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Trying to teach myself Fast Car by Tracy Chapman

Oct. 5th, 2013 | 04:35 pm

When someone I like tells me what their favorite song is, I sometimes get it in my mind to learn it on the guitar or piano. It's just an inspiration point. It helps if I already appreciate the song.

Today, it's "Fast Car". Here's a video if the late 80's were a blur to you. So here I am sitting on the bed, my Taylor alternately beside me (a partner I'm trying to engage with more, or at least neglect less) or astride my leg, and the tab on a (browser) tab. Now it feels like a conquest.

It's one of those songs that sounds easy, but is actually oddly tricky to play, at least if I'm going by this version of the tablature. That said, when I listen to Chapman do it, she's clearly doing some sliding that would be nigh impossible using this particular tab. The fretting is awkward on my hands.

Blast, I should be past this awkwardness! I've been playing guitar for twenty-three years; I can play freaking Classical Gas!

It's always strange to encounter an unexpected challenge in a medium you thought you were competent at. But at the same time, I'm a multi-instrumentalist and I've always been casual about my playing (not overly regimented in learning, unless I was inspired to be obsessive about it. Then it didn't feel like "practice", but indulgence, to play over and over). So it's possible I sometimes overestimate my grasp of a particular instrument, even my primary two.

(Huh. Is "primary two" an oxymoron?)

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Woo, been awhile.

Oct. 1st, 2013 | 11:40 am

It's been a year of change. Hell, it's been a summer of change.

I'll speak first about career changes.

A bit more background/context than necessaryCollapse )

Anyway, maybe to fast-forward... my current company, where I've been nearly two years, was also trying to push and encourage some programming on my part, despite my reservations. The fact is, knowing a little PHP (fluent in writing and not just reading code) would probably help me with all the internal developer documentation I create, so I couldn't just say "No thanks, not interested" knowing that it could boost what I do and make me more efficient. I tried teaching myself a little PHP but I would lose interest quickly.

Oddly, however, it took some looking back to some of my past jobs where certain subject matters, beyond internal API docs or end-user helpdocs, held the most fascination that I would find myself reading about it off-hours and having long discussions with people in these domains, signaling an obvious interest of mine. The first of these was web/network security, a field that I find incredibly sexy and compelling as an ever-changing set of sophisticated problems to solve. The second, while not particularly sexy but just fairly interesting for me to get hands-on about, was IT/operations/sysadmining.

Ops and admin documentation, it turned out, was always one of my favorite genres of tech writing. I also tended to get along really well and connect fairly easily with people of that temperament (not to say they're all cookie-cutter) and felt some draw to the work that they do.

There have also been a few times in which I've had to deep-dive into installing, maintaining, and configuring a system myself, using command-line Linux (which I only have a basic sense of) and experienced tremendous personal payoff and a sense of accomplishment that a "Hello, World!" program couldn't quite deliver to me.

After verbally expressing a preference to get more into the ops side of things than programming to my boss, she actually went and changed my position, from 100% tech writing to 50/50 writing and "junior IT", if you will.

This seemed like a very strong reaction to my expressed interest, so rather than being instantly excited, I got cold feet, felt stressed about it, dragged my feet in making the transition. A few weeks ago I finally decided to just let it happen, and so far it's been great!

They're giving me simple tasks at first. I'm not yet in the realm of solving significant problems (in the sense of puzzling out a solution to a crisis). I am working on a personal project in getting to know Jira and Confluence, two services that I will, eventually, be managing for the company.

But this week I'm learning that they intend to cross-train me in some aspects of office/network security and data center stuff as well.

I'm struggling to figure out how to express these developments in a way that conveys my actual excitement about the broadening of my value at work, and about being able to use my brain in a new problem-solving way as part of my job. Tech writing has never felt like problem-solving per se, even if you can frame it as such. But with ops, it's all about response, service, helping the business succeed by enabling people to work and communicate. It dovetails nicely with technical authoring but it is actually far more interactive, more interrupt-driven than my usual routine -- perhaps that's part of the appeal. There seem to be fewer ruts to fall into, and more fascinating daily/weekly challenges.

I also like that IT/ops has me more on the move, rather than being tied to a desk non-stop. I'm looking at data center visits in my future, and there's a potential trip to New York sometime in November to help with a tech/telepresence refresh in our sales office there. Tech writers never get to travel for work!

Personal challenges I'm trying to overcome:

* I have terrible memorization skills it seems, so remembering infrequently-used Linux commands is hard! Constantly looking stuff up and wishing it would just be reinforced and rote. But I'm impatient.

* After 12 years honing my professionalism in one strong skill, I'm back to being entry-level at something in a work environment, and all the (largely internal) pressures and self-consciousness that goes with that. Despite this I'm getting more than enough encouragement and praise, so it balances out. But it's easy for me to fall back into my professional anxieties, which has the self-fulfilling prophecy of sabotaging the productivity I'm trying to have in this new role.

* I'm so excited by these challenges that I have a hard time remembering the other 50% of my job, the usual stuff I've been doing. It's probably just work-NRE, and trying to navigate having two completely different types of roles in one job. The workload for tech writing is way down right now, which leaves me more idle time to think about Linux, bash, firewalls than doing things like writing a data dictionary. (The latter is a nice-to-have project that sounds tedious to me.)

So we'll see. It's possible I'm caught up in a honeymoon period, and it could be totally wrong for me. I haven't been externally stress-tested by this kind of cross-training yet. It just feels both good to me, and good for me, to be involved this way, so I'm willing to see how things end up. If nothing else, shake-ups are good for the soul. :)

(More life changes to be detailed in later posts, some of which'll be friends-locked or filtered.)

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Wired for light and sound

May. 30th, 2011 | 01:20 pm

So about a month ago, I wrote about how happy I was being a vocalist for my cover band -- The Rogues -- and that Darrell has joined us as a sound man. Three days after I wrote that post, we played our first private-party gig.

Things have since exploded, in a good way.

First, our song list went from 12 to 25 in one month during a few ambitious weeks of brainstorming and trying out new tunes.

In the wake of this, I borrowed one of my guitarist's spare Fenders -- a very basic, Korean-made humbucker solid-body, along with his Yamaha amp.  A week later, I played rhythm guitar during rehearsal and found myself able to beef up about half of our song set this way.  It was  a lot of fun and helped me feel more integrated into the band, and saved us from needing to get extra personnel to do so. :)

I went to the Miami area to visit family, and when my sister picked me up from the airport, she immediately began gushing over a song that she insisted I "must learn" with the band, because in her opinion, the singer sounded a lot like me. The song was Rolling in the Deep by Adele.  (For the record, I listened to this song and was immediately intimidated... I think my voice is thin compared to hers.)  I emailed it to the band. They all liked it and had their parts worked out by the time we got together for our next rehearsal. I decided I could sort-of do it justice, but the song underscored the fact that we were really missing a keyboard player.  Luckily, I'd already been chewing on the idea of filling that gap myself.

A few days later, I bought a moderately high-end digital piano.  If that sounds impulsive, it really isn't-- I had a lower-end Yamaha keyboard in 2004 in Orlando which I sold to cornrelish right before I moved to California, and hadn't since owned one until this week. Piano was my first instrument, and the technology involved in replicating a piano-like feel onto a semi-portable keyboard has improved in just the last 7 years. The piano I bought is rock solid. And expensive. And tips the scales at 57 pounds, so I don't see myself comfortably taking it out to gigs. So now i'm already plotting buying a second, much cheaper and lighter-weight keyboard that doesn't suck.  (This piano is still great for rehearsals and studio recording, and if I ever do a gig in my own home or neighborhood.)

That keyboard's 12-watt built-in speaker system was going to be drowned out by the band, so it became clear that I needed a keyboard amp.  Up to that point I'd been trudging over to Guitar Center for my gear (apart from the stuff I could order on Amazon.com, like the piano), but I decided to check out the slightly-closer store location of the independent Starving Musician. I didn't want to bother getting a cheap practice amp that I could only plug in one instrument-- I wanted something large enough for performance and versatile enough for a multi-instrument setup, but under $350.
The helpful guys at Starving Musician pointed me toward the Genz-Benz UC-4, a powerful 4-channel combo amp with a 12" speaker and tweeter. It can run my keyboard and guitar at the same time with independent volume and effects controls for each. I only need to turn the master up to 3 to rehearse. In a small venue it could also be used as a portable PA system, and in a large venue with better speakers, I can still use it as a stage monitor. Used, I picked it up for $299. Perfect!
So I'm no longer just the vocalist. I'm the band's multi-instrumentalist.  I sing, I play an electric rhythm guitar, and I play a keyboard.  (Also I'm not ashamed to say that I'm a fairly bad harmonica player.)  Now that I am playing all these instruments, the time I need to prepare for rehearsals and gigs has effectively tripled.  I've got a work deadline right before our next gig (the 18th) which means I'm working late, so my practice time is squeezed by churning out documentation.  Social life's a little thin too, lately, because of all the time and energy eaten up by music development and work. But I'm building and living my dreams at the same time. I can't complain much!
We're also talking to a potential backup singer. She's already part of another band, but she can help us in our next gig. I've been sending her stuff to work on, and this Tuesday I'll be meeting her in person, and Thursday she'll work with the band for the first time.  I'm hoping that works out and that she can help out in occasional future gigs as well.
Darrell, meanwhile, has been augmenting his audio engineering setup in increments. Hardly a day goes by that he's not ordering more cables, stands, or modules.  This was his last list of gear: 2 Shure dynamic mics; 1 Dayton Audio EMM-6 omni electret mic; 8U portable rack enclosure with Behringer T1953 2-channel mic pre-amp (2U), BBE 482i Sonic Maximizer (1U), M-Audio 10x10 USB audio interface (1U), Alesis MultiMix 12R mixer (3U), 12-outlet PDU power/surge strip (1U); borrowed Yamaha MG10/2 mixer; Pyle-Pro PDC22 2-channel DI box; gobs and gobs of cables. To that list, I've added things like an extra Berhinger mic (that's almost on par with the $100 Shure) and a DigiTech Vocal Effects Processor, and I think there's been even more recent purchases since.
Now we're thinking about non-permanent room treatments to trap bass signals and correct some of the acoustical flaws of the space.
So much stuff goes into supporting our little quartet!  Our living room, where the rehearsals take place now, is a morass of cables, knobs, blinky lights and vaccum tubes, guitars sitting on guitar stands, boom mic stands, sheet music stands, my huge keyboard on a double X-brace, and my gigantic amp dominating the room, with the omnidirectional mic looming overhead. And we're not even done yet.  My rhythm guitar sound is too clean, so I'll be borrowing some stomp boxes to add a crunch to some of the more aggressive songs (our Joan Jett stuff, for instance).  Still gotta get the cheaper gigging keyboard. And I'd like to own my own electric guitar eventually.
Somehow, I don't think we'll look back on all this effort and cash outlay with any regret.  It's fun. It's an activity my beloved spouse and I really are bonding over. And even if this particular band doesn't work out, it's all our stuff and we can do what we like with it.
But I think our next home will have a more dedicated studio space. :)

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Music and pictures

Apr. 20th, 2011 | 12:52 am

Life is really, really great.

Darrell and I picked up a couple of matching Canon 450Ds (Rebel XSi) on ebay and have been gung-ho taking quality photographs in nature, and it's only been a week.

We're actually Doing Stuff Together. Learning Stuff. Getting Out of the House and Everything. Joy!

I seem to have enough work ahead of me to ensure a bit of job security for now, so I can relax and take on the piles of work ahead. It seems more managable now, perhaps because I've cleared out a lot of the overhang.

I have social energy again. I see people, and frequently have beloved houseguests.  (We *love* having houseguests.)  I also have time alone here and there. I seem to be shedding the social anxieties that held me back for several years.

I'm happy most of the time.  When was the last time I could say that?

I'm in a rock band. I may have mentioned this. Today I bought a tambourine and a hand chime. We get along, and Darrell's slowly becoming our unofficial sound man, and he's brilliant at it.  Our first gig is Saturday with a bunch of other bands in some rural area.

My love! We take photos and we make music! One or the other, every day! We also work together! Our marriage rocks!

And it's spring. So far, a colorful and warm spring.  I see potential photos everywhere. My gladiolus is stretching scattered spears toward the sky. No blooms yet for them, but they're coming.

Had a health screening. Flying colors. I don't feel my age, but I'm aware of it.  I'm thinking of ways to drink up and savor the life I have.

I feel light, warm, grateful.

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Apr. 18th, 2011 | 04:46 pm

wiszące, originally uploaded by christinamarcet.

Watchful wisteria along a strong gazebo.

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Come-hither stigma

Apr. 18th, 2011 | 04:38 pm

Come-hither stigma, originally uploaded by christinamarcet.

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Everything Old Is New Again

Apr. 18th, 2011 | 04:36 pm

Life drains away from the camilla bloom that fell to the ground some days before, bronzing with time.

One that clings to the branches still holds vigil over its fallen friend.

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Apr. 18th, 2011 | 04:34 pm

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Apr. 18th, 2011 | 04:33 pm

Dappling, originally uploaded by christinamarcet.

Some photographers might complain that this is too dark. I think it's dramatic and wonderful. This is just the natural dappled light through the trees.

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She who controls the spice(s)

Feb. 13th, 2011 | 05:34 pm

I dreamed last night that each of the jars in my spice cabinet had become a portal to another universe, each cosmically influenced by the spice contained within.

The mulling spice universe was particularly chaotic.

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