Re-Upping Katrina

Frame from ROX 93

Moving video around the web has gotten a lot easier over the past decade. Studious types may remember that YouTube launched the same year Katrina hit: 2005. In remembrance of the ten year anniversary of these twin catastrophes, I’ve re-upped the three episodes of the ROX “Katrina trilogy” in full quality. There’s really no reason to squint at postage-stamp vids in this day and age.

The three episodes are ROX #93, ROX #94, and ROX #95. Watch ’em all in full resolution thanks to the hosting services of Vimeo. (Sorry, YouTube.) For your viewing convenience, here are direct links to the respective media pages: After the Levees FailedHangover Cures, and Fifteen Months of Katrina.

Personally I haven’t watched any of the documentaries that deal with the flooding of New Orleans. I know there’s some good stuff out there. Recently I got to wondering if there were any videos I could show my daughter, to convey a sense of this major event that took place before she was born. Then it dawned on me: I’ll show her these episodes, at least episode 93, and probably 95 too. They may not be the best documentaries on the subject, but they have the advantage of featuring people she actually knows. That should bring the subject matter to life.

She’s never seen an episode of ROX, so this will be a rite of passage.


The traditional gift is china, or diamonds, but we opted for foam.

New Mattress

Let me back up.

Twenty years ago, my mom and dad bought a mattress for Xy and me, a wedding present.

This year, as an anniversary gift to each other, we got ourselves a new mattress. That’s right, we slept on the same mattress for twenty years. It served us well in its day, but that day is past, long past. There was a deep trough where my body used to lie, and we’d flipped and rotated all we could.

It was time for something new. So we got a Sleep Innovations 12-Inch SureTemp Memory Foam Mattress.

It’s awesome, and it was affordable. Many thanks to Brother O’Mara for the recommendation, and for letting us come over to his house and roll around on his bed.

Interestingly enough, this mattress comes with a twenty year warranty. So maybe this will last us until our 40th anniversary.

We promised each other that this mutual gift would fulfill our gifting obligations with regard to our anniversary, but I couldn’t resist one little surprise. I knew that Xy would check her laptop first thing in the morning. I left her a note that said “please check your email.” In her inbox she found a message that said “please watch this video.”

And then she saw this.

NSFW, probably. No one ever saw this video before. It was just sitting on a tape in a shoebox in the closet. Xy had certainly forgotten all about it. But I knew it was there, and I knew this would be the perfect time to edit it up.

I’d had some vague thought that a ten-year follow-up would interesting, but I seem to have lost interest in cocktails.

Happy (Belated) Lammas

We had a wonderful Lammas. It has emerged as probably my favorite holiday, which is kind of funny considering I never heard of it until two years ago.

Lammas Embers

It’s taken a few weeks but I finally got some photos up. And as an unexpected bonus, we even have a short movie, which contains the very first video ever shot by Persephone.

It’s just a series of raw clips but it captures the spirit of our holiday. On Lammas Eve, we had a small bonfire to which we committed the Brigid’s Crosses we made at Candlemas. Normally I wouldn’t approve of burning crosses in the front lawn, but I don’t think the neighbors were too alarmed.

I took the day itself off work. We baked bread figures, as shown in the video. It was last Lammas that I started baking bread, which has become a weekly habit and devotional ritual for over a year now. (I’ve told my boss she can’t say I’m “on a kick” anymore.) The bread figures themselves were far from beautiful, and they were hard and tough, kind of like a bagel. But they tasted pretty good, chock full of jumbo raisins and dates.

We also made dollies.

Tropical Dollies

Like with the Brigid’s Crosses, we used the tropical ferns growing in our back yard for the raw material. It’s always more interesting to use locally grown stuff. The dollies are now hanging around the kitchen. In half a year’s time they will be dry and ready for burning next Candlemas. So the wheel turns.

Speaking of fire, we also learned a valuable lesson: Do not put fire pit on lawn, even for a little fire that doesn’t burn very long. We now have a nice dead patch right in the middle.



I was headed to Bloomington anyhow. I’d been planning an extended Indiana vacation to visit family this summer. I like having an 800-mile buffer zone, but even I have guilt feelings which must be assuaged at least once a year. Aside from family, the first person I planned to look up in Bloomington was my friend and collaborator Lee. He’d been working for years on a multi-volume DVD set of the first season of ROX. He was very close to getting this monstrous effort wrapped up, and I wanted to give him every bit of encouragement and support I could muster. And maybe, just maybe, I wanted to give him that little nudge that’s so often needed to wrap up a long-term endeavor. I know the value of deadlines. Not that Lee needs nudged.

And so then on March 8, I sent Lee an innocuous little e-mail message.
Continue reading Backstory

Blasphemers and Apostates

March 14, 2012: International Day of Action to Defend Blasphemers and Apostates.

I suppose I am both an apostate and a blasphemer, at least by by some definitions. I’m fortunate to live in a country where religious freedom, though constantly contested, is guaranteed by the constitution.

But things are very different in some other nations.

On the YouTube page for this video, you’ll find a great list of resources for more information.

Please support this cause.


My week as a bachelor is drawing to a close. When we did this last year it was pretty tame. I saw some movies, which was exciting enough, and a notable highlight was a trip to the doctor to get some meds.

This year things have been a little different. Still not frequenting the strip clubs — that’s not my style. But I’ve been staying up a little later, drinking a little more, bathing a little less, and generally letting it all hang out.

The week started off with a bang, when the Krewe of Palmyra. Did I mention I was propositioned by a somewhat intoxicated and nearly-naked second liner? It was a joke, I’m sure, but my ego will take what it gets.

I put in almost a full week’s worth of work, but I did take one sick day. My right ear had that “unpopped” feeling which was making me feel off-balance and generally disorientated. I went to see my ENT about it and got some meds: an oral steroid, dexamethasone, to complement the nasal spray steroid I started on this time last year. That gave me some extra time to sit in my underwear here at home editing ROX #96. I’d completed a rough cut by midweek.

I was also kept busy with community meetings: one planning for Rising Tide VI and two related to the Lafitte Corridor. One evening I got together with a Green Party person from Philly who was in town for a conference. We didn’t know each other, but she found the old webpage for the GNOGP and got in touch. We had a good dinner at Mandina’s and some great conversation.

Yesterday morning I rode uptown for my monthly book club, where we discussed Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg. (I found the book disturbing, unpleasant, and absolutely exquisite.) Afterwards I was able to enjoy a leisurely lunch with the group at that Ethiopian place on Magazine Street.

Summer is finally in full effect. I love riding around New Orleans on a hazy, muggy summer day.

But the perfect bookend for this week came on Saturday afternoon in a one-two punch. The first punch was the 610 Stompers Ball Crawl. I didn’t sign up for the fun, but they stopped pretty much right in front of our house for an extended shenanigan which included a Mustache Contest. It was reminiscent of the Krewe of Palmyra, except on steroids. It seemed to be about ten times as big.

And of course, these guys have the moves.

The sheer nutty audacity of these guys is amazing. Of course the 80s workout getups are funny, but it’s truly astonishing to see them moving in unison.

Xy will be jealous. She loooves the 610 Stompers. At least I’ve got some video for her to get a vicarious thrill.

The second punch? Chef Menteur. I threw down some jack (a paltry smidgen to be honest) for their new recording project on Kickstarter (and encourage others to do the same) and that got me an invite to a party/show on a Mid-City warehouse rooftop. Had some of the best pulled pork since I was in the Carolinas, enjoyed some Pilsner Urquell on tap, renewed some old acquaintances and made some new friends, and generally had a blast.

The music was even awesomer than anticipated. Certainly they rocked harder than I expected. Sort of artsy mostly instrumental spacerock.

Xy would have liked that scene too. It reminded me a lot of Bloomington.

All in all it’s been a fun week, but also a full week and a productive one. I’ve hardly had time to miss my girls, but miss them I do, and I’m looking forward to their return which should be sometime today.

Now if you’ll excuse me I really should mow the lawn before Xy gets back.

Update: OK, that took about twelve minutes. I usually leave the yardwork to Xy so this was my first time handling the new push-mower we bought a couple months ago. This was easy, dare I even say fun?

May Madness

This used to be a mellow time of year for me. Mostly I work with faculty, and faculty tend to get very busy toward the end of the academic year. That means they have less time to work with me. But since 2009 that’s changed. There are two new factors that have made this a crazy time. We’ve started doing a week-long seminar that begins as soon as school ends. And then there are the honoree videos.

(The hike would be a third factor but we did it earlier than ever this year.)

The video project stems from when our new Vice-President of Academic Affairs instituted an teaching award. Each year, awards are given in three categories to junior and senior faculty, for a total of six awards. I was taken by surprise when I was asked to produce a video of each winner, to be shown at commencement. But when your boss’s boss’s boss asks you to do something, it’s generally a good idea to make him happy. So I’ve done my best at this task for three years now, though it’s just about the only video production I do at this job anymore.

This was an odd assignment, because the videos are extremely short — just 25 seconds each — and they have no audio. It’s just a little something to throw up on the screen while they announce each award.

I got my co-worker Jim, in Media Services, to help out. He did all the shooting. I set up the shoots, provided some direction, carried the tripod, and did all the editing.

We had to hustle to get them done because there’s a very narrow window of opportunity between when the winners are initially revealed and the commencement ceremony. It’s a lot of work and not much glory, but it’s mostly pleasant, and the short deadline means there’s a limit to the madness.

I just got the sixth video done yesterday, and then in the afternoon, I got a call: The script for this portion of commencement has been changed, shortened, and it no longer makes sense to show the videos. Instead, they decided to go with stills, which I exported from the videos.

No skin off my nose. Still, I’m a little bummed no one will see the results of our labor, so here with I present six short silent videos. I think they’re kind of cool, and in some small way they capture something of why I love working here.

You’ll note I didn’t shoot the video for that last one. We got that from Michael’s private archive. The University did not fly Jim and me out to the Middle East.

If they decide to stick with the still image format next year, I imagine they might ask the University photographer to take pictures of the honorees. If so, this may be the last time I’m involved. Which is fine with me. Our work in faculty development is inherently non-evaluative. We’ve worked for years to create a space on campus where faculty can explore issues around teaching without feeling judged. Being associated with these awards in any way has been slightly awkward. Perhaps this means next May will be less crazy for me.


I’ve gotta give some props to Eric Spears for continuing to excavate such gems from his personal video collection. Here’s Christy Paxson Behind the Scenes at the Making of the Latest John “Cougar” Mellencamp Video.

Eric sez: “Between episodes of her access TV series, The Christy Paxson Show, Christy made several video shorts, and this is one of them. I sent a copy to MTV, but they never responded.”

This particular video cracks me up so much I can only watch about three minutes at a time before I’m racked with convulsive hysterical sobbing.

The Foolishness of Man

I’m not quite in my right mind today, thanks to some cold medicine I took this morning. So this might be the perfect time to revisit The Good News Bible Hour #14.

The always-amazing Eric Spears (nee White) just excavated this video from his personal collection a few days ago, digitized it and posted it online. I believe this was produced in 1993, and I probably haven’t seen it for at least fifteen years.

Got a few minutes? Let’s watch this together.

I suppose it pretty much speaks for itself, but I can’t resist adding a few editorial comments.

The video consists entirely of an improvised performance by yours truly. However, Eric ran the camera and edited the program; he can also be heard lending a voice off-camera. Xy makes a brief appearance here in her “Mary Perkins” character.

Perceptive viewers will note that I borrow a few lines from Flip Wilson via Uptown Saturday Night.

The program aired on CATS (nee BCAT) and supposedly has garnered more complaints than any other video. I suspect that’s because people might think it’s a real televangelist sermon at first, though after watching for a few seconds it’s rapidly apparent that this is satire. That might make a viewer angry enough to call the station.

Of course, it’s also possible that some viewers simply couldn’t view this satire as anything other than an attack on Christianity itself. I can’t speculate on my frame of mind 18 years ago, but as I view this now I see it as a mockery of fundamentalism, which of course is a tendency that can emerge in any religion. I don’t see it as a mockery of Christianity or even religion in general.

Your mileage may vary.

By the way, you should definitely check out Eric’s Daisybrain blog.

In Praise of Audio

I’ve produced quite a bit of video in my day — well over a hundred programs, though probably less than a hundred hours all told. I don’t do much video production these days, but I’m called upon routinely to advise people who want to make a video, or think they do.

My most frequent advice: don’t.

That’s because, most of the time, what people really want is audio. In most of the cases I encounter, the subject in question is a single speaker, or perhaps a panel discussion. What is the crucial component there: a static view of the speaker’s head, or the words that are being said? If you said the latter, congratulations, you’re right.

We can prove this with a simple thought experiment. Imagine you’re watching a video of someone making a speech about a topic that is simply fascinating to you. Imagine that it’s poorly shot. It’s dim, and the image is grainy, and the camera is shaking all over the place in a way that induces nausea. But by some miracle the audio track is pristine — crystal clear — you can hear every word in the highest fidelity.

That’s a good video. Even though it’s bad. Back in the days of analog TV broadcasts, people would squint through fuzzy reception as long as they could hear what was going on.

Now, by contrast, imagine the reverse. The image is crystal clear, the lighting is beautiful, you can see every twinkle in the speaker’s eye in high definition. But the sound is off. The mic wasn’t plugged in, or something. It’s muffled, barely audible.

That’s a bad video. Do you get my point?

In short, for many programs, the audio is the most important component. Obviously there are exceptions, programs where the audio is virtually irrelevant. Sports come to mind. But for the vast majority of programming, the audio is more important than the video.

People think they want video because it’s got a certain techno-luster. Video is, in the common parlance, sexy. Good video can indeed convey crucial information with great economy and clarity. But by the same token, producing good video is hard work. Even producing a bad video is hard work. Trust my years of experience when I say that for most people, most of the time, it ain’t worth it.

Even if you’re willing to do some work, it may be counter-productive. Video is such a headache, and such a distraction, that all the effort gets sucked into the video aspect, and the audio is totally neglected.

Also, remember the following: No one really wants to watch your video anyway. Life’s too short. But they might just put your audio recording on their iPod and give it a listen during their morning jog.

So I advise people to focus on what’s really important, and aim for a decent audio recording instead.

The advantages of focusing on audio are manifold. Audio tools are cheaper than video. Working with audio is easier, both in production and post-production. Moving audio around is easier. You can buy a Zoom H2 Handy Recorder for about $140, and you will have a recording device that is easy to use and produces really good recordings in the form of digital files which you can transfer to your computer via USB.

Perhaps most important of all, audio is doable.

So: forget the video, and focus on the audio; you might actually get a quality product.

Two Videos

Here are two cool videos that have bounced into my life over the last 24 hours.

Hola, B!

This comes from someone I’ve never met, a guy in Philadelphia. Sometimes with all this “cultural production” I do — not sure what else to call it — I feel like I’m whispering down a well. Why do I bother? Feedback like this reminds me.

Drypoint Printmaking

Drypoint Printmaking from XULAneXUS on Vimeo.

This is a basic introduction to drypoint printmaking. I shot this video, but all the rest — script, voiceover, editing — was done by Nile Lang who is also the star. I did a little advising but Nile did the work, and I believe it’s the first video he’s ever edited. Well done, Nile. I’m happy with the result and glad to have been a part of it. This is a project for XULAneXUS.

I should stop here but because I’m a firm believer in the “Rule of Three” I’ll throw in one more, which doesn’t have any connection to the above or to me, except I find it amusing.

Got Satanists?

Dead Time

Over the last few weeks I’ve been fiddling with constructing my family tree on (Thanks to my old high school friend Georgie for getting me hooked.) I managed to trace one line back as far as Torvild Ljøstad, my great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great great grandfather (that’s 17 greats) who was born in 1370 in the Norwegian county of Aust-Agder, possibly at the site of present-day Vegårshei.

I take that with a grain of salt. The further back you go, obviously, the more chances for error. I haven’t double-checked every link in that lineage. Still it’s interesting to think about.

At the same time I was playing with that, I seemed to find myself making more trips to the local graveyards, which led me to contemplate the untimely demise of a young woman named Virginia. I even started actively searching for certain graves. And generally I have just been enjoying the cemeteries.


We also discovered the shrine to Santa Muerte — Saint Death.

Sheer coincidence? Perhaps. But this is, after all, the time of year associated with such matters. The Day of the Dead, All Souls Day, All Saints Day, Hallowe’en, Samhain — many names, many cultures, many traditions, but sharing a common theme of remembrance and reverence for ancestors, those who have come before, those who are no longer with us.

Fittingly, Persephone had the idea that she wanted to be a ghost princess. That led to a costume idea for the whole family.

Ghost Royalty

We attended a Samhain ritual. It was focused on remembering ancestors, and it was quite beautiful — or at least I think it was. I was distracted by a certain toddler who was getting antsy. The “Samhain for Kids” celebration was fun, even though our girl was the only child there, but by the time the full grownup ritual was underway, well, it was just too much, too long, for a two-year old, and we were not familiar enough with the surroundings or the proceedings to really cope effectively as parents. I hope our daughter’s behavior was not too distracting to the other celebrants. It became more of a “learning experience” than a spiritual one for me. I wish I could have been more fully present, but in this case I guess you could say my descendant trumped my antecedents.

Nevertheless I got a good snippet of video from before the ritual began.

Here’s the moment I want to hold in my memory of that night: dancing barefoot on the grass with my wife and daughter dressed in ghostly white robes while a dead geisha played the drums by a bonfire. That was magical.

We cut out early and got back home in time to receive several troupes of trick or treaters. I was surprised by the number of kids making the rounds (under adult supervision) despite the big Saints game underway at the time. But the all the kids were home by the time the second half began, and that was a much more exciting half as it developed.

And so yesterday morning, on the Day of the Dead, Persephone and I visited the shrine of Sante Muerte.


When I posted about the shrine to the Mid-City discussion group, a neighbor reacted as follows:

I’m don’t really want to judge any religious beliefs but just so people know, the SANTA MUERTE (Holy Death) is considered almost devil worship by most of Mexico. It is used by most criminals in the narco trafficking, kidnapping, & underground Mexican world to legitimize their activities. It is why the country of Mexico has not recognized it as a legitimate faith. Like all religions or political idealogies, extremists can twist anything to legitimize their activities. Just thought people would want a little perspective. For Americans who don’t know better, in Mexico, it would be similiar to glorifying Islamic terrorists & their warped string of Islam…. I travel to Mexico a lot & enjoy studying the history & culture of the country. But I admit, the statues & shrines are pretty weird & cool.

I’m not sure what to think of that reaction. I do know that I misquoted the sign when I wrote about it the first time. It actually says, “Welcome! To the Shrine of La Sante Muerte and the Dead.” I had forgotten that last part, “and the Dead,” but it’s crucial. Clearly, whoever erected the shrine is thinking about the same thing as the Wiccans who devised the Samhain ritual we attended and the Catholics we saw at the cemetery whitewashing the family tomb.

We left three satsumas.

I wonder what Torvild Ljøstad would have made of it.

Post Dance

Perhaps I was inspired by all the art we saw yesterday, because when I got home I made a video by pairing a clip I shot Thursday night with a serendipitous musical track.

I’ve embedded the video below, but I had to make it smaller to fit my rather narrow template. You’d do better to watch on Youtube, and crank up the resolution.


I can’t take the blame for this one. That goes to Michael Homan. But if you watch closely you’ll see me a few times throughout this incredibly weird video.

Xy’s in there too. Also, Persephone makes her first appearance in a speaking role. I always thought that would be in ROX. Guess I’ve been slacking off.

I’m actually very impressed with the final product. Michael enlisted his whole family and a bunch of friends as well. It’s great to know such creative people. Most impressive: the costume which was designed by Michael’s daughter Kalypso. I wonder who the fool in the monster suit is?

Anyway, you absolutely have to watch this video.

Dear Coby

One of the key tensions in my relationship with Xy has to do with television. To put it bluntly, she’s for it and I’m against it. I long ago gave up the battle to keep television out of our home, but at least we don’t pay for cable or satellite. We get our TV off the air for free. We switched to digital when our old TV got flooded, and we’ve been enjoying high-definition broadcasts ever since.

I use the term “enjoying” advisedly. I’m just enough of a video geek to think the whole technical aspect of getting high definition signals off the air is cool. I can watch a crappy TV show and still marvel at the gorgeousity of the image.

I was mildly horrified when Xy got a portable TV for our kitchen, but that’s another battle I’ve given up on. Her little $16 set will be made obsolete by the impending digital transition. So as a token of my undying love for her and my boundless magnanimity, I decided to get her a portable digital TV for Xmas. Who else can condescend so nicely?

Only problem, as anyone who’s shopped for such a product knows: It’s slim pickings. Portable digital TVs? I could only find three on the market, and they all cost a lot more than $16.

Ultimately I sprang for the Coby TF-TV791 7″. It arrived a couple weeks ago, and since we don’t believe in delayed gratification, it’s been deployed on our kitchen counter ever since.

It works pretty well. The reception is a little funny, as we can get some stations better than with our main TV downstairs, but others are worse. Xy’s just impressed that it’s in color.

There is one major glaring problem.

I’m going to need an illustration to make this clear. Bear with me.

Coby Comparison

A tip of the hat to the talented Jon Rawlinson for sharing this high definition video frame under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

The top image shows a 16:9 high-definition video frame in its proper aspect ratio. This is how HD video should look on a widescreen TV.

The middle image shows how HD video looks on our Coby in 16:9 mode. Note the black bars on top and bottom. As a rule you shouldn’t see bars on top and bottom on a widescreen TV. Note also that the video image is scrunched down, vertically compressed.

The bottom image shows how HD video looks on our Coby in 4:3 mode. Note that the image is no longer scrunched. It is actually displaying in its proper aspect ratio, but it’s not filling the screen as it should. Something is way wrong here.

I’ve written a note to Coby about this:

I recently purchased your TF-TV791 as a Xmas gift for my wife.

It works well except for one technical issue which is frustrating me.

The set displays 4:3 standard definition video quite well. However, it has a problem with 16:9 high-definition video.

I am of course aware of how to switch back and forth between the 4:3 and 16:9 modes using the remote. The problem is that high-definition video is simply not displayed properly. There are black bars at the top and bottom of the screen when viewing a high-definition signal.

As a general rule, there should not be black bars on a widescreen TV when viewing widescreen video. I’ve been able to check the same broadcast on our larger Panasonic television and verify that the signal properly fills the screen without stretching.

Therefore I can only conclude the problem is with the TF-TV791 unit. Is there some way to correct this problem?

I wonder if they’ll get back to me.

The Boboli Video

And now here comes a video from the unfathomable T Bill featuring Xy and yours truly at the Kroger grocery in Bloomington, Indiana, circa mid ’90s. I guess I gave this raw footage to T Bill when he visited years ago and then forgot about it. I never expected to see it again. But, lo and behold, he edited it together with some other appropriated video and posted it to YouTube yesterday. This was stuff we shot for ROX but never used. Never before seen! Enjoy.