Music for your Christmas

I shared this via Spotify on Facebook yesterday, but I like the embedded player better than I do the link on Facebook.  I compiled this playlist for the Christmas season to remind myself that this isn’t the beginning or the end of the story, but it is a very important part.  The song order was intentional.

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Thanksgiving 2013

On this day of thankfulness I take a pause, because I’ve been going 90 to nothing here on the blog, and give thanks for many things, in no particular order.

The default for any Christian is to give thanks for the saving grace of Christ.  Part of me wants to leave that as an assumed, but it doesn’t necessarily go without saying so I won’t.  If you are a Christian don’t take it for granted.

A church family.  Not just a place I show up each week and sing some songs with friends.  Not just a place to hear a sermon on how to have a better life.  I’m talking about a church family that gets down in the mud and muck of life together.  A church where Christ is central to everything and the Bible is taken seriously.  We face problems together.  We celebrate life together.  We lean on each other in the good times and bad.  We learn from each other.  We would be remiss if we stopped there though.  It isn’t enough to become a grounded community if we aren’t inviting others to join us or sharing the hope we have with the world around us.  I’m thankful for a church that does all of that.

My wife of 13 years.  She has made me and continues to make me want to be a better husband and man.

Family, the one I was born into, the one I married into, and the ones that have let me be a part since high school and college.

Friends at work present and past.  Friends via the internet.

A job that I actually enjoy going to(not just the present one, but ones past as well).  No matter what happens for the foreseeable future I will need to work and I could be working in a job that I absolutely abhor, but if we need the money a job is a job.  I’ve been blessed to work in a field I studied for and for which I was gifted with knowledge.

That leads me to:  The God given ability to solve problems, specifically IT problems, and a bulldog’s tenacity to find the solution.

Music.

Coffee.

The freedom to write this blog, to maintain a music blog, and to write for a third website.  This kind of ties back to the whole liking my job.  I’ve been fortunate in that none of my jobs in IT have required massive amounts of overtime.  I don’t know if that’s a product of not pushing myself for a higher position or a blessing from God or both.  Whatever the case I have time to do things like record a weekly podcast, write, read, study, learn guitar, or whatever else.  I know that it may change in the future, for a variety of reasons, but I am thankful for it now.

Books.

My health.  I’m not saying I’m the picture of total wellbeing.  There is weight to be lost and I could stand to get into shape.  I’m not plagued with chronic illness though.  I don’t fight cancer or a disease of some kind.  Odds are that I won’t always be able to say that, but I’ve been blessed with good health and I don’t want to waste it while I have it.

Cool autumn breezes.

Paid Time Off.

The truth is I have been blessed in many ways.  I haven’t always seen it and I need to stop and recognize it else I take it for granted.  Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

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Introducing the list

Inspired by my friend’s list and celebrating the last year of my thirties I’ve compiled a list of things I would like to do over the next year/years/decade/life.  Some of it is meaningful.  Some of it is silly.  Some of it may or may not ever happen in this lifetime.  The important part is the fun and challenge.  As inspired by my friends I will be blogging about each thing as I do them or, in most cases, complete them.

I’m looking forward to working on the list.  While I was working on it I was able to solidify some, not all, of the goals I’ve toyed with in the past few years.  While the list and the intent behind it are somewhat egotistic, literally being about me and all, I hope that the writing that is inspired will be helpful.

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Review: Cooking For Geeks by Jeff Potter; O’Reilly Media

This book was given to me as part of the O’Reilly Blogger review program.

I love to cook. I don’t always have the time, but when I do there is nothing more therapeutic than putting together a meal and serving it. I am a huge fan of the Food Cookingnetwork and wish it didn’t require a cable subscription to get it.

I’m also a geek with a slant towards the so called ‘nerdy’ subjects(math, science, computers). Even if I wasn’t working in IT I would still qualify with the love of sci-fi, music, and books. Put to the two on a Venn diagram and in the middle you would find “Good Eats” with Alton Brown, “America’s Test Kitchen,” and this book among other shows and tomes.

I was excited when I saw this book. I really wanted to love this book. Don’t get me wrong it is a good book, but for me it isn’t a great book. The good in the book is overwhelmed by some overly geeky exposition, a few too many interviews, and style that’s just a little too dry for my taste.

The book really delves into the science behind cooking. Unfortunately it sometimes reads more like an article out of a high end science journal. There are plenty of facts and I did find plenty of new, atleast to me, information that will help me cook better. The problem is the delivery. To be fair I’m spoiled by shows like “Good Eats” and “America’s Test Kitchen” where the science is wrapped up in an entertaining package.

This is “Cooking for Geeks” so the delving into the hard science of cooking isn’t out of place. The presentation is probably a matter of taste, but I did find myself wondering how much longer certain sections were. Also, I felt like there was one too many interviews with the experts. Again it maybe a problem of personal preference.

The book is broken down into basic sections. There is a fairly comprehensive breakdown on equipping your kitchen. A very informative chapter on food safety. A discussion on the science of taste/flavor. An indepth discussion on the effects of air on cooking. An analysis of how chemicals(think salt, corn starch, sugar, etc) change the composition of food and what role they play in the cooking process. There is also a chapter on advance techniques including sous vide cooking and, a personal favorite, cooking with a lot of heat(think blowtorches and pizza ovens).

The one chapter I didn’t mention is perhaps my favorite in the whole book. It is an in depth discussion of what happens to food at different temperatures. It starts with a basic discussion of what happens with heat and time. It then moves into what happens at key temperatures like 144 degrees Fahrenheit where eggs begin to set or 356 degrees Fahrenheit when sugar begins to visibly caramelize. I find the whole discussion fascinating, even if the writing remains a tad dry for my taste.

Overall this book doesn’t quite hit the bulls-eye for me personally. I would still recommend it for someone who has a interest in the how’s and why’s of cooking.

You can find more information on the book and purchase it here:  http://shop.oreilly.com/product/9780596805890.do

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Infamy <> Fame a Social Media Lesson

Train wreck at Montparnasse 1895 2

 

Note:  There are several people and organizations that I will be referring to in a roundabout way over the course of this entry.  It’s a personal quirk of my to not add to nor profit from the notoriety of others by mentioning them directly.  This isn’t really about them anyway.

I do not consider myself a social media expert.  I’ve used Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis for some time.  This blog is tied into my personal accounts on each platform.  I’ve used both platforms, as well as others, to promote Idiosyncratic Transmissions.  I still have much to learn though.

However, a recent incident has prompted me to share this bit of wisdom.  As anyone who has watched or read the news in the past week there was one very controversial, among the ‘normal’ controversial, performance during an awards show this week.  In the aftermath the artist went to Twitter and bragged that said performance generated some large amount of comments on Twitter, gaining more than the Superbowl blackout.

Clearly along with confusing what constitutes a good performance the performer has confused fame with infamy.  More succinctly:  just because a trainwreck gets 10,000 comments on Twitter doesn’t make it any less of a trainwreck.

That’s it.  That’s the lesson to learn here.  If you or your organization is engaged in social media platforms what is your goal?  Do you want numbers?  Do you want true fans, customers, pundits, whatever. . .?  Or do you just want more eyes seeing your name?

If its the latter you can do no better than say or do something crass, controversial, or embarrassing.  Just ask any politician caught in a scandal.  Just ask any public figure that makes a wildly inappropriate comment on or off mic.  Just ask a certain organization from Kansas known for picketing funerals.

Don’t get so wrapped up in the numbers that you mistake infamy for fame.  A bad reputation is easy to achieve.  Don’t deliver on promises.  Don’t do quality work.  Don’t take care in the words you speak or write.  People will know your name or the name of your business.  People will be talking about you.

This may seem like common sense, but I’m sure that 10 years ago a certain performer wasn’t thinking she would end up defending a spectacle with bravado either.  It’s the small things we have to keep our minds on to keep the big things from spiraling out of control.

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Flat tires and financial fires

At church we’ve been going through a sermon series on the book of Luke.  This past week was on Luke 12:22-34 and had to do with worry and anxiety in our lives.  Last week it was about covetousness and this week’s sermon dovetails nicely with it.

It’s easy to sit back and think “I’ve got this anxiety thing handled.”  I used to be a worrier, but I’m past that now.  God has given me the strength to handle all things.  And coveting?  Not happening here.  I don’t go on benders adding to the book pile or cd collection anymore.  I’m not out buying new computers every six months.

That’s all well and good.

What happens when your debit card gets blocked because someone tried to use it in California to buy $260.00 worth of gas?  What happens when you’re at the ATM because you are out of cash at the moment and it keeps declining your withdrawal?  Oh and you were getting cash to buy dinner because you are hungry and starting to feel a bit cranky, so what happens?

Are you still thinking about the sermon then?  Or are you freaking out and getting more worried by the minute?  Is God still in control or are have you taken the wheel back because even though you can’t see the road you still think you have a better chance of not crashing the car?

I asked my wife what she thought of my reaction.  If I have learned nothing else in 13 years of marriage I know my wife is the best indicator of whether or not my behavior is acceptable.  It took me at least 5 years to learn it, but I know it now.  So I asked her ‘on a scale of 1 to 10 how did I handle circumstances?’

She gave me a 9.5.

A year ago I probably would have gotten 6-7.

Three years ago I know I would have come in under 5 somewhere.

To be clear I’m not saying I didn’t get frustrated.  I’m not saying I won’t mishandle something in the future.  For this week though I firmly lived in the truth of the Word.  I stopped and prayed because I knew if I didn’t I would try to assume control and become angry and anxious.

This isn’t me.  This is God working through me.

The world doesn’t back down though.  Satan still stands accusing.  In the process of writing this I woke up to a flat tire on my car.  I of course found this out after I had a shower and was dressed for work.  I took a deep breath, emailed my team that I would be late, and wrestled the spare tire onto the car.  I then took a 2nd shower and put new clothes on because it’s like 80% humidity out there and I am a big guy.

Was I calm, cool, and collected through the whole process?  No.  I didn’t bang tools or cuss a blue streak as I’ve been prone to in the past.  It look longer than I would’ve hoped and I bent the plastic under my car in trying to find the frame for the jack.  To top it off I have to coordinate with my wife to get to the shop and get it paid for since my debit card replacement was ordered just yesterday.  So not the ideal set of circumstances.

This isn’t me.  This is God working through me.

God is still in control.  This will pass as well.

Whatever tomorrow brings, God is still in control.

Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. (Luke 12:31, ESV)

Photo is ‘Flat Tyres, Flat Tires’ by Adrian Van Leen released under Creative Commons

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Tech Fail or To: Matt From: God Re: That Patience You Were Praying For

The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open. 
-Arnold Glasgow 

I will be the first to admit that I lack in patience.  My wife will point out that I am a much more patient man than I was when we first met.  I will still take, at minimum, the silver in the ‘Act First Think Second’ event on a bad day.

Today was a bad day.

If wisdom comes in learning from the mistakes of others, I hope to increase your bounty.  Recently Facebook made some changes to their API, at least I believe that to be the case.  Those changes broke my music blog’s ability to auto-post to the Facebook page for that blog.  It has been going on since August 5th which means it could also be a product of a WordPress update since I believe I applied one around that time.

That’s neither here nor there.

My attempts to fix the issue were met with less than success.  The plugin I was using to make the posts fed through a custom Facebook app and somehow they quit talking to each other.  So I switched to using wordpress.com’s Jetpack plugin.  That was not a mistake.  It has a very nice ‘Publicize’ option that does exactly what I needed it to do.  It just wasn’t as nice as what I had been using.

See each post I make on that blog has it’s own unique image associated with it, normally an album cover or an artist’s promotional image.  The Jetpack plugin wasn’t really picking the image up, it just posted a link to the page with a brief chunk of text.  Totally serviceable, but I wanted more.

In the meantime it occurred to me that I had a Facebook app I wasn’t using.  It also occurred to me that it was a potential liability if some unsavory user found it and wanted to exploit it.  So I deleted it.

I thought that once links were posted they would have been written into the page’s back end or underlying code or something.  I never would have thought that the app would be maintaining past links.

Two years of articles posted to my page from my blog were gone in the blink of an eye.

My lack of patience had costed me big time.  I didn’t research.  I didn’t look around at other options first.  I didn’t think.  I’d rushed to fix the issue.  I couldn’t be content with leaving a note that I was working on getting things back to normal, it had to be fixed NOW!  Clicks were being lost.  Eyes weren’t see articles.  I was missing out on a potential flood of new fans.

The real kicker is that I found a new plugin to use.  Guess what it requires?  If you said a custom Facebook act you get a gold star.

So my take away from this experience:

  1. If something breaks on your website that impacts functionality, publicly note it.
  2. Do the research.  Don’t rush in rashly and do something that can’t be undone.
  3. On a related note try and understand what you are working with before you use it.  You will have to support your implementation of the solution over the long haul.
  4. Realize that the website issue is not the end of the world.  Do not make it the focus of your life until it is fixed.  If you do you will be miserable and so will the people around you.
  5. Breathe.  Breathe deep.  Repeat as necessary.

I know this will pass.  I know that over time I can re-add the old articles in the page’s timeline.  However, I’ve lost all comments from fans and bands.  So in some ways I’m starting over again.  It’s a good thing the whole site is still very manageable.  The fan base is still relatively small and hopefully forgiving.

Now I just have to be patient in correcting my own errors.

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Not dreading tomorrow, not looking forward to it either.

One of the fears I identified in this whole Start Experience process is that I fear I’ll never get paid enough to do only what I love the most.  That’s not to say I hate my job.  I don’t.  I went into information technology for a reason, I like working with computers.

The problem I have is the down time.  I’ve gotten to a point in my job that I’m not taking phone call after phone call after phone call or running around putting out the next small fire that ignites.  I have busy days, but more often than not I have a lot of days that aren’t totally filled.

I could and should use the time to grow in my field.  I haven’t worked at a job where studying up on one’s field has been frowned on during working hours.  Unfortunately I’ve never been good at just studying.  It would have made my college years much easier if I had that particular talent.

So I struggle with wanting to write, even though the blank page actively mocks my attempts to say something meaningful.  I struggle with not getting on Facebook or Twitter since I would waste too much time and would thus be stealing from my company.  I struggle with not reading up on new music, listening to new artists, and/or posting to my music blog.  Again that would be wasting time.

So on the slow days I check my email, repeatedly.  I reorganize my files on my computer.  I look for new ways to help improve process at the company.  I struggle through all of this.  Thus I don’t feel like I’m working a job I totally love, though I want to make it absolutely clear I really like my job.  I’m not just saying that because one of my co-workers might read this either.

In an ideal world and to dream a little audaciously I would have a job in IT, but if things were slow or I were caught up in my work I would be free to do whatever I wanted.  If I wanted to post to my music blog or this blog, no problem.  If I wanted to read a business magazine or even something that wasn’t strictly work related, no one would have a problem.  The fact that we have created a system that demands total, company focused work seems to be problematic for me.

I fully acknowledge that I might just be lazy and not want to admit it.  Perhaps there are tasks that I should be on the lookout for and I’m not.  I struggle with that line of thinking some days.  Then I remember the two or three weeks in a row when the phone wouldn’t stop ringing and multiple requests were sliding across my desk.  I remember the months earlier in the year when I was knee deep in report requests that consumed my every working hour.  It is the classic example of feast or famine and it seems to have been that way for the last two positions I’ve been in.

Going back to dreaming audaciously, I alluded to this a few posts back.  My dream job would be to run the music website, podcast, and webcast and maintain a small performance space.  That space would be used to book intimate concerts with independent artists.  I would like to recreate the feel of a living room concert with enough space for the audience and performer to be comfortable in.  It’s on my whiteboard in the ‘Big Dreams’ column.

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Challenged Accepted

So I’ve been neglecting this blog for too long now.  I was recently invited to take part in the Start Experience in connection with John Acuff’s book Start.  I had to pick a challenge for the next 24 days and I choose to challenge myself to write here three times a week.

I imagine I’ll have some new readers from the experience reading this blog starting yesterday or today.  To the new readers I say ‘welcome.’  This blog has gone through a couple of iterations since I registered the domain name.  It is meant to be a space where I can practice and hone my writing muscles.

Part of the problem I have in writing is not having a specific topic.  I write music reviews at another site and that is marginally easier for me because I have a centered focus:  the album and the artist.  Here it is kind of free form.  I’ve kicked around writing about information technology since I work in the field.  I’ve kicked around writing about music because I do reviews and because I do a podcast dedicated to independent music.  I’ve thought about writing humorous observations.

Needless to say I’m pretty ADD about the whole writing experience so I really can’t tell you what to expect over the next 24 days in terms of content.  Since I haven’t been assigned a challenge partner yet, to any of you reading from the Experience consider this my goal for today:  write something and post it.

Feedback is always appreciated.

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Review: Content Everywhere: Strategy and Structure for Future-ready Content by Sara Wachter-Boettcher; Rosenfeld Media

I was given this book as part of the O’reilly Blogger review program.  I have had the book finished for a little catover a month now, but I have been putting off in writing this review for many a reason, none the least of which is my lack of confidence in what I am doing as a writer these days.

Having said that I do owe a review for the book and I had the sudden realization that it doesn’t have to be a Hemingway novel to qualify as a good review.  So here it goes.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher is an independent content strategist, writer, editor, and consultant. She has written a much needed treatise without resorting to a dry, academic style.  If you work in web development, content development, web design, database design, or any field that requires you to break down and reassemble data into a usable format this book is for you.  Don’t let the cover fool you.  While the book primarily deals in web terms, there is a lot to be gleaned from this book for other people.

This book is a high level treatise on designing content for the coming years.  It is a challenge to break content down in to pieces that are usable in many applications.  The World Wide Web as we know it is an every changing animal.  We are no longer able to depend on a static page of information to serve as a viable representation of who we are as companies or individuals.

The web isn’t just being viewed on the 17 inch CRT monitors of yesterday.  It exists on cell phones, tablets, 24 inch flat screen monitors, and 72 inch flat screen tv’s in Hi-def.  Our challenge is how to tailor the data in a way that is usable in all circumstances or as near as all circumstances as we can get.

This breaks down into four parts.  The first part covers content strategies, what they are, and why we need them.  The second part discusses content, what it is, what it isn’t, and breaking data down to its most usable form.  The third part moves into a practical case study of how to make the most efficient use of content.  Keep in mind this is a higher level book, there isn’t a lot about specific coding.  You won’t find 5 steps to make your HTML more responsive, but you will find reasons why responsive design must be on your radar.  The fourth part is a primer to help the content manager make a case with those outside.  It is the type of no nonsense information that would have prevent many a blinking gif by a well meaning manager ten years ago.

All in all I can say this book should be on your list, especially if you are currently working or looking at working in a position that requires a consistent approach to presenting data in an ongoing capacity.  I don’t currently work in a web based position and I still have found plenty to think about and apply to the reporting work that I do in my current position.

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