Aug 21

A podcast, a new setup, and a new book

Want to record something? I spent most of my evening re-building my audio recording gear. I put in a new mixer, plugged in the old Sennheiser MD 421-II microphone — a classic when I got it in 2003 or thereabouts — and played with audio drives and test checks ’til my heart’s content, or at least until dinner time.

Much later in the evening I figured out all the issues and everything is solved. I started adding new sound effects to my setup, just because I made cool musical-sounding sounds (please forgive the technical term) that were burning a hole in my hard drive.

I tested a new acoustic foam treatment. This should kill all of the echoing sound in a quiet room. It should also be small enough to move and store away. My current setup is clunky, but works. Except for those times when it is liable to fall on my head in the middle of an interview. Clearly, I’m in the R&D phase for new styles.

All of this, any of this, is better than how I spent my free time last night, rearranging a closet.

My office closet is a process. It isn’t clean, mind you, but it’s one tiny little step closer. One very small step. You can step into my storage closet now, around the many neatly stacked boxes and bins, is what I’m saying.

Now I need a better writing chair, because my 12-year-old office desk chair has done just about all it can. After that, perhaps some LED lights for atmosphere. This home office is starting to come together, or it will in many more months.

This is a podcast I recorded last week. We’ve rolled it out today in honor of Women’s Equality Day, which is observed this Thursday.

I saw Women’s Equality Day coming up on the calendar and found the appropriate faculty member. The stars lined up: an important day, interesting topic, and an especially impressive scholar to talk about equality, the 19th Amendment, where we are culturally in this long march. Only the professor begged off. Too busy. But, she said, you might try this person, or that person. And both of those people have equally impressive biographies. Ultimately, Dean Deborah Widiss agreed to take me on. So I talked with three brilliant female scholars about what this interview should cover. I asked some students about it. And I talked to some other thoughtful women, as well. Eventually, I distilled all of that down to this 20-minute conversation.

Women’s Equality Day, and the 101st anniversary of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing American women the right to vote, is on Thursday. Listen to this before then.

I finally started Bruce Catton’s The Coming Fury. It’s the first volume in the author’s trilogy, the Centennial History of the Civil War. This installment delves into the social, economic and political causes of the war and runs through the year prior to the First Battle of Bull Run.

We’re just getting started. This is the beginning of the second section of the first chapter, 12 pages in, and he’s already set his tone. A modern eye could mistakenly project this tension onto their own time. That’s more about the writing than the history.

It’s no wonder people hold this work in such high regard. Kirkus’ unsigned 1961 review called it “history at its best.” No small compliment. Every sentence is declarative. Every statement is pure and thorough. Any of them could be a thesis statement. It is confident and declarative in every phrase, at every turn. Young writers could learn a great deal just studying the sentence structure Catton uses. It makes for wonderful reading.

Jul 21

Links of the day

I was looking at the categories I use on this humble little blog — and thank you, once more, for visiting it — and I realized I haven’t done a simple link post in a good long while. So let’s do that. Here are a few items that have been in my browser(s) today.

This story has been making the rounds today. And I bet it will for a few more days. A former co-worker of mine wrote it. The piece is inspired by this medical professional’s Facebook post. It’s one part sad and one part resigned and manages to suggest you take care of yourself, without sounding at all saying “cluck-cluck-cluck.” You can pretty much imagine from there. But if you can’t:

“A few days later when I call time of death,” continued Cobia on Facebook, “I hug their family members and I tell them the best way to honor their loved one is to go get vaccinated and encourage everyone they know to do the same.”

“They cry. And they tell me they didn’t know. They thought it was a hoax. They thought it was political. They thought because they had a certain blood type or a certain skin color they wouldn’t get as sick. They thought it was ‘just the flu’. But they were wrong. And they wish they could go back. But they can’t. So they thank me and they go get the vaccine. And I go back to my office, write their death note, and say a small prayer that this loss will save more lives.”

More than 11,400 Alabamians have died of COVID so far, but midway through 2021, caring for COVID patients is a different story than it was in the beginning. Cobia said it’s different mentally and emotionally to care for someone who could have prevented their disease but chose not to.

“You kind of go into it thinking, ‘Okay, I’m not going to feel bad for this person, because they make their own choice,'” Cobia said. “But then you actually see them, you see them face to face, and it really changes your whole perspective, because they’re still just a person that thinks that they made the best decision that they could with the information that they have, and all the misinformation that’s out there.”

All of those that allowed a global health crisis to be politicized, will have this as an everlasting shame. That we could not curtail, could not educate against and could not overcome disinformation, will be the shame that belongs to the rest of us.

Here’s a story out of Mississippi where Deion Jackson is cultivating his hard-nosed coach with a heart of gold identity. They’re doing media days at Jackson State and the second year man made waves insisting the media call him coach. And … there was another story, but it got drowned out by the nomenclature kerfuffle. This one almost did, too:

A Clarion Ledger reporter was barred from covering the Jackson State football team at Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day on Tuesday, one day after his story was published on a domestic violence charge against the highest-ranked high school recruit in program history.

Rashad Milligan was blocked by two JSU officials from covering coach Deion Sanders’ program in Birmingham, Alabama.

Sanders did not want Milligan interviewing JSU players and coaches, JSU director of internal football operations LaToya Williams told Milligan.

The incident occurred one day after Milligan reported on a July 1 court filing stating that Quaydarius Davis, an incoming four-star wide receiver from Dallas, was expected to plead guilty on a charge of “assault causes bodily injury family violence,” a misdemeanor in Texas, stemming from an incident in March.


“A Clarion Ledger reporter was punished for simply doing his job,” Clarion Ledger Executive Editor Marlon A. Walker said. “The decision to interfere with a working journalist not only is disappointing but also intolerable.”

Walker is correct, but fighting uphill and, I suspect, he’s well aware of that.

I’ve been saying for more than a decade now, in newsrooms and classrooms and at academic conferences, that sports reporters are in a precarious position because athletic programs now understand how they control the information flow. A coach will defend a player, or coaching staff, or their own decisions. And if a beat reporter asks a question that’s too adversarial, the reporter just might get kicked out of practice, frozen out from interviews or outright banned.

Urban Meyer did it in 2010 at Florida, targeting a reporter who wrote copy about some players and the coach didn’t care for that. My alma mater, Auburn, did it as a direct fan appeal in response to some truly bad copy. Kentucky’s athletic department, famously blocked media for approaching athletes directly. (This is essentially an industry standard now among collegiate athletes. You go through the SIDs to talk to players.) Steve Spurrier did it, too, in 2011 at South Carolina, kicking out a reporter who questioned his general program tactics. Another time Spurrier gave grief to reporters who didn’t rise to the defense of their colleagues in the Meyer dispute.

All of these instances have some reasonable explanation. Spurrier, like Mike Gundy’s “I’m a man! I’m 40!” speech is a wag-the-dog moment. (Today that rant is almost 14 years old, by the way.) Do something outlandish enough and you can reset the agenda. Focus everyone on the coach, rather than a specific player. The Auburn instance I mention was to attempt to bat down some stories that were, let’s say, calculated. They were poorly sourced and badly executed hit pieces is what I’m saying. That particular writer limped away in disgrace. Meyer, meanwhile, was just being Meyer.

The thing they all have in common is the timing. These, and many other instances like them from across the sports landscape, took place just as programs were starting to realize they could leverage their own equipment, their own production values, their own corner of the Internet, their own social media and, crucially, their own fanbase, to tell their story. Why do you even need a sports media middle man?

Auburn is a wonderful exemplar. As media outlets began contracting, the university started hiring the sports beat reporters that used to cover them. Now you’ve got talented writers with both institutional history and, for fans, names with a bit of gravitas. Perhaps others have done the same.

Meantime, whatever beat reporters that get sent over to the sports media availability have to consider if what they wrote yesterday, what they’ve been working on for the last few weeks, or what they are planning on asking about today, gets them voted off the island. At some point, they have to file by deadline. It’s a symbiotic relationship, right up until the point that, say, a reporter files a story about a player’s past that doesn’t set well with a coach or, an athletic director. Now that reporter is no longer welcome. Now it’s a problem. But only for the reporter and his or her news outlet. Not the team. They’ve got cameras and writers and their fans know where to go to get their fandom.

Curiously, fans generally only want to read the good stuff about their program anyway. Anything else, to fans, is a feeble attempt at distraction or a story with an obvious agenda or bias. The only exception to that is when the fans are ready for a new coach. Then the troubling stories fit into satisfying layer of confirmation bias. “I always knew he was dirty, incompetent, morally uncouth and didn’t like his neighbor’s dogs.”

The programs control their own story because they have succeeded in controlling the access and the tools and fans and all of the rest came along to let them do something useful with it. It’s such an obvious concern that many people, even some sports scholars I’ve talked with about it, don’t really see it.

Of course, you could say, it’s just sports. Let the team play and let me cheer and tell me the final score. All well and true. Except, it isn’t always just sports, is it? Not always:

The highest-rated football commitment out of high school in Jackson State football history has a court hearing scheduled for Tuesday to charges that he hit a woman in March, according to documents obtained by the Clarion Ledger.

Quaydarius Davis, 18, is charged with “assault causes bodily injury family violence,” a misdemeanor in Texas, according to court filings.


A few months ago, Davis was headed to Kansas.

Then, on March 24, a friend of the woman made a now-deleted social media post with two photos of a woman in a hospital gown with a cut on her lip where one of her eyes appeared to be swollen shut, according to the Dallas Morning News.

On March 26, Kansas cut ties with Davis nearly a month after he signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Jayhawks, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“Based on the information we were able to gather KU football has terminated the recruitment of this individual and communicated to him that he will no longer be recruited to play football at the University of Kansas,” the spokesperson wrote, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “While we do not know the full details of what occurred in this instance, we were able to learn enough information and decide that it is in the best interest of Kansas football that we separate from this individual. We condemn violence of any kind against women.

This is the part where a person that follows college sports a little bit says … “Kansas didn’t want him?”

It isn’t always about sports. But if you’re a beat writer and you know the coach you cover might be a vindictive sort, that gives you a bit of pause. It shouldn’t, and every good reporter worth their salt would tell you this would make them press a bit harder, but how do you do that without access?

The older I get the more I find it is actually less and less about the sport itself. There’s a poem in there somewhere.

Here’s some stuff I pulled together on the work podcast. Go listen to really smart people tell me about educating little people:

Be sure to come back tomorrow. There will be something of value here. And I have until tomorrow to figure out what that will be.

Jul 21

What is the community risk? Here’s a podcast to answer that

I got up in time for a run this morning, a simple neighborhood shuffle to cover 2.75 miles. I made it back inside just in time to grab a shower and then record a podcast.

After which I made a quick to drop off the recycling. Which I did just as the best part of the day’s rain decided to fall upon us. So I was soggy for much of the day.

And later in the morning I edited the podcast, making this officially the most productive day of the week. It’s going to be difficult to top Tuesday, rest of the week, he said without looking at his calendar.

Here is that podcast. This is IU Northwest economist Micah Pollak. He’s part of a team of a physician, a med student, a biostatistician and more. They got all of the data from the school districts across Indiana this past year and tried to create an understanding of the risk involved with sending more kids back into their classrooms. What is the risk to the larger community? Take it away, Dr. Pollak.

Now, what expert am I going to ask questions of next? It’s not that easy of a question to answer in the summer. You’d be surprised how many people don’t check their email when they aren’t in their regular weekly campus routine. (Lucky.)

When I pitched this program last year I said I could do a lot of shows within the context of Covid-19, and this conversation with Pollak makes 50. Soon I’ll be expanding it into other topics, I think.

That’ll be something to start figuring out tomorrow morning.

May 21

Something for you to listen to here

We had so much to do this week — a week’s summary on Monday and a lot of outdoor wildlife on Tuesday — that we’ve had put off this week’s check-in with the cats until today. Probably the most successful feature on this humble little blog, so let’s get to it.

Phoebe has lately really enjoyed whatever this toy is. We throw it in the air, and she catches it or bats it down. And, now, she … licks it … I guess.

Poseidon has kept his attention on the birds. And the squirrels. And the chipmunks. And the rabbits. And maybe the cicadas. Who knows what he’s looking at here.

I went out for a little run yesterday. It went bad before it started — Not unlike today’s bike ride! — but at least I saw some interesting plant life.

Hand it to those local bike shop bros, though. Ask them to work on three things, get your bike back nine days later and they addressed … at least one of those items. I’m not saying it’s frustrating, but I think you could put those pieces together.

That was a delightful afternoon ride.

I talked with a clinical psychologist this morning about substance use disorder. It was an interesting interview. The tricky part was asking reasonable questions. This is not an area I’ve spent a lot of time in, and I wanted to set up an actual, you know, expert, with some useful softballs.

The hardest part was getting the whole thing down to 30 minutes. Those last 90 seconds or so are always tough. That’s the downside to talking with experts, there’s so much worth hearing.

So click that little play button, and I’ll go find some more people to talk to.

More on Twitter, check me out on Instagram and more On Topic with IU podcasts as well.

Mar 21

Life is full of color, and also a podcast

While this isn’t where I post all of my little outfit choices — last week notwithstanding, when I was really just trying to share … something — I was rather proud with how this one worked out. You shouldn’t, they say, mix prints. But what do they know anyway? A small plaid and some small polka dots? That shouldn’t be a thing. And your pocket square, they say, should be a mild contrast, to compliment the other thing. A complimentary contrast, if you will. No one really says that in this context, but maybe they should. Anyway, blue and purple are next to one another on the color wheel, and so maybe this shouldn’t work. But it seemed like a good idea this morning, and I think it was.

Maybe it doesn’t work, but I thought it did.

It got an emoji-filled comment on Instagram, which is where I’m putting these, so I can sorta keep track of them. But now I wonder if I should put them in another other place.

I bought these flowers last month. Seemed like a good idea that morning. But as that particular day went on I grew irritated at something that was, of course, of vital importance. I don’t recall what it was. Something was off — or something wasn’t working right, or it was a hard day at work, who knows — and I’d committed myself to going to the store, which has become a stressful exercise over this past year.

So I bought flowers in a bit of a mood, basically. And maybe that was the secret. They lasted until this week. We refilled the vase three times. Five weeks on one little batch of cheap fresh cuts.

Maybe it was the indirect light, or cutting the stems at an angle, or the thickness of the vase, or the quality of the water from the tap. Probably it was that I put so much sugar in the water. Or the mood? I hope it was not the mood.

Now, would you like to hear about the day’s Zoom meetings? Or how I taught someone how to edit audio this afternoon, but just listen to this instead.

It seemed a good topic. And it seemed a decent enough almost-commercial. And, as it turns out, it was quite interesting. The more I thought about the questions I would ask the more I convinced myself this was a good topic. How do college admissions work in a shutdown pandemic world? If you can’t give tours, how do you tell your story? If you can’t show it off, how do you sell the student experience?

Serendipity stepped in, too. As I was working through the two weeks-and-change of trying to get a date figured out with her assistant the university announced they would allow on-campus tours once again. Outdoor tours. Small groups. I saw one the other day, on my way to take a mitigation test.

I am giving one in a few weeks to a young man who has written me throughout the year, eager to see what his college experience will look like. It seemed a good idea, it turns out, because it is.