Stick It In Your Ears

Penny: So, how many people listen?
Wil Wheaton: Most people download it later, but usually a few thousand people listen live.
Penny: What? A few thousand people listen to you talk about nerd stuff?
Wil Wheaton: Again, right in the ears, straight to the feelings.

The Big Bang Theory, “The Fortification Implementation” (4/9/15)


Note: This post is cross-posted from my podcast’s website, How Good It Is, with a few edits so it makes a little sense. 

A few people have asked me about the what sort of stuff I go through when I put my podcast together, so I figured it would be fun(-ish) for me to take a closer look at the entire process and share it with you.

PART I—THE HISTORY

Image result for wbau -site:pinterest.comI’ve long had an interest in radio. When I was in college in the early 80s I spent inordinate amounts of time at WBAU, the radio station that was run by students at Adelphi University. (WBAU went dark in 1995, and that’s a whole other story). I thought I would go into broadcasting, but a few things, rather ridiculous ones in retrospect, got in the way and frankly I floundered for a few years. But I never lost the bug. And most people agree that you never do.

The other thing I’ve always been pretty good at is telling stories. I’m not prolific about it but I also have a personal blog called Baltimore Diary, where I occasionally bang out pretty much whatever is on my mind. (You know…the one you’re reading now?) The problem with a blog like that is that it doesn’t have a lot of focus, so the audience will always be small. Not that I’m writing for the popularity or the glory, but you like to think that someone other than your immediate circle of friends is paying attention. (I’m going to cross-post this over there, so if you click on the link you’ll just wind up reading this again unless you scroll down.)

So, finding a way of combining the two has been a little bit of a conundrum for me. I’ve been listening to podcasts for several years now. Marc Maron’s WTF was one of the first, and coincidentally I was one of his first listeners, because I started searching for my first podcasts to listen to only a few weeks after he started his podcast. (The Maron thing is a little bit of an aside and I’ll come back to it in a bit.) One of the other podcasts I adopted early on was Cerphe Colwell’s progressive show, which was a couple of hours of music that was pretty much in my wheelhouse. That show moved over to a different platform and I was still using an iPod, so unfortunately we had to break up. But Cerphe’s show was the first inkling I had that I could do a music program, and do it on my own terms. There was another one I listened to pretty much from the beginning, but it got kind of stale and, while it’s still running, that’s largely because it’s got a band of rabid fans that are, frankly, living in the past and haven’t figured out that the show has refused to evolve.

PART II—THE BEGINNING

Life got in the way for a couple of years, what with relatives getting sick and dying, so nearly everything went by the wayside. But a few months ago I started thinking about it again. And it was around this time that I started looking a little more closely at other podcasts to see what they were doing, and how they were doing it, and how they sounded, and a number of other things. I wanted to do something that had a specific focus (unlike the blog), and had a topic about which I could talk knowledgeably. I came up with a few ideas and crowd-sourced it a little bit, and the one that I liked best, AND had the advantage of not being like a lot of others, was this one.

Image result for musicradio 77 -site:pinterest.comI also crowd-sourced the title of the show, which I’d lifted from something I’d seen on Allan Sniffen’s website, and despite this, he was nice to me in my first couple of weeks. A few people came up with alternative names, but what they had was either already taken, or I couldn’t get the domain name. Plus it was growing on me day-by-day.

Image result for doug miles media -site:pinterest.comI also need to give a shout-out to my fellow WBAU alumnus Doug Miles, who DID make the cross over into professional broadcasting. He’s got the Book Talk podcast, and he covers the Orioles Spring Training season down in Sarasota, and he’s got a bunch of other stuff going on pretty much all the time. He took the time to give me a bunch of pointers on getting the thing up and running. Eternal thanks to him for his encouragement.

Some people have suggested that it’s a lot like Song Exploder, and in a way I agree in the sense that Hrishikesh Hirway also concentrates on a single track for each podcast, but he’s got a different format, and he sticks to more recent tracks, whereas I’m reaching back for the older stuff. So, we’ve each got our little corner of the genre staked out.

I did a LOT of planning ahead on this, including mapping out something like the first ten episodes, because if I couldn’t sustain that much, then what was the point? To be honest, I lost the list and had to re-do the advance planning, but being able to do it again, and with largely different stuff, meant that I was probably onto something with the longer-term prospects of the show. I got a format together, I figured out what I wanted it to sound like, and I started shopping for equipment.

PART III—THE NUTS AND BOLTS

The first couple of shows were recorded in my dining room, on summer days when Wife was out of the house and the dogs were outside. I’d have to stop recording every time the air conditioners came on, or shut them off and put up with the heat. I decided, however, that there was still too much ambient noise in the area because my house has a semi-open floorplan to it, and I still sounded kind of “live”.  Plus, I had to assemble everything and then take it apart again after each recording session, and I could see where that would get a little taxing on my cables and such. So I moved the entire setup into my basement, where I could put it together and leave it there.

 

Image result for behringer q1202usb 12-channel mixerMy first purchase was the Behringer Xenyx Q1202 12-channel mixer. It’s probably more than I need, input-wise, but I’ve also got the flexibility I’ll need to implement some ideas I have for future shows. And at about a hundred bucks, it wasn’t breaking the bank. I’d also purchased a couple of Behringer Image result for shure sm7 -site:pinterest.comUltravoice XM1800S microphones, but in the end I didn’t like the way they sounded. (They’re going to come in handy for a future project or two.) Until now I’ve been working with Wee One’s Shure SM-7 microphone. I DO like the way it sounds, but after all it’s not my mic. So this week I ordered one of my own, and I decided to take a step up. Come next week, How Good It Is will be recorded using an Electrovoice RE-20 microphone, which is my favorite of all time. I also Image result for re20 microphone in shockmount -site:pinterest.compurchased a shock mount to go with it, because I’m not going to be in a basement forever, Mom.

I have two other elements that I use. One is to help improve the sound and the other is to keep the production going smoothly.

The first is acoustic foam panels. Wee One got me a bunch of them as a Christmas present, which I mounted to doubled corrugated cardboard, and I purchased a second set and mounted those as well. So I record, surrounded by these two-foot-by-six-foot cardboard panels with acoustic foam on them, to help cut down the ambient noises.

And the other is a pair of laptops. One contains all of my sound elements: the theme music and the audio clips that I use during the show, and that’s jacked into my mixer. The other one does the actual recording, and is connected to the mixer’s output through a USB port. Software-wise, I use a program called Soundboard to store the audio clips so I can fire them at will. The only drawback to the version of Soundboard I’m using is that the clips have to be in WAV format, so I wind up converting some files  before I can use them. I use Audacity to record end edit the show. I’ve learned the hard way that you shouldn’t have other stuff running while you’re recording with Audacity because it can interfere with the recording buffer, creating a “skip” in the final playback product. (My professional tip for you today.)

I’d take a picture of the entire setup, but one of the laptops isn’t attached to the studio permanently; in fact it’s the one I’m typing on now (back in the dining room, am I). So next week I’ll take a photo and post it for the curious.

PART IV—POST-PRODUCTION

The show is very produced compared to other podcasts; I like to have some kind of stuff going on most of the time, which is a holdover from my radio style. That also means that the show is rather heavily scripted, because in many cases I’m timing things tightly. So editing the show usually takes a little while, but Soundboard has cut down on that and lately I’m just stitching together my beginning, middle and end. Once in awhile I’ll screw up and either re-do the entire segment I’m recording or, if I can find a decent point to edit, I’ll go back to that point and start over. I’m kind of proud of the fact that most of my edits are pretty invisible. I was good with physically cutting tape back in the day, and I’ve got a good ear for doing it digitally as well.

Image result for auphonic -site:pinterest.comOnce the show is edited, I upload it to a website called Auphonic for audio. Because the show is short, I can do all of my processing for free. But if it were longer, I’d pay for it because it’s made a huge difference in the show’s sound.

Image result for podomatic -site:pinterest.comFrom there, I upload it to this site, and to Podomatic, where the show is hosted, and it’s from there that your podcatcher gets it. I write up the post for this site and publish it, and after waiting a little while I publicize it on Facebook. The reason for the delay is that I’ve discovered, if I try to post on FB right away, Facebook can’t find the images. And sometimes it can’t even find the post! So I give everyone a little time to figure it out.

And now we get to the part where you come in!

PART V—WHERE YOU COME IN

You, my faithful listener/reader (and you’ve GOTTA be pretty faithful if you’ve gotten through nearly 2000 words and you’re still with me), will either read my Facebook post and come here directly, or you have iTunes or Spotify or some other pod organizing software, and it gets (usually) automatically downloaded to your device.

At this point I still don’t have a huge number of listeners, but that’s OK because the feedback I’ve gotten has been almost overwhelmingly positive. My strongest critic is my brother, who listens to a few at a time and then calls me to tell me what sounds crappy, and more often than not I agree with his assessments and have made adjustments.

So how do I decide what songs to cover?

There are a few songs where I know there’s an interesting backstory, and those come pretty easily. Other times, I’ll hear a song and just wonder if they have a story to them, and then the research begins. Occasionally I’ll hit a dead end (that is, there isn’t really much to tell), but that leads me into another story. Once in awhile I hear a bit of trivia on a radio show and that encourages me to dig a little deeper. (“Get Together“, Episode 4, is a good example of this.) And every now and again I look at what I’ve covered and see if I need to go in a different direction for awhile, e.g. have I done too many songs from the 60s and ignored the 50s? Have I concentrated on male artists too much? Rock vs. ballads vs. doo-wop vs. some other genre?

A couple of people have made suggestions, and one of them has already been turned into a show (H/T to Kevin), and another has given me an idea for something I want to do later, in the springtime (another H/T to Jerry).  For what it’s worth, I’m always open to new ideas, whether it’s about the sound, the content or some other detail (should I do more trivia questions?). I’m always happy to see comments and suggestions, whether it’s here or on the Facebook page.

Finally: a couple of people have asked me about monetizing the podcast somehow. That’s not my immediate plan; unless the show grows immensely in popularity, it’ll be a relatively inexpensive hobby for me. If I have to start paying for additional bandwidth and such because there are so many downloads, then I will have to think about doing something like that, but I’ll try to do it as unobtrusively as possible. The aim would be sustaining rather than profit.

One of the big takeaways I’ve gotten from this whole project is that it’s good to have something else to look forward to, that’s vastly different from everything else you do. And the other thing is something I’ve learned from several years of listening to Marc Maron (see, I told you I’d come back to him). His show was born out of the ashes of his previous job. At that point he was a mid-level standup comic and radio host, who lost the radio gig when his entire network, Air America, took a huge financial crash and went belly-up. But from those pieces he managed to rebuild—indeed, vastly improve—his career and, it seems, repair his personal life right in front of his audience. I’m not in that level of dire straits, thanks, but it taught me that there are always second acts, that there’s always redemption and a positive future, if you make the reach for it.

This post has been an incredible exercise in procrastination (hey, it was either this, or I start writing next week’s show), but it was also kind of fun for me to put together. Thanks again for all your amazing support, and for letting me into your head every week.

Peas in an iPod

Scott: Alright, well then maybe you’re not her type. She’s into stuff like old school Elvis Costello, she listens to obscure podcasts, she reads Dave Eggers. You know, she’s deep, man.
John Tucker: Dude, I’m deep. I’m dating the poetry club.

John Tucker Must Die (2006)

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I'm so glad to have a reason to post this picture again. This is going to have a little bit of a “me-too” feel to it, but that’s all right with me. Pretty much everything that happened to me this past week is more all right than it looks on the surface.

The reason this feels “me-too”, however, is that in this post I’ll be sharing some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to lately. As it happens, I’ve been with most of them for awhile but it feels like they’re really starting to swell in popularity lately. So, not to get all hipster on you, but some of these were cool to me before they were cool for everyone else. There are a few others I listen to, but not as closely or as often. And two which bailed out on me before I gave up on them, the bastards.

In no particular order (click on the pictures to go to each show’s website):

This Week With Larry Miller

This one is the newest to me and, in fact, the newest of the bunch. Larry Miller takes a topic or two and just appears to spout off the top of his head for a half hour. There are still different elements of the show which are evolving, and Miller carries us through that evolutionary period by explaining its genesis, sometimes repeatedly. This show has been running for nearly a year and is starting to hit its stride. The stories that Miller tells are generally a warm brand of funny, and since he and I both grew up on Long Island, some of them are perhaps a little more relatable to me than they might be to others, but non-LIers will enjoy them nonetheless.

The Mike O'Meara Show

This isn’t the oldest of the bunch, but it’s got the biggest back catalog because they produce five shows each week. This podcast grew from the Mike O’Meara radio show, which I don’t think ever aired in Baltimore. But I was a fan of the original Don & Mike Show (which did air in Baltimore), ever since they first aired in New York City. I discovered the podcast quite by accident only a few weeks after it began. The show runs for a little over an hour, and is edited to be broadcast-friendly, as the show does have a radio affiliate. This is a show that you need to listen to a few episodes to, in order to get into the swing of things, but once you do it’s a daily romp.

WTF with Marc Maron

WTF with Marc Maron seems to be the one that’s really exploding onto the podcast landscape lately. It’s part interview and part therapy session, and once in awhile there’s a pure comedy show (the “Live WTF” shows). Maron generally hosts the shows out of his garage, and while most of his interviews have been of comedians, you can’t expect the entire show (which runs anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half) to be a Laff Riot. On the other hand, it’s not a Deconstruction of Comedy session, which would be incredibly dry. The interviews are fascinating, and I think many times the guests themselves wind up discussing things they had no intention of bringing up. Some of the more famous interviews include Judd Apatow, Louis CK, Carlos Mencia (during which he actually cops to some of the stuff he’s been accused of), and of course the infamous Gallagher interview, which ended a little earlier than originally planned. With this podcast, I’ve been playing the new ones and playing catchup with the old ones in reverse order, so while the interviews themselves aren’t especially time-sensitive, the introductions he does will delve into his personal life. Consequently I’m following both Maron’s evolution and de-evolution at the same time. He breaks up with a girlfriend, then later on she’ll move in with him.

The Tobolowsky Files

Actor Steven Tobolowsky is one of those guys who, when you see him in a movie, you’ll say, “Hey, it’s that guy!” because he’s been in something like a couple of hundred movies and similar number of TV shows, including Heroes, Glee, and Californication. Probably his best-known role was that of Ned Ryerson in Groundhog Day, but I really liked him as the Klan leader in Mississippi Burning. Tobolowsky tells “stories about life, love and the movie industry”, and if I have any complaints about this one, it’s that he tends to over-prepare and read his stories from written scripts. It’s a shame only because when he goes off-script, or when I hear him in interviews, he’s great at telling stories extemporaneously. Having said that, this series, which runs in “seasons” and takes occasional breaks, contains personal accounts which are funny and touching. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Tobolowsky manages to choke himself up a little, bringing back these memories. This series I’d recommend listening to in episode order, since there’s a bit of a running narrative thread going on. You know, sort of, how the story ends, and you still root for it to go in a different direction.

While I’ve linked to the shows’ websites, all of them can also be found via iTunes. Just type the show’s name into the search bar and they should come up without any problem.

What about you? Heard anything fascinating lately?

Remembering.

This was the cover of the New Yorker, 9/24/01. I still have a copy somewhere. The original doesn't have this much contrast between the foreground and background.

I still feel vaguely ill when I see these pictures. I was one of the people who—at first—was a little peeved not to see the ending of “The Celebrity Apprentice” back on May 1. But, of course, once the news of Osama bin Laden’s death came through, I (and, fortunately, most of America) stopped caring about Donald Trump and his games.

I’m not one of the people who actively cheered bin Laden’s death. I didn’t get a sense of closure out of it. I didn’t feel as though the world had changed back to its pre-9/11 state. But I did feel as though maybe a page had turned.

A short while back, I was goofing around with the Internet Wayback Machine and came across a piece I’d written a couple of months after that day in September. A friend of mine was assembling a website she’d called “Sorrow in America” and solicited pieces from a lot of people. Mine was one of the pieces she’d published. I reproduce it here with her permission. I can’t remember if I wrote the title or if she did.

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Visiting Home

In 1992, during an interview discussing fortieth anniversary of her reign in England, Queen Elizabeth described that year as the Royal Family's annus horribilus.

2001 will be remembered as mine.

In February my second marriage collapsed and I moved in with a friend until I could get my act together. The daily commuting distance from Long Island to Brooklyn, however, put such a strain on my finances that I was just about paying my bills, even though I paid no rent. I began making plans to move out of the New York Metropolitan Area altogether and in mid-July I finally made the leap, landing in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the first time in my entire life that I'd lived more than 45 minutes' drive from the New York City line. I was now 200 miles from my ten-year-old daughter, I'd left my visually-impaired preschool students in the middle of their summer school program…I was running away. That's how some people put it, and there were times when I was forced to agree. But everywhere I turned there were reminders of failure and promises that weren't going to come true, and healing was impossible for me.

On Labor Day weekend I had my daughter with me and we were making plans for the next time she'd be down to visit with me. September 14 isn't so far away, I told her. She'll be busy with school starting and all that. It'll go by before you know it.

Of course, before we got to that day the world changed.

I remember being at work and we were in a training session when someone broke the news to us about what had happened. The trainers had little clue of what they were doing, so I was able to grab a computer terminal and see what was going on. This had to be a rumor. A bad one. Something in the realm of an urban legend, where it was just crazy enough to ring somehow true. CNN website? No access. MSNBC? Same thing. New York Times? Slow, but it worked. And Oh, My God it's for real. Opening multiple browsers and banging away at websites, trying to get in. Newsday was also slow but working.

The trainers droning on about a paperwork tracking software system that even they couldn't quite understand and chastising me every time they noticed that my terminal didn't look just like everyone else's. Word came in that one of the towers had collapsed. Apparently a training group in another room had given up on the training and was watching the television. We did the same, turning on the TV in our room.

Everyone in the room was startled and shocked. I was horrified, dumbstruck, numbed. It wasn't the same for them. For the rest of the people I watched with, it was a tourist attraction that had taken the hit. This was my home I was looking at, smoking and in ruins. When I was at work, those buildings were within sight. Whenever I'd driven back up to Long Island to visit my daughter, they were among the first sign of New York that greeted me as they peeked over the horizon before anything else. I was sickened, I was saddened, I was…was…there was something else gnawing at me beyond all this, but I couldn't figure out what.

The other building came down and I remember saying, over and over, "Ohmygodohmygodohmygod" as the top of it started to go, that huge broadcast antenna tilting slightly to the side before the floors below finally gave way and the building collapsed almost straight down, joining its mate. Shortly after that, we got word that Baltimore City was shutting down. That was enough for us. We left the training center and headed home before we found ourselves among thousands of others trying to do the same thing.

Arriving home and turning on the TV and the computer at the same time. Still struggling with that last undefined emotion. Watching the footage of the second plane crashing and the buildings falling, over and over, as though they hadn't already been seared into my memory the first time I saw them. Looking for more information on the Web, suddenly remembering that other parts of the world have news websites, too. The BBC and The Guardian, both British sites, had much less traffic and were faster-loading. But I wasn't learning much new anymore. A big chunk of my home had been blown up. What more was there to know?

Calling my daughter. I knew she wasn't in Manhattan, but who knows. Getting the answering machine and leaving a message. It wasn't until several hours later that her mother (Wife #1) got through to me, using a cell phone because the land lines were so bollixed up. Talking to my daughter and telling her that I probably wouldn't be able to visit. Shit. Who knew that there would come a time when I wouldn't be able to come running when she needed me?

GUILT. I felt GUILTY that I'd left and now this happened. This was my punishment for leaving. "You don't want to be here?" asks Fate. "Fine, then I'll take it away." It's stupid, it's irrational, but it's how I felt. Still do, from time to time.

Going to work and pretending to function. What do these people know about how I feel? They never lived there. Going home and parking in front of the TV again. My roommate tiptoeing around me and asking me from time to time if: A) I'm OK, and B) If I'm sure I'm OK.

Flash forward a few weeks and I'm going up to see my daughter for the first time since all this happened. Some people who live within sight of the skyline are telling me that it's still smoldering, over three weeks later. Some tell me it's not. I'm not sure I can stomach this.

My entry into New York takes place at the Outerbridge Crossing, onto the southwest corner of Staten Island. Staten Island is the home of Fresh Kills Landfill, which was recently closed in order to be capped and whatever else they do with such things to make it habitable again. Fresh Kills was re-opened to give crews a place to bring, and then sift, the wreckage. From the Staten Island Expressway you can't see much of Fresh Kills, since the 'landfill' is now a 40-foot mountain lightly covered with grass, but it's an uneasy feeling to see those helicopters circling overhead…

As I pass Fresh Kills, the next thing I forget to expect is that trucks are bringing stuff to the landfill. The first truck I encounter is a flatbed tow truck. It carries a police car with its roof caved in. The hood has easily an inch or more of soot and ash. The next truck I pass has some random twisted metal on it. The third, a van with its windshield and front portion of the roof crushed inward.

The fourth truck looks much like the second, until some detail catches my eye and I realize that this one is not carrying random twisted metal. The whole thing suddenly comes together and I realize that it's the remnants of an utterly destroyed fire engine.

Only a few minutes later, as I cross the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, I get my first look at Manhattan. The whole city looks…wrong, somehow. I know that the World Trade Center is missing, but Manhattan's skyline is several miles long. It shouldn't look wrong everywhere, and yet it does.

As I take the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway north, I'm treated to a front-row-center view of lower Manhattan. I don't see smoldering but I do see cranes. Their actual activity is, thankfully, obscured by some of the buildings that were spared. We hit a traffic jam and I'm left to stare at this image. I look to the right. The Empire State Building, Chrysler Building, Citicorp, New York Life, McGraw-Hill…anything else I care to pick out is visible. I hold up one hand to block out the financial district. It's still looking wrong.

New York and I are miles and miles apart, yet still connected. The skyline that I grew up looking at is changed forever. I am changed forever. Annus horribilus.

Leaving This Planet

Suicide Booth Recording: You are now dead. Thank you for using Stop and Drop, America's favorite Suicide Booth since 2008.

Futurama, “Space Pilot 3000” (3/28/99)

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Fair Warning: this is going to be kind of a rambling post. If you make it to the end, Congratulations! and thanks.

 

The Internet in its present form has been around for awhile, now. We’re at the point where college-age people don’t remember a time when there wasn’t some form of “being online.” Being a little older than that, I do remember those dark days. These kids today, they have no idea where stuff like “LOL” came from. They don’t know where stuff like 🙂 or :-/ or :-O came from. It came from US, kids! We didn’t invent these things (most of them date to the 70s and 80s), but we certainly brought them into wide use.

Remember when you got hundreds of floppy disks? And then it was hundreds of CDs? In the early 1990s, there were three major ways to access the Internet. Even then, it wasn’t the same thing by a long shot. But your choices were pretty much Prodigy, CompuServe and America Online. After a couple of years, AOL was pretty much the only game in town. One of America Online’s big draws was something called the “Chat Room”, a virtual space in which like-minded people could gather and communicate via text in real time. Boy oh boy, those were the days. We made all kinds of friends across the nation and even had ourselves a couple of parties which were practically weekend-long bacchanalias.

As the Internet became more of a presence and the need for something like AOL began to fade into the background, many of us jumped over to the IRC, which stands for Internet Relay Chat. The IRC (yeah, I know that “the” doesn’t really belong there, but that’s how we say it) gave us a lot more control over the spaces: we could give superpowers to some people, ban the trolls, and best of all the rooms were of infinite size, unlike the AOL rooms, which were limited to the strange number of 23 participants. The IRC is supposedly still a pretty big deal but I don’t think that it’s still the social center that it was in the late 90s.

The problem with the AOL Chat Rooms and the IRC channels was the drama. Oh my god, the drama. The incestuousness and the drama. And I am the first to admit that I was easily sucked into it. I’m not going to get into the details, because it’s a long story and I come out kind of bad in some parts of it. But I did learn some valuable lessons, the biggest of which is not to get too involved in the lives of people I meet online. This is a character named "Tubey." Really.

Which brings me into the recent past.

My more recent participation with online communities has been largely through blogs and online forums. For awhile I was heavily into Television Without Pity (in the days before Bravo took over), and I was a frequent commenter on other blogs when this one was in its infancy, six years ago. You may see me from time to time commenting in the Baltimore Sun’s blogs, although I don’t comment on “Inside Ed” anymore. And I spend some time on The Viewscreen to maintain my nerd cred. And, of course, Facebook. But here’s the thing: because of all I’d been through ten years earlier, my interactions on the forums have been more limited, my comments a little more guarded, my details a little more private. So while there were some really tight communities going on out there, and while my presence is usually acknowledged, more often than not I’m not one of the “in” crowd over there. And in general that’s fine by me.

In the more recent past:

As I mentioned above, I spent some time on Television Without Pity in their forums. I participated in the forums for Survivor, Trading Spaces, Joan of Arcadia, Numb3rs and a couple of others, but I definitely spent the most time in The West Wing. I spent enough time in there that when a get-together was proposed to take place in Washington, DC, I threw caution to the wind and actually attended that weekend. I didn’t stay in the hotel; I was a commuter each day. During the day, we’d tour Our Nation’s Capitol and by night we’d hang out in the hotel suite and play games or just chitchat, with the TV constantly playing episodes of The West Wing and Sports Night.  And it did have some effect on the stuff that we put into our TWOP posts in the forum, and the information that we shared with one another. But in the long run I still held back somewhat.

Then The West Wing ended, and few of us had another show in common, so the forum dissolved, and while some people managed to keep in touch with one another, I did not. I certainly missed that bunch, but it was time to move on and all that.

In the quite recent past:

So I re-discovered a few of the folks from the TWOP West Wing forum on Facebook, and I put in a couple of friend requests. I was starting to re-connect with that crowd, a little bit. However, one of the people didn’t accept my request, and I don’t know if they ever looked at it.

Earlier this week, one, and then another, of my FB friends from that bunch posted something about the person who didn’t accept my request. It was a generic “so long, we’ll miss you” kind of post, and it left me a little confused. I asked one of them what was going on but got no reply. Then another friend posted some extra information: she had died; what’s more, she’d committed suicide.

You know, I’ve been depressed before. I’m sure we all have, at one time or another. When I was going through this (this was almost 20 years ago), I used to think very clinical, detached thoughts about what might happen if I just took my hands off the steering wheel. But there was always something in me that wanted me to keep climbing the tree, keep checking out the view. As long as there’s tree, I’ll be climbing. So I never let go of that wheel. I’m feeling better now, thanks.

So despite having had that level of thought, I still don’t quite understand the suicidal mind. I know that, statistically, I have more days behind me than ahead, and the idea that I’m going to die someday has me pretty pissed off. I’m not looking for immortality, but I wouldn’t complain too loudly if we were allowed a lot more time, plus the option to just voluntarily discorporate when we decide “OK, that’s enough of that, now.”

Many of the famous people who commit suicide, I’ve noticed, have certain creative sparks that the rest of us don’t. In the land of Rock & Roll, that would include Kurt Cobain, Michael Hutchence and Ian Curtis. (One could make an argument for Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Keith Moon, but let’s not quibble just now.) In literature, you’ve got Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, Hunter S. Thompson and Spalding Gray. In science you have Alan Turing, George Eastman and Edwin Armstrong. There are many others, but I think you can see the pattern, here. All of these folks were very smart and very creative and they also had some serious neuroses going on, enough to fry the wiring in their heads.

These are people who had some resources available to them, and they still went this extreme route. What chance do we have, the ordinary schmucks who also have some neuroses going on? I think this is the thing that infuriates me when someone famous chooses to end their life; their action tends to romanticize it for someone else.

So someone who’s been in my life is gone from it forever, by their own hand. Could I have intervened if I’d retained my original level of involvement with that crowd? Would I have noticed the warning signs? Some who knew her better speculate that they probably wouldn’t have noticed because of this person’s public persona, but one never knows, I guess. In the meantime, I’m still up in my tree and still climbing.

iScrewedUp: a Cautionary Tale

Alex: I just want you to know, you’re a one in a million friend!
Marty: Thanks, Alex! You are a true friend!
Alex: And I’m sure you won’t mind when I tell you…
Marty: What? Tell me what?
Alex: I broke your iPod!
Marty: What?
Alex: The buttons were so small! It made me mad!
Marty: The horror!
Alex: It was an accident!
Marty: I’m gonna kill you!

Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)

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A few weeks ago, Wife and I were in her car going…I don’t remember. Somewhere. It doesn’t matter, does it? Jeez, just let me tell the story.

So we’re in her car, and we decided that we wanted to bring a little entertainment along. Specifically, we wanted to hear The Mike O’Meara Show podcast. I brought my iPod with us and plugged the cable into the car’s radio jack designed for such things. We were enjoying the show and, when we reached our destination, I disconnected the iPod from the cable, letting it hang free. Then, as I do with my own car, I put the iPod into the console between the two front seats.

The important difference between my console and Wife’s, is that there’s room in my console for an iPod. Not so much with hers. So when we shut the console’s lid, it damaged my iPod. I didn’t discover this until we got back in the car and discovered that the screen was completely screwed. I couldn’t read the top half at all and I could barely make out the bottom half. Dammit.

So, online I go, looking into what it would take to get the iPod fixed. And, believe it or not, here (not the previous paragraph) is where the story takes the ominous turn. In researching how to get my iPod repaired, I learned that there are basically three ways you can go:

  1. Take it to the Apple store (quite pricey);
  2. Go the postal route and send it to one of several companies that do such repairs (cheaper, but still pretty pricey);
  3. Fix it yourself, it’s easier than you think (quite inexpensive).

Fixing things is not something that scares me away, and given the step-by-step directions that one can find online, it seemed like a not-so-tough option. Also, given that my iPod is well out of its warranty period, opening the unit up wasn’t going to void anything. So I chose a dealer and ordered a replacement screen and a couple of plastic gizmos called “Pry Tools”, which would assist me in opening up the iPod.

Naturally, as soon as I placed the online order I got an auto-reply email that read “We’re on vacation and we’ll fill your order next week, thanks.” That was my own fault, though; there was something about it on the webpage that I’d overlooked.

So two weeks after my original order was placed, I received a padded envelope with my screen and my pry tools. I broke out a couple of iPod repair websites—one of which demonstrated with a video—and set to work.

This is where things got ugly.

barely cracked open. What you now see inside is attached to the front. The first step, according to all of these sites, is to use the pry tool to pop the back of the iPod away from the front. You essentially have to use something non-marking, such as the plastic tool, then you can use something a little harder to finish the job. And the pictures, including the video, all make it look relatively easy to get the pry tool in between the two surfaces and then open up the crack to the point where you can separate front from back. It is NOT, in fact, easy at all, and I broke both my pry tools trying.

I went back to the Internet to see what I might be missing, and I came across a website that recommended I run a hair dryer, set to “high”, on the iPod to loosen/melt the glue that’s holding the front to the back. Sure enough, the job got easier after using the dryer, although I had to run it longer than the site recommended. And, I had to use a harder-edged item to get the initial pry started. One site recommended a butter knife, which worked OK.

pulling apartI finally got front separated from back and had to be careful at this point because there are flat “ribbon” cables that still connect the two halves of the unit.  In the photo at left, you can see the battery (in the back half) and the hard drive (suspended from the front). The screen is at the left side behind the hard drive. So you have to disconnect the ribbon cables to make it more accessible.

In addition, the front half has six tiny screws that have to come out so that you can remove the electronics board from the front. The screws are also holding in a metal plate that backs up the screen, so you have to take them out in order to get to the screen.

Removing the screws and separating circuit board from front half was easy, however removing the ribbon cables was not nearly as easy to do as the directions suggested. Essentially, I broke the hold-down for the screen’s ribbon cable, and one of the other connectors as well (I forget which, now).

So now what I have is a small pile of electronic parts, including a brand-new iPod screen, and no iPod. And it’s probably going to be awhile before I can afford a new one. Take heed, folks, at my cautionary tale. This is one project that, despite the hype, is NOT nearly as easy as they would have you believe.

Sixty-to-One Ratio

First Soldier: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
King Arthur: Not at all. They could be carried.
First Soldier: What? A swallow carrying a coconut?
King Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!
First Soldier: It’s not a question of where he grips it! It’s a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

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When I was in college and working at the now-dearly-departed WBAU Radio, I got to be pretty good at producing short pieces for broadcast. I had a slightly different approach to the task from that of my colleagues, however: while most of them would create several discrete pieces and then piece them together into a coherent whole through editing (and remember, this was the days of magnetic tape, razor blades and splicing tape).

I was very good at editing tape, but I didn’t like to do it if I didn’t have to. So my approach was often to work with as little editing as possible, doing everything as though it were live and on-the-air, but with the safety net of knowing that I was not, in fact, broadcasting.

It looks like an 8-track, but it usually only held two tracks and was better designed. This one looks pretty short, maybe about 20-30 seconds in length. So I’d set up the music on turntables, reel-to-reel deck, instant-start tapes (called “carts”, short for cartridge), and I’d mix the whole piece as I went along, starting and stopping music or sound effects while reading my script into the mike. This wasn’t always easy, especially working with the carts, which were usually designed to fast-forward in order to re-cue themselves. When they did that, they’d often stop with a THWACK that the microphone would pick up. This meant that I had to stop the carts manually as I started something else. And, if I screwed up my recording, I’d have to wait for the carts to re-cue before I could take another pass at recording. Not a huge pain, but a pain nonetheless.

I was also remarkably self-critical when it came to my broadcasting work. Often I’d record over thirty takes and then settle on number seventeen as the one that “sucks the least.” But one rule that seemed to hold true was that, no matter how long the piece was that I was recording (unless it was an entire show for later broadcast), I maintained a 60-to-1 ratio of time expended-to-air audio. So, a thirty-second piece would take me a half-hour to cut. A sixty-second bit would take me an hour. The 60:1 Rule seemed to be immutable, or at least tolerated only small variations.

Flash-Forward to this century:

A couple of weeks ago, Wife wanted to work on a project with some of the students in her school. The theme was War, and she wanted to make a video. I wasn’t sure what kind of video you can make that would involve a bunch of sixth-graders, but I had a few suggestions for her, including something that looked like this:

This, specifically, would be a little ambitious for ten year-olds (especially the French at the end) and obviously you couldn’t use the same gags, but you get the idea. Wife liked the idea of doing some kind of lip sync, however, and started looking around for songs that she could use. Some of the songs she thought about were John Lennon’s “Imagine”, Edwin Starr’s “War”, Garth Brooks’ “We Shall Be Free” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “Where is the Love”. She showed the students a set of lyrics for each song and they selected “Where is the Love”.

Over a few days’ period, she put together some kind of concept for the video: that it would start with a news broadcast, that there’d be a mock UN Summit, war protestors, kids getting drafted and a few other odds and ends, interspersed with images from historical conflicts. And anything that wasn’t an historical image would feature the kids lip-synching to “Where is the Love”.

Ah...no. Different kind of Flip Video. Better, thank you. She then borrowed a Flip Video camera and shot the students in these varied situations, often letting the same place stand in for assorted locations. For this four-minutes-and-change video, she shot most scenes twice, about forty clips in all. With that, plus the historical footage, there was plenty for us to work with when it came time to edit the video.

The big problem was with several of the kids who, despite knowing that they wouldn’t be heard on the finished project, wouldn’t sing. Not at all. There’s no lip synch if there’s no lip movement at all, you know? And at the point where Wife brought her raw material home for us to work on a couple of evenings ago, there was going to be no opportunity for reshoots or pickup shots, or inserts, or anything else. Whatever we had as far as the kids, was what we had.

So Wife and I sat down and downloaded the clips to my laptop. Then, using the Windows Live Movie Maker, we stitched together a video that, in most places where the students are on camera, they actually look sort of like they’re singing.

We started working at around 9:00 PM. A little after 1:00 AM, we had a finished video. 3:49 for the song, 12 seconds for the intro and outro video. Total elapsed time including breaks: just a shade over four hours.

The 60:1 Ratio lives on.

On the Internet, Everyone Knows You’re a Dumbass

Dr. Archie Morris: Hey! What is it about your need to belittle other people? Does insulting someone make you feel like a man? Bolster what little self-esteem you’re clinging to? Wow, you know, I can’t even begin to imagine what happened in your life, to make you the kind of person that everybody hates.

–ER, “Tell Me No Secrets” (11/30/06)

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Pic nicked from the website's banner. Don't sue me! Back in February I mentioned that The Mike O’Meara Show is back and in podcast form. The show has found its rhythm, I think, and while it’s not the same as the broadcast program, neither should it be, given that radio is radio and podcasts are podcasts and you can’t transliterate one directly to the other, even if the show is broadcast on a station in a flyover state.

At any rate, the show runs about 65 minutes on the iPod, and I usually listen to the iPod in the car. Plus, the show releases in mid-afternoon while I’m at work. So I’ve gotten into a habit of listening to, say, Monday’s show during my travels on Tuesday, Tuesday’s show on Wednesday and so on. And some days aren’t “traveling” days for me, so I’ll fall behind in the listening so I’m often a couple of days behind. While this makes the news segment a little bit old, it doesn’t take away from the overall experience to any great extent.

This week there was an odd confluence of events where I spent a lot of time on the road, plus I took some time on Thursday evening to listen to Thursday’s show. So come Friday I was actually caught up on the show, however, because Mike was going up to New England on Friday for his mother’s 90th birthday (and I think we can give him a pass for that one), listeners were told in advance that there wouldn’t be a show on Friday. Hey, what do you want for free, anyway?

Part of the strategy for spreading the word about the show is the use of social media, such as Facebook. To that end, all of the show’s cast have public Facebook accounts. I’ve made friend requests for all of them but so far only Buzz Burbank (second from right in the photo above) has made the connection with me. The other three are still “request pending”. But I’m a patient guy, despite what…um, everyone who knows me, says.

Today, Buzz, who isn’t in New England with a 90 year old mother, posted something about being at Home Depot and noted that today is a “good weekend for all you slackers to catch up on the podcasts!” So, as a bit of a jest, I noted to Buzz that ‘It totally figures that I’d finally be caught up by Thursday evening, which gives me a three-day weekend of no new material.” Kind of a “just my luck” comment.

Within an hour, there was a message in my FB inbox:

WTF

I don’t know who John Christensen is, although I do know that he lists his current hometown as Salt Lake City. I do have to wonder what it is about my comment that led him to take the time to write a note to me personally that would be this hostile. Lord knows I’ve been far more obnoxious than this; any one of my ex-significant others will attest to that, I’m sure.

(Ladies, this doesn’t mean that I’m asking you to attest to my obnoxiousness. But thanks for offering.)

One thing I do know about Salt Lake City is that my last name is a fairly common one out there, which is kind of cool because, so far as anyone can tell, we all trace our ancestry back to a single family that came to America in the mid-to-late 1600s. So maybe it was one of my relatives who angered him so, and he decided to take it out on me.

Or, maybe he’s just a dick.

Behind the Scene


[after seeing the movie "Naked Lunch"]
Nelson: I can think of two things wrong with that title.

The Simpsons, “Bart on the Road” (3/31/96)

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So I’m sure most of you have seen this video, which is one of your more recent bits of viral activity on the Internets:

It turns out that there’s a little bit of a story behind this guy who kind of reminds me of the “This Is Bob” commercials for the male enhancement product that you’d see all the time on Nick at Nite.

Most of you know this guy as “Edward Hill”, which is kind of peculiar for a guy in Russia, but don’t be dopey: of course that’s just the Anglicization of his Russian name. The song he’s singing—and he is singing; I’ll get back to that in a moment—is called “I Am So Happy To Be Back Home”.

It turns out that Edward is singing in a specific style, called vocaliz. Vocaliz is singing without the use of words. It’s essentially the musical version of pantomime. He’s supposed to be carrying across an attitude, or an emotion, without actually saying anything. It’s kind of like singing Scat-style in jazz, except Scat is meant for the human voice to approximate different musical instruments.

I have to presume that there is room for improvisation in the vocaliz style, otherwise Ed wouldn’t be having such a hard time lip-synching. I showed the video to Wee One yesterday and she couldn’t understand the point of the lip-synching in the first place, after awhile I had to tell her to just accept it that this is how a lot of TV shows were done, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

I think that one of the reasons that most people are so “WTF?” about it is the combination of Ed’s looks, plus the TV performance, plus his rather resonant voice which is probably better suited to opera than a TV performance and really, who listens to opera anymore these days? But the other end of it is that there’s a certain “otherness” to it; that while it’s got some American-esque elements to it (e.g. the set and the color temperatures), it’s still a very Russian thing going on. If this guy had appeared on our television sets at the time he was a hot item (and apparently the song was quite popular in its day), we’d still wonder what the hell had gone wrong.

But that’s more of a xenophobia thing. We’re comfortable with Scat but not with vocaliz. Let’s move a little bit farther afield:

While it sounds like a couple of guys covering an old Bonnie Tyler song, it’s a technique called Siberian Throat Singing, which is meant to convey the song along with a sense of power (both symbolic and physical). It’s got a cousin called Tuvan Throat Singing (Tuvan being part of Siberia), which concentrates on pronouncing the melody as correctly as possible. This clip above may actually be a little closer to the Tuvan style, especially inasmuch as they’re harmonizing in places.

Weird? Yeah, kind of. But nonetheless also kind of cool, especially when you learn the back story.

Now Coming to an iPod Near You

Pete Hornberger: Getting fired is better than getting killed by my wife, with those big farm-people hands crushing my windpipe.
Liz Lemon: Everything okay at home, buddy?

30 Rock, “The Fighting Irish” (3/8/07)

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don and mike show If you’ve been with me for awhile, you’ll remember that I was a fan of The Don and Mike Show, a radio program that ran for over twenty years in one form or another, on one station or another. I first heard it when it aired in New York City in early 2001; when I moved to Baltimore later that year I re-discovered it on local radio stations here.

In July 2005, the “Don” part of “Don and Mike” lost his wife in an auto accident. It happened while the show was on a vacation break, and Mike returned to the air to explain what had happened. When Don returned to the show, it was a solo act for the first day and then things started to return to normal. But for Don there really could be no “normal” anymore and he decided to retire from the program in April 2008. The remaining cast continued as The Mike O’Meara Show until the show’s flagship station, WJFK in Washington, DC, decided last summer to change format. Mike OMearaLikewise, Westwood One indicated that it would no longer syndicate the program. Mike O’Meara and crew were out of a job…

…until last month. Rejoice, fans, because The Mike O’Meara Show is now available as a podcast. It runs for about one hour (usually just a few minutes longer), with no commercial interruptions. (If you miss the commercials, AND you happen to live in Iowa City, IA, you can tune in there, I suppose.) The podcast is available every day at 2:00 PM, and you can get it either by going to the show’s website or you can subscribe through iTunes. The podcast is still in relative infancy (as of right now there are only thirty-four episodes), so it will be easy to play catch-up. There are a bunch of in-jokes that will take some time for you to get up to speed on, but it’s a hell of a ride. Try it. And then you can thank me later.

Cheesecake Factory

Nick Smith: Playing strip poker with an exhibitionist somehow takes the challenge away.

Metropolitan (1990)

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"Sexy Girlfriend" When you spend as much time tethered to a computer as I do, for as long as I have, you get to see a lot of things on the Internets. One of them, go figure, is pornography. There are plenty of times when you do a web search for something and accidentally find something else. Some of you may remember the recent search I did for an old girlfriend only to locate an adult film star with the same name.

This one is titled "My Wife" Others of you are familiar with the rule that, if you can think of a given perversion, there’s already porn of it. And believe it or not, it’s often pornography that sets the rules for different video standards, such as VHS vs. Beta or Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the reason that JPGs became more popular than GIFs on the Internet.

But I’m not here to talk about pornography, specifically.

"Pic8" What amazes me about these websites and newsgroups and whatever else is the sheer volume of material. Not just the number of pictures but the number of women who are willing to pose for this sort of thing. All of the pictures on this post, for example, I found on Flickr.com without looking too hard. And—AND! it was through researching this post that I discovered a couple of sites dedicated to aggregating sexy pictures of women that appear on Flickr. No, I won’t tell you what they are. You’ll have to ask me really nicely. 

These pictures are (mostly) not professional models, they’re girls posing for boyfriends or whatever. But the fact that they’re willing to pose for the pictures, and that they’re willing to put them up on the Internet where literally anybody can look at them, sends an interesting message.

"Heather and Amanda" This is going to sound kind of sexist (and by “kind of”, I mean “incredibly”), but given the fact of all these pictures, and given what women will go through before going out for an evening with the makeup and the hair and the skimpy outfit, it seems pretty clear that, despite their protestations of objectification and such, the fact is that women rather enjoy being looked at and admired. Naturally, they’d prefer we didn’t gawk at their breasts when we’re supposed to be engaged in a conversation, but the bottom line is that when men don’t notice the way women look, it bothers them more than when they do. And what the hell: as Robert Heinlein said, there are no ugly women; it’s just that some of them are more beautiful than others.

So here’s the Social Experiment part of this post.

I’ve had a girlfriend or two (OK, two specifically) pose for photos for me; in both cases the pictures are long gone so it’s not as though they have to worry about the pictures surfacing here or anywhere else. However, this leaves me with a stunning lack of homemade cheesecake pictures from people who know me one way or another. So ladies, this is your opportunity to get a little naughty and be sure that someone will be appreciating that which you have to offer. If you want to participate, then simply send a photo of yourself, in whatever state of dress/undress you like, to me at claudecall (at) hotmail (dot) com. Your picture will not be posted, nor will it be commented upon unless you specifically request it. Just know that they will be gazed upon and admired from time to time. Think of it as an early birthday present to me (first week of February). 

I may do a follow-up post to discuss the responses I get (if any) but again, I plan to write only in the most generic sense. Your privacy and confidence will not be violated.