Lennie Gallant: Musical Nexus

One of the great promises of the digital world is held out to be the power of discovery afforded by “if you like this, you’ll like this.” This is the bedrock upon which Netflix, Spotify and Amazon are built.

And, for the most part, it’s never worked for me.

At this moment, for example, Netflix is recommending, in part, these movies to me:

  • Friday Night Lights
  • Heartland
  • Wedding Crashers
  • New Year’s Eve
  • Dance Academy
  • From Prada to Nada
  • Blue Mountain State

Thanks, but no thanks, Netflix; who exactly do you think I am?

The same thing happens with streaming music: I’ll start up some variation of a “Bruce Cockburn station” and a few minutes later Lynyrd Skynyrd and Springsteen and Jethro Tull start showing up in the rotation and it’s all downhill from there.

Doesn’t the Internet understand what it is about Bruce Cockburn that I like is more subtle than “old rockers”?

I am happy to report, however, with the combination of Rdio and Lennie Gallant I have found a stream that, were it a real radio station, could brand itself “Your Perfect Music Mix.”  Here, for example, is what’s been streaming into my ears this afternoon on the “if you like Lennie Gallant, you’ll like this” station:

  • Lennie Gallant (well, yes, that makes sense)
  • Suzie Vinnick
  • Bruce Cockburn
  • Ian Thomas
  • Rebecca Jenkins
  • Nathan Rogers
  • Dust Poets
  • Rick Fines
  • James Keelaghan
  • Stephen Fearing
  • Karyn Ellis
  • Jenn Grant
  • Dala
  • David Francey

Not a bad track or artist in that mix, and I’ve been streaming that station, with the same results, for hours and hours.

It seems, somehow, that Lennie Gallant’s magical musical glue-that-binds has a filter that makes him the nexus of a universally great music universe.

So, if you’re within a few degrees of separation from my musical tastes, tune your Rdio to Lennie Gallant and prepare to be entertained.

21 Years Later: Personal Data Mining via Credit Card Statements

I am a compulsive archiver of personal records: I still have the paper copy of every phone bill, oil bill and credit card bill I’ve ever received. I should stick them all in a digital repository somewhere to reduce clutter, but for now they’re all sitting in the filing cabinet beside the desk where I type these words.

In the file marked “MasterCard” is my Credit Union MasterCard statement from March 25, 1993, the statement that chronicles my journey, 21 years ago this week, from Peterborough, Ontario to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to start my job at the PEI Crafts Council:

I made the journey in my trusty, rusty 1978 Ford F100 pickup truck, accompanied by my friend Simon, who was driving his mother’s old Chevette. In lieu of a diary of the day I’m left to derive the play-by-play from that credit card statement.

I know that we started off by driving from Peterborough down to Napanee where I said my goodbyes to Catherine and her parents – she was to follow along a month later by air.

Our first stop of note on the journey east was at a hotel outside of Rivière-du-Loup – that’s the “Esso 80 Rue Principal” in Saint-Antonin – where I was felled by a 24 hour flu. That’s why we only made it, the next day, as far as Fredericton and the Howard Johnson.

The next day we landed in Charlottetown and set up camp at the Queens Arms Motel – now the Econo Lodge and I set off to find a place for us to live, eventually finding my way to an apartment at 50 Great George Street.

While moving in to that apartment I managed to back my pickup truck into the house next door, cutting off their telephone service and introducing me to my neighbours, all of whom emerged, as if by magic, to help me get un-stuck.

By March 12 there was more than a meter of snow on the ground, the U-Haul trailer I was towing behind my truck was returned and paid for, and I was installed in PEI, hunkered down in our tiny apartment eating potato chips and watching TV on my Great Aunt Lena’s old television set. I started work on March 15th and we’ve been here ever since.

The next time I used my credit card was on June 23, to pay for a subscription to Wired magazine that had started publication that January.

Father and Son Haircuts

There’s nothing like seeing your horrible hair on Compass to inspire an immediate trip to the barber. Oliver, too, had been too long since a trip to Ray’s. So, it being a day off school today, we went along together. Some people say we look alike; frankly, I don’t see it ;-)

Father and Son Haircuts

How the line on the CBC became “Home and School Federation also says it's time to look at adding more instructional time for students”

Here’s an interesting and somewhat cautionary tale of how things become “news” in Prince Edward Island.

On Tuesday I attended the launch of Prince Edward Island’s updated school calendar at Spring Park School on behalf of the PEI Home and School Federation. Along with Federation president Pam Montgomery, I represent English parents on the School Calendar Committee, and was invited in that capacity.

After the launch, which was well conducted and communicated the school calendar and the rationale behind it effectively, there was an opportunity for the media to ask questions and interview those present. Pam and I were interviewed by Ryan Ross from The Guardian, and that interview supported the story he published later, where Pam was quoted like this:

For Pam Montgomery, the P.E.I. Home and School Federation’s president, she said her organization had a lot of input in the calendar and expressing parents’ input on maintaining the amount of instructional time.

I think we’ve been very successful in doing that,” she said.

A large part of our interview with Ryan focused on the need to communicate to parents about professional development, about how every home and school meeting should include a discussion of what’s been happening on professional development days, and how it’s important that if we’re going to invest the sacrifice of instructional time in professional development it needs to be high quality and relevant. We obviously didn’t express that forcefully or creatively enough, as it didn’t make it into print.

Later that afternoon, after I’d returned to the office, I got a call from Sara Fraser at CBC. She was having difficulty connecting with Pam to do an on-camera interview and wondered whether I could pinch-hit for her. I agreed, and 30 minutes later Sara was in the basement of my office with a camera operator to do an interview. She cautioned me up front that they were only looking for a short clip, and that I should keep that in mind.

In my interview with Sara I talked, again, about the importance of communicating about professional development to parents, and about some of the challenges that the school calendar committee faced in its deliberations. One of those challenges, I mentioned, was that the structure of the school calendar is limited by two currently-immovable walls: September 1 and June 30, which are the negotiated start and end of the school year for teachers. I suggested that if we really want to get serious about adding instructional time and professional development time to the calendar, we were going to have to address that issue. And that’s the clip that made it to air:

Sara: PEI’s Home and School Federation would like the school year even longer.

Peter: …to really take professional learning and the school calendar out for a ride and get more instructional days and more professional learning days, we’ve got to address that issue and that’s sort of the next hill to climb.

Unfortunately what was missing from the clip was the sentence before in which I explained what “that issue” – the immovable start and end of the school year – was. Without that sentence for context, it seemed like our “message” was dissatisfaction with the school calendar modifications because the school year wasn’t lengthened.

Now, fortunately, the notion that the school year should be longer reflects almost all of the feedback we’ve had from local home and schools on this issue: parents, in general, want their children to be spending more time in the classroom, not less.  So it’s not like I was quoted as saying something untrue or not reflective of parents’ collective feelings.

What has happened next, however is that that comment that went to air has been quoted in another CBC story, held up beside an opposition call for more instructional time that you probably heard on the local news this morning:

The Home and School Federation also says it’s time to look at adding more instructional time for students.

Well, yes, that’s, in essence, what I said. But is it what I meant?

Is it an effective distillation, in a single sentence, of what “parents of PEI feel about the school calendar”?

No.

Presumably this is why people who speak in public take “media training”: to understand that it’s about what you say and don’t say and how you say it that will determine what appears on TV and what the public hears. If I hadn’t made an honest but, in the grander scheme of things, “off message” comment about why making a school calendar is hard, then the CBC headline might have been “Parents say communication is key to implementing school calendar changes.”

Lesson learned.

Oh, and I need a hair cut.

How far apart are my eyes?

Speaking of eyeglasses: when I was in Boston last month, my friend Tom took me to see the Warby Parker shop on Newbury Street. They are a boutique maker of high-fashion, low-cost eyeglasses and have positioned themselves as the “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more” competition to the old-line Big Eyeglass cartels. From the team of enthusiastic, fresh-faced young eyeglass zealots that staffed the place, and the crowds milling about, it’s working.

One of the bizarre aspects of the eyecare industry is that the person who tests your eyes and writes you a prescription – despite having all the equipment at the ready – doesn’t tell you what your pupillary distance (distance between your pupils) is; rather it’s part of the “dispensing” that happens where you actually buy your glasses.  This makes it a lot harder to mail order for glasses because, well, it’s hard to measure your eyes over the phone.

Or it was. The rise of online eyeglasses retailers has created a need for DIY pupillary distance calculators. Warby Parker has a very slick one that gave me a measurement of 62.5 mm (over 5 tests the range was 62 to 64 mm). They have you hold a credit card up under your nose and use your webcam, which is a smart way of getting an everyday object that most everyone has that has a standard size into the frame to use as a benchmark:

Warby Parker Pupillary Distance Calculator

The slightly-less-elegant online tool at FinestGlasses.com calculated the distance at 64 mm (part of the reason it’s less elegant is that you need to measure your glasses to get a baseline, and that’s hard to do if (a) you don’t have a ruler and (b) you can read without your glasses so you can’t see the ruler).

There’s a relatively simply way of calculating your pupillary distance offline that’s outlined here; it suffers, alas, from the problem of needing to measure your glasses so if you can’t see without them you end up with a chicken and egg situation. There’s also the problem of ending up with black Sharpie dots on your glasses ;-)

For the record, recognizing that online eyewear is a thing, the place where I go to get my eyes tested, Charlottetown Vision Centre, will measure your pupillary distance for $69, something they advertise with many “we can’t be held responsible if the cut-rate back alley shop you get your glasses at screws things up”-style language.