Jason Specland: Consultant, Comedian

Making it up as I go along. Always.

Author: jason (page 1 of 12)

GEORGE/MARTHA Extends Run at the Peoples Improv Theater

GEORGE/MARTHA has extended its run for three more shows at the Peoples Improv Theater.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 7 P.M. [Purchase Tickets]
This show will be at the PIT Underground, at 123 E. 24th St., between Park and Lex.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 at 9 P.M. [Purchase Tickets]
Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at 9 P.M. [Purchase Tickets]
These shows will be at the PIT LOFT, at 154 W. 29th St., between 6th & 7th Avenues.

Upcoming Performances and Classes

Thursday, August 17, 11 PM, The PIT Underground: I perform… ALL BY MYSELF! At the Solo Improv Showcase hosted by Solo Improv guru Mike Brown. $7.

Saturday, August 19, 3-6 PM, Simple Studios: Drop on in to my Drop-In Class! Get some improv reps! Have some improv fun! $30, or $20 if you have a current PIT student ID.

Saturday, August 26, 5PM, Henry Heymann Theater, Pittsburgh, PA: The Austen Family Improv Players at the Pittsburgh Comedy Festival. Super-excited about this one! I get to go back to my old college town to lay down some Regency-Era manners. I just hope my order of ‘O’ Fries doesn’t drip ketchup on my cravat. $10

What a Week of Improv!

If you had an itchin’ to see me perform improv, this is your lucky week! Just about every group I perform with is playing this week.

BUCKET OF FUN: Sunday, March 19th (today!), 7:00 PM at the PIT LOFT (154 W. 29th St., betw. 6th and 7th Ave.). My house team REGINA goes up against Latinx in a game show that pits improv teams against one another in a fun competition.

REGINA: Monday, March 20th (tomorrow!), 8:00 PM at the PIT Underground (123 E. 24th St.). My house team REGINA performs its weekly house team show, with our friends Poor Melissa.

REGINA (at the NYC Improv Festival): Wednesday, March 22nd (the day after the day after tomorrow!), 9PM at the PIT Striker Theater (123 E. 24th St.) with The Studio System.

THE HUMANE CENTIPEDE (at the NYC Improv Festival): Thursday, March 23rd (the day after the day after the day after tomorrow!), 11 PM at the PIT LOFT (154 W. 29th St., betw. 6th and 7th Ave.). It’s the WORLD PREMIERE of the improv and sketch group featuring some of my most talented bestest best friends, Adrian Sexton and Rory Scholl.

GEORGE/MARTHA (at the NYC Improv Festival): Saturday, March 25th (the day after the… oh forget it… a week from today), at 4 PM at the PIT LOFT (154 W. 29th St., betw. 6th and 7th Ave.). I play Richard Burton playing George, and Adrian Sexton plays Elizabeth Taylor playing Martha, as we improvise a brand new “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” There will be much drinking and anger, especially if the estate of Edward Albee hears about it…

THE AUSTEN FAMILY IMPROV PLAYERS (at the NYC Improv Festival): Saturday, March 25th (the same day as the last one!), at 9 PM at the PIT LOFT (don’t you know where it is by now?). We are an improvisational theatrical troupe from 1813, performing in the style of Miss Jane Austen. With a little luck and some providence, we may all be profitably married by the end of the show!

Whew! Hopefully I’ll still be alive at the end of all this…

2016 Year in Review

The year 2016 is nearly over and has been legendarily awful. But the things that were awful were big things. Things over which I had little control. When examining the things over which I had more substantial control in 2016, the year takes on a significantly rosier hue.

Things That Remained Awesome in 2016

My wife, son, and I remain in good health, and my wife and son continue to be amazing people.

My friends are not only amazing human beings, but are uniquely funny and talented. Sometimes I take for granted what an amazing creative group I’ve surrounded myself with. I forget what rarified air I’m privileged to walk in.

I continue to have an excellent job with an excellent company that is intellectually challenging and pays enough for me to comfortably raise a family.

Things That Became Newly Awesome in 2016

I went to England for the first time and spent two weeks with my wife’s wonderful family. I’m fortunate to have an exceptionally good relationship with my in-laws. And England is pretty awesome all by itself.

My talented wife was cast by the Harlem Repertory Theater, so she was in a bunch of incredible shows and got paid for it. It’s about time that the world recognized how gosh darn talented Paula is.

Paula and I finally got a hold on our finances this year. We weren’t doing badly, but we were living slightly beyond our means. In 2016 we made significant progress in our finances, and we’re on track to be debt-free in 2017.

I ended my PIT house team exile, and was recast on a team. I strongly believe that I was recast, not because I became significantly better at improv, but because I turned around a self-defeating attitude, so being recast represented a significant personal victory. But, I wasn’t just cast on any ordinary team. I was cast on “Regina,” one of the greatest groups I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a member of. I’ve been cast with plenty of funny people before, but never before have I been with a group of funny people who work so well together and share a common artistic vision.

Speaking of talented people I get to work with, Adrian Sexton and I finally put up our “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” improv show we’d been talking about for years, and it was a rousing success. Rory Scholl and I got to do a killer set at a two-prov tournament in front of Armando Diaz, my very first longform improv teacher. The three of us are going to create some killer comedy in the new year.

I coached a group for much of the year, and it’s been a delight watching them become stronger and more confident in their performances. As is often the case, the teacher is also the student, and coaching this group has finally given me enough confidence to pursue my dream of teaching improv.

I got to perform my first two out-of-town gigs and my first out-of-town festival with the Austen Family Improv Players.

At work I was promoted to Architect. (software architect, not building architect) There were some difficult projects in 2016, but they are now behind me and the future looks exciting and challenging. I didn’t get to do as much conference speaking as I’d like, but the one talk that I did give went extremely well.

Things (beside the obvious) that Sucked in 2016

My dad has cancer. He’s not out of the woods yet, but thank God his treatment is going well.

I had several bouts of deep depression. I had terrible anxiety attacks, one of which prevented me from enjoying the company of some friends I hadn’t seen in years. I didn’t see a therapist even once, even though I clearly should.

I spent way too much time on unproductive pursuits, consuming an abundance of media that was ultimately unhealthy.

What About 2017?

So it’s looking like the big things — the things over which I have little to no control — will be pretty terrible in 2017. But on a personal level, things look like they’re going to be pretty okay. I’ve recommitted myself to accomplishing concrete goals. (But hey, doesn’t everyone do that this time of year?)

I just pray that the truly big, historical forces aren’t so terrible that they collide with my personal sphere.

Project Estimation for SharePoint: A Parable

EXT. OUTSIDE THE JUNGLE, DAY

An intrepid treasure hunter and his local guide stand trepidatiously outside of a dark, mysterious, wild jungle.

Treasure Hunter: How long will it take for us to get through the jungle?
Guide: It’s hard to say. The jungle is filled with dangerous traps and difficult terrain.
Treasure Hunter: Okay, how long will it take to get two miles through the jungle?
Guide: Seriously, it’s hard to say. I don’t know what we’re going to encounter…
Treasure Hunter: Just ballpark it for me.
Guide: Okay, well I’m really not certain, so I’m going to have to assume the worst… Three days?
Treasure Hunter: Three days!? To go two miles!? What are you, incompetent or something?
Guide: Okay, if everything goes absolutely perfectly… A day, maybe? But don’t hold me to that…

CUT TO: Two days later…

EXT. INSIDE A PIT TRAP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE JUNGLE, DAY

Treasure Hunter: We’re a day over budget. I’m not paying you for this, you know.

A Dog Named ‘Cat’: What Happens When You Name a SharePoint Field ‘DisplayName’?

Sometimes I feel bad for junior front-end developers who think they have a decent handle on things, and then get thrown into the world of SharePoint. They don’t have the SharePoint Spidey-sense that tells them something simple is going to go horribly wrong.

I was called on to assist a junior developer who was tearing his hair out trying to do simple CRUD operations on list items in SharePoint in an Angular application. I’d already written a (somewhat) simplifying Angular service to deal with most of the annoying parts of the REST API, so I was baffled that he was having so much trouble with it.

So I stepped into the code with him, making sure he was calling my service correctly. He was. I began to panic. Was there a bug in my service? I stepped into the service code. Everything looked fine, and SharePoint returned the proper “201 CREATED” response. But every field except one was being set.

The name of that field was “DisplayName”.

Curious.

I proceeded to create a new Custom List called “TestThisBug.” I created a field called “DisplayName” and another field called “FooDisplayName.”

sp2013-displayname-bug-in-interface

Simple, right? Then I tried to get the fields via the REST API.

sp2013-displayname-bug-in-rest

The field did not appear. Curiouser and curiouser.

I tweeted the tweet above, and told the developer to name the field something else and be on his way. I wondered, “What if we try the same operations using the JSOM?”

So, on my SharePoint 2013 VM, I fired up a Site Collection, created my list, and wrote me some JSOM code. I wrote some code that will get that list item, select a few fields (including “DisplayName”) and just display it in a table.

sp2013-every-field-but-displayname

I got every field I asked for, except for “DisplayName” which was silently disregarded. When I tried to ask for it directly via get_item('DisplayName') I was told it wasn’t initialized, despite the fact that I’d explicitly requested it.

sp2013-uninitialized-property-jsom

I began to wonder if I would run into the same creation issue my coworker was encountering. I wrote some more JSOM code to actually create a list item with the “DisplayName” field set. And, even more strangely… It worked!

sp2013-succesfully-created-item-with-jsom

I then logged on to my Office 365 Dev Tenant to see if this is still an issue.

o365-displayname-bug-in-rest

o365-displayname-bug-with-jsom-added-item

Yup! Sure is! You can see here that I can get the field name from the list via list.get_fields(), but when I return list items, the field is not returned, despite explicitly requesting it. You can also see that the “DisplayName” field that is returned from get_fields() doesn’t have any super-secret internal name that I’m missing.

But, as before, adding a list item with that field via JSOM works just fine:

o365-displayname-bug-with-jsom-added-item

So, kids, I guess the moral of this story is pretty simple: Don’t name your fields “DisplayName.”

Here’s the bug-test JSOM code.

Geniuses and Poets

“If we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets and artists, we have a better chance of becoming that on stage.” — Del Close

Del Close, the Father of All Longform Improvisers

Del Close, the Father of All Longform Improvisers

The past week at work has been kind of frustrating. Miscommunication all over the place. Balls being dropped. And all of it seems to end up in my lap for some reason, even though I’m not the guy in charge. I feel let down by people I trust. I get angry at people.

But then I take a moment to realize that we’re all inherently good people trying to do our best. We’re all on the same team. Even demanding clients aren’t demanding because they enjoy being jerks, but because they’re under their own set of pressures and deadlines. My coworkers didn’t drop the ball because they have a vendetta against me, but because just like me they have a ton of stuff on their plates and clear communication among a large number of people is a super-hard problem. And if I should lash out at them, they have no idea that I’ve had a crappy week and my son’s been sick and I just generally feel overwhelmed.

I know that I work among the very best. I see the results of their work every day. It’s just a matter of building that same level of deep, abiding trust with my coworkers that I have with my teammates.

Although I think they might look at me funny if I patted them on the shoulder and said, “I’ve got your back” before every work day…

Wednesday Links

A Rube Goldberg machine HTML form.

Randall Degges on why we shouldn’t worry too much about super-high availability without considering the cost.

Don Romaniello strikes another blow against the tyranny of “Who What Where” in improv.

Listen With Your Whole Body

In improv, we learn to “listen with our whole body.” When performing in a scene, it is important not just to hear the words that our scene partner says, but we must also “hear” their facial expression and their body language as well. Newer improvisers tend to lean so heavily on words that they miss these cues, or don’t send them. Experienced improvisers know that you can speak volumes without uttering a single syllable.

When coaching improv, I work very hard to get the people I’m coaching to realize this. To understand it. To feel it in their very bones. One of my favorite exercises for this is one in which two actors stand back-to-back, and think of an emotion… No, they don’t just think of an emotion… they use every bit of their sense memory to bring that emotion to life. They live in that moment as fully and completely as they can. And then they turn around, and begin the scene silently, taking in the full range of their partner’s face and body.

This exercise works because human beings have evolved over the millennia to be deeply and profoundly in tune with the most subtle emotions encoded in the human face. Take this classic example:

An Illustration of the "Thatcher Effect", by psychology professor Peter Thompson, 1980

An Illustration of the “Thatcher Effect”, by psychology professor Peter Thompson, 1980

When the image is upside down, nothing looks amiss. It is only when the face is right-side up that our supercharged facial recognition circuits kick in and the image suddenly appears grotesque.

As consultants, being able to listen to our clients, truly listen to them, requires listening with our whole bodies. We need to listen to both what they say and don’t say. We’ll find more often that what they don’t utter aloud can say so much more than what they do. What causes them pain? What do they fear?

This, however, is where our goals in improv and in consulting part ways. In improv, we always want to confirm fears. We want to make the pain worse. If there’s a fire, we want to pour gasoline on it rather than water. In consulting, it is our job to help our client, relieve their pain, and grow their business. Technology is a tool with which we do this, yes, but as far as tools in the belt go, technology isn’t nearly so important as empathy.

We’ll never truly understand what our client needs unless we listen with our whole body.

Improv Stuff This Week: (5/8/2016 – 5/14/2016)

Monday, May 9, 9:00 PM: Regina at the PIT (Underground, with Chariot)
Thursday, May 12, 8:30 PM: 10,000 Hours Session, “The End is In the Beginning” at Simple Studios It’s all about using the information you’ve already created to push your scenework forward, rather than continually inventing.
Saturday, May 14, 11:00 AM: Drop-in imrpov practice group at CAP 21, contact me for more info

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