Monday, October 11, 2021

I Love My New Computer. I Hated Setting It Up.

I am, at this very moment, writing my first blog post via my shiny new computer. To say it's an upgrade from my last one is a huge understatement, even though in theory it's the same machine... an Apple Mac mini. It's the latest in a long line of Macs I've owned and used going back to the '80s, and this one, with its 8-core M1 chip, 16GB RAM, and 2TB SSD, is by far the most powerful computer I've ever called my own.

My previous machine was also a Mac mini... from eight years ago. It's still chugging along pretty much fine, and that computer, a third-gen mini with its Intel i7 chip, has been the primary hub for my marketing business, doing professional graphic and web design as well as video editing, as well as for my personal creative endeavors in music production since 2013.

This little computer in this little box is hundreds of times faster and more powerful than a computer that would have cost me ten times as much a decade ago. If you don't appreciate things like that, you're a pretty unhappy person in general.

Eight Years Later
But eight years is a long time in the world of computing, and other than the external form factor, this new machine is almost nothing like my old mini. In addition to the insane power of the Apple M1 chip and having twice as much RAM and twice the drive space, it's running macOS Big Sur, an operating system that my older machine was too decrepit to make use of. Comparing this machine to my previous Macs... a couple of MacBook Pros, a G4 Mac Pro tower, an original G3 iMac, and so on going back to the Macintosh SE that I was using for word processing and MIDI sequencing in the late '80s... it's simply astounding how fast and powerful it is.

Without getting overly geeky about it, the M1 chip that's the centerpiece of the latest generation of Apple computers is an 8-core CPU that delivers up to 3x faster processing performance than the previous generation of Mac mini... and my previous one wasn't even the last generation. It's mind blowing how fast and efficient this computer is. Photo from Apple.

Setting Up... Not My Favorite Thing To Do
My Mac mini arrived on Wednesday. In the midst of a typical frantic work week, there was no way I was going to be able to stop everything I was doing and pop in a new computer. That turned out to be a very wise choice, as per what I'm about to tell you.

I want to first note that the actual act of getting started with a new Mac of any kind couldn't be easier. If I was doing a fresh start with nothing else involved, the act of plugging in a power cable and connecting a monitor via HMDI and plugging in a keyboard and mouse takes about two minutes or less. But over the course of a life where computers are an integral part, the one thing most people don't have is a fresh start. Far from it.

The physical setup of the newest Mac mini could not possibly be more simple. I have had to do a little rearranging, since most of my peripherals have been standard USB rather than Thunderbolt, but everything is working out fine. Photo from Apple.

Data Migration and App Updates and Logins, Oh My
As my primary work computer in a small business, I needed to be sure that I was fully operational by the time Monday came around. That meant a few things. I had to be able to get into my email and other work communications tools; I had to be able to use the software that I require daily; I had to have access to the files -- both current and evergreen -- that I use as part of my job. Makes sense, right?

Apple has a very good solution for this. In the utilities folder of every modern Mac is an application called Migration Assistant. In many situations, it's all you need for porting over the content of one computer to another. But my situation was a bit different. First, my previous mini was using an OS that was a few steps behind Big Sur, which meant that their functionality was a bit different. Second, I wanted to take the opportunity to do a long-needed cleanup of ancient files that had gone unused for years and years. In other words, while I did make use of the Migration Assistant, I didn't just bring everything over in one fell swoop.

At various points in the migration from old mini to new, the utility informed me that it would take about 11,000 hours to complete the job, meaning it would be done in early 2023. Fortunately, the time estimates on data transfer are notoriously wrong. It took a little over six hours. 

Side note: my old machine was damn near out of space on its 1TB HDD. That meant I had a lot of data to export/import. The process took about six hours over Ethernet. With the stuff I didn't want to automatically migrate, I decided to use Dropbox to port over the selected folders that I knew I'd need on the new machine. That took some time too.

Mac Mail on Big Sur Is Great... Once It Works
One of the things that should have been the fastest and easiest aspect of getting rolling with the new Mac -- setting up my email on the new machine -- turned out to be a giant pain in the ass. I like using a local email client as opposed to relying on Gmail or the like. It's a big part of my workflow.

While you'd think that setting up an email client is one of the easiest and most common IT projects ever, I ran into problems. I set up fresh passwords on my web host's server, went in and plugged the info into the new Mail accounts, and nothing. Continual connection errors. I was practically tearing out my hair after several hours of this, and even bit the bullet and had a long support text chat with my web host, who were very helpful in trying out a variety of solutions -- shoutout to Hostdime and their CSRs. Ultimately, I had to troubleshoot the entire process from start to finish and finally found the issue. I did not want to wake up today and have to be going back and forth between the two machines just to read and respond to mail. It got handled, but I think I aged a decade over those few hours.

Side note: now that everything is up and running, I really like Big Sur's Mail app. It's one of the biggest improvements found in the operating system. I'm still getting used to the changes, but I already see how it's going to be helpful for me.

I have memories of every macOS back to System 1.0 in 1986. Big Sur is a huge advancement, and I immediately recognized that a lot of the things that people love about the iOS operating system found on iPhone and iPad has made its way to the desktop. Photo from Apple.

Ancient Apps Renewed
Finally -- and this was something I was well aware of long before the arrival of the new machine -- I had a number of software tools that were severely outdated and would no longer be functional on the new machine and its shiny new chip and operating system. One of the big ones was the Adobe Creative Suite of applications that I use daily in my marketing career. While this wasn't a big deal in terms of the effort, the act of updating everything did require some organization and planning.

One last note: if you're like most people, you probably have encrypted login passwords stored in various places... in web-based apps on your local machine and in the cloud. Guess what? Not all of those logins are accessible when you switch machines, so I spent a good amount of time recovering passwords that allowed me to get into various places I need to go on a regular basis for work and other activities. Everything from multiple accounts on social nets like Facebook and Twitter to web sites I manage to software companies from whom I required updates and downloads required some back and forth while I got my login shit together. Good times.

Not Done Yet, But Everything Is Fine
What I did manage to accomplish was getting all the high-priority stuff up and running on the new machine. Most of my apps are updated and functional. The content that I work with daily is all on the new machine.

Once I have everything seriously dialed in, one of the things I'm most looking forward to with this new Mac mini is opening Logic Pro X and really diving in on some new music creation. Photo from Apple.

That being said, I have a whole second tier of old files and such that need to eventually make its way over. I will be doing that over the course of this week at various times. I also have several other email accounts, less used than my primary ones but still important, to set up. Also, one important piece of software -- the broadcast tool I use for my live music shows -- had become obsolete years ago, and is entirely non-functional on the new machine, so I need to find a new solution for that (and test it thoroughly) in advance of my next scheduled show.

But all that will happen in due time. For now, I am up and running, and reveling in the unquestionably higher performance of this new Mac mini. I'll probably have more to say about it and Big Sur as time goes by and I become more accustomed to these marvels of technology.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Hotel Chelsea (10.05.21)

Rocking the alphabet (at least A through M) at Hotel Chelsea. Photo by Kat.

Believe it nor not, it's coming up on one year that the first Tuesday evening of each month, I've been performing at Hotel Chelsea in Second Life. Even though it's only a monthly show (as opposed to a weekly or bi-weekly like most of my previous regularly-scheduled venues in SL), it really has become kind of my home turf these days, where I feel very comfortable and can count on a good crowd and can do fun shows without a lot of effort.

Gratitude to Max Kleene
For most of those shows at Hotel Chelsea, I am following my friend and fellow SL performer Maximillion Kleene. I may have told this story before, but it's worth repeating. When I was really just getting started in the SL music performance scene around 2007/2008, Max did something for me that I'll never forget. He had his own little venue, an outdoor place that was on a beachside with a fire pit in the middle; I don't remember what it was called. But Max had me out to perform there and brought in his considerably large base of fans to check me out. It was tremendously helpful to my little career as an SL musician, and I feel it was the kickoff point to help me cultivate my own fan base.

Since then, I've not only shared stages with him at various gigs across the SL grid on many occasions, but we've also had a great time performing together at a number of live SL jams in places like San Diego, Nashville, Minneapolis/St.Paul, and Orange County, CA. He's a talented guy who knows how to engage his crowd, and is vary capable as a solo artist... not something every musician does well. Max lives in Canada, so it's pretty remarkable that the two of us would have had the opportunity to do live music together despite being so geographically isolated. It's part of the magic of Second Life, and I appreciate it.

Max and me at our first real life gathering at the San Diego SL Jam in February 2011, over ten years ago.

Another time rocking with Max, this time at the SL Jam in the Twin Cities, fall 2016.

What Happened to Facebook/Instagram on Monday?
You know sometimes how you think you know something, but then you have to wonder if what you think you know is just what someone else wants you to think you know? That's kind of where I am with Monday's spectacularly bad fail of the Facebook-owned online entities. Even the part that seems to be acknowledged as the truth is such a bad look for that company, it's amazing it could happen at all.

The long story short is as follows. Someone at Facebook, who has presumably since been taken out back and shot, accidentally (as far as we know) sent a little note to the routing protocols of the Internet that told it their servers were gone. This happens every once in awhile... usually with smaller companies that forget to pay for renewal of their domain name. When it happens, someone says "oops" and pays the bill, and their site is back up a short while later.

While the massive outage of Facebook and its subsidiaries Instagram and WhatsApp on Monday seemed bad, it's certainly not as big of a deal for the company than finding themselves under intensive governmental scrutiny for greater regulation of their content or even anti-trust rulings. Image by Dado Ruvic/Reuters.

The problem with Facebook is that everything they do runs through their own systems. Once their servers went down, there was no way to even begin to rectify the situation. There were no outside systems that were off the Facebook tool kit in place for a contingency like this one. Not only could they not log into their own now-vanished system to fix it; even the employees' key cards were coded to the same system so they physically couldn't get into the areas of the company where the repairs could be made. Hence, they were way more fucked than most companies in the same situation, and it took more than eight hours -- the longest downtime since Facebook was founded -- before their servers even seemed to exist on the Internet, and then more time before the content propagated around the world and it was functioning properly.

Is That True?
This whole scenario is embarrassing enough that it very well might be true. Per reports, it cost the company more than $50 billion in stock declines during that fateful day (which, of course, jumped right back up after the debacle). At the same time... it's bizarre that this happened the morning after a damning 60 Minutes whistleblower interview report about Facebook's "profit over ethics" policies came out (and the day of said whistleblower's testimony to Congress). It's not a big stretch to think that the timing of this massive outage was too bizarre to be coincidental, and that either a) it was done maliciously by someone inside or outside the company, or b) that Facebook themselves shut things down while cleaning up the evidence that would implicate them in some way. 

Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testifying before Congress on Monday. Photo by USA Today.

So is the "we're incompetent and our systems were designed with no contingency plans" excuse true? Yeah, probably. I have no way of knowing, and frankly I don't care. I use Facebook professionally for my marketing clients, for promoting my music, and in vain efforts to teach people about political and social/cultural things that probably affect them. If not for those reasons, the entire platform could fall off the face of the Earth, and I'd find suitable replacements to cover the very few areas where Facebook and its other brands are personally useful to me and are positive influences on the world.

Rocking the Alphabet
Let's get back to my show at Hotel Chelsea. I am trying to curate my recent shows so that they're not generic and interchangeable. Figuring out some kind of theme for my set has two advantages. First, it forces me to reach deeper into my repertoire and play things that I might not have automatically chosen. Second (and more importantly), it's a much more memorable and fun experience for my audience. It's only a matter of laziness (or, more accurately, simply not having the time) when I don't put together some kind of themed show for each and every performance.

People having fun at my show. You know, I never care if people think of me as some extraordinary musical talent, or if they love every song I do. I only want them to have a good time for whatever reason they do. Photo by Kat.

For this one, while scrolling through my alphabetically-arranged list of song lyrics, I realized that it might be fun to not only do them in alphabetical order, but to select a song that represented each letter of the alphabet. So that's exactly what I did, per the set list below.

I had a request toward the end of the show to continue next time where I left off, meaning I'd have to come up with songs for the much more difficult N-Z section of the alphabet, but it sounds like a fun challenge and I think I'll plan for that at my next Hotel Chelsea show.

Me, rocking in my mask. A relevant side note: of my vaccinated friends who've still come down with breakthrough cases of COVID-19, a big percentage of them are live musicians doing real life shows, and not having the option to sing with a mask on. Photo by Kat.

Hotel Chelsea set list...
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
Barely Breathing (Duncan Sheik)
Carolina In My Mind (James Taylor)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
Everything Counts (Depeche Mode)
Fool on the Hill (Beatles)
Garter Snake (Macie Stewart)
Hannah Sun (Lomelda)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
Just Like Heaven (The Cure)
Killing Me Softly (Roberta Flack)
Learning to Fly (Pink Floyd)
Mexican Radio (Wall of Voodoo)

Huge thanks to the folks who hung out at my show at Hotel Chelsea, and extra special thanks to those who helped support it!
Jeff Plumday, noowun Wind, GingerPandora Resident, Trouble Streeter, Kat Claxton, and Chelsea's great GM, Shyla the Super Gecko! 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Lutz City of Templemore (10.02.21)

Rocking for everyone hanging out at Templemore's pretty outdoor stage. Photo by Kat.

I'll tell you about my show at Templemore, but first let's talk about new music and the four reasons why you don't like it.

1. You Don't Like New Things
Actually, let's qualify that statement. You don't like new things unless they are very reminiscent of old things. Why? Because you're a human, and humans are averse to change. Change gives you feelings of discomfort, while familiarity brings contentment. There's nothing wrong with that. It's part of the survival instinct of a species, and on an overall basis, it's fully understandable. It's engraved into your DNA. When unexpected things occur, they are, more often than not, bad in some way. A meteor hitting the Earth; a diagnosis of a disease; a sudden closure of a place of business; a home that burns down; the end of a relationship. It is said that change -- even good change -- is one of the most common causes of stress among people. New music, especially entire new styles of music with which you are unfamiliar, is often dismissed purely based on the aspect of it being unfamiliar and, hence, bad.

2. You Associate Older Music with Better Times
Let's be real here. For a lot of people, the part of their lives that they consider to be the best was in their youth. Again, this is totally understandable. When you're young, you face few of the pressures and challenges that represent the rest of your life, and have yet to build up resentment toward the difficult and generally negative experiences that you associate with the responsibilities of adulthood. It's been proven many times that the majority of people consider the "best music" to be that which they listened to in high school, or perhaps college, in their late teens and early 20s. And then people live for some 60-70 more years and can never have the same appreciation for music as that which is attached to their youth.

3. The Cultural and Generational Divide
Ah... the big one. Let's start with the obvious point: if you can't easily relate to something, it's unlikely you'll enjoy it. What that means is that Elvis Presley was considered a dangerous thug, the Beatles were deemed screaming noise, hard rock was talentless cacophony, and so on by the people of the respective preceding generations. It also means that if an artist came from a background that was very different from your own, be that via nationality, race, economic status, or other consideration, you had a built-in excuse to prejudge their music. I know that the crossover for rap/hip hop from an underground music genre to the predominant pop style was a huge dividing point at the time, for this very reason.

In the worst case scenarios, new music is considered an actual threat to society. Now considered part of the cultural fabric of western civilization, the FBI opened files on the Beatles at the time. Parents expressed outrage about this music that was corrupting the youth of the world. There are many other examples of new music being considered subversive and dangerous through the years.

4. You're Not Hearing The Right Music
This is the most frustrating part. It's not easy to find the new music that you would like if you only had a steady source of exposure to it. The style of music you love might not be what is topping the charts and getting significant exposure via mainstream media. That doesn't mean that people aren't still making that music; it means you have to work to find it. Frankly, the people who don't consider music to be a big priority in their lives really don't want to make any actual effort to find it. I recently wrote an article about this exact topic, with plenty of tips on discovering music you might like.

Old Music: Still Here, Still Good
The big thing to keep in mind with all of this insane ranting I'm doing here: I love older music too. Music has been part of the human experience likely from times before we were even fully human. I love baroque music from the 1600s, classical music from the 1700s, and romantic music from the 1800s. I love blues from the 1930s/1940s, and free jazz from the 1950s/1960s. I love the great pop/rock artists from the '60s/'70s, and metal from the '70s/'80s. Grunge and alt-rock of the '90s. 

That music is here. It's immortal. It's not going anywhere. It stays around forever. Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor came out in 1739. Its going to be around in 2739 and far beyond, assuming humans are still here to enjoy it. And here's the point: the act of discovering and enjoying new music takes nothing away from the great music that came before it. You can listen to a song from 2021 and then a song from 1966 and then a nice Gregorian chant written in 752 and really get different kinds of fulfillment from each of them. 

I Played Seven Songs That Came Out In The Past 12 Months, and Here They Are
Here's the thing; of the seven songs I did at my show on Saturday at Templemore that all were released in the past year, none of them were radically weird. In fact, all of them have certain elements that meant they could have come out at various times in the past 40-50 years. They're listed below in the order in which I performed them.

Swirl (Charlie Martin)

Hannah Sun (Lomelda)

El Invento (José González)

Seaside_Demo (Seb)

Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)

Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)

Garter Snake (Macie Stewart)

And Now, My Show
So now that we're done with all that pointless screaming into the void and embedding music that no one will likely listen to, I will tell you the things that actually pertain to my show on Saturday October 2 at Lutz City of Templemore in Second Life.

Templemore is, and always has been, the most visually impressive series of live music venues that Second Life has ever offered. I tried to go back and count the number of different stages I've played at Templemore in its many incarnations. There were too many. Each of them, in their own distinct way, is incredible not only in the detail of the design but in the actual artistic theme that pervades all of the Templemore builds. Credit to my friend, the artist Luis Lockjaw, for creating this world within a world.

No one can deny that Templemore has always been the artistic environment leader in all SL live music venues. Photo by Kat.

My own theme for this particular show -- which will kind of explain the paragraphs of babbling you read above -- was new music. Over half of the songs I did (those shown above) came out between late 2020 and up to September 2021. I'll tell you: I would have preferred to have a bigger crowd at a show where I was really excited to show off those tunes, and I had four songs in that set that I'd never played before.

People Are People
The fact is that like any music scene, the musical tastes of Second Life residents predominantly lean toward safe and familiar sounds. I don't begrudge any other performer for their choices in repertoire; I think that if people enjoy what they do, they are obviously serving the proper job of the entertainer, which is simply to entertain. From track singers to DJs to live artists who play older and much-beloved songs, they're not doing anything wrong at all. Like a microcosm of real life, where great indie music remains slightly hidden and underground, it's more difficult to get people out to shows for those artists who purposefully avoid playing the same thing over and over again.

Do I like performing for huge crowds? Yes, of course I do. But when I have a show that isn't well attended, it doesn't mean I can't still do my best work for whoever is there at the time. I always do, no matter what. Photo by Kat.

That having been said, I am super happy with how the show itself went. I was well prepared with the new material, and my voice and guitar and audio streaming were all behaving very well. I loved doing the new songs, all of which will be popping up again at future shows. As I said during the show itself, nothing makes me happier than those moments where I'll introduce a new artist/band or a whole new sound to my audience, and they go out and seek out the music to explore on their own.

In October 1981, I was in 8th grade and was really getting deep into music, and Ghost in the Machine was an album that was a big gateway drug for my lifelong love of new, cool sounds.

Quick tidbit: I'd realized that the day of this show was both the 70th birthday of Sting (holy shit!) and the 40th anniversary of the release of the album that initially made me a Police fan for life... Ghost in the Machine. I was compelled to add a song to my set as a result.

One last note on this show. I was followed by Joe Paravane, whom I'd never heard before, and I hung out for a good portion of his show. I thought he was both talented and really unique among the SL music performance scene, and had an interesting vocal style and was obviously a competent guitarist. Much like real life, I always appreciate the discovery of performers in SL who I personally enjoy, and I will definitely seek out other opportunities to hear Joe play.

Still masked in SL as in RL? Yup! Photo by Kat.

Templemore set list...
Swirl (Charlie Martin)
*Hannah Sun (Lomelda)
El Invento (José González)
*Seaside_demo (SEB)
Box by the Cliff (They Stole My Crayon)
Bird of Paradise (Cory Hanson)
*Garter Snake (Macie Stewart)
Polly (Nirvana)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
*God Only Knows (Beach Boys)
Spirits in the Material World (The Police)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Thanks so much to everyone who came out to the show, with special thanks to the following who helped support it!
Malice Marsault, Taj Nishi, Joe Paravane, LillyAnnSetner Resident, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and Templemore's terrific owners Grace Sixpence and Luis Lockjaw, wonderful hostess Bee Blackrain, and GM Amaya Mavinelli!