The Devil You Don’t Know

I recently had to turn down an offer for a bank job. It was tempting – it seemed like a very cool project, right in the sweet spot of my skillset, a combination of front-end and full-stack, of JavaScript, Java and API design, on the same scale as what I’d been doing in Platform Engineering, and a good opportunity to learn about the finance industry.

However, the pay wasn’t great, no better that I’m making now. But the real problem was it was thru a headhunter. All seemed okay until the bank decided they wanted me and the headhunter made me an offer. When it seemed like an offer was in the offing they actually asked “should I just accept whatever offer they make?” Seriously? Then he came to me with the offer and wanted me to say yes on the spot.

Naturally I had questions and concerns. It was a temp-to-hire position, so the main issues were around the move to the staff position. Jeannie was in a similar situation a year ago: they told her it’d be a six month contract-to-hire, but then they dragged it out for a year, and then when they offered her a staff position the salary was lower than what she’d been promised. I told all this to the headhunter (same agency btw), that what I really care about is the staff position, the temp position is just a speed bump, and I wanted to negotiate the terms of the staff position upfront. He’d mentioned a 3 to 6 month contract and a VP level staff position. Imagine that, me bank VP! And my kids’ friends all think I’m a hippie. But dude wouldn’t offer anything more solid than his “expectation”. When I pushed he wouldn’t budge, nor commit to anything firm. Dude insisted I give him answer by the next morning. The time came and went. Meanwhile I talked to the guys at the bank directly, and they were talking about up to 18 months as a contractor and an as-yet-undetermined staff title.

So I had to pass on that one. Headhunter dude was then like “well if you change your mind let me know.”

Plus the commute was kinda long anyway. Ah well.

New Lyric: Leave the City Behind

I wrote this song back in May, driving home from a road trip. I was at a point in my life where I was thinking about what I wanted to do next, and I’d gone up to the Adirondack Mountains to visit my friend Mark. He’d quit the corporate grind of New York City to life a life of quite contemplation and serenity in the woods. It was a great time to catch up an relax.

Like I said, I wrote on the drive home, cruising down the highway. At the time my band was learning the song Right Place Wrong Time by Doctor John, so although you might think the music to this number would be jingle-jangle country folk rock, it is in fact a soupy, swampy urban funk soul groove replete with clavinets and horns. Oh, and ironic.

I don’t know when I’ll get around to recording it. I’ve been getting back to recording of lately, and I’m finishing off three songs right now for the second side of Elixr. I have two more songs to go after that already in the pipeline to finish the record. Maybe I’ll include this as an eleventh track, or maybe it’ll be first track on album number four. I’ve started teaching some of my originals to my jazz group and my rock group, so the whole thing may take on a life of its own. Who knows?

Leave the City Behind

You know I gotta leave the city behind
I got rivers to cross and I got mountains to climb
I got miles to go and I got things on my mind
But first I gotta leave the city behind

Drivin’ cruisin’ coastin’ passin’
Let the brake up put some gas in
Hikin’ strollin’, glidin’ rowin’
Rough or smooth time to get goin’

And so I gotta leave the city behind
I got rivers to cross and I got mountains to climb
I got people to see and brave new worlds to find
So yeah I gotta leave the city behind

Jumpin’ pumpin’ holdin’ foldin’
They won’t listen but I told ’em
Standin’ walkin’ runnin’ gunnin’
Rest or motion keep it comin’

Yes I gotta leave the city behind
I got miles to go and I got things on my mind
I got rivers to cross and I got mountains to climb
But first I gotta leave the city behind

Oh yeah I gotta leave the city behind
I got rivers to cross and I got mountains to climb
You know I left once before but always come back in time
How can I ever leave the city behind?

– John Szinger 05/2015

Technical Reference Guide 2015

As some of you gentle readers may know, I’ve been a-lookin’ for a new job over the summer and into the fall. A mainstay of the industry now is the dreaded tech interview, which wasn’t really a thing last time a went a-huntin’ close to ten years ago. But now they’re all the rage.

In a way it makes sense, cuz whoever is interviewing you needs some way to evaluate your skills and all that. There’s no way they can judge if you can write advanced, subtle and poetic code, so they settle for a much lower level test: can you regurgitate some basic stuff? Still, it’s not always easy to think on your feet and come up with a good answer on the spot. I haven’t used alot of this stuff in my day-to-day in years. Doing a tech interview is a skill in its own right, a kind of performance like jazz improvisation, and it took me a few times to get good at it.

Along the way I compiled a handy quick reference guide. Basically every time an interviewer asked me a question and I didn’t know the answer, or more commonly just wasn’t able to express it in a clear, structured and smooth manner, I wrote down the question, went home and looked it up, and added to my guide. Then I circled back and studied up for the next interview. Before too long I started getting a fair number of repeat questions, and was able to nail more and more of them.

This is not meant to be any kind of comprehensive tutorial, just enough to remind me to spew forth some talking points. As you can see by the topics covered, I cast a fairly wide net with my skillset in the kind of position I’m going for. Really this is a symptom of the state of the industry these days, the way jobs are balkanized by programming language, more than my own itinerant tendencies. “Are you a java guy or a javascript guy?” Oh please. I know like twenty programming languages. And if I don’t know any particular thing I know how to look it up. It’s also a fairly interesting snapshot of what languages and frameworks an in vogue these days, totally different than 2007.

So here you go.

Let it Roll Baby Roll

Another successful show last night from the LEFT HOOK. This was at the River Roadhouse in Hastings, and local venue that’s known for having live music. Nice, comfortable place in a divey kinda way. Had a bunch of friends come out, plus a moderately sized regular crowd. Would definitely go back.

We’re getting good at the load-in, setup, soundcheck, and tear-down. I know what I’m doing with the PA pretty comfortably now, and am working on tweaking the EQ and FX to suit the room. Next gig I’m gonna start training Michael to help with that, since he’s the lead singer and it’ll go twice as fast. Also this night Gus played his electronics, since by the end of the last show his hand was pretty swollen. Didn’t sound the same as real drums, but it sounded good, and we were able to mix it into the PA with the vocals no problem.

Musically we’re continuing to get tighter. We didn’t add any new songs this week, but we reversed the first and second sets, since we noticed that our second set always seem to be the best in terms of energy and flow, and it’s usually when the place has the most people. This turned out the be the case again last night. There was a cute girl near the front singing along to Blue Oyster Cult.

We ended up not playing our third set cuz Gary got a weird cramp in his hand. Ah well, still a good night. Again, more audio and video coming soon, so watch this space. Meanwhile, our players will have chance to recover, and tomorrow it’s back to booking more gigs, so watch this space for that too!

Net Gain

Last night the Left Hook played a return engagement at Fisherman’s Net in Pelham. It was a really excellent show, good crowd, and the sound keeps getting better and better. This was also Gus’s return to gigging out after he broke his arm. He’s been getting stronger every week at rehearsal, but the show is three full hour long sets. And to make matters worse he missed the last practice before the show cuz he was sick with food poisoning. Bad gyro, poor guy. Ah well he rose to the occasion.

We added six new songs to the set: Fire by Jimi Hendrix with Gary on lead vocal, Right Place Wrong Time by Doctor John (whose lyric is the origin of the phrase Brain Salad Surgery, BTW), Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson, Drive My Car from The Beatles, Rock’n’Roll Stew by Traffic, and Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan with me singing lead vocals. All of them are winners and keepers. We got a few compliments specifically on the Dan number, which is good because we had been doing Pretzel Logic earlier, but decided to drop it cuz we thought it wasn’t going over well. Now we know for sure we can really kick a Steely Dan song. Bodhisattva here we come!

The second set in particular seemed on fire from start to finish. A good roster of songs, well performed, good energy flow, crowd engaged singing and clapping along, even getting up to dance. I think my singing was really on last night too. The first set was good overall too, but had a few minor clams as were still getting warmed up. The third set is better than it’s been, mostly strong, but that’s where we put the tunes that aren’t as well rehearsed or we’re considering dropping. Last night we made it most of the way thru okay. In the Midnight Hour and Mustang Sally were a bit rough; we hadn’t rehearsed them since the last show. Guess they’re first on the list this week.

Audio and video coming soon. Meanwhile be sure to come out and see us at the River Roadhouse in Hastings next Saturday. Sure to be better still!

Ground Control to Major Tom

Here’s another new model, and origami Astronaut. It’s based on a half-remembered box-pleated frog someone showed me once. The base, human or frog, has the limbs in the right place and the box-pleating technique results in limbs that don’t taper, as with a traditional base. From there it was mainly a matter of sculpting. One nice detail is the use of a spread-squash to form the visor. It’s funny, in my focus on simpler models I’ve been going back to alot of old and traditional forms and moves, looking for new ways to use them and finding they can be really expressive. It’s a bit like in my jazz group I’ve been getting away from Coltranesque sheets of sound, and more into a blues-oriented hard bop approach, a la Hank Mobley.

I tried to make an origami Hang Glider too, but had some trouble with the human figure part. Now with the astronaut I have an approach I can use; I just have to have a square suspended from the glider and I can take it from there.