Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#LEGODimensions Is Basically a Long Episode of #DoctorWho

I am not a gamer. Well, I was sort of a "gamer." I played extensively on the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the first version of the Sony PlayStation, and the first version of the Nintendo Wii. All of those consoles are probably gathering dust in a dark corner of the world, somewhere.

Even if I was a "gamer" at some point in my life, I never gained any satisfaction from the mechanics of the game itself. I only concerned myself with whether the story was "cool" or if the concepts related to the story were "cool" or if the aesthetic design of the game was "cool."

The only game I currently play on a part-time basis is Diablo III: Reaper of Souls. I am under the impression that many, if not most, players enjoy action role-playing games/dungeon crawler games, like the Diablo series, because of the game mechanics. They tend to like the randomness of the maps and the possibility of finding awesome "loot," i.e., upgrades to their player character's equipment.

I play Diablo with my brother, and I like to pretend we're like the medieval, dark fantasy version of the Winchester brothers (Supernatural). I enjoy clicking away on my mouse with that concept in mind: Saving people, hunting things. I also appreciate the isometric perspective of this action RPG, but even still, I am not a gamer.

I remember enjoying the NES game Castlevania II: Simon's Quest, even though it was a confusing game to beat. I suppose I really just liked the concept of killing monsters and Dracula. In any case, I mused that it would be cool if they re-made Simon's Quest in the isometric style of Diablo.

I ran that idea by a friend, a true gamer, who informed me that the classic Castlevania games were meant to be side-scrolling platform-jumping games, not an isometric hack-and-slash. This was the point were I kind of understood that I was not a "gamer" -- in the sense of being fan of game mechanics -- but merely someone who enjoyed a silly/serious video game story, coupled with a sense of aesthetics.

It took me several paragraphs to provide context for the actual subject of this blog post, the recently-released "toys-to-life" adventure game LEGO Dimensions. I did not buy a $400 current-generation game console (Xbox One, PlayStation 4, or Wii U). I did not buy the $100 starter pack version of LEGO Dimensions, and neither did I purchase the various add-ons to the game.

What I did do, was gather minifigures of Gandalf the Grey, Wyldstyle from The LEGO Movie, and a cobbled-together Batman. If purchased from a Bricklink seller, those three minifigures would probably cost anywhere from $15 to $20. I also watched nearly three hours of cutscenes from LEGO Dimensions on YouTube ...

And I enjoyed every minute of it.

The premise of LEGO Dimensions is that an inter-dimensional warlord named Vortech wants to conquer all the parallel LEGO realities (minus the Disney-licensed ones), and it's your job to stop him. It's basically a grander sequel to The LEGO Movie. There are many non-Disney character franchises involved, including DC Comics, The Lord of the Rings, The Simpsons, Back to the Future, Portal, old school Midway arcade games, Scooby-Doo, and Doctor Who.

There are so many mash-ups of realities and characters and worlds and concepts that LEGO Dimensions' storyline actually feels like a very long episode of Doctor Who -- or an off-the-wall episode of Supernatural. While some non-player characters (who might be player characters with the purchase of individual add-on minifigures) feel like glorified cameos -- you must save Homer Simpson, Superman shows up to shoot a laser, etc. -- The Doctor is a strong supporting character to the three leads -- Gandalf, Wyldstyle, and Batman. The Doctor and his TARDIS show up at the right moments, as a sort of deus ex machina to resolve various sticky situations for our starter pack heroes.

The entire idea of warping from world to world, from quasi-historical time period to speculative futuristic time period and all times in between, is very Doctor Who. Any kid -- or adult -- who plays with LEGO will almost always mash-up divergent worlds, whether yellow LEGO minifigures or flesh-colored licensed LEGO minifigures, much like any silly, feel-sy episode of Doctor Who.  You make stuff as you go along when playing with LEGO; fantasy shows like Doctor Who often feel like they're making stuff as they go along -- and it's totally wonderful!

If you are a gamer with a current console, and you enjoy the LEGO aesthetic, then it's a no-brainer to spend all sorts of money on this game. If you aren't a gamer, but you enjoy LEGO things, just watch the cutscenes on YouTube. The same goes for fans of The LEGO Movie and/or Doctor Who. LEGO Dimensions is just delightful.

I hope you all have a happy October! Cheers!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

#LunarEclipse "#BloodMoon" #Tetrad: 2014-2015

I can honestly say that I witnessed and photographed all four lunar eclipses during the 2014 - 2015 "tetrad" period. Of course, tetrad means a group of four, so I might as just simply state that I witnessed and photographed four lunar eclipses between the years 2014 and 2015. A lunar eclipse is also called a blood moon because -- I hope I'm in the ballpark of accuracy here -- the Earth's shadow on the moon tends to look reddish due to the filter of the Earth's atmosphere.

The next tetrad period will take place in 2032 and 2033, or so Google tells me.

In all likelihood, the tetrad is not a harbinger of supernatural doom, at least in the natural, mortal realm. Of course, there might be alternate, parallel, lower, and higher dimensions that share the sphere of the Earth, like the locations of Heaven and Hell in the comic book Hellblazer, or the movie/TV show Constantine. Perhaps in those realms, four blood moons in a short period of time might mean something special, or scary.

Then again, NASA just found out that Mars has running water, so anything is possible, I suppose.

I'd like to quickly reminisce about the past four lunar eclipses.

Moon and ... planet?

The first blood moon of the tetrad occurred during the overnight hours of April 14 and 15, 2014. I watched the moon turn red and back again between the hours of 11 PM and 3 AM, Pacific (Daylight?) Time. Overnight moon-watching and stargazing is a cold activity, but at least I am located in relatively warm Southern California.

Moon and ... plane!

If there were any complications photographing the April 2014 blood moon, and I'm sure there were, then I must have applied these lessons learned when photographing the second blood moon on October 8, 2014. I watched the moon from around 2 AM to 6 AM, otherwise known as the coldest part of the night. I was satisfied with the photos this time around, so I made a time lapse video of the celestial event.

Moon and camera.

The third lunar eclipse occurred on April 4, 2015. I photographed the moonlit skies between 3 AM and 6 AM, and a spring night is just as cold as an autumn night. Apparently, I wasn't just satisfied with photographing a blood moon against a dark sky. I used an additional camera to photograph my astrophotography setup, in a sort of moon-related Inception.

Moon and trees.

The fourth lunar eclipse occurred a few days ago, on September 27, 2015. It is possibly my favorite blood moon of the tetrad because I didn't have to stay up all night to witness it. I photographed this eclipse, which was also a slightly larger "supermoon," from around 7 PM to 10 PM. I had to throw all the lessons learned from past eclipses because for two main reasons: (1) Where I live, the eclipse actually began when the moon was rising around 6 PM, but mountains, trees, and buildings blocked my view until around 7 PM, and (2) unlike the previous three eclipses, last Sunday was a relatively cloudy night.

One of my favorites of the night is shown above, with the red moon partially obscured by a tree. The the naked eye, the moon was mostly blocked by both the tree and a cloudy sky. The bright sliver on the right side of the moon was the only hint of the moon's presence. I had to expose the photo of a second or so, to make the moon appear visible. The previous three eclipses were red moons against black skies, but this photo has a red moon against a dark blue sky, with trees in black silhouette.

Looking through my other photos of Sunday's eclipse, there were some interesting photos with the red moon being extra-filtered by cloud cover. I already have a large archive of red moons against black skies, so having the moon low in the sky, with obstacles like clouds and trees in the way, was actually a blessing in disguise. I was able to take interesting photographs of the moon. I might share these photos later, on my Instagram profile.

The moral of the story, or at least what I'm trying to get at, is that it's better to take interesting pictures than to just "phone it in," or photograph in the same style as mostly everyone else. There is a joke by the Oatmeal, in which all of Monday's social media is full of full moon, blood moon, supermoon photographs.  Why publish a similar photograph, when you can publish something a little bit different? It's partially the reason why I default to photographing little LEGO minifigures doing whimsical things: If I can't take an interesting photo of something happening, then I might as well make something interesting happen (in plastic), and photograph it.

May all our photos be interesting. May all our lives be interesting.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Question Everything, Especially Unorthodox Conclusions from Questioning Everything

Generally, it is "good" to be skeptical, to question authority. Nudging against the status quo, risking missteps along the way, has always been a driving force in the progression of human society. Not being satisfied with current technology often leads to advances in technology. Lesser lords (and serfs, but no one asked them) being unsatisfied outright feudalism has given way, through the course of history, to a more subtle feudal way of life. Yes, most of us are still serfs, peasants, and smallfolk. In any case ...

Too much of a "good" thing is likely a "bad" thing. What happens when questioning everything goes too far? Well, it doesn't go far enough because questioning further tends to curb some of the craziness related to questioning society, science, and religious matters.


I might be creating a strawman here, but it seems that the archetypal conspiracy theorist (for this post: "ACT") believes that everything is a conspiracy. An ACT seems to believe that every newsworthy violent crime, usually a mass shooting or act of terrorism, is a false flag -- a staged event that becomes propaganda for the New World Order or the Illuminati or the devil himself, in order to further some diabolical plot to take over the world. Of course, I'm arguing with a strawman ACT here, but the entire premise of everything being a conspiracy is flawed: Why would an entity that already allegedly controls the world need some convoluted supervillain scheme to ... control the world?

If everything is a conspiracy by the New World Order, then, unfortunately, it is already too late because the New World Order (or the Illuminati or the Reptilians or the Daleks) are already in charge. Any rantings and ravings by an ACT amounts to slacktivism. Are any of these ACTs willing to actually act on this information, to become martyrs against the evil that's already in charge? No takers? Well, how would we know if there are any ACT martyrs, since all media usually is part of the everything-conspiracy?

Of course, this is not to say that nothing is a conspiracy. I'm fairly certain that as long as there are human beings who consider themselves to be kings and nobles, usually sans title, and these people wheel and deal in yachts and high rises and statehouses, then diabolical schemes of all kinds can happen, have happened, will happen, and currently are happening ... just not all the time.

The Earth is round.

I don't believe I'm creating a strawman when I describe what flat-earthers tend to believe: They believe the Earth is flat. It is generally accepted that our home planet is a wobbly sphere with some gravitational love handles around the equator, which orbits a star we call the Sun, which orbits the center of our galaxy, and so on and so forth.

Flat-earthers tend to believe that the Earth is flat, similar to how it is depicted on the United Nations flag. In this version of geography/astronomy/cosmology, the continent of Antarctica is actually an ice wall around the border of the flat Earth. Flat Earth ideology tends to hand in hand with geocentric cosmology, of course, in which the flat Earth is the center of the Universe.

Flat Earth cosmology has at least one flaw: The north star Polaris. In the Northern Hemisphere, if you point a camera at the north star Polaris, and let it expose for several minutes, the resulting photo will show star trails. Polaris is a bit off from true north, but the stars (see photo, above) will seemingly trail around Polaris, due to the round Earth's rotation.

Of course, flat Earth cosmology will say that star trails are the result of the sky's orbit around the flat Earth. Even that has a flaw: The Southern Hemisphere. South of the Equator contains much of Africa, most of South America, and all of Australia, Oceania, and the "ice wall" itself, Antarctica. You can't see Polaris south of the Equator. Northern Hemisphere star trail photographs revolve around Polaris, but Southern Hemisphere star trail photographs revolve around a void because there is no southern pole star at the moment. Clear north and south views at the Equator will have two sets of star trail arcs -- north and south.

Basically, the Earth is a round, rotating planet. Now if you were to say that the mortal realm inhabits the sphere of the Earth in its own mortal dimension, sharing the sphere of the Earth with other dimensions -- like Heaven, Hell, parallel Earths, Plato's Realm of Forms, etc. -- that would make for a fun conversation ... of little to no consequence.

Sky gods, storm gods, and thunder gods, oh my!

This subset of "questioning everything" has way too many all-too real examples to fit into this already-lengthy blog post. Zealous followers of a religion -- or a denomination of a religion -- tend to be theological elitists. That is to say, the specifics of a particular denominational theology is, in fact, the capital-T Truth ... and everyone else is a heretic. Even equivalent versions of the monotheistic God are different beings altogether. I'll provide a few examples, and I'll try to refute these examples.

Followers of Messianic Judaism believe in a messiah named Yahshua. They do not believe in the Christian Christ named Jesus, or at least that's what Messianic blogs tend to say. Some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians reciprocate the belief: Jesus is not Yahshua, and Yahshua is not Jesus.

I understand that there are myriad differences in theology between Messianic Jews and Christians in general, and theological differences among the various denominations within Christianity. Here's the flaw: Etymologically, the religious figure with the name "Yah is salvation" is basically the same figure in both Messianic Judaism and Christianity. The messiah named Yahshua is the same as the Christ named Jesus, as well as the messiah prophet Isa in Islam ... and I'm sure a future comic book cult will have an epic hero named Josh, if there isn't already. The question, of course, is whether a specific religion or denomination recognizes "Yah is salvation" as a Person/Aspect/Mode of a Triune God, a singular Son of God, a singular Man-God, a singular God-Man, or just a man, with a man's courage.

Then there's the Abrahamic God himself, often identified as Yahweh or El. I remember reading a few Jack Chick tracts that accuse the Islam's Allah as being a moon god, unrelated to the Judeo-Christian tradition of God. Here's the flaw: Christian scriptures in Arabic use the name Allah to refer to God, which was derived from the name El -- the Abrahamic God (et cetera). Theological differences aside, Abraham's El is the same as the Muslim Allah, the Christian God the Father (and perhaps the entire Trinity), and the Jewish G-d.

Something interesting happens when you throw in the Canaanite equivalent to Abraham's God, El. This is probably the inaccurate Wikipedia version of ancient Canaanite theology and mythology, but the head god of the Canaanite pantheon was also named El. The sky god El had hundreds of god children, one of whom was a storm god named Yahweh. Other gods, like Baal and Dagon and Moloch and whoever else, were Yahweh's siblings and rivals. This eerily sounds similar to Latter Day Saint theology/cosmology, in which the main god, God the Father, had several god children, including Jesus, Lucifer (Satan), and all of pre-born humanity, I think.

Anyway, if we line up general Christian theology with this speculative ancient Canaanite theology, we might wonder where "Yah is salvation" (Jesus) fits in here -- Is Jesus the son of Yahweh, Yahweh himself, or both (due to the Trinity doctrine)? If Jesus is merely Yahweh's son, then in the Canaanite pantheon, that means that El is Jesus' grandfather.

We'll find this multi-generational, familial equivalent across the Mediterranean, in Greco-Roman mythology. The sky god, the personification of the heavens, Uranus had many children, one of whom was the harvest god Cronus/Saturn. Cronus had many children, one of whom was the storm god Zeus/Jupiter. Farther north, in Norse mythology, the mysterious god Bor had many children, one of whom was the god of wisdom and a lot of other things, Odin. Odin had many children, one of whom was the thunder god Thor.

Every day is a dog's day of rest.
Equivalent gods may or may not have equivalent special days. In Judaism, El and Yahweh are the same God, and his special rest day of the week is the seventh-day Sabbath (also Shabbat or Shabbos), from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. For most of Christianity, Jesus' special day is the Lord's Day, Sunday. The Islamic day of prayer is Friday. Greco-Roman Uranus has no special day of the week, but Cronus/Saturn's day is obviously Saturday. Zeus/Jupiter's day is Jove's Day or Jueves, which is Thursday. Norse Bor has no special weekly day, but Odin has Wotan's Day, or Wednesday. Thor has Thor's Day -- Thursday.


I've written such a convoluted rant about equivalent gods and their special days to highlight why we shouldn't be satisfied with unorthodox conclusions and unlikely connections. If you're going to question events and suspect conspiracies, then push further, and hopefully realize when far-fetched schemes prove to be fictional. If you're going to question modern science, then push further, and hopefully realize when archaic cosmologies do not hold true, even with simple observations.

If conspiracies and/or "different" scientific hypotheses prove to be fact, or working theories, then do something about it.  Don't be a slacktivist.

If you're going to question which god is which, and whose god is whose, then push further, and hopefully realize that the holy rest days for supreme gods cover Wednesday (Odin), Thursday (Thor and Zeus/Jupiter), Friday (El/Allah/Yahweh), Saturday (El/Yahweh and Cronus/Saturn), and Sunday (Jesus). Push further, and try to find supreme gods to cover Monday (the Moon's day) and Tuesday (Mardi, the war god Mars' day).

At the very least, five-day weekends are sacred, indeed.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

#StandWithAhmed: Pick Up a #SolderingIron and #LearnSomething -- #KeepBuilding

I was going to write a quick post about fixing broken things (because "people who buy things are suckers" - Ron Swanson), with a deceptive publishing date and time of September 15th, at 11:11 PM. Of course, I am writing this blog post several hours after 11:11 PM, and it is currently the 16th.

I decided to keep the publishing date and time of this blog as accurately as possible because I am going to comment a little bit about the news today. Apparently, and you can Google this, a Texas teenager named Ahmed Mohamed built a D.I.Y. LED clock. Ahmed showed it off to his high school science teacher, who allegedly advised Ahmed to not show it off to the other teachers. The LED clock made a noise during Ahmed's English class. The English teacher asked the kid where the sound came from, so he was obligated to show off the clock. The English teacher allegedly and ignorantly overreacted, sending Ahmed to the principal's office, who also allegedly overreacted, calling the police. In turn, the police officers arrested the 14 or 15 year old boy, under the charge of making a bomb threat hoax.

Ahmed maintained it was a clock the whole time. I've seen a photo of the clock on a Texas newspaper's website. The insides of the clock consisted of a circuit board with capacitors and whatnot, an LED screen for the clock's display, a 9-volt connector for battery power, a power cord for wall power, and wires to make the entire contraption work. None of the components resembled any sort of explosive -- C4 or TNT or a flaming bag of poo -- real or fake.

After the incident became a public-knowledge news story, all charges against Ahmed were apparently swept away, with no one apologizing (yet) to the boy. By and large, people on the Internet have been supportive of Ahmed's tinkering interests and potential for technological greatness, condemning the actions of the English teacher, the principal, and the police officers involved.

I could make this blog entry about the possible prejudices and biases of the English teacher for assuming Ahmed's clock was a bomb, the principal for assuming the clock was a fake bomb, or the police officers for arresting Ahmed. I could hypothesize that Ahmed's Sudanese heritage or his family's Islamic religion may have played a factor in this whole big "misunderstanding." A lot of articles and comments have already articulated that possible angle to the story.

No, this blog article is about you and me, learning new things, in the hope that neither of us will be total dumbasses like Ahmed's English teacher, principal, and arresting officers. If you haven't already, pick up a soldering iron, some solder, and wire something. Upgrade something. Fix something. Make something. Learn something!

From my relatively little experience (two or three years?) wiring things, here are a few pointers on using a soldering iron and working with electrical machines/electronics:

1. Wear safety goggles, and try not to get burned or electrocuted. Obviously unplug the electrical devices that you are modifying. Solder might have lead in it, so it's best to work in a nicely-ventilated area.

2. Make sure your soldering iron is hot hot hot before soldering components together. In other words, plug it in to turn it on, then wait. Wait some more. Then it's good to go.

3. Use the soldering iron on the component relevant connector, heating the part, which melts the solder, with flows -- creating the joint. Do not melt the solder directly, which will almost always create an unreliable cold solder joint.

4. Do not let the soldering iron linger on a component, which might damage the component. That's why your soldering iron should be hot hot hot -- it will heat a component to melt solder in mere moments and not several seconds to possibly damage the component.

There. I'm guessing that's enough information to replace a light switch. If you do enough simple house-fixing electrical work, you probably won't mistake a homemade digital clock for a prop bomb or a real bomb. What else can you do with this basic knowledge of electrical/electronics?


Yes, this is a repeat of a previous blog entry. If you play the electric guitar or bass guitar, you can always swap out stock pickups for nicer-sounding ones. Along the way, you'll stumble onto concepts and techniques like tinning wire, splicing wire, using shrink tubing to protect your connections, and making sure the entire mess of wire can fit into the electronics cavity of the guitar body.


Instead of throwing "broken" electronics away, you might be able to fix them yourself. It's basically a three-step "duh!" process:

1. Diagnose the cause of the problem.

2. Fix the cause of problem.

3. Check if the problem has been solved. If not, repeat steps 1 to 3.

I know I blogged about this earlier, but my fancy right speaker stopped working correctly. It made a horrendous sound when it was powered on, and any actual audio was pointless through that particular speaker. Using the three-step system:

1. I went on Google and found forums and blogs with information from people who suffered the same exact speaker problem. I basically copied what they did.

2. I purchased new capacitors on Amazon for cheap, unsoldered the busted capacitors, cut the glue away on the circuit board, and soldered on the new capacitors.

3. I checked that the repair was successful.

Sometimes, a good fix doesn't even require a soldering iron. Sometime last week, my mom's oven stopped getting hot. You could smell the gas enter the oven, which meant that (1) the gas line still worked and (2) the oven wasn't igniting the gas to create heat. Using the three-step system:

1. The oven needed a new igniter (or ignitor, however it's spelled).

2. Amazon sold a replacement igniter (or ignitor) for cheap -- cheaper than a specialty store for oven parts, way cheaper than a repairman doing the same easy task, and way way cheaper than buying a new oven. All it took were a few screws and a few clicks to disconnect the old ignitor, and to connect the new ignitor.

3. The repair was successful.


Again, I blogged about this before, but LED lights are cool -- and wiring LED lights into new configurations is even cooler! I made my pedalboard light up and follow the music.

Some days I feel misanthropic, resigning myself to the conclusion that human beings will never be better, and that is why people are usually crappy to each other. On these misanthropic days, I feel that there is no point to humanity; we're just a bunch of relatively hairless, violent, evil primates. We've been that way for 10,000 years of civilization, for 200,000 years of being "sapient," and for 2,000,000 years of being "human" -- however you count the time, and however you define humanity.

It's days like these that kind of give me hope. Kids like Ahmed, who tinker and wonder and explore and learn, give me hope. Older people who dare to learn new tricks and redefine themselves in new trades also give me hope that humanity can be better.

On the other side of the token, we have the dumbasses who ignorantly accused Ahmed of wrongdoing, attempting to squash his potential for being a better human being. It's the dumbasses who bully the nerds, out of jealousy or giggles. It's the dumbasses who hold us back as human beings. It's the dumbasses who aren't better and will probably never be better.

It's up to you and you and you to be better. It's as simple as picking up a tool you've never used before to do something useful with it. Unlike Ahmed's English teacher, and everyone who is like Ahmed's English teacher, you will be able to tell the difference between a neat D.I.Y. LED clock (good technology!) from an explosive device (evil technology!). You will be able to encourage kids like Ahmed to be better people and innovate the future, instead of destroying their potential.

So fire up that soldering iron! (And be safe about it!)


Thursday, September 10, 2015

A "No Contest / No Decision" Will Also Ruin a Perfect Record, Like a Loss or a Draw #mayweather #boxing

A boxer can win a fight in one of about four ways: Knocking out an opponent for a 10-count, the referee stopping the fight to protect a defenseless opponent for a technical knock out, the referee disqualifying the opponent, and the judges handing a decision at the end of the fight. The judges can also hand a decision against a fighter, giving him a loss, or the judges' scores might render a match a draw -- no one wins.

What is out of the hands of the fighters and the judges is a fight that ends in a no decision, or no contest. This usually happens when the referee stops the fight in the early rounds, due to an accident between the fighters, with no one to penalize. There isn't much in the score card to bring it to the judges, so the fight is neither a win/loss nor a draw.

It is a no decision, and for all intents and purposes, the fight never really happened, except that it happened. Therefore, it is on the record books as a no contest, usually in parentheses, after a fighter's wins, losses, and draws: W-L-D-(ND/NC). There's probably a legal difference between no contests and no decisions, but from what I've seen, they both end up in the same column in the online record books. I'm going to use both terms, treating them as synonyms, which might be a bit confusing.

I have written this long introduction because the actual "meat" of this topic is in a lengthy investigative report on SB Nation, regarding drug testing and Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s possible illegal action before his fight against Manny Pacquiao last May. Basically, the allegation is that Mayweather rehydrated himself with an IV, to suspicious levels, which might imply that the IV was hiding something banned (or not) in the process. The drug testing agency for the fight, the United States Anti-Doping Agency, knew about this, gave it a pass, and didn't inform the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Before that very same fight, Pacquiao was denied the use of a legal anti-inflammatory drug, which implies that there was a sort of double-standard between fighters for this fight.

Like a no-decision conclusion to a fight, this controversy is pretty much in the hands of certain boxing gods (i.e., the influential humans who wheel and deal behind the scenes). There has been talk that the Pacquiao camp, including promoter Bob Arum, would contest the judges' unanimous decision for Mayweather, given these new and potentially condemning circumstances. The Nevada State Athletic Commission, presumably, could overturn the fight's decision, rendering the match as a no decision. This would change Mayweather's perfect 48-0-0-(0) into a slightly imperfect 47-0-0-(1).

I don't know if this controversy will pan out any more than the current talk. I highly doubt that the Nevada State Athletic Commission or any regulatory body will overturn the outcome of last May's fight. It's possible, but not very probable. This entire episode is an interesting "jab," if not a "power punch," against Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s assertion that he is "The Best Ever."

In any case, if certain other boxing gods (i.e., not influential humans but divine forces of fate) were to stop smiling on Mayweather, they would affect this Saturdays' fight against Andre Berto. For example, there would be an accidental headbutt in the early rounds, perhaps the second round. The referee would stop the fight. Unable to use the judges' scorecards, the contest would conclude with no decision.

A record of 48-0-0-(1) is an awesome way to "end" a career; it just isn't "The Best Ever." But in all likelihood, at the end of the night, Mayweather's record will improve to 49-0-0-(0), like Rocky Marciano before him, ...

... unless Berto wins.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

How to Avoid Lead Singer's Disease / Lead Vocalist Syndrome

September 5th marks the 69th birthday of the late Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara. His alter ego, the great Freddie Mercury, lives on forever and ever. While Fred succumbed to an actual disease, the greatest frontman of rock history never succumbed to lead singer's disease.

Lead singer's disease is a real problem (if you've ever been in a band). Short definition: Lead singer's disease -- or lead vocalist syndrome, lead singer's syndrome, frontman's gonorrhea (I made that one up), etc. -- happens when all the attention that society generally gives to the frontman of a band goes to his/her head, and the band -- and their music -- suffer for it. Lead singer's disease can also infect non-singing band leaders, and sometimes non-singing virtuoso players, typically the lead guitarist. Sidemen who are not band leaders, usually in the rhythm section and almost always the bass player, are fairly immune to this disease. If the band has a keyboardist who is stuck in the way back onstage, then he/she is also immune to lead singer's disease.

Solo artists, by definition, cannot be affected by lead singer's disease as it affects band dynamics, but they can suffer ego-related infections that can affect relationships with the audience, friends, family, associates, etc. It's ironic that many solo artists who fancy themselves as powerhouse singers often cite Freddie Mercury as an influence, and someone they want to emulate in their careers.

If they really wanted to follow Freddie Mercury's footsteps, they would have joined a band. When I say "band," I don't mean a singer-songwriter and his/her backing band, I mean a band of true collaborators, songwriters, checks, and balances. Fred's band Queen was a band of bands. By many accounts, they argued plenty, but they cooperated more often than not. Queen consisted of a showman who sometimes played the piano (Fred), a guitar hero (Brian May), a master bassist (John Deacon), and a cool drummer who sang really high backup notes (Roger Taylor). All four members wrote songs for the band. When Bri or Rog sang lead in a deep cut in an album (Deaky didn't sing), it wasn't weird at all because the songwriting style of the song was already familiar -- Bri or Fred could have sung a Brian May song; Rog or Fred could have sung a Roger Taylor song. In contrast, for example, it was kind of weird when the bassist for Muse, Chris Wolstenholme, wrote and sang a couple songs near the end of The 2nd Law because the underlying songwriting style wasn't familiar; it could have been resolved if he continued to write for the Muse in their latest album Drones, but singer-songwriter Matt Bellamy was basically the only songwriter for that album.

I think two things prevented Freddie Mercury from getting lead singer's disease: (1) Founding band members Bri and Rog had the ability to outvote Fred, and more importantly (2) Fred was a supporter of Deaky's songwriting. Deaky was the quiet one in the band (literally, as he didn't sing on anything), last to join, and probably at the bottom of the totem pole of band leadership, so the band was wise to use his undeniably great pop songwriting in Queen's albums -- for example, "Another One Bites the Dust" was a Deaky song. It's no surprise that Deaky retired from performing in the band, and retired from music in general, a few years after Fred died. Also, and I mean this in the nicest way possible, most of Fred's solo work sounds like Freddie Mercury with a department store Casio keyboard -- awesome vocally, songwriting-wise, and that's about it. Most of Fred's solo work really needed Bri's harmonized Red Special, Deaky's complex basslines that miraculously didn't step on any toes, and Rog's signature stopped cymbals.

Where Fred succeeded in being an ideal frontman and band member, lesser lead vocalists have succumbed to lead singer's disease. There are about four outcomes to lead singer's disease:

1. The lead singer is healed! It rarely happens, but when it does, the band goes into a band renaissance. Of course, there might be a relapse of lead singer's disease. I read somewhere that Mick Jagger acquired the disease, tried to screw over his Rolling Stones bandmates business-wise, then failed miserably as a solo artist. And now the Rolling Stones still tour after all these years, and they probably kind of hate each other as much as they love each other.

2. The band breaks up. It's confusing when a band has more than five players on stage because only the most hardcore of fans could tell who is in the band (a shareholder in an actual corporation or a partner in a partnership) and who is just a touring member who sometimes recorded on the albums (an employee of the company). At the end of the Black Crowes' run, there were three full band members standing: Lead singer Chris Robinson, guitarist Rich Robinson, and drummer Steve Gorman. The rest of the band were probably salaried employees of the band's business structure. It seemed that Chris didn't really want to tour with the Black Crowes any more, so he allegedly and apparently unleashed a poisonous deal to guarantee this: Chris wanted full ownership of the Black Crowes. That's pretty much lead singer's disease in a nutshell: Leave me alone to continue my solo career, or if you really want the band together again, let me own the band. Of course, the remaining partners outvoted the lead singer, and the band broke up.

3. The band ditches the lead singer. The guitarist, bass player, and drummer from Creed currently do not want to play with singer Scott Stapp anymore and are happy playing with Miles Kennedy in Alter Bridge. The DeLeo brothers and Eric Kretz actually fired singer Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots and are playing with Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington as Stone Temple Pilots, on an apparently part-time basis. When the now-former lead singer from Live wanted a lead singer's fee added to his contract, the rest of the band fired him and hired a replacement. Of course, you can skim though the band history of Van Halen to see this in action.

4. The lead singer ditches the band ... and keeps the name. The obvious example of this is Guns N' Roses, but there is confirmation that Axl and Slash have buried the hatchet (ax, slash, hatchet, get it?), and there are rumors of a forthcoming classic-era Guns reunion. This is pretty much the Smashing Pumpkins whenever singer-guitarist-songwriter Billy Corgan does not play with drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. This is basically every band with a singer-songwriter and a revolving door of backing musicians.

In addition to Queen, there are several bands who have avoided lead singer's disease, or are fighting the good fight to continue as a true band. I'd like to think that if Kurt Cobain had lived, Nirvana would have evolved from a one-songwriter band to a band of collaborators. In the beginning, Kurt wrote songs, bassist Krist Novoselic probably wasn't interested in songwriting, and Nirvana had a revolving door of drummers. When drummer Dave Grohl joined, he and Kurt could have written some great songs together. Kurt could have done some solo "blues" albums on the side.

Pearl Jam has always been a band of collaborators. In the beginning, guitarist Stone Gossard was the main songwriter and de facto bandleader, with some contribution from bassist Jeff Ament. Eventually, lead singer Eddie Vedder became the bandleader, as it usually happens, but the precedent of multiple songwriters in the band continues to this day: Stone still writes, Jeff still writes, guitarist Mike McCready writes, and Ed apparently especially likes it when drummer Matt Cameron writes songs for the band.

When one mentions the band Blind Melon, the casual music listener knows about two things: (1) Lead singer Shannon Hoon is dead, and (2) they had the song "No Rain." "No Rain" is pretty much their only big radio song, and most people would be hard-pressed to name another song from the band. The bass player, Brad Smith, wrote "No Rain."

Off the top of my head, I can name three songs by the Blue Öyster Cult: "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," "Burnin' for You," and "Godzilla." All three were written or co-written by the guitarist, Buck Dharma, who sings lead vocals on two of the songs. The actual lead singer, Eric Bloom, sings on "Godzilla," which currently, as far as I've heard, does not get any airplay in classic rock radio in Southern California. Ironically, the non-lead singer sings on the band's two radio-friendly greatest hits. Of course, this implies that Buck Dharma is the bandleader of the Blue Öyster Cult.

I could continue on and on with examples, and I could wax poetic on Oasis, which I will. The bandleader and main songwriter of Oasis was the elder Gallagher brother, Noel, who sang lead vocals on arguably their biggest non-"Wonderwall" song, "Don't Look Back in Anger." The band's usual lead singer was Noel's younger brother Liam, who sang on "Wonderwall." The Gallagher brothers are famous for their constant in-fighting, which eventually lead to the demise of Oasis. The rest of the band was basically a revolving door of musicians. This sad story probably fits into the lead singer disease paradigm.

Long story short, here's how to avoid lead singer's disease. There are about four possible ways to be lead singer's disease-free, depending on your position in a band:

1. If you fancy yourself as a singer-songwriter, don't join or form a band. Pay your backing band, if applicable. Freddie Mercury's solo work would have sounded bigger than a Casio keyboard, had he lived long enough to play with GarageBand on an iPad. (I'm joking, of course.)

2. Alternatively, if you are a singer in a band, then collaborate with everyone in the band. Let them take your songs to a higher level, and don't be afraid (or narcissistic) to sing another person's song. Trust that the band has a signature sound, and that they can sign that signature onto anyone's song, lead singer's or not. If you can't sing like Fred, and no one with the normal amount of human teeth can, then try to emulate Freddie Mercury's creative process within the context of Queen.

3. If you are not a singer, do not join or form a band with a singer-songwriter-non-collaborator. If you are not allowed to collaborate, then you'd better get paid. If you are not paid, then you'd better collaborate. It's kind of funny how many incomplete bands are on Facebook and other social media, usually consisting of a lead singer and lead guitarist, perpetually "looking for" a rhythm section (bass and drums). Any rhythm section instrumentalist worth their weight in gold tends to avoid playing in a four-chord rock band. If you can groove on a bass or drum beyond a backbeat, there are more fulfilling genres to play. The obvious counter-example to this would be band mates who grew up together, sort of arbitrarily chose instruments to learn, and gained skill simultaneously. Bands who play well together are truly a rare thing, and lead singer's disease tends to screw things up.

4. Install A Little Thunder in a guitar, program a drum machine, plug a mic into a harmonizer, and play cover songs. Okay, perhaps that's just applicable for me. In any case, if you have your bases covered, and your basses (kick drum and octave below guitar) covered, then you can jam with pretty much anyone, drama-free.