Nov 22

Tweet ya later, bird site

I’ve made the move away from Twitter. Odd saying that, having spent 14 years with the microsite. It had great value to share information. Then that value diminished somewhat, but it was, nevertheless, still a great way to receive information. The incongruity had been weighing on me for a while, but the new owner and the great deal of baggage he’s brought along became the last straw. No sleep was lost on this choice. I downloaded my archive and moved on. Some new thing will present itself, I figured, and it did.

Mastodon has been around for a long while, but I only joined it on Halloween. I spent a week or so just watching it, another week wondering at its comparative weaknesses and reading longterm users brag on and on (and on and on) about its strengths. Some things in each of those categories are about human engineering, rather than the platform, but they are all part of the experience.

Follow me on Mastodon. Or click the button at the top of each blog page, or the homepage.

(I’m at Post, too, but haven’t done anything with it yet.)

Not everyone I follow on the bird site will make such a move, and that’s fine. Think of it as a group of people with a difference of opinion about where to eat dinner. At some point, perhaps a critical mass gathers, or key people voice their opinion, and that helps you make your own decision. It is gratifying that some of the people I want to follow are now showing up on Mastodon. As more people come over I’m sure it’ll feel more familiar and comfortable. Though I think some of the things that make it proudly different are unnecessarily limiting at this point. (That is an initial impression and very much subject to change.)

But that’s the interpersonal perception. From a corporate or institutional perspective, the biggest words for making this transition will be search and transfer. If you are an entity that has misguidedly put too many of your marketing eggs in any one social media basket, you might be in trouble in this moment of truth.

I don’t want to evangelize it today, but one nice thing about Mastodon is that you can follow hashtags. This absolutely inundates you with the subject matter of choice. The negative is that it absolutely inundates you with the subject matter of choice. There’s a great deal of selection bias to guard against there.

Take the popular Mosstodon hashtag, for example. Following that hashtag puts every use of it, all of them, in your feed. My feed quickly filled up with moss and lichen.

This isn’t bad, but it is dominating my feed So I need more friends to show up, and more hashtags to follow. That, of course, creates more volume, which means more time invested, and one needs to be mindful of that. It’s a great big work in progress.

I’m putting a few successful things on the site so far. Here’s my first Mosstodon post.

Also, I do enjoy a good batch of lichen from time to time.

Another of the real strengths is that you can take any person or hashtag and add them to an RSS reader. That makes so much sense it is amazing no other platform hasn’t tried harder to leverage it.

You still use an RSS reader, right? They’re going to make a comeback! (Try Feedly.)

Dropped the in-laws off at the airport this morning. They have returned safely to New England. The house is the right amount of quiet once again. Amazing how a variable or two changes the dynamic of the domicile. It was lovely to see them. We enjoyed a nice Thanksgiving break with them, and we are grateful for the opportunity. I am grateful for the leftovers.

We took a walk this evening, and I marveled at the light, late evening views.

And I marveled at how this week has flown by.

Nov 22

Twelve hundred more rambly words

Do you have a case of the Mondays? Well, we’ve got a solution to that: the workweek is 20 percent over! You’ve built momentum! You’re going to spend Tuesday around the water cooler exchanging voting booth stories, anyway. And Wednesday doesn’t matter because you’ll be thinking, all day, about how you can wrap up your week on Thursday. And then Friday, well, that’s Friday, plus you need to devote a few minutes to how you’re planning to burn the rest of your vacation time before the end of the year because you didn’t use it all, again, because This work-life balance thing is a nice concept, but who has the time? Did you see how this week flew by?

So we’ve got that going for us.

And if that isn’t enough, we have our regular weekly feature, the most popular and talked about feature from this site, and this corner of the web, if not the western world’s entire Internet, the Monday check in with the kitties.

I have to carry my phone around at all times on the off chance that I catch one of them doing something quirky or, even better, some way to get the rare composition that features both of them. This is my tether to the modern world, and that’s the story I’m sticking with, but, sometimes, the photos are worth it.

Poseidon has had enough of this week already. And if you think you’ve had a Monday, he made this decision on Saturday night.

Phoebe spent part of the weekend helping me read.

Which gives us a an easy transition.

I used the extra hour Saturday night to finish Andrew Ritchie‘s 1988 biography, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer. Major Taylor was a turn-of-the-century bike racer, and was regarded as the fastest man in the world. The thousands that came to see him race in the U.S., Europe and Australia understood speed with a different perspective than you do, perhaps, it was a time before people knew what an airplane was, or understood what cars would become. Taylor, his bike, and his rivals, were the high performance machines of their day. And also, of course, he was the victim of the racism of the time. Despite those challenges, Ritchie has him well regarded by fans, hailed as a hero abroad, and on par with, or easily superior to, everyone who got on a bike opposite him. The term world champion was perhaps a bit looser back then compared to what you might see from the official UCI World Championships today, but he established seven world records, and beat all the prime racers, all of ’em, the world had to offer. Mayor Taylor was a world champion, and that was his place in the world as a young man, and in a time when George Dixon (Canada) was the only other world champion of any sport (boxing). Taylor was an almost singular star.

It’s a great shame that he’s only nominally known by modern audiences. There are bike clubs across this country bearing his name, today, and his adopted hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts celebrates him and there’s a velodrome in his hometown of Indianapolis named in his honor, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy the household, iconic name status many early superlative athletes have. You’ll say, “He was a cyclist,” but consider: he was a star at the peak of the cycling boom in this country, when college basketball was an infant, the NBA was decades away, football looked more like rugby and baseball was just exiting its juvenile delinquent stage. Bike racing was a spectacle and he was the most famous athlete in the world. Thousands would come see him. People paid to watch him do practice laps. It was a phenomenon. He was a phenomenon.

He retired in his early 30s, had some failed business dealings trying to cash in on the early days of automobile innovation, and then a series of other failures. And we’ll let Ritchie share the next few paragraphs.

Ritchie interviewed Taylor’s daughter, an elderly woman by then. The family had fallen apart in a sad way, but this is an amazing bit of character study. It’s clear she’s spent a lot of time thinking of how to explain her late estranged father. Reading this, I am equally interested in what she had to say, but also in the art of Ritchie’s interview with her.

After he and his wife separated, she moved away with their daughter. He left Massachusetts, a proud, determined man. He’d lived there for 25 years, but had to sell his large house. So he was trying, hat-in-hand, to sell his autobiography. (Ritchie, while even-handed and, at times glowing, about Major Taylor, is fairly critical of his autobiography.) He took a room at a YMCA in Chicago, stayed there for a time, had a heart attack in 1932 and died just a few months later, close to penniless and essentially alone.

I noticed that Ritchie stopped updating his WordPress site in 2014. There is another famous Andrew Ritchie in the cycling world, and so I did a bit more searching to see what had become of him, until I found this memorial, of sorts. He’d had heart trouble for years, and some financial difficulties of his own. But this is the part I want to remember.

On the night of Thursday 12th August (2021) he went out into the Cornish countryside to observe the Perseid meteor shower: probably his last moments were spent gazing at the heavens.

Sometimes it is important for the innocuous assumption to stick.

Also, I started Rick Atkinson’s The British Are Coming. Atkinson has won three Pulitzers and a few shelves full of other prominent literary and historical awards over the course of his prolific career. His trilogy on World War II was an incredible experience. I expect the same for this series. Volume one came out in 2020, no idea when the next ones are out, but I’m through the 30-page prologue, and I’m hooked.

I love when Atkinson writes like this.

That’s four paragraphs on two pages and it paints a rich portrait of, in this case, what was unknown. I bet it took weeks to pull those facts together, shape them into this order and edit them to that level of concision and in his typical narrative style.

I have 530 more pages of this to enjoy here.

It was an amazing day, yesterday. Here we are, November, and 67 degrees. You could do a lot of things with an opportunity like that. I, of course, went for a bike ride.

This was a lovely 32-miler. Maybe I can get one or two more in this week, before the weather turns. Already I’ve been outdoors longer this year than last, so I have that going for me. The question is how many more open-road miles I can add because, soon, all of my miles will be trainer miles. That yields to the more pressing question will become how close I can get to setting a new personal best in annual mileage.

So come back for that! And other things! Like books! And music! And come back tomorrow tomorrow! I’ll write about a run and election day fun!

Nov 22

An apple, a bike, and some venerable newspaper departures

Another day, another new kind of apple. This is the Cosmic Crisp — a cultivar of the Enterprise and Honeycrisp varieties. It is another product of Washington state, and also Washington State. The producers say it has the perfect balance between sweet and tart.

It was firm, it was crisp. The skin had a tartness, but the flesh had a nice, mild sweetness. There was a little spice to it, which seemed to come and go, so every bite was something of an adventure.

I didn’t want this apple to end, and how often do you say that about produce? So I’m glad I bought an extra for another day.

I went for a bike ride this evening, which means I can get a new shadow selfie. Let’s check in.

Looking good, shadow self, looking good.

This ride was my third ride since The Yankee crashed in September. I think I’m finally getting back to being able to spend some time in the saddle again, just in time for the season to end. But you take what you get in a place that has winter — and you wonder why you subject yourself to such a thing. Anyway, just three rides in six weeks gave this one a distinctive “your ride is hard, but good, and you don’t know if your lungs or legs are burning more and you’re amazed at how well you just got over all three hills and then realized you weren’t on the third, but just topping out on the second hill” feeling.

It was a 22-mile ride, over the usual roads. I was just racing the sunset, and I’ve done these roads enough, and I’m slow enough to do the math, so I know exactly when to get back before it gets dark and spooky outside. And, today, that means 22 miles. Actually it meant 21, but I snuck in the last mile cruising around in front of my closest neighbors.

And do you know what? I’m going to go for another ride this weekend.

Let’s do something different. Let’s check in on a social media account I started a long time ago.

This has been an inevitability since 2010 or so, in keeping with the evolving ecosystem, so it isn’t surprising. It is still sad. It is still unfortunate.

I worked for the predecessor of AMG for four years, from 2004 until 2008. and it’s parent, Everyday Alabama, were in a huge growth phrase. Those three papers were in a growing pains phase. Each of those papers were still dailies, and their newsrooms were filled with brilliant and talented print journalists. Some moved on. Some retired. The ones that could cross the philosophical divide that argued against being strictly a print journalist stayed on, with some success. They went to an online-first model in 2012, well after I’d returned to academia, and now the next phase is upon us. These are the three last dailies in three of the state’s four largest cities. (The state capital’s Montgomery Advertiser is owned by Gannett, a lament for another day.) I grew up reading The Birmingham News and The Huntsville Times, and the Press-Register is a paper that inspired us all as journalism majors.

The News debuted in 1888, The Times launched in 1910 and the P-R traces its roots as the state’s oldest paper back to 1813. Just as the newsrooms have lost a lot of institutional knowledge in the last 20 years of change, the three cities are losing the last of their civic center, good corporate neighbors, a vast trove of history and a lot, lot more.

Alabama Media Group has had its successes, and their newsroom is growing. There are some talented people there, still. As the product has changed, though, so has the work.

I was, perhaps, among the last groups of print journalists trained by journalists who were themselves directly inspired by Woodward and Bernstein, hard-writing scribes who cut their teeth on civil rights era coverage. I was trained by some of those people as a watchdog journalist and that was an amazing education. (The difference between me and them and some of my peer group is that I was more interested in the journalism than the medium — and that has been an important distinction at various parts of my career.) This is where we get to the hammer-nail part of this conversation.

Part of the problem with those newsroom cutbacks in the aughts and teens meant that more and more local government got less and less coverage. It is hard to be a watchdog when you’re not in the room, you can’t be familiar with the ins and outs when you’re not in the room, and if no one is on the beat, no one is filing the stories or the FOIA requests. Eventually, the locals notice the reporters aren’t there anymore, and they start acting like it. Sunshine is a disinfectant, and offers a fair amount of accountability, but without that … what are we left with? There’s a level of granular coverage that has gone missing that won’t come back in this model, and the people are the losers. The truth of that is obvious, even as these business moves reflect consumer appetites.

And how is all of this going over? Let’s just look at the quoted retweets.

A former colleague:

A friend who runs a nearby hyperlocal paper.

Another of those former colleagues, one who moved on to greener pastures.

I could write several hundred more words on this before delving into the highly technical, but maybe the point is already here. Some things will be gained; a lot will be lost. I suppose entropy and progress have always been that way.

Oct 22

There’s a(nother) video at the end

I made this late last night, early this morning. Losing sleep for mashup art is a questionable choice, but when you have an idea …

There’s another video, a better one, at the end of this post. This photo, taken earlier this evening, offers a visual cue about what you’ll see in just a few hundred casual words, and after a few weekend photos.

Keep scrolling down to see that video.

We had an incredible weekend of weather. I didn’t even know what to do with it. Just warm and bright enough to feel like it could and would go on forever. Not so warm that you’d believe it to be true. And somewhere in there, amid the sun and the shade and the breeze, you can be held in a powerful grip of indecision.

We took a nice little walk on Sunday. Saw this wooly bear caterpillar, which was very much in a hurry to get to wherever it is that caterpillars go.

On the nearby goat farm they’re putting in another asphalt path. I look forward to exploring that when they remove the construction tape. One must respect construction tape, but this looks all but done.

How many colors can one tree sport, anyway?

This is on another path, and with more colors.

I got photobombed …

It doesn’t pop in the photo as well as it did in the daylight, but this tree is both yellow and red. It was fantastic, and that’s another problem of autumn. It’s too temporary — despite what I said above.

We stood under the trees and felt the breeze and caught the leaves.

If you don’t know what to do with a fine autumn day, catch the leaves.

Another work week has begun. My contribution to the cause today was this. Three-quarters of a running project are completed, and the rest will wrap up later this week. And then I’ll talk about them, perhaps, unless something more interesting takes place that day.

(Cheer for something more interesting.)

We set up a new system to show off student media work on the big screen. Wednesday we’ll roll that out. I also met two scholars visiting from France.

I got to the house just in time to take a quick bike ride. Got back in before dark, could have gotten a bit more out of the ride if I’d put a little thought into the route, but, no matter, it was 20 miles.

Went slow on this road, just for these views. Hopefully the video is worth it.

And now it’s time to get ready for tomorrow. The faster we get to it the faster I can get through it. Also, the quicker I can get to bed the quicker I can … fill my weary head with useless ideas like that Bryce Harper video. Pretty good one though, wasn’t it?

Oct 22

Mostly the music

I was just wondering … have you ever felt like a tree?

I’ve sat under trees and slept under trees and measured trees. I’ve watched trees and identified trees and cut parts of trees away. I’ve climbed them and used them for lean-tos and projects and umbrellas. I’ve planted them and dug them up and helped haul them away and, once, I portrayed a tree in an acting exercise. (Some of these things I’ve done poorly.) But every so often, I look at this tree behind our house and I wonder if I have felt like this tree.

Not yet. But in a few days, this tree hits a particular moment in its annual cycle and I can relate. It isn’t a one-with-the-earth moment, but recognition of the versimilitude of another living thing. And there’s a good, real moment, where I feel like I have a basic sense of what it must be thinking.

He said, determined to start the week off with some proper anthropomorphism.

Anyway, after a late evening on campus I went to the deck to supervise the starting of the grill and looked up and there was the tree, sending the maple tree signal in a beautiful warm day’s gloaming hour, and I thought, “I know. I understand.”

Exactly what, I can’t say. But it seemed important to feel empathetic at the moment.

I need to catch up on notes to the Re-Listening Project, before it all gets out of hand.

Get it? Out of hand? You got it.

Man, not even the tree laughs at that joke.

Anyway, I’m just listening to all of the old CDs in the car. Second time through them all as a chronological study of my music acquisition in this specific medium. These aren’t reviews, but sometimes they are the memories that mark time. All of these discs (eventually) cross a few genres and periods. They’ll do so in a haphazard way; there’s no larger theme. It is, a whimsy as music should be. And at this particular point in the CD book I’m both buying new music and replacing things from cassettes.

Hey, it was the ’90s.

Here’s some 1995 alt rock from Dishwalla, the pop-version of industrial music. Who cares. The lead singer, J.R. Richards, had a great voice, and they put on a fun live show in April of 1996 when I saw them in support of their debut album, “Pet Your Friends.”

Richards split his pants on stage. He was quite embarrassed by that, but was eventually able to laugh it off. Rock ‘n’ roll jokes were, no doubt, made. They were opening for Gin Blossoms, who were the musical King Kong of the moment. For half a second, maybe, it seemed like Dishwalla would join them up there. “Counting Blue Cars” hit number one on the alternative charts. The record went gold and sat atop the Heatseekers chart. They were musically adventurous.

Here’s the second track off the record.

If this song doesn’t make you want to rush, rush, to a mall and buy 1990s clothes I don’t know what else I can say.

I always thought — and apparently modern me agrees with young me — that the first half of this record was the best part. There are six really nice tracks on here, but there’s a fall off. And the back half of the record has a different mood.

Then, in September of 2015, this happened.

Richards liked that tweet. I like to imagine he was just sitting around in-between production sessions (Dishwalla is still a band and Richards is still making music, though he has left the group) doing random word searches.

I say it was random because the next month, in a different grocery store, I heard Dishwalla again, but he didn’t like that one. Maybe he was on vacation.

After Dishwalla comes Joshua Tree. And my memory is a little fuzzy here, but I’m fairly sure this was one of those that I bought to replace the cassette version. Worth it in every respect, though, right?

I remember this clear: At my college radio station everyone was tasked with listening to new music. What songs were good? What were radio friendly? What had profanity and where? They’d always done this. I assume they still do. It was a rite of passage. Anyway, when U2 released Joshua Tree the label sent the station an actual vinyl album. And on the bottom right corner of the album jacket was a little sticker. The practice at that time was to list three or four songs and put some stars by it. (This was U2’s fifth album, and the one that would set the standard for the rest of their career, but whoever reviewed this had no way of knowing that, of course.) That person also wrote on the sticker “And on the eighth day God handed down this record …”

Some other DJ had come along later and slapped another sticker next to that one. “We get it. You like this album.”

Some 25 million copies later, having sat atop the charts in nine countries, run up the flag pole for a 20th and a 30th anniversary re-release … safe to say that reviewer wasn’t the only one.

I wonder how that second person felt every time they heard one of the five singles on the radio, because that happened to that poor cynical soul a lot.

The only problem with this record is that it demands long, wide open roads, and woe unto you if you have to run the gauntlet of red lights when Larry Mullen Jr. is setting up the rest of the band.

The last disc was a greatest hits collection of Prince’s work. Some of it, I felt then as now, you should have a copy of close at hand. Some of the tracks here are aging poorly. Some still stand as seminal classics of a pop music genius.

Also, “I Would Die 4 U” is due a renaissance. (Odd that Stranger Things hasn’t licensed that.)

Prince’s falsetto, while impressive, gets too much attention. The genius is everywhere else. I’ve always wanted to know who said “What happens if you record a blues song as Iggy Pop?”

And why does that work? It works, I’m pretty sure, because it is Prince.

And that should be enough music for today. Not to worry. I still have a few more records to catch up on. Come back tomorrow for more tunes!