Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reminder: blog.guterman.com

Just a quick reminder that this blog, once again active, has moved to http://blog.guterman.com. Please change your links and feeds accordingly. So you don't have to look it up, the new feed address is http://feeds.feedburner.com/JimmyGuterman.

And you can go there to find out what my new job is.

Onward...

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Moving to blog.guterman.com

Jimmy Guterman's "Jewels and Binoculars" is moving to http://blog.guterman.com.

I've had it with the Blogger blogging software. It feels like Google has abandoned it: no development and certainly no support. It has become too unreliable to use anymore. Also, after many years of the same structure, it's time to try something new.

The new blog will be at http://blog.guterman.com and it will open some time in June. When that happens, I will note its both via Facebook status and whatever the kids are calling a Twitter transmission nowadays. Before I depart, I want to share with you a clip of a cat playing a theremin.


See you in June...

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

They worked together on The Sandinista Project and now they're...

...getting married. Hooray for Amy and Eric!

Which Sandinista Project contributors will be next?

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Novel update

There's been none over the past few weeks. None.

The novel, of course, is a hobby, a side project, a creative endeavor, far from my reason for existence. It's not my pay-the-mortgage work and it never will be. I really enjoy my paid work, but there's a lot of it to do and I have to do a lot of it to be any good at it. Something has to give. Recently, it's the novel that has given. I hope to have renewed progress to report next week. But I don't guarantee it. Especially when there's eelgrass everywhere.

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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Public service announcement: Vote Yes for Brookline on May 6

I recognize that no one visits this humble blog for political advice, but I urge readers of Jewels and Binoculars who are residents of Brookline to join me and Vote Yes for Brookline on May 6. This Proposition 2-1/2 override will help maintain some crucial services, particularly those in the schools, that are in danger of being cut due to decrease in state aid. Go here to learn more about the campaign -- and go here if you haven't yet registered to vote.

Greatest song of all time of the week: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel"

As digital sampling becomes more and more pervasive as a recording technique in pop, the belief that anything is possible in a studio nowadays is also on the rise. But "Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" took the cut-and-paste-sound approach used covertly on many records today and the scavenging of other songs as its very subject. The number asks: How smart can you steal? How slick can you mix? This technical apex of one of rap’s leading disc-spinners is tremendously influential—many of today’s dance-music and rock productions are unimaginable without it.

Grandmaster Flash started as a South Bronx dance-hall disc jockey whose trademark was taking his favorite rock and rap songs and repeating their hottest elements for heightened effect. "Wheels of Steel," despite being credited to the full Furious Five, was a solo shot by Flash designed to show off the wizardry that knocked 'em out live. After a stuttering intro, Flash lets Blondie’s "Rapture," Chic’s "Good Times," the Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache," and Queen’s "Another One Bites the Dust," as well as snippets from earlier Flash/Five singles glide in and slam out of the unwavering beat. These songs of different tempos all fit without being forced. Spoken sections, boasts, and song apexes are finely woven into an amazingly seamless whole. Before the serrated-edged righteousness of "The Message" and "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)" turned attention to rapper and writer Melle Mel, the group was a showcase for Flash. This is why.

Visually pointless, but the only way I can point you to this song:


Speaking of visually pointless, but another song I love:

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

If this doesn't destroy Wal-Mart, nothing will

No kidding

I have no use for this band, but the headline cracked me up

Al Gore at TED

Al Gore's talk the last day of TED is worth seeing. Unlike his Inconvenient Truth talk, which was quite slick and professional by the time it became a film, his new presentation is still quite raw. But it also moves forward the story he told in the film in a hard-headed, open-hearted way. To think we could be at the end of a second Gore administration right about now...

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Monday, April 7, 2008

What not to eat (part 2)

Cucumber maki + ketchup + the remains of your youngest daughter's chicken nuggets = no.

sushiketchup

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What not to eat (part 1)

For much of the '90s, I tried (and, ultimately, failed) to live as a vegetarian. In recent years, I went through a pescatarian transition period, and now -- even though I choose fish or no meat whenever I can -- I'll eat pretty much whatever anyone puts in front of me. The rationale for that is that my ethical obligation to the people closest to me -- i.e., anyone who would cook for me -- is greater than my ethical obligation to lower species.

But now I wonder. The ecological arguments against meat may be more powerful than the ethical arguments against meat. They're also arguments wrapped in self-preservation: eat less meat, save your body, save the planet.

I knew I had food issues, but these are issues.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

The wrong spokesman

Is it me, or should Lance Armstrong NOT be doing advertisements for drugs?

Just saw this ad on CNN.com:

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Listening to the east

Over the past two months I think I've listened to more Asian rock'n'roll than in the previous 45 years combined. I highly, highly, highly recommend the following:

Look Directly into the Sun is a collection of Beijing punk bands, recorded last year by Martin Atkins, who fellow oldtimers will remember as the drummer in the original PiL lineup. This magnificent compilation of punk, pop, and rock'n'roll bands is the sound of a revolution about to happen. It feels like a London 1977 roundup. No matter the culture, the political system, or the economic framework, young people everywhere wanna scream and some of 'em do it brilliantly. Like the ones here.

Friend, colleague, and esteemed Sandinista Project contributor Jim Duffy alerted me a while back to Dengue Fever, a California band that started out specializing in covers of Cambodian rock'n'roll of the early '70s and has subsequently delivered a number of tough garage rockers that extend the tradition. I wanted to hear what inspired this inspired band so I've picked up a number of CD compilations of the original performers, stirring and alive, before the Khmer Rouge got their hands on them. Some of the selections on these sets may not be quite legit -- I doubt that synthesizers and syndrums were available in pre-Pol Pot Phnom Penh -- but some of the performers here, like Sinn Sisamouth, are secret giants most American rock'n'roll fans have never heard of, let alone heard. Jewels & Binoculars readers, can you direct me to your favorite Cambodian rockers? If you're new to the band Dengue Fever, any of their three full-length sets -- Dengue Fever, Escape from Dragon House, and Venus on Earth -- offer exhilarating ways in.

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

The wages of blogging

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The blogosphere rejoices!

No blogging this week. Too damn busy. Seeya next week. I hope.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

Living like savages in Chestnut Hill: an update

Either 20 or 21 Septembers ago, my younger brother moved into a fifth-floor apartment in Back Bay. We dragged the first of his stuff up to the top floor of the elevator-free building. He turned the key in the door, opened it, and discovered that none of the five people living in very close quarters in that studio apartment had even begun to move out. They were all still asleep, in beds spread across the room.

I thought about that this morning as I looked across the living room of our house:



Eli, the model here, still has his own room for now (it's the only unaffected room on the second floor, but he still has to move eventually because it'll be Grace's room when we're done). The other four of us are stretched across the living room. After more than 20 years together, Jane and I are back in a one-bedroom place ... with two other people!

For a more meaningful report on the way we live now, see Jane's latest report.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Greatest song of all time of the week: Junior Senior, "Can I Get Get Get"

The user-generated video below ain't much (listen to it with your eyes closed if you wish, though it has charm), but this song offers endless pleasure. It's like Chic and Abba had a baby! (That's a compliment, by the way.)

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The U.S.P.S. can be a slow medium

Both of these arrived the same day:

 
Posted by Picasa

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Three fictional characters, each equally equipped to discuss our nation's predicament

I haven't offered much political commentary since I came back to Jewels and Binoculars, but I can at least point out trenchant observations when I spot them elsewhere:

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Chinese Democracy When?

In my TED talk, I went after Axl Rose for not releasing Chinese Democracy. This amusing stunt takes matters into its own hands.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I've been known to keep weird work hours, I know...

...but today was the first time ever I was almost late for a 9 a.m. meeting because I was in the car listening to the ninth inning of a live Red Sox game. Happy spring!

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Farewell to print

I love The New York Times. I've read it almost every day of my life since I was in high school. For all its recent flaws -- the weirdo profiles of the major presidential candidates are the most high-profile -- it is still full of the most outstanding reporting. And, on the days that Gail Collins files, it offers up the most penetrating and entertaining opinion.

finalNYT

What's that? It's the last print copy of the Times I'll ever have delivered to my front door. Over the years, I've slowly weaned myself off subscriptions to physical newspapers, but it was hard to say no to the Times. The quality was high, the thump of the paper on the sidewalk was a pleasant sound to hear first thing in the morning, I liked the serendipity of walking through a print section, and I felt obligated to pay for the paper at a time when print subscribers were becoming an endangered species. But, after years of wavering, I'm done. The environmental argument alone should have been enough for me, but the simple fact is that I do more and more of my reading on a screen (the only holdouts: fiction and poetry). And plenty of that reading has been from the Times. What finally made me give in to the inevitable was realizing, one barely-dawn morning last week when I was reading the paper at our kitchen table, that I had already read much (most?) of it online. For all the pleasure of holding and print, the Times on paper is just too late. In 2008, today's paper is yesterday's news.

So now I'm a freeloader, although you could argue that my personal information, sent to the Times in return for a username and password, may have some value. I rarely, if ever, click on an ad on the Times's website. I would gladly pay for the pleasure and convenience of reading the paper online, just as I do for The Wall Street Journal, but I don't have that option. In this era of advertising-is-the-only-business-model, management at the Times Company has decided that I've decided that the value of what it sends to me is zero. I disagree -- and I'm not going to pay a premium for the proprietary and little-used Times Reader to make my point.

I'll miss the paper on paper, and I bet I'll buy it when I'm on vacation, as a treat, an indulgence. But if even people like me -- who adore The New York Times -- can no longer justify a print subscription, how can its print version survive, except as a high-priced, scarce product for an increasingly elite audience?

(This originally appeared on the O'Reilly Radar.)

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"The saddest, stupidest sentence I've ever read"

Nick Carr calls out a whopper by Michael Arrington. It can be a pleasure to witness Carr best an inferior mind, but I have a question: If Carr is so smart -- and he is -- why does he read Arrington?

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Jewels and Binocular readers: create your own recipe

I made the greatest turkey burgers of all time a few weeks back. I was about to write down the recipe (yes, I realize I should have done this then; don't go all GTD on me) when I realized I don't remember whether my secret ingredient was soy sauce or teriyaki sauce. Would anyone out there like to make a suggestion as to which I should try next time?

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Friday, March 21, 2008

David Weinberger, master of all trades

Turns out David Weinberger is as astute an observer of politics as he is of everything else. Everything may be miscellaneous (hence the "random" tag below), as Weinberger has written, but when there's a mind as bold and open-hearted as Weinberger's at the center of an idea, sometime everything makes sense, too. Read.

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He shows up!

How bad has service gotten in our so-called service economy? So bad that just showing up for an appointment is now considered a business-defining competiting advantage:

WeShowUpPic

How my family lives now

We have one full bathroom in our house. It looks like this:
BathroomPic

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why screwing up is the smartest thing you can do

I gave a talk on "Why screwing up is the smartest thing you can do" last month at TED and delivered a (not as good) stripped-down version of it a week later at ETech. I've been asked by several Jewels and Binoculars readers to post the presentation as a blog entry. Here it is. I recognize that a flat blog post doesn't capture the experience of a live presentation, but I want to get the material out here. And, as an added benefit, you don't have to look at or listen to me present it!

accident slide 1

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Being here first thing in the morning, I feel like the opening act at the beginning of one of those long package shows of rock bands. I feel like Yngvie Malmsteen, a godawful heavy metal guitarist not often celebrated at TED.

Indeed, "Yngvie," as we all know, is Swedish for "opening act."

So here we go…

accident slide 3

I edit Release 2.0, an expensive newsletter, so I hear a lot from readers. Sometimes they’re looking for rules, some secrets to guarantee success. I want to justify their investment in the newsletter, of course, so I tell 'em what I’ve learned.

And what I've learned is that they should screw up.

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While anyone who's spent time with any of the members of Guns N Roses might find them to be screwups, the reason you haven't heard anything new and substantial from them on the radio for 16 years -- 16 years! -- is that they’ve committed the opposite of screwing up: overplanning. Since the mid-'90s, by which time every original member of the band except singer Axl Rose had left for one reason or another, Guns N Roses has been working on a new album called Chinese Democracy.

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Rose and his co-conspirators have been thinking and recording Chinese Democracy for 14 years, gone through at least six producers, 17 band members, and $16 million in recording costs. It's not out yet. They've waited so long, perfecting and planning, planning and perfecting, that the industry Axl Rose once ruled no longer exists. Democracy may arrive in China before Chinese Democracy arrives in record stores.

Oh -- wait -- there really aren't record stores any more, either. Too much planning, too much process, means no art, no product, nothing.

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For a different approach, let's consider the TV series Twin Peaks from the early '90s. To refresh your memory...

accident slide 7

This man, Leland Palmer...

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...possessed by the spirit of a supernatural character named BOB...

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...turned his daughter, Laura Palmer...

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...into this.

But where did BOB, the conceptual lynchpin of the series, come to be? Surely he was there from the beginning.

No. His introduction into the series came as a result of an accident while the cameras were running.

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In a scene late in the Twin Peaks pilot, Laura Palmer's mother experiences a vision while sitting on her living room couch. On the wall behind her, barely in the shot, there is a mirror. In the bottom corner of the mirror, there's the reflection of Frank Silva, a set dresser on the crew, unaware he's in the shot. You or I wouldn't have noticed it unless we were looking for it -- but on the set of a television show, there is someone whose job is to look for just such mistakes.

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After the take, that person alerted director David Lynch to the accident and began to set up a reshoot. Lynch stopped him. He spoke to Frank Silva, the set dresser in the mirror. "Can you act?" Lynch asked. This was Los Angeles, so you know the answer...

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...and the malevolent, mysterious character of BOB, the key to the weird mystery of the series, was born -- from an accident.

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Many popular products, advances, and countless works of art have emerged from accidents. In the Internet world, we have Blogger and Twitter. And those two are just from one guy: Evan Williams.

Things may go better with Coke, but Coke was originally designed to go better with pain. It was intended to be a pain remedy.

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in 1928, Alexander Fleming, researching the flu, noticed that a mold had taken over one of his petri dishes. That mold, he saw, had stopped bacteria in the dish. Voila! Penicillin. Indeed, the very idea of vaccines was discovered by accident, when Edward Jenner noticed that people who worked with cows didn't get smallpox.

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In 1894, John Harvey Kellogg left some cooked wheat to sit while he attended to some pressing matters at his sanitarium. When he returned, the wheat had gone stale. Because he was either cheap or broke -- historians disagree -- he tried to save the wheat by forcing it through rollers, expecting to get long sheets of dough he could use. Instead, he got ... flakes. He toasted them. He served them to his patients. He got very, very rich.

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Post-It notes came to be by accident, too, but the story isn't that interesting, so I'll just mention it and keep going.

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This one's more interesting. Fred Katz introduced the cello to modern jazz. One night in the late 1950s, during a break between sets while he was playing piano with a jazz band, Katz pulled a chair to the front of the stage and played some solo cello. When the rest of the band returned to the small stage, there was no room for Katz to return to his piano. Not sure what to do -- the set was starting, the band was playing -- Katz decided to play the piano lines on his cello. Out of his accident, his real, half-century-long, career began.

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Next time you enjoy some ferocious rock'n'roll encased in feedback, thank these guys. A spray of amplifier feedback at the beginning of The Beatles' 1965 recording of "I Feel Fine," an accident, sounded so unusual -- and so great -- that they kept it on the record. And, since I'm talking about brands favored by aging boomers...

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...Viagra was first thought to be a promising drug for angina. During 1992 clinical trials in a town in Wales, Pfizer researchers discovered that...

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...the drug had a different effect altogether.

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So mistakes can be great things. What do we do about 'em? How do we harness 'em? Well, if you’re the Harvard Business School, the font of management wisdom (and -- disclosure -- a client), you're not quite sure. Sometimes they tell us to be afraid of mistakes...

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...sometimes they tell us we can manage accidents, thus making them not accidents. We might call this the Pee-Wee Herman "I meant to do that" theory of managing mistakes…

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..and, once, squeezed almost as an afterthought -- or, maybe, an accident -- as the very last entry in an issue of the Harvard Business Review, they celebrate it, thanks to a terrific, brief essay by Danny Hillis. I'm not trying to pick on Harvard. You can find similar advice from the other Ivy schools, even Stanford. But this is the conventional business wisdom. You can't be built to last or go from good to great or whatever unless you're careful to avoid mistakes, the thinking goes. Imagine the difference between the reaction if you tell your boss "I'm planning" and the one you get if you say, "I'm making mistakes."

accident slide 25

Established institutions are in the business of supporting the status quo. And mistakes, if nothing else, go against the status quo, the conventional wisdom, the expected. As Esther Dyson used to sign her emails, "Always make new mistakes!" A key part of planning is being open to mistakes.

The unexpected kiss, the unpredictable punch line: they're so much of what makes life worth living. Shouldn't we let the unexpected into our business work as well? It's by screwing up that we learn and discover. We can't predict accidents. But we can take advantage of them.

You never know where a mistake is going to lead. Maybe nowhere, maybe somewhere. But it's definitely nowhere if you don’t at least lean forward and peer down the road after you screw up.

You want the secret of success that my newsletter readers want to know? It's no secret. It's that, chances are, whatever you’re looking for -- that's not what you're going to find.

Thank you.

accident slide 26

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Well, someone liked my TED talk

Someone just forwarded me Christopher Herot's notes on my TED talk. I'll squeeze the talk into HTML and get it onto this blog by the end of the week.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Better living through food hacking

Over the next week or so, I'll be writing quite a bit about my two weeks late last month and early this month in California, at TED and ETech. (Took me a bit to recover and the renovation at our house is about to deprive us of our only working shower.)

Monday was cooking day here at Jewels and Binoculars and it's Tuesday already, so I'd better get back on track. Let's talk about food hacking, which unites three areas of my interest and incompetence: cooking, technology, and taking things apart. The ETech tutorial on the topic, led by Marc Powell, was a mindblower. Food hacking takes the ideas behind technology hacking -- participation, dispersion, experimentation, and a general distrust of authority and centralized systems -- and brings them into the kitchen. The three-hour-long tutorial, which included dishes with ingredients like liquid nitrogen, was all about joy and testing. And -- lucky for me -- it was all about celebrating screwing up and seeing what happens. Powell went on for a while on why cooking with people was superior to cooking for people. As he put it: "Ever eat a Lunchable? Do you think anyone enjoyed making that?" When I lined up to receive something that had been cooked onstage, I felt, for the first time even, like I was on a communion line.

The second half of the session got weird. We saw randomly generated menus and restaurant menus with plenty of insect dishes. We heard exegeses on pickled crab fat and how to cook fake blood for vegan goths. We learned a little about coffee hacks (see many of Powell's hacks in this wiki). We learned that it's pronounced "feelo" dough, not "feyelo" dough. We heard about placenta kabobs and other gross food experiences.

Hmm, what's for dinner?

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Greatest TED video ever (first of a series)

At least three of this year's TED talks were flat-out amazing: Tod Machover's, Benjamin Zander's, and Jill Bolte Taylor's. The first of them has just been posted:

Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard neuroanatomist, eavesdropped on her own stroke. As I wrote the day of her talk, she walked us through what she felt and thought while her brain was going wild, from the borderline-metaphysical ("I can't define where I begin and where I end") to the borderline-hilarious ("I'm a busy woman. I don't have time for a stroke"). Her description of her time in that strange state, caught between two worlds, the rare researcher who has been able to chronicle a brain-changing event from the inside, was astonishing.

And now you can see and hear it, too:



The brain she's holding there is a real one, by the way.

I'll alert you to the other two classics when they're published.

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Second thoughts on Politico

When the political news website Politico launched a year ago, I wrote a borderline-bitchy negative note for paidContent. I'd like to apologize. I still don't know how the site's business is going, but Politico has been a provocative, speedy, insidery, gotta-read-it news source so far during the election cycle. (Good mobile version, too!)

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Goin' to Nantucket

I won't be doing much work travel in the spring. I'm still recovering from The Endless California Trip, which is not the name of a second-tier Beach Boys compilation. But I am thrilled to report that I'll be at the The Nantucket Conference for the first time since 2001. Event programmer and all-around great guy Scott Kirsner has an informative post up about the event, if you're new to it.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

I am old, volume 273

I stopped going to South by Southwest in 1995, because I felt it was getting too big. It's now 13 times larger than it was then.

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Not breaking the chain on Jewels and Binoculars

You want me to blog every day (or, at least, every work day)? Fine, I won't break the chain anymore.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

R.I.P. Mikey Dread

Mikey Dread (nee Michael Campbell), producer, songwriter, and performer, is dead. We were honored that the man who so influenced The Clash's Sandinista! was a contributor to our Sandinista Project (he accompanied The Blizzard of '78 on "Silicone on Sapphire").

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Quote of the day

In a throwaway line in his review of The Band's Visit, ace critic Anthony Lane nails what I'm trying to write a novel about:

"When in doubt, strike up the band."

If I had a monitor, I'd tape that quote on it.

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I'm not a half-bad headline writer...

...but every now and then I have to step back in awe from another's contribution.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Maybe I shouldn't leave the house anymore

 
I'm back home, at last, after a long trip. I'll get back to usual blogging speed over the next day or so. But look what happened to our house while I was gone!

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An embarrassing moment and what I learned from it

For many years, I've joked to friends and family, usually during public radio pledge drives, that someone should invent a device connecting to your radio that, after you've paid up, turns off all those requests for money during NPR pledge drives. You get back to the regular programming you've paid for. I thought that was something I could work into an article or a story someday.

One night last week, I was at a dinner party, listening to someone who was building an innovative radio for the BBC. Also listening was a respected colleague. He said that someone should invent a device connecting to your radio that, after you've paid up, turns off all those requests for money during NPR pledge drives. Independently, he had come up with the same line (for me it was a joke; for him -- a successful entrepreneur -- it was a potential invention). I felt uncomfortable saying something like, "Hey, I thought of that, too," and stepping on his line, so I said nothing.

This reminded me of something that happened when Jane and I bought a hybrid car back in 2002. A neighbor said he'd thought of a hybrid engine years earlier. I laughed about it, but it illuminates a point that's also relevant to the public radio joke/invention line: It doesn't matter so much that you have an idea. What matters is whether you do anything with the idea. Otherwise it's just a line in your notebook doing nothing.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

@TED: Best of Day 1

Worst press release headline of the day

"PRESS RELEASE: MYSPACE GOES TO KUWAIT"

The lede was out there, too: "Today, MySpace officially announced Operation MySpace, a concert for troops stationed in Kuwait. Performances will include the Pussycat Dolls, Jessica Simpson, Disturbed, Filter, DJ Z-Trip and the comedic genius of Carlos Mencia."

Wait: the Pussycat Dolls and Filter aren't geniuses?

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Best. Question asked in an email. Ever.

"does anyone have a machine for blowing up helium balloons?"

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My William F. Buckley memory

William F. Buckley, the conservative commentator, died today. I have no use for his ideas or his writings, but his death reminded me of some immature behavior I engaged in about 20 years ago.

At PC Week in 1987, we used an internal email system notable for its slowness and unreliability. To connect with the outside world, we had to use MCI Mail. We discovered that a celebrity, William F. Buckley, had an account on MCI Mail, so with our collective minimal maturity we decided to copy him on all our correspondence. For example:

From: Jimmy
To: Doug
Cc: William F. Buckley
Re: Lunch
Yes, noon is fine.

We did this several times a day for a few months until the boss yelled at me about it. I had another boss there who used to play Tetris with me every day in his office and erased the high scores after I starting earning them. But that's another post, for another day.

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What's making me happy today

* The hat Grace wore on Sunday
* This morning I got to talk about a topic I care about for an audience open to it -- and I didn't stink up the room.
* Junior Senior's Hey Hey My My Yo Yo, which time may show to be as wonderful as Chic's Greatest Hits
* Getting some good writing done before coffee and knowing how I learned that trick
* The names of the awful $5 snack boxes on the plane (smartpack, minimeal, quickpick, rightbite)
* I discovered a trove of new writing by Bill James. Hooray for the Internet!
* The solos during the Hammersmith Odeon '75 version of "Kitty's Back"
* Knowing that, somewhere, Alice Munro is writing
* Courtney Love, the choruses of "Doll Parts," "Violet," and "Malibu." Forget the tabloid stuff: Kurt wasn't the only genius in that marriage
* Next Thursday night

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Heading west

This week it's TED in Monterey, where I'm giving a brief talk (as part of TED-U) on "Why Screwing Up Is the Smartest Thing You Can Do." (good advance coverage of the event)

Next week it's O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego, where I'll be reprising the TED talk as the opening act of Ignite.

So I expect blogging will be lighter than usual this week and next while I'm on the road. You're welcome.

If, dear readers, you're going to be at either of these events, please let me know.

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Quote of the day

"That's the best lasagna you ever made." --J.K.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Sentence #29

"Don't? Or won't?"

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Greatest song of all time of the week: Carl Perkins, "Dixie Fried"

Carl Perkins's gracious, quavering tenor carried some magnificent country ballads; among the most noteworthy are "Turn Around," his first professional recording, and "Let the Jukebox Keep on Playing," the most understated expression of honky-tonk regret and paralysis in post-Hank Williams country music. But Perkins’s meat is his rockabilly, "Blue Suede Shoes" and all that, in which he repeatedly drives full speed to the edge of his world, leans over the cliff to enjoy the view for a brief second, and then, as he knows he must, pulls back and carefully heads home.

"Rockabilly sure takes me over the edge," top Stray Cat Brian Setzer countered when I threw that idea at him a few decades ago. "It's the most menacing music. Heavy metal is kid’s stuff compared to it." Yes, but Setzer and the many legions who adopted pompadours in the late seventies discovered the music and the accoutrements, not the culture. It's no accident that most of the rockabilly revivalists came from northern urban areas. To them, rockabilly was Gene Vincent's leer and Eddie Cochran's shake without regard for the honky-tonk imperatives behind them. Setzer's Stray Cats, eventually reduced to beer commercials, could afford to shoot over the edge; Perkins and his contemporaries, who didn't have the luxury of growing up in a society that had already been liberated by rock'n'roll, had no such romantic alternative.

Yet on "Dixie Fried," his greatest uptempo composition, Perkins comes as close as any rockabilly performer to going over the edge and living to tell about it. His guitar flashes like the barroom-fight switchblades his tale chronicles; his voice dances with the wobbly exuberance of his brazen, drunken protagonist. "Let's all get Dixie fried!" he screams, shattering any pretensions to caution, or civilized behavior. The violence escalates and the song smashes to its head-on conclusion, not with the law, but with the inevitable. Perkins may have the gleam of the honky-tonk in his eye, but his eye is fixed on home, where he prays his honky-tonk gal has returned.

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