Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Zen State of Mind

Sometimes the only thing standing in the way of a problem and its solution is a good night's sleep. I've often had trouble understanding certain concepts or problems and have woken up the next day to readily understand and solve them. Nothing has changed except perhaps your brain is more engaged or you've digested all the different views, but you feel sharp and focused and everything falls into place.

Woodworking is a lot like that, especially working with hand tools. Combining your focused mind with your hands allows you to enter into a zen state of mind.
Since I don't have any woodworking projects in progress, I've been practicing joinery. But earlier this week, I was practicing cutting tenons by hand in a spare hour before work with horrible results. To be fair, a 700mm length bowsaw with 9 tpi web is quite a bit larger and coarser than all but the absolute largest tenon saws. My saw drifted left and right and back and forward and produced tenons that looked like they'd been cut with a woodchipper. I was convinced the problem wasn't with me, but it was with the saw that had to have been dull.

Today I sharpened most of my saws and was putting off sharpening my bowsaw with the joinery web in it. I paused for a moment and figured that I would try cutting another tenon to see just how dull the saw was. But I cut a perfect tenon with no problem.
The only thing that changed is that I was focused on cutting the tenon instead of getting ready for work
I often experienced this problem with guitar playing when I was beginning. But once I actually started setting time aside in my day to practice, I was able to focus and get better. All the little things that I would have to obsess over became second nature so that I could focus on what the song was supposed to sound like.
The same thing's happening with woodworking; nothing's changing, I'm just entering into a zen state of mind.

Friday, December 28, 2012

How the Conquistadors Inflated Their Economy

One day I realized I had absolutely no idea how businesses, banks, or the financial world work. That annoys me. So I read an Idiot's guide to economics from the library. The book was pretty dry, but it was a down and dirty quick guide to most of the concepts of economics. Then I started reading a macroeconomics textbook, and now I truly know the meaning of dry. One of the concepts discussed in both books was fiscal and monetary policy. An IS-LM curve (Investment-Savings; Liquidity Preference [money demand]-Money Supply) was introduced which shows how equilibrium exists between the commodity market and the money market with interest rates and income plotted out on the y and x axes respectively. But another idea was introduced which is still an odd concept to me.
And that is the velocity of money.
Simply stated, velocity is equal to the nominal GDP and divided by the money supply, or V=PQ/M. 
And MV=PQ is another way of stating the formula.
So is M=PQ/V.
I remember reading about how the Spanish discovered the Americas and brought back so much silver and gold that it caused rampant inflation for their economy. But being historians, the authors never discussed why that happened. I think the simplest definition of inflation is too much money chasing too few goods which leads to an increase in the price based off of a supply and demand curve. 
But the equation actually shows why inflation happened. Instead of Q increasing, prices increased. Although you would get a higher nominal GDP based off of higher prices, your real GDP would deflate.
So why wouldn't velocity increase with an increased money supply? Velocity is the amount of times money changes hands in the year per unit of currency. So a huge increase in money supply wouldn't necessarily correlate with an increase in velocity.
So, if that's the case, why wouldn't Q increase instead of prices with the GDP being equal to the change of the money supply and velocity of money?
I'm not totally sure, but I think if a large amount of money were flooded into an economy it would take several years of investing in order to actually raise production of goods. If the Spanish explorers were to start buying boats and farms after coming back from the Americas it might take several years before they could start growing wheat or catching a bunch of fish with a fleet. While the money supply exceeds the demand though, prices increase with inflation as a result.
Out of all of this, the takeaway is that by controlling the money supply you can attempt to control prices to prevent a rapid inflation or deflation. 
Now my head hurts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Best Christmas Songs You've Probably Never Heard

For all the bad Christmas songs we have clogging up the airwaves, there's lots of great Christmas songs out there. Only thing is you have to know where to look for them because they aren't played on the radio for God knows what reason. Some of them are irreverent, more winter-themed than Christmas-themed, or just too slow to be deemed a playable Christmas song by corporate America.
1. "I Love the Winter Weather" by Squirrel Nut Zippers.
2. "Santa Claus is Smoking Reefer" by Squirrel Nut Zippers. This was actually a secret track hidden on one of their Christmas albums.
3. "This Time of Year (When Christmas is Near)" by Etta James.
4. "The Holly and the Ivy" by George Winston.
5. "In the Bleak Midwinter"
6. "The Wexford Carol"
7. "Walking in the Air" by Nightwish.
8. "Star Carol" by John Rutter.
9. "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella"
10. "Shepherd's Pipe Carol" by John Rutter.
11. "Overture" by Duke Ellington.
12. "Arabesque Cookie" by Duke Ellington.
13. "Dance of the Floreadores" by Duke Ellington.
14. "Toyland" by Perry Como. 

The Worst Christmas Songs

We're in that time of the year where you can't escape Christmas music. Whenever you drive in the car, it comes on the radio. Whenever you turn off the radio, there's music playing in the store. Whenever you leave the store and go back home, there are holiday jingles playing on the television. Whenever you turn off the television, you have the horrible songs still bouncing around your head. I've experienced quite a bit in my life, but there are certain things that make me want to claw at my face whenever I hear them.
And just to clarify, I claw at my face every single time I hear these songs.
1. "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas"
    Every little girl's dream is to have a wild, dangerous African animal for Christmas which is notorious for being extremely aggressive and flinging its feces everywhere to mark its territory. Oh? It's not? Well apparently it is for this horribly misinformed little girl. I don't understand how people think this song is cute. What the hell kind of a Christmas would they expect if this actually played out? What the hell kind of sicko parents or Santa would allow this to happen? I have a horrible image of a house with gaping holes in it, people flattened like pancakes, and feces absolutely everywhere. Street hardened policemen would poke their heads in to get a glimpse of the carnage, and immediately turn away to start puking and yell "OH THE HUMANITY!" Plus, what's with the creepy girl's voice? I know it's a child singer, but it still freaks me out. I'm pretty sure I know the reason why. After studio executives spent a day and a half of being told "that's a stupid idea for a song" by 8 year-olds, they clearly went with plan "B" and got an adult female to sing the song with a mask of helium hooked up.
2. "Dominick the Italian Christmas Donkey"
   As if to differentiate that the song is NOT about a reindeer, the singer drove the message home with all the subtlety of a Mel Brooks' comedy. "HEEEEEE-YONK! HEEEE-YONK" is peppered throughout the song along with "JIGGITY JIG!" which isn't preceded by the old standard, "Home again, home again!" And then the singer can't remember the first words to each verse, so he just randomly fills empty air by yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LAAAAAA!" which apparently are sounds that only Italian Christmas donkeys make as opposed to those other jackasses. To be fair, Italy's Santa Claus legend does have him riding a donkey.  But if the Italian Santa had to ride a donkey named Dominick that sounded like an animal version of Ned Flanders ("Hidely ho! HEEYONK JIGGITY LA LA JIG!"), he would've traded him in for a Ferrari. Or a Fiat.
3. "Santa Baby" by Madonna.
   Madonna had a string of hits in the 80's and then 90's, but she's successfully transformed herself from an 80's sex icon to a real-life walking mummy these days. This song was recorded in the 80's by her, and she naturally wanted to try something different than her usual sultry approach. So she sung like a person who's just come out of a wisdom tooth extraction and still fully feeling the effects of the anesthetic. It really is different as a Christmas song, but you only listen to it halfway before you find yourself wishing that you could tell her, "Madonna, look, an 'A' for effort, but maybe you could just try singing it normally?"
4. "The Christmas Shoes"
    There's just something about this song that makes me want to crawl into bed and stay there for a week. I can't quite put my finger on it. It could be the street urchin protagonist in the song attempting to buy some sort of nice shoes, (he doesn't say what kind, but I always picture Air Jordan's or whatever Kobe Bryant's hawking these days) for his terminally ill mother, while his father is so overcome with grief that he's oblivious to everything and allowing his Oliver Twist of-a-son to roam around the city. It could be that the protagonist doesn't have enough money to buy the shoes and has to resort to begging instead of picking up aluminum cans and taking them to a recycling center. It could also be that the song sounds suspiciously like Elton John's "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?"
5. "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
    I understand what peace is fully. It's the absence of war. And I understand what Yoko Ono is. It's the absence of singing ability. Japanese and Chinese music sound atonal to me but that's because their musical scales are different from the western twelve note scale. And yes, the women singing do sound a tad like cats singing. But it works with their music. What doesn't work in this song is Yoko in the background warbling "WAAAAAR EEEEES OOOOOVAAAAH! EEEEEF YOUUUUUU WAAAAAAN IT! WAAAAR EEEES OOOOOVAH! NAAAAAAAAAAOOOOAAAAA!" I see it in my mind right now. John's hunched over at the console of his recording studio and the sound engineer is listening to the playback and says, "I don't understand, John! We've recorded this fifteen times and every single time once it gets to the chorus, I hear a high pitched whine in the background! It's not the equipment...but what is it?!"
6. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"
    Don't get me wrong. My issue with the song isn't the lyrics but with Brenda Lee's vocal cords which seem to be suffering the same debilitating disease as the little girl who sings "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas." I mean, the Hall and Oates cover of this song was fine. Except for the video where John Oates gets all gussied up in a dress for the holidays. And the long, personal gaze that was shared between Darryl and John. That just makes me feel voyeuristic. And then I hear their cover and I start thinking about John in the dress and the stares that they gave each other. Actually, you know what, my beef is with the whole song in general, past to present and future.
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