Friday, 16 September 2016

Working to a timed plan

One of the time management techniques that I have been fond of for quite a while now is setting out what I intend to do in each day in a mind-map. It's sort of a chore list, I guess, but has things on it like "work on music track" or "do exercise". The main idea was that I would check off the items on it when I finished them each day. This went through several iterations along with various tweaks but I just couldn't find a method of working or set of tasks that I could get done consistently. There was always something that got left off the list or just didn't get completed. This was both disconcerting and quite frustrating. I felt that the list of items was achievable, but no matter how much I paired it down I just couldn't finish it on any given day. How could this be so difficult?

Some time passed, struggling with this method of working, and I read a book called "The way we're working isn't working" by Tony Schwartz which laid out a lot of things about work and productivity. I don't agree with every point the book makes but a lot of them do seem very sensible. One of its main points was the idea that human beings have a well of will power each day that can be both replenished and withdrawn from when required. Every decision we make in a day takes some energy out of this well but decisions that require a lot of work on our part, against some resistance, are particularly draining. As such this brought me to realise that even though I had a plan for what I wanted to do with a day, the act of having to decide to begin doing an activity at any given time was actually draining a lot of my will-power. In short it was actually making the tasks more difficult as I was already depleted when starting them. The problem was that even though I had a set list of what I want to do on a day, I hadn't defined WHEN I wanted to do these things, other than on that day. It's the old problem of starting, but I had made it so I had to "decide" to start tasks lots of times throughout the day and often this meant stopping something else, making the decision twice as hard.

As such I decided that instead I would look at what I had planned each day and actually make a time plan. I set out what each block of time was going to be for and had it planned out for all the hours I intended to be productive during the day and for each day of the week. The difference? Well pretty astounding so far. Before doing this my productivity was sparse and fairly spasmodic. Sometimes I would gets lots done but often I would just not start or only do 10 minutes here or there, usually with not the greatest results. The first week of trying this new method, I did 8 hours over the course of two days and was really happy with the results. The week after, the same again and this week so far has been the same yet again. That's a whole lot of productivity for me! Probably more than i've ever managed consistently in my entire life (without making myself sick). I'm hoping this will help to keep things moving forward. Sometimes when I have these nice ideas I find it hard to stick with them, so it should be interesting to see if this time is different. The signs so far though are very good.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Dave from Boyinaband's "I'm not dead"

To anybody that hasn't already seen this, it's a quite fantastic summary of the difficulties of creating and a comment on the subject of defining your self-worth by what you create. It's something that is very close to my heart and it's both troubling but selfishly comforting to see someone I look up to suffering from the same issues.



Sunday, 14 August 2016

How the world stops us appreciating the little things

One of the things I appreciate most in the entire world is walking along a city street in the rain, when everyone else is trying to get out of it. I imagine myself in some film noir film or painting, my long coat keeping me covered and secure, while the rain pounds off the street surface around me. People sprint left and right to try to get into shelter, their worried faces flashing my quiet contented smiling face a dagger'd scowl. It's a small fascination I have and one that most people don't share but it helps me get through my day. You see most mornings where I experience this feeling are those in which I'm on my way to the office to do a day's hard work. These types of little things get me through and in that sense are quite important to me.

This brings me to my main point, the modern world around us discourages this kind of quiet appreciation of little things that cost nothing. We are almost perpetually driven to want bigger, better, faster and crucially more expensive things, possessions and experiences. We are also told that if something is bad then it is bad, if it's good for most then it should be good and enjoyable for all. Everything is portrayed as black and white, and all the details are lost. We are somewhat discouraged from finding joy in small things that everyone else finds a nuisance or a hassle or even just unenjoyable. I think it's important to be able to do just that because it keeps us anchored both to ourselves and to the world around us, the real world. It helps us not get caught up in a world that is more and more appealing to our base selves and is largely controlled by people who don't have our best interests at heart. Advertising is almost always cynical, crude and designed to make people unhappy. If it makes us contented then it's not really doing it's job.

So how do you combat this? How do you deal with it? The trick, in my mind, is to recognise when something small is making you feel happy or content and make sure to actually experience it. Focus your time around these things instead of just taking them for granted. The next time i'm walking through the rain i'm going to try to not think about the day ahead or the day's past. I won't be walking along paying no attention but instead will enjoy the moment and try to live within it.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Excellent performance of doom on Vulkan !

So this morning I got the updated version of Doom (2016) on pc that lets me use the new Vulkan API. All I can say is WOW. I am running a fairly low-end pc, an AMD FX-6300 with 8 gig of Corsair Vengeance ram clocked at 2133Mhz. In terms of graphics card i'm running a 2013 Saffire R9 270X with 4 gig of VRam. I'm overclocking this card as in the following image from MSI afterburner.


I have most of the settings in Doom turned up to high and the anti-aliasing set to the highest level. With v-sync turned on i'm getting basically 60fps, pretty much locked at 1080p. The reason that this is surprising is that without Vulkan support I was experiencing drops to 30fps pretty regularly in this game. The V-Sync in doom is particularly aggressive and if you drop much below 60 it throttles everything back down to 30. Adaptive V-Sync isn't an option for AMD cards so I had actually just resorted to locking the game at 30 Using rivatuner. Long story short, if you are running Doom, get yourself onto VulkanRT, it's great.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

On sickness, pressure and mental energy reserves.

Recently I was pretty unwell. I had a bad case of flu and because i'm asthmatic that means i'm usually out of it for at least a month while I recover. This is the same if I get a chest infection or really any kind of upper respiratory condition. I don't like feeling sick and unfit etc but the thing that gets to me most is the disruption to the things I enjoy doing like making music and playing sports. I'm usually bed-bound and it really gets to me being stuck there unable to do anything. It starts as frustration but usually ends with me punishing myself for not powering through and doing stuff. Quite simply this is a ridiculous thing to feel bad about, there is 100% nothing I can do and I just have to accept it. The moral of the story here is that feeling like that about yourself actually makes you worse, and less likely to get things done. When you are unable to do things, for whatever reason, rest and give yourself that time off to recover. It's not a bad thing, you aren't being a slacker, you are listening to your body. I'm over feeling sick now but I still honestly feel absolutely shattered and have some of the symptoms hanging around purely because i'm so tired. As such i've been easing myself back into my normal schedule of work and creativity and trying not to put too much pressure on. If I can't manage it on a given day, then I can't manage it on that day. I will go for a walk, spend time with a friend or just sit drinking a coffee quietly.

I think a nice way to frame this whole thing is to do with energy reserves. We all, as humans, have a well of energy from which we can draw. This can be in the form of mental energy or physical energy but the basis remains the same, it gives us the fuel to do something. The problem is that we have to replenish that well with things like those I mentioned before, things we enjoy that aren't too taxing and give us peace and/or a sense of ease. When we are sick, this well is pretty empty a lot of the time because our body is constantly fighting against the illness, draining us. Some days the well is dry even at the beginning of the day and that's okay, it's just something we have to accept. The key, for me, is understanding how much we have in the well that day, how much that will allow us to do and then work with that. Trying to fit in totally unrealistic amounts will just leave us physically and emotionally drained. Trying to sustain that state is virtually impossible and certainly runs counter to our body's natural state.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Some thoughts from working on old tracks

So recently I've been working on some material that I largely wrote in 2013, some metal tracks. I have two of the tracks out already and what i'm doing currently is recording the vocals and mixing the tracks together. What is interesting is that from the time they were written to the point when I recently started working on them, I had lost a large amount of the initial drive I had when I wrote them. Working on them again it has come back and i've been able to more easily write the lyrics and vocal lines than I would have if i'd just dove straight into them back then. The moral here is that sometimes music, even digital music, can be left to mature. This is because music is an expression of the self and the self matures over time. Obviously you can take this too far and end up constantly reworking things and never finishing them, i'm not proposing that. A close friend I knew had been working on the same album for close to a decade without ever finishing it or putting it out and the net effect was largely detrimental to his health. Doing and finishing certainly breed productivity and improvement but sometimes you do need to let things cool for a bit while you figure out what to do with them. I have been working on other tracks in the meantime and for the most part the tracks I did back then were in a good enough state that not too much work was required. I think that is possibly the key, its often that final finishing touch that can be difficult to see from the outset, even if the rest of the process went very smoothly.

As an aside the tracks can be found at https://soundcloud.com/pipoano/sets/scenes-of-violence

Monday, 2 May 2016

Getting geeky about speaker placement

Its a good thing !

So recently i'm sitting in front of my speakers, working away on a track and I notice that one seems slightly closer than the other. I'm hearing a tiny phase issue, just some washiness so I decide to get out the measuring tape and investigate. I'm not wrong. One is not only closer to the back wall but its also slightly pointing at an angle compared to the other. I can only assume that at some point I must have nudged it just a slight amount, caught it walking by. Why is this important? Well it's important because the distance your speakers are from each other, the wall and you can make a massive difference to what's known as the sweet spot. The sweet spot is where you can hear the mix translated most clearly, every frequency in it's place and nothing over-exaggerated or over-hyped. For most speakers this is a fairly small point (Think Sheldon from the big bang theory trying to locate the perfect spot in the cinema) and as such can be basically nuked out of existence by a few inches difference in speaker location.

It amazes me how much I still come across people who will agonise over speakers and which to buy etc only to get them home and proceed to best guess where to put them in the room and never measure them and adjust until they are at the right location. I spent a small fortune on my studio monitors but I also spent a long time assessing where to put them, how to angle them and measuring out distances on a plan and replicating these distances in the room. Quite simply, getting geeky about your speakers could mean the difference between great speakers sounding great and great speakers sounding like a bad hifi.

As an example, I didn't use to be so picky about speaker location. At one point I moved into a cottage in the countryside and proceeded to pick out the main living room area as my chosen studio location. I promptly set up my gear slap bang in the centre of the room and to my horror couldn't hear any bass whatsoever. I had epic speakers and bass heavy music, why couldn't I hear anything? In short, I was sitting right in the middle of the null point of the room. I experimented by moving my desk (Then on wheels) around and eventually decided on both a different room and an off centre position. The moral of the story, when it comes to speakers, is to read a little and think a lot. You'll thank yourself later.

For those not so keen on reading lots of articles I would say some quick tips are as follows:

1.) There should be a triangle formed between yourself and the speakers. The sides of the triangle should have the same length.

2.) Don't sit with your head in the centre of any dimension of the room. If you sit in the absolute centre of the room, expect to hear no bass, triangle or otherwise.

3.) Imagine a mirror on any surface you see. If you also see a speaker in the imaginary mirror, your speaker will reflect sound off that surface. Invest in acoustic treatment. I don't have thousands of pounds worth of the stuff, you don't need a lot either. Just be careful and plan where you are going to put it.

4.) What are the speakers sitting on? If it vibrates then you just created an issue that might distort the sound.

5.) Avoid putting speakers right next a wall. Especially in corners. Bass will build up and frustration with your weak sounding mixes will follow. As an aside I did get very good results, at one point, from putting a mattress directly behind my monitors. The room I was working in had a terrible shape and I had to make do. Sometimes thinking outside the box can help with less than optimal conditions.