Deepwater Horizon

Here’s an eco-themed mix.

For ten days or so I’ve been in something akin to a state of denial, or perhaps a better term would be extreme wishful thinking. I was sorry to hear people had died when Deepwater Horizon blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. I wished the workers who were missing would be found alive, but that didn’t happen. I wished the leakage of oil would prove to be minimal, but that didn’t happen. I wished efforts to contain the mess would be successful, but so far no luck there either.

Most of all I wished this would turn out to be a false alarm, a not so big deal in the big scheme of things. It is clearly a disaster. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be a catastrophe. But it is looking more and more like that.

Now a smell pervades the area. I can’t quite detect it myself, not having a good nose, but they say it smells like diesel fuel. Mind you, we are quite some distance from the Gulf here in New Orleans. That’s how big this thing is.

We are concerned about the health effects of breathing hydrocarbons. I’m concerned about the health of our child. But what are we going to do? Evacuate?

It’s not an oil spill, technically. It is like an erupting fountain of oil deep, deep under the water. A “wild well” might be the proper term. A river of petrochemicals, gushing into the water of the Gulf at an astonishing rate of 5,000 barrels a day — maybe more. That’s almost a quarter million gallons per day. As big as that number is, the most important part of that phrase is the last two words — per day. This has been going on for something like ten days already, and the really bad news is no one has any way to stop it any time soon.

At least this will shut up the “Drill Baby Drill” idiots for a few moments. That’s not a partisan swipe at Sarah Palin, by the way, since we all know Republicans and Democrats have tended to promulgate reckless environmental policies, and that Obama has recently championed more aggressive drilling.

We seem determined to suck every last bit of oil out of the Earth, to feed our rapacious hunger for energy — and then what? Every school child knows that fossil fuels are a nonrenewable resource. So when we run out — then we’ll develop alternatives. Is that the plan?

What are we waiting for?

Requiem for a Camera

Nikon Coolpix 990

Recently I have been reduced to taking photos with my phone. It’s handy to have a camera in your phone, but these days it’s just about all I have.

For years now I’ve had the use of an old beat-up Nikon Coolpix 990 from work. I had it with me when we evacuated, and so was forced to keep it for several months when campus was closed. In the months after Katrina I took it with me everywhere — there were so many strange and amazing sights in the city in those days which I felt almost duty-bound to record.

We bought another camera at work, an Olympus C8080, and so the Nikon became our second camera, which I borrowed extensively. And truth be known I liked it a lot better than the Olympus. I shot some test photos that illustrate why.

But the Nikon has slowly deteriorated. I guess it’s taken a few knocks over ten years of use. Pieces have fallen off. The battery door won’t stay closed. Neither will the door for the media card.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I suppose I should confess that there have actually been two Nikon Coolpix 990s in my life. I accidentally ruined the first one by leaving it out in the rain. I was so ashamed I never told anyone, and purchased a replacement off eBay out of my own pocket. Because I kept this a secret, it seems to me like there was only one camera, when in fact there were two. This reminds me of the multiple Severians embedded in the narrative of The Book of the New Sun, but now I am digressing most egregiously.)

Some time over the past month it’s just ceased to operate entirely. That makes me sad. I’ve taken more photos with that camera than any other in my life, I’m sure. Thousands of photos, probably tens of thousands.

So, today I am shedding a tear for an old dead soldier. What I liked most about the Coolpix 990 was that it took good-looking photos without much fuss. I used it as a point-and-shoot for the most part, since I don’t understand much about concepts like f-stops or ISO settings. But I also liked the form of the Coolpix 990. It doesn’t have that traditional barrel-shape of many cameras. It’s relatively flat, which made it easy to sling over my shoulder while riding around on my bike. The twisting body is also pretty cool, and made it easier to take candid photos where people didn’t even realize that what I was holding was even a camera.

Before the tears dry, I’m already thinking about buying a new camera for my personal use. I’ve realized that, artistic pretensions aside, what I really want is a compact point-and-shoot, something small and easy to use. Of course it should also be capable of taking great pictures. And I’d like to spend less than $500.

So I’m thinking about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX5V.

Offerings to the Frog God

Frog Offering

There’s a house in our neighborhood with a large frog sculpture mounted to the exterior, such that it appears to be climbing up the side of the house. When we pass by my daughter likes to point the frog out, wave, say “ribbit,” etc.

(Imagine my surprise when I learned the house and, presumably, the frog, are owned by friends. Small world.)

A couple days ago, when we got home, Persephone dug out a toy frog and insisted on making a pilgrimage back to the frog house. Intrigued, I walked there with her. I was curious to see what she would do.

When we got there, she simply held the toy frog up to the big frog on the house. It was as if she was introducing them, or perhaps offering the smaller frog as a tribute to the bigger amphibian, an offering or sacrifice to the frog deity.

Yesterday she did it again.

All hail the frog god. Or maybe it’s a goddess? With frogs it’s hard to tell.

Then Came the Dark Days of April

Abril lluvioso (explored #2 April 20/2010) Abril lluvioso by Julián Lozano

This has always been a funny time of year for me. Between spring break and the end of the semester, faculty get more stressed than ever and tend to walk around campus enveloped in clouds of gloom. Because I don’t teach, I’m a bit removed from the pressures that build up at the end of the school year — but because I work with faculty, I absorb plenty of it vicariously. Yet I also know that just around the corner is the year’s biggest mood-swing. Once final grades are turned in, the sense of relaxation is palpable. That may be my favorite time of year. The run-up? Not so much. If I had any sense I’d take a nice long vacation right in the middle of April. Maybe next year.

Speaking of the cycle of the academic year, I picked up a new responsibility last year and I’m doing it again this year, so it appears to be a new part of my annual routine. The University has started giving awards to faculty for service, scholarship, and teaching. My task is to produce a few seconds of video of each winner to be shown when the awards are presented during the commencement ceremony. There’s a very narrow window of opportunity between when the honorees are announced and the production deadline. But that’s fine. I am hustling around campus with my co-worker Jim T. to capture video in classrooms, offices, and laboratories. Jim shoots the video, and I do the editing, but I also tag along to help carry equipment; occasionally I give some direction to the shooting, but Jim generally knows all the angles. It’s actually kind of fun, and it’s good practice for me. I realize I haven’t done any video production since this time last year.

Also I am considering staging a mini-Beltane/Head Shaving/Grilling/Tom Collins/May Day celebration on Saturday. Anyone wanna come over?

Unfestive Ruminations

Jazzfest crowds 10 Photo by SDWolfpup

It’s that time of year again. Jazz Fest. I know it’s here because casual conversation takes a turn. People ask: “Goin’ to the Fest?” And of course I can never give a simple answer when a more complicated one will do.

My objections are three-fold.

First, this is not my music. Don’t get me wrong — there’s a lot of great music on the bill, really topnotch stuff. But Jazz Fest music tends toward the earthy and rootsy and authentic. My taste, if you can call it that, runs in the opposite direction. I tend to like stuff that’s artsy and alienated and weird. If I came up with a list of musical acts I’d actually be excited about seeing, it would consist of names that will never be seen in the Jazz Fest program.

(Whenever I mention this, people naturally ask for a “f’r’instance.” Rather than compile a list of ten or a hundred artists, I’ve concluded that citing one single band might be more efficacious. So, ladies and gentlemen, I offer Déficit Des Années Antérieures for your consideration. They were an avant-garde experimental French band “with few noticeable influences” and so must be heard to be appreciated. Granted they’re thirty years defunct, I think, but the idea’s the important thing.)

Second point. Even if one of my supposedly “favorite artists” was playing in town tomorrow, I don’t know that I’d run out to see them. I just don’t get out to see live music much these days. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I went out to go see some music live. Probably last year’s Fest, come to think of it.

Point the third: But if I was to seek out some live local music, it would not gravitate to a music festival, and certainly not an expensive all-day festival at the Fairgrounds. I don’t find supersized music festivals all that festive. There are plenty of people around here who go to the Fest all day, every day. I’m frankly amazed by the endurance of those people. I don’t know how they do it. It just seems like an awful lot of work to me. I’d rather see live music in a small intimate venue.

Of course, it must be noted that when we have gone to the Fest in the past we have generally enjoyed ourselves. We’re just too cheap to justify buying tickets ourselves. So the perceptive reader will discern the true purpose of this post: whoring for free tix.

Anybody got some?

Creative Degradation

LEON'S "BROTHER HELP THYSELF" BENEFIT photo by spike55151

So I took the first six seconds of “So Emotional” and looped it eleven times, each time at a lower bit rate. I call it “The Degradation of Whitney in Eleven Stages,” and you can listen to it on SoundCloud. (My apologies to Whitney Houston. This is just intended to demonstrate how lowering the bit rate affects sounds quality.) I can’t embed the clip without bringing the whole thing down to a bit rate of 128 kbps, which would kind of defeat the purpose.

Here are some technical notes: The initial sample was extracted from an Apple Lossless MPEG-4 audio file with a bit rate of 787 kbps. The subsequent downsamples were generated with Audacity, then joined together in GarageBand and exported to MPEG-4. Since the export maxed at 320 kbps, the high rate of the original sample is not preserved, and the first two samples should be indistinguishable. The bit rates in sequence are: 787, 320, 250, 200, 180, 128, 80, 40, 24, 16, 8.

The degradation doesn’t register to my ears until the bitrate hits 80. What’s truly bizarre is that at the lowest bit rate I find I actually like the sound better than the original.

And so here’s the full “So Emotional” downsampled to eight kilobits per second. Again, apologies to Whitney. This is merely intended to demonstrate the audio effects of an extremely low bit rate. I think it sounds cool. Your mileage may vary.

So Degraded by Editor B

I realized in retrospect that the extreme effect of this process isn’t solely a result of exporting at a low bit rate. It also has to do with sample rate. The lower bit rates don’t support the 44.1 kHz sample rate of the original, so I had to resample the music. I chose a rate of 22.05 kHz and got the results posted above. But when I did it again and chose the lowest sample rate of 8 kHz, the results weren’t nearly so dramatic. It was definitely low-fidelity, but the song was much more recognizable. That’s right, the lower sample rate produced a higher fidelity result. So clearly there’s some sort of cross-effect between sample and bit rate that I’m not understanding.

To understand the difference between sample and bit rate, I found the following explanation on Helium:

It is easiest to think of sample rate as how often the audio signal is sampled and bit rate as the amount of information recorded for a unit of time.

So perhaps interference patterns can emerge between the two — kind of like audio moiré? I’m just guessing and probably wrong.

Twenty-Six Months

Blurry

Dear Persephone,

You are fully into the “all by self” phase which I guess is pretty famous for kids your age. You want to do everything “all by self” even when you aren’t, strictly speaking, capable. Fortunately you’re not so pig-headed as to persist when it’s clear your reach has exceeded your grasp. Then “all by self” turns into “can’t do it” or “need help dada.”

Usually these are physical tasks, but recently when I was tucking you in one night you insisted you wanted to sing your lullabies “all by self.” I told you to go ahead, and then after an awkward silence you asked me to sing instead. I guess I will retain these duties for a little while longer.

Just for the record, here are your favorite bedtime songs:

  • The Moon Song
  • I Am a Pilgrim
  • MLF Lullaby
  • Hush Little Baby
  • Rockabye Baby
  • Kiss Me Son of God
  • The Frozen Ones

You’ll request all of these by name, and sometimes you’ll sing along with me. “The Moon Song” in particular is the one you want to hear every night, first thing. I actually made that one up just for you. The lyrics are simple:

Moon, moon, up in the sky
I like to watch as you go by

On a couple nights you’ve insisted that you are a mouse. This requires some lyrical changes such as “Rockabye mouse in the treetop” and “Hush little mouse” and so forth. On these nights, “The Moon Song” becomes “The Mouse Song.”

Mouse, mouse up in my house
I like to give you lots of love

However there are a couple of songs which have fallen from favor. I used to sing “Good Night” by the Beatles to you virtually every night, but I guess at some point you got sick of it. Now you can’t stand it, and any attempt to sing it usually brings howls of protest.

Speaking of music, I’m happy to report the phrase “rocking out” has entered your vocabulary. A couple nights ago you were running around naked when an epic metal track from Mercyful Fate’s seminal first album came on, and you beckoned me to dance. (Shortly thereafter you pooped on the floor of my office.) However you don’t always want to rock out when I feel like it. You will often assert “music too loud” and turn it down on your own initiative. Nor is your taste in music limited to rock. For example, you seemed to love Moby’s “Dog,” dancing and clapping frenetically.

In other news, one night during bath time you made “beans and rice” out of water and soap suds in your bucket. I thought that was extraordinarily cute, and indicative that you are growing up New Orleanian.

Also, we had an extended visit from your grandmother, who watched you for an entire week when you were on “spring break.” She bought you a sandbox and managed a feat I had regarded as straight-up impossible: She got you to take your afternoon nap. You nap regularly at daycare, but on weekends you tend to sleep only in your car seat. You have been asking about Susie ever since she left.

Also, we got the results of your two-year lead screening. Your blood lead level was down to 5.3 µg/dL, which is your lowest reading yet, and well below the “level of concern” established by the Centers for Disease Control. We continue to hope this will be nothing but a trivial footnote for you later in life.

The other night you were covered with marinara sauce. We noted that you were dirty but Dada was clean. “That’s ridiculous,” you said. I think maybe this was your first four-syllable word? (Of course your name has four syllables, but you tend to call yourself “Seppi.”) Further evidence of your growing linguistic acumen are sentences such as “I can’t find Teddy Bear” or “Mama has long hair” or “I won’t drop it; I hold paper tight; it’s pretty.”

This last remark is evidence of another new development. You are proud of things you make. Today you brought home an artwork from school, a piece of pink construction paper with stamped images of a seahorse, a starfish and a crab. You were so excited you said you wanted to show it to Mama, and to your doll baby. I was worried you’d drop the paper as you rode in your seat on my bicycle, but true to your word you held on tight. When we got home you showed it to the cat as well.

You have developed a funny expression which my friend Rachel called a “photo smile.” If I ask you to say “cheese” or smile for the camera, you bare your teeth and thrust out your chin, scrunching your face with your eyes shut tight. It’s not actually a very good way to present yourself, but it is cute. Since your birthday I’ve decided to take a more cautious approach to posting your photos online. I publish them on Flickr, mostly under a “friends and family” designation, so only established contacts can view them. This is my imperfect solution to the question of how to respect your privacy since you obviously can’t give anything like informed consent.

Social Graph

Here’s a screenshot of a graph of my social network on Facebook, generated with the Social Graph application.

Facebook Social Graph

This isn’t anything new, but I was interested to see the visualization. The three main clumps are, from left to right, my high school, Indiana (mostly Bloomington) and New Orleans. Some family members can be found in a tiny cluster off to the side. The University where I work is a lobe off to the lower left of the New Orleans cluster.

I’m not sure what the pink circles represent. The one in the upper middle contains three friends from Rochester, New York, but why they get a pink circle, as well as my high school, but not other groups — I don’t know.

Facebook Social Graph: Zoom Out

Here I’ve zoomed all the way out to reveal an outer circle of nodes. These are mostly singletons who aren’t connected to anyone else in my network. Note the mini-cluster at the top edge of the circle. These are three guys from Canada who came down to visit me on a crazy roadtrip in the mid-90s.

Stinging Season

bug of the day Photo by Jenn Forman Orth

Yesterday my daughter and I were sitting on the front steps playing the “game of hiding.” That’s where she grabs on to my back and I pretend I can’t find her. Then she reveals herself, and great hilarity ensues.

Only our game was interrupted when she howled in pain and pointed to her knee. Welts were rising on her tender flesh, but I couldn’t find the culprit anywhere.

A few hours later, I took off my shirt, and there was a tiny buckmoth caterpillar. The season is definitely upon us. This is the girl’s second sting in as many weeks. I signed up to have our tree sprayed by Parkway Partners at the beginning of the month, but they won’t get to us until next week.

Buckmoths thrive on live oak trees, and we have such a tree right in front of our house. They line the street, and I think they’re beautiful. My mother-in-law was of a different opinion. There’s no accounting for aesthetic differences. After the rain of pollen and the advent of the stinging caterpillars and the way their roots break up the sidewalk, I have to admit these trees have a dark side. But in some twisted way that makes them even more appealing.

At least this sting wasn’t followed by a fall like last year.

Obligatory Treme Post

Treme_3rd & Danneel as Urquhart & Annette_1

Expanding on a comment I left back o’ town:

Finally saw it Thursday night. Absolutely blown-ass-away. All my expectations were exceeded. I’m so impressed by the execution of the pilot and the potential of this series.

I think it is going to give The Wire a run for its money. That’s high praise; I loved The Wire.

You know who turned me on to The Wire? Ashley Morris, that’s who. For those who don’t know, the character played by John Goodman in Treme is based (more or less) on the late, great Ashley Morris, one of the most colorful and passionate of our local bloggers, a man I barely knew in truth. But I read him. And it was his writing in praise of The Wire that led me to check it out on DVD. We watched the first three seasons in rapid succession, just after our daughter was born. Eventually we watched them all, and I do think it’s just about the best TV I’ve seen.

I think The Wire and all the other work David Simon and his team have accomplished have set the stage for this. I think we may be seeing an artist reaching his peak. I think this could, just maybe, be the beginning of a masterwork, which is a rare thing in any medium — but especially television.

Having produced roughly a hundred television programs myself, having taught production at the university level, I feel I have some minor inkling of just how difficult a feat that is.

Watching this show Thursday night I feel like a bunch of things are coming full circle. Seeing Ashley dramatized was part of it. Most of all it’s given me pause to reflect on the fact that, in spite of everything, in spite of all the challenges and hardships along the way, I’m glad we came back after the storm. I’m glad we made that decision. Proud, even. This show may just illustrate why I feel that way, to a national audience.

A recurrent anxiety I hear from fans has been the question of how well Treme will relate to a national audience. I’m not worried about that. If the pilot is any indication, the series would seems to strike just the right balance between authenticity and accessibility. I think it will mystify and intrigue and ultimately seduce a national audience.

There are some things it would be cool to see in this season.

  • In December 2005, Eyehategod played at Juan’s Flying Burrito in Mid-City. The building was freshly gutted. They used a generator to power the amps because there was no electricity.
  • Speaking of electricity, when we had our juice restored just before Xmas ’05 it was the only light for blocks in any direction. A magical moment to be sure.
  • The re-opening of the universities (on my birthday) in January ’06 remains the single most hopeful day in the city’s recovery, I think, with only the Super Bowl giving it a run for the money.

I don’t expect to see these things, nor will I be disappointed if they don’t materialize. These are just some random thoughts inspired by the possibility.

(Perhaps a few more words about the first item: I was in Mid-City but I missed the show, to my everlasting chagrin. In fact, I’ve never seen Eyehategod live. As their name might suggest, they are an extreme metal band, and are in fact consider progenitors of a distinctive style known as sludge. It is dark, heavy, brutal stuff. Since music plays such a big role in Treme, wouldn’t it be a trip to see (and hear) something like that, something that runs so contrary to the sound of brass bands and dixieland jazz? It would also allude to the “dark” underground subcultures that seem to thrive here, which add to the general mystique of the city.)

Word’s already come down from on high that HBO has green-lighted a second season. Apparently they are going to try to cover a year of recovery in each season, which would mean the wave of violence that took Dinerral and Helen and the March for Survival would fall in that second season. I wonder if they will tackle those? It would only make sense. But I have no idea how closely they intend to cleave to actual events. I wonder if David Simon and crew have been watching tapes of me speaking at that rally at City Hall. That’s a bizarre thought. And if they did stage that event, does that mean they’d have to cast someone as the mayor? Maybe he could play himself, like Kermit Ruffins.

This is a hell of a lot more than I ever wrote about K-Ville but that’s as it should be. Still, I doubt that I’ll have much more to say as the season rolls on. I’ll be watching but I doubt that I will be commenting. I have too many other topics that preoccupy me.

So, for good local perspective on the series as it unfolds, be sure to check out Back of Town on a regular basis. I know I will.

Second Opinion

Toes my foot in happier days

Here’s a goofy mix of foot-related songs to enjoy whilst I relate the latest.

On Monday I went back to my orthopedist because of the previously noted issues I’ve been having with my lower left extremity. I hate going to see that guy because he’s in a big hospital downtown and I feel very lost in the shuffle. It’s like going to seek medical care in a factory. The doctor is nice enough, but I was left with the feeling that he didn’t really have a clue what was causing the discomfort in the front part of my foot. Just taking a while to heal from the break, he said, but that seemed to be a guess. He said my x-ray looked fine, so it must be the “soft tissues.” Just be patient, and if sandals feel better than shoes (they do) then wear ‘em.

I posted a tweet to this effect: “Orthopedist says my foot is probly just healing slowly – give it some more time and hope for the best.” I was planning on writing an entry here under the title “Prognosis Unknown.” But before I could get around to it, some friends of Facebook commented on the tweet and next thing I know I’m talking on the phone to a retired (and wacky) podiatrist. Obviously he couldn’t examine me over the phone but he didn’t hesitate to say there’s no way it should be taking this long to heal, since I broke my damn toe four months ago. He advised that I should see a podiatrist, and predicted I’d be given a steroid injection.

So yesterday I rode my bike uptown to the offices of Dr. Edward Lang. What a difference — what an amazing difference. Not only did I receive a better quality of care, but the aesthetic experience was much more pleasant, and stuff like that matters to me. But most importantly I felt like Lang knew what he was doing. He was friendly but also explained everything to me like I’m an intelligent person capable of understanding.

In a nutshell: new doctor, new diagnosis, new treatment. If you are interested in the gory details read on.

The discomfort in the front of my foot is caused by a neuroma — or perhaps more properly a perineural fibroma. He said if I looked this up I would see the word tumor, but not to be alarmed by that because it’s not a tumor in the sense of the term with which I’m familiar. Basically it’s a swelling of the nerve, and he said I had the biggest one he’s seen in years. It took him about five seconds to find this, by squeezing my foot a certain way, and I sure felt it. He confirmed it with sonography.

But I’ve got multiple issues, so the fun didn’t stop there.

The problems in my heel? Plantar fasciitis and (related) bone spurs. Funny, anytime I mentioned my heel problems to anyone, they always asked me if I had plantar fasciitis. I had to plead ignorance because the orthopedist never used that term. When I quizzed him about it on Monday he said it was “calcaneal dennea” or something like that but I can’t find any definition for that term and it did not ring a bell with either podiatrist.

As for my ankle, he confirmed the presence of arthritis there, saying it was a “tremendous amount.”

He gave me not one but two steroid injections, one in the forefoot, one in the heel. He also gave a prescription for some Mobic, which I understand is “a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) in prescription form. It is used to relieve the pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.” I’m not sure I’ll actually take this because frankly the pain in my ankle is not so bad, especially compared to the other stuff I’m experiencing. I don’t like taking drugs like that unless I really need them, especially considering the anti-inflammatory side-effects: ulcers, internal bleeding, clots, heart attack, stroke. Though the arthritis in my ankle was undoubtedly exacerbated by the sprain, I’m worried that I’m going to be prone to arthritic joint problems as I get older, so I really need to start doing preventative maintenance.

I’m going back in a couple weeks.

I am so glad I got a second opinion. And to think social media helped steer me in the right direction.

Doppelgänged

reflections (A) reflections (A) by camil tulcan

We had overlapping houseguests last weekend. My mother-in-law was still here, and we were also playing host to a former student of mine.

What? I have former students? That phrase seems strange to me, but I guess it’s accurate. Back in the 98-99 school year I assisted Ron Osgood in teaching a couple of classes, field and post-production if I recall correctly. It was a great experience for me and an honor to teach with Ron. I learned a lot. Hopefully our undergraduate students learned something as well.

Fast forward a decade plus. Here I am in New Orleans, and I get an e-mail from my former student Eric H. He was coming down here for a conference, and could I recommend some points of interest? I never got around to compiling such a list, but he ended up bunking at our house.

Since it was so many years ago, I didn’t have an image of Eric in mind until I laid eyes on him. Imagine my surprise when I discovered he looks alarmingly similar to yours truly. Tall, slender, kinda Nordic — we even had the same glasses more or less. If I had my typical buzz cut the effect would have been complete. As it was he was mistaken for me by all three other residents of our house over the course of the weekend: that’s my wife, my mother-in-law, and my daughter. In fact, my daughter was a little frightened by this. She ran into my office, saw a man who looked like Daddy, cozied up and then realized it was not Daddy after all. Scary!

Eric is frighteningly intelligent, but he had never been to New Orleans before. When I mentioned the river by way of orientation, he asked, “What river is that?” A little thing called the Mississippi, you may have heard of it. That made me laugh.

All in all, it was a real blast to get reacquainted with Eric, even if it was eerily like to talking to myself in the mirror.

Being a little slow on the uptake, I did not realize that Eric was the author behind the marathonpacks blog which I have been reading off-and-on for years.

The Greenway Shuffle

Now might be a good time to register for the Lafitte Corridor hike on May 8.

2009Walk-YellowBldgCrowdphoto by Charles London

Here’s a new song I’ve been singing lately.

Two step forwards, one step back
Doing the greenway shuffle

Last year we took two steps forward. This year we’re taking a step back. I have to keep reminding myself: We are still making progress.

Over the past several years I’ve organized an annual hike of the Lafitte Corridor. It’s been a way of rallying the community in support of the greenway project. (If you’re not familiar, the project aims to transform this vacant space into a new public amenity. You can find more information on the website of Friends of Lafitte Corridor.) It’s been a way of keeping people engaged, keeping their spirits and enthusiasm up, while we grind slowly toward the goal.

This year, the situation is reversed. I’m the one who needs my spirits rallied. I’m the one who needs to see that the community desire for this project is as strong as ever. Because frankly I have been discouraged.

We’ve been slogging away at this project for years now. Last year it seemed we were finally making headway. The city had issued a request for proposals, and selected a team led by Design Workshop to do the work. Contract negotiations were still underway when we had our hike, but a number of people from Design Workshop came and hiked with us, and one of the principals addressed the group at the end of the hike. Spirits were high, and it seemed likely that we might even see a groundbreaking ceremony by the time of the next hike.

Contract negotiations between Design Workshop and the city continued over the summer. Wow, did that a long time. Then, once the details had been hammered out to everyone’s satisfaction, the contract entered a phase of being routed around City Hall being signed by various officials. That seemed to take forever as well. Finally in November the mayor signed the contract and I breathed a sigh of relief.

But I exhaled too soon. Turns out there’s something called a “notice to proceed” that has to be issued before work actually begins. We kept waiting for that, but it never happened.

Then we got word that HUD was raising questions about the policies the city had in place for awarding contracts. See, this work was to be funded through HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program, aka CDBG, so the feds have a say. The city administration revised its policy. But they also decided to preemptively re-bid the three projects funded by CDBG.

To this end, they terminated the contract with Design Workshop.

I looked on in horror throughout this process. It was like watching a train wreck in slow motion. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, because I really wanted to see this project move forward. Perhaps the city did the right thing. Perhaps I don’t know all the details. I wish the city had asked HUD to review the procurement procedures that were followed for this particular project. The Friends of Lafitte Corridor had been monitoring the whole process from afar; we thought the deal with Design Workshop was clean and solid; we were fairly confident that HUD would have given it a clean bill of health. But who knows? That’s all water under the bridge now I suppose.

The city issued a new request for proposals. The deadline was this past Monday. Now the city is evaluating proposals, and unfortunately we don’t have much confidence in the process this time around. For one thing, the administration seems to want to get a contract done before their term is up, which is in three weeks — despite the fact that it took them six months to negotiate last time. And there are other cause for concern. That’s why I sent off a letter to the Office of the Inspector General yesterday.

(Please note: Though I signed my name to it, I did not actually pour out the blood, sweat and tears that went into writing that letter. It’s an exhaustively researched document; I couldn’t have done it if I tried. It was a collaborative effort, with a couple key members of the FOLC Board doing the heavy lifting.)

I’m really discouraged that it’s come to this.

And that’s why it’s important to me to see a good showing at this year’s hike. That’s why I need your help. Last year we had 200 people show up. This year we’ll be hiking just days after a new administration has taken office. We need to show the new mayor that the community still desires this project.

But I’m just about running out of steam, folks. My enthusiasm is at a low ebb. I need your help to promote this event.

Sure, we can and should use social media to push this thing forward, but that’s somewhat limiting. Digital campaigns tend to reproduce the same social divides that keep us apart us in real life. We need to reach beyond the internet and let people who aren’t wired into our social networks know about this thing. We need to let them know that we’re only just getting started — that nothing has been decided yet — that there is still time to get involved “on the ground floor” so to speak and have a voice in how this thing is designed.

We are partnering with Massey’s Professional Outfitters again this year. Rouse’s will be providing lunch. Through our friends at the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy we’ve connected with Merrell and they’ve signed on as a sponsor too. Their creative department is working on a flyer which I hope may be available soon.

There will be food, and music, and in general it should be a fun event. So please register and join us May 8, and help me spread the word.

Books vs. TV

I am pretty excited about HBO’s new series, Tremé. I still haven’t actually seen it yet, but I feel like I have, almost.

It premiered Friday night, and I had a couple invites to see it in some venues that would have been fun. (Like the Charbonnet Funeral Home in Tremé. That would have been a trip.) But the time-slot was late, and there’s no way I was going to keep my girl up past her bedtime. So that meant either Xy or I could see it while the other person stayed home and played the responsible adult.

I got stuck being the responsible one.

Since we don’t subscribe to cable television, I couldn’t watch the show, but I did “tune in” to Twitter where I watched a veritable deluge of commentary pouring forth — thousands of tweets, far too many to read in real time. I’d say comments were 90% positive, but it is hardly a scientific sample.

In the other 10%, one remark in particular caught my eye, from local author and luminary Poppy Z. Brite:

Read a Book

As noted, I don’t quite share her perspective — but I respect it. And in fact I think it provides the perfect springboard for a workshop I’m doing next week on Goodreads.

Different media have different affordances. Despite the convergence exemplified by technologies like the World Wide Web, there are still some relevant distinctions to be made. You can’t beat television for live coverage of a sporting event, for example; I’d argue that’s the ultimate application of that medium. You just can’t watch the game on a book.

As for dramatic narrative? That’s one reason Tremé is interesting to me, as it seems to be a best-case scenario. It’s not an adaptation of a book but a dramatic narrative straight-up written for television, involving lots of very talented people who have a great track record. If it’s anywhere near as good as The Wire I’m sure I’ll love it.

However, I still think theater and cinema and books are better venues for dramatic narrative. Television can aspire to the same level of quality as the best of those, but can it do anything unique? Is there anything a TV series can do that a film or a book can’t do? I don’t think so — beyond perhaps a heightened sense of social immediacy.

And that’s where Goodreads comes in. It adds that dimension of social immediacy to the reading of books. Or you can just use it to keep track of what you’ve read and what you want to read. I think it’s fairly handy, and of course, I’m on there so feel free to add me as a friend.

I’m curious to know what others think about dramatic narrative on the small screen. Is there anything a TV series can do that a film or a book can’t do better?

A Watery Grave

Sub Pub

Sometime way back in 1992 a co-worker of mine at DialAmerica, a freaky long-haired nipple-ringed Mormon dude named Rob, told me that he and another guy were trying to get band together. Next thing I knew I was in his basement with a mic in my hand. Rob was a drummer; he had a double-bass setup and wasn’t afraid to use it. And that’s how I met Jeff, a shaggy genius guitarist with some seriously heavy riffs. His daughter Alex was there running around the basement too, something like four years old and cute as a button.

I guess they liked what I was laying down because they asked me to come back fro more. Soon I was Alex’s newest “boyfriend.” Jeff and Rob and I started working up some songs. We advertised for a bassist: Jeff made a freaky, colorful, psychedelic sign and posted it in the window of his apartment in the Allen Building overlooking Kirkwood, above the Uptown Café. That’s how we met up with Marc, a kid fresh out of high school who had just arrived in Bloomington to study at the Big University, an insanely talented devotee of the Stuart Hamm school.

Before I knew it we were playing the clubs around Bloomington. (Marc was underage for most of the places we played, but apparently that’s legal if you’re in a band.) I think the first gig we played might have been a short set at ER Night at Second Story. I took the mic off the stand, jumped off the stage and paced back and forth on the dance floor ranting like a madman for all three songs.

We had a pretty aggressive sound. As for my vocals, I was mostly rapping. This may seem like a strange thing for a white boy in small town in the Midwest in the early 90s. And indeed it was a strange thing. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I did not listen to a great deal of hip-hop, but what I’d heard I liked — De La Soul and Eazy-E, mainly. But I’d been rapping since the late 80s, mostly for my own amusement and the chagrin of my friends. I don’t know where I picked that up or what I thought I was doing. I can only say that rapping seemed so fresh and cool. Rap was virtually unheard on stages around Bloomington at the time, especially in combination with rock music. I had not heard Rage Against the Machine at the time; when I finally did a few years later, I was overawed. But by that time, our band was breaking up.

We called ourselves The Submersibles. The band name was probably Jeff’s idea, he had a peculiar sense of humor. As it turned out Jeff and I were the core of the band, because Rob soon dropped out. He cited religious differences; he was a sincere Latter-Day Saint and claimed to be offended by my lyrics, but I think it was really because he got a real job. (He also tried to save me with a team of other Mormons but that’s another story.) We got another drummer, a guy named Hans who played with a jazzier feel. But then Marc transferred to another school and had to say goodbye. We found a great but very different bassist in Mike. (He was also a bit more responsible and organized than the rest of us, which was hugely helpful.) I forget what happened to Hans, but eventually he departed and Bevan took his place. The lineup changes were challenging but at every turn we were fortunate to find such immensely talented people to play with that it didn’t slow us down as much as one might think.

We played mostly in Bloomington (here’s some video Sean taped at Second Story) but did a few gigs around the state. The most memorable of these, to me, was when we played to a huge audience at a warehouse in Evansville. I think it was an all-ages show. The kids there seemed incredibly turned on by our music, in fact they seemed almost rabid. I was a little freaked out by some of them, like the guy with a swastika carved in the side of his head. “I’m not a Nazi but I do believe in racial heritage,” he said after the show, or something like that. He loved my performance. That gave me the creeps.

Not everyone was a fan. Mostly I heard from friends and fans who loved us, but of course that’s the nature of showbiz. I’m sure there were plenty of people who hated us. When we got a track on Live from Bloomington 1993, we garnered the following review from Bill Zink:

"a confusion within the band itself"

You can read the complete article. It’s a hoot. I thought maybe I could get a song out of there somehow — “The Defunkifier” — but it never came to pass.

I’m connected with Bill on Facebook these days, and he reminded me that we managed to quote him on a flyer advertising a Submersibles show. The choice quote comes from later in the article — “Sorry, Submersibles. I take back everything I said. You guys rock.” Apparently we excerpted only the last three words, and put his name on it. I think that’s hilarious, and I wish I had a copy. All I could find in my files was the following collage:

Zink Flyer

We mostly did our own flyers, manged ourselves, booked our own shows. We recorded a number of times, but despite embracing a general DIY ethic, we never released any of these recordings. Jeff was something of a perfectionist, and I think he felt we could do better. After the band broke up, I put together a tape of some of our tracks for a couple friends, and he was not entirely happy about that.

I was never actually clear on why we broke up. It seemed to be a decision between Mike and Jeff. They just called me and let me know. I wasn’t too upset because I was increasingly preoccupied with ROX which had become a full time job for me at that point. I was also a very ambivalent performer. I liked making music, but performing live could sometimes be a drag. It was physically demanding, and my voice often was not up to performing an entire set. Also, being more of an introvert, I felt extremely awkward up on stage. And of course, since I didn’t have any equipment of my own, I always felt obliged to help our various drummers carry their stuff — and man, did they have a lot of gear. It’s a lot of work to move and set up and tear down and remove a full-size drum kit.

I lost touch with Jeff over the years. We connected once maybe eight years ago. He still was reluctant to share our music. Then I lost track of him again. When Musical Family Tree launched, I really wanted to publish those old Submersibles recordings, but I remembered Jeff’s reticence. I had too much respect for Jeff to do it without his blessing.

All that changed a month or two ago when Jeff appeared on Facebook. I broached the topic once again, and this time he was more receptive. We e-mailed back and forth a hundred times, sorting through our three studio sessions and one live performance recorded straight from the sound board, trying to determine which tracks were worthy of sharing with the world, and which should be consigned to the dark musty cellars of oblivion, never to see the light of day.

And so it is that The Submersibles have finally released a record, a compilation of a couple dozen tracks, most of which have never been available to the public before. (“Splinter” was on Live from Bloomington 1993, remember?) We’re calling it Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave. You can listen to the album (downloads enabled) via our band listing at Musical Family Tree. Important note to Mom and Dad: Do not, repeat do not listen! I love y’all, but you would not enjoy this music and would probably find it offensive on every level.

Totally Submerged: A Watery Grave

I apologize to the world at large for the muffed vocals on some of the live tracks. For the stupidity of the lyrics I must take full blame. Listening to this music takes me back to another time and has engendered many thoughts about how I’ve changed and grown over the years. Most of all I feel immensely fortunate to have collaborated with such talented and committed musicians.

Where are they now? Jeff is in Florida transforming himself into a manatee. Alex is in the Navy. Marc is playing in Mindwarp Chamber. Bevan is in The Very Foundation. I’ve totally lost track of Hans and Rob. Mike is still in Bloomington doing great things in the theater scene which appears to be thriving. Thanks, guys, I wish you all well and hope you enjoy listening to this music as much as I have.

QotD

The ubiquity of Facebook plus the end of Net Neutrality plus the conversion of the open internet into increasingly walled off proprietary information delivery systems is turning the public sphere into a much less free place than it ever has been and people seem to LOVE IT.

jeffrey on nolablist (walled off proprietary information delivery system)

Easter Surprise

Guess what I was doing 33 years ago today?

Well, actually I don’t know. But I know what my mother was doing. She was posting a letter.

Envelope

I know this because the letter was recently unearthed by some relatives, and Mom just sent it to me. It’s an Easter card to my Grandpa Sid.

Easter Card

And here’s the enclosed photo of yours truly.

Fission

Sometime after my garbage collector phase and my fireman phase, my childhood ambition was to be a nuclear physicist. That did not come to pass. However, I did make a kick-ass science fair display, with a little help from my parents. Won me a blue ribbon!

I was ten years old. That was a third of a century ago.

PS: I said I didn’t know what I was doing on April 6 of 1977, but I just checked my journal and found this entry:

Bought Digital Watch: time: 10:36 AM
L.S.Ayres – had breakest with mister Bunny

And as a bonus here’s my entry for April 10, 1977:

Easter Sunday
Found 61¢ for Easter

Phasing Out Friends

Phasing Out Friends

I remember back in 2004 I had a revelation on how Netflix could enhance its service by adding social features. I thought it was a such a good idea I contemplated writing to them to make the suggestion. I never actually contacted them, but I was pleased as punch when they actually did roll out a “Friends” feature later that year. As I mentioned some time later:

What I like about the system is that you can see how your friends rated different movies.

After returning a DVD to Netflix, I get a message prompting me to rate and review the movie, and I usually take note of how my friends rated it. It’s a little piece of information I enjoy seeing. (Even more so, I like the idea of leaving notes about movies that friends can see, but in my opinion Netflix never quite got this right.) But recently I noticed this little piece of information has gone missing. Upon further investigation, I’ve learned that Netflix is phasing out the Friends feature.

According to Wikipedia:

In March 2010, as part of a redesign of its movie-details pages, the Friends feature began to be phased out. Users could no longer see their friends’ ratings on movie pages, and what remained of the friends section was moved to a small link at the bottom of each page. The initial announcement about the redesign on Netflix’s official blog made no reference to any changes to the Friends feature. Hundreds of angry users posted negative comments, and the feedback prompted Netflix’s Vice President of Product Management, Todd Yellin, to post a follow-up statement. While apologizing for poor communication about the changes, Yellin stated that the Friends feature would continue to be phased out, citing figures that only 2 percent of members used the feature and the company’s limited resources to maintain the service. Online efforts by some to save the feature continued, including the launch of a Facebook group. Netflix users have also began using the movie-reviews section of the website to post comments protesting the changes.

(This last is being discussed on Movie Fans: A Netflix Community.)

Netflix has approximately ten million active subscribers. If only 2% of those customers use the Friends feature, then that’s still approximately 200,000 people, which seems substantial. As the folks who’ve started the Facebook protest group have noted, that 2% may tend to represent the most dedicated, passionate and enthusiastic portion of the customer base.

I see this as an interesting philosophical question. Is it practical to maintain a social feature if it is used by a minority of customers? How big — and how vocal — does that minority have to be to make catering to them worthwhile, from a business sense?

But I think it’s an even more interesting practical question. Social media is pretty hot right now. I believe this Friends feature adds significant value to the Netflix experience. If the numbers are truly disappointing, I’d think Netflix would do well to improve its implementation rather than junk it. It seems counter-intuitive to phase out a social feature of a popular website in 2010.

I also see some parallels between this issue and the plight of The Missing 1200, Saints season ticket holders who have been “disenfranchised” by remodeling in the Superdome.

It will be interesting to see if either group prevails against the Corpocracy. They sure keep us busy fighting for crumbs, don’t they? Meanwhile our nation continues to unravel.

Oh, and if you use Netflix, friend me!