Resume – Jim Irwin

PictureOfJimNoBackgroundWhere I have been:  Over 30 years of applying technical and cultural change to the inception, initiation, development, sales, and delivery of client-centered strategies and solutions as products, consulting services, or C-Level advisory functions.   

Where I’d like to be:   To apply that experience in a leadership role for a growing company building products and organizations that incorporate innovative technologies to provide client-driven solutions that are constructed based on open principles such as Agile, open source, technical and domain standards, and open architectures. 

Resume – James Irwin (download .doc file)


·         Innovative development of new solutions leveraging existing company assets and industry trends resulting in new portfolio, products and intellectual property (patents).

·         Application of all phases of Software Development Lifecycle including strategic planning, development, test, delivery, sales, pre-sales, and marketing

·         Technical transitions from mainframes, networking, object-oriented, client-server, web applications, service-oriented architecture, and disruptive trends such as cloud/XaaS

·         Cultural transitions of development approaches evolving from ad hoc, Rational Unified Process (RUP), Rapid Application Development (RAD) through Agile and open approaches

·         Creation of solutions for general computing, commercial, retail, and government agencies

·         Application of emerging technologies such as Speech, Natural Language Processing (NLP), SOA, and analytics.

Professional Experience:

Varied Consulting and Independent Development

Over my career, I’ve driven numerous entrepreneurial initiatives including development and marketing of PASA (a spousal support calculator for PA lawyers), development for doctor/patient heuristics (NLP analysis of patient interaction transcripts), web-site human factors for an e-commerce startup, setup and hand-coded development of (my wife’s freelance art business), and currently, development of WordPress-based (a family-run bricks and mortar gift store)

Unisys Corporation(since January, 1985)

Chief Architect USPTO Account, Unisys Federal Systems

Accomplishments:  Set strategy, completed proposal, and gave winning orals presentation to win $535 Million IDIQ contract.  Established vision, team, and processes to respond to individual task orders.   As TO wins accumulated, set up delivery organization including O&M, feature enhancements, and Next Generation (development and integration); this continues to scale.   Now leveraging Unisys’ newly established position and relationships to compete for additional contracts in this account. 

Details:  initiated strategy to win USPTO contract (where Unisys had minimal position) and after study of client, supporting development of a team of partners and vendors, drove proposal completion and lead Orals presentation.  After win of this SDI contract, established task order response process, reacting to client changes and ramping up both response and delivery teams.  Continuous role to ensure quality in responses, delivery, and to leverage these positions for additional business development.  Engaged in delivery as architect or other roles as needed to ensure success.  Provide limited “consulting” support to existing or target accounts with similar profiles and challenges.

Solutions Architect, Federal Systems

Accomplishments:  Produced technical strategy and proposals for variety of Federal Agencies, introducing open solutions and innovative delivery and contracting processes

Details: Creating and defining innovative Enterprise-scope solutions for proposals for numerous government entities including GSA, USPTO, USDA, NOAA/NWS, and FAA.  Working directly with a variety of governmental processes and frameworks (e.g. FEAF, DODAF, FSAM, numerous agency SDLCs) as well as their non-governmental counterparts (e.g. ITIL, CMMI, TOGAF).  Delivery of SOA transition at GSA focusing on Enterprise Architecture definition, planning, and transition which added SOA governance to Unisys’ portfolio.  

Chief Architect, Strategic Program Office

Accomplishments:  Defined portfolio for CTO office for Open Source that span all business units and geographies helping to close $500 million in new net revenue over a two-year period.  

Details:  Corporate level position developing strategy around open architectures, open standards, and open source.  Focus areas include J2EE, SOA, and open source solutions for application servers, CRM, ETL and Data Transformations, Reporting, CMS, and many other solution areas.  I was responsible for strategic planning, marketing, delivery, training, and development of technical alliances.  I routinely presented Open Source and SOA strategies to CxO and Senior IT staff to clients in numerous industries.  As an early architect for SOA, I focused maturity and adoption trends, following standards such as JBI, SCA, frameworks such as TOGAF, business modeling tools, commercial and open source development environments, and impending paradigm shifts in business, development, and enterprise IT.   With a highly collaborative team, I developed market-driven approach across many corporate entities including CTO, Sales, Marketing, Delivery, and 12-15 active Open Source Partners.  Development of the portfolio required heavy involvement with our information management solutions to communicate solutions in a variety of forms including technical solution, value proposition, general and targeted marketing plans.  These activities included development of prototypes of integration of various open source solutions, benchmarking, and other marketing support.

Solution Architect

Accomplishments:  Led, as chief architect, highly complex, distributed, spoken and natural language systems engagements consulting with clients in the development of their multi-year technical and business strategies.   Solutions were driven by $1B revenue from telecomm industry clients. 

Details: Design of “enterprise class solutions” for client engagements, typically with a complex multimodal user interface presentation layer, implemented and deployed as multilayered J2EE application suites.  I developed reference architectures to create repeatable patterns and facilitate integration with existing customer assets.  These architectures integrated many vendors of niche solutions in an emerging technology area with the extremely high enterprise attributes demanded by the telecomm industry (e.g. 99,999 availability, highly scalable, rapid service deployment).  These designs and implementations were reused across multiple properties within each client account, across multiple accounts, and as a foundation for future sales in this area.  

Product/Engineering Manager

Accomplishments:  Conceived of, designed, and delivered a model-based dialog-flow application IDE and runtime, leading the team responsible for complete product lifecycle.  The product supported the world-wide telco LOB by enabling development of multimodal  User Interface (speech, text, web) services assets (see patents below). 

Details:  Product Development Architect and Manager supervising 15-20 engineers and writers defining requirements, design, implementation, testing, documentation, packaging, and support of a variety of product streams.  The integrated suite of tools captures abstract design of speech and natural language applications then generate, package, deploy, test, and manage J2EE applications that render those specifications.  My role included presales, marketing programs, full documentation, alliance management, and involvement in standards communities (W3C working groups).  The IDE is constructed using Visual Basic, C/C++, COM, ActiveX, and extensive SQL and relational database support.  It generates, tests, packages, and deploys a model expressed as XML with a runtime renders this model in interface markup such as VoiceXML, xHTML, mpXHTML.  This program generated a number of significant patents.

Software Support Engineer

Accomplishments:  While exceeding my support requirements, I conceived of, prototyped, and promoted a solution that seamlessly exposed mainframe assets to the emerging desktop/windows environment.   This initiative established technical direction for a suite of products adding longevity to the mainframe LOB (see patent below). 

Details:  I was responsible to provide support for a variety of software products closing significantly higher number of trouble tickets than required.  I developed a lab by recycling PCs which had been discarded for newer versions.   I used this lab for testing and extending numerous support processes to respond to changing product lines and customer requests.   While performing my support duties, I also used this lab to reverse engineer Microsoft client and then identified the standards the industry was pursuing in this area, I developed a prototype of a product that enabled PCs in emerging Microsoft networks to access mainframe resources (files, printers, pipes, etc.).  The solution included PC booting from the mainframe creating a class of “diskless” workstations for which I was awarded a patent.  This prototype became the  basis for a product line that significantly extended the sales life of the mainframe LOB as PCs emerged as the “window” to mainframe systems.

Software Engineer (Networking)

Accomplishments:  As an intern I developed a configuration tool, contributed to a multiple layers in the mainframe network solution and then was asked to become permanent prior to graduation to support an complimentary Intel-based networking product.

Details:  I was initially hired to support development of a mainframe-based tool for configuration of a complex and adaptable OSI model networking solution that included numerous terminal and networking protocols.  I created a build utility that generated code to be included into that tool that enabled engineers to declare attributes from which a UI would be produced.  This reduced time and tedious alignment while increasing the fidelity of the implementation.  I later moved to implementation of the networking software for the mainframe.  Here there was a tight coupling of libraries included in the solution that were developed by different facilities.  This made version control of a released product extremely complex and often resulted in systems with mismatched components.   I decoupled the libraries by developing a message exchange protocol to replace the tight linkage that was common practice at the time.  This messaging approach enabled releases to occur on the schedule driven by each facility with a feature set that was determined by the combination of the libraries.  Finally, I was asked to work on the Intel-based systems which involved development of a multi-tasking Operating Systems which hosted various networking protocols and physical interfaces.  Development at this level involved high level languages (Pascal) as well as In Circuit Emulators.

Community Residential Rehabilitation Inc. (June 1981 to October 1984)

Assistant Program Manager/Senior Advisor

Accomplishments: Initiated pilot programs for highly customized private sector services in the mental health system, developing funding process with county agencies, streamlining services for clients through targeted needs.  Results included reduced cost to county, higher quality services to clients, and increased revenue to the company.

Details:   Mental Health Professional leading to position of Assistant Program Manager.  Primary experiences included Direct Intervention and Counseling as well as supervision of 15+ staff across four residential facilities and a base office. Responsibilities included Interpretation of Government Regulations, Personnel Management, Facilities Management, Coordination with Outside Agencies, Crisis Management, and Program Expansion.

Additional Work Experiences (Prior to 1981)

Prior to and throughout college, I worked in all roles in the hospitality industry from bell hop, front desk, dishwasher, short order cook, bus boy, waiter, and banquet manager.  I worked in a variety of manufacturing environments and supplemented my income playing in bands and tutoring students. 


Management and Business Support Skills

Identifying need-driven solutions, development of the market for those solutions, and driving creation of the products and services that fills those needs


Strategic Planning Business Development Product Development
Portfolio Development Market Development Product and Portfolio-driven Services
Market Trends and Research Client Development SDLC – Agile, RUP, RAD
Technical Trends and Adoption Presales Support Business Alignment (Product Owner proxy)
Product Concept and Launch Bid Response and  Proposal Development TeamBuilding (Certified Scrum Master)
Strategic Alliance Development Trusted Advisor role Staff Selection and Development
Staff Planning Customer-facing C-Level Presentations Sizing and Pricing 
Open Source Business Model Orals Presentations User Help, Rollout, and Training
Product/Company Evaluations Development of Marketing Materials Service Personnel Training

 Abstract Technical Skills

Applying experience from years of Information Technology evolution that now represent industry best practices.


SDLC Architecture Adoption
Principles of Agile Manifesto Business Requirements Alignment Business Transformation & incremental change
Requirements Gathering, Decomposition, Backlog Management Enterprise Architecture and Frameworks (e.g. FEAF, TOGAF, DODAF) User Centered Approaches (UxD)
Non-functional Requirements and SLAs Enterprise Integration (EIPs) and Design Patterns SOA Adoption and Governance
Multi-perspective Design Documentation SOA and Principles of SOA Manifesto Operations and Management Support
Code Development, Quality and Code Sifting Leveraging Open Source Business and Technical Service Taxonomies
Continuous Build and Test Human Interfaces and Design Principles Documentation / Training
Requirements-driven Testing, Op Readiness Leveraging and Applying Standards Participation on Standards Bodies
Source Control & Configuration Management Management and Monitoring Leveraging disruptive trends (Cloud, “as a service”, analytics)
Deployment Best Practices Environment and Compatibility Management Separation of Concerns

 Technologies and Product Skills

I deeply enjoy direct participation in product development and experience provides me with a broad foundation to do so.  My hands-on experience varies, but I can quickly get up to speed at a depth necessary to accomplish any task.


User Story, Use Case development Requirements Mngmt Tools (home-grown, Req Pro, Rally) User Centered Design Principles
Workflow and Modeling (Provision) Eclipse-based IDEs, Java/JEE (JBoss, Tomcat) HTML and markup (e.g. other device-specific), CSS, transformations
Externalization of Properties, Rules (e.g. Drools) and Workflow (BPEL) Microsoft (VB6/C++/COM) Javascript, Working knowledge of Dojo, JQuery
Unit and Integration Testing (e.g. JUnit, DBUnit) Web Services (SOAP, REST, standards – W3C, OASIS, WS-I) GUI Frameworks (JSP, JSF, Struts, other MVC-based, portals)
Function, Performance Test (e.g. JMeter, Grinder, SOAPUI) Messaging, ESB,  Registry and Service Taxonomies Open Source Solutions (e.g. Apache, JBoss, BIRT)
Continuous Build/Test (Maven, Hudson, ANT) Working Knowledge LAMP (Perl, PHP) Natural Language Processing (NLP)
Power User Word, Powerpoint WordPress, CMS solutions and standards (e.g. CMIS) Speech Recognition, Text to Speech, Audio

 Patent Awards and Filings

Dialogue Flow Interpreter Development ToolUS Patent –  7,389,213

Dialogue Flow Interpreter Development ToolUS Patent7,024,348

Dynamic generation of voice application information from a web server – US Patent – 20050028085

Systems and Methods for Managing and Building Directed Dialogue Portal Applications – US Patent – 7,395,206

Apparatus for Design and Simulation of DialogueUS Patent6,321,198

System and Method for Remote Program LoadUS Patent5,404,527

TN236 – Testing Techniques (filed August 2002)

TN307 – Managed Services (filed Apr 2005)


·         Unisys Innovation Badge (2014)

·         Three Achievement Awards for Excellence [from managers]; highest cash bonus recipient [judged by peers] for Apollo Bonus Award Program;

·         Numerous Unisys Short Term Awards;

·         Recipient of multiple Customer Comes First Awards.

·         Product (Speech Application Development) featured in VoiceXML Introduction to Developing Speech Applications, (James A. Larson, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 07548 ISBN: 0-13-009262-2, ©2003).

·         Coauthored SOA World Byline: 


·         Intersection of Psychology and Computer Science

·         The open movement including implications to industry, government, and culture

·         Computer’s role in education, communication, overcoming disabilities, and free thought

·         Man-Machine Interfaces (Natural Language, Speech, GUI design, innovative interfaces)

·         Semantic Web and broad implications of  “smart machines” and “machines that learn”

·         Blogging (

·         Active Music Combos, Piano/keyboards, Bass Guitar

·         Analog and digital recording (music)

·         East Cocalico Township Recreation Board (former chairman)



Recent Certifications 

  • Agile Certified Scrum Master (8/2010, renewed 2012)
  • JBoss Advanced J2EE Developer (Aug 2006);
  • JBoss for Hibernate (Aug 2006).


M.S.Computer Engineering  Kennedy Western University (graduated 7/00). Courses include Computer Science Theory (Formal Languages and Automata), Artificial Intelligence, User Interface Design; Thesis in Natural Language Understanding. 

B.S.  Computer Science (Cum Laude) Millersville University of Pennsylvania (graduated 12/85). Included paid position in Campus Computer Labs, Consulting for ConestogaSchool District, and Beta Testing of Concept 3 Software.

B.A.  Psychology (Magna Cum Laude) Millersville State College (graduated 5/81 with double the major requirements). Six graduate credits in Clinical Psychology.

 Educational Honors include being selected to participate in the ACM Scholastic Programming Contest; Math and Computer Science Chairman’s List for Academic Achievement; and Math and Computer Science Departmental Honors for three separate classes. 

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Why Not Vote for the Political Insider? Listen to Horatio Bunce!

Today there is a focus on the “Citizen Politician” with the rise in the polls of Donald Trump and Ben Carson – the “political outsiders.”   You can see them as the solution to a country on the wrong track  or just another part of the problem; but each time I hear media expressions of shock at the how these “outsiders” could possibly be the front-runners, I am reminded of a story my Dad shared with us as kids.  I talk politics with my Dad a lot.  He is one of the “greatest generation” and brings a perspective looking at nearly 90 years of change.  You can agree or disagree with him too, but you really do need to at least listen 😉

Anyway, if you know the history of Davy Crocket, you know he went on to a career as a politician after starring in numerous movies and TV shows (joking).  There is a story that conservative’s favor where Mr. Crocket describes learning a lesson from Horatio Bunce – a farmer who’s vote candidate Crocket wished to garner.   The story is entitled “Not Your’s to Give” and I would challenge anyone curious about revolting against politicians, citizen outrage, and the role of the media in the equation to have a look at this story.  Whether or not you agree with the lesson Davy Crocket takes away, the interaction would seem to be an example of why we feel betrayed by politicians – but in this case something actually came of the quiet protest.

If you are interested enough to read the article, see if you don’t see some basic principles at work:

  1. A media that publishes unbiased source materials that enable the public to make their own decisions
  2. A public that invests the time to evaluate those unbiased source materials to reward behaviors that align with their own core principles and stop those that do not
  3. A politician that actively listens to the public and considers the public’s feedback (even if it was initially only to get a vote – OK some things don’t change)

As the theme of my blog is unintended consequences, perhaps we are suffering from the Unintended Consequences of the erosion of these tenants of freedom.



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Do you start every sentence with So… ?

My wife and I have our own set of pet peeves about how people use and often teach the English language.  So this NPR story really caught my attention. As a techie and programmer – in my heart anyway, don’t get a lot of opportunity anymore – there’s a reference that for me really hits home.  So if you love the English language I’m certain you will laugh and perhaps some will be at yourself – so have a listen!

So here are some excerpts from the story in case you don’t chase links without a bit more about what they are!

To listen to the media tell it, “so” is busting out all over — or at least at the beginning of a sentence. New York Times columnist Anand Giridharadas calls “so” the new “um” and “like”; others call it a plague and a fad.

It’s like a lot of other grammatical fixations: Not everybody cares about it, but the ones who do care care a whole lot. When NPR’s Weekend Edition asked listeners last year to pick the most-misused word or phrase in the language, that sentence-initial “so” came in in second place, right behind “between you and I” and ahead of venerable bugbears like misusing “literally” and confusing “who” and “whom.” That’s a meteoric rise for a peeve that wasn’t even on the radar a decade ago…   … Many of the complaints about sentences beginning with “so” are triggered by a specific use of the word that’s genuinely new. It’s the “so” that you hear from people who can’t answer a question without first bringing you up to speed on the backstory. I go to the Apple Store and ask the guy at the Genius Bar why my laptop is running slow. He starts by saying, “So, Macs have two kinds of disk permissions …” If that “so” were a chapter title in a Victorian novel, it would read, “In which it is explained what the reader must know before his question can be given a proper answer.”

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Making the be$t of the situation

Mule for Sale

Mule for Sale

Curtis and Leroy saw an ad in the Starkville Daily News Newspaper in Starkville, MS and bought a mule for $100. The farmer selling the mule agreed to deliver the mule the next day.

The next morning the farmer drove up and said, “Sorry, fellows, I have some bad news, the mule died last night.”

Curtis and Leroy replied, Well, then just give us our money back.”

The farmer said, “Can’t do that. I went and spent it already.”

They said, “OK then, just bring us the dead mule.”

The farmer asked, “What in the world ya’ll gonna do with a dead mule?”

Curtis said, “We gonna raffle him off.”

The farmer said, “You can’t raffle off a dead mule!”

Leroy said, “We shore can!  Heck, we don’t hafta tell nobody he’s dead!”

A couple of weeks later, the farmer ran into Curtis and Leroy at the Piggly Wiggly grocery store and asked. “What’d you fellers ever do with that dead mule?”

They said, “We raffled him off like we said we wuz gonna do.” Leroy said, “Shucks, we sold 500 tickets fer two dollars apiece and made a profit of $898.”

The farmer said, “Goodness, didn’t anyone complain?”

Curtis said, “Well, the feller who won got upset.  So we gave him his two dollars back.” 

Attribution:  A friend emailed the story to me, I don’t know how to credit the author.  The picture is from a pretty interesting story on the intelligence of mules from

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Do you hear Crickets?



I heard a story quite some time ago that I am unable to find references to, but it is amazing to me how often it applies to how people think and perceive the world.

Here’s the story…   A man from the country visited his friend in the city.   As they walked down the street together the visitor smiled.   His host asked what the smile was about and the visitor replied “Its just nice to hear a cricket here in the city.”   The host exclaimed, “there is no way you could possibly hear a cricket over the noise of this city.”   The visitor paused, reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, and dropped it on the sidewalk between the feet of the bustling crowd.   Several people stopped and one bent down, picked up the coin, put it in his pocket, and continued walking with the crowd.  “Do you think the sound of the coin is any louder than my cricket chirping?”

For whatever reason this has stayed with me.   Maybe it is because crickets have such symbolism in our culture –  our conscious (think Jiminy Cricket) or good luck (we put a metal cricket on the hearth in our first home with a fireplace) or perhaps it is just the simple message that reminds me that people hear what they are listening for.   Ironically, when you ask for help and get no response, an idiom is “you know what I got back?  crickets.”

Picture Credit – (also an interesting discussion of why Crickets Chirp)

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Computers Are So Rude… What’s the Consequence?

Angry Lady on Phone

Is She Talking to a Computer?

Of course computers are not rude, you need to have some intent or emotion to be rude.   You could argue that the people who write programs are rude, but that is not really the case… in fact they are often polite to the extreme.  Why is the computer asking me to please click the next button?  And I’m not just talking about the computer you sit in front of – when you talk to an IVR of course you are talking to a computer. Why am I told that my conference call will start momentarily when in fact the computer has no way of knowing if and when the organizer will actually open the bridge?  Well its just the polite way to let people know they should keep waiting.

But…  is regularly talking to a computer that is a surrogate for hitherto human interactions making it OK to be rude back?   Since the first non-geek sat in front of a computer we’ve been swearing at computers… but that was similar to swearing at a frozen bolt when changing a tire.  You know you are swearing at an inanimate object.

So what is the impact of interacting with increasingly “human like” devices for which we feel no obligation to be polite?   I feel a little silly when I realize I am being polite to an emotionless machine and don’t hold back in letting SIRI know when she just can’t get the number right!  Like the claim that video games numb us to the consequences of violence and driving like a madman, is our culture slowly being trained to set aside long-established the norms and etiquettes in how we interact with one another?

I spent several years studying the human interface while developing tools that allowed the designer to script out a “man-machine” dialog, typically rendered using speech interfaces (using standards such as voicexml if you are in to that kind of thing).   Listen to recorded interactions with these systems and not only do you appreciate why people tend to hate them (at least, the badly designed ones) but also realize that people are indeed very prone to swear at the system even though it is standing in for a human – yeah, its not just me!

I would love to see a study of how we use similar services provided by “real” humans over time to see if people are becoming more prone to be rude to humans since its clearly acceptable to be rude to their surrogates.   This would indeed be an unfortunate unintended consequence of this technology.

In an loosely related topic and purely because it will make you laugh out loud, if you haven’t seen this clip on conference calls that went viral a few months back you really need to watch it.

Credit for Image

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Mother’s Day Appreciation – Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall

I was really lucky that my daughter Kate invited me to a lecture by Jane Goodall at F&M College (credit for picture).   Dr. Goodall is an amazing person on so many accounts.  But I was really impressed that while celebrating her 80th birthday, Dr. Goodall’s talk started out with genuine recognition, appreciation and admiration her mother’s role in her success.  As we think about Mother’s Day, Dr. Goodall’s stories of her mother’s fostering Jane’s curiosity from a very young age, supporting her unconventional dreams, and helping her challenge conventional thinking about science and women’s roles are really inspiring.    If you know someone who attended a lecture  by Jane, ask them about Jane’s mother and I’ll bet they will remember her inspirational stories about bringing earthworms to bed, learning how a chicken lays an egg, and living in the bush with Jane on her first African interactions with the Chimpanzee’s she is now so strongly associated with.

I am always attentive to the unintended consequences of things.  While her mother could not have known the specific outcomes of her actions, the consequences were clearly intended to help her daughter be successful and happy.  They were based on a basic faith that providing a nurturing and supportive environment can cause great things.  The happy but unintended part is the influence that Dr. Goodall then has had on the world.  If ever a mother made a contribution to the world by through excellent parenting, Dr. Goodall’s mother is a memorable and inspirational example.


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A World Too Perfect

Today, admittedly, April Fools day, I heard a story from the sports world that for the first time, a major league baseball umpire was over-ruled by a computer.  I’m not a big sports fan so I was a little surprised by my significant and negative reaction to the story.  I commented to my wife,  this seems like a good introduction to a “future shock” movie where people welcome this kind of “accuracy” in determining fairness when it involves a game,  but then have to fight against it when it expands to monitoring of traffic, who gets what jobs and benefits, and even whether an individual committed a crime or not.    Enforcing the rules without exception seems like a great thing until you ask yourself who gets to make the rules?

I’m not a sports fan, but I do love music.   Twenty-five or so years ago I was so excited to get into digital recording.  Even the most basic equipment came with a wealth of digital instruments and you could record what you played.  The huge game-changer was that rather than recording the sound the instrument made, the new systems recorded the details of what you played.   So the computer kept track of what key you hit, when you pressed it, how hard you played it, and so on —  not the sound that the key made like a tape recorder.    This enabled all kinds of neat things.   I could play the song on a piano and later tell the computer to play it back but this time on a harpsichord.   Amazing.

So what is the tie to my umpire story?   Well it turns out another “feature” that this new technology enabled is the ability to correct elements of your recording.   The computer could take what I recorded and make sure all the key presses lined up with the true key signature.   If I played notes 1,2,3,4 but a little off where they “should be” in the measure, the computer could fix the recording so that my key presses were now exactly on the beat – so long as I was close enough for it to make a guess what I “intended.”  This technique is called quantization.  Playing with consistent timing has always been a challenge for me so this was an incredible tool to erase one of the major short-comings of my playing.   One click removes the imperfections.

Or so I thought.  After recording and quantizing many songs and playing them for family and friends, I discovered that removing the imperfections from the music essentially also removed the life from it.  Although the music was technically much more accurate, it was also mechanical and lifeless.  And the harder I worked to make my recordings “right” the worse this effect became.

So it turns out that, in music at least, the people making the real “rules” are the people experiencing it, not the people that define the dry theory behind it.  I guess I worry about people losing sight of that point whether its in music, sports, or any of life’s decisions where some set of rules created by experts can be applied to ensure the world is fair.  I am reminded of a person being tried by a “jury of their peers” – right now that still shouldn’t be a computer no matter how “right” it may be.



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The First Open Source – Ben Franklin?

Franklin Stove

Franklin Stove

I am a huge open source proponent, not just because of all the advantages it brings to the world, but also because the community demonstrates a way of doing things that is exciting because it so incredibly successful, surprising and, in my mind at least, has many of the same properties that are behind the success of the United States.   So I was really delighted to see near the end of Chapter 12 of Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography that when Franklin was offered the opportunity to patent his design for what we now call the Franklin stove, he declined believing that he had borrowed from others so he should share freely.  Wow.  The founding fathers are really the ones that started open source!

Graphic Credit:

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Used Keys Stay Shiny

Benjamin Franklin makes the observation that it is the used keys that are shiny.   There is no intent to keep the key shiny, but it is a happy side effect of their use (unintended consequence).

Since I read this in Franklin’s autobiography (listened to it on a recording actually), the simple mental image of a shiny key is a constant reminder to me that to keep a skill shiny you have to actually use it.   Simple.  Elegant.

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