Good Night and Sleep Well

I have been struggling to fit all the things that I want to do into my schedule. I keep coming up short. I have stubbornly refused to accept that I might need to drop something, if only temporarily.

I currently write a thousand words in the morning. That takes between forty minutes and an hour depending on how focused I am and what distractions I succumb to.

In the evening, I write a blog post. That is less of a marathon and more of a creative challenge. By that I mean that I’m not out to write a certain number of words so much as I am to communicate a complete idea. I want to tell my readers a story that I found worth repeating. That presupposes that I have a story to tell.

In all humbleness, I do have stories to tell. I just have trouble listening to the inner voice that tells them to me when I put myself under pressure to produce on a schedule. I don’t want to get out of the habit of writing but I’ve got to start getting more sleep. If that means admitting defeat sometimes and not writing a blog post every night, then I guess that’s what I may have to do.

I may find that when I give myself a break and quit pressing myself to post daily, I’ll find that it comes easier. I may end up posting every day anyway. I just want to say that I appreciate the attention that my readers have given me. I hope to continue to have stories to tell that captures their interest.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Early Musical Experiences

I grew up in a family that enjoyed music. My mother played piano. My dad played trumpet until he finally decided to stick to directing plays instead of playing an instrument. He did direct a number of musicals in his career. I guess that is where I learned to like musical theater.

But by the time I was a teenager it was the late sixties. It was the time of rock and roll music. I remember listening to Steppenwolf, Santana, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Jefferson Airplane, Three Dog Night, Chicago, all the rock super groups of that time. I loved the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I loved Simon and Garfinkle. I shouldn’t use the past tense, I still do.

My dad wanted to encourage me to study classical guitar so he bought me a classical guitar. The only concession to my rock and roll aspirations was that it had a pick up in it so I could run it through an amplifier. The only problem was that the ceramic pickups that they put in classical guitars at that time were subject to generating horrendous feedback if you turned them up at all. I was not well pleased.

Finally, he gave in and bought me a proper electric guitar. It was a Les Paul Junior, a guitar that has sense become a classic. Even though mine is in dire need of refurbishing it is still worth a good bit of money now. At the time it was just the thing I wanted. All of a sudden, I could actually play all of the rock songs that just didn’t pan out on a classical guitar.

My dad taught at the high school I attended my junior and senior year. I rode to school with him in the morning which meant that most mornings we got to school a full hour before classes started. There was a piano at the front of the auditorium where students were allowed to wait inside until school started. I got in the habit of playing the piano every morning while I waited for school to start.

It was simple chords in the left hand, bass line in the right style piano, the kind that many of the rock bands of the era featured. I even composed my own piano music.

When I was a junior, the spring play was a farce entitled Big Rock at Candy’s Mountain. It was a take off on the whole Woodstock musical festival idea with the plot structure being basically a romantic comedy. We had a small high school so we couldn’t dig up three bands so we used the same band to represent the different bands with each of the members of the band taking turns playing the leader of each of the different bands.

The kids loved it and I was hooked on playing for an audience. When I graduated from high school, one of my father’s former students offered me a job as a gunfighter and guitar player in a western theme park. I did that for three summers in a row and had a blast doing it. I miss those days a lot.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

In Which, I Finally Find a Topic Upon Which to Expound

It’s been a long night tonight. This is the fourth blog post that I’ve started so far. There are some things that are just too private or too controversial to write about in this venue. My aim with this blog is to entertain and perhaps to educate. It is not to preach my personal beliefs, be they philosophical or political.

Given the dominance of political topics in the news, it is hard to think about anything else. I have racked my brain for something else to write about. When you take sports (I don’t know anything about sports), religion, and politics off the table, there isn’t much left.

I’m passionate about music and computer science. I’m passionate about space exploration and writing fiction. With the possible exception of music, I’ve written a lot about the other three topics in this blog. I need to broaden my purview.

I’ve been a string man most of my life. After a brief encounter with the Tonette, a recorder like instrument that was used to teach us the rudiments of music in the third grade, I spent the bulk of my time learning to play violin, teaching myself to play guitar, and later in life, learning to play electric and standup bass, mandolin, and Celtic harp.

There was another brief flirtation with the trombone my freshman and sophomore years in high school, but other than that, I’ve played strings.

I played classical music when I was learning the violin. The I returned to the instrument in recent years it was to learn to play Irish and Scottish music and the instrument was rebranded a fiddle. It was also around this time that I started playing the mandolin.

For those that aren’t intimately familiar with the mandolin, it is kind of like a violin with frets. It also sports doubled strings so, instead of four strings, it sports eight. They are tuned in pairs though. The bottom two strings are tuned to G, the next pair are tuned to D, the third pair are tuned to A, and the highest pair are tuned to E.

This makes it easier for me to take what I know about the violin and transfer it to the mandolin. The strings are plucked instead of bowed but I have spent the better part of fifty years plucking the strings of a guitar so it is second nature.

The thing I like most about the mandolin is its portability. Guitars and harps are big instruments. Violins are messy by virtue of the rosin on the bow. Mandolins are a perfect size to sit and pick on the couch while having a conversation. I can imagine that is part of why they are so popular in music that was born on the front porches of mountain homesteads.

I like electric stringed instruments as well, not to mention keyboards. I consider keyboards stringed instruments even when they are electronic because they were inspired by the piano. I taught myself just enough keyboards to be able to play accompaniment on one if there isn’t a guitar or mandolin available.

I have focused on instruments tonight. That doesn’t say a whole lot about the styles of music that I like. Truth be told, there are only a very few kinds of music that I’m not terribly fond of. I will save that topic for another night.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Attention Economy

The internet has changed the formula for mounting a crusade. Before the internet if you had a cause that you wanted to advocate you first refined your message. You practiced your pitch until you perfected it. You practiced it by speaking to anyone who would listen. You spoke to them individually. You spoke to small groups. You spoke to groups as big as you could muster.

As you started getting your message down pat, you’d start gathering an organization that would help you to get the message out. They’d help you organize and plan. They’d book you on speaking tours to give your pitch to as many people as possible. It took a significant commitment and investment in time and effort.

Now you make comments off the cuff. You post 140 character sound bites on twitter. You don’t need a large organization. You don’t even particularly need any large commitment in time or energy. You can tweet anywhere while you’re doing anything.

What’s more, you don’t even need to attract followers who agree with you.  The only necessary thing is attention. If you can capture and hold people’s attention you can influence them in ways they will neither be aware of or perhaps even approve of. And it’s all because of the instant, inexpensive communication that the internet provides.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out how this relates to economic matters. But let me be clear, you should be scared. You should be very scared

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Change is Good

I want to encourage anyone that sees my blog posts on Facebook to click through and read them in their entirety and to comment on them. I write my blog to learn how to write things that other people might want to read. It is hard to learn how to do that without feedback.

I have made a lot of new friends since the first of the year (hi Larry :-)). And, I have renewed some old friendships. I am glad to have met these people. I was beginning to feel like I was in a social vacuum. I have always found NASA to be a very socially vibrant work environment. They strive hard to forge a community. They succeed for the most part.

I attended a Maestro User’s Group meeting this week. Maestro is part of the software suite that is written to control the Artemis hardware in the loop simulation system. It is ground breaking software. I am excited to get to use it. But beyond that, I am excited to be a member of a community that uses a piece of software and cares enough about it to periodically meet and talk about it.

I guess that establishes my bona fides as a true software (and space) geek. I remember when I was a teenager me and my friends were determined to build our own space ship and go to space. We never got very far on our private space program but I did end up working on the SLS program to build the next generation rocket that will take us on deep space missions further than mankind has traveled from the Earth before. I guess in that sense I am realizing my childhood dream.

This won’t be the first time that I’ve worked intimately with the space program but it is one of the most direct contributions that I’ve made. It gives you a sense of grave responsibility and pride to work on testing a launch vehicle that will be man-rated.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Purposes of Computer Programming Languages

Computer programming can be viewed on many levels. Superficially it is a means for specifying how a computer should perform a given task. If that were all it was, we could must enter a long sequence of numbers that correspond to the machine instructions to accomplish the task.

Modern computer languages go much further. They provide platforms for communicating, not only the specific tasks to accomplish but our assumptions about them, the structure of the data that they will manipulate, and the algorithms that will accomplish them.

But even beyond that, they provide a common language for people to talk to each other about programming tasks. As such, they evolve with the growth of our understanding of the activity of programming, its attributes, and the algorithms that are the final product of the activity.

To summarize, we write programs to enable the automated solution of computational problems by computers but also to communicate with each other about these computational processes. In the interest of clarity of communication, we have seen the trend of programming languages toward higher and higher levels of abstraction with an ever increasing investment in compiler technologies that translate these abstractions into efficient executables that provide the computer tasks that we set out to specify in the first place. It is ultimately this communication that offers their greatest benefit.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Red Letter Day

I finally got the information off of the hard drive that was in my iMac that died several years ago. I thought that it was gone but I have it back now, or most of it anyway. I suspect that there may be a few corrupted files on it but that is okay. I thought I had lost all of the information on it.

I will be making frequent backups of my data from here on out. The feeling of relief is incredible. I am going to be looking through it to see what all I recovered. The most important of the things that I recovered is the files that contain my father’s writing. I have lost so much of his legacy it is good that I didn’t lose them as well.

It makes me think again about my digital legacy. How am I going to make sure that what I write survives me after I’m gone. The short answer is that I can’t be absolutely certain but I can make arrangements. It really boils down to finding someone who survives you who cares enough to enforce your wishes.

I don’t even really know why it matters to me but it does. Perhaps it is the idea that having your ideas survive after you are gone is the only immortality you may ever have. In any case, I’m finishing the day happier than I started it.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.