Tuesday, August 02, 2011

What would you do to protect the children?

At the very least, we want to protect the children. We would do anything to keep would-be predators from coming in contact with our children. We would especially keep the most reprehensible child pornographers from having access to any child, and from promulgating their wares abroad online.

What would you be willing to do to stop these villains? Surrender your name? Your home address? Your phone number? These are public bits of information anyway so what's the harm, right? What about your eighteen month web history? Maybe, what have you to hide, right?

OK, how about your credit card number? Bank account numbers?

Well, a bill recently approved by a committee in congress has been approved and is about to be offered up for a vote to become law. This bill will require ISPs (that's Internet Service Providers such as AT&T, Time Warner, Comcast, Earthlink, etc) to compile a database of all of its users and record each user's name, address, phone number, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and dynamic IP addresses. For eighteen months. As this excellent LifeHacker article points out,

"It's like handing over a year's worth of browser history plus the contents of your wallet to the police. The thing is, you're not really handing it over so much as your ISP is—without your consent."

I would encourage you to read this article as it does an excellent job of pointing out assumptions and flaws contained in the hard-to-argue-with-titled bill, "Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011" (PCFIPA of 2011), as well as making great suggestions on how you can circumnavigate the potential ISP tracking of your online usage.

Besides the issues and questions raised in this article, I would like to add my two cents.

  1. What happens when an administration decides to track everyday citizens' whereabouts online and upon disapproval, issue warrants without due process? (RIAA, anyone?)
  2. How comfortable are you with your ISP knowing where you do your banking, what investments you have, where you give your money, what political causes you support, what health issues you are concerned with, what careyou're considering buying?
  3. How comfortable are you knowing that not only is your ISP storing a year and a half's worth of this information, but they could turn it over to the government at any point without you knowing?
  4. Given Wikileaks, Lolsec, and Anon's ability to break into or gain access to government servers and gain information seemingly at will, how comfortable are you with your ISP's ability to secure this information about you, your friends and neighbors, and 270+ million American internet users?
  5. Your ISP has to now manage a huge data server farm and its corresponding security. How comfortable are you with all of the necessary overhead that you will now be required to pay for?

What other concerns am I (and the LifeHacker article) missing?

You can read more about the bill here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How to Be a Successful Worship Band

After years of working with band players in various churches, participating in numerous worhsip services in various churches, hearing worship bands at conferences, and evaluating worship leaders and worship bands, I have begun to assemble a list that aspiring worship bands may find useful in order to be successful. There are some thoughts in this list for most members of the band, though I'm sure I could have given more thought to the Dobro player.

  1. Pick keys that are too high for guys to sing, and too low for women to belt out.
  2. Show off your chops by jumping the octave at a repeated phrase. Make sure no one else can possibly match you.
  3. Shout out "Christianese" phrases between songs. They don't have to fit the context, they just have to sound good, amen?
  4. Work hard at crafting all of your vowels so that you sound British or Australian.
  5. Never sing any melody the same way twice, especially when teaching a new song to the church.
  6. The only dynamic build you can ever use is repetitive eighth notes.
  7. Make sure you rush those eighth notes.
  8. Dynamics only exist in layers. "Quiet" is achieved mainly because only the acoustic guitar is finger picking at the moment.
  9. If you're a keyboard player, try to duplicate the exact rhythms the guitar players are playing, in the exact same register.
  10. If you're an electric guitar player, be sure to use all of your pedals at least once in a set, so as to disguise as much as possible the actual sound of your instrument.
  11. Be sure that your stage volume is so hot that you cannot be effectively mixed in the house.
  12. The form is ALWAYS V, V [add band], C, V, C, C, B, C, C, C, C [drums only], C, Tag.
  13. Never change keys in the middle of a song.
Alright, I've got us off to a good start, there's more, let's add to this list!

Friday, July 15, 2011

I used to be pretty good

While rummaging through my iTunes library the other day I came across a performance of Rachmaninoff's Prelude #2 in D Major. This is a recording of Yours Truly, performing at my senior recital at Cedarville University in 1994.

It's not jazz. It will take some work to listen to. I think this is my favorite piece from my recital. There were two significant challenges in this prelude. First, both the melody and the counter melody existed in the right hand. The challenge was to play the melody clearly while letting the counter melody sing sweetly over it without overcoming it.

The other challenge was maintaining left hand eighth notes while playing the right hand triplet counter melody (about a third in). It's vintage Rachmaninoff, really. I think it's not a bad performance--probably the best one from my recital, and if you asked me, I could not play it for you today. I still enjoy listening to it though.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

How Books Were Made (1947)

It is so fascinating to me to watch this laborious process. In a comparatively short time (since the original printing press) we have eliminated the need for all of these with e-pub books. No printing, no binding, no cutting, no gluing. Everyone can be an author. This comes with its problems too of course!

Take a minute to watch this video:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How to Build a Winning Baseball Team

I have to take a moment to say something about baseball. It's been a while. I enjoy the game and the team I have followed since 1994 has been the Cleveland Indians. They enjoyed their big years in the 90s, with sellout home games, and then lost many of their best players to big contract free agency (Albert Bell, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome), or to big trades (Bartolo Colon, Roberto Alomar). They went through their "rebuilding" phase (a term teams use when their players are young and mediocre and they don't really expect them to compete). Well, this season, it may finally be paying off.

As of today, the Indians own the best record in all of baseball, have a 7 game lead in the AL central, and are highest in the league with +66 runs scored versus runs allowed.

One of the ways they got to this point was through trades. Trades of big name players, especially Cy Young award-winning pitchers (two years in a row!) is particularly painful to watch. You're giving up a proven and known quantity for "prospects." (Another baseball term that means "we think they're going to be pretty good.")

So looking at key trades over the last five years, we can see how the current team has emerged. Below is a partial list of trades. Who was traded, and who was received in return. I only included players who are on the current big league 25 man roster.


Eduardo Perez

Asdrubal Cabrera

Ben Broussard

Shin-Soo Choo

CC Sabathia

Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley

Casey Blake

Carlos Santana

Franklin Guiterrez

Joe Smith

Mark DeRosa

Chris Perez

Cliff Lee/Ben Francisco

Carlos Carrasco, Lou Marson,

Victor Martinez

Justin Masterson

Kelly Shoppach

Mitch Talbot

So in evaluating this chart, one of the questions we must ask ourselves is, knowing what we know now about these young players, would we make the trades in reverse today? In other words, would you exchange Justin Masterson for Victor Martinez today? Probably not.

Monday, May 09, 2011

My iPhone Tracking Data

You've probably heard all about the privacy concerns and conspiracy theories related to why Apple has been tracking your location data--or at least storing it. The news broke in recent weeks, thanks almost entirely to a couple of researchers who created a little app that interpreted the data hidden away and synchronized through iTunes to your computer.

Using the simple little app they created (read all about it here), I decided to show those who are curious how it works by giving you more than just a simple screen shot of the resulting map that you may have seen posted around the internet.

Here it is, complete with my commentary:

I should mention that there is no evidence that this was ever sent back to Apple, and further, knowledge of the existence of this file is not new information!

Fellow iPhone users, do you feel as though your privacy has been violated?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

How has the internet affected the behaviour of music consumers?

My Answer to a Quora question found here.

I once heard someone describe the diminished perception of the value of music this way:

Once upon a time, people used to buy their music recorded on vinyl discs called "LPs" In this medium, you could of course play your music, but you could also almost SEE your music. The music was represented in little tiny grooves pressed into the platter. You could easily damage the music you loved by scratching it with the very device intended to let you enjoy it.

A few years later, the disc became smaller and shinier. The compact disc converted the visible grooves on the LP to invisible pits on a ceramic disc. The pits were read by an invisible beam of light. The disc may (or may not) have been more durable than the LP, and access to the tracks were nearly very fast, the artwork and inserts became smaller, and more information could be placed on these little discs than the larger LP counterparts.

Finally, we have progressed to a place where an individual song has been reduced to a file on a computer. Files have little value. We drag them from place to virtual place, move them from hard drive to hard drive, they can be accessed and played instantly, but they carry no artwork other than a simple icon (maybe) electronically associated with it. The file can have varying degrees of quality that the artist and producer has no control over, and can even be edited by a user with a free software.

So from one generation to the next we move from music that you can hold in your hand and see on the grooves of a disc to music that has very little intrinsic value of a computer file-- even the EXACT music that may have previously existed on an LP. Music from the internet has been reduced to an icon on your screen.

So in one way, the internet has affected the behavior of music consumers by subtly devaluing the product itself, in part because the medium on which it exists has changed so significantly.

This may be one reason why it is so hard to convince younger folks that when they transfer a file from one place to another, they are stealing--but that's a whole other discussion.

Lessons from the job hunt

As I continue my job search I am paradoxically applying for less positions and opportunities, not more. I am also refining my search and being more selective about which jobs I apply for.

This may seem counter-intuitive since I am not in a situation to be picky. I need a job.

My background brings with it a very specific and niche set of skills. Need a quality pianist? I can do that. Need a group rehearsed? I can do that too. Need an arrangement, orchestration, I can plan a worship service, conduct an orchestra rehearsal, make a drum loop. And I can do that stuff pretty well.

The problem is, no one is asking for that. At least not yet.

This time of unemployment has been a time of self-evaluation and self-discovery. I would venture that everyone who has gone through a similar situation has come to a personal assessment like I have. You almost have to.

When I first started looking, I naively applied to positions by answering a question no one was asking: "Could I see myself doing that?" What I have finally realized is that though I could probably learn skills involved in online education, brand marketing, technical writing, or IT support, and probably become really good at that stuff, I don't really have any experience in those areas. It took a while for me to move from imagining myself doing something I've never done, and thinking I could be pretty good at it to realizing I need to reevaluate many of the non-musical components of my previous jobs and ask myself a series of questions to help draw out tasks I have done that are corporate-world transferable. I have discovered that a single piece of paper is all the hiring manager or HR person has to find out what they can about me. They aren't interested in reading between the lines. I need to be specific. The statement: "Helped team communication through web sites and online tools." says very little to an uniformed reader, even though I knew everything that was involved in that task. But in expanding on this statement, I can come up with a couple of bullet points:

  • Created and designed web site functionality and navigation for a members-only web site.
  • Populated web pages with long-form text, photos, embedded scripts, tables, lists, and Twitter feeds, as well as media curation (pdf, mp3, and video uploads) using a content management (CMS) tool.

This kind of content was drawn out of me recently by a hiring manager who asked a couple of follow up questions that answered what probably should have existed on my resume in the first place.

I recently attended a Dick Hart seminar where he laid out several questions to ask yourself. Actually, he suggested to have someone interview you with these questions while you record your answers. He said when you go back and listen, you will pick up pieces that you should include in your resume that you might not have thought of otherwise.

  1. How good was I?
  2. What happened as a result of performing the project or task?
  3. Did I save any money or increase revenue as a result of my effort?
  4. How accurate was I?
  5. Was I ahead of schedule or did I just meet the schedule?
  6. Did I supervise people? How many?
  7. Did I exceed my quota? Show me the numbers.
  8. What was my role on the team?
  9. What impact did I make?
  10. Do results jump out at the reviewer?

I'm sure there are more good questions a mock interviewer could come up with to draw even more out of me.

What have you learned about yourself from your periods of unemployment?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Job Interviews as Dating

I have taken a little break from our OBX gift vacation, which is so backwards, I don't even want to get into it. Anyway, I was called back for an interview tomorrow morning. This is a company I applied for back in January, but the person they hired didn't work out so they're moving on down the list. I'm not sure this position is for me, but I am interested to learn more.

I have related to some of my friends that moving into the interview stage in the job hunt is like dating someone. I have had a few interviews over the last couple of months. I have gone to one interview where shortly after I arrived, I knew I wanted nothing to do with the job. Of course, I was called back for a second interview. I decided to go just for the experience.

The polar opposite was an interview I had last week with a firm that I could see myself investing many years in. It just sounds like a fun job and the people there seem great. I really hope I get it.

The paranoia that goes with the waiting game can be applied to either the dating scenario or the job interview:

  1. How did it go? Oh we had a great time. Had a lot in common, really hit it off well.
  2. Did they like you? yeah, I think so, couldn't tell if they were just nice and polite or if there was genuine interest, but the conversation really flowed well.
  3. Did you like them? Oh yeah, I can definitely see myself with them.
  4. When will you hear if you got the job? I don't know. They said they would call "by the end of next week." Does that mean Thursday? Do I give up if I don't hear from them by Friday? What time on Friday is the point of no return before i have to wait until next week?
  5. Are they interviewing other candidates? Yeah, I think they are. but I really hope I get the rose.
  6. It's been a week since the interview, have you heard from them? No, not yet. Should I call? I don't want to seem too--um--desperate. But I want them to know that I'm interested, that can't hurt right?
  7. Did you call? Yeah, I hope I wasn't too talky. I hope they weren't annoyed by the interruption to their day. I hope I showed the right amount of interest without seeming annoying. I hope that was initiative they heard, not reaching out to grab something not there.
  8. What did they say? Oh, I'm still a candidate, they'll make a decision by tomorrow or "early next week."
  9. What are you doing? Waiting by the phone.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Things I have learned from being unemployed

On January 3rd of this year, I learned that my position, along with eight other full time Providence employees was to be eliminated. My responsibilities were over and I was free to go. Not the news I had either expected nor wanted to begin the new year.

My job search began the day I came home. I hadn't searched for a job since 1996. This was going to be a challenge. It has been a difficult time for our family and for me as I am forced to rethink my future and career and ministry choices. It has sometimes been a time of emotional deflation and at other times optimism to see what new things are next.

Here are a few things I have learned along the way:

  • I'm not the only person who has ever lost a job.
  • We are blessed with unbelievable friends who have done way more for us than they had to.
  • I will never forget even the littlest things that our friends have done for us.
  • I will forever relate differently to friends who go through this. I did not understand what a challenge this is when my friends went through this in the past.
  • Being let go from a church in the way we were means that you not only lose your job, you lose confidence in the leadership of your church, and therefore, you lose your church.
  • Losing your job from a church challenges your assumptions that you are supposed to continue in church music indefinitely.
  • It is a huge challenge to write a resume, when you haven't thought of one in nearly 15 years.
  • It's an even bigger challenge to write dozens of resumes, almost a new one everyday, focused in a million and one different directions.
  • Nobody is in the hurry to hire me that I am to start working.
  • Three months of severance may seem like plenty of time, but it goes by so fast.
  • Health insurance for the family is not inexpensive.
  • I'm used to working hard and seeing the results of my work. I have never worked harder than I have to find a job but I have nothing to show for it.
  • It's crazy to think about all the things I would be willing to do, even though I might not like most of them. Once I hear of one or two things that I REALLY want, though, I can't stop thinking about them.
  • From my experience, anybody who hires me will wondering what they ever did without me.
  • To quote a good friend: It is not up to me to provide for my family; it is ultimately the Lord's promise. I am straining to put my trust in him.