The R&D Workshop No.6

✤ Intro

Last October I wrote a couple of these updates, No.4 and No.5. I attempted to get you, the reader, up-to-date on projects in general, and then I specifically outlined my hopes for the winter music season. Here I am to tell you about some more things that have or have not happened since then.

✤ Little Drummer Man

Have you read my posts on the resolutions I've made this year? I've linked the post that goes most in depth about my 2018 goals here. One of those resolutions is playing drums daily. I've done a pretty decent job of following through with this goal so far with plenty of room for improvement. While I'm already experiencing the benefits of the (progressively) daily discipline, I expect to see much bigger gains when next autumn comes.

One big issue I’ve had with accomplishing these goals recently is that I came down with the flu. That really screwed up my ability and my motivation to accomplish my goals. I’ve been gradually feeling better and hope to be tiptop by the time I hit the two-week mark since I came down with the sickness. When I initially got sick, I was pushing myself a lot, and I’ve been reluctant to do so again until I’m back to normal.

I was really starting to enjoy and look forward to my new daily habits. I had plenty to improve upon and figure out, but it was nice to feel the pride that came with shaping a ‘new me.’ I felt better from the effort and in the making of the effort itself. Getting off track and behind has been a big disappointment, and it has really shown me how much I want to accomplish my goals. Sure, it’s nice to feel the accomplishment, but the byproducts of the accomplishments are the real prize.

✤ Let There Be Shelving

studio, shelves, Minnesota, wood, building
Although I didn't complete all of the studio upgrades I would have liked to complete last autumn, one thing I did get done—perhaps the most pertinent item on the list—was to build storage shelves. One of the perks to shelves is taking advantage of vertical space, and I badly needed to take advantage of that perk. While not all of my studio things fit on this shelving, it made a huge difference in fitting everything into that corner of the room.

Whenever I make changes to my studio, I always think about how it will influence the sound within the room. Where two flat surfaces come together to form a corner, undesirable things happen in relation to sound. With a shelf in that corner, I will be introducing a little diffusion and a little absorption. Reflections won't change a whole lot due to the nature of the stuff on the shelves, but diffusion helps with that. Still, it's better than it was in these regards, and I've got some shelves to use.

studio, shelves, Minnesota, wood, buildingOne of the rules I gave myself was to only use wood that I already had. I usually have a fair amount of wood sitting in the garage at any given time, and I felt that I could reasonably accomplish the self-directed directive. I felt that it would also give me a bit of a challenge to figure out how I was going to build it. Plus, who doesn't like to save money. I did end up buying ‘L’ brackets to attach the top and bottom halves together once I had them in the basement.

There are two reasons I built it in two halves. One, I wanted it to easily be moved to the basement. I didn't want it to weigh so much or be too big that my wife and I couldn't easily handle it. Two, it worked out that way because of the materials I had to choose from. I primed and painted it to match the other furniture that I've built for the studio. It also matches the general color scheme and decor of the rooms in the basement. (I secured it to the wall, in case you were wondering.)

✤ Video Killed The Mojo Machine (Or So I Thought)

It seems that this music season isn't going according to plan at all so far. When do things ever go according to plan, I guess? I did have a hard time believing I would achieve everything I wanted to, but I also thought I would have gotten a better jump on it in December or January. December was too busy, but I did start playing drums regularly—that's a plus I'm not complaining about! And then, there's January.

I thought I was having issues with my video card. I did have to replace it years ago, and since I wasn’t getting a signal to my video monitors, it seemed plausible. I contacted the company I bought my music computer tower from, ADK, and I asked them what video card they recommended with my system. I bought this tower in 2008 and decided to put Windows XP on it. I don't regret it considering the alternatives at the time. Windows XP is and was a fine program. However, since then, XP is no longer supported by Microsoft and therefore one could conclude that parts would be harder to come by. So, considering I’m not as savvy as some, I asked which card would be a good bet. I bought the one they recommended and installed it.

The same problem persisted, so I brought the computer to the Best Buy Geek Squad. The first guy’s attitude and salesmanship wasn’t very good, but I left the computer tower anyway because I needed to know what the way forward was going to be. (The guy I dealt with next two times was much better, and I will try to work with again in the future.) What it comes down to is that the diagnostics came back with nothing being wrong with my hardware. Actually, it was stated that for a computer of ten years of age that it was in a great condition. My operating system was messed up, corrupt, or something. After some discussion with the Geek Squad-er (the good one), we came to the conclusion that the best way forward was to install Windows 10 and they did. I’m of course giving you the sped-up version of the story. Trust me. It’s better this way.

What now?

Well, I replaced the video card in January and visited the Geek Squad in early February. I would have liked this section of the post to end with me saying that the computer is running full, head on. However, I still need to update the driver for the new video card, figure out how to use Windows 10, and who knows what else. It feels like it’s been longer than it has since I’ve last turned it on. I need to purchase new music recording/editing software (Cubase) and install it, since the version I have isn’t compatible with the new operating software. I’m sure there’s plenty more to work through and accomplish before I’m “ready to rock.”

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with computers. I just want them to work. I don’t have any interest in the “getting them to work” part. I’ve had plenty else keeping me busy, though, and what I need right now is a day on the calendar I can clear (or keep clear) to make my computer a priority from the start. If I can accomplish other things after, great, because that means I’ve made progress.

✤ Let There Be MORE Shelving

home improvements, Minnesota, shelves, wood, building
Another shelving project I completed last fall is in the utility room of the basement. It’s an area that was grossly underutilized but had unique constraints. The sump pit is on the floor below the shelving and the water outflow runs along the wall. Because of this, I made three triangular shaped shelves. I was able to attach one side to the inner-house wall due to the 2x4 wall supports being exposed. On the other side, one of the triangle’s points is attached to a 2x6 that is free standing, but it fits very snuggly against the outside cement block wall.

Like my studio shelving, I gave myself the task to complete the project with only materials I already had. Maybe I bought some more screws, I don’t remember, but the idea was to use up my wood cache. It’s easy to just buy more wood, but then pieces of this and that accumulate over time. Shelves are one of the easiest ways to take advantage of this “issue.”

I’m still in the process of trying to figure out where to permanently store most of the items on the shelves as the utility room isn’t the best place for them...

✤ In Closing

I’m moving forward on many fronts, most of which only a very small amount of people have any knowledge about. Someday, I suppose. For now, I talk about the music, the blogging, and the home improvement stuff. I tend to keep a lot of soups on the stove. Too many, perhaps, but keeping my idea machine running full-tilt has been showing dividends. I may not be where I want to be with some of those, but one task’s loss is another’s gain. I think that makes sense. Much has been achieved this year so far, no matter how inglorious the tasks, and they ultimately lead me towards the place I want to be. I will be somewhere regardless. I might as well try and make it into somewhere worth being.

The quote I ended No.4 with still feels incredibly relevant. Maybe it always will.

"That which hinders your task IS your task." -Sanford Meisner

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New Posts To Consume

Got Resolve? A New Year's Beginning

Got Resolve? 2018 Goals Dissected

I've published a few new posts so far this year, including the two linked above. They are related to resolutions and my commitment to both making and following through on them this year. I actually have never made New Year's Resolutions before that I can remember, at least like this, where I'm resolving to DO something as opposed to NOT doing something. Sure, I've made vague resolutions in the past that were as easily forgotten as they were made. Not this year. Maybe, perhaps, these goals are more meaningful, more accomplishable?

One of my goals, and you'll have to read the second post for more information on it, is doing five minutes of karate daily. As far back as last fall, my wife and I thought it might be fun to watch The Karate Kid with our children. While watching a YouTube video that I was thinking about hyperlinking (and actually did) in the post mentioned above, I immediately noticed there was a lot of swearing. I didn't remember that part. Is the rest of the movie like this? I don't know if this will prevent us watching it with them, but maybe it will delay it a little longer.

Here's the clip I hyperlinked. I thought it may be an enjoyable addition to this issue of THE NOT SO DAILY DUMP and was appropriate to pair with this section. Enjoy! And, if the video isn't showing up (emailers), give this blue line of text a try. You know, click it.

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Cool Things

I have only brought this up once ever, and I did so in one of the posts I mentioned above, the one involving goal dissection. I started using Google Keep sometime last autumn and have been finding more reasons to use it ever since. I don't think Google needs my help promoting its software, and that's not why I'm bringing it up here.  I'm telling you about it because I think it's a "cool thing" that I am recently getting a lot of value out of and want to share that with you, reader. That's all.

I use Google Keep to make lists. I use the list function, although not necessarily as functionally intended, to track my daily goals and to keep track of things I need to accomplish weekly. Grocery lists work great with Keep's list option. It makes checking off items easy as you shop. Also, when you're ready to make another list, those past items can be added back by unchecking them.

You can use Google Keep to set reminders and make general notes as well. One disadvantage I've found with past note-taking software I've used is that it's always been native to my phone. So, when I saw Google Keep, I was immediately intrigued by the ability to access it anywhere and that it wasn't dependent upon my phone working or not being traded in. And, I'm not terribly worried about making too many notes due to the ability to sort them by the labels I create.

I started using Keep to write posts, since I stopped using the Blogger app. I posted about this in TNSDD #9 in more detail. Basically, I had issues with the app on my phone and the Blogger program in the cloud communicating properly. I decided to try out writing post drafts in Keep and still am for now. The only big drawback is the amount of HTML data that needs to be erased after pasting the post into Blogger. But, it seems, no matter what I use for drafts, there will be some HTML to remove. There IS a lot carried over from Keep, though; more than a Google Doc, I believe. So, that may be where I go in the future.

An amusing story (to me) I have to tell you is about the first time I used Keep as a grocery list. Normally, I would write a list on paper, because I don't go grocery shopping without a list. As I'm walking through the store wondering about who was scoffing in their mind-space that I couldn't "get off my phone long enough to shop," I saw another fellow, who looked to be close enough to my age, using his phone as his list. As I passed him to my right, I felt modern and hip, and then I looked over to my left as I passed an older woman who was holding a paper list. The first thought that came to my mind when I saw her was, "Neanderthal!" The voice in my head was in a bitchy tone, even though I was in a good mood. I cracked myself up as I continued walking through the aisle. I can't wait to tell this story to my wife, I thought.

This is how it happens. Someday, despite my sincerest attempts, I will be a neanderthal, too.

Here's an article that talks about Google Keep in more depth, if you're interested. Not Just Another Notes App: Why You Should Use Google Keep

Enough of all that.

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Picture This

In TNSDD #9, I included a picture I had drawn many months prior. I had also stated that there was another one I had done that I was planning on including in a future issue. Like I said in the introduction to that horrible picture, I feel like this addition of THE NOT SO DAILY DUMP feature to my blog has given me a space on my blog to experiment more and be more random at times. I can do what I want with my blog, but it has to make sense to me. I am who I am. You can go to that issue if you want a more thorough explanation.

The other picture was scanned, cropped, and placed into the post. For this one, I agreed with my wife that it needed color. However, I did not want to color the original picture directly nor color it completely. So, I traced it in pen, scanned it, and my wife colored it in Photoshop. I wasn't expecting the last part, but she offered, and I happily accepted that offer.

This picture may make you feel nothing, but chances are it will evoke some type of internal response. Good. Feel something, whatever that is.

Here is Horrible (but better because of my wife) Picture #2 entitled, "We Ain't Got No Tree Problem: A Lesson In Futility." Click on the image to make it bigger.

pollution, rampant consumerism, trees, people only understand their experiences

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Shine That Spotlight, You Crazy Diamond

I had an idea recently that in every tenth issue I could recap the previous nine. I liked that idea so much that I started working on it. But, I almost got about halfway there and felt that it probably makes more sense to do that every five issues or this section will certainly get quite long. Part of the point to THE NOT SO DAILY DUMP feature is to have multiple fairly short sections that, even though they may be related, are about different things. And then after writing up three, along with a lot of—mostly consensual—internal dialogue, I decided on a different approach. I will start the recapping process after each set of nine new 'Spotlights' and each recap will only consist of three past 'Spotlights.' Make sense? It will take three issues to do a full recap, so every twelve issues is like a set. Now you know how much I suffer with the brain I have. Why do I have to be so complicated, Avril?

So, here is a recap of the first three 'Spotlights.'

Christine Sedam, my wife, is many things. One of those things is a runner, and she has a blog about her races and some of the struggles that come with it. She's been training this winter to go even further and farther than she already has. She ran her first half-marathon last year and caught the bug. She'll be running three half-marathons (at this point) this year amongst 5 and 10ks and other variations of calculating distance. Read about her journey at ChristineSedam.com. You can also follow her fitness fury on her Facebook page as well at Facebook.com/RunningOnEmptyBlog.

Elisha Johnson is an incredibly talented photographer and graphic designer. She has coded her own website where she highlights some of the work she has already accomplished for her clients as well as her favorite school projects. She'll be graduating from college soon, and she is well on her way to a successful career. See her work and learn how to connect with her on social media by going to her website Elisha-Johnson.com. You can also follow her daring designs at Facebook.com/ElishaJohnsonDesign.

Stephanie Dehnel is a musician and a longtime vlogger. In issue #3, I focused on her vlogging and am reminding you of that here. Steph has been doubling-down on her vlog lately and seems to be releasing more content. She has been giving her vlog's web presence a general freshening and has done the same for her opening roll etc. If you're a voyeur at heart or I've peaked your curiosity, you can watch Steph's venturous videos at her YouTube channel, StephanieDTV. And, since I seem to be giving out Facebook pages, here is her vlog page at Facebook.com/StephanieDTV.

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Justinian's Flea And Related Musings

book, review, Rome, plague
I did it. And, I did it sooner than I had expected. I wanted to finish the book I had been reading, Justinian's Flea, by the end of the year (2017). I finished it before Thanksgiving. This post isn't the first time I've mentioned this book, so read "Books, Life, and Punchlines" to get a little bit bigger of a picture about the book and my thoughts on it.

*It took you all year to read this book?*

Pretty much. If this is the first post of mine that you're reading and/or you haven't heard me mentioning this, here it goes. I actually read quite a bit. I just don't devour books. I'd love to be the kind of person that does, but I just never have been. Maybe someday. It's something I at least think about doing more of. So, in the meantime, I choose a book and then read it when I can. For the last two years or so, that time has been in the wee early hours of the morning before I head to my place of work. It's quiet, my family isn't up, and my mind is fresh and ready to be a sponge. I'll leave it at that. If you want to know more, then you should familiarize yourself with the rest of my posts. Maybe, you'd like to read a post I wrote about two other books entitled, "Exit Music, Enter Early?"

*Since you've finished the book, what have you spent your time doing? Did you start another book?*

Excellent question!

Well, I wrote this post for one. I had a harder time keeping pace with one post a week last year, unlike in 2016 after I restarted my blog. I don't feel that one new post per week is necessary, but I also don't want to fall into a trap of not posting regularly or there's always the chance I won't post very often or at all. Not doing something is often the path of least resistance. Wait. It IS the path of least resistance, literally. So, yeah. I usually feel that I have plenty to write about, but the time to do so is not so plenty. There seems to be too many things I want to do. Unfortunately, my brain needs breaks, too. ANYWAY. What I meant to say was that I wrote a little more, and I also spent extra time laying in bed trying to wake up by looking at the social blackhole on my phone.

As I've mentioned before in the past, the next book I'm reading is one a friend of mine, J. Thomas Richards, has written. It was my goal to purchase it in December, and I'm happy to say that I accomplished that goal and am now a few chapters in. I suppose I should tell you a little about this book, eh? It's called The Black River Players, and it's a modern noir-style story that is set in an area near where he and I both grew up. Please take an opportunity to learn more about this book and consider buying it on Amazon.

...And now back to Justinian's Flea, but first...

I generally lounge with a book as opposed to devouring it, as I partially mentioned the devouring part earlier. This isn't always the case, but I'm not afraid to meander through a page only to go back and meander through it again. Maybe, I want to absorb as much information as I can and there happened to be a lot on that page. Maybe, there was a paragraph or sentence that I really liked and I wanted to soak in, roll around in, and enjoy its brilliance. Maybe, my brain was too sleepy to comprehend what I read and I had somehow managed to go through multiple sentences without grasping context. Maybe, I drifted off into a daydream and forgot where I was physically at. All of those reasons are valid at some point in time. Plus, when I watch or read anything, I don't plan to ever visit it again. There's SO much media out there to consume! I'm going to make the most of the experience by absorbing as much of its information and essence as I can.

One of the reasons I liked Justinian's Flea, compared to most other books I've read, is that there were many times I looked for more information beyond the book. That takes extra time, too, and that, in turn, makes the consumption take longer. While the book does go into great detail with its subject matter, a book can never give all of the information available. Sometimes, it was a matter of looking up Latin words to capture the full meaning of the author's explanation. Other times, it was to look up maps of late antiquity's ever-changing territory boundaries, city locations, paths of military campaigns, and the like—things that a map can show a person. There were occasions where I sought out more detail about a particular historical figure or event or piece of architecture, like the Hagia Sophia.

One aspect that I really enjoyed about the book was the stories that humanized the people of late antiquity. Maybe it's just me, but the further back one goes in time, the more mythical people seem to become. It doesn't help that fictional character's personalities, ticks, and whatnot are often presented more thoroughly in books than most factual persons from reality—biographies being the most likely exceptions. The more a book can connect the reader to the humanity of its characters, its story, the more real and impactful it can become to the reader. While this book isn't necessarily a golden example of showing historical figures' personalities, it does cut through some of the numbness that the facts of history can emanate. The book does humanize these historical characters, even if it's not always in obvious ways, and on occasion, it shares anecdotes. Also, any book that talks of plague is going to humanize it a bit. Death is very real.

Here's an anecdote from page 103 about a practical joke:

"Mirrors fascinated Anthemius his entire life. Years after the completion of the Hagia Sophia, the architect—now a wealthy and famous citizen of Constantinople—was the loser in a lawsuit brought by his upstairs neighbor, the equally famous orator Zeno. He took his revenge like a proper engineer, first simulating an earthquake with a steam line that he surreptitiously ran into Zeno's apartment, then exploding noisemakers to mimic the sound of a thunderstorm. Finally, he put his geometric talents to practical use—or, at least, practical-joke use—employing a pivoting parabolic reflector to shine light at all hours into Zeno's sleeping chamber. When Zeno asked Justinian to intervene, the emperor declined to punish his architect, writing that even he 'cannot intervene against Zeus the Thunderer and Poseidon the Earth-Shaker.'"

One thing you may not know that adds to the overall story is that Justinian was a devout Christian, not a pagan. Therefore, his response was a joke as well.

Here's a little tidbit from page 141 that I found amusing:

"The Vandal king's Moorish hosts were not as accustomed to civilization as his own people, and Gelimer, a man of some musical and literary pretension, actually spent part of the siege composing an ode bemoaning his lack of a sponge. When he finally surrendered, he evidently did so believing that it was preferable to be a clean slave of Justinian than an unwashed king of the Vandals."

History is also filled with much irony. One such irony this book discusses on page 212 is that Alexandria, Egypt was the "port of embarkation for both disease and doctor." The plague is thought to have originated from Pelusium, Egypt, but Alexandria—being a major (and local) port of antiquity—was where the rat-flea-plague team had its greatest opportunity to spread throughout Europe. Alexandria was also an educational center of this region, in fact, it was THE place to study for physicians. So, when the plague struck, the world's best doctors were called upon. Hence, both doctors and disease embarked from the same place.

book, review, Rome, plague
I love the title to this chapter. Perhaps I'll use it as a title to a song or album.

When I decided to start reading this book, I knew that it was going to be giving a lesson in history. What I didn't expect was to get a lesson in science, specifically biology, and a surprisingly long, in depth one as well. The author, William Rosen, explains the different aspects of this particular plague, such as how the bacterium, the flea, and the rat function biologically—both separately and then together—and how in turn it effects the human body. I'll give you a bit of a hint if you could call it that, the flea and rat are very good teammates to the plague bacterium, Y. Pestis. Ole YP, however, is kind of a jerk.

Plagues have come and gone throughout history. Some of the strains do make return visits over a short period of time as is the case with the time-frame covered in the book. The author also explains why it happened when it did. There are many different reasons and factors that determine how disease can be dormant for hundreds if not thousands of years and then "awaken" and terrorize populations for decades if not centuries. Many people have researched plagues in general and this one in particular. There's too much detail in the book to properly convey it in a post that's really just trying to give an overview of that book and highlight particular things that I found especially interesting. You're better off reading a book or piece dedicated to plague.

Justinian's Flea goes to great lengths to explain the effects of the plague, even though it's not hard to understand what effects a plague would have. The author does try and argue throughout the book that the plague wasn't the only variable at play but did help transform, if not speed up, the "known world" into something more recognizable today. To say that the plague was THE reason that finally ended Rome's reign of the Mediterranean would be to brush aside its many enemies and the cultural changes and economics already playing throughout the region. However, that's not to say that Rome wouldn't have survived longer and stronger without the plague. It certainly weakened Rome but also its enemies. There is no one, correct, easy answer.

book, review, Rome, plague
I enjoyed the book, and while I was looking around online for some reason, I came across a common complaint with it. Some people have felt the title is misleading. I can't say I disagree, but I also appreciate what the author was trying to accomplish. Yes, the title implies it is only about Justinian and the plague. However, me being me, I enjoyed all of the extra information, and I felt it gave the reader a better and clearer understanding of Justinian's reign and the plague.

Let's say I gave you a watch. You like this watch, but you aren't terribly concerned with it. It's a simple, cheap watch. Then, you later learn through a mutual friend that I had saved my money for a month to buy this watch. Everything extra I had went into it. This new information should make this watch more important, more special. You may be more grateful. I could have easily NOT saved my money and spent it on you. I didn't have to sacrifice, but I did. More information changes perceptions.

William Rosen didn't have to go to such great lengths to write a book, but he did. I appreciate all of the extras that went into it so that I could understand Justinian and his flea in the best way possible.

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