Tricking yourself into doing work

I’m a big fan, historically, of productivity hacks, or whatever we called them before we called them hacks. I was a Franklin Planner guy, then a Seven Habits guy, then a Getting Things Done guy, then an Inbox Zero guy. Nothing has stuck better than agile scrum.

Wait, what? Isn’t that a project management methodology for software developers? Aren’t you in marketing?

Well, yes. But agile marketing is a real thing, and it’s proven remarkably helpful in dealing with both routine and unusual work. Here’s why:

  1. Visibility. You go from systems that encourage personal to-do lists to systems that encourage shared backlogs, and the consistent maintenance of the same.
  2. Prioritization. The backlog becomes a tool for discussing and communicating priorities.
  3. Discussion. The best practices around “story grooming” encourage you to discuss what has to be done for a piece of work with the team. I find that in talking out loud what has to be done, I often discover new tasks or dependencies, and new ways forward.
  4. Limited work in progress. Boy, this is important. We all have to spin plates sometimes, but the emphasis on finishing what you start, as much as possible, before starting something new really makes it possible to focus on a task and see it through to completion—and not to sit on something indefinitely because there are improvements you might want to make before you are “done.”
  5. Retrospective. This is the hardest thing, but building in time for review of the work already done means you force yourself to look back and figure out how you might do better the next time.

We’re about five months into our agile marketing experiment and so far we’ve learned a lot. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

100 years’ anniversary: James Rogers McConnell

Some members of the fighter squadron N.124, “l’Escadrille Américaine,” in May 1916. Corporal James Rogers McConnell is at the right. (Courtesy Air Force Times)

Yesterday was a solemn anniversary of sorts, covered in the Cavalier Daily (Ceremony honors 100th anniversary of alumnus’s death in WW I) and UVA Today (UVA Honors Inspiration for “Winged Aviator” Statue, 100 Years After His Death). I’ve written about McConnell before, both as student and martyr. On this hundredth anniversary of his slaughter, it seems fitting to reflect on his legacy and what he represents.

First, McConnell was at once the last and first of his kind. First because he was the first UVA student to be killed in that awful war; last because he was the last American airman killed before the United States officially entered the war April 6, 1917, just 18 days after his death. He was also effectively the last American warrior-as-adventurer, in the model of Teddy Roosevelt or the other early 20th century military leaders who held greater fame in civilian life.

Indeed, his decision to head to France, and later join the Escadrille after serving as an ambulance driver, is best read through the lens of Roosevelt as a role model. As he is quoted in the introduction to his memoir Flying for France, “These Sand Hills will be here forever, but the war won’t; and so I’m going.” But later he was converted to the belief of the absolute rightness of the French cause, and so he entered his combat role.

He was last in another way too—probably the last prominent UVA student to partake so fully of UVA’s extracurricular offerings. As King of the Hot Feet he was part of the University’s tradition of revelry; as one of the earliest known members of the Seven Society he was a founder of the tradition of more sober and secretive organizations that focused on good works.

The UVa Library has a comprehensive exhibit on McConnell’s life online, showing not only his letters home and artifacts from his plane and personal effects, but a memoir from his frequent correspondent Mademoiselle Marcelle Gúerin. Reading the material is a sobering reminder of a time when causes were just and consequences were mortal.

New mix: don’t put no headstone on my grave

I struggled with this mix for quite a while, and probably have two other mixes of rejected tracks even though the final version clocks in at 2 CDs’ length. The hard bit is always mood. Summer is easy mixin’ weather; winter, especially this winter, was hard.

And a lot of this mix struggled with the challenge of a world turned upside down. So there are a few more instrumental tracks, a few more down tracks. But it starts in a place of fragile hope, with Lou Reed’s incredibly timely song of transsexual identity which is equal measures crisis and birth of the new, and ends in a place of defiance. And maybe that’s what we have left to ourselves right now.

  1. Candy Says (Closet Mix)The Velvet Underground (Peel Slowly and See)
  2. SilverEcho & The Bunnymen (Songs To Learn & Sing)
  3. Boys Keep SwingingDavid Bowie (Lodger)
  4. Damaged GoodsGang Of Four (Entertainment!)
  5. DevotionMission of Burma (Signals, Calls and Marches (Remastered))
  6. World Cup DrummingMclusky (My Pain and Sadness Is More Sad and Painful Than Yours)
  7. ElectioneeringRadiohead (OK Computer)
  8. The Great Curve (live)Talking Heads (Jaap Eden Hall, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, December 11, 1980)
  9. Wish FulfillmentSonic Youth (Dirty)
  10. As I Went Out One MorningBob Dylan (John Wesley Harding)
  11. Time, As a SymptomJoanna Newsom (Divers)
  12. Morning LakeWeather Report (Weather Report)
  13. Sense Of DoubtDavid Bowie (Heroes)
  14. What Will You Say (feat. Alim Qasimov)Jeff Buckley featuring Alim Qasimov (Live at L’Olympia)
  15. This RoomThe Notwist (Neon Golden)
  16. Politician ManBetty Davis (The Columbia Years 1968-1969)
  17. For What It’s WorthTalk Talk (The Very Best Of)
  18. Above ChiangmaiBrian Eno (Ambient 2: The Plateaux of Mirror)
  19. Magpie to the MorningNeko Case (Middle Cyclone (Bonus Track Version))
  20. State TrooperBruce Springsteen (Nebraska)
  21. DaphniaYo La Tengo (I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass)
  22. The Sky Is BrokenMoby (Play)
  23. Here Come the Warm Jets (2004 – Remaster)Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets)
  24. Give Me Cornbread When I’m HungryJohn Fahey (The Dance Of Death & Other Plantation Favorites)
  25. After AwhileSwan Silvertones (Love Lifted Me / My Rock)
  26. The Last Broken Heart (Prop 8)Christian Scott (Yesterday You Said Tomorrow)
  27. Mystic BrewVijay Iyer Trio (Historicity)
  28. Why Was I Born?Kenny Burrell And John Coltrane (Kenny Burrell With John Coltrane)
  29. Meeting in the AisleRadiohead (Airbag/How Am I Driving?)
  30. The Last RayThis Mortal Coil (It’ll End in Tears)
  31. Cedars of LebanonU2 (No Line On the Horizon (Deluxe Edition))
  32. We FloatPJ Harvey (Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea)
  33. No Headstone On My GraveEsther Phillips (Oxford American 2003 Southern Music CD No. 6)

Twenty-five years

Twenty-five years ago this month, the Virginia Glee Club toured the South. Among other stops on that august journey, we found schlonic columns in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; sang a church service in Atlanta, Georgia; improbably survived a day off in New Orleans; and sang in the state senate chambers in Jackson, Mississippi, where a UVA Law alum named (equally improbably) Hob Bryan had served since 1984. He remembered the Glee Club and its performances of “the Ave Maria” from his graduate school days, and invited us to sing when he learned we were on the road.

Twenty-five years later, and the current group was on the road in the South once again last week. No North Carolina stops this time, but visits to Chattanooga and Johnson City, to Birmingham and Mobile, and to New Orleans, and to Atlanta to rehearse with the Morehouse Glee Club. And a return to Jackson, where Hob Bryan still serves and where the Club once again performed the Ave Maria. That’s them below.

Many things have changed in the intervening twenty-five years (though the use of the Confederate battle flag in the Mississippi State Flag is not one of them). But I find it reassuring that this group of men, this “fraternity of talent,” not only has survived but also thrives, now backed by a strong endowment and an active alumni board. I find it even more reassuring that they continue to tour and to chart their own history.

Marantz SR6011: initial thoughts

Following up my post about the new AppleTV, I finally got my new Marantz receiver hooked up and working. First thoughts below.

First: not only did I get this receiver at a relative bargain, I ended up getting this year’s model. That’s right; I ordered a new-in-box Marantz SR6010 but the seller sent me a new-in-box SR6011. For a few hundred dollars off list. Score!

Second: this is the first “modern” AV receiver I’ve had, and so many of my notes are just awe that the thing works. You run one HDMI cable from the receiver to your TV, then plug all the HDMI cables from your other devices into the back of the receiver, and hey-presto, easy peasy. All you have to do is to switch the receiver to the new input source–the TV settings can remain unchanged.

Third, as compared to the Onkyo, which seemed to go from quiet to loud awfully quickly, the Marantz has miles of quiet built into it, which is nice for more nuanced classical or jazz listening. I seem to regularly be setting the volume to between 30 and 40, which is comfortable without being distracting from other rooms.

Fourth, I love the onscreen menus and the manual speaker calibration. In older receivers, I used to be driven mad by the hoops required to tell the amp I had no center channel so that it would redirect the dialog to the stereo speakers. On this model, you pull up the settings menu, choose Speakers, and tell it you have no center channel. Easy.

It’s weird, but useful, to see the Marantz show up in my AirPlay menu on my iPhone too.

The only thing I don’t like is that it’s just a little too deep for me to be able to close my audio cabinet.

Coming up with the TFC: the Busoni Piano Concerto

One of the comforting things in my life right now is that, no matter how much things change, music remains a constant. On Friday and Saturday I am lucky enough to be able to take my place with the men of the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in a rare performance of the Busoni Piano Concerto, whose “everything and the kitchen sink” approach to orchestration includes a men’s chorus part in the final movement.

The choral writing in the work is interesting, anticipating modern harmonies in several places, and our guest conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya has drawn some rich sonority out of the ensemble. I’ve enjoyed preparing the work, which has involved sitting “hashed” so that we can all hear all the other parts and blend our sound and pitches more effectively.

The men’s choral sound also makes me nostalgic for my friends in the Virginia Glee Club, whose exploits this week on tour are being chronicled on Frank Albinder’s tour blog. Wafna!

Turning inside out

Dave Winer posted a link to some of the earliest podcasts recently, Chris Lydon’s interview series. In the header he used a photo from the first Bloggercon. (That’s me, on the left with my eyes down toward my screen, above one of many Mac TiBooks in the audience.)

It got me thinking about Bloggercon and looking back at some of what we learned, and in particular my two-part blog on takeaways, What is a blog? and Blogs providing voices/Blogs mediating connections. There’s a note in the second post that connected especially strongly with me today:

Blogs written by individuals inside institutions also, through their personal nature, offer the readers of those blogs a connection to the institution at an individual level that they would not experience otherwise. This empowers them through connecting them more closely to that institution and enabling them to better understand the institution. This is empowerment by access.

Finally, when the blogger outside the institution publishes a comment and a link to the work of the blogger inside the institution, and the institutional blogger reciprocates with a link, a relationship develops between the two, the outsider and the institution, that helps the outsider to understand, and in some cases affect, the institution. This is empowerment by relationship.

What I meant in writing this by “institution” was “any organization,” but how I feel it today is “a company.” There’s so much expertise tucked away within a modern organization that may not expose itself through a company’s official messaging, but which holds much of a company’s competitive strength. Like what it’s learned about aligning product management to the business, or doing agile at scale, or even applying agile principles to other disciplines like marketing.

Some of the value drivers for blogging seem to have weakened in the last 14 years, but this avenue of empowerment of the individual writer and of their audience by connecting with them is still deeply important.

Sounds of anguish

Christopher C. King, Oxford American: Unearthly Laments. It’s easier than you might think to connect the dots between the earliest known complete musical composition—the Seikilos Epitaph—and “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” I’ve got a mix almost in the can that explores some of these connections.

But that isn’t why you should read King’s piece. His tale of discovery of a 78 of the Blind Willie Johnson record is: a little physical remnant of sorrow, left to rot in a sharecropper’s shack until saved from fiery destruction.

Apple TV 4th Generation – Impressions

I was eager, when Apple announced the fourth generation Apple TV, to get it and check it out. I was especially excited by the concept of a real app store for the TV and by the ability to game on the device.

Then reality hit. For years, I had been using an Apple TV in our family room, and it’s been invaluable for entertainment. Mostly kids’ entertainment—movie rentals through the iTunes Store, complete seasons of “Scooby-Doo”—but I’ve used it to play music and watch movies too. But the hookup I was using to connect it to the rest of my gear was no longer supported. In particular, Apple used to have an optical out on the back of the older generation Apple TV devices in addition to HDMI. That allowed me to connect the device to my faithful Onkyo TX-DS494 so that I could put the sound out through my Bowers & Wilkins DM 602s.

But the new generation has no optical out! And the Onkyo, alas, has no HDMI inputs. So I had a choice. I could get the Apple TV and run the sound through the comparatively unsatisfactory speakers on our television. Or I could wait until I could afford to replace the Onkyo.

That time has come. I have a Marantz SR6010 (last year’s model new in box at a substantial discount from list!) on its way, and I hooked up the Apple TV last weekend so we could get used to the new interface.

First impressions: the new UI is considerably easier to navigate. And I really love the App Store. I was able to find something like 29 applications—a mix of video apps like the PBS Kids app, YouTube, and others, plus some games—that I had already purchased for the family phones that were available to download to the TV. Score! There were even a few fun games for free, like the Lego Batman game. I’d love to see more games in the store, though, especially games that support the controllers. And more retro games. Why can’t I play Lode Runner on the Apple TV? I can on my iPhone.

Gaming is probably the biggest let down right now. The controller I bought, the SteelSeries Nimbus, is a little too big for my six year old’s hands so he’ll have to use the Siri remote. That works pretty well for him, though he got tired of driving his race car off the track in the first game we played pretty quickly.

But the simple handoff of text input from the onscreen remote to the iPhone is brilliant, and makes up for some of the other disappointments with the device. I can’t wait to hook up the new receiver when it gets here and really take the thing through its paces.

The Chieftains, March 1, 2017, Chevalier Theatre, Medford, MA

Lisa and I went to see the Chieftains tonight in Medford. It was an amazing show, not so much due to the displays of individual artistry (though those were plentiful), but due to the astonishing generosity on display.

The Chieftains are one of those musical groups that it’s possible to take for granted, owing not least to their incredible longevity (55 years and counting) and their recordings with seemingly every possible type of guest star. But when you see them live, you get the essence of what Paddy Moloney, a founding member and still going strong 55 years later, and his compeers Matt Molloy and Kevin Conneff (Seán Keane was not there tonight) have been doing all these years.

Put simply, they’ve been pulling on threads.

Tonight’s threads included a diversion into country music, led by Jeff White (who helped out the Chieftains on Down the Old Plank Road), reminding one that it was the Irish and Scots who settled the Appalachians, then fanned out west, carrying Gaelic touched musical traditions with them. They included a gospel sextet singing “Shenandoah,” as part of a medley from their album Long Journey Home, as a reminder of how the music of that group touched on the core of American traditions. They included “The Foggy Dew,” a sobering reminder that not all Irish music is light hearted, and that some is paid for in blood. And they included a bagpipe group from the North Shore, and the house band from the Burren, reminding us that the music that the group brings has deep roots here in Massachusetts.

A wonderful night and a great show.

Thirteen years ago…

I was looking at an article on the history of interactive fiction, including the Infocom games (Zork, Hitchhiker’s Guide, and its ilk).

The link in the original article was to a Java version of the Hitchhiker’s Guide game. There’s been a subsequent revision that doesn’t require Java and has some slight graphical blandishments to boot (which kind of spoils the fun).

Also ironically, the link to the original article is broken and was not preserved by the Internet Archive (and the hosts of the site were kind enough to claim that “Internet Archive generates us no value” in their robots.txt! Well, who’s laughing now?)

New music and bootleg roundup for February 23

I seem to be doing nothing but accumulating tabs in my browser recently. Here’s a roundup of new and old music that I’m looking forward to exploring.

Dust to Digital: Where Will You Be Christmas Day? is a little late for this past Christmas but I’m looking forward to exploring it next year. Sacred harp, blues, and folk Christmas songs is pretty much right up my alley.

Doom and Gloom from the Tomb: Mythic and Political Jazz. Not too late to check this out.

Doom and Gloom: Lou Reed, Paramount Theatre, Seattle, December 9, 1976. I saw Lou in Seattle in 2004 at the Wilbur, but I expect this to be a completely different experience—pre-sobriety, with saxophone and freshly recorded cuts from Coney Island Baby and Rock and Roll Heart.

Directions in Mid-Atlantic Music, Live 2-5-2017. New band adding saxophone and cracklebox and cello to the core of Tyler Magill’s Grand Banks.

Doom and Gloom: Television’s Marquee Moon. Pointer to both a Pitchfork article about the origins of the amazing album and bootlegs of live performances.

NYCTaper: Lee Ranaldo, January 22, 2017 Park Church Co-Op. Featuring guest appearance by Steve Gunn and members of Yo La Tengo, plus Neil Young and Velvet Underground covers. I’ve missed Sonic Youth and Lee, and looking forward to checking this one out.

Cocktails roundup

A few cocktail related things that have persisted in my open tabs for a while:

A Drink With My Brother: A great blog about exploring cocktails complete with cocktail origin stories, tasting notes, personal history and more.

Aviation Gin: The Aviation Cocktail. Since the proper recipe for this isn’t found in my various apps, I’ve been keeping this tab open for a while. (I make it with Plymouth or Old Tom gin, though—shhhh.)

12 Bottle Bar: Saratoga Cocktail. Enjoy one and prepare to go horse racing. Just don’t place any bets.