League Of Denial

This was tough for me. And not just because I love watching NFL games with my kid and have grown into a bona fide TN Titan homer. My oldest son loves football more than cartoon mice love giant blocks of cheddar. He loves everything about it, the pro game, the college game, Madden, flag, imaginary games in the yard…even paper football.

And some of the most precious memories I’ve enjoyed the last few years were created by sitting with Jesse in our over-stuffed chair, rooting hard for our Titans or just critiquing plays together.

So it was with some trepidation I logged onto the PBS Frontline site and watched the documentary film League Of Denial.

I don’t WANT to think about all those injuries. I don’t even really want to know what the NFL knew…or when they knew it. I want football to somehow not change and yet become exponentially safer for the players. But that’s a ridiculous thing to want.

The film is well done, more pedestrian than anything approaching art. And it’s freighted with a rather obvious agenda. I don’t begrudge the makers’ viewpoint, just pointing it out.

That agenda is something I will try and explain (without infusing any agenda of my own!) when I finally decide to sit down with Jesse and watch the film together.

See…this is his first year of tackle football. And all proud Dad-isms aside…he’s a total stud. Most games this year he played every down–that’s offense, defense, and special teams. In two games he scored 3 touchdowns in the first half alone! He blocks well, has a decent football IQ, and is typically the fastest kid on the field. As a (mostly former) athlete, I understand what it’s like to actually be good at something I love. And more importantly, to be a part of a team.

And yet…

There’s this disease that’s been discovered called CTE. (It stands for something long and complicated and multisyllabic.) Basically, the medical experts have been examining the brains of deceased football players and find this protein called tau. The evidence is mounting that this disease is causing all sorts of difficulties for aging victims. Things like dementia, addictions, violent mood swings, and suicidal tendencies. Junior Seau is the most recent famous victim.

To be clear, there’s not a direct scientific link. But 19 out of the first 20 brains examined were rife with the disease. And in one case it has actually appeared in a high school football player who took his own life.

My plan is NOT to discourage Jesse from playing football. But rather to have a frank discussion and let him make his own decision whether he wants to continue with tackle football or not.

Of course, it will be easy for me if he decides he doesn’t want to play. It keeps me from the potentially brutal dilemma of having to decide for him.

If you have even a casual interest in football, the film is worth watching. And if you have seen it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

Timmy Pedal

RGS-PC-TMY-2What can I say that hasn’t already been said?

Not much, it turns out.

Yes, it’s amazing.

Yes, it’s “transparent.”

Yes, it gives you “more” of what your amp is already producing.

Yes, the price/quality ratio provides a tremendous value. I paid $119 + tax for brand new.

My two favorite settings (although it sounds great all over the dials…)

a) Bass/Treble – 1 O’clock – Gain around 11 – Volume around Noon

b) Bass/Treble – all the way down – Gain around 9 – Volume to taste

It is without a doubt the best “stacking” pedal I’ve ever played. It gets along famously with every other pedal on my board, all three amps, and every pickup on every guitar I own.

And yes…even after all that, I can say without too much hesitation that it is indeed possible to live without a Timmy. It’s just way more fun to live with it. Of all the overdrive pedals I’ve owned (which is exactly “too many”), this the one I like best.

Cam Card app

camcard_iconTypically, I’m the last to know.

I am not a techie, not even close. More like tech-neutral. I own a Mac and an iPhone (but never the latest version). I can navigate apps and iTunes and the occasional software update with relative ease. I suppose the best example to describe my interfaceability is my relationship with DVR. For starters, I didn’t know we had it until we had to return a defective receiver to Dish Network. I’ll admit to feeling a twinge of geeked-out thrill when I realized we would soon be able to record TV shows or football games or just whatever, then watch them at my leisure…sans commercials! But alas, the receiver arrived and I installed and have yet to even crack the manual to figure out how to DVR actually works.

I suppose that lands me somewhere south of tech-curious.

The truth is, when I do finally sit down in front of the TV for any length of time, I actually LIKE the commercial breaks. As a Tennessee Titans fan, oftentimes the commercials are the most entertaining part of my TV experience. Plus, I feel guilty if I don’t get up and move around. (Yes, I’ve seen Wall-E!)

All of which brings me to this iPhone app (and others I may “review” from time to time). I have been shocked to learn that I utilize a helpful app that most of my colleagues have yet to discover In fact, they kind of marvel when they see it (which, of course, fills my insides with heaps of unearned pride…as if I designed the app myself instead of having downloaded it for free).

It’s called CamCard.

And when someone hands me a business card, all I have to do is open the app, tap on the “Take Photo” icon, and aim. Once I position the phone correctly, the app will snap a photo for me (don’t even have to click the fake shutter). And voila…the app reads and deciphers the business card and drops it into my iPhone contacts for me. And it does a much more thorough job than I normally do, accurately capturing the company name, address, job title, even the fax numbers!

It’s not perfect, of course. Sometimes the script on the card makes a line or two of data read like gobbledygook. So occasionally I have to go in and clean something up. Still…it’s way more accurate and speedy than if I had to start from scratch.

As of this writing, there is a free version (what I use) and a more professional $6.99 version (which is actually on sale for $2.99 for a limited time).

Antagonym or Newton’s Third Law?

Oddly enough, that stick man is actually named Newton…

In my first few years of writing I absolutely believed that, no matter how hard I worked or how much I studied or how many hours I sat practicing my craft, that there was no way in Hades I would ever get published.

I also believed with equal force and determination, that if I just kept at it long enough, I would absolutely land a traditional publishing deal.

This was not merely the result of sleep deprivation or schizophrenia. Nor was it some parlor trick or trendy pop psychology technique I borrowed to keep myself motivated.

I actually believed these equal and opposing ideas simultaneously. Fully. And with all my heart.

And you know what? It took the pressure off.

If publishing obscurity were a foregone conclusion, and no one (who didn’t already know me personally) was ever going to read my stuff, why get all exorcised about trying to please some editor I would likely never meet? I could just write for the love of it, for the fun of it, to simply amuse myself.

Equally, if I were already predestined to sign a publishing deal, why sweat the details? Just finish it, mail it off, and wait to sign the deal.

Granted, this is not very scientific. (Or maybe it is?) And it’s quite possible it only works on people with some sort of dysfunction or mental deficiency. Either way, it worked for me so I thought I’d share.

EHX Micro POG

This pedal is so cool I’ve owned it twice. Okay…so…I sold my first one to fund a POG2, then traded back.

The Electro-Harmonix Micro POG is described as a polyphonic octave generator. What this actually means is that you can dial as much (or as little, or even none) of the micro-pogfollowing:

a) Your guitar’s dry signal.

b) Notes one octave higher than the ones you’re playing.

c) Notes one octave below the ones you’re playing.

d) Any combination of the the three.

Does it sound a little “wonky” or “affected?” Sure. But somehow it manages to do so in a very musical way…especially in the mix (and coupled with a smidge of modulation and/or delay).

With it, you can generate a believable 12-string guitar, some pretty cool organ sounds (more church organ than jazz organ), and cover a wide & imaginative expanse of sonic territory by clicking a pedal.

I also have an EHX SuperEgo, which has an effects loop. They combination here (along with some kind of modulation, reverb, and/or delay) can turn your guitar signal into a moody little orchestral synthesizer.

Really good advice? Use it tastefully.

Even better advice? Use it sparingly.

But do use it. Very cool pedal.

Sugar: The Bitter Truth

I first heard about Robert Lustig on Here’s The Thing. I was more than a little intrigued, not only by his message, but the science behind it and his passion when sharing it.

Note: this is not good news for fans of soft drinks, processed foods, and/or anyone with an insatiable sweet tooth.

And yet…

The first video below is Robert doing his thing. The second video is a layman’s interpretation (and it’s much shorter). Both, however, are worth your time…and may just add some quality time to your time here on earth.

Writerly patience?

Everybody seems to be in a hurry to do everything these days (me included). And I watching-the-clockcertainly don’t want to add fuel to the self vs. traditional publishing debate. (I’ve done one and plan to do both in the future). However…

I do think the proliferation of self-publishing has caused a LOT of writers (certainly not all) to skip a few really, super important steps. Namely…

a) Critique–lots and lots of critique from peers. There should be numerous sets of eyeballs on our work–other writers, readers, family, friends, editors, then more and more writers. This is not a one-time thing. It takes several rounds of critique for any story to graduate to…

b) Editing. Macro edits, micro edits, story edits, content edits, line edits. Not all writers make great editors. Again, this is not a singular event, but more like a long series of waves. Some will be pleasant, warm and swirly and ticklish. And a few of them should knock us on our writerly butts. All of them should propel the work forward.

Along with patience, plan on heavy doses of discipline, time, and some very hard work. Traditional publishing forces these issues. The self-publisher must force him or herself. In my estimation, the disciplined writer takes the time to vet his/her work, regardless of how or when it gets published.

Streaks

deviceshotThere’s a story attributed to Jerry Seinfeld in which he gave solicited advice to an aspiring comedian named Brad Isaac. The story goes that Isaac asked Seinfeld the secret to becoming a better comedian.

Seinfeld told his new “protege” that to become a better comic he simply needed to write better jokes. And the way to write better jokes was to write every day. (Good advice for writers too…and golfers, plumbers, accountants, jugglers…)

Seinfeld then explained that he kept a large calendar on the wall, and for every day he wrote jokes, he marked a big red X through that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.

The logic is sound.

I wrote a handful of novels that way.

In that same vein, I recently downloaded an app for my phone called Streaks.

Very simple, very powerful as well.

With a couple of clicks you create a calendar (as many or as few as you want…I currently have 7) and begin putting the big red X in all the days you complete the task. For most of my adult life I’ve been an intermittent flosser. Since installing Streaks, I can honestly say I haven’t missed a single day…154 days and counting!

The amazing thing is, Streaks really does work. And it takes less than 15 seconds per day to stay current with it.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

9780316204262_p0_v2_s260x420This is not a real question. It’s a newish novel by Maria Semple. And I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It’s mostly original, comprised of emails and letters, as well as traditional prose.

Some will say it’s not very believable. But I would argue that Semple had me believing every oddball premise and eccentric detail of this family’s life.

From the inside flap: “…an ingenious and unabashedly entertaining novel about a family coming to terms with who they are. It is also a riotous satire of privilege and an unsentimental but powerful story of a daughter’s unflinching love for her imperfect mother.”

A darn good read, this one.

Other really good books I’ve finished recently…

David & Goliath – Malcolm Gladwell

I Wear The Black Hat – Chuck Klosterman

The Dog Stars – Peter Heller

A Light Between Oceans – ML Stedmanbooks_old

The China Study and Whole – both by T. Colin Campbell

The Dinner – Herman Koch

The Freedom of Self-Forgiveness – Tim Keller

Father & Son – Larry Brown

Me Before You – Jojo Moyes

Salt Sugar Fat – Michael Moss

Sweet Tooth – Ian Mcewan

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

We Live In Water – Jess Walter

The Memory of Running – Ron Mclarty

The One Thing – Gary Keller

So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal Newport

The Practicing Mind – Thomas M. Sterner

Diamond Compressor

I used to use (read: overuse) compression. In fact, about a hundred years ago I was heavy user (abuser?) of the MXR Dyna Comp. All through my college days I deployed some flavor-of-the-month rack-mount compressor. In a word, my tone was “squishy.”

These days I don’t really need the super squashed tones, although I do still have my beloved Dyna Comp tucked away in a drawer in case Earth, Wind, & Fire comes calling.

I suppose the word for this pedalcompressor_top is “transparent.”

Although an apt description, it still sounds funny to me. Why pay a couple hundred bucks for something that is either “see through” or “barely even noticeable?”

All I can say is, “hearing is believing.”

Trust me, I get the argument too against “always on” pedals Why not just set your amp for the “always on” tone you desire and leave it at that?

Compression…tastefully applied…gives my tone the right kind of sparkle and evenness that simply plugging into an amp does not.

Plus, none of my amps have a compression knob. And sometimes I just want a little more.

What I REALLY find helpful is the Diamond Comp’s ability to make quick adjustments on the fly. If the sound guy asks me to turn down (funny, he never asks me to turn up), I can adjust the Output knob right there at my feet. Same with subtle tone adjustments.

To sum up, I cannot explain with any technical acuity exactly what, why, or how this pedal makes my tone so much better. All I can do is claim that it does.

If you’re in the market for a compressor pedal, add this one to the demo list. It just might help you avoid having a V-8 Moment over a pedal purchase.