Friday, July 22, 2016

Band Review: Boy from the Crowd

Boy from the Crowd is a London-based duo who plays a brand of rock that pulls from punk, blues, and the garage rock of the '70s.

In their own words, "One of the things that makes rock ’n’ roll great is its little imperfections..." They bring this into their own music with feedback and distortion, giving a roughness to the sound.

That may be best heard in "All I Need", but they have also recorded a single of "Johnny B. Goode". Hearing how they handle such a familiar tune gives a good idea of the band's aesthetic.

It would still not be complete without listening to "Where the Bees Come to Die", an instrumental inspired by the environment and man's relationship with it. By eliminating they typically hard-edged vocals, it shows a different side of the band.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Band Review: Jesse Quin

Jesse Quin is the bass player in Keane, and his own music was recommended some time ago by his bandmate, drummer Richard Hughes.

There is a lot to explore. Quin describes himself as "Amateur musician for hire", and gets a fair amount of jobs (calling the "amateur" into question). He has also played with Mt. Desolation, The Wedding Band, Laura Marling, and Jesse Quin & The Mets. For the purposes of this review, I have focused on his solo work, as found on Soundcloud.

"Still Life" opens up very quietly, softly winding its way into your consciousness. As personal and individual as it begins, it grows into something united and universal.

That pattern probably makes "Still Life" the most ambitious of the three tracks. "Another Year" has some similarities in mood, but then it becomes interesting to compare it, and then to compare the much more techno "Thousand Mile Stare".

The overwhelming feeling is a sense of intimacy. There are so many things that Quin can do, and so many places where he can fit it, but there is also this, just him, engaging peacefully in a beautiful way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Putting it all out there

One job type that I never look at is sales. Asking people for things is hard for me. If the specific goal is getting their money, that is even harder. (This is one reason that an agent would be a huge help.)

Selling yourself is part of job-hunting, and that particular aspect is difficult for me. I've never felt that I look good on paper, going back to when it was time to apply for college scholarships and I discovered that I had done my high school activities all wrong. That some of the best things I have done in most jobs have been outside of the regular job description has contributed. There are various positions that I can fill, despite having no history of it. Realistically, the lay off was a big blow to my self-esteem as well.

There was an exercise that I did to remind myself of what I was capable of, and what examples I could use for backup. I had been looking at transferable skills, and I decided to do a journal session telling my career history as a story. How did I find each job? What was it like there? Why did I leave? Often there were direct connections between jobs, especially for my Intel time. I left nothing out. I even wrote about my early time babysitting and picking berries, followed by sports jobs, all of which happened before McDonalds.

Some threads emerged. Yes, I found myself remembering things I had done and am capable of doing that I hadn't thought about for a while. That was useful for resume building and my LinkedIn profile.

I think it was even more useful to remember that I am competent and responsible. My job has never been the most important thing in my life, but I still do it well. People trusted me and gave me extra responsibility. When contract rules created time limits, people looked for ways to keep me. They believed I could do things that were new but built on what I had been doing. And they were right.

Let me add a couple of notes to that. Anyone who follows me regularly knows that writing comes very naturally to me. It's how I work things out in general, so there's no surprise when I turn to it for something like this. If that doesn't work for you, other things can.

I have a friend who needs to be talking to someone else to work things out. If that's what you need, there's probably a friend you can talk to. There are career and life coaches if you need it to be more formal.

If that doesn't sound right for you, try drawing your work history as a timeline and adding graphs. Chart out your skills as a map. There will be a way of tackling things that is more effective for you, and there is a lot of value in finding it.

The other thing that has been very helpful is that a long time ago I wrote up a list of jobs and kept adding to it.

Resumes would have a lot of information, but not everything that gets asked on a job application. It is common to be asked for addresses and phone numbers, and sometimes for supervisor names and starting and ending wages as well. That has been a very helpful reference all along, but it served as a good job for my memory as well. If you don't have something like that, think about creating one. Fifteen years later it can be hard to remember a supervisor's name.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Answering the calls

One of the worst parts of job hunting has been how it necessitates answering the phone.

Someone could be calling about a job; you can't risk not answering. That means hearing everything else that Caller ID previously told you to ignore:

"I am from Windows support calling about your computer..."

"You must call your credit card company now to inquire about lowering your interest rates..."

"The career politicians in Salem..."

It isn't just that I have to pick up on those calls, because job hunting also led to more calls. No. Not like that. Initially every time I completed an online application I would receive a phone call about getting me into an education program.

"I'm really just looking for a job now."
"But after you've been working for a few months, would you be interested in going back to school?"

Having aggressively asked to be removed from the list a few times, that one has stopped, but there are still all the others. I was almost deciding that they didn't matter anyway. Every time I have gotten any communication about an actual possible job, it has been through e-mail. Employers have probably gotten tired of call screening and phone tag as well. That was before the leak.

Just at the beginning of the month, we found a wet spot in the family room. That particular spot has been hit once before, when there was a clog in the drain line on the washing machine. It was the Friday before the 4th of July, and finding anyone to come at all was hard, but we did get someone to come and clean the line, paying steeply for it.

The wet came back. There was also a leak in the washing machine itself, and there was enough wet that there was water damage.

This means that we have needed to make and take many calls: warranty support for the washing machine, the insurance company, the water mitigation team, the abatement team, and there will still be contractors.

People have generally been helpful and kind. Safeco has my business for life at this point. Still, there are all of these busy teams with multiple places to go, and things that need to be done in a certain order, like you can't disconnect and move the washing machine to get at the wet floor underneath it when you are still waiting for the part that needs to be replaced to arrive and be installed.

Things can go wrong very easily. I gave the home number as the main number, but I also gave the cell phone as a backup number. This seemed reasonable even though I never hear it ring. One person got the cell phone as the main number, and gave it to the others to call. I got it corrected with one team, but another scheduler called the cell phone on Friday night fifteen minutes after I had checked on it and decided we obviously weren't going to hear from them that day. That set us back a few days for getting in.

It's nerve-wracking. You can't leave the house, because they might call. Wait, did the phone get knocked off the hook? Where is my cell now? It rings; is that them? No, it's usually one of my sisters, checking to see if we have heard anything. That usually accounts for about five calls a day.

And they're people I would have picked up for when I was still screening.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Linking up and in

I'm going to write about some aspects of job hunting this week. After all, I'm not the only one in this position, and there are some things that can be wise to do even when happily employed. One good project at any time is improving your LinkedIn profile. Here's mine:

I have added job history and training and even some test scores, but my big focus has been increasing my connections. I was told I should try to get to at least 500. I think I was previously at 85.

That makes my current number of 319 connections very impressive, but the early fast accumulation has petered out. At this rate, making it to 500 is very far away. However, I now understand why they give you 500 as a goal - after that your connections display as 500+. You appear to have a maximum level of connectedness then, even if the actual number is 501.

There is a value to having many connections beyond the appearance of being well-connected, and effective networking is its own topic. LinkedIn will do job searches, and when you are interested in one, they will tell you if you have connections or fellow alumni at the company. In addition, people try to fill jobs before they are posted publicly. When whom you know matters, knowing more people is helpful. That is not what I am writing about today.

If you are currently in the phase of trying to build up your connections, and need enough connections to be somewhat undiscriminating, I have made some observations on that process.

There are three options for growth under My Network: Add Contacts, People You May Know, and Find Alumni.

Add Contacts: This feature allows you to use your e-mail address book to find potential connections. It can be useful, but depending on your e-mail habits it may cast too wide a net. In addition to having made several agent inquiries recently, I have in the past been the administrator on different preparedness newsletters.

Find Alumni: I have not found a way to do this for my high school, where I would know lots of people. For my college, first it brings up all the Ducks I am already connected to - whom I do know - and then quickly goes to people who are completely unfamiliar.

It is handy that if you have a school in common that is enough to request to connect, even if you have no other connections in common. Some alumni may not remember you specifically, but still be willing to connect because of school spirit. I generally do not try and connect with people I have never met, but you can do it. This leads to our final tool...

People You May Know: This will contain a lot of people you don't know. There will be people that you know too, and you will click Connect, and if they check LinkedIn regularly your numbers will soon grow, but there will be many more that are not suitable for connection.

Initially this is pretty interesting. You see people you know, and then people who are familiar but not really known - like that guy you always used to pass in the hall on your way to the cafeteria. Now you know his name without ever having gotten close enough to read his badge.

There are near misses that give you an idea of the algorithm. Okay, I think that's Deanna's daughter-in-law, and that's Rachel's father. That is definitely my sister's manager's son's wife.

Then there are things that are more confusing. I know someone with that name, but this is not that person. This name is not familiar, but they look a lot like a different person I know.

Sometimes it can be very sad. One time a former co-worker and an old friend who both died of cancer came up right next to each other.

Generally speaking, these are not people you would not click to Connect with, but scroll past them and the list will keep getting longer. The task of going through them all grows, inversely proportional to the hope of finding other acquaintances.

You don't have to keep scrolling through the same unfamiliar faces. Clicking the X in the upper right corner dismisses them, at least temporarily. Do this a few times, and even previously populated rows will go away. "Fine!" the algorithm seems to say, "I guess there are no people you know."

I try and do a combination of both, scrolling far down looking one time, and dismissing early the next. At first I would feel guilty about clicking away these smiling faces, but I had to remember that I am not rejecting them as people; I'm just saying we don't know each other.

That leads us back to that question of connecting with people you don't know. You can try it. It might work. They might think they know you or decide more connections is good regardless. They might feel the attempted connection is an imposition too, but as strangers they will probably have forgotten you if you do encounter each other in the future. The risks seem relatively low, but it still feels weird to me. I need to have some memory of you.

But if you want to connect, and I don't remember you, but you seem like a reasonable person, I am probably going to accept that. And right now, I am on there every day.

And every connection increases the chance of me finding more people that I actually do know.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Band Review: Voltaire

Voltaire was recommended by Ray Toro, who was a guest on Voltaire's 2014 album Raised By Bats (despite a song plea from 2007's Ooky Spooky to "Bomb New Jersey"). In honor of Ray's birthday today, I decided to check Voltaire out.

Some works are listed under just Voltaire, and others under Aurelio Voltaire, an adjustment to finding other bands using the Voltaire name. That seems like a strange issue, because Aurelio Voltaire is one of a kind.

Pulling musical influences from cabaret and folk, songs come out as tangos and drinking songs and sea shanties. Also as country music, especially on Hate Lives in a Small Town. Then sometimes things come out surprisingly - almost conventionally - beautiful. I really responded to "Feathery Wings" and I can't compare it to anything.

His Youtube channel does not have much in the way of conventional music videos, but there are videos with career and decorating advice, as well as a pictorial narration of his book, Candy Claws, which shows off another side of how rich and smooth his voice is.

Melodies are often infectious, with easy cadences that seem to lend themselves to children's entertainment. This makes sense given Voltaire's collaboration with Cartoon Network and "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy". At the same time, some parents may be concerned about whether the artist's gleeful embrace of evil and the macabre is a good fit for their children. My only advice is a warning that he seems to get much dirtier when talking about both Star Trek and Star Wars. I don't know why; it's just the impression that I get.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Band Review: Direct Hit!

Direct Hit! are the most punk thing I have listened to lately: fun and obnoxious.

I was checking them out based on the recommendation of The All-American Rejects' Mike Kennerty, in commemoration of his birthday next week.

I appreciate the way Direct Hit! is capable of hardcore but does not overdo it; that can become old very quickly.

Their execution is fresh and enjoyable. Even looking at the tempo and length of most songs, it feels very traditionally punk, but nothing feels dated.

For the obnoxious part, you know, either it will bother you or it won't. If traditional punk sounds good to you, you can probably live with it.

I enjoyed the band.