Jun 24

What a fine start to June

We had a party for the god nephews and niece in-law (just go with it) yesterday evening. The boys are at the age of physicality and not understanding the ability to hurt one another. How they don’t devolve in any waking moment to the most charismatic wrestling move now on television is a mystery. But they wail on each other, as kids do, in just about every other way. It’s fun for them both, of course, until it is not. They are both insanely careful around their sister, which is cute. I am still bigger than them, so I can use the news anchor voice or go stand over one when he is being a little too much. Sometimes it’s the little brother that has to be called to heel.

In other words, they’re boys.

So we recreated famous football catches and toured the basement. They were very interested in our basement, which is not nearly as cool as their grandfather’s basement, and I told them so, but they could not be dissuaded. We had pizza and macaroni and cheese for dinner. We played basketball as a last-ditch stalling effort before they finally left.

The youngest, by the way, has a girlfriend and they have kissed at school and he says they both liked it, and he is in the NBA. He is also graduating kindergarten in a few days.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t completely sapped of energy when they left last night. Must have been that real-strawberry popsicle.

The cats hid upstairs during all of this. They are not used to little people, is the best we can figure. Lately they are both quite friendly when an adult comes by for whatever reason. But these half-sized types are no good for them. They don’t really have a reason for this fear, they just know it on a run-upstairs-and-hide level, and they aren’t wrong.

When they weren’t dodging loud, smelly, pokey, little people, they’ve had a great week. Phoebe is anticipating the sun’s movement.

And she keeps a close watch on the front yard.

Poseidon, meanwhile, has the backyard under close and near constant supervision.

When he’s not taking some Poe-time under a blanket somewhere.


So the cats are doing just great, thanks for asking, and so are we!

I only got in 70 miles on the bike this weekend, mostly because Saturday, which I had imagined as a longer ride, was the day my body said “Hey, feet, aren’t you tired?” And my feet said, “Sure am. And what about you, back? A little stiff aren’t you?” And my back said, “Now that you mention it, yeah. And I just bet those hands are numb, too.” And my hands said “Pkkwbo fiwo iwbefnwne.” So I called it at 32 miles.

Most disappointing. It was slow, and I was well behind my lovely bride, and nothing felt especially good. And that’s why I shouldn’t ride a hard, fast, short ride the day before my longer ride, according to the hypothesis I came up with Saturday evening.

And since I was going slow, I decided to shot this hay storage. There are cow pastures on either side of the road, and that’s the leftover hay from the winter, and that should tell you how mild things were.

A version of that photo will probably wind up as one of the banners on the blog eventually.

Yesterday, I did a little recovery ride, designed to not tax myself too much. And my legs felt great on the out part of my out-and-back route. On the and-back portion I realized, Oh, there was a barely perceptible, but nonetheless helpful tailwind working in my fair a moment ago. That, of course, meant I had an insurmountable headwind on the way back in.

Anyway, today, I’m taking off, and I’ll get back to it tomorrow. In the meantime, since we’re here, let’s check on the month’s progress. May was a light month, in terms of mileage, but it’s still a productive (for me) year so far.

The green line is a projection, where I’d be if I rode an average of 10 miles per day. The ride line is where I was this time last year. The blue line charts my 2024 progress. So it’s been a productive, so far, and should be another record-breaking year.

No one is happier than my spreadsheets.

Yes, I have multiple pages of cycling spreadsheets. Never start doing this. Down this path lies madness, and mystery, and sometimes satisfaction, but usually a squinty-eyed, “How are these the data points I’m fixated on?” sort of feeling of “Huh?”

Our next door neighbor is a 1-year-old. And his parents, of course. But mostly the kid. His parents put a swing out under a tree, it is one of those four rope numbers, and it leads down to a plastic swing that looks like the manufacturer just messed up on the high seat molds and decided they could make something work out of it anyway. The boy is starting to come around to the idea of the swing, a little bit. It takes time, but it is a good swing and his parents are determined and, eventually, this will be a wonderful experience and future swings under that tree will be in the blur of memories he carries forward his whole life.

It’s an amazing tree. Huge, wide crown. Thick lush grass underneath. There’s going to be so much fun and imagination that comes to life as he continues to grow.

And he doesn’t even know yet that helicopters live in it.

Things continue to look beautiful in our backyard beds.

No jets or choppers are emerging from our greenery, though.

We are going to have some grapes again this year, though. If we can keep the pests away. (We’ll fail at that miserably.)

But it is fun to try!

I had a student ask me in the spring if I was excited that Jon Stewart was returning to The Daily Show. I’d mentioned some research we did on the program way, way back when and soon after that announcement came down and he remembered that. And afterward he asked me once or twice what I thought about the new episode.

Since it was a new media class, it seemed viable, even if these students have never even seen the product, let alone the Jon Stewart version. Somewhere along the way there was a good injection point and I said, what people forget is that, at its core, this show is a satirical critique of the media, rather than a commentary on society as a whole. And as I watched tonight’s episode I thought, This is the episode that proves my point.

His guest was Ken Buck, most recently the resigning Congressman from Colorado. And he … was not ready for this.

At the end of the interview, my lovely bride said, “He’s not happy right now, is he?” The question allowed me to return to my central thesis about the show. No, he’s not. He was expecting still another softball interview, but the difference is that Stewart came prepared, and was ready with real-time rejoinders, and names and facts. He doesn’t let things slide, which is what political operators are fundamentally trained for now.

Yes, Stewart has a staff. Yes they do four half-hour shows a week, and yes, he is only, himself, doing the one show a week and, sadly, for this limited run, but what he brings to this highly specific interview is different than every other interview you’ll see on TV, which is largely about cheaply, effectively (with conflict, if possible) filling time and getting to the next commercial break. There’s no substance in that formula. No opportunity for push back, even if you were so inclined. And many aren’t inclined. That’s one of the big problems of contemporary media, an issue Stewart has been pointing out for decades now, and perhaps never more clearly than in the A-block of this episode.

Buck wasn’t always pleased with how that went, even though it wasn’t, at all, adversarial. It could have been even less to his liking. Watch the interview, you see that Stewart bailed him out, or let a moment pass, three or four times. (Frustratingly, Stewart let one go that I wish he’d stuck with.)

It was a brilliant piece of television.

Feb 24

You’re going to watch the video and follow all of the links, right?

Once this day got started, this day got productive. Let’s see, there was a late breakfast. And then I gave Phoebe some extra milk. I did dishes. And then I checked email, and updated various computer things. I pulled in the day’s delivery from the front porch.

I recently met someone who works at the local Amazon distribution center. She told me about the many different kinds of jobs in her building, and the one she’s doing now. I promised to check with her before we ordered anything heavy. Make sure she’s not working that day, ya know. Of course, I could barely pick up the box that arrived today. I hope she didn’t have to heave that to and fro.

I also took care of the garbage and recycling. This was an involved process. There was an extra bag of garbage. And more recycling than usual, owing to cardboard. I haven’t moved this much cardboard since we moved. Some of the cardboard that I recycled today was, in fact, from the move. The move was last June.

Standing at the giant bin, breaking down cardboard boxes by tearing tape with my keys, I narrowly avoided giving myself a cardboard cut. Paper cuts are bad, but cardboard should be registered and require a permit. Dangerous stuff. The guy that works there was patiently waiting on me to finish the task. He was standing down by the two cattle gates at the entrance. I was the last visitor of the day, according to his watch, which said 4:51, but he was ready to get out of there a little early. This was not the regular guy, Milton, that I’ve come to wave at, but another fellow. People are punctual about their early dinner plans, one supposes.

Anyway, the sun was out and it was an easy enough chore, even if it all took the better part of an hour this time. When I backed the car out to set off for the inconvenience center I looked into the yard and the trees beyond and said, “Spring is starting and you can’t convince me otherwise.” I said this to no one but the cardboard and the other recyclables, because there was nowhere to put a human being in my car. But nothing about the drive, the chore, or my return made a convincing counterargument, either.

The long-range forecast calls for the low 60s this time next week.

In class last night we did not talk about the weather. I warmed up, though, with a little history lesson of Voyager 1, the golden record and Blind Willie Johnson. Voyager 1 has been flying my whole life, and more than twice as long as my students have been alive. And these last few months, Voyager has been slowly, sadly, limping to its own end, decades after exceeding its mission parameters. It’s no less sad for the over-achievement. Perhaps more so. Doug Muir wrote something beautiful about it.

Also, a student asked me what I thought about Jon Stewart’s return to The Daily Show. Short version: It felt right. Last Monday’s re-start was a start, a clearing of the throat, a framing of the conversation. His return is going to be best understood over time. So let’s see what he does between now and November.

And what he did last night. My goodness.

My lovely bride and I did our first research in grad school on Jon Stewart. It was one of the first 2,200 or pieces of scholarship about the comedy-satire-politics show. I think the preemptive criticism in the run up to his return was overdone. Stewart still has one of the most unique and powerful voices in the much broader genre, and the circumstances today aren’t that different than nine years ago when he walked away. More acrimonious, but let’s not forget from whence we came.

If anything, the show runners have to consider how the Daily Show’s style of accountability — via the technological breakthrough of database queries and video playback — is finally more widespread now. That, if anything, blunts the ability for him to tackle his first real target, contemporary media. (People forget who the real satire subject matter is.) That part will need to be reshaped, perhaps, and along the way, he’s going to annoy everyone sporting a little letter behind their name. I could do without making the superficial punchline an ad hominem attack, I never liked that part, but he’s still got plenty of punch in his gloves. And the ratings are there too, much to the chagrin of last night’s subject matter.

For the actual class we discussed Ellen Ullman and Nicholas Carr. Basically, what is the internet doing to us, and why is it all bad? The Ullman piece was prescient, she wrote it in 1998, still stands by it, and, what’s more, was correct. The Carr readings date to 2008 and 2010. The latter is a book chapter of his, but that essay in The Atlantic should give us pause.

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.

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.

The first time I read that piece I saw a lot of the same complaints. And so I’ve been trying to change my habits — sometimes with more success than others. I think the change has been fruitful, when I’ve been most successful at it.

One of the assignments the students have to do soon includes an element where they chart their own media consumption. If this is done well some people will look at that and think, “Yes, that seems about right.” Others, however, will look at the data they’ve collected on themselves and be stunned.

Maybe that’ll mean something for them going forward.

Let us go forward together, back under the surface of the water.

I made this video before class yesterday with the intention of publishing it then, as well. Only I made a critical error in the rendering and exporting process. (A two-paragraph explanation of everything between now and then goes right here. An explanation made all the more hilarious because I teach this stuff. So I figured: Tuesday. Today, suffice it to say, instead of having to remake the entire video, I remembered Premiere Pro has a pretty decent autosave function, which was a big time-saver.) Having correctly rendered and exported the video, I was able to upload it and remain quite pleased with the result. I think you’ll like it too. I think the beginning and the end are the best part.

Also, enjoy the flounder, the sea anemone and the beautiful eagle ray.


Tomorrow, I’ll have a few more diving photos for you, we’ll go back in time to meet a local 17th century man of considerable importance and I’ll probably try to find a way to talk about riding my bicycle in place. Because, right now, I’m going to go ride my bike.

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.