My Favorite Bass Line

A couple years ago, I was watching an animated movie with the kids. And during this movie, there was a montage sequence that had the happiest, catchiest background music. I waited through the credits to find out what it was, and learned it was “Do Your Thing” by Basement Jaxx. Here’s a link to the very cute music video:

The thing that sticks out about that song is the bass line:

You may recall from earlier posts that there is a scale called the “blues scale” which is derived from the pentatonic scale, or the black keys. Well, the scale the bass is playing here is not that, but it’s related.

It starts on G and goes up to B. That’s a major third. The first step in a blues scale would be a minor third, to B♭. Minor is sad, major is happy. So this is the opposite of the blues, in a way. But from there, it uses the next three notes of the G blues scale: C C♯ D. That’s 4, a raised fourth (which, you may recall is what makes the blues scale different than the pentatonic), and 5.

The rest of the sequence is EADG, or 6251. That’s just kind of a nice way to work your way back down, so you can start the sequence over. So this is the repeating sequence: G B C C♯ D E A D

It turns out this sequence is common in a certain style of jazz. Let’s call it “Island Jazz.” I’ve found three examples, although there are probably hundreds.

Let’s start with the Ahmad Jamal’s Back to the Island:

This is the solo section in the middle of the song. And if you listen to the bass line, you’ll hear it is the same.

How about Mama Lela. It’s a song by Herman Riley. Although this clip is from Henry Franklin:

You’ll notice the transition back down is slightly different. But it’s basically the same bass line.

And one more. Kitch’s Bebop of Calypso played by Etienne Charles:

This is a cover of Bebop Calypso by Lord Kitchener from the early 1950’s. You can hear the progression there, too, but it isn’t quite as clear:

So what’s the point? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t one. But I think there is something a little magical about this progression. It is hip, because of the raised fourth, but it isn’t blue, because of the major third. In the three jazz clips, it sounds like it comes from Calypso, but in the Basement Jaxx clip, it doesn’t sound like Calypso at all. I heard this progression in another song that I can’t find  (believe me, I’ve searched). It was a big band tune, and it had something to do with toast or coffee or eggs or something. If you keep an ear out, I suspect you’ll start to pick up on it.

Maybe it can be your favorite bass line, too. That’s a thing, right? I think that should be a thing.

The Minion King

The kid showed up on my doorstep with a stack of accounts a mile high. He had read about The Case of the Minion Accounts and had devised his own system for finding minions. It involved cartoon AVIs, puns for handles, list memberships, tweet counts, and follower counts. It was like a fingerprint. But smudgy. He rattled them off, I checked the metadata. That one is. Not that one. No. No. Yes. No. By the end of the exercise we had added a handful of new minions to my list.


The Sidekick @c123harris

Every gumshoe needs a sidekick, I guess. If I was Spenser, he could be Hawk. I had to hand it to him, he certainly wore a lot of hats. He went by the name Chhristoppher, which suggested perhaps he stutters, or maybe has a tremor in his right hand. Anyway, he was all right.

He also turned me on to a particular pair of accounts that had a whole lot in common with the Minions. Retweeted the same stuff. I checked the metadata and it didn’t match. I concluded that these accounts might be the place the Minions go for their material. I made a new list: Minion-Adjacent.

Over the next few days I decided to kick the Minion accounts to the curb. Unfollowed them all, just to see what happened. Like normal accounts, they drifted off, eventually unfollowing me back.

But now and then they would pop back up. Even a couple new Minion accounts I hadn’t identified before. I would add them to the Minion List and not follow back.

That was it for a while. Didn’t really think about it. Didn’t hear from the kid. And then one of the Minions starred his own tweet, which referenced me and my Why We Tweet piece. I got the notification, and this dormant case came back to the top of my mind. Plus I got followed by yet another new (to me) Minion.

I’d been meaning to try to close this case. I figured I could probably solve it with a crawler. I could write a program to read a timeline, and look through all the RTs for ones matching the Arizona/TweetBot metadata pattern I’d discovered earlier. Then crawl into the timelines of those retweeted there and look deeper. But I write code every day. Twitter time should be spent twittering. So before I fired up emacs, I decided to see if I could uncover anything with a simple search.

I used the Twitter developer tools to search for mentions of the dame, @CosmicCat, and to look at the metadata of those mentions. Then I searched through those results for Arizona, and I found several known Minions. But I also found a new account: @LightCarnival. The metadata was a perfect match, but the TL wasn’t quite. He did RT @CosmicCat and some of the other accounts as the Minions. And most of his tweets were as incomprehensible as theirs. But this looked like the account of a real person. He had conversations with people. His follower/following/tweet counts were in the same neighborhood, not lopsided like a minion account (they have way more follows than tweets).

So I started actually reading through the TL, and there, right near the top I found this:

The Smoking Gun

The Smoking Gun

He says he’s going to RT the authors of “well-researched” lists. Then he RTs me and he RTs the kid. The “mentioned earlier” do not exist, so I guess he deleted those tweets. But this looked like pretty conclusive evidence that I had my man.

So I followed him, and when he followed back, I DM’d him to tell him he’d been found, and ask for his side of the story.

He got back to me right away. He fessed up, and told me his story. And what a story it was!

Basically, this guy is Batman.

The Minion King has a long history on twitter, scars from twitter wars of years past, villains, grudges, dark and light forces. He lurks in the shadows, doing his thing, trying to counteract the dark by spreading light. As far as he is concerned, and as far as I can tell, he is one of the good guys.

The Minion King

The Minion King @LightCarnival

His story goes back to when FavStar was new and had a slightly different name. Elite accounts were emerging, using FavStar as their vehicle to stardom. As is often the case on twitter, there was a lot of drama and feuding, and frankly I can’t quite follow it all. A lot of the accounts he told me about have disappeared, and he’s nervous about some of the players exacting revenge, so he’s a little sketchy on the details.

But he’s basically your run-of-the-mill comic book superhero. Deep back story only a true fan would even try to understand. Fighting for good and light over evil and darkness. Misunderstood. Suspected of being a bad guy by the good people of Twitropolis, because they just don’t know the struggle.

What he has done is used 32 minion accounts, in addition to his 2 minion-adjacent accounts, and his one real person account (and probably even more accounts I never found) to reach a follower base much larger than any ordinary user could achieve.

Then he demonstrated his power.

Overnight, he retweeted a dozen of my older tweets, and the effect was exactly like having your TL blown up by an Elite. Lots of stars and RTs from the far corners of Twitropolis. A dozen or more new followers. But, in a way, it was better than an elite blow-up because he doesn’t just hit your FavStar best-of or recent list. He digs deep into your TL looking for gold. And he does a good job of it. He found a lot of older tweets that never got much attention, and which I really liked.

So that’s the answer. The minions are a force-multiplier for a regular guy with way too much time on his hands, trying to spread light in what he perceives as a dark world. A benevolent stranger. The Minion King is Batman. Case closed.

I mixed a dirty martini and raised a toast to him. “May you win the battle of Light vs Dark, even if it is only in your head.”

Atheist in a Theist Land

In most regards, I’m a member of the privileged class. White. Male. Wealthy. I was raised by liberals, so I lean that way politically, and I do what I can to help people who have more struggles in life than I face. But in one regard, I am in a minority. Most minorities have advocates. Racial minorities. Ethnic minorities. LGBT minorities. Even representation minorities, like women in business. But my minority has no advocates. We lurk in the shadows. Assured of never achieving high political office. Viewed with suspicion by the vast majority of Americans. We are the atheists.

I’ve been an atheist my entire life, but this is the first time I’ve written about it. I grew up in a mixed income level, mixed religion community in southeastern Michigan. There was a great deal of tolerance and understanding there for pretty much everybody, except blacks and atheists. There were almost no black families in town, and the one that was there had to put up with a cross being erected across the street from them on private property. The Klan was a real thing in Michigan in the 1970s.

Unlike blacks, atheists are a little harder to pick out of a crowd. Lots of people who believe in God do not go to church, so that’s not an identifier. Pretty much the only way to find out if someone is an atheist is to ask them. And what I learned at a very young age was that lying was so much easier than coming out of that particular closet.

Whereas an atheist can easily understand that someone believes in God (although in my case at least, I really don’t understand why), in my experience, a theist cannot understand that we do not believe. It’s incomprehensible. It’s like we don’t believe in water or air.

It reminds me of the absurdity of straight people who think that gay people can be fixed so they are straight, too. Religious people think that atheists can be fixed. All they need to do, they believe, is teach us. There is a belief, going all the way back to the four Evangelists, that a belief in God can be taught like algebra, or spelling. But that just isn’t so. There is absolutely nothing that you can do or say that is going to convince me that we are anything other than a random collection of random events.

It might be helpful, at this point, to elucidate some things that I do believe. I believe in the infinite. The idea that time extends forever backward and forward. We happen to exist at a particular place in space-time that includes life, and consciousness, and love. That doesn’t mean those things were “created.” It means that they just happened to happen. The electron in this universe at this time has just the right mass and charge and spin. There are infinite possibilities, and all of them will happen. The ones that happened for us are the ones we see. That’s not a miracle. That’s just math.

Given my environment, I learned, over time, to avoid anything anywhere near a church. Once, I went with some friends to hear a concert in a church. I was just a little kid, and I’m not sure exactly what transpired, but by the end of the night I had been “saved” by a minister in a private room behind the stage. Nothing untoward: just some prayers and getting me to say whatever shit I had to say to get out of there. Not unlike getting a confession from a criminal down at headquarters.

Another time, I went to what was supposed to be a “fun night” with a friend at his church basement. “Nothing churchy, just games and stuff.” Yeah. It was really churchy. Prayer circles. The whole bit. It’s as though my friends did this churchy stuff so often they didn’t even realize they were performing rituals of worship.

A couple experiences like that and you learn to avoid coming within 100 yards of a church. A self-imposed restraining order.

And you also learn to never, ever, ever mention that you are atheist. Don’t even say agnostic, because that just means you’re a runner at third, and if they can get you home, they’ll get a save in their karmic scorecard. The right answer, particularly when you are a kid, is to just lie. “I’m protestant, but we don’t go to church.”

As I got older, the lesson stuck. Like most atheists I know, I am much more familiar with Christian theology, tradition, history, and teaching than most people who actually go to church. So I can hold my own in any theological discussion. My daughter asked me just yesterday what the difference was between the Congregational church next door, and the Catholic church she attends with her mother. That was my opening to give her a brief history of organized Christian religion, from the fourth century through today.

I am very involved in my community, doing volunteer work for both non-profit boards, and local government. But I won’t consider joining a fraternal organization like the Masons, because they are all religious organizations. And they welcome people of all religions, but they do not welcome people of no religion.

When my wife and I were courting, and we eventually got to the question of how we’ll raise our children, there was actually no issue. If she wanted to raise them in the church, that was fine with me. I won’t undermine that, and maybe they’ll grow up to believe in God. I’ve gotten very good at answering questions in a particular way that saves me from having to get into anything tricky. “Christians believe…” or “Your church teaches…” are my go-to sentence starters.

I tolerate going to churches for major ceremonies with our family and hers. When my kids got baptized, I even “renounced Satan” as required, since, to me, that was like renouncing Lex Luthor. Yeah, I’m not going to go worship your comic book villains. No worries.

It’s strange being atheist in America. We are a country in which freedom of religion is sacrosanct, but freedom from religion is not even on the table. Even the money in my pocket talks about God, for heaven’s sake. But really, it’s fine. I’ll tolerate your religion, and, for the most part, I’ll lie to you about mine. And everyone will get along just fine.

Hard Tweets Explained: Barrels of Babies

This tweet isn’t really all that hard, but I thought it would be fun to document how I arrived at my number. I actually tweeted a different conclusion in an earlier tweet, but in writing this story, I noticed an oversight. So here we are.

In case you aren’t aware, a “barrel” is a precise unit of volume measurement. When they talk about Venezuela producing 2.5 million barrels of oil a day, that’s about how much oil there is, not literally how many barrels they use, because I don’t think anybody puts oil in barrels any more.

A “barrel” is 119.2 liters.

I cannot fathom what made me curious about how many barrels of babies are produced each year. Clearly I need to adjust my medication. But to figure this out, we need to know how many babies are produced.

Surprisingly, google was pretty lame at answering that for me. However, I eventually stumbled upon the CIA web site (yes, that CIA) which revealed a birth rate of 18.9 births per 1000 population, and a world population of 7,095,217,980. So 18.9 times 7,095,217 = 134 million babies.

Next, we need to know how much volume a baby takes up, in liters. It turns out nobody has done an Archimedes-style experiment of putting a baby under water and seeing how much the water rises. Slackers.


Archimedes as a child

So I need to estimate. Using the Nirvana album cover as inspiration, I’m going to guess that babies have a similar density to water. So if I find out how much the average baby weighs, I can guess how much volume it takes up by guessing it takes the same amount as that weight of water. Google is helpful here: it offers that the average birthweight worldwide is 3.4 kg (7.5 lbs). A fun fact about the metric system is that 3.4 kg of water consumes 3.4 liters. So we are going to guess that each baby takes up 3.4 liters of volume.

So our 134 million babies take up 455.6 million liters. Divide that by 119.2 and we have 3.8 million barrels.

Homework: Borrow a 7.5 lb baby and do the Achimedes experiment to find out if my estimate is correct.

The Writer’s Imperative

I’ve been a writer all my life. I wrote my first “book” when I was around six. I transcribed it onto ditto sheets, so my mother could run off copies at work. (If you have any idea what I’m talking about, congratulations: you’re old, too.) It was a short story with illustrations. Once I had my copies, I gave them out to everyone I knew.

When I was in high school, I was inducted to National Honor Society. Every year they did a “tag day” fundraiser. The students would stand on street corners in town and ask for money. If you donated, they gave you a “tag” you could wear, so nobody else would ask you for money, I suppose. The money went to a scholarship fund. So the NHS students were begging on street corners, raising money for scholarships that would certainly only go to NHS students. I found this embarrassing and degrading and I wanted nothing to do with it. So I wrote an open letter of protest, made 100 copies, and left the stack in the teacher’s lounge. (They made tag day participation optional.)

In college, I wrote an op-ed column for the school paper. I wrote about topics that interested me, which was pretty much just school and sex. I mocked the work-study students who staged a “labor action.” I mocked the women from the neighboring “secretary school” who came to frat parties at our engineering college looking for husband material. I mocked the teachers. I mocked the admissions department, which then threatened to sue me.

When I entered the workforce, I wrote position papers. I attacked the status quo of defense modeling and simulation mercilessly.

I’ve blogged on and off since blogging was a thing. I write yelp reviews. I blog for my company now and then (although they rarely publish anything I write, because it scares and/or bores them).

I write.

Why the hell do I write so much?

And why do I write about topics that inflame and degrade and expose myself and others?

A certain individual in my life, whom I love more than anything, more than life itself, is “mortified” by what I write. And yet, here I am, writing.

It is an imperative. I have to write. And I’ve been thinking about why that is. It’s not for the money. I’ve never earned a cent from my blog or my tweets or those columns or letters or position papers. My situation is similar to an actor in community theater. Why spend all that time rehearsing, in order to stand up and perform? Or an amateur musician playing in a garage band, hoping for a gig, any gig, where people can hear you play. Why? Or the local artist friend I have who puts her paintings on display at the library, with no intention of selling them. Why?

It’s all the same thing. You might call it love or passion, but I’m inclined to view it a little more clinically. It’s skydiving.

We are taking an enormous risk, and in exchange, we get an enormous high. And like any “chasing the high” situation, our risks need to increase over time. Writing about something safe is skydiving from a stool. Writing and not publishing is putting on a parachute, then sitting on a couch to watch TV. You have to take the risk, or you don’t get the reward.

I have an addictive personality. Twenty-five years ago, the thing I liked most about smoking was the first cigarette of the day. The fixer. I’m addicted to human contact in the same way. A single touch gives me a rush of endorphins, as strong as any drug could. Getting lost in the throes of passion will sustain me on a euphoric high for a day or more. And I’m addicted to writing.

Although I am prone to addiction, I am also ridiculously good at giving up my addictions. When my college girlfriend, who had asthma, was ready to move in with me, I had to stop smoking. So I did. Just. Stopped. Although I very much enjoy the endorphin rush, I don’t need it. For me, addiction is a nice-to-have, not a have-to-have.

So I could just stop writing. The imperative is self-imposed.

But I will not stop writing. Because I just don’t see the harm. When I write about sex, and it becomes crystal clear that, deep down, I’m a 14-year-old boy, I’m OK with that. I’m not embarrassed by that. It is who I am.

When I write about how much I love and adore my wife, I’m not telling you anything that I wouldn’t tell anyone who would listen. I remember being at a party a few years ago, and meeting a new person, and the first thing I told him was “I am the luckiest man in the world.” He was taken aback. He looked around, saw my house, my yard, my family, and concurred. I am the luckiest man in the world, and that fact occupies enough space in my brain that it’s frequently what I want to write about.

Sometimes, we have to decide whether to be true to our own nature, or change who we are to please others. And it’s never a simple decision. Sometimes changing is the right thing to do. Smoking was harmful to myself and those around me, so that was a relatively easy decision. My wife cannot stand the smell of coffee, and I’m seriously considering whether that addiction is worth the trouble it causes me. But writing is the one addiction I’ve had my whole life that I’ve never even considered giving up. And by “writing,” I mean writing funny, embarrassing, provocative things that are edgy and risky enough that they matter. I don’t want to give that up. Writing is the addiction I’d like to keep.

Hard Tweets Explained: Finite State Machine

Let’s start with a literal interpretation. If the continent could produce states forever, it would be an infinite producer of states. So it would be an infinite state-making machine. But eventually we used up all the space, so it was a finite state-making machine, or finite state machine.

The reason this is ahem “funny” is because Finite State Machine is a term of art in computer science. That is, it is computer jargon for a particular way of writing a computer program. You model the behavior of the system by listing all the states that it might be in. There is a limited number of these, and hence, “finite.” Then you work out under what conditions it will transition from one state to another.

For example, suppose you are writing a program that scans a text file line by line, and prints any section bounded by a three dashes. This program would start in a state “looking for dashes”. When you are in this state if you see the dashes, you transition to the state “printing stuff”. When you are in this state you print each line you see, and check to see if you see dashes again. When you see the dashes, you transition to back to the “looking for dashes” state. There are just those two states in this machine.

FSM for your Vibrator

FSM for your Vibrator

Finite State Machines (often abbreviated FSMs) are useful for building programs that are extremely robust. Often you can represent the states as rows in a table, and the inputs as columns, and the transitions in the cells of the table. That allows you to write a very simple program and then do all your programming by filling in the table. It’s easier to be certain that a table is correct than it is to get that certainty about a program, so this technique is often used in systems that are mission-critical like your car stereo or the microcontroller in that fancy three-speed vibrator you just bought.

Homework: Try to reach orgasm with your vibrator while simultaneously thinking about the fact that there is a FSM micro controller program involved.

My Year on Twitter

That was my first tweet. I had been a twitter lurker on and off for a long time, but never posted anything. I was learning the joke formats, the lingo, and the social dynamics. It’s my nature. When I decide to learn a new programming language (I know at least 40), I sit down with the comprehensive book and read it cover to cover. Since there is no manual for twitter, I had to just lurk for a long time, before I thought I had it figured out.

I had posted that joke as a Facebook status, and it was very popular among my “friends” there, so I figured I’d let it loose on the twitter. It got a star, maybe two, and I was on my way.

That was one year ago, and I was thinking it would be fun to do a commemorative tweet of all the twitter-related things that have happened in my life since then. And then I realized that was going to take a lot more than 140 letters to express. So here we are.

I made friends

I’m putting this one first, because it’s the most important. I have made a lot of friends on twitter. This is extremely unusual for me. I do very well in social situations. I can be witty and attentive and engaging. And I’ve always had a collection of people with whom I associate. But I’ve rarely, if ever, had friends the way most people use that word. Confidants. People you can tell secrets to. People you trust and love, but with whom you aren’t having sex. I can count the number of pre-twitter relationships I’ve had like that on zero hands. Because it’s not something I’ve done.

But I have had two extremely deep, rich friendships like that with people I met on twitter, and dozens of other friendships that are not so intense but still so much more than I typically experience in real life. People who I’m inclined to contact just to say, “how are you doing?” and actually care what they have to say in response. I love dozens more people now than I did a year ago, and that’s probably the most significant change in my life. But I’ve also done some interesting things, so I want to mention those, too.

I wrote

Obviously, I wrote a lot of tweets. I’ve written about 22,000 words (not counting common words like “the” or “like”) on twitter in the last year. And I’m not really that prolific. The numbers for some of the people I follow must be staggering.

I wrote an open letter called Why We Tweet that has been viewed over 600 times. And judging from the responses I’ve gotten, and the retweets and shares and reblogs, I think it really touched a lot of people. Ironically, I also think it failed. Judging from the very small sample of one person I know who doesn’t “get” twitter, and who read that letter, I failed to move her. She still doesn’t “get” twitter, and still thinks it very odd that I spend so much time chatting with strangers. Sigh.

When I wrote that, I considered just tweeting a picture of it, but it was too damn long. So I set up a blog to host it. And since I had a blog, I figured I might as well also become a blogger. And so here we are.

I started by using the blog to explain some of my more obscure tweets, and then branched out to writing some of my memoirs, and eventually decided to also write about and share the music I create. I’ve been trying to keep a pace of three postings a week, and so far so good, but I have my doubts I’ll be able to do that ad infinitum. Time will tell.

I stopped looking at porn

I used to love porn. I mean, it has boobs, right? But moving ones. And moaning and stuff. But tweeting, and the friendships, and the chatting, and the writing, and all of that, seems to be the methadone for my porn addiction. I simply have no interest whatsoever in looking at porn any more. It’s really weird, actually. I’ve been looking at porn for 30 years. I looked at porn when I was dating a radical feminist who would have killed me if she found out I was looking at porn. And now, boom, no interest. Very strange, indeed.

I created

As my tweets were piling up in the twitter, I noticed that people almost never went back and looked at my old tweets. They would look at my new ones, and they would look at my popular ones on favstar, but they wouldn’t look at old, overlooked tweets. And I thought that was a shame, and I got an idea of how I might fix that.

I figured I could make a site where I tag each of my tweets. Kind of like a hashtag, but less annoying. I’d make it easy for someone to read my “family” tweets or my “women” tweets or whatever. And as I was thinking this through, I decided it would be just as easy to make it a site where anyone could do that. And was born.

And since then, about 20 people have decided to also use it to tag their tweets.

Twenty people doesn’t sound like a lot, but going through your tweet history and tagging is actually quite a lot of work. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun. But it’s not for the lazy, and so I know that will never be a commercial success like favstar.  But that’s fine. I didn’t do it as an economic project. I did it as a public art project.

Since launching it, I’ve gotten great feedback from the people using it (I like to call them “curators”), and I’ve added some neat features. For example, I index all your tweets so you can see just how often you use the work “fuck,” and you can easily find that tweet you vaguely remember writing by just typing one word that was in it.

It’s how I know I wrote 22,000 words since I started.

I fell more and more in love with my wife

I can see how this relates to twitter, but it requires a bit of connect-the-dots. And explaining it would probably require telling you much more about my marriage than my wife would want me to share. So I’ll just say that I’m a much more happily married man now than I was a year ago, and I love my wife so much I cannot even express it in words. Even when I am with her, I ache for her.

And so,

I am inclined to say that this was a very, very good year. I am a much happier, and introspective, and appreciated person than I was a year ago. I’ve read tweets where people say that their twitter addiction ruined their life, or wrecked their marriage, or made them fat, or some other awful thing. And I just don’t get it. Developing a twitter addiction has been one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s really quite wonderful. And to all my followers and all those I follow, I have a simple message:

Thank you.


This is another rehearsal recording with my friends Doug, Jamie, and Michael. You can meet them in the post about Listen Here, if you are interested.

This is a song written by Frank Loesser, and introduced to the world by the wonderful Danny Kaye. He sang it beautifully, and that is the version that is in my head when I play it.

The arrangement we are playing is from the Real Book 5th edition. Back in the 1970s somebody (nobody will say who) put together a thick book of jazz standards and popular jazz songs. This violated copyright law, because they didn’t get permission from any of the composers. So it was produced and published and sold through a grey market. I bought mine in the late 1980s from a music store that I heard had it. You’d go in, say, “Can I get a Real Book?” and they would try to sell you the legit version (which was completely different, and was missing most of the songs you would want), and you’d say, “Uh…. the other  Real Book…” and they’d look you up and down, and open a drawer and sell you the one you want.

A few years ago, a publisher finally went to the trouble of getting most of the rights to the songs, and transposed them so most of them are in the same key as the original Real Books. That’s called the 6th Edition, and you can get it anywhere. But it’s not exactly the same, so it’s better to use the 5th Edition if you can get your hands on one. And these days, that’s incredibly easy, since there are PDF scans of it that you can get from any file sharing network you want.

The version of Inchworm in the Real Book is based on how Coltrane recorded it. After the head, it goes to a simple two chord modal pattern for the solos. I am very comfortable with soloing over this kind of pattern. You are basically working in a single key and exploring the scale of that key any way you want. I just close my eyes, and see where it goes.

After my solo, I move over to the keyboard and play a couple chords so Michael has something to play over. I learned to play jazz piano about 17 years ago. I was living where I am now, but with Wife 1. Her sister owned a square grand piano from the late 1800s. A square grand is a lot like a regular grand, except the soundboard with all the strings is criss crossed so they can pack everything into a smaller space. I guess it was invented so that you could have a grand piano in the small rooms of the Victorian era.

Anyway, this thing weighed a ton, and it was ruining her sister’s house, and so we volunteered to give it a new home. I got it, and immediately set about tuning it, which, if you’re a musician with a good ear and a wrench, isn’t really very hard to do. So then I had an in-tune grand piano in my house.

So I called my brother. “Hey, Zack. How do I play jazz piano?” And by phone and email, he taught me enough jazz piano theory and practice to be able to fake enough chords to back up a guitar player while he solos.

Since then, I’ve learned a few bass lines so I can sit at a piano and play the head on a jazz tune, and then just play a bass line while I fool around and improvise with my other hand. I can do this for hours. Which explains the following tweet, which is what I’ll leave you with:

Hard Tweets Explained: Non-Euclidean Space

And here we have another example of me beating a twitter joke format horse to death. You can suffer through other examples of this in regard to Confections and Movies.

In this case, we are playing with the same pun about an opening line vs a geometric line that I used with Benjamin Button. Close your eyes, think back, and remember geometry from school: the shortest path between two points is a straight line; parallel lines never intersect; if you have a line and a point, there is only one line through that point that doesn’t intersect the line.

All that stuff, like so much of what you learned in school, is not exactly true.

There is a convention, when teaching, to fail to mention the context. For example, when they teach you Newtonian physics, they fail to mention that most of what you are learning does not apply at very high speed, or at very small scale. When you learn about music, they fail to mention that the convention of 12 notes is a Western construct, and there are other music systems that divide the frequencies of sounds in an octave differently. And when you learn about geometry, they fail to mention that you are learning about Euclidean geometry, but there are other geometries with different rules.

It’s a pet peeve of mine. It’s fine to teach one “truth,” but make it clear that this truth is contextual. There are other “truths” that seem to contradict this one, in other contexts.

So let’s focus on geometry. You learned about Euclidean geometry. That’s the geometry that Euclid defined about 2,300 years ago. He started with a small set of rules, and then derived a whole bunch of other rules from it. One of those rules says that if you have a line (think a road), and a point (think a sign next to the road), then there is only one line that goes through that point that doesn’t intersect the line (such as the sidewalk: it goes through the sign, and it never intersects the road). That line is parallel to the one it doesn’t intersect. Seems intuitive, and obviously correct, right?

OK, so suppose that I tell you that there is a different set of rules where every line through that point is going to intersect that  first line. That parallel lines do, in fact, intersect. That lines, in fact, always intersect themselves. And suppose, further, that you’ve worked with a geometric system like this your whole life. This other set of rules are different from Eulcid’s rules, so we call them Non-Euclidean. And your very existence seems to be in a Non-Euclidean space. As is mine. As is everyone else’s on the planet.

It’s like one of those Sphinx puzzles. You exist in a place where all lines intersect themselves. Where are you?

Answer: On a globe. Shoot a line in any direction, and eventually it comes around and hits you in the ass.

The surface of a sphere is a Non-Euclidean space. Every line through a point intersects every line you might draw. Lines intersect themselves. Parallel lines sometime intersect, such as the longitude markings on a globe meeting at the poles.

So the opening line of my life story would intersect itself because I exist in a Non-Euclidean space. (And I just checked: the spelling I used the in tweet is less common, but also considered correct. Whew!)

Homework: Define a new system of geometry in which the shortest distance between two points is plenty long enough, and really it’s how you use it that matters, and not how big it is, and who are you to judge anyway?

I Told You So

Before I founded the company I work at now, I spent many years as a defense contractor. I worked for a smallish R&D firm that primarily did work for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA has quite the fabled existence, but like venture capitalists in the non-government world, most of that is complete bullshit. It’s staffed by a mix of military officers and academics, who are smarter than their peers in the rest of government, but nowhere near as smart as the defense contractors to whom they are funneling money. DARPA gets credit for things like the Internet, the Stealth Fighter, etc., but really they were just the loophole that let the government give money to smart people without going through an acquisition process that ensures the crap results the rest of the military has to deal with.

Every now and then, though, you’d find a real star inside the DARPA circle. I say the “circle” because, in fact, each of the military branches has their own R&D groups that work a lot like DARPA, although they don’t get as much credit. It’s a collegiate environment, and these program managers move around between the different organizations (and DC area universities and military research labs) fluidly.

So it was in one of these not-quite-DARPA organizations that I ended up working with a PM named Del. He was GS-15, which is as high as you can rise in civil service. GS-15 is like being a Colonel in the Army. It’s a position with a lot of power and autonomy, but you still have higher ups, and you are following orders most of the time.

Del was brilliant. And he liked Indian food, so he was a really good guy to hang around with when I was in DC. And I was in DC a lot. At this point in my career, the smallish R&D firm had been bought by a bigger defense contractor, which had been bought by the biggest defense contractor. Since I was on “Direct Labor” contracts, my employers just multiplied my salary by 3 to cover their “overhead” and charged that to the US Government. So I decided to go independent, and double my salary, and save the US Government a whole pile of dough. I’m a patriot.

I was living in Michigan, while Wife 1 was going through law school, and I was commuting to DC to sit in meetings as a late-twenties “grey beard” who would help the DARPA PMs figure out how the big defense contractors were screwing them, and whether they should just put up with it, or do something about it.

I’d fly full-fare coach from Detroit to National, and Northwest would bump me to first class every time. Back then, the stewardesses would blow you if you sprung for the first class ticket, so that was nice.

But I digress.

It was this smart PM Del who invented “I told you so” stickers. Now, this is just a concept. He never actually made the stickers, as far as I know. But the logic is brilliant.


Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges!

If you’ve ever spent any time around military officers in dress uniform, then you’ve seen their badges. I found this snapshot on the web, but the officers I worked with had much bigger stacks than this. Rows and rows of badges indicating special skills they have, actions in which they’ve served, etc. Ever wonder why they have these badges? Well Del had a theory: it’s so if you are talking to a service member, and they have an opinion about something, you can glance at their chest and immediately know whether you should value that opinion. It’s a LinkedIn profile on your chest.

So Del’s idea was simple. Every time you are proven right, you are awarded an “I told you so” sticker. You wear this sticker on your breast, like a military badge. Over time, you’ll get more and more of these stickers. If you are like me, eventually you’ll have dozens of them.

So suppose you are in a disagreement with someone. You think things should be done this way, they insist they should be done that way. And then they look at your “I told you so” stickers. And you are covered with them. And they think, you know, he’s usually proven right. Maybe I should concede this one.

Del liked me a lot. He told me I’d have more “I told you so” stickers than anyone else he’d ever known.

Years later Del asked me to come back to DC to expand on a thesis I had on the future of military simulation. He figured I was probably right, and wanted to get ahead of the curve. But that’s a story for another time.