Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The dark ages are over

The 50-year historical blip in which a tiny percentage of artists were able to get rich off of prerecorded music is blessedly over. With the plummeting cost of recording and mastering songs has come a great democratization in music creation, in which anyone, not just those backed by labels, can create great music.

Back in the day, the labels were the investors: recording good music was expensive and difficult, and getting it promoted required paying off the gatekeepers of terrestrial radio, and so labels ponied up the startup capital and therefore got the lion's share of the profits.

Today, the startup capital required is several orders of magnitude lower, and the promotion channels are infinite and free or nearly free to access. Yes, it's much less likely for an artist to get filthy stinking rich off recorded music today, but you know what? I'm okay with that. We have an embarrassment of riches in terms of great new music today, being created by tons of people who are now free to act on their creativity because recording and distributing music is basically free today.

Labels are dinosaurs. Paul Stanley is a dinosaur. File sharing was the extinction-level event. The dust just hasn't completely cleared yet. Mark my words: we have entered a new golden age for music, something that will be obvious only in retrospect.

(Copied from my replies to a post by Matt Vicente on FB.)

Monday, October 20, 2014

I hate when a good comment gets buried

I hate when I post a good comment to reddit and it gets buried because either no one noticed it or it was a tangent to the OP. Here's one such case:

One of the consequences of MMT is that the national debt is meaningless: it's an accounting fiction.
One of the interesting properties of fiat (government-issued paper) currency is that the government must run a net deficit or there can be no money in circulation: if government doesn't spend the money first (i.e., before collecting taxes), how can there be any in circulation for private payments or tax payments?
Note that MMT isn't prescriptive, just descriptive. It's critical for people to understand how our monetary system actually works in order for sane policy to be created. Of course what I said above isn't true on a gold standard, for instance; but we aren't on a gold standard, so unless we go back to that we should stop treating taxes and government spending as if we were on one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Demand pricing, parking, transit, and autonomous vehicles

Today's blog post is just a link to a post on Facebook where I have a few comments about parking and transit and autonomous vehicles.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Second Monday of October?

"It's not garbage night. Tomorrow's a holiday."

That was me yelling to my downstairs neighbor out the window after I heard the rattle of trash bins being pulled down the driveway. Of course, I've done similar things before, and it's perfectly understandable: I mean, really, who actually celebrates Columbus Day? Its main use seems to be as "fall break" for college kids: I've never even had a job that recognized it as a company holiday.

So, while I appreciate the movement toward Indigenous Peoples Day as perhaps a more "just" variant on the same holiday... really, no one celebrates that either. ("No one" in this instance is intentionally hyperbolic, for effect; but it's basically a fact that very few people care beyond the philosophical.)

So this brings up the question of what holidays are actually used for, which should motivate a redistribution of them to more meaningful or useful times.

Is it celebration? There's a disconnect between holidays in the US and what events people actually celebrate. Some, such as Christmas and Memorial Day, are actually used as days of celebration by large numbers of people, regardless of whether the celebration is actually connected to the original purpose of those holidays; but some, such as Presidents Day and Columbus Day, achieve nothing more than a collective "Yay: a day off!" Why not a day like the Monday after Superbowl Sunday, when it would actually be useful for a ton of people whose livers are still working off the previous night's festivities?

So, is it time off? Disregarding the fact that many private sector workers don't get all US holidays off, there's also the problem that national holidays are distributed poorly for purposes of providing a freebie day every so often. Here are US federal holidays:

  • New Year's Day (January 1)
  • MLK Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January)
  • Presidents Day (3rd Monday in February)
  • Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)
  • Independence Day (July 4)
  • Labor Day (First Monday in September)
  • Columbus Day (Second Monday in October)
  • Veterans Day (November 11)
  • Thanksgiving (Fourth Thursday in November)
  • Christmas (December 25)

Look at how poorly distributed they are:

  • 3 in the space of four weeks (Christmas, New Year's, MLK Day), then one a month later, followed by a 3 month abyss until Memorial Day.
  • Only one in the middle of summer (July 4).
  • Finally, two in the colder part of autumn, after they would typically be useful for outdoor activity in large parts of the US.

If holidays are about time off, it seems they should be better distributed.

Purely for the sake of intellectual masturbation, let's free up some holidays for redistribution by eliminating some of them:

  • Presidents Day. Fuck them.
  • Columbus Day. Fuck him.
  • Veterans Day. Combine this with Memorial Day.

I would keep the others for the following reasons:

  • New Year's Day: people need this day for recovery.
  • MLK Jr. Day: poorly timed so close to New Year's, but an important holiday in the context of American race relations. I would maybe argue for moving it to some other significant date in American race relations.
  • Memorial Day: by far the more widely-celebrated of the two veterans' holidays, this should be expanded in scope to cover both.
  • Independence Day: the only summer holiday (summer=June, July, August) and an important holiday in the context of American self-determination.
  • Labor Day: not really celebrated for its own reasons anymore, but this is the traditional end-of-summer BBQ holiday.
  • Thanksgiving and Christmas: important traditional family holidays.

Clearly one needs to be added for the Monday after Superbowl Sunday, which unfortunately now gets us back to 4 holidays in a month and a half, further arguing for moving MLK Jr. Day elsewhere; but let's just deal with that constraint.

So, now we need to deal with three major issues: the gap between Superbowl Monday and Memorial Day (3½ months), the singular summer holiday, and the nearly-3 month gap between Labor Day and Thanksgiving. We just freed up three holidays, but used one for Superbowl Monday, so we'll have to add one more federal holiday to cover all three of these issues. I therefore propose a spring Monday or Friday holiday at the end of March or the beginning of April, a summer Monday or Friday holiday in the beginning of August, and an autumn holiday in the middle of October.

Shit, now we're back to celebrating Columbus Day.

Fuck that. Instead, loosen the schedule slightly and make the holiday on October 31st, so parents can take their kids out trick-or-treating. Don't give it an official name, so people can call it Halloween or Samhain or whatever they like. If it becomes a federal holiday, you might even be able to move it to the Monday or Friday of the Oct 31/Nov 1 week and get the culture to move Halloween celebrations to match.

The final change I would make would be to move Independence Day to a Monday or Friday, so the number of 3-day weekends is maximized. Everyone knows the Declaration was adopted on the 4th, but what people really care about is a long weekend to go away or have guests and a huge barbecue, something that is hard to do in the middle of the week. Many companies already observe July 4 adjacent to either the previous or succeeding weekend. One might even argue for moving Thanksgiving to Friday, except that many companies already consider that Friday to be a company holiday, so moving it might actually reduce the amount of time off for the typical worker.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why is street parking so fucking hard?

Street parking.

Why is this so fucking hard? Those of you who live in East Bumblefuck won't understand this, but I must commiserate with my fellow urbanites.

  1. When street parking is constrained, it matters where you park. To be a considerate neighbor, do not park 7 feet from the nearest driveway cutout, and/or leave 5 feet between you and the next car. All that does is reduce the parking capacity of the street.

    Earlier this week, there were two cars parked along a section of curb that normally accommodates 3 or 4 cars. The first car was positioned about ¾ car length from the stop line; then a gap that one might have squeezed a compact car into, with a few floor jacks; then another car about ¾ car length from the driveway cutout. Those gaps add up to almost 2½ car lengths.

    Be considerate when deciding where to park your car. If you can't tell how far you are from the nearest driveway, or from the car behind you, get out and look. It's not that fucking hard. Eventually, with practice and observation, you'll develop a much better feel for where your car is in relation to other objects, which will help in driving, as well.

    A corollary to this is not to box someone in. After you park, take a quick look to see whether the cars in front of and behind you are able to get out. If they aren't, you should move.
  2. I see this one all the time in the winter: a snowstorm drops a foot or two of snow, which turns to ice when it is not moved before the next warming/cooling cycle. People then conclude that it is okay to park next to the huge, 2-foot wide block of ice adjacent to the curb, thus effectively reducing the width of the road by 4 feet when parking is permitted on both sides.

    The best part is when the person who parks this way leaves their car there for weeks after all the snow melts. This actually happened on my street last winter: one woman's car was practically sitting in the middle of the road for two weeks until she finally got around to moving it. Mind-blowing.

    Don't do this. If you have a truck or SUV, it's probably okay to drive up onto the ice and leave it there to slowly descend as the ice melts. If you don't, either break up the ice or call the city and have them do it. (The ice is in the right of way, so they should take care of it upon request.)
  3. Do not park in front of someone else's driveway. Ever. For any reason, and for any length of time. Seriously, does this even need to be said? Where did the people who think this is okay grow up?
I must be forgetting some. What else do bad urban street parkers do?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

ProgPower USA XV Review

It's been slightly more than a week since my 14th ProgPower officially ended. Hard to believe on both accounts: that it's been over for a week, and that I've now gone to fourteen of these, having only missed the first one in Chicago owing, I guess, mostly to my general obliviousness at the time. (Actually, I still don't know what motivated me to go to ProgPower II, but I'll forever be thankful that I did.)

After digesting the festival's events over the course of the succeeding week, I feel like I'm ready to review the sets with a keen, completely-biased eye toward what I like and what I don't like. And so, with the caveat that my tastes are unlikely to align perfectly—or at all—with yours, I present the official

Crows ProgPower USA XV Review

Day 1: Wednesday night Mid-week Mayhem show

I'll admit to not having paid much attention to either Vangough or Theocracy, as I was mostly reconnecting with old friends I had not seen at Lara's Sausagefest the night before. This always happens for me with the Wednesday night show, something that is often a good thing (see: Midnight's performance as the first opener for Circle II Circle in 2008, when he occasionally mumbled loudly enough for someone to hear him; RIP) but is often unfortunate (Mindcrime, the Chris Salinas-fronted Queensrÿche tribute band that can do the old songs much better than any incarnation of Queensrÿche/Fakerÿche can today).

Pain of Salvation I was ready for, but it was clear they did not take this show very seriously. After the band finally started playing music about 10 minutes into hitting the stage, with Daniel going on about something or other, they had some rousing performances of some old tunes, including "People Passing By" from Entropia, before Daniel did the worst drum solo I've ever heard in the history of boring drum solos (yes, you read that right: Daniel, on drums, doing a solo), after which I punted and headed back to the room for some late dinner. I don't mind some banter and screwing around, but (a) it has to be intelligible and (b) it should be in small doses. This would turn out to have put a bad taste in my mouth for PoS, as we'll revisit in my later review of their main-stage set.

Day 2: Thursday night Kickoff

In a show highly-anticipated by at least 50 people, Pagan's Mind was to play all of Celestial Entrance as the headliner of this show. While I don't really give a rat's ass about Pagan's Mind, I appreciate promoter Nathan Block's enthusiasm and wanted to support his efforts to bring high-quality bands to the Kickoff stage, so I again sponsored the Kickoff despite not being nearly as excited about any of the bands as for Luca Turilli's Rhapsody the previous year.

Draekon had a ton of energy and some great hooks, but they don't have a lot of material and there's nothing there that I haven't heard before. Between Pagan's Mind and DGM, DGM turned out to be the relative highlight for me. I don't have much to say about either band: I found both sets enjoyable, but I don't know either band's material enough to really comment on it besides that simple observation. The Kickoff for me this year was merely an appetizer for the main festival.

Day 3: Friday night main festival

This was easily my most anticipated day of music, having 2 of the 3 bands I most wanted to see: Stratovarius and, of course, Leprous. As a sponsor of Leprous, I caught only a few songs of Need and then the very end of Orden Ogan's set, punctuated by lunch, and after which I had to scurry downstairs to retrieve from Glenn the "Don't fuck with me, bro" badge that would allow me to remain in the photo pit for all of Leprous's set.

I got a high from this set that I don't know that I'll ever duplicate from watching a band perform: as Bilateral and Coal are both in my top 10 albums of the millennium, and Bilateral fighting with Ocean Machine as my favorite album of all time, I had very high expectations for this show, all of which were blown away by the actual set. This was the best performance I've ever seen by any band ever, and the crowd behind me seemed to agree as they chanted "Ho-ly shit" over and over after the closing performance of their magnum opus, "Forced Entry". As I remarked to several people, I'm pretty sure at points I was dancing around like Elaine Benes from Seinfeld and screaming lyrics—hopefully not too loudly or off-key—something that I pray was not captured more than fleetingly on video. The only two songs I really would have liked them to play in addition to what they included are "Dare You" from Tall Poppy Syndrome and "Mediocrity Wins" from Bilateral... though, of course, they could have played a completely random set of their songs and still been amazing, because (as Matt Lee says) they have no bad songs.

Upon meeting the band downstairs after the show, and missing most of Overkill's set to do so, we discovered that the show might have been even better had all their tech worked. Unfortunately, in a festival setting like ProgPower, breakdown/setup time between bands is limited, so the band has to make do with what is available: for Leprous, this meant foregoing their video screens and backing audio tracks, and having a few technical flubs during the performance, including two microphone swaps by the very capable ProgPower stage crew. I was not able to attend any of their other shows on this tour, the closest to Boston being in NYC the night before the writing of this blog entry, but I am curious as to what others thought of their show in comparison to the ProgPower performance, which I can't imagine suffered in any way by the absence of those things.

Following Leprous, I caught two of Overkill's set from the seats, followed by a few more from the lobby, followed by a return to my room to take a short nap. I returned in the middle of Seventh Wonder's set, mostly because I wanted to see the end result of the hype machine, because it seems like everyone but me really seems to like them. Perhaps it would have made more sense were I familiar with the story behind Mercy Falls, but I just don't find their music itself compelling emotionally, and at this point that's pretty much a requirement for me to care about a progressive metal band. This might just be a case of "I'm now old and out of touch", or it might be me just being cantankerous and/or contrarian, but either way I appreciate that a lot of people really enjoy their music while not really being able to get into it myself. 

Up last for the night was Stratovarius. Having seen them last at ProgPower VI in 2005, a set in which a seemingly-interminable 90 minute changeover was followed by a tedious 10 minute video, followed by a set dominated by the visual show rather than by the music, this was a remarkably subdued but still powerful Stratovarius without the Tolkki juggernaut steering the band in questionable artistic directions. Timo Kotipelto sounded great on the Visions material—frankly, he sounded almost exactly like he did when recording the album 17 years ago, without any of the loss of timbre or range that plagues some older soaring vocalists like Bruce Dickinson—and the rest of the band was more than up to the task of reproducing the classics from that album, all without the pomp that distracted from the 2005 show. It was a little strange seeing Kotipelto and Grandpa Johansson on stage with other musicians who probably weren't old enough to drive to the record store on Visions' release date in 1997, but the experience for the audience was great. It was satisfying to see this band perform with dignity a true classic of power metal.

Day 4: Saturday night main festival

The final day of the festival was almost a wind-down for me: I was really only interested in the two headliners, Pain of Salvation and Jon Oliva's Pain, but I did catch a bit of Divided Multitude, Voodoo Circle, and Masterplan, all of which were entertaining even though I was not super-familiar with their output. After several straight nights of partying until nearly dawn, and with some unfortunate drama precipitated by a douchebag in the Artmore courtyard the night before, I spent more time during the day sleeping than I otherwise would have.

When Pain of Salvation finally hit the stage after over an hour, they played halfway through their first song before Daniel stopped the music, made some vague comment about the crowd not really being into it, and asking the crew to close the curtain so they could reappear with more energy. A lot of feathers, including mine, were ruffled by this action, especially after the extended delay in getting their asses on stage in the first place. That said, there were mitigating factors (aren't there always?) that I was either unaware of at the time or oblivious to: (1) PoS were recording their set for a DVD, which meant that visual presentation was critical to the performance; (2) their in-ear monitors (IEMs) were not working, which meant that they could not hear themselves, making it very difficult to stay in-sync, especially critical when your performance is being recorded for posterity; and (3) Daniel is unable or unwilling to treat the audience as a group of mature adults, frankly informing us of the issues with some statement like "We are filming a DVD, and so we need to get the intro right, and our equipment is not functioning correctly, so we have to start over. My apologies for the delay."

At this point, because I have limited information and a lot of what I do have is contradictory, that is all I have to say on the matter.

And honestly, it doesn't really matter. After the amazing show they put on playing Remedy Lane in its entirety—a technically-challenging album played almost flawlessly live under less-than-ideal conditions—no one is going to remember the delay a few years hence. Their show was amazing enough to untwist even my panties. Remedy Lane is probably my second favorite PoS album after OHbtCL (I apparently have unusual tastes), and their live rendition was incredibly powerful, effectively bringing forth the raw emotions Daniel must have felt when writing it. Even 12 years later, with a few mediocre and some entirely forgettable The-Daniel-Gildenlöw-Project-in-all-but-name albums released in the meantime, Remedy Lane still packs the same punch it did when first released. It is a true classic of progressive metal, having pushed the boundaries of metal to a place few artists can emulate, much less build upon. I am very glad I stayed to watch this set after the long delay and false start, and I know a lot of other people are also. (Daniel probably also wins the award for funniest line of the festival, with his "So, now we're going to play some songs from other albums. (Audience grumbles.) Ok, I guess we're not" line.)

Last up was the Mountain King, Jon Oliva himself, performing Streets: A Rock Opera in its entirety with his touring band. This set was everything I expected and only a little more, which in this case was exactly perfect. Having seen Oliva perform several times at ProgPowers over the years, I was mostly surprised at how spry he's become, jumping up from his fake plywood piano to dance around stage with the microphone, all the while making fun of everyone from himself to his band to the audience to the frequently mispronounced "Glenn Harvester". Otherwise, the set was exactly what I expected, which means "amazing". In contrast to the technically-demanding Pain of Salvation set played mostly seriously and with intense concentration by DG and company, JOP clearly had a fun time not only playing an album from Oliva's past but sticking it perfectly, with barely a flaw. I admit to not being the hugest Savatage fan—my favorite album of theirs is probably Dead Winter Dead, hardly from their golden years—but even I was brought alternately to cries of laughter at Oliva's lovable-goof antics and to wonder at the emotion and power they brought to the stage. I'm kind of glad they broke the seal with "When the Crowds Are Gone" at the end of their set, because it means Glenn can't use that threat against us as the unique harbinger of ProgPower USA's demise when he finally decides to hang up his Hawaiian shirts for good.

Over the years, I've been blessed with final Saturday sets by bands I care not a whit about (e.g., Jorn, Iced Earth, Hammerfall, Sabaton), which means I get started partying a little early. I was determined this year, however, to make it through to the house lights turning on, as I felt that would give me a sense of closure about the festival that I frequently find lacking when I wake up on Sunday or Monday, thinking, "It's all over?" This seems to have mostly worked: the main feeling I've had over the past week is not one of emptiness but rather one of exhaustion, mixed with joy that I got to experience this amazing festival with amazing friends for another year. Thank you, Glenn Harveston and crew, for your hard work in putting this thing together and keeping it going through good times and bad. ProgPower USA forever.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Thoughts from road-tripping

I've decided to try to get back into the business of blogging, but I'm mostly going to limit myself to bitching about things, because I don't really have the patience to write anything in-depth.

So, for today, I have two thoughts from road-tripping to ProgPower XV, and an additional thought related to my drive home from the gym tonight:

  1. I want the climate control system in my car to be smarter. To be fair, it's already much better than the old style in which you slide a thermostat labelled only with red and blue, and not connected to any actual temperature, and set a blower speed explicitly, and have to constantly adjust them whenever conditions change in the slightest so you can avoid burning up or freezing. At least my car lets me set a specific temperature by degree, which the car attempts to maintain for each of the two zones.

    The problem is that this isn't quite what I want. Humans don't feel temperature directly so much as heat gain or loss. What I really want from A/C is for the car to detect how much my body is warming up, and where, and direct more or less cold air to each spot (and I also want air-conditioned seats, but that's another issue). When I am driving into the sun, for instance, I'm going to feel a lot hotter than if I'm driving at night, even if the ambient temperature within the cabin is the same in both situations. What I'm forced to do now is to turn the temperature down (or hit "Max") when the sun is beating down on me, and then switch it back when the sun disappears behind the clouds.

    (First world problems.)
  2. When you are traveling 15 mph, you do not need to leave 10 car lengths between you and the car in front of you: I assure you, if that car comes to a sudden stop, even 1½ car lengths is more space than you actually need to stop safely so long as you are paying attention. This comes into play mainly at left turn arrows, where instead of the 15 cars that could make it through before the light turns red, only 4 do.
  3. Related to point 2, some will object that you don't want to be caught in the intersection if there turns out not to be space on the receiving road before the light turns red. And it's a good objection: instead of one constraint (maintaining something close to the minimum safe distance between cars), there are now two (also making sure there is space for you on the other side of the intersection before proceeding into it). I will politely suggest that if you cannot juggle two simultaneous constraints on safe and respectful movement of your vehicle, then perhaps it would be best if you were to leave the driving to other people.