Bertolt Sobolik

Thoughts on operations and project management (and sometimes music)

Shminking

On 11/10/2011, I attended a lecture by Ray Jackendoff that I believe will have changed my life. The lecture was based on Jackendoff’s book, A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning, which is due out in March 2012. He started out looking at the idea that thought is inner speech, making a very convincing argument that it is not. Then he went on to show that any rational thought is, at some level, based on intuition.

About two weeks before the lecture, I finished reading Robert Persig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It is a book that many find life changing, but my reaction was tepid. Jackendoff’s lecture gave me a greater understanding and appreciation of Phaedrus’s frustration over the problem of defining Quality in the “Church of Reason” that ultimately drives him insane. Phaedrus sees Quality at the heart of everything, and it blows his mind that its definition requires a collective subjective point of view that is culturally determined. Jackendoff convinced me that this is not only true of Quality, but of every idea, even the structure of a syllogism. To explain the syllogism part, he references Lewis Carroll’s “What the Tortoise Said to Achilles.”  His talk was filled with memorable, accessible explanations of complex concepts in the fields of linguistics and cognitive science. “Shminking” was one of my favorites. I’m not going to try to explain it. You’ll have to wait for the book.

Jackendoff and Daniel Kahneman are my current intellectual heroes. Like Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, and unlike most of Jakendoff’s other writings, A User’s Guide to Thought and Meaning is targeted at the general reader. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on a copy.

The Outside View

I’m a little over halfway through Daniel Kahneman’s new book Thinking Fast and Slow. I would heartily recommend it to almost anyone, and particularly to project managers. In the chapter entitled “The Outside View” he talks about the difficulty people have making realistic forecasts of the amount of time and effort required to complete a project. It brought back some bad memories of a project I worked on while I was at S&P. One of the many takeaways from my reading so far is that human nature is not on the side of the project manager.

Rather than try to summarize this Nobel Prize winners ideas, I will point you to a number of reviews of the book, if you need more than my recommendation to rush out and buy it.

Here is the Ted talk that first introduced me to Kahneman. He and Ray Jackendoff are my current intellectual heroes.

Artist Interviews

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been interviewing classical musicians on WFHB since last February. My hope was that I would be able to build an audience for these and, eventually, figure out a way to turn radio interviewing into a revenue stream. I published four of them on Mixcloud, but very few people are listening despite my efforts to promote them.

I sort of assumed that lesser-known artists, like Dmitri Tymoczko and Daniel Janke, would be excited enough about the interviews to promote them themselves, but so far they haven’t. The only one who did was Ray Chen. (This hurt my feelings a little bit. I mean, I’m no Dick Flash, but I think I am a smart guy and ask good questions.)

When I quit volunteering at WFHB, I still had three interviews that I hadn’t broadcast. I put an edited transcription of an interview with the classical guitarist, Sharon Isbin, up today. I’m not sure whether or not to create an audio version. The other two share a focus on the music of Steve Reich, particularly the piece “Drumming.” One is with another composer, Chris Hughes, who created electronic pieces based on Reich’s music. The other is with Jason Treuting of So Percussion. So recorded “Drumming” in 2005 and Reich wrote a piece for them called Mallet Quartet which is on his new CD WTC 9/11.

I’m really not sure what to do with this material. If you have any ideas, post a comment or send me an email. There is a contact form on the About page.

I think one of the reasons that there isn’t more interest is the Mixcloud site itself. For one thing, I think my material may be the only classical stuff on the site. Most of what is up there is electronic dance music. The other problem may be that they post listener stats publicly. I imagine this has the effect of increasing the traffic of things that are getting a lot of traffic, but decreasing the traffic of more obscure things. It is a little like walking into a restaurant without any customers, one assumes that there is something wrong with the food.

An Interview with Sharon Isbin

On October 14th, I had the pleasure of interviewing the classical guitarist Sharon Isbin about her new CD, Guitar Passions.

Bertolt Sobolik: When did you first get interested in “crossover” collaborations?

Sharon Isbin: Well, actually, I go back a long way with that. In the eighties I did a crossover album called 3 Guitars 3 with Laurindo Almeida and Larry Coryell. At that time, “crossover” was considered a dirty word. People wondered if I had lost my mind, or if I was leaving classical music. I assured them that I was just pursuing these projects in addition to what I normally do. Then it became the “in thing” to do. One of the tracks on the new CD is a tribute to Laurindo Almeida, with whom I toured for about five years. He’s the one who arranged the beautiful, slow-movement “Adagio” from Joaquín Rodrigo’s “Concierto de Aranjuez” for three guitars that is on both the new CD and 3 Guitars 3. In this configuration, Romero Lubambo is playing the Brazilian bossa nova guitar part, and Steve Morse, formerly of the Dixie Dregs and now of Deep Purple, does a rocked-out, amazing electric guitar solo to a bossa beat at the end.

BKS: That Rodrigo “Concierto” has been performed by a wide variety of musicians in a wide variety of crossover contexts. Do you think there is something about the piece that lends itself to crossover interpretations?

SI: Well, the music itself comes from that rich, storied, flamenco tradition—you can really hear the melismatic, improvisational feeling that Rodrigo wrote in the solo guitar part that is evocative of the Spanish gypsies, and of the Moors, and of the rich, Ladino tradition. It is something that lends itself so well to improvisation by other artists.

It was one of Rodrigo’s favorite albums—the recording I did with Laurindo and Larry back in the eighties. Rodrigo himself, who was a friend for twenty years, welcomed exploration of his music by people like Miles Davis, and by others who come from the non-classical tradition. He understood that this would be a natural path for musicians to take with his piece. And each time you explore the piece with musicians like Romero and Steve Morse who improvise, you’re hearing something that you will never hear again. It’s of-that-moment.

BKS: What’s it like for you playing with musicians who are primarily focused on other genres?

SI: I’ve always enjoyed the freshness of it. I try to find a way to get arrangements created for me that give me the chance to do what I am good at and also allow the talents of the musicians I am collaborating with to really flourish. The second track, ” Sonidos de Aquel Día,” is a tune from Argentina that I selected. I invited Stanley Jordan, whom I had known from tours we had done together in the past, to improvise a part on top of my part. What he came up with was extraordinary. He plays the jazz electric guitar like a keyboard on his lap where he’s tapping. It allows him to get all kinds of unusual contrapuntal configurations that are mind-blowing. And, again, that’s something you’ll never hear played like that again. It was of-that-moment.

BKS: What was the recording process? How much of it was tracked live versus overdubbed? Were you and the other musicians in the same room? Can you talk a little bit about how it all worked?

SI: Well, of course the five solo tracks I simply went into the studio and played. The first track “Porro” is by Gentil Montana, who, sadly, passed away just before the album came out so he never got a chance to hear it. I was so sorry to learn that. He’s from Columbia in South America—everything on this album has a Latin-American/Spanish tinge to it. In that case, I played the part that Montana wrote as a first track, and then I overdubbed, on top of that, a second guitar part that Gustavo Colina wrote that creates a lovely duet.

Some of the tracks we would do together. For the Jobim track, “Chovendo na roseira,” Romero and I were simply sitting in the studio together, playing. There was no way to edit between the two guitars. It was simply, “what you heard is what was happening.”

The Steve Vai track was created in a rehearsal in his home in California. Steve and I have been friends for many years and we’ve collaborated on a number of different projects. I just started playing the “Allegro” by Agustín Barrios, and he started improvising, and I said, “Hey! Let’s do this on the album.”  If you go to my website, sharonisbin.com, you can see a video of Steve and me working together, plus videos of Nancy Wilson from Heart and Stanley—you get sort of a sense of the making of Guitar Passions. There is also a very unusual new classical music video of “Asturias”—one of the solo tracks here, in which a wonderful approach to photography and camera work has been employed to give an entirely new visual component to the work.

BKS: One of the most striking pieces on the disc is the final piece that you play solo, “La Catedral.” Can you talk a little bit about this piece, where it came from, and why you chose it to end the CD?

SI: “La Catedral” is written by Agustín Barrios-Mangoré. The title is said to be because he was inspired by hearing Bach played in a cathedral. This year is the bicentennial of the birth of Paraguay. In honor of that, a big festival was created. I got to visit Paraguay and perform there in May. And it was thrilling to be able to go to Barrios’s home and see where he grew up—it’s now a museum—to play on one of his guitars, and to really live and breathe that world which I have enjoyed for so many years as an interpretive artist playing his music. He was of Indian descent—sometimes he would play his concerts wearing full Indian headdress. He wrote hundreds of pieces for the guitar and I think this is one of my favorites of his works, “La Catedral.”

BKS: I noticed in the liner notes that you play two different guitars on the recording—pretty much half and half. Why do you play the different instruments?

SI: That’s a very good question. I had started to play on a great guitar by the Irish maker, Michael O’Leary for three days in the studio in November of 2010. Then, two months later, I received a guitar I had ordered from a German maker, Tony Mueller, which I also fell in love with—there was no way I could not include that on the album. So, for the remaining tracks, I decided to use the Tony Mueller. In fact, for the “Porro” duet, one part is with the O’Leary and the other is with the Mueller.

BKS: I know a lot of rock and roll and jazz players, at some time, study a little bit of classical to get their chops up—sometimes a lot. Do you ever play with steel strings and a pick and is that something that you are interested in at all?

SI: I’m fascinated by it, but I think I’d have to have another lifetime to be able to learn to do what folks like Steve Vai do, and I don’t want to compete with that. I’ve got my hands full right now. But, certainly working with the sound of the instruments together is something that I think creates a new voice.

BKS: Why do you think the guitar is so popular?

SI: The instrument is self-sufficient and it’s one that is portable. By self-sufficient, I mean that you can play the rhythm track, you can play the harmony, the melody, the accompaniment; it can be the star; it can be the band; it can be everything. It’s an instrument that has been used in so many different cultures as a means of communicating the balladry—the stories of life, basically.

And then, of course, when it became electrified, it became a part of the fabric of our society in the rock/pop world. So, it’s one that has such visibility because it is portable. It is something that can be a very personal means of expression and cover basically every style that exists.

The Gap

Several people have encouraged me to add something on my resumé to account for the period between August 2008 when I quit my job at Capital IQ, and August 2011 when I started freelance copywriting and copyediting. Here’s the long version of the story.

I resigned from my position at Capital IQ in August 2008 to resume work on my PhD in Music Theory and Composition at Princeton University.  I had passed my qualifying exams in 1996. All I had to do was write the dissertation. My goal was to finish it in a year, but after working on it for about nine months, it became clear that it was going to take me much longer than that. This created a financial problem—I had enough money in the bank to work on the dissertation full-time for a year, but if it was going to take appreciably longer, I needed to start generating some income. I started working as a waiter at a local jazz club called Smoke. I did that for a few months. The pay was horrible because I was primarily working lunches. I think the most customers we had at lunch was three, and many days there would be no customers at all.

My tenure at Smoke ended in August 2009. I had the opportunity to teach theory and give a lecture at the Vermont Jazz Center Summer Workshop. Smoke wouldn’t give me the time off, so I quit.

I spoke to my friend John Puterbaugh about my money problem. I had done a little bit of job searching, even going so far as to ask for my old job at Capital IQ back, all to no avail. John suggested I start a company. He offered me free office space at his company, Nellymoser, in Arlington, MA, to do so. I moved up there and worked on a company called MusicBKS. I also tried to help John with some sales. Nellymoser was starting to work with some major magazine publishers on offering QR (Quick Response) codes as an option for advertisers, and was also marketing device-independent mobile video. John wanted to make some connections with agencies. I was able to set up a few meetings with some of my old colleagues, but ultimately proved to be an ineffective salesman.

The idea behind MusicBKS was to create a database of transcriptions of recorded music, sell individual transcriptions to musicians, and license the database to universities. The transcriptions would be highly detailed—true scores of the music like the Beatles Complete Scores published by Hal Leonard a few years ago. I talked to a copyright lawyer who strongly advised me against the idea. Essentially, as he explained it, I would be creating an extremely labor intensive product, but I would have an extremely tenuous ownership of the intellectual property because there would be no way to copyright the transcriptions. Jeff Maglin, who helped me with the business plan, also strongly advised me against it. He believed MusicBKS would not be attractive to investors because of the intellectual property issues. The model he made showed three years before MusicBKS would be profitable even in the best-case scenario. There was no way I could fund the project with my quickly dwindling savings for that long, so I abandoned the idea.

Before abandoning it, I had relocated to Bloomington, IN. This was in February 2010. The low cost of living combined with the large population of musically literate, underemployed people made it seem like an ideal place for MusicBKS.

While I was still in the Boston area working on Nellymoser sales, I had gotten back in touch with Jeanette Palmer. Her company, Rise, had done some projects with Q2 in 2001. I told her about MusicBKS and she told me about Chicks with Guitars, a concert series she had run several years earlier that she was reinventing as an electronic magazine. When I abandoned MusicBKS, I started working on Chicks with Guitars. I wrote a bunch of articles, helped with the technical production and organized a concert in Bloomington to promote the site. I tried to drum up interest in the site with Secretly Canadian, Bloomington’s local independent record label, but they were unimpressed. I worked on Chicks with Guitars for about a year. Over time, it became clear to me that it was more of a personal blog for Jeanette than a potentially viable business, so I stopped.

At the same time I was working on Chicks with Guitars, I started DJing at the local community radio station WFHB. I was hoping to get a jazz show, but ended up doing a classical show and eventually a dance-music show as well. I thought that by doing a good job with these shows, I could somehow turn them into a revenue stream. I built relationships with the public relations people who sent classical CDs to the station and did interviews with some of their artists. I created a repository of these interviews and some of the other shows I did on Mixcloud and tried to drum up interest for the content I was creating through my own social network and classical music interest groups on LinkedIn. The results were not promising—numbers of listens on Mixcloud were in the low double digits.

I also did some teaching at the Kelley School of Business at this time. The experience reminded me of why I abandoned my PhD the first time in 1996. Unless one is interested in teaching at a university, there are very few reasons to get a PhD in Music. Classroom teaching is not for me.

So, that’s the story of my professional life from August 2008 to August 2011. Wish me luck converting this into bullet points for my resumé.

Getting Certified

It didn’t require very much research for me to decide which credential to pursue. Certainly in the United States, the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMI’s PMP) certification has the best brand recognition. As a job seeker, this is the most important thing to me.

Based on my quick research, it looks like PMP and the Internation Project Management Association level C (IPMA-C) are more or less the same. According to contributors to the discussion on gantthead.com, PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a prescriptive methodology that is used almost exclusively overseas. Mateusz Jasny did a comparison of PMP, PRINCE2, and IPMA-C on his blog that I found useful.

I also decided to go with the PMP, instead of one of the newer, more specific certifications PMI is now offering. I’m tempted by the Program Management Professional (PgMP) credential, but I was a Program Manager and head of a project management office for less than 3 years, so it would be a stretch. Some folks on LinkedIn explain the difference between the PMP and the PgMP more succinctly than PMIs website does. The other new PMI offerings are too specific for a job-seeker like me.

I’m dubious of PMI’s Agile training because it is so new. I am intrigued by the Agile methodology training offered by other providers, but I don’t see it as a requirement on a lot of job listings, perhaps because the Agile Alliance advises against the practice. I’ve always felt that alternatives to the waterfall model were probably a better way to go, but the closest I’ve ever gotten to working in an environment like that was during the brief life of Q2 Technologies. The founder and I created what we called “The Cellular Development Model,” which was based on Extreme Programming (XP). We never really got to test it out because Q2 quickly failed as a company for reasons unrelated to development methodology. (This is a good comparison of XP vs. Agile Processes.)

However, because I have so little experience, and the Agile community de-emphasizes certification, I’m not sure becoming a Scrum Master or Dynamic Systems Development Methods practitioner would increase my chances of getting a job very much.

Big PMPin’: Spending the cheese

Early in my career, I made a conscious decision to transition from hands-on development to project management. Like most of the people writing code for web sites in the late ’90s, I had no formal training as a developer. We were a small army of Gen-Xers with the audacity to try to figure out how to modify PERL scripts to make them do what our clients wanted, and most of us did it quickly and sloppily. I predicted that, before long, people who had studied engineering or computer science would show up to rewrite our spaghetti code, and I hoped that I could carve out a niche for myself as someone who could manage these people.

For me, getting a job as a project manager required a good story. Mine was that I had produced concerts of my own compositions in graduate school, so why wouldn’t I be able to manage projects? Once I got the job, I figured it out as I went along. Reading The Mythical Man-Month was as close to formal training as I got. I never pursued a “Project Management Professional” (PMP) certification. By the time getting that credential started to become popular, I was running a program office. I encouraged my employees to get certified, and preferred the credential for new hires, but never went through the process myself.

Nowadays, it seems that some sort of certification is essential to getting a job as a project manager, and the PMP isn’t the only one out there. The Project Management Institute (PMI), the organization that offers the PMP certification, now offers several new certifications:

I recently discovered the existence of PRINCE2 and IPMA, because Reed-Elsevier requires a PMI certification or one of these others of all of their new project management hires. PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) appears to be a British version of the PMP, and IPMA is continental Europe’s version. And then, of course, there is Six Sigma, which I always associate with Jack Welsh and General Electric, but was actually started at Motorola. I need to figure out which, if any, of these are right for me. I’ll keep you posted.

Too Much Information

Want to learn the latest about project management? Get a book! But which book?

The volume of words being written about project management is staggering. If you search for “project management” in Books on Amazon yields over 60,000 results. You won’t be interested in most of the results of this search, though. Even though Amazon has an editorial category called “Project Management,” their search engine returns keyword matches, so included in this body of results are books like Home Rockanomics: 54 Projects and Recipes for the Edge of Style and Treachery in Turtle Bay, a mystery novel in which some of the characters “spent the next few hours back at the office getting all the project management material accessible to Jeff” on page 158.

If one explores Amazon’s “Project Management” category (getting there by clicking “Browse Subjects” on the top navigation bar, clicking “Business & Investing” under “Browse By Genre” and then “Management & Leadership” and “Project Management” in the left-hand bar (there is probably an easier way to get there, but I didn’t see it)) one is only faced with 2,435 choices, including twenty-nine that are not out yet, but are available for pre-order.

Thirty-one of these were published in the last 30 days. I’m going to narrow my choices by eliminating the following:

That leaves me with twelve books. Buying them all would set me back $662.96. How long would it take me to read all of them? Assuming an average of 400 words per page, and that I am an average reader reading for learning at around 150 words per minute, it would take approximately 178 hours to read the 4000+ pages in these books—a little less that six a day, every day, for thirty days.

Since I’m not going to devote that much time reading all of these books (in fact, I may not read any of them), I have to pick and choose based on title, cover art, and Amazon’s descriptions. Doing so, here’s my list, in order, of the last 30 days’ books on project management. There are only ten books on my list, because Amazon had no description of two of them. (I’ll probably look for my first choice in the library—$174.95 is more than I plan to spend on a book this week.)

  1. Project-based Organizing and Strategic Management (Advances in Strategic Management)
  2. Project Management ROI: A Step-by-Step Guide for Measuring the Impact and ROI for Projects
  3. Practical Risk Analysis for Project Planning: A Hands-On Guide using Excel
  4. The 12 Pillars of Project Excellence: A Lean Approach to Improving Project Results
  5. The Definitive Guide to Project Management: The fast track to getting the job done on time and on budget (3rd Edition)
  6. The Basics of Project Evaluation and Lessons Learned
  7. Project Planning and Control Using Oracle Primavera P6 – Version 8.1 Professional Client and Optional Client
  8. Project Management: Basic [With CDROM] (ILT (Axzo Press))
  9. Project Pain Reliever: A Just-In-Time Handbook for Anyone Managing Projects
  10. Ethics and Project Management
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