Pushing and popping with
The last few years — up until a few months ago — have been kind to programmers. The booming of an information economy, the invention of stock options, new-found respect for the bizarre little monkeys responsible for making the internet work… yes indeed, it seems like those who code to live and live to code are finally getting a bit of their own subculture going, one that goes beyond the stereotypical fluorescent tan and horsey laugh.
Composing the soundtrack for this new age of ones and zeros is Barcelona, whose ZeRo-oNe-INFINITY (March) not only name-checks the New Trinity in its name, but gives us wonderful Computer Science ditties like “I Have the Password to Your Shell Account” and “Paging System Operator.” Fueled by a decidedly ’80s bent and a knack for dark, dark humor, Barcelona provides music that is quite human, instantly catchy and not just meant for those who can tell the difference between a functional and procedural language. Following are the results of an email exchange (no duh!) between myself and the band.
How about a little bit of educational and work background on the members of Barcelona…?
Jason: Ivan attended St Andrews University in Scotland. Jen went to Tulane University, Christian to Guilford College in North Carolina, and I was a computer science geek at Johns Hopkins University.
Jen, Ivan and Christian all work for an Internet startup in Alexandria, VA called worldweb.net. They make a pretty cool program called Expressroom that is handles content management on websites. Ivan is a software engineer there and does a lot of Java and C++. Christian and Jen are both involved with supporting Expressroom. Jen has been at worldweb.net the longest — about five years now.
I was the Director of Technology for more than four years at another Internet startup in Alexandria called digitalNATION. Late in 1999, digitalNATION was purchased by a larger company. I left soon a few months later to become the VP of Technology at a new company called HomeVisit.com, which is where I work now. I design web software for use by real estate agents.
We have a little bit of fast food experience in high school too. Jen once worked at Taco Bell. Ivan worked briefly at McDonald’s. And I made pizza at Little Caesar’s.
Has anyone in the band run afoul of the law? Why?
Jason: Are you trying to get the Commodore story? At 13, I was arrested by the FBI for “phreaking”. (They had another name for it, like “telecommunications fraud.”) Basically I was using a war dialer to pick out long distance access codes from the phone company. I would use those codes mostly to call BBSs overseas and download games. Apparently, I used a code for too long. Rather than just turning off the code (which they usually did), the phone company traced my call and called the FBI. I actually got some attention in the local newspapers. And my parents — very good but technically challenged people — were completely freaked out, especially when computers and notebooks and stuff were being removed from my room. In the end I pretty much got off with a bunch of community service.
Everybody else has stayed pretty clean.
So what were you listening at the time of this? Were you into music at all, what else shaped Barcelona?
Jason: Oh definitely. I got my Commodore 64 in like the fifth grade. Got my first guitar a year later. I would be up until five am every night jacked up on Jolt cola, calling BBSs at 300 baud and listening to records. It’s funny that music and computers kind of go hand in hand for me as a result. At that time, I was a little skate punk, so I was listening to alot of Agent Orange, Dead Milkmen, Doggy Style, Sex Pistols, the Clash. But I also had a cool, older cousin who was introducing me to records by Violent Femmes, Lords of the New Church, Bauhaus, New Order, Echo & the Bunnymen and stuff like that.
Burnout was a big factor in shaping Barcelona. When we started the band we had all been doing the startup thing for a year or two. It’s really demanding working for a company where you’re working 14-hour days and weekends. Pretty much your whole life revolves around work, even your social life. When Jen and I met, I think we were both at the point where we were getting totally burned out. Barcelona gave us something fun to do away from the computers. It was a huge relief.
Jen: I played violin and viola in an orchestra pretty much all through grade school and high school. I sang in choir a couple of years as well. I never even thought about being in a band until Jay asked me what I thought about it. For me, I just thought ‘yea, that might be fun for awhile.’
Christian: Listening to music and record shopping has always been an interest/borderline obsession for me, so playing in bands with friends just seemed like a logical step.
Do you have a big CompSci following?
Jason: Of course! It’s a little strange actually. I’ve noticed we get a lot of traffic to our website from like Swedish Computer User Group websites. Heh. Our tour last month was very funny too. We had a lot of geeks approach us after shows and question us about obscure IRC servers and challenge our tech-y knowledge. Funny! It was very much like returning to the computer science department at school where all of the geeks were always trying to one-up each other with completely esoteric knowledge, but in a really inappropriate setting. There was a really nice guy in Florida though who brought me one of those old Radio Shack phone dialers that 2600 showed could be used to fake quarter sounds in pay phones. I thought that was very cool of him.
Jen: It does seem like it. A lot of people get really excited when we play “Shell Account,” and one guy even asked us to sign his comp sci text book. I don’t think they’re the majority, though.
Christian: Apparently. I wonder how many other bands have been asked to sign school text books? We were shocked to discover recently, however, just how many people thought “I Have the Password to Your Shell Account” refers to gasoline!
What flavor OS?
Jason: I love the command line and learned to program on Unix systems. I still have a shell account on a Red Hat Linux machine. But I’m also very practical and believe it pays to know Windows. So for the most part I use and do all of my development work on Windows NT. Never let it be said that Barcelona does not know how to party.
Christian: Coming from a graphic design background, I much prefer Macintosh (though I have recently become increasingly ambidextrous, out of necessity). Both albums, however, were recorded and mastered on the Mac. Again, how many other bands get asked this kind of stuff?
Jason: True. We did an interview recently where the guy asked us our thoughts on open source. Huh???