January 31, 2011

Genetic Compatibility and Proclivity

My child will be aware of their potential spouse's genetic proclivities before proposing marriage.

That's my theory. Here's why.

In college, one of my friends dated a girl who had cancer. Several months in, I asked him how the relationship was going. He stated bluntly, "Well, it's tough. Because I don't really want to get attached if she's going to go and die on me."

Yes, he's a horrible person (in general, not just based on that lone event). But that was a real fear based on real evidence. Understanding the reality of the relationship before entering into it caused him to enter with much more caution.

We're currently at the stage where you can have yourself completely genetically tested for less than $10,000. For that price, you can know your precise likelihood of carrying and falling prey to the full spectrum of disease. And that information will change your market value.

"Sure, Jane's not as hot as Donna... but with an 80% less chance of cystic fibrosis, it might be worth it?"

January 28, 2011

Utah's Porn Addiction

This info-graphic has been getting a lot of attention lately. Based on Census statistics and America's Health Rankings, researcher Jeff Wysaski created this graphic to give each state their deserved credit...for what they're worst at.

Because every single state ranks dead last at something. And the one that jumped out at me is the same one that's jumping out at most people. Utah's "best of the worst" ranking for porn usage.

Utah? With 58% of the state claiming to be Mormon, a devout religious sect, this seems so strange.

But then I considered something. When I was young, and before I could even understand the sexual appeal of a strip club, I remember thinking, "Who would have the guts to be seen going in there?"

This statistic doesn't claim a more sexualized state. It simply claims that the average citizen of Utah, perhaps because of their cultural faith, would be more ashamed than the average American to publicly admit their base desires, their Freudian "id".

I would have to see strip club studies to confirm this. But I think what we're seeing here is the power of assumed anonymity. Utah citizens know what they're supposed to be like. And they act that way...in public.

January 27, 2011

Celebrity Stalking Isn't Weird

If your friend entered rehab, wouldn't you be interested in it?

That's how you need to think about celebrity stalking. We think they're our friends. We spend 30-60 minutes with them each week. That's more time than you spend with some of your friends that you care deeply about.

Now, I don't subscribe to US Weekly, but I prayed for John and Kate Gosselin's marriage when I heard it was on the rocks.

It's not weird. They're my friends. They just don't know it.

January 26, 2011

A Paragraph on Everything

I like to think of myself as a tech guy. After all, I write for a tech blog. And yet, loyal reader Braden was quick to dash my wireless provider-free plan from yesterday. I simply had my facts wrong.

I like to think of myself as a music guy. But then I come across people who study theory all day long. They know every ebb and flow of every symphony the greats have ever created. I don't know any of them.

Here's the problem. I don't really care if I'm not a tech guy. It's just fun to know more than 99% of the world about the latest technology. It's fun to be able to instantly debunk people's political mis-beliefs. It's fun to be able to tout the effectual health benefits of an organic food lifestyle.

But, I'm serious about becoming a great musician. And my greatest fear is that I simply become a guy you don't want to play trivial pursuit with. That I know a paragraph on everything, but that's it.

It's fun having as many interests as I do. But am I better off becoming single-minded? Dedicated to musical theory? So that rather than being good at a lot of things, I might become great at one of them?

The only problem is... if I do that... if I limit my hobbies and interests to solely musical ones, am I giving up learning about anything possibly worth writing songs about?

January 25, 2011

How I Plan to Cancel My Wireless Phone Plan

(UPDATE: This post is still worth reading, but loyal reader Braden was quick to correct some of facts. Check out the comments at the end.)

When Google Voice came out last year offering free local numbers, I instantly grabbed one each for both my wife and myself. She currently uses her Google Voice number for her Chicago dessert table business. And we can set it up to forward calls to her cell phone, or just act as a dedicated voice mailbox with a specific greeting. I have yet to use my number. But Google's recent "number porting" announcement has given me a great reason to.

Because when my wireless contract is up, I am going to cancel my phone service. Remember the law that came out several years ago saying you could keep your number if you switch carriers? Well, for a 1-time number porting fee of $20, you can now switch that number to Google.

When people call you, you can utilize Google Voice the same way you accept calls now. Voice mail works the same, with the benefit of transcription as well. The only difference? The call takes place over your data network. You no longer need a voice plan. You better believe I'm making the leap the second I can without penalty.

January 24, 2011

How I Went Nearly Cableless

I hate Comcast. Simply because they're a monopoly. It's like a girlfriend you desperately want to dump, but there are literally no other females on the entire planet.

Still, I wanted to try. I wanted to cut the cord. But, it turns out they're prepared for this.

You see, I wanted to unsubscribe from cable entirely. My goal was to use my QAM-unencryption capabilities on my Samsung TV to still get my local channels in HD, for the vast majority of live shows and sporting events that we watch. And then utilize Hulu Plus and Netflix for the rest.

Comcast had two defense strategies for this plan. One, if I got rid of my cable plan, my Internet costs would rise by $10/mo. Two, they would come out and put a block on my line so that I wouldn't even be able to access the local digital channels. And I would have to pay $10 for their guy to come out and do this.

Now, this obviously infuriated me. I'm quite certain it can't be legal. I'm not under contract. So an arbitrary fee for removal of service?? Why not just charge $2,000 and ensure no one ever leaves?

Their suggested alternative? Go down to a "basic cable" plan for $20/month and my Internet rate would stay the same. So for a net $10/month, I don't have to buy and install an antenna on my roof to get local channels. Sort of worth it to me, for now at least.

"Wait, so now that you're down to local channels, you're missing out on all that content you used to get?"

That's partially true. But, it's why we signed up for Hulu Plus (at $7.99/mo) and Netflix (streaming only at $7.99/mo)

While some Food Network and HGTV shows are included via Hulu Plus, this is the biggest content loss for my wife. And I no longer get to watch SportsCenter. But in exchange for the cost savings, we're getting a huge content increase. Hulu Plus offers not only full seasons, but full series of hundreds of shows. This includes current seasons, with new episodes released the day after air.

And Netflix's streaming library is much more limited than their mail-order library. But we use our local library to check out new releases free of charge.

"Wait, how are you watching Hulu Plus and Netflix on your TV?"

I bought a Roku XDS player for under $100.You can get an HD version for less than $60. Mine's just slightly more future-proof when Hulu and Netflix decide to provide 1080p streaming.

The Roku is a wireless device that brings Web apps to your computer, including Hulu Plus, Netflix, Pandora and more. Why Roku over Boxxee, Apple TV or Google TV? Well, Roku is cheaper than Boxee. And Apple TV and Google TV are extraordinarily content-limited at this point.

"Why can't I just hook up my laptop to my computer?"
You absolutely can. But then, you can't use your laptop while you're watching TV.

Our old Comcast bill was $95.70
Now it's $72.63.
+ 7.99 for Hulu Plus + 7.99 for Netflix and we're at $88.61.

A net savings of only $7.09/mo. But it's a start. And it's a savings, along with a huge content and convenience increase. And I'm not done haggling with the evil Comcast reps. Just a matter of time before we go even lower.

Tomorrow, How I Plan on Cancelling my Wireless Phone Plan.

January 21, 2011

Bad People Use Torrents

I am a member of Simply Audiobooks. For $15 a month, I get unlimited audiobooks mailed to my house, 1-at-a-time. I probably get through 2 a month, on average. It makes my commutes so much more enjoyable. It helps me get way more reading done than I would otherwise. It's much more convenient than trying to time audiobook holds at the library. And much cheaper than buying them.

Do you know what it's not cheaper than? Torrents.

Many of you don't pay for music, movies or games any more. Torrents have solved that financial nuisance for you. Now, if I call you out on it...if I call you a "thief" - you'll give me one of two responses.

1. Their pricing strategy is stupid. If it was cheaper, I'd pay for it.
or
2. Yeah, I know it's not right, but...mumble mumble

What's going on here? Why do so many people who claim that stealing is wrong not consider this to be? I don't want the "digital products aren't real products" cop-out. Let's figure out the cognitive dissonance here.

Is it simply because it's so easy that it just doesn't feel like stealing? Or simply since you know you're not going to get caught?

January 20, 2011

Food is Not a Commodity

I was recently involved in a food-value debate with a friend. He contended that his two frozen burritos for $0.35 each made for an unbeatable $0.70 lunch.

This is only true if the only factors in the game are calories/dollar. And I would win strictly by carrying around a bottle of the cheapest olive oil I could find.

All food is not created equal. Even if cost is your primary concern when choosing a meal, you need to think past the hyper-short-term. After all, you wouldn't put low-grade fuel in a Lexus, would you? Because fixing a ruined car costs a lot more than what you're saving now eating chemical-laden garbage your body doesn't even recognize as food.

January 19, 2011

An Actual Conversation

This is an actual conversation that took place in my household this morning.

"Ugh, I have such a bad headache."
"Me too. Maybe I should plug the carbon monoxide detector in again?"
"Why did you unplug it in the first place?
"Because it kept beeping!"

On a daily basis, I defy odds with my living.

January 18, 2011

It Feels Good

My freshman year of college, I remember having a frank conversation about sexual activity with a female friend. I, a long-time but only recently passionate Christian, tried convincing my female friend to abstain.

Her response, "Why? It feels good."

I was taken aback by the sheer honesty. I was used to a defensive questioning of the legitimacy of my moral stance. But she skipped straight past that and went to the reality in her mind that encouraged her behavior. It feels good. And I had no answer.

I used to defend morality based on the moral itself. But I am slowly understanding the effectual benefits of Christian morality.

For instance, I'm learning that some of my friends think they're in love, but are actually just addicted to the sex the person provides. There's a good thing there. It's a hard-wired good thing. The pyscho- and physio-logical addiction to another person. But before you decide you want to be with this person for keeps, you really don't want your mind getting tricked into thinking you do.

Don't just do something because "God said so." Figure out why he said it.

January 17, 2011

In the Club: The Respectable Redundancy of Hip Hop Music

Stop getting mad that hip-hop songs are singularly about "going to the club." That's where they play hip-hop music. At clubs. It makes sense in context. It doesn't make sense when you're watching a Coke commercial in your living room as you protest the banality of rap.

You can only stay mad at that if you think Church music should stop referencing God so often.

January 14, 2011

Who Do They Say That I Am?

One more music-related post before we go back to random-land next week.

Whenever people used to ask me what our band sounded like, I never knew what to say. So, I'd say stuff like "it doesn't really sound like anything else," implying that we're SO incredibly original, that even to compare us to someone way better than us would be an insult to our ingenuity.

This was obviously insane. And EVERY band does it. We all think we're breaking the mold. Creating new genres. And to a very slight extent, we are. But, everyone else in the world thinks you sound like someone else. For instance, we sound like Sufjan Stevens meets Radiohead.

This thought was echoed at church this past week, when Jesus' line from Matthew 16:13, "Who do they say that I am?" came up. He understood this reality. That the human brain works like that. Putting people into categories. Comparing them. Withholding the option that a new reality is coming to pass.

And his contemporaries were quick to put Jesus in one of those boxes. "Some say John the Baptist. Others Elijah. Others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."

We don't understand the concept of something new. And that's why we rarely create it.

But, I'm going to try.

Music is Awesome: A Summary

I really appreciate your patience these past two weeks as we tried to figure out what makes music awesome. This was extraordinarily helpful for me to think through before starting this next album this year.

Now, I want to be clear that I don't believe these 7 flavors are THE 7 flavors. This was pretty stream-of-consciousness, just thinking through some different reasons why music is awesome, including:

Salt as Syncopation
Potato Chip Crunch as Beats
Sweet as Sweetness
Umami as Ethereal
MSG as the Hook
Gourmet Dining as Meaning
Sweet and Sour as Contrast

I will probably refine this list as I go through the recording process this year. But I love having this temporary cheat sheet for me to look at as we go. So, I can listen to a song, see that it sucks, and go, what ingredient might I add?

January 12, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: Sweet and Sour as Contrast



Sweet and Sour as Contrast: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

The best example of this concept is the big trend in metal right now. Adding a more nasaly effeminate voice singing punk choruses in alternate to the main screamo voice. It's bizarre.

Then why are so many bands following this trend? Contrast. It's the most effective design principle, brought to music. A 1-note song instantly doubles in interest. A black and white checkerboard. A sans-serif headline with serif newsprint text. Contrast separates. Distinguishes. Adds another flavor.

In the slightly more mainstream world, we're seeing this as well, with odd voices taking center stage. Why? Simply because it's different. It creates interest. Dylan had it. Elvis had it. Whereas, every girl you see playing in a coffee house sounds the same. And they'll never stand out. But, The Tallest Man on Earth topped a lot of 2010 Best Music Lists with his latest album, which features the song, "King of Spain", embedded above. Why? Because the music isn't just good. But, it's a little weird, too.

In order to stand out, you have to be a little different.

January 11, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: Gourmet Dining as Meaning



Gourmet Dining as Meaning: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

There's a difference between eating because you haven't in 5 hours, and eating intentionally. The difference between good food and merely filling your gut.

I know a lot people listen to music and don't pay any attention to the lyrics. I remember someone arguing with me that if Dave Matthews voice was replaced with a keyboard, nothing would change.

As a writer, I contest this. I believe in the power of words. I am grateful for the emotions stirred by certain songs, such as "Strong Weakness" by Village Thrift, embedded above.

Now, this isn't to say that instrumental songs are void of meaning. Or that we should simply put background music behind the world's greatest poetry. But, we should search for that synergy. The merging of lyric and song. Into something bigger.

Because if you're not going to say anything, just shut up.

January 10, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: MSG as the Hook



MSG as the Hook: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

There's a reason you like Chinese take-out so much. After all, you've made meat and vegetable stir fy on your own plenty of times, but never crave that nearly as much. Why? MSG. It's an addictive chemical additive. And it makes you want to use your chopsticks again the next day.

Great songs all do that same thing - addict you. It's the hook that gets stuck in your head. It helps you learn the song, and feel like you know the song. And therefore, you want to hear it again.

There's probably no better master of the hook than the Fab 4. And it's not just a melodic lyric. You can hook with a guitar riff. You can hook with alliteration. And they did all of it - in just about every song, including "Paperback Writer" embedded above.

Lesson for the day: Don't forget the hook. If it's not getting stuck in your head, it won't get stuck in theirs.

January 07, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: An Umami Wall of Sound




Umami as Ethereral: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

The flavor "Umami" is a recent creation in the world of food. It seems like 4 tastes weren't enough. Because there was this "other" that didn't fit anywhere. How do you define "brothy", "savory", "meaty"? Ok. Umami.

It's a new sound in the music world, too. Arguably popularized by Sigur Ros and the attached song, "Svefn-g-englar". A wall of sound. Liquid tones. Keynesian music that avoids sharp turns.

Today's tip. Get rid of the gaps. Fill up your song. Now, this doesn't mean you have to be complex. Just give it some umami.

I don't know if we're done yet. We'll see on Monday :)

January 06, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: Sweet through Sweetness



Sweet as Sweetness: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

Boyz II Men is saccharine. The ultimate example of a one-note flavor. And it's a great one. It's arguably the most important. Beauty. It's important enough to carry a lot of bands. And it's also the big reason why some people say they "like all music besides metal." Because it's the one genre that, for the most part, completely lacks it.

Today's song, "Blessed to Be a Witness" by Ben Harper was recommended by reader Dianna, and is a perfect example of "sweet". Ben Harper's voice can carry an album regardless of the quality of the songs. And in my opinion, that's his greatest flaw. He makes bad songs sound "good enough". Because boy, they sure are pretty. But, this is one of his examples of a multi-flavored song, and why it's one of my favorites as well.

So today's tip, make sure your song sounds nice.

Also, let me be clear. I don't have my final theory figured out yet for any of this yet. So feel free to correct, redirect or revise if you think I'm going somewhere wrong. This is a community after all. We're learning together.

January 05, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: Potato Chip Crunch



Potato Chip Crunch as Beats: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

I guess I should have mentioned at the beginning of the week my original theory that "we are simply too satisfied by OK music. And that's why we never get to the good stuff."

Hip hop is a great example of this. Not that hip hop itself is "easy", but that the beats themselves are. In fact, we've talked about this before. The idea that putting "clap tracks" in a song is cheating...and how I should start doing it.

This is the problem with hip hop. It's too easy to be decent. But let's not throw away the beats with the bathwater. Because a solid beat is powerful. It's a potato chip crunch. It's texture. It's fun. And the really great songs all have it.

Today's song is "Power" from Kanye West, a song that instantly hooks you with the potato chip crunch alone. And that's where you get to good. But, there's a reason Kanye sells more albums than any other artist in that genre. And it's because he understands this idea of a full music flavor profile. The evolution of Warren G, Kanye has successfully added artistic melody and more to the potato chip crunch.

But today's lesson is that you shouldn't forget the crunch.

January 04, 2011

Music Flavor Profile: Salt as Syncopation



Salt as Syncopation: An essential ingredient for a full-flavored song.

Thanks for your comments yesterday. We will definitely get to several of those bands/songs this week based on their respective flavors.

Today, an analysis of U2, along with the video above of "Where the Streets Have No Name". U2 is a fascinating group to analyze with this idea of a "music profile", because they are probably one of the closest fits to a full-flavored band that exists today. In fact, I almost avoided choosing them to highlight a specific flavor because of that. But I want to address the fact that you know the name of this band's guitarist. And how many guitarists can you actually name who don't sing, too? That automatically puts him in the Top 5 most popular guitarists in the world. And for good reason. "The Edge" is the master of melodic syncopation. Layers of delay that build up and over each other in perfect time. He uses melody to create rhythm.

It's action. It makes the music come alive. Salt is syncopation. And the really great songs all have it.

Come back tomorrow to see what else great music needs.

January 03, 2011

Music is Awesome

Music is awesome. And I'm still convinced that music is what i'm supposed to be doing with my life. Whether that's simply a delusion of grandeur or not, we'll see. But at this point, I'm convinced. The problem is, I don't know exactly what that's supposed to look like.

That's why out of all the side projects I worked on last year, 4 were musically related, including making a new Relevant Reverence CD, singing about presidential failures with Why Every President Sucked, creating brief bouts of newsical satire with News in Song, and writing music for Grace Church.

So, what's up for 2011? Probably all of these again. But I really want to focus this year on making a new album with my Relevant Reverence partner, Matt. Because I've been having a mini musical ephiphany lately, as I seek to understand why music is so awesome.

The idea that music is so universal. The fact that you ask someone "what kind of music do you like?" not simply, "do you like music?", because that's a given.

So, I want to spend this week looking at what makes particular songs 'great'. I hinted at this at the end of last year with my comparison to great songs as full-profile foods. The best dishes are always artistically layered. Deep. And yet taste incredibly simple.

I'm convinced that great music is the same way. Not to be confused with merely 'good' music, which can easily be a one-note entree. But I'm looking to determine the components behind great music, so I can start making it myself.

So, that's what I need from you today. The names of either great artists, or great songs. They can be from any genre. It doesn't matter. But you need to think they're great and start thinking about why you think so. We'll spend the rest of the week investigating the flavors.

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