Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Congratulations to Abby on the successful completion of her 4th orbit around the sun! You are loved madly little girl, and yes, you will always be my baby.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fired Up, Ready to Go, Wearing Christmas Red!

Whatever you may think of the 44th President of the United States, and no matter how history may ultimately come to judge his tenure as such, the above photograph is one for the ages.

According to the caption on the White House's flickr page, the President and the First Lady are greeting "Edith Childs, from Greenwood, S.C., in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, during a holiday party, Dec. 4, 2009. Childs coined the campaign slogan "fired up, ready to go."

What I like best about it is the decked-out (literally!) head-to-toe Christmas red of Child's outfit. She popping out of this photograph like a chestnut on an open fire! The First Lady looks elegantly 50's retro. And the President is caught, somewhat awkwardly, coming in for what looks to be a spirited embrace of all that red. Or he's doing a Ray Charles imitation. Behind them, serenely staring out from his framed vantage above the fireplace, is George Washington.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I think she's a little bit crazy

Of all the things I've read with Abby, nothing has quite matched the fun we've had reading Shel Silverstein together. We fell hard for Where the Sidewalk Ends earlier this year, in the spring. It was Cathy's old copy. We liked it so much that one morning this past June we made our way into one of our favorite bookstores and picked up a copy of A Light in the Attic. We needed more of the stuff. Both were favorites of mine as a kid. The Giving Tree, too. Part of the childhood literary cannon.

One of our early favorites was The Sitter from A Light In the Attic. You remember it. Crazy Mrs. McTwitter, the babysitter who thinks "a baby-sitter's "supposed / To sit upon the baby."

As a kid, I think what I found most appealing was how nutty and invitingly subversive Silverstein's poems and illustrations were. That still holds up today. Both Abby and I love Mrs. McTwitter's super-fried perm, her dotty stare and those little baby legs so winkingly splayed beneath her well-rounded bottom.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Another One of the Best Things To Ever Happen to Me Turns 1

Happy 1st birthday my beautiful little drooling girl. Your Daddy loves you madly!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Waltz with Bashir

Finally got around to watching Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir last night. It's an animated documentary that attempts to clarify what film critic Jonathan Murray rightly pegged as Folman's, "at first apparently insurmountable, personal confusion as to his physical and moral proximity to the massacre of defenseless Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut."

So probably not your typical Saturday night popcorn film. The subject matter is harrowing, fraught with the anguished, often nightmarish, memories of Israeli veterans. In an interview from this past spring in Cineaste magazine, Folman said he was "interested in the memory of the (Sabra and Shatila refugee) massacre as seen by the common soldier." Hoping to accomplish that, he interviewed on camera a series of one on one conversations with several fellow veterans/friends on a sound stage, the raw footage and dialogue from which he then used to storyboard the documentary and animate it.

There was something initially off-putting about Waltz with Bashir's use of Flash for its animation. I thought it lacked fluidity. It's a cut-out style of animation similar to what you see on South Park or those Terry Gilliam made for Monty Python's Flying Circus. According to the film's art director, David Polonsky, the possibility of animating the film entirely in computer generated imagery or in the more classical cel animation style was never even a possibility given the film's limited budget. In a great interview with Polonsky about the film's animation process, he says:

The characters were sketched and scanned in Photoshop, then copied into Flash and dismembered into hundreds of tiny pieces to allow for complicated movement, while the backgrounds were Photoshop that were exposed to after-effects, and then the whole film was given a thick layer of after-effects. And there was a little bit of 3-D (CGI).

For the first few minutes I found Flash's lack of character fluidity, the stiffness and puppetlike demeanor it gave to the film's many animated narrator's distracting, especially given the gravity of the subject matter. But as the documentary progressed I was won over by how ingeniously Polonsky and his small team of animators worked with those limitations, creating an animated film strikingly of itself.

The breaking up (or dismemberment, to be more exact) of those character sketches into "hundreds of tiny pieces" that were then animated with Flash is perfectly befitting of the film's preoccupations with the fluidity of memories, dreams, fantasies and the subconscious. It gives everything a protean, dreamlike quality.

Adding the the formal innovation was the decision by Polonsky to take photographs of the actual environments (buildings, tanks, cars, roads) the veterans in the film are describing and adding them in as background details. It creates a highly effective visual incongruity, with the hyper-realism of the environmental photographs (given a touch of after-effects), mingling with the Flash rendered character sketches of the veteran's recollections.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Abby and Dorothy Ashby

Because suddenly one night this past summer it became essential that Abby be given the opportunity to zip herself up in an old sleep sack she had long since outgrown, and then have her picture taken, that we're lucky enough to have this little memento. I love it. Not only for the joy in Abby's face and her celebratory touchdown arms. But for how her feet and shoulders have drawn the sleep sack into a taut triangle. Though I probably love it most of all for how it never fails to remind me of the cover of Dorothy Ashby's soulful album, The Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby.

It's all about the rugs they're posing on. Though Dorothy Ashby looks like she's flying on hers, sweetly plucking some cosmic grooves from her harp while flying the space ways to pick up the dry cleaning. It's more about the colors the two pictures share then any similarities of pattern. It would be sublimely weird, though, to discover Ashby posing in a clearly overgrown sleep sack on the album's back cover.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Safe As Houses

I've wanted to read this book for about 10 years now. I finally bought a copy and cracked it in late August. I've found it to be the perfect tonic for getting over the fact that we've had one of the coldest October starts in 133 years. Even better, it's a great read about a subject I've had a big crush on for a long, long time. The suburbs and me go way, way back. The one I grew up in, Bay Village, is a woodsy little coastal suburb in Northeastern Ohio that shares its northern border with Lake Erie. It's proximity to the Lake is undeniably its best attribute, though it's not without an interior magic of its own. A nice little chunk of the Cleveland Metroparks hugs the coast toward the center of Bay where it's home to one the largest public beaches on the West Side of Cleveland. Once, in the 80s, however, Better Homes and Garden's successfully shamed many of us teenagers by rating Bay Village one of the nation's safest suburbs.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

We Meant to Give This Past Summer a Proper Send Off

We meant to give this past summer a proper send off. But then autumn went cold and gray on us early this year. It sidetracked us. We were feeling a little bitter. We wanted to bitch about the unfortunate bouts of mid-western weather we have to put up even though we know we're whining and agree that, yes, complaining about the weather is boring.

But then that big old settlement of gray moved back into the sky above us. It makes everything look a little murky. There's been too many northern air masses forcing us to turn the heater on over the last couple weeks. I liked that it had been off since June. But the change between summer and autumn was horribly abrupt. It's a little embarrassing actually.

But we're ready for this year's batch of slush, gloom and cold winds that truly suck! We're putting our phenology hats on and becoming a "citizen scientist" observers on the National Phenology Network. For real. We'll report our seasonal data findings here. Our family phenology journal for this winter and spring promises to make Aldo Leopold's look petty.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Manny Farber On Howard Hawks' Red River

Very excited to see Library of America has just published a new anthology of Manny Farber's film criticism. Not only because I've cultivated, as book collector and reader, something of a fetish for many of Library of America's finely crafted hardcover titles. (Though it should be noted that their Farber anthology is not part of the regular Library of America series and come with "its own unique format and binding.") But because Farber's writing on film is so striking in its originality and finely stylized acuteness. His film writings ignore things like plot summations in favor of these brilliant, finally crafted declarative bursts. Sometimes it's a dazzling paragraph like this one about Howard Hawks' "ingeniously lyrical" Western from 1948, Red River:

Red River as a comment on frontier courage, loyalty and leadership, is romantic, simple-minded mush, but an ingeniously lyrical film nonetheless. The story is of the first trip from Texas to the Abilene stockyards is a feat of pragmatic engineering, working with weather, space, and physiognomy. The theme is how much misery and brutality can issue from a stubbornly obsessed bully (John Wayne, who barks his way through the film instead of moving), while carving an empire in the wilderness. Of the one-trait characters, Wayne is a sluggish mass being insensitive and cruel-minded on the front of the screen; Joanne Dru is a chattering joke, even more static than Wayne, but there is a small army of actors (Clift, John Ireland) keyed in lyrically with trees cows, and ground.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Few Notes On Home Interiors, Hardwood Floors and the Accoustics of Place

Went back to Bay Village, Ohio this past weekend with Cathy and the girls. It's my old hometown and my parents still live in the old house I grew up in. I shared my old bedroom with Abby, which since my Mom is what you might call an interior design hobbyist, no longer looks anything like my room did when I stopped being its sole occupant. It's got what I'd describe as a Cape Cod cottage feel to it. Rustic with a hint of a welcoming beach. Lake Erie is less than a 10-minute walk away, after all.

The whole house has this rustic cottage feel to it now. I'm still not used to it. My Mom's a bit of an art and craft show junkie. She'll go and buy things like folksy Halloween figurines made from twigs or antique Kris Kringle's that look quaintly Pennsylvania Dutch. Where once most of our house was covered in carpet, the two main floors are now entirely hardwood. Without the carpet to absorb sound, the acoustics of the house have radically changed. More echo. Voices carry further. The house creaks more.

I was more attentive to the sounds around my parent's place this visit. I was trying to capture them with my video camera and microphone. Some representations of the sounds that best defined certain places in and around my parent's place. I've always liked the fact that a thin strand of woods (thick and enchanted when I was a child though sadly neutered of most of its trees now) is all that separates my parent's home from the local public elementary school. It's where my two older brothers and I attended school back in 70s. It has a couple playgrounds on either end of it, and when you're sitting on the porch off my parent's room you can't help but be charmed by the sound of playground chatter gently drifting over the trees.

It's become this kind of culturally shared sonic cliche, a nostalgic signifier, the sound of children playing on a playground. You hear it, and Hollywood audience tests have no doubt proven, that over 90% of us feel this particular sound is indicative of something both innocent and wistful. It gives us a joyful ache and our response to it is practically Pavlovian. None of which should detract from just how great this sound really and truly is at its most authentic. I like that a live soundtrack of playground chatter has been playing a 180 school-day gig behind my parents house for several decades now. It's one of the main protagonists in the soundscape I spent my formative years in and I don't think it's too far a stretch to imagine how it played a key role in shaping my own fascinations with ambient sound and sound design.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Autumn Rising

Something to do with all this late August rain and the quirky little cold front that's mischievously mimicking October. There's a more then a little autumn creep in the air this weekend.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guralnick, Elvis and YouTube

I've been thinking a lot about Peter Guralnick's amazing Elvis Presley biography since finishing it last week. One of Guralnick's gifts as a biographer is his ability to completely disappear behind the narrative. The storytelling throughout the two volumes of his Elvis biography are guided by the words of Elvis, his family, friends, girlfriends, gurus, doctors and the objects and documents that surrounded them. You get to know and appreciate the accomplishments and shortcomings of an Elvis blissfully free of all the pop-culture detritus (not entirely unjustified) that's cluttered so many assessments of Presley.

Presley's unmaking came in the form of an intense four-year slide into polypharmacy and its attending dependence on a near grotesque amount of medications readily administered by celebrity smitten doctors. The pathologists who examined the lab results from Elvis's autopsy found, according to Guralnick, "the detection of fourteen drugs in Elvis' system, ten in significant quantity. Codeine appeared at ten times the therapeutic level, methaqualone (Quaalude) in an arguably toxic amount, three other drugs appeared to be on the borderline of toxicity taken in and of themselves." You could have gotten high just licking Elvis the dude was so pumped full of drugs.

I find it fascinating that Elvis' cultural ascendancy coincided with (and was propelled along by) the spread of home televisions into the living rooms of large swaths of the U.S. That's where so many people first saw him. It used to be that catching a glimpse of any of this footage after it first aired meant you were either a media scholar happily burrowing through an archive or simply lucky enough to catch a repeat of the original.

Now, of course, a pretty sizable chunk of Elvis video culled from TV guest appearances, specials and movie clips is being posted on YouTube, Google Video and other video hosting sites. A huge spectrum of televised popular culture is available online, legally or not. I'm smitten with the idea about the potential this has to democratize media access with Youtube and other file hosting sites acting as informal (and unstable) archives. Sometimes a copyright holder will go after these videos and hosting sites like YouTube will dutifully remove the video at the copyright holder's request often ignoring the fair use considerations of the poster. I have no idea how aggressive Lisa Marie and the Estate of Elvis Presley are about challenging copyright infringement and fair use but there's a lot of Elvis clips out there.

In any case, in '68 Elvis made Christmas special for NBC. The producers were committed to getting Elvis back to his roots. He hadn't performed live in years and his recording output over that same time had largely consisted of schlocky soundtrack albums. They brought in Scotty Moore, the guitarist who played on Elvis's seminal Sun recordings from 54-55 among others to capture a kind of informal jam for the program. Here's a great, smoking clip from the '68 special on NBC of Elvis performing a spirited version of That's Alright Mama.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Home and Place

"A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image."

"There are as many intimate places as there are occasions when human beings truly connect. What are such places like? They are elusive and personal. They may be etched in the deep recesses of memory and yield intense satisfaction with each recall, but they are not recorded like snapshots in the family album, nor received as general symbols like fireplace, chair, bed, and living room that invite intricate explanation. One can no more deliberately design such places than one can plan, with any guarantee of success, the occasions of genuine human exchange."

-Yi-Fu Tuan

Been way too overwhelmed with ideas of late though barely the time to see any of them through. Video stuff mostly. I'm happily going into
pre-production mode and preparing to finally film the documentary I've been wanting to make for a few years now exploring some of the inchoate ideas I've had about "home" and "place." My focus is going to be Bay Village, the suburb I grew up in. My parents still live in the same house I grew up in, a place that I feel great affection for. I'm still intimately and intensely attached to it. It's my favorite archive. I feel a kind of loyalty to it that I don't with many if any other places. It's a symbol of my early self and in some ways, especially as Cathy and I are searching for a new home, its influence still deeply resonates. So there's that. How to creatively document how my current ideals of what constitutes "home" were indelibly shaped by the formative years of adolescence I spent residing in this house. What's the character of this sentiment? Yi-Fu Tuan wrote, "Space is transformed into place as it acquires definition and meaning." So I look forward to exploring concentrically, from my first home, to the block I lived on, to the the relatively small radius where I spent the most time and the places that have gone on to exist most powerfully in my imagination. What are its intimate places, and how are they shared, amongst peers or even across generations, down through time?

And how to tell a story about home and place that's indicative of a certain Midwestern upbringing?
A short documentary that might be of interest to more folks then just my family, friends and those who grew up in Bay Village. What's the best way to frame that and tell this story in a little under 10 minutes? Right now I like the idea of exploring these ideas concentrically, moving from the home I grew up in, extending to the block my home was on (and the woods behind it), extending to my hometown (at least the portions that I spent the most time in and so have taken on the most significance), eventually radiating outward to encompass a little of both Cleveland and Chicago. (I think it's important to explore, too, how these places, as Yi-Fu Tuan writes, "can acquire deep meaning for adults through the steady accretion of sentiment over the years." Attachment to place as a function of time. 10 years of time as a child are very different then 10 years spent as an adult. (This, according to Yi-Fu Tuan, is one reason why we can't go home again).

So begin with the house. You hear my parents talking about buying the house. I'll interview them over a couple bottles of red wine. I'll include some old photographs. Pictures on the stairs of the kids at Christmas. Birthdays. Graduations. Holding old photographs up and framing/ blending them into their current appearance. The mesh of the past with the present. What inanimate objects do my parents still have that reverberate with the most meaning? The grandfather clock, certain Christmas ornaments, the curve of the stairs? Then I'll extend to the block I lived on. What are its landmarks? Dover and Douglas. The old public-library. My elementary school. The small patch of woods running behind our house. How violent summer storms seemed to me as a child with all those tall old trees hovering over my parents house (you can't see the roof of their house using Google Earth it's so obscured by trees) precariously bending and violently rustling their leaves! Scared the shit out of me. Chicago's thunderstorms have always felt meek in comparison.

Yi-Fu Tuan is the guru of place. So, we'll end with with the quote that probably best encapsulates what I want to convey:

"A homeland has its landmarks, which may be features of high visibility and public significance, such as monuments, shrines, a hallowed battlefield or cemetery. These visible signs serve to enhance a people's sense of identity; they encourage awareness of and loyalty to place. But a strong attachment to the homeland can emerge quite apart from any explicit concept of sacredness; it can form without the memory of heroic battles vis-a-vis other people. Attachment of a deep though subconscious sort may come simply with familiarity and east, with the assurance of nurture and security, with the memory of sounds and smells, of communal activities and homely pleasures accumulated over time. It is difficult to articulate quiet attachments of this type."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Elvis Is In Your Nutty Butty

I've been reading the second volume of Peter Guralnick's terrific Elvis Presley biography, Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley before going to bed the last few nights. And here's where I'm at: when Elvis was 29 he met this hairstylist named Larry Geller. Geller introduced him to books like The Impersonal Life, Autobiography of A Yogi, The Initiation for the World and Beyond the Himalayas. Elvis devoured them and asked for more. He'd study them, underlining passages that really resonated with him and then he and Geller would spend evenings in, Guralnick writes, "extended bouts of philosophical discussion." Eventually this spiritual nourishment, a diet that included everything from the autobiographies of gurus to books on cosmology, numerology and metaphysics, leads to this beautiful passage on page 200:

He felt a new serenity in his life. To the guys it seemed more like madness, and they felt increasingly alienated, resentful, bewildered, and angry all at once. Elvis appeared to be leaving them with his almost daily visions, his tales of going off in a spaceship, his delusions of being able to turn the sprinkler system of the Bel Air Country Club golf course behind the house on and off with his thoughts, his conviction that he could cure them of everything from the common cold to more serious aches and pains by his healing powers. To Marty he announced that a bird's song had turned into the voice of Christ, and under other circumstances they might have been tempted to commit him to a doctor's care, but reason told them that he would come out of this obsession, too, just as he had come out of all of his other momentary impulses and infatuations.

I'd love to believe Elvis really could control the sprinkler system.

Friday, July 17, 2009

ALA Round Up Part I

The American Library Association held its annual conference at McCormick Place this past week. Each year thousands of librarians (public, academic, media, legal, commercial, archival, international, etc.) come together to take in what, ideally, functions as both a symposium on the state of the library circa 2009 and a sales pitch. And if all goes well you're to come away with a head full of new ideas and some decent swag.

So last Saturday morning I headed out via the Red Line from Bryn Mawr to Cermak-Chinatown and hoofed it about a quarter mile to McCormick West. The first program I attended was Technology and the Developing World sponsored by ALA's Library and Information Technology (LITA) division. Matt Keller, the Director of One Laptop per Child's Europe, Middle East & Africa outreach was there and described how they've managed, largely through the evangelizing efforts of its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, to deploy over 1 million laptops, with over half distributed throughout Latin America. A good reminder as any that the digital divide is an international one.

From there I headed over to the 10:30 program, The Future of Libraries, but was disappointed to find it being held in one of McCormick's smaller conference rooms. It was already at standing room only capacity. I staked some ground directly near the entrance but didn't stay too long. The first presenter had a decent PowerPoint presentation exploring some of the demographic information I've already been tracking closely myself concerning youth and their digital media habits. It felt like a good time to explore the stacks.

There's a lot of product in the stacks. Libraries, in all their many faceted, budget-strapped glory, support a vast wing of our media industrial complex. Not surprisingly, the high-tech (and often cost-prohibitive) vendors had some of the plushest displays on the floor--comfortable chairs for chatting with a representative, big digital displays of their latest software and prizes. Ah, prizes!

I stayed pretty clear of them. I was happiest walking the publishing wings--small academic distributors with fascinating books on film (where I bought what looks to be a potential candidate for the definitive biographical work on David Lynch), international relations and assorted media related treatise by think-tank gurus. Academic books, especially those fortuitously embedded in collegiate curriculum's, are notoriously overpriced. But dagburnit it if they don't publish some of the most alluring looking coffee table books on art movements, film retrospectives and the like. The mainstream publishers, on the other hand, offered the most swag--tote bags and the occasional free advanced copies. Some sold books as cheaply as they felt they could without losing their dignity.

At 1:30 I made my way to the recesses of far, far away McCormick South where the program Political Engagement: Facilitating Greater Participation in Civil Society was being held. It was remarked that it was not without a certain irony to have the program on civic engagement held in the furthest possible conference room. About 50 or so attendees were engaged enough to attend.

The focus of the speakers was firmly on what the role of libraries is in encouraging civic engagement. I was particularly keen to learn more about what each speaker had to say about the role public libraries play in helping to guide and support active citizens. The ideals of citizenry, of a well-informed, civically-engaged public actively engaged in our democratic experiment, was at the center of the conversation. The idea of civic-literacy was discussed. Nancy Kranich, a former ALA President and current Lecturer at the School of Communication, Information and Library Studies out of Rutgers University, spoke the most directly to the role libraries should play in creating and sustaining active citizens. She made a good case for the need of libraries to be more active in the role they play in nourishing civic literacy.

My last Saturday program was Libraries and Obama's Information Policy. I was most excited to hear what Gabriela Schneider, the Communications Director for the Sunlight Foundation, had to say. The Sunlight Foundation, she explained, is all about getting government information online as quickly as possible. It's about providing tools that help all of us "be our own best government watchdogs, by improving access to existing information and digitizing new information, and by creating new tools and Web sites to enable all of us to collaborate in fostering greater transparency." She offered a number of interesting links to web based applications that track various areas of potential government malfeasance.

Jim Jacobs, Data Services Librarian Emeritus at the University of California San Diego, discussed how the kind of focused collections libraries offer is a quality service in an era of "access to everything." There's a growing movement of thought surrounding the library as filter discussion, one that's increasingly focused on how librarians can act as guides by effectively leading information seekers through the information thicket to what's most valuable.

On Sunday I was back for the 10:30 program, Inspiring Young Citizens: The Library as a Forum for Engagement. The panel of speakers here focused largely on how literature can act as a catalyst for civic activities. I realized just how strongly the Civil Rights Movement resonates throughout so much Children's Lit. It's easily one of the best and most inspiring examples of the kinds of change active citizenship can lead to. I'm definitely more interested in how new media can play this same role, though this program's bibliocentric focus offered some decent models for flushing out that role.

The second and last program I checked out on Sunday was the Division President's Program for LITA, Make Stories, Tell Stories, Keep Stories. Erik Boekesteijn, Jaap van de Geer and Geert van den Boogard from Delft Public Library (sometimes called DOK or the Library Concept Center) in the Netherlands. I like these guys and their Library a whole lot. DOK is, and I say this without hyperbole, the future of libraries. Or at least my library. I'm fascinated by what DOK is doing in the area of public library content creation and their commitment to helping their patrons tell their stories and share them with their community. To help do that, DOK offers a pretty stunning collection of technologically advanced storytelling tools. DOK, in its mission, content and design, is hyper-modern in all sorts of the best kind of ways. They recognize, more then any other public library out there, that their patrons are hungry to tell their stories and of the vital role librarians can play in helping them to do just that. They realize, too, that the norms of literacy are being challenged, are evolving-- that our communities/patrons, especially its youth, are engaging with new media in ways that actively construct (or create) "their social and cultural worlds." We need to be a part of that, and soon.

Libraries, public libraries especially, are already in the business of storytelling. And our future patrons aren't just passively consuming content, they're creating and distributing it, sometimes to thousands, even millions of people. There's a civic function inherent in , I think, the role libraries can play in assisting their patrons with content creation and I think DOK has helped to more fully explore it. It opens up all sorts of doors for helping to facilitate community building and the possibilities for collaboration. In our missions to supply the information needs most relevant to our communities needs, we have the opportunity to help it share the most important story--its own.

On Monday I attended the 10:30 program Privacy in an Era of Change: Privacy and Surveillance Under the New Administration. One of the speakers on the panel, Craig Wacker, the program officer for the Digital Media & Learning initiative at the MacArthur Foundation discussed how research like the Digital Youth Project has demonstrated just how pervasively digital media like social networking and video sharing sites have become fixtures in the lives of young people. He talked about how young people aren't perhaps as compelled as they should be by privacy concerns and asked us to think about how we define privacy for them.

At 1:30 I attended the program My, those novels are certainly...graphic!: Libraries, comic books, and censorship where Neil Gaiman, one of genres most popular writers, joined a panel of 3 others to discuss graphic novels and censorship in libraries. Great audience (librarians like Neil Gaiman and graphic novels) and a great discussion. I especially liked hearing about the various cases the Comic Book Legal Defence Fund has been involved in.

On Tuesday I headed to my last program, Many Stories, Many Options: Pushing Out Your Digital Content in New Ways where Jesse Seay, a radio producer and sound producer for NPR and Vocalo.org spoke. As a sound design geek I really enjoyed hearing what she had to say about getting quality audio recordings from interview subjects as well as the role audio editing plays in shaping narratives. She revealed that much of the laughter we hear from the brothers Magliozzi on NPR's popular Car Talk show, for example, is edited in after the fact. Vocalo.org, a controversial radio experiment supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (and, not surprisingly, supported by a grant from MacArthur Foundation among other granting institutions) is targeted at attracting a more diverse, younger audience. It recognizes, as I've already mentioned, that young people are telling their own stories, using the web as platform to create, edit and distribute their content. According to Vocalo.org's About page:

Vocalo.org is media YOU make and there are a lot of ways to make media. You can use your telephone to call in and leave us messages with your favorite stories. You can attend our "Make Your Own Audio" trainings or use our online tips to learn audio production. You can upload videos, music, interviews, and commentary, all of which could end up on the airwaves during our live broadcast at 89.5 FM.

Again, I'm more interested in how video (as opposed to radio) can help our communities tell stories though there are many parallels here. This program offered further evidence of how much the media ecology is changing, with user-generated content production becoming more and more central to the experimentation with and evolution of new media literacies that many (though not all) of today's youth are actively engaged in.

I'll end by quoting at length from the recent report, Kids' Informal Learning with Digital Media: An Ethnographic Investigation of Innovative Knowledge Cultures:

What is unique about the current media ecology is that photos, videos, and music are closer at hand and more amenable to modification, remix, and circulation through online networks. In the past few years, it has become common for personal computers to ship with a basic kit of digital production tools that enable youth to manipulate music, photos, and video. This means that media content is more amenable for creation and manipulation. In addition to the new genres of creative production that are being afforded by digital media-creation tools, we see networked publics as affording a fundamental shift in the context of how new media are created and shared; media works are now embedded in a public social ecology of ongoing communication (Russell et al. 2008). As is common when new media capabilities are introduced, it takes some time for literacy capacity to build and for people to come together around new genres of media and media participation that make use of these capabilities. Given that it is only in the past decade that multimedia production tools have become mainstream as consumer technologies, we are now at a transitional moment of interpretive flexibility with regard to literacy and genres associated with the creation of digital music, photos, and video.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

So Refreshing! The Lilting Hit Sounds of Africa

A summer mix. Download it here.

o1. Madina: Rochereau with Orchestra African Fiesta
02. See You Later: Lemmy Special
03. Bokme: Momo Wandel Soumah
04: I Jool Omo: Ginger Johnson
05: Onye Ikekwere Mekeya: Godwin Kabaka Opera's Oriental Brothers
06: Mensu Koraa: Professional Uhuru
07: Lily Express: Gwigwi Mrwebi
08: Beer Club: Orlando Six
09: Mandela: Abdullah Ibrahim
10: Eddie Quansa: Peacocks Guitar Band
11: Dagna: Bembeya Jazz National
12: Black Beats: Meda Ho Mawo
13: Solo Jump: Specks Rampura
14: Wano Tulimuba: Charles Sonko with Equator Sound
15.Pole Musa: Nashil Pichen & Peter Tsotsi
16. Lisie: Bantous De La Capitale
17. Pauline: Docteur Nico & Orchestra African Fiesta
18. N'daya Paradis: Tabu Ley Rochereau
19. Ugali: The Tony Benson Sextet
20. Mouhamadou Bamba: Orchestra Baobab
21. Naweye Toro: Ali Farka Toure Toumani Diabete

Ceremony for Blueberries

You no doubt have already sensed it, a certain tingling around the edges as June shuffled off to make way for the ripe summer days of July and the long awaited arrival of National Blueberry Month! In fact, with 2009 it's now been 10-years our nation has set aside the month of July to recognize nature's purple antioxidant.

Harvested from April through early October, though reaching their peak, their bright bursting zenith, in July, the blueberry has long made its home in innumerable summer pies I've enjoyed. Cathy's been perfecting one blueberry pie recipe of late that gives the filling a hint of lemon zest that really brings out the fruit's freshness. It's pretty awesome.

In his awesome The Penguin Companion to Food, the late food guru Alan Davidson writes that it's only recently (1920) the blueberry was commercially cultivated, with selection and breeding "aimed not only at size but also a pleasing combination of acidity and sweetness."

How rarely we celebrate the food we eat. When National Blueberry Month was first proclaimed in 1999, the hope was that citizens would recognize and celebrate the blueberry "with appropriate ceremonies and activities." Which makes me wonder just what inappropriate blueberry ceremonies might look like.

Photo: Maria Sibylla Merian, Raupen wunderbare Verwandelung und sonderbare Blumennahrung, 1730

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Big Art Emerging: Super-8 Stills

Took a few screen shots tonight, with various degrees of success, from the DVD transfer of my Dad's super-8 footage. That's a still of my Dad above, emerging clearly refreshed from some body of water during the course of some family vacation somewhere. Like most family vacations, beaches were involved. We went to Cape Cod a lot in the early 70s.

This still of me was taken from footage of me running around the porch off my parents bedroom, sometime in the spring of 1973. That's almost a white boys fro I'm sporting there, an impressive accumulation of curls that I wore with a minimum of care throughout much of my childhood. By high school, with varying degrees of success, I tried to tame it with a hairbrush. I even flirted with mousse.

This is Robin, she looks all of about 2 here, sitting on our kitchen table and communing with and delighting in the lamp directly above her.

Lastly there's this shot of Randy and Mom from those heady days in the mid-70's when she was frosting her hair. I like this period of my Mom's long and varied hair history. These old stills have a patina that makes them particularly suitable for a certain EP cover aesthetic. My Mom, with her frosted hair and impressive white collar action, even looks like she could have been playing keyboards or the tambourine (maybe even taking lead vocals on one track!) for the band who would have released the EP with this as its cover.

I started a Flickr set for these super-8 stills and a few others here. With any luck I'll expand on it over the summer.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Abby Is the Iggy Pop of 3-Year Olds

Abby will sometimes run around the house in a pair of tights with no shirt on. It's what mermaids do. Abby's mermaid names are either Ariel or Magdelena and she's been swimming around shirtless for a while now. Less now then she once did. Back in February or March she'd swim the murky mermaid depths wearing only her tights just about every day. I'd turn the heater up a degree or two. We made her wear a shirt to bed, though even that would end up discarded on the floor next to her bed.

A shirt's on now more then it's off. But it still comes off from time to time when that old mermaid feeling overcomes her. It was during one of these moments of mermaid whimsy that I recently broke the news to Abby that she was like the Iggy Pop of 3-year olds. She immediately wanted to know who this Iggy Pop character was. So later, when Megan was down for her first nap, we watched a couple Iggy Pop videos on YouTube. I was quickly able to demonstrate that Iggy Pop was just this singer who felt more comfortable performing his songs for folks while naked from the waist up. Both Abby and I respected that.

So now, in those increasingly rare moments when Abby feels compelled to take her shirt off and become a mermaid, I remind her that she's still like the Iggy Pop of 3-Year Olds. A couple days ago she amended that title to something more befitting. "Daddy, I think I'm like the mermaid Iggy Pop of 3-year olds." And she is.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

When Not Listening To Country Music Seemed Like Good Common Sense

My ears started perking up to the sounds of more traditional Country music right after Cathy and I moved back to Chicago from Berkeley in the winter of '03. The Country music of the 80s and 90s hadn't exactly inspired further exploration. Country was a genre that I had previously ignored with what I felt, with great conviction, was simply good common sense.

But I was wrong. Like any genre, country music has an unwieldy, sprawling family tree. One of the branches I've enjoyed most centers around what was happening in the late 60's and early 70's, when rock began to explore country music in earnest. Gram Parsons teaming up with the Byrds for Sweetheart of the Rodeo along with Sneaky Pete Kleinow's amazing pedal steel guitar contributions , the Rolling Stones all over on their 4-album run from Beggar's Banquet through Exile On Main Street, Buffalo Springfield, what Bob Dylan and the Band were doing both together and apart, the Grateful Dead's one-two punch of Workingman's Dead and American Beauty and a whole lot of what Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were releasing then, though I'm more fond of their solo releases then anything they did collectively.

Here are the Stones performing a fantastic live version circa 1972 of Exile's Sweet Virginia, as good a country rock hoedown as you'll ever find from this time. The sax gives it more of an urbane polish then it probably needs (but I still like it), and like so much of the Stones best stuff, the song's practically bursting with swagger.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Telling Grandpa Ernie's Story

Not long before my Grandpa Ernie passed away, my brother Greg had the good sense to sit down and talk to him with a video camera rolling. I've never watched it, but my parents burned a DVD of it for me this Christmas. I'm looking forward to seeing it, I just haven't had the time to clear a space where I could really watch and listen to it with the attention it deserves.

The picture on the right is from his wedding day. It strikes me as odd that I have no idea what day or year their wedding was (1940? 41? 42?) or where it was they married. It was in spring or summer I'd guess by my Grandpa's outfit here and the lushness of the trees across whatever body of water he's using as a backdrop.

I plan on taking this DVD of my Grandpa that Greg shot and editing it down to a 10 or 15 minute documentary. Ideally I'd refine and shape a story by gently editing (see Studs Terkel on the fine art of the interviewing edit) and adding some complimentary footage--photographs, super-8 and maybe my own narrative and video additions. Might be a good test for Final Cut Express. I have it, but I'm afraid to take a look under its hood. It's a potential Pandora's Box, I tell you!

I realize, too, that I keep talking all this personal documentary smack and have yet to produce one since the Obama documentary. I have a good as an excuse as any with Megan's arrival, though I don't think it would be setting my sights too high if I tried to complete 3 of them before summers end.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Psychedelic Teeming

Leafing through some meteorological books in the Library this past winter, I serendipitously stumbled across a blurb about phenology. Not phrenology, mind you, but phenology, which the USA National Phenological Network has nicely defined as:

the study of recurring plant and animal life cycle events, or phenophases, such as leafing and flowering of plants, maturation of agricultural crops, emergence of insects, and migration of birds. Many of these events are sensitive to climatic variation and change, and are simple to observe and record.

It's that last bit that I like the most, the part about how easy it is (with a little foresight and discipline, mind you) to become more mindful and aware of all the climatically inspired "events" going on around you... and to record them! Aldo Leopold's daughter, Nina, has continued on in her father's spirit, keeping highly detailed phenological records of her family's property in Sauk County, Wisconsin. And after emerging from the bruising of another 6-month Chicago winter, with a final insult courtesy of mercury-dropping lake-effect winds, I like the idea of looking for new and interesting (edifying even!) ways to engage with the unruly climatic variables of where I've come to make my home.

What I think I like most about phenology is how it reframes the way we engage or observe the natural world. There's a strong spirit of collaboration at its core that I like a lot too, with citizen scientist networks actively pooling their observational data together on plants, animals and landscapes.

I like the idea of being more attuned to the subtle and not so subtle phenological events. Especially now. There's phenology going on everywhere. It's crazy with the teeming in Chicago right now. It's this lysergic kind of green--there's a psychedelic aspect to just how vivid some of the greens are. The flowering on all the trees especially. It's a shimmering pool-bottom green.

Like most, I've always found this time of year to be one of the most naturally dramatic. These first 4 months have been the wettest on meteorological record (my little Megan has begun her life in a deluge), so those days, like today, where the sun managed to sustain its presence, have had a drama all their own.

And not surprisingly, I really like that phenology is concerned with the recording of these changes. Not just through writing and statistical record keeping, but through a visual record. The next step, then, is to make a short documentary about phenology for the Library. I'm hoping to storyboard this one, too. Something about checking out a book from the Library and by reading it becoming (suddenly!) aware of the phenological events happening all around me. Ending with a little nature trip. Got to be funny. Too little humor in the pedagogical bent of citizen science. Too little humor in the Library. Got to work on that one!

Sunday, April 26, 2009


You can download my album here. (It's free.) Finished it sometime last summer and had hoped to make more hard copies. But making hard copies takes time I no longer have, and whose listening to CDs anymore, right? In any case, enjoy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Edith's Cousin

As purely an object of affectionate feminist sitcom kitsch from the heart of the 1970s, I had thought Bea Arthur understood there was no way she could have gone and given up her earthly bonds today at the age of 86. But old sitcom stars do of course age behind the frayed curtains of syndication. They're are dozens of them right now in L.A., their fragile health being carefully tended to and their obituaries being written in rough draft. Their great sitcom gigs are still drawing in viewers, 30 or 40 years on now, and helping to anchor ads for gardening shovels and local furniture stores. You'll be a little surprised to discover just how old they've gotten when they too shuffle off.

But 86. Man, that's a damn good ride Bea.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mixing As A Hobby

Looking to fire up Pro Tools again soon to deep fry some new mixes. More volumes of Summer Reading Music I suppose, taking advantage of multi-tracking and adding dashes of subtle ambiance. Mixing for the hobby of it. Like knitting. Like bird watching. This is how we relax these days.

Got a few compilation ideas brewing--one highlighting South African Jazz, another taking an off-the beaten-trails focus on 80's alternative--you know, releases from the 80's that haven't ossified into the U.S. pop-culture cannon--not the Pretty In Pink soundtrack (not that there's ever been much wrong with that compilation other then it's a wee- bit played out).

Anyway. What else? Other mix ideas:

Another volume of Summer Reading Music accompanied by the subtle undertow of crickets and leaning toward a focus on late 60's, early 70's English folk, so much of which has always reminded me, sonically at least, of the English countryside at its July ripest...moments after a thunderstorm. More Joe Boyd then Bronte, though. It's definitely of its time, this strain of English folk, and all the better for it. More light then darkness, though some of its best songs are practically bursting with autumnal melancholy. Nick Drake lives large here.

I'm pretty sure that music mixes are made for fiendishly selfish reasons. Well, that's not entirely true, because of course we want people to listen to them. But they're also a chance to immerse yourself in the music, right? To really give something a good, honest listen. Lately, I've found that the best close listening I get is driving to and from work. The Prius has a decent stereo and when driving alone I've gotten pretty good with quickly balancing the front and back, left and right speakers so they practically caress my ears. The only thing messing with my equilibrium are Chicago's potholes, an ungodly amount of which harass my route home. They're a double-whammy, these huge ass potholes, causing who knows what kind of unfortunate damage to the undercarriage of our car while adding an unwanted percussive element to my carefully calibrated mix. Our city is coming up short on resurfacing dollars. Tent cities are appearing in the larger potholes.

I call this route home "developing country roadways." DCR for short.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Tell Me About It, Kid

Megan yawning after a day of serious tripping.

Friday, February 27, 2009

3D All Over Me: Virgin Purity, the Jonas Brothers and the 3D Experience

Like so much else these days, the rapidly sinking ship of the U.S. newspaper industry has been obscured by the iceberg the global economy smacked into roughly 6 months ago. But sinking it is, and with it the livelihoods of its journalists, among them foreign correspondents, investigative reporters, policy wonks, columnists, and media critics. Entire professions, the entire culture of the livable wage writing life, is disappearing before our very eyes.

It's those film critics still barely holding on to their current gigs (and if they're really lucky, their work is widely syndicated) that I end up feeling the most pity for. With the economy increasingly coming to resemble the mythical Sword of Damocles, it's these writers whose future I feel, tonight at least, the most trepidation. And pity. I can't help but feel deeply depressed and agitated over the prospects of, say, Chris Hewitt, the movie critic for St. Paul's Pioneer Press, having to sit through Jonas Brothers: The 3D Experience. After all, there's a full-scale recession going on and his fellow film critics are being flushed down an economic black hole. His job could be the next on the chopping board for all he knows, and yet he can still somehow call up the courage to write this:

...the staging of the nattily dressed brothers' show is agile and full of fun little gimmicks. They're energetic performers and their songs are catchier and smarter than most acts of this ilk.

And then there's Roberto Boca, the Denver Post's Pop Music critic, equally giving himself over to the Jonas Brothers and coming away with this:

In a struggling music economy, the big screen can be big money — for the right acts. And the Jonas Brothers are exactly that.

In the end, I can appreciate that Hewitt is prepared to cut the Jonas Brothers a little slack, willing to admit their finely calibrated, super wholesome showbiz product actually has a little melodic dazzle to it. But Boca's (more cynical?) assessment seems more honest. Hewitt's is a nice piece of workmanship, a template review shot through with the kind of pragmatic acknowledgement of and pandering to its audience that this line of cultural writing encourages. It's safe--he's not some film critic who wants to watch subtitled films and discuss mise-en-scène. Boca, however, is far more willing to own up to the fact that the Jonas Brothers is a piece of cultural detritus , so trifling as to be of no greater consequence then the cash it so advantageously rakes in. It's another in a long line of boy band franchises, culturally fascinating to be sure, but ultimately inspired by the muse of commerce.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Neko Case and Her Pianos

As though I needed more evidence to prove just how freakin' cool Neko Case truly is, there comes this photograph from last Sunday's profile of her in the New York Times Magazine. She's sitting at one of a half-dozen pianos (all in "various states of disrepair) she picked up via Craigslist and is recording a track from her upcoming album. Oh, and it's all happenning in her new barn in Vermont. That's beyond cool. That's sublime.

Looking forward to the new album.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Sunsets from the last 4 nights. Top is from tonight. Second one is from Tuesday. Below are from Monday and Sunday. Perfect weather, too. High 70's during the day, low 60's at night. I find it odd that even in what is arguably one of ritziest cities in Florida, I can't help but think this entire state is seedy.

Sunday, February 08, 2009


From Speaker Pelosi's office, this scary graph:

Friday, January 23, 2009

Reacquaintence and Identity: Miss Veach is a Peach

I had lost this photograph about 20 years ago. It's my first class picture. It's my Kindergarten class and was taken, as you can see on the menu board propped up in front of us, in 1976. And while I had managed to hold on to all my elementary school class photos for grades 1 through 5, I had somehow lost this one. But here it is again. One of my former classmates unexpectedly returned it to me by scanning their own copy of it and posting it on Facebook. I'm in the third row, third in from the left. I'm wearing what pretty clearly looks like a navy blue sweater with a stitched downhill skier on it.
I recently finished reading some essays about youth, digital media and identity. Most of them discussed how youth are exploring,expanding,probing and challenging their identities using new digital media production and distribution tools. The essays focused primarily on social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace or YouTube where millions of youth are providing social scientists of every ilk with the meat of their tenure . I thought, if today's youth are busy with the basics of digital identity creation, how is Facbook (and that does seem to be the current hub for this activity) allowing my own generation to explore the history of their own identity? How are we using it to collectively explore who we once were and especially, what we've become?

The popularity of Facebook makes reacquainting simple. The rediscovery of so many people you had begun to expect you'd never hear much more about other than a passing word are suddenly reappearing and aggregating all sorts of personal information about themselves and putting it on display, a kind of show and tell. And I mean that in the most optimistic sort of way. I remember running into an old high school friend 10 years ago and listening in awe while she gave me the lowdown on who had married and those adventurous few from our class who had been brave enough to wade into the murky depths of parenthood. Now those very people are reorganizing digitally, their lives, their new middle-aged identities being haphazardly stitched together through status updates, photographs, article postings, groups joined, books read and videos posted. Quite a few of them are now firmly ensconced in parenthood. But your concept of them, of who they are and how they relate to you, draws from memories you formed 10, 20 or even 30 years ago. So there's this terrific little jolt when you learn a little about who that person has become. On Facebook, their profile picture usually offers the first clue. For many of these profiles, my own included, there's a picture of a child. Sometimes they're posing with the kid(s), a partner, or their family. They all say, "Here, at a glance, is what I've become." Sometimes people have gained a lot of weight.

There's a nice little nostalgia trade active on Facebook. Everybody is scanning old photographs and posting them. High school photos mostly, but family photographs too. They sometimes kick off little conversations. I wish there was more video. It's around, but rare.

This Kindergarten class photo, for obvious reasons, is the best and most endearing piece of the Facebook nostalgia trade that I've come across. I'm lucky to have nothing but the warmest memories of that class and Miss Veach, the Bea Arthur-like woman standing somewhat drably amongst us little munchkins and who was our teacher. Her personality was anything but drab though, even if her outfit from that day wasn't particularly flattering. I remember her being a woman in charge, and yes, her personality was even a bit like Bea Arthur's in Maude. She was Maude-like; bold, a touch acerbic but ultimately warmhearted and maternal at her feminist core. Many of us peed on the floor of her classroom, but I'm not going to name names. When I was in first grade I drew a picture that I was allowed to take across the hallway and deliver to Miss Veach. I don't remember what the picture was of though I did get to present it to her in front of her entire class. It all felt so heroic. After taking my picture, she put an arm around me and explained to her current batch of Kindergartners that I was one of her former students who had since ventured forth into the more refined elements of first grade.