Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In Defense Of Free Will

Honest discussions of free will are bound to become unsettling, if one is brave enough to go the distance.  After reading Free Will by Sam Harris, one is definitely left unsettled.  We all have the feeling of free will - that we choose what we do or don't do, and that we have control over our thoughts and actions.  The beating of our hearts may be involuntary, but we definitely decide whether or not to drink that glass of water.  The idea that this could be an illusion flies in the face of our intuition and subjective experience.  Yet, Harris makes a very compelling case that our sense of free will is exactly that - an illusion.  This is not to say that a choice wasn't made to pick up that glass of water…it's to say that it wasn't you who made it.  The experience of that action tricks you into believing you were the cause, when in fact you weren’t.  As to who or what is doing the choosing, if not you, the decision to drink that water presumably resulted from brain states, neuronal patterns, and/or prior chains of events, all of which you have absolutely no control over.

Most people (including me) find such a prospect depressing.  We'd like to think that we can take pride in our accomplishments and bear the responsibility for our actions - that our decision to run into that burning building to save those puppies was not the result of neurons that just happened to fire, but rather that those neurons fired because of a meaningful choice that we made.  We'd also like to think that the serial killers and rapists of the world are responsible for their actions too, and not victims of their brain states and neurophysiology.  Of course, the way that each person is neurologically and biochemically wired is certainly relevant to our actions and behavior, but we’d like to think such wiring does not encompass the entirety of why we do what we do.

Now it should be pointed out that whether or not you have free will is inconsequential from the standpoint of your personal experience - you feel like you have control over your thoughts and actions, regardless of whether you actually do or don't.  So in one sense, free will's truth or falsity is completely irrelevant, practically speaking.  However, for the inquisitive among us, we'd still like to know what's really going on under the hood.

It should also be pointed out that a lack of free will would not mean your experiences aren't genuine - they absolutely are - it would just mean that you are a helpless puppet along for a ride in a car that you are not driving.  Similarly, it would not mean that you don't possess genuine knowledge, weigh career options, waver between dinner choices, plan out vacations, ponder your existence, react to the behavior of others, learn, problem solve, etc - you would still be doing all of these things, just not in the sense that matters - it would mean your biological system is doing them, while the consciously self-aware you (the real you) is merely experiencing the process.

So I've been attempting to make sense of this issue for quite a while now, because I abhor the idea that we are merely selves helplessly trapped in bodies, and that life is nothing but a bunch of billiard balls set into motion on a cosmic pool table in which all of our future paths and interactions are entirely pre-determined or otherwise predictable from principles of physics and mathematics.  But as much as I don’t want this to be the case, one can't (or shouldn't) ignore evidence just because it's inconvenient or displeasing, and the fact of the matter is that Harris makes a very compelling case that free will does not exist.  The stakes are high, my friends.  

Fortunately, after long and careful consideration, I suspect there may still be hope after all.  What follows is my defense of free will, for the good of the land - because who better to reconcile Harris's anti-free will arguments than someone with no significant philosophical accomplishments or PhDs to his name?  Yes, it must be me.  Besides, as an undergraduate I got a minor in philosophy, so step off, bitches.  Now if my efforts should miserably fail, then I suppose it won't really be me failing, since as it would turn out I would not have actually chosen (in the meaningful sense) to write this in the first place…a realization that should hopefully remove any potential embarrassment in the event someone comes along and utterly destroys this defense.

Additionally, just to be clear, although I'm claiming that free will does exist, I'm not suggesting that we are in control of 100% of ourselves - just that we exert meaningful control to some degree.  Free will doesn't require that we are in control of every influence, impulse, and desire, but rather that we have the ability to resist, adhere, and add to that tapestry with consciously intended behavior.  Obviously things like our nervous system are on autopilot, and I fully concede that other aspects seem to be as well, such as various emotional triggers and behavioral / facial knee-jerk reactions (see Paul Ekman's Emotions Revealed for an interesting discussion to that end).  I acknowledge the autonomy of such mechanisms, concede the relevance of our genetic and chemical predispositions, etc, but I maintain that there is still more to the story … more pieces to the puzzle … more cushion for the pushin' (well, maybe not that last one).

Harris essentially makes two main arguments against free will, which when taken together are quite formidable.  I will summarize each and then bring the hellfire, but I encourage you to read Harris's full manuscript, as the author naturally goes into greater depth and explores other areas in addition to these.

Argument 1

Experiments in neuroscience have shown that people do not become aware of the decisions they make until after those decisions are already made.  If one is not aware of their decision until after the decision is made, one cannot be said to have made the decision in the first place.

Argument 2

Our thoughts and feelings drive our behavior.  Introspection makes it clear that we do not choose our thoughts and feelings, but instead, simply experience them as they pop into our awareness.  If we have no control over what we think and feel, then we have no control over our actions and behavior, and thus, no causal agency with respect to our lives at all.  Since this is precisely the situation we find ourselves in, it follows that we do not possess free will.

Scary shit, folks.

Response to Argument 1

One would expect that our awareness of a decision would occur in conjunction with it's formation.  However, a variety of experiments involving EEG and fMRI monitoring of a subject’s brain have demonstrated that a subject's decision to move can apparently be anticipated prior to the subject consciously choosing to move (from 300 ms to as much as 10 seconds beforehand).  The predicted movements in question are general in nature, such as the case of pressing a button.  Note the predictive accuracy is not 100%, and scientists are not able to predict how a subject will press that button (e.g. with her index finger or her elbow), but this is arguably due to the infancy of the field.  

These findings are very intriguing and quite startling.  However, it is important to realize that the duration of the time-lapse between subjects’ awareness of their choice, and the neuronal data that lead to successful predictions of that choice, is inconsequential.  This is to say, whether those neuronal precursors occur 5 nanoseconds or 5 minutes before you feel like you’ve made the choice, both constitute a time-lapse.  A greater time lag may very well be more shocking from a psychological standpoint, but philosophically speaking there is no reason why one duration should be more alarming than another.  So it’s the time-lapse in and of itself that constitutes the real peculiarity - not the specific duration therein.

Also, keep in mind that there is no brain scan technology that can tell us what you are thinking or aware of, so any assessment as to when a person consciously chooses to move can only be inferred, either from the subject’s behavior or from the subject’s first-person report.  For example, your reaction to the smell of something rancid is what informs us that you've had such an experience - e.g. making a disgusting face, or stating "it smells like shit”.  Of course, analyzing brain function can clue us in to the fact that you are thinking / experiencing in general, and seeing activity in the regions associated with our olfactory system can perhaps be indicative of the nature of that experience, but such activity will not tell us what specifically you are experiencing or thinking…we cannot conclude from a brain scan, "she's smelling petunias and thinking about streaking”.  Maybe the future of neuroscience will one day be able to decode and translate the entirety of your brain, inclusive of the specific contents of your thoughts, but until that day comes we should tread carefully in reaching firm conclusions.

The problem with indirectly deducing one’s awareness is that it leads to a great deal of uncertainty, and a person’s subjective self-assessment as to when they were conscious of a given thing is not precise enough for scientific standards.  So attempts to study volition in the laboratory entail an unavoidably flawed protocol, wherein we cannot isolate a subject’s thoughts / intentions / awareness - only the totality of a person’s brain activity is accessible.  The fact that a subject may feel as if he chooses to press a button at 1:15 PM, while a scientist is able to accurately predict that choice at 1:14 PM, is ambiguous in its implications: it could mean the subject did not cause the action (i.e. he has no free will), or it could mean there is some kind of disconnect between the subject’s awareness and his ability to integrate and report that awareness, or it could mean there is a confounding factor involved (e.g. the subject thought about the prospect of pressing the button without actually pressing it, which tipped off the neuroscientist). Furthermore, we can't determine if a movement, such as pressing a button, is encapsulated within one single choice, or is the product of multiple choices chained together (e.g. a decision to move, followed by a decision to move a finger, followed by a decision to commence the movement now); and if the latter, which decision in the chain is the true correlate of the EEG / fMRI readout and which decision correlates to the awareness being reported by the subject?

So we find ourselves in muddy waters.  Of course, we expect that we should be able to precisely pinpoint the inception of a choice in time.  However, it’s interesting to speculate whether this expectation might actually be misguided - what if we are not sufficiently equipped, on a neurobiological level, to determine the precise moment of a choice?  It seems to me that to accurately report when I make a choice, two things are required: 1) that I am capable of actually perceiving when the choice is made, and 2) that I am capable of remembering that information.  Regarding the first requirement, there are countless stimuli that occur too fast for our senses to perceive (e.g. movement of light photons), and perhaps thoughts are simply too fast for our awareness to pin down in time.  But even if I can perceive this, I still have to store the temporal information associated with my choice into some kind of memory, in order to be able to reference and communicate that information to you.  So is it possible that the time-lapse demonstrated within these experiments is suggestive of a deficiency in our capacity to remember when we make the decisions we make?  After all, our memories are certainly limited in a variety of other ways - you can’t remember what you were doing at 7:39 PM last July 2nd, and I can’t remember your name even though you told me five times.  From an evolutionary standpoint, there certainly doesn’t seem to be any advantage to knowing the specific point in time that you decided to eat a berry, for example…only the choice itself and the consequences that follow would be important (e.g. I ate those berries and got sick).  Perhaps our internal assessments as to when we make given choices really are just retroactive educated guesses, not because we don’t actually make choices in the first place, but because we simply can’t remember when we make them.  Maybe our brains do not possess the necessary circuitry to be able to process or retain this type of information, and human beings have some kind of permanent choice-amnesia.  Maybe our heads would explode otherwise.  And just ask yourself, how many people look at their watches and then have to look back a second time because they don’t remember what they just saw a moment ago?  Think about it (but not too hard).

Response to Argument 2  _  (you forgot what Argument 2 was, didn’t you? See what I’m saying? Well go back and reread it, you forgetful bastard)

I agree with Harris that simple introspection makes it obvious that we cannot account for the source of our thoughts and choices. Indeed, it appears as if thoughts come to us, as opposed to from us. Perhaps this explains the origin of phrases such as, “It just occurred to me that your stepson is an asshole”, or “the solution to the equation came to me last night in a dream”, or “It dawned on me this afternoon that I never looked underneath the mattress for her diary”. Regardless, the following line of inquiry is puzzling:  

Why did I do what I did?  Because I chose to do it.  Why did I choose it?  I don’t know - I guess because I chose to choose it..(?)  Why did I choose to choose it?  Etc, etc.  Final answer: I have no idea.

We are woefully inadequate in answering this inquiry, because we have absolutely no idea why we think what we think. But on closer inspection, the fact that we don’t choose our thoughts may not be cause for alarm. After all, what would it mean to choose a thought? It would seem to involve having another thought! Argument 2 is framed in a way that assumes our thoughts need explaining, but in my opinion this is a mental / linguistic parlor trick. Moreover, our perplexity doesn’t go away in abandoning free will, and we could alter the inquiry accordingly:

Why did I do what I did?  Because of neurons firing in the brain.  Why did those neurons fire?  Because of other chemical / biological processes.  Why did those processes occur?  Because of yet other physical states and processes.  And what caused those physical states and processes?  Etc, etc.  Final answer: The Big Bang.  And what caused the Big Bang? … I have no idea.

To the extent one investigates cause and effect, one will always encounter an infinite regress, or some amount of magic will enter the equation - either something must mysteriously arise from nothing without a cause, or there is a mysterious First Cause (wherein that First Cause has no cause or somehow causes itself), or something mysteriously just always is or was.  At a fundamental level, cause and effect is baffling, and there are roadblocks at every turn.

Although scientists don’t know how or why Existence came to be, we all agree that Existence exists nevertheless…in the same way, although we can't account for how or why we make the choices we make, we're making them nonetheless.  We don't need to understand how or why something is, in order for that something to be the case.  Of course, this is not a license to resort to wishful thinking, and it’s important to concede that Harris is not attempting to explain the metaphysics of choice - he's simply saying that whatever its nature, it's not us doing the choosing.  However, this does not resolve the enigma at hand, but simply moves it to a different arena wherein the enigma persists, and without providing an intelligible explanation as to the fundamental source of our thoughts, Argument 2 essentially just amounts to an acknowledgement that we are completely in the dark about the matter. We didn’t know what was going on before Argument 2, and we still don’t know what’s going on after Argument 2. It may be tempting for some to suggest that the Big Bang being responsible for our thoughts and choices is somehow less mysterious compared to that of free will, but pushing a mystery back billions of years doesn’t make it any less of a mystery - it just keeps it out of sight.  It’s smoke and mirrors.

Perhaps this bafflement is the result of asking what in truth are meaningless questions.  Philosopher Alan Watts (along with various Eastern worldviews) would suggest that this discussion of cause and effect and free will assumes that we are independent minds acting on the world, when in fact we are not (see The Book).  Watts would argue that the real illusion is that there are separate things at all; that through your narrowed consciousness you appear to be a separate thing, but in truth, you and every thing that you think is not you are all part of one process of being, as the wave is one with the ocean.  From this perspective, no one is choosing and no one is not choosing - We / I / You / It are just being.

Interestingly enough, consider this: I identify myself as the summation of my mental happenings…I am what I think and feel.  If all of my thoughts and feelings stem from a nebulous source outside of me, then wouldn’t this just mean that my sense of “me” is illusory, and not my autonomy?  In other words, if I am that which thinks and feels, but something else is doing the thinking and feeling, then aren’t I whatever that something else is?  And if that something else is bound within an infinitely regressing causal chain of events, then aren’t I the entirety of that chain?  And if you and everyone else are similarly such things, and we all originate from a single point at the beginning of Time amidst a mystical explosion of something from nothing, then … that would mean We / I / You / It are simply Being.


With or without free will, we can’t account for why we think what we think.  So it comes down to the following: either we are arbiters of our own destiny, making legitimate decisions about what we do and don't do, along with real choices as to how we act and behave…or we are captives, trapped within a body, aware of ourselves but without causal agency, at the complete mercy of thoughts and feelings that are not our own.  Like the Highlanders that came before us, there can only be one.  So which one is it?  You decide (to the degree that you can).

Saturday, November 9, 2013

BRAAAM 101


Three years after Mind Heist appeared in a trailer for the movie Inception, people still seem to be thoroughly confused with respect to "who created the BRAAAM".  A slew of forums and various online publications regularly seem to discuss and debate this issue.  So let's take a moment and clear this up.

BRAAAMs have been around long before Mind Heist and Inception, and they will be around long after.  What is a BRAAAM?  It's when a note (usually a low note) is performed by a large number of instruments very intensely.  Technically, you could call it a fortissimo in unison.  Non-technically, it's popularly referred to as a BRAAAM.

What differentiates one BRAAAM from another BRAAAM has to do with the nature of its construction and the context in which it occurs.  The BRAAAMs in Mind Heist and the other incarnations that have occurred in symphonic / film / trailer / electronic music are each comprised of various ensembles.  Some of the elements that make up the ensemble may be commonly used (e.g. brass), while other elements may be more unique (e.g. unicorn howling).  It's how these elements get blended together that gives each BRAAAM an identity.  Kind of like snowflakes.

But the most important distinguishing factor is context.  If Mind Heist were comprised of just the BRAAAM by itself, it would have been musical sound design rather than music.  But alas, Mind Heist is a song that has BRAAAMs, rather than a song of  BRAAAMs.  And if the song itself was not compelling, the BRAAAMs would not have mattered.  This is to say, the song's composition and production (melody, harmony, rhythm, orchestration, mixing, mastering) is what makes it compelling - the BRAAAMs were simply one feature, albeit a prominent one.  Kind of like when someone meets a wonderful woman, but only talks about her boobs.  Sure, Mind Heist has big boobs, but she's also got an amazing personality.  Hey, eyes up here.

Interestingly, the "breasts of Mind Heist" (I smell a remix) were made more prominent within the Inception trailer, partly as a result of trailer producers / editors / mixers that skillfully paired the visual and audio components, and partly due to the general 2 minute length of the theatrical trailer format.  While much library music conforms to that length, most songs exceed it.  This means that most of the songs that get used in trailers (including Mind Heist) get edited down by necessity, and thus, the Mind Heist used in Inception's trailer is actually an abridged version of a larger work (see Mind Heist: Evolution).

Now as for another commonly held misunderstanding regarding Mind Heist … I've never met, spoken to, corresponded, snorkeled, canoed, parachuted, finger-painted, or otherwise collaborated with the composer or director of the film Inception.

So what have we learned today?  That a BRAAAM is a musical device, used since time immemorial.  This musical device was utilized within Mind Heist and the Inception trailers / film, and although largely popularized as a result, was not invented therein.  There is no "creator" of BRAAAM.  There are only users of BRAAAM.  And some even say we are all made of BRAAAM and one with BRAAAM.  Deep.

Class dismissed!

bum, bum, bum, bum, ba da bum, bum, bum….BRAAAM


Thursday, September 19, 2013

MMA - It's A Fight, Not A War


There is a tendency within mixed martial arts to refer to amazing or epic fights as "wars".  Commentators, journalists, and dudes sitting in their living room are all apt at some point during an MMA event to exclaim, "what a war" or "this guy is a warrior" or "those two just went to war" or something similar.  Am I really the only one that finds this metaphor misconceived?  Call me crazy, but until tanks start rolling into the UFC's octagon, and combatants and spectators start wearing helmets to protect themselves from explosion debris and stray bullets, a fight could not be further from a war.  A fight takes place in a controlled atmosphere with rules, regulations, and a referee to prevent either fighter from getting seriously maimed or killed.  A war denotes armed conflict and entails the deaths and killing of many people.  Maybe you can get away with referring to a fight as a "battle"…maybe…but why can't it just be what it is?  It's a fight - is that so underwhelming?  

I fully acknowledge that I am making a big deal about nothing here, somewhat akin to pondering the existential implications of the question, "Got Milk?", but for whatever it's worth, I think it's healthy to occasionally ponder the innocuous things in life (and to that end, can one ever really have milk?  For if you consume it, does it not ultimately leave you?  If you cup it, does it not seep through your fingers?  Does it not go bad with time?  And even with respect to the gallon of milk that you "have" in your refrigerator, in reality don't you in fact have a gallon jug that has milk?).  

Now back to war.  Is MMA violent?  Absolutely.  But there is a big difference between a violent sport and mortal combat.  Are MMA fighters tough?  No question.  Can an MMA fighter have a "warrior's spirit"?  Sure.  But until Genghis Khan or The Last Of The Mohicans step into the UFC, lets hold off on dubbing the contestants "warriors".  We don't need to mythologize them, and we don't need to convince ourselves we're watching a modern day fight to the death inside the Colosseum - it's a goddamn fight, and that's all it needs to be.  

In truth, I think metaphorical use of "war" occurs without consideration of the word's literal meaning.  Consider the hypothetical use of the word "rape" in the same context.  Imagine a commentator exclaiming, "Wow, McCreary just totally raped that guy - complete domination!"  Or, "every time Oswald steps into the octagon, he rapes and pillages his opponents".  One could understand how it would come off as insensitive, distasteful, and just plain inaccurate.  I caution that we not repeat this same error in judgement with respect to the use of "war" in MMA.  

Now, it should be noted that there are some MMA fighters who actually have been in combat, or served in the military, or lost loved ones to the horrors of war - and some of these individuals have utilized the "war" metaphor - but their intimate familiarity with that word affords them the right  to use it however they wish, in my opinion.  I would also like to make it clear that it is not my intention to scold anyone for using this metaphor…I'm simply asserting that it's use is without merit.  Moreover, I think many trends of political correctness frequently suffocate communication, are ridiculous, and have been going on for far too long - people are way too sensitive about everything, and it needs to stop.  So I am not suggesting that the war metaphor is a plight on the sport of MMA that needs to be expunged, or that those who utilize the analogy are disrespectful people - I just think the metaphor is unnecessary and ill-suited (unless there is an MMA body count that I'm unaware of, or un-televised UFC drone strikes secretly taking place).

On a final note, if we really want to break it down, even using the word "fight" may be misguided to the extent that one associates that word with a no holds barred situation.  In this sense, UFC "fights" are really "competitions".  But even though there is a big difference between an actual street fight (where anything goes and the motivations and intent of the participants are without mercy) and a ring fight (that takes place in a controlled environment with rules and regulations), note that "street fight" and "ring fight" both contain the word "fight", and to that end, I think we can safely continue to call MMA fights "fights".

Saturday, August 10, 2013

What You Need To Know About Infidelity and Mate Selection


Discussions about human behavior are often rife with ridiculousness.  A good example of this is with respect to infidelity.  I can't tell you how many conversations I've been a part of where someone conclusively states that all men cheat (some just don't get caught, or don't have the opportunity, or whatever).  According to these specialists, male infidelity stems from a genetic imperative to spread their seed.  Although sexual drive in and of itself is biologically programmed, this has nothing do with who we choose to sleep with (or how many).  I think a far more likely explanation for male infidelity is that sex feels good and is quite enjoyable, inclining men (some men) to pursue it unabashedly.  Some men are addicted to alcohol, and some are addicted to boobs.  Of course, some view women as sport and appear to experience an unnerving high upon "conquering" a woman, as if they had just taken the beaches of Normandy or something.  However, I think the majority of unfaithful men just like to fuck a lot.  

But here's a revelation: women have an equal propensity for infidelity.  Yes that's right - women like to fuck too!  The stereotype of men following the whims of their penis while stalwart women are immune to the compulsions of desire is quite simply false.  Ashley Madison anyone?  I believe it was Albert Einstein who proved that it takes two to tango.

Some cheat because they don't love their partner (and maybe never have).  Some cheat because their partner is about as interested in sleeping with them as with going back to work on Monday.  Some cheat for the physical sex.  Some for the intimacy.  Some for love.  But some people don't cheat…maybe because the appeal of sex with another person is outweighed by the potential hurt their partner will feel upon finding out, or because of social stigma, or because sex with a stranger is far less gratifying in reality than it is in fantasy, or because they simply don't feel the need to have intercourse with everyone.  The point is that not everything comes down to genetics.

Similarly, consider mate selection.  It is commonly believed that a woman's primary concern in life is security, and consequently, that they seek a mate that has either wealth, status, influence, or something else along those lines - someone who will provide a safe and stable environment.  This may very well be…for some women.  And guess what?  For some men too!  All humans feel vulnerable.  Despite the adrenaline-craving junkies of the world, no one actively strives to live in an unstable, inhospitable, uncaring, or dangerous environment.  Well, maybe no one apart from those depicted in the show Mountain Men, however even they feel secure in their way of life.  But make no mistake - some women prefer the mate that makes them laugh over the mate with the stable job, some prefer the amazing lover over the wealthy businessman, and some would rather struggle on their own than suffer the banality of their secure life with the snow globe salesman.

The bottom line is, there are a lot of variables that go into a person's makeup and behavior -  their thoughts, feelings, upbringing, moral compass, life experience, the presence or lack of a conscience (4% of people apparently don't have one), their innate nature and/or genetic proclivities, and probably a bunch of other things I'm not aware of.  In short, we're not all built the same.  So lets all agree to stop generalizing each other…except for blondes, because it's been scientifically proven that people with yellow hair really are dumber.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What You Need To Know About A Man's Shoes


I was once told that the first thing women look at on a man are his shoes.  This was said to me by a woman, just so we're clear, and according to her everything you need to know about a man can be discerned from this one item.  Apparently, a man's footwear is the summation of his entire being.  After she said this to me, I remember thinking "that's fucking stupid," but I didn't want to be rude so I remained silent.  Fortunately, at the time of receiving this insight I was actually wearing flip flops, so I was thankful to have evaded her penetrating analysis (or could it be that she was analyzing my toes???!!!???).  Regardless, now that many years have passed and this woman has long forgotten me, I think it's finally safe to come forward.

Here's what I think a man's shoes tell you about the man…nothing.  It's not that a person's shoes don't reflect who they are - it's that there are a multitude of traits and characteristics to which a given pair of shoes could potentially allude.  If a man is concerned with his image, his attire will certainly reflect that, and in turn, his shoes will probably look snazzy.  But then the question is, why is he concerned with his image?  Maybe such concern stems from his line of work and how he is perceived by his associates.  Or, maybe he's simply an ego maniac who is obsessed with his image.  So for those tempted to automatically conclude that a man with snazzy shoes is a respectable individual who takes pride in himself, always remember to consider the alternative possibility that he only cares about looking good and doesn't actually give a shit about you.

Taking another example, if a man is a complete mess in life, then his shoes may indeed be a mess as well.  But slow it down Speed Racer, because embarrassing footwear could also be indicative that he's got larger priorities in life - maybe he spends his days volunteering at homeless shelters and simply doesn't have an interest in looking spiffy this evening.  Similarly, don't discount the possibility that some may intentionally adorn a pair of shoes as a means of deception…that individual wearing Christian Louboutin red bottoms may not be as upscale as he appears, and for all you know those shoes may even trace back to a corpse in the trunk of a car somewhere (and this person is about to cut out your pancreas as soon as you get back to his place).

As a final example, if a man is wealthy, then he will very likely have nice and expensive shoes.  But don't start fawning when you see a man with nice shoes out and about - for all you know, the money he spent on his shoe collection should have gone to paying the child support.  How many wealthy scumbags can you think of?

I trust we all get the picture.  In case anyone thought otherwise, the above is equally applicable to female footwear.  And the same principle applies to suits, cars, and other items of status.  Things are just things.  Nothing more.  In and of themselves, they can't tell you anything definitive about a person's past, present, or future standing, and they certainly can't tell you anything about the content of a person's character.

FYI, when it comes to me personally, I buy a new pair of shoes once my current footwear begins to get holes in them.  What does that say about me?

 


Monday, May 27, 2013

What Are The Chances?


I'm not sure how many of you have experienced synchronicity, but I can tell you that when it happens, it's quite mind-boggling.  A classic example is that of the famous mythologist and writer Joseph Campbell, who after reading about the praying mantis opened up a window in his 14th floor apartment building located in New York City, only to find…a praying mantis staring at him.

As to if such cases of synchronicity are completely coincidental, or meaningful in a deeper sense, I cannot say.  Perhaps synchronicity is bound to occur, given enough time, within the complex interaction of laws, chance, and probability that blanket the universe…perhaps our very existence is the prime example of synchronicity.  Or perhaps there are unseen forces at work - forces which we may or may not contribute to, but to which we are nevertheless connected and influenced by - forces that shape and guide the trajectory of our lives like a hidden hand arranging life's puzzle pieces.  

I'm going to abandon attempts at explanation, and instead, simply add my recent experience to the annals of synchronicity.

My good friend Omead Afshari, designer extraordinaire and lord of the male belly dance, recently became a teacher at Carver Center for the Arts located in Maryland.  He's in the midst of his first school year, and since September of 2012 has been trying to persuade me to come to his school and speak to some of the students.  Well earlier this month, I decided to drive down to Maryland from New York and pay my friend a visit in his native land.  So of course, I also visited the school and spoke to a few different classrooms.  The students were all awake and attentive, so I must have been doing something right.

The school day came to an end, and as it turned out, a dance performance was scheduled to take place an hour later in the main lobby.  Sounded interesting, so we decided to hang around for it.  After two performances, the dance instructor invited everyone to the dance studio for additional performances.  Omead and I debated whether to abandon ship at that point, given we had an engagement to attend in less than two hours.  But we threw caution to the wind and proceeded to the dance studio, wherein we were handed a program that seemed to suggest there were going to be an additional 15 dance performances taking place.  Now we were seriously considering abandoning ship, but ultimately our interest endured and we continued to stand fast.

At the start of the 2nd to last performance, the dancer walked onto the stage and the music began.  Omead immediately turned to look at me, jaw agape. "Am I hearing what I think I'm hearing" he asked?  Yep.  It was my song "See What I've Become".  This confirmation sent him into a mental tailspin, and he stressed that he had nothing to do with it, and that the students picked their own music for these routines.  Then during the Q&A after the show, he stood up and let the cat out of the bag:  "I'm a teacher here and I just want to say that art has a strange way of connecting people.  In the 2nd to last performance, for example, the person who made that music happens to be a good friend of mine…and he happens to be here right now" [cue American Idol screams and applause].

So to my mathematics and statistics friends, consider this: I drive to Maryland from New York for an impromptu school visit, on a random day of no significance, a day in which there happens to be a dance performance taking place after school, a performance which I happen to choose to attend (despite two separate considerations of leaving), during which one of the performances happens to be done in concert with my song.  What are the chances?  I've never stayed in Maryland prior to this, nor had I ever spoken at a school before, and Omead had no interaction or communication with the dance instructor or dancers (located on the opposite side of the building)…moreover, I'm no Justin Timberlake with respect to popularity; my music is not on the radio, nor is it affiliated with a label or part of a PR machine, and my album sales are so far from platinum they ought to be considered aluminum.  Things get even spookier when you consider the fact that the dance students apparently received their assignment to choreograph and perfect a routine for this show about 2 to 3 weeks beforehand - which is just about when I had called Omead to tell him I would be visiting him in a few weeks.

Be on the lookout friends, for things are in motion.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

More Room Treatment, Anyone?


At various points in my career, I've had the privilege of working in some pretty appalling acoustic environments - untreated rooms, un-sound-proofed rooms, even an untreated and un-sound-proofed studio with 8 windows, across the street from a major highway (yikes!).  Although such conditions unquestionably pose severe obstacles in the way of music production and mixing, I believe that where there is a will there is a way, and that the creative spirit can miraculously overcome such handicaps (provided the music ends up in the hands of a good mastering engineer).  That being said, working within an "accurate" acoustic environment immeasurably increases the effectiveness of one's mixing, and allows for a more informed decision process during production, since one can hear things that are actually present in the music, without being influenced by acoustic anomalies and illusions created from the way in which sound waves bounce throughout the room.  So every audio professional naturally seeks to take the room out of the acoustic equation.

Thus, when I built a new studio back in 2011, I was determined to make it as accurate of a listening environment as I possibly could.  My philosophy has always been to go big or go home - and seeing as my studio was located within my house, I was already home, which meant I had no choice but to go big.

Built from the ground up with my own two hands (along with those of a master carpenter, who actually knew what he was doing), my new room wasn't fancy in its dimensional layout, but it had an isolated ground and dedicated circuit breakers, so I was off to a good start - that is, until the first listening test made it clear that things were afoul, acoustically speaking.  So I installed some acoustic room treatment.  Then I installed more room treatment.  Then a bit more.  And then a little more.  I upgraded speakers, added a subwoofer, upgraded converters, lowered the noise floor, and replaced one kind of acoustic treatment with another kind.  The results were great, but my expectations were those of a mastering engineer's standard, which meant there could be no compromise.  So I bought a little more treatment.  I experimented with speaker placement, listening position, treatment layout, etc.  I took sound frequency measurements, calibrated speakers, compared results, and acted the part of a trained acoustician.  I measured physical distances with a tape measure and nodded contemplatively.  Then I expanded my studio with the addition of various mastering equipment and outboard gear…and then I bought more treatment.  I moved this there, and that there, and ultimately created a database of over a hundred different layout orientations with their corresponding frequency measurements for each speaker - then I had the lab tech (me) analyze the results.  

After extensive research and analysis, and countless listening tests, when it was all said and done I thought to myself, "damn, that sounds good".  Have a look at the pictures below - this may be the very definition of sexy (okay, granted it's not a multi-million dollar facility crafted from melted down platinum and gold records, but hey, sometimes it's the unassuming girl that turns out to be the hottest).

Now, it should be noted that too much acoustic absorption in a room can become less than ideal, depending on the size of the room and the type of absorption.  In this case, more than half of the treatment in this room is low frequency focused, which is to say, does not affect the high end (generally speaking, one can never really have too much low end absorption).  As such, this studio has a tight sound, but not a dead sound.  And with so many mysterious looking pillars, there's potential for some enthralling LSD experiences (acoustically accurate LSD experiences, of course).

It should also be noted that the term "accurate" is a bit misleading within the context of acoustics.  Theoretically, an accurate frequency response would be that of a flatline, with no frequency bumps or dips along the spectrum.  But as it turns out, actually getting a flatline is rather impossible; and what's more, you probably wouldn't even want it if you could have it, which brings up the non-technical side of accuracy…namely, that there is a degree of subjectivity to tuning a room, and that every room invariably has its own "sound" or "vibe".  So while one should chase the flatline in principle, all technical findings and decisions must be weighed against subjective perception and taste (making for an interesting catch-22).

Lastly, I'd like to draw attention to the thin piece of tissue hanging from the ceiling above the computer monitor.  This tissue paper is the single most important aspect of the entire room, the very corner stone of the studio in fact.  It does not serve an acoustic function, but rather, prevents the light source from blinding the person in the central listening position…because if there's one thing I learned in all my efforts to realize the perfect listening environment, it's this: when there's too much light shining in your eyes, you can't hear anything accurately.








Sunday, December 30, 2012

Quotations and Punctuation...I'm going rogue.


American grammar is quite goofy when it comes to how punctuation interacts with quotations.  The placement of the period in the following sentence is said to be grammatically correct:

1A)  George threw out his socks, claiming they were "poisoned."

Does the placement of that period look blatantly wrong to you as well?  I contend the following should be considered correct:

1B)  George threw out his socks, claiming they were "poisoned".

Here's an alternate example:

2A)  Cindy explained, "It's his baby, not yours."

Compared to:

2B)  Cindy explained, "It's his baby, not yours".

Now check out the following examples, both of which are considered grammatically correct with respect to the placement of the question mark:

3)  After slipping in the aisle, Gunther inquired, "Who the fuck put lubricant all over the floor?"  

4)  Was Tammy correct when she claimed, "the three things that never stop growing on a man are his ears, nose, and testicles"?

The sensibility of question mark protocol is encouraging, but we're not out of the woods yet.  Consider two final grammatically correct examples that throw more chaos into the mix with respect to the placement of commas and periods:

5)  Out of a possible "10", Haley's breasts would have to be considered a "12".

6)  Jared wasn't "feeling well," so he put the dildo in the box marked with an "X".

So in summary, this is a complete clusterfuck, and frankly I'm not going to stand for it.  From this point forward, I'm going to place all periods as the last item in a sentence, and the quotes can go "fuck themselves".

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Is Santa Claus Good Or Bad For Children?


Every year, a new group of children become initiated into the magic of Santa Claus.  But for every group of newcomers, there is also a batch that finds out that Santa doesn't actually exist…for those children, a mix of emotions ranging from disbelief to betrayal can wreak havoc on their worldview.  Make no mistake - for some children, finding out this truth is a traumatic experience - indeed, I have yet to meet a person who can actually recall when they were told this truth, or how they reacted to it, which in my medical opinion would suggest repressed memories due to a psychological implosion caused by perceptive dissociation, exacerbated by parental nostalgic projection, which when combined with a child's weight and age, and coupled with the fragility of a young developing mind, engenders intense trauma.  So the question becomes, does believing in Santa warrant the upheaval that results when children inevitably find out that he's not real?  

Well what exactly are the benefits?  I suppose for children, Santa represents a world full of enchantment… that there is more to reality than meets the eye, and that good things come to good people.  All compelling and desirable things in my opinion, which ironically enough, would seem to get undermined by the eventual disclosure of Santa's lack of reality.  Perhaps the pervasive bleakness in our society stems from this disclosure, as well as the cynicism held by so many…people who have been fooled once before and won't be fooled again; people who were taunted and jeered by their peers for believing in something so foolish, and who valiantly insisted upon Santa's veracity, championing his existence to the absolute end, until their parents had to step in and finally stop the charade, thus scarring the child with the severe embarrassment of being the last kid in his/her grade to finally learn the truth (no, I am not describing me for those that enjoy reading into everything).

I suppose parents also benefit from the leverage that Santa provides, in virtue of gift giving being contingent upon good behavior, which seems to be the only thing that can reign in Danny's terrorist behavior.  Of course, such leverage can obviously be maintained without Santa, but Santa does afford the luxury of the parent not having to be the bad guy when Tracy doesn't get that Power Wheels 6 Volt Volkswagon she's been begging for.

All in all, I can't help but question if this dog and pony show is worthwhile.  Maybe Danny is better off knowing that his parents don't negotiate with terrorists.  Maybe Tracy is better off knowing she didn't get the Power Wheels because her parents don't appreciate her attitude.  Maybe parents need to own their role as behavioral enforcer and just lay down the law for the sake of their children's growth and humanity.  Conversely, maybe parents need to take all the credit and praise for bestowing such generous gifts on their well-behaved offspring, making it clear that their children are receiving them because they are kind-hearted and considerate - fuck Santa.  And maybe if we really want our kids to grow up with a sense of wonder and awe at the world they find themselves in, we shouldn't sabotage that very effort by setting up such a masquerade.

Yet despite such considerations, in the end I come to the conclusion that it's in everyone's best interest to continue the myth of Santa…not because of the benefits, but precisely because of the detriments.  Because maybe it's good for our children to learn that not everything is as it seems.  That you shouldn't take everything given to you at face value.  That not all "facts" turn out to be true.  That you should question what you're told, be it from your parents, the government, the media, that gossipy neighbor, or your fluffer.  That it's okay to make mistakes and to have judged wrongly.  That there's no shame in taking a leap of faith.  And that sometimes our most fervent beliefs turn out to be fallacious.  Maybe this is the real benefit of Santa Claus, and maybe if parents take the time to responsibly guide their children through the transition from Santa's reality to mythology, we can get all of the benefits with none of the detriments.  But worst case scenario, hopefully the shock and incredulity of the truth will be mitigated by the knowledge that at least elves do actually exist.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Music Videos


I've never been a fan of pointless music videos.  A frequent example of these are "band" videos where the viewer watches the band mime the song in a bunch of different locations, such as in a desert, or at a concert, or in a random field somewhere.  I'm also not fond of videos that have nothing to do with the actual lyrics of the song, such as when the verse is talking about a heart-broken lover but the video shows a bunch of balloons filled with teargas (actually, that sounds like a cool video).  And I'm not partial to music videos that overall just seem like a waste of time, such as when singers are in front of a green screen and instead of putting something cool like a volcano behind them they insert a hallway or a white room. 

People often ask me why I don't make music videos for my songs, and there is a simple reason: unlike the music itself, where I directly handle every aspect of the songwriting / recording / mixing, I don't have any video production expertise.  So although I love the thought of having an awesome music video, music videos don't make themselves, and I lack the required equipment, technical proficiency, personnel, etc. necessary to make a music video to the same production standards that I hold my music.  This puts me at the mercy of other individuals, which is not something I'm very keen on.  

So with all of the above, I've grown accustomed to never even considering music videos for my songs.  But truth be told, a music video that was a work of art in itself, was well made, had a concept worthy of being made, and was able to independently stand on it's own visually while combining with the music to create something greater than the sum of it's parts…that would be wonderful.

Well just as the dim possibility of a music video was about to forever fade from my consciousness, director Scott Gold appeared like a beacon of hope in a post-apocalyptic world.  Not only did Scott share my sentiments regarding music videos, he was committed to shooting a video for my song "Waiting Between Worlds."  I thought to myself, "this is going to be a monumental task - three different lyrical stories, actors, crew, a hospital, police…and a pregnancy test."  But Scott had a plan and his plan was simple: find the crew, find the actors, find the locations, shoot the video.  It was a plan so crazy it just might work.

Scott and I reviewed his ideas for the music video, which focused on the last section of the song where the lyrics begin.  His treatment visually depicted the lyrics of the song - madness!  He interpreted the 2nd verse in an interesting way that worked better visually - nice.  He utilized the 4th verse (the ending lyrical commentary) to visually continue the stories from the first 3 verses - brilliant.  We spoke about cameras, lenses, lighting - all sounded great.  He asked me what I thought - I said "me thinks good."  

But before the journey commenced, he asked, "right now you're not in the video - is that okay with you - do you want to be in it?"  I said, "I don't want to be in the video just for the sake of being in the video - if my presence serves a purpose, cool…but as my presence doesn't seem to be necessary or useful within the context of this video, leave me out of it."  It was settled.

Fast forward a few months, and I find myself in California on the set of the "Waiting Between Worlds" music video, among a superb cast and crew that Scott assembled.  And this is the result (for behind the scenes photos, go to waitingbetweenworlds.com):


Zack Hemsey - "Waiting Between Worlds" OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO from Scott Gold on Vimeo.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Real Issue Of Online Piracy and Illegal File-Sharing: Assholes

Debates about illegal file-sharing have been going on for quite some time now, and while there are many interesting perspectives on the issue, the one thing that continues to surprise me is that very few people seem to actually understand what the central matter being debated is. Time and again, arguments are made that miss the point, facts or statistics are presented that have no relevance, and ultimately discussions digress into personal opinions about artists, major labels, the industry, etc. I'd like to clear up much of this foolishness, so that moving forward we can all focus on the relevant issue at hand. Note that for the sake of simplicity, the following will focus on music piracy and artists, but obviously the points raised are equally applicable to movies, authors, etc.


Lets begin with the myth that piracy was born of a noble idea that everything should be free and accessible to everyone...this notion is not what drives piracy. On the contrary, piracy is primarily motivated by greed - it's a business, and apparently a very good one. Without getting into the specifics of how money is earned through advertising, subscription fees, encouraging additional piracy through revenue kickbacks, etc, the short of it all is that pirates are making money. There's nothing wrong with someone making money, but if they are making money by commandeering and exploiting my work, and not even sharing any of those earnings with me to boot, then it shouldn't be controversial to suggest their actions are less than admirable.


There also needs to be a distinction between those who facilitate piracy, and the general users that benefit from it. The latter is not the issue. There are individuals who illegally download music in virtue of simply having access to it, without any concrete conceptualization or clear understanding of the practice they are undertaking. There are also people with low incomes that sincerely cannot afford to purchase or acquire content in other manners, for whom file-sharing is a blessing. There are even those who utilize piracy as a means to preview a large breadth of content before subsequently legally purchasing the content they like. But all of those who benefit from piracy in these ways are irrelevant to the "piracy industry" itself, which only exists because assholes are making a living from it.


Just to clarify, for the purposes of this article, "asshole" refers to persons that distribute content that they do not own, for the express purpose of profiting from that distribution. If you buy a book and share or give that book to a friend, you are not an asshole. Same with a physical CD or digital download. To be clear, a violation of intellectual property rights is still occurring in such cases, however, it's an extremely weak violation (much like J-walking), and does not have a significant impact on anything. Sharing on a person-to-person level is more or less inconsequential to the livelihood of content owners. In contrast, it's the massive enterprise of sharing through file-sharing networks on a national and global scale that is at issue, and which does affect the livelihood of content owners.


Now, lets address 8 common arguments in favor of piracy that succeed in skirting the real issue:


1) "Piracy only effects millionaires and billionaires who are already filthy rich, and there is nothing morally objectionable about preventing these overly wealthy individuals and companies from continuing to profit from my hard-earned money." This is fascinating logic, but not very compelling. For one, I'm a little uncomfortable with the populace collectively deciding that Katy Perry has made enough money - at the end of the day, she made a product - if you want that product, buy it; if not, don't. If her content is so appealing that it turns her into a billionaire, good for Katy. Is this really so objectionable? Moreover, it's not just the content of established and successful artists that are being pirated - it's also up-and-coming artists and independent artists. Yes, the content of established artists is pirated the most from a quantitative standpoint, but this has no bearing on the fact that independent artists who don't have large streams of income are substantially affected by the pirating of their content.


2) "Artists are getting screwed by their labels anyway, so what does it matter if their music is pirated?" Well that's very nice that you have decided to stand up for artist exploitation at the hands of their respective labels by choosing to steal their content. I'd like to point out that this has no relevance to artists that are not affiliated with labels, nor does it have any bearing on the many major / indie label artists with very good deal structures in place. But even in cases where labels are screwing over their artists, if an artist chose to enter into a bad deal, that's their prerogative - why are you so concerned with their business decisions? And furthermore, do you realize that even if we suppose 100% of all major label artists have "bad deals", you're enabling of the piracy industry isn't combatting that - it's simply changing which group of assholes are making money (and at least in the former case, artists are making something from their work, even if scant).


3) "Piracy is the best thing that could ever happen to independent or up-and-coming artists….now their work is being exposed to way more people than it would otherwise have been." Maybe yes, maybe no. But shouldn't that decision rest with the artists and rights owners of the music? If they see the merit in your perspective, and choose to distribute their catalogue for free, so be it. However, if they disagree with your position, why should they be unable to manage their catalogue as they see fit? Moreover, plenty of artists' music is readily available through online streaming sites - my entire discography for example can be listened to in it's entirety through my website and YouTube channel - so the issue is not about having free access to music, it's about having music illegally distributed in an exploitative capacity without artists' consent.


4) "Music and movies are grossly overpriced, and pirating such content amounts to an objection of those inflated prices." There are certainly cases where content is overpriced, and such cases are definitely irritating to all consumers. However, it is unfair to characterize the entire entertainment industry, or even a significant part of it, as being "grossly overpriced." $10 for a music album is not overpriced. Those who suggest otherwise either don't have an understanding of what goes into the making of this content, or simply don't appreciate what they're getting for their money. Either way, such ignorance is beyond my ability to remedy, but while such a deluded perspective can understandably lead to person-to-person file-sharing, it does not legitimize the global money-making business of the piracy industry. I hope we can agree on at least that much.


5) "Artists have an easy life - you can barely call what they do work. They are living the dream, and they shouldn't be entitled to such obscene income and a life of luxury. So who cares if their content is being pirated." I'll be sure to ask for your permission the next time I have to take a shit. But let me just point out to you that while there do exist individuals in every industry who have had some remarkable opportunities just fall into their lap, the majority of successful professionals, including artists and entertainers, have all worked extremely hard to get to where they are. It seems to me that the real source of your ire is the cultural / political / societal system that we are all born into…I sympathize with you…but don't take it out on artists, especially when it's art that stands the best chance of taking the edge off the absurdity of all that angers you, and the best chance of inspiring the change that your miserable soul yearns for.


6) "Piracy is not actually theft - it's an infringement of copyright, which is not the same thing." Yes, technically speaking, you are correct. But regardless of the legal nuance involved, I think we can all agree some form of theft is at work. Should the illegal file-sharing of music be treated equivalent to the stealing of a car? No. But that doesn't mean it's somehow acceptable to steal intellectual content. In the same way that we treat the physical theft of objects differently based on the value of the object in question - a DVD vs a Mercedes - so should we treat the theft of objects differently according to the nature of the object - physical vs digital vs intellectual property. But make no mistake…all occurrences of theft should be addressed in some manner.


7) "We're in a new modern age where unrestricted access to digital content is now a basic reality that the entertainment industry needs to accept and find a way to adapt to." Interesting…so taken to it's logical conclusion, I suppose the "theft" of all the digital money in your bank account is something you'll just have to get over and accept as a reality of modernity, right? After all, it's not physical money - just a bunch of zeros and ones on a computer screen, so perhaps we shouldn't even consider it "theft" in the first place. Right, I hear you - the theft of "digital" money is different from digital music, because digital money isn't copied…it's stolen, in the real and legal sense of that term. Uh huh - well when 50 thousand people "copy" Lady Gaga's record, who otherwise would have bought it, is that not an actual measurable and legitimate loss of income? Does that not qualify as theft in your expert opinion? We can debate how many individuals that illegally download music would otherwise buy it if left no other choice - but while it's impossible to know the answer, I think we can agree that some amount of individuals would legally purchase music if a free alternative did not exist…and when you consider the millions of people throughout the world downloading thousands of music and movie files, even if that number were as low as 10% it would amount to a significant loss of income to content owners.


8) "Copyright law is ridiculous in and of itself with terms lasting author's life + 70 years…there's no reason for ownership to last that long, and it's only purpose is to ensure labels keep profiting for years and years. It should last somewhere between 5 and 20 years max. So as far as I'm concerned, piracy is rectifying this obscenity." Ugh…where to begin. Start by reading points 1 and 2 above. Then explain to me why it is you feel I should be forced to relinquish ownership of something that I created with my own two hands. Then let me know what time you'll be home so I can stop by to take that Mercedes from you - I think you've owned it for long enough, don't you?


With all of that out of the way, what we are left with is that assholes are exploiting other people's work without their consent, and profiting from that exploitation.


Now, I cannot prevent you from being an asshole. Only you can do that. So if you choose to be an asshole, it is what it is. We can get into why one would make such a choice, and speculate as to the psychological and emotional underpinnings that lead to such a choice, and even look to other industries where assholes have succeeded in astounding the world with their assholiness (white collar criminals and those Wall Street fuckers come to mind)…in the end though, it doesn't matter. Just accept that there are assholes in the world.


So, given pirates' decisions to be assholes, what can I do? I can perhaps try to persuade them that their decision has consequences that effect other human beings, and hope that they're able to see beyond their own selfish perspective. But I'm not going to waste my time trying to converse with assholes, as it doesn't make for very enlightening conversation.


It seems to me the logical thing to do is to remove the ability of assholes to steal without impunity in the first place - not to remove their desire to do so - just the ability. Consider this: if one person comes into a bank and steals handfuls of cash, it is easy to stop that individual. But if hordes of assholes are storming banks across the country, stealing everyone's money, then it's not practical to stop them all, nor efficient to discuss their actions on an intellectual and philosophical level…but it is practical and efficient for banks to start securing their money within vaults, and in so doing, remove the ability of said assholes to steal it. It's not rocket science…we just need to apply the same principle to piracy.


Obviously, the literal concept of a bank vault is not applicable to illegal file-sharing. However, just like in the bank analogy, we can diagnose what allows pirates to do what they do, and then seek to undermine that. In the case of banks, allowing piles of cash to be publicly accessible leads to massive theft of that cash. In the case of piracy, the enterprise functions as a result of a simple distortion: the notion that file-sharing websites facilitate the transfer of digital content between other people, without directly participating in the content being transferred, and that as such, they have no control over if their users choose to upload and share content illegally, and are thus not responsible for any copyright infringement that occurs - all they can do is have such content removed once uploaded, provided the content owners inform them of such violations. This laughable perspective is what has allowed the piracy industry to flourish, for it is not feasible for content owners to scour through thousands of file-sharing websites to discover if their content is being illegally distributed, only to then have to submit claims to each website for each specific instance of copyright infringement…only to then have to repeat the process again and again week after week.


This is where new legislation comes into play. We need properly written legislation that enforces intellectual property rights without curtailing 1st amendment freedoms, and which holds piracy facilitators accountable instead of users. This should not be that difficult to put together folks…people simply have to agree on it's necessity. Of course, if you happen to be an asshole, then you will want to oppose such measures.


I leave a detailed exploration of solutions for another time, but suffice it to say that if file-sharing companies / websites were simply responsible for policing the content whose distribution they facilitate (instead of the burden falling on the content owners - an impossible task), and there were effective consequences in place for the failure of such companies / websites to perform said responsibilities, then the entire piracy industry would go away pretty fucking quick. This is not to say that file-sharing would stop in total - just that the national and global business of file-sharing would.


Or maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Feel free to enlighten me with your comments.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

How To Single-Handedly Unload A Subwoofer

So here's the situation. You've got a 160 pound package being delivered containing a 12" subwoofer inside of it….and you're on a remote island. Okay, you're home, but you might as well be on a remote island because you're alone and isolated from all who know and love you (or feel otherwise). What's more, you're going to be by yourself for the entire day. So you've got a choice on your hands: wait 12 to 24 hours until you can get a friend or family member to assist you in unloading the subwoofer, or attempt to do it by yourself. If you're like me, you've concluded that waiting is not an option - time waits for no man, and fortune favors the bold.


This is the situation I found myself in this past week. Knowing that others may some day be faced with the same circumstances, I decided to document my efforts so that my fellow man might benefit and learn from my experience.


Now, before I begin, some may be saying to themselves, "why not have the delivery guy simply bring it into the house and assist you"? Well how nice of you to volunteer his services, but he's got a truck full of other packages that need to get to where they're going, and I think we should let the man get through his day so that he can get home to his family at a decent time. And besides, the delivery guy is paid to deliver it to the house, not inside the house. Yes, I could certainly ask him to go above the call of duty and assist me further, but then I would feel obligated to tip him and quite frankly, this Genelec subwoofer was expensive enough as it is.


So…lets start this tutorial. When the FedEx truck arrived, I met it outside with a handtruck and had them offload the package from the truck directly onto it, providing easy transport to the point of entry into the house (in this case, the garage). Note: unless you're training for the upcoming Strong Man Competition, you're going to want this handtruck, so make sure to pick one up in advance of the delivery if you don't currently have one.



Now the sub is on the handtruck inside the garage, and I'm thinking I'll just wheel this fucker right through the door into the house and into the studio. Guess again. Turns out the dimensions of the box versus the dimensions of the hallway are such that there's not enough clearance to make the 90 degree turn required after getting through the door. So I wheel the sub back into the garage.


I decide my best bet is to open it up in the garage, so as to separate the actual subwoofer from it's packaging, thereby lightening the load and reducing the dimensions. A good plan. Now how do I open this box that looks like it was discovered in an ancient tomb by Indiana Jones?



I carefully studied the hieroglyphics for clues. It seemed to indicate the secret to opening it involved a wine glass, umbrella, and rain water. Unable (or unwilling) to figure out the riddle, I utilized a crowbar and forced each metal latch into an upright position, and removed the top of the box. Boom.



Time to take this baby to greener pastures. Not just yet hombre - this bitch still clocks in over 100 pounds on it's own, and while you may be tempted to grab the sub by its plastic covering in the absence of discernible handles, I'm not willing to risk the plastic giving way and my new sub crashing to the floor. And to make matters more complicated, the remaining crate is seriously hindering my ability to get proper leverage - I'm a pretty fit individual, but at a whopping 5 ft 7 inches I don't have the height of a giraffe, so my strength is nullified by the positioning of the situation (I bet there's a jiu jitsu lesson in here somewhere). If I really gave it my all, it's possible I would succeed, but I'm not interested in throwing my back out to prove how strong I am. So unless there's a crane somewhere inside my garage, it's back to the drawing board.


Got it. Position the crate against the base of the doorway / Position the handtruck opposite the doorway inside the house / Tilt the open end of the crate through the doorway, landing with its side on the handtruck / Slide the crate out backwards, leaving the sub perfectly positioned on the handtruck / Boom.




Nice try asshole. Still not enough clearance to make the necessary 90 degree turn. But at this point, the sub has been freed from it's confines, and two silver handles have become visible through the plastic. So I take life by the horns and move this bad boy into the hallway by hand.



Hmmm. You know what, it's heavy, but not torturously so. Let me carry it the rest of the way into the studio. Boom.



For those who might have another 100+ feet to go once inside the house, you might want to bring the handtruck back into the mix. For those that are wondering, "why didn't you just open the crate in the garage, tilt it on it's side to slide the sub out, and walk it into the house to begin with", all I have to say is hindsight is 20/20. But thanks to my noble efforts above, when faced with the same situation, other people now know not to do a single thing that I've suggested.