Friday, 25 August 2017

Words have power because you can't ignore them

One of the most difficult things in life can be learning when/how to ignore other people and blocking out things they say or the effect they have on you. It is a sad fact that in most conversations you have with people, that go beyond the very basic or mundane, the person you are conversing with will have some form of agenda that is not necessarily aligned with your own. These thoughts can, over time, get embedded under your brain and become difficult to shift. Like some clawing little beast inside your mind, you can't even remember why it is you suddenly feel the need to do something. It feels like a compulsion that you can't tie down until suddenly it hits you, this is because of that conversation you had with that weird guy in the uni lab isn't it. You remember, that one where he told you about his theory on life and how it's very fabric is affected by demon carrots and our zombie rabbit masters.

You see this is the danger of cognition and language. We hear, parse and understand language but we don't have some underlying system for processing it without it entering our brain first. It's not like the autonomous parts of the central nervous system, it has to actually fire neurons in our grey matter and get swirled around and reinforce the pathways that the thought takes. This means that simply by listening to an idea, even if it's complete garbage, we still run the risk of internalising it. This is the principle behind a lawyer blurting out something in a courtroom that is then stricken from the record. It was still heard and it will still influence the jury, whether they want it to or not.

This concept grows arms and legs when you consider that some people have things they want you to hear, even if they have no idea whether it's the best thing for you or whether the concept could cause you damage or get you in trouble. Words are a powerful thing and we would do well to not use them with complete abandon, as we most often do.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Happiness versus contentedness

Today I want to talk about the concept of happiness versus contentedness. I think most people would know what you meant if you discussed being happy but I feel that often we confuse happiness with contentedness. For me happiness is a much more fleeting emotion, centred around our current situation. If we eat a piece of chocolate we often feel a high, an upwards lift, but it is often tempered with a negate longer term effect. Contentedness, on the other hand, is a much more steadied emotion, calm and neither up nor down. It is also much less direct and it's cause can often be more difficult to tie down.

So how does happiness come about? Well, its roots seem to be in the pre-frontal cortex, the youngest part of the human brain. There is where a lot of rational thought occurs and is the area in which we spend most of consciousness. It is also the area of our brain over which we can exert the most control. We can easily change what we are immediately thinking about or doing, so we can make ourselves immediately happy. One of the best example of this can be seen with substances such as drugs and alcohol. Both have been known to numb negative emotions and create a positive sense of happiness. The same can be said of sexual promiscuity with a newly aquainted stranger. Again it may cause an immediate sense of happiness but the effects of such can be quite negative to our longer term goals.

In contrast to this contentedness is formed, in my opinion, in the older parts of the brain that deal with longer term emotions and what we would call the sub-conscious. Here is where a lot of our anxieties, troubles and any underlying issues tend to reside. These bubble up at random times in response to things that don't often seem to make much sense. This is also why we refer to not dealing with negative emotions as "burying" them. We don't deal with them immediately, to avoid our un-happiness, and instead allow them to enter our deeper sub-conscious brain. Because contentedness comes from a much deeper part of our brain, it can feel much more difficult to get a handle on. Cause and effect seems much less entwined and the emotions arising from this part of our brain can often seem quite chaotic. What created them is often so removed from their eventual symptom that we feel like the brain is acting in a random way.

In short I believe that we can have a happy young brain and a happy old brain (A painful neurological simplification, but a useful one none the less). If we feed our young brain mental chocolate it will be happy but paradoxically this could be creating a situation in which our old brain is becoming increasingly worried, upset and anxious. The opposite is also often true in that to make our old brain happy we have to focus on longer term contentedness, often to the detriment of our immediate happiness. A good example of this is a task such as garden-work. We cut the grass and pull up weeds because the garden has gotten to the point where it needs done. It's not a task we particularly enjoy (Although, admittedly, I do now) but we do it because we know that if we leave it, we will end up in a worse situation and the stress will cause us to be in a state that is not content. The immediate happiness of watching our favourite TV show or doing something else enjoyable is tempered with the longer term discontent. To quote the bible, "When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things." Children, almost pathologically, seek out happiness with little thought towards contentedness. As adults we try to explain to them why it's important to not just eat ice cream all the time or watch TV until their eyes glaze over. The truth is that we are often so ill informed of our own discontent that we are not best placed to actually explain to them why this is important. With a little work to understand though, we can be.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Name change!

So recently I decided to start using DistroKid to get my music out there into the bigger, wider world. It's a great service that will let you upload as many releases as you do in a year for a flat rate fee per year. It uploades to all the usual suspects, iTunes, Spotify etc. Seems great right? Well it is until you discover that your stage name "Pipo" is shared with a French Salsa musician who has a larger fanbase than you and thus dwarfs all your releases. Not so good! With that in mind, and to avoid any potential legal matters, I have decided to re-brand. My new name will be "Pipo Animatronic". This should be easy for people to find, has a nice ring to it and fits well how I feel about myself a lot of the time. I often feel like i'm more of an imitation human, trying to understand the world around me, while getting it wrong a lot of that time, and that fits well the image of an animatronic puppet.

Saturday, 1 April 2017


Sometimes in life it's difficult not to get carried away by wanting things and not really understanding why. What you want could be something material like a new car or even something situational like wanting to be able to do what someone else is doing at a given time. We desire what we don't currently have but often this is actually just the product of unchecked envy. A little envy can be useful if it drives us to better our situation but often it can be problematic and lead to greed and also to following paths that aren't good for us. That's the key factor that most people ignore when dealing with this, the other variable in the situation - other people.

Let's say that you go into work and someone in your team has a beautiful shiny new ferrari. They have been saving for months and months and they just want to tell you all about and how great it is. You listen intently but start to get annoyed, you wish it was you with the new car. You wish it was you with that proud smile. This is because you are only seeing the present, the other person's happiness, the fact they get to drive home in it tonight. What you don't see is how long they probably had to save, what they had to go without, what they will have to do to keep it running and well maintained. It also might not bring you the same happiness it is bringing them. Your situation is different after all. Ironically it's a danger of only living in the present and not thinking about the future or the past.

Another key place that I see this type of thinking (and I suffer from this sometimes as well, much to my frustration) is when people are dealing with their careers and creative pursuits. They want that promotion, that bigger fanbase, that perfect sound. They see an artist playing a style of music and want to go home and start doing that as well as their own stuff. The problem is that this can lead to following hundreds of different paths when a lot of them aren't necessarily even correct or compatible with the life the person has chosen for themselves. None of the paths are bad, but they doesn't make them right either. What if that artists dedicates 8 hours a day to doing just that style? What if the person getting promoted is working 3 hours every night after work because they really love the job? What if you aren't prepared to do that or would even be capable of it? Well maybe then it's worth considering what path is your correct path, rather than what path you would like to have right now. The question isn't "Would I like to have that?", it's "How much work would I prepared to put in to get to that point and keep going?" and also "What would I have to give up to get that?".

I'm not Steve Jobs biggest fan, that's for sure, but there is an old interview where he talks about Apple's strengths and brings up one point about this area. I'm not saying he's some guru or source of wisdom but there is always a danger in ignoring everything someone says just because you don't agree with the vast majority of their outlooks, so i'm including it here. He states that Apple's biggest strength was their ability to decide which things to pursue and which things to ignore, even if they were good opportunities. I think that's key, it's not about the easy things to say no to, everyone can do those. It's about having the discipline to say that some things aren't for you, so you can work on the things you really want, which are right for you and knowing how to recognise those things.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Giving up on apple

That's it, a step too far, i've had enough! I am going back to Windows and Linux.

Okay, click-bait aside, let's talk about this rationally. Basically i've been getting progressively more annoyed with apple's direction for a while now and here's why.

1. Lack of investment in pro/creative products and software

The mac pro and to a similar extent the Macbook pro have seen very little in the way of genuine upgrades recently. The Macbook Pro, following it's most recent upgrade, is now an under-powered, over-priced faux-luxury machine and simply doesn't compete with the PC options on any front. The laptop options in it's price range are both numerous, and, generally speaking, better value. The Mac Pro is basically a product no-one doing anything professionally actually wants now. It hasn't been upgraded in any meaningful way since for years. It's essentially just a halo product but it's not aspirational for anyone other than people who are strongly tied into the i-world. Apple's products used to be the best built, the best running etc and they simply aren't keeping up anymore with the other options out there. I understand that Apple has optimised the OS to work well on the hardware but there is only so far you can push it before it's simply a smokescreen. Does Final Cut render faster than Adobe Premier Pro for a lesser spec'd Mac to PC? Sure. Does it offer the same feature set and usability of Premier Pro? No, not even close and that's the key point here. If you want to use Apple products you have to think their way and utilise the system in exactly the method they intended. They may think differently but often they think too simply to be any use beyond the trivial.

Back in the day Steve Jobs used to tell everyone that Apple was the company that cared about what they made, that took pride in the small details and doing a good job, a better job than it's competitors. If that's still the case, why are they encouraging a sort of dumb, blank mind, stupidity amongst their customers? One click functionality is great if you nail what the customer actually wants to happen with that click. If, however, you simply take away all the options and leave the one-click functionality as the only option you create a system that is so inflexible that it really is just a toy. Yes if you want to invest a lot of money into the various parts of the ecosystem, on a regular basis, then you can have a very nice toy but nothing more. In short, Apple now concerns itself with the trivial, not the pro or the creative user.

2. The price

What the hell are Apple on thinking they can get away with the current pricing. For years and years Apple were the hyper expensive alternative to traditional PCs. They had barely any market share until they started pricing themselves competitively. This happened around the time they switched to intel based processors and anyone that was around at that time will recall their carefully detailed argument about the fact that being on Intel would allow them to LOWER prices due to the standardised architecture and lower production costs than IBM equivalents. Now it seems they want to go back to the old world, charging extortionate amounts for machines that don't really offer any advantage. There is no doubt that in my mind that almost every product Apple now sells is overpriced. Apart from the $300 picture book of course, which represents brilliant value for money................

3. The focus on the mobile world

For years now Apple seem to have had their entire focus on the mobile market. iPhones and iPads are fine as a business proposition but not if you do it at the expense of your entire pro market. I already mentioned that Apple's focus has been on the trivial use case and this represents exactly that movement. Can you make a nice picture book on your iPad? sure. Whip out that same iPad in a studio recording situation as your main mixing platform and chances are you are not going to get paid for that session.

4. Stability

I used to use Mac OSX because it was the nicest, most stable OS around. Having moved back to Windows I can honestly say that's not the case anymore. Windows is behaving itself really pretty well and on those few occasions that it crashes I can usually figure out what went wrong and actually apply some logic to fix the problem. I grew up using windows machines and it's nice to go back to a world that seems both familiar and to be applying some more rationality to it's problem solving.

5. Bizarre software design

It's only going back to PC that i'm starting to get a sense of just how warped my perception of the whole computing world had become by using OSX and Apple products. Everything on a Mac is something other than what you are used to and i'd just gotten familiar with this weird way of working. It's nice not having to "quit" my application after i've closed it. It's nice having a menu with all my apps available if I forget to put something into the dock or quick launch area. I appreciate the familiarity of "Save as copy" over "Duplicate". Everything just feels like it makes sense again. I have to put more work into some things sure, but that work is rewarded by knowing the system i've put in place and understanding why it is the way it is. On Mac you think you understand what's going on and then suddenly you find that you've once again stumbled into some 7th circle of Hell reserved only for those who like they're entire project structures buried inside unreadable file/bundle/other random container that changes with each release. Everything about the way Mac works with applications is crow-barred into this strange way of thinking that OSX has and it's not until you step back from the edge of the cliff that you see just how messed up it actually is.