Opeth in Concert

My thoughts on an excellent concert by Opeth, modern metal legends.

I saw Opeth live in concert last Friday at the Ace of Spades venue in Sacramento.  I’m a big fan of Opeth.  Songwriter, guitarist, and lead singer Mikael Akerfeldt‘s creates some crazy cool and unique music, and I love his guitar style.  He’s known for layering his metal music with alternating heavy and soft sections, including his own vocals.  Opeth stands out in the crowded metal scene as innovators.  The last three albums have moved away from metal into Frank Zappa influenced prog rock.  While I’m not as big a fan of this change as I was the metal records, I still think they’re good.  Opeth is from Sweden, so they don’t come to California very often. I’ve only just started listening to them in the last year or two, so I’ve never had the opportunity to see them in person.

I was running late so I didn’t actually see the opener, but I got there just in time to get a t-shirt and jam my way to the front before Opeth started.  They ran through a bunch of new and old songs. The whole set was just over 2 hours long.    Mikael had a head cold, so he prefaced the concert saying that he was going to be singing/screaming poorly.  I could kind of tell he was sick when he spoke, but his voice sounded great to me.

This Opeth tour is in support of their latest record, Sorceress.  Of their three prog records, this one is easily my favorite.  The other two I had to kind of dip my toe into before I really “got” them,  but this record felt a bit more accessible.  Still though, none of the prog records have much staying power for me, I usually listen to them a couple times and set them aside.  This concert turned me around on those prog records in a big way.  I don’t know what it is, maybe it was being in the moment at the concert and feeling the energy of the crowd.  Whatever it was, I’m super into the new record now, especially the song The Wild Flowers.

The best part of the concert for me was definitely the request bit in the middle.  Mikael asked for requests from the crowd.  They played a snippets from a bunch of their classic songs, including a jazz inspired version of Bleak, one of my all time favorite Opeth songs.  It was really cool hearing them play one of my favorite songs, but in an interesting new way.  Overall I had a great time seeing Opeth.  They’re one of my favorite bands right now and they put on a fantastic performance.

One thing of note, is the venue was amazing.  I’d never been to the Ace of Spades in Sacramento before, but it was incredible.  Usually the crowd at a metal show consists of a bunch of neck beards jammed in together and sweating on each other.  This venue had the A/C cranked, we were packed in pretty tight but I could feel the cool air throughout the whole show.  There were bars along every wall, and they had designated walk ways throughout the crowd.  It was very easy to go to the bar, grab a drink, and come back to your spot in the crowd.  I definitely recommend seeing shows at this venue if you’re in the area.

Job Hunting

Chronicling my ongoing struggles finding a job.

I’ve been working on building my web development skills for about 5 months now. I’m getting pretty good at manipulating HTML and CSS. I’m currently working mostly on Javascript and jQuery now, as I feel like most of the jobs I’ve seen doing design work use these four languages as a foundation.

The Goal

My ideal situation right now would be find a part time job somewhere in town to work on web projects.  I’d really like something that requires a lot of diverse skills and languages, as I’d like a broad palette of skills to draw from.  Right now I’m working full time at my current job, but I’d really like to find a part time web dev gig and cut my current job down to part time.

The Problem

My biggest problem right now is motivation.  I don’t see my wife much during the week, so the weekends I try to spend with her.  And every weekday I work long hours, so it can be hard to force myself to spend more hours looking at a screen when I’m off. I know that this is a personal problem and that there’s no one to blame for it but myself.  But it’s still difficult, because I really want to do web development long term.  If I could, I would just quit my current job and let my wife support us for a little bit until I was skilled enough to get hired.

I’ve had a couple interviews recently, and they’ve gone pretty well.  I felt personable and relaxed, and I have a pretty good resume from a technical perspective.  Unfortunately  none of that technical experience is directly related to coding or web work.  I think my biggest problem right now is one of two things:  I think people see my resume and see me as overqualified (ie: expensive) so they don’t give me an interview, or I get the interview but my inexperience in web development is too much of a hurdle for an employer to take a chance on me.

The Solution

I’m still applying for new positions all the time.  I have a couple friends that are self employed, and I’ve started building web sites for them without telling them.  I’m going to present the websites to these friends and tailor the websites to their specifications.  Hopefully, if I have websites under my belt from viable companies, that will help me get hired.

However, my wife and I have started trying to start a family.  If this web stuff isn’t working out, I may need to consider other options.  I’ve already started looking at positions at a local hospital that is much closer to home than my current job.  I’m currently commuting 45 minutes every day to and from work, and this hospital is 10 minutes away.  I’m very confident I can get hired at this hospital, so that’s a viable backup plan.  I really want this web stuff to work out though, I’ve put a lot of time and energy into it and I really feel passionate about it.  I guess we’ll just see what happens, I’m striving to follow my dream of being a web developer but I’m grounding myself in the reality that a normal nine to five might be the best solution for my family, at least for the next few years.

Review – The Judging Eye

A quick review of R. Scott Bakkers The Judging Eye.

I’m not going to limit myself for this review, so if you’re wary of spoilers for this book or the Prince of Nothing trilogy, you should skip reading this review.

The Judging Eye is split between three main story arcs: Drusas Achamian and Mimara traveling with a group called the Skin Eaters; the king of Sakarpus, a boy named Sorweel and his journey with the Great Ordeal; and Esmenet the Empress and her son Kelmomas at Momemn.  Achamian and Mimara.

Initial Thoughts

This book is a great follow up to The Prince of Nothing.  I may go back and write a post about that trilogy, but for now I’ll just say that it’s my favorite modern fantasy written by someone not named Steven Erikson.  It had it’s flaws, but it had incredibly compelling characters and a hefty if somewhat meandering plot.  The Judging Eye is, in many ways, a much more accessible novel than The Prince of Nothing.  Bakker has found a solid rhythm in this book, and I felt the pace was much more even than in his previous works.

Point of Views (POV’s)

Achamian

Out of the three main POV’s, Achamian is by far the most interesting and compelling character.  He is still dealing with the fallout from the ending of the Prince of Nothing, and he’s obsessed with finding the origin of Kellhus, the Aspect Emperor.  He is living outside the confines of the Mandate as an untethered wizard, and he spends this book traveling with Esmenet’s daughter Mimara.  This culminates in a sequence at the end of the book that is a not so subtle homage to the mines of Moria in the Lord of the Rings.  It’s an action packed set piece and an excellent ending to the book.

Sorweel

The other character POV’s aren’t as compelling.  Sorweel is a boy king held hostage on the Great Ordeal, a collection of all the armies of the empire marching to war with the Consult.  His kingdom is of strategic necessity to the march, so he is forced to travel with Kellhus and his children on the march.  Sorweel does a lot of internal complaining about his situation and while his predicament is sympathetic, it also got pretty tired for me about two thirds of the way through.  However, he does get screen time with some of Kellhus’ kids, who are fascinating.

Esmenet

Esmenet shares some of the problems I had with Sorweel.  Esmenet was a strong character in The Prince of Nothing, but here she doesn’t even feel like the same person.  I understand that 20 years have passed between the books and that she is now an Empress, but I found myself missing the old Esmenet.  Her POV was the least interesting for me.  However, the best character in the book shares her POV, and that is her murderous son Kelmomas.  Kelmomas is a POV character, and reading his scenes gave me the same excitement I had when reading Kellhus POV’s in the Prince of Nothing.

Characters

The contrast between Achamian’s POV’s and Sorweel and Esmenet is probably my biggest problem with this book.  In The Prince of Nothing, the chapters were also split between POV’s.  Each chapter was really compelling, and when a chapter ended I was sad to leave the character I was reading about.  However, when I saw who the POV was for the next chapter it made me very excited to read about the next character.  Each POV drew me in and I was excited to read about each character.  There is a probably a literary term for this phenomenon, but I’m not a literary journalist so I’m not going to pretend I know what it is.  In this book, I only had this happen when I left Sorweel or Esmenet to rejoin Achamian.  When I left Achamian, I was disappointed to go back to the other POV’s.  Maybe disappointed is the wrong word, because I really enjoyed this book overall, Sorweel and Esmenet included.  But the only time I was excited for a new POV was when it was Achamian.

Story

The plot moved along better than The Prince of Nothing.  In the previous series, it seemed like there were pages and pages of internal thought and discussion.  An entire chapter could be devoted to a character weighing philosophy in their mind. While I’m a fan of philosphizing in fiction (especially if an author presents two opposing philosophies with a well reasoned arguments, a la Steven Erikson), it got to be a bit much in that series.  I think Bakker has the balance right in this book.  Nothing monumental happened in Momemn or on the Great Ordeal, but I wasn’t bored with what was happening in either plot.  Achamian’s plot was fast paced and extremely compelling, and I think the story in this book is it’s biggest strength.

Score

I don’t have a scoring system yet.  I like to read reviews of the things I’m into online, and I admit I like having some kind of metric to quickly glance at.  I’ll figure something out eventually, but for now I’m going to use my new guitar.  My wife got me a Gibson for my birthday recently, and I’ve been playing the hell out of it.  So for now, I’m giving this book 4.5 Gibson’s out of 5.

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Final Fantasy IX – iOS

Revisiting an updated classic.

The first time I played a Final Fantasy game was when I was about 12 years old.  My dad would take me to the video store and I’d look at all the covers of the Playstation games.  Final Fantasy IX‘s cover art caught my eye.  The cartoony style really spoke to me, and at the time I was subscribed to GamePro magazine.  They had just run a bunch of features on the game, and I’d already read and re-read the walkthrough of the game multiple times.  I eventually ended up buying and falling in love with it.

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JRPG’s

Final Fantasy IX was my first exposure to JRPG‘s.  I didn’t even really have any experience with a normal RPG at this point, so I didn’t have any frame of reference for what the game would play like.  The Final Fantasy series (and JRPG’s as a whole) typically features a cast of teenage characters who end up saving the world from a villain or a catastrophe.  It usually plays on a lot of Japanese tropes and archetypes. I ended up loving this game so much, that I was very disappointed later on when I tried playing other JRPG’s.  I found them to be much more evocative of the Japanese pop culture than I was interested in engaging with.   I’ve never really understood or enjoyed a lot of the content put out by Japan (movies, games, TV) but Final Fantasy IX was different.

Story/Characters

The first time I played through this game, the things that really stood out to me were the story and characters.  This was around the time I was starting to really get into reading fantasy novels, and this Final Fantasy was the most westernized game in the series.  It tells a story about a princess in a medieval setting who needs to be saved, etc. etc.  It definitely doesn’t follow a typical western fantasy plot, but it wears it’s Japanese origins on it’s sleeves.  It’s a great combination of Japanese and Western influences, and I loved living in it’s world with those characters.  Vivi and Steiner especially stood out to me, whenever I think about this game I think of those two.

Update

I haven’t played this game in 10 years or longer, so when I found out it was coming out on iOS earlier this year I was super excited.  I was sad to see that the story and characters didn’t hold up so well this many years later.  I’m not sure if it’s due to my age and maturity now in 2016, but a lot of the humor and story beats fell really flat for me.  There was definitely a lot of nostalgia going back to an old game I loved so much as a kid, but the things I liked about it then are not what I like about it now.  This time playing through it, I’m having a lot more fun with the battle system and figuring out each of the bosses.  This update included several extra features that help with grinding, such as a setting that lets you deal 9,999 on each hit or a setting to turn off random encounters.

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This allows me to skip all the really grindy sections of the game and focus more on the boss battles and revisiting the story.  I think this was a really smart move for this update, as the grinding that I remember as a kid would be pretty hard to deal with in 2016.  I’m about halfway through the game and I’m moving through it pretty quick.  Definitely recommend picking it up if you’ve never played Final Fantasy, or if you’re a long time fan looking for some nostalgia.

 

Fantasy Characters Never Leave You Behind

My work buddy is leaving, so I’m hanging out with characters in a book to ease my mind.

Left Behind

My buddy at work is putting in his two weeks tomorrow.  He met with a new company today and negotiated a 6 figure salary.  I’m torn.  On the one hand, I’m super excited for him and I can’t wait for him to escape this place and make a better life for himself. On the other hand, he’s the only other reliable staff member I have at this place.  He and I are both senior analysts, pretty much everyone else is a low level tech.  He and I administer all the servers for our company, and we also do pretty much all the application support.  He and I have leaned on each other for the past six months.

Six months ago, we had a large exodus of veteran staff leave our office.  Our boss attributed it to anything and everything that wasn’t his management style, even though some of the people leaving told him the truth.  He hasn’t hired anyone with a depth of technical skill yet, he just hired a couple of newb techs at a low level.  With my buddy leaving, I’m the last of the old guard left.  I’m basically going to be the only one capable of running our I.T. shop.  I was hoping to drop down to part time, and I’m worried what this will mean in regards to my plans.  I’m banking on the fact that I’m the only one left who can do anything with our critical systems, and that that will give me some leverage, but my boss is stubborn.  Who knows what he’s going to say.  This is just the latest in a series of frustrations I have with this place.  I really need to get out of here.

The Judging Eye

I’ve been trying to get through The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker this week.  I’m at about 67%, so I’m getting there.  I mentioned Bakker earlier, but I love this guy.  His books are a little more challenging to read than other fantasy authors.  The prose is dense and thick most of the time with many inwards thoughts and ramblings bookended by short dialogue scenes.  Much of his previous trilogy, The Prince of Nothing, was chapters full of characters thinking to themselves with very little dialogue or action to break up the paragraph structure.  Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot going on in the plot and the story moved itself along, but I tried to get a buddy into this series and he couldn’t hang.  These books are more concerned with philosophy and culture than with appeasing the masses.

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Covert art for The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker.

This book picks up 20 years after the events of the Prince of Nothing.  The major characters are back along with some new ones.  I do enjoy most of the new characters, but the most fun I’m having is revisiting the characters from the first series. I’ll post a more in depth review once I’m finished, but if you’re a fanboy of Steven Erikson like me then I think Bakker is the next logical step.

More About Me

More Disclosure

When I started this blog, I wasn’t sure how much of myself I would be identifying.  I kept a lot of my personal information separate from the blog.  I’m still going to continue to do that, but I figured if someone were to read this blog it would make sense to have a little more context about who I am.

Marriage

I’m a married man in my mid 20’s.  I have a beautiful wife who I love very much.  She and I are high school sweethearts, we’ve been together for over 10 years and married for 5.  Marriage has provided us many challenges, but we’ve always learned and grown through tough experiences.  My wife has had several health complications in the time we’ve been together including Type 1 diabetes, a thyroid condition, and a brain disorder.  The brain disorder was easily the most difficult for us to overcome.  She was in a wheelchair for a while, she had several brain surgeries, but eventually she came out of it free and clear.  

I love my wife very much.  However, there are a lot of struggles that come with being with the same person for so long.  I’ve always heard those old adages proclaiming the difficulty of marriage, but none of those things seem real when you’re newly in love.  Slowly, with time, those adages prove true.  My wife and I have been working on our communication skills for the past year or two as our poor communication has caused many unnecessary arguments and complications.  We’ve been seeing a marriage counselor for a while.  When I tell people that, everyone thinks we’re on the verge of divorce.  We started going to this counselor when we were in a particularly rough patch, but now we just go for maintenance.  There’s nothing wrong with therapy, and I would encourage everyone to see someone on a semi regular basis just to make sure you’re communicating properly, even if you’re not having trouble in your relationship.  We’ve gained a lot of new skills together, but we still struggle.  Just yesterday we got in an argument over a new couch we were putting together.  It came back to poor communication, even though we have all these new skills from the therapist.  Neither one of us is perfect, and we still fail sometimes even when we have all the tools we need to work well together.  

I’m coming to realize there’s a huge difference between new puppy love and a love that endures over many years of hardship and struggle.  Puppy love is fun and exciting, but long term love that grows and progresses and changes is really fulfilling.  I’m married to a great woman.

Work

I currently work in I.T. as a senior analyst for a local government entity.  I’ve been working this job for seven years.  I enjoy I.T. and I’m good at it, but I went to school for business. I have a bachelor’s degree in business and a masters degree in accounting.  I picked accounting when I was in college because I had to pick a major and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do yet.  I wish that I had taken a few years off from school and figured out what I really want.  If I had done that, right now I would have a degree that I’d actually use, instead of a giant pile of debt.

My job is great in that I get to have my hand in almost every aspect of running the I.T. infrastructure of a medium sized business.  Right now I’m focused on server administration and application development, but I’ve worked on routers and switches, SAN’s, backups, antivirus, VMWare, virtual desktops, telecom, etc.  My job is not so great in that the work environment can be pretty frustrating.

My boss is a huge fan of the Tony Robbins stereotypical motivation speakers.  He wants to improve and excel, and that includes every aspect of our work.  This is great when you first start working here. I like to improve myself as well, so I was looking forward to working for this guy.  The problem comes when he doesn’t know how to turn it off.  Every conversation turns into “I just want us to do better” and “we could have done this or that better” or “I know you’re trying but I just need a little more from you.”  One of these conversations is not a big deal, but when you get that every time you submit a completed project or a task to him, it becomes demoralizing.  We’re currently hemorrhaging I.T. staff, and it’s primarily due to how his management style tends to burn people out.  You never feel good enough, no matter how well you perform at your job.  I am totally on board with self-improvement, with providing excellent customer service, and continuously progressing my skills.  But I also need a little positive energy sometimes too, instead of always feeling like I’m almost doing a good job.    

I’m currently working on developing my web development skills in pursuit of changing careers.  It’s pretty intimidating, I have a good job with a lot of built in security and a pension.  Leaving the government position is going to be hard, but now that I know I have a passion for web development I hope that I will be happier.  The difficult part right now is finding the time outside of work to develop those skills.  I’m staring at a computer screen 40-50 hours a week, and it can be challenging to come home after a 10 hour day and go right back to a screen.  Not only a screen, but using my brain to learn new things.  If I didn’t have so much debt built up from my online degrees and my wife’s nursing school, I’d quit right now and spend those 40-50 hours a week learning new web dev skills and building a portfolio.  Alas, for the foreseeable future I’ll just have to slowly chip away at it.

Hobbies

I don’t want to go too in depth on this as I’m assuming this is the majority of what I’ll be writing about here on the blog.  Here are the big topics though:

Guitar/Music

I’ve been playing the guitar off and on for about 13 years.  My uncle gave me an electric guitar when I was a teenager and I fell in love immediately.  I love any kind of guitar based music.  My parents introduced me to a wide range of music when I was younger, but I always tended towards heavier guitar music.  In the last few years I got really deep into metal music, so that’s primarily what I’ve been listening to.  In fact, that bullshit faux-intellectual blog name actually came from me trying to find a unique domain name.  I was listening to this song and just played around with some of the lyrics until I found something unique.

Fantasy Novels

In my last post, I gave my personal reading history with some specific fantasy authors.  I got into Lord of the Rings when I was young, and it made a huge impression on me.  I’ve been obsessed with fantasy literature ever since.  I definitely enjoy fantasy over sci-fi, but I sneak in a sci-fi book here and there.  I view fantasy books like I view T.V.  It’s cheap entertainment that lets me escape the mundanity of life.  I don’t read these books to gain anything significant out of them (aside from Erikson and Bakker, those dudes have poignant perspectives).  I do read non-fiction sometimes as well, usually when I’m really interested in something in the news.  I actually just finished reading the Rational Optimist, which is a great book on how much better life is now than it has ever been in human history.  I read this after a particularly negative conversation with my mother in law about how dangerous it is to let kids play outside 🙂

MMA

I’m not big into sports.  I watched every Bulls game in the ’90’s, but outside of that I’ve never been very interested in sports on the whole.  The large glaring exception to that is MMA.  My dad has been watching the UFC since it started in 1993, and I’ve been hooked on it my entire life.  I am a practicing christian, but I watch MMA religiously.  I follow my favorite fighters/bloggers on twitter, I have an RSS specifically for MMA news, I watch every single event on Fox and on Pay per View.  I already posted about Cyborg’s most recent UFC win and I guarantee you I’ll be posting about big events pretty regularly.  Speaking of which, UFC 204 is this weekend.  Watch for that H-bomb.

Video Games

I’ve been playing video games all my life.  We were poor growing up, but every once in awhile my parents would rent a Nintendo from the video store for the weekend.  I eventually got a Playstation when I got older, and played games fairly consistently since then.  I’ve always tended more towards story based games over games that are primarily concerned with mechanics.  For example, I’d pick Final Fantasy over Call of Duty pretty much any day.  

 

Anyway, that’s probably enough background on me for the purposes of this blog.  I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m writing this blog for two reasons: to familiarize myself with WordPress in pursuit of a career in web development, and because I’ve been journaling recently and it’s helped me to express myself emotionally a little better.  I don’t intend to advertise this blog or make any money off of it, it’s mostly just for my own edification.  If someone ends up reading it, that’s cool but I’m not really interested in making myself beholden to an audience.  I’m just going to write what I want to write, and hopefully be a better person for it.