Friday, April 30, 2010

You Can Polish a Turd

When I worked in the recording industry there was an expression I heard a lot that went "you can polish a turd but then all you have is a shiny turd".

The funny thing was that it was always used by the assistant engineer or engineer after it was way too late to fix the fact that you were working on a crappy recording and well into the polishing stage (This would have needed to be fixed during the recording process by the producer). In the age of digital recording and editing it seemed to me that there was a lot more time and energy spent fixing bad performances than there was concentrating on getting a good performance. Some of this was because the musician or singer simply couldn't sing or perform well enough to get a good performance. Or it could be because it is "more work" to get a good performance. (Of course this is a fallacy.  I like to draw the analogy that it is similar to buying a cheap car to save money but once you factor in more gas because of bad gas mileage, towing and repair costs it would have been cheaper to buy a more expensive car). Or it could simple be laziness.

I was actually shocked on my first session. I knew that it was standard practice to record each instrument individually.  Usually the band all played together but the focus was to get good drum tracks. Once the drum track was done the rest of the band would take a break while the bass player either re-recorded all his parts or fixed certain bad spots. Then the guitarist would re-record, and so on until you have the whole song.  This was how we recorded our album when I was in the band. So, I wasn't too surprised to see that the band was going to work this way and the producer had them start running through the song.

It seemed that the drum parts were not all ironed out yet. So the producer stopped them often asking the drummer to try something different in a section and we recorded everything (you never know when you are going to get a good take). Once each section had a few different options on it the producer called the drummer in to have a listen. This also didn't shock me as I thought they were going to pick which parts went in each section and this is exactly what they started to do. Jumping between takes they chose which part went where and even took a first verse part and copied it into the third verse section. We listened to the whole song and the parts all made sense and seemed to work where they were.

And this is were the shock came in. The drummer was done. The band ordered dinner and headed to the lounge. The producer left for a few hours and the engineer started to polish. The drummer never played the song for start to finish. He never he played the outro which was composed of snippets of the choruses. Drum fills were edited and flown around as needed.  The drum part was a Frankenstein.  It had no soul.  It had no feeling.  The drummer was very capable of playing all the parts for start to finish.  So why didn't he? I never felt he turned on his performance energy level.  Maybe most people won't notice but the same energy that is only present in front of a live audience (and missing, say, in rehearsal) was missing from rehearsal.  It is the thing that I found challenging when I was laying down drum tracks.  How do I get that live audience energy level when I am just performing for the microphones?  I guess if I didn't play the song all the way through and we just chopped the song together I wouldn't have to...of course we could have used a drum machine to do that, but I am glad we didn't.

List: Things I Wish Other Drivers Would Do

Lists: either you love them or you hate them. This post will be the first list on this blog. If you like it I will post more in the future.

Top ten things I wish other drivers would do (in no particular order)

1) Use a turn signal. Its not that hard. And it gives me a few seconds of warning before you cut me off.

2) Give the courtesy wave when I let you in front of me. Again, it's not that hard. It's about the same amount of energy to flip me the bird and I know you can do that, I have seen you do it before.

3) Hang up the phone and drive. You think you a good driver when you are the phone.  Think again, you are not. If you think you are, get one of those bumper stickers that says "tell me how I'm driving" with your phone number on it and let me know how that goes.

4) Leave a little space for me to go through when you are about to sit at a light and you can clearly see I am trying to cross your lane to turn left. I mean, do you really need to sit directly behind that car, or can I drive in front of you for a second?

5) Don't stop at the first available gas pump. Pull up to the one in the front so the person behind you can use the one in the back.

6) Don't honk before the light even turns green. That is just annoying.

7) Don't drive on my ass. I can only go as fast as the car in front of me and driving that close is not going to get you there faster.  And it is dangerous. As much as I would like to meet you I would like for you to stay in your own car if I need to suddenly apply the breaks.

8) If you drive in Massachusetts learn the rules of a rotary. They are simple. Yield if you are not in the rotary and don't if you are. Also learn what yield means. Please see number 9.

9) Learn what to do at a yield sign.  It is also simple. You stop if there is a car coming. No need to stop if there is not a car coming. It does not mean that you get to just keep driving because it doesn't say "stop".


10) Learn how to park your vehicle. If you drive a huge car and you cannot easily pull in or out of a parking spot please buy a smaller car.

Tell what you would add to the list.

I hope you enjoyed this first list post.

It Might Get Loud

A few days ago while taking an hour and half bus ride from the airport to the hotel I booted up my laptop and watched the Davis Guggenheim documentary "It Might Get Loud".

The film brings Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Jack white (The White Stripes) and the Edge (U2) together to talk about their influences, their sounds and their guitar techniques.

This movie totally blew me away.

As a huge Led Zeppelin and White Stripes fan, and a (not very good) guitarist myself, I was so excited to see this movie when I first saw the trailer on the 37 signals blog that I added it to my netflix queue right away.

To watch Jimmy page air guitar to songs that influenced him as a child and see the stairwell that John Bonham recorded the drums to "When the Levee breaks" on Led Zeppelin IV, it made me break in to a smile.  But to see Jack White and the Edge smile like little children was great to watch.  Here are two guitarist that are two of the most famous guitarists in the world, so to see them as humble fans is nice and really demonstrates that Jimmy page is truly an icon.

Hearing Jack White talk about his approach to music and the guitar was not much of a surprise to me.  He gained his fame playing in a two piece band that used minimal technology to make it sound larger than the 2 piece they were and they played mostly simple, blues-based rock songs.  So, there were no surprises to hear him say that "technology is the destroyer of emotion and truth".  I know what he means as I have seen it first hand....but more on that in a different post.

I have never been a huge U2 fan and the Edge's approach to creating music is the one that I had the hardest relating to.  He is at the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from White when it comes to technology. He crafts his guitar parts with the technology leading the way. It seems like if his equipment, which Davis Guggenheim said arrived in a truck and took a day to set up, didn't arrive he wouldn't be able to play.

On the other hand the movie opens with Jack White at what I am guessing is his home. He is on the porch and a bunch of scattered materials are in front of him. He takes an old 2x4 that is around two feet long and nails a few nails into it. He then suspends a guitar string between two of the nails and wedges a glass coke bottle under the string to add tension. He nails a pick-up onto the 2x4, plugs it in and proceeds to play a blues lick. He turns it off, takes a drag from his cigarette and says "who says you need to buy a guitar"?  He can create music with the minimum of equipment you can get away with.

Jake White seems to me to be a rare treat in this day and age.  He can sit down with a guitar and bang out a song that has soul while the Edge seems to need to spend hours crafting a sound before he can play.  Neither approach is more right or wrong than the other I just relate to Jack Whites a little more.

I have always been a fan of less technology. Funny considering I worked in a recording studio and now work in IT. But I feel that if you can express yourself with a guitar and vocals it is going to resonate with the listener more than a song recorded with a ton of tracks and effects and edited to death.

Write a good song. Play it well. That is all that is needed. No amount of technology will fix a poorly played part or badly written song. This movie reminded me of that.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Comments not working

The Blogspot blog says that comments are not working right now so I applogize to anyone that has had issues leaving comments on my blog.

Here is what they say:

"The comment form on individual Pages is currently not rendering, returning a bX-duc6dq error code. We're working to resolve this as soon as possible."

Hopefully they fix this soon.  Until then please feel free to drop a comment on twitter @b3ko.

I hope you are enjoying the posts.  More to come soon as I will be wrapping on my business trio tomorrow and will have a little more free time to write.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day: Reducing Plastic Bottle Use

I am always looking for ways to reduce my carbon footprint and with earth day coming up I thought it would be a good time to try to reduce my consumption of drinks that come in single serve glass or plastic bottles. This will not only be good for the earth's health it will be good for mine and my wallet's.
Plastic bottles take a lot of energy and water to make. They don't break down but they do break into smaller pieces, very slowly and only to the point where they are ingested by smaller animals that are then in turn eaten by larger animals and then by us. The small plastic pieces collect and are in a giant floating pile in the ocean. There is also energy involved in shipping the raw materials to the plant that make the bottles, shipping the bottles to the bottling plant and finally shipping the finished product to a distribution center and then finally the store. If you drive to the store you can add that to the tally, as well as energy to bring the empty bottle to the land fill or recycling center. Recycling keeps the circuit closed but also takes some energy.
At work I will try to drink only water from now on and drink it from the water filter in a glass or reusable Nalgene or Sigg bottle. While out and about I will use my water bottle exclusively.
Cutting out sodas and iced tea will reduce my intake of sugars as well. All those empty calories can be replaced by fruit or other healthy snacks. Cutting one 16 oz soda a day out of you diet can account for 14 pounds lost in a year and if you drink one a day, even at a dollar, you will save around $350. If you drink two a day at a more realistic $1.50 you will save around $1,000.
This isn't the first time I have tried to cut these drinks out of my diet and bottles out of my footprint. I have cut back and I have stopped buying bottled water completely. My problem is the sugar. I am hooked. The caffeine is nice as well. But I don't need it. Not on a regular basis anyway. So today I start. I just finished a tea and I hope it will be my last.
I will think of an occasional Arnold Palmer as a treat, to be enjoyed once in a while, at a restaurant and out of a glass.
What will you, or have you done to reduce your footprint? Leave a comment and let me know.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

missing the women in my life

I am about to leave on a business trip for a few days. I don't typically travel for my job, maybe once, or at the most, twice a year.

I love to travel, to see new things in new towns. But traveling for work has become less fun as I have gotten older and settled down. I am married now and have a child. Being away from my wife for a few days while traveling is less fun than traveling with her. I enjoy traveling with her for many reasons including the fact that she has a sense of direction and generally remembers when and where we are supposed to be somewhere.  But mostly because we have fun together. Now I also have to leave little A behind. She won't understand why I am not around. She will do things that she has never done before while I am gone. I know it is only a few days but at 5 1/2 months she does new things every day.

I will miss them both.

That being said there may be a plus side to traveling. Maybe I will get to sleep through the night. Past experiences at this annual meeting tell me I won't, but there is an outside chance I will.  I will get to hang out with some of my coworkers that I enjoy hanging out with and maybe get to talk about something other than A. Maybe it will be good to have a little break from the baby routine. It really is a lot of work.

I am trying to see the bright side. I will miss her so much. And my wife. Let's hope I find the hotel.

1,000 job interviews

When I was around ten years old my father opened a video store.  My father ran the store by himself from open to close seven days a week. On the weekends and in the summer I would often go with him to help out in the store. It was there, with my father, that I learned a lot about how to be a good worker, and how to treat a customer.

It's hard now-a-days to find a small shop owned by the person behind the counter and it is even harder to find a person at any retail location that is invested in keeping the customers happy. They make the same hourly wage if they smile or not and they don't get paid more if they get the order correct.

My father knew every customer, if not by name than by face. He knew what kind of movies they liked and what they had seen before.  He ran his store without a computer or netflix's complicated recommendation algorithms.  And he treated customer the right way.

Now when I go in to a store the clerk is on their cell phone or just looks like they are half asleep. No smile and no greeting (unless you can consider "what do you want?" or "next!" a greeting). They know next to nothing about what they are selling and I can visit the same restaurant 100 times and order the same thing and the person I have ordered from doesn't even acknowledge that they have ever seen before.

There are exceptions to this. Nicole at the sushi restaurant we eat at recognizes my voice when she answers the phone. She remembers what I normally order and asks if I left off a particular item on purpose.  She asks what my plans for the weekend are and then remembers what I did a week and a half later when I order from there again.  We mostly get take-out but the night we ate at the restaurant she sent over a free desert.

This is restaurant that I will go to over any other. I don't care if there is a cheaper sushi place that has better food and is closer. She has built a relationship with her customers and that is why the place is always busy.

A happy customer is not just one happy customer.  It is 10 new customers.  Those 10 new customers can each bring 10 new customers.  3 generations away from one happy customer and you have 1,000 new customers.  You kept that one customer because you smiled, remembered her name and got her order right.  Or you screwed it up and fixed.  Maybe you gave it to her for free because you screwed it up but the money you lost is worth it when the 1,000 new customers come rolling in. 

I understood this when I was 10.  And I worked my butt off to help keep customers happy the way my dad did.  The problem is that the entry level employee doesn’t see any of the revenue from the 1,000 new customers.  Maybe they should.  Pay them by the happy customer and they will perform better.  They will understand how it works.

I brought this attitude with me when I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts in high school and the tip jar reflected that it works.  I remembered this when I worked at the recording studio and made sure to remember where we ate with certain artists and producers and what they ordered and what they liked.  I wrote it down.  They were super impressed that I recommended a good meal or a good restaurant.  It helped.  Every little thing helps.  They were my customers and doing my job went beyond making sure the mics were set up and working even if it wasn’t in my job description and nobody told me it was part of my job. 

Even after you get the job, every day is a job interview.  You are being interviewed by new customers to see if they are going to be return customers and you are being interviewed by current customers to see if they will recommend their friends. And remember, interviewing with one customer is like being interviewed by 1,000.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Free Breakfast

I read a Time magazine article this morning about the Amish and their work habits and ethics.  The part I found interesting was the part about a builder that Erik Wesner interviewed in his book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive *.  Turn over is a problem in the construction industry but this builder solved that problem in part by take his 18 employees out for breakfast occasionally, while they are ON THE CLOCK! This has helped him keep his employees on average for 9 years.

This is another great example of how a company can spend a little to keep their employees happy.  The amount or money and time he saves in training new hires and getting them up to speed will almost certainly pay for those breakfasts.  Not to mention that when you dine with your employees you learn about them, connect with them and you may even hear about some work related issue that would never come up in a meeting.

Maybe my boss will read this and take me out for breakfast....wink wink, hint hint.

* I haven't actually read this book yet but after reading the Time article I am adding it my list of must reads.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Listen to the Drunk Guy Shout

It's patriots day today, which is a holiday in Massachusetts and most people have the day off.  The Boston marathon is today and the Red Sox also have an 11 AM game.  It's a fun day to go downtown and watch the runners finish up their runs. I have only been a few times but I always feel inspired by the runners and their drive to push their bodies to the limit, but there is one marathon day I remember the best. 

I was still in college at the time and I met my brother not far from the dorms to cheer the runners on as they try to complete the last mile. We got a late start to the day, after all we were college students, and by the time we arrived at the route the only runners left were well into their fifth hour. These runners were struggling. A lot of them were walking and most of them really looked like they should be heading to the nearest medical facility and not the finish line.  The Sox game was over and the drunken fans had joined the few race spectators that were left.
My bother and I fount a spot to stand next to a rather drunk, middle aged man at the side of the race route and watched a few people limp by.  And when those runners got into shouting distance it was this guys moment to shine. Drunken shouting would commence, as he used any info this guy could glimpse about the runner from their hair color to the inspirational message they had written on their t-shirt.  Cries of "you can do it Red" or "do it for your mom" spewed from him with the enthusiasm that the runners didn't have in them since before heartbreak hill. The craziest thing about it was that it worked! People that were literally about to fall over would start to pick up the pace. It was amazing. For a few more feet these people found in them whatever remaining energy they had to jog or at least limp at a quicker pace for a few more seconds. 

It was amazing to watch. And inspirational.  To see people who were on the verge of falling over start to run again reminded me that there is always a little more gas in the tank.  If you want to do something keep at it, don't quit until you fall over.  Push yourself.  Reach down and listen to the drunk gut yelling at you.....ok, maybe that saying will not catch on, but you get the drift.

(Writing this post reminds me a bit of a book by Bear Grylls (from the TV show Man vs Wild) which I read around a year ago and enjoyed a lot, The Kid Who Climbed Everest: The Incredible Story of a 23-Year-Old's Summit of Mt. Everest.  Reading about someone else climbing Everest is another thing that may inspire you to push yourself.)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grandpa Says "Stay straight".

Last night at 5 in the morning, as I was trying to get my daughter back to sleep after her bottle, I started to think.  There isn't much else to do while holding your child and pacing back and forth in a small room in the dark, so my mind wandered.  My thoughts turned to my childhood and my parents, as they have a lot lately.  Even though I don't remember being rocked back to sleep by my parents, I do have a lot of fond memories of childhood and I feel like my parents did a great job raising my brother and me. The one thing that keeps popping up in my head is that, other than the one time in high school when my maternal grandfather told me to "Stay straight"*,  no one ever sat me down and had an anti-drug talk with me.

What I have realized recently is that my father often made comments about how drugs where bad and that they could ruin your life.  Either commenting on something we saw in a TV show or movie or even on the news.  These comments, my father told me recently, were "by design".  And they worked.

And this is where my thoughts started to run away with me.  If, by just making some comments, you can totally influence your child's point of view on a subject, what happens with all the comments and actions that are not by design?  Little A is going to learn from everything she sees me do.  How I treat and talk to other people, how I drive, my eating habits, how much TV I watch, how I talk about my job and every other single thing I do or say has an influence on her. 

Whoa.  That is scary.

The comments I get from my wife while I am driving are starting to make a lot more sense.  Cursing at the people in the other cars while A is in the back seat is going to affect the way she acts while driving 16 years from now.  I guess I need to start watching how I act while driving, even if all those other drivers are a bunch of idiots.....

This is going to be tough.

*The time my grandpa told me to "stay straight" was while he was visiting us from Florida and I was a wise-ass know-it-all teenager.  That being said, my wise-ass response was "do you mean don't be gay or don't do drugs".  His reply was "I don't care if you're gay, just stay off the drugs".  I thought it was pretty cool that someone of his generation was open minded enough to not care if I was gay.  And come to think of it, I am guessing those more direct comments probably had some influence on me, as well, even if they didn't happen very often.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

100 Hours a Week

I just finished reading the book "Rework" by the company 37signals.  It got me thinking and this post comes from those thoughts.  I'm also a big fan of their blog signal vs noise.


I used to work in the recording industry. Work hours are typically long, 80 to 100 hours are common, and exhaustion is typical. The problem that I saw was that creativity and sleep deprivation are mortal enemies.

I can remember many times trying to record that one last vocal overdub or guitar lick and spending hours and hours in the wee hours of the morning trying to get it right only to come in the next day only after a short break, listening to the crap we laid down the night before and redoing hours or work in less than 10 minutes and blowing the previous performance out of the water.

Makes you think about how much of the rest of the song would be better if we had been working 8 hours insted of 22 and had a weekend off once in awhile. Would we be able to get 100 hours of work done in 50 hours with better results? I am guessing yes.

These were extreme conditions but you can apply this to more normal working hours as well. Give your employees an hour for lunch instead of half. Give them more holidays and breaks throughout the day. Many times when I am stuck on something I have been working on for hours I can solve it in minutes after taking just a two minute break.

Better rested equals better performing, more creative and happier.

Consume Less

There have been debates about what is better for the environment on a number of different topics.  Paper bags or plastic, washing dishes by hand or in the dishwasher, cloth napkins or paper napkins, traditional incandescent light bulbs vs. compact florescent light-bulbs (cfls)? Among a host of others.  Even the benefits of renewable energy sources such as wind and tidal have been weighed against the damage they may do to animals or other delicate ecosystems.

There are assumptions I make when I do something I feel is good for the environment that I cannot prove or disprove with the amount and quality of data that I have available to me.  The more research I do about the issues at hand the more confused I become.  So I say we stop debating about what is better for the environment and start doing the one thing that is definitely better for the environment:

Consume less.

While other methods of reducing our carbon foot print may have side effects that are just as bad, and in some cases worse than where we started, reducing consumption has no negative side effects on the environment.

Keep yours out for future post about how I have and will reduce my consumption.

It All Began

It was my wife's birthday, 2009.  It was 5:00 in the morning.  I heard her go to the bathroom which was not a usual occurrence at that time and I fell right back to sleep.  She came back in a few minutes later, woke me and said "i think you're going to be a daddy".

Little "A" is now almost 6 months old and it has been a crazy whirlwind of a time.  It has been amazing to watch her grow and learn.  Starting with her early vocal sounds turning in to syllables to watching her learn to use her hands.  Her first 2 teeth coming in and now learning to sit on her own. It hasn't always been easy.  We have been tired and frustrated.  She has had colds and pains from teething.  She has eczema and is always itchy.  But it has all been worth it. As soon as I see that little girl nothing else matters.  She is lovely.

A Special Package

The idea for this post comes mostly from my passion about saving this planet. It is scary to me that there are so many people that don't believe that climate change is man-made or that it doesn't even exist. The scariest thing is that the numbers of those people are growing. I am not here to debate about that.  I feel that regardless of which side of the debate you sit on you can do something to treat the planet better. We are growing in numbers in a way that cannot be sustained by this planet and the resources on it. Using and wasting less can only help the planet. 

The inspirational push I received to finally start posting to this blog, which is something I have been wanted to do for awhile came from an unexpected source. It was shortly after my daughter was born and the gifts we were receiving were flowing in at a steady rate. I pick one up from the mailroom curious about it's plain brown wrapper and looked at the return address. It was from my grandmother.

This package was special.

While I was unwrapping it I couldn't help but notice that the outer wrapping, the envelope, was a reused brown paper bag. The box inside was a gift box that you would typically put inside another box before wrapping. This reused brown bag and flimsy box made it from Florida to Boston with minimal damage to the box and no damage to the gift. It was very different from the other gifts we were receiving. Most of them in boxes wrapped in wrapping paper with ribbons and bows, all inside another box for mailing. The items that came directly from a store had boxes that were way to large for the gift and a bunch of packing materials as well as catalogs and junk mail. We were recyling more than our share of waste the weeks after A's birth.

I was happy about the way the gift arrived but was also pleasantly surprised with the items inside. For the most part they were typical baby gifts. A cute pair of tiny pants and a shirt. A few onsies. But there was also a small baby book. The kind that babies "read" with puffy cloth pages and it was four pages long. The pages were filled with colorful drawings of cute animals in different settings. The first page read "let's save the trees". The second read "let's clean the water". The final page simple said "Let's care for our home". The animals were dancing on top of the globe. Simple. To the point. Something a baby can understand. Save our trees, clean our water, and care for our planet.

But how? 

That is the problem I am struggling with. Everything you hear is tainted with politics, conflicting information and opinions. The best solutions we have to our energy and waste problems also have downsides. Nuclear energy has toxic waste that cannot be safely disposed off. Wind power is unsightly and dangerous to migrating birds and other animals. Even the simple light bulb has me wondering: Lower energy use vs toxic mercury?  There are no easy answers.

I will post my thoughts about what I think is the best way to save our trees, clean our water and care for our planet. My goal would be to leave no trace. Leave this planet with what I came with. This is not possible.  But I refuse to turn a blind eye and continue to live an unsustainable life. I would like for there to be resourses left for my daughter when she is my age.