New Music – October 2016

Music I’ve discovered in October includes:

Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
Conor Oberst – Ruminations
D.D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated
R.M Hubbert – Telling The Trees
Lady Gaga – Joanne
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker
SURVIVE – RR7347
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Banks – The Alter
Amanda Palmer – Piano is Evil
Goat – Requiem
Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine

I blame American Horror Story for my love of the Lady Gaga album, and Stranger Things for the discovery of SURVIVE. In fact, there is a lot of overlap between the music I’ve listened to and what I’ve watched on TV this month, with Kate Tempest and Danny Brown being a good soundtrack to Luke Cage and the new Goat album complementing American Horror Story quite nicely.

Working to music

I remember writing a blog post ages ago about how I’m one of the few people I know who doesn’t appreciate the presence of music when I’m working. This now isn’t true, and probably hasn’t been true for a year or two. Generally if I’m working (and music is an option), then I’ll listen to one of two playlists. One contains a great deal of post rock and other such things, and very much takes me back 15 years or so when I listened to very little else. There other one is a newer playlist, that is derived from a blog I read called Free Jazz (http://www.freejazzblog.org/). I don’t always find what they are blogging about on Spotify (some of it is fairly obscure), but I’ve built up enough of a playlist to make it worthwhile now, and I’ve found myself listening to it more, especially early in the morning. Both of these playlists contain largely instrumental music, and I find that it is the presence of words, rather than the presence of music, that I find distracting.

I’m sure I’ve linked to the post rock one before, but I thought the other one was worth adding here, just in case anyone is interested.

10 things beginning with K

This is another old post that never quite made it here. It’s probably about 3 years old at least, and is a response to a meme where I had to choose 10 things beginning with the same letter and write about them.

1. Knowledge. I’ve always liked to know things, and to learn as much as I possibly can about any subject which holds my interest. I have quite a few odd specialist knowledges, and I would like to hope that I will never stop learning new things.

2. Kafkaesque. Not only is it a great word, but it also reminds me of the time when I started ready properly, and devoured everything Kafka had ever written in a period of a couple of weeks.

3. Ka. In Ancient Egypt the supposed spiritual part of an individual human being or god, which survived (with the soul) after death and could reside in a statue of the person. This word (and many other words) reminds me of how much obscure Egyptology knowledge I have squirrelled away (despite never actually having studied it formally), and I remember being fascinated by the Egyptian concept of souls as a small child.

4. Kismet. A tricky one to explain, so I’ll go with the dictionary definition first “fate, destiny, fortune, providence, the stars, God’s will, what is written in the stars, one’s doom, one’s portion, one’s lot, one’s lot in life, karma, predestination, pre-ordination, predetermination, what is to come, the writing on the wall; luck, chance“. The idea of fate, destiny, and free will fascinate me, and probably also crop up a fair bit in things I write.

5. Kings and Queens. I was the strange child who learned the names of all the Kings and Queens of England and Scotland and could recite them in order and come up with random facts about each one. I probably still have this knowledge somewhere, but it may have now been replaced with other things.

6. Karma. Ties in with Kismet a little, and is just one of those words I like the sound of.

7. Kurt Wagner – Lead singer of Lambchop, who are a band I’ve liked for many years and always keep coming back to. I love the fact that at the height of their popularity he still worked sanding floors, and he’s always struck me as a totally down to earth bloke who just happens to make very good music.

8. Kid A. My favourite Radiohead album, which takes me back to my early days of working for the University where I had a lot less money but still somehow managed to buy more music and travel more. I like it when a band takes their sound in a new direction and takes their fans with them, and I think this record is a classic example of how to do it well.

9. Knives Don’t Have Your Back. And for my final musical choice, the (as yet) only solo album by Emily Haines of Metric. There are some days where this is the only record that makes sense for reasons I’m not sure I can articulate except to say that it is a thing of beauty.

10. Keys. My keys are one thing I always know the physical location of. They get me into my house and my office, and act as a sort of symbol of having a home, having a job and having responsibilities. I sort of like the idea of biometric keys, but I’m not sure it would be quite the same.

Tongue in cheek recruitment feedback

I was talking on G+ earlier this week about recruitment, and I was reminded of something I wrote a couple of years ago that I posted to a limited audience at the time. I figured it was worth posting a slightly edited version here, seeing as G+ isn’t great for finding historical posts, and everything here still very much rings true.

The following is a list of handy hints for people who apply for jobs in our team. It’s not aimed at anyone who currently works for us (or has ever worked for us), but is instead a collection of feedback I would love to have given to unsuccessful candidates (but didn’t).

1. First impressions are important. The initial greeting is a good opportunity to build rapport with the panel, and if you can’t manage a smile, eye contact (the floor does not generally have eyes), and some sort of handshake then the panel might already be questioning your basic social skills.

2. Try and wear something that is both smart and comfortable, but that also fits (if you do not know what fits then ask a friend). Also, if the weather is very hot (like is often is in August) then perhaps a three piece suit with an overcoat may lead to excessive sweating, especially if you are nervous. Excessive sweating is generally a bad thing.

3. At some point in the interview you will be asked to talk about yourself and your past achievements. It happens in most interviews so it’s probably worth having something prepared. It’s also worth bearing in mind that keeping it concise and relevant is a good thing, as is maintaining occasional eye contact to ensure the panel are still awake.

4. Interview panels will contain at least two people, so maintaining eye contact with only one of the panel for the whole interview comes across as rude and slightly creepy. Maintaining eye contact with someone’s chest is both of these things and a few other things as well.

5. If you’re interviewing for our team, then your interview panel will contain at least one woman (I’m the only male manager and we have to interview in pairs). This means that you will need to be able to deal with a woman asking you technical questions that you might not know the answer to. You’ll also have to deal with the same woman being your boss if you get the job, so being rude and patronising to her is probably not a good start. Nor is directing your answers to all technical questions to the male member of the panel, regardless of who asks them.

6. Read the job description for the job you are applying for. We might ask you hard questions like what sort of work the job involves, and if you can’t answer simple questions about what we do then we get the impression you’re not too interested in working for us.

7. We do not appoint candidates based solely on the length or the brevity of an interview. Although in some cases we do appreciate the brevity. We do say at the start how long we expect the interview to take, so that should act as a guide.

8. If you are late then acknowledge your lateness, apologise, and then move on. That is how we will expect you to deal with it in the workplace, so you might as well start during the interview. Of course, not being late at all would be better.

9. Listen carefully to each question. We are very unlikely to ask things like “tell me everything you know about connecting Windows 98 computers to a wireless network” or “tell me about every job you have had since 1980”. Answering such questions when they have not been asked is not helpful and just wastes time.

10. At the end of the interview we will ask if you have any questions for us. Again, this happens at most interviews so have a few things prepared. It’s probably best to only ask two or three though, and eight is probably too many, especially when you have to pull out a notebook to remember them all. Also, we are unlikely to tell you how many other people we are interviewing, or anything about our current hardware or software suppliers, or anything else that isn’t any of your business.

11. If you are unsuccessful in the interview, and especially if you are unsuccessful for the 4th time, then ask for feedback. We will give you detailed and constructive feedback which is not quite as candid as what I’ve written here, but which will highlight how you could have done better. Also, once you have received your feedback don’t sign the email address it was sent from up to loads of porn sites and religious newsletters and other such rubbish. We will find out, and we will know it was you.

On a more serious note, I do really sympathise with anyone who is currently job hunting, and I am generally happy to read through applications and CVs for jobs in areas I know at least something about (IT, project management, anything to do with education or Universities), because sometimes it helps to see the application from the side of the person doing the recruiting and shortlisting.

#SITS14

This week I am in London to attend a conference (the Service Desk and IT Support show – also known as SITS14). We attended this event last year, and it was useful enough to consider coming back again, especially as it is free to attend.

We arrived last night, and checked into the Amsterdam hotel on Trebivor road. It is a small family run hotel, with charming wooden floors and very comfortable beds. On the downside, there is also a lift that struggles to take two people (but apparently will fit 3), and bathrooms that are both tiny and challenging to use. 

Following a quick drink in a local pub, dinner last night was at the Dragon Palace on Earls Court Road. We went there last year, and were looking forward to returning. The food was great, and we ended up staying there quite a while. We talked a fair bit about the direction we want our team and our services to go in the next year. It was a productive conversation, with lots of things to think about.

I generally sleep badly the first night in any new place. Last night was no exception, but I did at least grab a few hours. Breakfast was a very odd continental affair in a strange basement room with wobbly tables. I think we may eat elsewhere tomorrow, although at least the coffee was decent.

We attended 5 sessions today, and took something useful away from each one. I have taken so many notes and a few photographs, and feel like it was a largely worthwhile experience. Today’s sessions covered management, recruitment, BYOD, metrics and customer experience. Tomorrow we attend 5 sessions, which largely focus on social IT and using social media and live chat as part of IT support. Day 2 is more relevant to what we want to achive in the next year, but the programme in general is of sufficient interest to make it worthwhile attending both days.

Getting home during the tube strike is going to be challenging, but thinking about that can wait until tomorrow. Tonight’s challenge is to find somewhere to eat that is as good as the Dragon Palace.

A few (historical) thoughts about shoes

This is something I wrote ages ago for a couple of people I worked with at the time, but I was reminded about it  couple of times over the last few weeks during conversations about small talk and acceptable conversation topics.

This is not really about shoes. This is about things that other people find fascinating but that leave me somewhat cold. It is also about things that rock my world that other people just don’t get.

A fair few people I know are into shoes. They have hundreds of pairs of shoes, and take great delight in making sure they are wearing a pair of shoes that match their outfit. This at least I can relate to, in that I at least make an effort to make sure that the shoes I’m wearing match the weather. But fundamentally, I see shoes as something I wear to put a layer of insulation between my feet and the world, and I only really consider buying a new pair if the pair I’m wearing develop a hole (and thus are unsuitable for rainy days).

I have a feeling that when other people talk about shoes, I quickly develop a glazed expression which suggests I might not be listening too closely. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love learning about new things. I’m always on the lookout for new snippets of information and new subjects to study. But there are some things that I can’t relate to enough to be interested in, and shoes are one of those things.

Of course, there are lots of things I’m very interested in, like music and cinema. I remember a few times recently where I’ve mentioned a film I’ve recently seen, or a band I’m really into, and have been met with a look of incomprehension followed by a swift tangent into a more socially acceptable topic of conversation. This to me is not a problem, because I’m well aware that most of the things that rock my world are not to everyone’s taste. But at the same time I spend a great deal of time around people who seem to be able to effortlessly find mutual topics of conversation, and I sometimes wonder if there are whole aspects of reality that I’ve discounted as being irrelevant and which in fact could become fundamentally important in my world. Like romantic comedies. Or daytime television. Or shoes.

But then I think about all the things I am into, and how I don’t actually have time to do most of them any longer. With the advent of laptops and portable music players I can indulge in music and movies from almost anywhere, and we are now in an age where consuming large amounts of both can be done both legally and inexpensively. I don’t think I’ve got room for anything else, seeing as I don’t have enough time for proper computing, or reading, or football, or socialising, or doing little more than bounce between work, sleep and recreational media. And whilst I don’t think I have room for anything else, I think the world in general has room for all the above and more, and I think my life has been enriched by having so many people in it who don’t see the world in the same way I do.

So, you know the next time I start talking about obscure musicians you’ve never heard of, and try and play you abstract soundscapes that remind you of a kitten being tortured? And the next time I try and explain why films in a language I don’t understand can often do a better job of connection on an emotional level? And the next time I tell you that songs don’t need words and words are only relevant if they mean something? You know the way your mind drifts and itches to get back onto the sort of solid ground where you feel you have something to contribute? That’s how I feel when you talk about shoes.

One Movie a Day – part 5

17th April – Closer. I’ve seen this before, but it didn’t make a huge impression on me for some reason. This time I enjoyed it a lot more, and I think it covers a lot of themes that interest me right now. I would recommend this one to most people actually, and think it could provoke interesting thoughts and conversations.

28th April – Hannah and her Sisters. This one follows on thematically from Closer, although that was very much not intended as they were recommended to me by different people. It’s a Woody Allen film, and it is one of the good ones. I don’t think there is much more to say than that, apart from that I enjoyed it and will now be hunting out more Woody Allen films with a view to watching a few of them over a weekend at some point.

28th April (later) – Adaptation. This has been on my list a while, and was another recommendation (like most of what I have watched recently). I really enjoyed it, and found that it explored a fair few themes that I can relate to quite closely. It also makes me want to watch ‘Being John Malkovich’ again at some point soon, as I think the two movies have quite a lot in common.

29th April – Blue Velvet. Heading back to David Lynch, because I wanted comfort viewing, and apparently I find Kyle Machlachlan and Laura Dern comforting (maybe because I’ve seen them in so many David Lynch movies). I’ve seen this a few times, but it is still something I come back to every now and again and I always seem to see something new.

One Movie a Day – part 4

4th April – Cosmopolis. Adapted from a Don Delilo book by David Cronenberg, and scored by Metric. All people I respect greatly. It’s a well made movie, and one that I enjoyed (although I can also see why a lot of people might not have enjoyed it). I also intend to listen to the soundtrack on Spotify, because I think it really works on several levels.

11th April – Proof. Having seen a rather excellent performance of the play, I thought I should probably see the movie. It’s a good adaptation, that works well, and I enjoyed it nearly as much as the play (although didn’t enjoy some of the performances as much).

13th April – The Man Who Cried. A really beautiful movie that I had not even heard of until this weekend. It is well acted, well directed, and looks and sounds amazing; as well as having a story that will likely bring a tear to the eye. The soundtrack is also great, despite containing a lot of music that I would probably not listen to without it being associated with a movie I really enjoyed. Also it features Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and Harry Dean Stanton. What’s not to like?

14th April – Shinobi. Something a little different than other things I’ve watched recently, but also something that is suitably dark, and touches on a lot of themes I’m quite interested in. I also think it is visually spectacular movie, with some great fight scenes, and was obviously made with a lot of love. Very highly recommended if you like action-orientated Japanese cinema, or anything with an equal mix of fighting and thinking.