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“Must Have 5+ Years Experience” Fallacy

I originally wrote this article in Spring 2002 — during a long and painful bout of unemployment). I have more up-to-date thoughts on the topic which I will  post eventually.

Why does every job ad require 5 years of experience? What does this mean anyway?

5 years experience with the same job title? That is a sign the employer is not looking for competence, but stability and aversion to risk.

5 years in the same field? So does time in school count? How about times when you were unemployed and working on portfolios/personal projects?

5 years experiencing using the tool, (programming language, platform)? First, no sane individual uses a single tool for every task on the job, and an individual who does so tends to view business problems in a reductionist way. A person with 5 years experience using Robohelp tends to view every problem as a Robohelp problem. Second, anyone who uses a product for that long a time could be using an out-of-date version. Or they can be in the habit of using high-priced commercial tools instead of free open source tools.

Having the technical competence of a typical person with 5 years experience? If that’s the case, then what about the person with 6 months experience who can do pretty cool things? What about someone with 5 years experience using a different tool but minimally competent on this one? At some point you are concerned more with an individual’s potential to do good work than what he has done (and that is good, isn’t it?)

I’ve always felt that the hardest job skills could be learned by the right person in 2 years or less. So, by demanding 5 years experience, you run the risk of hiring someone purely on the basis of the historical accident of whether they’ve worked at a company using a commercial tool. Employers would like to think that skills can be assessed simply by number of years at the post. They’d like to think that most people can obtain the jobs they are suited for, and that job titles are relatively uniform across the industry. But job titles (especially in technical fields) can be misleading. Requiring “5 years experience” may simply result in weeding out the younger candidates most in touch with new ways of doing things. In the writing profession, proficiency and even ability increases with age. As a 36 year old, I’ve been writing seriously since my senior year at college (when I was 22). That’s 14 years of experience. But on a writing project, a talented writer with three years of experience could have probably done just as good a job.

What alternative do I suggest? Employers should focus on skills necessary for the job, not simply seniority. By “skills,” I mean general skills, not simply familiarity with proprietary applications. If you limit your pool of applicants only to those whose previous employer used a particular application, you are reducing your pool of applicants (and probably having to pay high prices for it too). Oracle is completely different from SQL Server, but a person who worked as a database administrator on one of them could probably pick up the other in no time at all. The same is true for programming. I won’t deny that programming is hard, and that the good programmer is ten times more productive than the mediocre programmer. But a good programmer is not necessary the one who can program in the most languages. Once you learn basic concepts very well, the choice of tool, platform or programming language is almost irrelevant. Therefore, employers should write job descriptions that allow for a diversity of backgrounds rather than insisting on a specific job title or familiarity with a specific tool. Every job description ad should include three parts: Requirements, Highly Recommended and Nice to Have. In some areas (like management), seniority does indicate a level of experience working with different types of human interactions. But in technological fields, seniority is mostly irrelevant. After all, napster was started by someone under the age of 20 and the world’s first graphical browser was written by someone still in college.

Another way to tackle the skills problem is to look at an ability to complete projects or master new challenges. Accomplishments and innovation should be more important than number of years with a job title. True, a person with 5 years experience at a job may face many challenges that make him/her a better worker. But a person without the job title may have faced similiar challenges in different professional contexts. By allowing the second kind of applicant into the job pool, you are making it easier to find the best candidate at the lowest possible price.


Are Meetings Productive?

This is one of the first articles I created for the Internet on my idiotprogrammer.com domain. I wrote it July 2001. I’m reproducing it here.

While working at Dell, I spent an an extraordinary amount of time at meetings. A good number seemed to be a waste of time or could have easily taken place without me. For those meetings of value, I estimated that only 20-30% of the time was actually helpful to my productivity.

Actually, that is not bad. Lack of communication between team members and departments often caused resources and time to be wasted on work no longer necessary or relevant. Attendence was often pro forma, but often it was enough to go to these meetings to make sure nothing dramatic had changed. A manager feels obligated to invite you to keep you “inside the loop,” and you feel obligated to stay in that loop whether you like it or not. An overly nice manager can invite you to too many meetings, while another manager can be downright stingy about invitations. I can truthfully say that some of my most important meetings were ones I never was invited to and only heard about later.

As a technical writer, I was often glad to go to meetings. It was a chance to come face to face with developers and learn about a project’s current status. It was also a way to hear about new acronyms and new projects (I averaged two new acronyms per meeting). Although most meetings were a waste of time, quite a few were not, and it was hard to predict beforehand which of these would be worthwhile.

I’ve noticed that about 3/5 of meeting attendees are bored or just glad to be away from their desk. Their role is basically to twiddle their thumbs and look alert. Usually one person is in the hot seat; it is usually a manager or person giving a presentation.

Bringing donuts or cookies is a great way to liven up a meeting. I knew many a manager who as an incentive to increase attendence would announce beforehand that the meeting would have refreshments. That usually brought people, but it also caused people who had no reason to be there to show up just for the food. These kind of meetings usually were productive (and fun), but usually the person who brought the refreshments had the unpleasant duty of cleaning up afterwards.

Dell used the scheduling features of Outlook for making meetings. Say what you will about Microsoft, but using Outlook to schedule meetings was a terrific time-saver. It is probably the best thing about Microsoft Office. I never was a stickler about keeping a personal calendar until Outlook. I got to the point where I thought nothing of sending an email invite to the person sitting 5 feet away from me. Removing recurring appointments was often a great bother, so in my laziness I often had “phantom appointments” on my calendar for projects cancelled long ago. Probably the coolest thing about Outlook calendar was being to access it from home or to download it into your PDA. That allowed you to decide the night before whether to stop for hotcakes at MacDonalds on the way to work.

I always enjoyed meetings that talked about other meetings I hadn’t attended. Sometimes, two or three members had been at the meeting and offered postmordem analyses (causing me to wonder about whether they did the same thing about this meeting at other meetings). Sometimes I would go to one meeting and end up hearing the dope on three or four others.

The best meetings tend to have only 5 or 6 people and last for about one hour. A good manager usually knows when to cut short a debate. I’d heard my share of ideological debates, and most of them were pretty pointless after 3 or 4 minutes, especially when it involved some arcane programming call or network protocol. The two people who actually understood the issue would shout at each other, while the rest would doodle on their notepads or mentally deliberate over options for lunch. Interestingly, meetings were not really good places for making decisions. Distractions and other side issue tended to pollute the air. But meetings were excellent places to extract commitments from team members and provide opportunities for coworkers to lodge objections to a plan moving forward.

Meetings also were great for brainstorming. Those kinds of meetings were usually the most animated and productive. The catch is that afterwards one or two people need to condense the suggestions into something workable and make a decision unilaterally. Group decisions tend to be conservative, timid and ineffective.

I’ve always been intrigued by people who teleconference into the meeting when they only work in the next building (Are they allergic to sunlight?). On the other hand, it allows you to surf the net and answer email (ahem, I mean “work”) while being able to perk your ears when something important is discussed. Etiquette Tip: Don’t take another call while teleconferencing. What happens is that you put the meeting on hold, causing the people physically at the meeting to hear the corporate Muzak blaring loudly on the meeting room’s speakerphone. In the recent year or so, I’ve noticed that more people are bringing laptops with wireless connections into meetings. Oh, the possibilities for distraction are endless!

Here are some tips for having effective meetings.

  1. Make sure team members understand the order in which items will be discussed. That allows people to duck into or duck out of meetings at their leisure. Trust me. It’s for the best of everyone.
  2. If someone invites you to a meeting you don’t normally attend, try to identify beforehand whether you are expected to go FYI or to play an active role in giving information. Several times I’ve gone to meetings where –surprise! surprise! — I was expected to provide information. Once I scheduled an informational meeting with a developer only to realize that the developer knew even less about the project than I did.
  3. If a key person is not at the meeting, it is better to cancel the meeting than to make the feeble attempt to have the meeting anyway. When the big cheese isn’t there, coworkers are constantly referring to his or her work and using his absence as an excuse not to make a decision about anything.
  4. If you are at a meeting with 5 people or less and you are completely lost, ask a lot of questions. If you are at a meeting with 10 people or more and are completely lost, say nothing throughout the meeting and try to take good notes. Then later on, take a colleague aside and ask him/her to explain what the hell everyone was talking about.

Ok, what happened to my old stuff?

In 2000 or so I bought the idiotprogrammer.com domain. I had intended it to be my professional portfolio site, with some bloggy articles on it. This would contrast that with my personal domain imaginaryplanet.net which would contain my (nonpseudonymous) personal/creative stuff.    About 5 or 10 years ago, I decided not to renew the domain because I was posting most of my stuff on imaginaryplanet.

This tends to happen. It’s easy to buy a web domain, and with current web hosting, it’s not that hard to maintain or pay for it. (It’s like $10 a year?). It’s kind of a rip-off, but so what.  By the way, there’s something coming down the pike that should worry indie websites like this in. As of October, Chrome is going to give a security warning for visitors who go to non-https sites. I’ve always known about https, but setting it up was a pain, and it usually involved paying a third party to validate your certificate.

I understand the reasons for this security upgrade on the browser, but there a lot of non-https WordPress sites out there, most run by individuals  who don’t have the time or resources or expertise to convert to https. I’ll be implementing it probably on my commercial site (still a work in progress, no link yet) and probably on this blog, but this will definitely make me reconsider the old “let’s buy a domain and stick a blog on it” strategy. This may mean migrating projects over to wordpress.com or other larger hosts or simply dispensing with the idea that one needs to buy a domain at all.

WordPress doesn’t have ironclad security, but it has served me pretty well over the years. Also, I check in often enough to this site that I can apply the automatic updates pretty seamlessly. (To be fair, my excellent hosting service GREENGEEKS does send me emails about necessary updates). At the same time I am less enamored of php scripted sites as viable long term. If you abandon any php application for more than a year or two, chances are that the site can be easily hacked. I assume that the php community has probably taken countermeasures to prevent this — and probably the wordpress community has as well, but it doesn’t give me confidence.

I like the idea of completely separating the front end from the content management system. The content management system can be under whatever scripting language you want, but it deploys non-hackable code on the domain itself. I know Plone was that kind of system, and probably by now there are several others. But frankly, I haven’t kept up with content management developments as much as I would have liked, and frankly, the non-Wordpress choices seem to involve either 1)signing up a web application (like Medium, WordPress.com) and producing all your content inside it or 2)running a beastly php system like Drupal which requires a fair amount of advanced knowledge. WordPress has still been the happy path for most people, and once you marry a system, it can be hard to initiate divorce proceedings.

Anyway, these are random thoughts to preface some old content from my idiotprogrammer.com which I forgot to transfer to imaginaryplanet. Every once in a while I remember some great thing I wrote a long time ago, and then crap, I realized that it’s not there anymore! I can’t tell you how many times the wayback machine has saved my derriere, but alas, now it appears that the new owners of idiotprogrammer.com has blocked indexers, so the wayback machine is no longer archiving it.  Bummer! Then apparently after one of my domains was hacked, I still was able to find one wayback snapshot which was not hacked.

Permit me to rant about people who buy existing domains when they expire.  I don’t want to claim that my sites are particularly marvelous, but I find amazing how often a new owner will just squat on a domain and do absolutely nothing with it! Why on earth would you buy up someone’s personal domain, pay $10 per year to maintain it, and then do absolutely nothing to it.  It’s better to have old content lying somewhere on a domain than absolutely nothing. Perhaps the underlying problem are those pesky domain renewal fees which over the long term makes all domains unusable and uninteresting. There will come a time when facebook.com, ibm.com and microsoft.com won’t have any content on them; it’s coming sooner than you think.

I’m going to make a bet — somebody prove me wrong! I predict that in 50 years, facebook.com, ibm.com and microsoft.com will essentially be abandoned domains. Perhaps for cultural reasons facebook.com will provide legacy access to people’s old profiles. On the other hand, archive.org , teleread.org, nytimes.com, and hopefully imaginaryplanet.net will still be around — and have accessible snapshots on archive.org — that is, unless the new owners have blocked it.


Life Lessons In Leadership (Book Review)

Title:   Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby: For Leaders Ages 8 to 88

Author:  Ann McMullan, Michael Barrett, Lisa Breshears (Design)

Publisher:  Createspace

Genre: Nonfiction, Hybrid Genre. 

ISBN:  978-0325053011

Publishing Date: November 2016

Where to Buy:  Author’s Web Site. Amazon.com, BN

Price: $14.95 for print book (no ebook is available)

Summary: light-hearted way to introduce management concepts

This clever and beautifully illustrated book tries to do the impossible: discuss the challenges of managing people in such elementary terms that even a kid could understand it. It’s a captivating collaboration by an educational consultant, a children’s author and a talented artist. The book is brief — it’s less than 20 pages — but it presents important insights about leadership that even the most book-averse could absorb without too much pain. I see the book as accomplishing three things. First, it facilitates discussion by providing silly (and imaginary) examples of well-run and dysfunctional organizations. Second it contains whimsical verse of clueless animal bosses (complete with cute drawings) which directly relate to the concepts described on the page preceding it. Third, it emphasizes the importance of soft management skills (like listening, giving credit and responding to conflict from a loving perspective). The whole book has a “maternal vibe” to it, and that is somewhat unusual for a book on management; this certainly is appropriate in some contexts (such as education and nonprofits), but in other business contexts, it may seem too touchy-feely and not goal-oriented enough. Still, the books makes a few points quickly and makes them well (and entertainingly). The book is a great ice-breaker for managers who are seeking a light-hearted way to introduce management concepts to staff.

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Let’s Not Demonize Hilary

I am proud to say that I voted for Hillary Clinton — a principled woman who had to put up with a lot for over 25 years of her public life. I know people are going to nitpick about what a flawed candidate she was — that’s only natural. But she is what she is. And she had lots of positive qualities that would have made her a thoughtful and effective world leader — it is no wonder that Obama implied that she was better qualified to be president than he was. Today’s executive branch needs someone who knows the details of each policy — who is willing to compromise and be cautious in her judgments. Hilary Clinton didn’t regard the US presidency as just a game on a reality show which needed to be won at any cost; she understood that behind policy decisions there were human lives at stake. To pick one example which sticks in my gullet. Trump has been promising the people in Appalachian coal mine country that under a Trump administration, coal mining will come back. But that’s just a campaign line. Coal mining isn’t a competitive industry any more — and will probably never be even if Trump eliminates all the EPA regulations. In contrast, Hilary Clinton committed to $30 billion in economic assistance to that region to make the transition away from coal. Clinton was attacked for doing this, but this was an attempt to solve a social problem; over the next few years, this money would have come in handy for them…

For those who say Trump’s victory is just an example of the pendulum swinging to the other side, please remember, almost every single newspaper in the country (even conservative ones) refused to endorse Trump, every single past president (and every single past GOP presidential nominees) refused to endorse Trump. Even the Catholic pope hinted that he objected to Trump’s policies. Here was a case where most national polls were off by a wide margin, most prediction markets were off too. Clinton’s campaign was much better funded, much better disciplined and had a better “ground game,” (even though ultimately it did not deliver the goods). Despite these things, Trump prevailed. Except at the presidential level, this was NOT an example of anti-incumbency; this was NOT an example of people wanting a stronger defense (Clinton’s foreign policy credentials were strong). There was some vague sense of economic malaise (although America’s economic health has not been particularly bad recently). Trump’s policy proposals were vague, sometimes ill-informed and sometimes just sloganeering. Most of the time it just involved imposing tariffs and forcing allies to pay for things. He contradicted himself multiple times on the campaign trail and lashed out regularly at political opponents. Do I even have to mention the bankruptcies? the sexual accusations? His demonization of the press and his tendency to sue everybody? Trump University? I know, I am telling you nothing new. But we need to understand that this is NOT an example of normal democracy; it is a sign that political norms are changing; it is an age where “mean tweets” is the new normal.

All along, Trump seemed like a twisted caricature of every rotten reflex of the radical right. That he has prevailed, that he has won this election, is a crushing blow to the spirit; it is an event that will likely cast the country into a period of economic, political, and social uncertainty that we cannot yet imagine. That the electorate has, in its plurality, decided to live in Trump’s world of vanity, hate, arrogance, untruth, and recklessness, his disdain for democratic norms, is a fact that will lead, inevitably, to all manner of national decline and suffering.
In the coming days, commentators will attempt to normalize this event. They will try to soothe their readers and viewers with thoughts about the “innate wisdom” and “essential decency” of the American people. They will downplay the virulence of the nationalism displayed, the cruel decision to elevate a man who rides in a gold-plated airliner but who has staked his claim with the populist rhetoric of blood and soil. George Orwell, the most fearless of commentators, was right to point out that public opinion is no more innately wise than humans are innately kind. People can behave foolishly, recklessly, self-destructively in the aggregate just as they can individually. Sometimes all they require is a leader of cunning, a demagogue who reads the waves of resentment and rides them to a popular victory. “The point is that the relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion,” Orwell wrote in his essay “Freedom of the Park.” “The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.” 

(A few months ago I wrote this response to the Netflix documentary, Making a Murderer and forgot to post it).
Some random thoughts:

Family members were the stars of this series. We saw so much of them! They were strange to look at, and not particularly interesting. Like mole people. Nice but dull.

The series could have been half the size. Lots of shots of empty rooms, witnesses grabbing plants from the ground, tracking shots of the sunset, the highway, that damn junkyard!

I’m not giving anything away by saying that there were two separate but related cases. I pretty much agreed with the court decisions on both of them although one of them has an issue which seemed significant enough to seem to merit reconsideration (Update: Apparently a higher court agreed last week!)

I think the main message of the movie is to show how much of a spectacle a big money trial is and how easy it is for the defendant to believe in the rightness of his opinion (and convince onlookers and family members to invest money in legal fees).

Mistakes were mistake. Aside from one whopper of a mistake, none of them seemed to be committed out of malice. It’s just that people screw up, and courts have to deal with imperfect evidence.

I totally believe the directors in the PBS interview that they had no horse in this game, that they were just here to record the workings of the justice system. There is inherent value in that. But there is also inherent value in doing a documentary about Nazis and getting them to record their inner thoughts and dreams. I’m not being coy here. A film that purports to objectively get into the minds of Nazis or SS would be enormously interesting. But at some point you have to say: Is the underreported story really to hear the overpaid defense lawyers gloat at holes they have “found” in the evidence? Also to ask: what efforts did the filmmakers make to get thoughts from the family of the victims or other bystanders? Why were they unwilling or unable to get this perspective?

The primary thing this film demonstrated is that when money is no object, lawyers can dig up all sorts of defenses. And pontificate about these things ad nauseum…

There is a shocking piece of evidence in the middle of the series, and I’m glad the directors (and lawyers) circled back to it near the end.

About the only thing I rooted for were the public defenders in the latter part of the trials. Lacking the resources to counter the state’s case, they nonetheless seemed cogent and well done3.

It’s funny how my opinions changed over the course of the series. Near the start, I felt I needed to have an open mind. Also, I needed to keep in mind that certain pieces of evidence smelled funny.

I’m going to reveal my cards here and say that when you are the last person to see a victim and the victim’s car is on your property and the charred remains are found near your trailer, and you were seen burning a fire on the night in question and no one else on the property has anything remotely suggestive of criminal tendencies, that creates an overwhelming burden of you to show how and why someone other could have been the perpetrator. Leaving aside ALL of the forensic evidence and ALL OF THE COERCED TESTIMONY of his cousin, you still have to present an alternate theory which is convincing enough to override the presumption here. The defense attorneys suggested malice by the sheriff and DA; fair enough, but malice doesn’t imply ability or even the desire to take action. I may want to murder somebody badly; I might even have the opportunity; but that does not mean I act on my impulses.


I told this story at the Houston Storytellers’ Guild 2015  “Liars’ Contest.” It was partly inspired by my  recent adventures teaching at a middle school. It belongs to my Booby Naked story collection .

Earlier this year I started teaching at Romero Middle School. I taught creative writing. It was my first year teaching, so there were always surprises.

For example, middle school students ask strange questions. Like, Mr. Nagle, are you married? Mr. Nagle, do you have a girlfriend? Mr. Nagle, are you gay? Mr. Nagle, do you have a car? Mr. Nagle, do you like football? Mr. Nagle, do you drink a lot of beer? Mr. Nagle, what do you think of Kanye West? Mr. Nagle, do you have $5 I can borrow? Mr. Nagle, what’s the wifi password? Mr. Nagle, did you get fired from your last job?

One day I gave students a writing assignment. While they were writing, one girl’s hand shot up. I expected that she wanted me to explain something or would ask me for a pencil. Instead she asked, “Mr. Nagle, have you ever been to SeaWorld? It’s REALLY fun.”

(In case you’re wondering, the answer to those questions is No, no, no, no, no, no, don’t care, no, there isn’t one, of course not and not yet). [continue reading…]

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Not-dead update (Yet Again!)

As you know my blog has been hibernating for a long while.

I have had a LOT of things going in my life right now which prevent blogging. Also, I regularly post on Facebook and Google Plus (a tough habit I have been trying to break for several years).  I usually post identical things on both sites — although sometimes I make more comments on Facebook.

I also post on the Jack Matthews publishing  site.

That said, I expect to increase my blogging (and generally my writing) for the next few months and years. I have been trying to launch some publishing project, and once I do that, I’ll be devoting a lot of time to it.

Strangely I have been reading a lot, and eventually I will have posts about that. Also, I will probably be contributing to the Teleread.org reboot.

I’m in job search mode, so I typically don’t post anything ridiculously scandalous or controversial during that time. (Actually I don’t do much of that anyway. 50 year olds are such stolid creatures!)

On the other hand, I have always viewed a blog as not an end in itself. It’s more like a notebook of notes and rough drafts which I occasionally turn into something more polished.

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Beware the auto-renewal beast!

Call me a procrastinator. I plead guilty. (I have also been very busy with a move and a job search).

For a while I have been meaning to transfer my domain hosting from greengeeks to a slightly more powerful hosting service to accommodate future  web projects. I kept delaying the decision for 2 years (costing me an extra $50 a year), and then I just decided, no, I will just stick with greengeeks for a year (I have had no real complaints about them).

A few months ago I decided that there was no special reason to stick with godaddy for 5 or 6 personal domains. The cost adds up, and godaddy has no real reason to stay competitive. Then, astonishingly they auto-renewed one of my domains for 3 years in advance! I understand that it’s easy to forget about auto-renewals, but no sane human would have authorized a 3 year renewal.

I complained and then technical support said, “Sorry, there’s no backsies.” Well, maybe that’s true, but godaddy’s renewal reminder emails only mentioned a one year renewal price. There was absolutely no mention that renewals would be in 3 year increments.  I would have expected at least some kind of courtesy credit for future domain renewals.

After doing a little bit of research and checking domcomp.com , I finally decided to go with namesilo. They didn’t appear to be that much better than godaddy, but there’s no reason to reward godaddy’s awful customer service.

On another note, I have noted at how easily companies are adding auto-renewals to the terms of service. Microsoft helpfully auto-renewed my Office account at full price without reminding me it was about to expire. (To their credit, they reversed the charge immediately  after I complained). Since then, I have purchased an MS Office license at a reduced rate.

It can be hard to keep track of renewals and expiration dates, and forgetting can have serious financial consequences. What if your 12 month no interest purchase is about to come due?

Luckily, it is not hard to set up reminders. Google Calendar has some way to set up events and then set up reminders. Unfortunately to do so, you first have to go through the rigmarole of  setting up a full-fledged event and change the default notification to email. But it works….

Update: One hour later, the domain transfer completed. Horray!



Only Chumps with a Rump vote for Trump (Poem)

Only Chumps with a Rump vote for Trump.
He will pump this country into a slump.
Don’t make me a grump.
Don’t be a lump.
If you thump for Trump,
You might as well jump into a dump!

Let’s get over this mad callithump
and dump this Trump.
He’s no Forrest Gump.
He’s just a mean-spirited clump
of hypocrisy and plump
who will gladly gazump
any voters not paying attention.
We don’t need a chump to pump
our brains with harrumps.
Let’s not flump into a sump of disdain
Or treat every non-beauty-queen as a frump
Or be the guy who’s always yelling at the ump.
A little bit of determination
is all one needs to get over this hump called Trump.
Decades later, books will recall the time
that democracy survived a slight bump
and the towering tree of haughtiness
was quickly leveled to a stump.


(By Robert Nagle,  ex-mugwump, with the help of several online rhyming dictionaries! )


Social Media Posts (May 1 to May 30)

See also: Index of all Social Media Posts

Probably the most interesting question about the Trumpification of USA is how many TV entertainment outlets will refuse to invite TRUMP THE INSULT DOG on their show — damn the ratings and ad dollars. Lorne Michaels, Stephen Colbert, the Today Show, The View, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon all snicker at Trump’s ugliness as they continue to invite him on their shows for the ratings and ad money; for this, they bear responsibility and deserve criticism. Perhaps now is a good time as any  to read (or re-read) some Adorno.

2 Afterthoughts: First Conan never had Trump as a guest during election season. Second, I have no problem with news programs interviewing Trump as a guest. But entertainment shows have no obligation to feature unhinged politicians on their show (although perhaps you can make the argument that current law requires that other candidates be entitled to “equal opportunity” for free time on the network.   ) [continue reading…]


Social Media Posts (April 1 to April 30)

Two interesting studies about minimum wage. About a recent law to raise minimum wage to $15 in Seattle, a report finds: ” “Our preliminary analysis of grocery, retail, gasoline, and rent prices has found little or no evidence of price increases in Seattle relative to the surrounding areas,” Second, “hiking the federal minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to $12 would reduce crime by 3 percent to 5 percent, as fewer people would be forced to turn to illegal activity to make ends meet. By contrast, spending an additional $10 billion on incarceration — a massive increase — would reduce crime by only 1 percent to 4 percent. (Source about crime statistics).
Two cool things about Google. First, you can adjust the likelihood of a news source from appearing in the Google News feed. Second, for people on Google Plus, Google Searches will show at the top relevant G+ wall posts you have made. (Apparently FB has never figured out how to do this). Speaking of which, Google Play Books (GPB) released a new version a little while ago; it’s my preferred choice for reading ebooks on the cloud.

[continue reading…]


Social Media Posts (March 1 to March 30)

See also: Index of all Social Media Posts

This fascinating 3 minute video essay tries to explain why people rarely smiled in older photos. (Be sure to watch until the end to see a Chinese man smiling!).

Here’s a fierce 1996 Ukrainian rock song which has been zipping through my head all day. As luck would have it, I got to see Bilyk perform the song live in Lutsk (a double billing with the Russian singer “Linda”). PS, Ukrainian music videos look way better now than they used to 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wUtLyZxlCUE .Might as well include a Linda track here as well. She’s really into mysticism/gothic rock, that sort of thing.https://youtu.be/ErJbOaNIWlM

[continue reading…]


Social Media Posts Feb 2016

See also: Index of all Social Media Posts

I suspect that within 48 hours, the hilarious Donald Trump takedown video by John Oliver will be shared thousands (if not millions) of times on social media. Up to now, talk show hosts and political satirists have used Trump as an object for humor, not really an object of contempt. Oliver (and his predecessor John Stewart) satirize with overt political purposes. Just laughing at the video clip is not enough; you have to take action. Two reactions: 1)Why hasn’t the partisan Fox channel tried to pull off their own John Oliver show? (Is it somehow incompatible with the sensibilities of their conservative audience?) and 2)do political critics in China/Russia/Iran view this kind of satire as something peculiar to the U.S. or something that could also work in their own country? The assumption behind John Oliver’s “satirical advocacy” is that citizens can be persuaded to change their minds and take action. I’m just not sure this is true in closed political systems (and I don’t just mean that a government could block Youtube). Even if a Chinese version of “John Oliver” produced an effective takedown of Xi Jinping, a Chinese citizen might be able to enjoy it, but never think that it could make any difference politically. In contrast, the US political system may be rigged, but at least it be occasionally unrigged during moments of political clarity.

It’s behind a paywall, but New York Times wrote a feature article about Ukrainian protest songs and music videos.

[continue reading…]


Here is some news (or pre-news!)

I have been busy publishing the first ebook story collection by Jack Matthews, the first collection he has published in 23 years. Despite the somewhat small size, I consider this to be a major work — perhaps one of his best story collections. My company will be publishing his contemporary microfiction title, Abruptions this summer.

I have started to offer ebooks at Smashwords. Frankly I will be turning my focus more towards Smashwords; it has been on the cutting edge on ebooks; unfortunately it doesn’t get a tenth of Amazon’s traffic and it doesn’t have the Createspace infrastructure, but they are doing a lot of amazing things. Mark Coker seems to seem trends sooner than most; here’s his latest end-of-the-year prediction.

I plan to start posting a few small things on Teleread over the next few months. If you remember, I used to contribute lots of things between 2004-2009 or so, but then I had to put it aside. Now I’ll resume posting on a smaller scale. I still would like to start some kind of literary site which is something more than a blog. Every time I get ready to do this, I get sidetracked by real life events. Right now I’m of the mind that I should just publish SOMETHING and then over time add features and specific kinds of content so it accumulates more heft.

I’m a lot more experienced in deployments, so I’m reluctant to implement something unless I can do it right. I also want to create a method to test changes more easily; that’s the biggest problem with trying to add features to weblogs. Also, I want to create something which one person could run and maintain by himself because — guess what, collaboration is an extra not a vital feature for most literary sites.

Last night I created a static html page based on an annotated bibliography of Civil War fiction from the Soldier Boys ebook. (Take a look at it; it’s great!). I really just wanted to steal a simple template which uses responsive web design principles (and look good on various kinds of devices). But I realized a few things: responsive web design is hard! Even the simple templates are practically content frameworks because you have to incorporate NAV elements. Having designed ebooks for different readers and devices, I know all about css media queries and breakpoints and inspecting css; even though ebooks have NAV elements, my production method just spits them out via Docbook XSL.

Also, I know I could figure out breakpoints and screen dimensions, but I became aware of REMs which are kind of like ems, only they are not. Anyway, designing web pages only occasionally, I’m used to being behind a few years on standard practices, but I feel a lot more behind than normal. Maybe it has to do with the value I place on my time, but I’m quickly growing content with just inserting a store-bought or community-written template and hoping everything works. When inspecting these templates, I am more confident of my capability to ruin the css than to fix something….

That said, I grow weary of current web design, even unassuming ones for blogs. Everything is so focused on social media and signing up for newsletter and shaming the surfer for using an an-blocker. Third-party ad networks are draining your bandwidth and browser memory. Frequently Facebook and sites with videos cause my browser to choke — especially on Firefox. So much content is delivered in-process, so you constantly need to scroll down to fetch more items. The very thought of having to dig up some thing I posted on Facebook 4 months ago fills me with dread. I would spend a good 10 minutes just hitting the More button and waiting for Facebook to serve me another teaspoon of content. Suddenly every listicle must become a photo gallery — not for any functional reasons, but simply to increase the number of clicks you need to make and the time you need to wait.

Two exciting bit of news which I haven’t shared on FB or G+.

First, BBC announced that some listeners have found lost episodes of Alistaire Cooke’s Letter from America radio series. I’ve been listening to them religiously (I’m currently at about 1993, and I have noticed that the 1970s decade was missing a lot of weekly episodes!)

Second, I have become excited at some video essays which I have seen on youtube (usually about artistic or cultural topics). See Nerdwriter1’s playlists and Every Frame a Painting’s playlists. These are thoughtful, well-edited video essays; I’m tempted to try my hand at a few of these — although I honestly can’t imagine how much time is involved. By now, either video essayist can probably crank these things out daily, but novices might find it overwhelming and time-consuming. As good as those video essays are, writing essays is just a more efficient way to produce thoughtful ideas and a fast way to receive them. Sure, video essays can say things which videos cannot; at the same time, can you justify the extra expenditure of time?


god-complexTitle: God Complex

Musician: Monk Turner (songwriter) and various singers and performers.

Where to Find: Free download on bandcamp and FMA; Youtube playlist.

Recommended if you like: Allen Touissant, Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks, Randy Newman, modern retelling of Greek myths

Summary: Charming  suburban rock opera with mythical overtones

Monk Turner is a talented and prolific songwriter who has glommed onto the “concept album” genre (producing about 25 concept albums so far). I wrote a long profile of Monk Turner a few years ago and have followed his recent releases over the years. A few years ago the concept was “Emergency” (imagining disaster in Los Angeles). More recently the concept was colors; each song was about a different color — and that includes a lot of obscure colors like fuchsia, cerulean,  Zymenchlora (yes, it’s a color — I checked). (Check out my 6 word review of it).  A central aspect to the concept album is that it lets the artist  explore a variety of moods and styles within a certain theme. Turner mashes a lot of retro pop styles with contemporary instruments and idioms.  All the albums have elements of 50s  rock and 60s folk and funk, but they still feel “new.”

For this concept album, each song is sung by a different Greek god or goddess (but transplanted into an era of modern suburban angst).

My questions when approaching a Monk Turner concept is to ask: will individual songs stand out more than the concept itself?  Is the melody decorating the lyrics or vice versa? Also, how much do the songs abide by    traditional pop song formats (in terms of catchiness and production values)?

For this album, I feel that the overall concept stands out more than individual songs, that the lyrics drive  the melodies (PS, they’re also hilarious!) and that the songs are quintessentially anti-pop; I don’t even think it would fall into the category of alternative (though there are certainly rock elements on the edges). In fact, the songs strike me as very theatrical — something which belongs  onstage or (heaven forbid!)   a Disney animation movie. To invent a category for this album, the first thing which comes to mind is    offbeat suburban rock opera.

Turner wants to make the Greek gods recognizable to modern audiences, so he depicts them with  modern personalities. We are supposed to sympathize with their perspectives and  see a little bit of ourselves in them.

I had a lot of fun trying  to recognize  the essence of each Greek god in the song bearing their name. Sometimes the musical  connection  is tenuous though never forced. The Hermes song is about delivering a message from the gods; The Poseidon song adopts the stance of a young adult who feels that he has “missed the boat” in growing up and missing the opportunities of life. (This contrasts to the Artemis song which is about a woman who is a “lone hunter” who “would rather be stuck with Hades than tied down with a crying baby.”)    Not only do the singers really capture the archetypal emotion of each god, both  lyrics and the instrumentation  capture the mythological essence with humor and sympathy.

In “Bad Luck”,    Hephaestus sings with remorse. The song (performed by Chris Warrior) begins as a plaintive country song, then transforms into a kind of soul duet with organ backing (where a distant female voice — Aphrodite coos light retorts). In “But then I got Married” (sung with a humorous touch by Christine Gengaro),  Hera laments how being married was much less glamorous than she expected:

My life was full of smiles
Until I walked down the aisle
Now all I want to do is die
Ohh I used to be so carefree
Sipping wine with the bourgeoisie
But then I got married

Athena’s song “A strong foundation” is a warm and gentle ballad about the benefits of moderation and having realistic dreams. (It has the warmth of a James Taylor or Carol King song). Hades’ “It’s a wicked life” (my personal fave) is a slow/moody song reminsicent of Leonard Cohen. Probably the most provocative and fascinating  song is the Hermes song “You Won’t Go with a God”about spiritual abandonment:

Do you think I deceive you?
Do you think this is all a myth?
Are you having a break through?
Or are you falling into an abyss?
You won’t go with a god
Go with a god

In general the melodies remain upbeat and fast even though the lyrics themselves are pretty cynical. This is particularly true about the Ares song (“I’ll destroy everything”). Melodically this song seems less dark than bombastic — like a cartoon villian in a Broadway musical (ably sung  by Jacke Karashae who also sang that brilliant and gleeful song “The Illuminated Self” on Kaleidoscope“).  All the performances are strong and the singers all give a unique take on each god’s personality.  If I could single out two incredible  performances, it would be the elegiac Hermes song (sung by Princess Frank)  and Athena’s song about “A  Strong Foundation” (sung with warmth and care by Malynda Hale).

It’s a little unusual that a songwriter like Monk Turner would lead a collaborative studio project like this, especially one  with so many outstanding performers.    (Allen Touissant and Gamble and Huff are two examples which came to mind).

Another very unusual thing about this album is that there are “video liner notes” on youtube about each individual song (View the playlist). I resisted watching them before writing this review, but after the review was essentially finished, my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up watching them  all.   Nowadays artists are expected to expose the creativity process to the online audience (so it can be retweeted and linked to on social media to generate interest). But Turner takes it one step further and puts together   funny vids which describe the making of each song from inception to production. We get to hear how Monk Turner circulated demos of his music to friends and used their feedback to improve the songs. We also are treated to  “melodic re-enactments”  where Turner returns to the locale where he received musical inspiration or overcame a creative roadblock. In a few cases Turner reveals obscure  aspects of the Greek myths that inspired him to write the song.  These video liner notes also include cameos from  performers who talk about how they  helped shape final production.  I guess these video liner notes add to the album and help the audience appreciate the lyrics. They certainly helped me to notice and appreciate certain aspects to individual songs.  On the other hand  I’d hate to imagine a future where every produced song needs to have  a “making of” video associated with it in order to become more widely known. I recommend that listeners give the “making of” videos a look only after you’ve had ample time to process the song on your own so your impressions of the song won’t be shaped (and limited)  too strongly by the artist’s conceptions.

Except for maybe the Hades song, none of the songs grabbed me at first, but each listen brings additional rewards (appreciating the subtleties both of lyrics and the musical arrangements). All the songs (even the deep ones)  make  for fun and light-hearted listening; they  sound good on a playlist (and stand out perfectly well on their own). But  they might shine even more in some kind of theatrical setting where the audience  pays more attention to character and lyrics.  Songs like  “Let Me Heal You (Apollo’s Song)” are obvious candidates for  musical theatre —  taking advantage of all the funny lyrics — and to certain extent, the video liner notes seem almost to anticipate this possibility (with humorous cutaways).

It’s unusual for a pop music album to focus on portraying different characters  (you’d probably have to go back to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band to find  a successful example).  It’s definitely pushing boundaries.  Like Persephone’s partial  betrayal of her family by eating pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, I have to wonder  whether  Turner’s instincts are pulling him away from the bright world of pop music and dragging him down into the fiery  underworld of musical theatre.