Friday, March 29, 2013

Great Job Opportunity for IT Field Applications Engineer - East Coast

A client company of White Rhino Partners is looking to hire a Full-time Field Applications Engineer.

  • The ideal candidate could be former military with some IT Field Engineer experience or Data Center experience.
  • Conversational level Japanese is highly desirable to be able to speak with technical staff at the company headquarters in Japan.
  • The right candidate can  live anywhere from the Carolinas to Norfolk, D.C./Beltway, Baltimore, Philly, NYC/NJ, Boston
  • Will work out of the home and travel as necessary client sites, primarily in the Northeast

·         Base up to $90K + bonus structure to bring total close to $125K.  Opportunity for advancement within the growing company.

Field Applications Engineer  - Full-time, permanent employee

Position Description
As a Field Applications Engineer based in the North Eastern US, you will have responsibility for the following as it relates to our Wide Area Optimization Controller (WOC) suite of products.
  • Provide pre-sales technical customer application qualification for the company’s Networks, sales channels.
  • Provide product demonstrations and/or evaluations for technical and non-technical customers.
  • Provide remote and/or on-site post-sales technical support and training for WOC products.
  • Technical product collateral development in terms of application notes, white papers, presentations, etc.
  • Ability to build credible technical relationships with customer base and Sales Channels concurrently.
  • Work with US-Field Sales teams, and Japan based Engineering and Customer Support teams to create solutions to End-user issues.
  • On-site responsibilities include troubleshooting and installation of all products, answering all technical and product related questions.
Position Requirements
·         Documented knowledge of WAN Controller fundamentals required
·         Thorough knowledge of WAN Controller architectures and techniques (i.e. Deduplication, TCP protocol, Protocol Acceleration, Caching, Traffic Shaping) required 
  • Demonstrated knowledge of IT, Enterprise and Data Center Architectures required
  • Exceptional communication and time management/organizational skills
  • Exceptional self-motivation and self-management skills.
  • Demonstrated successful performance in a dynamic, multi-task environment
  • Previous experience as a Field Application Engineer or Technical Support Engineer desired.
  • Cisco CCNA certification desired
  • Experience with WOC systems such as Blue Coat Systems, Riverbed, Silver Peak, Cisco (WAAS), F5, or Infineta Systems highly desired.
  • Japanese language conversational fluency highly desired
Willingness to work out of home on the Eastern Seaboard, and willingness to travel to client sites several days per week.

Competitive salary and bonus structure.

Qualified candidates, send resume and cover letter to Dr. Al Chase:

Please forward this information to any persons in your network whom you feel may be interested and qualified.

Thank you.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Diane Paulus Brings Her Magic to Pippin" by Rob Weinert-Kendt

Diane Paulus, center, directs the Broadway revival of Pippinleft, Patina Miller as Lead Playerright, Matthew James Thomas as PippinPhotograph: Kevin H. Lin

Broadway is abuzz and atwitter with the arrival of Pippin back on The Great White Way after an absence of over 30 years.  The first NYC audience to experience this re-imagined production could not contain themselves on Saturday at the initial preview performance.  Previews will continue until the official Opening Performance on April 25.

I received a call last evening from one of the cast members who has become a friend.  According to him, this is what transpired on Saturday night: 

"The audience stopped the show twice in the first Act with standing ovations. The first time was after the opening number, 'Magic To Do,'. Cast and audience members were in tears. The second time was after Andrea Martin sang 'Just No Time At All.'"

I do not recall ever attending a Broadway show in which the show was stopped twice in the first Act for the audience to acknowledge their delight.  Something similar happened during Pippin's first performance at the A.R.T.  After hearing the familiar opening chords of the orchestra's brief prelude, the audience spontaneously break into a round of applause.  It felt that, as one, we were all saying to the show, to Stephen Schwartz, to Pippin: "You have been away too long, friend; we have missed you.  Welcome back!"

In today's online edition of Timeout New York, Rob Weinert-Kendt has written a wonderful article about how Director Diane Paulus has developed her vision for this production of Pippin.

Diane Paulus brings her magic to Pippin
The innovative director behind Hair and Porgy and Bess infuses the Broadway classic with circus thrills.
by Rob Weinert-Kendt  
You’d think Assassins would hold the distinction of being the first Broadway tuner with a number inspired by Charles Manson. That honor goes to the epic 1972 pop musical Pippin, whose first Broadway revival, now in previews, opens April 25. Its lavish ode to war, “Glory,” climaxes with a gruesome battle tableau, accompanied by a sinuous, wordless soft-shoe by the show’s hat-and-cane-wielding MC, the Leading Player, and two chorines in boaters and breastplates. For reasons that may have been clearer to audiences at the time, this unmistakable bit of Fossean irony has always been called “the Manson Trio.” (Bob Fosse was the show’s original director and, in many ways, a coauthor with songwriter Stephen Schwartz and playwright Roger O. Hirson.)

Maybe it wasn’t so clear to 1970s theatergoers, actually. Although she saw the original production three times as a kid, Pippin director Diane Paulus (Hair, Porgy and Bess) admits that she never got the Manson reference. She finally asked Chet Walker, an original cast member now serving as the revival’s choreographer, about the curious name of the iconic jazz-hands interlude.

“I asked him, ‘Why’s it called the Manson Trio?’ ” Paulus recalls. “He said, ‘Because Bob was very interested in Charles Manson.’ It was the idea of the Leading Player as a kind of charismatic leader, kind of a cult leader. That’s a particularly dark way to see it, but it was really illuminating to understand that reference had significance for Fosse: the juxtaposition of song-and-dance and people being killed.”
If the ghost of the late director-choreographer hovers, Cheshire cat–like, over Pippin, Paulus was determined to face it head-on. “When I talked to Stephen Schwartz, I told him that I wanted to deal with ‘the Fosse,’ because his influence is inextricably linked to the memory of this show,” says Paulus, who originated the current revival at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is artistic director. “I knew it was not my strength to re-create a museum replica of a production, so my interest was: How do I make this production feel necessary? Why bring it back?”

In addition to enlisting Walker to preserve some of the Fosse moves, Paulus brought on Gypsy Snider, a founding member of Les 7 Doigts de la Main, the Canadian circus company behindTraces, to give the show a new layer of movement—and danger.

“I was totally turned on by 7 Doigts; it’s acrobatics, but actor-driven, human-scaled, very emotion-based acrobatics,” Paulus raves with the signature enthusiasm that surely helped land her a gig directing a tent show for Cirque du Soleil (Amaluna, now in Seattle and slated for Randalls Island in 2014). She’d been looking for an excuse to work with 7 Doigts when Walker happened to mention another Fosse obsession. “He said, ‘You know, Bob was fascinated with circus,’ ” says Paulus. “ ‘He loved Fellini, and taking this show to a world of circus feels very natural.’ Circus is almost in Pippin’s DNA.”

The musical may not have three rings, exactly, but its main story—about the peripatetic coming-of-age of the title character, the son and heir of Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne—is framed as a show-within-a-show, performed by a troupe of traveling players. Adding acrobats to the mix was easy enough, but they bring more than cheap thrills.
“What I love about circus is that it’s all a metaphor: Walking a tightwire is a physical metaphor,” says Paulus. The physical part is the key, she adds: “In theater, I always say you live in the moments where things don’t go according to plan, because then all of a sudden everybody wakes up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is live theater!’ In the circus, that’s always happening. When we execute some of the moves in this show, it is real, real, real. And the audience is there, living and breathing with them.”
Though she doesn’t plan to literally invite the audience onstage, as she did in her 2009 revival of Hair, Paulus says that in Pippin, “your presence is highlighted: We’ve made an effort to show that you’re in the world of the show.” Summing up what could be both her ethic and her aesthetic, Paulus adds, “I guess I’m a junkie for visceral theatrical experiences, you know?”

Pippin is in previews at the Music Box Theatre. Click here for tickets.



Reluctant Pilgrim - Stephen Schwartz Sings His Own Songs

Lately I have been in a Stephen Schwartz state of mind.  There is a myriad of reasons for this turn of events.

I have always been a fan of his musicals.  I discovered Godspell when I was still in my post-college rebellious phase; its music and ethos fit me like a glove.  Then I discovered Pippin,  first hearing the music and then seeing it on Broadway.  Wow.  I was still trying to find my corner of the sky, so it really resonated with me at that stage of my long trek that has been a life-long pilgrimage.  I have worn out my CD of the original Broadway cast.

I saw The Magic Show starring Doug Henning, and wondered anew how these two magicians - Schwartz as composer and Henning as illusionist - were able to pull off their feats of stunning prestidigitation. Then I saw an early performance of Children of Eden, and I marveled at how this Jewish guy from New York had chosen to write and to combine these two stories of parenthood and rebellion from the Old Testament.  As a father, I was able to relate to Adam and to Noah.  I grew to love that show, and have subsequently seen many more productions and have worn out yet another CD.

On a trip to London a few years ago, I managed to snag a reasonably priced ticket to see Wicked in the West End.  My American theater-going friends were green with envy!  Then, not  long after this London trip, I met Mr. Schwartz briefly when he was involved behind the scenes with an A.R.T. production of a show called The Blue Flower.  The two of us had several conversations, and so I began to know the man behind the music.  And then last year I learned that Diane Paulus at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge was developing a new production of Pippin for the 40th anniversary of its debut on Broadway.  She was collaborating with Schwartz and with Gypsy Snider to add new layers to the telling the story of the young Prince who traveled through life wondering what price he might be willing to pay to be extraordinary.  And my repeat visits to the Loeb Drama Center at the A.R.T. gave me a few more occasions to converse with Mr. Schwartz and his wife, Carol.  And then one day after a final Cambridge performance of Pippin prior to its departure for Broadway, I was backstage waiting to see some of the cast members I had come to know.  There and then I met Carol de Giere, Schwartz's biographer and author of "Defying Gravity." In the course of reading Carol's chronicle of Schwartz career as a a composer and writer, I also learned that he had a parallel life as a singer/songwriter.

Thus, I became aware of several albums that Schwartz has recorded of his own songs.  Thus, I entered a new phase of my appreciation of his artistry.  While I write these words, I am enjoying the wonderful  assortment of songs in his CD, "Reluctant Pilgrim."  In wrapping up, let me share some of the lyrics from the opening song, Dreamscape:

Time to sail, reluctant pilgrim
My fear is all I've got to lose
Life is nothing
Nothing but a dreamscape
And the dream is mine to choose.

I am racing down a corridor
Endless doors on either side
I could open any one of them
Step on through and change my  life
Sometimes I pause there on  the threshold
Afraid to leave my bright familiar hall
Sometimes I spend my days running by so quickly
I don't see the doors at all.

Step on through, reluctant pilgrim
My fear is all I've got to lose
Life is nothing
Nothing but a dreamscape
And the dream is mine to choose.

This is beautiful and evocative songwriting gently sung.  Schwartz is a very good singer; he could have been cast in his own shows!  Enjoy this album as much as I am enjoying it.

"May the . . .



Monday, March 25, 2013

Perfection of Form and Execution - Review of "Clybourne Park" by Bruce Norris - Presented by The SpeakEasy Stage Company

Michael Kaye, Thomas Derrah, Marvelyn McFarlane, DeLance Minefee, Paula Plum, and Tim Spears in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage's production of Clybourne Park, running March 1-30 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets/info at or 617.933.8600. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

Before I delve into the specifics of my review of the current SpeakEasy Stage Company production of "Clybourne Park" at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion, allow me a few moments to philosophize about the nature of "Perfection."  Plato devoted a great deal of time and writing to his concept of perfection, especially as he discussed ideal forms.  To Plato, everything that exists has a form of perfection for itself. All things work, in their existence, to approach their ideal - to move toward their perfection. An object, living or dead, always works in some manner to realize its intrinsic nature.  Thus, there exists, according to the Platonic way of thinking, a perfect ideal of "The Play." I believe that the current SpeakEasy production of "Clybourne Park" comes as close to achieving the level of that hypothetical Platonic ideal as any play that I can recall seeing.  If I were handed a magic wand that would enable me to make improvements on this play as written and as acted, I would simply lay down that wand and say, in effect, "If it ain't broke, . .. "

Everything about "Clybourne Parks" works like a well-oiled machine.  It is no accident that Bruce Norris has received universal accolades for the script - Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize, Olivier, et al.  I saw the Broadway production of this play last year, and was deeply impressed and profoundly moved.  When I learned that the Boston premiere would be taking place at the Boston Center for the Arts, I wondered how our local theater professionals would be able to match the high level of the New York production.  I need not have worried.  In every aspect, this present production either matches or exceeds the level of professionalism and artistry of the Broadway version.  Director M. Bevin O’Gara has selected a cast of men and women who are simply flawless in the execution of their challenging dual roles.

In his play, Norris weaves together threads from a rich variety of social themes  - racism, prejudice, gentrification, property, the importance of place, the nature of community, communication and barriers to communication, post-traumatic stress disorder, resiliency and the question of “who is my neighbor?”  In the hands of someone with less of a nuanced ear for dialogue and a less well-developed feel for dramatic arc, the scrambled themes could have devolved into a tangled hodgepodge.  Norris has crafted a tapestry that is awe-inspiring and deeply troubling.

“Clybourne Park” stands proudly on the shoulders of Lorraine Hansberry’s classic “A Raisin in the Sun,” and picks up the action of that play in 1959 as a black family is about to “break the color line” and move into an all-white community.   As Act I unfolds, it is slowly revealed that the white couple who are selling their home, Bev and Russ, are selling because of a family tragedy that has shaken them and their marriage to its very foundation.  The neighbors are disturbed by the decision to sell to a “colored family,” and escalating confrontations take place among Bev, Russ, Rev. Jim and Karl and Betsy.  Adding spice to the awkward conversations are the maid, Francine and her eager-to-please husband, Albert.  At the end of Act I, Bev and Russ are ready to move and the neighborhood is about to change.

In Act II, the tables are turned.  Fifty years have passed, and Clybourne Park has long since become a run down all-black neighborhood.  Because of its strategic location near downtown office spaces, the neighborhood becomes the target of affluent white families who are eager to buy up the undervalued properties and “re-gentrify” the old neighborhood.  A white couple, Lindsey and Steve, are planning to tear down the original house and replace it with a much larger structure that threatens to ruin the architectural and historical integrity of the neighborhood.  The African American leaders of the neighborhood association use many of the same arguments that Karl had used fifty years ago to justify keeping the neighborhood as it is.  After several scenes in which the characters dance around the issue of race with euphemisms and evasions, the issue finally explodes into shouting and insults that leave the audience breathless.

The two acts are the obverse and reverse sides of the same coin.  The author has done a masterful job of stitching together the two halves using several brilliant techniques.  The actors who had played roles in Act I return in Act II to play very different roles.  The continuity and the contrasts provide creative tension that adds to the play’s overall effect.  As Act II develops, it becomes clear that the characters of Tom, Lindsey, Steve, Kathy, Kevin, Lena and Dan have personal histories that intertwine with the house or with the neighborhood in ways that tie the actions of 1959 and 2009 together.  In addition, the writer uses a mysterious trunk – buried in Act I and disinterred in Act II – to tie together the tragedy that haunts the house and its inhabitants.

The acting by this cast is a series of revelations of dramatic storytelling at its finest.

Paula Plum plays the beleaguered and long-suffering wife, Bev, in Act I.  In Act II, she is Kathy, Lindsey and Steve’s lawyer, trying to resolve issues around zoning and historical commission regulations.   She is heart-breaking as Bev with panic threatening to break through at any moment her carefully preserved patina of normalcy and calm.

Thomas Derrah and Paula Plum in a scene from SpeakEasy Stage's production of Clybourne Park, running trough April 6 at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts. Tickets/info at or 617.933.8600. Photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo.

Thomas Derrah plays Russ, whose world has been shattered by the family tragedy, and who resists relentless efforts by his wife, the minister and his “friends” to get him to "move on" beyond his debilitating grief  In Act II, he plays Dan, the working class contractor tasked with building a trench in the back yard of the house now undergoing renovation and enlargement.   His portrayal of Russ pulsates with despair and eventually with rage.

Marvelyn McFarlane plays Francine, the “colored maid.” in Act I.  In Act II, she portrays Lena, a member of The Property Owners Association, and a great-niece of the woman who had bought the property in 1959.  Her facial expressions, both as Francine and as Lena who is trying to get to speak her piece and is often interrupted, are priceless.  Her encounters with her husband in both scenes add a significant layer of subtext to the plot.

DeLance Minefee is Albert, Francine’s husband, and Kevin, Lena’s husband.  He balances beautifully the tensions within each character between deferential respect and repressed rage.

Michael Kaye is Karl, head of the Neighborhood Association in Act I, and Steve, the buyer of the house in Act II.  This actor revels in the challenge to play two very different kinds of clueless men, both hiding behind a flowing torrent of words to conceal ignorance and confusion.

Philana Mia plays the role of Betsy, Karl’s deaf wife in Act I, and Lindsey, the frustrated buyer and Steve’s wife in Act II.  She is brilliant in both roles.  Betsy’s deafness is used to great effect as a metaphor for the inability and unwillingness of most of the characters in this play to truly hear one another.

Tim Spears is bromide-spewing and smarmy Rev. Jim in Act I, and Attorney Tom in Act II.  Both of his characters serve to keep the action moving and to remind the others that it is almost 4:00 and almost time to wrap things up.  He has a bit of physical theater in the first act that cuts the building tension with some well-timed comic relief.

Each actor excels in their individual performances, but the strength of this cast is their ensemble work, playing off of one another’s provocations, moments of awkward silence, glances, sneers and circumlocutions.

Norris wields a whole tool chest full of literary devices to tell this story.  At times he is as subtle and nuanced as a scalpel, and at other times, he uses brute force to pry open the audience member’s minds and hearts in much the same way that Dan uses bolt cutters to break the lock on the mystery chest as the play reaches its denouement.

Sense of place comes through as a familiar motif.  Russ’s reading of National Geographic allows him to expand his knowledge of world capitals – Ulan Bator! – while simultaneously hiding behind the magazine to conceal his inner crumbling topography.  The identity of the capital of Morocco becomes a key point of contention in Act II.  The importance of place takes on an even deeper sense of poignancy when one considers that the location of the BCA in Boston’s South End is a neighborhood that has seen its own cycles of change – decay and re-gentrification.

It would be a “perfect” shame for a lover of theater to miss out on seeing this superb production.  Audience members have been storming the box office and filling each seat.  As a result, the run of the show has been extended to April 6.



Saturday, March 23, 2013

"I Feel So Much Spring!" - Moonbox Productions' "A New Brain" at the Plaza Theatre

In the past few weeks, I have seen and reviewed a lot of theatrical productions in and around Boston and Cambridge.  Those who do not know me well may imagine that I could be close to overdosing on live theater or becoming jaded when a particular production or individual performance falls short of perfection.  On the contrary, I am becoming more and more impressed by the depth and breadth of live performance options that the theater-going public in Greater Boston has available to us.  The choices are myriad.  
They range all the way from . . . 
  • A steady stream of Tony Award winning artists coming to town in national tours of Broadway shows playing in the grande dame houses in the Theater District. . .
  • To the A.R.T., that seems to be spawning Broadway-bound hits more often that salmon swim upstream to deposit their fertilized eggs . . .
  • To the Equity houses like the Huntington, the Lyric Stage, Stoneham, New Repertory,  Actors' Shakespeare, Commonwealth Shakespeare, Central Square Theater, et al. . . .
  • To the smaller theater companies - professional, fringe, semi-professional troupes laboring in small black box spaces or full proscenium stages . . .
  • to the Main Stage and student productions at our amazing assortment of universities, colleges, conservatories and institutes that are training the next generation of creative talent. 
Everywhere I turn, I see a wonderful admixture and co-mingling of veteran talent with budding new actors, theater craftsmen and women, creative technicians, writers, dramaturgs, directors, producers and stage managers.  The future is bright and the present situation is an embarrassment of riches for those of us who have acquired the life-long and insatiable hunger to experience story telling at its finest through live drama and musical theater.

In this rich firmament, Moonbox Productions shines brightly.  It's current production of "A New Brain" can be seen at the BCA's Plaza Theatre.  The show was written by Natick native William Finn as he convalesced from a life-threatening neurological condition.  He collaborated with James Lapine on the book.  The show ultimately evolves into a life-affirming climax, but there are bumps along the road, or should I say, some rough seas during the voyage.

Director Allison Olivia Choat has assembled a marvelous ensemble cast  who work well together, with some truly memorable moments in which individual voices and performances shine through.  The story is written as a blend of realistic and real time action interspersed with some surreal moments when  Gordon Schwinn's medical condition causes him to dream or to become befogged (and "befrogged") in delusions.  Hopping in and out of both types of sequences is children's TV character, Mr. Bungee, a solitary amphibious green Greek chorus, commenting relentlessly on Schwinn's failure to achieve success as a song writer. 

Finn's work includes the trilogy of plays that were compressed and presented as Falsettos.  Finn had a Broadway hit in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee."   His works is often described as strongly autobiographical.  This may be the problem with the writing of "A New Brian."  He wrote many of the lyrics and much of the music in the months after undergoing brain surgery.  While there are some truly magical moments and moving songs, the writing is uneven, with some sequences and lyrics that are simply painful and insipid.  Perhaps one of the reasons that this show has never made the leap to Broadway is that the play's book and lyrics need a good "show doctor."  

Finn's protagonist, Schwinn, writes songs for a children TV show.  He hates the work, and is using it to pay the bills so he can write something truly meaningful and memorable.  His life partner, Roger, who loves sailing, is delayed in rushing to Schwinn's hospital bedside because he has been "becalmed in the lee, in the lee, in the lee . . . of Cuttyhunk."  Schwinn's composing career seems equally becalmed in the lee of Mr. Bungee.  Finn has written songs and scenes that parody the simplistic and often inane nature of songs composed for children's TV, including "The Yes Song."  The problem seems to be that in his early stage of recuperation, Finn was not able to clearly discern the line between  parody of the children's show within the play and the need to write more complex and compelling lyrics and three-dimensional characters for the play outside of the Mr. Bungee TV show.  As a prime example, the character of the mother, Mimi Schwinn, is written as a caricature of a controlling, interfering Jewish mother.  Much to her credit, Shana Dirik adds her own special sauce to what could have been a thankless role, and makes Mimi an almost sympathetic character.

Tom Shoemaker is perfectly cast as Schwinn.  The show is written as a through-composed piece (think of RENT  or Les Miserables) with little dialogue.  So the singing voices are key in the creation of believable characters.  Shoemaker's voice flows between subtle and vulnerable to a few special moments when he shows off his rock star chops with some full-throated fortissimo phrases.  Equally impressive in his vocal virtuosity is Ross E. Brown as Roger.  His opening number, as he arrives from his sailing junket off of The Cape, has moments that are breathtaking in their beauty.  Another voice that stands out from an impressive crowd is that of Lori L'Italien as Homeless Lady.  The ensembles singing, especially in the production numbers "Heart and Music" and "I Feel So Much Spring" are electric.  The blend of voices and the balance of voices with orchestra is spine-tingling.

Music Director, Dan Rodriguez, has assembled a wonderful group of musicians.  The problem is that except for the numbers in which the band complements the ensemble singing, they are so loud that they often overwhelm individual voices.  I was sitting in the third row, and had to strain to hear some of the more subtle and potentially-moving musical moments, especially when Mr. Shoemaker was appropriately using his "inside voice."  The creative team have made the appropriate choice to have the actors sing without microphones, which should work fine in such an intimate performance space.  The band somehow needs a little "less Spring" in their step to allow the individual voices to blossom!

The cast is rounded out with fine work by David Carney as Dr. Berensteiner, Shonna Cirone as Rhoda, Peter Miller as the Minister (he has a fun Gospel shtick in one number), Aaron Michael Ray as Nurse Richard, Allison Russell as Waitress and Nancy D., and Matthew Zahnzinger as Mr. Bungee, a wonderful blend of Barney and The Misanthrope!

Despite the few quibbles I have shared regarding the writing and some of the technical challenges, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.  The play - and this particular production of the play - is, at the end, a life-affirming anthem to not giving up on dreams or relationships.  At one point in the evening's activities, audience members were clapping along with the cast.  It is live theater with all of its glories and challenges.  This show is worth seeing and feeling and experiencing.  I left the theater humming "I Feel So Much Spring"!

The show runs through April 6 at the Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA)



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Mini-Review of "Story" by Robert McKee, The "Godfather of Screenwriting"

I just had a fascinating conversation with a warrior who has deployed twice to Iraq.  He is writing a screen play about the experiences that he and his troops faced in that ancient land between two  rivers - Mesopotamia.  In the course of our freewheeling conversation, I mentioned Professor Robert McKee and his iconic work. "Story."  It occurred to me that when I read this book by the "Godfather of Screenwriting," I had not taken the time to review the book here in The White Rhino Report.  I would like to eliminate that oversight by offering a "mini-review" here.

Simply put, McKee offers principles and formulas for screenwriting that have become the Bible of the industry.  The vast majority of men and women who have won Oscars for screenwriting in the past generation have been students of McKee.  There are those who have accused McKee and his disciples of being too formulaic.  I disagree with that criticism.  Any good artist masters the basics and then makes creative choices to depart from the standard and the orthodox to push the envelope of creativity into new territory.  Picasso mastered realistic painting before veering off into Cubism.  Mckee and his book allow the writer of a screen play to master the basics.

Donald Miller, one of my favorite authors, was moved to write to write "A Million Miles In A Thousand Years" after attending a seminar offered by McKee.

Whiterhinoreport Review of Miller's Book

To anyone who wishes to become a better writer of screenplays, fiction, Blog posts, and other literary forms, McKee's book is a great tool to add to the arsenal of literary weapons you have already amassed.




Wednesday, March 20, 2013

If You're Busy, You're Doing Something Wrong - from the Blog "Study Hacks" by Cal Newport

In a recent FaceBook message, Boris Taratunin shared a link to a Blog by Cal Newport.  This remarkable article chronicles the implications of data derived from a study of gifted and average violin students in Berlin.  The results are counter-intuitive and have tremendous relevance to how we plan to spend our "productive time."

If You're Busy, You're Doing Something Wrong

Cal Newport

In the early 1990s, a trio of psychologists descended on the Universität der Künste, a historic arts academy in the heart of West Berlin. They came to study the violinists.

As described in their subsequent publication in Psychological Review, the researchers asked the academy’s music professors to help them identify a set of stand out violin players — the students who the professors believed would go onto careers as professional performers.
We’ll call this group the elite players.
For a point of comparison, they also selected a group of students from the school’s education department. These were students who were on track to become music teachers. They were serious about violin, but as their professors explained, their ability was not in the same league as the first group.
We’ll call this group the average players.
The three researchers subjected their subjects to a series of in-depth interviews. They then gave them diaries which divided each 24-hour period into 50 minute chunks, and sent them home to keep a careful log of how they spent their time.
Flush with data, the researchers went to work trying to answer a fundamental question:Why are the elite players better than the average players?
The obvious guess is that the elite players are more dedicated to their craft. That is, they’re willing to put in the long,Tiger Mom-style hours required to get good, while the average players are off goofing around and enjoying life.
The data, as it turns out, had a different story to tell… 
Decoding the Patterns of the Elite
We can start by disproving the assumption that the elite players dedicate more hours to music. The time diaries revealed that both groups spent, on average, the same number of hours on music per week (around 50).
The difference was in how they spent this time. The elite players were spending almost three times more hours than the average players on deliberate practice — the uncomfortable, methodical work of stretching your ability.
This might not be surprising, as the importance of deliberate practice had been replicated and reported many times (c.f., Gladwell).
But the researchers weren’t done.
They also studied how the students scheduled their work. The average players, they discovered, spread their work throughout the day. A graph included in the paper, which shows the average time spent working versus the waking hours of the day, is essentially flat.
The elite players, by contrast, consolidated their work into two well-defined periods.When you plot the average time spent working versus the hours of the day for these players, there are two prominent peaks: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
In fact, the more elite the player, the more pronounced the peaks. For the best of the best — the subset of the elites who the professors thought would go on to play in one of Germany’s two best professional orchestras — there was essentially no deviation from a rigid two-sessions a day schedule.
This isolation of work from leisure had pronounced effects in other areas of the players’ lives.
Consider, for example, sleep: the elite players slept an hour more per night than the average players.
Also consider relaxation. The researchers asked the players to estimate how much time they dedicated each week to leisure activities — an important indicator of their subjective feeling of relaxation. By this metric, the elite players were significantly more relaxed than the average players, and the best of the best were the most relaxed of all.
Hard Work is Different than Hard to Do Work
To summarize these results:
  • The average players are working just as many hours as the elite players (around 50 hours a week spent on music),
  • but they’re not dedicating these hours to the right type of work (spending almost 3 times less hours than the elites on crucial deliberate practice),
  • and furthermore, they spread this work haphazardly throughout the day. So even though they’re not doing more work than the elite players, they end up sleeping less and feeling more stressed. Not to mention that they remain worse at the violin.
I’ve seen this same phenomenon time and again in my study of high achievers. It came up so often in my study of top students, for example, that I even coined a name for it: the paradox of the relaxed Rhodes Scholar.
This study sheds some light on this paradox. It provides empirical evidence that there’s a difference between hard work and hard to do work:
  • Hard work is deliberate practice. It’s not fun while you’re doing it, but you don’t have to do too much of it in any one day (the elite players spent, on average, 3.5 hours per day engaged in deliberate practice, broken into two sessions). It also provides you measurable progress in a skill, which generates a strong sense of contentment and motivation. Therefore, although hard work is hard, it’s not draining and it can fit nicely into a relaxed and enjoyable day.
  • Hard to do work, by contrast, is draining. It has you running around all day in a state of false busyness that leaves you, like the average players from the Berlin study, feeling tired and stressed. It also, as we just learned, has very little to do with real accomplishment.
This analysis leads to an important conclusion. Whether you’re a student or well along in your career, if your goal is to build a remarkable life, then busyness and exhaustion should be your enemy. If you’re chronically stressed and up late working, you’re doing something wrong. You’re the average players from the Universität der Künste — not the elite. You’ve built a life around hard to do work, not hard work.

If You're Busy You're Doing Something Wrong: The Surprisingly Relaxed Lives of Elite Achievers

These results and recommendations are very consistent with the findings laid out in Frans Johansson's most recent book,"The Click Moment."

Blog Review of "The Click Moment"

Monday, March 18, 2013

Big Data Scientists as Renaissance Men and Women

My good friend, John Byington, recently forward me a fascinating article that takes a novel look at the emerging field of Big Data.  The article appears in Data Science Central - The Online Resource for Big Data Scientists (see link below)

In his article, Vincent Granville differentiates between Vertical Data Scientists and Horizontal Data Scientists.  While he does not explicitly use the Renaissance Man/Woman language, it is clear that he has in mind this kind of broadly educated and non-siloed individual when he describes the Horizontal Data Scientist:

"There are two types of data scientists:
  • Vertical data scientists have very deep knowledge in some narrow field. They might be computer scientists very familiar with computational complexity of all sorting algorithms. Or a statistician who knows everything about eigenvalues, singular value decomposition and its numerical stability, and asymptotic convergence of maximum pseudo-likelihood estimators. Or a software engineer with years of experience writing Python code (including graphic libraries) applied to API development and web crawling technology. Or a database guy with strong data modeling, data warehousing, graph databases, Hadoop and NoSQL expertise. Or a predictive modeler expert in Bayesian networks, SAS and SVM.

  • Horizontal data scientists are a blend of business analysts, statisticians, computer scientists and domain experts. They combine vision with technical knowledge. They might not be expert in eigenvalues, generalized linear models and other semi-obsolete statistical techniques, but they know about more modern, data-driven techniques applicable to unstructured, streaming, and big data, such as (for example) the very simple and applied Analyticbridge theorem to build confidence intervals. They can design robust, efficient, simple, replicable and scalable code and algorithms.

Horizontal data scientists also come with the following features:
  • They have some familiarity with six sigma concepts, even if they don't know the word. In essence, speed is more important than perfection, for these analytic practitioners.
  • They have experience in producing success stories out of large, complicated, messy data sets - including in measuring the success.
  • Experience in identifying the real problem to be solved, the data sets (external and internal) they need, the data base structures they need, the metrics they need, rather than being passive consumers of data sets produced or gathered by third parties lacking the skills to collect / create the right data.
  • They know rules of thumb and pitfalls to avoid, more than theoretical concepts. However they have a bit more than just basic knowledge of computational complexity, good sampling and design of experiment, robust statistics and cross-validation, modern data base design and programming languages (R, scripting languages, Map Reduce concepts, SQL)
  • Advanced Excel and visualization skills.
  • They can help produce useful dashboards (the ones that people really use on a daily basis to make decisions) or alternate tools to communicate insights found in data (orally, by email or automatically - and sometimes in real time machine-to-machine mode).
  • They think outside the box. For instance, when they create a recommendation engine, they know that it will be gamed by spammers and competing users, thus they put an efficient mechanism in place to detect fake reviews. 
  • They are innovators who create truly useful stuff. Ironically, this can scare away potential employers, who, despite claims to the contrary and for obvious reasons, prefer the good soldier to the disruptive creator."
The author then goes on to discuss the ramification of these phenomena for recruiters who are attempting to source and to place Data Scientists with their client companies:

"This is also one of the reasons why recruiters can't find data scientists: they find and recruit mostly vertical data scientists. Companies are not yet used to identifying horizontal data scientists - the true money makers and ROI generators among analytic professionals. The reasons are two-fold:
  • Untrained recruiters quickly notice that horizontal data scientists lack some of the traditional knowledge that a true computer scientist, or statistician, or MBA must have - eliminating horizontal data scientists from the pool of applicants. You need a recruiter familiar both with software engineering, business analysts, statisticians and computer scientists, and able to identify qualities not summarized by typical resume keywords, and identify which (lack of) skills are critical from the ones that can be overlooked, to detect these pure gems. 
  • Horizontal data scientists, faced with the prospects a few job opportunities, and having the real knowledge to generate significant ROI, end up creating their own start-up, working independently, sometimes competing directly against the very companies that are in need of real (supposedly rare) data scientists. After having failed more than once getting a job interview with Microsoft, eBay, Amazon or Google, they never apply again, further reducing the pool of qualified talent."

I am blessed with a network that includes a number of these kinds of Horizontal Data Scientists.  I look forward to working with yo and your company if you have the need to hire someone who brings this kind of value to your Big Data projects.


Vertical vs. Horizontal Data Scientists

Data Science Central article: Vertical vs. Horizontal Data Scientists