2019 plans/goals: the complicated bit

I’ve come up with a tentative set of “stuff I want to do” for 2019 — not calling it “New Year resolutions” because those tend to get left behind. In fact it’s really more “ongoing things I just happened to contemplate before 2019 starts.”

One of them is a bit complicated though: do not engage in unhealthy online interactions. “Unhealthy” is a wide term, but mostly I mean unnecessarily upsetting or contentious, or the sort of habit I used to have where it was uncomfortable not to check Facebook several times per day.

There are some places I frequent online which can get unpleasant and I want to change my relationship to them.

KvR Audio: a website about music production on a computer, most specifically about VST plugins and the sequencing software that hosts them. It was a valued resource for several years and still serves some purpose, but I use software synths a lot less now, am pretty well set for software effects, am happy with the host I’m using (Maschine), have my production techniques and sound design down, etc.

Moderation on the forum is mostly hands-off. There are a few members who continuously snipe at each other and regularly turn threads into pointless bickering between themselves. There are others with strong opinions and perhaps little imagination, and no qualms about calling everyone else idiots. After 17 years or so of discussing things there are a lot of very tired topics of discussion and memes that are just not funny anymore which still pop up regularly. It can be a little bit of a boy’s club though it’s much less so than it once was.

Mostly it’s not too bad; I just need to not get drawn in to arguments about what kinds of things are “useful”, valid, “best”, what music and art are, that sort of thing. There is nothing to gain in defending my opinions or preferred instrument makers, nor in trying to pry the blinders off people who should be much more imaginative and open-minded, and there are certain people I should never read or reply to at all. If I keep that in mind, all is well.

MetaFilter: a sort of community link blog that shares interesting stories from around the internet, and covers a lot about politics and criticism of media coverage (from a generally left perspective). The community has turned generally more socialist-friendly in recent years, which is great. But it still has a particular hate-on for Bernie Sanders and for the Green Party.

They’re willing to blame literally everyone for the mess we’re in now: obviously the Republicans and the media and Russia and a broken system, but also white women in general, progressives, Baby Boomers, Millenials, and your pets. In fact, they seem to believe that everyone is to blame for the defeat of Hillary Clinton except for Hillary Clinton, her supporters, and the Democratic Party.

For the most part there’s a ban on “relitigating the 2016 primary.” But in practice, moderators often allow people to make snide comments about it and then crack down on progressives’ response to it. I called them on it once and now apparently at least one moderator has it in for me. In the past couple of months I’ve had so many posts deleted with no explanation or notice — regardless of the actual content — that I’ve given up posting and logged out of my account. I lurk but I’m a little bitter about it and might see if I can get my news fix elsewhere.

MuffWiggler: yes, embarrassingly enough, it’s actually called that. You might never guess it’s the biggest forum on the internet for modular synthesis. There is a ton of information and discussion about equipment and DIY, direct from the designers and engineers and experienced users. There’s a very large market in used gear and occasional prototypes. There’s a lot of advice for beginners and occasional discussion of advanced techniques.

The name is a sort of “locker room talk” passed off as “just a joke, you should relax” while being inherently and intentionally exclusionary. A lot of people dislike it, and the environment it comes from and fosters, and would like it changed — or just stay away entirely. Most of the prominent musicians in the modular synth, ambient and techno communities do avoid it and can be found on other forums instead.

The one guy running the site, his moderator crew, some alt-right types and “PC culture has gone too far” types, don’t see a problem — and are likely to delete your complaints as being “politics,” which is off-limits.

After some consideration, prompted by a recent call for extra donations to cover a rather larger shortfall on what’s purported to be suspiciously high hosting costs, and questions about transparency and community representation, I’ve stopped my $3/month Patreon support and am backing off in my participation a bit. I think it wouldn’t be a bad thing if the site went down and got archived somewhere and replaced by something a bit less toxic.

As with KvR, I feel that I’ve passed my peak “need” for the site’s resources anyway. I know what I’m doing in modular, and when I have questions, there are other places to ask them. (I give a lot more advice than I ask for, though there’s certainly a factor of learning through teaching.) My setup is relatively complete and I’m not doing as much research into what’s out there and how to work with it. There are other places for news and announcements, and other places to trade gear. But it’s still useful, more so than KvR, so I’m not completely getting out.

2018 in review

The year started off with our basement getting flooded with sewage.  This was just one of many home maintenance issues that needed our attention (and money) throughout the year, including the sump pump and furnace.  We replaced some furniture too.

Our little dog Roxy had some expensive surgery that unfortunately was too late to stop cancer from claiming her. 🙁  But we do love our new pitbull Lady, who seems to be settling down a bit from her days of eating shoes, photo albums, books, TV remotes, automated aquarium feeders, and the like.  She and Gretta are actually getting along really well now and playing nicely.  If only we could prevent her from taking a running leap over the fence gate, and from smelling incredibly foul, that would be great.

My spouse has gotten into keeping blue neocaridina shrimp — tiny little gems of things — and after some initial difficulty that has been going pretty well.  So I couldn’t really answer how many pets we have in the house now.

We stuck pretty well to our plan to cook at home more, breaking a years-long habit of eating mostly in restaurants.  That no doubt has saved us some money, though my weight isn’t really any better for it.  My spouse makes fantastic curry, and I’ve picked up a handful of acceptable recipes myself.  I have spiralized more zucchini in 2018 than the previous years of my life combined!

I released five albums during the year.  I’m generally pleased with what I have put out there.

When I first sold albums, they were intended for a particular small community and no real promotion was required.  My most recent release had built-in appeal to the modular synth community, which helped it along, too.  (Materials has been doing decently well so far and enticed a few people to look into my other music as well, which is gratifying.)  But in between, it was just my weird music.  With little to no effort dedicated to promotion, my first albums of the year didn’t get a lot of attention, and even expecting that, I admit I suffered a few pangs over it at first.

The release of Nereus hit about when my anxiety was starting to peak, and I was an emotional mess.  I confronted that anxiety — particularly after realizing that there was a link with caffeine.  I went from drinking two big cans of sugar-free Monster plus strong coffee plus a lot of Diet Coke in a typical workday, to avoiding even iced tea for a while.  I read a few books on anxiety, and another called The Highly Sensitive Person which fit me surprisingly well.  I started taking magnesium taurate supplements, which may help too (though I think the combination of greatly reduced caffeine, and being mindful of the anxiety, have been the most effective).  Overall I was doing a lot better by summer than I was at the start of the year.

The US socio-political background certainly fed the anxiety and continues to be a nasty toxic mess.  I’ve felt more hopeful about that since the midterms and some of the news coming from the Mueller investigations.  I hope for both justice and long-term solutions.

Facebook’s bad behavior increasingly came to light this year, and little by little I disengaged from it.  I cleaned up a bunch of stuff in my account.  I went through my friends list and removed people I didn’t really interact with.  I deleted it from my phone and only used it from my home PC.  Eventually I nearly quit; my account still exists and I check notifications quickly a couple of times a week but I no longer have a Facebook habit.  That has maybe helped my emotional state a bit too.

My music studio went through some technical changes.  I upgraded to running a 64-bit build of Maschine, which meant abandoning some old favorite plugins I’d been using for 5, 10, 15 years — but I found some good replacements.  I tried a bunch of sequencing solutions in my modular synth and I believe I’m closing in toward an ideal setup there; likewise for effects.

I also continued to learn the craft of electronic music; one of the things I love about it is that after doing it for so long there’s always more to discover and room for improvement.  New patching techniques, new combinations of things, new compositional techniques and forms, new technical stuff (like mastering), plenty of the history and culture to learn.

We picked up a quadruple armload of acoustic instruments this year, toward a Gothic Applachian-ish musical project with my spouse.  This hasn’t come a long way so far beyond some research and a little reorganizing of the house to have a better space to play.  But I’ve learned a bit of mandolin and enjoy it, and am not as entirely horrible at the violin as I expected after decades without practice.  The six-string guitar frustrates my attempts to grasp it intuitively, though.  Anyway, maybe we’ll have more news about this project in the future.

I have no real conclusion to come to about the year.  A lot to complain about, a lot to be grateful for.  It is, as they say, what it is.

witness to the weirdness

On the way home, I saw the following:

  • A fancy hearse pulling off the road into a self-storage facility.  Please tell me that doesn’t mean what I think it means?
  • A church with the name “Anchor of Hope.”  Because when I think of a nice uplifting symbol of hope, I think of chaining myself to a heavy piece of steel half-buried in the bottom of the sea.
  • An oversized pickup truck with not just a TR*MP bumper sticker, but a McCain/Palin bumper sticker with the McCain half removed.  This, mi amigos, is how you locate the most petulant member of the Orange Face Cult for miles around.

a few bits

  • I’ve just submitted two songs to the Ambient Online “Fire” themed compilation, which should be released late this month or in early 2019.
  • I have one called “Electrostatic Dust Fountain” in the previous compilation, The Moon.
  • Cover art for Materials is done.  I need to jump into mastering it, but with my process that doesn’t take too long.  (If I sold enough to justify it, I would definitely look into professional mastering, probably checking with Obsidian Sound first.  But I think I do pretty okay at it.)
  • I expect the next project will be an unthemed album, and there is no ETA at this time.
  • Having written up my modular system as it currently stands, I’m thinking about shaking things up a bit for a version 1.2, or 1.5 perhaps.  More on that in another post, probably, once I’ve worked out some plan versions.

One GIF to represent two shows!
  • I’m not that much into TV, but sometimes get caught up in whatever my spouse is watching.  The latest thing is The Great British Baking Show.  All too often it makes us want desserts, and I’ve had a couple of dreams about it.
  • Bee and Puppycat is a mostly excellent, weird, cute, occasionally creepy show.  The whole first season (if it can be called that) is a little over an hour.  Marina Sirtis and Ellen McLain have minor roles in it.   Here’s the pilot and here’s the rest.  There will be more in 2019. 
  • Steven Universe, my favorite show, is finally going to end its 4-month hiatus on December 17.  It’s a Christmas miracle!  It feels like it could be the end of the whole show, except that we’ve been told it’s not.
  • I was kind of into The Expanse and need to remind myself to look for season 3.

fury road

Things St. Louis drivers do not believe in:

  • Speed limit signs.
  • Stop signs.
  • Yield signs.
  • Exit Only lane signs.
  • Signs.
  • Any sort of stripes painted on roads or parking lots.
  • Headlights in rain, snow or fog.
  • Headlights in the dark (until the sun has been down for one full hour AND the car has been in motion for at least five minutes).
  • Turn signals.
  • School zones.
  • School buses.
  • Basic courtesy.

Things Chicago drivers do not believe in:

  • Lanes have a direction.
  • Newton’s laws of motion.
  • The Pauli exclusion principle.
  • Mortality.

Things Florida drivers do not believe in:

  • The use of pedals to control a vehicle’s speed.
  • The need to see.
  • Pedestrians.

new blog, who dis?

So… there are all kinds of ways one could introduce oneself.  Let’s just go with a quick bullet point list here, because a lot of my future posts are likely to dive deep into specifics.

  • Name:  you can call me Starthief. 
  • Starthief?:  Yeah, It’s a nickname my spouse gave me once because I was playing dirty at Mario Party. 
  • Really?:  I mean, also I like stars generally, both in an astronomical sense and for various personal spiritual reasons, so at the end of 2015 when I wanted to choose a new band name, I went with that.
  • Age:  still younger than 30… in hexadecimal.
  • Gender: 
  • No, really…?:  non-binary.
  • Pronouns:  “they/them,” or anything, I’m not fussy.
  • Body type:  disappointing.
  • Day job:  software engineer.  C++ mostly.
  • But really:  an electronic musician!
  • Genre:  “uneasy listening”, spooky, dark, ambient, abstract
  • Music gear:  Eurorack, MicroBrute, pedals, Maschine, software.
  • Location:  St. Louis, Missouri.
  • Play live?:  not currently.
  • Pets:  1 cat, 2 dogs, fish.  Previously, lizards.
  • Politics:  democratic socialist, opposed to cruelty and fascism.
  • Religion:  complicated; generally pagan.

Anything I missed that you’re curious about?  Ask me in the comments.

Toot Toot

I’m starting up a new blog here because I’m finally breaking ranks with Facebook.  I’ve been unsettled by their ethics and business model for a while, but finding out they were trying to deflect criticism with the old “paid protesters funded by George Soros” while somehow simultaneously calling criticism anti-Semitic, and pretending to care about the state of democracy and the validity of news sources, was the last straw.

After dabbling a little with journaling on a Commodore 64, I started more seriously writing in the early 90s on a DOS machine.  I kept that going sporadically until the web became a real thing.  I may still have a copy of that kicking around somewhere.  Then I blogged with hand-coded HTML for a while.  Then there was LiveJournal, which was nice for a while.

*heavy sigh*

But somehow we all jumped ship for Facebook and Twitter (and then LJ kind of imploded anyway, bought by a Russian company that was decidedly anti-LGBTQIA+ among other things).  And with the rise of social media as such… well, you know how that went.

So this blog is something of a way to rewind to before social media was a thing, as such, and give me an outlet where I can write actual paragraphs.

Because unlike Facebook, some of my readers won’t already know me and will find this via my main site or stumble into it via Google, my next post will probably be a proper introduction.