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By Lou Washington

Recently I received a message from LinkedIn about the image I use for my profile picture within the LinkedIn application. They told me they had removed the image because it violated their standards for personal images.

Ouch! No one has ever accused me of being a shimmering paragon of human beauty, but I never dreamt I was actually violating standards. I’m glad I didn’t know this in high school, I would have never developed any self-confidence. I would have dutifully worn my paper bag to assure people didn’t have to experience the pain of looking at me.

Actually until then, I had used a cartoon drawn by my friend Tom Hortel. Tom is a super creative fellow who runs an innovation company, called Zenovate, They serve business people looking for someone with a real imagination. I was very fond of my avatar image and it was with great regret that I submitted to the demands of Linked In and replaced it with a regular photograph.

This was just a few days before Linked In announced their new iPad app. If you have an iPad, you know there are two kinds of apps available. First are those written to exploit the iPad and take advantage of the many wonderful features that make it such a useful tool. The second type is apps written for the iPhone or iPod Touch then ported to conform to the minimal compatibility requirements of the Pad.

Apps written for iPhone that also run on iPad are typically not as striking visually. Blowing up the standard size iPhone image with the “x2” button usually results in a fuzzy, grainy image. Forget about rotating the image to landscape orientation, the screen will stubbornly remain in portrait mode.

You can understand why I was a bit skeptical when I read that they were finally going to finally have an iPad only version of their app. Since these guys don’t like cartoons, I figured they probably were not going to please me with their revamped interface.

Before I go further with this, let me say, I’m a huge Linked In fan. It was really my first use of social media. I could see the utility of Linked In almost immediately. I’m not talking about the self promotion aspect of the product in a job seeking context, although I understand why that is important.

I like the idea of being able to talk to people knowledgeable in almost any given area or discipline by simply running a search or looking for a group. For someone involved in market analysis or industry trends, (like me) this is an invaluable tool.

Of all the social tools available, Linked In is the one I would be least likely to give up if I had to make a choice.

I’m happy to find that Linked In got it right. The new iPad app is a vast improvement. I might even say that I like it better than the desk top version.

The Updates page is fantastic. It is served up in a beautiful framed eMagazine type format with sections listing real-time updated data such as markets and weather. Personal events are maintained and displayed in a “day at a time”calendar like format that allows the user to scroll forward and back to see past and future events.

News of interest is also displayed via attractive graphics and headlines.  The other stuff, whose viewed your profile, co-worker activities and connection updates are all listed with those now required photos. So maybe a cartoon wasn’t such a great idea after all?

Navigation is now horizontal, using swiping page turns instead of scrolling up and down.

Moving over to the profile page, your profile is presented initially in a clean resume type format. Swiping to the next page reveals your connections, recent viewers, people you may know and your own update activity.This is navigated via up and down scrolling.

The inbox section is set up very much like an Outlook mailbox.. The highlighted piece is displayed on the right side of the screen, the assorted messages are listed in date order on the left. Again, picture images are included with each message.

Throughout the app, the ribbon like tool bar extends across the top of the screen. You can easily jump back and forth between the primary functions by simply touching the IN logo on upper left side of the screen.

If you are an iPad user and you haven’t made the jump to the new version I think you will be pleasantly surprised. If you have an iPad and haven’t added the Linked In app, you are missing out. Take the plunge, I think you will be pleased.

Good job Linked In!!

By Lou Washington

We were discussing this concept today in a marketing context, a colleague of mine put it this way; it’s like the man behind the curtain, Oz is not real, the action and reality are behind the curtain.

We like to talk about simplifying the complex, but is that really what we mean?

Many years ago when I was seriously studying piano I attended a recital featuring pieces from the romantic era including some of the works of Franz Liszt. If you are not familiar with Liszt, he was a performing pianist of astounding technical ability.

In the late 1800s, the piano and the artists who played the piano were roughly the equivalent of today’s preeminent rock stars. From the standpoint of dazzling ability, Liszt stood head and shoulders above most of the artists active in that time. He was good looking and he knew what his audience wanted. He was essentially a phenom, a rock star.

Franz Liszt also composed for piano and he left us with a substantial body of work. Many of these pieces were specifically designed to be “show off” pieces for pianists. One of his more challenging works was a transcription of a series of violin pieces composed by the equally dazzling Italian violinist, Paganini.

It was one of these pieces that grabbed my attention that evening during the recital. The piece is nicknamed La Campanella. The piece opens with a straight forward recitation of a simple melody line. Then, over the course of the next four minutes or so, this theme is repeated again and again with increasing complexity. For the pianist, each repetition brings increasing technical demands that are displayed for the listener in the most astounding ways.

During my next session with my piano teacher I related how this piece had blown me away and how incredible it was that the artist could accomplish all these amazing physical feats. She, of course, was familiar with the piece but she was not as caught up by my excitement as I had expected. She was almost dismissive of it.

I finally had to ask why she was not as taken with it as I was. Her response was one of those lessons you remember because it really transcended music and reached into the whole of life.

She ask me to recall many years prior when I first began studying with her. She had introduced me to the works of J.S. Bach, in particular the series of 48 Preludes and Fugues known as the Well Tempered Clavier. She asked me to recall her introducing me to the very first piece in this series, the Prelude in C Major.

When you listen to this Bach Prelude the effect is altogether different from the other piece. Is is almost entirely devoid of the pianistic gymnastics evidenced in the Liszt piece. But, it is certainly every bit as captivating. The Bach pulls at your emotions, your senses and your spirit. The Liszt doesn’t really pull at anything other than perhaps your sense of amazement.

How is it that the simple, single melodic line of J.S. Bach moves your heart and senses so dramatically while the complex, intricate and rambunctious “La Campanella” leaves you feeling just a bit winded?

How does simplicity essentially blow complexity out of the water? The answer is; it doesn’t.

The Bach piece is far from simple. The Liszt piece is undoubtably complex sounding, but does that complexity result in great music or just a great demonstration of skill? What’s beneath the surface?

The Bach prelude is a long, slow development of a musical idea into a final shining resolution of musical tension that only flirts with flourish and ornamentation in the final couple of measures.

The simplicity sucks you in and then Bach gets your heart.

The life lesson in this is that simplicity is not simple at all. It matters not if you’re talking music or manufacturing. Simplicity is the effect, beneath it, hidden away from view, you will frequently find enormous complexity.

Systems that strive to simplify cannot be confused with simple systems. It you are talking software, it means an easy to use, uncluttered user experience. It means the ability to handle a complicated processes is delivered to the user in a way that saves them time and effort and increases the accuracy of their work.

Simplicity is an effect, an image or a veneer. It covers incredible complexity.

By Lou Washington

Today is the big day; the day that has been anticipated for months. Today is the day the iPad 3 finally hits the market. If you believe the various news outlets, people are in one of two camps on this. First is the panting, drooling, tail wagging group who is speechless with excitement. Or, second, you are in the wake me when it’s over group.

In reality, most people are somewhere in between.  I certainly am.

The 3rd iteration of the iPad is exciting. A greatly improved camera and an upgraded display will make for an improved product. But, I’m not ready to turn in my iPad 2. I have not actually seen the new improved display or used the upgraded camera, but, I just don’t see those features driving me to abandon the 2 just yet.

The iPad is revolutionary. It has changed lives. But, why is this true. What is there about this device that causes so much hoopla?  As a dedicated user, I’ll try to answer that.

First off, what makes any device a better alternative than not having the device?

1)      It must deliver a decided advantage to the user

2)      It must be convenient

3)      It must allow the user to do more by doing less

4)      It must be consistent

Okay, so the iPad bats 1000 on these four categories. But, the thing that makes it transcend the merely great and cross over into the territory of world-changing is the fact that it does all four of these things on multiple levels. It touches and benefits so many processes within our daily lives.

Here’s what I mean.

Let’s take the going to a presentation meeting experience.   In the pre iPad world you would go to the meeting with a pad and pen. Throughout the meeting you would jot down little notes and quotes that might be useful in the future. Finally, you go back to your office, lose your notes and that’s the end of things.

With the iPad you sit down at the meeting. You open a notes app and as the speaker talks you enter your notes into a named retrievable document. Perhaps the power-point presentation has some interesting graphics; you shoot a picture of the screen to capture the graphics. Perhaps, the presenter has a special verbal presentation that sums up his message. You can click on your recorder and capture the guy making the key points.

When you are done, you have an illustrated, multimedia presentation of the entire meeting. You can send it to others via email, you can store it, you can let it rest and review it later. That’s very powerful for people who attend trade shows or must sit through multiple meeting over the course of a day.

If someone would have built a little box that did all of that in 1995, and called it the Meeting Pro, that person would have appeared on the cover of Fortune Magazine by the end of the year.

So, how much greater is a device that also stores your music, facilitates access to the always open music store, movie store and book store and gives you access to these things anywhere you go?

How much greater is a device that replaces your telephone and email with VOIP and video phone functionality?

What would the worth be of a device that allowed you to carry around not only pictures of your family, but also all the pictures you’ve ever taken in your lifetime?

How about a device that does all of the above and also helps you tune your guitar and then record the latest song you’ve written playing your guitar?

Not musical, no problem, what about photo-shopping your pictures? Image editing software abounds for the iPad.

May be you want to try out a new route to your Aunt Zelda’s house. Fire up your iPad GPS system and you’re there in no time.

When you buy one of these things you have no idea how much it will impact your life. The more you use it, the more ways you find to use it.

So, pardon me if I’m not all over the iPad 3 just yet.  I’m still just blown away by my iPad 2.

By Lou Washington

It hit me yesterday morning; out of the blue, no warning. If you play guitar, you know what I’m talking about. I had this need, this urge, to buy a new guitar. The only thing for this is a trip to the old guitar shop. I spent my lunch hour at Sam Ash and then, Guitar Center.

Where I live, these two competitors actually share a common wall. When I get the new guitar bug, I have to go to these stores and play a bunch of guitars that I can’t afford. This is supposed to make me believe that buying a guitar that I can afford will not make me feel better. It really doesn’t work. Much like giving salt water to a thirsty man, it just makes things worse.

Guitar people are like little old ladies and cats. One is too many, ten is not enough. You start off with something that was kind of practical, not expensive; maybe a nice acoustic model. Perhaps you take home a Yamaha or low-end Martin.

After a few days of practice, you think you sound pretty good. Things are coming along and if you could just get that one chord down, you’d have “Louie, Louie” nailed.

For some strange reason, your family tends to avoid you now. They seem to spend a lot more time away from home or, oddly enough they have started hanging out in the more remote areas of your house like the laundry room or the garage. One thing is certain; if they spend much time that far away they are going to miss out on a lot of great tunes.

That’s when you realize that maybe you should have bought an electric guitar with a nice big amplifier. After all, your art should be shared. You have a gift! It’s only right that everyone near you should experience your development into Guitar Man.

The more you think about it the more you realize that you need an electric model and about 100 watts worth of amplification. No reason to deny the neighbors the pleasure of hearing you wail.

So there you go, right back to the old big box guitar super store. Twenty minutes later, you are the proud owner of a new Stratocaster and an amp with enough wattage to light a used car lot in Las Vegas.

You see how the mind works with this little obsession? Everything makes perfect sense at the time. And, if you stopped at two guitars, it probably does make sense. But, that’s not how it works. Guitar fever is much more subtle than that.

Let’s say it’s early June and time for the family to pile into the Scenic Cruiser and head out across America for a little vacation. You’re excited, nothing beats a glorious vacation with the family. At some point you remember your guitar. You remember last year’s trek and the roof top cargo carrier that was required for all the stuff that goes with you and your family. Where will you put the guitar?

That’s when you find out about travel guitars. Back to the big box, back to the store where all the toys are. Soon your walking out with your brand new Martin Back Packer.

As time goes by more and more cues are established that unleash the urge to acquire more hardware.

I remember reading an article about Keith Richards and his love for his Fender Telecaster. Keith and I go way back. He was there for me in junior high, high school, college and beyond. Keith and Mick were part of my formative years. At least the stereophonic manifestations of  Keith and Mick were there for me.

Scary huh? A world view formed by Keith Richards.

It was certainly understandable that my next acquisition at that time was a beautiful sunburst Tele. It still is truly my favorite. There is just something kind of raw and basic about it. Come to think of it, it’s kind of like Keith.

A new guitar is like a little personal adventure to a place you’ve never been before. Playing an old favorite song on a new instrument is like hearing the song for the first time. All sorts of things you’ve never noticed or heard before are exposed.

Similarly, playing an old guitar that you’ve not picked up in a while is like hooking up with an old friend after a long absence.

So my latest round of guitar fever is pulling me in a direction that is kind of surprising. Even though I’ve always been a Fender guy (BTW, they announced an IPO today), I kind of feel some curiosity about Les Paul. I would probably go with one of the lower priced Epiphone models rather than paying for the Gibson name. I’m thinking the Standard model perhaps?

The nice thing about not being a great guitar player is the fact that you don’t have to pay for top end instruments. Although, somewhere out there in the future is a Martin D28 with my name on it. There is nothing like a Martin.

About two years into my guitar obsession, I heard someone comment that a Martin will make you sound about twice as good as you really are. I believe that.

When Barb heard me play my Martin DX-1 for the first time, she told me I didn’t sound half bad.

So, if you are new to the obsession or an old hand or even an accomplished professional, I wish you well and I hope that you have many happy trips to the music store.

By Lou Washington

I remember the first time I listened to music through a commercial grade set of headphones. I was lucky enough to attend National Music Camp at Interlochen Michigan one summer many years ago. The school maintained a first class listening facility for those of us studying music theory, composition or music history. Some of us just loved to go there to hear, I mean really hear, our favorite compositions.

It was still a mostly vinyl world in those days. You could request any LP recording you liked; take it to a small desk equipped with a high-end turntable, amp and those fantastic headphones. They were heavy. They had a gel filled pad that surrounded each ear. This had the effect of putting you into a sound proofed room. You would drop the needle, close your eyes and the music would start.

It was fabulous. It was better than live but not in an artificial way. You could hear everything. The separation of the stereo signal was perfectly tuned to the way the ensemble was arranged in their recording environment. The clarity, depth and richness of the sound were just exquisite. It was, in a sense, a virtual reality with you seated in just the right position in an otherwise silent concert hall. It was perfect.

In the years since that time, we have all become willing to give up that level of perfection. We gave it up a little at a time. As the automobile became the venue where we listened to most of our music, we learned to be happy with the most elemental parts of musical recording. Melody, bass line and beat were elevated above texture, depth and timbre in our musical experiences.

This process continued with our increased demand for portability in our music. Devices like Walkman players and ultimately MP3 players all place a higher value on compression, file size and download speed at the expense of a full and accurate digital reproduction of the original recording master.

Within the recording studio, the quality is still there. Recordings still start out as 32 track (or more) masters. The technology of microphones, musical instruments and the rest of it have all improved since those days I spent with my headphones at Interlochen. But, it is all for naught if 80 to 90% of the recording signal is pared away and removed from the recording.

Couple the low quality recording with low-end ear buds as a delivery device and you have a seriously compromised musical recording.

The photographic equivalent of this would be to take pictures with your 15 megapixel camera, store the images as a 2 megapixel image and then blow the 2 megapixel image up to an 11 by 17 printed image. Believe me, it looks lousy.

Lucky for us audiophiles, there are folks who take this trend seriously enough to do something about it. A story ran in USA Today just last week about the pursuit of high fidelity recording. It is a great piece with some interesting numbers to consider.

The best news is that products are being developed and evaluated that will conserve as much of the original recorded signal as possible as the signal is processed and made ready for a distribution format.

There are also more and more recording artists that are part of this movement to bring back hi-fi as a quality standard in the industry. But, ultimately it will take the consumer pulling out a wallet to really effect a major change in the arena. That is not a small consideration either. Many people out there have never heard just how incredible the old vinyl can sound on a high-end playback system.

I have to think, remembering my own first time headphone experience, that once people hear how good it can sound, they will demand more.

February 2019
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