The Nuclear Family has been released on Hancock Street Records! Ask for it at your local independent record store or buy it here!

31 August 2009

Change of Venue

The September 19 performance at Macadam's Bar & Grill has been canceled. The owner decided he could make more money showing a PPV WWE cage match instead. According to the other guys in AMA, this is not the first time something like this has happened. As such, we'll be at the Sellwood Public House that night, same time - 9pm.

Of course, this means we get to haul equipment up the stairs again. Ahhh! The joys of being in a band...

Getting Ready for the CD

Since we're getting to the end of the line as far as mixing goes, it's time to start working on the promotional stuff. I plan to get t-shirts made while having the CD's pressed and start selling them at gigs and on the new website, which I have initially set up on Google today. I'm probably also going to have to set up a Myspace music page (something that I have been avoiding because I don't care much for Myspace, but it seems to be the lingua franca of the music world - sighhh).

Other than that, it's just back to work...

30 August 2009

What a Weekend

... capping off what a week. Let's start with the week, OK?

At work, a crisis with Volkswagen in Shanghai. Essentially what we needed to do to localize results from our scans slowed down the processing afterward to a crawl. We were able to put in a simple fix that improved the performance of this processing step by a factor of 60. That we were able to do this tells me that we didn't do a great job of performance testing before the last version of the product was shipped. We need to (and will) do better in the future. In addition, we found a synchronization issue in our logic (and produced a fix) and fixed two other defects. With any luck, the "patch that never ends" will finally get shipped out within the next two weeks and I can breathe again.

On top of all of this, I spent two nights in the studio this week mixing the CD (eight songs down, three to go) and I re-started my jazz guitar lesson. So, come Friday afternoon, I was really looking forward to the weekend, and all I had on my plate (beside the regular household stuff of getting ready for the week) was to listen to a song that one of the guys in AMA wrote (and give feedback) and listen with a somewhat critical ear to the rough mixes for the CD and make notes about minor tweaks. Plus, I also wanted to get a haircut. A weekend of happiness and bliss (not to mention an opportunity to sleep in on Saturday morning) lay before me.

However, it is now Friday evening. Let's examine the note on the message board via which my midwestern band communicates. It states that our next planned rehearsal is scheduled for the weekend of October 17. Now watch me recoil in horror as I have (two days ago) confirmed with AMA (the Portland band) that I would be available for a gig on October 16. Also watch as I mention this to my other band and watch me cringe with shame because the practice date had always been October 17 and not later in October as I had remembered. Now to be fair, the October date was set in June at a practice that I was unable to attend and, after a few brief messages flitting across the message board (which I was unable to read in real-time because my email relay from the board had gone down), the practice was always referred to as "the October practice" with no mention of actual date, so it was completely understandable... OK, the reality of the situation was that I fucked up. This is why a portion of my weekend time (soon to be limited as the reader will shortly see) was used to set up a Google calendar having all of my musically-related commitments (and any other large chunks-of-time commitments) listed. The reader may now follow along with my hectic musical life here.

So while my bliss is rapidly disappearing in a sea of panic, unbeknownst to me, my daughter (who is staying overnight at a friends house) is jumping on a trampoline and manages to sprain her ankle. Of course, she does not want to cut short her visit, but I am informed at ~9pm about not only the sprained ankle, but also that, due to a commitment that her friend has, I must pick her up at 9am Saturday morning. So much for sleeping in. I go to bed in a rather dark frame of mind around 12:30am.

I am awakened by my alarm clock at 7:30 am, get up, shower, and feed and walk the dog. I call my daughter at 8:30am and she tells me that her friend really doesn't need to do what she thought she had to do and that I should pick her up at 10am. Of course, the fact that I have been deprived of a potential hour of additional sleep does not register in my daughter's fifteen-year-old mind, as the universe (which revolves around her, of course) was unimpacted. So at 10am I pick up my daughter and am alarmed that her ankle has become rather swollen. I take her home, put a couple of ice packs on her ankle and call the doctor. An hour later I am called back by the doctor who says to bring her in (yet) another hour later. An examination and an x-ray later, my daughter is in a compression bandage and air cast and I have purchased a $42 pair of crutches (something that I am unlikely ever to get any additional use of, as no other member of the family regularly jumps on friends' trampolines). Of course, it is now also 2:30 pm and I have done nothing that I had planned to do this weekend. I go get my hair cut in a bitter frame of mind.

Now to spare the reader the boring details of the reminder of the weekend, let me simply state that I listened to my AMA co-members song and made a couple of suggestions, the midwestern band has regrouped and we will now practice Halloween weekend (understandable, as we are monsters of rock), the Google calendar is now set up, I have dropped my wife and daughter at a play, and I have a few moments to breathe (or more precisely, to blog). I have not listened to any of the rough mixes and I have had no additional time to practice.

So I'm still a bit behind and I am certainly not sure what next week will bring. I know that on Tuesday, I'm back in the studio mixing again. If we have a long night on Tuesday, we will have another night or two of tweaking the roughs and then mastering. After that, I need to start working on getting the cover art and CD images ready for duplication. With any luck, by the end of September, the CD will be ready to go. Of course, I still have to deal with all of the stuff from work. Some folks are being recalcitrant about particular server changes and I'll have to hold the line. Iteration 2 (of 3) of the next release continues. Iteration 3 will be re-planned based on customer feedback. The patch that never ends will (hopefully) bet put to bed (and out the door next week). I'm in the last month to finish my MBOs. So it's never-ending fun at the office. We'll see how it goes...

26 August 2009

A Post of Subtlety and Sagacity

For all who want to know about the Common Lisp EVAL-WHEN form...

19 August 2009

Back in Oregon

I am back in Oregon after spending last Friday through Monday in Illinois. I was back there to attend my thirty-fifth high school reunion (and it was great seeing everyone who was there) and to practice with Shiver. I stayed (and practiced) in Bloomington and drove over to Quincy (and back) for the reunion.

I also found time (don't ask me how) to visit my high school German teacher, as I normally do when I'm in the area (Hi, Sandy!) and was able to re-connect with my high school Physics and Math teacher (and it was nice seeing you, too, Joyce).

My schedule looked like this (all times are approximate):

Thursday 6a-5p - Fly in to O'Hare, get rental car, drive down to Bloomington
Thursday 5p-6p - Check in to hotel, call Sandy
Thursday 6p-8p - Set up equipment for practice

Friday 8a-9:30a - Meet Sandy for breakfast
Friday 10a-8p - Band practice

Saturday 8a-2p - Band practice
Saturday 2p-3p - Shower, get dressed for reunion
Saturday 3p-6p - Drive to Quincy
Saturday 6p-10p - Attend reunion
Saturday 10p-2a - Drive back to Bloomington

Sunday 8a-9:15a - Search for Joyce's antique stall at Interstate Center
Sunday 9:15a-9:30a - Actually talk to Joyce
Sunday 10a-4p - Band practice
Sunday 4p-5p - Pack and load equipment (mine and others)

Monday 8a-9a - Take equipment to UPS store for shipping
Monday 9a-11p - Drive back to O'Hare

So that's it - how I spent my wild weekend. After ten hours of practice on the first day, my fingers were shredded, so I had to tape them for the next days' practice. Will I do this again? Probably. The good news is that (at my advanced age) high school reunions are only held every five years, so I won't have that in future trips. It was good to get together for practice.

The band is coming together, so I don't think we'll suck in April. We'll have another rehearsal in Bloomington at the end of October, and then get together right before the performance in Kalamazoo, Michigan in April. Anyhow, that's how I spent my weekend.

11 August 2009

Music and My Life...

Another issue that has come up since I stopped posting on my original blog has been my re-insertion into the music scene.

Again, let's go back a few years (thirty-five, to be precise). I am a Freshman in college at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Across the dorm hall from me are two guys named Alan and Lyle. They have a band in their home town, Abingdon, Illinois and they need a guitar player. I play guitar. I've been playing guitar since I was ten years old or so and I played in bands in my hometown. So I figure I'll do the hour-long drive to get to where they practice and, during the summer of between my Freshman and Sophomore year in college, I am in their band (Shiver) with Alan, Lyle, Jay, and Steve and we play a few gigs around Galesburg, Illinois. After that summer, everyone goes back to college and, since many of us are going to different schools, we don't get back together.

That autumn, I join a jazz-rock band called "All You Can Eat" and we play a few gigs during my Sophomore year. At the beginning of my Junior year, I meet up with Alan and Lyle again and we decide to start a new band. While heading up to Bloomington to buy our old PA system from the keyboard player from Shiver, we notice that there is a band playing that night named "All You Can Eat". I go there and am mightily irritated that, when the guys in that band came back for the school year, they didn't see me in the dorm (I having moved to an apartment) and that they didn't ask around for me. But, in the end, it sucks to be them, and Alan, Lyle, and I start interviewing for guitarists and vocalists. Before we find one, my sister Emmy decides to get married and wants us to play at her wedding. We drag the keyboard player back from Bloomington and enlist Lyle's brother as a second guitarist and play Shiver's last gig in Decatur that Spring.

Over the Summer, Lyle, Alan, and myself find a guitarist (Chris) and a singer (Joel) and we form a band (whose name I forget) that plays a few jobs around Champaign. This was a pretty good band. However, Chris had decided that he wanted a female singer and also decided that he didn't want Alan or Lyle, either. He also had the place where we practiced (making him the de facto leader) and immediately fired Joel and Alan (with much consternation from myself and Lyle) and brought in a friend of his to play bass (whose name I forget) and a female Singer, Jenny. In the Autumn of my Senior year, we played jobs as Sunsinger around the Champaign area. However, you must recall that Chris did not want Lyle. This was because he had another friend who had an incredible looking drum kit, but no rhythm whatsoever.

Chris finally kicked Lyle out and brought in this drummer, who as I noted, had no rhythm. As such, the next practices were disasters and I left this band in the early Spring of my Senior year. Sunsinger tried to go on, but had a monumentally bad performance at a charity event that was broadcast on radio. This cooked their goose as far as future hiring went and they disintegrated soon afterward. Because I was already working a full time job and was entering graduate school, I decided that my band life was over for the time being. And the "time being" stretched to about thirty years, during which I would pick up my guitar occasionally, but never seriously.

About two years ago, one of the guys from Shiver (Steve) locates me on LinkedIn and we reconnect via email with other members of the band. We decided to do a reunion on the 4 July weekend of 2008 in Bloomington. While waiting for that to happen, we all practiced and I seriously got back into music - seriously enough that I bought DAW software (Sonar - about which I'll talk in another post) and started recording songs that had been kicking around in my head for the past thirty years (and writing a few new ones, as well). Shiver got back together on that 4 July weekend and practiced for three days. We had planned to play at Alan, Lyle, and Steve's 35'th high school reunion which was to be held in June of this year. We practiced again for two and a half days this February in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The high school reunion gig fell through, but we're scheduled to play this coming April in Kalamazoo. So I'm going back to Bloomington this weekend to attend my 35'th high school reunion and to get in another practice session with the guys. We'll practice one more time in October and then for a couple days in Kalamazoo before the April gig. And that's what's happening with that band.

However, during this time, I still had the songs I'd been writing and recording at home. I decided that putting out a solo CD would be a good thing. I worked on the various instrumental and backing vocal parts in my home studio from May of last year through June of this year. I have gone into the studio to track the lead vocals and will shortly be in the studio to do the final mix and mastering. I expect the CD (titled "The Nuclear Family") to be out sometime in September or October.

In order to promote my music, I've joined a local band that plays about once a month, in which I play bass and do some singing. We also do a couple of my songs. Since one gig a month is not really enough for me, I am also planning to form a band that will do my material. I'll keep you all posted.

That's about it from the music side of things. I'll post more later as I have more information on this aspect of my life.

10 August 2009

Let's Start With the Thesis

As promised, I will tell you about what's been happening in my life over the past two or so years in the next few posts. The Master's thesis is almost certainly the most significant, but least useful of these events.

Let's go back to 1980...

I am in grad school at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, working on an MS EE degree. My proposed thesis is on mixed-mode digital/analog simulation and all of the programming is done. All I have to do is to write the thesis. However, in my personal life, all is not well. I am working the equivalent of a forty hour a week job while doing another twenty to thirty hours a week of work on my thesis topic. As a result, my first marriage is breaking up and I want to try to make a fresh start with my wife without the additional hours of my additional work weighing me down. In the industry, the (as it was then called) Computer-Aided Engineering market is booming and people are being hired just out of school with (what seemed to me at the time) princely salaries. I am offered a job with Tektronix in Portland, Oregon, and having fallen in love with the area, I move out there (and still my here) with a promise on my lips to my thesis adviser (Professor Jacob Abraham, now of UT Austin, and still a prince among men) that, of course, I would finish my thesis. A year later, my divorce is final and I have not finished my thesis. This state was to remain unchanged for the next twenty-seven years.

Fast-forward to 2004...

I've made it through the dot-com bust relatively unscathed and the industry is picking up a bit again. I'm getting to the point where I'm thinking of teaching again (I taught EE as an adjunct instructor back in 1983, when folks still thought I was going to be finishing my thesis, and I enjoyed it). However, checking around, I find that the entry level teaching degree, even at a community college is an MS. I start thinking about going back to school. In addition, I am also getting to the point in my life where I'm trying to put behind me some of the regrets I've had in the past. One of the largest was my inability to finish my thesis. To make a long story short, I enroll in the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology) in the "Adaptive Systems" Program in the CS department and finish my required classes in about a year and a half. In a fit of insanity, I ask the head of the Adaptive Systems Lab (also, in the end, a prince among men) to be my thesis adviser.

It is now sometime in 2005-2006...

Time has not been kind to OGI. Having over-expanded in the dot-com boom, it is now in dire financial straits and is forced into a shotgun wedding with Oregon Health and Sciences University (our state's medical school). From this point on, all research needs to have a biological tie-in. This is not great for me, as I really have little interest in biology. My adviser, having seen the writing on the wall a few months before me, has started working with a team at OHSU investigating the signal processing capabilities in the neurons of the electro-lateral line of the Mormyrid fish. More precisely, he has noticed that perhaps, when one creates the equations that describe the statistical behavior of ensembles of neurons whose learning rules are of a certain form, one might be able to find a closed form solution for the moments of the equilibrium probability distribution of the neural weights. This points an arrow back to some of his earlier work showing that approximate solutions for the equilibrium distribution can be wildly wrong and that alternative formulations such as this one (and more importantly, his prior use of perturbation equations) should be pursued (of course, with the use of copious NSF grants). The main thesis point I prove over a period of about three months in the winter of 2006-2007. The remainder of the year is spent attempting to understand (a) biological neural models, (b) statistics, and (c) why anyone would give a rats ass about this (other than for the copious NSF grants). I eventually figure out (a) and (b), but remain perpetually unenlightened about (c), finally producing a thesis entitled "Exact Moment Dynamics for Spike-Timing-Dependent Plasticity" which is critiqued endlessly by my adviser over the rest of 2007 and beginning of 2008.

By this point, my current wife is getting increasingly cranky about the lack of progress on the whole "graduation" part of this process. I have spent approximately $30,000 on this endeavor so far and must continue to enroll in at least one credit of "Thesis Research" (read ~$600) for each additional term I remain in school. The wife is understandably getting nervous that I will be working on this forever, or until the School of Engineering is shut down (Did I also mention that with every passing term, the headcount and facilities of the School of Engineering is shrinking?) and I am left at the mercy of remaining faculty who understand Biology, but not statistical mechanics. She gives me an ultimatum - finish or quit. Luckily, with a final heartfelt talk with my adviser (Did I mention that he is a prince among men?), we agreed that my thesis *with final minor edits" was fine and we set up a defense for August.

To make a long story short, I defended my thesis in August and got most of the readers' signatures I needed to pass my defense, including that of one professor who left for Massachusetts the day after I presented my defense (I did tell you about the shrinking head count, no?). However, one reader wanted a minor edit so I was not able to get his signature until September 2008 (which required that I pay another $600 for another unit of "Thesis Research") and, in the meantime, the school had changed the format of the form on which one got the signatures for the defense. More worryingly, I needed the signatures of one professor not associated with OGI/OHSU to graduate. One of the professors was associated with Portland State University and OHSU when he agreed to read my thesis. However, a week before I finished my edit/got the signature, this professor was laid off from his PSU appointment and, as such, was only associated with OHSU and no longer qualified as a non-OHSU reader.

This leads to the final, knuckle-biting part of the story, where I submit the thesis with the old defense form, and with the signature of the now non-non-OHSU reader, having been assured by my adviser that, of course, this was alright. It is getting to November and I have still not heard whether or not I had met the qualifications for graduation. I go to the graduate studies office and ask the woman there if there was anything else I needed to do or if anything was missing. She let me know that this was her first time she had done this (Did I mention the loss of head count in the School of Engineering?) and that she did not even plan to look at anything until after the Fall term had ended. Of course, by mid-February, nothing had happened, I still had received no notification and, understandably worried, I inquired again. She said that it shouldn't be more than a couple more weeks. Finally, at the end of March, a "Graduated in December 2008" appeared in my unofficial transcript. They still didn't send me my diploma until June.

So that's how someone who had no interest in Biology or Statistics ends up with an MS Comp Sci focused on Biology and Statistics (two fields in which he still has little interest). Having been a software development manager for the past ten years or so (mainly in the areas of computer security and system management), I was under no illusion that this would help to advance my current career whatsoever. I am also no longer enamored with the notion of teaching. I have met enough academics in this troubled period to understand how insecure their positions really are, how petty is the institutional infighting, how draining is the constant begging for funds and, in most cases, how thankless their work is. I have no desire to attempt to make their lives more difficult by adding to the pool of potential instructors. In the end, I met a few more people who I liked a lot and I closed out some unfinished business that had been hanging around for twenty-some odd years. If there's any grand insight to be gained from this experience I guess this is it: "If you hang about the computer industry for thirty odd years, you get to be good enough in things you're not that interested in to be able to do almost anything."

Not an edifying lesson, but oddly appropriate...

Start of New Blog...

OK, it's been a really looooonnnnng time since I last posted in the original IJ blog. There are probably two questions that readers are asking...

First, why the hiatus?

I was busy. I mean, really busy. In the time since I posted, I have completed my MS CS (thesis here), joined a local band, recorded a solo CD that should be out real soon now, practiced a couple of times with my original college band (we should be playing next April in beautiful Kalamazoo, Michigan) and kept up with a job where I've put out two major product releases and three patches for the product I am development manager for. I have just caught my breath and I feel it's down for the next wave. So I've been busy. I hope I have time to blog now. I'll post more about all of this stuff later. I promise...

Second, why not continue to maintain the blog on my own site?

See point one above. I am moving as much of my life off the website as possible. I no longer want to play sys admin on my own time. To understand how serious I am about this, I'm also moving my family off their Windows boxes and onto Macs as their systems need updating. I'd much rather focus on writing and recording music and working on personal programming projects. I'll probably keep the ftp server going and my email (for now), but maintaining the blog software locally was a pain in the ass I didn't need. Again, more on this stuff later.