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.
January 13, 2014
January 10, 2014
“We tend to talk of entrepreneurship and business growth as if it were a matter of tweaking a few simple policy buttons: lowering taxes, making health insurance cheaper, hamstringing the EPA. Unsurprisingly, these issues map well onto big national policy battles. And yet, when I talk to small-business owners, I’m more likely to get an earful about their state’s workers’ compensation scheme or the local utility’s pricing schedule than I am about the federal tax rate. Yet almost none of the policy journalists I know could even describe in detail how workers’ compensation insurance works, much less articulate a coherent policy agenda for it.
Then there are the sort of soft institutional issues that Meyer highlights, such as whether the local legal system encourages frivolous lawsuits, or some arcane regulatory issue that’s specific to businesses. These things matter a lot, but they’re hard to measure and even harder to fix.
There are a few lessons in this: If you want to encourage entrepreneurship, talk to business owners, not policy wonks. And you often need to think local, not global.”
There are a few big and obvious hurdles to starting a business that people generally are aware of when they embark on entrepreneurialism. It’s part of the cost of starting up. Advertising, permitting, federal taxes, etc, are the sorts of things that you would expect to have to do in a civil society, and we’re all the better for that sort of organization. But the one thing that surprises most people is the sheer amount of tiny, arcane things that you have to put up with if you’re going to be self employed. The quarterly Texas sales tax form is like doing a mini tax return every three months (oh joy) and you must fill one out even if you had no sales at all. This takes time that the small businessperson would much rather be devoting to the business. To add to the insult, you need to get permission from the state to go into business, as well as get their permission to go out of business. If you don’t? It’s a fine. For not being in business. Madness. What started as a possibly justifiable procedure on some bureaucratic level has morphed into a ridiculously silly hidden rule that makes the entire exercise exasperating and frustrating.
It’s these sorts of things that small government folks are often referring to when they complain that the government has gotten too intrusive. It’s also not a coincidence that businesspeople tend to favor the small government philosophy. No, we’re not against schools. Or roads. Or fire departments. Or any of the other commonly-referenced examples whenever this discussion arises. We are, however, against the kudzu-like growth of the Regulatory Code Enforcement Management Compliance Office Subdepartments that just get in the way.
Surely there’s some middle ground here? Some way to clear the growth from the road? It’s getting hard to be in business out here, and, more and more, it’s confusing government regulations that are choking the path.
December 28, 2013
Your Camera Doesn’t Matter: “When it comes to the arts, be it music, photography, surfing or anything, there is a mountain to be overcome. What happens is that for the first 20 years or so that you study any art you just know that if you had a better instrument, camera or surfboard that you would be just as good as the pros. You waste a lot of time worrying about your equipment and trying to afford better. After that first 20 years you finally get as good as all the other world-renowned artists, and one day when someone comes up to you asking for advice you have an epiphany where you realize that it’s never been the equipment at all.
You finally realize that the right gear you’ve spent so much time accumulating just makes it easier to get your sound or your look or your moves, but that you could get them, albeit with a little more effort, on the same garbage with which you started. You realize the most important thing for the gear to do is just get out of your way. You then also realize that if you had spent all the time you wasted worrying about acquiring better gear woodshedding, making photos or catching more rides that you would have gotten where you wanted to be much sooner.”
Ha! This nails it. I can relate to just about every one of these.
December 15, 2013
“So I ask you, ‘How are you willing to suffer?’
Because you have to choose something. You can’t have a pain-free life. It can’t all be roses and unicorns.
Choose how you are willing to suffer.
Because that’s the hard question that matters. Pleasure is an easy question. And pretty much all of us have the same answer.
The more interesting question is the pain. What is the pain that you want to sustain?
Because that answer will actually get you somewhere. It’s the question that can change your life.”
“To my regret, I am, as my family and friends will testify, neither nice nor sweet. And I have certainly delivered my share of scathing takedowns and over-the-top denunciations. But I’m not particularly proud of it, and as I backpack into middle age, I’ve been trying to cut down on the snark, along with late nights, red wine and almost everything else I enjoyed in my 30s.
If not because I am nice, then why? Out of pity for my victims? Oh, sure, that’s a factor. When I used to write mean reviews of people’s books, I thought of them as big, powerful people who deserved to have their work torn down. Then I started running into those people, and to my shock, they had read — and remembered — even reviews I’d written for obscure outlets. They were people who had spent years of their lives working on something — something they thought was really important — and I had spent perhaps two or three hours composing a sarcasm-filled denunciation. They were hurt, just like I’d be. This is both sobering and socially awkward.
But that’s not actually the main reason I avoid it. The main reason I avoid the joys of snarky takedowns is that it’s not very good for you. Snark is immense, immense fun; the only thing more enjoyable than chortling to yourself over a particularly well-turned insult is having your friends and acquaintances e-mail to tell you how awesome it was. But if you’re basically pretty good at snotty putdowns — and most bloggers have at least an apprentice-level facility with this art — it’s almost too much fun. It’s too easy. It’s the writing equivalent of skiing the bunny slope.
I have written some epic snark, and I have written a book, and let me just tell you, there is no comparison. Books are hard. Reported features are hard. Sarcasm and outrage are easy, which is why they tend to peak in adolescence, unlike, say, mastery of nuclear physics.”
What I do for a living is help guide young students, most of whom have never had any experience, through the difficult process of managing a giant, months-long project from conception to completion. At the end it is put before 12,000+ ticket-buying people for public consumption. While the applause is always loud and enthusiastic (the audience is, after all, made of of many supportive competitors who are also in the show), I’ve lost track of the number of people who think that buying a ticket to the show gives them license to publicly tear down the creators. Mind you, this isn’t the sort of constructive criticism that enables the performers/creators to improve the following year. It usually takes the form of witty, snarky, and even cruel evaluations of everything from how good someone looks in their costume (which is particularly mean if a performer doesn’t fit body norms) to just how well the particular group is liked. The really bad critics seem like they’ve never left high school.
Criticism has a place– but that place must be earned. I have a fortune cookie scrap I carry around with me nearly everywhere I go. It says “If your criticism isn’t true your praise means nothing.” Wisdom! It is very hard to create an atmosphere of safety where you can venture the truly stupid ideas (99% of which never work, but oh that 1%!) without feeling like an idiot. But creating that atmosphere, and creating within that atmosphere, is a rare and rewarding thing. I like to think that the people I work with get to create within this environment. It’s healthy, creative, and fun. It is gratifying to know that once they’ve run that sort of creativity gauntlet they will likely never criticize unthinkingly or cruelly again. Most people, like the writer of the article I linked to, start to see the subject of their criticism as a person, not just an opportunity to build themselves up.
Knowing that the Snarky Ones are out there just waiting to take their potshots and build themselves up at the expense of those who actually did the work is frustrating and disheartening. But teaching others to overcome those kinds of unthinking and immature critics is to know that you’re helping to train healthy and successful people- regardless of what they go on to create.
I have very, very little patience for snark. It’s cheap. It’s mean. And it betrays a shallow person who would rather tear other people, and their creations, down into smoking rubble than take the effort and risk of building something themselves. Those that have grown past this stage are the ones who go on to create worlds.
December 13, 2013
“ACMS Gift Boutique Still looking for that perfect stocking stuffer? Or maybe a special way to commemorate that perfect performance? Stop by our brand new gift boutique and see what magic catches your eye! Handmade by a local Austin artist specifically for the Armstrong Community Music School, these items feature genuine Czech crystal, laser engravings, and birch wood. All proceeds benefit ACMS programs.”
Erin and I have been working on these items for her work for a couple of months and are proud to finally introduce them! They’ve been a big hit at her school.
December 1, 2013
Kim Strassel: Piano Sonata in FTC Minor – WSJ.com: “With a dozen employees and a $2 million budget, the group doesn’t have ‘the resources to fight the federal government,’ Mr. Ingle says. The board immediately removed the provision from its code, but the MTNA staff still had to devote months compiling thousands of documents demanded by the agency, some going back 20 years: reports, the organization’s magazines, everything Mr. Ingle had ever written that touched on the code. Mr. Ingle estimates he has spent ‘hundreds upon hundreds’ of hours since March complying with this federal colonoscopy…..
While this abuse of power has received no national attention, it has riled the music community. Brian Majeski, the editor of the journal Music Trades, lambasted the FTC in a December editorial, noting that “a consumer watchdog that sees piano teachers as a threat either has too much time on its hands, or badly misplaced priorities.” “
read the whole thing
November 29, 2013
I am proud to announce that after a ton of work, my wonderful wife has finally opened her Etsy Shop. So if you’re of a mind to support and Austin artist and maybe get some silver jewelry as a Christmas gift (for someone else or for yourself!), please consider dropping by her Etsy shop. She does great work! She currently has 40 designs up on the shop. She’ll be adding and subtracting things continuously.
Oh, and by the way, most of these are one-of-a-kind, so if you see something you like, grab it quick!
Proud of her and all her hard work.
November 25, 2013
After a few months of planning and plotting, I’m happy to announce that we just received our first official order of stock for Erin’s Peatfire Jewelry business. The Armstrong Community Music School is purchasing some products to stock their new boutique. We have keychains, necklaces, ornaments, and various other branded items. All made at TechShop! We’ve also designed and built the displays (which both we and they are thrilled with). Got the sales tax ID info all set up with the state.
We’ll deliver the stock this saturday and set up the five displays then. It’s been a lot of extra behind-the-scenes work. Glad it see it finally paying off!
Here’s a sampling of the items, and some of these weren’t finished or sanded yet– these are just the pics that I had handy:
November 22, 2013
In The Heat Of The Foundry, Steinway Piano ‘Hearts’ Are Made : NPR: “Hensley and Houseman guide the ladle, suspended from a system of overhead beams, out to the foundry floor, where the plate molds are lined up. The molds are made of chemically treated sand, which hardens quickly around a form that is then removed, leaving a hollow space inside. The ladle hovers over each mold in turn and tilts. A stream appears and descends into a hole left in the sand. The iron is more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and incandescent, a luminous yellow-orange.”
November 15, 2013
My old Samsung ML1710 printer has been getting creaky lately. Leaving white streaks on the page and generally being cranky. I’ve used it since 2004 and it’s printed almost 30,000 pages. It was a $69 B&W printer I mainly use for printing sheet music and general printing. At $45 for a toner cartridge I’d say it was a good deal. I have a big, expensive HP color laserjet multifunction printer with scanner, fax, etc that outputs staggering quality but the color cartridges are very expensive so I try to reserve that for color business impress-the-client sorts of printing. That sucker was over $600 and worth every penny but it’s a bit expensive to feed. Hence the secondary “everyday” monochrome laser.
Since time and tech march on and instead of having the printer place troubleshoot it for $40, I went to Office Max tonight looking for a replacement (I’d checked Amazon but they didn’t have any good deals. Office Max will occasionally have great deals on all kinds of stuff. We got a phone set, our flat panel TV, and a few other things there. Always good to at least check, right?
Jackpot! I’d been looking at the Samsung ML2955ND on Amazon ($140) but decided I didn’t want to spend that much. O.M. had the exact same printer on the closeout section. No cable (no big deal since my old Samsung has the same cable) and it was the floor model. One very minor scuff mark that rubbed right off. Otherwise cosmetically perfect. I plugged it in and hit the self-test mode. Not only did it show 100% full toner but when it printed the demo page the pagecount said… three. Yup, a brand new model. It had only printed two pages before I came along.
Oh, and the price? Well, retail is $149. Amazon has it for $139. Office Max had this model marked down to $60. They felt bad that it didn’t have a power cord so they gave me another $10 off. Fifty bucks! For a fantastic little monochrome laser printer that should last another decade and thirty thousand pages. Inveterate deal-hound Patrick will be proud.
November 12, 2013
Doing research this morning on taxes for Erin’s new business and I came across this:
Who’d have known? This is really going to put a damper on members of Congress when they fill out their income tax return.
November 11, 2013
Amazon to deliver on Sundays using Postal Service fleet – The Washington Post: “Amazon announced Monday that it will begin Sunday deliveries using the government agency’s fleet of foot soldiers, office workers and truck drivers to bring packages to homes seven days a week.
To accommodate the online retailing giant, the Postal Service said it will for the first time deliver packages at regular rates on Sundays. Previously, a shipper had to use its pricey Express Mail service and pay an extra fee for Sunday delivery.”
Brilliantly efficent use of a sidelined resource. My hat is off to Amazon!
November 7, 2013
November 4, 2013
h/t to Patrick for this one. A brilliant and simple description of “critical path”.
I live and die by CP in my business, whether it’s writing music, building props, scheduling meetings, or doing any of the other myriad things I do. And I’m not even in a particularly CP-dependent industry.
Identifying the must-do’s and weeding them out of the giant list of like-to-do’s is a skill that you have to learn if you’re going to survive in business. Article is short and well worth the read.
Thanks to Patrick for the link (via FB)
October 23, 2013
What a strange job I have. Today I woke up at 4am and gamed out my day (insomnia has been a real bear lately). Spend the first two hours developing a spreadsheet for some props. I’ll spend the next 5 or 6 hours writing music, then I’ll go to TechShop and spend the following 8 hours or so building a set of platforms for a school in Dallas. Then back here to transcribe orchestral music, do a bit of recording, and start to tackle corrections and fixes for clients. In between I’ll try and carve out an hour to glue together the remaining 2 jewelry displays for Erin’s pending business as well as start in on designing and engineering props for the show. I’m the guy you used to see on those variety shows that keeps ninety seven plates spinning at once. Except I’m occasionally asked to juggle. I’d be dead meat if I couldn’t manage my time and discipline myself well but fortunately this job has taught me that. Who needs Ritalin when you’ve got deadlines?
I’ll probably hit the sack around midnight or 1AM and lie there for an hour or so planning out tomorrow (or, more likely, take a Tylenol PM and knock myself out for 9 hours). I call it “roller coastering” where I get 3 or 4 hours of sleep for a few days, become nearly non-functional, then binge sleep under the gentle ministrations of a Tylenol PM. Lather, rinse, repeat until the work is done or my brain finally calms down. Ick.
Anyway, work is good right now so I’m not complaining. This time of year is when I usually get all sorts of calls to do stuff. What is it about November 1st that makes it such a deadline magnet? If I did complain, it would be that there are only 18 work-able hours during the day.
Tea = liquid sleep.