Music Review: Melancholy Waltz – Richie Lawrence

Hi all…

Tickling the ivories. Slapping the keys. Playing the piano. Modern pianos have 88 keys covering seven octaves and three pedals. And though I myself never learned to play well, some of my fondest memories are of my mother sitting before our old upright piano whiling away the minutes into hours as she’d stretch chord and note to chord again… Even now, nothing quite can match the expressiveness of a well-played piano.

Enter Richie Lawrence and his family’s 1917 Model AIII Steinway Grand Piano. On his latest release, Melancholy Waltz, he proves my point with twelve amazing piano and accordion instrumentals and songs. And though his Americana-themed lyrics and vocals weren’t my favorite tracks on the CD, there’s something powerful and joyful about his piano compositions that’s hard to explain. Melancholy Waltz cuts across a majority of his influences – from Americana, blues, and folk – while showing off his talents as not only a performer, but a composer and songwriter.

Lawrence was born in Oklahoma, but lived in Colorado for a time and now calls California home. He’s played everything from blues to Polka and along the way met a literal Who’s Who of famous musicians – Bonnie Raitt, Steve Goodman, Crystal Gayle, America, and George Thorogood as well as the Neville Brothers, David Lindley, Ladysmith Black Mombazo, Little Richard, David Byrne, and more.

Of all the tunes on the album, my favorite is the “Bee’s Blues”, which weaves the classic melody of “Für Elise” with a series of lively ragtime blues riffs that I can listen to over and over again. The joy as Lawrence plays with these melodies comes through loud and clear.

In contrast with the blues, the soft and steady strains of “The Melancholy Waltz” brings to mind a couple dancing through time and space. This is a piano composition I would hope that dance choreographers, television and movie producers take note of for their own shows. It’s impossible for me not to see the waltzing couple as I listen to this gorgeous melody, which ends in a happier place than it begins with a more upbeat/ragtime feel.

And lastly, I’ll talk about “My Oklahoma Hills,” which shows his love for where he was born. He explains in the lyrics that “I left my home behind me / My dreams do travel there still / Through prairie ocean grasses / My Oklahoma hills…” This is for Lawrence what “Country Roads” was for John Denver – a call home through song.

Richie Lawrence’s three decades of experience playing music professionally truly come through in this great album. If you have a love for original piano compositions as I do, be sure to pick up Melancholy Hills. Check out his website – www.richielawrence.com – for more information about the man and his music.

–Fitz

p.s. Look for this and other great albums at Amazon!

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Book Review: 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know edited by Richard Monson-Haefel

Hi there.

As a software engineer teasing the edge of becoming more of an architect, the title of 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know hit me with a number of questions I hoped the book might answer. Why 97? What about the 98th? And honestly after reading the third or fourth axiom and accompanying essay, I decided neither question mattered. In all fairness, I’m sure the title was meant to do exactly what it did – encourage someone to pick it up and take a look.

As I progressed and read each piece of advice, I found myself dog-earing each one I thought I might be able to apply. And after a while I noticed that a little less than half of the book is now dog-eared… 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know has made its way into the little shelf of materials I have right next to my desk.

Unlike the majority of other books about software engineering, this one doesn’t focus on one topic, but rather uses the shotgun approach to cover the most ground possible in a slim volume of 200 pages. As the editor says, “A great software architect needs to master both sides of the architect’s coin: business and technology. This is no small challenge…” But the book he put together does a great job of rising to that challenge.

Monson-Haefel had a lot of help. Each of the more than four dozen authors wrote their own material, donating their thoughts and advice to this effort. Each contribution was examined and edited and the best made it into the book. Articles cover such diverse topics as team building, communication, keeping customers in mind, ethics, and so much more.

Among a few of my favorite axioms in the book are:

  • “Stand Up!” by Udi Dahan – As software engineers, we find ourselves warming our chairs more often than not. But as an architect, you must communicate more effectively when explaining your decisions. “Standing up automatically communicates authority and self-confidence. You command the room. People will interrupt you less. All that is going to make a big difference to whether or not your recommendations will be adopted.” says Dahan. Something we often forget when we stare at a computer monitor all day.
  • “You’re Negotiating More Often Than You Think” by Michael Nygard – We’ve all been through it. It’s the classic question “Do we really need X?” and architects have to be ready to say “Yes, we do.” and not back down like the engineers most of us actually are. As engineers, we’re used to finding alternatives. Architects design things to be a certain way for a reason and shouldn’t back down immediately. Negotiate instead.
  • “Build Systems to be Zuhanden” by Keith Braithwaite – All too often we over-engineer things. Instead of using a hammer, which is a natural extension of your hand and arm to get the job done, it’s really tough to pound in a nail with a computer keyboard. When someone uses the wrong tool, it demands the attention instead of the task you’re trying to get done by using the tool. Your users shouldn’t have to think about the tools you design too much. The goal isn’t to make them efficient users of your tools – it’s to help them get their job done.

There are 94 other nuggets of wisdom in this book. If you’re on the cusp of becoming an architect, I highly recommend taking a look and digesting the book slowly. It hops around quite a bit and took me the better part of a few weeks off and on to finish because I didn’t want to skim and miss some crucial bit of information I might have needed. I think I’ll be creating a one page summary of the axioms of the book though and post it near my desk so I can remind myself of some of the great advice more easily.

Look for 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know at your local bookstore or online. It’s definitely a new resource for my bookshelf.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know at Amazon!

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