Lone Survivor movie review

Lone Survivor is one of those movies that exhibit just how tough our men in service are, and just how tough the human spirit can be. It always underlines my great respect for our service men and women. I love that. This film is based on a true story. It starts out somewhat slow, but hey, that’s life. A recon mission can be slow as hiking through nature can be. The fight scenes seemed incredibly realistic with flesh spraying from bullet hits. The sound was also very engulfing. The sound of the bullets hitting and where they where placed in the surround panorama really added a depth of engagement. It amazes me just how many bullets a human can take and keep going. Those guys must have been hit well into the two digits.

For the most part of the movie, I thought the leader of the team made a bad call letting those locals go without creating some sort of delay, but I turned out to be wrong. The film also showed how when senior leaders over-estimate the toughness of their troops that there can be serious consequences. That stuck with me, but I wish it stuck with me even more for my own career.

Another thing that got to me was that I didn’t realize under how much stress the peaceful Afghans live. Some villages just want to live their peaceful life with their goats and simple homes with no running water, and then these stupid Taliban hooligans from the next village over come and raid these villages. That’s terrible! These remote places with no police have to stand their ground with whatever weapons they have, and many die trying. I can’t believe a person with a goat and without running water has to deal with this Taliban crap on top of their already underprivileged life!

Not only do I recommend watching this film to anyone, but I would own this film.

Weekend at Sweetwater’s Gearfest 2014

A couple of weekends ago, I ventured back to my roots—music. I went to Gearfest 2014 at Sweetwater Music Inc. in Ft. Wayne, Indiana. I went there for no particular reason other than to be around music gear, musicians, and just force myself to get closer to the music industry as I’ve been away from it for way too long. Little did I know what I was walking into. I didn’t really look at that much gear, but across the two days I spent there, I certainly swept across any of the gear that might have interested me. Instead of gear touching, I tried to attend as many seminars as possible. I filled up the days completely. On the second day, I attend the marquee of this Gearfest, which was a panel of mixing engineers. Among the eight or so engineers was Bruce Swedien, the man who mixed Michael Jackson’s Thriller. It was amazing to hear him talk about working in the studio with Michael, and the other most amazing thing was that each of the persons in the panel would arrive at the basically the same answers but independently to questions the M.C. asked. The questions were rather simple but philosophical in nature, questions like, “what is the best advice for up and coming producers,” or “what is the most important gear that a home producer could invest in,” to which the unanimously was, “acoustical treatment [and none of that sexy gear].” And when the questions circled around how to make a good mix, all of the answers rounded back to simply to music itself. Especially Bruce would say, “it’s about the music. Do you understand what I’m saying?” Even if you’re mixing rock music or electronic music, you should still attend classical and acoustical concerts to understand how acoustical music works because that is still the reference for electroaccoustic. Since I went alone, it was easy for me to find seats up close. I could easily find single empty seats the people in the audience left between each other, and so I sat in the second row from all of these rock stars making eye contact with all of them.

At the end of the first day, I sat in at a presentation of drummer Kenny Aronoff who told us the story of his big break when he composed the famous fill for John Melloncamp’s song Jack and Diane. He said it was the first time he decided not to overplay as many young drummers do when they’re still trying to prove something. It saved and made his career because the keyboardist and bassist were already fired earlier during that session. I was impressed with how much preparation he said it takes to play what seems like simple groves, such as when he performed the song Something with Paul McCartney. What seems like a simple introductory fill actually requires a great deal of focus to hit the two first notes at exactly the right time apart. “Beat, time, grove, and creativity,” is what you have to play with as a drummer.

Afterwards, I attended a presentation by Mick Guzauski who shared with us stories behind some of the most famous mixes he did for Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, Eric Clapton, and the latest Daft Punk album that took home all of those Grammys, Random Access Memories. Those Daft Punk boys paid for that entire album themselves upfront and later sold it to Sony, so that means no accountants stood over the project with a stopwatch. After it was all recorded (all rhythm sections were acoustic, something unusual for an electronic band), they rented another studio for the entire summer of 2012 that had one of those amazing $200k+ analog consoles that cost $45k/yr to maintain, and they mixed one song at a time, leaving the song up on the board for many days until they were happy with the mix. Typically, a song gets mixed in less than a day. On those analog boards, you can’t recall an old song after you’ve zeroed the board and moved on to the next song. You can try to get it close again, but it won’t be the same. So, I respect them more now because they took an uneconomical path to get as close to perfection as technologically possible, not to mention the best craftsmen of the industry were selected.

Another cool presentation was by a young guy named Mad Zach who leveraged analog Moog gear to basically “destroy” the sounds he was using and mangled them into something really futurist and cool and almost evil sounding drum beats. He probably had the best combination between being educational and entertaining of all of the seminars I attended.

I also finally met the sale engineer with whom I’ve been doing business over the phone for over eleven years. He sold me my first real synthesize, the Access Virus Rack. I still have it, and you can hear it on pretty much all of my best work. It was really nice finally putting a face to the voice because I can’t imagine a better sales guy who sells the stuff I need. He will straight up tell you “you don’t need that” if you come with a bad proposal to a solution you need. He’ll listen to your needs, and figure out how to best get you there within your budget. I met the CEO of Sweetwater, and he was at a loss of words to describe Jason Koons besides that he’s one of their best out of over 250 people in their sales force. I told the CEO Jason deserves a raise to which he replied that he gets a raise every time sells more stuff, referring to commission.

During the last few hours of the festival, I talked to some of the engineers from the panel. I kept Ed Cherney company while he unpopularly smoked a cigarette next to a trash can. I told him that after attending the panel, I concluded that all of those disciplines take so much dedication that out of all of them (mixing, recording, mastering, composing), I will focus even more on composing and less on the others ones because composing is the only one on which I am willing to make sacrifices like that. To this Ed practically snapped back at me, and this is the kicker of the entire visit. He said, “Composition is where it’s all at. Nothing else here would fucking exist…” pointing to the entire store, manufacturers, festival, and industry, “if it weren’t for the compositions.” We didn’t talk much after that, but that was all of the unexpected validation I needed to finally let go of the desire, despite my utmost respect, for developing good mixing skills, and just focusing on writing. This ties back an earlier comment I heard about mixing from yet another presentation earlier was that if the music is orchestrated correctly and the overtones don’t fight each other, then it makes the mixing process way easier. Otherwise, the mixing engineer has to try to work around those problems. I will focus more on learning orchestration techniques because that’s one thing I’ve always respected but deferred because I thought that was for writing for an orchestra. However, it’s actually about dealing with overtones regardless of the music style, and I remember my orchestration professors in college lecturing on that.

At the very end of the festival, I talked up the producer Fab Dupont and his girlfriend. His daughter kept sliding down the two story slide they have a Sweetwater. She counted thirty slides in all. His girlfriend was intrigued why a non-musician would go to Gearfest, but she later understood my struggle and why I was trying to be around musicians. There was a nice French-Polish connection going there between Fab, his girlfriend, and me. After about a nice thirty minute conversation Fab gave me his card, and I walked the family to the parking lot.

It was a great trip and was well worth it. See the press release about the producers panel.

Life is Messy and the Timing of It

When I first heard the phrase “life is messy,” it didn’t sit well with me. Being a planner who tries to keep things structured and organized, the entire point of creating structure is to mitigate the mess, but I later learned that’s not the point of this phrase. As a leader, it’s also about how well and how quickly one can adjust course to the make the most of any given situation. A monkey can learn routine, but it takes higher intelligence to re-prioritize on the fly. It’s a real art of when to dive head down to execute a task list or when to come up to adjust a plan, and it takes real strength when the entire plan needs to be scrapped and a new one must be created just in time for the next transaction. Should a new plan be needed, keep in mind that no one else really knows how incomplete your plan may be, so your next transaction may look flawless while you can continue building your plan in preparation for the following step.

This perspective surrounds the ability of seizing windows of opportunity. Any good analyst can eventually finish his or her complete investigation of all of the variables and with some experience and a good imagination even make a tree of all possible outcomes, and that is probably the best way to do it. The problem is that takes time. Meanwhile the environment changes, and the windows of opportunity close or change to where a new analysis would have to be started.

So my point is that to make changes of this kind—the kind where you make things happen instead of letting things happen to you—you’ll never feel ready because it’s impossible to feel ready. Although luck favors the prepared, it usually requires a scramble to take off, and you will probably be landing in a storm, not even on an airstrip but somewhere in a cornfield or atop a mesa. You may break a few things, but you probably won’t die. Nevertheless, it’s anything but comfortable. Sure, you can mitigate risk like a novice scuba diver first trains in a tank before diving in the sea, but there’s still a first time for everything. Sometimes, for windows of opportunity as mentioned here, it will also the last time.

When you do that, there will be many naysayers, mostly because they don’t understand your priorities (which who cares because you should only share your priorities with the people you trust) but also because they’re jealous of the strength you exhume during those events, or that they have missed the window for themselves. On the other hand, mass in motion acquires more mass as it travels, so it gains gravity. When you move forward like that, you will attract. These particles may be part of other humans in your life. It’s ok if you kill a few of these particles because you’re not killing the whole human, and it’s ok as long as you don’t enjoy the killing.

The point is to know what you want, and when the opportunity presents itself as a window to pass through towards the goal, not necessarily access to the goal in a single step, then take the window because those windows don’t come around very often. A good planner isn’t someone who can plan every step but is someone who knows how to adapt his or her plan based on the stability of the previous step. Imagine stepping on some stepping stones over a brook. The rocks look sturdy but still require focus and balance; however, one of the stones may wobble and may require a quick change of course to ultimately reach the other side without falling into the water. Think of ninjas or the main character in the video game Prince of Persia and how these characters interact with the environments, and it’s that quick skill to adapt that is their strength that is valid of envy.

This concept of timing I first learned from a leader in the workplace with whom I no longer work. His goal was essentially to talk me out of thinking that skill in details leads to overall success, which I naturally thought that probably due to my Polish upbringing. He described how imperfect his attempt appeared, but I observed the outcome of his stories and the massive cultural changes in the workplace that were created as a result of such forceful and critical starts. Being able to alter culture in a group has always intrigued me ever since I would try to reconcile why a body of people may not follow a process when the details clearly exemplify that following that process was to their benefit. I realized this leader was correct because the results in the end spoke for themselves. That is how “life is messy” ties into “timing.”

Relationships

This is a quote I received in a letter many years ago from an old friend.

Relationship is in many ways a simplification of life, and it naturally combines the strengths and wills of two people so that together, they seem to reach further into the future then they did before. Above all, relationship is a new task and a new seriousness, a new demand on the strength and generosity of each partner, and a great new danger for both.

The point of relationship is not to create a quick commonality by tearing down all boundaries; on the contrary, a good relationship is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his/her solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side by side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky.

That is why this too must be the criterion for rejection or choice: whether you are willing to stand guard over someone else’s solitude, and whether you are able to set this same person at the gate of your own depths, which they learn of only through what steps forth, in holiday clothing, out of the great darkness.

Life is self transformation, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, they rise and fall from minute to minute, and lovers are those whom no moment is like any other. People between whom nothing habitual ever takes place, nothing that has already existed, but just what is new, unexpected, unprecedented. There are such connections, which must be a very great, an almost unbearable happiness, but they can occur only between very rich beings, between those who have become, each for their own sake, rich, calm, and concentrated; only if two worlds are wide and deep and individual can be combined…young people, it is obvious, can’t achieve a connection like this, but if they understand their lives correctly, they can slowly grow up to such happiness and prepare themselves for it. When they love, they must not forget that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love..they must learn love, and that, like all learning, takes calm, patience and composure.

To take love seriously and to undergo it and learn it like a profession,…that is what young people need to do. Like so many other things, people have misunderstood the position love has in life; they have made it into play and pleasure and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure are more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, precisely because it is the supreme happiness, can be noting other than work…So those who love must try to act as if they had a great work to accomplish: they must alone go into themselves, they must work, they must become something.

For the more we are, the richer everything we experience is. And those who want to have deep love in their lives must collect and save for it, and gather honey.

– F.R. Rilke

A Life Lesson in networking to get what you want

One of the most pivotal times of my life was my internship with BT, the composer. I learned a great deal during that internship, but in retrospect, as a professional project manager today, the greatest lesson and achievement was landing the internship more so than the internship itself. It was a true venture into the unknown beginning with step one.

After making the decision to purse the internship, I knew that I essentially had to make my own way in because there weren’t any applications or listings of any internship positions publically posted. So, for guidance, I turned to Mr. Sanchez, an adjunct professor of music business. I asked him for help with networking because I knew he believed in me. He told me, “Sure I can help you, but I won’t. Basically, I’ll tell you what I tell my music business students. Not only will I not provide you with any contact information, I’ll give you a five day deadline to meet your goal. That way, you’ll never have to rely on someone like me to provide you contacts. You’ll learn how to get them yourself.” I accepted the challenge.

First step I came up with was to start with any contact information for BT I could find to proverbially weasel my way in. I found an e-mail address to his webmaster in some little print at the bottom of his website. So, I composed an e-mail to the webmaster with my intentions. I heard back within a day that he had forwarded my e-mail to BT’s manager. That manager forwarded my information to BT’s personal assistant who was vetting all of the applicants. Apparently, I was one of about a hundred applicants, which amazed me because there was no public portal to submit applications.

Then, one day about a week later, his assistant called my cell phone, the very first cell phone I ever owned, a flip phone with a black & white LCD screen. She told me where to e-mail her my resume. A few days after that, I got another call from her stating that I was a candidate of interest but that I would need a place to live in Los Angeles in order to be considered. So she flat out asked if I had a place because the internship would be unpaid. I had no clue what I would do for a dwelling, but due to my nativity, I thought that securing a dwelling must be a minor obstacle, so without any hesitation I replied, “Sure, I’ll find a place to stay. No problem.” Being from a small town, I had no idea that this could potentially be a problem in the city of Los Angeles.

Later when I talked with her in person, she said she was impressed with my confidence that I would secure a place to stay, but my confidence only stemmed from the fact that my desire to land this internship was so great that I would not let a common obstacle, like a dwelling, prevent me from pursuing my dream. A week or so later, BT called me himself, and I was a little star struck talking to my hero. But I think I stayed rather professional and asked how to best prepare myself for the internship, which was basically reading all of the manuals cover to cover for the software he uses.

That’s how a dream came true for me and learned how to network better. I found a place to stay. A friend subleased a room to me. I worked for BT for free for 11 weeks during summer of 2003. The internship came and went. But I still remember the most how Mr. Sanchez helped me grow by not helping me but my challenging me. I’ll never forget it because today, I would never be afraid to have the audacity to find contact anybody with whom I want to do business, even if that person is difficult to contact.

Since the internship, I’ve lost touch with BT, but when he tours, I still try to get in for free to his shows, so I’ll do the same tactics. I’ll look up the tour manager and try to contact them. After all, their contact information is plastered all over the net as they try to network themselves. I have successfully gotten myself on his guest list every time, with no direct help of BT’s to my knowledge. Sometimes when one encounters a “no,” one must continue to plow ahead.

Divergent movie review

I spent one of my days’ off from work going to the movie theater, and I saw Divergent. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was looking forward to it because the theme had to do with not fitting in and finding oneself.

The story telling was rather simple and linear. All of the facts were laid out one after the other. There was no active involvement required to get the story; in other words, I didn’t have to recall something from the beginning to get more out of the end. Nevertheless, it was nicely executed acting and cinematography. However, the one bad thing was the music. During certain scenes, I felt like I was watching a sappy Grey’s Anatomy episode because of how cheesy the pop music was. Then, sometimes the orchestra score contrasted this style so drastically that there was obviously a lack of continuous thought regarding the music.

I haven’t read the book and probably won’t has I have a backlog of more serious books to read, so I have no comparison for the characters. Probably the only real character development happened with the lead role of Tris, portrayed by Shailene Woodley who did quite a nice job displaying vulnerability and growth to the point it makes me wonder what her real personality is like.

Regardless of the simplicity of the plot, the symbolism made up for it. It’s quite clear that the story had a couple of main ideas to express. 1) the evaluation of classes, be it nations or classes within a nation, through the portrayal of factions as a necessary element of a dystopian society. 2) the various elements every ego encounters when defining its identity, elements such as judgment by others, fitting in while figuring out how to be unique, developing one’s fullest potential. 3) the evaluation of self-government and its relationship to the fundamental reason why to self-govern.

Overall, there are plenty of good big concepts to spark a good conversation after the movie, though this film did not evaluate each of these concepts in anything close to an entirety. They feel like that they simply have been considered by the author to be placed into the plot in fitting places. Overall, I’d recommend watching this film.

Transcendence movie review

Transcendence is excellent composition and an important an important film for humanity to discuss both the next age of civilization and what is humanity. Compositionally, every opening scene details and symbols get tied to something in the later in the story, so every string is tied off and the whole thing is rather balanced. Transcendence is probably the first commercial film that drives its story atop of a relatively accurate prediction of the capabilities of super powerful artificial general intelligence (AGI) and the promises and proverbial magic of nanotechnology. The actors’ performances were excellent, and Johnny Depp delivered quite believably on point, going from human to death to resurrection in a machine and beyond—certainly a long character arch.

As with many great films and in line with recent story telling styles, the antagonists are relatable, and one of which, Max, a colleague of the protagonists, changes sides, so one finds oneself halfway through the movie before deciding whether to like or hate Max.

I always love the theme of a machine becoming more human, and this film explored this overarching theme from the angle of making a human become a machine. I am not a true philosopher, and although this film restated at least twice the impossible test of what it means to be conscious, another, while more subliminal, question was an undertone of whether a machine can love. A human can quite easily love a machine, but how true a machine’s reciprocation of such love is beyond imagination perhaps unless it is personally experienced. Perhaps as Ray Kurzweil states it, and I’m paraphrasing, “It’s so compelling that it doesn’t matter if it’s real.” One stance of that debate within the film was that love along with other emotions could be so illogical that only a human can handle the internal dissonance while a machine will never reconcile that because it is merely a simulation, and therefore any notion of love would fall apart within a machine. But frankly, how is that so different from the human experience because after all, once there is too much dissonance, it too can fall apart?

Finally, the significance of the closing scene, in the protagonists’, Casters, sanctuary garden, leaves much to wonder what is happening inside the puddle of water that is riddled with nanotechnology. My take on it is that puddle now contains a consciousness—or two. This film shows technology on the horizon of humanity, a horizon that is also the end of humanity, as we know it. The only controllable change is redefining humanity. Everyone should see this film and then decide on which side of technology to take a position. At least this way, everyone will be better prepared for both change and the dialog.