The Tyranny of the Extroverts

Super-awesome fun outgoing dudes with 10,000 facebook friends. Can't code.

An old essay called The Tyranny of the Extroverts resurfaced in my feed reader the other day. It got me thinking about some of the talented and shy developers and musicians I have had the privilege to work with over the years. These are the kind of people who trouble getting past an HR interview because of shyness or awkwardness. It scares me to think that a general gatekeeper might throw a potentially valuable candidate out the door before anyone else on the tech team would have a chance to talk to them because s/he seemed “weird” or “too quiet” or was unable to engage in tedious small talk involving American team sports. I consider myself to be a core introvert who can pass as a quasi-extrovert.  It is impossible to be a manager without conjuring some style of extraversion from somewhere. My soul though remains allied to the introvert. The most difficult skill I have ever developed- the piano, was something I worked on and still continue to work on mostly alone. My great uncle was a renowned writer. He wrote alone for hours every day.  When a talented software developer tells me s/he wants some time alone in a secret wi-fi treehouse bunker to think something through and bang out an idea or two I am inclined to make that happen.

A Labor Day Tribute to Records Made by Sidemen

The “sideman” is not a member of the band. He is the faceless hired gun who willingly accepts the lesser piece of the action despite often making a vital contribution the sound. Some great musicians ultimately emerged from these behind-the-scene roles to become stars in their own right but many more did not. This is a labor day salute to some of my favorite obscure records that were fronted by great sidemen who did not quite make stardom.

James Burton: The Guitar Sounds of James Burton [1971]

Burton is the ultimate session guitar player. He is probably best known for his excellent guitar work with Elvis Presley in the 70s Vegas era but he also worked with Elvis Costello, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons, Ricky Nelson and Joni Mitchell among others. His signature axe is a blonde Telecaster. This record was not a big commercial success has got some really nice playing on it. There is a great Burton video where he talks about his various picking styles and influences:

Melvin “Wah Wah Watson”: Elementary [1977]

I first became aware of Wah Wah Watson from his ultra funky guitar work on the 70s Herbie Hancock records but then his name started to pop up everywhere. The funky bluesy stuff on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On? Wah Wah. The groovy licks on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall? Wah Wah. He has also done work for Blondie, Stevie Wonder, you name it. This record is really fun to listen to when you are looking to hear something in that late 70s funky fusion pocket without heavy foreground.

Dennis Coffey : Hair and Thangs [1969]

Coffey is a true Detroit Soul session guitar superstar. He laid down countless gritty Motown tracks including Diana Ross, The Temptations and Edwin Starr. His agility in many styles from Rock to Jazz to Funk and his innovative use of the wah-wah pedal enabled him to introduce many subtle genre cross pollinations in his session work. Coffey was the first white artist to be invited to perform on Soul Train. His first solo record is a classic.

Nicky Hopkins : The Tin Man Was a Dreamer [1973]

Nicky Hopkins performed session work for the Beatles, Kinks, Who, Jeff Beck Group, Steve Miller Band, Jefferson Airplane and all of the Rolling Stones records from 1967-76. It is almost impossible to listen to a “Classic Rock” playlist for even a few minutes without encountering his nimble playing. His first solo effort of three is an underrated gem.

Inspiration for this post:
[vinylsighting] Sideman Serenade – On The Download.

Alpha Music

Impressionable ears - no need to blast

The music that you hear when you are growing up can form the foundation of your sonic aesthetic. I am often relieved that my parents had eclectic taste and exposed me to some of the music I still enjoy today. I came cross Funk For First-Time Fathers recently and thought that this kid was pretty lucky too.

Get rid of multitasking if you want to not suck

Stop the Madness

I have come to the conclusion after years of multitask creep that it is not working for me. Yes, I can bang though a tons of low-level tasks while responding to emails, reminders, meeting requests, tweets, IMs and physical interruptions but I have found it increasingly impossible to concentrate on doing the more creative work that I actually enjoy doing. There is just no getting around it – creative projects, whether software development, design, writing, composing require significant bursts of sustained concentration. Loneliness is actually your friend. I have disabled all real-time audio and visual signals on every piece of electronics I own and set up a very quiet, zen home office and studio space. I think it is working.

A classic article on this topic:
The Autumn of the Multitaskers – Magazine – The Atlantic.

Digging jsfx

Building an HTML5 browser based game or synth? Need some fresh sounds for those nav mouseovers on your step uncle’s used car site? This is the JavaScript library for you. (Requires browser WAV support)

There is  definitely something useful here. I am going to mess around with this more.

RIP Fran Landesman

Sisley - Small Meadows in Spring. c. 1881

Fran Landesman wrote the lyrics to one of my favorite “50s era” standards – Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most.  Her evocative lyrics were inspired by passages in The Waste Land by T.S Eliot.

APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

It’s Not A Redesign If You Don’t Cut Features

Works for christmas, not for websites.

A content website that has been live for any length of time will contain feature bloat: editorial modules, revenue features, social doo-dads and third party widgets etc. If you talk to the right stakeholder, EVERY feature on a website is “vital” but how many really are? Removing features can dramatically improve site engagement metrics by improving load performance and removing user friction. That sounds logical but reduction is not an easy pathway for organizations to follow. It is not easy to reduce in art and it is not easy to reduce in business. There are a lot of people involved in a website who feel their existence will be threatened if various pet features are no longer on the site. Feature trim is a useful exercise that should be conducted during redesign but rarely is. Most major redesigns I have participated take an existing feature set almost as a given and then add a new layer of stuff on top of that making it very unlikely the new site will perform better by any metric. The only way to do away with this type of “redesign” is to go back to the numbers and make every existing feature prove its usefulness by data only. If there is any doubt, the feature should be out. Nothing personal.

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On Having a Super Power Skill

The Last Goat of Krypton - she codes in python

There is no question that this is a great time to be able to code but what of the Super Power skill thing? What does it feel like to have a “super power” skill? Do you know it if you have one? Is it something that becomes part of your overall mojo like a Superhero’s special powers? Here is a quick checklist I came up with to experiment.  I figure you probably need to have a good score on ALL of these to feel like Shazam every morning:

  • Interesting, challenging work that actually matters.
  • Membership in a robust, diverse and stimulating professional community.
  • Ability to easily change jobs when they suck or when a geo change is desired.
  • Good pay and long-term career growth expectations.
  • Flexibility with work configurations to meet multiple personality/lifestyle needs.

Doctors seem to have obvious “super power” jobs because of the perfect 10 they score on the “societal value” side and generally great pay side of things but then some of the physicians I know feel overly tied to their practices in a golden handcuff, freedom-robbing way and complain of soul-sucking drudgery working within a sector of the economy that is heavily centrally managed and litigious. My buddies who do useful things like fix cars or renovate bathrooms seem to enjoy solid pay, a good deal of day-to-day freedom and they definitely do things that we all need and value but then they complain to me about toxic customers, high costs of running a small business and high exposure to regional economic downturns. The programmer community I am a part of is similarly a mixed bad of joys and sorrows any given moment. It is definitely great to be able to do something well that few of us know how to do at all but there are a LOT of people who can say that. Great farmers who feed us, teachers who teach us and artists who enlighten us – seems they could easily get capes too if we are handing them out. Providing they are feeling good about things.