Saturday, February 27, 2010

Playing at a Glass Onion

Cinder Bridge giggage!

Date & time: Sunday, February 28, 2 to 4 p.m.
Place: Glass Onion
Address: 1900 W. River Rd. (La Cholla & River Rd.), Tucson, AZ
Cover: Nyet

Come see us if you're in or around Tucson. Could be an interesting crowd ...

XMRV news: Another non-replication study

Another study has failed to detect XMRV in ME/CFS patients. I was pretty depressed about the news until I found out that, like the other follow-up studies, Kupperveld et al. used much broader patient criteria than the original Whittemore Peterson study. (Translation: their subjects may not actually have ME/CFS.) They also didn't use the WPI's more extensive testing methods.

You can read a more in-depth analysis from Stephen Ralph at Dancing with the Sandman.

So, no longer depressed. Just frustrated. Even if the WPI study appears more credible than the others thus far, we still need serious replication attempts by somebody other than WPI.

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Inappropriate affect

Ron the Drummer had this bit of advice for me at our last rehearsal.

"I see you making eye contact with the audience and smiling," he said, "and that's great. But you don't have to do that all the time. You can close your eyes, or whatever you feel like when you're into the music."

The advice seemed a little strange. Yes, I do try to look people in the eye when we perform, largely to make up for all the times I'm so immersed in what we're playing that I almost forget they're there. The smiling is spontaneous, though. Why would that be a problem?

After a moment or two of thought, however, I realized what Ron was picking up on.

Sometimes I smile during performances because I'm happy to be there and happy to be doing what I'm doing. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens during the dark, depressing songs. I noticed it at our last gig during a particularly gloomy tune. Here I am, singing about how everything is falling apart because I'm a loser, and I'm grinning like an idiot because I'm having such a great time.

It doesn't really sell the song.

Our next gig is Sunday afternoon. I have until then to perfect the appropriate emotional displays. I'll just stand myself in front of a mirror and practice.

"Grrr. GRRRRRR."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ryan Baldwin back home

I cannot express in words how much of a living hell that last eight months of my life have been. I can't stress how pointless, unnecessary, and painful this whole thing is and has been.

—Ryan Baldwin

Ryan Baldwin is finally back with his parents. He had been removed from their custody after authorities accused his mother of factitious disorder by proxy. They didn't believe he actually had ME/CFS.

Full story at Mountain Xpress.

Despite diagnoses of ME/CFS from Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic, it took the authorities eight months to decide that perhaps he really is sick. Barring another motion, the case will officially be closed in four months, when he turns 18.

Welcome home, Ryan. Here's hoping they let you stay there.

Boxed in

A few days ago I rambled a little about my latest song-in-progress, and how it was challenging me by being almost too easy to write.

I should know better than to say such things in a public forum. Because, of course, now I'm completely stuck. I have a vague idea of what I want to do with the remaining lines, but everything I try either fails to develop the song by virtue of redundancy, or doesn't work at all.

This isn't an unusual problem. When you begin a song, there are all kinds of directions you can take it in. Even if you think you know where you want to go with it, you feel like you have the option of changing course if you trip over an unexpected lyrical idea.

With just a few lines to go, you still have that option ... but to act on it may mean reworking much of what came before. And by that time, you're a lot more emotionally invested in your earlier ideas.

I'll finish this song eventually. I just hope it's sooner rather than later so I can move onto the next one. Whatever the next one turns out to be.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The hard easy song

I started my latest song-in-progress almost two months ago. It's been pretty easy to write. That's one of the reasons it's taking such a long time to finish.

See, the melody I'm working with is one of those melodies that just attracts lyrics somehow. Something about the phrasing makes it easy to fill in with words. I don't have to expend as much time and energy matching the pegs and the holes. Lyrical possibilities line up behind each other, all a perfect fit.

One such lyrical possibility presents itself, and I think, Wow, that sounds cool!

My trusty internal editor replies, You're right, it does sound cool. But does it mean what you want it to mean? Does it tell the story we're trying to tell? Or does it only work as a standalone line?

I sing the phrase again. It could be part of an interesting story, but not this one. Dammit. We'll have to try again.

So there's that. There's also been this strange assumption that because this song won't be very hard to do, I don't have to push very hard to do it. Which means I get lazy and forget to try.

Just a few more lines to go and I'll be finished. May this entry remind me to keep at it.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Failure to replicate: The WPI's take

The Whittemore Peterson Institute has finally issued a statement about a recent UK study that failed to detect XMRV in ME/CFS patients.

By "finally," I mean three days after said UK study was published. Three days is probably a reasonable length of time, given the need to review the results, and given that they're probably busy with other things over there. Three days feels very long, though, when you've been clinging to the hope that maybe there will be a cure for ME/CFS in our lifetime after all. Three days feels very long you fear that hope might be snatched away.

(A summary for those just tuning in: ME/CFS is a debilitating disease that causes chronic pain, crushing exhaustion, and significantly shortened lifespan. In October of last year, the Whittemore Peterson Institute discovered a link between this disease and a retrovirus called XMRV. The results of the most recent study failed to confirm the WPI's results.)

WPI's statement begins, "WPI is aware of the recent UK study that was unable to detect the presence of XMRV in any CFS patient samples."

The wording made me smile. "WPI is aware ..." as if they could possibly have missed the news. Obviously I'm not the only person who's been impatiently awaiting their interpretation. They must have been getting hammered.

Anyway, their full response is here: Among other things, they point out that the new UK study didn't actually attempt replication. They used different techniques and technologies, which the WPI claims are insufficient to detect XMRV.

So, hope restored for the time being. It's strange, though. The UK lab almost certainly wasn't trying to manipulate the data to get negative results. Why did they not attempt a real replication study?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Channeling my evil twin

A few weeks ago I gave one of my older songs a chorusectomy and added a new ending. I posted about the results, complaining that we would need a second singer for the substituted material to work. Fellow songstress Jannie Funstser posted a potential solution in comments: play the other singer's line on my keyboard.

My initial reaction:

Bah. That wouldn't be nearly as good as what I wanted.

On second thought:

I suppose I shouldn't be closedminded. It'll probably sound cheeseball and stupid, but I should at least try it before ruling it out.

After playing around with the idea on the keyboard:

Y'know, if I do a keyboard-appropriate variation on the melody I wanted for the singer, this actually ... works.

Getting the new part together took a couple weeks. I played it for Ron the Drummer for the first time at tonight's rehearsal. Ever enthusiastic about making songs shorter, Ron gave it a thumbs up.

Thanks, Jannie. Nothing like a little virtual collaboration to open one's mind.

Monday, February 15, 2010

XMRV news: A failure to replicate

A new study in Retrovirology did not detect XMRV in patients with ME/CFS.
Our study failed to replicate the results of the US study despite using what we believe to be a more sensitive test. We found no association between XMRV and chronic fatigue syndrome. However, chronic fatigue syndrome may encompass a spectrum of different conditions providing a possible explanation for this discrepancy ... Replication is an important part of the scientific method and, as the initial findings have not yet been replicated, I think it will be important to develop standardised samples and assays for XMRV that can be rapidly tested by different laboratories around the world.
It doesn't seem as though this research group has an agenda—one of the researchers is Jonathan Kerr, who led a study that revealed genomic differences between people with ME/CFS and without. So, the news is disappointing, but we can hope the scientific community will continue to study XMRV and untangle the conflicting results.


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Tip Jar

A decade ago, one of my friends burned a Barenaked Ladies CD for me, Gordon. I've listened to it all the way through maybe three or four times since then. I particularly like the tracks "What a Good Boy" and "If I Had $1,000,000," and they've gotten multiple plays.

A few years ago I bought an iPod. Latest versions of the iPod have a cool feature: they will display the cover art for any album they recognize from the iTunes library. When I exported Gordon, I noticed that the iPod didn't distinguish it from the albums I'd bought. Unlike the packaging that came with my burned CD, the digital version proudly displayed a full-color cover.

I started to feel a little guilty.

To a certain extent, I'm OK with filesharing and copying. If I listen to a CD that someone has burned for me, or a song someone has e-mailed to me, I don't necessarily feel obligated to pay. Maybe I'll discover that I don't like the album or song. In that case I'll never listen to it again, and the artist is no worse off than if I'd never listened at all.

But I consider myself to be on the honor system. If I like the album or song enough for repeated plays, I need to fork out money for it.

So, Gordon. It was a good album. I liked it. It wasn't too late to buy it and make things right. I stopped into a Zia's some time later and found Barenaked Ladies CDs for sale. Yay! Except ...

I had a choice. I could buy a new CD for $17, or a used CD for much less—maybe around $9.

Under normal circumstances I would have just grabbed the cheaper one. But now I had a dilemma on my hands. The whole point of this venture was to give BNL my money. If I bought the used CD, they wouldn't see a cent of it.

That left the $17 new CD, which ... no. Gordon came out in 1992. It had stopped being new well before my friend burned it for me. $17 is a lot to pay for an eight-year-old album. I wanted to do the right thing, but I wasn't about to let the label gouge me either.

I walked out of Zia's with no CD in hand and very confused.

* * *

My recent writings about unauthorized downloading got me thinking about the Gordon situation. (No, I still haven't gotten around to buying a reasonably priced copy of their CD). Am I the only person who has faced this sort of thing? Maybe there are a lot of music lovers who would be happy to pay artists for tracks they've downloaded, but haven't gotten around to it ... and they already have the music, so there's no point in obtaining it again.

Then I thought, what if there were a convenient way?

Here's my idea. Build a site that uses Paypal or Paypal-like technology. Allow artists to register. Users could go to the site, find the artist they wanted to pay, and donate whatever they chose. They could do this to pay for music they downloaded, or just to support the band.

Users' names could be displayed (unless they wished to remain anonymous), along with messages to the artists.

We could call it Tip Jar. is taken, but it shouldn't be hard to come up with a good related domain name.

Would this pay for every unauthorized download? Doubtful. But it would be a step in the right direction, and the legal solutions haven't particularly worked. The goal is to develop a culture in which people recognize the value of supporting the artists they listen to, and to give them an easy way to do that.

I am not a programmer. If you'd like to take this idea and run with it, be my guest.

You can tip me for the idea when the site is up and running.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Anti-Valentine's Day Salad Bowl

A couple of friends of mine used to do an Internet radio show every week. It's been several years since they broadcast regularly, but they've decided to pick it up again for a special anti-Valentine's Day program, containing "songs of angst and anti-love."

No, they have nothing against love, romance, and all that good stuff. Mona and Adam have been married to each other for many years, and as far as I know they're pretty happy about it. The Anti-Valentine's Day Salad Bowl is meant as a protest against V-Day's crass commercialism.

Start Time: Saturday, February 13, 2010, at 9 p.m. EST
End Time: Sunday, February 14, 2010, at 12 midnight EST

Rumor has it that maybe, just maybe, a Cinder Bridge song will be included in the mix. Stay tuned!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Google vs. the music blogs

A few months after unleashing its music search feature, Google is in the music news again. Seems they've disappeared a few music blogs in response to violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Well, alleged violations, anyway. Says Devin Coldewey in Crunch Gear:
The sites in question were, of course, walking the line in terms of legality. MP3 blogs are scary to the music industry, because they represent such a challenge to the established promotional and sales flow. This is not the place for a whole argument about fair use, but I think most of what these blogs did would fall under that definition, woolly as it is. They hosted MP3s of artists they were discussing or promoting, but not whole albums. One of the bloggers notes that “everything I’ve posted for, let’s say, the past two years, has either been provided by a promotional company, came directly from the record label, or came directly from the artist.”
Full article here.

Technically speaking, Google has the right to do whatever it wants with the blogs it hosts. That doesn't make their decision the morally correct one. The actions they took present a perfect example of the draconian measures I've been talking about.

There are reasonable debates to be had over what intellectual property means in the digital age, and reasonable boundaries. It's not at all clear that the deleted blogs crossed the line, and the bloggers weren't given a chance to defend or change their actions before all their posts were deleted.

I've been trying to figure out how to post Cinder Bridge MP3s on this Google-hosted blog. Now I'm kind of afraid to. Who can predict whether the powers that be will notice or care that Cinder Bridge is MY BAND, and that I'm the copyright holder?

Because, let's face it: they're not trying to protect copyright holders like me. They're trying to protect a dying business model.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Exercising caution

Healthy readers: Have you ever secretly wondered if people with ME/CFS or fibromyalgia are contributing to their own problems? Do you think they would get better if they just exercised more?

Readers with ME/CFS or fibro: Have you become enormously frustrated by all the well-meaning friends and family members who say you should just exercise?

Caregivers: Are you ever accused of enabling when you don't try to force your kid/spouse/parent into more activity than your kid/spouse/parent can handle?

All y'all need to read this:

Debunking Myths: 'More Exercise' for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The article explains, in very plan language, how exercise can be harmful to people with ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. It's a good, informative read, and because it's associated with, people might actually take it seriously.

Bookmark the page. Send the link to your friends the next time they say you should be exercising. Maybe they'll finally get it. Or, if not, at least you didn't waste your breath on useless debates with those who are absolutely convinced that they know better than you.

Monday, February 8, 2010

My rambling thoughts on the piracy thing, part 2

Imagine the following hypothetical scenario.

A frail woman in her 90s slowly makes her way down a crowded city street. Suddenly a fifteen-year-old boy comes up from behind her, grabs her purse, and runs.

Take a mental snapshot of the scene. Got it? Great. Let's continue.

The kid rounds a corner, purse tucked under his arm. He's spotted by three police officers. Noticing the purse, which likely does not belong to him, they pursue. Eventually they corner him, grab him, and determine that he is unarmed.

Then they beat him within an inch of his life.

When you took your mental snapshot, you probably didn't like this kid at all. He was just some punk with no regard for the law or his victim. But what if the first time you heard about this, the papers were reporting how he lingered in a coma for two days, and how he may never walk again?

Because the punishment he received was so excessive, you might feel a little sorry for him. He was just a kid! He made one mistake, and now he'll be paying for it for the rest of his life!

Do you see where I'm going with this?

I got some intelligent, beautifully articulated comments on last week's piracy poll. The contributors didn't agree with each other about everything, but on one point there was consensus: fining somebody $25 thousand for illegally downloading 30 songs is ludicrous.

The RIAA may yet win its case—it's won similar settlements in the past—but it has lost the battle for hearts and minds. Now the people inclined toward piracy have the perfect rationalization. They're not depriving artists of income, they're sticking it to the man! And the people who believe piracy is wrong still view RIAA targets as victims. The thinking shifts from "We shouldn't take music without paying the artist" to "Good grief, it's not that bad."

If the RIAA truly wants us to understand that piracy is harmful, they need to make the punishments fit the crimes. Otherwise nobody is going to take them seriously.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

My rambling thoughts on the piracy thing, part 1

I first heard about Napster through a friend in 1999. He went on and on about how great it was, and how I absolutely had to try it.

I never bothered. Two words: dial-up.

But I understood why it was cool. You could find all kinds of songs that didn't exist in stores. You could turn other people on to your favorite bands, and they could turn you on to theirs. A total love-in. Dig it.

So when Napster's legal troubles began around a year later, they took me by surprise. The idea that their site enabled people to do anything illegal hadn't crossed my mind. The users were just music lovers, sharing music that they owned.

I never thought of it as stealing.

* * *

I'm a pretty honest, law-abiding person. I've never shoplifted. I don't cheat on my taxes. I tip my servers. If a friend told me that she shoplifted, or cheated on her taxes, or stiffed her servers, I would express my disapproval.

And despite all that—despite being a musician who has music for sale—I still can't get all that worked up about people who download music without paying for it.

For one thing, it's not exactly stealing. If you come to a Cinder Bridge gig and lift one of our CDs, then we don't have a copy of that CD anymore and no one else can buy it from us. That's theft. But if you get a bootleg copy off the Internet, we haven't actually lost anything.

Well, we may have lost the income we would have received had you paid for the album. But that assumes you would have paid for the album if you couldn't get it for free. Maybe you would have decided not to.

That doesn't make it right, necessarily. And it certainly doesn't justify a two thousand-song music library consisting entirely of pirated downloads. It just makes it ... different from theft.

This is a complex issue. I don't pretend to have all the answers. On the other hand, I've formed some pretty strong opinions about the RIAA, which believes it does have all the answers.

More on that in our next installment.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The anti-promoter

A few days ago, a reader made this remark in the comments thread for my informal piracy poll.
I listened to your stuff on MySpace and loved it--and I expected to not like it at all for some reason ...

Naturally, I'm thrilled whenever I hear that somebody loves our music. It means we're doing something right.

But, "I expected to not like it at all ..." What to make of that?

I'm lousy at promoting Cinder Bridge. I know it. I can even list some reasons why: I don't spend enough time getting our name out there. I haven't discovered where potential fans hang out. I don't know how to get people to buy without being spammy and annoying, so I don't try very hard.

That said, I thought my only sins were not connecting with enough people, and not sufficiently engaging their curiosity. It never occurred to me that I could be making people think they'd hate us.

So now I have to figure out if I am, in fact, giving people a bad impression of Cinder Bridge, or if the commenter had preconceived notions that had nothing to do with me. Any insights would be appreciated.

P.S.We don't suck.

P.P.S. Please buy our album.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

You had your time, you had the power

At a small gathering this weekend, I met a musician named Mikey King. He used to be in a local band called Street Pajama.

I'd never heard of Street Pajama. They disbanded before I moved to Tucson in 1991. But they were big around these parts. Really big.

Back in 1982, they came out with a song called "Screwed Again." I haven't heard it yet; Mikey describes it as "a cross between Rachmaninoff, Beef Stroganov, and New Wave." (Isn't that intriguing? I have to learn to describe our music like that so people listen to it or die of curiosity.) Anyway, it made the Billboard charts, not nationally, but for Tucson. A local station had a top-40-type show, and one week, "Screwed Again" reached the number one spot.

"Beat It," by Michael Jackson, was number two.

The song's ride to the top was short-lived. Once "Beat It" hit number one, "Screwed Again" dropped off the chart, never to be heard from again. Still, I find the story mind-boggling.

Forget the part about edging out Michael Jackson. Can you imagine a local song even appearing on a commercial radio station today? I almost said "local radio station" but stopped myself, because that's the point, isn't it? There are no real local commercial radio stations anymore. They're all run by a tiny handful of large corporations that have no connection to whatever cities they broadcast from.

All in all, the current era has been pretty good to Cinder Bridge. With the vastness of the Internet at our disposal, we and other indie bands can find audiences all over the globe. My band is probably better off than it would have been if we had to depend on radio (and labels, and traditional distribution).

But radio ...

That would have been cool.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Piracy poll

Jammie Thomas-Rassett is back in the news.

Who is Jammie Thomas-Rassett, you ask? She's a woman whom the RIAA has accused of illegally downloading 30 songs. Various verdicts have demanded that she pay $222 thousand, $1.92 million, and most recently, $54 thousand. The RIAA offered to settle for $25 thou. Thomas-Rassett's response: nuh uh.
"It is a shame that Ms. Thomas-Rasset continues to deny any responsibility for her actions rather than accept a reasonable settlement offer and put this case behind her," [RIAA spokeswoman Cara] Duckworth said. "Given this, we will begin preparing for a new trial."
Full story on PC World.

What think you:
  1. Is it ALWAYS wrong to download music without paying for it?

  2. At what point should the RIAA go after offenders? (After one illegal download? After the person downloads a certain number of songs? After the person distributes it? After the person resells it?)

  3. What's a reasonable punishment for someone who downloads 30 songs, then makes them available for other people to download?
I have my own thoughts on the matter, but they're kind of long and vague and rambling. I'll share them when I have more time and wakefulness at my disposal.