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Interwebs Argument Archives: Migratory Animals Are Guided By A Higher Intelligence

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Quick Background: You spend enough time on the internet and you’ll eventually find yourself in an argument with someone.  It seems like almost an inevitable side effect of interacting with others online.  The only true way to win an internet argument is to avoid it all together.  It took me a while to learn that and realize that psychological reactance is a very real phenomenon.  I used to be active on several online message boards years ago and spent a lot of time in online arguments.  I refrain from calling them debates since it wasn’t really structured in any way.

I took a haitus from the online argument circuit a while ago as I decided they were a complete waste of time.  However, in speaking with others online who followed those arguments they unanimously stated they enjoyed the exchange as they learned a lot from them.  Especially since my primary tactic was to perform a sort of empirical evidence “shock and awe” by barraging my opponent with a massive amount of scientific research.  Did it work? No.  I cannot think of one instance where an argument was actually “won”.  But, those watching proclaimed they had learned a great deal and I think even just for that, it was worth it.

Flash forward to today.  I was browsing through some old files and found some old argument posts I kept for some reason.  I read through them and had nearly forgotten all the information I had compiled.  So I figured it would make a good series for the blog as part of a view into the Texas Shellback Interwebs Archives.

For this first installment I will be providing my rebuttal to the silly claim that the reason migratory birds and other animals can travel long distances, often to annual mating grounds, is that they are guided by some external intelligence.

Note: This post was originally written and posted on the Happy Atheist forum under the name “Squid” (http://www.happyatheistforum.com/forum/index.php?PHPSESSID=fcprr65hgdqqff1v2etrbmc9f0&topic=2363.40;wap2)

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About the bird migration and it coming from some external intelligence, there is NO evidence for such a conclusion and to say it is “logical” is a bit silly. If you noticed one of my citations from my previous post about bird migrations, this article sheds light upon the migration ability. The research done by Heyers et al. (2007) shows that, in migratory birds, the proposed pathway in question is the thalamofugal pathway – composed of retinal ganglia expressing cryptochrome and an area in the forebrain called Cluster N. Crytpochrome just denote the receptors which are specialized to detect blue which also play a role in the circadian cycles of some animals. Cluster N is a collection of forebrain areas in migratory birds which play a role in night-vision and as Heyers et al. propose, their internal “compass”. In Anguilla Anguilla, among the physiological changes which take place before migration is the shift in their retina pigments from green-sensitive to blue-sensitive (Wood, P. and Partridge, 1993).

The authors also note that within cluster N, there is “high, sensory driven neuronal activity as indicated by the expression of the Immediate Early Gene ZENK during magnetic orientation”. This is supported previously by independent evidence is several migratory bird species (Mouritsen, Feenders, Liedvogel, Wada, & Jarvis, 2005; Liedvogel, Feenders, Wada, Troje, Jarvis & Mouritsen, 2007).

ZENK expression was utilized as a measure of neuronal activity. The specific genes in question would be the cryptochrome CRY genes which are also involved in circadian cycles as well as the regulation of PRL (prolactin) which is involved in avian reproductive cycles (Yasuo, Watanabe, Tsukada, Takagi, Iigo, Shimada et al., 2004) as well as reproductive cycles in coral (Levy, Appelbaum, Leggat, Gothlif, Hayward, Miller et al., 2007) and involved in time-place learning in mice (Van der Zee, Havekes, Barf, Hut, Nijholt, Jacobs et al., 2008).

Electromagnetic orientation is not restricted to birds, a study of eels showed that there is a definite, seasonal dependent change in orientation in accordance with Earth’s magnetic field which I posted previously (van Ginneken, Muusze, Breteler, Jansma, van den Thillart, 2005; Westerberg & Lagenfelt, 2008). Specifically, Westerberg & Lagenfelt showed that underground electrical power cables (which generate their own EMFs) disrupted the travel of the eels.

In birds, migration has been shown to be a genetically controlled process. For instance, such behavior can be produced or changed to sedentary behavior within several generational breedings by intermixing migratory and sedentary birds (Berthold, 1999). Also Moller (2001) notes that arrive time is dependent upon genetics and such can be linked directly to reproduction, stating:

…competition for early arrival among males may lead to condition-dependent migration associated with fitness benefits of early arrival achieved by individuals in prime condition.

As for migration in marine species, it does seem to be evolutionarily advantageous, as Roff (1988) notes:

Migration both influences the evolution of other traits and is contigent upon the evolution of other behavioural and demographic characters. The interaction between such factors is illustrated by considering the relationship between the cost of migration in relation to fecundity and the advantages and disadvantages of schooling, a phenomenon hypothesized to favour the evolution of migration.

The development of migration itself may seem like it may take a heavy toll, however, this is not the case as Alerstam, Hedenstrom and Akesson (2003) show. They also indicate that migration should not be seen as an isolated behavior or mechanism but migration is “an extension of general seasonal adaptations in movement, homing, metabolism etc”. It is also noted that migratory behavior is not a conserved behavior either and is linked to resource exploitation, breeding, disparity between survival and breeding grounds, and so forth. These similarties are seen across taxa with variation (which the article includes eels in their consideration of migration). Alerstam et al. also note that the eel migration is aided by currents although the energetic cost of the travel is fairly low. This was previously shown by Castonguay and McCleave (1987) which showed that Anguilla anguilla stay in the Gulf Stream on their travel to Europe.

The misconception that the eels travel from the same exact spot from their spawning grounds to some exact spot close to Europe and back to the same exact spot is elementary and inaccurate. Here is the variation in their journey:

migration

(Image from: van Ginneken, V., Muusze, B., Breteler, J., Jansma, D., & van den Thillart, G., 2005)

The long-distance trek of Anguilla Anguilla is quite amazing and it may not be know exactly why their spawning grounds are so far away – however, as research has shown it may have built up distance over a period of time and is directly related to their reproduction. Takaomi, Limbong, Otake & Tsukamoto (2001) conclude that this is this may indeed be the case, stating:

“…ancestral eels most probably underwent diadromous migration from local short-distance movements in complex currents in tropical coastal waters to the long-distant migrations characteristic of present-day temperate eels, which has been well-established as occurring in subtropical gyres in both hemispheres.”

Which is later expounded upon in another article the following year by Tsukamoto, Aoyama & Miller (2002) stating:

“…the large-scale migration of temperate eels probably evolved from local migrations of tropical eels as a result of long-distance dispersal of leptocephali from spawning sites in tropical waters of low latitude to temperate growth habitats at higher latitudes.”

Specifically, Tsukamoto & Aoyama (1998) conclude that the tropical origins of the eels were somewhere around the Western Pacific, close to modern-day Indonesia and their clade originating around 10 million years ago.

Now, the problem with wanting to show mutation is responsible for a particular behavior is (as you should know) very difficult since behaviors are not governed by the idea of one gene = one trait/state. Genetic roles can be shown and have been in the migration of animals including the eels along with environmental cues to imprinting (Westin, 2003). And the alternative idea which you propose is lacking in any substantiation or refutation of the currently presented data. It is known, however, that no mutation is a requirement for the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium and therefore makes it an integral part of the evolutionary process as I’ve stated before. Mutations lead to genetic variants –> natural selection acts upon these variants –> the selected traits grow throughout the population and may become indicative of that organism. It also must be kept in mind that most mutations are effective neutral to the organism – that is they do not confer any real selective advantage or disadvantage.

There is definitive evidence for a major role for genetics in migratory behavior, along with environmental cues (electromagnetic fields in this case) and learning (imprinting – which can be shown to be disrupted as in the article from Westin).

As for “instinct” this too is the product of variation and selection. Did anyone teach you how to suck on a nipple when you were a baby? No, that fixed action pattern already existed and has even been observed in vivo prenatally – obviously a beneficial trait to have. Another example is the innate drive to procreate or at least engage in the activity thereof. However, these instincts can be modified by experiential learning (conditioning) or found in variation in which a particular genotype may not exhibit the usual innate behavior – in such an instance without some intervention this would be bad for that particular individual.

There is ample evidence for a completely naturalistic and evolutionary explanation for migration behavior in the example of the eels.
References:

Alerstam, T., Hedenstrom, A. & Akesson, S. (2003). Long-distance migration: evolution and determinants. Oikos, 103, 247-260.

Berthold, P. (1999). A comprehensive theory for the evolution, control and adaptability of avian migration. Ostrich, 70, 1-11.

Castonguay, M.& McCleave, J. (1987). Vertical distributions, diel and ontogenetic vertical migrations and net avoidance of leptocephali of Anguilla and other common species in the Sargasso Sea. Journal of Plankton Research 9, 195-214.

Heyers, D., Manns, M., Luksch, H., Gunturkun, O., & Mouritsen, H. (2007). A Visual Pathway Links Brain Structures Active during Magnetic Compass Orientation in Migratory Birds. PLoS, 2(9), e937.

Levy, O., Appelbaum, L., Leggat, W., Gothlif, Y., Hayward, D., Miller, D. et al. (2007). Light-Responsive Cryptochromes from a Simple Multicellular Animal, the Coral Acropora millepora. Science, 318, 467-470.

Liedvogel, M., Feenders, G., Wada, K., Troje, N., Jarvis, E. & Mouritsen, H. (2007). Lateralized activation of cluster N in the brains of migratory songbirds. European Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 1166-1173.

Moller, A. (2001). Heritability of arrival date in a migratory bird. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 268, 203-206.

Mouritsen, H., Feenders, G., Liedvogel, M., Wada, K., & Jarvis, E. (2005) Night-vision brain area in migratory songbirds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 102, 8339–8344.

Roff, D. (1988). The evolution of migration and some life history parameters in marine fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 22, 133-146.

Takaomi, A., Limbong, D., Otake, T. & Tsukamoto, K. (2001). Recruitment mechanisms of tropical eels Anguilla spp. and implications for the evolution of oceanic migration in the genus Anguilla. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 216, 253-264.

Tsukamoto, K. & Aoyama, J. (1998). Evolution of freshwater eels of the genus Anguilla: a probable scenario. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 52, 139-148.

Tsukamoto, K., Aoyama, J. & Miller, M. (2002). Migration, speciation, and the evolution of diadromy in anguillid eels. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 59, 1989-1998.

Van der Zee, E., Havekes, R., Barf, R., Hut, R., Nijholt, I., Jacobs, E. et al. (2008). Circadian time-place learning in mice depends on Cry genes. Current Biology, 18, 844-848.

van Ginneken, V., Muusze, B., Breteler, J., Jansma, D., & van den Thillart, G. (2005). Microelectronic detection of activity level and magnetic orientation of yellow European eel, Anguilla Anguilla L., in a pond. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 72, 313-320.

Westerberg, H & Lagenfelt, I. (2008). Sub-sea power cables and the migration behaviour of the European eel. Fisheries Management & Ecology, 15, 369-375.

Westin, L. (2003). Migration failure in stocked eels Anguilla Anguilla. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 254, 307-311.
Wood, P. and Partridge, J. C. (1993) Opsin substitution induced in retinal rods of the eel (Anguilla anguilla (L.)): a model for G-protein-linked receptors. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 254, 227-232.

Yasuo, S., Watanabe, M., Tsukada, A., Takagi, T., Iigo, M., Shimada, K. et al. (2004). Photoinducible Phase-Specific Light Induction of Cry1 Gene in the Pars Tuberalis of Japanese Quail. Endocrinology, 145, 1612-1616.

Your job is slowly killing you…

skeleton at deskFor many people, work is stressful although necessary to pay the bills and maintain or improve your quality of life. However, is your job and that associated stress slowly leading to illness? It is quite possible.

Most people are familiar with the hormone cortisol as it’s widely associated with stress and often referred to as the stress hormone. There is also an equally, if not more important, hormone called dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA and its sulfated form DHEA-S. These two hormones are always present and offset one another which leads some scientists to use a cortisol to DHEA(S) ratio to examine the amount of stress the body is under as well as assisting in diagnosing possible stress related disorders such as PTSD. DHEA(S) has protective effects against stress and the action of cortisol, higher levels of DHEA(S) allow us to think clearly, maintain memory and cognitive performance in a stressful situation. A team of researchers found that those military members with higher DHEA(S) levels performed better during the grueling survival training known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape).

So what does this have to do with your job? Well, in 2013 Lennartsson and colleagues published a study that found people who were stressed at work had noticeably lower levels of DHEA-S. Subsequent research by Lennartsson et al. (2013b) found that stress at work actually affected the ability to produce DHEA-S during stress and could lead to a definite decline in health as a result. Stress has a long list of illnesses and disorders it can cause and/or exacerbate.

So if you’re stressed at work, what do you do? Well, you could find another job or learn to cope with the stress better. Learn to take steps to prevent the stress before it happens and learn how to lessen the effect of stress when its present.

References

Lennartsson, A., Theorell, T., Rockwood, A., Kushnir, M., & Jonsdottir, I. (2013). Perceived stress at work is associated with lower levels of DHEA-S. PLoS ONE 8(8). Retrieved fromhttp://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0072460

Lennartsson, A., Theorell, T., Kushnir, M., Bergquist, J., & Jonsdottir, I. (2013b). Perceived stress at work is associated with attenuated DHEA-S response during acute psychosocial stress. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 38(9), 1650-1657.

Taylor, M., Sausen, K., Potterat, E., Mujica-Parodi, L., Reis, J. Markham, A.,…Taylor, D. (2007). Stressful military training: Endocrine reactivity, performance, and psychological impact. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 78(12), 1143-1149.

I am Error

zelda-ii-i-am-errorMost people who have taken a research methodology or statistics class will remember the two types of errors that can be made in hypothesis testing – Type I error and a Type II error.  They are summarized as:

Type I (false positive) – Incorrectly rejecting the null hypothesis.

Type II (false negative) – Incorrectly accepting the null hypothesis.

These two errors were introduced by Jerzy Neyman and Egon Pearson in a paper published in 1933.  These are the two types of errors you will find in most textbooks.

However, did you know that there have been other types of errors proposed?  Most popularly are the Type III error proposed by Frederick Mosteller and the Type IV error proposed by Leonard Marascuilo and Joel Levin.

Mosteller003Mosteller (1948) proposed an additional situation to what Neyman and Pearson had already established.  He proposed that there were situations in which a statistician would reject the null hypothesis correctly but it would be for the wrong reason.  Specifically, Mosteller wrote:

“It is also possible to reject the null hypothesis because some sample Oi has too many observations which are greater than all observations in the other samples.  But the population from which some other sample say Oi is drawn is in fact the rightmost population.  In this case we have committed an error of the third kind.”

Schwartz and Carpenter (1999) provided some examples as they relate to homelessness and other public health problems.  They point out that often the focus is upon differences among the individuals of a population when the question had nothing to do with those differences.  In relationship to homelessness they state:

“We argue that examining causes of interindividual differences in risk for homelessness is not useful for appreciably decreasing the incidence of homelessness, because the causes of interindividual variation in risk for homelessness do not appreciably contribute to the current incidence of homelessness.” 771f48f5a98809482d07761701c1bb98

Marascuilo and Levin (1970) proposed their own contribution to the world of errors
when proposing a Type IV error. They define a Type IV error as, “…the incorrect interpretation of a correctly rejected hypothesis”.  As an example they state that a Type IV error, “…may be likened to a physician’s correct diagnosis of an ailment followed by the prescription of a wrong medicine.”

So there’s some stats trivia for you.  Don’t use all that knowledge in one place…

References:

Marascuilo, L. & Levin, J. (1970). Appropriate post hoc comparisons for interaction and nested hypotheses in analysis of variance designs: The elimination of Type IV errors. American Educational Research Journal, 7(3), 397-421.

Mosteller, F. (1948). A k-sample slippage test for an extreme population. Annals of Mathematical Statistics, 19(1), 58-65.

Neyman, J. & Pearson, E. (1933). The testing of statistical hypotheses in relation to probabilities a priori. Mathematical Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 29(4), 492-510.

Schwartz, S. & Carpenter, K. (1999). The right answer for the wrong question: consequences of type III error for public health research. American Journal of Public Health, 89(8), 1175-1180.

Rate My Navy

rating-badge-changeFor those of you who have been living off-grid up in the mountains inside a wooden cabin with no link to the outside world, this may be news for you. Or for those who don’t really follow or care about military matters, this may be news to you as well. Recently, the U.S. Navy leadership had decided all by themselves to eliminate the old Navy occupational structure known as “rates”. They wanted a new structure similar to other branches of service that use the military occupational specialty codes like the Army and Marine Corps. The Air Force uses something similar called an Air Force Specialty Codes.

In an MOS type system, people are referred to by their rank, “Private”, “Specialist”, “Captain”, “General” and so forth and their MOS or “job” is a separate designation such as 11B (infantryman) or 68W (combat medic). The Navy personnel are also sometimes referred to by their rank, “Petty Officer Third Class”, “Senior Chief”, “Lieutenant”, and so forth. However, for the enlisted personnel, especially E-6 and below, their rank is intimately tied to their rating and folks are more often referred to by their rating and rank “hybrid” designation such as “BM1” for a Boatswain’s Mate First Class or “MC3” for a Mass Communications Specialist Third Class. My rate was a lithographer’s mate (a now defunct rate – was merged with others to for the MC rating) and I quite often called “LI3”. Although, in closer circles I was mostly referred to as “Fucker”, “Dipshit”, and “Asshole” – Naval terms of endearment.sddefault

So, the point is that the Navy rating system was an old system but had become tradition and that rating was a source of pride in a sailor’s job and was integrated into their military identity. Therefore, when the leadership, out of the blue (no pun intended) said “hey, rates are gone, we’re replacing them with Navy Occupational Specialties or NOS, sailors were pissed. After a massive amount of criticism for the move on social media, in conventional media and even producing appeals to the White House, the Navy leadership realized they fucked up. Not wanting to go down as the dudes who were the most hated in Naval history, they did an about-face and reinstated the rates.

Okay, so why the big damn deal, you may ask. Why are sailors having a baby hissyfit over job titles? That’s a perfectly rational question. For those who were never part of the military and especially the Navy, it may be somewhat difficult to understand. In the military, tradition is a sacred thing. We often acknowledged those who came before us and honored their sacrifices through various traditions. Some traditions are so old that no one is really sure how or why they began. A perfect example is the Navy tradition of “crossing the line“.  120418-n-dr144-2209This ceremony occurs when a ship parks itself on the equator and those who have never been initiated must go through a sort of hazing ritual – although, we don’t say “hazing” now because that has a bad connotation and leadership makes sure everyone knows that participation is voluntary. However, going through the long ritual of eating green eggs and ham, crawling around on all fours, being sprayed with salt water hoses, being covered in slimy, grimy who-the-hell-knows-what finally leads the slimy pollywogs to become Trusty Shellbacks. For most sailors, the unofficial title of Trusty Shellback is a greater source of pride than most official awards or commendations.

So what was the point of this drawn out story about the Navy rates? I think it is a perfect example of a disconnected leadership and the improper way to enact change. In any organization, it is only as strong as its people. When those people are demoralized and left to felt like they have no input in policy that greatly affects them, they become less productive, less loyal, and you end up losing talented and skilled folks.

Should the Navy leadership have known better? Yes, they should have. Was the idea of a type of Navy Occupational Specialty system bad? Not necessarily, but when you abruptly replaced a system that is hundreds of years old and a source of great reverence and pride with some new, bland system, then it becomes a horrible idea. In this age of lightning speed news and communication, there is no excuse for not knowing the general consensus of your sailors. Despite the ill-implemented system change, the sailors got their rates back and also get to rid themselves of the blueberries (blue camo uniform). Now, if they could upgrade Windows from XP one day soon, that’d be good too – some things shouldn’t be traditions…like your operating system.

The Shred Files – A History

Aside from being a research geek, I am also a guitar geek.  I grew up in an era when guitar driven rock and metal was king.  It was everywhere from the radio to TV.  I used to sit and listen to stuff by Van Halen, Ratt, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and many others and be in awe of their skills.  At 15 I decided I wanted to learn to play the guitar.  At the time, my parents were running a music shop in my hometown owned by my grandparents.  One of the brands they carried was Samick.  They made okay stuff for pretty cheap prices.  So I had a bare bones six string electric that I was able to pluck a bit on.

564687_10151294145942023_493004901_nI learned some from my father who had played guitar and bass for years.  He provided me with a good grasp of the basics but I never practiced as much as I should have.  So I tooled around on guitar off and on throughout high school and a little bit when I started community college.  Then, right before my 21st birthday I joined the Navy and that put my guitar playing and learning on hold for a while.  A few years and a medical discharge later I found myself back home and wanting to pick up guitar again.  This time was different. I delved more into learning and most importantly, actually composing songs.  However, some of the lyrical content quality was questionable with some real Grammy award winning stuff like “Sweaty Palms, Raw Meat”, “Don’t Screw My Groove”, and “Bitch Queen”.  What can I say, I was 24 and armed with an Applause acoustic (a cheapo Ovation) and a Samick six string electric with a Samick 15 watt practice amp.  Not the best set up but I didn’t make much cash as a lithographer.  If you’ve never heard of a lithographer, look it up and you’ll understand why it was a wise choice I didn’t make that a career in the early 2000s.

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Anyhow, I ended up focusing more on perfecting my technique, phrasing and learning to solo outside of the little pentatonic box I was most comfortable playing in.  Over the next few years I hit a few rough patches and had to sell my guitars and amps. I also ended up going back to college in 2003 and buying a Seagull acoustic – a really nice sounding guitar.  I also ended up with another cheapo Samick guitar – antoher strat copy and a small Crate 15 watt amp.  Despite my gear handicap, I forged on learning some more and picking up189435_4754492022_2323_n a few cover songs here and there.  Around 2004/2005 some friends and I attempted to form a band – Porkchop Express, named after the truck in Big Trouble in Little China.  We came up with some ideas, I wrote down some stuff, it didn’t really do much.  We were more famous in San Marcos, TX for our karaoke antics at the bar than any music we wrote.  Don’t get me wrong, we came up with some decent stuff here and there but it was to never really see the light of day.  At the time a friend of ours had fit the bill for me to play through a Randall RG100 with an extra Randall 4×12 cabinet.  The amp sounded great and by then I had purchased a Washburn X16 electric guitar which I still have to this day.

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I moved to Dallas in 2006 to go to school at the UT campus there and spent a good amount of time playing guitar in my apartment.  Then, a year later I moved to San Marcos to go to Texas State University switching from Neuroscience to Health Psychology.  I played off and on for the almost two years I lived there before having to move back home due to losing funding for my research assistant job at the university.  It was at that point in late 2008, early 2009 that I really dove into my playing.  I experimented with all sorts of things I hadn’t before and I think it was at that point I started learning more than I had the previous 15 years.

I eventually snagged a job in San Antonio, moved there and continued to write and also record ideas and coming up with riffs and compositions.  I had bought a Line6 Guitar Port to record stuff onto my computer.  I still have those recordings to this day as well as all the tab I wrote.  I didn’t have an amp anymore and sometimes was able to borrow my brother’s Kustom 2×12 amp.  By this time my parents had their own little shop and I drooled at the possibilities of grabbing a really nice guitar I had always dreamed about buying like a brand new Jackson or an Ibanez shred machine.  Unfortunately, it never happened.  Lost my job due to funding issues and had the pleasure of getting a divorce.  It wasn’t a great time for me around 2010 and I ended contemplating bailing out of my graduate program and just making a career out of my job with the State of Texas, my small salaried (very small) job with the State of Texas.  I lost access to the amps I once had and played through some models at the store when I could and loving the sound of the Kustom, AXL and Raven amps.  However, I at least had my Line6 Guitar Port which was already 6 years old and ancient technology by then.

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I soldier (or I guess in my case, sailored) on and starting dating my (soon to be) wife.  I also finally finished my master’s program and scored another research job in 2012 back in San Antonio.  That helped boost me into some more playing and it was during that time that I was the most musically productive I had ever been.  We moved to SA in December of 2012 and we’ve been here ever since.  There’s been some ups and downs and we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of those downs.

Over the next 4 years I played off and on but nothing really steady.  Then over the last couple of years I hardly even picked up one of my guitars.  I ended up selling my Seagull – there’s those hard times again.  But I also was able to buy a nice Takamine acoustic to replace it.  That puts me where I am now.  With a Washburn X16 and a Takamine six sting acoustic and no amp.  My skills have degraded noticeably and I’ve set about trying to change that.

I’ve set my sights on a nice Fender Mustang modeling amp – a 100 watt 2×12 amp.  Also, instead of forking out hundreds of dollars for a shiny new Charvel retro 80s guitar, I’m taking my Washburn and beefing it up to become the shred machine I’ve always wanted – new Seymour Duncan pickups, new locking tuners, brand new Tune-O-Matic bride, a new bone nut, cleaned and treated fret board, new input jack, and a new set of Heavy Core strings will round out the mods.  The guitar itself is a basswood body, maple neck with rosewood fret board with 24 jumbo frets, so not too bad and definitely worth working with.  Now, if it were a cheapo little crap starter Fender Starcaster or something, then, yeah, new guitar shopping I would go.  However, hot-rodding my Washburn will save me mucho dinero which I can use to buy other stuff.

To get back up to speed with my playing I’ve dedicated 30 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the week to play and at least one hour on the weekends.  Yes, it’s not much but it’s just the goal which I can exceed if I am able to.  Once I get my new amp that will most likely happen as I learn to program the tones and start working on putting together some new material.

Eventually, I would like to put together a band with some other like-minded middle aged guys and play some 80s style tunes – some covers and some original stuff.  Some people will say that it’s hair metal, glam metal, AOR, hard rock, arena rock, classic rock or whatever – I’m just going to refer to it as Dad Metal.  Which is weird how that came to be because a small number of kids online (along with pages they follow that they are unaware are satire) who worship bands like Asking Alexandria, Black Veil Brides and other crap, refer to the old school metal as “Dad Metal” because it’s what their dads listen to.  The Honda commercial for the Odyssey minivan with Judas Priest’s “The Hellion” playing didn’t help the image either.

My hope is that I can play good enough to introduce some kid to that style of music and have them become just as fascinated as I was and lead them to their own journey into the world of guitar.  That, and I’ve always wanted to play a show and be paid in beer.

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Tomb of the Unknown Shredder

For the past five years I have barely picked up a guitar let alone played one for any significant amount of time or with any real consistency.  In just those short five years, from lack of use, my skills have degraded significantly.  I don’t remember how to play any full songs, just bits and pieces, my speed has slowed to a first year guitar student crawl (I don’t even want to talk about my sweeping ability which wasn’t that great to begin with), and the ability to piece together a cohesive melody or even decent riff has seemed to have left me.

With that realization, I’ve decided to attempt to revive my guitar playing skills.  I’d say I was at my peak around late 2010 when I was prolifically creating killer riffs, composing some decent solos and so forth.  However, a divorce, a job lay off and two relocations put a pretty sizable dent in those accomplishments.  So, I’ve developed a plan to get my guitar playing back on track.  It will take some time and some cash but I think it will work.

Gear

Before I even embark on this guitar skills revival, I have to get my gear in order.  Much of what I have is gone – sold out of necessity during those previously mentioned hard times.  I am left with two items – a Washburn X-16 Flaming Skull graphic strat-style guitar and a Takamine acoustic.20160707_130045

 

For the electric, I would need an amp if I want to start working on things like writing some killer riffs or composing some actual songs.  Yes, I could do it without the amp but where’s the fun in that?  So, I’ve decided to take the cheap route initially and I will eventually purchase a cool little practice tool made by Vox called the amplug2 metal edition.  It plugs directly into the guitar and I can hear it through headphones or by plugging in a small speaker.  Vox makes several different types but they all sell for about $40.  That will keep me practicing until I can afford the next item on the list, the amplifier I want – a Fender Mustang IV version 2.  Similar to the GDECs and other modeling amplifiers like Line6 and Peavey’s Vypyr series, the Fender amp has lots of presets and an online community where people submit tones they’ve created.  What sold me on this amp is the great 80’s style tone it can created through the right guitar – unfortunately, my current guitar is not that guitar.  More on that in a bit.  The Fender amp has a USB connection ready to go for connection to a PC.  With their Fuse software you can create your own custom tones to load onto the amp.  The amp also comes with a lite version of Ableton Live 8 for recording which makes it easier than going through an input device, having software for compatibility and then trying to find recording software that works with that device as well and that actually has decent recording capability.  However, I will give the Ableton a try although I have also downloaded the free version of ProTools as well to see which works better.  I plan to eventually order the amp from Zzounds using their payment plan option.

My old Washburn is, well, old.  I bought it in 2005 and it’s been through a lot.  It was a fairly cheap guitar to begin with – not bottom of the barrel but nowhere near top of the line.  It’s an X-16 (which they don’t make anymore), has string through body (no tremolo) and pretty much basic everything.  It came with two no name brand humbuckers which are pretty lousy.  However, I’m not tossing this guitar, I’m keeping it.  My plan for the Washburn is to hot rod it with some new electronics, some new hardware and make it sound as awesome as the paint job looks.  I plan on outfitting it with a Seymour Duncan Black Winter bridge pickup and a Dimarzio Humbucker from Hell in the neck position.  I plan on replacing the tuners with Grover locking tuners (black hardware) and replacing the old, crusty tune-o-matic bridge with a new Graph Tech Resomax tune-o-matic bridge.  I may also replace the input jack as well and add straplocks on there.  After that’s all replaced and the guitar is cleaned up, oiled down and restrung with some Dunlop Heavy Core strings, it’ll be ready to rock again.  It will be my go to guitar for the more aggressive, heavier playing.

But what about that sweet 80’s sound I mentioned?  Well, I originally had narrowed my guitar wants down to a few guitars – a Charvel (San Dimas or So-Cal), a Schecter (Hellraiser), a Kramer (SM-1), or a Carvin (JB24).  While my first pick overall would be the Carvin Jason Becker Numbers guitar, it runs about $1600 needed up front.  So, I decided to go with ones I could get through Zzounds.  That limited me to either the Schecter or the Charvel.  The Schecter is a beautiful guitar, no doubt about it and the active pickups would guarantee some powerful tones.  However, I had to go back to my want of that sweet 80’s style tone and I decided to go with the Charvel San Dimas which lists for about $899 at Zzounds.

So, why the 80’s sound you may ask?  Well, along with getting my chops back and grabbing this awesome new gear over time.  I’ve set a tentative timeline of roughly 4 years (arbitrarily picked the year 2020 because it’s an even number) to get the gear, get my playing back up to speed, find some like-minded folks and put together an 80’s style band to play at dive bars, weddings, bar mitzvahs…the usual places where you often get paid in beer or food.  Why?  Because I think it offers a nice contrast to the saturation of the live music scene in all things metalcore or pop country.  And before you ask, yes, most of the songs I plan on playing in the band will be covers, no they won’t all be the top 40 from the 80’s.  Instead of tossing out another tired rendition of Poison’s Talk Dirty to Me, I have a working list of a bunch of great songs from bands past and present that aren’t in the public consciousness of 80’s music.  The songs are stuff from bands like Harem Scarem, Loudness, Midnight Blue, Y&T, Southgang, Crazy Lixx and some others.  I do plan or writing originals too but it won’t be the majority of the playlist.

Skill Building

So how do I plan to bring my skills up to speed?  Well, I plan to allot specific times to guitar practice – no less than 30 minutes twice a week.  You may think that isn’t very much time but I work full time, go to grad school part time (don’t currently have any classes for the summer) and a lot of other things that require my time and attention.  So I think a good 30 minutes twice a week is good option – remember, I’m giving myself 4 years from rusty, crap player to shredder in an 80’s style band.  Along with that 30 minutes during the week I also plan to allot at least one hour of practice on the weekends.

What will I do in those times?  Well, for speed I figured on doing some chromatic and legato runs.  For composition purposes I will work on re-learning specific modes and scales such as the the major scale, the minor scale, Phrygian mode, pentatonic scales and so forth.  I also plan to create a list of songs to work on learning to play proficiently which would be mostly the songs I’d like to play in the band and ones I see as challenges to push the limits of my playing such as Cacophony’s Concerto, Andy Timmons’ Cry For You, In Flames’ Zombie Inc., and Jason Becker’s End of the Beginning.

And of course I always want to keep up on my tricks of the trade – slides, bends, vibrato, palm muting, pinch harmonics, string skipping, sweep picking, trills, tapping, et cetera.

Anyhow, that’s the plan.  Let’s see if I can make it work.

In Remembrance…

MD2016