New Site

I’ve moved and updated my site. Most old content is here, though a couple of images may break. Bonus: no registration for comments. And the WP guys will stop snickering at how ancient my install is.

Moving On

So the official word is out, and I can say that as of the first of July, I will no longer be at Forum One.

I’ve been there an eternity in the tech world: ten years and nine months. I arrived there from a startup, in which in four short months I went from a web developer to managing the team. At Forum One, the same ascent took me five years. Along the way I worked on a hundred or so different websites, went through two recessions, three US Presidents, and innumerable Yuenglings.

I hired everybody on the current software team and became interested in career development: how to find good people, what makes a good developer, how to make a junior developer into a senior developer, and how to assess progress.

I also worked on a product and found it increasingly rewarding compared to the chop and change of consulting work. I’d always had an interest in the entire software development process, from strategy through information architecture, design, and deployment. I also got to pick up a lot of business considerations, both for the company and for our clients (though they cringe at calling anything they do “business”).

Seeing different organizations and how they work is interesting, but the similarities begin to feel like routine and the nonprofit world is a conservative place for all their lefty leanings. There’s more scope to do your best work and employ best practices, without having a client force something substandard for political reasons.

So I wanted a change from project work, and moving to a different consultancy just wouldn’t give me enough of a change. So when a former colleague approached me about an idea for a startup, I was severely tempted. I was also cautious, as I am no longer as footloose and fancy free as I was a decade and change ago; 60 hour work weeks aren’t really my idea of fun. I’ve learned a lot about how I want a company to run, and getting that right was very important.

But the idea was compelling, our ideas of how a company should run were compatible, and I was able to shape both. So on July first I’m going to be working full time on a startup I’m cofounding, and we’ll see if my vision for shaping products and running a company works in practice.

While I don’t want to say too much about the new startup, I can say that it uses the experience I’ve gained in seeking, hiring, managing, and promoting developers and other technical types to address something that’s completely lacking right now.

The company will be called MojoLive, and we’ll be providing a revolutionary—and I’m not using that word lightly—approach to career management. It’s a really exciting opportunity, and it gives me a new role and a new title: Chief Product Officer. I’m going to be using the skills I’ve picked up outside pure development to ensure the product has a constant vision, taking into account competitiveness, marketing, design, and of course development. And of course at first I’m going to be helping develop this application. I hope to have some exciting news about that soon.

I’ll still be heavily involved in the open source community, and in fact I’ll be broadening my involvement beyond networking and recruiting, and beyond PHP. I’ll even get involved in proprietary communities, as our product will be useful for anyone involved in technology as a career.

So to my Forum One friends, I say thanks for all the opportunities and experiences. Stay in touch; I’m working from home, just down the street. For everybody else, I’ll be seeing you and saying more as time goes on. I’ll even blog more, as I’m no longer working on this in my spare time after hours.

Those of you who know me know I don’t often gush or get excited easily. This is something I’m genuinely excited about and can’t wait ’till we have something to show you. In the meantime, I’ll be helping transition my role to the really capable team I’m leaving at Forum One.

Watch this space; I think this is going to be a lot of fun.

Alexander Scriabin Prelude in G minor, Op. 27, No. 1

I finally got an audio interface for my computer and have finally preserved something I thought was going to die on some fragile magnetic media: my final project from orchestration class from my long-ago days as a music major. Despite the fact that it’s a college orchestra on their second sight-reading (and, ahem, not taking it all that seriously), I think it still comes across really well. My one regret: doubling the violin with the trumpet. Sure, Franck did it, as my prof instantly noted upon hearing it, but it ends up sounding very 1930s movie score to me, instead of 1920s modern composition, which is more what I was going for. I think I did it pretty well apart from that, though.

See what you think. It’s Alexander Scriabin’s Prelude in G minor, Op. 27, No. 1 for piano, orchestrated for full orchestra by yours truly.

Scriabin Prelude in G Minor Opus 27, no. 1, arr. Smith

Update: updated the link, should give you more than a preview now.

On Brain Tumors

I’m very sad to hear about Senator Kennedy’s malignant glioma, because I’ve unfortunately watched a man go through it before. The most common type, unfortunately, is also the worst, and it’s not a pretty process.

When I was in high school, I was interested in a jazz and media program at the local university. My piano teacher, who didn’t have any experience playing or teaching jazz, arranged for me to get private lessons with the jazz piano prof, John Emche. John was a sweet guy, very friendly and generous with his time.

After a few months of lessons, I knocked on his door as usual and he opened it, clearly woozy and with the lights out. He was sorry, he said, he had been sleeping because of some muscle relaxants the doctor had given him for a sudden series of debilitating headaches. The next time he had forgotten to cancel the lesson and was somewhat confused.

Then I learned he had a brain tumor and was getting surgery. The next time I saw him he was bald with scars on his head from the surgery. He was clearly much better, though his eyesight had been affected. But in a couple of months he was confused again and would drift back and forth. After that he quit teaching while he got radiation treatment.

It looked hopeful for a while, but I never had another lesson with him. Apparently the doctors determined, as is usual, that it had spread and there was little else they could do. So they quit treating him, let him regain his strength, and he and his wife went on a cruise together while he was still functional enough. Apparently it was good for both of them to relax and enjoy something together.

Very soon thereafter, he passed away. The whole process took about a year from what I recall (bear in mind this was 22 years ago). Now fortunately for Senator Kennedy, he has more resources and, more importantly in the world of medicine, more influence to ensure he’s not in the control group of an experimental study. But  depending on the severity and type of tumor, he could be gone very soon.

Whatever you may think of someone or their politics, it’s a frightening prospect, hard on them and their loved ones, and I really hope the outcome is better for him. But the odds are not good, and I don’t wish that on anybody. One small consolation is that Senator Kennedy had a good long life until this point. John Emche was in his thirties–this disease doesn’t really care who you are or what you’re like. And John Emche was a great guy who deserved more time with us.

Another Sandy Smith Pops Up to Sully My Name

By complete coincidences, I found both of these items on the intarwebz today.

First, a namesake who’s a “psychic, medium, and animal communicator.” Because maintaining the skill to plausibly “read” real people is too much, you have to go after the clients who can’t refute your bullshit. If the victims weren’t so mind-bogglingly stupid, I’d feel worse about them being taken advantage of by a harpie charlatan.

As if in commentary, my RSS reader gave me this cartoon from the wonderful xkcd:

Supernatural forces confirmed by experiment: 0. Supernatural forces disproven by experiment: thousands

Your Trickster God Is No Match for Mine

Every white person who wants to act like they’re all spiritual and know Indian lore and stuff always has to start with “well, Coyote is the trickster god.”

Bah. The crow is e’r more a trickster and sends your god loping up Wayne Street.

To clarify: this morning, as I was walking to work, I noticed a crow caw and alight on a power line near me. As I passed underneath I muttered a “hello” as I am wont to do to noisy birds. Another crow joined the first. A mockingbird thought he’d mix it up with them, but flew off suddenly–and a third crow arrived.

After I’d passed, the crows started kicking up a fuss. Usually a bunch of birds freaking out means some predator, sometimes a cat but often something more interesting like a snake, is nearby. I couldn’t see what they were after, so I turned the corner onto East Alexandria Avenue and kept on my way.

Suddenly the noise got more intense and was clearly moving up the street. I looked back, to see what the fuss was, when a freaking coyote loped up the middle of the street. Fox-like ears, thin tail, 25 inches at the shoulder, thin legs, tawny coat…a freakin’ coyote. At 9:50 AM.

Clearly some yuppie had been spewing some Joseph Campbell-inspired wankery and the real trickster gods, the corvids, decided to call them out by driving their coyote out…and thus revealing why there have been a bunch of missing kitty posters.

Hey yuppies: you don’t care about the damage your little predators do when you let them out to roam around the neighborhood to eat the wildlife, so don’t expect me to be sad when the wildlife eats your fluffikins. I’m hoping they’ll also take out some of the screaming toddlers you ignore while talking on your cellphone in restaurants.

On Gratitude in Public

A long, long time ago, I was a musician, or so I defined myself. As such, I had to give a lot of public performances, ranging from a few other students’ parents in the neighbor’s basement to a thousand or so people in an auditorium. Afterwards, the scene would be something like this.

Well-meaning person: I enjoyed your piece very much. It had good rhythm.

Me in hyper-self-critical-performance-analyzing mode: Well, that was about the only good thing about it.

Taken aback well-wisher: No, it was lovely, really, I-

Me: Yeah, sorry it couldn’t be better.

And so on until one or other of us broke off, embarrassed.

It wasn’t until I watched a former professor of mine after a recital, just a small one on weeknight, when he dealt with the inevitable little old lady who attended any classical concert and thinks it’s just lovely:

Little old lady: Oh, thank you so much, that was just lovely.

Professor, smiling warmly, looking her directly in the eye, and shaking her hand: Thank you!

That was it. She turned away, satisfied, and left, without any embarrassment on either part.

It was a revelation to me. And after learning the technique I found that public situations (except talking to strange women in bars) got a lot easier. It’s really no big deal: everybody is usually wanting you to do well because they don’t want their time wasted, and everyone who comes up to you afterwards had a nice time and just wants to express that. There’s really nothing so scary about it.

I thought I was just particularly socially inept, but now I read Stephen Fry’s second-ever blog post (no, each post is not called a blog, thank you very much), and how he got the same lesson from John Cleese, of all people:

“Oh, nonsense. Shut up. No really, I was dreadful.” I remember going through this red-faced shuffle in the presence of the mighty John Cleese who upbraided me the moment we were alone.

‘You genuinely think you’re being polite and modest, don’t you?’

‘Well, you know …’

‘Don’t you see that when someone hears their compliments contradicted they naturally assume that you must think them a fool? Suppose you went up to a pianist after a recital and told him how much you had enjoyed his performance and he replied, “rubbish, I was awful!” You would go away thinking you were a poor judge of musicianship and that he thought you an idiot.’

‘Yes, but I can’t agree with someone if they praise me, that would sound so cocky. And anyway, suppose I do think I was awful?’ (which most of the time performers do think of themselves, of course.)

‘It’s so simple. You just say thank you. You just thank them. How hard is that?’

Granted, Fry writes as if he’s so British it might hurt occasionally, and thus he tends to a particularly English need for self-effacery, but I’m glad to see it’s not only me who needed a virtual clout about the head.