Welcome To The Maker-Industrial Revolution: “To the executives at GE, Cprek’s hack came as a wakeup call. The idea for a bar-code-scanning oven had come up in internal ideas sessions before, and they knew it had great potential. In retirement communities or urban food deserts, such an appliance could help people eat healthier meals without requiring much time or expertise. And yet, the concept had never left the brainstorm stage at GE. That’s because, for giant manufacturing companies, putting something into a production run is a giant gamble. Navigating the obstacle course of requisite departments (R&D, design, prototyping, market research, manufacturing) can take years, and tooling a factory line can cost tens of millions of dollars. That the executives were now staring at a working prototype of an idea they already liked—and it hadn’t come from them—made them wonder how much innovation they were letting slide by. Why couldn’t they build a more nimble product-development pipeline? For that matter, why couldn’t smart hackers like Cprek have an ongoing role?”
January 26, 2015
January 4, 2015
One of the great things about doing props for me (one of my main reasons, really), is to help the students, particularly the girls, feel more comfortable around tools. So many of them have never held a hammer (really), cut a piece of wood, or built anything in the “real” world. Over and over again I hear from them that one of their top five memories from the whole process is helping a pile of lumber become a bunch of props that they can be proud of. I do much of the cutting (and all of the cutting with the table and miter saw), but they handle most of the nail gun work, drilling/screws, jig sawing, and other medium duty stuff. They do probably 70% of the work with me managing, advising, and “big picturing”. If there’s a problem I toss it over to them and help them solve it. It’s important to me that they don’t stand around and “watch Jason build” because they’ll be invested in their props if they’ve got their own skin in the game (hopefully not literally). Since so much of college takes place in the cerebral realm I feel strongly that it’s a way that I can hopefully help them feel like they can do something physical/tangible.
(Funny sidenote: several years ago a pair of Sing chairs came down for props. One of the chairs was so blown away by the idea of building stuff that she called me a few weeks later to tell me that she’d been to Lowes to buy some tools! Then a few days later she called me again for advice on a present that she was building. She didn’t have a router — the tool that could make the cut she needed— so I came up to Waco and helped her finish the project in time for her roommate’s 21st birthday. The present? A beautifully made… beer pong table. Gotta love college).
Anyway, a group was down this weekend to build props. They did a fantastic job, transitioning in the typical way from “I’m afraid of that tool and don’t want to touch it!” all the way to fighting over who got to use it. I was really proud of them. We had a great time, worked fast, stayed safe, and I felt like I was able to give them a memory and maybe some skills that could help them feel more confident in the future. Man, I love this part.
However (dangit, there’s a however), today one of the girls’ dads drove down in his pickup truck to cart the props back to Waco. We had a few minor things to finish up – a few boards to glue/nail and some casters to apply. No big deal, and certainly nothing compared to what we’d done the past few days. About 45 minutes’ worth of work, tops. Anticipating that the chair would be proud of her new-found skills, I gave the tools to her and walked her through the procedure just like I’d done over our build time. I thought her dad would be proud of seeing her handle a pneumatic stapler, drill, driver, etc. At first she jumped right in there, proudly saying “look what I learned yesterday!” I was beaming, and so was she. But at the first little hiccup/problem, instead of stepping back and letting her puzzle through it (I think the stapler just needed new staples), her dad stepped in and took over. Completely. You know, because “I’d do anything for my little girl”. You mean like take her very minor but potentially significant milestone away from her? I kept wondering if he’d have taken over the tools if it was his son, you know? At first she sort of fought it but then reverted back to helpless-daughter-leaning-on-daddy mode. It made me really sad.
My biggest goal in props is to help these kids (gahhh… I called them kids!) gain experience and confidence with tools in the same way that being a Chair helps them gain experience and confidence with budgets, peers, scheduling, etc. I just hope that the other parents are willing and able to let their kids stand on their own, even if it means holding their tongue (and their help) when their kid has a problem. Overcoming these issues can be much more helpful to their child than just grabbing the nailgun and taking over.. because you’d do anything for your little girl.
Got news, dad, your little girl isn’t so little any more.
December 14, 2014
Ha ha! I get to buy a new tool. A drawknife. I need it for a cool prop build and nothing else will do the job.
I love it when that happens.
November 14, 2014
Okay, listen up, performers in all venues. Sing, Theater, public speaking. Anybody with an audience, really. This is a bit long but it communicates something I’ve always wanted to say. If you don’t have an “audience” then you can skip this. But in one way or another most of us do. I think this can help.
When I talk about the level of planning and execution that it takes to work at a really high level, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Take four minutes and watch this amazing performance (h/t Matt for the link). Pay attention to his execution, misdirection (watch what he wants you to watch, then rewind and watch what he _doesn’t_ want you to watch). Then keep reading.
This performance represents hours and hours and hours of patient, slow, methodical practice. Every movement is thought out and carefully crafted. What you’re seeing looks spontaneous and natural, but every twitch, gesture, and facial expression is being executed purely on muscle memory. He’s probably done this sequence of actions five thousand times. And no, that’s likely not an exaggeration.
THIS is the kind of thing I always have in mind while planning a show. You have to think on several levels. What levels? I’m glad you asked:
1. Emotional/Entertainment (highest level): what is your purpose? Not just moment-to-moment, but overall. What do you want to leave the audience with? A feeling of awe? Of sadness? Of quiet reflection? Of anger? Of joy? Each of these is a legitimate goal depending on your purpose. But you will never be able to communicate what you’re trying to say unless you _define_ what you’re trying to say. And saying “we want it to be good/awesome/amazing” isn’t enough. You have to define exactly where the target is or you’ll never know if you hit it. There’s a difference between the emotion you feel during the last scene of Schindler’s List (Liam Neeson standing by Schindler’s grave) and the final image of Monster’s Inc (“Kitty!”). But you can be sure that each of those moments was chosen as a goal. An end-state. And the emotion that you felt as an audience member was carefully crafted and manipulated within you so that when that moment came you were able to experience it clearly. “Manipulated” in this case isn’t a bad thing. There’s an implicit agreement among creators and audience members that this sort of manipulation is okay. I like getting emotional at movies. It’s okay if I’m in on it. Often it’s so easy to lose sight of your target because you get lost in the details. Keeping your goal in mind is always, always, always the #1 thing.
2. Structural: this is the second level of execution. What are the structural elements required to reach your emotional end-state goal? Why is doing that movement or gesture or motion better than that one? This kind of knowledge and understanding comes with experience. With seeing a lot of things that don’t work and then trying something else and something else and something else until you figure out what does and then putting that thing that does work in your bag of tools to use later. With enough time, your bag of tools gets big enough that you can start to see commonalities when presented with a problem to solve. Even better, you start to see connections between things that you never thought existed and can reach into your experience and solve a problem in a unique way. Your bag of tools will look different from mine and that’s okay. This is called personal style, and is a reflection of the particular experience we’ve each been through. However, the accumulation of these tools represents a common language that we all speak, even if we’re not aware of it. Being cognizant of the tools turns you from emotional consumer into experience creator. In our culture that’s a powerful place to be.
So the structural level supports the emotional/entertainment goals (everything supports the emotional/entertainment goals). Just doing the song/move/moment/whatever in a vacuum may be cool, but you have to attach it to an overall scaffolding of elements that builds to a goal in order for the moments to be meaningful. This, in my experience, is where most people lose sight of the bigger picture when putting together a project. They often think that just putting flashy stuff in will be enough. But you need the meatier elements to be present so that the entire thing has substance. In the case of my own work, placing the cool Sing move at a certain point can be neat and make the audience yell, but putting it in a specific spot for the right reason, with the right timing, can absolutely drive the moment home. Having an amazing opening stage image relate to a relevant and focussed closing stage image (even if it’s a “YEAH!” jazz-hands moment) shows craftsmanship and forethought. It looks polished and professional.
In whatever you do, always think about each structural element and how it contributes to the larger picture. Flying buttresses are an important innovation, but people travel to Notre Dame cathedral to see the gorgeous Rose window.
Yet the window could not exist without the supports.
3. Physical (lowest level): Finally there is the physical level. Also known as “ya gotta have the moves”. Once levels 1 and 2 are nailed down, level 3 thinking means doing like this guy in the video and practicing, practicing, practicing. Every movement and gesture. Polishing until they’re all perfect, lead naturally into each other, and contribute together to build a structure that supports the overall emotion. If you don’t execute this level then the whole thing can either look amateurish or come crashing down. So get this part right. Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong. And communicate this ethos to your participants. They need to know that the goal isn’t just good execution of the physical level, but good execution of the physical level in order to support the structural and emotional levels.
An audience’s time is one of the most precious things a performer can ask for. When 2000 people trust you with four hours of their time you become responsible for almost a year of irreplaceable human experience. Treat that sacrifice with planning, respect, humility, and (above all) practice and they’ll return your investment with attention and appreciation.
And somewhere, in all of that, everybody can be changed.
October 26, 2014
Capitalism’s Suffocating Music – NYTimes.com: “While recording devices have liberated many of us from commercials on television, the rest of our lives are awash in ads. They’re now nestled among the trailers at movies. They flicker on the screens in taxis.
They’re woven so thoroughly into sporting events, from Nascar races to basketball games, that it’s hard to imagine an era when they weren’t omnipresent. But in a story earlier this year on the website Consumerist, Chris Moran reported that 20 years ago, only one of the major-league baseball stadiums had a corporate moniker, Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
In contrast, 20 of the 30 stadiums now have sponsors.”
h/t Denise and Dana for the link.
October 3, 2014
“Always the entrepreneur at the centre of attention offers some pearls of wisdom for those that aspire to be successful in their own business. A few words of advice, sometimes a few words of caution. What to do, what not to do.
The overall message for me is that, over the course of time they each overcame substantial challenges, yet they fought on, hung on and eventually came through.
I thought I’d reproduce some of those words of advice here. They have often helped me. They might help you too.”
Good quotes at the link.
Will Smith: “My father was in the military, so everything was really regimented.”
RD: Was he a taskmaster?
Smith: “Oh, yeah, he was very serious about things being a certain way. When my father got out of the Air Force, he started his own refrigeration business. I might have been 12 and my brother 9 when one day he decided he wanted a new front wall at his shop. He tore the old one down — it was probably 16 feet high and 40 feet long. And he told us that this was going to be our gig over the summer. We were standing there thinking, There will never, ever, be a wall here again.
We went brick by brick for the entire summer and into winter and then back into spring. One day there was a wall there again. I know my dad had been planning this for a long time. He said, ‘Now, don’t you all ever tell me there’s something you can’t do.’ And he walked into the shop. The thing I connect to is: I do not have to build a perfect wall today.
I just have to lay a perfect brick. Just lay one brick, dude.”
I had a situation many years ago when I got myself in way deeper waters than I thought I could handle. I ended up making a suggestion that was at the very edge of my capabilities and the client said “we’d love that!”. Uh oh, I thought.
So I was stuck staring down the barrel of a quick deadline and a seemingly impossible task. Over the next few weeks I plowed through, sometimes spending hours trying to wrestle a few inches of progress. But a funny thing happened. I realized that the real job I was tackling wasn’t the whole big giant monster, it was just that single brick. That one element. Just one- one – note was all I needed to find. If I kept my eyes off of the whole job and didn’t let it scare me, the tiny bites I was capable of handling didn’t seem too impossible.
And over time I chipped and sanded and filed and slowly hammered away at it until one day I looked up and… I was done. I had done it.
That experience was something of a milestone for me professionally. Ever since then I’ve had a rock-solid internal conviction that I could do anything I was asked. And from that point on nothing has scared me or shaken my confidence. Because if I can do that, well, this next thing isn’t scary at all.
September 24, 2014
“But the clinching argument came from my daughter’s impassioned defense of camp counselors, and her outrage that someone glancing at résumés would believe that a 20-year-old who fetches coffee at Google is more impressive than one who spends days and nights nurturing, teaching, organizing, comforting and inspiring…
“What I do there matters.”
September 2, 2014
A response to some work that was going to be referred to me.
No offense, and a sincere thanks for thinking of me, but my experience with most people is that they’re not willing to pay hourly rate plus materials that most accomplished woodworkers (with money invested in equipment) need to charge to make a living (hence why I’m not making a living woodworking!).
Most peoples’ expectations of price for custom woodworking comes from the fact that they can go to the furniture store and pick up, say, an entertainment center for around a grand-and-a-half for a decent one. However, “decent” means that it’s cheap particle board with a nice looking laminate on top (which means its value is only skin deep). If they’re lucky it’ll last a decade or until the first major move. But, hey, appearances are what most people go on.
Meanwhile I spent 9 months and 200 hours building our solid quartersawn red oak entertainment center with ebony inlays and custom stained glass. The materials alone (unfinished, unplaned, pretty much just a hunk of tree) cost me almost twice what a Fry’s entertainment center would cost. And that’s before hardware like hand-hammered brass latches and handles. Several coats of hand-rubbed, custom tinted coloration and shellac, hand cut glass, etc. It’s an heirloom piece that will be around for at least a century or two as long as it’s not mistreated.
When I asked the employee at the woodworking store what he’d consider a good price for the piece (and thinking he might say $4,000-$5000), he responded by saying that something like this would probably go for the mid-teens. As in around $15,000. I’m really proud of that.
So yeah, most people probably don’t want to pay for that sort of workmanship.
I’ve had a few people who understand hand work and heirloom quality contact me and I’ve done pieces for them. They’ve been thrilled. But then again they’re the kind of people who have an “art budget”.
Renovations and around-the-house kind of stuff is still charged at plumbers rates. In my experience, though, most folks are looking for someone who would be willing to charge minimum wage and also include the materials in that. It’s depressing.
And also the reason that most custom woodworking shops either cater to the wealthy socio-economic market (who understand the value of super high quality) or go out of business. You’ll rarely meet a woodworker competing downmarket who is happy with their situation.
August 14, 2014
Peregrine Andrews on the Sound of Sport: What is Real?: “Dennis started out recording music and for a time owned a studio. But, as he told me, it wasn’t an easy living. So when ESPN, the American TV sports network, started up in the 1980s, he found a new profession – as a sound supervisor for TV sport. He tried to apply the same standards, and some of the same methods, that he was used to in the recording studio, to the task of capturing sounds from the football pitch or basketballl arena. And when he took on the Olympics job in 1992, he brought in the use of a lot more close-miking, a technique borrowed from music recording, where many microphones are used, each placed close to a sound source. In archery, for example, this means putting a microphone right next to the archer for the launch sound and another right near the target for the hit. The whole picture is built by mixing these signals together in appropriate amounts. It allows for far greater definition and control than, say, a single distant microphone high above the action. But more microphones means more circuits to get the signals back, and more inputs on the mixer. But the introduction of digital pathways around events and digital mixing consoles mean that this isn’t the headache it was in the analogue past.”
Great article and short podcast
July 9, 2014
The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.
I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.
The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.
Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!
The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.
This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.
The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.
As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.
But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.
We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.”
July 8, 2014
“You can put just about anything in front of them and the players will make sense of it. You can over- or under-notate, go out of range or forget that people need to breathe and nothing bad will happen. Like magic, it gets sorted out. This is both good and bad. Good in that the players make it work, but bad in that unless you ask, the best players will not tell you what they have done to make it work. You will never know that they divided that double stop, split a line up between two people, or did not need to be told to ‘breathe when needed’ on a whole page of unbroken quavers (there is really no choice). It is not their job to school us; they play and take pride in making it work. In order to learn what’s going on, you have to be proactive and ask your players. It is very easy to go through life doing redundant or incorrect things and never realizing the fact.”
Great website full of notation philosophy, tricks, and general discussion.
July 7, 2014
In 2009 I bought my Tacoma through Toyota of Round Rock. For various reasons, it had to be this dealership (long story). It was an excruciating experience filled with all of the typical sleazy-car-dealer horror stories. “I’ve got to talk to my manager”, “what about my five kids”, “That price I promised you this morning isn’t the price any more”, “you have to have the undercoating”. You get the picture.
Erin has been needing a car for a while now and the time finally came. With great reluctance we stopped by First Texas Honda in Austin and talked to a salesman there. Not only are they a non-haggle place, but the TrueCar price we got through USAA was almost $1250 less than the similar “no haggle” price through Toyota of Round Rock. The sales guy (Greg, a ’91 Baylor grad who turned out to be the guy who mistook my apartment for his friend Steve’s place way back in 1989) spent probably five hours with us meticulously going through the entire process. Researching the car. Answering question. Multiple test drives. He seemed like he was having a blast not “selling” the car but really helping us find what was right for us. He even kept suggesting a less expensive Civic as opposed to the Accord Erin wanted since it might work better. What salesman does that? When we finally presented the USAA TrueCar price, which was $750 cheaper than even their “no-haggle” price, he met it without complaint.
After signing the papers today Greg and I had a long talk about how car dealerships and salespeople have largely earned the horrible reputation that they have, and he’s glad to see things changing, even if that means some of the bad dealers will close. Couldn’t agree more. What a night and day experience.
So just now the phone rang and it said “Toyota of Round Rock”. With a huuuge smile I answered it and talked to the salesman (who had been given our contact info as a result of the TrueCar contact info we filled out). Can I help you with anything? Why yes, yes you can. It really made my day to tell him “No offense, and I’m sure you weren’t even there in 2009, but that experience was so horrible that not only will I never return to Toyota of Round Rock, but I’ll make sure everybody I know hears about it as well. Oh, and your TrueCar no-haggle price? $1250 more than First Texas Honda. I wouldn’t come back to you if you paid me to. So no offense, and I’m not upset with you, but you need to tell your management that, if my experience is anything like the norm, you guys have some major reputation repair to do.” He thanked me and the call ended. It just made my day.
So we bought the car! Signed the papers and we’ll finalize everything on Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s a pic:
If you’re in the market for a new car, go talk to Greg Ryan at First Texas Honda.
May 29, 2014
An alternative view.
Should You Follow Your Passion? Points and Figures: “My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over 30 years, said that the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.”
May 3, 2014
Outbox vs. USPS: How the Post Office Killed Digital Mail: “‘You disrupt my service and we will never work with you.’’ Further, ‘‘You mentioned making the service better for our customers; but the American citizens aren’t our customers—about 400 junk mailers are our customers. Your service hurts our ability to serve those customers.’’
According to Evan, the Chief of Digital Strategy’s comments were even more stark, ‘[Your market model] will never work anyway. Digital is a fad. It will only work in Europe.’
Evan and Will would later call the meeting one of the most ‘surreal moments of their lives.’”
Read the whole thing.
April 21, 2014
April 3, 2014
The Amen beat and its repercussions for copyright. A really interesting 18:00 piece if you have time for it.
March 13, 2014
February 25, 2014
January 24, 2014
When I was in college I got a job as a photographer to save up the $2500 to buy the computer on the left. A few years ago I plunked down a little less than that to buy the one on the right. How very far we’ve come.