Scott Hutchinson RIP

Scott Hutchinson was Frightened Rabbit. That was the nickname given to shy young Scott by his mother. That was the name under which he started making music.

Frightened Rabbit became a duo when Scott was joined by brother and drummer Grant. Frightened Rabbit added members over time.

Midnight Organ Fight, FR’s breakthrough album, came out in 2008. The band recently completed a tour marking the 10th anniversary of the release. It is for me a truly great album. As Kieran Devlin recently wrote in The Guardian:

A classic heartbreak record, Midnight didn’t navigate the travails of young love and lust so much as trip over them and mutter an unnecessary apology.

Here’s an acoustic version of my favorite track.

Scott recently took his own life. Here are his last two messages to the world.

Be so good to everyone you love. It’s not a given. I’m so annoyed that it’s not. I didn’t live by that standard and it kills me. Please, hug your loved ones.

I’m away now. Thanks.

They are quoted by Stephen Thompson at NPR, along with some words from Scott’s family.

Now please, be good to everyone you love. And to yourself.

Flickr-ing Out? Maybe Not

Flickr wasn’t actually Flickr for very long. It launched in February 2004. It was acquired by Yahoo in March 2005. I had got my free Flickr account earlier in 2005. I enjoyed and admired Flickr as a great mix of content and community.

Flickr ceased to be Flickr, not because it changed under Yahoo, but because it didn’t change very much. In 2017, Verizon acquired Yahoo, including Flickr.

SmugMug acquired Flickr about a week ago. SmugMug? It’s another of “the oldest and biggest photography-oriented internet companies”. The quote is from Glenn Fleishman’s article at Fast Company.

It looks as though Flickr is in good hands, for the first time in over a decade. So I’ll keep my Flickr Pro account for the next few months.

For a while now, I’ve been taking photos with my phone, and not posting many of them. But I’ll post this one: boat dock in snow with Christmas tree.

Later this year, I hope to have a camera, and an online home for my photos. I hope that SmugMug’s management of Flickr will be such that I don’t have to move the old ones, and just restart uploading and organizing the new ones I like.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: It’s Bad… in a Great Way

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CXG) is my favorite current TV show. That might sound like much, given that we don’t have a TV, but please stay with me for a paragraph or two and perhaps a video.

The CXG is question is Rebecca Bunch, a lawyer who leaves a successful career on the east coast to move to West Covina, California, the home town of a guy she had a summer camp fling with years ago. That makes it sound as though the show focuses on Rebecca and Josh Chen (the guy from camp). But it’s about Rebecca and her many relationships: with boyfriends, colleagues, etc., and most of all with herself.

One of the distinctive things about CXG is that, a couple of times an episode, a character or characters burst into song, often busting out dance moves. I’ll include a few examples. First, at the risk of spoiling: Rebecca realizes that she has invested in romantic/sexual relationships at the expense of other aspects of life.

That’s from season three, which I’m currently watching on Netflix. It looks as though there will be a fourth and last season. The plan from the start was for a four-season arc. The show changes a lot over the arc.

One of the changes was the departure of Santino Fontana, who played one of Rachel’s boyfriends. I think he was superb in the show. Here’s one of his big numbers.

While Rebecca does not lack for contact of various kinds with guys, perhaps the second most important character in the show is her friend Paula, played by Donna Lynne Champlin. Here’s my favorite of her numbers.

CXG reminds me of Breaking Bad, in at least two ways. First, each is great, and would be on any list of my favorite TV shows of all time. I particularly admire the writing, but I shouldn’t neglect other aspects of the show.. Second, each is an ensemble show with a great lead. Bryan Cranston was incredible in BB, but Rachel Bloom co-created, stars in, sings and dances in CXG, co-writes scripts and songs…

I am crazy about this show. How about you?

The Books of Babel

The first of the Books of Babel, Senlin Ascends, starts with Thomas Senlin and his wife Marya heading to the Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. They get separated before even entering the tower, Thomas enters the tower to seek Marya, and… ascends. This takes him through various “ringdoms”, such as the Parlour. His guidebook tells him that this is a theater district, so he expects to see a show, and is surprised to be told that he must play the part of the Butler.

I was fascinated by the Tower, by some of the people Thomas meets, and by the mystery of Marya. There were a couple of ways in which I wasn’t convinced by the character of Thomas. But the second book, Arm of the Sphinx, addressed one of them. More generally, I enjoyed the second book even more than the first. I admire the pacing: the rate at which we find out about the characters and the world, while given more mysteries to ponder.

Josiah Bancroft plans to write two more novels in the Books of Babel series. He self-published the first two, and now has a deal with Orbit to republish them, and to publish the third (which I believe he’s currently writing) and fourth. I look forward to the last two books, and to more covers by Ian Leino.

Ursula K. Le Guin, 1929-2018

On Monday, Ursula Le Guin parted from this world. I’ll link to one of the many appreciations online, then get on with my own appreciation.

A few weeks ago, I parted with most of my remaining books. I donated a few hundred of the dusty dead-tree things. About a dozen were by Le Guin, most of them decades-old UK paperback editions.

I don’t regret having parted with the books, even after learning of Le Guin’s passing. At first I was surprised at myself. Then I reflected, and realized that there are several reasons for the lack of regret.

Those particular instances of the books are just objects. The Left Hand of Darkness is important to me because of the writing, rather than because of the particular object with print on its pages that I used to own.

I’ll be able to re-read the books (again). There are e-books, libraries, pleasing new editions, and so on. Here’s herself on re-reading.

“If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell you it again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”

I may be able to re-buy one of my own Le Guin books. I’m thinking of The Dispossessed: it’s one of my favorites; and my copy of it was in better shape, and had larger and more pleasing type, than most of the others. If I don’t get to it in time, that’s fine: it will mean that it has found a new reader and a new home, many years and many miles from its first home with me. It will also mean that the Friends of the Library have sold it, thus raising money for the good things they do.

Books are wonderful. Libraries are wonderful. Ursula Le Guin is, and always will be, wonderful.

Black Mirror Season 4

Black Mirror is among my favorite TV shows ever: it’s up there with The X-Files, The Simpsons, and a few others. I’ve just watched season 4 of Black Mirror on Netflix.

Upon first watch, this is the weakest of the first four seasons. The writing just isn’t up the standard set by much of the first three seasons.

On a positive note, I watched all six episodes, and I regard it as six hours (or so) well spent. Each episode was very well done, in terms of performances, and thus probably in terms of casting and directing.

Here’s my current ranking of the episodes.

  • Best: Hang the DJ (episode 4). A clear winner. The best script of the season. I loved the chemistry between the leads.
  • Black Museum (episode 6). I suspect that Douglas Hodge’s riveting performance carried me over some flaws.
  • Arkangel (episode 2).
  • Callister and Metalhead (episodes 1 and 5 respectively). Possibly the two most different-from-each-other episodes of the season, which makes it hard to say which I preferred.
  • Crocodile (episode 3), a distant last, despite a good cast making the best of the script.

At most one of these episodes would make my “Best of Black Mirror” top ten. It’s not that the season was bad, it’s that it wasn’t Black Mirror great, or early X-Files great. Perhaps Black Mirror is one of those shows that should stop while it’s ahead, after a few (four?) seasons.

What did you think?

Gaming: 2017 to 2018

I love board games. By board games, I mean the sort of games that get described and discussed at BoardGameGeek.com (BGG). This includes board games, card games, apps allowing the play of such games,…

As 2018 replaces 2017 is a geeklist I recently posted to BGG. It is an account of my gaming in 2017 and of my plans for gaming in 2018. To summarize: More!

I hope that you have a great 2018, whatever your plans.

Engagement: Employees, etc.

How do we know if something has reached the mainstream? One answer is: there’s a “For Dummies” book about it.

So employee engagement is in the mainstream, if the publication of Employee Engagement For Dummies is anything to go by.

Author Bob Kelleher defines employee engagement as “the capture of discretionary effort”. He actually acknowledges that there are multiple definitions, but he describes the definition just quoted as “the gold standard”. Another book defines employee engagement similarly (“willingness to go above and beyond”), then describes three components: the rational, the emotional, and the motivational.

These three components will be familiar to students of Psychology, Organizational Behavior (OB), etc. They are often described as, respectively: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. Having introduced such academic terms, let me have a look for employee engagement in the textbook from which I’ve most recently taught OB (George and Jones). It’s not in the index, and I don’t recall any mention of employee engagement anywhere in the book. There is at least one very similar concept (organizational citizenship behavior), but I won’t get into that now.

It seems that employee engagement is a term used more by consultants than by academics. Bob Kelleher is a consultant. The other book mentioned above is Closing the Engagement Gap, by Gebauer and Lowman, both of whom were at Towers Perrin when the book was published.

In the next week or so, I’ll post more about employee engagement. For now, I’ll note that the term engagement is widely used, and provide a couple of examples. Rajat Paharia (founder of Bunchball) brings together employee engagement, customer engagement, big data, and gamification to describe Loyalty 3.0. Alex Pentland (an MIT prof) uses a behavioral definition of engagement in his account of Social Physics.

More Cycling, and First Del’s

What goes well with cycling? Many things, with food and drink being high on the list.

Del’s Frozen Lemonade is everywhere here and now: here being Rhode Island, now being summer. Tomorrow, being Labor Day, will mark the end of summer for many people and businesses. I expect to see fewer Del’s trucks and carts on my travels, starting September 5. But there is the Del’s storefront in Warren.

I stopped there to get a lemonade on my ride yesterday. I rode from Barrington down to the the south end of the East Bay Bike Path, which is in Bristol. On the way down I passed the Del’s store and a Del’s cart next to the path as it goes through Colt State Park. On the way back I rode right past the cart again, but didn’t ride right past the store!

Continue reading “More Cycling, and First Del’s”

Three Cycling Things

The East Bay Bike Path is rather wonderful. It’s never very far from the water; perhaps its name gives that away, and it is in Rhode Island.

It was a lovely morning to cycle up the path from Barrington to its northern terminus in Providence. A breakfast wrap and coffee at Amy’s Place fortified me for the ride back. It’s about 10 miles in each direction.

The second cycling thing of the day is not so positive. This afternoon, I tried out the Komoot app on my Android phone. Komoot allows you to plan your ride, provides navigation along the way, and… Well, I asked it to help me go to a particular bike shop right on the East Bay Bike Path.

Komoot seemed unaware of the bike path. It wanted me to turn onto a main (by Barrington standards) road. I ignored it, crossed that road, and got onto the path, heading toward the shop. Komoot advised me to U-turn, presumably because it thought I should be heading back to the road.

So I deleted Komoot from my phone as soon as I got home. Perhaps that’s harsh after one ride, but for me, bike ride planning and navigation needs to include bike paths, and especially the East Bay.

The third cycling thing of the day, and the bike shop in question, are one and the same: Your Bike Shop. It’s in Warren, the next town south along the bike path from Barrington. (There is another location in Riverside, which is on the way to Providence.)

I bought a mirror (this one by Mirrcycle, to be specific). They fitted it for me right away, then we discussed bikes and related matters for a few minutes. I’m happy to have Your Bike Shop as my local bike shop.

So it was a good cycling day. Two out of three ain’t bad, as the song goes.