I'll be playing again at the Continental Lounge in Des Moines this Wednesday night from 9pm to 12am. In addition to most of the songs I played previously, new additions will include:

This my attempt to be upbeat and start pontificating on relationships now that I’m married. Jessica assures me she likes the song.

 

Yesterday I was listening to a teleconference, and the local phone was muted. I started thinking about how speaking turns are negotiated in teleconferencing. Turn negotiation is increasingly an issue as less and less of our communication happens face-to-face anymore.

Different communications technologies allow for different styles of turn-taking. In iChat, for example, I can see when someone starts to type something, so I’ll wait for them to finish before going on with the conversation, or I’ll try to respond to their previous comment before they make another. It can be a little awkward at times, though, because the order we start speaking doesn’t always line up with the order of messages as they’re sent.

In email, this is less of an issue because there’s a longer gap between messages, but it can still be confusing on mailing lists when someone who doesn’t check their email obsessively is responding to a question that was asked yesterday and has already been answered several times and forgotten by the rest of the list.

I’m particularly interested in this issue because I’m pretty awful at turn taking in face-to-face conversation. Things should be easiest with all the context of visual cues and body language indicating who is about to speak, but I have a hard time taking what should be my turns in conversation. People tell me I don’t talk much. Hmm… I wonder if anyone ever tells someone they don’t listen much.

A long time ago I read that Ghandi, or maybe it was Buddha, would speak little so the few words had more impact. I remember thinking well of myself when I read that, but that’s entirely justification, not motivation, for my own speaking less. I failed my first driving test because I was too slow to pull out into traffic. If there were a conversation test, I’d fail that for the same reason.

So anyway, that’s what got me thinking about turn negotiation in teleconferencing, and in the process, I think I came up with a decent idea for a business. The elevator pitch: it would be the American Idol model of user-selected media applied to teleconferencing.

Phone Idol?

So rather than calling and voting on contestants you watch on TV, you would call to vote on contestants you hear on the phone. You and another random person listen to each other for a span of time, maybe a minute, and then you each press a button on your phone to vote on how interesting the other person’s speech/song/whatever was.

Then you move on and repeat this process for a few rounds until someone with something interesting to share has come out on top by social selection. Then everyone is patched in to hear the winning person do whatever they want to do on the teleconference for a minute or so. Rinse, and repeat.

The winning audio clips could be recorded and published as a podcast to increase the incentive to participate. Ads could run on the teleconference, or maybe it would work with a 1-900 number. I’m sure someone with an MBA could work out the business model, but I think there’s a business there waiting to be made.

Or maybe someone has already done something like this. I’ve never used one of those "party lines." Are they anything like this, or is that more of a dating thing? I don’t suppose there are many original ideas of things to do with phones any more, but I thought it was interesting enough to write up.

 

Here is a picture of a stem cell from the Biomedical Image Awards 2006:

stem cell

Here is a picture of me, taken a few weeks ago as I tried on my friend Phil’s glasses:

Scott Reynen wearing glasses

Phil’s glasses improved my vision slightly, but I don't wear glasses because the improvement isn’t consistent over time. I have juvenile diabeties, so my blood glucose levels don’t remain steady, and when they fluxuate, my vision blurs. Apparently the shape of our eyes is somewhat dependent on the amount of glucose in our blood.

Anyway, I present these two pictures here as an exercise for you, the reader. I don’t have perfect vision, so maybe you can see better than I can: which of these looks more like a person who could use help from the government?

 

Steve Rogne is a friend of mine from university days. We were apartment mates for about a year and a half. He recently became the Director of Zen Shiatsu Chicago. I’ve done a bit of revamping of their website for him, including giving Steve his own URL (because everyone should have a URL). I hope to get a blog set up for them soon (because everyone should have a blog). Speaking of blogs and new jobs, Dan has both (as everyone should).

Back to me. Last week I met with the bassist — let’s call him "Chris" (because that’s his name) — and we "jammed." Whenever anyone talks about "jamming," I think of it as some sort of improvisational music performance that I don’t know how to do. But really it’s just short hand for "playing music." At least that’s what we did. It went okay for the first time. It looks tentatively like the makings of a band (because everyone should have a band).

Speaking of bands, a week from now Jessica and I are having a wedding (because everyone should have a wedding). As far as the state of Iowa is concerned, we were actually married back in January, but the ceremony will be next weekend, and as far as our grandmothers are concerned, no ceremony means to marriage. We’ve attempted to plan it such that it will be more fun than stressful, so hopefully it will turn out that way.

If you’re interested in showcasing your home for a chance to win … looks like about $25,000 in prizes … Benjamin Moore’s current promotion began at 12am yesterday morning. I made the entry form. I also recently worked on the website for ICM, so if you need some work done on your ethanol refinery (because everyone should have an ethanol refinery), I recommend checking that out.

If you don’t yet have a URL, a blog, a new job, a band, a wedding, or an ethanol refinery, please let me know if I can be of any assistance. Because really, everyone should.

 

Dave Rogers follows up with, among other words:

Some people spend much of their lives building and moving into bigger and supposedly better boxes. I like being comfortable. Though I must say, I've learned most of the important things in my life by being very uncomfortable.

I think there are two types of comfort that have little to do with each other. Those of us who have the choice of whether or not to be comfortable in our current states tend to think of comfort as a choice people make. In an obese nation, for example, we can talk about whether or not we really need to lose or gain weight, or whether we should just learn to accept whatever weight we currently have.

But I think that’s the exception to common life experience. Most people really don’t have that choice. They really have a "box" constraining them. They either gain weight by finding the "bigger box," or they die. Or maybe the "box" is a lack of health care, or a civil war, or maybe they’re caught up in human trafficking, and it’s literally a box. There’s no shortage of real problems people can’t choose whether or not to face.

In America, and much of the developed world, we have no shortage of imaginary problems we can choose whether or not to face. We can decide when our boat is big enough because we aren’t drowning. But even for many Americans, that’s not the case, and it would be insulting to tell someone drowning that they’re just imagining their problems. I think most constraints on freedom are real and important, and that’s what I mean when I say "seriously, there is a box."

Probably at some point, there’s an inverse connection between the imagined constraints and the real ones, when building a large boat requires taking that last scrap of wood from the drowning victims. But I don’t think this is the norm, and in most cases, the two types of constraints, chosen and forced, have little in common. It seems to me that I’m focusing on the latter and Dave is focusing on the former and we’re not so much disagreeing about this being an elephant as we are focusing on different parts of it.

 

Dave Rogers said some things about what I said about what he said. I agree with his early sentiments. "Freedom" is a complicated concept, and I suspect it's not really worth unraveling, so let’s just work on whatever shared meaning we can squeeze out of that word.

We can know wrong things, and that’s just as — if not more — constraining as not knowing anything. But the only way to find out something we know is wrong is to come to know something right. Learning something wrong is the risk we take when learning. But in my experience, it’s not a very big risk.

Dave asks "how much knowledge you want to have before you think you have enough freedom. At what point does the desire for knowledge itself act as constraint?" I don't know what "enough freedom" would be in the general sense. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t seem to want more freedom.

But in specific contexts, I think "enough freedom" is an important question we all need to answer for ourselves. Some people find alcohol consumption increases their overall freedom, so they seek out knowledge to help increase their freedom to consume alcohol. Personally, I find alcohol consumption reduces my overall freedom, so I seek out other knowledge.

I think knowledge — like everything else, I suppose — acts as a constraint as soon as it becomes its own end. Let’s take an analogy: I’m trapped in a box. I want to get out of the box. You might respond with your transcendal wisdom that "there is no box," but seriously, there is. It’s made of wood, and I’m in it and I’m hungry. Not like "I could really go for a bowl of ice cream" hungry, but real "this hurts" hungry.

So my first step in getting out of the box (gaining freedom) is to learn about the box. I see that the box is nailed shut. This is useful knowledge. I see that there’s a crowbar inside the box. Also useful knowledge. I think to myself "knowledge is so great!" I look around the box for all the knowledge I can find. I inspect every grain in the wood, every curve in the crow bar, every nail in this box holding me in. I love knowledge! And I starve to death in the box, excited at my newfound knowledge of death.

I think that point where I notice the crowbar and start to value knowledge itself rather than the specific knowledge that enables me to increase freedom (using the crowbar to open the box) is where knowledge becomes constraining. Dave writes "Maybe we're all about as free as we're ever going to be." Maybe, but I doubt it, and I hope not. Such a flat world just doesn’t sound like much fun.

 

I guess I should have felt like a true fan, that my interest in them was “pure” and that he and I shared some sort of special musical connection. But mostly I wished the Apples in Stereo had more teenage girl fans so they could have played a better venue with decent sound.

Brad Sucks

 

Dave Rogers is reading a book called Heresies Against Progress and Other Illusions and writes The externally directed "knowing," the discovery and gathering of information, while empowering in other ways, does not make us more free. With that I think I agree. I agree, but I think this ignores an important point: knowledge does not make us free, but it enables freedom. Conversely, ignorance constrains us.

The problem is that knowledge has, for many of us, become the end rather than the means. When someone criticizes Wikipedia, too often the response is not an explanation of the benefits Wikipedia brings to real people, but instead a faith-based proposition that Wikipedia is inherently good by virtue of it being a large and growing collection of knowledge.

When knowledge is treated as a self-justifying goal, it can easily take precedence over more important things. When Wikipedia slanders someone, that’s hurting real people. That’s a problem that will only be recognized by those of us who maintain that people are more important than knowledge. Those who worship the all-knowing hive-mind as an eternal source of good are unable to see the problem of people getting hurt.

But I think disregarding the enabling aspect of knowledge is sort of like halting our consumption of water after someone drowns. Water doesn’t make us healthy, but it’s awfully hard to be healthy without water. On MakeDataMakeSense, I have a little diagram under the logo on every page, which looks like this:

DATA > INFORMATION > KNOWLEDGE > WISDOM

Knowledge and wisdom are greyed out because they’re outside the scope of the site. I’d probably go further and say they’re outside the scope of any programming project, because knowledge and wisdom are best handled by people, not machines. But they’re still there because they’re important.

I think "wisdom" to me is pretty much the same as Dave’s "interior knowledge." And I don’t think that can exist without "external knowledge." I think we get to know ourselves within our context. Some of us understand pain when we hit our finger with a hammer. Some of us understand pain when we lose a loved one. But we need to first understand a hammer, or understand death. No one understands pain without first understanding something else, some external knowledge that could most likely be found on Wikipedia.

 

Last night went reasonably well. I was mostly wrong about people paying attention. Other than people who knew me, only a few were actually listening. After I plugged in my guitar and the mic, I told someone who worked there that I was ready to start and she said “don’t you want to do a sound check?” and I said “well, I can hear myself play, and it’s just a guitar” and she said “but everyone does a sound check.” So it was obvious from the get-go that I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t sure what else a sound check would involve, so I just started playing, and it seemed to work out okay.

I didn’t play exactly what I expected to. Earlier last night I remembered that I had intended to include Norah Jone’s “Don’t Know Why” in the list, so I sang that instead of Brad Sucks’ “You’re not Going Anywhere,” which stretches my vocal range when sung in two octaves, and is less interesting when sung in just one. Then I noticed I had “Carry Me Home” in my first set twice. I probably should have noticed that when practicing, but I blame you, the readers of my weblog, for not noticing that when I posted it.

Then at the end of the second set, as I was walking to sit down by Jessica, someone said “Scott?” And I said “yes” while thinking “how does this guy know my name?” Turns out he was a bass player I’ve been communicating with via email about possibly playing together. He seemed to like what he heard, but I wasn’t entirely sure what I had just played, so when I went back for the third set, I went straight to the songs that I thought were more representative of the type of music I’d like to play with a full band.

But then I got all confused about which songs I’d played and which I hadn’t. Luckily, I had too many songs in my set list anyway, so it all worked out. I ended on “With God on Our Side,” which has a final verse about leaving, so that worked out. I don’t suppose anyone really had any idea what words I was singing in the final verse (it didn’t arouse the spontaneous renunciation of war one might hope it would), but it seemed a good way to end the night.

I got paid what I was promised on the spot (which doesn’t always happen in my previous experience), and they even put out a tip jar for me, which was filled with five or six dollars from people who know me. The manager who paid me, Terra, told me that she liked my songs, but it’s more “Tuesday night” music. Then she said “we were saying ‘someone needs to get that guy a Red Bull’.” So I gather it was a bit too slow and depressing, but that’s sort of what I do, so maybe I just shouldn’t play on Friday nights.

She said the guy who arranges musicians was out of town for the week, but when he comes back, she’ll tell him I was good and should go into “the rotation.” I’m not sure how often that would be, but it sounds good. I might get together with the bass player next week and “see if we mesh,” as he put it. I’m not sure how to measure meshiness, but I guess I’ll find out.

Jessica’s friend Libby also picked up a business card from the woman who handles musicians at the local farmers’ market every Saturday morning, so I’m going to look into that. I would have gone this morning, but I’m surprisingly tired this morning. I guess singing was more work than it seemed at the time. I believe the farmers’ market is all tips, so it would require “crowd pleasers” to make any money. I’ve never been especially interested in pleasing crowds (I prefer to make them cry), but it would be good experience. As I wrote several years ago, and sang last night to the eager applause of an apparently drunk man, I heard stories are better than money.

 

The following is what I plan to play tomorrow night. I don’t record covers unless they are very dissimilar to the original (e.g. One More Time), but this should give you an idea of what kind of covers I play. It will also help me practice.

(LyricWiki.org seems to be down right now, so I’ll add the links to the lyrics for the covers later.)

Update: Looks like LyricWiki.org is dead. That’s too bad. I’ve added links to SongMeanings.net or something else instead, and crossed out the songs I didn’t actually play.

Hour 1, in which I channel e.e. cummings:

Hour 2, in which I pretend I’m in Radiohead:

Hour 3, in which I sing "goodnight" repeatedly: