A Short Story About a Piano

 

Piano

Steinberg & Sons upright piano, inherited from the in-laws

Due to the unexpected relocation of my wife’s parents from a house they’ve lived in for more than 38 years, a piano’s fate left hanging in the balance. Moving a piano is a pain, and they didn’t really play it much anymore, especially since my brother-in-law, the prime pianist of the household, was moving out into a small apartment where there was little space for such a large piece of playable furniture. I’d tinkered with it here and there on visits and knew it to be a nice little musical instrument, the kind I’d longed to have in my musical collection for over a decade, but didn’t want to spend the money or get into the hassle of getting one into our house.

However, this was a unique opportunity to get one for free (plus non-free moving costs), and keep a cherished artifact in the family. Thus, a deal was made: we figure out how to get it to our place, and it would be ours. A few phone calls later and another arrangement was cast with a local piano moving company who said they’d do the job. One fateful Saturday morning that very same company did just as they said they’d do. It only took a few hours, and the source and destination locations were pretty easy to maneuver around in (our place required tipping the piano vertically for a short period of time, though). And now we have an upright piano in our downstairs bedroom amongst the guitars and basses and violins.

I still can’t quite believe it when I look over from my desk. We have a piano! Now to actually learn to play it better than a novice.

State of the Michael v.2.0.1.4.0.4.0.2

AT THE TOP OF THE HOUR

Maybe I missed them, but were there any good April Fool’s Day jokes this year? Whether you call them pranks or practical jokes or whatever, I’m a fan of the ones that are not actually harmful or annoying towards people, but more like a slight tweak on satire. Regardless, I remember years past having some good ones on the Internet, but none come to mind this time.

DOMESTICITY

My wife and I and her parents took a trip recently up to Mammoth Mountain, land of tall hills, slippery slopes, and bruised egos. Before this recent trip, I had only skied a few times before, so I was a little nervous about whether I could still do it. Like riding a bike, the ability returned to me, but not without falling a few times on the hard, cold incline of an intermediate run. Soreness aside, I went down a few dozen runs the few days we were there and it was basically a blast. It even snowed the night before (and day of) our exit, which was nice to watch.

Magnets may be difficult to explain, but their effectiveness is easy to see. We added three of them to our house via two new door stops and one new front screen door. Now, when we need to hold a door open to the garage when bringing in groceries, we don’t have to kick down the old-timey doorstop (that ceased to stay up a few months ago, resulting in the use of another great invention: duct tape). Our front door can now also be open during the warmer times, letting a cool breeze waft in without also allowing nature’s creatures to join us inside.

GAMING

Shadowrun Returns came out with a new expansion called Dragonfall and it was pretty cool. More of the same kind of thing, really, but it was lengthy and had an interesting core set of characters to learn about as the fighting and terrible inventory system went on. Seriously, though: I love the game and the world-building, but the inventory is just weird and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why can’t I just have access to all my items at any time and transfer them between characters when I want to? This needs to be fixed.

While I mainly play games that are done and released, I tried out game testing for a local game company for the first time with my wife. Obviously I can’t discuss what went on or what we tested, but the experience was very novel, from the place where it happened to the way we tested. I’d love to do it again!

MUSICKING

Sometimes games in development don’t actually get made, and the soundtrack you wrote for them many, many months ago don’t actually end up in the game that doesn’t get made. To be more specific, a game I wrote music for is looking like it won’t actually come out, but I’m not mad. It’s tough to make a project work, especially when you’re short-staffed. The learning process and experience gained is still worthwhile. That, and the music I made is still pretty dear to my heart, and I think I’m going to release it on the intarwebs for anyone else who might be interested in listening. Look for that soon.

Oh, and I got a new MIDI controller to replace the used one I bought a while ago that went on the fritz. It has double the keys (plus one!) and was a pretty cheap deal, but reviews say I didn’t get swindled. We’ll see when I finally get it set up.

And, yeah…I’m still working on Dumeh.

READING

Amazon apparently lost some class-action lawsuit about price fixing, so I got some scratch back from them. In the email, there was a link to a book by James Dashner called “The Maze Runner“. I had seen an article about the movie version just before seeing the link, so it made sense to spend some of this “free” money on the book version. Turns out it was a good choice, because I’m hooked. Immediately bought the sequel once I finished it, and then the sequel to the second one when I finished it. It’s pretty squarely in the Ender’s Game/Hunger Games/YA-ish fiction realm (the URL for the book above puts it into the /teens subdirectory, so there ya go), but it’s fun and quick and engaging. Also, I’m reading novels.

CODING

Puppy Bongos, the ad-hoc development team I’m on, has been working on a standing desk app for a while, and it’s basically done, but still needs some more polish. I’m really ready to finish it up and start on something new.

MEDIA

How I Met Your Mother ended this week. The finale, after 9 long years, was a doozy. The cleverness of it undercut the emotional resonance, largely due to how long it had been on. It’s gotta be tough for a show to write something so long form when they don’t if they’ll even make it past a couple seasons. Regardless, there are some really angry people on the Internet right now. I don’t know if it was the ending I wanted, but it was the ending they thought we deserved.

MISCELLANEOUS

Speaking of which, I just listened to Josh Radnor on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. He seems like a nice, down-to-earth guy, kind of like his character on HIMYM, but less obsessively romantic and douchey. There was a neat moment when I was driving, listening to the episode, when a rainbow appeared in the sky. It happened at the same time that they were discussing spirituality, and it seemed poignant enough to tweet about. I’d never followed Josh, nor ever tweeted about him, and yet it still got favorited by Mr. Radnor not long after posting it! It’s a weird world we live in, folks.

Also, speaking of podcasts, I love Game Grumps/Steam Train. They are my favorite video podcast that I can just as easily enjoy by listening to in the background. Whatever game they’re playing is never as entertaining as the commentary amongst the Grumps.

The Cost of Inspiration

Inspiration (the spark of creativity) is a well.

That well can be in one of many conditions. At its best, it’s filled with a welcome overflow of water that drowns you until your mind is crying out to fill a usable container with its bounty. At its worst, it’s a barren drought that you scrape the sides of, trying to extract anything meaningful or significant.

Regardless of its current status, the well of inspiration is hard to pin down. I can go months without trying to even dip into it, but with this constant nagging that I should really check in on it. Many things can cause me to want to take a closer look: listening to good music, browsing my Soundcloud and noticing I haven’t added anything in a while, acquiring new sound apps or libraries, or even just having the right hardware around and working.

Sigh.

When I first got my M-Audio Axiom 25, I almost immediately made a song with it. Soon after, I made another. The simple act of having a hardware interface with knobs, sliders, and keys put manually inputting notes into a sequencer to shame. Too long had I done it the inelegant, difficult way because I had no other option. All of a sudden, doing the simplest, basic keyboard techniques was within my grasp. It probably tripled my expressiveness right then and there.

And then, later, the Axiom stopped working. It was, in effect, useless. Grarr.

Ever since then, I’ve felt like any inspiration to create music (or work on stuff that had laid dormant *cough* Dumeh *cough*) I might have is temporarily hampered. Going back to the old way of inputting notes sounds tedious and horrible, and I don’t want to do it.

So, what to do? Order a new one, I guess. Gotta throw money in the well from time to time.

IGDA Meetup

I’m not a game developer, but I like to think I could be one in some way, so a few weeks ago I attended an IGDA meetup in San Diego. It was the first official one in many months (efforts have been in effect to get the local chapter humming again). A nearby “barcade” — think small bar plus old coin-op games surrounding the tiny space — hosted and it was a blast.

As an introvert who cemented their friend group a while ago, and I finished schoolin’ a while back, I don’t really meet new people much anymore. Going to a meetup at a bar on a whim is a good way to get back into that mode, and meet new people I did. Besides the expected array of indie game developers packed into a place with music blaring and old video games doing their thing, there was also a large contingent of people from a nearby college. In effect, the night was filled with creative types, all who had either a project or school assignment involving games they were working on. When we weren’t discussing serious game development matters, we drank and (I) ate and played mega versions of Jenga and Connect-4.

I had several conversations with random people through the evening about their current obsession, and it’s hard not to be inspired by those with the talent and ambition to do something new and creative. Being a musician who has offered up my services to a game or two, I wasn’t completely out of my element, but there’s something about the effort and work that goes into making a game that I’ve yet to really experience firsthand (beyond a weekend gamejam).

Still, long-form projects that you keep attacking little by little, whittling down their defenses over time, until a new creation is born is not outside my wheelhouse. Maybe with my recent foray into Mac development (an upcoming post) I’ll turn my attention to a game one day. I play enough of them — why haven’t I made one yet? Oh, right. It’s incredibly difficult.

Side note: prior to the meetup, I stopped by to meet with a friend at a local game developer’s house. I won’t name drop, but he worked on a major XBLA release (maybe PC by now) that I’d played and enjoyed. He wasn’t alone, and I met several other game developers who were hanging out, too. I was a little starstruck :-}

Keepin’ It Weird in Austin

Waffle. Texas. Basically the same thing.

Waffle. Texas. Basically the same thing.

In an attempt to skirt any kind of latent normalcy or conservatism, my wife and I, along with a couple friends, descended upon the capital of Texas, otherwise known as Austin. Our task? Witness some holy matrimony.

TEXAS

My experience with Texas is long, but scattered. After living there for a year in 8th grade, I amassed an extraordinary fondness for a few people that I left behind when my Mom and I relocated to San Diego, CA. In the time between now and then, I would visit the Lone Star State a handful of precious, yet meaningful, times.

I had never been to Austin, though, which seemed to be one of the more liberal parts. “Keep Austin Weird” could be found all over town. There was some graffiti on a wall and a cool musical instrument sculpture in the lobby of our hotel, kicking off this motif right away. In our hotel room we happened upon an old-school, blue telephone receiver (without a handset) that you could plug into a smartphone for that nostalgic feel, just cuz’. Oh! And they had a waffle iron that made its product in the shape of Texas itself. Weird, yo!

Shout out to the Hampton Inn in Downtown Austion for two more things, as well: 1) letting us hang out in the pool area beyond the cutoff time (and, later, the lobby), all the while boozing and chatting into the wee hours, and 2) upgrading my wife and me to a suite next to our room because, well, we asked.

Some interesting things about Austin, Texas (or just the south):

  • Frontage roads: a lot of highways have a road that runs alongside them all frontin’ and such. It’s like they were here first and the new guy in town (i.e. the highway) is now their senior officer, but they work together despite their differences.
  • Whataburger: despite the name, there isn’t much exclamation for this dead cow-wich. One of our friends originally from Texas really loves it, though.
  • H.E.B.: a local grocery chain. We joked that it stood for something like “Horrendous Elephant Butt”, clearly no relation to its actual meaning. Then I looked it up. Mr. Butt, you were the, uh, rear-end of many jokes during our weekend, so thanks?
  • The Salt Lick: this was actually quite a ways outside Austin, but still some absolutely delicious, legitimate Texas BBQ
  • Texas Chili Parlor: dive bar with some good chili
  • Gourdough’s: fancy donut place. Banana pudding, maple bacon, and oreos and gummi worms are totally valid donut toppings.
  • Friday Night Lights Driving Tour: FNL is a fantastic TV show, and a lot of it was filmed in and around Austin. We didn’t end up seeing most of the places, but we did get a picture in front of Coach’s house, and I’m sure the people across the road were shaking their heads as they thought “Jesus, not this again”.
  • Generic commercial establishments: on the way to the airport for our return trip, we drove past both a “Major Brand Gas” fueling station, and a “Muchos Imports”, uh, import(?) store.
  • Costco: basically the same, but the hard liquor is in a separate, yet connected, building, and is closed on Sunday

WEDDING

The actual reason for our visit to the Texas state capitol was to see our friends Candy and Andic–er, Andy and Candace tie the knot. We stayed in a hotel with them and a bunch of other friends we hadn’t seen in a while (miss ya already Matt, Molly, and Lea), and then walked down to the actual capitol building where they got wedded in a large rotunda on the grounds. You could see it from the ground level, but had to go through the main capitol entrance, take an elevator down, and then walk back the way you came to the main event.

It’s a public place, so plenty of people taking tours were milling about and got to witness the whole thing. Except for a delay in the proceedings making us all tap our feet a little (and pass the time with some mouth trumpet), it went off without a hitch and I was filled with warm fuzzies for the happy couple. They even had a mariachi band play “The Final Countdown” prior to the ceremony. That’s sweet, yo.

Post-wedding, we moved to what was essentially a German Elk Lodge, all long, open hallway and large dance floor. A taco buffet was the main course, and it was yum. Bouquets and garters were tossed, feet were moved on a hardwood floor (I joined for the motown songs, but sat out for most of it), and sparklers were ignited to see off the newly-joined pairing. All in all, a pleasant evening was had.

To Andy and Candace, a long, wonderful life together! They started it by flying to Morocco the next day, so I’m optimistic.

FOR THE ROAD

There is more photographic (and moving photographic evidence) of many of the aforementioned shenanigans, but that’ll have to wait for later. Text (and the sole Texas waffle above) is all you get for now.