Category Archives: Media

This year’s NPR Austin 100 includes impeccable break-up advice

NPR’s Austin 100 is a curated collection of new music from SXSW. I’ve never been to this Austin-based music festival, but I look forward to the annual playlist as eagerly as many await March Madness. And contrary to what’s supposed to happen with age, my tastes aren’t narrowing. I’m actually finding more to love in the collections every year. In 2015, the first year I started downloading the 100 songs, I kept only 27 — An hour and 42 minutes of listening.

This year, the hit-rate for me is up to 85 percent: A little over five hours of diverse new music. I’m sure there will be other songs from the 2018 collection that will go into heavy rotation, but here’s my initial song crush: Lucy Dacus delivering a small masterpiece on coping with a broken heart.

Arresting Lyrics In An Addictive Melodic Package

Two things will strike you about Night Shift. First, the lyrics. There isn’t an unnecessary word or phrase, and not a single cliche. Instead, you feel the hurt, as she recounts a meeting with a recently lost love in a coffee shop. You imagine this meeting was suggested by her ex to assuage guilt over cheating that led to the break-up. Or maybe it was just love that faded. When you’re still in its throes, even just the other person falling out of love can feel like an unthinkable betrayal.

Don’t hold your breath, forget you ever saw me at my best
You don’t deserve what you don’t respect
Don’t deserve what you say you love and then neglect

Regarding the second striking aspect of the song, I can be far less articulate. I’m a word guy, not a trained musicologist. But the structure is stunningly crafted, and makes the impact of her lyrics all the greater.

Yes, it builds, as a lot of modern pop songs do. Dacus starts with a simple, quiet folk melody and proceeds to a crashing, crunchy guitar crescendo. That’s nothing new. But this song does things differently. Since it caught my attention I’ve listened to it perhaps two dozen times — first for pure enjoyment, but then to try to grasp its magic. I needed to crack the code!

Which brings me to today. During a long, chilly walk, I was determined to listen to as much of my edited playlist as I could. But that damn song. I kept hitting replay on it. I finally surrendered and just tapped the Repeat Single button.

What followed was perhaps a dozen more listens. And possibly some hearing loss.

The melody appears to my untrained ear to change at three points, not counting a bridge just before what I guess you’d call the refrain. But this stunning refrain caps the end of the song instead of connecting separate verses. Dacus’ booming finale is a top-of-her-lungs declaration of Screw it! I’ll get over this — and you. Eventually.

You may disagree, but I find it to be a perfect song.

This isn’t the first time I’ve admired Lucy Dacus’ music. She was featured in the 2016 Austin 100. Here is that song. I’d like to believe it’s a new genre of anthem, dedicated to chubby girls or bookish girls, who are clever, smart … yet always overlooked:

My Own 2018 Austin 100 Curation

If you’re interested in what else is turning my crank from SXSW this year, here is my 79-song playlist in no particular order. It’s six songs short of my full list because, I’m guessing, a handful of artists did not agree to be on Spotify.

Enjoy.

Photo credit: Style Weekly piece on her. You should read the article.

Tips for career-building reading in 2018

Note: This blog post originally appeared in an Accenture Careers blog.

Building your career in 2018? Or perhaps you’re looking to make a change in your current situation. Either way, you may be surprised to learn how educational and inspirational your reading list can be.

Here’s a recommended reading list to get you started. The list is curated by me and a few of my friends and colleagues.

Let’s get started

To begin, I’ve put together tips on how to get the most value from your reading time. Let’s call it a Reading List User’s Guide.

  1. Choose books as wisely as you choose friends. Author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn once wrote, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” The same can be said for the authors you welcome onto your bookshelf or into your Kindle. In many ways, I consider authors I respect actual friends. For instance, early in my career, when I had my own direct-response consultancy, I would silently thank Peter Senge for what he had taught me. I would walk into a potential client’s business for the first time and apply the knowledge I gleaned from reading his book The Fifth Discipline, which focuses on how organizations “learn to learn.” I would look around at office dynamics and know with surprising accuracy just how much of a “learning organization” I was observing. No company is perfect, but Senge had trained me to see the extent of each organization’s “learning disabilities”—and by extension, whether they would be good customers for what I was selling. Now, that’s a valuable friend!
  2. Ask if popular books have truly earned their status. Good business books, like good speeches, should provide a strong mix of inspiration and education. Ask friends who have read a particular book what specifically they learned, or how they were moved. Listen closely to their answers. Much of the business world is ruled by groupthink, “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and trying to impress. Those impulses aren’t good enough reasons to read a book, even if it’s the one “everyone is reading.” It’s a surprisingly rare business book that deserves its popularity. I’m thinking of books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which rode best-seller lists for literally years, and remains one of the best-selling non-fiction books of all time.Don’t be put off if your friends talk more to inspiration than education. The same year I first read (and learned a ton from) “7 Habits,” I was also deeply inspired by a different book, called The One-to-One Future. It was in the very early days of CRM (customer relationship management). And boy, did it inspire! It literally caused me to change my career path, a decision that is one of the best of my life. Last year, I derived similar inspiration from another book, The Business Blockchain. I haven’t changed my career yet, but you never know! (And thanks to Accenture’s deep involvement in blockchain, a lateral move within our organization isn’t out of the question for me.)
  3. Vary your reading diet widely. Non-fiction books don’t have to be formally about business to help you with your career. When I read Dr. Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, I realized that I wasn’t communicating clearly with roughly half the professional workforce (i.e., women!). By an embarrassing coincidence—and as though the world had a painful lesson to teach me—just as I was about to start the book, I nearly lost a client because she gave her instructions in something Tannen calls “rapport speak,” while I was hearing her through the filter of “report speak.” I screwed up an assignment and only realized how it happened after reading and internalizing the book. How’s that for valuable career advice!
  4. Read the way you learn. Educational research teaches us that humans have preferred ways of learning. You may not take to the written word. Today, that shouldn’t hinder you. Don’t pay attention to those who stigmatize “hearing” a book instead of reading it. If audiobooks work for your style and your schedule, go for it. I’m currently “reading” a book in three different formats at once. I have a hardback copy of Ron Chernow’s dense Alexander Hamilton for the tactile pleasure of its pages, and its many illustrations, paintings and drawings. I also have an e-book copy to read when I’m traveling, since the hardcover takes up a lot of luggage space. And finally, I have an audible copy, for when I’m working out or taking long walks. I did something similar, and for similar reasons, when reading the outstanding Thinking, Fast and Slow by Nobel Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnemann. Remember what I said about authors being like friends? Just like real friends, sometimes, once you deem them worthy, you invest the time and money needed to spend time with them. Good books, like good friends, are worth it.
  5. Use books to focus your thinking. To paraphrase the late David Foster Wallace in his famous “This Is Water” college commencement address (Google it; you’ll thank me), the worst cliché of such speeches is, “An education isn’t about filling us with knowledge but about teaching us how to think.” It’s easy to find that insulting. It’s not. He points out that “how to think” is not so much about the capacity to think, but the choice of what to think about (getting us back to point 1, above). Books that help us build our careers direct our thinking in important directions. This is crucial, because there is a lot of other stuff that really doesn’t matter. They’re distractions preventing us from doing great things.

More Reading Recommendations

So, in crowdsourcing my network, I’ve compiled a list of reading material that will both educate and inspire. Mine are sprinkled throughout the five points above. Happy reading.

    • Ben Kaczmarski, Accenture Federal Services, offers a book “very much in the realm of design thinking, written by two brothers from IDEO and Stanford’s d.school.”

 

“Call Me By Your Name, Tonya”: A movie review mashup

Everyone knows about mashups: Two unlikely songs or other media, seemingly unrelated, are shuffled together. On their surface, you couldn’t find two less similar films than Call Me By Your Name and I, Tanya. I saw them both last week, loved them and wanted to share my thoughts. When I recognized some surprising parallels, the world’s first Movie Review Mashup was born. And here you are reading it, and helping me make history. To discern which film is which, Call Me By Your Name aspects are in blue text, and I, Tanya in red. Here we go! …

When you walk out of the theater, having seen this [coming of age drama / mockumentary based on real events] [Call Me By Your Name / I, Tanya], you’ll realize that at its core it’s about [supportive / abusive] parenting. A key character is the chain smoking mother, played by [Amira Casar / Allison Janney]. Without giving anything away (this entire post is spoiler-free), you’ll wince more than once at the mother’s serious [boundary / hitting] issues. Of course these are in relation to her talented [musician son / skating prodigy], [Elio ([Timothée Chalamet) / Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie)].

Let me say right now, if [Chalamet / Robbie] doesn’t receive an Oscar nomination for this performance there is no justice in the world. I was blown away by [his / her] extremely convincing embodiment of a [17-year-old boy grappling with an attraction to an older man / young woman attempting to win an Olympic medal in figure skating while dealing with the baggage of an abusive mother and husband].

A backdrop for all this is the family’s [surreally beautiful summer estate somewhere in Northern Italy, near the Italian Alps / hyperreal, nicotine-tinged circa 1980s home somewhere in Oregon, in a really bad part of town].

This admittedly is a tough movie to watch. We witness many extended scenes of [emotional / physical and psychic] pain, inflicted on the protagonist by dint of being [a teenager with new and confusing feelings / considered nothing more than a meal ticket by her horrible family].

If you don’t have problems with the film’s frank, unflinching portrayal of [homosexuality / domestic abuse], you should definitely check it out. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a well-earned score of [97% / 90%].

A Visit To The Web Wayback Machine

You’ve got to love an internet project whose goal is to preserve in amber the many life stages of web pages from the web’s two-decade history. Currently the Web Wayback Machine boasts 286 billion web pages stored. (Its parent project, Archive.org provides free streaming and downloads of tons of other media. I just got lost in it for 30 minutes, pausing quite a while at this excellent print of Fritz Lang’s film noir classic Scarlet Street.)

The Web Wayback Machine has some practical research applications. If a site you enjoy took down a page  you needed to refer back to, you very well may find it here. Or perhaps you want to see what the world of website search engines looked like 20 years ago, before Google came on the scene and gobbled market share with its exponentially better results:

Or you can see the technology, way back at the turn of the millennium, that Google eventually licensed from Overture / Yahoo Search Services once it claimed market dominance, thereby monetizing search results and turning a brilliant approach to searches into an obscenely profitable one.

You can do all of those things, but hey, if you are me, you’ll do the Wayback equivalent of self-googling. You’ll revisit the first design of your 10-year-old blog, Digital Solid. That site has been idle since I joined my current employer six years ago, but back then I was posting an average of twice a week. Here’s an excerpt from the Wayback Machine:

The artwork in the right column, a portrait of sorts, is by the extraordinary Max Estes, who went from teaching illustration in Milwaukee and frequenting the same coffee shop as me, to creating Norwegian children’s books …

… and making lovely prints such as this one:

Finally hung this framed print by @max_estes #RideOn

A post shared by Jeff Larche (@jefflarche) on

Thanks, Web Wayback, for the fond memories — including a caricature of me that still makes me laugh.

How do I love thee, podcasts?

How do I love thee, podcasts? Let me count the ways. I’ve come up with five, right off the top of my head. They span comedy, news and current events, design, music and even history.

Why Now? #TryPod

This month there is a push among podcasters I enjoy to encourage our friends to try a podcast, with the above hashtag. I’m glad they’re doing it.

Many or most folks who do not listen to podcasts just don’t realize was a wealth of (mostly) free entertainment and knowledge is waiting for them in their hip pocket. Come on. We all have commutes. Or routine work situations. Or dog walking rituals. We all have a time when we can listen to really good programming. Am I right? So why not give podcasts a try?

I usually recommend to newbies downloading an app called Stritcher, but there are many ways to pull down podcasts from the internet and get them in your ears.

Here’s my list of “starter” podcasts:

1. The Gist

I literally start my day with this one, nearly the moment my alarm goes off. The Gist is a roughly 25-minute podcast released every weekday. Host Mike Pesca is a phenomenon. He also has a pretty funny Twitter feed:

2. 99% Invisible

So you’re not into politics or current events, you say? Or over-educated whimsy? I still have plenty to offer in this podcast cornucopia. Here’s one that might suit your fancy: Ostensibly a podcast about design and architecture, 99% Invisible is really about much more. It’s about all of the hidden, human-made grace notes to our lives that we didn’t think we’d like to learn about. Until we did.

3. 2 Dope Queens

Demographically I am definitely not the audience for 2 Dope Queens. They’re black. I’m white. They’re Millennial women. Yeah, no. And they record this podcast in that distant, enchanted (or cursed?) land called Brooklyn. The queens what be dope are Jessica Williams, from the old Daily Show, and Phoebe Robinson, fellow stand-up comic and most recently, author of You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain. They record in front of a live audience, hosting a show of other stand-up comics, mostly of color. It’s a joyful, antic party into which I always feel honored to be allowed.

Their friendship is a major appeal of the show, and each episode is a much-needed lesson in not taking life too seriously. Oh, and did I mentioned it’s a production of WNYC? It’s an NPR program. I find this seriously hard to believe. In a good way.

4. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

This guy says he isn’t a “real” historian, but he has done the impossible by making history interesting and relevant to me. I came to Hardcore History late, with the Blueprint for Armageddon series. It was six episodes (if I remember correctly), each over three hours (!?). The subject: World War I. The episodes were absolutely riveting. I would walk for hours along my Chicago lakefront, taking in his stories and regretting when my walks had to end.

Now that’s entertainment.

5. Song Exploder

I’ve saved possibly the best for last. Song Exploder, by the man with one of the best names to pronounce in podcasting: Hrishikesh Hirway (just listen to him pronounce it every episode — it’s as musical as the subject matter!).

Every installment has Mr. Hirway showcase another song, and learn from the creator how the song was assembled. He’s covered songs by Jeff Tweedy and his band WILCO, mad genius behind The Magnetic Fields, and and the practically child prodigy behind Microphones, to name just three. I think my all time favorite was the dissection of this wonderful song by tUnE-yArDs (a.k.a. Merrill Garbus). Water Fountains is a case study in discovery through unbridled play.

I dare you not to be inspired.

Podcasts that helped me survive Election 2016

It’s been a tough Presidential election season to get through. Especially if you’re like me, and you started following the proceedings early. I watched Biden decide not to run. And I witnessed sixteen GOP candidates get picked off, by one-by-one, by Trump, and in the process, watched the entire process debased to a level I couldn’t have imagined possible a year ago. Deeply depressing.

The key to my survival has been a handful of intelligent, well-informed, often extremely funny podcasts. I’ll list them for you now. Especially since, with the exception of this first one, they should all continue to reward listening once all of the votes are cast and Washington gridlock resumes in earnest.

Trumpcast

Slate's Trumpcast

Like several of in my list, this is produced by Slate. Host Jacob Weisberg talks all things Trump, as a way to help us all get through this national and international fever dream. Weisberg hasn’t released an episode in a while, but he vowed to continue releasing them until the scourge has passed. Let’s hope that’s November 9, when all election results are tallied.

Whistlestop

whistlestopThis podcast, now with a book by the same name, is by national journalism treasure John Dickerson. When he’s not writing for Slate or performing his new duties as host of Sunday’s Face the Nation, Dickerson is an engaging presidential election historian. His stories help us understand the reasons for some of our election traditions, and they remind us that things have been this loopy before in American history — although perhaps not since the days of John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.

Pod4Ham

Speaking of Hamilton, of course you knew I would mention that musical of the same name, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who until recently was also its star on the Broadway stage. Like Whistlestop, Pod4Ham scratches the itch for a broader election politics perspective, as it dissects the musical’s songs, one at a time, using as its basis the brilliant original cast recording.

True, it’s only for Hamilton fanatics like myself. That is, it’s for the sort of fanatic who gets excited about visiting Weehawken, New Jersey, because it’s the site of Hamilton’s fatal duel with Aaron Burr:

Running on the Hudson, listening to Hamilton cast album, in the city where Burr shot him

A photo posted by Jeff Larche (@jefflarche) on

A little more accessible than Pod4Ham is Miranda’s recent appearance on SNL, which aired just one day after the recording was released about Trump bragging to Billy Bush, on a television series motor home, about him kissing and groping women without their consent. The comedy is priceless, and it also shows Lin-Manuel’s mastery of lyrics:

Vox’s The Weeds

The wonderful Ezra Klein leads a panel discussing the latest in politics. This episode followed the final debate, and is true to its title. It truly gets into the weeds of issues, including Presidential election politics.

What podcasts have gotten you through this punishing chapter in election politics? I would invite you to leave a comment, but as you probably know, trolls love to flood blog comments. Best to suggest something to me here (until trolls spoil the party there as well).

Gourmet approaches to simple foods

This blog post, after many months of silence, was inspired by a podcast. Those who know me well shouldn’t be surprised. I spend many hours a week with earbuds in, listening to any of a dozen shows … from WTF with Marc Maron to Freakonomics to … well, The Sporkful.

The latest episode of The Sporkful was about Hot Doug’s, a Chicago institution that is closing in the Fall. Sporkful host Dan Pashman has a geeky, playful approach to food and eating. He’s no food snob. He also has an infectious laugh (you can hear it in the brief audio snippet at the end of this post).

I learned on this episode that there is such a thing as a Foie Gras and Sauternes Duck Sausage with Truffle Aioli, Foie Gras Mousse and Fleur de Sel hot dog. Well there is. This is what it looks like:

Foie-Gras-and-Sauternes-Duck-Sausage-with-Truffle-Aioli-Foie-Gras-Mousse-and-Fleur-de-Sel

Austin's Craft PrideWhat inspired me to post about The Sporkful, and this episode specifically, is it reminded me of my recent weekend in Austin, Texas. I’ll be telling you more about this visit, but what you need to know is my trip included a delightful visit to Austin’s Craft Pride.

While my wife and I were enjoying a couple of their microbrew beers, she asked our bartender what one dining experience we shouldn’t miss. He recommended Hopdoddy Burger Bar. We obediently went there the next day for lunch, only to find the line into the place stretching a full block. We turned around.

In his latest podcast Dan Pashman recounts a similar experience with Chicago’s Hot Doug’s. He found 117 people standing in line on the day he visited. Hot dog decadence ensues.

The faux seriousness Pashman gives his podcast is somehow fitting for the gourmet treatment of dogs and burgers (in another Sporkful episode he interviews the founder of the Smashburger).

Here’s a brief audio excerpt of his experience coming out of Hot Doug’s. He is so stuffed from his Foie Gras hot dog that he left with a to-go bag full of the other dogs he ordered. Greeting the line outside, he can’t resist sharing his bounty with the waiting crowd:

I’ll be blogging more about my Austin adventure, and for those reading out of order, the space below will include direct links to those other posts. Bon appetit.

Here is my second and last post on our Austin adventure.

Check out Peaks of Valleys

What if your musical tastes were particularly obscure — at least by most people’s standards — and you met someone who lists two of her favorite musical artists, and they exactly match your own? That happened to me this summer. Pretty cool.

Naturally, we immediately started firing other favorites at each other, and making plans to exchange samples of those that the other hadn’t checked out yet. One of those she threw at me was Peaks and Valleys. I just now checked them out, and I see why she was so quick to recommend them.

Well, also, her son is in the band.

But don’t let that family connection influence you as you decide whether or not to give them a listen. She is no stage mother, and they are no ordinary band. Their latest album is quite solid. It’s held up well to several listens, and I’m seeing that it’s going to a fairly heavy rotation in my playlist.

Their site makes downloading easy (and it’s a steal at $5). I’ve gone one further and ordered their CD, because I was intrigued with their novel jewel case. Do check them out:

 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering:

  • Radiohead
  • Pinback

Not necessarily in that order.

My entire career in a single Youtube video

As I mentioned in my Digital Solid blog post today, I’ve joined Accenture. It represents the next logical step in a career that actually does have a certain logic to it.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a video that sums up 20 years of exploration. And by exploration, I do mean plenty of searching!