Tag Archive for 'travel'

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.

Uncle visiting from Poland

This past weekend, my uncle from Poland visited me in Dallas. He is retired and has been in the U.S. for a couple of months now visiting family. He decided to make a short tour of the South and Midwest by taking Greyhound bus from Tulsa to Dallas, and then the Amtrak train to Chicago, and back to Tulsa, his home base while in the U.S., by plane. Being very well traveled, the bus and train were modes of transportation my uncle was experiencing for the first time on this continent, and he enjoyed comparing these modes to their counterparts in our native Poland.*
Google map with numbered markers starting from Tulsa, Dallas, and Chicago

The trip from Tulsa to Dallas

To my surprise, my uncle is quite well versed in navigating the Tulsa Transit system and has been leveraging the system to transverse the city. Luckily, a bus line runs directly in front of the apartment complex where my parents are living while they are migrating back to Poland and where he is staying during most of his visit in the U.S., so he conveniently caught a bus to the Greyhound station in downtown Tulsa (marker A) for the 10:45 bus to Dallas (marker D). At that moment, the trip already got delayed as the Greyhound bus waited 45 minutes for another Greyhound bus that was delayed and carrying a transfer passenger. The route was essentially down Hi-way 75, the typical route I take to Dallas, but the bus first stopped in Muskogee (marker B). He tried to send me an SMS about the delay, but due to a much unfounded miscommunication, he sent the messages to an old cell number of mine. I understood he did not have a cell in the U.S., but in fact, he is roaming on his Polish cell service in America, and each SMS text message costs roughly 60¢; nevertheless, it is a worthwhile cost for such critical communiqué.

Google Map of Oklahoma and Texas region with markers on Tulsa, Muskogee, Richardson, and Texas.

By around 17:00, Friday the 9th, I left my home for the Greyhound bus station in Dallas for my uncle’s planned arrival time of 17:25; however, his bus further encountered a second delay due to lane-closure and traffic congestion before Richardson (yellow marker C) resulting in, to the lack of my knowledge, a total of hour delay, about which he texted me again to the wrong number with an updated time. Naturally, first I pulled over in my car in front of the station hoping he would come out and see me, as he is familiar with my car. I noticed a dozen or so passengers exit the station, shortly after which security shooed away since they just stood in front of the station.

Street view of Greyhound Station in Dallas

Street view of Greyhound Station in Dallas

After ten minutes, I decided to circle the block and eventually parked and went inside. Inside, first I noticed a mucky smell of cheap deodorant in the very crowded terminal and that there was no time table board anywhere, and the only person who could help me, after a short investigation, was the gentleman whose job was to help passengers between the bus and terminal and who updated me about a 26 minute delay, which turned out to be obsolete information but better than nothing. Thirty minutes came and went, and rush-hour traffic got heavier outside the station as I decided return to my car thinking it was wiser to stay with my car. This resulted in me accidentally cutting off a pedestrian as I made a right turn in front of a police car, so I got pulled over but only given a warning. I circled the one way streets to find a parking meter somewhat in front of the station where I ultimately parked.

Finally, around 18:30, I noticed my uncle enter the terminal a little bit disoriented, so I yelled out to him, greeted him, and we walked back to my car. I was happy to learn he had the privilege to ride on one of the new Greyhound buses. First order of business was to acquire dinner to bring home, so we drove straight to Szechuan Chinese Restaurant on Lemmon Avenue where at 18:53, we ordered egg-drop soup to split between him and me, garlic pork for himself, chicken & shrimp fried rice for Monica, and sweet & sour chicken for me. Monica was very hungry by the time we got home after 19:00. We had plans to visit the NorthPark mall that evening to avoid the tax-free weekend rush the next day, but the travel delays postponed that plan. We spent most of what was left of the evening planning the following day.

New Greyhound bus

New Greyhound bus

A Saturday with my Uncle

We all woke up around 7:00. One of my uncle’s quests on this trip was to go native and share our normal routine in a condensed format. At 8:24, we got a couple of good and inexpensive breakfast burritos to go from La Victoria, a nice little restaurant in our neighborhood.

After breakfast, as we were loading my car, Monica noticed some desperate meowing, which turned out to be one of our cats crying on our balcony where we were spraying sunscreen on ourselves earlier. So, Monica ran back upstairs to let the cat back in. Fortunately, a mother always hears her baby’s cry because it was too hot to leave any animal outside, especially once the direct sun would hit.

We parked at my work parking lot downtown about 9:45, and went inside of my office to see the 360-degree view of the city from the 28th floor. Then, we walked over to the new Klyde Warren Park where we admired the surroundings and started a mission to find ice cream for Monica. By 10:45, we were ready to get out of the sun and go inside the Dallas Museum of Art to which admission is now free as of this year, but since the museum opened at 11:00 as did all the food trucks at the park, we waited in the shade of a tree on the west corner of Woodall Rodgers Fwy and St. Paul until opening time.

To our dismay, we had to throw away our water bottles to enter the museum, which was a bitter but fair trade for the nice, cool museum. We viewed the Hotel Texas exhibit of the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy that reunited “works that were installed in the president’s suite at the Hotel Texas during his fateful trip in 1963”.* For Monica to warm up again, we then viewed the sculpture installations in the museum’s garden, and then went back inside to view several more floors and sections of the museum. We saw art from almost every old continent, but we enjoyed the European Art the most.

Finished with the museum, we walked to the Pyramid restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel where at 12:42 my uncle ordered the salmon I recommended, Monica ordered the lobster bisque soup, and I ordered a deli turkey on pita bread. My meal was refreshing, but Monica was quite disappointed of her soup due to comparing it a similar dish from Bodean Seafood Restaurant in Tulsa, so after the fact, the manager gave her a free desert, an apple crumble, to go, which, although good, turned out to be more apple than crumble. The salmon was good, but my uncle was not as thrilled by it as I typically have been, though the dish was different than it used to be.

After lunch, we walked a block and caught the free M-line tram to Uptown at 14:00, and unfortunately, the air-conditioning on it was not working. We rode to West Village in Uptown to get some dessert, gelato from Paciugo at 14:27. The gelato was quite fulfilling. We took the next tram at 14:57 back to the my parked car.

At home, we freshened up and rested a bit to leave for dinner and the mall. We chose to eat at Velvet Taco, which was received very well by everyone mostly due to its originality and freshness. Afterwards, we went to NorthPark mall where we were on a mission to find my uncle a postcard, from Texas Treasures, and a bucket hat for his photographic expeditions. At the store Texas Treasures, he also purchased a personalized keychain which flashed his name on one side and had the Texas flag on the other. I also purchased for him a gift set from the Art of Shaving store. We circled the entire mall observing the art from the Nasher collection, and despite visiting several department stores, we only really found one bucket hat, which was by Lacoste but in a bad color at Macy’s. It was Monica’s keen sense that directed us to stop in the Lacoste boutique on the way back to the car where a white hat in the same style was on sale. The clerk had to pull it out of storage, it was the last one, and it was marked down, a remarkable find. Then, we drove home, drank some blueberry tea and called it a night.

Sunday with my uncle

True to my uncle’s tradition while in America, he and I went for a run Sunday morning, though we walked most of the time during our run due to talking. I let him use my heart rate monitor, and he put me to shame with it because he is in such great shape, for any age, that he barely entered into the aerobic zones. He had a top BPM of 133 with an average of 98 over 35 minutes. I could tell my BMP was hitting 150s sometimes, but he runs every day.

"Breakfast #2" with ham from Allgood Cafe .

“Breakfast #2” with ham

Afterwards, he wrote his post card, I stamped it for Poland, and we dropped it in the mailbox on the way to our favorite breakfast place, Allgood Café in Deep Ellum. There was a thirty minute wait at the diner and was quite warm inside, but we all thoroughly enjoyed the food and each others’ company. Each of us ordered renditions of their “Breakfast #2”, which is scrambled eggs, short stack of pancakes with fruit, and sausage though he ordered the ham. The coffee was excellent too.

On the way home, my uncle summarized his dining experience, as this was his last one with us, to that he enjoyed all by the Pyramid very much because all of the food was original. The Pyramid did not seem worth the money we paid, but it was not bad but nothing special in his opinion, to which Monica concurred. We all agreed the old menu from the previous chef at the Pyramid was better than the new one.

From the moment we got back home, it was a brief time until the train. My uncle finished packing; we had some tea and talked for a while. Soon, 15:00 came, so we all got in the car to drive to Union Station for his 15:40 train. The parking there was less than optimal as there is practically no short-term parking, and I reluctantly paid $5 for parking at 15:33. The train was about 10 minutes late; it was supposed to arrive 15:20 but arrived around 15:40. We waited inside the station for a short while, too short for me to take in the historic element of the place. We moved with the crowd to the platform—in the heat. An attendant scanned my uncle’s ticket and direct him to the last car on the train. There, we listened to another attendant explain a few things about the train. My uncle stepped inside to drop off his luggage, and then came back out to take final photos with us and say good-bye.

We began to miss him immediately. The following day, my uncle sent me an SMS that he arrived to Chicago and went looking for the metro to the airport, and I queried the Amtrak website to learn that his train arrived to Chicago 6 minutes early. Late that evening, I received an SMS from my mother that he was back in Tulsa safe and sound.
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* He noted that on Greyhound, the bus driver announces all of the stops, including listing all stops at the top of the trip, and knows exactly how many passengers to expect at each stop. In Poland, the PKS bus drivers do not know how many passengers will board at subsequent stops.
Hotel Texas: An Art Exhibition for the President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2013. Print.

The Job Interview which landed my job

It was sometime around the last week of February 2012. My recruiter gives me a call about “putting me forward”, or to request permission to submit my resume to Project Management Office at Tenet. I hesitated because I thought that I could ideally hit the ground running at a new job, and the job description sounded intimidating to me considering the high profiles with whom I would supposedly be dealing. It turned out I don’t deal with that many high profile people, but they are always close by. I gave the go ahead to submit my resume. I got a call back a few days later that I am invited to an interview.

During this while, I have been working with my friend Frank Wantland to help him set up his website Compete for People where he offers great personal career building and coaching. I highly recommend him. So, I shared with him the news that I got my job interview, so he actually offered to give me a mock interview, which is why I can recommend him. I think the preparation with him really helped because the interview was nothing like what anyone imagined it would be.

I left for Dallas after work on March 6, 2012. It was a very windy day. It was so windy that there were power outages throughout the city. One outage was at work, where for whatever reason, the backup generators failed to supply backup power, and I became stuck in parking garage at work because the simply boom barriers operated only on electricity and would not let the cars through. I had to wait in a growing line of cars. Fortunately, it was not rush hour yet. There was a doctor in a Corvette who really wanted to leave, so I helped hold up the boom barrier as much as we could given that there was some play in the mechanism, and his low Corvette managed to drive under undamaged. The rest of us had to wait for a maintenance personnel literally to dissemble the boom with a socket wrench.

Once I made it home, I think I actually had one more work call, and then I hit the road. I stopped by my favorite gas station fill up for the trek, but the pumps were not working. So, I drove across the street to another station where the pumps could take my card. By that time, the wind was so bad that I had difficulty operating my trunk lid to do some final checks before I got on the high way. If I believed in divine intervention, I would have surely thought that all signs were pointing for me not to go. Later it would turn out that at best, these were proverbial signs of the storm yet to come once I got the job.

I arrived safely in Dallas a little later than I wanted to. I took some wrong turns as I was trying to avoid constructions, which of course is not marked on my GPS. My plan was to drive down High way 75 through downtown and back up through I-35, but being from the small town of Tulsa, seeing all of these tall buildings down the 75 corridor, I thought I already was downtown; mind you it was nigh time by now. So, I took Loop 12 to shoot across to I-35. It ended up taking about the same of time that the original plan would have.

My interview was at noon, so I took my time to relax in the morning. Did some yoga stretches, got dressed, ate, and drove downtown. Parked my car in an open lot outside of the Fountain Building, and it started raining, and parking cost $5, which is quite a bit for a Tulsan who virtually never pays for parking.

The Fountain Building is beautiful, so I immediately saw myself working there thinking how awesome it would be to work in such an awesome skyscraper. I met my recruiter in the lobby who gave introduced himself and then walked me up to the corporate lobby, which to me looked like something out of a movie when the protagonist steps into the big-bad pharmaceutical corporate lobby. The view was spectacular where I could see a little the DART tram below and the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge in the distance.

My boss to be was running late but came and got me and took me to another floor to a small conference room for an interview. My other boss to be was on the phone. Wearing my new suite and not being used to wearing suites, I got hot, so I mentioned that I felt warm. The response was to take off my jacket, and this was in a somewhat condescending tone as if I should know when it is appropriate to remove my jacket.

The interview basically consisted of me answering to one request: “Tell me what you have done.” I was already thrown off because I was really only equipped to respond to a different open-ended request of “Tell me about yourself”, to which I prepared a 2 minute summary of my life that lead to project management. Immediately looking back after the meeting, I should have answered it like a politician answer questions by answering question he wished he was asked, not exactly what he actually was asked. This started becoming evident to me once I realized that there were no more questions. I essentially had to fill up the entire hour of just talking about myself. Fortunately, I was warned about this, otherwise, like any normal person, I would have been sweating thinking something is going terribly wrong.

They were impressed that I drove this far for the interview, and I made it clear that I would move for this position. So, at the beginning of the interview they asked whether I was prepared to enter the consulting industry considering that I would be leaving full-time employment to take this. I answered in my typically cautious manner, “I believe so,” to which they replied, “That is not a very confident answer.” So, I corrected myself with, “Yes, I am prepared.”

I talked about my knowledge of Cerner, BMDI and Code Upgrade projects I did with them that spanned several facilities in our (St. John’s) health system, yet they still held the position that I worked for a small organization, and that I may not be able to handle a large organization. I explained the health system has over a thousand beds, but that is just one blip on the radar for an organization that has over fifty hospitals across three time zones and is Cerner’s number one client.

Considering I could appreciate from the roots up what an EMR implementation is like for a hospital, I knew there has to be a catch as to how they can manage so many implementations at once without even knowing the application. This position turned out to be very high level.

I had a few questions for them, but I think one thing that I speculate solidified my entrance was when I stated, quoting Jacque Fresco and his Venus Project , that I believed one should arrive at decisions rather than make decisions. I could see that impressed at least one of them, which was later validated as they impressed upon me that they do “fact-based reporting” where if something is not documented, we do not treat it like fact.

I felt I exhausted my material for after 40 minutes, but they said they allocated a full hour for me, so they will give me a full hour. I just had to start improvising.

After the interview, I felt like it did not go well at all and could not pinpoint why, of course. I drove home later that evening feeling a bit exhausted but happy for the memories and experience.

I am writing this 8 months after the fact, and I many times looked back on this very pivotal moment whether I missed any red flags regarding their personalities. I think I only chose to ignore those as my desire to move on in my career was very strong.