It’s a wonder I didn’t do better in school. I didn’t do bad, but I could have just done…better. The thing is, I like to read a lot. Looking through the search engine results, forever logged somewhere deep in this computer, would probably not reveal a whole lot specifically about the person sitting in front of it every day. The information contained would just be a dizzying array of terms and phrases that have no definable link, except for maybe “this person likes to look s*(@ up!”

Being so familiar with the ways this technology is used, I also understand a little bit about how it works. Plus, it helps having studied things like copyrights, open and public records, and data aggregation in college. I strongly believe in the right to privacy and the right to control potentially unique, identifying information related to privacy.

To see what’s out there – and in moments of boredom – I have done Internet searches for my name, phone number, and e-mail address. For you to do the same might yield some interesting results. And, in case you haven’t heard, managing this kind of information is big business these days. Services like “Reputation Defender” exist for the purpose of 1) removing your personal information from data aggregate websites and 2) burying pages containing your information deeper in the search engine results.

There is too much asked of us too often, and too much info is needlessly spread about. What happens to your information when a cashier swipes your ID, rather than manually inputting your birth date? Why has our society allowed for so many applications unrelated to income to require a social security number? Why must we disclose ethnicity on college applications, rather than admitting students, who are sight unseen, based on academics?

Look, to consider and be concerned about such topics doesn’t mean you live in a lead box and wear a tin-foil hat. There is some weird, unnecessary crap that goes on out there, and here are two of my personal examples that spring to mind: Back in 2003 or so, I received a letter from my university one day, urging 1,000+ of us students to sign up for a credit freeze/watch because an adviser had lost a PDA (remember those?) that contained our social security numbers. That sorta seemed to defeat the purpose of us having “university IDs.” Another weird happening was when I picked up my car from an auto shop way back when and realized that, sometime between dropping the vehicle off and picking it back up, a paycheck stub previously in the car was no longer there.

A professor once tipped us students off to the fact that, in Ohio, we could visit county auditor websites to see who owns which house, how much the person paid for the property, and how much is paid annually in property taxes. Aggregate sites like Zillow and Redfin essentially provide the same data. And now you can also see what your favorite actor’s backyard looks like via Google Maps. Knowledge drives business and, as we all know, knowledge = power.

Knowledge, or the appearance of possessing it, has also allowed some sketchy cottage industries to creep in the mix. Putting nearly any phone number in a search engine will bring up pages headlining “Free Reverse Lookup” and “Find out who is calling you? (sic)” My number brings up 6,750 results and numerous hits provide only enough information to show where in the country my phone is supposedly located (based on the prefix) and who my FORMER carrier was. Not much of a reverse lookup, eh?

What this analysis really boils down to is that we could all do a better job of managing our personal information. Some people don’t show any interest in doing so, but you can’t tell me there aren’t places in your life that are off-limits. What gets me are these people who say “I’m no criminal… I wouldn’t care if the police were watching me because I have nothing to hide.” Yeah right! Surveillance for no reason is probably a result of profiling. Otherwise, how would the surveyors pick and choose who to watch and who they think would be most likely to commit a crime? Realistically, everyone I’ve ever known who thought they’ve been profiled were mad as hell about it. We all have moments, as mundane as they may be, where we do something when we think no one is watching… moments where we would be embarrassed to find out someone WAS watching. It’s NOT OKAY!

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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Pro* Tools

01/21/2012

As mentioned in a previous posting, I still haven’t yet moved completely away from Pro Tools 8, in favor of PT 10. Thus, as I keep exploring version 8, I keep finding its massive, incredible deficiencies. It’s to the point that it’s absolutely ridiculous (do you see the root word “ridicule” in there, Avid?). I decided, since I keep having fatal error messages pop up that require me to restart the computer to get the software to run again, maybe I should start a log of all the error messages that come up, keeping me from getting crap done. This is a work in progress unless, miraculously, all the errors listed below end up being all the error messages I end up coming across.

1) Assertion in”../Mdie_TrackPlayer.cpp”, line 469

2) Could not complete the Close Session command because Access violation occured, unable to read location: 0xBAFBF800 at address: 0x7C91OA19 in module: ntdll.dll. (one similar: Could not complete the Close Session command because Access violation occurred, unable to read location: 0x00000038 at address: 0x042E01D4 in module: ProTools.dll)

3) Access violation occurred, unable to read location: 0x00000000 at address: 0x048B8D90 in module: ProTools.dll (also, similarly: Access violation occurred, unable to read location: 0x00000002C at address: 0x049D6B69 in module: ProTools.dll)

4) This one is a frequent annoyance: “One or more ReWire applications did not terminate. You need to manually quit those applications before quitting Pro Tools”

5) Could not complete the Exit command because Access violation occurred, unable to read location: 0x00000010 at address: 0x049F6FCB in module: ProTools.dll.

6) DAE error -7453 was encountered.

7) Access violation occurred, unable to read location: 0x00000008 at address: 0x009322D1 in module: DFW.dll

8) Pro Tools was unable to Auto Backup your session. If your session is on a read-only drive, you must disable “AutoSave” by unchecking “Enable Session File Auto Backup” (located in the Operations tab of the Pro Tools Preferences dialog) to avoid this error. (Error was: Access violation occurred, unable to read location: 0x00000014 at address: 0x049E87DB in module: ProTools.dll)

9) Access violation occurred, unable to write location: 0x28A2E000 at address: 0x781472F9 in module: MSVCR80.dll

The fine print:
*Avid’s lawyers would like you to know there is no implied or explicitly expressed claim that the use of “pro” in “Pro Tools” is a shortened version of the word “professional.” “Pro” may be referring to “protein,” “proletariat,” “project,” “proxy,” quite possibly “prohibitive,” and, less likely, “protest.” Given the nature of such vague abbreviations, “Pro Tools,” it’s subsidiaries and parent company will accept no claims that its products are not professional enough as, again, no such claims of the software being “professional” exist.**

**Dear Avid’s lawyers: this is a parody of what you might say. If you are reading this, get a life.

If you’re looking to pass some time, check out the music I’ve been able to record on Pro Tools here: https://leavingcelestia.wordpress.com/music/

Ancient Computers

01/20/2012

In conversation yesterday, the topic of growing up around computers came about. I have always had what seems to be a knack for technology, to such a degree that, out of high school, I would occasionally make house calls to set up printers, home entertainment systems, and computers. But I think rather than simply attributing it to a “knack,” part of it certainly stems from getting a head start on technology.

Before everyone had computers at home, my dad was in a computer club, and we were, no doubt, among the first people in our city to have a P.C. Our first family computer was a Commodore 64 that was purchased in the mid-80s. When friends would come over, in addition to Nintendo, we also had a slew of computer games that we could play, which were all stored on 5″ floppy disks. Upon typing a long character string on the computer and executing the “run” code, the floppy drive would whirr for what seemed to be five minutes. If the game was big enough, you would have to flip the disk over so the computer could continue loading it. “California Games,” “Test Drive,” “Skate or Die” – we had everything we needed to keep us entertained stored away in a couple huge, plastic floppy disk organizers.

The next step up from there felt like a giant one, getting a hand-me-down 486 computer…with a space-saving 3″ floppy disk drive! The computer was DOS based, so I had to learn a new set of codes to browse through the directory. Most people don’t realize it, but that same fundamental architecture is still there on computers today – on a Windows system it’s the “Command Prompt” in the Start Menu that most users might occasionally skim past and have no idea what it is. Opening that bad boy up is like climbing down into the sewer and seeing all these crazy systems you never think about that keep life moving smoothly up on the surface.

That Command Prompt, with the blinking cursor, on the 486 and prior machines WAS the only Graphical User Interface. There was no double-clicking because there was no mouse, and those machines could barely display a picture…. of anything! In fact, seeing an actual digitized image was rare at that time and, it seems like those rare pictures you would see, were always of women in bikinis…or less. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Ha!

For us, there was no “world wide web.” All we had was this intranet underworld called the BBS, or Bulletin Board System. It was like a localized internet. Sitting at your computer, you would dial up, via modem, the BBS’s phone number and connect to the SysOp’s (System Operator) computer. I never met a SysOp in person, but these guys (and gals) had to have been huge nerds. Almost all BBSs were free, so they were paying for host computers, phone line(s), and electric bills out of pocket. That’s dedication! “The Hole” was the most popular BBS around, as it had three phone lines, so you could chat(!) with other users who were concurrently logged in to either of The Hole’s two other phone lines. A BBS would also allow users to write messages – today’s equivalent of an email – play games, participate in message boards and polls, and download free software and other files.

At this point, the tech revolution was starting to pick up, and my friends were climbing out of “The Hole” in droves, with AOL being the good shepherd. Good ol’ AOL. The interface was brilliant, and their chat rooms were legendary. Remember when proponents of the Internet would tout all the good this interconnectedness would bring – “meet people from different cultures….from all across the globe”? Well that’s how it used to be, before social networking came along. We eventually stopped sending messages to Melisizwe in Uganda and started sending messages to Bob from the office party.

Another technological high point was getting my first laptop. It was a Compaq something-or-other that was a Sears clearance item. The clearance case in the store was pretty low-key… probably too low-key. That all makes sense now because I distinctly remember having a conversation in 2003 or so about how how it seemed like Alan Lacy was trying to destroy Sears… seems like he is finally getting his way. Anyhow, back to the story: so I kept watch as the price of the clearance laptop slowly got marked down from $900 to $600 to $300. Although I was stoked when I finally bought it, the damn thing must’ve been built from spare parts from the Apollo program. Once the computer was on for a while, something would kick in and start to peg the CPU. The fan would slowly whir louder and louder, the computer would slowly get warmer, and finally the whole system would just shut off.

Finally fed up enough with the whole Windows shebang, and getting more and more into audio production, a Powerbook came next. A used, dented up Powerbook at that. The first owner (I was the third) turned out to be a very minor celebrity who didn’t clean out the contents of the hard drive so well before getting rid of the computer. It was funny seeing her self portraits, including a jaw-dropping one that could have put any “before and after” speculation to rest. Making that kind of discovery can feel like holding a grenade… and sometimes you just have to takes steps to protect people who aren’t smart enough to protect themselves.

And now here we are. My Macbook Pro is the coolest, fastest computing device I have ever owned. And just as it’s been writing about the evolution of my own personal techno-world, I will one day look back and think about my fond memories for my latest, greatest computer and just laugh.

One of the more interesting gifts I received over the holidays was an audiobook called “Outliers.” Considering all the driving I do in this crowded city on a daily basis, audiobooks just make total sense.

If you haven’t heard of the book, “Outliers” starts out as an analysis of the lives/backgrounds of people who have amassed incredible success and/or wealth. These are the people who are considered the best of the best. While considering the achievements of others, the book also provides a great opportunity to get you to analyze your own little place in the universe.

People we think of as prodigies and geniuses often are blessed with a greater inclination for whatever it is they do than the rest of us. Maybe that inclination alone makes it easier to achieve… or maybe it provides a more welcomed challenge to take those skills even further and push the envelope.

Whichever the case, there is no such thing as innate expertise. People who are reeeeaaalllly good at music, painting, sports, teaching, business, etc. also enjoy these areas and spend more time devoted to these tasks than everyone else. That’s how they get there, and that’s how they maintain their skills. But equally important is luck. If the song “Pumped Up Kicks” would have been released in, say, the mid-90s, no one would have noticed. It wouldn’t have gotten airplay, and the world would have been a better place. The chips all have to be stacked in the right order to reach that desired outcome. But we can’t forget the mantra “the harder you work, the luckier you become.”

You can read (or listen to) books like “Outliers,” “48 Laws of Power,” and “The Millionaire Next Door,” and look at how all the dots connect – this..is..what..successful..people..do. And then, for many of us, the dreamer’s disease kicks into high gear – “Yeah! I can do that! That’s not as difficult as it seems! It all makes sense now!” And that’s why those books are best sellers. They make us feel good about ourselves. We feel like our dreams are within reach but then, two weeks later, we are still telling ourselves we will start “tomorrow.”

Of course that isn’t always the case, as some people have the propensity to turn lemons into lemonade, rather than to stand there thinking “Well…uhhh…geee… I have these; now what do I do with them?” When you have those moments enough, sometimes it’s a real good kick in the pants that’ll get you going. And that’s what’s going on here. I started listening to “Outliers” and realized that I am tired of hearing myself say “I’d like to do this…I’d like to do that.” It’s amazing how some people are built to just “do” and never think twice about it. The audiobook isn’t exactly intended to be the ultimate motivational speech, as it also analyzes plane crashes and deadly, multi-generational family disputes in the South. But the scenarios of achievement presented have come at just the right time for me. It’s really gotten the gears turning a bit.

As we head closer toward the weekend, you should take a moment to consider your own goals. What makes you happy, and what would it take to make that happiness grow? Go out and snap some photos, bake a cake, dust off the piano and play, start building a website. Even if just for five minutes, do something YOU enjoy. Create your own reality, and maybe it’ll be the spark you need to turn a hobby into something more.

lull

01/07/2012

It’s been mostly a quiet week, fortunately. The show I work on celebrated its 200th episode being in production, so we all got together – cast, crew, network executives, and the media – and we ate cake and made a toast with some sparkling cider. It was a really cool moment to be a part of this milestone, which has been a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of smart people for nine years.

Our hallways are lined with giant collages of photos from every season, with the occasional framed 8×10 of other big events scattered in the mix. I always notice the two photos on the wall from the 100th celebration and imagine how exciting that moment in time must have been. It used to be that 100 episodes was not only an indicator that a show was probably pretty popular, but it also opened the door for syndication. At that rate, a station could play a different rerun every week for almost two years without repeating an episode. And syndicating a popular show is apparently a lot cheaper than creating and producing a new one.

As for my employing show, syndication has been, in part, attributed to its immense success. One network plays our episodes nearly 24 hours a day, every day. There is a certain character-driven appeal, and the subject matter bounces back and forth with ease from being entertaining and serious. We have heard stories of our crew traveling and meeting new people who are fans of the show. When asked what the big draw is, the usual response seems to be that they “just love the characters.” Other shows in the same vein can be difficult to watch when they just take themselves way too seriously, all the time.

My interest in audio post production will likely pull me away from working on and around set one day. But right now, it’s hard to imagine being a part of any other adventure, and it’s been awesome sharing the experience with such a great group of people.