Ethereality News & Weblog

August 22, 2009

Living honestly

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I was reading an article about why people lie, and it said that most people lie to make their lives easier–to not have to tell unpleasant truths to others, to puff themselves up to appear better than they really are, or to engage in political maneuvers to get what they want.

The older I get, the more I prefer not having to lie about anything in life–even little white lies, because the energy it takes to tell one and keep one is just not worth it, and the possibility of becoming a habitual liar who lies without thinking about it is just too depressing and terrifying. I simply cannot see pathological and compulsive liars living a happier life than those who choose to live a honest life, but then again, if it’s a mental condition, I guess some people just can’t help themselves.

When I was a kid, I was like other children who would tell lies to avoid getting punished, but it never worked–my parents always knew somehow. Oddly, I never told lies to make myself appear better than I really was–I was confident that I was “good enough” without having to exaggerate or lie to make myself look better. Maybe having displayed artistic talent at a young age gave me a sense of personal pride, and I felt my artistic talent was enough to set me apart from other children that I didn’t have to lie to impress anyone–they were already impressed. That personal pride stayed with me and to date I have never lied about my abilities or accomplishments to anyone, because I never felt the need to.

I did, however, cheat on some ex-girlfriends. I didn’t like to be alone, but I was a perfectionist and kept on looking for “the one” while in the middle of relationships. It was not a good combination as it was selfish and cruel. When I met my wife, all of it stopped. She was the right one, and she’s such a wonderful person that I would never do anything to hurt her. Now that I’ve been very happy with Elena for eight years (we’ve been married for seven years), I always feel blessed whenever I see other people around my age still struggling in the dating pool, trying to find the right person to share their life with, or those in unhappy relationships and marriages always complaining and getting depressed. We really lucked out because the world is such a big place, and we met each other when we lived on opposite ends of the globe.

I don’t want to make it sound like I’d have been faithful to those ex’s had they been more wonderful–that would be unfair, because they all deserved honesty and loyalty (well, almost all), and in their own ways they would’ve been the perfect match for someone else. Even the ones who cheated on me–they probably wouldn’t have cheated with a different partner. Chemistry and timing is a tricky thing. People often behave differently with different partners or at different time periods in their lives, as different personality matches and personal growth can result in different relationship dynamics. For example, in some relationships a person would be very dominant, while in other relationships just totally wrapped around the other person’s little finger, but at a different time in that person’s life, the situations might haven been reversed. Even libido changes from relationship to relationship, or sense of humor, level of patience, method and frequency of communication, romantic gestures, speech patterns, and so on. Of course, some people are so dead set in their ways that they’d behave the same with anyone, and depending on the person, that could be a blessing or a tragedy. I know people who were big time players but settled down as soon as they got married, but I also know people who just can’t seem to learn and grow with experience, and they would make the same mistakes over and over, probably until the day they die.

As far as white lies to make others feel better, I think I would be doing the person more of a favor by being honest, so they can benefit from my honesty as opposed to never knowing how I really feel. If they ask, then they should be prepared for both positive and negative answers, and if the answer was negative and they agree, then I would try to help them find ways to improve things. I think ultimately that’s far more productive than simply telling a white lie. Life is not always supposed to be easy, so I’d rather be helpful and productive than take the easy way out.

The one area where lies are necessary would be very serious matters that could destroy our lives, such as dealing with shady characters wanting to harm us. Those are times when we have to lie in order to protect ourselves and loved ones. I count that more as common sense–to not tell strangers certain things, or to use some creative thinking in order to get out of dangerous situations. If any noble idiot decides to tell the truth in those dire situations, then he pretty much deserves to die, but I would feel bad for the people he drags down with him and failed to protect. And if we find ourselves on the wrong side of the law by accident, it’s probably best to own up to it because the consequences of getting caught would most likely be far worse than telling the truth. This heavily depends on where you live though, because in some countries the only way to survive is to break some of the inhumane laws, as the governments are completely corrupt.

As for business negotiations and political maneuvers for one’s career, I try to stay away from them as much as possible because I have a tendency to say exactly what’s on my mind and tell it like it is. I can be a self-righteous ass sometimes, and I tend to feel like I should express what I believe in and what I stand for. That is precisely why I’d never be a good businessman or a politician. I guess it’s fitting that I’ve devoted my life to the arts, otherwise I’d get into all kinds of trouble.

After getting my Zendrum back, I’ve been having a blast practicing on it. I did spend a couple of days trying to make videos comparing it to other MIDI drum triggering devices, but I wasn’t happy with my ability on the Zendrum overall and I decided to give myself a bit more time on the Zendrum before I make another attempt. In order to show off the true capabilities of the Zendrum, I’d have to really master it, and mastering any new instrument is a long process. Luckily as a drummer, I already have enough of a foundation, so it’s more of a matter of getting used to the Zendrum’s idiosyncrasies, so it shouldn’t take that long before I make another attempt.

I finally finished Mass Effect. Overall I liked it, although it didn’t quite live up to my expectations in terms of story. I was hoping the ship’s crew would be more involved in the story, like how it was with Star Wars: The Knights of the Old Republic, where the crew’s background stories were part of the overall story arc, and it made you feel closer to them and care about them more. I thought the way Bioware streamlined and simplified their games made them not as compelling as their previous games (but I could say that about all the developers who used to be PC-based and moved on to the console space), although some of changes in the mechanics were welcomed, such as not having to search every single corpse for loot. I was disappointed by the fact that the different endings don’t really feel all that much different, but I could understand why because if they allowed drastically different endings, it would be nearly impossible for them to create the sequel. Also missing was the humor I loved in some of the previous Bioware games. Joker’s character provided a bit of comedic relief, but I had hoped for a character as funny as HK-47, as it added so much to the fun of the KOTOR experience.

I hate reading bad books more than I hate watching bad films, because with bad films at least you can tell by the first ten minutes if it was bad, and at the most you’ll waste an hour and a half of your life. With bad books, you usually have to invest a lot more time before you decide the book is just not worth any more of your time. A recent bad book I read was Dead Tide by Stephen A. North.

I bought the book based on all the positive reviews at amazon.com, and I was horribly disappointed. I couldn’t even make it through the first 3rd of the book because it was a big confusing mess. The author jumped around from character to character, and there are way too many of them. By the time he revisited the same character again, you’d already have forgotten who that character was, and would have to really remember hard to be able to pick up on that character’s story again. That is a horrible way to tell a narrative because he doesn’t spend enough time following any particular characters around, then jumps to the next character too quick and too often. The author also neglects to identify who is talking to who in many of the scenes–just dialogs stacking on top of one another without any hint of who spoke which dialog. The only time it was possible to guess was if “she” or “he” was used as identifiers, but even then, if there are more than one female or male character in the group that’s having the conversation, you’d have a hard time guessing.

I really hate to sound harsh, but the author needs to revisit the basics of fiction writing before he makes another attempt to write a book again.

Luckily, the other book I read recently was far better. The book was Warrior Soul by chuck Pfarrer, and while it’s an autobiography about his experiences as a Navy SEAL, it’s not really the kind of testosterone drenched macho chest beating one would expect–in fact there is very little combat in the book.

Chuck is actually a very humble person and he’s also a very good writer (he did write a few well-known feature films after all). I didn’t realize he was an operator in Team SEAL Six when I bought the book, since the description only mentioned he was a SEAL. For those of you that don’t know the significance, Team SEAL Six is the most elite SEAL team–they take the most accomplished operators from other SEAL teams and then put them through grueling testing, washing out those not good enough and only keeping those that pass with flying colors. So they are pretty much SUPER SEALs and the best of the very best, on par with the equally elite DELTA Force. This makes Chuck’s lack of macho posturing even more endearing, because a few of the other famous ex-special forces authors are famous for their obnoxiously macho and self-serving behavior–to the point of endangering the lives of those still serving by giving away details of their operational procedures and tactics–all for monetary gain. I find that very distasteful, and I suppose just because they were physically and mentally very capable doesn’t mean they had integrity as well. In contrast, Chuck comes across as the kind of guy you’d want to befriend, and he was very forthcoming about his own mistakes and faults in the book, and often stressed that he was just average among other amazingly brave and skilled operators. IMO, having been part of Team SEAL Six, he couldn’t have been average even if he tried. The book also didn’t give away any details he felt would endanger the lives of those still serving, and I applaud him for that.

Quickie film reviews:

The Hurt Locker – I really liked this film, and I have always liked Kathryn Bigelow’s direction. Part of me will always be fascinated by the fact that her sensibilities are very masculine and can direct action and intensity better than most male directors, but I try not to think along those lines about her because I think that’s selling her short. In some ways, The Hurt Locker was a bit like Jarhead–an unconventional war film. In some ways I think these modern unconventional war films are the way filmmakers will go for a while, as the old conventional approach to war films would feel very dated and out of place today, especially when the recent wars are nothing like the previous wars. The trend appears to be rubbing off on films being made about past wars too, sort of mirroring how the Jason Bourne series have modernized and changed the action genre, these modern war films have changed the way war films are made.

Valkyrie – I enjoyed the film, but it wasn’t as tense as I had hoped. I’ve seen some war time thrillers that had put me at the edge of my seat and make my heart stop in the really tense scenes, but Valkyrie didn’t quite do that for me.

W. – I enjoyed this film, and I think it’s a return to form for Oliver Stone after the very disappointing last few films he’s made. I think the film both humanized Bush Jr. while showing how he inherently lacks most of the qualities we treasure in the kind of idealized heroes we favor.

Ground Hog Day – I’ve seen the ending to this film on TV many years ago, but never saw the whole thing. Now that I have, I wish I had much sooner. I was thoroughly entertained while the spiritual aspect of the film really struck home. It made me think about what I would’ve done in the shoes of the main character, and what my actions would say about me as a human being.

In the Valley of Elah – I didn’t dislike the film, but I really wish the film had showed how the murder went down instead of telling it to us. I have no idea why the writer and director thought an oral retelling of the event would be cinematically satisfying. Tommy Lee Jones was very good though, and I think it was worth the time to watch the film just for his performance.

Four Brothers – The tone of the film was a bit inconsistent, often going from deadly serious to comedy. While that combination can work, the balance would have to be carefully maintained, and I think Spike Lee often went for the wrong tone at the wrong moment. I was never fully convinced of the four actor’s chemistry to believe they are brothers either–it felt forced and a bit awkward. The music used in the soundtrack were excellent though.

Milk – I’m embarrassed to say that although I grew up in the Bay Area and lived in San Francisco for six years, I really didn’t know much about the history of the gay rights movement. My gay friends never talked about it and I suspect they didn’t know its history either. I always just took it for granted that San Francisco had always been friendly towards homosexuals. I was really impressed by Sean Penn’s performance, and I think it was the best performance of his career thus far. He’s best known for playing the silent strong type with a violent edge, and I was so tired of seeing him in those roles. I found it absolutely delightful to actually see that man smile and laugh so heartily throughout the film.

August 5, 2009

Faster, Stronger, Higher

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I’ve been making a point to buckle down and force myself to learn/practice all the stuff that most musicians take for granted. I begged for lessons as a kid–more than once, and I was refused every time, so I taught myself how to play and compose and arrange when I was 18. But the problem is, I did it the unconventional way on my own (even though I read books on music theory), and the side-effect is that I’m not very good at sight-reading or playing from sheet music–something I need to address because I think I’m missing out on a big part of being a musician–namely the classical training. Sure, being self-taught gave me a unique perspective and a distinct individual voice, but now I want the classical training too, and I’m going to get it, once again, by teaching myself. I have instructional books, CD’s, and DVD’s on ear training, music theory, counterpoint, harmony, orchestration, training for piano, guitar, durms, bass, harmonica, voice…etc. At age 36, it’s a little depressing to be catching up on things other musicians already learned in school or with private instructors, but I’m confident I’ll only become a stronger composer/musician/songwriter the more I study, learn, and practice.

Speaking of becoming better, I was catching up on the latest in the world of Jpop, and I saw that Goto Maki has left UpFront Agency / Hello! Project and signed with Rhythm Zone / Avex Trax. Apparently she wanted to shed the previous idol image and become a worthy musical artist in her own right. She even went to L.A. for additional training, and has started writing the lyrics to some of her own songs, and I predict she’ll start composing some of her own songs in the near future as well. Now at her new label, she’s participating in all the production meetings and actually having a say in her own music, image, and ultimately her own career. It always makes me smile when a record company controlled pop princess breaks away from that corporate control and asserts her own identity and takes control of her own career. Too many do not–they have neither the desire, the ability, nor the courage–they just do what the record company tells the to do. They wear what they’re told, sing what they’re told, dance how they’re told, have no say in how they are presented to the public, and are ultimately puppets on a string. Maybe for some people that’s enough for them–they’ve gotten rich and famous, and they’ve never wanted more than that. But for those who have their own ideas and want to take control of their own destiny, instead of being a money making machine for big record companies, the only way they could be happy is to express themselves in their own ways, on their own terms. This is the difference between someone who one day becomes a real musical artist and someone who snaps and go shave off all her hair.

I’ve just done another round of upgrades to my computers, adding six additional 1.5TB hard drives to my setup (for additional sample streaming, storage, backups…etc), and it’s pretty amazing to remember that it wasn’t all that long ago when I was storing data on floppy disks and had boxes and boxes of them, then to CD ROM, DVD ROM (filling up giant binders), and then hard drives only (with backups, of course). As of now, my entire setup has about fifteen terabytes of active hard drives and 4 terabytes for backing up the most important files. I also have about one terabyte’s worth of older drives (five 200GB drives that’s been replaced with higher capacity drives) that I don’t quite know what to do with. I used to use these spare drives for backups, but now that I backup onto two 2TB external drives, I don’t really have any use for those five 200GB drives. I thought about putting them together in a RAID or a multi-drive enclosure, but the extra cost to do that just isn’t worth putting that one terabyte to use.

While adding the new hard drives, I ran out of room in my drive bay, and I had to put them in the 5.25 bay. But since there’s no case fan there, I had to add 5.25 bay fans as well. The additional fans make a lot of noise, but I have my isolation panels for the computers so it’s actually not bad at all.

I’ll be splitting the streaming orchestral libraries by the main four sections onto four separate hard drives, and I’ll stagger the splitting of other orchestral libraries so that strings from different libraries won’t ever be on the same drive, and neither would the brass, woodwinds, percussion…etc. I’ll do the same for the various libraries of guitars, basses, pianos, voices, synths…etc. None of this is going to free up more CPU cycles or use less RAM–all it really does is not work the hard drive so relentlessly when streaming many different instruments at once, and the additional drives also allow me to install more large libraries that I otherwise would’ve run out of room for by now. With about 5.2 terabytes of sample storage, I can pretty much install whatever I want and not have to worry about it for a long time.

I also picked up two more sticks of 2GB RAM (maxing out my motherboard’s limit of 8GB RAM), since I plan on installing a 64-bit OS on the desktop DAW soon. I’m still on the fence about which OS to install since Windows 7 is getting such rave reviews from fellow musicians, but it’s not officially released yet and driver support may not be the best for a while. I’d hate to install Vista 64-bit now just to have to reinstall everything again when Windows 7 is out and the drivers become available. Supposedly if a driver works in Vista it’ll work in Windows 7 since the driver architecture is the same. We’ll see about that. Either way, I definitely need to get in on the 64-bit action. I already have Vista 64-bit on my laptop, but it’s only got 4GB of RAM so not much point there.

I got my Zendrum back from repairs, and wouldn’t you know it–a day after I got it back, I accidentally plugged it into one of the 220 current sockets in the studio (our house has two sets for every wall outlet–one for 220 and one for 110) and I blew out the DC adapter. This is a problem in our household since we have appliances from Asia and the U.S., and plugging in the wrong socket is something that happens every once a while. I can think of five or six appliances we’ve destroyed that way. There’s not much we can do about it except to be more vigilant (in other words, stop being such careless dorks). I’ve ordered a new power adapter, and this time I made sure to get the international switch version. They did offer to send me the international power switch version when I first ordered my Zendrum, but for some reason I thought they were asking me to pick between 110 or 220 volts, and I figured since our house in China has both sockets available, but when we’re in the States I don’t want to be lugging around a giant voltage converter box, so I opted for the 110. Now I realize the international version is one that takes both 110 and 220. *palm against forehead*

The older I get the more I hate being angry or negative, but whenever I hear about more of of China’s toxic food products, it just pushes me over the edge. The latest is that food vendors selling bubble milk tea will replace the bubbles (usually made with tapioca) with soft plastic so that it’s more chewy. Yeah, you read that right–PLASTIC. Absolutely fucking unbelievable. How the hell does a society sink so low to have such low moral standards? China practices the most disgustingly perverted version of capitalism I’ve ever witnessed in my life, and it’s a joke for it to keep on identifying itself as a communist country.

Quickie film reviews:

Decalogue II – I’m a huge fan of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s Three Colors: Red (if forced at gunpoint to pick my number one favorite film of all time, Red would probably be it), and I’ve heard about his Decalogue films for a while and finally got a hold of them. I’ve had them for a few years now, but I keep holding off on watching all of them, since the Decalogue films are very dense in atmosphere and when my life is already so hectic, I often prefer lighter films. I’m going to work my way through all ten films eventually (originally made for television). The first one I liked, and I wasn’t quite sure if I got the ending of the second one. Did the doctor lie to both the wife and the husband to save a life and a marriage? That’s how I read the ending, and if that’s what the director intended, then it was a fitting ending to a moral dilemma.

Doubt – I quite enjoyed this film, and I especially liked how each of the main characters held on to their convictions and in the end it’s so hard to reach a verdict of who’s right and who’s wrong. And Amy Adams… *sigh* When did she leave heaven and where did she hide her halo and wings?

Vexille – I liked the two Appleseed CG animated feature films, so I gave this a try since it’s mostly the same crew (minus the director, Aramaki Shinji). I was quite disappointed. There were many things wrong with it, but the most glaring were the implausible premise, the one-dimensional characters, the bland lighting in most scenes, and inappropriate music used in some scenes. Even the title of the film is pointless–the main character Vexville carried no weight in the film–she’s just a bystander and did not exhibit any special qualities that warrants titling the film after her. The only things worth watching for were a couple of the action sequences, but even those weren’t as good as the ones in the Appleseed films.

Miss Potter – I enjoyed the film for it’s innocent charm, although in general I feel that biopics are typically not very satisfying, for the simple fact that fiction can be constructed for optimal pacing and dramatic twists, while with biopics you are limited by real life events that may or may not make compelling dramatic pacing. Obviously most biopics are not 100% faithful due to that limitation–the writer would swap events around, add a few things here and there, or leave out entire sections of a person’s life (and they did that in Miss Potter). This is the second time that Renée Zellweger has been chosen over English actresses for an English role, I think she pulled it off just like she did in Bridget Jones’s Diary.

I wonder though, why is it that most non-American actors can pull off really amazingly authentic American accents, while American actors have such a hard time with non-American accents? Is it because the rest of the world is exposed to so much American media that they have a better ear for it, while Americans are more self-centered when it comes to media and thus aren’t as familiar with foreign accents? Other than Renée Zellweger, I could only think of a few other cases where American actors really pulled off authentic English accents (Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma and James Cromwell in The Queen comes to mind).

Shoot ’em Up – While I understand exactly what the film was trying to do–that mixture of camp and seriousness, I was underwhelmed. I’m surprised that A-list actors would actually sign up for that kind of disposable and crass entertainment. There are plenty of other commercial films with over-the-top action and tongue-in-cheek storytelling that are better written and directed.

Silk – Beautiful cinematography, but the pacing was way too slow and the pay off in the end came too late and too little. Ultimately there just wasn’t enough satisfaction gained from what felt like an aimless story that had one worthy idea that was stretched far too thin.

Pieces of April – A quirky comedy/drama of the indie flavor, and overall I enjoyed it. I thought katie Holmes was miscast as the lead character though, because she’s way too soft and nice and is totally unconvincing as someone whose family has only horrible memories of. They should’ve gone with an actress who’s really edgy but also has a vulnerable side.

The Horse Whisperer – I’ve pretty much liked all of the films Robert Redford has been involved in, and I liked this one. His films always have this sensitive intelligence and maturity, and I think it says a lot about him as a person and as a storyteller. (Little known fact–I’m named after Robert Redford because my mother’s a big fan.) I didn’t know Scarlett Johanson was in the film, and I’ve mentioned before that I really don’t care for her in general except for in Lost In Translation. Johanson was only about fourteen when she acted in The Horse Whisperer, and she was far more endearing and genuine at that age than most of the roles she’s played as an adult. In fact, you can almost trace the beginning of her lackluster performances right up to the point when she became a media darling (probably right after The Girl with the Pearl Earring). I think the problem is that people started casting her in roles that did not suit her just because she was famous.

No Such Thing – A horrible film–one of the worst I’ve ever seen, and the score was unbelievably bad (the writer/director did the music himself). We’re talking about what sounds like meandering improv with General MIDI soundset from a consumer keyboard here–just really unbelievably bad. Why couldn’t he have hired a no-name composer that didn’t charge a lot? Even if there was no budget, he could’ve hired some student composer and the result would’ve been ten times better. This guy Hal Hartley apparently fancies himself as a composer as well as a writer/director because he does the music for all his films, and he really needs to stop and just hire someone that actually knows how to score a film (better yet, he needs to stop making films. I haven’t seen his other films but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re just as bad).

How the hell does Sarah Polley and Helen Mirren end up in such a horrible film? Did they lose bets? Couldn’t they tell it was trash from just reading the screenplay? The film is a pretentious, ridiculous, pointless farce, written and directed by the kind of pseudo intellectual, humorless, talentless hack who for some reason was able to get funding for his abomination. I rarely get this scathing, but to think trash like this gets funding and far more talented people are probably busting their asses waiting tables and flipping burgers while trying to scrape together funding to make their first feature–one that might never get made, just pushes me over the edge. This guy needs to become a producer instead and get funding for far more talented writer/directors.

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