Musical taste, ever changing or slowly solidifying?

by on 04/04/11 2:03 pm

My dear friend Nita posited this question on her website. How have your musical tastes progressed throughout your life? My reply was turning into a blog post…so I turned it into a blog post.

Born a nerd
In my younger days I listened to nothing but classical music. I wasn’t particularly educated about this. My grandfather would make me tapes from his records and I would listen to them endlessly and read whatever I could get my hands on. A lot of this period was spent overseas so my access to American pop music was non-existent anyway so I existed in a weird bubble. Even after we moved back to the states I never really picked up on the fact that there was music on the radio that the other kids were listening to. I had Beethoven’s 5th, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 (with cannons!), Scheherazade, Mozart’s Requiem and the Canadian Brass playing Bach and I was a happy (if somewhat weird) kid.

So out of touch
Then someone gave me, Duran Duran – Notorious, Michael Jackson – Bad and Madonna – True Blue for my 12th birthday and that screwed me up 6 ways from Sunday. I think I really could have followed and enjoyed the Duran Duran track but my cousin, quite derisively, referred to them (and The Cure, Erasure, Information Society) as “mod music” and I didn’t know what that was but it seemed bad. I discovered Weird Al a year later which didn’t help in solidifying me into a genre but in him I did find the musical love of my life.

I was a teenage metal head…sorta
Junior year in high school, my best friend Jeremy asked me if I wanted to go see Van Halen. When I asked Ma if I could go her only response was “Why? You like real music. If you want to go, then you can go but…ugh’. I then proceeded to spend the next 3 months listening to KOMP 92.3 The Rock of Las Vegas and immersing myself in Hard Rock so I wouldn’t seem such a dweeb come concert day. I had never seen a live concert and I had absolutely no interest in hard rock at the time so it was quite an education. After seeing that concert followed by Aerosmith a few weeks later, I was over hard rock and went back to listening to what I always had though Ozzie did come out with Crazy Train and Coverdale Page came out with their album in here somewhere and were both standouts in my mind. I’m also going to make a stand. I like the black Metallica album. There. I said it. Everyone who pooh-poohed that album can just shut it.

Return of the nerd
Then there was the short lived alternative revolution in college. Lots of Tool, Tori Amos and Sarah MacLachlan in this period. And Weird Al. And classical. The difference being that in college I actually took a “History of Classical Music” class. I can’t remember the teacher’s name but she made a whole class of college kids somewhat interested in classical music and that took some crazy talent. As for me, she made me extremely interested in classical music and my whole world opened up.

Piercings, tattoos, spiked and colored hair, oh my
Then came punk. My punk phase lasted for quite a while. I was visiting LA and A friend of a friend invited me to a live punk show in Lancaster. I’d never heard punk but figured what the hell. The venue was double booked so the punk bands ended up playing in someone’s house. It had power but no furniture. When I said that the noise might be an issue I was informed that the weed dealer on one side and the coke dealer on the other were unlikely to call the cops for noise problems. It was probably the most exiting night of my relatively sheltered life up to that point. I mentioned to someone that I had never really listened to punk before and they were nice about it, not mentioning that there were few things at this party more obvious than my punk virginity. They recommended I get a copy of Bad Religion – Suffer, which I did that very weekend. I listened to that album for 5 hours straight in my car from LA back to Vegas and I was hooked. I didn’t even go home right away. I drove from LA to Tower Records in Vegas and picked up All Ages before going home and crashing after a long and exciting weekend. After that, Bad Religion, NoFX and Pennywise ruled my radio. Oh, and still Weird AL and my much expanded classical music library.


This taught me a valuable lesson which I didn’t actually listen to and take to heart when I should have. I love live music. I have pretty much never seen a live show I didn’t like with the exception of seeing the giant arena style shows which can really, really suck. I should have taken the Lancaster show and extrapolated the experience out and looked for any band playing any house party, dingy bar, coffee shop and gone and checked them out. But I didn’t. Not until years later did I rediscover my love for live punk shows when I had a friend playing in them. Nowadays I have solidified a personal philosophy: Even if I don’t think I’m into that kind of music, I’ll go see any band someone invites me to, provided the tickets aren’t stupidly expensive. Dingy bars, are a definite plus.

The thing I was waiting for
I had seen “The Saint” and learned about Orbital. I was in someone’s car and heard Massive Attack. I was at someone’s house and heard Moloko, Hooverphonic and Morcheeba. Someone lent me an Underworld CD which I forgot to give back. I bought the Trainspotting soundtrack and then broke it and had to buy another one. Electronica was showing up in my personal sphere and was making inroads into my life. I liked it but nothing had really grabbed me and I didn’t know what I liked about it or enough about the genre to really even narrow it down.

Then I heard Delerium – Silence, remixed by Sasha and Digweed, and it was like coming home.

Apparently I wanted Trance music. From then until this very day it is my #1 genre. For over a decade now it is my favorite kind of music. If I have a lot of work to do I pick a good mix, put on my headphones and code, code, code. It’s endlessly re-listenable and there’s SO MUCH OF IT. This is both good and bad. There’s constantly enough music that some of it is always good but, at the same time, there’s so much that it’s kind of hard to find and narrow it down. I generally wait for someone to tell me about something then I give it a shot. For most of the time I’ve listened to this I actually didn’t go to the club or anything. That seemed like a lot of work, a lot of people and a lot of sweaty times. Why do that when I can just kick back with my headphones at home, sipping on a cool drink and sitting in a comfy chair? It turns out you can pay for someplace to sit in a club and if you take a bunch of your friends it’s actually affordable. Once I discovered that I’ve discovered that I quite like going to the club with ten of my nearest and dearest. What makes this worth it is the fact that, though headphones at home are nice, it can’t compare to feeling that bass coming through your entire body and all the way in to your soul. The other fun thing is the whole club crowd. My favorite hobby, people watching. This hobby gets plenty of workout time in the club.

So is this going to remain my favorite genre? I’m not sure. It’s been a long time and hasn’t slowed down. I still have my classical music and Weird Al is my favorite for in the car but at this point in my life I’m old enough not to talk in absolutes. You just never know what’s going to happen. All I know is that right now, Gareth Emery is spinning in my ears and I have work to do.

It’s a match made in heaven.

The secret to de-stressing your holidays

by on 05/11/09 2:11 pm

You know how holidays are. The entire family coming together for fun and togetherness at predetermined times throughout the year. That’s the good part. The bad part is the pre-determined times thing. That means everyone across America is doing the same thing on the same day and that’s just not cool. You ever try to drive on the Wednesday before or Sunday after Thanksgiving? How about getting a dinner reservation on Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day? Even if you do get a dinner reservation, eating out on those insanely busy nights is never a good idea. Not a good idea unless limited, overpriced holiday menus and the general feeling from the waitstaff of “eat and get the hell out, dammit” floats your boat. If that sort of thing makes you happy you can probably just stop reading now, there is no hope for you. For the rest of you I’m going to hip you to a little secret that’s helped my family out quite a bit.

Pick a more convenient day to celebrate the holiday for you and your family

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking …

Fallacy: “Todd, you crazy bastard, you can’t just move holidays all willy nilly. Our forefathers put them there for a reason! My mother is -never- going to go for this”
Rebuttal: If by forefathers you mean Hallmark, then sure. The dates are already pretty arbitrarily set. Add to that the fact that time is but an illusion anyway and you can see that there’s nothing special about the days on which holidays land. Your mom would probably balk at just not coming home at all but simply moving the holiday probably isn’t the hardest sell ever. You never know until you try.

We just got done celebrating Mother’s Day on the Saturday before Mother’s Day Sunday. Guess how easy it is to get a reservation on the day before Mother’s Day…piece of cake. Move it to the previous Sunday and tell Mom “You’re just such an amazing mother I couldn’t wait another week to make a day just about you”. Look, our mom’s are always special. Mother’s Day is about taking 1 day and making it all about them. Does it -have- to be the whateverth Sunday in May? Mother’s Day is just an example though and one that most people don’t do a lot of traveling for. Valentine’s Day is similar too. Do the big fancy dinner the week before and spend the actual day together on the couch watching DVDs. This one is even better because -no one- wants to spend Valentine’s with a bunch of other people. It’s strictly a 2 person holiday that you are forced to share with a whole bunch of couples you don’t know and try all night to ignore. The real magic comes on the bigger holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How many times have you pushed someone’s birthday around to make it land on a weekend? That happens all the time and people rarely bat an eye. Isn’t Christmas just another birthday? Moving Christmas effectively gives you 2 special days. One for traveling and one where you stay home with your nearest and dearest.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday to push around. I love taking vacations over Thanksgiving week. You know how many people go to Hawaii or Mexico or Jamaica over Thanksgiving week? Hardly anybody. Another added benefit is that since you probably get that Thursday and Friday off anyway, you only have to blow 3 vacation days for a whole week of not being at work and sipping mojitos on the beach. Moving Thanksgiving gives you 2 special days. One for traveling for family and one for traveling yourself. Even if you don’t take the big vacation there’s something fun about doing Thanksgiving on your own with a bunch of friends. No family hierarchies. No kiddie table. Probably a lot more wine than at the family Thanksgiving. This is a hard to do once you have a family of your own so get it while the gettin’s good.

Those of you who already walk this walk are going to scream and gnash your teeth that I’m letting the secret out. You will say that the beauty is that since everyone else is corraled into a single day like oh so many cattle you have a big benefit to picking an “off” day to celebrate. If I let the secret out and everyone is no longer corraled I’ve ruined it. I say pish tosh, people -are- cattle when it comes to holidays. We aren’t geniuses for figuring this out, we just have the courage to buck the system and walk our own road.

So I say, stop! Stop the tyranny of the calendar! Take those holiday markings as a directionally appropriate approximation of a day and not as a carved in stone by the lord thy god celebrate-today-or-die imperative. I say this because I know you probably won’t do it. If my message does let a few more people discover this joy though I would be a happy person.

31 days to be all (the blogger) you can be

by on 03/31/09 6:41 pm

Why do I let myself get talked into these things? That might be putting it strongly. It’s just that for years I’ve been seeing the 30 day challenge this and increase your traffic that and it just never seems like something I want to do. I mean, TV doesn’t watch itself, am I right? I was comfortable with that until today. All over the Internet, far and wide, on Twitter, on Facebook on Google Reader and more, the 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge was all anyone was talking about. Even my dear friend Hawkins was talking about it. Like many other silly things we’ve introduced and pushed each other into, why would this be any different?

toddh: god help me, I’m actually contemplating this 31 day challenge
Hawkins: just sign up already!
toddh: I’m doing it now. When I said ‘contemplating’ that was a bit of a stretch :-)
Hawkins: even if you don’t do any of the steps, save the emails and at some point the mood may strike you to take action on a couple of ’em.
toddh: Yeah, I’m going to actually attempt it. We’ll see how much I get through but I think it’s worthwhile and April is a good month because (he says naively) I don’t really have anything going on this month

Problogger is doing this whole thing where he’s giving people structured advice spaced out over 31 days. One 10-15 minute task a day about how to make your blog better. As evinced from the above conversation, I may not be going into this with the best attitude but I’m willing to give it a shot.

Dvorak, the lie told ’round the world

by on 03/24/09 8:22 pm

So here’s another of the interesting conversations I’ve had in with John. The background is this: John is left handed, uses a trackball (which sits on the left), types using the dvorak layout on a Kinesis keyboard.

aside: If you want to know what a Kinesis is like put a bunch of keyboard keys in two cereal bowls in front of you and imagine typing with your hands in these bowls. They are amazingly comfortable to type on once you get used to it and once you do it will completely ruin you for any other keyboard. I use one too (minus the dvorak insanity) and I think that they’re what typing in heaven must be like.

For years we’ve laughed at him because all of this together makes his computer completely useless for anyone else to sit at and attempt to use. It’s kind of like a weird security measure.

Another fun bit of background is that John is the kind of guy that picks up some toy or game of skill (ie: juggling, yo-yos, poker) and 10 minutes after you’ve taught him how to use it, he’s beating you at it. His wife said it best when I commented on this phenomena shortly after we had met “Oh, now you get to play the ‘John’s good at everything’ game too”. He wins at everything

On with the story…He hipped me to this big conspiracy recently about his beloved dvorak keyboard layout. That’s a good article but it’s really long. I’ll summarize it thusly: Dvorak was a big fat liar and duped people in a big way with falsified evidence of how great his keyboard layout was. After reading this article John says that he’s thinking of switching back to Qwerty. Learning to touch type sucks. Un-learning and then re-learning how to touch type in a totally different way is madness. I’m sure he’s going to document the process more fully. I just tell you all of that to show you the following conversation in context.

Hawkins: I was going to say you pick a date and a Words Per Minute count and I’ll see if I can reach that goal by the time that date comes around.
Hawkins: With lunch on the line or something like that.
Hawkins: Lunch is always such a great thing to wager.
toddh: I wonder how fast I can type now? I haven’t tested since I got the Kinesis but that was before I was as good as I am now
Hawkins: Yeah, me neither.
Hawkins: let’s both do this.
toddh: k

…8 minutes pass as we both type furiously…

Hawkins: 64 words per minute with 4 mistakes. holy crap, that’s way faster than I would have expected…
toddh: 70wpm with 4 mistakes.
toddh: boom, I win!!
toddh: I -never- win!
toddh: Holy crap, is this how you feel -all the time- ?!
Hawkins: LOL!!!!
Hawkins: I’m retaking the test. lol
Hawkins: wow, is this how -you- feel all the time?
toddh: LOFL
Hawkins: you are going to print and frame this conversation, aren’t you?
toddh: Yup

Maybe I’m not framing it but I’m doing the next best thing and putting it on the Internet for all to behold. I played a game against John Hawkins and I won.

Come…to the dark side

by on 03/10/09 9:24 pm

In September 2004 I was trapped in the Oakland airport and I came up with the idea for a blog. I say trapped because until the airplane shows up, ejects it’s passengers and leaves with you on it, is there any other way to describe it? I was also feeling vaguely trapped because it was a Sunday night after a Raiders game. To say I don’t like football is a vast understatement. To be surrounded by drunken Raiders fans after a losing game…is it any surprise I retreated inside my own head to pass the time?

The idea was simple. Take a picture of whatever I was doing, from my new cameraphone, every day at the exact same time, and post it to a blog. This wasn’t an original idea but my original take was that I would do it all from the phone. Take the picture, write the post, post to the Internet, all from the handset. There was no software at the time to do what I wanted to do. Luckily I had a laptop, knew how to program PHP and had a couple hours to kill. Thus was born.

The site looked like crap (most notably lacking a single image on the entire thing) but it had an efficient database design and did exactly what I wanted to. It was a fun diversion and I ended up liking two things about it way more than I thought I would. I loved to blog on a regular basis and I loved tinkering with the software.

Almost immediately after I started blogging WordPress 1.5 was released and I began to get pressure from my various blogging friends to make my blog a WordPress blog. There were other suggestions as well but give me a break. I didn’t like WordPress but the other options at the time were just putrid. You couldn’t post to WordPress at the time from email, anyway, and I didn’t really feel like porting my email posting code over to some new codebase. I also knew my email posting code was a filthy, dirty hack and I didn’t really want anyone besides myself to see it so writing a plug-in for WordPress was definitely out of the question. Over the years WordPress got steadily better but I secretly gloated at every new exploit and hack that showed up. My code might not have been perfect but since it had an installed base of 1 it was unlikely that anyone was going to systematically discover any exploits in it. My code worked, the site looked OK and any new functionality was a dirty, filthy hack away.

Then -he- changed everything.

My dear friend, John Hawkins, one of the people pressuring me to change, hosted WordCamp Las Vegas in January 2009. I went to be supportive and help out as necessary but I felt a little like an interloper, an outcast, unclean. For two days I sat and listened to talks about plug-ins and SEO and user experience and XMLRPC interfaces. The thought of having to replicate some of the fantastic functionality that already existed or was on its way for WordPress, frankly, unmanned me. There was no way I could compete with hundreds of contributors to WordPress around the globe. In my mind I had already started to plan the conversion. I hadn’t acted on it though and then he asks me for some help on a WordPress plug-in. Even though I’m not a user I’ve still helped him hack together a plug-in before but there was this moment in our chat…looking back here it was. The germ of an idea was obviously growing

toddh: I’ll also have to see what the state of the 606diaries-like functionality is. Maybe it’s all good now. Who knows
Hawkins: he he. that would be cool if you could move it over.

The nerve…

He totally slow played that.

What followed was a whole lot of conversation back and forth. Helpful advice here and there about what theme to use, what plug-ins to try. Next thing I knew I was spending hours porting over my existing design into the WordPress theme I had picked. It was frustrating to say the least. See for yourself

Hawkins: uh, those images are a bit tall.
toddh: I will stab you, don’t think I won’t
Hawkins: oh, on my screen they were showing up more than 1 full screen height tall.
Hawkins: the “I will stab you” comment is classic.
Hawkins: mainly cause I don’t think you are kidding…. at all.

And he’s right. Sometimes the entire conversion process just seemed like too much work. It didn’t matter though. Much like I loved the original hacking of my custom software I was solving new and interesting problems now with WordPress.

Hawkins: there will, eventually, be a point where you love me for making you switch to WP, right? right? hello?
toddh: …we’ll see
Hawkins: Just think of how much I have helped you learn…
toddh: forced to learn
Hawkins: helped/forced, tomato/ketchup
toddh: At times it was like being chained to a desk with my eyelids taped open, reading W3C documentation
toddh: Oh, that’s a shitty analogy because except for the tape THAT WAS ACTUALLY HAPPENING
Hawkins: Oh ya know what, I have a suggestion for ya…
Hawkins: don’t upgrade. you should leave 606 the way it is.
toddh: I hate you
Hawkins: Or, better yet… have you ever tried Movable Type?
Hawkins: Drupal?
toddh: I think Warren Ellis said it the best in a recent twitter message “get out of my fucking office or i will stab you right in the fucking gizzard STABBY STABBY FUCKING STABBY”
toddh: you can modify those words as necessary to fit our current situation 😀
Hawkins: I can’t tell you the level of enjoyment I have in our little conversations here.

Days of hacking later, it’s finally coming together

Hawkins: ok, here’s my suggestion… remove the >> from the recent comments on the right. Just leave a trailing … and have it link to the comments on the full post page. It’ll save you the trouble of the images breaking crap. And, it’s how I would expect it to work as a user, anyway.
toddh: LOL, easier said than done. I can’t find the damn >>
Hawkins: oh, and you still need to fix the color of the footer. Oh, and one other thing I was thinking…
toddh: Need I remind you “STABBY STABBY FUCKING STABBY”
Hawkins: have you tried searching for “raquo”
toddh: That I have not
Hawkins: the urge to stab should subside if I’m right. :)
Hawkins: right?
toddh: jesus christ it’s in this plugin 89 times
toddh: that’s not an exaggeration
Hawkins: you can NOT blame that on me!
toddh: and yes, I have less of an urge to stab you because now I know how to delete it
Hawkins: FTW!

The rest is history. My beloved 606 is converted and we embark upon a brave new world. Throughout the entire process I was also imagining this site as a secondary blog. Less a structured, single-purpose blog and more of a regular multi-purpose with longer posts, product/book/movie/restaurant reviews, rants and general bloggery. I knew the first post I was going to write too. Unfortunately I had made the mistake of mentioning this to Hawkins. Not content to merely drag me kicking and screaming into the WordPress world, with constant listening to threats of stabbing by me, he continues to poke the bear.

Hawkins: I am still waiting for your post on about the process of switching to WP on 606 and all the threats to stab me.
toddh: I know me too. Yet every day I wake up and it hasn’t magically written itself :-/
Hawkins: it too must be an asshole then.
toddh: that it is :-)

If he shows up stabbed and I’m implicated. This blog post is my record to the world. It will be totally justified and no jury would convict me with this as defenses exhibit A. Right?

ZendCon Recap

by on 11/05/07 11:11 pm

After thinking about it for a few days I’ve revised my opinion somewhat about ZendCon. I’m still vaguely disappointed but after getting some sleep I’m not -quite- as depressed about it. Some things were good, some things were not so good and some things were just bad.

Cal Evans The man is a machine. I can’t even begin to imagine how unbelievably complicated it must be to put something together like this. Zend may have a new CEO and there were great celebrity keynotes but Cal is the face of ZendCon, and we all know it.

KB Conferences They handled all the details invisibly. Done right you’ll never notice, done wrong it’s all you talk about. Thankfully they did everything right.

Keynotes I love a good keynote. For me a good keynote should be all about inspiration. Actual useful information is not a requirement. Last years “From Lancelot to Lovelace, and Beyond” by Robert Lefkowitz was a perfect example. Inspiring and visionary about something 500 years from now. Excellent closing keynote. I liken it to a really eye opening college lecture or talk where those dormant parts of your mind get activated and light up like a Christmas tree. It’s an amazing feeling when it happens.
Joel Spolsky and Cory Doctorow both had amazingly interesting keynotes at this years conference. Not fantastically useful but they definitely had me on the edge of my seat and listening.
The opening keynote, however, was pure marchitecture. Absolute classic business vapor for an hour and half. Zend is not unique in this respect. Big corporate keynotes I’ve seen almost always suck to one degree or another and this one was, unfortunately, no exception. All I wanted to do during the entire thing was leave and get to something else.

Zend Break-out sessions These were the only thing I didn’t like about the conference. Over half of the sessions ended up being thinly or not so thinly veiled commercials for Zend products. It’s their conference, they put the whole thing together and plastered their name everywhere, so why was it necessary for them to shamelessly whore out their products at every opportunity? It was awful. It was Zend Core, Platform and Studio again and again and again in an endless loop like some sort of a twisted “Groundhog Day” (the Bill Murray movie, not the actual holiday) It was an extension of the corporate opening keynote and every time I wasn’t paying attention I wandered into a new breakout session only to be disappointed.

Overall it was a fun conference and informative and interesting in so many ways. Given the chance, every PHP programmer should go and enjoy it and make your own decisions. At the very least, go for the parties, go for the mingling, the networking. So many of us work alone or in very small shops and we never get to experience what it’s like to be surrounded by so many people who actually get what we do on a daily basis. It is awe inspiring and electrifying and you can’t let a fly in the soup ruin a wonderful dinner…to completely mutilate a perfectly good analogy.

Now this is progress, thank you wordpress and technorati automation!

by on 10/12/07 3:54 pm

Imagine my surprise when I’m cruising technorati this morning and find a link to the post I typed up in the airport last night. After reading a jillion blogs this week I decided that I wanted to join the crowd and installed some wordpress and typed up a quick post which quickly categorized how I felt at the moment about ye olde ZendCon. Next thing I know I’m finding my words out and I wasn’t exactly ready. I left the checkbox to ping technorati et al. checked and next thing you know 200 people have seen my ennui. I -probably- should have understood more about wordpress before I installed it. This is a lot better than the old days of having to submit your articles around, I guess. I’ll have more ZendCon posts over the weekend in a slightly less negative light.

Zendcon ’07: extremely disappointing or merely disappointing?

by on 10/11/07 3:11 pm

So the Sellingsource crew is on our way back from most of a week of Zendcon and I have to say, last year was better. Not just a little bit better either. This was like 4 days of boredom, incomplete, beginner-level talks and commercials for Zend products. When I hear about some of the good talks that were rejected for the conference, it makes me want to cry. I’ll have to talk more about this later when I’ve had some rest and time to internalize my anger and disappointment.