How I Thickened My Hair and Advanced My Hairline with a Simple Massage Technique (and no Drugs)

Head hair as of June 2014 vs. April 2015

Hair as of June 2014 vs. April 2015

Back in June of 2014, about ten months ago, I received an email from a young man named Rob with some ideas about DHT and hair loss (in response to this post). Rob had an interesting theory that DHT was not the main culprit in terms of male hair loss; that scalp fibrosis/calcification and excess sebum production were more responsible for male pattern baldness than any excess of dihydrotestosterone (DHT).

I was initially skeptical of this claim. There’s plenty of evidence to link miniaturization of male hair follicles (and subsequent hair loss) to DHT. One of the two major drugs prescribed to slow or reverse male pattern baldness is Propecia (finasteride), which is a strong 5AR inhibitor, preventing the conversion of testosterone to DHT. The problem with inhibiting 5AR (and the reason I never tried finasteride for my own hair loss) is the long list of potential side effects including reduced libido, impaired sexual performance, depression, and anxiety. I would rather be completely bald!

Rob claimed to have complete halted his own hair loss and regrown almost all of his hair using a massage technique. He wrote:

The cool thing about all of this is that it’s actually possible to reverse scalp fibrosis and release excess sebum trapped in the scalp skin, thereby increasing blood flow and allowing your scalp to flush out any trapped DHT. Using specific massage techniques I was actually able to arrest my hair loss and regrow nearly all my hair in just under a year (no drugs, shampoos, products, or surgeries). This is where our opinions differ slightly – I believe you can have healthy DHT levels and your hair too – and that the trade-off between sexual functionality and hair loss doesn’t need to exist :)

Rob offered to send me his eBook and instructional video for free. This made me even more suspicious — there are hundreds of scam artists out there peddling snake oil hair regrowth products to vulnerable, hopeful men hoping to get their hair back. But Rob wasn’t asking for anything in return, and he seemed sincere. What did I have to lose (besides more hair)? I downloaded the eBook and read it with growing interest …

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Momu Mobile Studio Setup (MOMU-MSS): Making Electronic Music on the Road

Momu's Mayakoba mobile studio setup.

Momu’s Mayakoba mobile studio setup.

I recently had the opportunity to enjoy an all-expenses-paid resort trip to Playa del Carmen, Mexico with Mark Musselman (the other half of Momu). While I’d written plenty of music on the road with an ultra-minimal laptop + headphones setup, this was the first time attempting to travel with a “mini-studio” that would make collaborative beat-making easy and fun and not involve additional checked luggage. The vacation (or “creative sabbatical”) happened to coincide with the release of Momu’s new album The Mission (now available on Beatport, also presale until April 8 on iTunes and Amazon).

When planning our gear we knew we needed the following:

  • two headphone jacks
  • great external powered sound (no amp needed) with sub
  • MIDI keyboard
  • laptop with music production software (and required dongles)
  • XLR microphone input (powered)

For sounds we would rely on “in the box” synths and samplers, including all our staples from Native Instruments (Battery 4, Massive, Kontact) as well Halion 4 from Steinberg. Our main sequencer/DAW is Cubase (also from Steinberg), though we sometimes use Ableton Live as well. For FX we use quite a few from Togu Audio Line.

From our existing equipment we brought the following:

  • MacBook Pro with music software and dongles (13″ 2011 model)
  • Oxygen 8 MIDI keyboard
  • M-Audio Firewire 1814
  • AKG C3000 microphone
  • headphones
  • external keyboard and mouse
  • power strip (luckily Mexico and US power voltage and plugs are completely compatible)

All of the equipment is a bit older, and most of it is very light (both ideal attributes for travel). I was concerned about the small laptop screen but since we worked exclusively on new material it turned out not to be an issue. More developed tracks in later production phases often bloat to 100+ separate tracks (including MIDI, audio, FX, and control channels), but we were simply working on new beats, basslines, chord progressions, and melodies (no more than a dozen tracks per sketch).

We considered buying a new external “lightweight” sound interface, but very few feature more than a single headphone output (I’ve tried using headphone splitters in the past, but most of them are unpowered or underpowered and the sound comes out tinny and shitty). M-Audio’s M-Track 8 looks nice (and I’ll probably upgrade to it eventually because Firewire is discontinued on the newer Macs) but it’s bigger and bulkier than the Firewire 1814. So no purchase needed.

For external sound we ended up going with the extremely reasonably priced (about $50) iKross BlueLED Satellite Speaker Stereo Sound System. Despite the cheesy blue lighting these things sound great, and with the bass set at about the halfway mark for hotel room compositions, our sketches sounded remarkably balanced when I brought them home and played them back on the room-tuned JBL studio monitors.

I also brought an external QWERTY keyboard and mouse for the Mac, but ended up not using them. The trackpad and built-in keyboard turned out to be more comfortable for our particular setup, but USB ports were also in limited supply. I should have brought my Belkin 7 port USB hub. Anti-piracy dongles took up two USB ports, which is a pain. As an aside, I think Steinberg’s use of dongles is short-sighted. Sure — it prevents privacy and raises revenue in the short-term, but in the long-term it annoys professional producers like myself (who will pay for software even if it isn’t protected) and excludes broke young producers who just can’t afford expensive music software. Those innovative, time-rich/money poor producers end up using free, cheap, or more easily pirated software like Fruity Loops, and then go on to create entire new genres (like trap) that are based on the particular quirks of that software. Cubase is a powerful, well-designed application that can do anything you can think of (and more) but people aren’t inventing new genres with it.

One of the Fairmont Mayakoba's dozen or so pools.

One of the Fairmont Mayakoba’s dozen or so pools.

Hotel Beats

The compact iKross (only 7lbs) speakers plus sub are plenty loud. With the amount of noise we made I’m surprised nobody complained. The mobile setup worked great. If I’d remembered a few minor additions (USB hub, a dual 1/4″ to stereo miniphone cable) it would have been perfect. As it was there was some cable switching involved when we wanted to switch from headphones to external sound, and we had to unplug one of the FX dongles to use the MIDI keyboard. But overall it worked! We probably got in about 20 hours of studio time over five days (the rest of the time we were biking around, swimming in the ocean, or drinking at the pool bar).

Our next single will be remixes of Sixth & Mission featuring Missa Hawk (with remixes from Issac, Jose Vizcaino, Marshall Watson, Schoolboy Crush, and our own “Momu’s Mayakoba Dub”). Look for that on Loöq Records.

Momu wishes you a fan-f*cking-tastic day!

Momu wishes you a fan-f*cking-tastic day!

Pre-Order Contest for Momu – The Mission

Momu - The Mission out April 8 (March 25 on Beatport)

Momu – The Mission out April 8 (March 25 on Beatport)

Loöq Records is sponsoring a pre-order contest for my new album with Mark Mark Musselman: Momu – The Mission. First prize is US$808 and lossless audio versions of all four Momu albums to date.

So who is Momu? Why is almost every track named after a location in San Francisco? What unique sound from a viral video was sampled and used in the track Google Bus? Why spend the entire promotional budget on a pre-order contest instead of a publicist or ad campaign or music video?

Who Is Momu?

Mark and I started making music around 2000 and put out our first single “This Is Momu” in 2001. Through 2005 we produced an enormous amount of music and were credited with co-inventing the “progressive breaks” genre, with releases on Bedrock, Global Underground, and half a dozen smaller labels. Since then we’ve opened up our sound to influences from almost every kind of “broken beat” (jazz, hip-hop, dubstep, trap) and the new album reflects that.

These days we’re both dads and in our forties and I don’t go clubbing much. But we keep making beats. Our most recent album Rising hit the #3 album spot in Beatport’s Chill-out genre. We’ve licensed tracks to TV shows including CSI and had some big videogame and advertising placements (including a Pandora ad). We’ll stay in the game until someone kicks us out!

Like all producers Mark and I are addicted to that moment when the sketch you’re working on “clicks” and you look at each other and realize that there might be something there. It’s a good feeling but also a strange one … you never know when it’s going to happen (and it doesn’t always happen). There’s usually some amount of chaos that precedes that moment: a mess of audio tracks and MIDI tracks and weird effects and too many sounds. Then you strip a few things away, move a bit here and there, add a layer, and suddenly, sometimes, the sketch takes on a life of its own and starts to tell you what it wants to be.

The New Album “The Mission”

The first tracks we wrote for the album were very dubby (as opposed to aggro) dubstep, influenced in equal parts by Seven Lions and Snoop Lion. Golden Stargate is an example. While some of my music inspiration comes from trying to create music that I want to hear that doesn’t yet exist, an equal part is listening to other artists and thinking “oh yeah, that!”

Quite of few of the album sounds came from riffing with Kontact‘s samples, especially various pianos. I’m a huge fan of Native Instruments; in addition to Kontact we use Massive, Battery 4, and even the discontinued Kore.

After writing a number of darker piano-based downtempo tracks like Good Morning Alcatraz we both felt the album needed some more energy, and maybe some lighter material. A sample from the video below became the basis of Google Bus. We wrote the just as silly track Make Yo Mama Dance directly afterwards.

Somewhere in the composition process we started to name tracks after various locations in San Francisco. I’ve been witnessing the radical transformation of SF from across the Bay with mixed feelings. The tech explosion is exciting and it’s fun to be close to a hub of energy, innovation, and disruption, but all the fast money also draws hordes of materialistic assholes to San Francisco and kicks out the artsy and working-class locals. We named the album “The Mission” as that neighborhood seems to be ground zero for cultural conflict, as is epitomized by the now famous “DropBox bros vs. locals soccer field video“.

The track names are as much a celebration of SF’s history as they are political commentary, but personally (I’m just speaking for myself here, not Mark) I think there are very specific things politicians in the Bay Area can do to mitigate some of the suffering caused by the “boomtime” economic transformation that is overtaking the Bay Area:

Why a Contest?

I’ve been co-running an independent label for more than fifteen years, and I’ve yet to find the perfect formula for promoting music. Usually when a track or an album does well, it’s completely unexpected. On the other hand, if you don’t give the release that first little push, it might never find its first fans who give the track the big push it needs through word of mouth, playing it out, etc. The ideal promotional strategy is cost-effective: a large number of ears and minds are reached for every dollar spent.

The least cost-effective promotional strategies, in my own experience, are publicists and expensive music videos. Publicists are very expensive and usually result in a few music reviews (that might be good or might be bad, and even though all press is good press, bad reviews still suck). As for music videos, dropping thousands of dollars into producing a great-looking music video might pay off, or it might not. The music video for The Dive (directed by my incredibly talented wife Kia Simon) involved hand-painting hundreds of frames in Photoshop. It won awards at film festivals but only netted a few thousand views online. Same for Momu – Window and Momu – Rising. Even when a music video is produced on a tight budget does get enough views to significantly boost sales, it’s rare to break even. Of the two (publicist or music videos) the latter are more fun and create something of potentially lasting value, but music video production is not easy and not cheap.

So why a contest? Mostly because we hadn’t tried it before, and we figured that even if it wasn’t a great success we’d be able to give our promotional budget directly to a Momu fan! If the contest succeeds in generating a large number of pre-orders, the album will appear in Amazon’s Top Electronic and Dance Albums on release day, giving it a further boost. We could have gone with iTunes but I couldn’t figure out how to verify an iTunes purchase … Apple doesn’t immediately send you a receipt for a specific purchase.

Honestly we haven’t yet received that many entries. Maybe a contest is considered too gimmicky. I wouldn’t want anybody to purchase the album if they didn’t like the music, but those who enter have a very good chance of winning, at least as it stands now. We’ve committed and somebody is going to win $808! Here are the contest rules.

If any of the tracks connect with you, please spread the word. Nothing helps a release more than word of mouth. You will have Momu’s undying gratitude.

Comments and questions welcome, as always. Keep listening to the good stuff!

Extra credit: please tweet or share on Facebook if you enter the contest. Thanks!

Investing Mistakes I Have Made

My first mistake: investing in bulk Scrabble tiles.

My first mistake: investing in bulk Scrabble tiles.

This post is difficult to write — I’ve been putting it off. It’s embarrassing to talk about mistakes I’ve made that have lost me 20%, 50%, or 100% of my principal. But I feel a sense of responsibility to share the gory details of my own foolish, greedy, and sometimes reckless attempts to grow money.

Here’s what I hope to accomplish by writing this post:

  • better understand the nature of these mistakes, so I don’t make them again in the future
  • help at least a few of my readers avoid making these same mistakes themselves
  • provide a little inspiration to younger people who are just starting off their careers and investment plans

I’ve been fascinated by investing since the day I learned at a young age that a bank would give you money (interest) for your deposits.

Since then I’ve made a some good financial decisions and some bad ones. The bad ones mostly all fall into the “classic” mistakes that inexperienced investors make, though a few of my mistakes required ingenuity and above-average foolhardiness.

Without further ado here’s my list of “greatest hits” investment mistakes, for your edification and entertainment. Maybe you can avoid some of the traps I waltzed into!

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Making Good Habits Easier — What Is Most Effective?

Brain training!

Brain training!

I’m fascinated by the science of habit formation. Habits are a gray area where we don’t exert free will directly, but we have some choice in terms of how our habits are shaped. We can set up cues to trigger behaviors in ourselves and others, and reward desirable behaviors to condition and reinforce specific neurological pathways.

I’ve been experimenting with modifying some of my own habits over the past year or two. Here’s a short list of habits I’ve successfully implemented:

  • writing fiction every weekday, around 1000 words/day (or working on world-building, outlining, or revisions for about 2 hours), and keeping a work log
  • strength exercise every weekday (dumbbells or body weight exercises)
  • walking about twenty minutes a day
  • implementing a new dental health routine
  • upping my billable consulting hours from about 65 hours a month to about 80 hours a month (to cover increased costs helping a family member, but also increasing own expendable income and savings rate)

In terms of starting new habits and keeping them going, the two most effective techniques for me have been emotional commitment and tracking.

Other habit change methods, such as manipulating cues, understanding intrinsic rewards, and adding extrinsic rewards have been helpful, but not as instrumental as the former two.

Let’s Get Real. What Works?

The purpose of this post is to be clear about what the core of habit change is, and what is fluff or window dressing.

In my experience the single most important factor is the emotional intensity with which you commit to the change.

I’m not sure if this commitment can be rushed. For myself, sometimes I know that I’m going to need to change something in the future, but for whatever reasons I’m just not ready to commit. Maybe it’s because of fear, or a feeling that I don’t have enough time or energy to make the required changes, or just that changing will be too hard.

It’s often negative feelings that finally galvanize the change. Maybe I’m fed up with the old way of life, or tired of the poor results I’m getting from my current way of doing things.

I do know that it’s a very different feeling to consider doing something, or to dip a toe in a “see how it goes,” than to commit 100% to a new set of behaviors.

For me it helps to focus on both immediate rewards (the inherent pleasures of the new behavior) as well as future rewards (improved health, income, status — whatever it may be). At the same time, maintain a vivid picture of the pain and suffering involved with the “old way of doing things.”

The other most effective practice, in my experience, is tracking progress.

“What gets measured, gets managed.”
– Peter Drucker

When I’m trying to implement a new behavior, spreadsheets are my friend. For fiction writing, I use a daily writing log. For tracking my consulting hours and billable time, I use a spreadsheet that not only calculates how close I am to my monthly goal, but also generates other helpful numbers like remaining workdays.

If you are serious about changing your behavior, write down what you do and what the results are. This applies even to simple counts like “how many days without smoking.”

Everything Else

Everything else is fluff. Of course there can be value in motivational “tricks” like giving yourself rewards, or analyzing a behavior to see if the “bad part” of the behavior can be removed while still holding to part of the psychological reward (if you take outside smoke breaks, don’t forget to take breaks and go outside after you stop smoking).

Go ahead and make that public bet on the internet that you won’t drink for 30 days, or whatever. It can’t hurt, and might even help. Put your running shoes by the door so they remind you and are easy to locate and put on. That will probably help out a bit.

But for long-term change in your life systems, emotional commitment and behavioral tracking are the most effective habit change techniques.

Please share your thoughts (including disagreements, if you have had a different experience) below.