Jason Specland: Consultant, Comedian

Making it up as I go along. Always.

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The Future of SharePoint

Today, at 12:30 PM my local time, Microsoft is doing a big reveal at an event they call, “The Future of SharePoint.” It’s apparently going to be something big, because the SharePoint Social Media Universe has been able to talk of nothing else for weeks now.

I’ll be anxiously watching this event today, but before I do, I thought about the things that I’d like to see in the future of SharePoint.

Crystal Ball on Ice, courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/punktoad/4302556980, (CC BY 2.0)

Crystal Ball on Ice, courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/punktoad/4302556980, (CC BY 2.0)

Now these are not prognostications. I know an MVP or two, but they’ve remained faithful to their NDA’s. This is just what I would like to see happen with SharePoint.

  1. A Master Page that’s responsive and compatible with modern web design sensibilities. Microsoft has warned us against modifying it, lest we pay the “modification tax,” but our clients keep saying, “Responsive, responsive, responsive.” You’ve got to meet us half-way.
  2. Office Dev PnP Tooling (or something like it) baked in to Visual Studio just as well as the Feature Framework tooling was baked in to VS 2012/2013. And while we’re on the subject, can we please have some less roundabout ways to get things done? As much as I love Vesa Juvonen and the work he and his team have done, this needs to have some real Microsoft institutional oomph behind it.
  3. And while we’re at it, let’s have a better story for client-side, non-App/Add-in-oriented development. SharePoint 2013 is approaching the sunset and 2016 is being born, and I’ve still yet to actually write an app for a client. They don’t want to set up that infrastructure, and if they have no intention of adding untrusted stuff from the internet they shouldn’t have to.
  4. Okay, this isn’t SharePoint so much, but what’s the deal with javascript Intellisense in an Angular app in Visual Studio? Eh, it won’t be much of an issue for me in the future, since after recently completing a moderately large javascript project, I now solemnly swear to use Typescript forever and ever, amen.
  5. Either integrate Yammer like you promised or get rid of the damn thing. I was at the SharePoint Conference in Vegas where they announced the acquisition, and the two products seem no better integrated today than they were then. SharePoint 2013 could have been the launchpad from which real Office Social Networking took off, but instead Microsoft strangled it with a garrote from the back seat of a late 70’s model sedan.
  6. Some kind of way forward for InfoPath! Surely when it comes to something as basic to human business life as forms, there must be some happy medium between “let’s use an end-of-life’d technology that no one at Microsoft will touch with a ten foot pole” and “time to write another fat check to that javascript developer!” Sure I’m usually the javascript developer they write that fat check to, but I do have some sympathy for my clients.
  7. A device that sends an electric shock to any person who attempts to use SharePoint as a relational database back-end for a super-customized, nowhere-near-the-box, not-at-all-like-SharePoint front-end. Yes, this device would probably kill me, but my smoking corpse could serve as a warning to others…

It’s Not About the Bicycle

I’ve only been a consultant for about a year now, but I’ve been performing improv comedy for about twenty. And as I work more in consulting, I’m starting to see that consulting and improv comedy aren’t so different.

One trap that beginning improvisers tend to get caught up in is the idea that the arbitrary, imaginary thing that they’re doing is actually the important part of the scene. It’s not. The imaginary thing is just a vehicle that helps us explore human relationships and emotions. It’s the set dressing around which we build the characters that the audience really wants to see.

There’s an old improv coaching idiom that I use often: An audience never leaves an improv show saying, “Yeah, it was funny and all, but they never *did* finish putting together that bicycle!” Sure, come on stage and start building a bicycle, if that’s what the moment has inspired you to do. But we want to see how these particular characters react to building a bicycle.

Courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/radlmax/21830232766 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Courtesy https://www.flickr.com/photos/radlmax/21830232766 (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Similarly, when you’re on a consulting gig, if you’re talking to the real decision makers, they don’t care about technology. They only care about what the technology does for their business. No CEO ever leaves a post-engagement meeting saying, “Yeah, we made a million dollars, but we never *did* use SharePoint!”

As technical consultants, it’s easy for us to get enmeshed in the minutia of technology. After all, that expertise is what they’re hiring us for, right? Wrong. They’re hiring us because we know how to use technology as a lever. Technology is a tool. If it doesn’t serve a useful business purpose, it’s a toy.

I’m a SharePoint developer, and my hammer is Visual Studio and when I have my tech-blinders on, everything can look like a nail. When you bring me in, chances are that someone’s already decided that their project is going to live on SharePoint. My instinct isn’t to argue with you. Who doesn’t love those juicy billable hours? But as a good consultant, I hope to be a trusted adviser to my clients. It’s my responsibility to say when SharePoint ain’t the tool for the job, even at the cost of billable hours. Hell, even at the cost of the whole gig. If someone respects the integrity of your advice, there will be work for you some other day.

Just like in improv, it’s the relationship that’s the important thing. It’s not about the bicycle. It’s about getting where you want to go.

Improv This Week: 5/2/2016 – 5/8/2016

TONIGHT! Sunday, May 1, 7:00 PM: Hosting “In a Jam” open improv jam at QED Astoria with Rory Scholl
Monday, May 2, 9:00 PM: Regina at the Peoples Improv Theater (Underground, with Chariot)
Friday, May 6, 9:30 PM: TGIF-Prov at the Peoples Improv Theater (Striker Stage)
Saturday, May 7, 11:00 AM: Coaching drop-in practice group at CAP 21 (contact me if you’d like to get involved)

SharePoint Saturday, NYC

I had a total blast speaking at SharePoint Saturday this past weekend. I admit I was slightly terrified at the prospect of speaking in front of a crowd of seasoned IT professionals… I was worried I’d get something wrong and provoke the ire of the crowd. But, as it turned out, the crowd was delightful and enthusiastic.

My presentation was entitled, “Love in the Time of Javascript: Useful Patterns for Client-Side Code in SharePoint.” A friend of mine from Google said that comparing javascript to cholera was unfair to cholera…

It went well, but I experienced particular delight in a trick I pulled that worked gloriously. Everyone who’s been to these sessions knows that people kind of drift in and out of them, as they discover that the session they’re attending isn’t exactly what they’re looking for, and that another session going on at the same time might be more fulfilling. Nothing wrong with that. This ain’t the theater, but it’s still slightly distracting for presenters.

So I thought, “How long would it take someone to determine that my presentation was not for them?” I guesstimated that it’d be about twelve minutes. So, before the presentation began, I wrote “9:12” on one of my business cards, and handed it out to a gentleman in the front row.

I began my presentation, and, lo and behold, someone starts making his way out. I glance at the clock on my presenter computer. 9:12 exactly! I say to the man in the front row, “Sir, what time does it say on that card I gave you?”


“What time is it now?”


“9:12! First walkout! I called it!”

I swear upon my very life that I didn’t pre-arrange it with the guy who left.

Oh yeah, I spoke a bit about SharePoint and javascript, too. But clearly, pulling off a magic trick was the highlight of my SharePoint Saturday.

For those who are interested, here is the PowerPoint presentation for Love in the Time of Javascript: Useful Patterns for Client-Side Code in SharePoint.

Sexy Mad Science: My LED Body Suits for Yes! Yes! Yes! And…

The show was last night, and was a smashing success, and so it’s time to reveal the project that I’ve been working tirelessly on in the past week.

The idea of “Yes! Yes! Yes! And…” is kind of a sexy party improv show. (Notably, and importantly, I think, the improv itself is 100% clean, it’s just the “frame story” that’s all sexy.) The theme of this show was that it would be performed in total darkness, with the performers illuminated only by small LEDs that they carried with them.

With my knowledge of electronics, I figured I could do something pretty neat. My idea was that, as our hearts and our libidos are often in conflict, the suit will display the beating heart and the prominent… genitalia. (Due to the nature of the show, this post will be filled with the forced hesitant prudishness of the ellipsis.)

Here’s a video of the completed LED bodysuit.

So the first thing I did was I built a boatload of LED strands. Why not just buy LED rope lights? My thought was that I wanted to determine exactly what color and design I wanted (which I was right about) and that it wouldn’t be a big deal to solder them all together. About this last point I was wrong. Dead, dead, wrong. It took me three solid days to solder together two hearts, one male, and one female… piece. (There’s that ellipsis again.)

I ordered a bunch of colored LEDs and resistors from Mauser. Here’s some of the first designs, with my calculations of the resistance values for a 12-volt input.



Here is the soldering station, just beginning the build of a strand of lights. Again, I spent three solid days doing this.


Here’s the first successful test of the “inner” heart ring.


And this is the outer.


Here is a pile of hand-soldered LED and resistor assemblies, ready to put into a cable that’s being built.

Soldering Station with Loose LED Assemblies

The heartbeat is controlled by a super-simple controller board. The 12v is routed through a 5v voltage regulator, which feeds the input of an ATtiny 85. (I programmed the ATtiny 85 through my Arduino. Much thanks to High-Low Tech at the MIT Media Lab for showing me how to do that.) The output pins 0 and 1 go to the base of two transistors, whose collectors are pointed at the 12v supply and whose emitters are pointed at the inner and outer heart rings.

The… bits… are directly wired in without a controller.

To make sure that we could turn the whole thing on and off at a moments notice, I wired a toggle switch for the whole shebang, and routed it into the left arm.

There were some important lessons learned. First, and most vitally important lesson is that I can NOT solder a million tiny connections in any reasonable amount of time.

Another lesson was that, while it’s nice to have guaranteed battery supply, having a 10 Amp-hour battery is not only probably overkill, but those batteries in NiMH weigh about 4 lbs. In the end, I couldn’t even get them to charge (my charger was defective, and is being returned). But even if I’d gotten them to charge, I never solved the problem about how someone would actually wear such a battery pack. I’ll most certainly use the two huge battery packs in some future project… I’d better… they were darn expensive! In the end, I just ended up using 8 long-lasting AA batteries to generate 12v.

Yet another lesson: Stripboard is much easier to work with than undifferentiated perfboard. At the very least it focuses the mind as to where your components should go. I’ve heard that custom printing PCBs isn’t terribly difficult or expensive, and I may need to look in to that.

On the brighter side of lessons learned: The fact that I don’t need to stick a whole Arduino into a project! It was extremely easy to built a breadboard to program the ATtiny 85 and upload my sketch to it. And the ATtinys are so cheap, I purchased 10. (And blew up two. Don’t forget to connect the ground wire to your 5v regulator, folks! Whoops!) But I will almost certainly be using ATtinys (or other Amtel chips I can program from the Arduino) in future projects.

My heart was having shorting problems, but it worked with a little bit of fiddling during the show, and finally died in the shows final few minutes, so I guess we got just about all I can ask of my meagar soldering and board-building skills.

In the end, it didn’t quite live up to my initial imagination. (I’d planned on having LEDs running down each arm and leg. That would have been an additional hundred LEDs to solder!) But it came out pretty awesome just the same. I’m super-proud of this, and while I don’t think that I’m going to be doing this all the time, it’ll be a neat thing to throw into my performances now and again.

Marmalade: Unafraid

Here’s a video of last night’s show: “Marmalade: Unafraid,” the improvised two-person show I do with the amazing and delightful Kathryn Dunn.

When I think of how wonderfully fun and exciting it is to work with Kathryn, it’s almost like I can sense the lightning when Laurel met Hardy, or when Aykroyd met Belushi (without the drugs), or when Burns met Allen (without the romance, ’cause I’m already real-life married), or when chocolate met peanut butter.

Benji and Daddy in their Jammies 2

This week, Benji and Daddy discuss something very near and dear to a six-year-old’s heart: Birthday parties and food.

Benji and Daddy in their Jammies 1

Benji and I decided that for the new year we’d like to make a talk show in which we discuss the issues of the day, at least as they pertain to a six-year-old. Since we were wearing our pajamas at the time, we decided to call it Benji and Daddy in their Jammies. Here is the result of literally minutes of hard work.

Reading About Moses (The One Who Parted Brooklyn, Not the Red Sea)

I’m doing research for a project involving the history of transportation in New York City.  Naturally, one can’t discuss such a history without talking extensively about Robert Moses.

I’m a big eBooks fan, but unfortunately, the books I was looking for on this particular topic aren’t available in electronic form.  I received the physical manifestations of these books today, and I instantly realized yet another advantage of eBooks.

Two books about Robert Moses, "The Power Broker" and "Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York."

Thousand page tomes aren’t quite so intimidating in electronic form.  Yikes!

Improv Words of Wisdom

Please don’t slap my back and say, “Got your back.” If you have to let me know that you do, you probably don’t. — David Razowsky, from an interview on the “My Nephew is a Poodle” improv blog.

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