Gig Announcement: Carl Jung Foundation presents The Dionysian Dynamics of Jazz

My friend and former trumpet for Seven Jazz West, Gary Trosclair, is putting on a combination semniar and jazz concert on Friday June 3 at the Carl Jung Center in Manhattan. You might know CJ Jung from his writings on the collective unconscious, or his influence on Sting’s songwriting in the Synchronicity era. I didn’t know he had a center named after him here in town, but I had a feeling.

Gary’s day job is a psychologist, author and lecturer, and expert on Jung, so you see it all makes sense. Gary had to leave 7JW about a year ago – had some dental problems – but now he’s playing trumpet again and put together a group for this event called The Archetypal Jazz Quintet, mainly players from the Haven Street Quintet, some of whom were also in 7JW and are some of the best players I know. It should be a really fun and interesting time. I’ve never really thought about jazz from a Jungian perspective, although doing so for just a minute or two lights up some interesting lines of thought. So I’m really keen on hearing what he has to say.

More info on the event here:

Gig Announcement: LEFT HOOK at Fisherman’s Net May 14

We’ve been hard at work, learning another batch of new tunes, this time some classics by The Beatles, The Band, some funky and abstract Bowie, and some Al Green (not an artist whose name begins with a B, I know). Lots of good stuff. Hope to see you there!

Music with a punch!
Westchester’s classic rock Funk & soul party band

Saturday May 14, 8:30 PM
Fisherman’s Net
129 6th St. Pelham

Caught in the Devil’s Bargain

After a year of successfully avoiding real work I finally succumbed to peer pressure and got a legit day job. So far the new place seems cool in alot of ways. They’re a software and technology startup, but big enough to have offices in several cities around the world including one in Manhattan and one out here in the ‘burbs, pretty close to my house, and I’ve be alternating between the two. They have a mature product and the focus is on sales and growth and making our stuff scalable. I’ve been brought in to lead the front-end development on version 2.0 of the product. Most important to me is their line of work. They’re in cloud computing, a bit of a niche market right now, but they’re ahead of the curve and my feeling is that in the next few years everyone is going to need this technology. Our clients already include Verizon, Barclays and Cisco, with more coming on every week. Hello yacht!

But before I get into the new gig, and I should wait until the warm fuzzy glow wears off, I want to reflect on the whole process of finding a job in {{current year}}. Actually I just want to rant about the hubris of your average potential employer. I am a software architect, engineer, designer and developer with 25 years of professional experience, and 40 years total creating software. (I started programming computers when I was 8 years old, the same year I started playing saxophone and doing origami). Believe me I’m at a pretty high level. I’m a world-class developer, the mythical 10x contributor, and my skills extend well beyond the technical into many other areas. Last time I was on the market looking for work was 12 years ago. I’ve switched jobs a few times in that interval, but only because someone I know and trust invited me to join them somewhere. In fact this is only the second or third time I’ve looked for a job in the traditional way. So this is a rare opportunity for some lucky enterprise.

At the start my main goal was to take some time off and explore what’s out there, so I largely let the mountain come to me. Recruiters would cold call constantly, and I’d reply if it seemed like a promising place. They operate in a weird world of sales, and you would not believe the number of bullshit startups out there doing “something around social media and big data”, or something equally dumbass. The software industry was very wild-west in the 90’s, but now it’s become something much worse, more borglike. Most places are run by greedy pointy-head bankers and their henchmen middle managers whose goal it is to pretend that people are interchangeable “resources”. It’s up to the individual to fight the good fight.

The process is designed to put all the risk on the side of the employee. They constantly seek to put you in box and at a disadvantage. Most places require a technical interview, which is fine, cuz they need a way to figure out if you know your shit. But many places aren’t good at this at all, cuz they don’t know their shit. They get hung up on stupid minutia like language syntax, or ask you to middle-school level problems like bizz-buzz. Some places, like Google, do an online session, which is better, but only if they put a guy on it who can communicate articulately and has a clear grasp of the English language. In any event they have no way of judging what makes a great developer at higher levels, so they focus on passable according to some arbitrary metric at lower levels.

In lieu of that some places have a take-home project. I’ve seen a few where they expect you to write a full-on web application with a bulleted list of requirements. I don’t know how they can expect to attract quality talent with an approach like this. My time is valuable, so anything that takes more than an hour or so needs to be compensated. I sure as hell ain’t gonna do a whole day’s work for someone on spec, especially some vaporware outfit I’ve never heard of. In these cases I’d tell them politely I’d expect to paid at my usual consulting rate. They’d either quietly go away or respond with some self-righteous bullshit. Never did one say yeah, it’s only fair, I’ll pay you for a day’s work. I mean would you ask a dentist to show up for a day and pull some teeth, or a lawyer to spend a day in court?

All of this is a signal that the prospective employer doesn’t really know what they’re looking for, can’t recognize talent when they see it, aren’t interested in bringing you on in a relationship of mutual respect, and honestly aren’t serious about filling the position or probably even running their company.

The worst of all of these was America Online. Yes, believe it or not they’re still around, trying to re-invent themselves as a content destination. I don’t know why I accepted the interview, mainly out of curiosity. They were across the street from where I went to school at NYU/ITP, in a trendy loft in Greenwich Village. But when I got there it was a miserable overcrowded open plan office like a sweatshop. It was so noisy I couldn’t imagine how anyone could get any work done. They were all walking ’round with tombstones in their eyes. They guy who would be my boss didn’t even bother showing up, just phoned it in. Another guy, a really fat developer, asked me “Our motto here is work hard, play hard, what does that mean to you?” They had a booth there like a mini TV studio where they did webcasts. The day I was there the guest was some porn star who’d written a book (I’m guessing she had a ghost writer). To top it off, their project and technology seemed interesting at first, but once I started asking questions about it it became clear the whole thing was a horrible hack built in grunt in the worst possible way.

I actually applied for a few jobs on my own, when I came across something interesting, usually prompted by a fit of frustration at the absurdity or it all, and these turned out to be where all the serious leads were at. I had four job offers that were worth considering, and the interviews all had this in common: pretty much as soon as I got there, within minutes, they stopped asking about toy problems and started asking how I would solve the real business and technology problems they had in front of them, although they usually wouldn’t let on that they’d made that transition. This of course led to much richer and more interesting discussions, and as soon as I perceived what was up I knew this place had potential.

In fact my first assignment at my new gig is to implement the solution I sketched out 10 minutes into my interview.

Global Jukebox Update

I’ve been doing tons of work on the Global Jukebox recently, adding new features like Journeys and Learnings, and continuing fix up and modularize the codebase, trying to get things tight for a deadline to give a demo. We had an unexpected monkey wrench last week when the Smithsonian Institution reneged on an agreement they had to let us use a bunch of Alan Lomax’s own recordings to which they hold the copyright. They wanted to charge the project hundreds of dollars per song, for around 1000 songs. Doesn’t really seem in keeping with the public spirit of an institution supported by our tax dollars.

As a workaround someone suggested we embed a spotify player, since the songs in question are available for free on spotify. I did some research and it turns out Spotify has an API that allows you to do such a thing, so I made a little proof of concept where their player appears in our app. One downside is the user needs a spotify account the hear the music. If they don’t they’ll be prompted to create and account, which is free, so that’s not too bad. The other downside is that spotify is not aware of our song coding system, so for every song one of the graduate assistants needs to find the song in spotify, get the embed code and enter into our database to associate it with the correct song. Then I need to write some code check if that embed code is there when I load song data and bring up the spotify player with the correct code. I sure hope spotify doesn’t change their API once we get this up and running.

I got the news from Anna that the demo was today and it went very well. Hopefully this will lead to more visibility and funding for the project. Meanwhile I’m at a point where there are alot of loose ends to finish off ASAP and a bunch of new stuff on the horizon.

As I’ve been refactoring the old code and trying to keep things from breaking as I go, I’ve been giving alot of thought to Javascript as a language and the web application as an environment. I started programming in Javascript in the 90’s when it was still in its infancy, and working in JS was a mess to generally be avoided. Well Javascript has grown up alot, and while it still has some pretty deep flaws, I’ve come to feel it’s time to come to get to know it on it’s own terms and stop thinking of it as a broken version of Java. For example, maybe it’s not bad that there aren’t any classes or strong typing, and maybe it’s good that everything is just an object.

I bought a whole bunch of books recently and have read the first few. It turns out I already reinvented a few best-practice JS design patterns on my own, including self-executing functions with closures to model class-like objects with private and public methods. One author compares JS to the so called “classical” languages, and speaks of classically-trained programmers. I had this aha moment in jazz, playing a Gm7 chord without a G voiced anywhere, and realizing that’s something a classically-trained musician wouldn’t do. Unfortunately no one in the group is into programming languages, so I couldn’t really share my epiphany.

In any event it’s time to unlearn. I’m trying to reevaluate JS from a functional programming perspective. I’ve had some exposure to Lisp and Smalltalk and more recently Scala (which ironically compiles to the JVM), so I’m trying to step back and see things from a broader, more fundamental perspective. Which of course is not that easy when you’re trying fix up someone else’s mess so you can build new features on top of it to meet a deadline, but that’s the life of a software engineer. Hopefully I’ll have thought things thru enough to have something to share in a near-future post.

Victory Lap

Lots going on these days. Last night LEFT HOOK played at Victor’s in Hawthorne. I bought one new piece of gear for this show: a lightweight collapsible handtruck to help schlep the PA from the car to the hall. It really came in handy cuz Victors is up on a hill so you have to go up a big ramp and thru two or three rooms to get to the place where the band is playing.

I played Victors a couple years ago in my old band with Gus, and we didn’t have much of a turnout because there was an unexpected November snowstorm. Well last night we didn’t have much of a turnout either, a couple of friends of Jeannie and Gus, and whoever was there at the bar anyway. But band sounded great, and the people who were there really dug it, and the bar paid us well. Ken got a new 4×10 cabinet which has alot of presence. As fate would have it, on the way home there was an unexpected storm of hail and sleet, and this morning my car was covered in ice.

We didn’t add any new songs for this show, but this week we’ve got a bunch lined up to work in for the next gig. I’ll be singing some Bowie. Psyched about that.

You may have noticed that, recent hailstorms notwithstanding, winter is over and spring has arrived. Daylight and sunshine again. I’ve been kinda sick the last few weeks and have only just been feeling better again, so I haven’t had a chance to much yardwork yet. Today I was gonna do the first round of raking and trimming, but it was too cold and windy. I did get some grass seed down a few days ago before it started raining, in the spot where the stump used to be, so hopefully that’ll take.

Easter came early this year. Last weekend Martin’s came down on Saturday and we went to Jeannie’s parents on Sunday. The kids have been off from school all week. Nice to have a little family time. I gave Lizzy another driving lesson today. She drove to her old elementary school and back. Learning to deal with real streets, stop signs, turn signals, other cars, and pulling in and out of parking spots. So far doing very well, but still hasn’t gone above 20 mph.

I got my Mustang on the road a couple times. This spring it started right up, no need to charge the battery. I took it in for an oil change and a safety inspection, and my mechanic told me it’s got some leaks in the underside including the differential, so hopefully there’ll be a nice day net week where I can get that taken care of.

American Origami Masters

I’m happy to announce a new origami book for which I’m a featured contributor. It’s American Masters of Origami, edited and curated by Marc Kirshenbaum. Here’s a link to the book on Marc’s site:

And to order it in French or Italian:

The model of mine that appears in the book is my Luv Bug. I’m sharing these pages with alot of great creators, including Marc, Robert Lang, Seth Friedman, Beth Johnson, and a whole bunch of others. The presentation, diagrams and photography are all very beautiful. I’m especially gratified that Marc fold a lovely rendition of my Luv Bug out a large sheet of tissue foil so he could take such great pictures of it.

Jazz Demos II – Your Dancing Shoes

Here’s another jazz demo in what I hope will become an ongoing series:

The group liked my last song, Dark Skies, but they really love this one. Your Dancing shoes was originally written as song with lyrics, and I recorded it for the Buzzy Tonic album Elixr. But since my rock band is not really open to doing originals and my jazz band is, I thought I’d try a jazz arrangement of it. It has a funk-boogie feel, in the same zone as songs like Red Clay and Mercy Mercy Mercy, and it’s great fun to play. They bass player Jay was particular enthusiastic after having just read the sheet music, and our drummer Mike wants to do the song in the Wednesday jazz group.

As an aside, our piano player Rich recently sold his business and retired and is going back to school to study jazz piano. He’s a really good piano player already even though he told me really only started playing and studying when was 50 years old. He’s 60 or so now. You really gotta admire that. (He’s also one of those guys who works out, so like my brother Martin he appears alot younger than his age in both looks and energy level.) He’s been encouraging me with my composing, and I’ve been encouraging him to write some stuff to bring to the group too.

Gary has been continuing to record our rehearsal, so hopefully sometime soon we’ll capture a good performance of these new originals. Meanwhile I’m gonna go ahead with my next jazz demo, a thing I’m calling Buzzy Blue.