A brief history of an amateur musician, Part I: The Early Years and Overnight Delivery

This is the first in a series of posts about my past life as an amateur musician. Other posts include A brief history of an amateur musician, Part II: The Hardcore Years and Kulturkampf and A brief history of an amateur musician, Part III: Assorted Recordings and Dirt Man’s King..

Something not everyone knows about me is that, prior to being a computer professional (sometimes hard to identify based on recent blog posts!), I was a musician. This blog post (and others to come soon) is a brief history of that part of my career, for the hordes who could care less. (I know you’re out there!)

The Early Years

I started playing guitar at 15 years old, teaching myself songs by Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, and Metallica. When I started college, I studied (among other things) classical guitar , and under the tutelage of Ed Brown (a fantastic instructor and person), I honed a rather impressive repertoire of talent. After four years of studying (and about 2,000 hours of guitar playing), I was probably as good as some of the music majors (even though I wasn’t officially even a music minor).

During those four years, I didn’t just cut my teeth playing pieces by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Leo Brouwer; I continued to play popular music, wrote my own music, performed in bands, and recorded music.

Overnight Delivery

uspsThe first official “band” I was in was a rag-tag assemblage of four people: myself, playing guitar; Vito, playing bass guitar, an instrument he never played before in his life; Scott, playing drums, an instrument he knew only for a few months; and John, a giant of a man, who never sang in front of a microphone before (at least, not that I know of).

Together, we recorded a handful of songs thrown together by Scott and others. The band’s name was Overnight Delivery (OD). All the songs were about the U.S. mail. Consider the lyrics of one song:

I like the stamp, I love the fucking taste.
I lick the envelope, get pleasure from the paste.
I write my name, don’t forget the ZIP.
To see that box is such a worthy trip.

Intriguing stuff to say the least. The music was hardcore punk, as seen from CBGB; think of bands like Sick of It All and Murphy’s Law. The best song of the bunch (all six of them) was Brown Shirts, a mosh-pit inciting anthem that takes on the great social conflict between the USPS and the UPS.

One fine day we’ll rise up and put the brown shirts in their place.
No man from the UPS will ever show his face.
One fine day the blue and grey will emerge a master race!

Mosh pitObviously, this was all a fun joke. We recorded our six songs over two 2-hour jam sessions (things take time when most people have little to no musical talent, this writer excluded!) using a $19 cassette recorder. Ten of our “demo tapes” were sold at the local music store, Our Music Center.

In a stroke of irony, about three years after OD, we met a guy who moved to our neighborhood from out of town. He asked us what the music scene was like, and if we ever heard of a band called Overnight Delivery. Apparently, he was in town a few years back, bought one of our demo tapes, and liked it. Proof that there is someone with no ear for music born every minute. (Either that, or we grossly miscalculated the potential of OD.)

Unfortunately for you, dear reader, no known copies of these recordings exist, so I can’t share the songs with you. (Rumor has it that bassist Vito has a copy, though this has never been confirmed, and he may be saving it for a future Sotheby’s auction.) Oddly, a Google search turned up a potential source for official OD memorabilia: Smoke & Mirrors is apparently the work of Scott (“Scotty Stapes”), drummer of OD (and future bands to be discussed). I’ll leave it to you to hunt further.

Alas, OD would not disappear entirely. KThree of its members – Vito, who eventually learned to play bass, Scott (who turned out to be a pretty good drummer), and myself went on to form another hardcore punk band, Kulturkampf. This one didn’t just sell demo tapes, they were on the radio. For that story, you’ll have to wait for next time.

Don’t overpay for wooden spoons

While idly browsing through Buy.com’s web site today, I came across a “hot deal” for a wooden spoon.

Buy.com's $22 wooden spoon (shipping included)

$16.40 for a wooden spoon? You’ve got to be kidding! Tack on shipping and it’s nearly $23. Do people really pay that much for a wooden spoon? Sure, it’s a Paderno wooden spoon (I guess that means something), but really now… Just do a Froogle search and find a perfectly good 18” wooden spoon made of beechwood for $2.59. Even better, buy a dozen of those beechwood spoons for $1.99 each (plus shipping, of course).

Consider your options:

  1. Spend $23 and have one wooden spoon for yourself.
  2. Spend $33 and have one wooden spoon for yourself and one wooden spoon for 11 friends.

Don’t insult grandma and buy an overpriced wooden spoon. She wouldn’t be happy.

Does anyone want to take over EQ2Craft.com, an online database for EverQuest 2?

Quite a few years ago, I wrote a web site, EQ2Craft, as a fan site/resource for EverQuest 2 tradeskill professions. I haven’t played EverQuest 2 in years, nor have I cared to maintain EQ2Craft in years.

If anyone wants to take over the site, it’s yours for the taking. I’ll send you the SQL databases, ASP.Net code, and the rights to the domain name (which expires in June 2009, I believe).

Otherwise, it’ll be shut down when the domain name expires… in which case, I’ll still give someone the SQL database and code if they want it.

MTA raises fares 50% and reduces fares to 1975 prices!

It seems the bureaucrats in Albany have decided that the most expedient fix to the MTA’s billion-dollar budget woes is to defer the problem to the future. No surprise there, of course. Even the New York Times is aghast.

crashed-subway In the end, a standard non-reduced fare is likely going up to $2.25, up from $2.00. Plans which Albany scrapped included some which looked for a more substantial fare increase, up to $2.50.

Let’s face it – running one of the largest transit operations is expensive. Is $2.25 too much to pay? How about $2.50? $3.00? What if I told you that the MTA can raise the fare by 50% (to $3.00), and you’ll still be paying no more for a ride on the subway than you did in 1975? Would you believe me?

In historical context, we can look at subway fares in New York City in the past and compare them to today. To make the pennies of 100 years ago equate to dollars today, we have to adjust historical numbers.

Year MTA Single-Fare Ride
(historic amount)
Fare, 2008 dollars
1904 $0.05 $1.18
1948 $0.10 $0.88
1953 $0.15 $1.19
1966 $0.20 $1.31
1970 $0.30 $1.65
1972 $0.35 $1.78
1975 $0.50 $1.98
1980 $0.60 $1.55
1981 $0.75 $1.75
1984 $0.90 $1.84
1986 $1.00 $1.94
1990 $1.15 $1.87
1992 $1.25 $1.90
1995 $1.50 $2.10
2003 $2.00 $2.34

It’s pretty clear that there’s a trend: public transportation is becoming more expensive: the proposed fare of $2.25  is quite a bit higher than the inflation-adjusted fare of old.

However, this analysis skips one important fact: Today, most riders do not pay the full fare. Thanks to bulk pricing and the unlimited-ride MetroCard, only 2.1% of riders pay the full fare. In fact, according to the Independent Budget Office (New York City’s internal watchdog), the average fair paid on MTA transit systems which run at the $2.00 single-ride far is about $1.30.

The $2.00 fare – or $2.25, or $2.50 – is a false reality, much like the sticker price on a new car. The actual fare is much lower, thanks to the discounts that most people get. A $3.00 fare today would result in an effective cost of about $1.95 per ride – the same price you paid in 1975, when factoring in the discounts and inflation.

Oh, and at $3.00 (er, $1.95) per ride, you would also eliminate a new payroll tax and new fees on driver’s licenses and taxi fares. Sign me up for higher fares!

How a cup of coffee per week equals 210,000 jobs over ten years

Posted today on CNN.com. Emphasis added:

The White House will unveil reforms to the nation’s international tax code on Monday intended to close loopholes for overseas tax havens and end incentives for creating jobs overseas.

The administration expects these initiatives to raise at least $210 billion over the next 10 years “to cut taxes for American families, increase incentives for businesses to create jobs in America and reduce the deficit.”

What does $210 billion in new taxes mean to Americans? Let’s review.

  • The median U.S. household income is about $50,000 per year.
  • Let’s assume that the typical cost (insurance, office space, pens, etc.) of an employee to an employer is double an employee’s salary. (It varies quite a bit by industry, but this is a fair back-of-the-envelope number.)
  • The “cost” of one $50,000 per year job over ten years is therefore roughly $1 million.
  • $210 billion in new taxes over ten years can result in up to 210,000 less jobs being created, if you assume how that money could otherwise be spent providing a job to 210,000 people for ten years.
  • To compare, only 16 American companies have more than 210,000 employees.

The flip side:

  • The population of the United States is about 304 million.
  • $210 billion in new taxes over ten years equals about $690 per person over ten years, or $69 per year, or 19 cents per day.

Feel free to thank the White House for eliminating the potential of 210,000 well-paying jobs over ten years so you can enjoy an extra $69 per year – about enough to buy one cup of coffee per week.

Depressing, isn’t it?