Friday, November 25, 2011

UT/A&M Game

Well, Thanksgiving was good.  I went to Mom and Dad's house for Turkey Day dinner (which was very nice- thanks Mom and Dad!).
After dinner I went to College Station to attend the UT/A&M game with Reed and his brother-in-law, Brian.
It was an ugly game, but a surprisingly good one in terms being an entertaining contest.  Neither team played particularly well, but they both fought pretty hard.  UT's offense, once again, had some significant problems, and A&M made some tough mistakes (especially in the second half) that UT was really able to capitalize on.  It was a fun game.  I know that it's easier to say that as a UT fan when the Horns walked away with a last second victory at Kyle Field, but it was a powerful experience, I think, no matter how you look at it.  The fans at Kyle Field were extremely energetic and loud, and given the uncertainty about if and when this matchup will happen again (because of the A&M move to the SEC), there was a sense of something special happening before the game even started.
And I swear that even if Tucker had choked that last second field goal, I would have been very happy with that game because it just symbolized so many of the things that we've come to expect in a Texas-Texas A&M matchup:

Both teams have had sort of disappointing seasons, and both hoped to sort of relieve some of the pressure with their fan base by winning this crucial game.

The game was sort of ugly, and there were serious mistakes made by both sides, probably as a result of both nerves and the roar of the Aggie crowd during the game (A&M had turnover issues, but UT had a number of false starts, late hits, horse collars, and other damaging penalties).

The fans were way into the game.  The jumbotron at Kyle Field reported that there were something like 88,000 people in attendance (I think it was their second highest attendance ever), and they were extremely enthusiastic.  The student section cheers constantly- even through timeouts.  Whenever UT had the ball, especially in the second half, the crowd was deafening.

The rivalry was fierce, but there was a certain undercurrent of affection and poignancy, I think, as well.  The UT band spelled out a thank you message to A&M on the field during halftime, and the A&M band created the image of a longhorn- before promptly cutting the horns off of it.  The A&M fans who sat around us were friendly with us, and after the game one of them even came up to Brian and I urge us to encourage all of our UT friends to try to help keep the rivalry alive.

Thanks A&M!

The Aggie band tries- really tries- to be nice to the Horns in return

And it's just sort of impossible to imagine this rivalry coming to an end.  UT has other rivalries, for sure, but the UT/A&M game is definitely family affair.  Half of my high school went to A&M and half went to UT.  Many, many families in Texas (including Reed's) have one kid who went to one school and another kid who went to the other.  Lots of Longhorns are married to Aggies.  UT teases A&M a lot, and it seems like almost every yell, chant, or song that A&M uses contains some sort of shot at UT in it, but when the bonfire tragedy happened in 1999, UT students were one of the first groups outside of College Station to set up prayer vigils and look for ways to help out.  UT has other big rivalries, but I'm not sure I know three people who went to OU.

Anyway, I just think it would be a terrible shame if the fans got lost in the mix as big business college football (mostly meaning a bunch of politicians and bazillionaires) kill the rivalry with squabbles over television rights, conference memberships, ego, and money, money, money.  Yeah, I know you can't get away from the money issue, and I know it's probably naive to think that these people can rise above their own pettiness, but the flip side of the equation is this:  if the government were to outlaw college football and athletic scholarships tomorrow, if they made it so that college football couldn't be on TV, if they halted ticket sales, ended merchandising rights, and dismantled all of the athletic conferences... if all of these things happened tomorrow I still think that a couple of interested athletes from UT and a bunch of interested jocks from A&M would probably pick up a couple of footballs and go find themselves an empty field to play in so they could prove to one another who was best.  And I think the first set of interested fans would show up about ten minutes after that.
Maybe a dysfunctional family, but still a family

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!
It's been a good year, and I have a lot to be thankful for.

(Somehow we worked our way from this to parade floats on 7th Avenue and lots of good football)

Here's the short list of stuff I'm most thankful for in 2011:

I'm very thankful to have Amy in my life.  She's a smart, funny, beautiful, fun person, and she's made my life better in so many, many ways.  I'm extremely thankful to be sharing my life with her.  I love you, Amy.

I'm very thankful for my job this year.  There are a lot of people out there who are struggling and suffering painfully during our economic downturn, and I'm very thankful to have a job that I both find find satisfying and which pays the bills.  I've liked my job for quite a while now, but the current economy makes me appreciate it even more.

I'm thankful for my friends and family.  Another couple of friends of mine, Laura Bennett Hague and Debra Goodlett, passed away this year.  I was extremely saddened to lose each of them, but, as with all deaths, it reminded me not to take any of the relationships and friendships in my life for granted.  It's fun to buy stuff and gratifying to achieve professional or personal successes, but our relationships with the important people in our life ultimately make us happy or unhappy, I believe. 

I'm thankful for the people I make music with.  Yup, I said it.  I don't care if it makes me a wuss.  As I've gotten older I've realized more and more that the opportunities to do what you really enjoy can be rare, and those chances can be even more infrequent when it takes a group effort to pull them off.  As of this year, the guys in Mono Ensemble have been playing for about twenty years together, and I've been playing with them for about twelve.  I've been playing with Crack for at least six.  Every time I play with either one of these bands I walk away from the experience just feeling in a better mood.  Music does many things for me, but at its base it provides an emotional release, and when you can pull off a tune in a satisfying way with a group of other people it just makes you feel good.  So thanks to the guys in Crack and Mono E, mi hermanos and musical teammates.  I hope we all keep making music together until we're old and gray and even more ridiculous.

I'm also thankful for Cassidy, who helps remind me that true happiness can always be found in the simple things.

That's it for now, I guess.  I'm thankful for other stuff, too, for sure, but this is a good start, and I should probably wrap it up while I'm ahead.

I hope everyone has a good Thanksgiving!  No matter how you celebrate it, take a moment out to be thankful for the good things in your life!  Peace!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Update; Steanso Freaks Out About Mind Reading

Just a quick word to say hi.  The weekend was good.
Friday night I had Crack practice with Andy and Sig while Amy went out to look at art, drink wine, and otherwise hang out with her friends.  At Cracktice we drank cheap beer, made cheap art, and hung out with each other.
Saturday we ran some errands, worked out, and went out for a nice dinner.
Sunday was a trip to Red Bud with Cassidy, Amy studying/Jason reading, exercise, and Mono E practice.
A nice, quiet weekend before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Not too much else going on. 

Here's something I read recently.  I'm not sure how seriously to take it, although it sounds sort of intriguing and a little disturbing.  Paul Root Wolpe recently had a piece on CNN about advances in neuroscience which may soon make it possible for the government (or maybe any other organization with the proper equipment?) to employ brain imaging technology in a way that lets other people detect our thoughts.
I'm not exactly sure why, but I find this, on a visceral level, to be intensely creepy.
I can't say exactly why it bothers me so much.  Of course, on one level the mind immediately conjures a future where such devices could be used surreptitiously against a person.  In addition to obvious crime interrogation applications, one can imagine scenarios where clandestine technology is used for applications ranging from business negotiations, to the detection of honesty in a romantic partner, to parenting (wouldn't it be nice to just know whether your kids were being honest with you?).
Of course, in reality I'm guessing that the most immediate use of any sort of brain scan thought detection technology would involve fairly large machines and a more or less clinical, controlled environment.  I envision an interrogation facility where something like a CAT scan or MRI is used by law enforcement or military intelligence professionals to find out what a person is thinking or whether they're telling the truth.
This sort of secenario bothers me, also, but I'm not sure why.  After all, as a part of the war on terrorism the government has already admitted to engaging in "enhanced interrogation" techniques which, by many estimations, constitute a form of torture.  Can a brain scan be any worse?
Shouldn't I be more satisfied if our military can extract information from unwilling subjects without having to inflict serious pain or injury?
But for some reason I'm not.
I guess my hesitation occurs, of course, when I imagine the roles being flipped, and I imagine one of our own soldiers (or even myself) being subjected to an interrogation system in which ideas, feelings, or concepts are pulled from a person's head against their will.  Maybe even more than being forced to give up information, there's something disturbing about the idea that thoughts could be stolen from you.  It's something that's sort of horrifying to imagine in a military interrogation scenario (picture a POW's fellow soldiers being hunted down after their location has been extracted from his head), and perhaps even more disconcerting to picture in the less likely scenario in which a person might be clandestinely scanned (e.g., military or government personnel having tactical or security information stolen out of their heads without even knowing that they've given it up).
Another part of my unease undoubtedly is just a certain discombobulation that comes with the very idea that mind reading might be something that we have to deal with in the actual, foreseeable future.  How do you adjust your worldview to accommodate the notion that your thoughts may no longer be privately your own?  What does it mean to be an individual when your thoughts are no longer certain to be protected as separate and apart from the rest of the world?
If the ability to scan thoughts actually became available, viable, and widespread, I think it would have implications for our culture, our society, and our way of life that we really can't begin to predict.
Future shock- meaning the inability of the human mind to assimilate drastic changes brought about by rapid advancements in technology- is a phrase that might be appropriate to describe contemplation of widespread use of this technology (and without an abundance of hyperbole, I think).
Would the collective unconscious become a collective consciousness if brain scanning became widespread?  Would the technology be outlawed, tightly controlled, banned, and rarely used (maybe even taboo?) or would it become widespread and commonplace?  And if thought scanning became common and people became used to the idea that none of their thoughts could ever be truly private, how far would we be from a society with a sort of collective hive mind instead of being a human species comprised of billions of chaotic, unique, disruptive, imaginative individuals?
I know I'm overdoing it.
Like I said, future shock.

Anyway, the article got me thinking.

Hope everyone is doing okay!
Happy Thanksgiving week!

Friday, November 18, 2011

American Censorship Day

Okay, so I dropped the ball on this American Censorship Day post that I tried to make  a couple of days ago.  My blog was scheduled to automatically make a post on the 16th in order to make everyone aware of American Censorship Day, but somehow I messed it up (or, less plausibly, blogger might've screwed it up), and the post never appeared.  So I missed the official American Censorship Day.
But I feel like this day was meant to draw attention to an important issue, and I still think people should know about it.
The issue being addressed with American Censhorship Day deals with the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)that recently went before the House Judiciary Committee (on the 16th- the day I meant to make my post).  SOPA is nominally designed to protect intellectual property, but it's opponents say that the bill is overly broad, affects too many individuals who aren't engaged in any sort of intentional, profit-driven piracy, and implements penalties which may be far too harsh to fit the severity of any infringement.  The bill would place responsibility on social networking host companies to make sure that users of their sites are not posting materials that infringe upon copyrights.  The bill also makes unautohorized streaming of content a felony.
The bill apparently would give the government the power to require host providers to shut down web sites after an allegation that intellectual property rights have been violated.  The accused site would then have an opportunity to respond to the accusation, but it's not clear how long it would take to restore access to sites if there's been a misunderstanding and/or if no actual legal infringement has occurred.  Companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and AOL have joined forces to oppose this legislation.  Understandably, I think, they don't want to be held responsible for policing the content of their patrons.
I have some sympathy for the film and music companies who are undoubtedly losing revenue due to online piracy and streaming, but I think the bill has problems.  To being with, it works by threatening lawsuits against every host site that fails to block a user whom an allegation is made against.  Without some kind of due process occurring first, individuals with personal sites (sometimes which help them make a living) could be blocked even though the claims against them aren't valid.  Host sites are likely to be put in the position of having to be overly inclusive if a large number of claims pop up, because they won't want to risk all of the lawsuits that they'll otherwise incur.  The host sites may not be able to refuse to block sites even if allegations don't sound valid because the host would still potentially incur the cost of litigation (even if they're utlimately in the right).
Mostly, though, I just feel like this bill is a poor response to the way that the internet has organically developed.  I strongly suspect that this bill won't stop the people who are making real money off of piracy (who will find a way around the internet protocols or restrictions placed on host sites), and instead we'll end up with a bunch of sites that end up blocked because they used a piece of a song or a part of a video as part of some legitimate discussion. 
There needs to be balance, for sure.  People shouldn't be able to freely generate profit off of other people's work without reimbursing the creators for it (especially if the creator is losing marketshare in the process), but I'm just concerned that legitimate discussion about media will end up being stifled and that smaller sites and blogs that never really turn much profit at all will be impacted more than the true pirates (many of whom operate overseas) who are making money directly by stealing intellectual property.  Annnd, I guess at this point in my life I'm more worried about the censoring of internet content than I am about whether or not Hollywood is able to make enough money off whatever new CGI spectacular they're cranking out next.
That's it.
Any thoughts?

ALSO,  Amy made amazing gumbo last night!!  Amazing!!!

Monday, November 14, 2011


So it's been a pretty good week.  I already mentioned that Amy and I went to Paul Simon last Saturday.  On Wednesday night I went to dinner with Amy and Ryan and then we went to see Phantogram at the Mohawk.  I like Phantogram.  They have an interesting mix of synthesizers, loop tracks, live guitar, and now drums.  The show was pretty good, but the sound guy had the drums and bass up way too high in the mix.  I expect a lot of drums and low end from a band that leans toward the electronic, but I think that some of the distinguishing features of Phantogram as a band are the vocals by Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter, and, unfortunately, their vocals got drowned out quite a bit by the overwhelming pounding of the rhythm section.
Still, it was a good show, and it was fun to see Phantogram live.  I enjoyed them quite a bit (I've included photographic evidence documenting our enjoyment in case you're not convinced).
On Friday night we went to see the UT Jazz Orchestra at Bates Recital Hall.  Amy found out about the show, and it was a really good experience.  Much of the concert was made up of performances of student compositions (I think a number of the orchestra members are grad students), and the songs were really good.  Excellent musicianship, and some interesting tunes (Slush Pump Truck Stop springs to mind as one of the more creative pieces).

On Friday morning I stopped by the Veterans Day Parade and commemoration in front of the capitol.  It was a nice event.  I heard Lloyd Doggett speak, as well as several decorated veterans who had served in conflicts ranging from World War II up to Afghanistan and Iraq.  

Sunday we had Mono Ensemble practice, and Amy and I finished watching Season 1 of Treme, which we both enjoyed quite a bit.  Aside from that, the weekend involved some good meals (Amy one again made some delicious chilquiles on Friday), some errands, and a trip to the dog park.

So that's it!  Just wanted to say hi to everyone, mostly.  Last week was a pretty good week.  Between Paul Simon, Phantogram, The UT Jazz Orchestra, and Mono practice, it was a great week from a music standpoint.  For those who are interested, the UT Jazz Combos are going to be streaming their live performance tonight.  You can pick up the feed through this page.  

Veterans Court

Here's a piece that a coworker forwarded to me about the Veterans Court that I've been working in for the past year. We just had our one year anniversary on November 10th!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veterans Day!

Happy Veterans Day to to my dad and all of the other veterans out there.  The entire country owes them a debt of gratitude for their service.

(here's Amy's Great Uncle Herb with a small, unidentified kid who wants to be like Great Uncle Herb)

On a more personal note, we had our one year anniversary and first graduation from our Travis County Veterans Court yesterday.  It was a nice occasion, and I'm really happy for the veterans in our court who've been working hard as they progress through the program.
Hope everyone has a good day!

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Paul Simon

By the way, Amy and I went to see Paul Simon out at the Cedar Park Center on Saturday night.  It was a really good show.  Simon has been writing and performing great songs for a long, long time, and he's definitely earned his place in the pantheon of truly great American musicians. 
He played a good mix of old songs and new songs, and even threw in a few covers (including a cool version of "Here Comes the Sun").  It was a cool show, a nice evening, and we both really enjoyed it.  I've been thinking of this song ever since the show...

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Good Gig! Thanks!

Just a quick note to say that we had a really good time playing at the Carousel Lounge on Friday night. Thanks to everyone who came out to hear us play.  We hadn't played in a long time, and you guys really made it a cool experience!
We hope to do it again sometime, hopefully in the not terribly distant future.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Technology and Jobs

I caught an interesting story on NPR yesterday while I was driving in to work.  The topic was about the intersection between machines and human beings in terms of technological advancement and its impact upon the job market.
For a long time we've known that certain machines have been competing with human workers for jobs.  Typically, I think most people envision this in terms of factory automation, companies using robots or similar devices to help fasten bolts, weld components, or perform other relatively uncomplicated tasks on assembly lines (personally, when I've thought of technology stealing jobs, I've usually conjured up images of big robotic arms busily attaching parts to one another in car factories).
This NPR story talked about a conference held by economists and technologists at Harvard and M.I.T. recently called Race Against the Machine.  One thing that I found interesting about the story (and apparently, by extension, about the conference) was that part of the discussion dealt not simply with the fact that machines are still taking over human jobs, but that machines have begun to take over more and more jobs that require a higher skill set-  jobs that had traditionally been reserved for the middle class.
When automation first began to take over some human jobs it seemed like it was mostly taking over jobs that were monotonous, often involving physical exertion, and which were sometimes danger.  Robots were replacing human workers on the factory floor, and many blue collar jobs fell victim to machines.
With the advent of increasingly sophisticated computer programming, however, the new technological threat to human employment seems to come more from areas such as data compilation and/or straightforward application of logic- and many of these jobs tend to be white collar.
Bank tellers, actuaries, accountants, ticket agents, and even lawyers (especially those previously engaged in document review and other high volume tasks) are being replaced in droves by computers as one employee with a decent machine and the right software achieves results that once required dozens of people.  (the NPR story says that for attorneys engaged in document review, it now may sometimes be possible for one attorney to complete the work that formerly would have required 500 attorneys)
recent article by Rana Foroohar in Time Magazine about the decline of upward mobility in the United States similarly pointed to technology as a thief of middle class jobs.  It's not that computers and robots steal all jobs, Foroohar pointed out.  Sales clerks, janitors, and maintenance people are needed on one end of the spectrum in order to perform relatively low skill level jobs in order to maintain the machines and put a human face on certain tasks, and on the other end of the spectrum, higher level, strategic decision makers and executives have been relatively unscathed by increased implementation of technology.  The middle class, however, has been squeezed pretty hard by the use of machines and robots in many cases.  In an economy where American workers are already struggling to compete with outsourcing and cheap foreign labor, job losses due to technological utilization can feel that much more devastating.

I'm not exactly sure where the solution lies.  That same Foroohar article from Time pointed out that some of the European nations which seem to be faring pretty well during the global economic downturn are nations who have placed significant emphasis upon higher education in order to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technological innovation and development.  With an investment in education (especially math, computer science, engineering, chemistry, and other sciences), some of the European nations have managed to avoid both the outsourcing of jobs (it's much more difficult to outsource jobs that are on the cutting edge of technological development) and job loss due to technology (if the jobs are things that are right ion the cutting edge of what's being developed, machines won't have been developed yet that can replace them).  Essentially, if you can maintain a workforce that remains on the forefront of development and innovation, then those workers will consistently remain in demand for businesses that are creating new technologies.
And that's where we want to be.  We want our citizens to be building new machines.  Technology can and does create jobs, but your workers have to be at a skill level that allows them to help develop processes, components, etc. for these new machines.  The theory is that if your population can stay one step ahead of the curve, then the advances in technology can drive your economy as you work to build new and better machines instead of primarily taking away jobs and leaving people unemployed.
So that's the good news.  People are holding up investment in and emphasis upon education as a potential solution to this whole jobs/technology dilemma.
Buut... I'm not entirely sold on this line of reasoning.  To me, it still feels like we're just not going to need as many innovators, designers, strategists, etc. (no matter how well educated they are) to compensate for the relatively vast number of people who are losing jobs to computers and machines.  Annnnd (and I'm not sure how to put this delicately enough) there may be issues with trying to fix an employment gap by simply stating that we'll educate our way out of it.  Science, math, computer science, engineering, etc. are some pretty difficult disciplines to master, and can we really count on the fact that we can simply school the middle section of our workforce into being highly skilled in some extremely difficult subject areas?  We might be able to pull this off, but we're not going to pull it off by simply emphasizing different things in college.  Our students have to be better prepared in the first place to study more difficult topics when they get to college.  For such a plan to work, we need to educate our system from the elementary education level on up so that we can compete with countries who have long had wealthier, more homogenous populations and a stronger cultural emphasis on education.

I don't like to write a post that  worries about something without sounding hopeful about some kind of viable solution, but the whole middle class American jobs topic is tough.  Greater education is certainly a big part of the solution, but if we're going to rely on education to keep us ahead of the curve, then we need to get really serious about educating our students in a manner that makes them significantly more competitive on an international scale, and we need to be willing to make the financial investments and sacrifices that are necessary to reform our schools in a meaningful way.  Most of all, maybe, we need to really work at changing the way that Americans, in general, look at education.  We can't keep just looking at schools as baby sitters and free day care, and we need to have high expectations for our teachers and administrators while simultaneously giving them all of the support that they need to improve the learning process.
Nothing new in my pitch for an emphasis on education, I guess, except maybe to say that it might be the only thing that can save a lot of jobs from skilled foreign workers and machines.  I really think we need nothing short of a cultural shift in terms of our approach to education if American is going to remain one of the most dominant economies in the world.  In order to protect the economic standing of the American middle class I think we need PR campaigns and a renewed social awareness about the importance of education that's every bit as strong or stronger than the push for environmentalism and green energy has been in recent years.

I guess that's it.  Support your schools.  Support your teachers.  Don't be afraid to expect more out of the education system, and make sure kids understand why education's important for their own futures and the future of their whole community.

I'm done.  I'm done.
Stay ahead of the robots.


Friday, November 04, 2011

Mono Ensemble Tonight!

Come on out to the Carousel Lounge tonight at 9:00 to see my band, Mono Ensemble, in all of our musical glory!  We want to see you out there!  We really do! 

Mono Ensemble is supposed to play from about 9:00 until 10:30, and then our friends in Venus Fixer will play from 10:30 until midnight!  Come out just to hear Mono, or stay for the full shebang!  You've got a DVR.  You're not going to miss any of your shows...

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Dia de los Muertos

 (this is Muchacho the sugar skull.  Amy made him, but he is a friend to us all!)

Amy and I went to our first ever Dia de los Muertos party this weekend, hosted by our friends Mike and Meg, and their son, Finn.  Although I remember community events celebrating Dia de los Muertos, mostly from my time in San Antonio, this was the first time I'd been to a Dia de los Muertos party, and it was a really nice gathering.  For those who aren't familiar with it, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrates family, friends, and loved ones who have passed away.  The invitees were asked to bring a food or drink that was a favorite of a loved one who has passed, and a picture of a deceased loved one or a small favorite item for placement on a decorated "altar".  The food was labeled with cards which explained:  "This is (fill in the food).  He/she loved (the person's name)!"  The pictures on the altar weren't labeled, but people actually really did gather around the altar to look at the pictures and to explain to each other who the people in the pictures were.  There were some really good pictures, some items that reminded people of loved ones, and a few small crosses and candles.  I heard a few good stories related to the pictures, and people clearly enjoy the opportunity to tell stories about people who have passed.
Also, in keeping with Dia de los Muertos tradition, there were sugar skulls that the kids and adults decorated, and, in general, the party had lots of bright colors and decorations.
I've known about Dia de los Muertos for a while, but somehow it all made a little more sense after the party.  For most Americans, I think it seems a little strange to have happy, positive feelings about skulls, skeletons, and thoughts of dead loved ones, but Dia de los Muertos is, at it's root, about remembering and honoring people that have been important to us and recognizing the fact that death doesn't truly remove them from our lives.
Anyway, there were lots of small kids roaming (i.e., racing) about at this party, and it made me happy to think that these kids will hopefully have some memories of celebrating a holiday that honors family members and loved ones who have passed.  It kind of formalizes remembrance in a celebratory way, and it just seems like a really positive, cool thing.
And the food was great, too!
Thanks so much to Meg, Mike, and Finn!  It was great a great party, filled with fun, warm people!