NUMEROUS UPDATES AT THE BOTTOM! INCLUDING SUPER-EXCITING UPDATE #10, WHEREIN WE BOUGHT A COMPUTER, AND UPDATE #11, WHERE PART OF THE SOOPER SEKRIT PLAN IS ANNOUNCED, and Update #12, with... screen shots? NEVERMIND! IT'S ALL TERRIBLY EXCITING!
Some of you may know of Alaska-based singer-songwriter Marian Call, who makes really great music and has managed to pull off crowd-sourced tours of all 50 US states, most Canadian provinces, and currently is on a similar tour of Europe, as well as a crowd-funded album, Something Fierce, which was released last year but is being re-released on a broader scale next week.
I'm a fan, and Marian is such a great person that she's become a friend as well. And so when I heard that, last weekend while she was preparing to perform in Edinburgh, Scotland, a thief got into a locked basement room and stole her MacBook Pro, I was greatly saddened. Police were summoned, all of that stuff happened. But now she doesn't have a computer -- the device she uses to record and mix her music, and run her business. Marian operates on a really tight budget -- there's no tour bus involved, no fancy hotels, just cattle-car discount airfares, a Eurorail pass, and a lot of guest rooms and couches graciously provided by fans. So there's no real margin on the end of that shoestring for her to replace the computer.
That's when I had an idea. And while I was having that idea, I heard from Glenn Basden who was having a similar idea. We've since been joined by at least one additional conspirator, and we've decided to crowd-source Marian's replacement computer.
This is where you come in. First off, SEND NO MONEY RIGHT NOW. What we'd like to do is get pledges lined up first. So:
- Email us, Jim Crider AND Glenn Basden with your name, and what you're willing to throw in toward Marian's laptop.(FURTHER UPDATED: We're in the close-out phase. If you're interested in helping, throw down to Marian's Tip Jar at her site linked above.)
- We will collect and tally the pledges, with regular updates here. I'll put together some sort of Google sheet with a running tally (minus the names of donors), which will be made public. Marian did that with her Euro Tour budget. Transparency is good.
- Once we have an idea that we're going to make it, we'll send everyone who pledged a way to send money to my (Jim's) PayPal account. There's a way to do this without incurring fees, and we'll make use of that.
- Once the money is there, I will buy the MacBook Pro directly from the Apple.com store and have it shipped directly to Marian in Juneau. I will post publicly-accessible images of the order confirmation (with personal info blanked out, obviously).
- Marian will be given a list of all donors minus the amount of individual contributions (unless she specifically requests it). It doesn't matter if you give $5 or $500 -- just that you thought enough to thank Marian for making great music and sharing it with us.
- 100% of the money raised goes to Marian in the form of the computer, with any overage being donated to Marian's Tip Jar in the name of all donors. Neither Glenn nor I are keeping a single cent. In fact, we've already pledged some of our own money to the effort.
- We cannot offer any incentives other than our gratitude, nor can I say that your contribution will go toward Marian's Donor's Circle. This is an independent effort. Think of it as a fan-sourced Christmas present, or a payout from the Fan-Based Theft Insurance Company of Everywhere.
- Marian is aware of this -- we're not being secretive about it (and once this hits her Donor's Circle group list, she'll know all of it anyway!) -- but isn't controlling it. Please do not bug her about it -- she's touring Europe with limited connectivity (and now, no laptop!) and has way too much on her plate already between tour logistics and relaunching Something Fierce. Any questions, email Glenn and me at the addresses above.
The pledge pool has already started: At least $500 is there already, from Glenn, me, and our other conspirator.
Thank you for your help -- and please spread the word!
UPDATE #1, 4:00PM CST 11/7/2012: We're up to $800 pledged already! Thank you, pledgers!
UPDATE #3, 6:45PM CST 11/7/2012: We're at $2000, plus multiple Apple contractor or employee discount offers. Given that, the logical thing to do is to upgrade the hard drive to the 1TB option (+$100 above the 750GB drive, at retail pricing) if we hit the original $2348 goal, with any overage after the discount being given to Marian as promised. Because more storage means Marian can make even more music!
UPDATE #4, 9:10PM CST 11/7/2012: As Marian would say, "YOU GUYS!!!!". We've hit, as I write this, $2628 pledged. As a result, we're looking at a couple of different stretch goal options -- which are funded already. Stretch Goal Option 1 and Stretch Goal Option 2 posted on the pledge sheet. We also added a Time Capsule 2TB backup to all options. We're reaching out to Marian to see what she would prefer: the big 15" lump, or the easier-to-tote 13" with backup. But... since she's in Europe and should be asleep at the moment, we've got a bit of a lag. We'll launch Phase 2 (the actual gathering of the moneys) tomorrow once we've heard. All our pledgers will get an email from either Glenn or me outlining the rest of the process. And to ALL of you who contributed, who retweeted, who shared, who offered discounts, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
UPDATE #5, 11:00AM CST 11/8/2012: We've heard from Marian, and the configuration has been tweaked a bit. What she's looking for is now highlighted on the pledge sheet (link above). And it's *less* than the full hot-rod we were going to do (we're guys. We're geeks. Full hot-rod is how we roll). She already has a backup system, so the Time Capsule got dropped, and she says she doesn't need the higher-res screen, so that got dropped. While pledges are indeed still open (we've gotten a couple more this morning), I'll be getting Phase 2 up and running this afternoon, and will send that out to contributors via email. Added bonus: while Marian was aware something was afoot, she was not quite aware of the scale of this effort, and was delightfully shocked. Score one for the good guys: all of YOU! :D
UPDATE #6, 5:30PM CST 11/8/2012: Phase 2 is underway. We're at 47 contributors, who have pledged a total of $3,043. Payments are coming in. Computer pricing verified, buying methodology also confirmed through our insider. This thing is happening!
UPDATE #7, Midnight CST 11/9/2012: Over $2400 already paid. Corrected the numbers above after discovering Glenn and I had duplicated one donor's info. The peril of having two people updating the sheets while pledges were coming in fast and furious. I expect a surge of contributions overnight my time as the folks in Europe start their day. The spreadsheet is current as of right now. Note that we have enough paid in already to GET THE COMPUTER!!!!
UPDATE #8, 10:45AM CST 11/9/2012: As of right now, $2672.34 is in the kitty, with several of you delightfully crazy folks upping your pledges. And we got a late pledge -- and payment -- this morning (my time. He's in the Netherlands, so it was probably afternoon his time). We're ALMOST DONE!
UPDATE #9, 5:35PM CST 11/9/2012: As of this writing, we have $2778.35 collected against a total of $3118 pledged, with 5 pledges outstanding. Yes, the pledge total went up thanks to another added pledge today. Hoping we'll get the rest in the next 24-48 hours or so, which will let us make the computer purchase, get the rest to Marian, and post the close-out documents before I "have" to spend next Thursday through Sunday in Austin, working the Formula 1 race weekend. Rough life, but someone has to make sure the drivers know what's going on ahead of them. Oh, so close: If the outstanding pledges come in at their pledged amounts, we'll have a total of $3153.35, with the MacBookPro and $902.35 going to Marian for her SOOPER SEKRIT plan.
UPDATE #10, 10:30PM CST 11/10/2012: We're down to one pledge still outstanding. After the last update, we got more pledges, and payments. Once all the money is in (assuming the last pledge comes in as pledged), we will have $3,324.85 in the kitty against $3,293.00 pledged. And... big news item #1: The MacBookPro has been ordered! Click on the link to be taken to the screen shots of the order confirmation (scrubbed only of addresses and phone numbers). With $2,251.00 committed to the computer, that leaves $1073.85 (presently $973.85) in surplus for Marian's Sooper Sekrit Plans. She'll be sharing that with everyone shortly -- note it will likely be relayed through me as she is, obviously, tech-limited at the moment. I'll be sending an update email out to the contributor's list in a little bit. Once the transfer has been made, I'll post a screen shot of that transaction receipt on PayPal. Once more, Glenn and I have to thank all of you for participating in this effort. When we started, I was optimistic that we'd be able to scrounge up enough to replace the computer, and the response has been completely overwhelming. THANK YOU ALL!
UPDATE #11, 3:50PM CST 11/11/2012: I'd hoped to have a formal announcement, but as Scott Barkan has spilled the beans, here goes: Between our surplus, plus the money that folks donated directly to Marian's Tip Jar, we are ALSO funding a replacement computer for guitarist Scott Barkan, who in addition to being Marian's accompanist, has his own music career going. Seems that, unbeknownst to us, Scott's own laptop decided to imitate a brick early on in the European AdventureQuest tour. Given that Scott is such an integral part of Marian's live shows, and is awesome in his own right, we're making it happen for him as well. We've got another Apple insider who graciously offered a discount, and so that's going to happen. But that's not all: what's left after that (and there's a reasonable sum!) will be donated by Marian to SuperHurrMegaBlizzicane Sandy relief. All the accounting will be posted just as soon as it gets sorted. And we've gotten another contributor today. Still one pledge outstanding, but I'm sure that will be sorted shortly. Wow.
UPDATE #12 12:05AM CST 11/12/2012: Briefly, the screen shots of the surplus transfer are now posted. $1,123.85 was sent to Marian's account. This is the money that goes for Scott's computer and for SuperHurrMegaBlizzicanestormard Sandy relief. While we're still looking for one pledge, it will be made up one way or another -- there are as of right now 3 folks who have offered to make good on any shortfall. I don't want to invoke that unless necessary, but it's good to know it's there (that MasterCard I charged the computer on? Yeah, it's got an interest rate just shy of the state usury ceiling. No problem if we get all the pledges). This is a zero-margin effort: 100% of what was pledged went where we said it would.
What? Since when did I start reviewing concerts? Well, since about now.
So a couple months back, I'm up late poking around on the computer, with my Twitter feed (I'm @autojim, of course) open in one window, and a tweet from singer Marian Call (@mariancall) comes across, that she's listening to Zoe Keating (@zoecello). A few clicks later, I'm listening to the free streaming audio on Zoe's website and reading about how she does it: 1 cello, a computer, and as many as 16 sound loops generated by the cello, which has been hot-rodded with a variety of pickups and microphones to get different types of sounds.
Being a music-powered techie, I'm always intrigued by the use of technology in the service of art -- particularly in music. Now, there's what I consider "good" techno music, where the emphasis is on the music and the tech serves the art, and also a fair bit of "bad" techno music, where the music is secondary to the tech.
Zoe's music is decidedly the former. And because Zoe's primary instrument is the cello, there's a warmth and woodiness to the music that defies the technology completely -- no carbon-fiber or titanium cellos for Zoe; she uses a custom-made instrument from France with a personality all its own.
A few paid downloads later, I had Zoe's collection on my iPod. And I noted she was going to be playing here in Houston soon. Tickets procured, I was ready for a show.
This past Thursday, May 12, 2011, Zoe took the stage at the House of Blues Houston's Bronze Peacock Room.
I knew it would be different from the recordings -- there are enough YouTube videos, etc. of Zoe's live performances to note all the differences -- and that's something I find interesting: that each performance of a piece is just that little bit different than the other performances of the same piece. Yet, because of the nature of looping, there's an overlaying precision to the timing required -- looping, done right, is amazing as layers build upon layers. Looping just that little bit off is a FSM-awful train wreck. On the recordings, of course, one gets to pick and choose from a number of takes and it's as good as it's going to get. Live, of course, can be a different story. Hoping for the former, but in any case looking forward to seeing how the layers of sound are built from nothing, we went off to the show.
I'd been to a few shows in the main Music Hall at House of Blues Houston, but this was the first time I'd been in the Bronze Peacock Room. Small stage, big open space, a few comfy chairs around the walls. This would be a very Bohemian show -- we probably could have brought a blanket or yoga mat to sit on on the floor -- but fortunately for my knees, we got one of the comfy chairs over by the merchandise table.
I don't have a copy of the playlist, so I'm going from memory (if I get one, I'll edit the post accordingly). I'm sure the first song was "Tetrishead" from the "One Cello x 16: Natoma" album. And we saw -- and heard -- the layers be formed, one at a time, overlaid. Zoe's concentration on the timing was evident -- and yet this, too, was in the service of the music, not overpowering it.
Between songs, Zoe talked to the audience -- we heard how her trip to Houston had an unexpected snowstorm delay (in mid-May?) in Denver, which apparently resulted in her cello flight case (a case inside a case) getting thoroughly dunked to the point that moisture penetrated all the way to the cello -- and she said if the sound was fuzzy, that would be the reason why.
It didn't sound fuzzy.
The music continued -- and as each song had its layers built, I noticed subtle differences in the looped playback versus what went in -- was there some trickery going on? Yes -- that pitch was very different than what went in! But... it worked. It was supposed to be like that. And while I was listening and enjoying the layers, I also noticed that she wasn't using the foot pedals to trigger each loop. Was there another trigger, something built in to the cello, maybe? Technical me pushed those questions to the side -- the music was in charge, as it should be.
After "The Path" (a song about going from the city to the woods and back and forth again, not entirely sure where you will end) and "Lost" (after all that movement, not entirely sure where you are) from her latest album, "Into the Trees", Zoe talked about how, when she started, she used a lot of hardware looping pedals, but the tech was catching up with what she wanted to do, and now her biggest limiting factor was RAM. Until she got her current computer, she couldn't play one of her earliest pieces, "Exurgency" (from the "One Cello x 16" EP) live, because she'd run out of memory for all the loops that particular song requires. And then she played it. As good as the recorded version is, the live piece was better -- more living, less "best take of each part". Keep in mind, this is over 8 minutes, and I lost count of the number of active layers -- okay, truth be told, I lost interest in counting the number of active layers, as that would have detracted from my enjoyment of the performance.
There were some glitches -- as Zoe started "Sun Will Set" (from "Natoma"), the computer "helpfully" supplied layers she hadn't played yet. Zoe stopped and explained: you have to remember to delete the previous performance, otherwise the computer will kick in the last performance of the piece (presumably from sound check). A few clicks of the keyboard, and she restarted the piece. I don't think it was a detraction from the experience, however. Quite the opposite: it added a human touch to the tech, a reminder that the machines are only as good as the humans who program them.
Another indicator that the music comes first: the cello itself had a say in the proceedings. Zoe checked tuning between songs -- and at one point commented that it wasn't out of tune -- she just thought it was! Given the rather dramatic changes in climate the cello had gone through in the previous 24 hours, I'm surprised the tune didn't shift more as the wood continued to get back to "normal" in a severely over-air-conditioned room, after experiencing whatever cool humidity San Francisco had to offer, two trips to altitude in airplanes, and several hours stuck outside Denver International Airport during a late-season snowstorm (Frontier Airlines has a lot to answer for in terms of how it parked luggage outside during a snowstorm), and then Houston's heat, humidity, and, mid-afternoon, a major frontal system complete with severe thunderstorms blowing through. I could just imagine the poor cello begging the universe to give it a break and let it settle in!
What also impressed me was Zoe's concentration -- cello, like all bowed instruments, is rather physical to play, and then combine that with the precision timing required by the looping -- and the desire to have some fun with the songs themselves during the performance -- and you're looking at a very intense 90 minutes or so for a live performance.
As the show was Zoe's son Alex's (aka #cellobaby) first birthday, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to him. Despite Zoe's concerns, he took the singing very well -- smiles and laughs -- but did NOT want to leave the Mama so she could finish her show. Alex's dad Jeff (#cellobabydaddy) did scoot him off without incident, and Alex was part of the meet-n-greet afterward.
Zoe performed two cover songs. The first was Muse's "Time is Running Out", which she said she'd done in San Francisco International Airport as part of a music-to-the-masses series -- and people weren't sure if she was busking, or just stuck there with all her gear and decided to play -- and, well, watch the film and see for yourself how people react. I note that later shows at SFO put the performers up on a platform so it was clear they were supposed to be there.
The second cover gave a little technical insight -- I'd noticed she was doing some of the loops without hitting any pedals on the MIDI controller, which the setup talk for this song explained: she can set automatic loops at X number of measures/beats/etc. It also gave a bit of insight into something that's been written about elsewhere, namely how Zoe overcame severe stage fright by busking and playing in groups (as opposed to solo). She wanted to regain the feeling of playing in a group, and noticed that this one piece had a 32-bar pattern, so she could play all the cello parts at once if she set the computer to loop at 32 bars. And then, could we guess the piece? It was the 2nd movement of Beethoven's 7th Symphony in A Minor, which has been used in film scores for Zardoz and recently in The King's Speech.
The night's final song was "Optimist", from "Into the Trees", a song Zoe wrote for Alex at "negative 2 months of age", inspired by the hope she has for her son as he grows into the world. A magnificent performance of a beautiful song, which had the audience on its feet at the conclusion.
Zoe stuck around for a good hour after the show talking to fans, signing autographs (including a young fan's rosin block for her bow!), and making sure to spend a little extra time with the youngsters who had just seen where classical music can go if you take that left turn at Albuquerque (or, in Zoe's case, Natoma Street in San Francisco), and the one or two adults who went unabashedly fanboy/fangirl on getting to meet her.
Overall, a show I thoroughly enjoyed, and would recommend to any of my friends and readers with a taste for the mixing of traditional and technology. Zoe's current tour dates are available on her website. As I write this, she should be taking the stage in Austin, Texas, right about now.
There's a lot of catching up I need to do, but first, because it's Mother's Day here in the US, is a bit of story about the two wonderful women I've gotten to call Mom. And a few other wonderful women who also played part-time or emergency-backup mom. This came about because Stephen "Stepto" Toulouse wrote a FANTASTIC post on his blog about his mom, and issued a challenge to write one of our own.
Back in 1968, a lady named Margaret Jane Crider (nee McCartney) gave birth to me in Los Angeles, California. I don't recall any of that year in LA -- around the time of my 1st birthday, Dad was transferred to Detroit and we moved. I have a few memories of those early years in the Detroit area, particularly going to the park with her, riding in the '65 Mustang, getting soft pretzels at Wonderland Mall in Livonia near our home, some friends. Three years and a month after I came along, my brother David joined the party. Unknown to me at the time, Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer before they learned she was pregnant with David. David, thankfully, came along healthy and hale. But about a year later -- and I do remember this -- the cancer came back with a vengeance as a tumor in Mom's brain stem. They treated it as best they could, but ultimately, Dad took a transfer to allow us to move back to Tulsa, the family home base.
Mom's situation was that the tumor trapped her mind in a body that increasingly wouldn't cooperate. We had a year or two in Tulsa, during which I started kindergarten, with her at home, but with Dad having to be on the road for work, and with Mom needing more and more care, she ultimately had to move to a nearby nursing home.
This was weird: she wasn't OLD, and that nursing home was full of OLD PEOPLE. At first, we went to see her every night. And gradually, the frequency of the visits decreased. And it seemed like, to elementary-school-age me, that the less we saw her, the worse she got. It wasn't until some years later I learned that the opposite was true: as her condition deteriorated, she didn't want us to see her that way. It was her wish, but 6-8-year-old me didn't see it that way.
I got in trouble a couple times for riding my bike over to the nursing home after school instead of going home. I was in 3rd grade, mind you, all of 8 years old, and this involved traveling along and crossing a major north-south artery in Tulsa, as well as cresting the tallest hill in SE Tulsa, without sidewalks or much of any support. I didn't care: I had to see my mom, because if I saw her, she'd get better. I knew it would be that way. Sometimes, she was completely out of it. I didn't care. I was there, and I knew she knew I was there. One time, I found her in her wheelchair down the hall, trying to get back to her room, but going the wrong way. I pushed her back. I don't know if she was ashamed or embarrassed to be caught lost like that, but I want to think she was proud of me for finding her. Each time, Dad would find me there, with Mom, not at my friend's house like I said I was going to do. He'd put my bike in the trunk of the big LTD and take me home.
I got in trouble with Dad, but it was for the danger of the main street, not because I went to see Mom. I think, even now, that he knew *why* I did it.
This is where I fill in some info I didn't learn until I was well into my teen years, from my maternal grandfather. Mom knew that tumor was a death sentence. And she told Dad that when she was gone, he needed to find a good woman and marry her, because he needed a wife and her boys needed a mother to look after them. Dad, naturally, wouldn't hear of it: he had a wife, and she was it. So Mom started working with the family, and friends from church, and I think it's safe to say she "encouraged" the meeting of Dad and Barbara, the wonderful lady I also call Mom.
In September 1977, just barely into 4th grade for me, and 1st grade for David, Mom passed away. I was quite a bit lost, and even then I felt for David, who never really had the chance to spend time with Mom when she was healthy and active. One of the interesting things about that is I tend to hang a lot with Mom's side of the extended family and David has always been closer to Dad's side of the family. Part of this is the relative ages of cousins on each side (David and I are the youngest on Mom's side, just as she was the youngest of 4, while Dad is the oldest of 2), I'm sure, but also has something to do with our personalities and interests. I do cars. Always have. That's from Mom's side of the family (though she herself wasn't terribly keen on it). David, not really. Ever. Though based on how David's son is, he was certainly a carrier of the Car Guy genetics.
A lot of what went on in 4th grade is a bit of a blur. One of my best friends, Jeff Ball, had moved away from Tulsa to Colorado during the summer between 3rd and 4th grade. Jeff's mom, Lola, was one of the Emergency Backup Moms. Luckily for me, my other best friends, Brent Estes and Steve Walton, were still there, as was Brent's mom, Brenda, another Emergency Backup Mom, and Steve's dad and stepmom (Steve's parents had gone to high school with my parents -- another level of connection).
But we were increasingly spending time with Barbara and her daughter Debbie. And sure enough, in April of 1978, Dad and Barbara were married, and I went from being the oldest child to being the middle child. Not a bad situation: now I had someone older to learn from (particularly helpful in the "avoiding getting in trouble" categories). And while neither Dad nor Barbara required it, both David and I started calling Barbara "Mom" pretty much from the beginning.
She earned it. Oh, yeah, she earned it. One of the first things that happened was she greatly improved our "cool" factor by nixing the usual-to-that-point school clothes of Sears Toughskins jeans -- with iron-on knee reinforcements on the inside from the beginning -- and made sure we had more fashionable choices, including shoes that didn't have rubber toe caps (ala Chuck Taylors. They're cool again now, but in 1978, not so much...). I pushed her. David pushed her. But she was consistent -- we couldn't get away with anything with her that would couldn't get away with with Dad.
And we got to meet her family -- the "third side" of the family. Her clan, the Garretts, are legion, and so we discovered a whole new group of cousins. And a whole new set of adventures there. It was the "third side" of the family that let me drive full-size tractors well before I was of legal driving age. That side had a private airplane brokerage. That side owned the World of Outlaws sprint car team for a while. That side had the big huge Christmas dinners with the giant yeast rolls and the barn/garage with the '50 Ford in it. That side had the FBI agent uncle. So many things, so many people I wouldn't have done or met otherwise.
I have no doubts that I, in particular, made it tough on her. I don't think it was ever on purpose, or even conscious, but there was always this little comparison going on: she wasn't my mom. And yet I never had any doubt of her love for me and for David, of her commitment to us as an entire family. Eventually, I made sure she knew how much I appreciated and loved her. It just took a while, I'm afraid. Not proud of that, but I hope I've made up for it since.
One incident from my college days jumps to mind: I went to school at U of Tulsa, just across town, and usually brought my laundry home on the weekends. Late in spring semester, sophomore year, Dad got transferred to Atlanta, and I came home one day to find Mom laying into David about something or other. I walked in the front door, laundry basket in hand, and she turned on me, finger pointing, and said, "AND YOU..." I dropped my laundry basket, and said something along the lines of "At least let me be home long enough to screw up before you yell at me." A brief silence. Then laughter.
If ever she's doubted that I accepted her, I hope I set that to rest a long time ago. But I did. She picked up the baton and finished the job of raising David and me, children not of her, but her children all the same. And I love her as my mother.
While Mom/Barbara was (and is) present, I've never lost the memory, or indeed the influence, of Mom/Margaret. For a while, I was sure I'd just be a mechanic at the family auto repair shop. Oh, no, said Grandpa, you're too smart to be "just a mechanic. You'll be designing the stuff we just fix." That was Mom: she didn't want her boys (including Dad) to work in that shop. It was a huge time sink. My grandparents and uncles often didn't pay themselves in order to pay the guys & the bills. And Mom really, really hated that and didn't want anything to do with it.
Well, after college and 20+ years as an engineer, I get to play with cars for fun. I'm pretty happy with how my life has turned out. A big reason for that are my Moms. Margaret. Barbara. I'd be extremely remiss if I left out my aunts, particularly Karen and Nancy. And I can't ever not mention my grandmothers, Mary Jane and Mary. The Emergency Backup Moms, Lola and Brenda. All remarkable, amazing women who helped make me who I am now.
To my Moms, all of them, I salute you and I thank you. I hope I've made you proud of me. I know I've tried.
(This post originally written Friday 12/17 and not published; it needed editing...)
There's a one-word answer for it: Working.
See, once that little Gulf of Mexico situation settled down some (at least on our end -- there's still lots of cleanup ongoing), all the jobs that had been back-burnered to make way for the response got pushed back to the front burner... AND a whole large batch of New Stuff that we're making to help our clients comply with the new (proposed/pending) regulations on top of all that.
Which means precious few of us have gotten much sleep around the office. The continuous work overload (our engineering staff is averaging over 250% utilization right now -- we have 2.5 times as many hours of work than we have regular work hours on a 40-hour-week basis) has inevitably lead to some burnout and some folks leaving for other pastures. We did get a few new/extra faces in to help, but not enough to account for the additional workload. Supposedly that situation is improving soon. We'll see.
I did manage to escape for the week of Labor Day to the Solo Nationals in Lincoln, Nebraska, where I hoped mostly to show up, drive a bit, and relax/socialize a lot more. The ghods had other plans for me, however...
But I got home with my trailer and car intact, just in time to do some delayed maintenance on the truck. Expensive week, between trailer axles, travel expense, and truck repair. Couldn't be helped.
And back to work, where, to commemorate my week off, the work week has included a 12 hour workday and a 17 hour workday...
There's a lesson out of all this: It certainly doesn't hurt to be nice to people. Jim McNeil, his son Shawn, and the other Rebels Auto Club members who helped me out didn't care that I was a stranger -- okay, in Jim's case, I don't think he's ever MET a stranger, just a new friend -- it was real simple: another Car Guy in from out of town has a problem, we have the solution. They didn't wonder what was in it for them, they just jumped in and helped.
Ordinarily, I try to stay on the "giving" side of the Car Guy karmic balance. This time, I was on the receiving end -- and I'll not pretend I didn't need every scrap of help that was offered, either. The Rebels are going to get a little something from me for their charity work. Not because I feel like I owe it to *them* -- more like I owe it to the folks the Rebels help out -- Care packages and welcome-home packages for the troops, scholarships to the local technical college for kids wanting to learn the automotive trades, young-driver safety/anti-street-racing programs, toy drives...
And wouldn't it just be great if we all adopted that attitude, even just a little bit? "What can I do to help you, friend?" It's contagious. Over on another blog I started following recently, what started out as an effort by the blogger to help 20 people in need out with gift cards turned into, at last count, over 650 folks-needing-help and folks-offering-help getting matched up, in maybe 3 days. Every time it looked like they'd run out of things to give, more people stepped up.
In other news, during the week between Christmas and New Year's, I'll get turned upside-down and dunked in water in a simulated helicopter as part of the training required to be certified to go out to offshore rigs and service vessels. At least it's in a pool.
Spent the month of May on a midnight-to-noon, 7-days-a-week work schedule as we were throwing everything we could think of at the well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. Note that I do NOT work for BP. I work for a company that makes tools to fix broken stuff subsea. As the situation has stabilized somewhat, efforts are somewhat less frantic and more organized now and we're back to a somewhat normal work schedule. My Facebook friends already know this. ;) Don't get me wrong: there's still a LOT of work to be done. But on our end of it, it's largely stabilized. Now watch as I think this and we go back to 24 hour, 7-day operations again immediately thereafter...
- So, did anything else happen in the world in May? I pretty much missed the whole month as my days went something like this: 11:30pm: shift change handoff meeting. Work through to noon. Go home. Eat something. Maybe do laundry, pay bills, skritch the bird. In bed about 4pm. Up at 10pm. Shower, get dressed, go to work.
- If you're the CEO of a major multi-national corporation, you are not going to be intimately involved in the details of every single thing going on within the company, nor should you be. There are quite literally thousands of very competent people -- specialists, even -- who are handling the detailed operations. The CEO's job is to tackle the big picture stuff.
- I sincerely doubt there is a single Representative or Senator in Congress who is intimately involved in what is going on in their district/state. Yet they expect the CEO of any company that is called before them to have total knowledge of every detailed aspect of their company's operations down to the brand of toilet paper used in the company washrooms.
- While BP is streaming 12 live ROV feeds (not every ROV is in the water all the time), if you are watching a TV news outlet talking about the spill, they are virtually guaranteed to be showing one of the Skandi Neptune subs that's applying dispersant to the plume. The other subs are typically doing far more interesting stuff, but that isn't what the media wants to show you. They'll gladly take BP's ad money with one hand while slapping them around with the other.
- If you choose to go to a rally protesting oil companies, offshore drilling, land drilling, "wars for oil", or anything else even remotely related to the petroleum industry, may I suggest that it's insincere to arrive or depart by airplane, helicopter, powerboat of any size, car, truck, bus, train, motorcycle, any other device with lubricated bearings, seals, elastomeric components (tires, tubes), or on foot while wearing shoes containing any rubber, plastic, nylon, polyester, etc., or over any asphalt or concrete roadway?
- It's also a good idea, when picketing in front of an oil company headquarters building, to not scare a family of ducklings living in a wetlands habitat constructed by the oil company you're picketing out in to street traffic where they will be run over. (This actually happened last month. It didn't make the news.)
- I'm all for developing alternative energy sources. When I'm in a position to do so financially, it's my intention to build a house with heavy solar input for electricity and hot water generation, and if I can get away with it (Home Owners' Associations, the bane of many Texans' existence), its own wind turbine. It will have a ground-looped (geothermal) HVAC system. It will be heavily insulated. It will use sustainable, durable, recyclable materials. It will recover rainwater for irrigation. It will be xeriscaped with native vegetation as much as the HOA lets me get away with. Why? Partly because I'm an engineer and the tech to make that work fascinates me. Partly because it's the responsible thing to do. And partly because I'm cheap and don't want to pay utility companies any more than absolutely necessary. And I'm willing to pay a bit more up front to have long-term savings.
- People who are calling for an immediate end to the oil industry (and they're out there) should really put their money where their mouth is and swear off all petrochemical products entirely. Which means they'll have to give up their computers, phones, hairdryers, anything with insulated electrical wiring (which is pretty much everything electrical), TVs, radios, cosmetic and toiletry items, rubber-tired bicycles, paints, wood protectants, shingles, roads, factory-made glass products (most glass furnaces are natural-gas-fired), any food or, indeed, any product whatsoever from beyond walking or ox-cart distance from home, the aforementioned footwear and transportation methods, air conditioning, most methods of heating (hand-cut wood still acceptable), home insulation, ceramics (natural-gas-fired kilns), most metal products (most foundries are either electric or natural-gas fired), most medications and medical equipment/procedures. If that sounds like a return to the heady days of the mid 1700s, well, you're on the right track.
Look, everyone's entitled to their own opinion. But be sincere about it. Posting your anti-fossil-fuel manifesto to the internet from a Chinese-made, plastic-cased netbook powered by batteries made in China from Bolivian lithium, shipped across the ocean in a vessel powered by heavy bunker oil, charged by electricity from a coal-fired plant, communicating over a wireless network at a coffee shop you drove (solo) to while sipping a mocha made from Indonesian coffee beans has a bit less impact, at least in my mind, due to the level of hypocricy involved.
I've been around public school teachers all my life: one of my aunts was one for over 30 years, and I count several teachers among my friends. Also, there are a number of teachers who had a profound and very positive effect on me during my school years.
This isn't about them.
This is about the people the teachers work for. The administrators. From the school assistant principal on up to state school boards and the US Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.
A few recent events have prompted this. First was the Texas state school board mucking with history and science texts, expunging stuff that doesn't meet the voting majority's religious-right/neocon/creationist ideals. They're perfectly willing to ignore scientific evidence, and this year took the taco: apparently, Thomas Jefferson, the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence and a major player in the Articles of Confederation and later the Constitution and Bill of Rights, isn't "important" enough to warrant inclusion on a list of great Americans to be taught about in US history classes.
Next came the annual Salute to Mediocrity known as the TAKS tests: standardized tests, the scores of which determine which teachers will be retained, bonuses, school rankings, etc. And because of this, school administrators have decreed that teachers will "teach" the kids how to vomit up rote answers on the standardized tests, instead of teaching the kids how to think critically, how to set-up and solve problems, how to read for comprehension -- all the stuff that we of my generation and older were taught in school.
And now, the child of a colleague and friend, who had never had any problems in school, has been suspended and subjected to ridicule and flat-out shunning for participating in a little cops-and-robbers horseplay with "finger guns" (no weapons, no toys that resembled weapons, just a finger and a thumb and a "pew-pew-pew" noise). Why was this good kid suspended and saddled with the label of "made a terroristic threat"? Because of a "zero-tolerance" policy, which most will recall was the knee-jerk reaction to the Columbine HS shootings in Colorado. Basically, that means no circumstances are ever considered, it's an automatic suspension, sometimes an expulsion, sometimes an arrest. And note that if Columbine HS in Littleton, Colorado, had had a zero-tolerance policy at the time, the results would have been exactly the same...
Okay, so listen up, school administrators: You are the adults. You have been given the responsibility of educating the children of this society.
And you have failed. Instead of leading, you have created layer upon layer of policies that exist for the sole purpose of providing you with something to hide behind. Instead of treating the children in your care with understanding and compassion, you point to the policy and shrug and say "Oooooh, sorry, we can't go against Policy" as if it was handed down from some deity instead of some nonsense you created.
These are children, not on/off switches. The world is not black & white, it is an infinite spectrum of greys and every color you know and some you don't. Shoving every problem into the "all good" or "all bad" bins, with no ability to discriminate between a truly serious offense and what we used to call "horseplay" or "good, wholesome fun" isn't the way to handle a problem. What's more, the "bad" bin is considerably larger than the "good" bin as the number of so-called "offenses" that can get a kid suspended, expelled, and/or arrested increases every year.
Drug dealing kids are setting up innocent, gullible kids by planting drugs on them and collecting the Crimestoppers reward money for turning them in -- planting it and snitching is more profitable than selling an Oxycontin pill. The set-up child gets suspended, expelled, and/or arrested, the setter gets rewarded.
I am certain, that if the statistics were ever made available, that more good kids have had their lives seriously compromised by zero-tolerance policies than have been protected from bad stuff by the same policies. Let's face it: to a homicidal/suicidal someone bent on bringing injury, death, and mayhem to a school, a zero-tolerance policy has no teeth whatsoever. What's more, it teaches the kids to isolate themselves, and mistrust the adults who are in the positions of authority in that environment: the teachers, the principals/school admins, and even the police.
Quit hiding behind the policies you created, and start administering. Consider the shades of grey. Far too many good kids are being put in the bad box for naive pranks or minor, unintentional infractions, and the results are clearly devastating to those kids.
And making your teachers, the lifeblood of the education system, slaves to student scores on standardized tests, instead of leaving them free to teach that critical thinking and the problem solving skills the kids will need in the real world, is quite possibly a larger crime than zero-tolerance.
Here's a news flash: the teachers have no control over how the students (who are, after all, separate, if smaller, humans) perform on tests. Some will do well regardless of the teacher. Others will do poorly regardless of the teacher. Some will tank the tests on purpose just to see what will happen. But making the teachers dependent solely upon test scores for their job security, raises, bonuses, etc. is essentially extortion. Is there any wonder that there are teachers leaking the tests to the kids early, or helping the kids with the tests?
And because they have to devote all the classroom time to teaching to the standardized tests, there's no time left to teach the stuff the kids will need when they graduate and go out into the world. And the results of that are telling.
I am an engineer. I have been in this field for nearly 20 years. And I am now starting to see the results of your policies of zero tolerance and the standardized testing trumping all as they enter the workforce. If they're lucky, they were in a college/university program with some real teeth and they learned basic critical thinking and problem-solving skills there. But we're seeing kids coming into the workforce who have never had to THINK for themselves. Given a simple, rigidly-defined task, they do fine. Given an open-ended problem, they flail helplessly. They don't know how to set it up. They don't know how to solve it.
Compounding that situation is the remarkable number of religious zealots on school boards seeking to impose their narrow-minded, anti-scientific view of the world on every child in their charge. Another news flash: you are administering a public education system in a country that has this little thing called the First Amendment that ensures the separation of church (that's your religion) and state (that's the school system). This has resulted in a discounting of science and technology -- and, indeed, history! -- in an era where, out in the real world, science and technology are influencing, if not defining, ever-increasing areas of our lives.
You, school boards who are shoving a religious mythos into science classrooms, who are creating revisionist histories because the documented facts don't have your race or creed being the dominant player, you are letting down the side here. It is our job, our *moral responsibility* as adults, to impart that which we learned from our elders, mixed in with what we have learned from our own experiences, to the generations that come after us. There is *NO* room for tweaking of fact to suit a personal agenda. Dismissing millions of years of fossil records and hundreds of years of study as just a "theory", for example, as a means of throwing in a lovely and well-written bit of folklore about how the world came to be, however you disguise it as "science", is a clear violation of that responsibility.
It is no less egregious to dismiss the contributions to this country's history by people such as Thomas Jefferson, Harriet Tubman, and George Washington Carver, among others, when the factual record of their contributions is both comprehensive and indisputable.
It is way past time for changes in this country's public education system. We are failing this generation of children, and that is a crime we will be paying for for decades.
I do not presently have any children in the public education system. I fear for my nephews, though, who are or will be soon, in the hands of that system. I know they have the advantage of parents who teach and encourage thinking and creativity, and I hope they're able to figure out that you can learn quite a bit in spite of the restrictions the school admins impose.