Recommended Listening: The National, Sylvan Esso (sort of), Golden Retriever (but not really), and a guy named Dent May (really)

A selection of what I’ve enjoyed listening to this week. Similar to my Recommended Reading, this doesn’t mean these albums were released this week, or recently at all. That said, in addition to being a fickle and capricious musical omnivore, I’m also easily bored, so there is a bias toward the new.


Capablanca by Golden Retriever

I am a bit confused by this one, I’ll be honest. There is a band called Golden Retriever, a modular synth and bass clarinet duo from Portland, Oregon, but this album does not seem to be by them. The other interesting, or maybe just odd, thing is that this album was recorded solely on an iPhone, according to the Bandcamp page. It’s simple, catchy, and captivating is all I know, and I can listen to it anytime day or night. It never fails to bring a smile on my face and get my head bobbing. What else could you want?

 

Across the Universe by Dent May

If you like Harry Nilsson, you’ll like Dent May. He’s not as weird, and his sound more modern, but his songs are just as quirky and well constructed. Upbeat and bright, this is a good mid-morning to mid-afternoon pick-me-up album. Have some friends over, pour some rosé, have a seat on the back porch, put this on, and I guarantee at least one of them will ask, “Who is this? I really like it.” It’s friendly and easy to like like that.

 

Sleep Well Beast by The National

The National are my heroin, they just make everything melt away. As with all things beloved, approaching newness produces anxiety. And since I don’t universally love their back catalog (Cherry Tree is lost on me), and it had been nearly five years since their last album, the prospect of not liking Sleep Well Beast wasn’t out of the question but would represent a new music well that I didn’t want to stare down longingly for another number of years. Luckily, the well is now full, and I’ve had this album on repeat since it came out. The same tribal drumming is there, as are the clever, brooding lyrics, but there are more catchy guitar licks, where before they might have settled for cacophony. And just look at that album cover. I’m not sure anything The National offer will ever top Trouble Will Find me, but Sleep Well Beast shows it’s not entirely out of the question. More than anything, as a fan, that this album is a progression keeps things interesting and, if not heroin, at least comforting. If you’re similarly obsessed, you’ll want to listen to the band perform Sleep Well Beast in its entirety, courtesy of NPR.

 

Echo Mountain Sessions (EP) by Sylvan Esso

If regular Sylvan Esso are a bit too programmed for you, or you’ve never heard of them, then take a hike up Echo Mountain with me. The duo gathered a bunch of their friends, which include the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger among others, and recorded five songs from their latest album in a more acoustic style. The result, as producer-half of the duo Nick Sanborn says, is that “the songs breathe in this totally different way.” The only problem is that, at barely over fourteen minutes long, it’s over before it begins. To make you feel better about listening to this over and over, you can watch it all go down on video, again courtesy of NPR.

 

Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz, Featuring Steely Dan

RIP Walter Becker.

Recommended Reading: Feynman, a Batman Machine, and Bad Food Festivals

The best of what I read* this week, whether useful, funny, topical, or just good writing. Think of it as my personal #longreads recommendations, except sometimes I recommend #shortreads, too.

  1. Learning From the Feynman TechniqueEvernote
    Best part about this is the link to Project Tuva, a collection of videos of Feynman’s lectures Bill Gates bought and released to the public. Thanks, Bill!
  2. The Army, The Inventor And The Surprising Uses Of A Batman MachineNPR
    “That’s one of the most exciting things about putting something new into the world, is you actually don’t know what it might get used for.”
  3. How Podcasting Became Hollywood’s Latest ObsessionVice
    “Rob Walch, a living legend of podcasting and a man of hard data, certainly makes a compelling case that, despite the arrival of venture capital, legacy media, branded content, and big-name talent, podcasting remains—if not a ‘level playing field’ for out-of-left-field creators—then certainly the squarest game in town.”
  4. I downloaded an app. And suddenly, was part of the Cajun Navy.The Houston Chronicle
    “Within minutes, I was on the phone with Karen. Karen was in a house in Port Arthur, sitting on her kitchen cabinet with seven other adults, two teenagers and a newborn. The water was almost to the counter tops. I assured here we would get someone to her as soon as we could and told her to stay safe.”
  5. David Foster Wallace on Writing, Self-Improvement, and How We Become Who We AreBrain Pickings
    “In order to write effectively, you don’t pretend it’s a letter to some individual you know, but you never forget that what you’re engaged in is a communication to another human being. The bromide associated with this is that the reader cannot read your mind. The reader cannot read your mind.”
  6. Equifax’s Instructions Are Confusing. Here’s What to Do Now.The New York Times
    “Here’s hoping that this breach is the nudge you need to finally sign up for permanent freezes on your credit files. I’ve used them for years, and here’s how they work. You sign up (and pay some fees, because you knew it wasn’t going to be free to protect data that you didn’t ask these companies to store, right?) at Equifax’s, Experian’s and TransUnion’s websites.”
  7. Maybe Just Don’t Go to Food FestivalsEater
    “But the reality is that these festivals are rarely worth the cost or the time if you’re in it for the food. They’re often crowded. Lines are sometimes long for vendors and often the food most worth trying typically has the longest wait. All this eating in one place is also part of the depressing cultural shift toward acquiring food instead of dining.”

 

* Just because I read it this week, does not mean it was written this week. I am often hopelessly behind, and just because it’s a few weeks, or months, old doesn’t mean it’s not worth reading, right?

 

Steve Jobs would be appalled at how Apple announced iPhone X

Apple CEO Tim Cook closed the company’s big iPhone X event yesterday as he started it, by invoking the words of the company’s venerated founder, Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs quote

 

Before going on to thank all the Apple employees that made this possible, he added:

“We work really hard at Apple to create wonderful things. And we hope you love what we’ve introduced today. I think Steve would be really proud of them.”

Steve may or may not have been impressed with the iPhone X itself, but I think he would have been appalled at how they announced the product dubbed, “the future of the smartphone.” *

CEO = Chief Excitement Officer

First, let’s watch Steve Jobs introduce the original iPhone in 2007. It’s worth watching for the joke at the beginning alone.

 

Note: All these videos are long. You only have to watch a minute or so from where I start each of them to follow along with my commentary.

Now, let’s watch Tim Cook introduce iPhone X:

 

Wait, Tim, come back! Where are you going?

No one else but Steve Jobs got on stage for the better part of an hour during the original iPhone event in 2007.

Ok, so no one could ever replace Steve. And sure, Tim Cook is more of an operations-focused CEO. I’ll give you that. But the CEO of Apple, whoever it is, leads the world’s most innovative company. If they’re calling iPhone X “the future of the smartphone” the CEO should be announcing it in full.

Go back to bed, Phil

I can only assume that the rules of hierarchy at Apple meant that, if it wasn’t going to be Tim Cook, they were stuck with throwing the walking billboard for overcoming stage fright and the only person less comfortable reading off a tele-prompter than George W. Bush, Phil “Sleepy” Schiller, up there.

Man, he was tough to watch. Was Sergio Dipp not available?

If they had known what was good for them, Apple would have had Craig Federighi, their SVP of Software Engineering do the whole shebang. This guy is genuinely excited:

 

It’s all about context

Let’s rejoin Phil’s presentation barely a minute later:

 

First of all, “Super Retina,” guys? Really? You think Steve Jobs would be proud of that? I won’t even get into how Phil reminds us twice in the first few minutes how iPhone X, the future of the smartphone, borrows technology from the iPhone 8, “the past of the smartphone.” But I digress.

This is the SVP of Global Marketing of the most valuable, most innovative company in the world, barely a minute into his presentation for “the future of the smartphone,” and he’s listing off technical screen stats like he’s a marketing intern.

Compare this to how Steve Job’s brags about the original iPhone’s screen:

Original iPhone screen features

 

Once Steve did dive into the nitty gritty of explaining the new Retina display, this is how he did it:

Steve Jobs Retina Display

 

Steve even mentions pixel density, just like Phil, but he includes a crucial bit of information for context for us humans:

Steve Jobs iPhone 4 pixel density

 

Evolutionary vs Revolutionary

But the original iPhone was a revolutionary product, you say. The iPhone X is an evolutionary product, so of course they have to talk about it differently. (I’d argue that if you’re calling your product “the future of the smartphone” you might take issue with it being called an “evolutionary” product, but we’ll gloss over that.)

Ok, let’s look at how Steve Jobs (and only Steve Jobs) talked about iPhone 4 at its launch event:

 

Anything sound familiar? The iPhone 4 was “the biggest leap since the original iPhone,” just like iPhone X. (🤔)

Yes, Steve gets a bit more technical in this pitch, but he’s still gushing about an “all new design” that is “beyond the doubt, the most precise thing, one of the most beautiful things we’ve ever made.”

When he does get into stats, after letting people ogle the device’s inherent beauty, it’s to tell the world that iPhone 4 is “24% thinner” than the previous iPhone, “something you didn’t think couldn’t get any thinner,” and is the “thinnest smartphone on the planet.”

That’s what I’m talking about!

People don’t buy shovels, they buy holes

Maybe the most disheartening part of Sleepy Phil’s presentation was how he summed up Apple’s (r)evolutionary new product:

iPhone X features

 

Look at all those features! Phil even has to promise the audience he won’t list them all, because we half-expected him to do just that.

This is how Steve summed up the original, feature-packed, iPhone:

Steve Jobs iPhone You life in your pocket

 

Let’s call this fight

The word hubris comes to mind when someone like me critiques the SVP of Global Marketing at one of the most respected companies in the world, but a bad presentation is like porn, I know it when I see it.

I would suggest Phil go back and watch his old boss’s presentations for inspiration. Or at least try to get some more sleep next time.

No one will ever be as good as Steve Jobs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change for the better. Otherwise, you get a beatdown by a nobody like me. (Video NSFW)

 

* I think “the future of the smartphone” is one thing Steve Jobs would have approved of about this presentation.

Five cats, one sitting with a dunce cap while one reads from a book to the other three.

You have no idea what you’re doing. That’s OK. None of the rest of us do either.

A friend of mine is CEO of a 200-person, profitable company. When my friend bought the company over 20 years ago, it was a fraction of its current size and was losing millions of dollars each year. He navigated the company, which was in the communications and publishing industry mind you, through the internet bubble-burst of 2001 and figured out how to thrive, not just survive, in the vast new landscape that the Internet created in the industry.

Then came the Great Recession, and while we all came out a bit bruised, my friend knew that recessions were a time of opportunity and was acquiring other companies at the rate of one or two per year.

Go back a bit further and you’ll find out my friend started at the company fresh out of college at an entry-level position. Over the next ten years, hard work and innovative ideas got him promoted rapidly. Eventually, by the time I met him, he was a respected expert in his field who was inducted into the “Hall of Fame” by the top publication in his industry.

This is a man who is only a few years older than me. He is a personal and professional mentor of mine. I look up to and respect him. He is successful by any reasonable measure. You’d think that he has it all figured it out. Yet I know that he has no idea what he’s doing. How do I know? Because he told me so.

On multiple occasions, he said to me: “Every day I come to work, I’m running the biggest company I’ve ever run.”

This was not simple humility, although he is a humble man. This was an admission that I think we would all do well to come to terms with in our own lives, professionally and personally. It would take a lot of the pressure off.

We’re all making it up as we go along

We have a tendency to think that those who are older than us, are farther along in their careers, or have reached some level of recognized success (university degree, public office, industry accolades, wealth, etc.) have it all figured out. They know exactly what they are doing and they know what they did to get there.

The opposite is true.

No one knows what they are doing. We are all figuring it out as we go along. Every day. Every one of us.

The older and more “advanced” in our careers we get, the more this is true, because this is where more uncharted territory exists, more innovation is expected, and more risk is necessary.

Even the President of the United States, every single one of them, wakes up one morning and is President for the first time. And every day after that, they are doing things they have never done, or even imagined. Just like the rest of us.

Experience is vastly over-valued

The second person I ever hired, I did so knowing he could not do the job. The position was for an entry-level web developer, and he had spent the last couple years doing basic “I can’t print” sort of IT work. He had never written a line of code in his life.

What he did have was the right attitude. He was unfailingly positive, excited about this new industry, and he desperately wanted to learn. I gave him a book, the bible of our industry at the time, and told him he started in two weeks.

That was over 15 years ago. He became not only one of the best hires I’ve ever made, but also the best web developer I know, a business partner, and a friend.

To this day, I hire almost solely on attitude. I can teach almost anything else.

Don’t believe me? A growing body of evidence suggest that, as this article in The Atlantic puts it, “success, it turns out, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.”

Don’t let inexperience hold you back

Holly Hartman is a high school journalism teacher who is now an inspiring story in the midst of all the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

Unable to sleep as she thought of the devastation and human suffering in Houston, Holly read a story about a walkie-talkie app victims and first-responders were using to communicate with each other. She downloaded the app, and “after two minutes of training, I was talking to people desperate for help.”

Instantly, this high school teacher became the dispatcher for the Cajun Navy.

If the Cajun Navy were a company hiring for the role of Emergency Response Dispatcher, I’m guessing that “high school journalism teacher” wouldn’t have made their list of desired qualifications. Likewise, if you had asked Ms. Hartman if she could fill that role, she would have probably answered, “Hell no. I have zero experience or qualifications to do such a challenging and important job.”

We all feel this way, but most of us don’t have the courage to admit it to ourselves, much less others. Even a super-successful people like Facebook COO, best-selling author, and billionaire Sheryl Sandberg says, “there are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.”

Ask people to do things they don’t think they can do. They’ll surprise themselves and they’ll surprise you.

That is my management philosophy, and it applies just as much to our personal lives, and in this there may be a way for all of us to feel more comfortable.

We all ask ourselves to do things we’ve never done all the time in our non-professional lives.

Bought a house? Sold a car? Traveled to a foreign country? Gotten married? Had a child?!?

We blaze new and uncharted territory without giving it a second thought. No one says, “I’ve never sold a car before, so I guess I’ll just keep this one forever until it rots in the driveway and someone hauls it away.” Everyone thinks, “Holy crap, I have no idea how to raise a child,” but that hasn’t stopped billions of people from doing so.

You are faced with the task and you get it done. Over and over. This is life.

People and companies alike would do well to embrace the fact that attitude is just as important as experience.

Photo credit: Boston Public Library, Creative Commons License