airborne livestock

31
Aug

Against my will and inclination, and after a pretty decent weekend hanging out with my teenage daughter going to the movies and teaching her how to drive) my ultra-short drop-in business travel to the Buckeye State is underway. Flights yesterday were on-time and uneventful, but were the bumpiest flights I’ve ever been on – roller coaster time at 35000 feet. People were panicking, and drink service on the second plane never got finished, because the cockpit had to keep ordering the attendants to sit down and strap in. The little one-year-old girl sitting across the aisle from me thought it was awesome, which was at least refreshingly entertaining.

The universe kind of balanced itself when I got to the hotel, as the staff saw fit to upgrade me to the swanky* king suite, so at least I have plenty of room to stretch out while I’m not in the office.

So, what am I doing in Ohio? I am spending a day and a half here “facilitating the transition” as it were; there’s a software test going on here this week for a project I’m handing off – I’m here with my replacement, and I’m handing her over to the team as the new boss. Not that I was ever really the old boss – I was just warming the seat, really, but I’m slowly letting go of this project that I inherited a few months ago when somebody retired abruptly**.

I accomplished most of my goals and duties here within the first hour or so – we’ve got a meeting this afternoon to do some things “officially”, but it’s pretty much done. At this point, I say hi to some folks, fight with the new timekeeping system, do my usual job, displaced about 500 miles northwest of usual, and sit here and wait until 24 hours before my flight leaves, with the Southwest airlines web page staged and ready to go, so I can check in at the earliest possible moment to get decent boarding position for the return legs of the trip.

I don’t actually mind southwest and their “no assigned seats” and boarding groups business – apparently, it makes the flights a little cheaper (okay), and it doesn’t put on airs; modern airline travel isn’t sexy or luxurious; it’s basically cramming a bunch of people into a pressurized tube like livestock and throwing them into the air with jet engines, after making them take their shoes off and dance like a trained monkey for the privilege. The experience is pretty much institutionalized unpleasantness in the best of times. While not exactly embracing the “bus/cattle car in the sky” reality, Southwest doesn’t attempt to pretend it’s really anything more. I can at least appreciate the honesty.

So, that’s my life for the first part of this week. Hope yours is better. Me, I’d rather be at home with the option to rehearse my bass lines for the weekend.

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*well, as swanky as the suite can be at a Courtyard by the airport. I have a big bed, a separate living room, a bar sink, and a fridge and microwave. I’ll take it over the standard equipment.

**I’m not euphemizing here; it was literally an abrupt retirement, in the sense that this individual didn’t show up one Monday, and when called, the response was “Oh, I retired on Friday – you should have gotten the paperwork.”

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bananas and traffic lights

29
Aug

Once upon a time, the dear, departed Mitch Hedberg graced us with the following wisdom:

On a traffic light green means go and yellow means yield, but on a banana it’s just the opposite. Green means hold on, yellow means go ahead, and red means where the hell did you get that banana at…

Today, in answer to that last question, I can say…Kroger. I got them at Kroger.

They’re tasty, too. Hat tip to my kid for pointing this out to me; I was slow on the joke…

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Friday random ten: “bouncing ’round the map” edition

28
Aug

Okay, folks, this has been a really, really long week, mostly because of the involvement of hours and hours of conference calls and powerpoints (seriously – yesterday was like eight hours’ worth). This is my life now, apparently.

the good news is that I have short work week next week, and although that break will be semi-working (DragonCon with the Humdingers), it’s still a weekend of playing music with my friends and peeing next to c-list celebrities, so it’s not exactly work work. I’m taking a week off spanning the labor day weekend holiday, and I’m really looking forward to the break, and the day or two of idle time I built for myself on the back end at home.

Of course, there’s a big inconvenience between here and there. Recently, my workgroup picked up a new member, and I’ve been spending the last couple of weeks working on transitioning her in to take over one of the projects I manage. She’s awesome, and I’m confident she’ll do a much better job with this than I ever did, in part because we’re taking the time to manage the transition properly instead of just throwing it at her (like I got it). As part of the transition, I’ve got to pop into a software test in Columbus, Ohio for a day or so to do a semi-official in-person hand-off, because all the players are going to be there and it’ll be a good opportunity to facilitate introductions and build relationships.

Normally, I like to drive to Columbus (I find the eight hour trip over the mountains relaxing and, to be honest, lucrative for the mileage it pays me), but in this case, since it’s literally kind of a pop-in, I’m taking a plane. So Sunday afternoon, I get on a plane, fly through Atlanta (ironically, where Dragoncon is) to Ohio, spend Monday shaking hands and handing off, then getting back on a plane (through Atlanta again…hrm) on Tuesday to come back home. I then spend Wednesday shutting up the office for a week (except for the parts where I have to sit through several hours of senior management briefs), running home to do laundry and pack before hopping in the car to drive to NC on Thursday morning to hook up with the band and caravan down to Atlanta to be geek rock stars.

So, that’s what, zigzagging through like eight border crossings (not counting the ones where I never touch the ground) and five different states in four days?

Yeah.

anyway…here’s some pre-travelling music, courtesy of Pandora and random crap on my phone, because my tiny mp3 player seems to have wandered off:

  1. “Death Valley ’69” – Sonic Youth
  2. “Icky Thump” – White Stripes
  3. “Last Friday Night” – Katy Perry
  4. “Round and Round” – Imagine Dragons
  5. “Truth About Love” – Pink
  6. “My Eyes” – Doctor Horrible
  7. “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) – U2
  8. “Somebody” – Bryan Adams
  9. “Spooky Shit” – Jonah Knight
  10. “The Middle” – Jimmy Eat World

edit: – because I screwed up the list tags. go me.

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playing with my birthday present

26
Aug

So the other day was my birthday. For my birthday, I splurged a little and bought myself a present – a Behringer UM2 audio interface, so I can start fiddling around a bit more seriously with digital recording. I want to be able to record without latency, mostly to share tracks with collaborators, though partially because I have a couple of songs people have asked me to lay down; I’ll get there, once I learn the thing.

Anyway, I spent a bit of this evening fiddling around with drivers and settings and whatnot, and eventually got it to mostly work properly, though I’m still really flirting with the idea of tracking down a used beater mac so I can run GarageBand, because it kind of just works, and I know people who can coach me through it.

Yes, Apple people, I’m thinking of picking up a cheap mac. Enjoy your self-satisfied feelings.

I probably ought to buy a decent condenser mic first – I don’t have one of those yet.

Anyway, after fiddling around for most of two hours, I took 15 minutes and knocked out this quick and dirty track…some of you may find the bass line familiar, I just plugged in and started noodling. The mix is terrible, but I got a nice reverb sound on there somehow. Enjoy.

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bookending 40

24
Aug

If I look back to a year ago, I find that I spent my 40th birthday rehearsing for a music gig. On the last day of my 40th year, I spent the evening playing a gig with that same group of friends and co-conspirators, this time in the upstairs community space at a pretty neat comic shop in Norfolk VA for a large and appreciative audience. Not a bad way to close out a year.

Sure, a good bit of the remaining 364 days were full of stress and angst, mostly owing to the new job I started in January. I’ll be honest, I’m still not over that stress; eight months in, I’m still figuring out how to be the guy I was supposedly hired to be (especially since the last guy didn’t do so great a job in leaving things in anything resembling a turn-key condition). I’m really thankful for the opportunities I get to go out and make music and make people’s lives a little more enjoyable – we have friends, and dare I say it, fans, who really look forward to the noises we make, and as much as an introvert as I am, I enjoy the hell out of it, getting to make music and make people happy through that making. I don’t think I can ever say it enough, how much I really appreciate Scott and Kirsten for generously letting me into their little musical family and making me feel so welcome.

I spent my actual birthday kind of wallowing in an unfocused melancholy for some reason…might just have been coming down from having a good time playing music, could be generalized anxiety over going to work on Monday, could be something else entirely; I just go there sometimes; I think it has to do with coming to terms with being an actual grown-up with responsibilities but really just wanting to go off and play.

Ahh, midlife crisis, you kind of snuck up on me.

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nerdmusik in norfolk

21
Aug

In case you’re in Norfolk tomorrow night and need something to do, we’re playing a show with our friend Mikey Mason at Atlantis Comics on Saturday night.

Details here. Come see us, it’ll be our first show together since Concarolinas, and it should be interesting and fun, and we’ll make you laugh. I hear there are “Raised By Nerds” shirts now!

And if you can’t make that one, check us out at DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day!

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wandering off the staff

17
Aug

So, in the last couple of weeks, I took a couple of musical steps outside my comfort zone, and I survived.

First, thanks to a certain musical director catching my absent-mindedly warming up my fingers on the guitar one evening, I ended up playing a big fancy improvizational flamenco/surf guitar cadenza during a neat little orchestral piece based on the numeric intervals of the first hundred or so digits of π. It was a really neat piece, and those that played and heard it thought things sounded really great, although I thought my little solo (not just a normal “solo” – I was literally the only one playing for close to a minute) went on too long, but that’s probably just me, my impostor syndrome, and the fact that the longer I go on with one of those things, the closer the probability of my royally screwing it up approaches 1:1.

Secondly, on this past Friday night, I sang the national anthem at a local minor league baseball game. Sure, it was me and 103 of my closest friends as part of a choir, but I sang, did it publically, and sang harmony as part of the bass section. I learned a bit, and had some fun with the jokers in my section, and we sounded, as far as I’ve heard, pretty good. I might even do it again.

Still, it was a lot of stepping out of my established niche; there’s a little stress there. I’ve been doing a lot of that over the last couple of years. Luckily, I have a couple of regular old bass gigs with the Humdingers coming up, so I can settle into comfortable low-end anonymity again.

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eight

14
Aug

Happy Birthday, here’s to giving up car seats!

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comic box office and another neat fake

11
Aug

warning: contains comics

So, unsurprisingly, Fantastic Four (2015) tanked this weekend. I’m not surprised, really; it sounds like it simply didn’t get the characters or the concept, plus, there’s the whole talk of the studio losing confidence in the director and doing reshoots which led to a film described as having no second act and a largely incomprehensible ending. Plus, the Thing needs pants.

So we now have four FF film adaptations, two of which seem to be calculated to simply hold onto the film rights, and two flawed but marginally successful films that seem dated (but having re-watched them both recently, they’re not all bad). And, in a lot of ways, the 1994 never-intended-to-be-released cheapie can be considered the best of the bunch. Weird.

Oh well, maybe this’ll end up hatching a deal between Fox and Marvel to get comics’ first family back home (though not too soon, because I don’t want a new FF film to push out compelling projects like Captain Marvel on the schedule). More to come.

The other interesting piece out this week has to do with the other rights-issue character, Spider-Man. Latino Review second-hand linked (and eventually debunked) an interesting image of the MCU’s Spider-Man (as he’ll first appear in Captain America: Civil War next year) in his “homemade” costume before coming into the larger world of established supers. There’s been a lot of talk about how they’ll do Spidey, alluding to John Hughes high school movies from the 80s (which makes total sense, given the early teenage drama in the early years, especially when John Romita was drawing things in the early 70s – Spider-Man was half romance comic), and starting in media res without an origin story (Spider-Man’s existence already being alluded to at the end of Ant-Man), including some interesting alleged descriptions of concept art of the kind of gear Peter is wall-crawling around in.

Then yesterday, this image popped up:

The image is supposed to be a screencap of Civil War footage (which kind of makes sense, as D23, the Disney Expo is this weekend, and new Marvel footage is expected); though it’s hard to believe that something like this would break through the Disney information blockade.

Turns out it is, indeed, a fake, though it’s a good one, lining up nicely with the concept floating out there, and wedges a blurred Iron Man into the background. Turns out it was too good.

But, like that fake post-credits scene from a while back, this fake seems to “get it” in the way previous studio attempts haven’t, and we can only hope that the reality is as good as the unauthorized imaginings of creative fans.

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let’s talk gender and culture issues in the workplace!

10
Aug

…because that sounds like fun. Trust me, though, this piece comes with a happy, or at least encouraging ending.

In case readers don’t know, after more than a decade adjacent to the industry (working as a functional and process resource supporting development), I took an actual position in an information technology directorate earlier this year. I’m not entirely sure at this point it was the right decision, but it made sense at the time.

As is the case with most jobs, it wasn’t quite what I expected (though this one was farther off the mark than usual), and after eight months or so here, I haven’t gotten all that much closer to a place of comfort or at least establishing a rhythm I can work within. I’ve been spending some of the spare brain cycles I have left (that aren’t dedicated to managing dysfunctional processes or trying to squash imposter syndrome and depression into manageable little boxes) working to figure out why I’m finding things the way I do. I think some of it has to do with local organizational issues (find me offline if you want to talk specifics someday; I’m not going to vent this spleen online), but a larger part of it has to do with the default culture of the software development and information technology industries, which I’m starting to get a picture of after spending most of a year entrenched in it.

Some of these thoughts came to me almost immediately upon arrival, others germinated later, with special attention being paid to my experiences at that conference in Oklahoma the other week, and also due to the unrelated experiences of a friend, which deserve special mention, because she’s a rock star (more on her later).

So, three paragraphs in, here’s my thesis: the information technology industry is pretty damned male centric, and awfully “bro” on top of that, from the people in the jobs to the terminology used. Coming from my previous employment discipline (contracts and procurement), things are very different, and that’s taken some getting used to, even if I’m not thrilled with the fact that I have to get used to it. As you might expect, I’m not exactly your typical bro – I’m the guy who got sand kicked in his face by the alpha males of the world growing up, which has colored my worldview on a fundamental level. Once the fat kid with glasses, always the fat kid with glasses, at least a little bit. I hate to use the word “trigger”, though occasionally, some of those deep-seeded feeling seep up.

My organization, at least the leadership of it, is all male, and a lot of the interaction is fraternity-eque – so much so that I, who finds himself on lowest difficulty setting so to speak, notice. Compared to the average, we’re probably more diverse than the mean, though there’s a
boys club” undercurrent that’s hard to ignore. The business side of the organization is much more diverse (to the point that in some workgroups, white males are an actual minority) in terms of gender and ethnicity, and as that’s where I’ve lived for so long, coming over to the frat house was a shock.The conference I recently attended was also an interesting experience; a sea of white guys listening to other white guys briefing powerpoints, for the most part. However, the thing that really struck me was the breakout session I attended regarding agile development, which the public sector (for whom I work) really wants to get into and appropriate, even if the public sector org structure (which is often locked down by legislation as well as tradition) doesn’t always allow for it.

I’m used to a certain “agressiveness” in business culture (what with all the golf metaphors and Sun Tzu in my old business text books), and I’ve adapted, even if I like to complain. As the kind of software I work with supports business, that sort of thing slips into this side of the business a well; even if it tends to skew a little nerdy (code cowboys and “my kung fu is strong” sort of stuff). “Agile”, though, while it’s a great, adaptive way to building tools utilizing teamwork, trust, and flexibility, can’t help to come across as awfully jock-frat (at least in the circles that I’ve run in), what with it’s borrowing all of it’s operative terminology (particularly the almighty scrum) from rugby (the most hypermasculine sport I can think of culturally), there’s going to be a lot of cultural transmission, down to the whole “us vs. them” model, and disparaging comments about how projects that ultimately fail, usually because they’re populated by impure Scrum-buts that haven’t totally assimilated (not that there isn’t some truth to that theory, but in some circles, it comes along as really cult-like).

I’m not disparaging a valid design philosophy; it’s great for a lot of things, but tends to get applied wrongly in places where it doesn’t fit, leading to failure (and accusations of not having properly drunk the Kool-Aid*). Or maybe I’m just put off by all the hyper-masculine rugby hooligan videos in the presentations…

I am, however, going to close this think-piece on an optimistic note: that rock star friend of mine, Andrea, of Corgibytes, is out there politely raging against the machine, trying to make things better for everyone and more diverse in the information technology workplace. Having just had a baby very recently, Andrea and her “business/life partner” Scott represented their company at a recent software development conference, and rather than compromise their family and work balance, took their infant along with them to the conference. They got some pushback (as she gets a lot, simply by virtue of being the CEO of the company in an industry where that’s not common), but had a successful experience, especially through Andrea’s presentation during the program, …So A Baby Walks into a Tech Conference: confronting maternal bias in the software industry”, which I’ve embedded below. Take a look…

The response she’s gotten to this presentation has been amazing and encouraging, and the conference is looking at making things more accessible, and providing child care at future events.

This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me feel better about the world, even if my little corner of it isn’t always encouraging.

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*-I’m thinking of one guy in particular, a contractor who spent most of his presentation on “agile” berating the government for not embracing his interpretation of the process wholeheartedly; he simply couldn’t understand the idea that the government, the bearers of the public trust, supposedly, can’t just shuck off all the checks and balances built into the system overnight. We’re probably not a good fit as a client for him, honestly. We’re slow to change, we get it. However, there are usually good reasons behind why.

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