Aug 23

Ever wonder about the standardization of screw threading?

“Can I help you with anything?”

I’d been standing in this aisle at the local hardware store for five or six minutes, waiting for someone to come by. It was 10 a.m. There was one other customer in the place. This was, I should point out, one of the two local hardware stores. One seems to have two to four people working at all time, I’ve been in there a few times and haven’t seen the same face twice. I’ve also never been there when anything was going on, which probably means nothing. Also, at that store, if you need a specific thing they have, you’re in luck. But it seems to be a small list of on-the-floor inventory.

I thought about going to the Tractor Supply. I’ve been there once. They had neither tractors, nor the supplies I needed. And that’s the sort of memory that’s hard to overcome.

So I went to the other local place. They’re all fairly equidistant, but I’ve also been to this one and I figured, for today’s obscure search, this would be the best bet.

Which led me to standing there, waiting for this guy to wander over.

I am looking for screws to mount a TV to a wall.

The guy recoiled a bit. It was physical, visceral, and you could tell. But then his customer service brain kicked in and he was happy to try to help. I had a picture of the installation manual, which showed some screws. But what I saw look like the things that go into the wall. I needed the screws that go into the wall mount. The guy said he gets this all the time. People come in, the instructions no help. These things all require precise hardware, it’s never spelled out well, and apparently never included in the box, no matter the brand you buy.

I needed these screws because, in my home office, there’s a great little mount already on the wall. And that mount is in a perfect line of sight of my Zoom angle. (Oh, the modern first world problems.) I’m going to hang a TV there and stream live webcams over my shoulder and see if I can distract anyone in a meeting using various aquarium shots and such.

So the guy helps me find the right screws. I was standing in the right place, he said. Hovering over the correct box. Inside the box are 15 little compartments, of course, of varying sizes, both diameter and length.

“These,” he said, “would be my best bet.” He said that in that way that lets you know, hey, he’s guessing too. Based on the oddly phrased material in the manual he meant.

Hey, we’re all guessing pal.

I picked four screws, noted the price and took them to the cashier. She charged me $.42 per screw, which was fair since they were listed at $.42 cents per screw on the box. On the way to the car I realized the screws I’d picked up didn’t have a flat or Phillips head, but rather a hex head. So I had to think about where all of my tools are, and which one might just maybe have a chance of fitting these little guys.

I took them to the house, wrapped up in the receipt because, it was a best bet, and also because she did not offer me anything with which to carry my four dainty little screws.

I took the screws upstairs and realized a problem: the screws are so small they slip right through the holes on the mounting arms.

Can you take back $1.68 in merchandise?

Can’t worry about that now. I had a meeting to prepare for. A Zoom meeting. There would be no TV monitor over my shoulder, just a mount.

It was a fine meeting though. A new colleague was helping me flesh out a few details of one of the classes I’ll be teaching this term. Classes start next week, this person just returned from a European vacation and she spent an hour chatting away with me. She was very generous with her time, insight and resources. It occurs to me that I need to invest in local coffee house gift cards as a thank you.

And the rest of the day was spent working on that class. In the afternoon, a whole bunch of material came my way for the other two classes I’ll be teaching. Between now and December, I’ll be fine tuning everything.

That’s an exaggeration. I hope to be caught up by Thanksgiving.

While I was having a bowl of soup as a late lunch and digesting some of the information from that meeting it occurred to me: use washers.

So I went into the garage, pulled down the Box Of Random Bits of Assembly Supplies You Must Never Throw Out and, for the first time, understood the genius of those shop workers with jugs of specific types of hardware and sizes. I don’t have a need for that, mind you, but I get it.

And I also got four washers. By some happy accident I found four the same size. (So what tool or furniture is missing four washers around here?) Happily, they all fit today’s need. And so did one of detachable screwdriver tools on the hex head screws. Four screws applied to the wall mount arms, arms and TV stress tested for weight, though the TV is light. And then I put it on the wall.

As I write this, over my shoulder there is a shot from a wildlife cam from somewhere in Europe. There’s a babbling stream in the foreground, and a giant old oak in the center background. Unseen birds are happily chirping away. This flat screen mounted to the wall, streaming a scene from halfway around the world, sits over my 1948 Silvertone radio. I like the technological juxtaposition.

(I think there’s some of this paint in the basement. I wonder if I should try to camouflage the power cord.)

I bought that radio from a retired teacher in 2017. Restoring these had become his retirement hobby.

He showed me this one, which I’d gone over to ask about, and I asked him about his process. He gave me a tour of the ones he was tinkering on in his garage, and the finished radios that held pride of place in his home. I got him to drop his price a bit on the Silvertone he’d advertised, and he helped me load it up in the car. It still powers up, you can hear the tubes hum to life. And, in the old house, you could hear the local AM station. I caught part of a football game.

I seldom turn it on, because I don’t want to wear it out. Part of the ABCs of me.

My plan was to put a Bluetooth speaker, or an under-the-cabinet streaming radio of some sort in there and just play big band music. And one day I’ll do that!

The gentleman I bought it contacted me a few weeks later, and I gave him and his wife a little mini-tour of our new building on campus. On their way out he said he was thinking of selling one of his really, really nice radios. One of the few sorts I’d really want, an early floor radio with station presets, rich with wood and history. I could put some of my old station call letters on the buttons, maybe the buttons work and you could watch the needle slide across the dial. How neat this would be! We’d talked about them for some time in his home, and I knew better than to ask. But when he visited campus he said he was maybe thinking about selling one, one day. He seemed hesitant and nervous about it, like maybe his wife had talked him into saying that. Like maybe he wasn’t really sold on the idea of selling, but he brought it up.

I said to him, with solemnity and a sincere appreciation for the work he does on those radios, If you do, I hope you’ll consider giving me a chance to make you an offer.

I kept checking my Facebook messages for the next six years, but he never wrote me. But that’s OK. He was a nice guy, and his wife was charming and I hope they’re doing well. Which … let me check one more time … nada.

Ah well, new town, new marketplace, new opportunities.

When we moved here, when I started putting my office together, the first thing I did was turn on that Silvertone. The tubes hummed up and then I scrolled the dial. You can get a good handful of AM stations out here.

I wonder about the family that bought that radio from Sears and Roebuck in 1948. What did they listen to on it? Did they marvel at stations they could tune in to from different states? When did this stop being a central focus in their home, and then just another piece of furniture? Were there kids in that house? If they are still with us they’d be in their late 70s by now. Do you think those kids, now old, have grandchildren that some them the wonders of the Internet? Think they’ve ever shown them scenes from the woods in Poland?

You know, that old man, that old woman, they are Boomers, and children of the rocket age, young adults of the space age. Maybe they caught that bug, and never let it go. Maybe their grandchildren showed them how to find the NASA streams.

So many technologies. So surprising how we can get accustomed to them all so quickly. So many wonders. So many screws.

Jun 23

Thanks Indiana, thank you, IUSTV

A note of gratitude for the people who have meant the most, as my time at IU comes to a close.

When I arrived at Indiana University seven years ago The Media School, at that time just a year old itself, was moving into its new building. Simultaneously, the dynamics of all of the student media outlets on campus were changing.

What was once a collection of independent groups — the newspaper had thrived in the basement of the old Ernie Pyle Hall, a building named after the journalism program’s most famous alumnus, the radio station operated out of a house, the TV station produced content from a dorm basement — were all being more formally pulled into The Media School’s new portfolio.

I was given the opportunity to advise and oversee IUSTV. No one else wanted the project, which was often mistakenly viewed as a pesky afterthought, a nuisance. Some people, though, just don’t know what they are looking at. Those first two years, we had to teach equipment and writing, but I also had to institutionalize things like deadlines, planning and various house rules.

Those things were the difference between struggling on a makeshift basement set and growing into two state-of-the-art television studios. Fortunately, I was surrounded that first year by a solid handful of upperclassmen that knew a few things. Together, we re-shaped the organization. Over time, the students that have come through have built on that, and the current roster continues to create good and important work.

My favorite part of academia is watching people grow. The time between a person’s freshman or sophomore year and their senior year is substantial. Their growth, in terms of their maturity and confidence, can be remarkable.

In those seven years, IUSTV produced 935 scripted episodes of TV and video productions. They have has also produced 328 podcasts. We’ve run 15 original shows – each with their own show bible, show runners, schedule breakers and everything else. I’ve watched, or helped, them create 12 of those – seven of which are still ongoing. This year alone, they continually produced 10 different programs and a handful of podcast series. The year before was no less busy.

Viewership from 2022-2023 compared to 2015-2016 before my arrival, is up an improbable 1,901 percent. One thousand, nine hundred and one percent. The social media metrics all show substantial increases. Some six-dozen students and shows have won statewide and regional and national awards. They’ve earned every bit of their success. And when they leave, IUSTV alumni work in the professional media all over the country and abroad.

With gratitude and pride I think of them all, seven years worth of them, in the collective. Their teamwork, and how they so generously support one another, creates lessons we all learn over and over. What makes the work they do great is that they do it together.

Today, we are now graduating students who tell us they enrolled at IU specifically to be a part of what IUSTV is building.

What IUSTV is building. That is what I’ll look back on proudly. That notion is what I’ll take away. Even as I am sad to know I’ll miss out on some truly talented, hardworking people there right now, even as I am excited about what is coming next, that continued growth at IUSTV is the part of IU I will truly miss.

Dec 22

Writing more words about reading more words

I have re-started a bad habit, at least for a short while. I’m now reading multiple books at the same time once again.

Oh, I used to do this a lot more. There was the book-in-the-car book, the regular-read book, the books I might have been studying at the time. In the Before Times, when I went out to eat, just about the most fun thing to do was to eat and read.

But these days, not so much. There’s a lot to read online, though I’ve determined I should cut back on that. I have a three-shelf bookcase full of things to read. The top is stacked with books. There’s another pile almost as tall as the bookcase. There’s dozens of books waiting patiently on my Kindle, too. You can’t work through that stack, I’ve learned, without a certain determination, without fewer distractions.

None of that includes whatever else may come my way.

And what’s come my way today is a library book. Craig Johnson is just about the only non-fiction author I read, and that’s only because of the Longmire TV show. The book series spawned the show. The show — featuring 33 episodes across three seasons on A&E and and an additional 30 episodes in three more, grittier, Netflix seasons — was far superior. But the books are close enough.

Johnson writes one of these every year now. I check them out from the local library around Thanksgiving. This is this year’s installment. I’m not sure how much more he can get out of the character, who was aging when it started. But these years later, the long-in-the-tooth part is stretching the realism.

Just as well, then, that this book is all in the spirit world, or the afterlife, or a drug-induced condition, or a coma. This is kind of annoying, because physics in an already physical world don’t always apply.

But, when our protagonist sheriff is a ghost, in the past, there’s this line …

It’s a good line.

I’ll wrap this book up in a night or two.

But I’m also happily sawing my way through Rick Atkinson. It’s late in 1776. Washington is on the run, from out of New York and into New Jersey, from the British. The situation is dire.

I like that Washington had time to order wine and water. And, in a book, these things get compressed, so we don’t know exactly when Nathanael Greene wrote this letter to his wife, maybe it was after the fact. But it’s nice to think he dashed it off just before hoping on his horse. Apparently, there was a window of about 10 minutes between the general receiving bad news and moving out. So probably that encouraging note came later, but …

Atkinson’s attention to detail is so great I’m surprised he didn’t draw the comparison to Joshua 1:9.

I’m in the last 20 percent, or so, of that book, which means I now have to agonize over it ending, wondering when the second installment of the trilogy is going to come out and, most importantly, decide what book, or how many, to read next.

May 22

Coldest 62° ever

I believe I had the last meeting of the semester today. Things aren’t over, but the meetings are. And the activities are wrapping up this weekend. Once those tasks are complete, we’ll be doing … summer things.

Personally, I think everyone needs a few weeks off, unscored against their vacation time. It’d do everyone a world of good after the last few years. It’d be useful for the year to come.

Just you wait, someone is going to say this out loud in a few months, but you heard it here first.

But no one listens to my ideas.

Makes the meetings fun.

Here are some more of the programs IUSTV has produced at the end of the semester. I’m told there’s still maybe one more show to roll out this week.

They are still editing and producing shows during finals week. It’s impressive.

Robert Steven Mack is interviewing American Enterprise Institute’s Dr. Zack Cooper, about China’s relationship with Russia and the U.S. after the invasion of Ukraine. Pretty hefty stuff.

Riley and Alex follow the fan shenanigans — I’m just going to call them fananigans — during Little 500 weekend. It’s real atmospheric stuff. Fun, enthusiasm, silliness. What a campus should be — at least part of the time.

It took me two episodes to get it, but I’m a slow learner. That show grows on you in a hurry. I’ll miss it over the summer, but I hope it comes back even bigger in the fall.

We went for a bike ride this evening. She had to do hill repeats. Usually, when I even hear the phrase “hill repeats” I lose two or three miles per hour off my average. But I checked my numbers just before we started the hills, and just after, and I managed to hold everything steady throughout the up and down and up and down and up and down of the hill repeats.

There will be harder, longer hills later. I’ll be slower. The above paragraph will not apply to that experience.

Here we are — well, here she is; I am behind the camera — after those hills, and weaving through the last two neighborhoods before the house. In the last one we found ourselves in an impromptu sprint. We were doing the mid 30s and I was running out of gears.

I was probably working harder at it than she was.

She’s fast.

May 22

More moving pictures

I was mistaken about the number of shows still left in the tank for IUSTV. I thought there were two. Here are four. And there’s at least two more still to go after this … So I was off by six.

It’s not the greatest miscount of my week, I am sure.

Anyway, let’s watch some stuff. IU Fanshop, which is a show just about being a fan (the most important thing at the park, by the way) they’re talking to people at a softball game. There’s even an appearance from The Yankee in this show.

They also went out and heard from all of the people at the Little 500 races. This is a two-part feature. Here’s part one.

And here’s Not Too Late. Mia interviews some guy named Captain Torrent, a movie pirate, who’s really leaning into the bit. Also, there’s a pet safety segment.

And here’s the morning show, The Bloomington Breakfast Club, with their season finale, which I wrote about here on Friday.

I got in from the office, narrowly avoiding the many traffic hazards along the way. For a time I cataloged them. How many dangerous or nonsensical or stupid things can you find in 4.5-mile trip. Quite a few, as it turns out.

Yesterday an SUV and a UPS truck were each parked on a two-lane, one way road. That means the road was … I’ll wait while you do the math here … blocked. There was also the zipping around people guy. And, later, the person who almost had a violent lesson in how roundabouts work. And we haven’t discussed yet the pedestrians.

It’s an everyday adventure. As I negotiated part of that route today, in the always-neat simultaneous sun and rain, the local radio host was doing his annual bit about the city getting lighter this summer. The out-of-town students are beginning to scatter as they wrap up their finals. We are saying all of our goodbyes and starting to think about having parking spaces and being able to make a left turn in just one red light.

Today I barely made it through a straight intersection in one light. A few months with almost a third less of the cars and people wouldn’t be a bad thing. To say nothing of the buses.

The buses are their own sort of danger.

Scenes from a walk. The golden groundsel (Packera aurea) is back and showing off.

And the dandelions are happily back as well, seemingly everywhere that hasn’t been mowed recently. The public properties don’t get cut every week, which means a lot of puffballs.

The foliage on the trees are on their way, supposedly.

At least the clouds are dynamic, right?