Friday, July 31, 2009

Why is Phish so cool?

I remember the first time Phish announced they were going to play at Madison Square Garden in NYC in late 1995. I was flabbergasted! How could this band I had first seen in a bar in Ithaca, NY in 1990 with maybe 100 people in attendance have garnered such a huge following? How could a band who has 0 Top 10 billboard hits be playing several nights to a sold out crowd at MSG? How could this band most people, at the time, had barely even heard of be so successful? I'll try to explain it as best I can.

Unique Experience
One of the most important aspects of Phish is that they try to make each show a unique experience. If they play a 3 night stint somewhere, all 3 shows will be different in that the setlists will vary. Phish creatively tries to mix it up (and succeeds). This is a step away from the mainstream music concert tour where everything is choreographed and, as a result, each show in the tour is the same. Also notable about Phish shows is the lighting. It becomes a performance with the work of Chris Kuroda, who synchronizes the light show with the music (which is no easy task considering the band is improvising a lot of the time). All of this makes Phish fans want to see more that just one Phish concert in a tour if they can.

They also try to play in venues that are fun and friendly for the audiences. Venues like The Gorge Amp in Washington State or Red Rocks Amp in Colorado have absolutely beautiful surroundings. The Thomas & Mack Center in Vegas is, well, in Vegas! Hampton Coliseum in Virginia has also always been a favorite. Additionally, Phish will periodically host festivals where they will play a 2-3 day stint in a remote location where fans can come and camp out; usually with fun activities and art installations to help make it a destination.

Taping Is Allowed
Phish allows their fans to tape their live performances! Again, this is a step away from the mainstream music concert tour which considers such activity illegal. In fact, Phish designates a specific area of the venue they are performing at (called the “Taper Section”) where people who wish to tape the show can set up their equipment.

There are official rules about taping though, which from my experience, most tapers/fans abide by. Here is a summary of the policy:
  1. You can only tape in the designated taper section (usually behind the soundboard). Sometimes you need a “taper ticket” to enter the taper section, and sometimes it is first come first served.
  2. You cannot interfere with someone else’s enjoyment of the show. For example, you can’t tell the people next to you who might be cheering to be quiet so your recording will come out better.
  3. I’m pretty sure there is a limit to how tall your mic stand can be, but not sure.
  4. And finally, you cannot sell or profit from your recording. You can trade it for other recordings; but that’s about it. The only people who can sell a recording is Phish - and they do sell nice soundboard quality recordings of their shows on
Taping was (and may still be?) the common denominator amongst fans. Early on, in the early/mid 90’s, many fans traded audio cassettes. This is pre-Internet, pre CD burning for the masses, pre MP3, & pre iPod. It was technically challenging at the time to transfer digital recordings to the layman so audio tapes were used (some people used DAT but that was rare). In fact, I recall at this time I was purchasing most other music on CD’s and had a CD player, but I also had a tape player specifically for Phish tapes (and other live music recordings) because I had no Phish music on CD. I had a nice sized tape collection of Phish and traded with people I met or knew.

Audience Participation
Phish often times involves the audience in their shows.
  • I recall a tour where they played chess against the audience, where every show they would make moves on a huge chess board (I forget who eventually won; the band or the audience).
  • For Halloween, they have costume contests for audience and often play a 3rd set where they will cover another band’s album (most notable was the White Album in Glens Falls, NY in 1994 where this tradition started)
  • One year (early 90’s) at the State Theatre in Ithaca, NY they gave away their old tour van by throwing the keys to it into the audience (and a guy I know nick-named “Toast” caught them).
  • They used to have giant inflated balls they would send into the audience and each band member would “play along” with one of the balls, thus giving the audience “control” over what they play.
  • They created a “secret” language of sorts, where Trey would queue the audience with a signal of some kind and everyone would react (for example; Trey would quietly play the first verse to the Simpson’s song and the whole audience would say “DOH!”)
  • Sometimes fans bring glow sticks and start throwing them around, which looks really cool, and the band will reciprocate with appropriate lighting and music.
These examples and many others not listed, contribute to the whole “unique experience” that keeps fans coming back and makes it worth it to make a show a destination trip.

Frequent Tours (and side note on age demographic)
Can’t travel to see Phish? Not to worry, over the course of a year they will likely be playing somewhere that is within reasonable driving distance to you. They tour frequently, usually coinciding with the seasons (Summer Tour, Fall Tour, etc). During Summer Tour you are likely to find a lot of kids out of college for the summer going to multiple shows (as I did when I was an undergrad). During those days, there were pretty much ONLY people in their late teens and early 20’s going to shows. While there is still people in that age group going, a lot of the people who were going to shows in their 20’s during the 90’s are now in their mid/late 30’s and still going (so the demographic has changed a bit).

Comparisons to the Grateful Dead
Comparing Phish to the Grateful Dead is a double edged sword. There are definite similarities in form, but many differences in style. The most significant similarities in form are the band’s focus on live shows over studio albums, frequent tours, making each live show unique, fan taping policies, the availability of live recordings as a commodity among fans, and the fan’s tendency to follow the tour around from city to city. As far as style goes, the only thing really very similar is that both bands could be considered jam bands. This article on wikipedia describes the difference as: “Phish tended to more closely follow a jazz language or tradition in their playing, which is very distinct from the Grateful Dead's roots in folk and Americana”. It did seem to me during the rise of Phish in the early 90’s that they were on their way to taking over the helm for the next generation on what the Grateful Dead had started with touring. Despite the similarities, I still find it to be politically incorrect when people compare the two groups as almost synonymous.

Death of Jerry Garcia
On August 9, 1995; Jerry Garcia passed and pretty much ended the Grateful Dead as it was then known. The Grateful Dead were still a regular touring band at the time, and they stopped touring due to Garcia’s death. Looking for a similar scene (again, with the similarities being in “form”), may Grateful Dead fans began taking to touring more frequently with Phish. There was a noticeable increase in attendance at Phish concerts and demand for tickets starting in late 1995. Although some may argue that it isn’t the case, I believe Phish's popularity explosion had a lot to do with the fact that Phish was no longer sharing the tour scene with the Grateful Dead after 1995.

Communication (From The Shivice to the Internet)
Phish and Phish fans have always made efforts to use whatever media means possible to keep connected. It started first with the Phish mailing list. Before the Internet and widespread use of email, Phish used to send a periodic newsletter to fans via snail mail called the “Doniac Shivice” (which I used to absolutely love receiving). I’ve read somewhere that at the height of circulation they were sending out 200k copies per issue.

Since the proliferation of the Internet, Phish stopped circulating the Shivice and started communication via email. They built out a website that now includes, where soundboard quality recordings of their shows can be purchased in MP3 or SHN for less than the cost of a CD just hours after a performance. Fans also distribute their audience recordings, legally according to Phish's taping policy. Before digital distribution you could probably find a copy of a particular show within a few weeks, but with the Internet and digital distribution you can download an audience copy of a show within hours of it's completion.

Fans also started various independent websites where people can connect about Phish, trade music recordings, look for tickets, find tour information, etc. Most recently, Phish began using Twitter to send out setlists from shows in real time - which I think is ground breaking use of Twitter for live music.

On the Fringe of Pop Culture
It amazes me that a band that sells out festivals in the middle of nowhere to 70k people, or 3 night stints at MSG, can remain on the fringe of pop culture. There are references to Phish in the mainstream, like with cameo appearances on the Simpsons or with the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor (Phish Food) named after them – but they still are not considered mainstream. I honestly hope it stays that way, b/c nothing can ruin a good thing or a best kept secret faster than too much media attention.

Added 8/26/09:
Phish's Secrets and More For Growing A Cult Following

Debunking The Stereotypes
(are all Phish fans *really* pot smoking neo-hippies?)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Connecting to Solaris from Windows via GUI

Had an interesting dilemma recently that I thought I would immortalize into a blog post, as it took me a few days (on and off) to overcome. All applications used/mentioned are open source.

I am using an application called Jmeter to Load Test a web application. We procured a remote box from which to run Jmeter, b/c we discovered that if I run Jmeter from within the company network I could get false readings and/or slow down other business critical applications in use. The remote box I was given to generate the Jmeter load is running on Solaris 10 with a desktop environment installed. Solaris is ok in this case since Jmeter is pretty much O/S independent. To fully utilize Jmeter's listening features though, I need to open and run it in GUI mode from this remote box (as opposed to running it from command line).

The task:
Connect to the Solaris box from my Windows lapt
op in GUI mode, and run the Jmeter GUI.

It would be great if I could just use Window's Remote Desktop application to connect, but that would be too easy (and it doesn't work in this case). I need to use an X Window manager to accomplish this task.

First step, I made sure I could establish an SSH connection to the remote box. I use PuTTY for quick SSH connections, which is a quick and easy (and free) SSH client.

Next, I downloaded and installed XWinLogon (Download | Documentation), which is a simple and free interface to the X Server which allows you to connect to a Unix/Linux box from your Windows computer. Once connected (I selected SSH to connect), it runs another application called Cygwin/X which allows you to use applications from the Unix/Linus box via GUI on your Windows machine.

Cygwin/X comes installed already with XWinLogon, so no need to install it separately (in fact, they recommend you do not). Here are some info links to Cygwin/X nonetheless: (User Guide | FAQ)

Finally, I needed to install Jmeter on the Solaris machine. Fortunately installing Jmeter is as simple as moving files over - which I accomplished using SFTP via FireFTP. Make sure you put it in a folder you have admin rights to and can easily get to via SSH command line.

Ok now for the fun:
  1. Open XWinLogon and connect to the remote box (fig 1)
  2. A Cygwin/X window should open, asking for a password. Enter it. (fig 2)
  3. You should be logged in now at the SSH command line. Navigate to your Jmeter directory and run Jmeter. (Common SSH Commands)
Your commands may look something like this:
user@machine01$ cd jakarta-jmeter-2.3.4
user@machine01$ cd bin
user@machine01$ sh jmeter

The Jmeter GUI should display (running on the remote box though) and you should be able to use it with your mouse and keyboard. Hurray!!!! (fig 3)

Note, however, that the GUI (fig 3) is not as stable and user friendly as you might be used to in a Windows environment for instance. Also, the connection to the remote box could be delayed, making actions (like mouse clicks) take several seconds to register. Be patient and deliberate so as to not make any mistakes and get stuck. It is advisable that you create your Jmeter scripts from a more stable platform (like directly on your Windows machine) and then transfer the .jmx files to the remote box, using Jmeter on the remote box ONLY to run and view the scripts.

fig 1

fig 2

fig 3

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Where's the break I have been looking for?

After 5 months of forced unemployment due to an unfortunate economic situation at my past company, I have finally found a full time job. It's not a permanent job, by which I mean one where I plan to work for this company for many years to come. I accepted a contract position where they would like for me to stay for 6 months, but are not able to offer me the security of a full time employee position. Even this type of situation has been hard to find over the past 5 months, so I am grateful to be back to work and gaining more experience.

I am still looking though for that full time employee position. I am doing the best job I can at this contract job, but I cannot lay down roots and expect to earn a future from it. I am eager to start working for a company where with hard work I can plan to be there for many years, and continue to grow in my career there. Because of the scarcity of jobs and the hundreds of candidates hiring manager must see now for an open position, it is not uncommon to have them scrutinize your experience and exclude you for something seemingly minor. Hiring companies have the luxury now of trying to find the 'perfect candidate' .

I for one am tired of being overlooked because I am missing experience with an application I could probably learn quickly, or perhaps I have just under the required number of years experience in a particular position. I challenge a company to hire me because I will be a long term employee, because I will be dedicated to the job, and because I want my career to grow with the company. Finding a model employee who will stay for year is worth it's weight in gold. Give me the break I have been looking for, the break I have earned, the break I have YET to earn - and you won't regret it!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Whale Wars

One of my new favorite shows currently is Whale Wars on Animal Planet. It's a reality series about a ship (The MV Steve Irwin) that sales from Southern Australia to Antarctica to fight Japanese whalers from being able to kill whales. It's a noble cause. Americans generally don't eat or consume whales so it's easy for me to consider it a noble cause. If there was a band of animal rights activists that sailed the seas preventing lobster fisherman from fishing lobster, maybe I wouldn't think that was such a noble cause b/c I love lobster. I point is that Japanese culture use whale meat and see nothing wrong with it. The debate is that whales are supposedly protected by international law, which is not enforced - so the Sea Sheperds try to enforce it.

It's an enjoyable show to watch. People with passion to save the Planet and doing something about it. David vs Goliath types of odds. Whalers throw flash grenades while these guys throw buteric acid (rancid butter) & bags of flour. Plus they go to amazing locations not very many people get to see. Some of the footage of icebergs, the southern Oceans, whales, and other wildlife is amazing. And how about that bad-ass ship of theirs? Painted black and yellow with a skull and crossbones looking pirate -like logo - Sharp! Their adventures are fascinating too, to watch how they intimidate the Japanese whaling fleet using non-lethal methods and risk their own lives in the process.

I am not, however, without reservation about the show (part of the reason I like it so much). There are things that bother me about the Sea Sheperds and the MV Steve Irwin. First, is their disregard for the safety of their crew. They make it clear to everyone on board that the whales are the priority. If they are chasing a whaling vessel, and you fall off the boat in the line of duty, your ass is being left behind to die! That's messed up in my opinion. How about a little respect for human life and for the crew that are working so hard to make the mission happen? They are also grossly under trained. There are always a few experts on board, like Captain Paul Watson, First Mate Peter Hammarstedt, and a few other engineers but pretty much everyone else is a novice sailor and a volunteer - and they are doing dangerous things like putting zodiacs in waters so cold that it will kill you in 5 minutes if you fall in and chasing large ships. Seems some professional training could go a long way to preserve life and safety. Finally, the MV Steve Irwin itself - NOT equipped to go through ice, but being used to sail to Antarctica! Seems like that is like me taking my Volkswagen Passat on the Rubicon Trail. (dumb. disaster.)

Aside from these hang ups about their process and disregard for expertise, human life, and safety - I do enjoy the show and it has garnered some degree of sympathy from me regarding their cause. I can't get behind them 100% b/c I'd be a hypocrite. I eat meat and fish. So if I say save the whales, what about that chicken I just had for dinner? Is anyone going to save the chickens? Someone in Japan is having whale for dinner and it seems perfectly natural to them. The whales they hunt are not endangered. The chickens I eat are not endangered. Whales are intelligent. Chickens are (somewhat) intelligent. So I'm not about to put a Save the Whales bumper sticker on my car. Regardless, I think the world needs its radicals to keep things in balance and I appreciate the sacrifice the Sea Sheperds make for animal rights and global preservation. So mission accomplished Sea Sheperds with getting your name out there and gaining some public sympathy.

Spoiler Alert:
One comment I have to make though about this current season (2); what is up with now former first mate Peter Brown? I mean, what a jerk! He looks like he is absolutely horrible to work with. Seems like he makes terrible decisions that endanger the crew. He's not a team player at all - hates everyone and everything. I think he has been at it for too long (since 1982) and is not feeling the love anymore. It's like he wants someone to give him an award or something for all his years of service, but it ain't gonna happen! Few activists are bestowed with that honor. That is part of being an activist! It's a thankless job, and Peter Brown seems to have forgotten that. It's good he left b/c he clearly needs a break. I'm sure he was/is a great, dedicated, and smart activist - but all I have to go by is what I've seen on Whale Wars; and Whale Wars portrayed him like a total asshole. Peter, they did not do you any favors my man!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Really Goode Ride

They announced the Top 10 for the Murphy Goode Winery's "really goode job" today, and I was not on the list. :-( It was an honor to be supported, publicized, and encouraged by my friends, colleagues, family, and people they know - so thank you all for the support. I realized though, realistically, that the odds of being on that Top 10 list were against me. However, I was quite proud to have made the Top 50 out of nearly 2,000 applicants, and I believe the show of support I had from people helped. Wow, what an honor! Thank you!

Reflecting on the process to reach the Top 10, there was a huge focus on the video itself however I think there came a point in the process where it was not all about the video. The video got you noticed (and provided a barrier to entry for the 'not so sure' applicant or the technically challenged one), but your experience got you further in this process I believe. I definitely have the technical and professional acumen for the job, which likely carried me into the Top 50 - but probably lacked in media and culinary/wine industry experience to make the Top 10. It's not clear what Murphy Goode is looking for in a candidate exactly, but since it is a job process and not a contest - I imagine the most well rounded applicants in their eyes prevailed in the Top 10.

C'est la vie as they say! I had a great time being creative, making the video (thanks again Brent & Estella for creative input), breaking down personal barriers, and meeting people via social networking. I still think it's possible that my work & experience here could lead to something. Like, maybe I'll get some calls from people about something or other, eh? o_O

There were certainly some noteworthy people when it came to votes and views, like Martin Sargent ~the overall vote leader with thousandSSSS of votes and views (who wasn't selected to the Top 50 somehow :-/ )~ but I thought I'd mention that the shortened link to my video that I created and publicized ( received over 1,000 clicks as of this post! I had some big days too; like ~300 clicks on May 21st when I launched my video, ~100 on May 29th after a little self-promotion, ~125 on June 26th when I made the Top 50! People viewed my video mostly in the United States; but also in Sweden, France, Germany (@AndysGoodeLife?), The United Kingdom, Slovenia, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, China, Mexico, Georgia, and Taiwan! (Whoa!) -- As of this post YouTube shows my video received over 1,100 views! Not too shabby, if I can toot my own horn for a sec! Hey, it is my blog afterall. :-)

But Craig, what we really want to know is -- who do YOU think is going to get the job? Well, I am not going to be politically correct here, say something cheesy like "they all should get the job", and pretend I don't have a pick in mind on who I think is going to get the job! Based on what I've seen of people online, I'd put my money on Todd Havens with Hardy Wallace a close toss up. Good luck fellas. Of course though, Goode Luck to all Top 10 candidates!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Twitter has jumped the shark

I am not the first person to say it. I did a quick search to see if I could find the person who said Twitter has jumped the shark first, but seems that many people have been saying it since earlier this year. Was it Ashton Kutcher's push for a million follows? Was it OPRAH'S first (all caps) tweet live from her show? Was it members of Congress tweeting during Obama speeches? For me, it was some girl named "Kitty" being my 200th follower sending me a message to look at her porn pics (blocked you, sorry Kitty).

What has happened this year is that Twitter has gone mainstream. Ashton and Oprah contributed to that, but recognition by mainstream news services like CNN really sold it. All of a sudden, CNN is reporting on what people are saying on Twitter about this or that. Then the Iran Election happens. Twitter buzz is news worthy now. All of a sudden, everyone wants to be on Twitter - or at least try to understand it. It's certainly a household name now.

What has followed is SPAM! Twitter used to be relatively free of Spam, and I have seen Twitter try to keep up with fighting spam by deleting bogus account
s periodically. I think though they are likely overwhelmed and unable to keep up with accounts that are bogus or spam.

Spam will be the downfall of Twitter. Users experience spam in different ways.
  1. You get a random reply from someone trying to sell you something (like this from a conversation between @adamjackson and I)
  2. You are followed by a user who has only one or a few tweets, trying to link you somewhere (usually to porn)
  3. You mention something and all of a sudden people who 'specialize' in that are following you or replying to you. For example, I mentioned "Tequila" in a post recently and all of a sudden I had people selling tequila following me. Below is an example of a reply I got after mentioning "Vegas". (Imagine if you mentioned the word "sex" or "porn" in a post!)

I try to do my part by blocking bogus followers, as I'm under the assumption Twitter looks at accounts that are blocked excessively. But I will only have the patience to police my account for so long. The next thing that will happen, like what happened with the Craigslist killer, is that someone will get hurt or killed as a result of using Twitter, it will be widely publicized, and it will hurt Twitters reputation and credibility (as the Craigslist killer has done for CL in my opinion).

One thing Twitter users can do to protect themselves is become more private by protecting their updates, but this defeats the purpose of sharing publicly - something which is key to Twitter's current success.
I have already started looking for a Twitter substitute, and plan to curb my usage.