Three Cubed

27! 33! Truly, a remarkable year—I will not have another until I am 64. 26 has been good to me, and to have turned 26 last April 26th was its own sort of numerological pleasure, and next year will be a so-called perfect number, followed thereafter by a prime, and so I’m not exactly wanting for interesting cardinals. But a cube! Magnificence itself.

Here’s to 27. And tonight? Sushi!

And The Momma Tomato Yelled Ketchup

So I’ve been busy, and not really writing about it. That’s all gonna change—right now. Buckle up, kids: it’s blog time.

Executive summary: aural times is doing well, I might be on TV, I might be on your cellphone, and you might pre-order a fantastic non-profit compilation album I’m editing. Read on!

The Aural Times continues to do well. No great surges of traffic lately, but it’s clocking along at several hundred visits a day. One small boost last week came form Nerve.com’s Scanner Blog, which referenced my Tom Cruise story in a sort of Placenta Roundup.

Which led to an email from a guy who caught that and spent a little time at the site.

The guy works for a music television channel. But not the increasingly flaccid progenitor of that genre. He expressed interest in the idea of seeing Aural Times stuff on a show he works on. Fascinating! I replied to his email—tag! He is currently It.

And last week I signed a licensing agreement with a cellphone ringtone/etc distribution company, which is step two of about seven of making possible the realization of your lifelong dream of having me on your cellphone. More, obviously, as it happens.

And there’s this compilation album I’m working on. Specifically (and this is a working title, mind you) the Metafilter Compilation Album, Volume 1. What, you ask, is that; and how, you proceed, did I get involved in it?

It started Saturday before last. I had noticed a lot of music bumping around on Metafilter Projects, a relatively new part of Metafilter dedicated to members’ own project announcements. There were, at a glance, three or four interesting bands and musical projects on the Projects page, and I thought collecting all the good music made by mefites (for so I call my fellow members of Metafilter) would make for a nice post to the main site.

This is that post. It was well-received, and a lot of mefites who had not posted their music to Projects (and thus had slipped under my radar vis-a-vis the construction of the post) spoke up in the thread with links to their work.

Somebody eventually (inevitably?) suggested a compilation album.

Fast-forward a couple of days: I decided, after ensuing discussion, that I was going to take charge and make that compilation album happen. And so I said as much in Metatalk, the site-discussion/administration/bickering/etc backroom of Metafilter.

And it’s basically been madness ever since. I’ve received music submissions from somewhere upwards of forty mefites, and submissions are open for another week yet. I’ve heard a whole lot of good music so far—certainly more than will fit on a 74 minute audio CD. Which makes my job as editor less than easy, but that goes with the territory—if the decisions are hard, it’s only because there’s so much good stuff to choose from.

I did some napkin math and figured out that, if everything moves at breakneck speed with no bottlenecks or hiccups, this thing could be ready for release as soon as mid-June. Realistically, it could easily take longer, but, hey, I’m an optimist.

We haven’t figured out to whom the money will go, yet, but we’ve decided that proceeds will go to one or more charitable causes.

In the mean time, we’ve opened the pre-orders for the disc. So far the project has raised over a grand in pre-orders and donations, which is fantastic—we’ve easily hit half our budget for the project in about three days. Now, as long as we can mop up the other half in the next month and a half…

What? You’d like to pre-order, and support this crazy project and whichever good causes its profits are directed toward? That’s fantastic! You should really go here then.

iPod Ambush

It’s nearly my birthday, and that explains why my mother-in-law lured me into a Mac Store and bought me an iPod. She is wily.

I suppose now I am more likely to set up that Aural Times podcast.

Best short-term effect: I no longer have to ferry songs to work one mp3 CD at a time; nor do I have to limit myself to a paltry few gigs of music available at music at any given time.

Now playing: “Tammy Smith” by Wesley Willis. Rest in peace, Wesley.

The Blogger’s Paradox

The thing about interesting and exciting things is that, when they are going on, one is often too distracted to do things like write about them on one’s website.

This is The Blogger’s Paradox: all else being equal, if you have anything interesting to say, you’re too busy to say it; and conversely, if you have time to blog, you probably have jack squat to show for it.

So, briefly: I will report more when I have more time, but interesting things are afoot with The Aural Times, and in my spare (ha!) time, I’m helming/editing an exciting compilation album project that may well knock your independent-music-listenin’ socks off.

Undefined Behavior of the Indefinite Article

Something I wrote in the preceding entry reminded me of a linguistic question for which I have no firm answer. Consider the following snippet:

…maintains an (apparently) strict policy…

My quarrel is with that indefinite article, “an”. You know as well, of course, its fraternal twin, “a”; these two split duties as escorts to singular nouns that are, well, indefinite in identity. Compare with the definite article, “the”, which introduces definitely identified nouns (singular or plural).

For example, I can talk about “the definite article” unambiguously in reference to the word “the”; but if, outside of any other context, I were to talk about a specific indefinite article, I’d might have to say “an indefinite article” rather than “the indefinite article”, because whether I was referring to “a” or “an” might not be clear. Yes? Good? Alright.

(Here my lack of any proper linguistic training fails me; there is no doubt vocabulary to clearly and concisely describe these things, but I lack it. But then, you’re probably not a linguist either, so we’ll just muddle through as best we can. Head over to Language Log if you’re looking for experts.)

Whether we use “an” or “a” in a given instance depends on the pronunciation of the word that follows the article. Roughly, we use “an” before words which start with vowel sounds, and “a” before all others:

  • an orange
  • an honest man
  • a nostril
  • a opossum

(Variations will of course exist across dialects of English, as some words gain or lose leading consonant or vowel sounds; my tendencies are expressed above.)

So. The Difficulty:

How do you resolve which indefinite article to use when writing a parenthetical interruption into an article-nounphrase construction, if the interruption does not have the same starting-sound character as the nounphrase it is interrupting? Look again at the example:

…maintains an (apparently) strict policy…

If that was uninterrupted, it would be “a strict policy” and there would be no question. If the interjecting modifier were not parenthetical, it would be “an apparently strict policy”, and there would be no question; and, in speaking, the issue would never arise, because the parentheses could be implied by intonation (perhaps a momentary conspiratory quieting of the voice, perhaps a flamboyant rise); they wouldn’t actually be there, clamped visually about the word.

But in writing, the parentheses are there, and they say, in essence, this: that which is within can be elided. But if one elides the parenthetical bit, all of a sudden there is the collapse of the phrase-as-written down to “an () strict policy”, and the world ends in chaos and madness.

So perhaps it’s a weird an impractical question, based on a strict and unfounded mechanical interpretation of parentheses. And perhaps the practical answer exists already: write it as you would speak it, and leave it at that.

But, damn it all, writing is not merely speaking-on-paper. It is not mere transcription; it has its own limitations and its own marvelous strengths and wonders that set it apart from spoken language. And so these questions of the occult mechanics of writing strike me as interesting even if they are not exactly pramgatic or essential to clear communication.

Hoop-jumping and Negotiation

Today I put on a button-down shirt (!) and a tie (!!) and sat through an interview with my boss for the job I’ve already got and which, he has assured me flatly, is mine, period.

This is what is known as a formality.

The only thing that is not a mannered step along this smooth and pre-determined path is the salary I asked for.

Explanation: I have been temping at my place of employment (or, as my boss would say, I have been deployed as a strategic contract worker) for about nine months now. The company for which I have been working maintains an (apparently) strict policy wherein a given person may only work as a temp for a (not necessarily consecutive) total of one year. After that, it’s get hired or get out.

And so here I am: a strong employee carrying, at this point, some unique knowledge and a unique-within-the-department skillset for acquiring and developing that branch of knowledge. Nine months in, three months of viability before I’m out on the street.

Unless I get hired on a permanent employee. So there’s a question: how much do I need this job, and how much does this job need me?

And so I wrote down a number, and the number is higher than I think he’ll want to pay me, and certainly higher than the base salary for the position—but then, I’ve got a hell of a running start on the actual requirements of the position (I’ve been doing it, and well, for close to a year). And on top of that I’m doing development work that, as far as I can tell, no one else in the department knows how to do, and which would require significant retraining of another employee (or much-increased dependency on IT, and an attending reduced flexibility in getting development done) should I disappear from the picture.

To what degree that will be acknowledged in the salary dickering that I anticipate will follow, I don’t know. I wrote down a number that I am worth—there is no question in my mind, there, it was not what I would call a bluff—but flexibility is a valuable doctrine, and the exchange of reward now for greater reward later should not be roughly dismissed as a tactic.

In other words, we’ll see what happens.

Josh vs. The Paycheck

Doing something consistently and long-term is tiring. Perhaps that is, as observations go, fairly bland, but it is a sort of defining thesis in my life:

Effort * consistency = daunting

Story time. This one is called Josh vs. The Paycheck.

I realized, sometime around when I started college, that I really didn’t like the idea of working for the next 40 years. It just didn’t sit right with me. I’d had a fairly spoiled childhood in that sense—not that we had money, but that we weren’t in dire enough straits that I needed a job. I just wasn’t a spender—I had no car and didn’t want one, I spent no discretionary income on things like clothes or music (excepting garage-sale vinyl to play on my garage-sale turntable). I coveted electronics and the occasional musical instruments, but it was never anything I couldn’t manage by waiting for birthdays or doing one-off jobs. I “baby-sat” a couple of neighbor kids for a summer to buy a Yamaha keyboard; I worked part-time as a computer tech for the school district, late in highschool; I did a couple of small artsy jobs for neighbors and friends.

In other words, thanks to circumstance and inexpensive hobbies, I was never obliged to Get A Job before I hit college. I worked a couple of different summer jobs during college—an early summer working as a tech support rep for Micron Computers, a year or two later as a programmer at a startup in Rhode Island where several college friends were also working—but, again, I only flirted with Real Employment. A few months of effort, and then back to the layabout paradise of the schoolyear.

And so I came out of college with a barely-functional immune system vis-a-vis the efforts and compromises of actually earning a living. I had spent the previous twenty-two years primarily spending a living—through my parents, and later through my own acquisition of educational debt, federal and private—and so I was not only unused to the idea of having to generate income, I had given myself (as has pretty much every US college student) something of a handicap.

What I had thought in college about the job market was embarassingly simple. I had not, really, thought about it, and that was the problem. I had said things about working, and had superficial thoughts about the process of acquiring a suitable job in my field of choice and so on and so forth, and said to my parents things to satisfy (possibly) their hope that I wasn’t precisely as clueless and unprepared as I in fact was. (Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!) As in many, many things practical and social in my life, I was by-and-large faking the job-preparedness routine; though, in my defense, I’m not sure how much I grasped that at the time, and I was definitely faking it to myself as much as anyone.

Is this going somewhere? Ah, yes. Eventually I did end up Getting A Job. It took a year of living in my parents’ basement and failing to magically fall into a good job before I snapped and sought employment with a temp agency. And I spent the next couple of years adjusting to the fact that you have to keep doing it, even if you don’t like it, or you have to figure something else out.

And the effort of showing up every day wears on a person. I began to see and understand this in my parents, in my friends, in the people I knew who had out of choice or necessity been working while I was not. Greater, then, the wear incurred by the effort of showing up every day for something you just don’t like. Somewhere, on a signup form for one website or another, I entered, for job description, the title “Asst. Sisyphian Metaphor”—and it’s the sort of dark joke that doesn’t always make me laugh.

Push the boulder up the hill, watch it roll back down. Repeat for eight hours daily, five days a week, fifty weeks a year for forty years.

And this is just so much whining; if the worst complaint I ever have about my life is that my job is boring, I will count myself as one of the luckiest among an already lucky and privleged group of humans. But you see the world in the context of your own experiences; and everybody normalizes things onto a good-and-bad scale. That’s the thing about optimists—it’s not that they can make the best of a bad situation, it’s that they make better of situations in general.

But whining or no, here’s the thing: even the employment dilemma is in theory solvable. Or at least improvable. Many people dislike their jobs; most people seem to be bored by their jobs: observable fact. But “many” and “most” are not “all”; and of the people I see who are happy in what they do, many of those folks are happy in what they have elected to do. Another simple, dull insight: you can decide what to do with your life.

And I think that’s what this story comes down to: I’m telling myself a fable, and hopefully it hasn’t bored the crap out of you, but you have my sympathies if it has.

The moral goes something like this:

If you’re having fun doing something like The Aural Times, Josh, you might want to keep that in mind when the product of effort and consistency weighs a little heavy during a self-imposed deadline that’s keeping you up on a Sunday night. It might not be a living, but it’s not exactly your day job—you’re doing it because you like it. And if you stop liking it, you can stop doing it.

I’d love to someday make my living doing something I enjoy. If I can end up doing that with something like The Aural Times, that’d be excellent. How, I don’t know.

I look around and I see entreprenuers of all stripes. I see geniuses and born businessmen and unrepentant thieves and hard-working talents. And above all I see folks who are some mix of all of those.

I’m not a born businessman. I’m lazy and optimistic and shot through with a dangerous sort of naivety that is, in many ways, one of the best qualities I’ve inherited from my mom—but it’s no good for business. I can probably manage the business side of an unrelated venture, or at least have the good sense to ask for help, but pure business as the means and motivation? Not me.

I’m clever enough to be a thief, but I find the idea galling and repellent—see above about inheriting good qualities from Mom—and so that avenue is right out. And while I have no issue accepting the money of strangers (there’s a shop and a donation link at The Aural Times, for example), I can’t see myself taking even the rogueish half-measure of making my living simply asking for it in the style of Save Karyn.

And I can’t bank on being declared a genius. Perhaps in a fawing music review some day, if I’m allowed to dream…but it doesn’t seem like a good economic plan.

So I’m left with sheer blinding luck, despair, or that hard-working talent option. I’m all for luck—the occasional lottery ticket, &c—but it’s no sounder an investment than the genius option. Can’t count on it, or it wouldn’t be called Luck. And I’m not much one for despair, so I suppose my hands are tied: I’d better just work hard at the things that I like and am good at and see where that takes me.

Should I be embarassed that it has taken me 27 years to figure this out, or pleased that I’ve discovered it so soon? I don’t know. And there is, of course, the matter of implementation beyond merely waxing (and oh how I have waxed) philosophical in a blog entry. But self-awareness, when it does not come as the sharp crack of some terrible rifle, is a slow and drunken animal, stumbling hither and thither and occasionally pissing on a tree in its meandering journey. I am thankful to have led a life so gentle and free from bullets of shocking insight that I can hardly complain about the occasional tumble long the path.