In Obscura

I've got a new musical project, and I'd love to tell you about it. 

I've been calling it "io" (like, the moon of Jupiter, or the Greek goddess). But, there are already a couple other "io"s out there, so now "io" is short for "In Obscura" (which is Latin for "in darkness", and which is also the first part of the inscription on my wedding ring: "in obscura, in luce": "in darkness, in light"). 

If you've followed any of my musical projects in the past (Drop Trio, Black Joe Lewis, the ARP Log, etc), the last 3 years may have seemed like a pretty dark time for me, creatively. Not so! In fact, just the opposite: I've been making more music than at any other point in my life (more than even I can keep up with).

As of the start of 2013, in the 8 months I've been working on it, I've already put out 128 songs (grouped into 32 "EPs", or short albums). This comes out to just over 9 hours of original music, with all parts written, played & recorded by me.

You can listen to all of it for free over on my SoundCloud page: https://soundcloud.com/inobscura/

Or, you can download the complete set as a zip file (currently 750MB) with this link.

I have every intention of keeping it up, and I'm even hoping to play live shows at some point in the future. If you want to keep up with what I'm doing, sign up for my email list, follow me on Twitter, friend me on Facebook, pin me on Pinterest, etc. 


SxSW Inspiration

SxSW has come and gone again, and aside from the usual case of SxSARS, I've weathered it quite well. Saw lots of great talks & bands, and feel generally inspired to create things. Woot!
Poster by Matt Jones

One of my big goals every year for the music festival is to find new artists that I am totally in love with, and who I wouldn't have found any other way. Josh Pyke was one such find in 2009, as was Danny Malone in 2010, and Baths in 2011. My preparations for the festival are borderline OCD: I download the torrent and listen to every song (not all the way through, unless I love it). Then I rate them, enter them in a database, cross reference the show lists (like do512.com), and make it to as many as I can.

I've been doing this same thing for several years, without much variation. But! This year, the big change was Spotify. Not only can I easily listen to entire albums by bands on my list (to see if it's really my thing), but I can also share my finds with others. So behold, all 3 of you in the world who care what music I like: my full SxSW 2012 Picks playlist on Spotify. (This is the "3 star & above" list).

This year, my favorite new find was Emperor X (and yeah, I'm a little late to the party). After falling deeply in like with his track in the torrent, I tracked him down to a random bike shop parking lot in Austin. His set sort of blew my mind. It's like frenetic pop/folk meets GBV-level songwriting, with lyrics that evoke an ambiguous near-future sci-fi universe. It really feels new and exciting, and I want you to go listen to a lot of it.

I also made two other discoveries this week:

1. Delicate Steve. I first heard a track by them in last year's torrent and thought "Hey, neat". When I heard another song in this year's torrent that I liked even more, I made a point to see them. And holy crap! They make really awesome music. I can't really explain why I find it so magnetic. Listen on Spotify.

2. The Belle Brigade. I can't say I found them using my aforementioned OCD technique, though they did indeed have a song in the torrent. But no, I found them via my other (and generally more reliable) technique: getting suggestions from my wife, who has a much better radar for good new music than I do. The Belle Bridgade sounds like a more pop/rock Indigo Girls; it's a brother/sister duo, and the lead songwriter (the sis) switches off between guitar and drums (which she rocks incredibly hard). Listen on Spotify.

I'm aiming to get all of these on vinyl (because as awesome as Spotify is for prospective listening, it doesn't really funnel much cash to the artists, which is an important thing to do if you want them to keep existing). So don't forget to do likewise if you like it.


Part Of The Solution

Hey, it's time for my annual blog post!

It's been a big long crazy year around here, with many thousands of hours spent doing many dozens of nice things. I'll write more about the rest soon, perhaps even before another year has passed. But today, I wanted to mention that as of this fall, we're now a solar-powered household! Behold:

We were able to do this because of an incredibly cool program called Pecan Street Project, which funded and inspired the Mueller Megawatt Project. It's a pretty amazing to see all the houses with solar power (over 200 at this point) just in our little neighborhood.

And we're producing! Check it out:
Even in late december, without many hours of daylight, on a sunny day we still have a pretty good surplus (5 kWh yesterday). Really looking forward to seeing how much we produce in the spring with more light outside, and fewer lights on inside.

I want to give a shout out to our solar installers, Lighthouse Solar. They were great to work with, and the monitoring tools they provide are really amazing--I can see, over the internet, my real time energy production and usage. It's so real-time, in fact, that I can flick a light on or off and immediately see the result. Which has the nice side effect of keeping us a lot more conscientious about our energy usage (man, lights use a lot of electricity!).

Next up: using our surplus for ... an electric car?


Documentation Momentum

I got my first real camera in 2006. Specifically, on June 14th, 2006; I know this because prior to then, my life was more or less undocumented. This is the first picture I took with it:

Since then, I've taken just over 10,000 photos (that I've kept), of which about 1400 are on my Flickr page. 2007 was a peak year (4125 photos), and 2008 trailed off a bit (2308 photos).

Then, in 2009, I only took 626 photos. What happened?

I got an iPhone.

"But wait, Ian! Doesn't the iPhone have a camera in it?" Yes, absolutely; that's the problem. I stopped carrying my awesome camera around because I didn't "need" to; I told myself that I'd just take lots of pictures on my iPhone instead. And, I did take some pictures. But the funny thing is, I didn't like the pictures, and didn't care to organize or look at them later. And, over time, I just kind of quit taking pictures.

At the same time, I switched from managing my photos on a Mac (iPhoto) to a PC, because our old Mac was groaning under the ever-increasing weight of my all these pictures (most of which were of my dog). So I moved my photos over and started using Picasa. Big mistake! It's well engineered software, but not well designed for use by human beings; everything is convoluted and un-obvious, at least to me. So, my visual documentation languished.

No more! I've now moved back to managing photos in iPhoto on a Mac, and can now easily integrate photos from both my camera and my iPhone (which can now do fancy stuff like click focus, HDR, etc., and actually looks quite good). And I've started posting on Flickr again (here are sets from recent trips to London and San Francisco.

Brighton Pier

The City


The Force

Through my career as a software engineer, I've always felt drawn to data. Modeling it, manipulating it, mining it: anything having to do with the structure and use of concepts in software, really. It's an amazing (and important) area to work in, because understanding a problem's data is often the biggest step towards solving it.

I finished my Masters Degree at UT, and wrote a thesis about some new-fangled database design strategies that got noticed by a few folks. One group who noticed was a company I've long admired: San Francisco-based Salesforce.com, which creates online ("cloud") software for businesses. They've essentially built a "meta database," where their customers directly interact with database concepts, without needing a programmer to make it happen. Salesforce brought me out to do a technical talk about data design in non-relational databases, and I had a great experience meeting and talking with the team.

So it is with great excitement that I can now share that I've been hired by Salesforce.com to join the core engineering team, and work on the next generation of really tough data problems, andhopefullymake the world a better place. I plan on taking advantage of Salesforce's 1/1/1 policy to not only design and develop advances to data in the enterprise, but also to extend that work to non-profits who are themselves tackling even bigger problems, and can use all the help they can get taming and understanding their own data.

I'll continue blogging personal stuff here, but probably not much about my work, since, as a part of a public company, I can't discuss internal stuff without working through the standard communication channels. Besides which, I'll be up to my ears in java code, and you probably don't want to hear all about that. :)


Honeybear in Hibernation

Photo by Matt Strmiska

For the past 3 years, I've had the pleasure of playing with a talented group of guys known as Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. In that time, I've toured the world, played shows with everyone from the New York Dolls to Barack Obama, and performed for huge crowds at festivals (and even on TV). I joined the band just before their first big break (opening for a Spoon tour), and had no idea what I was getting into at the time--every time it seemed like we'd just done the most ridiculous thing possible, something even crazier popped up. They're a fantastic group of human beings, and great musicians as well.

Tonight (3/20/10), at the Austin Music Awards, will be my last show as an official member of the band. Over the years, life, in all of its amazing fortune, has interceded to make it rough for a thirtysomething guy like me to do hard touring with a bunch of whipper snappers like them. They've been awesome about letting me play just the "big shows" (thus, my nickname), but some new commitments in my life are making it harder to do even that. They show no signs of slowing down, and while I hope to still show up for the occasional gig or session, it's time to take my bow. If you're in Austin, I hope you can come see me off.


Draggin' A Mean Bar

In the fall, I took up a new instrument: the pedal steel guitar.

That's my current guitar - a slightly used Carter Starter.

"The what?" you might ask? Actually, if you're lucky enough to live in the world's finest city (Austin, TX) or know classic country music (e.g. Merle Haggard), you're not asking that, because you already know. But for the rest of you poor souls, I'll explain it.

The pedal steel guitar is the king of instruments. It's a horizontal guitar, played with a slide, and makes use of various pedals & levers to change the pitch on individual strings. It's got an ethereal tone, and is unique among instruments in that its configuration allows chords and harmonies to "morph" continuously from one to the next without interruption.

It is also maddeningly hard to learn, because you've got several dimensions to think about: bar position and angle, 3 foot pedals and 4 knee levers (which can be used in various combinations), 10 strings (usually played with 3 or 4 finger picks), and a volume pedal. It's kind of like playing chess on a unicycle at first.

Why am I learning pedal steel guitar? Because it's my favorite instrument to listen to, and because I love a challenge. I took a couple lessons (from Neil Flanz and Bob Hoffnar) to get the basics down, but I'm mostly self-taught; I've put in nearly 150 hours of practice so far, and am now vaguely passable as a backing player (though definitely not a soloist yet). When I started in September, my goal was to be stage-ready by South By Southwest.

And lo: here we are! I've already done my first gig, as a matter of fact - last week with my friends in Honky Kong at my favorite, Club Deville. That one was just to get the butterflies out, and did its job.

But now, for the world's most famousest music festival, I offer, for your enjoyment, 2 shiny new gigs, with yours truly draggin' bar. The first is TODAY (Monday, 3/15) at the Mohawk at 8:15pm, backing up singer/songwriter Trey Brown. It's part of the ATX Emerge party.

ATX Emerge

(I hear a pretty good soul band is playing later, too, but they don't have a pedal steel player, so ... whatever. :)

The second one is with my own new project, Branch & Steel, which is so hip that we don't even have a myspace page. It's comprised of me on the steel, and amazing guitarist John Branch, who will instead be playing piano. We'll be playing original compositions, pretty chill stuff, as part of the SoCo Freedom Rock party, which will also feature FREE MARGARITAS.

So, if you've a mind to hear the mighty brought low, here's your chance. See me now, before I start refusing to play to crowds smaller than 10,000 again. By my prediction, that should be happening by June or so.[1]

[1] June of 2057.