What I Know About Playing the Bass

Damian Conway spoke here at U of T last night. He’s very engaging, though I think I would have enjoyed the talk more if the examples had been shorter (and if there had been less Lara Croft at the beginning — still not sure what that was all about). The best part came right at the end, when he said (roughly), “One of the reasons I’m a good hacker is that I write code every single day.” My first thought was the number of times I’ve told students to try to find balance in their life: play Ultimate, knit, anything to avoid a one-note existence. But then I thought about what a jazz musician named Al Gorman once told me: you can learn how to play bass like John Paul Jones or Ron Carter in six hours — every day, for ten years. Nobody tells them to get a life; instead, society recognizes that if you want to be the best there is, you have to focus single-mindedly. When programmers do it, they’re called geeks, but maybe that level of geekery is essential. (And maybe that’s why I’ll never be Damian Conway… ;-)