Sunday, October 24, 2010

new record

i hit a new record today.

this is tricky to write. i have never had more of someone else's vomit on me than what happened today.

3 cans of baby food plus 4 oz of juice, all of which came up as i was holding the baby against me (standing).

it was insane.

in my lifetime, this amount of vomit that was on my person can only be bested on one occasion, and it was my own vomit. i had a very bad reaction from the anesthesia after a major operation, and my first meal after the operation came back up. because i was still very weak and disabled from the surgery, and i was alone in the room, the vomit had nowhere to go but all over the front of my body.

i can now distinctly know the top 2 times i have been vomited on.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

slept through the night

our baby has a lot of trouble sleeping. 

as a newborn, he never liked to take long naps, preferring to sleep in 30 minute increments.  at night, he would wake up every 2-3 hours to eat. 

as an infant, he is still having problems.  he takes 4-5 naps a day, all between 15-30 minutes long (rarely, he will sleep for an hour to 90 minutes).  we put him to bed around 9 oclock, and he has been waking up between 2-4 because he's hungry (we have a fairly skinny baby, who must have a high metabolism.  he still eats every 2-3 hours during the day too!). 

lately, he has been waking up on his own around 5-5:30am.  it has been killing my wife and i.  we can't get any continuous sleep.

but last night, he slept from 9 until 6 oclock this morning.  9 hours straight without waking up.  this means that she got around 7.5 hours of sleep, and i got almost 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep (stayed up later to work).

i feel awesome.  hope he keeps it up!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

my biggest fear

i had the perfect baby boy 5 months ago.

my biggest fear in life is now that something will happen to me before he's old enough to have experienced (and remember) the love i have for him.  i want him to remember me, and have countless memories of me letting him know that he is the success of my life.

my heart is so full of love that life would be a failure for me if he didn't know how much he means to me.

i pray that nothing ever happens.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

my friend was convicted of child porn possession

recently, a friend of mine fell off of the radar for a few weeks. so i texted him and asked him if he was alright, to which he replied that he was not, that some things had happened, and that we should meet to talk about things. he told me that he had spent some time in the psyche ward, and that he was now ok, and that he would fill me in.

we were to have dinner in a few days. needless to say, that whole time, i was constantly wondering what happened. did he cheat on his wife? did he somehow hook up with his step-daughter in a drunken mistake? did he get caught stealing something at a store? did he catch his wife with another man? did he get caught looking at something bad on his computer by his wife?

little did i know it was much worse than all of that. i met him at the table at the restaurant where we made small talk and each ordered a few beers. eventually, he said that the reason he was in the psyche ward was because he attempted to kill himself. when i asked why, he said (after a few moments) that he was going to prison for a while. when i asked why he is going to prison, he (after a few moments and attempts) told me he has an addiction to child porn and had gotten caught by the FBI. a minimum of 5 years in prison.

ulgh. what the hell?

initially, my reaction was for his well being. was he over his suicidal thoughts? how is his wife taking this? what is she going to do? are they going to keep their house? how are his step daughters taking it? what did his family say? what is the court system going to do?....

but after our dinner, the realization of what he had done set in. he was deeply involved in the underground child porn industry. the FBI doesn't put someone away for a minimum of 5 years for something small and stupid. 5 years means you were doing a lot of stuff (he actually plea-bargained his distribution charges down to possession, knocking down the minimum sentence from 20 to 5 years). he was guilty. he was doing a lot of bad stuff. he was actively contributing to the abuse and destruction of children.

it weighed heavily on me for a few days, and i went through a few of the 5 stages of grief. at first, i kind of denied his actions. then the gravity of it hit me. the extreme consequences hit me. this guy is losing at least 5 years, will lose his job (and his access to our industry, as he is also a computer guy), will lose his house (wife can't afford it), and will lose most of his friends. he won't be able to get a job, and everyone will hate him. the idea of that happening to a friend's life was a lot to overcome. he will have to wear the modern day scarlet letter.

but then i began to realize the gravity of the charges. they are so bad. there are really only 3 worse things: physically harming a child, rape, and murder. what he did was up there with those things. child porn. child porn? that is so utterly disgusting that i dont want to think about it. i specifically didn't ask him exactly what he was downloading because i dont want to know. i don't want to know what people are capable of doing to small children.

i told my friend that i would support him. but what does that mean? what does it mean when your friend tells you he is a [soon-to-be] convicted child pornographer, and that you will help to support him through his journey. what does that mean? will i constantly remind him of the importance of therapy? will he want me to keep him away from computers? i want to provide support, but i have no idea to the extent of that support.

and he asked me if i would write him a letter for the court, and i said i would. what will it say? i have no idea. i somewhat want to abandon him as a friend and turn my back on him. but i also want to give him a chance to redeem himself, and give him the chance to write some wrongs. i don't want to condone his actions, but also, he is my friend, and i have the urge to want to stop bad things from happening to him (regardless of what he has done to deserve them).

its a matter of not wanting to illustrate condonement, but not wanting to demand maximum punishment. it's a weird gray area, and i'm not sure how i am going to tread those waters. i don't, in any way, want to be associated with any approval of his actions, but i also am not sure that he deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison. i haven't been asked to write the letter yet, but i'm nervous for when the time comes. what will i say?

it's hard to handle this situation. i feel so bad for this guy's family, but i feel awful for the children who were abused as the source of his entertainment.

what to do...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

little boy going to daycare

my wife is a teacher, and has been off of work the last 4 months to be with our new baby.

we lucked out, because we had him exactly 6 weeks before school was over, meaning she got her entire summer vacation plus 6 weeks to be with him.

taking him to daycare is very hard, and it has been fairly devastating for my wife.  we've looked at our finances, and there is just no way that we can afford to stay home, at least not yet.

i imagine it was really hard for her this morning.

i love them both more than i can express.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

been a while

it's been a while since i've put up a post, which is pretty contradictory to the purpose of blogging. with a new baby, it has been hard to find time.

when i hold my baby, i get terrified for a moment. i'm not scared i'm going to hurt him. i'm scared i'm going to blink and wake up, and it will all be over. he will be grown up, and he will no longer be the little boy that i love to hold in my lap.

he's growing so quickly. i'm terrified.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

SE Linux blocks connectivity between apache, postgres, and php

i've been having trouble with my apache/php/postgres installation on fedora core 12.

the problem was that i could not get php to connect to postgres when i executed code via the web browser. i was getting an error in the apache log that was denying the connection. if i executed the code from the command line through the php executable, it worked fine.

it turns out that SE Linux is blocking this connection. the following command (entered as root) solved the problem:
setsebool -P httpd_can_network_connect_db 1

terminals on top of each other

i use the terminal a lot in Linux and OS X. one thing i've noticed is that when you open a new terminal (in either one), it likes to put the new terminal on top of the old one, meaning you immediately move it so that you can see both terminals at once.

why don't they have a better offset system for terminal windows? when i open another terminal, make it so it is as far away from the first terminal as possible. that is where i'm going to end up moving it anyway.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

music pastor to everyone: just show up when i get a wild hair

as stated before, i play guitar for my church. the band is fairly large. we have at least 1 electric guitarist and 1 acoustic guitarist (sometimes 2 of each), 5 or 6 horn players, a keyboardist, a pianist, a bassist, and a drummer. if you add in the 'worship leaders', you get the music pastor + 4 people. that means on any given sunday, the "worship team" is made up of around 15-20 people (not including the sound guys).

i got a mass email from the music pastor, where he basically said [sic] "we are doing a night service in a few weeks, so i need all of you to show up at 3pm on Sunday to play."

what? am i the only one who thinks this is ludicrous? he has 15 volunteers who contribute their time and talent for 5-10 hours a week, and because he gets a wild hair, he wants to have a service where he expects everyone else to just show up.

no questions about "when can people play for a nightly service? when do people have plans this month? is anyone up to playing in an extra service?" no. he made plans, and he expects us to show up.

it's completely rude. am i right? i understand that in a group of 15 people, there are guaranteed to be conflicts, but he could at least be polite enough to ask.

i think i'm going to tell them that i don't want to play, unless we have some fun music (for once).

Friday, June 11, 2010

why americans dont watch soccer

the world cup is going on, and there is a lot being said about why soccer hasn't engrained itself into american culture. i disagree with all of the points being made.

"soccer is too slow for americans. there isn't enough action." - i don't buy this argument at all. golf is a huge sport in america, and is highly televised and highly watched. golf is a much slower sport than golf, yet the ratings and money invested in america are high.

"turnovers aren't important in soccer. americans love game that value possessions." - hockey does well here. basketball does well here. golf, tennis, and volleyball don't even have ball possession, and they do well here.

"soccer hooligans turn me off to a sport." - go to a game in philadelphia. go to an LSU football game as a supporter of the 'away team.' go to an OSU vs Michigan game.

the real reason soccer hasn't taken foothold here is: we already have too many sports. NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, PBA, PGA, tennis, college football, college basketball (March Madness), lacrosse, little league... we have a lot of sports here that we are invested in. i would argue that college football is the american sport with the craziest fans, but some college basketball fans can get crazy too. there is simply no room for soccer in our lifestyle. where could they fit it in? MLB playoffs are in the fall, NFL playoffs are in the winter (combined with college football bowl games), the BCS games are in January, the Super Bowl in February, then college basketball in March, and NBA and NHL playoffs in April and May.

summer is usually reserved for baseball, but baseball is the only sport that can survive in the heat, because it doesn't subject it to the physical demands that the other sports do. soccer requires a lot of running, and for it to break into the big TV markets in the US (California, Florida, Texas...), there would have to be games in sub 100 degree weather. the soccer players would croak.

that is why there is no soccer here. there's just no room.

Friday, June 4, 2010

more work for the same money

i have a friend who is in a job where he has been told that he will not get a raise this year. he did not get a raise the last 2 years, but did get a 'one time bonus' the last 2 years (will not be getting a bonus this year). his department is actually facing budget cuts, but they can sustain current salaries as long as they don't give any raises. this means that there is no incentive for him to work harder than he did this past year. it also means that his next raise (annual salary) will be based upon a number that has not changed for 3 years.

after learning this, he basically told me that he is going to pull back the reigns on his work ethic, and do only a minimal amount of work. several people in his office show up late and leave early without taking PTO, and they commonly email in at 10-11am, telling their department that they are working from home (when everyone knows there is no work being done). there isn't a huge workload in the department, but the work being performed is minimal, and the parity among the amount of work done between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' is huge.

the question is: can i blame my friend? if you work the hardest and smartest in your office, and you are told you aren't getting a raise at all, should you pull back the reigns? should this be even more evident considering other people aren't getting raises either, and are doing 1/4 to 1/10 of the work you do?

i would say 'yes'. in this day-and-age, it is not enough to just let a person they are going to keep their job. if you tell someone they aren't getting a raise (and especially if they haven't in the past few years), don't expect retention. your workplace will become a revolving door to anyone with talent. anyone with talent is going to be motivated by both innovation, a great workplace, and money. people who are content with mediocrity in their job are going to engage in mediocre performance. without providing some sort of enticement and positive feedback to your staff, you will lose them. the only staff you will keep are the ones that are too scared to leave, and who only want safe decisions. these people are never star performers, and you'll never go far with them. it's better to have 3 amazing performers that 10 mediocre ones. the mediocre ones will get a little more done in the beginning, but they will eventually bring each other down, and will ruin each other's work environment.

i know you're thinking "but what are you supposed to do if you don't have any more money?" first of all, there is always more money. the difference between what management makes and what the normal workers make is huge. if you have to trim $10k across management to give your 5 best workers a $2k raise, then do it. management probably makes too much anyway, and they are much less important than your men in the field.

the second option is to actually analyze your workforce, and maybe get rid of unneeded workers. i have yet to work in an environment where at least 2 positions/workers were worthless. firstly, it is your fault for keeping such idiocy on your staff. second, you should trim the fat and use a small portion of the money saved to pay your workers that you cannot afford to lose. if you are in IT, and you have a manager who hasn't written a line of code in 6 months, he is worthless; i promise.

obviously, the point is moot with a bad employee. if you have someone who is invaluable, then don't give them a raise. if someone is just filling a slot (for budget), or if their job is remedial and can be taught to someone else in a day, then they are expendable. managers should know who is expendable, and if they don't, then it is the manager who needs to leave.

i told my friend to use his spare time at his job to search for a higher paying one. in the end, if he cannot find a better paying job, then his true worth is what he is getting paid. you're only worth your highest bidder. if he does leave, it will be sad, because his department will be losing a vital component.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Album Review: Coheed and Cambria - Year of the Black Rainbow

Today's review is of Coheed and Cambria's "Year of the Black Rainbow"

I like Coheed and Cambria. "Welcome Home", "The Suffering", "In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3", "A Favor House Atlantic", and "Always and Never" are my favorite songs by this band. I really like the falsetto voice, especially when it is overdubbed. Their guitar work is always complex and precise. I do admit that I pay no attention to the storyline that flows through their albums. I tend to listen to the music when it comes to this band, meaning I don't ingest the purpose/story/meaning behind the lyrics.
  • One - 2 Stars - While I understand why bands (especially this one on this album) create tracks like this, I have to admit that I don't like them. When looking at this album on iTunes, this track costs the same as the others. In my opinion, that's a bit ridiculous. It is a precursor of weird sounds and some piano, getting ready to tell the comic-book story that is the rest of the album.
  • The Broken - 4 Stars - A pretty decent song. Heaviness is pretty normal for C&C. I like it. This song is very layered. Would've liked to hear a little more of the vocal layers that C&C (specifically Claudio Sanchez) have done on their other albums.
  • Guns of Summer - 2 Stars - The vocals are off in the first part of the song. He is way off pitch. I just can't get behind this one. The syncopation is weird. It does have some of the vocal layers that I wish existed in 'The Broken'. Not a fan of the guitar solo.
  • Here We Are Juggernaut - 4 Stars - This song starts off very strong. The first minute is amazing. The rest of the song is good, and it had decent dynamics, but I just really appreciated the inro. It's a good song.
  • Far - 4 Stars - The opening riff is very cool (great tone). The first verse is good, and the chorus that follows it is very good too (the vocal overdubs sound great). I like the techno-sounding drums. This is a good song. It doesn't have anything that makes me overly excited, but it is a good song. It certainly isn't bad.
  • This Shattered Symphony - 3 Stars - I wasn't a fan of the intro. The intro guitar sounded fine, but when the main rift kicked in, I didn't like the syncopation on it. I didn't think the chorus was catchy at all; it was bland. The guitars during the chorus did sound fairly decent.
  • World of Lines - 4 Stars - The opening riff is a decent riff, and I like the vocals in the introductory verse. The chorus is good. I would have like to have heard Sanchez overlay a falsetto'd vocal over his chorus vocal(s) in his usual style; I think that would have been a good dynamic. I thought the drums really worked well in this song. This is a decent song.
  • Made Out of Nothing - 4 Stars - The introductory vocals are good, but the guitars are lacking throughout most of the song. The overdubbed vocals on the chorus sound great. Vocally, I think this is one of the best tracks. The beat of this song is great.
  • Pearl of the Stars - 4 Stars - I love the acoustic guitar in the beginning and the ambiance of the vocals (especially when the falsetto starts). The fuzzy guitar solo is good.
  • In the Flame of Error - 3 Stars - This song is just a normal C&C song. Nothing stands out about it.
  • When Skeletons Live - 4 Stars - My favorite guitar work on the album. The non-overdubbed vocals are kind of refreshing at this point in the album, although they are a little off key in some parts. This is probably my favorite song on the album.
  • The Black Rainbow - 2 Stars - The swirling sounds in the background throw me off a little bit. This is probably my least favorite song on the album (assuming 'One' doesn't really count). I don't like the fact that my favorite on the album was followed by my least favorite.
  • Chamberlain (demo) - 1 Stars - I spoke too soon. This is my least favorite song on the album. Where are the layered guitars? I know this is a demo, but this is bad. The drummer needs to lay of the cymbals too.
  • The Lost Sheppard (demo) - 3 Stars - I understand that this is a demo, so I will judge this one lightly. It does show some promise. The guitars were great in the intro, and I like the breakdown at around the 2:15 mark. The chorus has some promise to develop into something catchy. I really like the way he rhymes the word 'swallow' with 'follow.'
  • Hush - 3 Stars - Eh. Just a regular C&C song.
This was a decent album, but it didn't contain a song that I would deem as a major hit. Nothing stuck out to the point that I had to hear a song over and over again because it was so good.

Working from home

I am lucky enough to be able to work from home once a week. I have a new baby (mom is staying home for the first few months), and I can help out around the house a little bit. As long as I put in my 8 hours from COB on Wednesday and by the time I get to work on Friday, I'm square/legal/legit/honest.

Working from home is a bittersweet thing. It has its pros and cons. I would list them as follows:

  • You save "drive time". This means that I am gaining the time it takes me to drive to and from work, which is about 40 or so minutes in my case (round trip).
  • Save gas money. I drive 20 miles to work (round trip), and I have a truck that gets around 15mpg. This means I'm saving around $3 a day that I work from home.
  • Set you own hours. I can work whenever I want. If I can get 2 hours of work done on Wednesday night, then doing 6 hours of work on Thursday is fine as long as there are no fires to put out.
  • Lounge clothes. Gym shorts and a t-shirt all day long! I love it.
  • Music that isn't coming through the headphones.
  • Reclining. I can sit in my recliner and work on my laptop.
  • Lunch. I can eat here. There is no pressure to go out. Saves time and money.
  • Distractions from other people. If I'm at home, I need to help with the baby a little bit. So when mom takes her shower in the morning, I need to take a 15 minute break from work. When mom is doing something and the baby is near me and he cries, I need to do something about it. She wants to talk to me. She sees me sitting in a chair with my laptop, and the room is silent, and wants to break the silence. Or I may be in the living room, and she will come and turn on (and up) the TV. Her phone might ring, and she will want to have a conversation with the person while I'm 2 feet away and trying to concentrate.
  • Distractions from the house itself. If I'm working from home, I might as well have some laundry going. I might as well have my iRobot running. The dogs will bark, or they will want to go outside. These things can get distracting.
  • The pressure. I don't want people at work to think I'm not working hard at home (slacking), so I feel the need to overperform or work a little extra to prove that I am doing something.
  • Personal project distractions. Desires to do things (such as bloggin) will creep in. I'm not much for surfing the Internet (I only have a few sites I pay attention to), so that isn't really a distraction (nor is the desire to turn on the TV). But I do like doing things such as blogging and working on personal stuff.
  • Food. We purposely don't keep anything sweet or insanely unhealthy in my house because I will devour it within a few hours of bringing it home. But I still find myself checking to see what is in the fridge every time I get up.
  • Development environment. If your managers/owners are worth anything at all, they provide you with a pretty good working environment; one that is pretty industry-standard, and that promotes good work and comfort. You may not be able to recreate this at home. My work development machines are pretty good, especially for writing code (3 monitors on a Linux system). My home environment is a laptop. While my physical comfort level is better at home, my programming environment is not as nice.
It is a tricky business when trying to balance the work one must do with the flexibility that one can allow when working from home. Yes, I can take little breaks here and there, but I have to get 8 hours in at some point, and they must be good, quality hours. One of the things I am going to try to do is a weekly review of an album. I can buy an album every week, listen to it 2 or 3 times on Thursdays, and then write a review. It will give me something to do, as well as open/broaden my horizons when it comes to music.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Isolation Boxes

For those who want to know why I made these isolation boxes, please refer to the previous post.

There were a few goals when building the isolation boxes. We wanted to hold all of the sound inside the box, we wanted to be able to hold a fairly large combo (I have a Fender Hot Rod Deville 4x10), and we want to make it cool. I guess I should mention that I didn't want to break the bank too.

Before I go any further, I have to say thanks to a few people. There was one person in particular who really helped me a lot. He let me use his shop (I don't own a table saw or some of the other tools that were needed), and he came up with a lot of the ideas and methods that we used. He even created the blueprints. Next, I want to say thanks to another guy who helped me. He was a second pair of hands when I needed them, and it was great to have. Lastly, thanks to my wife for letting me do all this without complaint, and watching me throw several hundred dollars down the drain.

As you can see, there were several pieces to the box. The frame consisted of 3/4" plywood as the outer frame, and then 3/4" MDF for the inner frame. In between the frame is plain-old fiberglass insulation (the same kind you put in your house). It is in 2 x 6 feet strips, and I think it is type R-19. I bought a huge bag from Home Depot.

On a side note, I got most of my supplies from Home Depot, and I find the people there to be much more helpful than those at Lowe's. I bought some of my hardware elsewhere (Harbor Freight), and it was very well priced. Home Depot & Lowe's have a gigantic markup on a lot of items. Harbor Freight is much better priced.

The outside frames are 36" tall, 36" wide, and 30" deep. I can't remember exactly what the dimensions are on the inside frames, but I think there is 2" of insulation in between the frames (I think there is about 6" of insulation smashed down to 2"). The layer on the bottom of the box has 2 layers of insulation. If my calculations are correct, that would make the inside frames 30.5" wide, 30.5" tall, and 24.5" deep.

The inner box was easy to make. We simply cut it up, made holes for the joint biscuits (2 biscuits per side, which means 24 biscuits for the inner box, 48 biscuits per whole box), and glued them together. We made sure that the top and bottom pieces of the box were the pieces where we glued the other sheets into the face of the box, and not the sides of the box. The sides were tacked on with finishing nails after the glue was applied. We used size #20 biscuits, and looking back, probably should've done 3 biscuits per side.

The outer box was more tricky, because we had to build it with the inner box and the insulation being applied. In the end, it was easiest to go ahead and build 3 adjoining sides (basically the top/bottom and 2 touching sides) first, and get them glued together. Then we added the insulation for those sides, laid the inner box in, and started applying insulation and outer boards one side at a time.

The lids were cut 12" from the top of the box. It was quite difficult to get them cut. In the end, we just laid the box on the table saw, extended the table saw blade as high as it would go, and pushed it across. Once we had cut a whole side, we just rotated the box, realigned it, and pushed it across again. It was important to cut it after the boxes were completely put together, so that the lids would fit perfectly. To keep the inner box attached to the outer box in the lid, we drilled holes in the inner box, and screwed nylon strips to the outer box and inner box. It works great. I then applied some rubber stripping to the inner box to help with the seal.

I then applied paint: 3 coats of primer, 2 coats of black, 2 coats of polyurethane. If I had this to do over, I would've painted the bottom part first, applied the casters, and then painted the rest. Because I waited until the end for the casters, the box would scratch and the corners would crack a little when I would turn it from side to side. That could've been avoided, and some repainting could'be been avoided if I had put the casters on first.

Once the paint was on, I put the casters on (2.5" casters). Then it was time for the hardware. First, we started with the nylon strips that held the lid up. Then came some 'L brackets', which I applied to the top corners of the larger half of the box.

After the rest of the typical hardware additions (handles, latches, corner pieces), we added the plugs and soldered them to the box. We have male XLR plug, a female 1/4" plug, and a recessed male power plug. The XLR plug was soldered to about 6 feet of balanced mic cable which terminated at a female XLR jack, and then a female 1/4" plug was soldered to 6 feet of instrument cable, with it terminating at a 1/4" jack. The XLR is obviously for the mic, and the 1/4" goes to the amp. The power plug didn't need to be soldered (had screws, like a light switch), and it was attached to a standard 6 plug power strip.

The end goal was to make sure that all we had to do was plug in once, and the only time the box needed to be opened was to turn on the amp. We wanted to provide enough cable so that everything could be reached within the box, and to have enough power plugs so that wall-warts could be added if needed. Wall warts come into play because we were going to add fans (using standard computer fans, powered by soldering them to wall-wart (AC/DC converters). The problem was that we should've added fans in the beginning. The use of fans would require a beveling system, so that sound didn't leave out of the holes for the fans. We would need 2 (one for in, and one for out), and ideally would want the "in fan" at the bottom of the box, with the "out fan" at the top on the opposite side.

We chose not to install the fans due to the fact that we would've had to have done a significant amount of cutting that would've been done, the risk of sound escaping, and the fact that I had exceeded my budget for this project. I ran the amps at church for about 3 hours one day, and while the boxes got a little hot at the top around the tubes, the heat was certainly within the boundaries of what is acceptable by an amp and its heat tolerances. I would prefer to have fans, but I just don't see it happening due to the amount of sound that would end up leaving the box.

After playing in the amp, we immediately noticed that bass notes were the worst. So we put the amp on some foam squares (actually, they were little foam seats for children to sit on), and it cut down on a lot of the vibrations. With my amp (60 Watt Fender DeVille 4x10) turned up to 7, you can still hear the sound outside of the amp, but it is definitely minimized, and is insanely quiet for the amount of noise inside the box.

As far as sound goes, it made my rig sound much better (going through a Digitech RP1000), but it made the other guitarists' rig sound worse (MesaBoogie 2x12 tube amp). The reason is that it deadened his sound. His amp was mic'ed in a huge room, and the sound was much more open and rich, almost like a natural reverb. Well, with the amp enclosed, that changed things big time, and it sounded very wooden. A reverb pedal is definitely in need.

Total, I think I spent about $350 a piece on each box. The wood was $300, and with all of the hardware, casters ($5 a-piece), wiring, insulation, and everything else, the price added up. The only upgrades that I wanted were some sort of assistance for opening the box, some locking casters, and some foam for the inside of the box (sound foam). If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Why we needed the isolation boxes

I donate time to my church by playing electric/lead guitar on the Sunday morning services (and occasionally in other services). We usually have 2 electric guitarists playing at once, which is the first of two issues. The second issue is that the electric guitarists want to play out of amplifiers, and the amplifiers are causing problems.

The amps are located in a large high-bay (garage-esque) room with 30-40 foot ceilings, lots of concrete, and a big garage door (it is formally a 'prop room', but is used as storage as well). The prop room's walls are shared with walls with the outside hall and with Sunday School rooms, which means that the sound bleeds outside of the prop room, and it is causing complaints. Sunday School classes don't like a big distorted guitar bleeding into their room during morning rehearsals.

The second problem stems from the fact that there are 2 guitarists. A normal person wouldn't see the problem with setting 2 amplifiers next to each other and mic'ing them. But anyone who has any knowledge of musical instrumentation and amplification knows that you will run into 2 problems with this: bleed-over and phase issue. Bleed-over means that you will hear amplifier 1's sound in amplifier 2's mic. One may think 'well, what is the issue? You are mixing them both anyway.", but the problem is that if levels are being increased and decreased for solos and ambiance, the bleed-over will cause problems. If you are trying to elevate a certain guitars sound, you the bleed-over will elevate the other's sound as well.

The phase problems deals with audio engineering and physics. The sound waves that leave the amp do so in a sin wave. The peaks and valleys of the wave need to hit the mic all at the same time. With the bleed-over problem, you will have the sin waves from amp 1 hitting amp 1's mic at time X, and then hitting amp 2's mic at time X + N, where N is a number of milliseconds. While this may sound like a minimal problem, the differences in phase from the mics will cause a weird sound, and the sound will semi-pulsate and get muddy. It is not ideal.

That all being said, I decided to create some isolation boxes to house the amps. This will cause the amps to be contained to their own box, and the sound will be contained to said box. This means: there will be no more complaints from adjacent rooms about the guitar sound, there will be no bleed over from each mic, and we can crank the amps up a little louder, giving them more headroom and getting the tubes a little hotter.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

To be fair...

To be fair, I've ripped on music pastors pretty heavily.

I have to admit, I have only worked with 2 music pastors/directors/organizers in church, and one of them wasn't all that bad (it was the regular pastor who often ruined the environment).

I wanted to say this in full disclosure, because it is unfair to those I haven't worked with. In truth, I write this stuff in hope that another music pastor (or regular pastor) will learn exactly what people want out of their leadership.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

people just wont quit

Musicians in church (often referred to as "praise teams") are usually very committed people, and there isn't a lot of turnover when it comes to people leaving their service of the church. My grandmother has played the organ for church for over 40 years. A lot of the people at my church have been playing there since I've attended (several years now). I'd like to address exactly why there is so little turnover, and why music pastors can be so incompetent and yet retain so much dedication.

The first thing that we should remember is that churches are dealing with volunteers. If musicians are paid for their services, then not all of this applies. But for the sake of my argument(s), I will assume that a music pastor is a paid employee of the church, and that the musicians that he/she is directing are unpaid volunteers.

Rallying volunteers is a difficult job, although I think it becomes easier when dealing with church. People in church associate their emotions toward their church with their emotions towards their God (or whatever deity). This means that pastors (regular & music) can get away with a little more, because people won't abandon church projects very easily in fear that God will view them as abandoning him. They won't express their displeasure because they don't want to create gossip within the church (oddly, a lot of gossip takes place at church), and because they feel that displeasure towards anything to do with church can be interpreted as displeasure towards God, and they don't want to run that risk.

Also, most musicians count their service as part of their tithe. We are told to donate the 3 T's: treasure, talent, and time (I'm told the Catholic Church has actual rules on how much of each you can use as your tithe). Therefore, we get away with donating less money to the church because we donate our time. Personally, I give about 6-8 hours a week of my time to playing music when you add in rehearsal time, personal practice time, and the performance(s) itself. I bill my time at $50/hour (this is approximately what it costs my current employer to employ me, and what I charge people when I do odd jobs outside of work). But I digress. Musicians often keep dedicated to their church service because they know that they are paying part of their tithe through time and talent. If the IRS allowed you to claim this donation of time as a tax deduction (as they do actual money donations), I bet every church in the nation would have a 90-piece band.

That donation of time and talent is part of the reason that musicians stay with the church. Add that with the great guilt that people associate their service with their God, and it's hard to get them to leave. The last thing on the list would be that, for the most part, church musicians are good people. They know that they are needed to serve a greater good, and gladly donate their time. When their music pastors show up to practice still not knowing what music will be played on Sunday, or not having copies of the music, or when they don't know the order of the music or what cuts to make, the musicians look the other way. They are very patient, which is a Biblical quality. But I have to say that we are all a little more patient when dealing with people whom we view as [borderline] retarded.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Do pastors have a clue? Probably not.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am very involved in church; specifically, I am a musician who plays for my church. I've played for 2 different churches now, and found a lot of similarities between the two. The first church is doomed in every way due to the fact that the pastor is insane. But the second church has been very successful and will continue to be successful. They have a lot of differences in how the churches themselves are run. But the similarities all deal with the same subject.

Pastors [usually] have no clue on what it takes to live in the "real world", and they are absolutely clueless on what it takes to keep people from getting angry and from burning out from being a volunteer within the church. Many times, they are extremely incapable. Today, we will discuss their distance from reality when it comes to time.

Normal people work at least 40 hour work weeks. Many people have kids. Time spent at the gym to stay healthy, at the ball field watching the kids, mowing the lawn, and doing all of the other normal things in life can take up another 10-20 hours a week. Then, if you go to church, you will spend 3 hours a week at church, and that is just for your typical Sunday service and Sunday School. If you make it to the Sunday night service and the Wednesday service, then you can add another 3 hours to your list. Add all of that up, you're talking about 70-80 hours of your week. Gone.

How is that different than a pastors life? Well, that 40 hour work week goes right out the window. That 10-20 hours a week you [may] spend at church is part of their 40 hour work week. Often times, their kid plays sports for the church's team, meaning their sports time can happen on the clock as well.

Granted, pastors have busy weeks. Christmas can be stressful. They occasionally go on mission trips. If there are 4 funerals in a week, they could have a lot going on. But you have to admit, a pastors life is easy.

A music pastors life is even easier. They have to decide the music on Sundays! This is even easier on weeks where there is no choir service or you have a small band. At my church, we have a guy who handles the actual conducting of the band, and the music pastor only handles the choir and selecting the music. If a music pastor has no woodwind section and no brass section, then the music pastor only has to worry about rhythm charts, and maybe some piano music.

Beyond that, what is a music pastor's job? They have to play and sing at funerals. They have to deal with the Christmas service (which only pastors at major churches deal with). Their normal week has to only consist of maybe 5-10 hours of real work. They pick the songs, find the music (which they sometimes don't even do), and maybe have to transpose songs into a different key (which they sometimes don't do). If they feel like it, they may even email the songs for the week or upload them to their church's site, so that the musicians can hear them ahead of time (if this actually happens, the songs will only be posted 2-3 days before they have to be practiced).

A music pastor's job is a joke. And that's okay in the sense that I don't care if they don't actually do any work, and can still get money. That's "the American way." But my problem lies in 2 things: music pastor's act like they are extremely overworked and overstressed, and they have no clue on how to manage a group of people.

A music pastor has no clue what it is like to have to meet actual requirements, to deal with budgets that can deal with millions of dollars, to participate in projects that are high stress and deal with people's actual lives and safety. They don't have to deal with budget cuts, worry about firing people, deal with dumb requirements from their management, and have to work within the corporate environment's policies and politics. In summary, they have no clue what stress is.

It is completely infuriating to come in at 7:30pm on a Wednesday, after you worked a 9 hour day, fit your entire evening in between 5 and 7:30pm, have no clue on what you are playing at church this week, haven't eaten yet, and have your music pastor break down because he is so stressed out.

It's even worse when they are ill-prepared. In any other instance, we would fire someone or quit if they behaved this way, but because we are serving God [in the end], we put up with it. If a budget director showed up at a project meeting and had no clue how much money was available for a project, we would hang them out to dry. If you hired a painter, and he came to your house and said that he didn't bring any paintbrushes, you'd tell him to forget it and hire someone else. But we put up with it when it comes to music pastors. It boils down to the fact that we are serving God, and therefore are being polite and unselfish, and the fact that most music pastors are fairly effeminate, and are hyper-sensitive.

It makes it really hard to respect music pastors. Barring a death in the family, it is inexcusable for them to ever be anything but 99.9% perfect at their job. It is incredibly simple, and they have all of the time in the world. I wish they would get it together so that I looked forward to dealing with them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

$24 an hour

While sitting at work one day, I got a text. I didn't recognize the number, but when I saw the content, I knew exactly who it was from. The text said "i can't believe you said that stuff about NepotiSoft on linkedin". It was from the HR person at NepotiSoft.

I immediately knew what the problem was. On my LinkedIn profile, I had posted that I worked on a project at NepotiSoft that failed, and it did so because of the lack of requirements put forth by both the government and by NepotiSoft's management.

I could understand that this could be construed as distasteful, and possibly unprofessional, so I changed the LinkedIn profile, and replied back that I was sorry if I upset anyone, and that the post had been updated. With this reply, there was a small text conversation in which I was lambasted again for saying something [possibly] negative about NepotiSoft, and to which I replied that NepotiSoft has a lot of problems.

Then I got a reply that I didn't expect. The text said "We paid people $31 that 'claimed' they could do more then they really could, and wanted to only write code, writing code is a $24 an hr job..." (the grammar and mistakes are there because it is a verbatim quote).

This was an obvious shot across my brow, as I was paid $31/hour at NepotiSoft, and I failed at my assigned project (I will argue until my death it was of no fault of my own). I can understand that they may be pissed off that I left, and that the project failed (they will argue that it didn't fail, but that is a later post...). It wasn't the direct shot at me that made me think about the text, the conversation, and the situation.

It was the dollar amount. $24 for a software programmer?

I work in a room with about 15 other software programmers, and none of them make $24 an hour. I would say the minimum is probably around $30 an hour in respect to those 15 people. These are people that are extremely seasoned, and are experts in their respective areas (everyone is a C programmer, but many specialize in Java, or Perl, or C++, or Cisco, or dealing with Linux & it's configuration, etc..), and I consider myself one of these experts.

For a good C programmer who is knowledgeable about Linux, and who has expertise in legacy systems/programming/structures/code, it is not absurd to make $75k+ a year. In NYC, $100k jobs are common (so can be said all along the East coast). Government programming jobs will start around $50k-60k, and it is not uncommon to get the same amount when it comes to government subcontracting. Private sector jobs demand at least $50k-60k for a C programmer, and often more for someone with a particular expertise.

The only programming jobs where you can make sub-$60k are web-programming jobs. Web programming doesn't require a lot of expertise, and doesn't command as much expertise. But even then, there are some very creative and experienced web programmers who are well-worth much more than $60k.

It really bothered me that someone could think that programmers should only make $24 an hour. What a joke.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

good nights

On a good night, when I want to wind down and take the edge off, I usually drink a glass or two of Scotch. My favorite so far is the 18 year old Glenfiddich. It has a great flavor, is very smooth once you swirl it around in your glass a dozen times or so, and really progresses on your palette with every sip. Sometimes I will use a single ice cube in it, sometimes I won't.

When I start later, and want something good that will get me caught up on my buzz without losing too much flavor, I drink Knob Creek. It is 50% alcohol (vs 40%), and still has a good oaky, smokey flavor. It has a little more bite, and is definitely good with an ice cube or two, although is not near as smooth as the scotch. But when you are looking for a cheaper alternative, and looking to get relaxed a little quicker, it is a great alternative.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hiring on at NepotiSoft

So how did I arrive at NepotiSoft?

One day I was out to lunch after church, and I saw an acquaintance from high school. Let's call this person Leslie. We talked for a minute, and when Leslie found out what I did for a living, Leslie told me that there may be a position opening at Leslie's company. I told Leslie I was interested, and gave out my number.

A few weeks later, I got a call requesting my resume. Days after that, I drove to my first interview (over lunch) with Leslie and the CEO (a sibling of Leslie). I was shown the offices, which were beautiful and were very impressive. They took me out to lunch and we discussed my skills. I was told to come back in a few days for a formal interview.

I remember uttering the words "I've never failed a project" at some point of my formal interview. Boy, would I eat those words. Other than that, I can't remember much, other than the bombshell that was laid on me: in order to accept the job, I was going to have to spend 6 weeks in Europe for training.

The incentives to accepting the jobs were as follows: $31/hour ($64,500/year), full paid health insurance, 3 weeks vacation/sick leave, my own office, project lead, and the possibility of revenue/profit sharing. I was already making the same amount at my other job, but the possibility of being in a bigger leadership role, working in a sexy part of town, making money due to profit sharing, having my own office, and working in a more exciting environment was just too much for me. I took the job. Within 2 weeks of me being employed at NepotiSoft, they tried to lessen my vacation time by a week. I took great offense to this, and brought it to the attention of the CEO and President. They sensed my extreme displeasure, and changed the employee policy so that every employee from that point forward would only get 2 weeks of vacation time; I would be grandfathered in at 3 weeks.

In full disclosure: my wife did not want me to take the job because of the 6 weeks in Europe. We fought about the decision for almost a month. But I put my foot down and decided it would be better for my career in the long run. She was both right and wrong (as was I). I had to leave NepotiSoft, and nothing amounted from that job. But I would not have gotten the job I have now had I not taken the job at NepotiSoft, and I am now in a very secure job making more money than ever.

An introduction to NepotiSoft

Since I have a huge interest in project management, and corporate environments, I should give some backstory about my bad experience. This post will just be a description of a company that I worked for about a year ago. My tenure there was exactly one year, and it will probably be the worst year of my working career. It's sad that I know so much about a company after one year, and that I have such a strong opinion. I know some programmers who were with this company for a few years, and I bet they'd have a lot more to contribute.

I won't use the real name of this company, as they are still in business (kind of). But we will call them NepotiSoft.

Why the name NepotiSoft? Because while this company will tell you that their main focus is software and IT-related products, their real focus is nepotism, and making sure that their family members reap any and all benefits before anyone else.

NepotiSoft had some beautiful offices when they hired me. Everyone had their own office, and they were located in a beautiful part of the city. We were around a lot off cool places in town, and it was a really exciting area.

When I hired on, the company consisted of: a CEO, a part time President, a CIO (who was also a developer), an HR person who was also the contract specialist/account, a marketing/sales person, a secretary, a full-time developer, a full-time tester/researcher/whatever you could find for this person to do (non-technical), and a full-time CSS/imaging guy.

During my tenure there, another 3 developers were hired (excluding myself), with 1 being fired and another being hired in his place. The CEO would also bring in the spouse on occasion to help with accounting stuff. I am assuming this was done so that they could give some more money to the CEO's family without it looking suspicious.

In my 1 year at NepotiSoft, we peaked at 13 full time employees. 4 of those were all family members. NepotiSoft is now working with 6 employees, with 4 of those being family members. They effectively fired all of their developers (excluding the CIO), which makes them a software company without an employee who is fully dedicated to software development (no split duties). We will get to an analysis of this in a later post.

The company like to publicly declare that they were a "Christian company." I have no idea what this means for a business(full disclosure, I am Christian). They liked to recognize everyone's birthday with a cake and a gift (usually a $25 gift card), and they would sing 'happy birthday' to people before cutting the cake (I always find this weird when done for someone over the age of 14 or so). They would always lead the cake cutting with a prayer (which I liked, but saw as potential to be very offensive). In the end, they would use this idea of them being a "Christian company" as a way to get employees to be nice to them when the company itself was being very unChristianly. It was a way to keep employees from being smart, and treating the company the way the company treated them.

That is a good enough description of the company so that later posts can be understood. The most important point is that the CEO, President, salesperson, and HR rep/accountant were all related, and are still employed despite the fact that they are a software development company without any true developers, despite the fact that the salesperson has never made a sale and that a 6 person company does not need a full time accountant/HR rep or secretary.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What to do...

What to say..... What to do....

My life rarely changes. Monday through Friday, I wake up early, get dressed, make my short commute to work, and I sit there for 8 and a half hours (going out to lunch about half of the time). Once my sentence is up, I go to the gym, come home, fix dinner, do whatever chores are due that day, and chit-chat with my wife.

After that, I just sit there until it's time to go to bed.

Yeah, I may sit and watch TV, or play around on the Internet, reading blogs, checking the news, looking at some new computer code or up-and-coming technology. Sometimes I'll play a little guitar. But the common thread is that I am sitting down with my brain almost completely turned off, performing only basic actions that require little to no thought.

This blog might be a way to keep my brain functioning during those mundane hours. Maybe I can get a little depth in my thinking, and provoke some thought in myself and others. So if you're bored too, sit back, have a drink, and let me know what you think about my life.