Wednesday, August 26, 2015

They Don't Teach This In School

TL;DR - American Media is borked.  I use a computer thing called RSS to manage large amounts of news/data to consume at my leisure.
Media Bias, Confirmation Bias, Attention Bias, Projection Bias.... wikipedia has a huge list of cognitive biases for the intrepid reader.

What they don't teach in school is how to "do" the news.  I have friends that loudly decry the "Liberal Media".  I have friends that loudly decry "FOX  News".  From my personal experiences with them, these two groups share some striking similarities.   First, 95-99% of the news they consume comes only from sources that align with their ideological positions (Left/Right/Christian/Atheist/Free-Market/Pseudo-Law/ect).  Secondly, that 5-1% of news that they do consume from opposing sides, is consumed solely to be mocked/derided/infuriated-by.  Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, their discussion points and the evidence they provide to support their viewpoints demonstrates a harrowingly narrow comprehension of the issues.  Fourth, the vast majority do not research Source Documents.

Like The Food We Eat, The News We Consume has a profound impact on our mental well being.  Eight years ago my radio consumption was exclusively Talk-Radio.  I was more up to date than any of my peers regarding the latest political scandals and could quote from memory what different Politicians had to say about other Politicians.  It was the equivalent of Processed Food for the Brain, 24/7/365.  I was angry, I was in fear, I was frustrated.  The problem wasn't that I didn't care to be informed, I cared very much.  The issue was HOW I was getting my news.  The American Media is broken.  Categorically, unequivocally, perversely, broken.  The 24-Hour news cycle, and our consumer based society have colluded to create a system that is self-reinforcing in its negativity.  And it's not enough that the Major Networks have overly filtered lenses, but any yahoo with a Blogger account can rant for all to listen (such as this blog, LoL).

Two things I'd like to put out there: The Importance of Source Documents and How RSS Works.  The main issue I have with network news, is that they only tell you ABOUT stuff, they never actually show you the STUFF.  Cases in point would be the recent Planned Parenthood videos or perhaps the recent Supreme Court case legalizing Same-Sex Marriage.  Does Woody tune into MSNBC or FOX to be told how to feel?  No.  I read the full transcripts of the videos and I read the full Opinions of the Justices.  The talking heads are only there to reinforce the feelings you already have on an issue, not to educate or enlighten you to opposing viewpoints.  I choose to read the documents on which they report and come to my own conclusions.  A major aid to me in this endeavor is RSS, which stands for Really Short Syndication.  I have a feed-reader that manages the hundreds of Sources I have collected over the years.  Every time a new blog post, a new study, a new SCOTUS decision is published, a short three sentence summary shows up in my reader.  If I click on it, I can get the first paragraph or so, and if that looks good I can click to go to the actual story.  This allows me to cultivate the Sources that inform me, picking ones that aren't sensationalist, and to learn the type of spin their viewpoint utilizes.

Studying Engineering changed many things in my life.  I found that even in the crazy distraction filled world we live in, methods can be applied to the mayhem that allow reasonable thought processes to prevail.  If anyone wants to know more about RSS or the types of Source Documents I routinely study, just ask.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Evangelical, Progressive, Fundamentalist, Liberal - What's in a Word?

My Division Officer in Rota, Spain, had a phrase I used as a mantra for some time, "Words have meaning.  Use them wisely."  In that vein, I spent a deal of time today with Mr. Webster and a host of internet articles researching how some people describe themselves and others, when it comes to Life Outlooks.  It was enough to make anyone's head spin.  ~  I was raised with a certain set of values, instilled to me by the viewpoints/actions of my parents/society.  Over the past 15 years, I have worked extremely hard to "know myself".  I've studied Multi-Variable Calculus and Differential Equations, along with their applications.  I've studied both the Old and New Testaments of The Bible along with various Commentaries.  I've studied how tones come together in a rhythmic fashion to make "Music", and endeavored to create my own.  I've studied the Opinions and Decisions of The Supreme Court of The United States as well as the writings of numerous Political Philosophers.  I search for the Deep Truths that defy words to explain them.  The result of this hard work, is that I feel very comfortable with my place in the Universe.

My viewpoints on some things are very far removed from small-town Muldrow, Oklahoma, from whence I hail. Although strangely, mysteriously, inexplicably, my Values themselves have not changed, my connection to them has simply been refined.  What's mainly changed is the way I see others and how those Values reveal themselves in my thoughts and actions.  When I was younger, I mixed Politics and Religion freely, thinking that was "right".  Today, I am very much against their mixing, not because I found the correct answer was not to do it, but rather because I found not mixing them was what's right for me.  When I was younger, I consciously applied value decisions to people based upon their intelligence, because I believed that Truth could be found by anyone, save for the lazy.  Today, I don't do that, not because I think Truth can't be found by anyone, but rather because I've found the Truth that Love demands we don't despise our Brother.

Our world is complicated.  Some people are smarter than others; some people are more compassionate than others.  I stand convinced we could all do worse than to learn something new, appreciate something old, and embrace someone in need.


New Additions To Blog

I've added a new Page to my blog, one for links of things I find interesting.  I haven't quite figured out how to manage it yet, but for the moment I will simply append each new item.  I'm also going to try to move my Music Theory documents off Dropbox and onto my Google Drive, which I will then link to my blog.  I'm still getting the hang of the blogging thing, but I think I'm enjoying it.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Budget Revamp!

Long post about my family budgeting, feel free to skip over if not your thing.
TL:DR -> Family budgeting can be tricky.  I'm going to be trying something that will take about an hour a month to manage, in an attempt to remove some of the trickiness.
Anyone that follows me closely on Facebook knows budgeting is a big deal to my family.  Since making Financial Peace a goal 2 years ago, Sarah and I have made huge strides in streamlining our expenses, finding economies of scale, and crafting creative savings solutions.  We have seen large improvements in our overall quality of life.  There are two particularity sticky/annoying parts of my budget though, and those are Timelines and Managing-Multiple-Items-Being-Saved-For.

Our Family Budget is set up for a Calendar Month.  I get paid twice a month, but never on the actual 1st and 15th.  I have some additional income streams that drop in on the 1st.  Most of our bills have some flexibility on due dates, but others are hard on the 1st and 15th.  My issue isn't having enough money to pay the bills, I have 2+ months worth of living expenses in savings, the problem is getting the paychecks to match the bills on paper with respect to a calendar.

In our Savings Account (vice Checking Account), we have multiple 'bags' of savings, e.g. Emergency Savings, Car Repair Savings, Woody's Hobby Savings, Vacation Savings, ect.  Since all the money is in the same overall savings account, I've developed a way to ear-mark where funds are headed and what they can be used for.  I've been managing this by hand on pencil and paper, but it's becoming more of a burden than benefit (which is something that happens in a working personal budget).

I've been banging my head against these problems for a few months and I think I finally have a solution.  I've decided to try looking at this from a Business Manager point of view, I have plenty of cash and liquidity, it's just the timelines and data management that's a problem.  To tackle the timeline problem, I will expand my effective budget cycle and transfer this duty over to my savings vice checkings. I will set aside 1.5 months worth of Living Expenses in my Savings Account, called Woody_Holdings.  By design, this 'bucket' of money will always have enough cash to pay any and all bills due before next 2 paychecks.  The cash flow of Woody_Holdings will be that I pay into it "Pre-pay Rent" or "Pre-pay Groceries", and then pay out of it "Pay Rent Due" or "Pay Grocery Stipend".

Just prior to my payday, I will ensure that the Checking Account gets zero'd out (except for a safety buffer of $x to insure against over-drafts (this also lets me waive overdraft protection from bank which saves me on fees, yay!)).  Any cash over the buffer is essentially "Free Money", i.e. money I budgeted to be spent but for some reason didn't spend.  Those monies will be moved back to savings (and dropped by percentage into our different 'extra' savings accounts like vacation or hobbies, which a spreadsheet can easily do for me).

Upon getting paid, I will transfer the paycheck straight into savings and will let my spreadsheet do the "Pre-pay Rent" or "Pre-pay Student Loans" to Woody_Holdings as is appropriate (our current system has rent coming out of first check, student loans out of second check and so forth).

On the 1st of each month, I will transfer from Woody_Holdings, over to checking, any monies needed for either cash or debit card expenses for that calendar month.

This system will require maintenance action by me, 5 times a month. The day before and after each paycheck, and on the 1st of the month for Outgoing Expenses.  I'm estimating 5-10 minutes for each of those evolutions, adding up to an hour of budget maintenance per calendar month, which doesn't seem too onerous.  The biggest things I'm hoping to get from this are: Peace of mind that all upcoming outgoing expenses have matching funds already available, Easier time picturing where extra money is, what it should be doing, and where it could get used better instead of where it is, and a better picture of the health of all our miscellaneous savings items.  Potential drawbacks would be that the system ends up being more trouble than its worth, in which case we just revert back to how we are currently doing them.

I hope to have this implemented within the next 4 weeks.  I'll post results from the process.  I'm happy to answer any questions about the system on the Facebook thread.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Food... It's Just Another Way To Share Yourself

One of the biggest things Sarah and I were excited about with our new living arrangements, was having more margin in the kitchen and dinning arenas.  Less than month and a half into our new digs, we've settled into a 2 dinner per week cycle, (tues and either sat/sat).  Last night we had some Chicken Cacciatore with a good old-buddy, now a new Grad Student at UNL, and her missionary mother (fresh in from New Guinea).  This week will see us host a friend from work and his lady, and on Sat we are doing brunch with a couple we friended at Panic a few years ago.  We love the intimacy of our wooden-floored dinning room, no TV, no phones, just good company and good food.

Conflict surrounds us in this day and age.  Facebook and the American-Media-Beast will always have something new and exciting to either fear, distrust, or rail against.  A home filled with Love and Good Food, opened to weary wayfarers, is but one way to Fight the Hate in the World.  Sarah and me? we're fighters for Love :)

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Something Missing From My Music

The 3 basic elements of music are rhythm, harmony, and melody.  My harmony and melody chops are decent, but rhythm is the least developed of my skills.  To remedy this, I've been studying up on the elements of a good drum loop and elements of the groove.  "Sound on Sound" has a great 4 part article on this:
Here's the .pdf with all the examples:  (will take a bit to download)

I'm currently using a program called Hydrogen to program my drum loops.  Hopefully within the next week or so, I'll be more comfortable creating basic drum rhythms for my looping.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Getting Acquainted With the World Of Linux Audio Production

I've recently begun learning how to do Audio Production on a Linux Platform.  The bulk of the music I make could be classified as "looping", which is where I record short sections of sound and then play them on top of each other (mostly just guitar, with a loop of rhythm, loop of bassline, loop of melody).  In the past I've used Mobius Looper on Windows, now I learning SooperLooper on Linux.  Learning my Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is probably the most difficult part of "Music" that I've attempted, save the initial decision to learn music theory.  Now I'm in the weeds of EQ, arranging, filters, plug-ins, routing of audio, ect.

I've gotten past the first hard part of just getting things set up.  On the Linux Platform, a program called JACK is used to route audio signals around inside the computer, for example connecting the output of my guitar to the input of the monitor speakers, or the output of my Looper to the input of the Recording Program.  This is very powerful, but takes some getting used to.  SooperLooper wasn't too bad to get started with, I'm not sure if I'll like it better than Mobius Looper or not.  I'm still learning how to control the sync functions to keep my different loops playing together in time.

The two biggest challenges I am facing at the moment are getting comfortable with my DAW, which is Ardour, and also learning how to use a Drum Loop program (I'm thinking I'll use a program called Hydrogen).  I'm pretty weak when it comes to knowledge of rhythm patterns.  I'm a bit nervous that it will be quite difficult, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  If I turn out being successful creating my own percussion loops, I'll have most of the tools I'll need to begin composing original songs, arranging them on the DAW, and EQ'ing them well enough to share with the world.

I'll keep the blog posted with my progress.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Arduous Learning with Ardour DAW and SooperLooper

I was successful downloading and installing Ardour, a Digital Audio Workstation.  Not sure why I was crazy and thought I could use it right out of the box :(  Today I'll be studying up on how to get JACK, Ardour, and SooperLooper working together.  Time for a few hours of youtube videos, LoL.  I'm not super looking forward to it, but gaining the ability to really EQ and produce my music will be nice. ~ On a separate note, I also need to figure out how to use Pandora Radio as a Source to Winamp so I can play pretty visualizations on the TV while jamming to Pandora at home.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

SooperLooper, Mobius Looper, Jack, and Linux

Well, I got my desktop up and running a Linux Debian distro.  Went over fairly well.  Yesterday I installed sudo, which doesn't come installed, and also a number of other small programs.... including a new looping software, SooperLooper.  Linux uses a program called JACK to manage audio in and out.  I had some pretty grave concerns about getting it working, but wasn't nearly as bad as I imagined.

At the moment I miss Mobius Looper, which is what I cut my looping teeth on (but doesn't run on Linux).  Over the next few days I'll be trying to learn SooperLooper, and I'll also be looking into a DAW to process my recorded audio.  I'll post back with the results :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Computer Work and Home Networking

My desktop PC died a horrible power-supply death a few months ago.  A good buddy hooked me up with a spare PC he had laying around, sans a hard drive.  Today after my mentor meeting, I'll be getting started trying to get the old HD installed in the new PC.  After that, I'll be setting up a network for my home, so any device can access storage on the server.  I've been wanting to have a "home network" for years, but never really had the gumption to make it happen.  Let's see if I succeed on the first shot :)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Settling in to New House

We're still in the first month of our new rental.  Things are progressing nicely.  Although there has been a high amount of stress getting all the responsibilities met, Sarah and I feel very blessed.  I've got the room to work on my Mustang (got new battery in her, running fine, going to replace serpentine belt today).  We've got an oven that sits level on the floor and heats quickly and evenly (also has a self-clean mode we can use to recondition all our cast iron, soooo excited about this).  The Central Heat/Air has been keeping the house nice and cool despite the heat wave.

We still have some setting up to do on the Music Room and Dining Room.  We also have all the "extra" stuff in the basement to sort.  Sometime in the near future I'll have to get my Electronics Lab created in the Basement, so I can get back to programming and making cool stuffs with Arduino.

God is Good.  My wife is Awesome.  The Woody's are doing well.