Music Monday: Drew OfThe Drew

Every year I create a new playlist in Spotify and spend the rest of the year adding all of the new songs that I liked that year to the playlist.  I do this for a few reasons; partly so I can blog about the music that I like, but mostly it’s just so that I can collect all of my favorite songs of the year in one place, so it’s easy to listen to my favorites.

It started out in 2013 when I realized that my musical tastes change quite dramatically over time, and I like a huge variety of music.  So I’ve got 4 years worth of playlists that I keep and when I go back through them it never ceases to amaze me not only how diverse my musical tastes can be, but also how frequently my tastes change.  My 2013 playlist has Kimbra right alongside Brad Mehldau, Esperanza Spalding with Radiohead, and Billy Joel with The Bad Plus.  Skip to 2016 and I’ve got D’Angelo alongside Snarky Puppy, MuteMath and Marisa Monte, Tim McGraw and Oz Noy, all happily coexisting on the same playlist. This probably isn’t what everyone would want, but  it’s pretty fun and interesting to put these playlists in random and see what comes up next.  Sometimes I’ll be listening to Thrice (their latest album is pretty cool), and sometimes I’ll be listening to Hiromi, Prince, or Janek Gwizdala.

So with that lead-in I wanted to talk about one artist that recently got added to my 2016 playlist that I’ve really enjoyed, Drew OfThe Drew.

Their music has an undeniable groove factor, while also having strange, genre-melding arrangements that really strike my fancy.  I also like it because the band leader, Drew, is a bassist, composer, and all-around just seems like a nice dude (although his choice of wardrobe is a little odd, but I suppose that works with his music).  Drew has a way of putting punk rock, funk, Reggae, and dub step all into one song and still make it work really well.  And what makes it even better, his rock-star band makes all of this with a somewhat regular instrumentation of bass, guitar, vocals, and two drummers.  Why two drummers?  No clue, but I like it.  It’s cool.

Here’s a sample, one of the songs that I have enjoyed the most, “My Fire”.  It’s got at least 3 genres in this song alone.  It’s pretty groovin’.

This one is also a favorite of mine.  It’s a lot more straight-ahead than the others in their repertoire, not as much genre-blending, but I still really like it.  Something about that opening guitar groove just gets me every time.  And then there’s the addition of the banjo . . . the banjo?  Yeah, it definitely adds an unique factor to the song.

Take a listen, enjoy, they’ve got a few more songs that I really enjoy.  And while you’re at it, check out my 2016 playlist for more favorites.

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What is Perfection?

What is perfection? And how can heaven be perfect?  

Perfection is a subjective idea. One person’s “perfect” is another person’s “ok”. In order for something to be perfect it would be necessary for it to appeal in the most ideal way to everyone . . . In the universe. For a place to be perfect it would have to make everyone happy, appeal to their personal desires, fulfill their goals, make them feel awesome all the time.  

But different people have different needs, so this place would need to fulfill all of your needs, and be able to fulfill all of your personal, spiritual, social, physical, and intellectual needs.  

How can something so . . . Perfect, be possible? 

There is nothing on this earth for us to pattern such a place after. There is no place that is universally appealing to all, and completely wonderful to all. No matter what kind of job you work, no matter how fulfilling it is to you, it will feel like a prison to someone else. No matter how intriguing a subject is at school it will feel like drudgery to someone else.  

How can God create a plan, and a place that fulfills everyone’s needs separately?  With what method can God create something that will be equally appealing to all people, regardless of their individual needs or desires? 

Perhaps that’s why families are central to God’s plan. Families are made by us. We pick our spouses, we raise our children, we make and design our own destiny with our family. In no other institution (outside of our own personal destiny) do we have more control, and complete responsibility over the happiness of one another. 

In school we are somewhat limited by teachers, classmates, and by administrations. In work we are limited in choices by bosses and beauracracy. Same with government. Even in church we have limited control over how things work. In all of those institutions we are still only in control of ourselves, our choices are limited by the institution, and we only have limited influence over how the organization works and changes. But in our families it is our responsibility, and our choice to create a happy home.  While we cannot make choices for other people, even within our family; we, as a family, can jointly choose to create a heaven on earth.   

So if, in heaven, we receive mansions for our families, we can continue to culture and create an atmosphere that is appealing to each family. We can influence those around us in similar ways that we do now, but our main focus is now, and will continue to be there, building a family where happiness reigns and all are taken care of, loved, and happy.  

So, I suppose that family life on earth is simply the training grounds for heavenly life in the world to come. I can’t imagine any other way for God to make heaven perfect, than by making it so that heaven is made up of families. Families that we have spent our whole lives building and crafting into our own, special, unique slice of perfection.  

So my thought for today is, more and more I’m starting to believe that family can be a heaven on earth, and heaven cannot be heaven without family.

Basic Leader

In the National Guard it’s required that you go to a leadership camp called Basic Leader Course (BLC) to get promoted to Sergeant (SGT).  Well, I’ve been in the National Guard for 6 years and finally my day to get promoted came up, and so did my day to go back to some kind of basic training.

Basic training (boot camp) is not a pleasant experience for anyone.  It’s 10 weeks of mind games, yelling, strict discipline, lots of rules (and rules that change depending on which drill sergeant is around), and lots and lots of profanity.

Luckily BLC hasn’t been like basic training (minus the profanity, still plenty of that to go around).  We’re all leaders, or supposed to be learning how to be leaders.  People are more mature here.  They’ve had some time in the Army to get used to the way things are.  They’ve lived life a little bit.  In Basic Training for ever smart, reasonable person there were 20 unreasonable, immature people.  And you spend 24 hours a day with them, 7 days a week for 10 week.   BLC, I lucked out and got put with a group that seems a lot more mature.

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There’s a common understanding among all intelligent members of the military: that when you’re in uniform you play the game and act “army”.  When your superiors aren’t around you act like yourself.  You need to know when to turn “army mode” on and off again.  You need to know when to speak up, and when to keep your mouth shut.  The military is the only place I know of where leaders have the ability to make you do pushups for mistakes, and possibly take legal action against you for defying an order.  In the civilian world, they can’t make you do anything, the ultimate form of punishment in the civilian workplace is firing someone, and they need a good reason to do that.  In the military any lawful order needs to be obeyed, or you can be disciplined with all kinds of punishments.

You see, the military struggles with leadership.  It has amazing leaders, don’t get me wrong, but it also has an equal number of totally incompetent ones too.  And there’s a reason for that.  When you join the Army, usually you start out at a low rank, and then you work your way up in rank by “playing the game”.  You need no special proficiencies other than the ability to do the bare minimum and wait.  Promotions are not based on ability, proficiency, or talent.  They are not based on leadership potential, or even on the recommendation of other leaders.  Promotions are based on time in service (amount of time in the military), and ability to pass minimum standards of yearly physical training (PT) and weapons qualification.  So long as you don’t get in trouble, and pass your PT  you’ll get promoted eventually.

And thus it is with the military.  The good and the bad get promoted equally.  So you get good leaders who treat their subordinates not like subordinates but like equals, and then you get the others who use their rank to elevate themselves and abuse their “power”, knowing that if a subordinate disobeys a lawful order they can punish them.

And so, we all come to BLC to learn how to lead the Army way.  And from what I can tell, the way that the Army would like soldiers to lead, is not actually how many of them lead.

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In our classes we’ve learned about ethics, preventing sexual harassment and assault, treating others fairly, getting regular feedback from subordinates on how we can improve training, doing things the right way, accepting diversity, being a friend and mentor to soldiers, making sure that soldiers get the help that they need so that we don’t lose any more soldiers to suicide.

The main message that I’ve been getting is that the Army expects leaders to consider themselves leaders among equals, not superior officers who’s primary goal is to command and be obeyed.  I’m not even sure I really like the term “subordinate” to refer to people that I may someday lead.  It makes them seem inferior, which they are not.  After all, the private that you lead today may someday be the officer who leads you.

There are a lot of things that need to change in this world of ours, and this military.  But after spending these past few weeks at BLC I’m starting to think that after some time the rampant culture of abuse and incompetence will be changing.  It will change slowly, as most things in the military do, but it will change.  And if leaders apply what they learned at BLC I feel like the change will be positive.  I’m also confident that the soldiers in my group will be good leaders for whatever time they decide to serve.

The San Rafael

Recently we took a short trip to the San Rafael swell.  For some reason people pronounce that “San Ruh-fell”, still trying to figure that one out.  

Beyond the strange pronunciation this place is an awesome place to visit.  The road going through the swell is an easy ride, pretty much any car could make it on the nicely packed road, and the spot where we camped was some of the most scenic camping I’ve done.  It was a fantastic trip for my maiden photography voyage.  

I feel like I got some good images out of the trip.  I made quite a few rookie blunders (accidentally leaving the ISO at 800 during the day . . . woops, had a lot of exposure fixing to do in post), but I feel like it was a good experience overall.  

There was one part of my trip that I didn’t really manage to capture with pictures, but that I truly enjoyed, was star gazing. It was easy to see a vast array of stars, and with a longer exposure even catch some of the Milky Way.  I had some real issues figuring out if my focus was right, so as it turned out none of my star photos really turned out how I wanted.  But I’ve posted some of my photos below that I felt turned out well.  

My sister-in-law walking through the majestic red rock mountains.  That pose is kind of her “walking about” pose.  

This was a view I caught during one of our longer rides through the mountain ranges.  

My son in an abandoned car outside of an old uranium mine.  


I thought this picture really expressed the personality of my father-in-law.  He is a hard-core hiker and outdoorsman, and this picture just seemed to typify his sense of adventure and desire to explore every location in Utah before he dies.  

Inifite Possibilities 

Some food for thought for today. 
Infinite Possibilities 
We live in a world of infinite possibilities, yet our lives are all destined for the same inevitability.  

The final destination is decided, it is an eventuality for all.  

If the end is immutable and set, then it is not the end but the journey that counts. To finish is inevitable and requires no effort on our part.  To finish is not the challenge, but to finish well.  

It is not whether we end that matters, but who we are when we end that makes the difference. 

Mother’s Day Pictures

As a recent inductee into the world of DSLR photography, this was probably my first real attempt at portraiture.  My wife wanted some pictures of her with the rose she got at church for mother’s day.  The kids were napping, so it was probably one of the only times that we would be able to do a photo shoot without snot-nosed kids (literally snot coming out of the nose at all times) crawling all over us.

So, after taking a fairly large number of pictures we picked the top 4 of the day, which I’m sharing here.

Hope you like, happy mother’s day to the mother of my children, who is the most amazing wife and mother I could ask for!  And as you can clearly see, she is quite a hotty, if I don’t say so myself.

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Such beautiful blue eyes!  And I love that red hair. 

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I thought that they turned out well.  All were shot with a Nikon D3300 in available light.  Had to do some light editing to bring back the natural color of her hair and accentuate the blue in her eyes.

All in all, it was nice to finally take pictures of someone who holds still enough so that I can find the best angles and experiment, my kids aren’t this cooperative.

Photography – A New Adventure

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I’ve always had an interest in photography.  To see something interesting in the world and take an engaging picture of it.  I find that I just tend to want to see the world from a different perspective, and the way that helps me to do that is to take pictures of it from different, unique angles.

A nice camera has been on my wish list for years.  My wife and I have been talking about getting a DSLR camera since we first got married 6 years ago.  But we’ve always had other things on our wish list that took priority . . . until this year!

And so, finally, I have acquired a DSLR camera.

I got a Nikon D3300 with a basic kit zoom lens.  It’s an 18-55mm lens with a max aperture of 3.5 at 18mm.  So not super fast, and with the crop factor on the D3300 not super wide angle, but so far it’s been a great starter lens.  I also got it in a package deal on Amazon with a memory card and a case, so I’m all set for now.  Just need to look into some other lenses and a tripod and I should be good for most of my photographic needs for some time.

This isn’t really a new hobby for me.  I’ve always liked photography, but have felt a little held back by cell phone cameras, as good as they are.  They’re awesome point-and-shoot cameras, but I kept on wanting more exposure control, more telephoto power, more lens choices.  I realized a while ago that I look at a scene and I get an image in my mind of what I think would make a great picture, but my cell phone camera just wasn’t giving me the picture that I was envisioning.  I was always battling exposure problems, or feeling awkward because I would need to get very close to my subject to get the picture that I wanted and it just wasn’t going to be practical for me to do that.

So far I have been able to get much better photos without changing anything about the way I that I was photographing before, and I’ve even been able to start playing with controls that I would have never had before.  It’s opened up some challenges, but I’m game for a challenge.

Mostly I’ve taken a bunch of pictures of my kids, they are a never ending fountain of interesting pictures.  But I’ve also managed to take my camera outside a bit and shoot some different subjects besides my kids.

I wanted to show a little bit of what I’ve been working on with my photography just because I’m excited to be learning a new skill.

The Car Saga

Volume II 

I’m not good with cars. Cars have only one purpose in my mind: to get me from A to B in safety and relative comfort. I don’t buy a car thinking, “Man, think of all the cools things I can do with this car!”. I’m more of the kind of guy that buys a car thinking, “Hmm . . . how much money will this cost me to maintain?”.  

Apparently, because I am a man, I’m supposed to enjoy talking about and working on cars. I’m supposed to casually mention the size of my engine while leaning luxuriously on the hood of my vehicle. I’m supposed to brag about the scars that I have attained while “dropping the tranny, or “putting in a sick, new fuel injection” contraption. It seems to be an expectation that I spend more time lying on the ground underneath my car than sitting in it.  

Sorry to disappoint you manly men of the mechanical breed, but we probably won’t have anything to talk about. 

When I think about “mods” that I can do to my car I think of Bluetooth receivers so that I don’t have to listen to the radio. I think of a nice air freshner, or perhaps some expensive tires.  

When I have to do any repairs to any one of my vehicles, I’m always crunching numbers to see if the convenience of having someone else fix it for me outweighs the ridiculously high cost of mechanic labor.  

In the case of my most recent vehicular acquisition, I was told I needed to replace a few parts for the steering. Some ball joints, and two arms; one of which goes by the name of “Pitman”. I got my brother to agree to help me fix them, he likes fixing cars after all. So I bought the parts and took my new car to my parents so that we could fix my car together. A little brother bonding time, I guess. 

3 hours into it we hadn’t removed a single part that I was supposed to be replacing. Apparently this was expected. . . . SMH

Another curve ball was finding that Chevrolet presses their ball joints on there with a permanent press system, so I was literally whacking my new car with a chisel and hammer to get the dang things off. . . . They did not come off.  

Also, I have been told that the auto parts store gave me the wrong part; so instead of having one of those arms that isn’t called Pitman, I’ve got some steering thingy that I need to take back. And also one additional curve ball I wasn’t expecting, apparently, to remove said arm of the Pitman variety I need to remove the steering control box (or something similarly named).  

No matter what you call it, it sounds important, and my car-tarded mind automitically thinks “Well, that sounds important, I should probably just leave that in there”. But I can’t because I can’t put the tires back on until I get those ball joints off, which are currently half-drilled, half-whacked to bits, but still firmly attached to the whatever-it’s-called that they’re attached to. Probably another “arm” of some sort.  

Gee-crime-a-nilly! I’d rather just take public transit (if that was any good in Utah) than deal with this mess!  

Please, somebody say something that makes sense to me, like API, or CRM. Someone talk about processors or predictive models; or pentatonic scales and the difference between equal temperment and mean tuning.  

I just want to be done with Mr. Pitman for the time being. Instead of crawling under my Chevy, I would really like to just crawl back into my nerd-den. . . . 

I’ll be back when I’ve recovered from my car-tastrophe. . . .   That could be a while. 

Someone say a prayer for me and my hopelessly car-averse brain. Ima need all the help I can get. 

Cloudy With a 100% Chance of Food Puns

(This is an older blog post that I’m migrating from my old blog on Blogspot)

It’s been a while since I’ve written.  My last post was really serious (can you detect my sarcasm?) so I thought that I would lighten things up because my wife and I were celebrating this week.

Why were we celebrating, you might ask.  Well there are several reasons.

  1. We managed to pay off all our remaining debt with our tax returns.  We didn’t have any substantial debt, and we haven’t made the plunge into home ownership yet, so it may have been a small and temporary victory, but it was a victory nonetheless.
  2. We had some wonderful days off from my job because of some inclement weather, which gave us an unexpectedly long weekend.  We took the opportunity to head off to visit relatives in Virginia.
  3. While in Virginia our relatives decided that they were going to use their tax returns to buy a new Blu Ray player.  Not having any need for their old Blu Ray player they graciously gave us their old one.  (Thanks again to Roz and Dan, if you’re reading this, you’re the best!)

We were previously using an older-ish model of this thing called a DVD player.  Maybe you’ve heard of them, they were all the rave a few years ago.

The DVD worked for us . . . for the most part.  The only problem with our late DVD player is that the remote got lost sometime in between moving from St. Louis to Utah to Maryland.  I hope whoever has it is enjoying it.  In all likelihood it is lost somewhere in my parents house, or was given to DI.  If the latter is the case, may it rest in peace rotting on that thrift store shelf.

After putting our DVD player to rest back in the box from whence it came we went out and got ourselves a Redbox film, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2.  What’s funny is that we got our new BluRay player set up, but I’m pretty sure that we rented a DVD. . . . One day we’ll do this whole Blu Ray thing right. . . . Baby steps, we’ll get there.

My wife and I really liked Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.  It was a funny movie. . . .  ‘Nuff said.

Cloudy 2 was different though.

In lieu of giving you a detailed review of the film let me just sum it up for you, if you haven’t already seen it (very unlikely, but I’ll go for it anyway):

Cloudy 2 took all of the funny gags and jokes that they used in the first film and used them again.

They introduced a lame villain; no depth, too predictable.  He started out as Flint’s childhood hero, and within five minutes it became apparent that he was the villain set on pitting Flint against his own friends.  Blah, blah, blah, an hour later you’re watching the ending thinking “I totally knew that it was going to end this way”.  Kinda lame.

Kids shows are frequently obvious, I get that.  Unfortunately that wasn’t the deal breaker for me. What did it for me was the endless food puns.  And the villain . . . but mostly the food puns.

They’re on an island with sentient food, “Foodimals” as they call them.  It was the perfect setup for food jokes.  The puns were endless.  If they weren’t mashing food names with dinosaur names (Taco-don Supreme anyone?), they were punning up a storm.  It got old after about five jokes.  Towards the end I was just rolling my eyes with each new food pun.  Cloudy 1 had some food jokes, but it wasn’t to the extreme like in Cloudy 2.  It was silly.

Besides the food puns the story just moved along too quickly.  The characters didn’t feel developed.  I couldn’t relate to them.  I didn’t feel connected with them.  I didn’t love them.  I know it’s harsh, but it’s true.

You might say that I’m being too critical, that it’s just a kids show, an animated cartoon.  Well, you’d be right, I’m pretty harsh.  But imagine if I told you that it was a wonderful film, filled with spectacular jokes, well scripted characters, and a plot that will have you watching it over and over again.  Well, that would be a lie, and you’d never read my reviews again.  So I’d better stick with the truth and hope that you can at least agree partially with my critiques.

To sum it up:

On a scale from “Buy The Collectors Edition” to “Redbox it“, this is definitely a Redbox movie. Unless you’re buying for your little kids, and you don’t mind that they may watch it 5 billion times before they’re 4 years old (you know how kids are), it’s probably not worth the money.

P.S. One day I’ll actually get a real Blu Ray to watch on our player . . . I promise . . .