nationals (31 games) given a million tries. So while on some level Scrabble is "unfair", a large enough sample restores the fairness, and if you look at who has finished in the top five of a Nationals over the years, you're not going to find anyone there who isn't at least 1850 strength or so, and in most cases the top five will be 1950 or better. But on the other hand, every year there are surprises in the top 20. (The size of the top-division field at Nationals has varied over the years, but is usually about 100.) I take both of these as good signs.

I think Scrabble achieves the balance pretty well now, though maybe there are ways to improve it. I play about 150 tournament games a year, and my rating range over the past eight years has been somewhere between 1875 and 2025. Unless I'm atypical (don't think so), it's reasonable to assume that I'm a 1950 player. That feels fair, even when I'm busy losing a game to a 1200 player or beating 2250-rated Nigel Richards (I've done both). It's true that in chess, were I similarly skilled, I'd just about never lose to the 1200 player, but I'd just about never beat the Nigel Richards of chess, either. I'm not sure we can say that one scheme is fairer than the other - in fact, I'd say both are appropriate. If you want to reduce the luck involved in Scrabble, or increase it in chess, there are ways to do that. But again, what we want to avoid - because it feels unfair to us - is either of two situations: where small differences in ability yield excessively large advantages, or large differences in ability yield too-small advantages.

What am I on about here? Real life is a hell of a lot more complex than a game like Scrabble or chess is, and the luck factor is self-evidently MUCH larger. Bill Gates might be ten thousand times as rich as your local successful infotech entrepreneur, but he's not a hundred times as skilled, or diligent, or smart, or anything of the sort, and I'm sure he'd admit as much. He's more of all of those things, maybe, but not TEN THOUSAND TIMES more by any reasonable method of measurement. Most of the wealth difference is attributable to circumstances outside of Gates's control. (Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" makes this point, to some degree.) Which brings us to a fundamental of fairness: do we not bristle when players are rewarded or penalized for things they didn't have control over? This is not to begrudge Gates his success - I see no reason to say he shouldn't be at the top of the mountain. It's the size of the mountain that's in question. Even a fivefold advantage in skill shouldn't lead to hundredfold rewards, and when it does, shouldn't our alarm bells be going off? But in our culture such disproportionate rewards happen all the time. I'm not suggesting we should do anything draconian to fix this, but we need to recognize that it's a feature of our Monopoly world - that minor advantages in skill can snowball into massively dominant positions in a hurry, which tend to ossify over time. According to the idea of fairness we talked about above, that's not ideal; a 51-49 or even 60-40 advantage in skill shouldn't ever end up as winner take all - rather, it should be reflected as the ratio it is, or at least closer to it than our society now manages.  The problem with the just world theory behind laissez-faire, ultimately, is that it's fatalistic. We end up rewarding good fortune more than we reward anything else, and to me, that's not sensible.

Friday, February 7, 2014

My take on "Other People's Views"

(Wow, been forever since I've written here…)

Just read this column in the New York Times, by David Brooks:

Brooks presents four situations and asks to what degree we should consider the views of others in making our decision. He later gives his own advice on these situations; let's see whether I agree with him.

1) Let’s say you’re turning 40 and you realize you want to leave accounting and become a hip-hop artist. People will say you’re having a pathetic midlife crisis, but should you do it anyway?

Brooks: First, the hip-hop artist question. Here it might be best to defer to public opinion. People tend to make poor decisions at moments of life transition, so at these moments, lean in the direction of respecting to the wisdom of the crowd. Have a midlife crisis, but in less stereotypical form.

Me: I think Brooks' analysis is far too superficial. "People tend to make poor decisions at moments of life transition": citation needed, for starters, but even if we grant the truth of that, it's such vague advice as to be unfollowable - should someone turning 40 stop taking risks in every facet of life until the transitional moment is safely in the rearview mirror? Surely we wouldn't say that. Turning 40 makes you look around and wonder; it doesn't make you incompetent. And it's different for everyone. The key thing we don't know here is what reason someone might have for making this decision. We don't know whether he's been honing his craft for 10 years, has researched the market and has decided it's time to give it a try, or whether he's on a manic episode and just thought of this idea a few weeks ago. I do agree with the notion that if you suspect a lot of wise people would question a major decision of yours, you might want to double and triple check it. There's an implication here that being a hip-hop artist is somehow beneath a 40-year-old, and I don't care for that at all. Yes, hip-hop is a young man's game, but there's nothing less dignified about being a hip-hop artist true to his craft than being an accountant true to his. Would Brooks have answered the question differently if the accountant wanted to become a country singer? I hope not. It's not easy for a 40-year-old to hit it big as a new artist in country, either.

2) Let’s say you’re on the phone in a crowded place and you want to tell your buddy a dirty joke, which may offend the people around you. Should you tell it?

Brooks: Then, the question of the dirty joke. This is a question of manners. Here, too, it’s probably a good idea to give priority to other people’s views. The manners and mores of a community are a shared possession. When you violate social norms, you are not only being rude to people around you, but you are making it more likely that others will violate the norms in the future. You are tearing the social fabric.

Me: Mostly agree. We need to know how dirty the joke is, how likely the people nearby are to overhear, and how sensitive they are. A little dirty is probably no big deal, but yeah, don't be that guy. "Tearing the social fabric" is a bit melodramatic, but you are fraying it, so cut that shit out.

3) Let’s say you have religious or political beliefs that make you unpopular. Should you hide or change them?

Brooks: Then the question of the unpopular belief. In this case, it is clearly wrong to sacrifice some of your conviction for immediate popularity. Basically you are trading in something deep for something shallow. Most of our core beliefs originated with some great figure from the distant past. These ideas, creeds or faiths were then nurtured by generations of other people, who are also now mostly dead. They created a transcendent tradition, which we embrace and hope in turn to pass along to generations as yet unborn. No sensible person would ever be happy betraying the approval of the admired dead just to win some passing approval in the here and now.

Me: Hmm. Some religious or political beliefs make one unpopular because they're either poorly thought out or mean-spirited. Brooks employs some high-flown rhetoric here…problem is, while many of the ideas embedded in creeds and faiths of old remain useful today, some of them do not, even to the point of being hurtful. One shouldn't get safe harbor for indefensible beliefs just because they're deeply held or have a tradition or culture attached to them. Brooks seems to be talking here about only one kind of religious or political stance that could be unpopular - the traditionalist in a room full of people with less traditional views. What about the reverse? My religious and political opinions (I'm not very traditional) would make me unpopular in certain rooms, but I come by those opinions just as honestly as the traditionalists he's talking about have. Would Brooks stick up for me here, too? But I'd agree with him in the sense that we should be true to ourselves and not give up deeply considered opinions for shallow reasons.

4) Let’s say you are deeply in love with a person your friends dislike. Should you dump that person?

Brooks: Finally, the question of the unpopular fiancĂ©. This is tricky because it depends on what kind of feedback other people are offering. If they are talking about your boyfriend’s status (he’s too ugly; he’s got a bad job) then outside opinion doesn’t matter. But they may be observing something about the internal nature of your relationship that you are too blinded by passion to see. Maybe they can discern that he hurts you in this way or that. In this case, outside advice is not about approval; it’s about wisdom at a time when your emotions are clouding your judgment.

Me: Can't imagine anyone else's answer to this would be very different. Few things are worse than seeing a friend or loved one unable to walk away from someone who's mistreating them, and it happens all too often. It's a sickness. But as long as the person you're in love with is respecting you and treating you right, yeah, other people's penny-ante observations shouldn't matter in the least.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

From the archives: write anythings

So I did this sort of micro-meme maybe a year and a half ago called "write anything", wherein I updated my Facebook status every hour or so with sequentially numbered fragments of prose. No central theme or anything, just words for the hell of it. A few others took up the gauntlet as well, so my FB feed looked for a few days like a random assemblage of quasipoetic something or other. Fun. I wrote about a hundred write anything statuses over the course of a week or so; most of them are likely lost in the ether somewhere, but I did stumble on a file with seventeen of them, so here's what they looked like.


observe filter reorganize
rephrase redefine sequence
initialize rotate apportion
cleanse install truncate
position track display

Mayan dancing color bands
Three spins, four spins



I thought that the gunmetal gray building at the bottom of the hill must have been an old church, but I was mistaken; and besides, it had rained for three straight days.



Wosbird wosbird, snowbird...kettle-bird; kettle-bind? Look, Blue, it's late - just talk to the man!



Speak the sacred names inasmuch, and only inasmuch, as it pleaseth thy tongue.



Toward a truer pixelwork:
Point pointillism
The Euclidean echo
Unity structure negating rockbound fallacy

Archiflexing within and without in small coils



to talk about the work is to lay down on the job the work is music



We were well into the fourth deck of cards and still hadn't found the blessed Golden Bear, and tempers were getting short. That's when Mazer stood up and announced he couldn't go on with us. I understood - he had a wife, two daughters, a straight job at the power and light board. He could afford to have the circus leave town on him. But we were desperate, if not yet drowning.



Ace child
A rampaging star king
Driver of seven red chariots
Casts his I Ching in fountains of stone withholden



Heartbeat City (1984) was pretty good
I liked the title track best of all:
Jackie, what took you so long/Just a holiday?


I know a thing or two about miracles, and another thing or two about baseball; but I'll never know what the gods saw to smile down on in that rumpled, spindled little man. But the boxscores, they don't lie. That - well, that and college girls - must be the real reason for spring.
hmm well i'd say katie h. is cute and bangs are cute but the combination eh i'm not really sold and thus ends another episode of fashion advice to the stars from top 50 scrabble players tune in next time when scott appel rates angelina's new spring wardrobe

"Porque vemos la luz," whispered the scorpion. "Eso es el trabajo verdad del corazon."
"What's wrong with him?" Indeed. He'd stood tall at Clowin Gap, again at Demes-Strausse, as tall as tall dares stand. But now...our brute family's carapace was scissured beyond recognition. The field generators would never be able to mine the riverbank by sundown - the only way up for us was through the forest, hoping we didn't get strafed by the array of Hammerliks circling above every hour.
In order to play John Melon Cougarcamp's "Pink Houses", you'll need to know four guitar chords: G major, C major, F major and D major. Though if you know only G major, depending on how drunk your audience is...yeah, you might could sell that.
Temwinnah, Temwinnah, want-y-ya come round, come round
Don't let the Seeing-Eye catch you with hands too close to your heart
See the other children are now dancing in the deep leaves
We are found, you and us, underneath balalaika branches.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Royce White and anxiety disorder

Just read a very good article on the basketball player Royce White, who has anxiety disorder, written by a sportswriter who also has dealt with it:

For more background, here's another article on Royce White, written earlier, with a somewhat different perspective:

And here's his Wikipedia page, which outlines the many ups and downs of his life and career so far (and he's only 22):

Royce White is a fascinating and polarizing figure in the NBA, and these articles explain his situation better than I could. He's apparently a hell of a basketball player when he's right - a player that good without White's disorder and past probably gets chosen in the top 10 picks, and everyone knew the Rockets were taking a risk drafting him. Strictly from the view of a team deciding whether to pick a player like this, I think you'd have to view the risk as similar to drafting someone with an extensive injury history. (This is also why most people who have these things know to never, ever mention them in a job interview or the early stages of employment.)

Though physical health issues and mental health issues, in many ways, *aren't* comparable, chiefly because of the body parts affected by them. Our legs are unique to us, as all our parts are, but the variance between legs isn't that wide - if you break your leg, the treatment plan, rehab and expectation of recovery will be roughly the same as if I broke mine.

Mental health issues are as far from that model as it gets. Our brains are unique and dizzyingly complex, billions of times more complex than our legs. It's amazing that we know even as much as we do about them, but what we know about how to treat psychological disorders is still in its infancy and will be there for a long time yet. And brains are extremely sensitive to environmental factors, that is, life experiences: what we refer to as mental disorders are adaptations by the brain that don't help us live happy, productive lives. This means that, though millions of people have these things to some degree, no two instances of anxiety or depression or OCD can be seen alike. The similarity starts and ends with the symptoms. I've dealt with anxiety and depression off and on throughout my life and always will, and so I can relate to what the first article describes very well. I won't elaborate here, but if you can't, believe me, you're glad you can't. It can royally fuck up your life. I wouldn't wish it on anyone. But I have scarcely any more insight into Royce White than anyone else, and even if I knew him personally, I still wouldn't. His anxiety is the adaptation of *his* brain to *his* environment. We can never know what we'd do in his shoes, because we'll never be in them.

So I won't judge the guy, though that doesn't mean I agree with everything he's saying or that I assume his approach to his situation is ideal. When I was 22, my approach to anxiety or life itself sure wasn't. (It's not now, for that matter.) If he can't play, he can't play, but from these articles it doesn't seem to me that the Rockets aren't trying to work with him. Why wouldn't they? It's a wasted draft pick if they don't. There's a limit to how far the team can go, just practically: the Rockets aren't a mental wellness organization, but an NBA team trying to make money and win games. They should treat him the best they can, but they're well within their rights to let him go if it doesn't work out, just as the other teams were well within their rights not to draft him. Talent by itself guarantees you nothing. And just because you have a mental disorder does not mean you can't also be arrogant or obnoxious or uncoachable or not someone that a team wants to hassle with. People dealing with mental health issues aren't the bums and fakers they're often and ignorantly judged to be, but they're not saints, either. Nor are they merely labels, merely the sum of their disorders. They're just people.

It does take guts to speak out, and I'm glad Royce White has done that, and I hope it contributes to a future where people with these issues are treated more humanely - they sure as hell haven't been for almost all of our history, and they very often still aren't. It sucks, and we need to do better. But it's as bad to fail to be grateful for the fact that there are lots of caring, supportive people and organizations who are trying their best to help. When you have a psychological disorder and your life is rocky as a result, it's very tempting to feel like the whole world's against you - indeed, it's often part of the disorder to feel that way. You only hear the sour voices in the chorus. Doesn't mean it's true.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

First Church of...

This article has made the rounds lately:

Fair-to-middling Salon clickbait, what else is new, but to the, this doesn't sound at all like my vibe, though the question is worth asking. It's true that unchurched people like me don't get the social benefits that churches provide: fellowship, moral support, community engagement. I don't know that the folks in the article are doing anything novel, though - there have long been ethical humanist societies and charities and other endeavors that afford nonbelievers a suitable happy place. If I and many of my fellows are habitual non-joiners despite this, that's on us...the Unitarian Universalists, I've wondered about. They say they're hospitable to atheists, though that hospitality seems to vary depending on the leadership of any given UU church. I'm not looking to join such a group - I don't identify as "spiritual but not religious" either - but I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. I grew up in church, and though as an adult I've never seen any need or reason to believe, that doesn't mean there aren't noble and edifying aspects to life in the congregation. (If I had kids, would I take them to church? No, but again, I can point to good things from my own time there as a child, and I would look for other ways to give my children those things.)

The notion of self-described atheist churches makes me queasy, though. It does no service to atheism or anything else if these atheist churches end up with the same problems that keep me away from regular churches. I understand the human psychological attraction to ritual, and it's not by any means all bad. But if that becomes a need for spectacle, or a need to be told what to think, or a need to feel more like "us" by excluding "them", or a focus on attaining the money, power and charisma needed to broadcast the message far and wide...then to me that more than negates the benefits of fellowship. And it's not atheism. Atheism isn't a religion and has no proper business behaving like one; atheism isn't anything in itself, merely the absence of a thing. To make atheism into a brand of any sort is to betray it. I don't need anyone to agree with me - I sleep well at night. I just need people to respect me as a good-hearted, rational person, which I usually am and you probably are as well, and to not look down on or attempt to marginalize me merely for coming to a different view. I think most atheists feel the same way.

But like you, I do need friends, and fellow travelers, and encouragement toward a life of virtue and love and fulfillment. I want the world to be better and the people I encounter to be happier for my presence, and when I do fall short, when I show my ass, which is more often than I'd prefer, I need a path to forgiveness and atonement, a return to right living. Doesn't everyone want those things? Surely most of us do. We are interdependent, no matter what we believe or whether we believe at all; we're a community whether we feel like it or not. Wherever I can find that community and grow with it is a good thing. That community doesn't have to be explicitly religious, though. I can take a walk on a sunny day, play a game of Scrabble, eat a breakfast taco, pick up my 4-year-old nephew from Montessori school each Tuesday and take him to a car wash and see the happiness and wonder spread across his face, grieve for the horrible things in the news and exult over the brave and wonderful things, watch a ballgame with my dad, fill the dog's water bowl, read Wikipedia for an hour, get sick, get well, compete in a spelling bee wearing devil horns, read a good book, crack a bad joke, email back and forth with a dear old friend, attempt to play along with Rush's "Territories" with my little brother, agonize over nonsense large and small. Embrace the uncertainty, embrace the struggle, live and work alongside our fellows. Who are we to demand more?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hey, you're a musician, am I right?

Well, yeah. Though I haven't recorded any new stuff in a while. Plenty of ideas there, just need to get in there and work some of them out.

The good news is that my brother and I just got a new kickass home studio setup which will expand the recording capabilities of the house quite a bit once we learn it well. Exciting. (My brother is a musician also - he's the bass player in a band called Aperture.) So I've got my marching orders for this year - the two big things are learning the new setup and improving my vocal performances and recordings. Probably not too many new songs, though I'm bound to want to get after some of them. What I want to do is re-record the pile of songs I've already got and do them better. At least I've gone through the process with these songs already, so I have a good idea of what I'm shooting for. And by the end of it I'm sure I'll be sick of them! Nah, that's normal. Whenever I complete a project, my tendency is to listen to it for a week or two a whole lot and be happy it's completed (however I define completeness in that case) and then go months without listening to it much at all. If I manage to see all this through, I'm looking at maybe 18-24 months. What happens then? I'll put the finished stuff out on the Internet, of course, try to build a modest audience. Forming a band to play the stuff would be fun with the right players, though maybe more trouble than I'd feel like going to - the style of music isn't one where you can just grab a few buddies and bash it out, so lots of rehearsal time would be involved...but either way, I'm sure I'd just keep writing and recording.

(If you want to hear what I do and haven't yet, get on YouTube and go to the channel "tremblesoffortune". There you will find demo versions of 29 original songs (and a few quickie covers I did last year) - basically three album projects: "Sacraria" from 2012, "Don't Let One Pin Drop" from 2011, and "Sucker In The Promised Land" from way back in 1995.)