The Artistic Experience

For me, the mark of a truly great artist is the way his or her work seems to outline its own internally consistent world. Frank Zappa called this "Project/Object, and he is the only artist I am aware of who has ever attempted to put a name to this phenomenon.
Project/Object is a term I have used to describe the overall concept of my work in various mediums. Each project (in whatever realm), or interview connected to it, is part of a larger object, for which there is no 'technical name.' 
Think of the connecting material in the Project/Object this way: A novelist invents a character. If the character is a good one, he takes on a life of his own. Why should he get to go to only one party? He could pop up anytime in a future novel. 
Or: Rembrandt got his 'look' by mixing just a little brown into every other color -- he didn't do 'red' unless it had brown in it. The brown itself wasn't especially fascinating, but the result of its obsessive inclusion was that 'look.' 
In the case of the Project/Object, you may find a little poodle over here, a little blow job over there, etc., etc. I am not obsessed by poodles or blow jobs, however; these words (and others of equal insignificance), along with pictorial images and melodic themes, recur throughout the albums, interviews, films, videos (and this book) for no other reason than to unify the 'collection.'
Over the course of his career, Frank Zappa recorded and performed music with a variety of different lead singers and instrument players. Despite that fact, it is relatively easy to recognize a piece of Frank Zappa music within a few seconds of hearing it. His music exists almost as its own distinct universe.

Nor is Frank Zappa the only artist to have ever achieved this. I'm still reeling from the recent passing of another musical and personal hero of mine, Prince. Prince's music also has a distinct signature, and despite the recent appearance of online articles that highlight hit songs we supposedly "didn't know" he wrote, every Prince-penned song has a certain signature. It's a combination of the rhythm and the harmonic structure, and it's always there. His choice of dominant 7th chords to highlight emotional discord, his distinct way of alternating vocal melodies and keyboard melodies, his sparse and rhythmic bass lines, and so on. Every component of a Prince song is a testament to his distinct approach to composition.

Beyond the music, of course, there is the lyrical content and the aesthetic. Prince got a lot of grief over the years for his sexually charged aesthetic, but people far too often miss the other essential, absolutely vital aspects of his lyrics and aesthetic that made all the sex make logical sense: his spirituality, individuality, and monogamy. Prince wasn't just singing about sex, he was singing about achieving a higher plane of existence through the parallel pursuits of religion and authenticity. What so many people missed about all of this - what so many people fail to see about life in general, unfortunately - is that sex is one of the only media that connect spirituality and authenticity.

Another is music, or art more generally.

The idea that a person's art might reflect their creed isn't controversial, it's just that these days that kind of art is so rare and so hard to come by that we squirm a little bit when we see it. Not only that, we tend to deride the artists capable of producing it. Now that he's dead, we all love Prince, but three weeks ago it was only the music nerds who dared to admit that we loved Prince as much as we do. The same is true for Frank Zappa, who was panned and criticized over his whole career. The same is true for Ayn Rand, for Rush, for Dream Theater, for Freddie Mercury, and so on.

Art - great art - tends to make us embarrassed and uncomfortable. By presenting an authentic, artistic ideal, it exposes the shortcomings in our every-day commitments to morality, and love, and sex. We balk or we giggle, but our souls are laid bare by the purity of the art.

And this is true, I hasten to add, even of art that you don't personally care for. I'm not much of a Miles Davis fan, but his art works the same way. I don't like Andy Warhol, but again, when you see his work, you can't deny the presence of his aesthetic, his creed laid out for all to see.

Part of growing up is getting over our embarrassment and learning to appreciate the purity of an artistic aesthetic. Perhaps that's why artists like Prince and Zappa never really achieve the correct level of recognition until they're gone. Only then are their audiences prepared to admit that we recognize a piece of ourselves in their work.

And if you don't see yourself and your own life in this....

...then you haven't really lived at all.


Space Race

Same time tomorrow?

Could anything be more Stationary Wavesy than an astronaut running a marathon in outer space?
British astronaut Tim Peake became the first man to complete a marathon in space on Sunday, running the classic 26.2 mile distance while strapped to a treadmill aboard the International Space Station. 
As part of the London Marathon, Britain's biggest mass participation race, the 44-year-old spaceman saw London's roads under his feet in real time on an iPad as, 250 miles below him, more than 37,000 runners simultaneously pounded the streets.
While this is undoubtedly a puff-piece, and possibly a PR stunt by either the organizers of the London Marathon, or the UK Space Agency, or both, I think it showcases an important step in the evolution of human society.

After all, Peake didn't just plod along on a treadmill, he viewed the marathon from an iPad. The article doesn't say that he completed the marathon "virtually," but how far away from that are we now? I can imagine little remote-control drones traversing the course in real-time as their treadmill-bound "pilots" control from afar.

No, I don't think this is the future of marathon running. That's not the significant thing here. The significant thing is the way in which our relationship to the world is changing. In essence, Peake completed a marathon via Skype. We're already working remotely and having video conference calls. My daughter spends a little time with her grandparents almost every morning via Skype. Slowly, but definitively, we are changing what it means to be "present."

I don't mean this as any sort of criticism, by the way. There is nothing to criticize. This is simply the direction we're headed. It's an amazing time, and it will be interesting to watch it unfold.

As for myself, I will never feel as good as I do when I'm running alone, in the mountains, with no electronic cameras or devices nearby. (Except perhaps for my fitness tracker.)


Bad Samaritans

Tyler Cowen links to an article that essentially reduces to the finding that people experiencing medical emergencies cannot count on the kindness of strangers. In that spirit, I'd like to tell you a short story about single-payer health care.

I think people have the general impression that single payer health care is just like other health care, only the government foots the bill. Unfortunately, that's not quite right. Under such regimes, we routinely discover regulatory quirks that impose strict limits on the quantity and quality of care. This is the reality of government medicine. I don't make these stories up - believe me, I very much wish they had never happened to me in the first place. But facts are facts, and this is one such factual story.

Once, when I was attempting to use an insulin pump, I went for a four-mile run. As per the recommendation, I shut the insulin pump down to prevent a hypoglycemic event, but I didn't seem to have timed it correctly because at about the 2-mile mark, I felt myself going low. Unfotunately, I did not have any glucose tablets with me at the time, so I was in a bit of a pickle. No glucose, no phone, no money, and far from home.

Luckily, I was running through the University of Ottawa's campus. I reasoned that there must be a medical clinic nearby. I was right. In a few short minutes, I had managed to find a student medical clinic, and I walked right in.

I told the receptionist what the issue was. I explained that I'm not a student, but I happened to be running and noticed that I went hypoglycemic. I needed some glucose in order to bring my blood sugar back up so that I could walk back to my starting point, where my wife would be waiting to pick me up.

Keep in mind that in Canada, health care is supposedly "universal."

The first thing I was told was that they could not admit me into the clinic because I was not a student of the university. After some hypoglycemia-induced panic, I managed to explain that all I really needed was some sugar. I didn't need treatment, I just needed, you know, some glucose tablets. Four would do.

But the nurses, and later the doctor, explained that in order to give me something for my emergency medical condition, they would first have to admit me to the clinic. And they couldn't do that, because I wasn't a university student.

I don't remember exactly what happened next. Forgive me, I was hypoglycemic. At any rate, eventually one of the nurses or secretaries offered to give me a bottle of orange juice - not as a medical treatment, but just as, you know, a gift between friends. I profusely thanked her and sipped a measured portion of juice to treat my low. The crisis was averted.

Meanwhile, the medical staff looked on, "unable" to help, but unwilling to let me just go. I think someone loaned me their personal cell phone so that I could call my wife to pick me up from the clinic. It took some time, but eventually that's what happened.


Some Links

For just $500, you can combine fitness tracking technology with a full-body scanner to get even more insight into how your body is changing as you exercise. This is not actually too rich for my blood, but I think I will wait and see whether the technology catches on first.

Science tells us the keys to an effective apology. (H/T Marginal Revolution) Faithful reader PR remarks that this is more reflective of society's current obsession with "science." After all, the findings are basically common sense.

This is probably an old article, but I wanted to gather some ideas for speed workouts I could try over the next few weeks, and its recommendations were really helpful. Note that the distances all work out to be about five kilometers. That's not a coincidence.

The sound you make when you laugh changes, depending on whether you are with friends or strangers.


Amp Review: Kustom The Defender 5H

I've just uploaded a demonstration of my Kustom The Defender 5H guitar amplifier. In the video below, you can hear what it sounds like:

I'm going to elaborate a bit in the rest of the post, and give you my overall impression of this amplifier.

I purchased this for $99 on Amazon.com. It was a bit of an impulse purchase for me. I already had a nice guitar amplifier - my Egnater Rebel 20, which you've surely heard on many of my YouTube videos, mp3s, etc. It is a nice amplifier, but I got tired of carrying it back-and-forth between my home studio and my rehearsal space. So, I decided I needed a practice amp. I considered all sorts of possible contenders, from large solid state and modeling amplifiers to mini-amps, and so forth.

The reason I decided to get the Defender 5H is because I thought a small-wattage tube amp with a single volume knob would "keep me honest" during my home practice sessions. I thought it would be unforgiving enough to force me to improve my chops. At 5 watts, I figured it was quiet enough for home use.

The amplifier is quite interesting! It stays somewhat clean from about 0 to 1 on the volume scale. By about 3 or so, the amplifier acquires a hefty dose of British tube crunch and a ton of volume - more than enough to keep up with any drummer or band situation. From there, the volume knob really just becomes a gain knob. The volume is already maxed-out by about 3 or 4, and once you get to 6 or 8, you have some really delicious tone. I mean, really delicious tone. This is the best-sounding amplifier I've ever owned.

The beauty of the amp is that it is touch-sensitive. Even at maximum gain/volume, you can achieve perfectly clean tones just by picking softly. It completely cleans up. Of course, incorporating your guitar's volume knob, coil-tapping, and various pedals, I can achieve all the distortion and clean that I get from my Egnater, but it's all in my fingertips.

So last week I brought my Egnater home to use as a practice amp, since its volume can be fully attenuated. After playing the Kustom, the Egnater was actually disappointing. It still sounds as good as ever, but it doesn't respond to my hands like the Kustom does.

I'm blown away. I love this amp.


Movie Review: Concussion (2013)

Concussion - from banging my head against the wall
Image courtesy Wikipedia.org

Netflix is in a bit of a lull these days. I've watched everything on Netflix that I have any real interest in watching, so now I'm down to the second-stringers, the movies I can convince myself to watch only after a couple of glasses of wine.

Concussion was one such movie. The short plot synopsis was sufficiently vague to convince me that the movie would be interesting. It was something to the effect of, "Housewife becomes a high-class prostitute," but there was some additional wording in there that lead me to believe the movie would feature a lot of intrigue and wouldn't just be another poorly rated, salacious indie film.

I was right on both counts: This was a pretty interesting movie, but not a particularly salacious one. I'm glad I watched it, but I came away horrified. Let me explain.

Concussion tells the story of a lesbian housewife trapped in an unhappy, sexless marriage. I say "lesbian housewife" rather than simply "housewife" not because it's relevant to the plot - as far as I can tell, the lesbianism in the movie is just sort of incidental - but because whoever wrote the script went out of her way to call attention to the fact that main character Abby and her wife are lesbians. It's an odd bit of awkwardness in the movie. I don't really have an issue with the fact that they are a lesbian couple with two children - but this comes up in several scenes as part of the dialogue, even though it doesn't affect the plot whatsoever. So, there ya go: I mentioned it.

Abby, the forty-something lesbian housewife, doesn't work. She spends her days at home, raising the couple's two children, going to spin class, not having sex, and grappling with ennui. After suffering a minor concussion (hence the name of the film, geddit?) when her son hits her in the head with a baseball, Abby decides to go back to work. But going back to work isn't quite enough to cure her ills, so she tries hiring a prostitute. She didn't like it, but when she spills the beans to her business partner - a college aged man connected to a younger, hipper crowd - he sets her up with a higher-class hooker. Abby likes this experience much better, and it's sufficient to convince her to try her hand at high-class, lesbian-only prostitution.

What happens next is all the stuff you might expect from a film like this. After a few awkward beginnings, Abby rediscovers herself in her new role as "Eleanor, the high-class lesbian hooker." She experiences a sexual reawakening, rediscovers her lust for life, meets interesting people, and gradually allows her double-life to bleed over into her real life. Finally, she is forced to confront all the issues that were causing her original ennui in the first place. And they all live dramatically ever after.

There are a few very obvious criticisms to make of this movie. The first is that it is unbelievably white. I don't think there's a single person of color in the movie, aside from one of Abby's Asian clients, who doesn't have a speaking role. But casting an Asian woman as a nameless, writhing body having an orgasm isn't exactly what I'd call diverse casting. To make matters worse, Abby lives an incredibly wonderful life. Her wife is a successful businesswoman who drives a Mercedes. They live in a picturesque colonial New England house in a picturesque New England town. When Abby "goes back to work," we discover that she has one of those jobs that every educated white person imagines to be wonderful: she restores run-down New England homes, decorates them immaculately with only the best and trendiest interior designs, and then sells them at a profit. Their other hobbies include spin classes, yoga, reading feminist literature, and hosting wine and cheese parties. No, I'm not making any of this up. The movie is what happens when SUNY grad students are allowed to wonder aloud where they see themselves at age "42," Abby's self-reported age.

Thus, the movie is pretty heavy on identity advertising. But that's not the most disturbing part for me. No, setting aside the slow pacing and the identity politics, there's something really ugly about the way this story unfolds.

Part of Abby's journey of self-discovery involves becoming a sort of mentor to her clients. She doesn't just have sex with them, she helps them discover themselves in some way. For some, it's learning about their self-worth; for others, it's gaining courage; for others, it's learning about what brought them to a prostitute in the first place. Whatever it is, Abby is there to provide wisdom and sex. In a way, she becomes a sort of mother to each and every one of her clients.

The problem here is that Abby already has children at home who could be receiving that kind of wisdom from their real mother, if she were there. Imparting that wisdom to them is something that would serve as every bit as much of a self-actualizing process for Abby as being a high-class prostitute would be. And if you're sitting there thinking, "Hey, great plot twist!" then I hate to spoil it for you, but the movie doesn't even tackle this dynamic.

Throughout the film, Abby's children at home are given only minor speaking parts. In one scene, they're seen fighting at the store while the camera zooms in on Abby. In another scene, they're asking to be excused from the dinner table so that Abby and her wife can have a serious conversation. In another scene, one of them is performing in a school play while the camera zooms in on Abby's emotionally distant expression.

In other words, the children aren't characters in the movie, they're just part of the backdrop.

But Abby's provision of mentoring services to her clients is not a backdrop, it's part of the plot. It's the means by which she achieves self-actualization. This means that the children in this movie were never really intended to be part of the plot - they're not there to give Abby's life meaning, they're there to symbolize her ennui. They're a source of frustration. The cure to that frustration is to become a mentor to people who badly need mentoring - but not the kids, just some random white-or-occasionally-Asian-orgasm-in-a-sweater.

See, the disturbing part of Concussion is not what it reveals about life or about the characters, but what it reveals about the writers - people who apparently find self-actualization very important, and who see mentoring as a path to obtaining it, but to whom it never even occurs that the rightful and natural recipients of that mentoring are the children who hardly feature in the story at all.

In short, Concussion is a movie about what privileged, educated, white New England women wish they were doing rather than raising families, and that vision largely consists of interior design and a steady stream of sexual partners who pay you to not only have sex with them, but also to sit and listen to you.



Moving To Novolog

Since my insurance company no longer covers Humalog, I'm moving to Novolog. My only prior experience with Novolog was my brief stint with an insulin pump. I don't expect a major difference in my insulin regimen to arise, since the difficulties I had with the insulin pump were unrelated to the kind of insulin I was using.

There are a few differences between Novolog and Humalog. Some of these differences are clinically relevant, and others are known only through the gossip channel of the diabetes community. My inclination is to trust the clinical data and distrust the gossip. However, the gossip does provide a useful indication of "what to watch out for."

So what are the differences?

The first one that I'm looking forward to is the fact that Novolog is less sensitive to temperature than Humalog is. That's important here in the Texas heat. I can't tell you how many times I've fried my Humalog doing something completely harmless, like going for a walk. Yes, I do use a FRIO, and that helps quite a bit, but it isn't a "perfect solution." There isn't a perfect solution, of course, but having an insulin that is less sensitive to temperature will surely help.

The second difference is part-clinical and part-gossip. Humalog is known to be a bit more rapid-acting than Novolog. I seem to recall that in Dr. Bernstein's book, Humalog's time to action was on the order of 5-10 minutes, while all the other rapid-acting analogues are just more like 10 minutes to action. The packaging for all rapid-acting analogues suggests a 15 minute time-to action. 

Semi-related to the time-to-action issue is the notion - and I believe this one is mostly gossip - that Novolog has a "longer tail," meaning that it takes a little longer for Novolog to work its way out of the system. I am not sure how true this is. Even rapid-acting insulin stays in the system for a long time, much longer than the clinical data would indicate, but of course the question isn't whether the insulin is there, but whether it is there in sufficient quantities to impact how we use them. Time will tell for me here, but I'm not too worried since my current routine calls for exercise no sooner than three hours after any meal, and meal times that are spaced at least 4 hours apart, and usually more like 5 or 6 hours apart. 

There is conflicting information about carb ratios. The clinical data - and my previous experience - suggests that there is no difference between Humalog and Novolog in terms of how much a patient needs for the same amount of food. The gossip channel seems to report that one or the other requires more insulin for the same effect. Usually, the suggestion is that one needs more Novolog than Humalog. I suspect, however, that a patient's diet has a big impact on this. The more carbohydrates a person eats, the likely they will need more Novolog than Humalog because Humalog acts sooner and supposedly has a steeper "peak." The less carbs, and more fat, a person eats, the less likely this is to happen, and in fact Novolog might make things better for such people.

As for me, I'll just have to see how it goes. I'll write an update in a few days.


Some Links

This piece on the Palestine Marathon is fascinating, no matter what your position on the "big issue" happens to be.

I went into this piece on the alt-right skeptical due to its inflammatory headline, but came away largely agreeing with it. The only contentious point is the part about miscegenation, but I have to admit that to the extent that "Roosh" and Chateau Heartiste are affiliated with the alt-right, there is definitely some evidence there. Above all, I was reminded of how much the piece sounded like it was influenced by some of the more obscure writings of Ayn Rand.

Jeffrey Tucker muses about the Libertarian Party debate. He has fair criticisms of all three candidates. I have my favorite, do you have yours?

For once, Matt Zwolinski isn't writing in defense of the welfare state, so this is worth linking to. I did not find him to be as persuasive as David Henderson, however.

This is truly astounding. 12 out of 30 patients on a 600-700 calorie-per-day diet permanently reversed their type 2 diabetes in just 8 weeks. That is, you have a 40% chance of reversing your type 2 diabetes if you can commit to just two months of eating less. Think about that.


Animation Desk For iPad

I am adding a new label to the blog: Animation. Over the weekend, I happened to pick up an animation app for my iPad, called Animation Desk. I gave it a test spin, using the "crayon" drawing tool and letting "inspiration" strike me as it may. The results are as follows:

I spent a few days trying to research which animation app would be the best one to get. It's just a $4-$5 app, but still, why waste the money? As it turns out, there are only two or three apps worth investigating in the iPad animation space. I chose Animation Desk because it seemed to have the best drawing features. While it may not yield the best immediate results, it seems most appropriate for people interested in improving their animation skills in the long run.

There seem to be two major drawbacks to Animation Desk.

The first is that, if you want to add sound to your animation through the app itself, you're stuck with a 6 frames-per-second rate, which is very slow by animation standards. This is why the animation above looks "choppy." It looks much better at 12fps, but in order to add that useless guitalele soundtrack, I had to accept the 6fps limitation. In the long run, this is not a big deal, since I can use proper sound recording and video productions applications for that purpose, after exporting the animation itself. (Almost like a real, big-budget animation studio, eh?)

The second limitation is that the app does not meet the security standards of YouTube, Facebook, etc., so while it technically has the functionality to be able to upload to those media directly, in practice YouTube will simply interpret the file push as a security threat and disallow it. So you have to go the long way: Save the file, and then upload it via some other application.

At the end of the day, this has already been quite edifying for me. I've gained a lot of respect for professional animators after seeing what they have to go through to animate well. I look forward to future experiments in animation.