Sunday, October 23, 2016

White kids, Hip hop and the 1980s

So I just read that Eric B. and Rakim are back together and going on tour.

This news made me think back to when I was a teenager, driving my Dodge Colt around Dallas, TX,  delivering pizzas and listening to the album Paid In Full.

I had been a New Wave kind of kid throughout the early to mid-80's, so Depeche Mode or New Order or The Smiths were my more typical jams. A girlfriend started buying rap LPs, and before you know it, I was buying a big amp and subwoofer for the car.

The first acts I listened to were Public Enemy, EPMD, Eric B. and Rakim, Ice T, and Big Daddy Kane.  I literally got to know them by picking up the albums at the record store and listening to them.  At the time, I didn't hear a lot of hip hop on mainstream radio.  Not even on the R&B station.

I got into the music initially because I dig groove based music.  Stuff that makes me want to bop my head.  But soon enough the lyrics started to penetrate and I that's when I started getting a new perspective.

It's hard to imagine now but in 1987, culturally, in the midwest at least, we were very much segregated by race.  I mentioned my job as a pizza delivery driver.  The white dudes talked to each other, the black dudes talked to each other, but there was minimal interaction.  I didn't think much about it; it was just the way things were.

But as I listened to hip hop, I started to hear things that made me curious. I started thinking about what it must be like to live in a poor neighborhood, or to have to contend with violence, or to just live in a country with a history that's not quite so impressive if you look at from a non-white perspective.

Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps
Sample a look back you look and find
Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check

--- Public Enemy

I was also listening to a public radio station that played a lot of underground hip hop, KNON.  I don't remember the names of the artists but I remember thinking, man, rap music is like CNN for the black perspective. While there were a share of songs about "straight up dissin' and dismissin'," commentary on community was another major theme.

In a lot of ways, rap and hip hop music really broadened my entire world view.

And now today's interesting observation.  The white kids that I knew who were like me, now in our forties, who spent time listening to early hip hop, are much less likely to feel threatened by Black Empowerment movements like BLM.  I mean, why would you feel threatened?  You've got to stand up against injustice when you see it.

And the white kids I knew who didn't get on the hip hop train?  Who would never listen to the tunes because it was "black music"?  I'm still hearing the same old tune from them.  I swear to God they think that BLM is some kind of radical militia.  When I see the way BLM is covered in right-wing media, I shrug and think, I guess some white people are never going to get over their prejudices.

I little empathy is all that is needed to really put yourself in someone else's shoes.  Just imagine for a moment what life is like for someone who didn't grow up in your suburb, or in your city, or your country.

I'm glad hip hop came along when it did, because for me at least, it gave me a peek into a world that I didn't really understand.   Oh, and on top of's still so much fun to bop my head to those tunes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Thank God I found the following.  I use XFCE and I have been annoyed by the minimal, overlay scrollbars for months.

Get back to good old fashioned, easy to grab, no mouse over waiting, 1999 style scrollbars with the following command.

gsettings set com.canonical.desktop.interface scrollbar-mode normal

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Advice for sons wanting to become professional drummers

Dear son,

So you are thinking you might want to grow up to be a professional drummer.

Go for it.  You should always pursue your dreams, as the vigorous pursuit of dreams brings much happiness in life.

But if you want to make a living, that is, pay for things, live in your own house or apartment, eat and have stuff, you'll need to be strategic about how you build your career.

Your average professional studio musician makes $64,979 a year, at least according to this site.  That's a reasonable middle-class salary.  To make this amount, you'll need to be a truly excellent drummer, able to play flawlessly in any style of music.  And you'll need to be a hard worker, and reliable.  You'll probably also need to live in a major city where studio musicians are in demand.

I do worry that advances in technology will make it easier and easier for studios to simply program realistic sounding drum tracks, meaning that technology may eventually put you out of a job.

You could join a band and tour constantly, building a name for yourself.  At worst, you'll get paid in free beer.  At best, you could work up to playing big festivals and making decent money---from time to time.  Ask our barbers, both of whom have toured in major festivals.  There were moments when they were paid well.  But the money was not consistent enough to keep them touring full time for their entire lives.

When you play a club, a bar, a venue of any type, or produce recorded music for any entity, you will typically be paid a fraction of the money your music earns.

Working for fractions of pennies on the dollar isn't new.  Rush, The Foo Fighters, Pink Floyd...all of the mega-music bands in the last 50 years, made a lot more money for someone else than they ever did for themselves.

If you care about earning money, try to emulate those who profited from the music of the last 50 years.  Spend your time studying capitalism and business in general, in addition to practicing your musical chops.

I suggest you form a band and think of it as a business entity.  In fact, you should make it a business entity if you are going to invest a considerable amount of time in it.

Make sure the roles are clearly understood.  If it's your band and your brand, make sure you protect your interests.

Band members will flake. Make sure your brand (band name and identity) remains yours when they do.  Start out with clearly defined roles and ownership positions.

Make music that appeals to others.  You can play music all day you love but no one else does, but you won't make money.  Respect your audience if you expect to be paid for your efforts.  Give them something that excites and interests them.

Get out and play.  Play anywhere that will let you play while you build your brand.

Control the venue as soon as you can.  When I was younger and played in bands, I occasionally played to crowds of around two-thousand people.  Each person there paid $10 to get in, generating $20,000, and that doesn't include profits made at the bar or merchandizing.  My cut was $100.  This is not uncommon.  Bands are suckers, driven by ego, and they often fail to understand the value that they are producing for others.

Control the venue.  Find a venue, and rent or buy it.   Do your own PR, rent or own the PA and lights, make sure you have staff to control the crowd, have appropriate insurance.  Be aware that hosting a show is an investment and a lot of work.

Do this, and at the end of the night, you'll go home with a lot more than $100.

Merchandise.  This is capitalism 101.  Make stuff at a low cost and mark it up and sell it.  This is how you make a living in America.

Don't ever buy into the dream that some big record label will come along and "discover" you and make you star.  That was always fiction, and now more than ever.

It's up to you.  Roll up your sleeves, work hard, adapt when change is necessary, play well, put on a good show, and you can make a living at this.

But if you want to really live well, you'll need to be more than just a drummer, you'll need to be in the business of entertainment.  Notice the keyword is business.  Considering the business aspects of music doesn't make you a sell out, in fact, quite the opposite.  This is your thing, that you get to do your way.  And if you are smart about it, you can have it all.  You can make the music you love, find an audience, and make a living off it at the same time.

Making a living doing something you love---it's the ONLY way to live.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My friend Jason Pottorff (a.k.a. Jazzyspoon) and I have put together a musical collaboration worth listening to.  This is the first track.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

My business oriented blogs are moving

As an independent software developer who does much of his work using web technology, I thought it fitting to build my own site.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Goodbye Programming Books

As a life simplification step, I'm discarding several programming books that have been collecting dust on my self for years now.  I read them all, and some were even relevant to my work for awhile.  Here is a nod to each book...

Applying C++

It's a text book on C++ plain and simple.  It's not even one I used personally.  I believe a friend gave it to me when he gave up on the idea of learning to code.

Why you might want it:

You want to learn C++ and you enjoy the tactile sensation of real pages.

3D Game Programming with C++

I bought this one way back in the 90s when I first started coding in C++.  Naturally it's more fun to dream about building games than business software, and this book gives a good overview of the latest technology and techniques available in 1997.

Why you might want it:

Modern game engines now abstract away many of the gory details of game programming, leaving modern coders working at a much higher level.  But this is a great reference for the game programmer who wants to go a bit deeper.  Or who wants to build the next Wolfenstein 3D.

CGI Programming in C and Perl

My first web programming book.  Because it covers standard technologies that are still supported, like the HTTP protocol and HTML, it's not totally irrelevant.

Why you might want it:

Fun trip in the wayback machine.  Also you might learn some details that are not often addressed by higher level web frameworks.   (This book is probably more instructive than, say, the Programming Java Servlets book below.) Or maybe you need to support a really, really old website running off CGI scripts.

System Analysis and Design Methods

A detailed look at modeling techniques that were popular during the 90s.  I haven't cracked it in years but I seem to recall a focus on CASE tools.  In my real-world experience, CASE tools were never used, except for Rational Rose which was lightly used during my tenure with Visional Corporation.  I suspect these tools were popular with managers who then gave up on them once they realized that providing all of the detail required to make the tools generate software was more work than just writing the software.

Why you might want it:

You want to understand the mindset of 1990's technical managers. 

Eclipse Rich Client Platform

Do you have the desire to customize or productize Eclipse for your own purposes?  This book gives the lowdown.  

Eclipse has had a relatively long shelf-life.  I used it for Java development back at Visionael and at Vetsource, and still use variants for RoR and Django debugging.  

Eclipse has been the foundation of the ADT (Android Developer Plugin) for years.  The ADT is a good example of the kind of plugin programming this book addresses and I would not be surprised if the Google developers who built the ADT read this very book.  

It should be noted that Google is no longer actively developing ADT, and is moving toward Android Studio built on IntelliJ, yet another JAVA IDE.  

Open Source ESBs in Action

All of the JAVA-based service bus implementations I worked with were bloaded, configuration-heavy headaches.  But the promise of a Service Bus is compelling to many managers, and they remain in service today at many enterprise companies.  I'm personally not a fan as I prefer lean, best-technology-for-the-job integrations over cross-platform try-to-be-everything-to-everybody ones.

Developing Java Servlets

This is one of the two ways we developed web content with JAVA way back when, the other being those ASP wannabes, JSPs.

I liked this simplicity of the Servlet abstraction.  Let's model a web request as just that, a request.  Let's process the input arguments and then output a response.  Very straight forward.  Java Servlets didn't exactly go away, as they are still buried at the bottom of the JAVA web stack.  Peel back enough layers of code and you will likely find a servlet if you are running a JAVA based web server or service.

I'm guessing though, as I haven't done a deep dive into a JAVA stack for at least five years now.  (Well, there was that integration with VISA, yes, the credit card company.  Talk about a challenging many layers of security, so secretive about the function of their APIs.)

Programming Amazon Web Services

O'Reily books are fantastic and most will stay on my shelf.  But the information in this book is better found on the web.  It's grown pretty far out of date too.

Programming Flex 2

Even though a beloved O'Reiley book, this Flex 2 reference needs to be burned along with everything else related to Flex 2.  I still get job offers because I have experience building apps with Flex 2.  Never again.  Not for any amount of money.  (Hmm...I will for one billion dollars.)

Web 2.0 Heroes

The title has "Web 2.0" in it.  Enough said.  

Actually these are great little stories about some startups you know and some which have already been forgotten.  It was a good read.

Managing Raid on Linux

With the advent of "the cloud" I have been able to free up any synapses utilized for storing information about Raid.  No more striping.  No more thinking about which level gives me the best speed and redundancy.  I'm letting Amazon handle it from now on.

Programming in Python

This book weighs 48 lbs.  Or at least it seems to.  I love Python but haven't cracked this reference in years.  The information is all online anymore.  No need to carry around a 48 lb trophy.   

ModSecurity 2.5

A book dedicated to an Apache security module.  I may never know the luxury of working for a company where my one and only job description is "secure the Apache webserver".  This book was theoretically relevant when I worked for a prepaid debit card processing company.  Probably an interesting read though if you use Apache and want to research security techniques.

Google Web Toolkit

I love Google.  I have loved them for a long time.  However, not everything they invent is awesome.  The GWT created object-oriented libraries that wrap standard web protocols and languages.  I always found it easier to work directly with the web protocols and languages than to get wrapped up so deep in a framework that you are writing at least as much code as you would using the standards based code.  Plus, I never write web content using JAVA, which I believe was the main point of building this library.

For the record, JAVA is the absolute worst choice for writing web applications.  (Who me?  Opinionated?)

UML Distilled Third Edition

During my nine and a half years at Visional, there was much talk about modeling languages.  There was much experimentation with modeling languages.   I mentioned Rational Rose above.  There was this dream that we would be able to create models that described software, and then those models would compile down to actual code.  The reality was that the level of effort to actually accomplish this using a tool like Rational Rose was prohibitively expensive.

For those who don't know, the leading modeling languages of the day were unified to create the one true modeling language, UML.  It was thought (at Visionael) that UML would help state-side technical managers communicate detailed requirements to offshore developers more efficiently.   But in my experience, the offshore developers were struggling to keep up with the programming languages, the cultural differences between our countries,  communication styles etc. and the last thing on their mind was learning UML.  So in fact, I'm sad to say that my substantial investment into learning the ins-and-outs of all of the UML modeling techniques were wasted, as I've never once worked with another developer who wanted to communicate ideas this way.

Well, not wasted per se, as any thinking spent on software engineering helped make me a more well rounded developer.  One figures.

I'm down to the last four and needing to wrap this up, so here comes the short versions.


For a minute there I thought that getting my RHCE would be a nice feather in my hat.  But before getting through the process I determined that I'd rather focus on Debian.  Then Ubuntu.  And why did I need a certification anyway?  Story of my life.

Spring In Action

ESBs and JAVA configuration frameworks were in vogue when I worked at Vetsource.  I think I already mentioned that I didn't love them.  (Can we get back to programming already?)

JBoss at Work

JBoss at Work?  I'd rather not.  Regal eagle or no.  As mentioned, I grew fatigued with JAVA frameworks during this era.  In fact I did a pivot soon after completing this book, started working with Django, and have been using Python or Ruby to build web systems ever since.

Success with C++

It's a primer from a class I took at TCC.  I actually quite liked this book, or maybe it was just the C++ language that I liked so much.  I'm still nostalgic for C++ programming.  I still occasionally contribute C++ code to open-source projects to scratch that itch.

So where did the books end up?  I donated them at the local Goodwill drop station.  So if you see anything you want, and if you live in the Tulsa area, you might be able to find them at a local Goodwill store!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Staying Stronger

How do you stay strong?

When you mind is full of memories and you want a do over.
When your body gives way to time.
When someone you love is sick and growing sicker?

How do you believe?

When your faith is tested and is graded an F?
When your hero is revealed to be a sham.
When you've been lied to.

How do you keep moving forward?

When you don't want to know what's around the corner.

You might medicate.
But you won't feel better when the medicine wears off.
You'll be the same, feel the same, struggle the same---except with more lines around your eyes.

You might follow a guru.
And if she's magical, give her my number.
But she's probably not.

You might turn it over to God.
But what does that really mean in pragmatic terms?
That you believe that something you can't see, feel or touch
in a context provided by gurus, chieftains and ancient texts?

If it works for you, this might be a good solution.
For me it's just an infinite series of unanswerable questions.

Death.  There I said it.

Can you face it?

I want to turn and see it, but not embrace it.
I want to be strong.
I want to be able to cope when my parents are dying.
Or God forbid---my children are dying.
I want to feel good as my body is aging.
I want fewer regrets.

So I'm going to write about it.
I'm going to work out even though I don't want to.
I'm going to try to only eat what really nourishes me.
I'm going to keep my mind as sharp as it can be sharpened.

I'm going to muster faith---as much as my heart will tolerate.
I'm going to simplify.
I'm not going to be a Democrat or a Republican or a Liberal or a Conservative or any other stupid label.
Life is too short for that crap.

Damnit, I'm going to be strong.
And I'm not going to be selfish.
And---by God--- I'm never going to eat shellfish.