I can turn $205 into $1000 and so can you.

There’s a catch, right?

Yes, of course there is. You have to live in Oregon.

Here in Oregon we have something called the Oregon Cultural Trust. It’s basically a legal money-laundering scheme that helps you help the arts.

Here’s how it works.

Donate up to $500 to any Oregon arts and heritage non-profits organizations you love.

Anything from PICA to Disjecta to the IPRC to Friends of the Gorge to the Oregon Zoo, or better yet spread your donation to some combination of. The full list of 1300 plus eligible groups is on the Oregon Cultural Trust website here.

Then you give a matching $500 donation to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

They’ll distribute the $500 you give them to the entire group of organizations they support around the state.

So you’ve given $1000 to a host of wonderful organizations. Good on you.

Then come tax time, you can take the $500 Oregon Cultural Trust donation as a full tax credit. You get the entire $500 back, every last cent of it.

And then, assuming you itemize your deductions on your schedule A (as opposed to taking the standard deduction), you get a tax deduction on the entire $1000 you gave on your federal taxes.

If you’re like most folks you pay 25% in federal taxes. So that’s another $250 back!

And you can take a tax deduction on the $500 you gave to arts organizations on your state taxes.

So in addition to getting the $500 you gave to the Cultural Trust back you’ll get another $45 back assuming you pay 9% to Oregon.

So all told you’ll get the $500 plus the $250 plus the $45.

Giving you a $795 tax refund in April. Even more if you make the big bucks and are in a higher tax bracket.

So for only $205 you’ve given $1000 to help make this place a place worth living in.

That’s insane!

Show you me any other way to quadruple your money in a few months and I’ll show you a Ponzi scheme.

Which I know this sounds like. Or one of those crazy tax loopholes that corporations use to get out of paying taxes. Which it is.

But this one is for us. For ordinary Oregonians to make a difference and support film and dance and kid’s painting classes and the symphony and history and so and so forth instead of subsidizing factories or sports arenas.

And check this out. If you’re a couple filling jointly, you can double up.

You can contribute up to $1000 to arts and heritage non-profits, and another $1000 to the Oregon Cultural Trust.

So you outlay $2000 now. But get the $1000 to the Cultural Trust back in April on your state taxes. Plus get $500 back on your federal taxes, and then another $90 on the arts donations on your state taxes.

So for only $410 you’ve given $2000.

Now keep in mind $500 for individuals and $1000 for couples are just the maximum amounts you can donate to get the full tax advantage. You can give lower matching amounts and still get the same tax advantage. Anything helps.

And it gets better.

You can donate to a lot of wonderful arts groups as well as the Oregon Cultural Trust through Willamette Week’s Give Guide.

Not only is it super easy, you’ll also get awesome free stuff donated to you from their partners. Stuff like Stumptown coffee and Widmer beer and the Chinook Book and so on. They’ll even drop them off at your door if you like.

So go! Get giving.

You’ll feel good and you’ll never know just how much it means to these organizations to get a donation.

Extra credit: Find out if your employer has a matching donation program. If they do, you might just be able to help your favorite non-profits out with an additional $500 or even $1000.

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Fatherly Advice

It’s Father’s Day. Happy Father’s Day to me.

If you’re a dad, or you like dads, and want to spend an evening with dads and non-dads alike, thinking about dads, and eating some awesome food cooked by Olympic Provisions, I recommend coming to the Association tonight.

It’s a new dinner series at Union/Pine here in Portland that pairs a different chef or restaurant with a different speaker every month.

Tonight, I’ll talk for about 15 minutes about fatherly advice between the salad and main course.

Having attended last month’s dinner, I can tell you it’s a pretty awesome evening. Cocktail hour lasts for an hour, with drinks courtesy of Merit Badge, then dinner is a leisurely hour and a half to two hour affair with multiple courses and dessert.

It’s also a great mix of three or four dozen folks. Last month I was alone so I waited for a table of six to fill up to five and grabbed an empty seat, and I ended up sitting next to this guy, who is an absolute charmer.

What with the food, and the conversation and the wine and cocktails, it more than justifies the price. Last I heard there were still a few tickets left here.

If you miss out, or have other plans, keep it in mind for next month or the months after that.

And I’ll follow up and post the essay I’m going to base my remarks on tonight in the next few days.

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38 Things

Big thanks to the Urban Honking Television team for turning my 38 things I’ve learned in 38 lecture into a lecture video.

I turn 39 this week, so I’m in deep meditation on the 39th thing. I’ll let you know when I have it. Although technically I have the whole year, right?

38 Things from Team Video on Vimeo.

In other news, I’m blogging but less here and more on my new advice blog, co-hosted by Yours Truly. Get in touch with us if you need some.

Posted in Business | 1 Comment

Bill Veeck

When I was living in Los Angeles, a director mentoring my writing partner and me asked how old we were. Early 30s was our collective reply.

He nodded his head. “So, you got the next 10 years to make your mark.”

It made sense at the time. After all, this idea that you need to fully realize your career potential and arrive in your given field before you get too old is everywhere. Hollywood, we were often told, is a young person’s game. So too is advertising. The earlier you go to medical or law school, the sooner you’ll make enough to pay back all your debt.

But it’s important to remember that careers are made at all kinds of different ages.

Joseph Conrad didn’t speak a word of English until his 20s and didn’t write in English until his 30s.

Clint Eastwood didn’t start directing until his 40s.

Vaclav Havel didn’t become a politician until his 50s.

Colonel Sanders didn’t start his chicken franchise until his 60s.

Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until her 70s.

I’ve got a reminder that age doesn’t have much to do success in my own family.

My Dad has been a writer since he graduated from college. He spent his 20s and most of his 30s writing for magazines and business journals. He published his first book, the Electronic Battlefield, in his late 30s. It talked about things like the Internet way back in 1976. It was a critical success, but didn’t sell so well.

So he spent the next few decades writing a few books a year. He wrote joke books, books about language, dictionaries, baseball books, a book about libraries, a book of toasts and books on just about anything else that interested him and he could sell.

Years later, after my brother and I were out of the house and out on our own, he started writing books that took years instead of months to write. He started writing history. He wrote a book about Sputnik that put Eisenhower’s role in the space race in new, nobler light. He wrote a book about the bonus army of WWI veterans who train-hopped to Washington DC to lobby Congress for their wartime bonus in the midst of the Great Depression. Incidentally, the movement started here in Portland, Oregon, before growing to include thousands of veterans from across the country.

The Sputnik book was turned into two documentaries. One that ran on PBS, the other that had a theatrical release. The Bonus Army had Hollywood production companies lining up to option the book.

After a very prolific, successful career, my Dad was hitting new heights in his 60s.

This spring, now into his 70s, he published arguably the best book of his career. It’s an biography, his first, of the maverick sports owner Bill Veeck.

It’s an absolute pleasure to read. It’s about the man himself, a marvelous character sports seems to breed too infrequently. And it’s about baseball, of course. The game itself played on the field, but also the games and politics played at owners’ meetings and in clubhouses behind closed doors. It covers the integration of baseball, the beginning of free agency, the expansion to the West Coast, and the balance between sport and entertainment, all of which Veeck played a starring role in.

Ultimately it’s a revealing and thoroughly entertaining slice of history of America in the middle of the 20th century.

Okay, sure, I’m his son. So don’t take my word for it. Take the Oregonian’s, the Wall Street Journal’s, or the Philadelphia Inquirer’s.

And if you’re reading this, live in Portland and are free tomorrow, Thursday night, come on down to Powell’s and hear my Dad’s words yourself. He’ll be reading, telling stories, answering questions and signing books on the top floor of the downtown store at 7:30.

Posted in Business | 1 Comment

Rain Dragon

I heard about Jon Raymond soon after moving to Portland in 1995. I came here to make a movie, and Jon had just made one. A feature based on the newspaper comic strip Crock. He shot his live action version of trails and tribulations of the hapless French Legion unit out in Sun River, using his friends as cast and crew.

I wanted to meet him. And since this was back in when Portland felt small I met him without much effort a few weeks later.

When I made my own feature film, about high school kids into fantasy role-playing games, I followed his example and used my own friends as cast and crew. I asked Jon to play an Orc for one of the epic battle sequences. He eagerly agreed, and played his Orc with both menace and dignity.

We cemented our friendship, I think, when we were featured in a Willamette Week article concerning young creative people in town. During the photo shoot we both naturally migrated to very back of the herd of 20 or so 20 something’s, farthest from the camera lens. Jon easily persuaded me to join him in slyly giving the camera the finger, which meant that we while were included in the article, we went missing from the front cover.

In the intervening 15 plus years I’ve watched Jon mature as a writer and artist. He’s written books, screenplays that have gotten produced, a few more I’ve had the privilege of reading that haven’t, and last year collaborated with Todd Haynes writing the Mildred Pierce HBO miniseries.

I’ve just now had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy of Rain Dragon, his new novel about a couple that moves to Oregon to work on an organic farm.

After telling him how much I loved the book, Jon shot back that I might be the perfect audience for the book.

And I suspect I am. For starters, I’m the kind of person who thinks working on an organic farm is ripe for comedy and satire, but I also kind of wish I had spent a year working one.

I’m also a fan of wonderfully well-written prose that’s evocative and lyrical, but isn’t afraid to be crass on occasion to make a point, all of which the book is. I also appreciate that the story is set in our world, not some literary construct. There are pop culture and contemporary references that not every reader will recognize, but that make the book real and relevant.

I also love how much Rain Dragon is about place. It’s about Oregon, physically, and anyone living here will recognize the landscape he describes. But it’s also about Oregon spiritually; the pioneering spirit and rugged independence are central themes.

But the lights really clicked on for me when I heard Jon being interviewed by one of my students, Boaz, on the pedal powered talk show.

Jon talked about how he felt envious of authors like Walker Percy and Graham Greene who incorporated their Catholic upbringing into their work, until he realized he had a faith of sorts to bring to his own work. Not a specific religion, but more as he describes it the “vibrations, synchronicity, and magical thinking” that informs the various belief systems and approaches to work and life folks experiment with out here.

He had my attention. As some of you know I’ve embarked on a side career in life coaching. I recently took a 2-day intensive course called Foundations for Coach Leadership, and this past Thursday I conducted my first client session. I had one another Friday.

Rain Dragon’s second half concerns itself with the organic farm’s foray into organizational management training, which is essentially corporate life coaching.

It’s safe to say the book arrived in my hands at the right time, or in the vernacular of Jon’s book, an instance of perfect synchronicity.

While I am now even more obviously the ideal audience, I think the book has a lot to offer everyone. There’s love, there’s loss, there’s drama, all the good stuff that make us turn the pages of a book.

But the organizational training aspect is what makes this book really unique. Not just for anyone interested in coaching, but anyone interested in how companies work and how the most innovative ones have captured our imaginations.

The workers of Rain Dragon put the employees of a timber company through a series of two-day encounters. They ask the corporate officers and middle managers of the timber giant the same questions every large, thinking corporate organization has been asking itself over these last few decades.

What kind of a culture should a company create? How do you get the best ideas out of our people? How best to optimize potential, improve morale, and resolve conflict? And ultimately is it enough to create a product or provide a service or does a company need to stand for or mean something bigger?

There are as many answers as there are CEO’s. But the answers West Coast companies are coming up with seem to be the ones getting all the ink. Think about Keen, Nike, Whole Foods, Umpqua Bank, eBay, Craig’s List, Amazon, Google, Instagram, even Wieden+Kennedy, where I work.

Think about Apple.

The same hippie capitalism that Steve Jobs and the founders of so many of these companies are playing with is, at least to me, the central concern of this book.

If you, like most of the reading world, has read or is reading the Steve Jobs book, read this book. Let me see if I can express that as more of a back of the book blurb.

“Rain Dragon is the literary companion to the Steve Jobs biography. It’s a rare and enlightening window onto the process of self-examination that happens when a company challenges it’s self to think about it’s self.”

Well done, Jon. I loved it.

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Mike Daisey and Me

Surely, you’ve heard something about Mike Daisey over the past few days.

In case you haven’t, or haven’t been paying close attention, here’s the quick recap.

Mike Daisey, heir apparent to Spalding Gray, created a monologue called “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” based on his visit to Chinese factories to see how Apple products are made. He’s brought the show to festivals and theaters across the world.

NPR adopted the show for This American Life. They made it clear to Daisey that the show had to be truthful. Mike said it was. The show soon became the most downloaded episode in the show’s history.

Mike Daisey quickly superceded performer and became the public face of Apple criticism and a media darling.

Then NPR realized Mike hadn’t been so truthful after all. And This American Life retracted a story for the very first time. This past weekend’s episode is some the most riveting radio I have ever heard.

Since coming back on This American Life to discuss what happened with Ira, he has decided he’s not wrong after all. It’s complicated, he argues.

But Google news “Mike Daisey” and you’ll see he’s mostly, but not completely, alone in this view.

What struck me most about my reaction to the controversy is how quick I was to judge. But then I began thinking about my own shows.

It might be a stretch to call Mike Daisey a contemporary of mine. He is the most talked-about and one of the hardest-working performance artist around, while I’ve been hiatus for a few years. But we’ve shared billing at the PICA TBA festival. We both use monologue as our medium. And we’ve both made corporations the subjects of our work.

I’ve made three full-length shows, all variations on the monologue, two of which involved the blurring of fact and fiction.

The first was called An Evening with Bradlee and was completely fictional. I played an invented character with an invented story. I claimed to be a new age dot.com refugee who moved to Oregon from the Bay Area looking for a fresh start and cheap rent. It was comedic, but it was also a way to talk about and get people to think about xenophobia in a different way.

What did the audience make of it? Well, they knew my name wasn’t Bradlee, and that I was playing a character. And I assumed they knew this was an invented story, but I was surprised by how the audience assumed that parts of the show were true. Californians asked me where in California I was from, and were disappointed to hear I wasn’t. Rather than being dismayed by it, I was actually delighted. I liked the reaction so much that my second show was created expressly to make people question what was true and what wasn’t.

That subsequent show, AC Dickson: eBay PowerSeller, was born out of my own experiences. I was a PowerSeller for years, making most of my income selling collectibles. When I performed my show, I was giving people good, helpful information about selling on eBay. My stories were true, and I used my own name.

But I told these stories in such a way that suggested I might be lying, or making it all up. I was purposefully suspect. I looked, sounded, and acted like someone trying to sell you a juicer at a county fair.

Adding to this ambiguity was my thesis that becoming an eBay PowerSeller was important not just for individuals but also for humanity as a whole. Clearly, this was an exaggeration, but I used facts, statistics, and theories to back up my claim. The entire monologue was told earnestly, but I also played the room for laughs.

The show was 99% true as far as the facts went, but greatly exaggerated as far as my opinions. I delighted in how different people interpreted what I was doing. Some audience members assumed it was all made up, others that there was just a kernel of truth. Even good friends who knew I sold on eBay assumed I had made a good portion of it up. On the other end of the spectrum, I had people who came to later shows with pen and paper, taking copious notes on the practical advice and looking on with confusion during the more motivational bits.

So far so good, I think. But then there’s the matter of the show’s finale. The climax of the piece was 5 of my own eBay auctions finishing right before the audience’s eyes. Spaced to end a minute apart, we watched as the bids jumped from $5 and $10 to $50 or even $100 in the closing seconds. It was in these moments that people, regardless of whether or not they believed me, came to believe in the power of eBay.

For the initial run at the PICA TBA festival those auctions were completely legit. I had hoarded some antique toothpick boxes that I knew from experience would get bid up drastically in the closing minute. But as the show started to tour, I had to find new items that I hoped would create a last-minute bidding frenzy. As time wore on, I started to enlist some help. I had people throw a last minute bid or two in there. I manufactured some drama.

I lied. But to me it’s more of a deception. You see how easy it is to rationalize?

I could argue that I was no longer making auctions jump from $10 to $100, but more like $17 to $25, as if the amount matters.

I could argue that I didn’t feel remorse. But I bet Daisey didn’t either, at least not until he got called back onto This American Life.

I could argue that if anyone asked I was honest, I might have gotten a little help, I’d sheepishly admit. But certainly some people left thinking these bids were legit.

Although other people left thinking the entire live-auction part of the show was a complete fabrication that I had somehow created in PowerPoint.

Clearly, Mike Daisey erred in allowing his work to be used on This American Life. The question is did he err in his stage show.

My discretion, I think, pales in comparison to Mike’s. He claimed to have met people he didn’t, and claimed some of the people he did told him things they never said.

And yet if Mike’s biggest crime concerns, as New York Times columnist David Carr put it, the question of “Is it okay to lie on the way to telling a greater truth?”, to which David emphatically answers “No.”

Then is my infraction so different? I was using false pretense to convince my audience of the power of eBay.

Would I do things differently in regards to those auctions? Not before the Daisey story broke. Now, I might.

But more immediately I’m thinking about this issue in regards to a new show I’m developing. Yes, dear readers, a new show is afoot. Without spilling the beans, it’s a show that, like my previous performances, will be designed to make the audience question what’s real versus what’s invented or facetious.

I’m expecting, and even counting on, the audience questioning my intention, credibility, and the validity of techniques.

Do I owe the audience the courtesy of letting them know I’m intentionally confusing them beforehand? And does this blog entry count?

Or will doing so, to quote a character at the heart of the Daisey story, take some of the “magic” away from the experience?

Posted in Art | 6 Comments

Failure

Failure has been a mantra where I work, at Wieden+Kennedy, for much longer than I’ve worked here. Dan Wieden has preached failure from the start. So much so that a few years back W+K 12 made a massive pushpin wall that reads “Fail Harder.”

The current class, whom I teach, recently added an extra “er” as part of an abecedarium project they created to introduce themselves to the agency. We no longer just fail harder, now we fail harderer.

Recently I’ve been hearing about a lot of other businesses and corporate cultures that are preaching the virtues of failure. I’ve heard it discussed on NPR’s Marketplace, and have read business leaders talk about it in the New York Times.

Failure is in. Or maybe it always has been and I’ve only recently started paying attention.

Either way, embracing failure makes sense. You learn more from failure than from success. Some success can be replicated, but usually once an idea has been done right, that particular road to success is closed. Although the producers of Friday the 13th may beg to differ.

Failure, on the other hand, shows us where things went wrong and why something didn’t work. We tend not to fail the same way twice.

And yet I’ve had a hard time embracing failure in my own work.

Having advertising campaigns killed is one thing. I joke that advertising is a lot like baseball. If your average getting ideas sold and produced is over .300 you’re doing pretty well. If it dips down to .200 start worrying about a trip to the minors. Even if you’re hitting a Hall of Fame worthy .400, that still means more ideas die than ever see the light of day.

And that’s okay. Advertising campaigns are collaborations with a multitude of factors going into whether they get made or not.

But a bad personal or art project is a different matter altogether. There is no one else to blame. Any project I take on is only as good or as bad as I make it. Even if I have collaborators, I have chosen them and we are starting with my vision.

I have made some nice films, had created a few very good performances, and done some writing I’m quite proud of.

But a few years ago I made a film that is simply mediocre. I’ve only just now gotten around to sharing it. Here’s part one.

The Shandy Man, part 1 from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

As you might have noted if you just watched it, the idea was good. A forty year-old guy sets up a lemonade stand on the grass between the sidewalk and street outside my house. I attempt to get him to leave. Hilarity, I reasoned, would ensue.

The cast and crew I enlisted were great. I cast my friend Bill Bailey as the lemonade salesman and a very good cameraman donated his time to film it.

I got a great editor too, a NYU student interning at Wieden+Kennedy over the summer, who did the best with what he had.

The problem was the script. Or the complete lack of one. I had a good enough idea that I figured we’d just wing it. You’d think I’d know better. I don’t tend to wing things. And I’ve written half a dozen feature screenplays, each which took the better part of a year to write.

But years earlier Bill and I had made a series of short films with another friend, Steve MacDougall, in which we winged it. We had a loose idea, we went out and filmed it, and amazing things happened. I figured we might catch lighting in a bottle again. We didn’t.

See how that works? What did I learn from my early, easy success? Not much. If anything it taught me I could do something I couldn’t, at least not again. It made me cocky.

What did I learn from the more recent failure? Something I already know but will never make the mistake of actually doing again. Movies are only as good as their story. The old adage goes that a good story can survive bad acting but good acting can’t save a bad story. And without a script there’s not much of a story to save.

Are there some chuckles? I think so. Am I proud of enough to share them? You already know that I am. In fact, here’s part 2.

The Shandy Man, part 2 from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

But what could have been great or really good, was simply good, or as I said before mediocre.

Nonetheless, I’m finally sharing them.

Partly it’s a way of owning and acknowledging my failure. Partly I’m curious if I’m not being just a tad hard on myself and these get some views and passed around a bit. I also think it’s only fair to share the fruits of others’ labor when you do a project and ask people to donate their time and talents.

But mostly, I just want to own up to failing, share what I’ve learned, and move onto new and hopefully better things.

In the meantime, here’s the 3rd and final part.

The Shandy Man, part 3 from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

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Now with pictures

This blog isn’t really working. Or at least not how I imagined it would.

I’ve been writing long format essays that start with a personal story and spin it into a business insight. In an effort to concentrate on the ideas, I haven’t included images or hyperlinks. Just words.

I was hoping to get an exchange going and maybe some feedback. I’ve gotten a grand total of a comment and an email.

I’m thinking the no images or hyperlinks part might be part of the problem. This is the Internet after all, the perfect marriage of words, sounds, images, moving pictures. And interaction. And to that point I haven’t done much to promote the blog either.

That changes today with this.

38 things I’ve learned over the past 38 years from Andrew Dickson on Vimeo.

Kate Bingaman Burt asked me to come talk to the Portland State Friends of Graphic Design Show and Tell lecture series. The prompt was broad, do whatever you want.

As you’ll see, I’m not a designer, so I thought about what I could offer the students that would be of most value to them. My gut said advice. Not big idea advice like “what’s the big idea” but practical advice like use coupons and you’ll live a richer life than you’re non-coupon using friends. And I came up with 38 pieces of it, one for every year I’ve been alive.

I gave the lecture to my own students in W+K 12 first a week beforehand, along with the assignment to each present their story in a unique way. Then made a few tweaks and gave it again at PSU.

And before you accuse me of speech recycling let me ask if you expect a stand-up comedian to tell different jokes every night or a rock band to write new songs for every show. I actually find that the second time I give a lecture or deliver a performance I tend to deliver it better than the first. So sorry, 12, but you did get the assignment too.

The lecture is about 40 minutes, as I give an explanation for each slide. But you’ll get the gist if you watch the minute long video I made from my PowerPoint slides.

Posted in Business | 3 Comments

Better Ways to Open Pandora’s Box

I love records.

The problem is my young children do as well. And in an effort to allow our records to endure their childhood relatively scratch-free we’ve become a digital music household.

Currently that means we move an iPod touch from room to room plugging it into various docks and speakers as we move throughout our day.

It turns out the iPod touch doesn’t hold much music, so by default we’ve become Pandora listeners. At this point we listen to Pandora a few hours a night and a good half the time on cold weekends like this one. And we like it.

Pandora works particularly well for new music and classic rock. But it’s not perfect. After an epic battle we finally got our Arcade Fire Suburbs station to play songs from years other than the one the Suburbs came out. Literally, it took weeks of giving the thumbs up and down to get the occasional Smiths song to play.

Our current frustration, and one that is making us question continuing to use the service, is our foray into jazz. We’re not huge jazz listeners, but it has it’s time and it’s place. And this dreary three-day weekend, one that celebrates the life of Martin Luther King, is one of them.

So yesterday morning I created a new channel. John Coltrane. More specifically the search bar suggested John Coltrane A Few of My Favorite Things. Perfect.

The first song was a wonderfully melancholy vibraphone track we’d never heard. And then? Power pop. Huh? Thumbs down. Next we heard a punk song. Thumbs down. And then finally some jazz. Thumbs up. And then a song from 90’s indie band Superchunk.

For the last 24 hours the pattern has held. We get a pair of pop, punk or alternative songs for every jazz song. Without fail we give the jazz the thumbs up, the non-jazz the thumbs down, but to no avail.

As I started writing this post it started playing an atrocious song off the soundtrack of the atrocious movie Empire Records. I furiously pounded the thumbs down button but nothing happened. I tried fast forwarding. But it turns out we’ve run up against the Pandora licensing threshold.

So I turned it off. I’m now writing this in silence.

I’m not sure if Pandora is overthinking it, computing that since my other channels are rock of one kind or another that I couldn’t possibly want actual jazz, but instead crave pop songs with some kind of improvisation or rhythm that shares traits with John Coltrane.

I realize, after all, that John Coltrane is the first and sometimes only Jazz musician most hipsters will ever mention.

Or perhaps there just isn’t enough jazz in the Pandora project to fill out a whole jazz section?

A cursory web search tells me that Pandora is not genre specific. So that it doesn’t know jazz from pop punk, it only recognizes the 400 musical attributes of a given song. But given how many slow, irregular time signature jazz songs I thumped up, and how many up tempo 4-4 punk songs I thumbed down, I’m not so sure it’s working.

It also doesn’t explain how during the holidays the various Christmas music channels we created played Christmas music exclusively.

Nor, why when I start a new channel titled simply Miles Davis, which I just did, I get nothing but jazz. Did it learn that I actually want? And if so why didn’t it course correct what I now refer to as the Empire Records channel.

Or maybe this is all an effort to get me to upgrade to a paid premium subscription.

Whatever the cause, it’s a problem that could use some fixing.

But I’ve also got a new idea. One for Pandora, or one of their competitors, but one I could use right away. Maybe some other service already has it. If so, do tell.

One of my responsibilities at work is writing the ads for Travel Oregon. It’s the account I was born to work on. I love Oregon and have spent the better part of the last 15 years exploring it. Convincing people to explore Oregon, out-of-state people as well as Oregonians themselves, is an honor and a privilege. It’s also a hell of a lot of fun.

For the last year and a half, part of our biannual campaign to increase tourism has involved making a series of 15-second commercials, highlighting different aspects of what makes Oregon great. The idea is rather then do one big epic commercial about Oregon we do lots of little ones. You’re likely to see two in the same commercial break, hopefully eliciting an “I didn’t realize you can do that and that in Oregon” reaction.

For obvious reasons, we’ve only wanted to use songs from Oregon bands as soundtrack. Culture, along with our food and epic outdoors, is among our best selling points. We’re not making bands rich, it’s Oregon Travel after all, but it’s a nice chunk of change, and it’s a mission musicians have been eager to support.

The problem is I don’t get out like I used to, and music isn’t as central to my life as it once was, so it’s harder and harder for me to stay on top of what’s going as far as local music goes. (Please, send any suggestions my way).

I would love to be able to create a Pandora station that played only Oregon music. It would make my job easier. And help me discover bands that I might not otherwise discover.

And I bet other people would appreciate that kind of feature too, perhaps someone moving to Portland, or Austin, or getting ready for a trip to Japan. What better way to get in the mood than to hear the music of the region?

Why stop at geography? How about a channel for songs with epic drum solos? Or songs the feature the theremin, or the sitar.

Or a channel featuring songs Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones played on or arranged, which would include everything from the Rollings Stones to Cat Stevens to Tom Jones. What about a channel that features songs with the word “candy” in them? Or a channel of songs that are exactly 3 minutes and 33 seconds?

Pandora should already have all this information, why not use it, or more accurately let it’s users use it.  Either by expanding the search options, or curating and creating these kind of channels. Or even letting users tinker with the genome itself. Maybe some of those 400 musical attributes are more important to me than others.

I get the genius behind the music genome project. It’s smart, but it’s also cerebral. What I’m proposing would make it more useful, but also more fun.

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Microsoft Word and the NBA

A few years ago I saw Mike Daisy perform Monopoly at the PICA TBA festival. He sat behind a desk and told a two-hour monologue that wove together Nikola Tesla’s battle against Thomas Edison over electricity, the history of the game of Monopoly, his own relationship with Wal-Mart and various anecdotes about Microsoft.

For whatever reason, the Microsoft parts are the parts I remember. He had a funny story about getting cast in an internal Microsoft video and realizing upon showing up that he was acting against Bill Gates. Sure enough Mr. Gates was a horrible actor, but no one felt empowered to let him know how stiff and wooden he was or offer up any kind of direction that would have made him less so.

But the story I remember most vividly and find myself sharing every few months was about a friend of Daisy’s who was hired by Microsoft and was asked to research what was wrong with Microsoft Word. The problem, he not so surprisingly discovered, was that new features and functions kept being added, but they never replaced or were combined with the old ones. So with every update the program became more confusing and unwieldy.

Daisy explained how his friend gave the presentation of his findings to rave reviews, all the way up to Bill Gates himself, who was so impressed he asked the guy to deliver the presentation to everyone who worked on Word. So he spent the next year and a half travelling the globe giving the presentation over and over again.

Finally, a manager of group in charge of one little function tucked inside one of the drop down menus took him aside afterwards and told him, we all know what’s wrong with Word. But I have 15 employees in my group. And if we don’t keep adding new functions and features every update, then what purpose does my group serve? If I followed your advice, and made my tiny slice of the pie simpler, the next thing I’d have to do is fire 14 people.

It seems to me the National Basketball Association has the rare chance to do what Microsoft Word can’t. Change their program in a fundamental way for the better.

Thanks to the strike, this year’s NBA season started Christmas day, rather then late October, and teams will play a dizzying 66 games in 124 days instead of 82 over the course of 170.

The result? So, far a much more exciting season. Granted, the Blazers marvelous start has something to do with it. But beyond that, each game means more this season, each win and loss that much more relevant to making or not making the playoffs. And the frequency of the games means that players are rewarded for being in shape. Sure there will be the occasional sloppy game, a few more injuries, and older players taking the last night of a back to back to back off. But that also means more opportunities for new stars to shine. I think this year will see the emergence of a half dozen of new superstars, and a slew of new household names.

Best of all, this season is going to actually keep fans attention. A normal NBA season is a bloated October to June. That means there are only 3 months out of the year without an NBA game. Christmas to June feels infinitely more manageable.

So why not keep it this way moving forward? Tighten it up?

I know, the business interests probably wouldn’t allow it. Too much money is at stake. And I’m not unaware that a 66 game season means 8 less home games for ushers, parking lot attendants, trainers, security guards, food vendors and the thousands of other people who don’t make millions but depend on the NBA to make their living.

But I can’t help wonder what Microsoft would do if Word somehow went on strike and they had the opportunity to remake the program with half as many features.

 

 

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