Oct 23

It is the middle of October, apparently

Cool. Coolish. Coolish and gray. Except for the parts that are bright and sunny. That’s today and maybe all week. But we’ll have a change of pace on Friday and Saturday, when we have a lot of rain in the forecast. And on Sunday, looks like wind. On all of this, the seasons will change. Summer ran long and autumn will be the less for it. Or summer ran right on schedule. I’ve no idea how it works here.

And it’s all so variable, anyway, right? You enjoy the pleasant days, marveling at your good fortune, and try not to think too holistically about what it all means. Or you think about what it all means and try to enjoy the day.

All of which is confusing. For a Monday.

Not to worry! We’ll have all week to ponder this, and other mysteries of our time.

So many mysteries of our time. That’s why I’m taking a social media sabbatical. I decided this just last night.

Recently we discussed Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? in class.

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets, reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?””

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

I’ve felt that. Felt it off and on for a long time. And while Carr is talking about other, slightly older elements of the web itself, social media has only exacerbated the problems. I asked my students if they have experienced these same things, and a general now that you mention it consensus emerged.

So, I figured, time to experiment. World events are making it a little easier, too.

How’s it going? Going great so far, thanks for asking. Early observations: I know less. Maybe that’s good. I’m skimming less. That’ll help. The habit of reaching for some platform or another in down times will fade — probably. I’ll get a lot of time back. Like, a lot. My thumb has enjoyed the break. I wonder how long it will last.

Tonight, I’m going to read (part of) a book.

We went for a bike ride just after noon. Warmest part of the day. Just mild enough to wear a gilet. Warm enough to feel like I could take it off. Not that any of that mattered, slow as I wound up riding. Difficult to get overheated when you don’t work too hard.

But the views!

Also, I’m tinkering with new video ideas. It’ll come to nothing, of course, but it changes things up a little bit, maybe.

Problem is, you need those lovely bike photos to prove it all. Usually your bike is leaned up against something, the scenery in the background must be picturesque. The lighting just so. Maybe I should just concentrate on the ride. This was a 21-mile route and I didn’t have to take my feet out of the clips the first time, which is the ideal experience — except for the being slow part.

We went to campus later in the afternoon for a faculty meeting. Faculty met. Information was conveyed. Questions were asked and questions were answered. The meeting ending early, which might be a faculty meeting first. Some people lingered to chat, which was lovely.

Before long it was time to get ready for class. Imagine having to teach opposite the hometown baseball team in the playoffs.

Some may say, Hey, you’re teaching a media class. That’s media! And that’s true, but entirely. We were talking about groups — activists, hate groups and group dynamics — tonight, so if the fans somehow won the game, maybe we can dive into that next time.

The best part was that I got them out of class in time for them to watch most of the game. I’m sure they appreciated that; the good guys were winning. There’s nothing quite like the energy of a local pennant chase.

Oct 23

‘Who waits forever anyway?’

I turned off my alarm and went back to sleep this morning and that was not the plan. I figured I’d have one of those little peaceful moments and then get up and, wait a minute, my lovely bride is asking me if I’m going to get up today. Of course I am, it’s only been … 90 minutes since my alarm went off.

The good news is that my alarm was set well before I needed it today anyway. I had an apple, got dressed, finished pulling my things together and we went to campus, and arrived a few moments early, as it turns out.

I spent six hours in a classroom today. Most of that time talking about video editing software. I used these clips, just stuff I found in the yard yesterday, as examples.

That video isn’t what they saw, but those shots figured into the How To of it all. I think it went OK. Next time, maybe, I’ll do that differently. If for no other reason than I think I was beginning to talk myself silly the second time through. Things were shared. Things were learned. I got thanked a few times.

That was one of the views on the drive home, which currently takes place in that 20-minute window between daylight and the gloaming. It’s such a romantic moment, before the darkness creeps upon us. I think we were talking about sports or some silly policy or something. We were in the car, but it was still a moment, and we might have trampled it a bit.

Just three more Queen + Adam Lambert videos from last week’s Baltimore concert. I feel like I have an obligation to share the North American tour opener. Also, it’s earned me 52,000 page views in the last week … so, yeah, you milk that.

“Who Wants to Live Forever” comes out of the 1986, psuedo-soundtrack to the Highlander movie. The song peaked at No. 24 in the UK. Certified gold there, and in Italy, it never did anything here, except stick in the heads of people who liked that movie franchise.

And then there’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I don’t know how many songs have been on charts around the world across four decades and in two centuries, but this is one of them. (Yes, the opera is the original band recording. They couldn’t figure out how to do it live way back when, and that’s stayed the traditional performance version.)

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is also the most streamed song from the 20th century and, in 2021, it was certified Diamond in the US for combined digital sales and streams equal to 10 million units.

I wonder how the rights holders will re-introduce it to new audiences once more in the 2040s and 2050s.

Oct 23

The rock videos are at the end of the post

We drove to campus — problem getting to the car on time, no incidents getting out of the house — in good time today, and I’d like to take credit for all of that. I don’t deserve the credit, but I feel it should be mine, all the same. I usually volunteer to take the blame if we’re late (because it’s usually my fault when we’re late) so why not get the upside, right?

We were so on time there wasn’t even a person in the security guard shack to look for parking stickers. We overcame everyone’s expectations today.

The class before my class was not in the classroom, so I got in early and started setting up all of the things that we were going to talk about. Oh, the happy feeling of being organized.

Today we talked about the videos the students shot demonstrating different camera settings for aperture, white balance, ISO and so on. We set up external hard drives. We started organizing the workflow structure that the hard drives will use. And we started talking about the commercials they’ll be producing over the next three weeks. All of this took six hours.

Because, on Thurdays, I do it twice. Two classes, identical, back to back. This is fun in that it presents its own conceptual challenges. I thought the second class would be a better presentation — take two, and all that — but I am not sure which one comes across better. Sometimes the first class. But, then, the make up of the room in each class is a bit different, so class dynamics would have to fit into that, too.

Today though, finally, I stumbled into the thing I feared. There was a problem we discovered in the first class and, given the small 15 minute break in between, there wasn’t enough time to correct it for the second class. Fortunately it is a small thing. Where some settings are in differing versions of Premiere. No biggie. I can update that info in other ways. Just not in real time — which is the universe’s way of really understanding and appreciating my limitations, I think.

Darkness fell as we were driving back to the house, and that was the day. So let’s put some other stuff in this spot.

This plant that the sellers of our house left on the front porch for us — the one that we’ve been diligently watering every day because, despite what the little tag in the soil says about being drought resistant, it needs it — is now showing its gratitude.

No one wanted to go that direction anyway, Department of Transportation.

Here’s a strike you don’t read about much anymore. The Great Railroad Strike of 1877, specifically, in this case, the Baltimore railroad strike of 1877. We saw this on our way to the concert last night, right in the heart of Baltimore, very near where the demonstrations began. This strike involved several days of work stoppage and violence.

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 was a nationwide series of events, the enough-is-enough point of a global depression and series of economic hits during that decade. Around those parts, in Baltimore, the strike came about because the B&O Railroad was going to cut employees pay by 10 percent.

Four days into the demonstration, violence broke out. Police. The National Guard. Thousands of demonstrators. President Rutherford B. Hayes sent in the army, the locals called up 500 additional police. And for the next two days they were attacked with rocks and bottles and returned fire with rifles, ultimately putting down the protests. Wikipedia tells me Between 10 and 22 were killed, more than 150 were injured, and many more were arrested. Several of those killed were soldiers or local militiamen.

The strike itself, though it seems to have motivated others far to the west, failed. Most quit rather than work for less. The company hired replacements. Under armed oversight, rail traffic began again a few days later. The company made a few changes over the course of the next year. And that’s a pro-argument for unions, I suppose. Indeed, this is considered the first national strike, and labor historians point to the 1877 strike and violence as something that energized labor movements for the next several decades.

It seems distant enough to be from another planet, but whenever you get to that dramatic moment in a book or movie where the one side says “Are we going to fire on Americans?” the answer has, historically, never been that surprising.

We were, of course, in Baltimore to see Queen + Adam Lambert. This is where they kicked off their North American tour. And you can see them, too, right here.

Bicycle Race! It climbed to number 11 on the UK Singles Chart, and somehow only peaked at 24 in the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

Lambert really leans into the whole show. It’s hilarious, one supposes, given the various layers involved in that song.

Fat Bottomed Girls went platinum in the U.K. and double-platinum in the U.S.

They all look like they enjoy that song, as do we. And the good news, I have enough videos to make it through most of the next week or so.

Oct 23

The stuff that makes the hodgepodge of life

Welcome back to Catober, the only month that guarantees a daily post on the site, and constant pictures of the kitties. They’ll go up each day between 10 and noon, and we’ll take turns giving the spotlight to Phoebe and Poseidon, because they’re jealous furballs. Phoebe was up first today, Poseidon takes over tomorrow, and so on. If you miss a day (and how could you?!?!?) just follow the Catober category.

But that’s not the only thing we’ll see here this month, oh no. All of the usual stuff is on tap throughout October as well, of course. One of the key features will be an extensive denial of this being October — a recurring theme of the site until March or so, of course.

But I digress.

I spent the day elbow deep in making notes for class this evening. (Class went well, thanks for asking! The students talked about Neil Postman, a Jonathan Haidt essay and Edward Bernays.

To balance that out, I left them with this uplifting little Ron Garan interview.

We also talked about some design composition rules and color theory, because this is a class that mixes the philosophical with production. It’s an unusual hybrid as these classes go, and the students, thankfully, are up for it.

Watching them get invested in understanding Postman and the Huxleyan warning was a great moment.

The Yankee went to campus with me, to take part in a regular feature called Pizza With The Pros, a program accurately named. They bring in a sports media pro, buy pizza for the students and learning and networking take place. My Monday night class take place during this program, so I might see a few minutes here or there this semester, but not much. Perhaps I’ll be able to see more of them in a future term.

Saturday I slept in. We went for a bike ride. It was a shakeout ride for my lovely bride, since she was doing a sprint tri on Sunday. I just tried to stay in front of her as we both complained about the breeze and our legs. After, we drove over to Delaware for first state chores.

We visited a Chick-fil-A in a mall, which is the slow-moving and entirely uninspired variant of an efficient fast food distribution model.

After that, we visited a museum’s gift shop, for gifts! Actually, we picked up our Bike the Brandywine shirts. This was a metric century to enjoy the sites of the greenest parts of Delaware and the Brandywine tributary. It was supposed to be last weekend, but it was canceled in light of the rain and huge winds. That was the right decision, honestly. No way in the world you want to be on soggy roads being blown into a bunch of other cyclists, if you can help it. But we have the map for the route, so we can go back. And, Saturday, we got our shirts. They’re a nice green.

We also visited Trader Joe’s, which wasn’t busy, but was crowded, and navigating those other customers was plenty of fun. We also visited another grocery store, a Food Lion, because they carry Milo’s Tea. We could get it closer, until about a month ago, when suddenly the local stores stopped carrying it.

Food Lion is an older sort of grocery store. Everything is manual. Everything is slow. And the lines are delightfully long. This allowed us the opportunity to strike up a conversation with the older gentleman behind us, who asked about my tea. Asked where it was from. And so I got to tell him it was from a factory on a hill not far from where I am from. He didn’t think I sounded like I was from Alabama, and he wasn’t sure, he said, if that was a compliment. He didn’t sound like he was from anywhere in particular. But he’d hitchhiked through Alabama when he was young, he said. Making him one of the few out-of-staters in his age group I’ve ever met who said they’d been to Alabama but didn’t say they were one of the Freedom Riders. (I wish I’d kept count on that over the years; I don’t think there were that many buses.) He said he’d been through Montgomery. Said his mother was from Tennessee. His wife was first generation from Germany or thereabouts, and his mother-in-law, he could understand some of her dialects, but not all of them.

I thought about turning the accent on, but there’s always a question about that. should I do the fake Virginia tidewater accent everyone wants to hear? The low country accent that I don’t have? Or should I just underwhelm with the low Appalachian hills-and-hollers sound that belongs to my people, but not me?

And by the time I’d figured out how to shade my vowels, it was, finally, my time to check out.

On Saturday it was cloudy in the morning and the sun came out just in time for that bike ride. Sunday was beautiful throughout. Not a cloud in the sky, 78 degrees and a light breeze. And so I took an afternoon bike ride. I noticed this mantis hanging out on the window as I got ready to leave.

My bike computer’s battery was dead, so I had no idea how the ride started, but it felt fast. I was moving well and not working hard. The wind was behind me on my out-and-back. I thought the road was pulling me forward, but it was the breeze pushing me on.

That was something I didn’t realize until I turned around and the wind was in my face. That explains why I wasn’t riding as efficiently on the way back. Also, I was being miserly with my fuel for reasons that made no sense. But here’s the thing. I found some really quiet roads. I headed southwest, which is generally a direction we haven’t explored here yet. I saw some beautiful countryside, and some Revolutionary War era sights. And this proud little municipal building.

Not bad for a township made up of just 2,580 people.

I went out that direction to find some more historical markers. It was a successful trip, and you’ll see some of those coming up on future Wednesdays. But these views made for a fine Sunday afternoon ride.

The only problem was that, for the whole of my route, there was nowhere to stop for a snack, and I started thinking about hamburgers and fries in such a way that I couldn’t shake it. There wasn’t even anyone grilling as I rode through, which would at least explain it. There’s only so long a PB&J can last, and that actually explains it.

But it was a lovely, lovely day to spend pedaling out to the saltwater marshes and the estuaries that dot the river coastline. The area was called Wootesessungsing by the indigenous people (the Lenape, I believe it was) before the Swedish, and then the English, came in the 17th century. I learned the name on one of the signs I saw; Wootesessunging has apparently never been published online, according to two different search engines. Just goes to show, you’ve got to get out there to see these incredible things. Not all of it can be found online.

Catober will be found, though, right here, all month long. So be sure you stay online for that.

Sep 23

Things that stick on you

I heard my alarm, both times this morning. And I pulled up the cover and closed my eyes tight and smiled and stayed halfway-conscious because I had to get up and get ready for the day. Then my lovely bride came back into the room and touched my shoulder. She said “You need to get up.”

I did need to get up. I needed to get up about 75 minutes prior to that, but that’s OK, because the day starts late so I’m not behind, except that mentally I am. When you set an alarm and overshoot it, that sensation can stick with you. For me, it is on my mind for the rest of the day. No matter how accomplished, how full or how complete the schedule, it’s just sitting there: You were late, and so you are late. It clings.

I had an apple and some peanut butter for breakfast*. I got ready to head to campus. And then the cat escaped through the laundry room and into the garage. He then goes under a car and just sits there, feeling like he’s achieved a great deal, I assume.

We’d even made it into the garage on time this morning — this is often my fault — but now the cat kept us from getting into the car on time because he is an ordeal.

But we made it to campus on time, fortunately. And it was only marginally my fault this time that we felt pressed for time.

I stood in the hallway and talked with two of my students while the class taking place in our room wrapped up. Eventually they all filed out, an entirely predictable and uneventful arrangement, and we walked in. Over the course of the next several minutes a dozen more students came in. Today we reviewed their first video assignments. The work concentrated on asking them to achieve certain camera shots and motions. You are put with a partner, who is your video subject, and you show the basics. Some people keep this simple. “My subject is just standing there, and this is a low angle. Here is a shot of my subject from a high angle,” and so on. This gets the job done. One group got very involved, overly so, and tried to create something of a narrative. Kudos for originality, though it doesn’t figure into this grade. One of my favorites video sequences came from two women who clearly enjoyed this way too much. There was a lot of acting, the best unselfconscious, purely hammy, scene chewing kind. They were delightful. I also had three slide decks to work through with them. I managed to work through two of those and the class still went long.

On Thursdays I teach two sections of the same class, back-to-back, in the same room. There’s only a 15-minute break between them, at about 3:15, and that’s lunch. But if I go long, that sneaks into my lunch time. So I had a handful of grapes* while the second class filtered into the room.

Fortunately, the two classes are in synch, so the second section feels like a second try, albeit with a group of an entirely different personality. We reviewed the shots from their first video assignment, as well. And one of the best parts are the shots when someone chooses an extreme closeup. I will play those clips over and over until I can get the class to talk about the emotions they’re seeing in the shots. Getting them going is the key to the whole puzzle, I think. I had three slide decks for the second class as well. I got through all three. We finished with 10 minutes to spare.

I’m not sure how that happened, but I have a few guesses.

After that, it was email, and staring at this pile of things to grade, and then we hopped in the car and drove back to the house. Thursdays are busy, then, and everything piles up. Email, the things to grade, the daily dose of news, whatever else you’re doing. And that 20 minute drive always feels a bit off when you’re aware of all of those things you’d like to get done tonight, or at least started.

Being behind is purely a mental construct, one that should have little to no power, but somehow it can hold a lot of sway over you, draped right over your shoulders, trying to hold you down. So you start ticking things off the list. What else could you do, anyway?

*I had a delicious and full dinner.

Let’s take a quick look at the Re-Listening project, where I am playing all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. After this entry I’ll only be three discs behind!

Josh Joplin Group’s “Useful Music” was already an artifact by the time I picked it up at a used record shop. They’d originally released it in 1999 as Josh Joplin Band under the SMG Records label, and then again, with some new members, in 2001 by way of Artemis Records under their final name, Josh Joplin Group. (Big shakeups in nomenclature were an artistic signature around the turn of the century, you see.) This was Joplin’s sixth record, and so he was to become a nine-year overnight success.

It’s a radio friendly record, but didn’t get a lot of commercial support. Despite that, “Useful Music” hit number 22 on the Billboard Independent Albums chart. Three singles were rolled off, including the moderately successful, and altogether enjoyable, “Camera One.”

Odds are, if you ran across this Atlanta-based band, this was your first exposure. It quickly scooted to the top spot of the Triple A chart, which, at that time, was the most successful independent release ever. Soon after, that song was featured in an episode of Scrubs.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen that video, though. He looks like an angry singer, which is a shame for what was ultimately an incredible AOR friendly record.

If you picked up this disc because you heard that song on the radio, this was the first track you heard when you loaded it in your player.

The second single got a lot of spins on what still passed for alt radio in the summer of 2001. And we were still referencing it this summer, which is pretty great good for a pop tune.

This is a perfectly little encapsulated post-grunge pop song, if you ask me. It is one of several songs on here I never really gave it’s due when I was listening to this a lot.

But then there’s this, which should have never been attempted. Nevertheless, it’s catchy in ways that defy convention. I was on a long straight country road on a sunny day when I heard this recently, and it stuck with me for days.

They released one more single, in December of 2001. And on the re-release, which is the disc I have, there’s an alternate version of the song featuring some new instrumentation and an orchestral accompaniment. And it changes the song, except for all of the places where it doesn’t. It was, and remains, intriguing. The thing is, I listen to this so rarely that I forget that this track closes the record, and so it’s a pleasant surprise almost every time.

The Wikipedia page tells me the Josh Joplin Group disbanded in 2002, which was before I picked this up (I’m contextually assuming I got this in the summer or fall of 2003) but that live performance above was from 2019. All told, Joplin has released 11 albums, most recently with the band Among the Oak & Ash, which also featured the great Garrison Starr. Here’s the newest thing he’s published on his YouTube channel, just four months ago.

It’s always nice to see people continuing to do what they love.

Like this grading I have to do now, for example.