The CD Revival, Mayoring And Carson Daly

10 Sep

CD Project

I guess it would be just at 10 years ago that I started a weird little project (in my 20s, I was always starting weird little projects; I guess I still do that but the stakes are a little higher now).

I had an online journal that would become a blog soon but I was still in the habit of publishing pretty regularly on this site. I would post entries, pretty planned-out essays and updates, three times a week, which today just makes me want to go take a long old man nap. There must have been more caffeine in the water back then.

The site never had a huge following, but it did have readers and enough of them that I felt pretty confident that a mix CD project, where people would PayPal me $1 to physically mail them a CD of that year’s best music tracks (at least ones I had bought and had access to), made perfect sense.

It didn’t make perfect sense. It was kind of a pain in the ass, actually, the cutting the labels and finding the perfect plastic disc holders and the laborious burning of the CDs (so much time at the computer, sitting; how am I not dead of a heart attack already?). But it was also really gratifying to get feedback on music I’d chosen, years before we could share iTunes playlists or play DJ in a virtual room (that has already come and gone in that time). So I did it two more years. There was an ’04 mix, an ’05 mix and an ’06 mix (2004, 2005 and 2006, not 1904, 1905 and 1905 young smartasses).

I think the reason I stopped doing it after 2006 was that we had a baby in 2007, which made everything non-essential pretty much impossible, but also because people were already like, “CDs? Really?” even by that point. People were downloading their own music, legally, even, and it was just easier to tell people where to find music online than mailing them something physical. So I stopped doing that project.

About a week ago, a woman emailed me asking about the CDs and whether the list of those songs was still up somewhere. I dutifully sent her the links to find them. She also asked if I was ever planning to convert those lists of songs into Spotify playlists, something which just had never even occurred to me. I mean, I’ve put Spotify playlists here on the site that I still update. But this was a long way back to reach.

I wrote back and said that was a neat idea, and it would be great if somebody could do it (hint hint), but I was too busy to work on that myself.

And then I went on Spotify to see how much time it would take. About 10 minutes total for all three CDs, it turns out.

I listened to them again for the first time in years and except for a few bad-in-hindsight choices (James Blunt, that U2 song that isn’t really that great, too much Franz Ferdinand), I really enjoyed digging those songs out in order. I have them all on my phone, I can listen to them individually anytime, but having them by year in that time-capsule form really speaks to me. Maybe I’m just remembering the careful curation that went into those CDs and the satisfaction I got designing those labels and shipping them out in flat brown envelopes. But whatever it is, the magic still works on me.

So here they are, the three playlists. There were just a tiny few songs that aren’t on Spotify (the Pixies song, for instance, you can easily find on iTunes or elsewhere). In one or two cases, a live version has been subbed in for something that’s not on the service. And if you really want that Islands “Flesh” song, you can probably do a Google for it or drop me a line and I can point you in the right direction, probably.

Thank you to that reader for reminding me how much fun I had doing this and for bringing some joy back to me that I thought had link-rotted away on the Internet, a thing I loved that I believed was just digital dust now.

Terribly Happy Mix 2004
Terribly Happy Mix 2005
Terribly Happy Mix 2006

Work/Statesman stuff

Photo by Thao Nguyen for the American-Statesman

Photo by Thao Nguyen for the American-Statesman

 

Let’s see… since last time, I wrote a column about the great Intergalactic Nemesis series and how it’s expanding its metaverse into more digital areas such as podcasts, webseries and digital comics. More on that below where I talk about Statesman Shots.

I did a grab-baggy column reviewing the Tablo TV box (which lets you record over-the-air broadcast to a DVR) and discussing a new show from The Daily Dot and Rooster Teeth. I wrote about that on its own blog post as well.

And most recently, I wrote an essay about some things I think are happening on Facebook (and maybe soon on Twitter) that really came out during last month’s protests in Ferguson, Missouri. I wasn’t looking to write a Ferguson think piece, but I think there are even larger issues happening on social media and this was one clear warning sign of where we’re headed.

Other new stuff: Digital Savant Micros about whether you should use a password manager, what Instagram’s “Hyperlapse” app is all about and about Samsung’s new Note Edge device.

Also talked about Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead coming to SXSW Interactive, which just made the fest even more relevant to me.

And on Tuesday, I did a little bit of coverage on Apple’s announcements of the Apple Watch and new iPhones.

Statesman Shots

Shots is moving along and we got the Mayor! Very exciting time as we’re kind of ramping up what we’re doing and have gotten comfortable enough with the production side and being on mic that we’re able to think a little more long term and have even more fun with the show.

Episode 31 with Jason Neulander

 

Episode 31 with Jason Neulander on The Intergalactic Nemesis — Jason and I had crossed paths a couple of times before and I have friends who’ve been cast members in “Nemesis.” We had a really great conversation for a story I did and as we were talking it clicked that he would make a great guest on Shots. So we booked him. And he brought sound effects. And they were awesome!
Video: Foley artistry with Jason Neulander (choo choo!)

Audio:


Episode 32 with Mayor Lee Leffingwell

 

Episode 32 with Mayor Lee Leffingwell on Austin’s many changes — I still kind of can’t believe this happened, but we had been saying a while how great it would be to have the Mayor come on and as we were ramping up, it just didn’t seem realistic, but then it suddenly did and all it really took was a call from me to the Mayor’s office, a few emails back and forth to let his very nice press person Reyne know what the show was about and what the topics would be and we were scheduled! The Mayor turned out to be really, really game for what we were doing, relaxed and poised, and just way more fun than we could have expected. I like to think we were probably a welcome break from the more serious stuff he has to deal with from day to day.

Video: What’s the Mayor’s going-away party going to be like (Please watch, this might be my favorite video we’ve done)

Bonus blogs: A more textual version of the going-away party conversation and a Q&A the Mayor did with our listeners/readers (this one won’t be live until Wednesday morning).

Audio:

 

Other stuff

Please allow me two cool media things that happened in the last week.

First, a dumb Tweet I wrote/drew about a Facebook outage got some attention.

 

It actually was mentioned by Carson Daly in a Today Show segment:


 

And then, this week, I did a TV segment with FOX 7 locally about Apple’s announcements. You can find that here:

So that’s it for all the big updates! Now here’s some random photos.

 

Carolina, dancer
Mmmm Torchy's
GROOOOOOT!
Aztlan Dance Co.
Kids in cars
Before wakeboarding

 

Oh yeah, about that last one. I went wakeboarding at the Texas Ski Ranch for the first time. That’s a fun story I’ll have to tell you soon that involves lots of water splashed in my face.

Freedoms

23 Aug

I started writing this (or thought about writing this) close to the 4th of July. I was feeling really patriotic.

We had just gotten back from New York City, staying at a hotel that was right next to the World Trade Center site. And when I say right next to it, I mean that when I looked out the window, there was the Freedom Tower, doing the towering thing in front of us and the still-under-construction stuff 25 floors below us. But we could also see, from our quite nice hotel room, one of the memorial pools.

We chose to be there. We usually stay within walking distance of Times Square or at least close enough to be within shouting distance of Broadway and 54th, but this time we knew we were going to the 9/11 Museum and it was much cheaper to stay in that area. Right in that area. Right up on it.

I’d be lying if I said the Museum was the highlight of our trip. It was gut-wrenching, unforgettable, an experience we felt we had to experience as out-of-towners after having visited NYC previously while it was in progress. In-towners? The friends I spoke to have not gone nor do they intend to anytime soon, and I completely understand. They’re not keen to relive something so horrible as a leisure activity or even as education.

In 1995, I covered the Oklahoma City bombing. I moved away in 1997 and though I’ve visited Oklahoma a few times since then, I’ve never gone to the Bombing Memorial downtown. I will someday, probably, but it has never been an experience I felt I needed to revisit in that way. Maybe it’s fear or avoidance.

There’s more to say about NYC, as there always is, because I love being there so much and so does my wife. It was completely impractical to go for just a weekend, but we did it anyway because we really, really, felt we had to go, especially after we scored tickets to a dream show we both really wanted to see.

But I’ll skip ahead to after we got back the next weekend, 4th of July.

We didn’t have any grand plans in New Braunfels. We didn’t really go anywhere or do anything super-special.

I thought about buying fireworks for the kids, just sparklers and snakes and little tanks, the useless stuff that even a 4-year-old as mischievous as Carolina can’t turn into trouble, but even when we get lots of rain, the fireworks are super-illegal where we live. Not just to fire them, but to even possess them. Don’t ask me, I don’t know. All of our neighbors seem to have no problem breaking that law if the noise and shower of sparks in the sky that weekend were any indication.

But anyway… our kids go to bed so early that we’ve never kept them up late enough to see the fireworks in town. The first fireworks they saw in person was at Disney World, with the blasts right on top of them, terrifying and thrilling them. They thought, first off, that fireworks are supposed to be loud, like cannons right above. Then they saw fireworks at the beach last year and realized that there was a different way to experience them.

This year, we went down to Landa Park, or near it, to see the fireworks. Bedtime be damned. We went to the parking lot at the Knights of Columbus and instead of getting out of our car and walking to the park, like people do, we stayed at the car and watched from there.

The sky was dark and thundery and it kept drizzling, threatening to turn into a downpour, so we wanted to stay nearby. I made an incredibly clumsy Prius 180 turn in front of a bunch of people who were probably hoping I would hit a lightpole so we could face the fireworks and sit in the hatchback trunk.

A little girl from the car next to us made friends with Lilly and Carolina and shared cookies and cupcakes she had made while we waited. A local radio station started playing the simulcast with the fireworks, which went on for almost a full 3o minutes, long enough for me to start wondering where all this small-town money was coming from for this gigantic display of burnt powders. The simulcast was both awful and stirring in almost equal measures. They played all the cheesy country songs about driving a truck in America, and some I hadn’t heard before, but that sense of ‘Murica started hitting me about halfway through and instead of thinking uncharitable thoughts about the spectacle, I just went with it and watched the faces of my kids as they went from awed to restless to a little bit awed again to tired to wanting more snacks (always with the more snacks) and finally, a little tired and punchy as an hour past their bedtime we finally headed home.

Not long after the New York trip and 4th of July, we took a road trip to Houston, a test to see if the kids have gotten better about not being complete psychopathic killjoys in the car and it turns out they’ve matured! We did the Houston Zoo, saw some butterflies at the Natural History Museum’s very cool aviary thing, ate at some great places and enjoyed this other city that’s been there this whole time but that we just hadn’t gotten to. It’s been a really good summer.

The kids took a two-week swimming lessons course at the public pool and it’s been fun watching their divergent personalities (daredevil, reluctant swimmer) converge into water confidence.

Just as the swim lessons were starting, we saw Boyhood, which manages in a little under three hours to articulate years of intangible fears and ideas and thoughts I’ve been having about aging and my kids growing up and how things change but not really much at all in the day-to-day. Linda Holmes gets it in this lovely essay and we had fun talking with Joe Gross, who’s written lots of insightful stuff about the movie, on the “Shots” podcast (more on that below).

I can’t tell you to rush out and go see it because it’s exactly the kind of movie that could wither and die under the hype it’s already getting and it’s not even into Oscar season yet when people watching it on their TVs will wonder what the big deal was about this scruffy, leisurely-paced movie where hardly anything happens. (But everything happens, in between the scenes.)

The best I can say if that if you’re open to it and it hits you the right way, at the right moment, it’s a freight train of emotion and ideas that I’m still unpacking more than a week after seeing it. It seems miraculous that a movie like it even exists.

Other things that have happened: Lilly turned 7 and is starting second grade. We went to the beach and had a lovely long weekend. We took a trip to Houston to visit my sister-in-law and did the touristy thing. Both long road trips were not quite the ordeal they used to be when the girls were younger.

And as for the regimen I mentioned last time, I’m still converting fat to muscle and getting used to doing longer and longer runs. I haven’t really dropped much weight at all, I still am about the same in terms of poundage, but my body looks and feels a little different and my endurance has improved dramatically. I don’t know if ever was in shape to run more than five or 10 minutes at a time without stopping or getting winded and now I actually look forward to it. So that’s working out well and has been worth the expense and time.

This hasn’t been a bad summer for me, but it feels like it’s been a bad summer for the world in general with the people we’ve lost, the crazy, angry wars and aggressions happening. My family is good and I’m very lucky, but you just feel it in the air, this taste of sadness and anger and loss. It’s very hard to keep your head up and soldier through if you have much sensitivity at all. You put your head down and push forward if you can and count yourself lucky that you have so much to be grateful for.

“Shots”

“Statesman Shots,” the weekly podcast and video show I do at the Statesman with Tolly Moseley, continues to roll along and survived a period when Tolly was away having a baby. She returned much earlier than expected, which was fantastic for the show because I was completely running out of ideas without her and my desperation each week was starting to grow. Here’s the recent episodes:

Dale Roe and Cody Hustak on "Statesman Shots"

Episode 22 with Funniest Person In Austin Cody Hustak — Dale Roe returned to the podcast, this time as a guest co-host and brought along comedian Cody Hustak, who had just won the Funniest Person in Austin contest. We had fun taking Casey Kasem trivia (the radio countdown host had just died), we talked about outrage on the Internet, specifically Twitter, and Tolly sent us her first baby dispatch from home.

Video: a Casey Kasem quiz conducted by Dale.

Audio below:


Riders Against the Storm

Episode 23 with Riders Against the Storm on building community  — Our Statesman music writer Deborah Sengupta Stith was another return guest who filled in the co-host chair with Tolly gone. She told me about this married couple who do music and call themselves Riders Against the Storm. We communicated a little bit over email, but even as they were walking in to do the podcast, I was freaking out a little bit, feeling unprepared and overwhelmed. It was the first time we’d had musicians on the show and it’s not an area I’m as versed in as, say, TV, or comedy or technology. But once the podcast got going, I fell so hard in love with them that I went against all journalistic protocol and I think I actually said, “I love you!” toward the end of the hour. It really was a very special episode, one of my favorites that we’ve done because it was funny and honest, positive and warm-hearted.

Video: That’s not my name.

Audio below: 


Tony Atkins, "Shots" guest

Episode 24 with Tony Atkins on being new in town — As I explain in the podcast, Tony sits right next to me at work and he is really kind and curious and has a great sense of humor, which is always good to see in a young journalist. If he believes I am a crusty old man, he hides it well and we had a lot of fun with him on the podcast exploring what it’s like to be a new Austinite. Tony was originally scheduled to be a guest co-host but we were thrilled for Tolly to return to the show much earlier than expected. A segment we did on the “10 Things You Must Do Before You Can Call Yourself An Austinite” went sorta-viral, or at least generated more chatter than usual. It even appeared to completely by coincidence in a random and strange universe not at all influence this piece that Zagat ran a few weeks later from a local freelancer. Hmmm.

Video: 10 Things To Do Before Calling Yourself an Austinite.

Bonus blog post: what you can and can’t do on the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk.

Audio below:


Arianna Auber on "Shots"

Episode 25 with Arianna Auber on Austin’s drinking scene — We finally got the Statesman’s cocktails writer to come on and school us on what we should be drinking. This topic seemed a little ill-timed when Tolly was very, very pregnant, but six weeks after birth, it was totally cool. (One of my favorite moments in all of “Shots” history is Tolly telling me to shut up with my judgey parental looks. I laughed so hard it almost derailed the episode.)

Video: Three Austin craft drinks we love.

Audio below:


Jackie Huba on "Shots'

Episode 26 with Jackie Huba on Austin drag culture — One of the things we envisioned about the podcast from the jump was having on experts every week who could talk about specific areas such as food, film, music and what have you. We knew this also meant having on experts who would talk to us about subjects we know very little about and drag culture is certainly one of my lifestyle/entertainment blind spots. I have not really watched Rupaul’s Drag Race, but given how fun it sounds, I should probably start. Jackie does drag, and as a straight woman doing drag, she is not what most people would expect, but what she is is a great writer, a person filled with curiosity and a great speaker. We were lucky to have her on.

Video: The magical world of drag names

Audio below:


Joe Gross returns to "Shots"

Episode 27 with Joe Gross on Boyhood and “Weird Al” — There’s a really good reason we’ve had Joe on the show three times (plus one guest-host stint while Tolly was gone): he’s super smart, funny and knows a lot about all the things we like to talk about, whether it’s pop culture, parenting, Austin weirdness or whatever. Joe is always up for any discussion, he’s sounds ridiculously good on mic and he told us early on after appearing on our pilot episode that he’d be available whenever we needed him. And he has been. He was also was the perfect person to talk about the film Boyhood after writing a review and several smart articles about the movie. You could probably call this a prototypical episode of “Shots”; it gives you a very good idea of exactly what we are trying to do with the show.

Video: Stuff still left on our #NoBummerSummer To-Do List

Bonus blog post: The how-it-happened of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s comeback.

Audio below:


Austin Kleon visits "Shots"

Episode 28 with Austin Kleon on creativity and stealing like an artist — Tolly has known Austin for a long time and I had interviewed him for a piece in advance of this year’s SXSW Interactive and found him to be a really warm, chatty, super-thoughtful guy. His books on creativity, Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work are must-reads if you’re a person who makes stuff for a living (or if you’re trying to get there). On the show, I loved the weirdness of the cat/dog book segment, “What IS this?” which I’m sure will return with other wacky topics. That we got actual knowledge out of that segment was a very awesome surprise.

Video: Pets in print: what’s up with that?

Audio below:


"Shots" guest Dan Solomon

Episode 29 with Dan Solomon on Austin’s freelance economy — I didn’t know Dan before this episode; he’s a friend of Tolly’s and I’d only run into him once or twice before at shows. But I’d read a lot of his stuff in the Austin Chronicle, New York Times and other places and Tolly said he’s a friendly, smart guy. And that he was! He was super game for whatever we wanted to talk about and extra-friendly to boot. He’s also very funny and open, two traits we love in our guests. I enjoyed the detour (which you can see in the video) into more talk than was necessary of urine and urine-related problems.

Video: Our ideas for beating the August Austin heat. I think you will agree that my spray bottle rental idea is a clear winner.

Bonus blog post: Tolly writes about Stephen Colbert and Tina Fey as parenting role models. This also ran in the newspaper.

Audio below:


Addie Broyles, Episode 30 of Shots

Episode 30 with Addie Broyles on new food delivery options in Austin — Addie’s always a great guest, this is I believe her fourth time on Shots, and we wanted to talk about the big story on food delivery in Austin that she and I worked on together (more on that below in the Statesman section). Really good episode with discussions about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, reality TV and movie adaptations of books we love.

Video: Is Austin a haven for reality TV stars? See the video that was retweeted by Teen Mom Farrah Abraham.

Audio below:

 

Other Statesman Stuff

Oh boy have I been busy at work, but that’s really nothing new. I think I’ve gotten a little better about balancing the “Statesman Shots” stuff with everything else, but sometimes it becomes a little bit overwhelming and that weekly column is never far from deadline.

Here’s some of what I’ve been writing about since the last blog post.

Digital Savant columns:

Photo by Mauricio Valentino for the Austin American-Statesman

Photo by Mauricio Valentino for the Austin American-Statesman

 

Digital Savant Micros (these are much shorter how-tos or quick-hit explainers)

From the “French Girls” app

 

Other Statesman stuff that was not columns or Micros:

Photo by me, Omar

Photo by me, Omar

 

The biggest project outside of my weekly stuff was a story I worked on with food writer Addie Broyles about the changing delivery scene in Austin.

It took a lot of work and time, but I’m thrilled with how it turned out. The print version, which ran in the Sunday paper, took up three pages and had lots and lots of information. It was a beast, but I’m glad we did it. We ended up using it as fodder for “Statesman Shots” as well.

I wrote a fun story about Gov. Rick Perry’s mug shot and how he should approach it. It involved me talking to some image consultants who are, no joke, the nicest people I have ever spoken to. Or maybe they just are so good at projecting their images that they fooled me. Either way, this was enjoyable.

Did a story about an Austin/San Francisco-based app called “Gone!” that helps you get rid of your stuff. It’s a great idea, but the execution was not perfect, as I wrote.

And a piece that may be useful for next year if you’re planing to submit a SXSW panel: tips for the doing that, spun off from a Shots discussion.

So that should give you enough reading material for the rest of the summer and fall.

Previously.TV

Vampires, y’all!

Since The Walking Dead ended I was taking a long break from writing TV stuff, but I was intrigued by the show Halt and Catch Fire (that intrigue didn’t last). I ended up writing a piece for Previously suggesting they turn it into a Half-Life series, a suggestion I STILL STAND BY BECAUSE WTF HAPPENED!? Halt was just renewed for a second season and I sure hope it’s less dopey and Joe-focused than the first half-crappy season. (Half was great, but seriously, it really sputtered for a while.) Go check out that link because Glark did an awesome illustration to go with it.

But the real gig I’ve had with Previously this summer is covering The Strain, the Guillermo del Toro vampire show that I am actually liking a lot more than I was expecting. It’s kinda dopey at times, but they get the visuals right and the vampires are legit scary. (Though I’m getting a little tired of the long throat hose attack. Would be scarier if it came out of their butts.)

Here’s the pieces I’ve written:

Photo by Michael Gibson / FX

Photo by Michael Gibson / FX

I’m covering the whole season, so just visit Previously every Sunday night (my articles usually appear right after the show airs) and also check out Jeff Drake’s very funny Fart Faces of Strain features as well.

Space Monkeys!

We announced a hiatus in May and it’s taking longer than we expected to get back on track for a return.  So… new comics soon, I hope?

Sorry, not much else to report on this front right now.

Other stuff

This has gone on way too long, so I’ll just tell the rest with some photos I like of the last few months.

Napping, but not really
At Hedwig, which was amazing
Dinosaur in Houston at the Natural History Museum
4th of July
'Merica cookies
Lilly turns 7
My Coke
"Zombicide" with mom
Zoo tunnel
Nutella luchadoras

The Regimen

16 Jun

My gym instructor, torturer, motivator, giant medicine ball pusher.

My gym instructor, torturer, motivator, giant medicine ball pusher.

 

I was getting pretty tired of the situation.

This was back in February, probably, and into March. Every year in the weeks leading up to South by Southwest Interactive (mid-March) I usually get into a groove of working out and trying to eat a little better because I hate showing up to the festival looking and feeling all bloaty, and tight-clothesy.

Pretty much any adjectives with a Y at the end. Oogy. Roly-poly. Greasy.

There are a few reasons for this. I walk a lot during the fest, sometimes I bike. I end up sitting a lot for panels and keynotes. I end up doing long hours with a heavy laptop bag on my shoulder. If I add bloated and out-of-shape to that, it’s a disaster.

Most years, I’ve been able to hit that deadline. I’ve had people tell me at the fest, “Have you lost weight?” Yes, but just watch me gain it all back in a week as soon as the festival’s over and I stop walking all the time.

This year, I didn’t quite make it. It was just a really busy time leading up to it and as this was all happening, my workplace was in the process of getting rid of its gym. We were right in the middle of transitioning to new gym memberships elsewhere, but there were a few weeks when we were in limbo and I just got really bad about going to the gym on my own and really good about just eating whatever.

Going to the gym at work was super convenient, so much so that I was even doing personal training. Only once every two weeks, which is like eating salad but with giant chunks of steak on it, but it was helping me do better when I went to the gym on my own to have a routing going. But all of a sudden that routine was broken.

I signed up for a gym in New Braunfels, but it was pretty far away from my house and the trainer I tried there didn’t impress me at all. I fell back on old habits like using a workout to justify going next door and wolfing down slices of pizza or just not going at all because I was “too tired” from “working all the time” or “commuting” or “taking care of those kids” or “whatever.”

All those quotation marks were just getting worse and worse.

SXSW game and went and I went into it as Bloat Omar. Clothes were not super comfortable. Sitting for long stretches made me tired and achey. I just felt self-conscious.

The other tipping point for my mood about working out was that we had a photo shoot for Statesman Shots about a month before all this and even though it was cold and I was wearing a heavy sweater in the photos, you could see that my neck looked pretty gouty (there’s that Y again) and I looked as if I wasn’t just not missing any meals, I was probably eating a few of yours too. It was not great.

As our gym was winding down, my fourth trainer in two years was trying to convince me to either switch gyms (even though we were getting free memberships at Gold’s) or to come to his house as a discounted rate to train there. He promised I could use the weights in his garage and carry them around his neighborhood which seemed like such a great offer except for everything about it.

So, armed with a free membership, I went to Gold’s. And I plunked down money to do two sessions a week for 15 weeks. It was not cheap, but it was one of those dramatic money on the table moments that I think can foster real change if you time it right.

I liked the trainers I’d had. The first one was super tough, almost tortuously so, but a really nice lady. The second trainer was a little too lenient even though she taught me really good form. The third trainer was my favorite; she was a pop culture geek and all we talked about were TV shows, movies and Broadway and the sessions would just fly by with me totally distracted and both of us caught up on recommendations for stuff we would check out over the weekend. My last trainer at the work gym had a body type I would describe as, “Not exactly what I was trying to work toward” and he was a brooding dudebro where all my previous trainers had been enthusiastic, cheerful and chatty ladies.

He was a nice guy, but the workouts just weren’t getting me anywhere, at least not at the frequency I was doing them.

My new, current trainer Jorge, is a really great change. First, he’s young. Really young. So young that my brother warned me there was no way he’d be able to gauge what my old, decrepit middle-aged body would be able to withstand.

He’s young enough that he asks me, a much older man, what marriage is like and what goes into taking a tubing trip in the Hill Country. Meanwhile, he quizzes me on the difference between a tricep and an isometric whatever. Jorge is a go-getter and part of the go-getting appears to be making me happy enough with the results to keep me buying sessions. That’s totally fine by me because guess what… it’s working!

Clothes fit better, I have more energy, people who pay attention have noticed that I look a little different. I haven’t dropped a ton of weight. In fact, my first weigh-in update two weeks ago, which included measurements of all the major body parts (no, not that one) revealed that I hadn’t lost any weight, in fact I had gained like a pound after many weeks of hard work.

But then we got on the body-fat scale and it showed that I had actually lost three and a half pounds of fat and put on five pounds of muscle.

It was encouraging, and Jorge was thrilled, saying we were already halfway to my summer goal with time to spare.

At one point, he did ask me to keep a food log and that did not go so well. He also suggested I go on the paleo diet but I took one look at that “Do-not-eat” list and I pretended that it was not a thing in the world that exists. Now that I’m being more active and actually feeling like I should be doing stuff on days when I’m not going to the gym (like the long weekend between training sessions), getting my eating under control is next, most likely.

Along the way, I’ve gotten to train outside once on a really nice, cool, pre-summer day. I’ve run a mile on the treadmill nonstop for the first time in at least a decade. I’ve learned the evils of “AMRAPs” which are “As Many Reps as Possible.” This means you go through a cycle of three of four exercises and keep doing them until you pretty much can’t anymore.

None of this 10 or 12 bullshit and then go for a coffee. You just keep cycling through until time runs out, say 10 or 12 minutes. Often it’s incline sit-ups or push-ups or one time a thing where I grabbed these giant ropes and just snapped them like Robot Indiana Jones until my arms wanted to fall off and crawl away.

I do Wall Balls which is where I grab a gigantic, heavy ball and throw it up at the wall as high as I can, catch the ball, do a squat with it and then throw it back up another 9 times, my life flashing before my eyes, my breath growing short.

The cruelest thing about the gym I go to is that it’s underground. When the exhausting workout is over and I’ve showered and recovered, there’s a flight of stairs I have to go up. A horrible, horrible set of stairs. You think a gym is going to invest in an elevator?

But I’m really happy, it feels like I’m actually doing something and the results so far have been great. I’ll let you know how it all turns out at the end of the summer.

Statesman Shots

Since the last time I posted, my co-host Tolly Moseley has gone off to have her beautiful baby and we’re filling the space while she’s gone with a rotating set of guest hosts from the Statesman staff.

I miss Tolly a lot and it’s a huge challenge filling that void, but we’re plugging along and it’s been fun having past guests return as hosts. Here’s the most recent ones.  Oh, one difference, I’m not going to embed the videos here anymore for the time being. Some change was made and now when you embed a video, an ad autoplays and I haven’t been able to figure out a way to disable that.

It might be fine for one video embed, but if you embed two or three or more in a blog post, they all start playing at the same time and the code is not smart enough to realize this and at least mute the sound or keep it from crashing the browser. It’s ruined several past blog entries and I just haven’t had time to go delete them out. So for now, no video embed, but please go check them out from the links below because they really are great and our audio/video producer Alyssa has been really doing a great job editing these and making them fun for the web.

Now then:

Addie and Wendi on Episode 19 of Shots

Episode 19 with guest co-host Addie Broyles and guest Wendi Aarons: Addie had been on the podcast twice before, including the one episode I had to miss for SXSW, and as usual, she’s smart, thoughtful and fun. Wendi is someone Addie and I both know and agree is one of the funniest people in Austin. Go check out her blog, it’s fantastic. We knew we’d have a good time chatting with Wendi and she did not disappoint at all. Topics included water parks, parenting in the summer (no class!) and how we stay fit (see blog post above!) for swimsuit season. We did a video about things we would say to people who tell us they’re moving to Austin. It was a joke, a total lark, basically a Top 10 List. Funny about that! The hashtag we started, #NoAustin, actually created a flap online. People took it to mean that the Statesman was encouraging people not to move to Austin and said we were un-Austiny in that way.

You can read a whole blog post/Storify that explains what happened with that.

Just want the audio for Episode 19? You can find it here on SoundCloud:

Statesman Shots guest Phil West

Episode 20 with guest co-host Michael Barnes and guest Phil West: Michael has been on the podcast before and has a better sense of what Austin is or isn’t than probably anyone I know, so it was fortuitous that we had him on to chat the week after the whole #NoAustin flap. He turned out to have the perfect take on it, as he usually does, and we made a #YesAustin video. As for Phil, Michael and I both know him as a PR person we’ve worked with in the past. But separately, Phil is working on a World Cup writing project that turned out to be great timing for us. We also talked about how damn hot it is in the summer and ways to walk/bike in that head. We also did a video about extreme Austin sports we’d like to see.

Just want the audio for Episode 20? Here it is:

On Statesman Shots: Max Meehan and Joe Gross

 

Episode 21 with guest co-host Joe Gross and guest Max Sheehan: Joe was our very first guest and has proven to be a great and reliable presence on the show no matter what we’re talking about. It was Joe’s idea to bring on Max, who is a wrestling promoter, but also very savvy about music and other kinds of pop culture. We had fun talking about wrestling, the glut of superhero movies and our terrible handwriting. We did a two-part video quiz, “Pro Wrestler or Comics Hero/Villain?” Here’s the main quiz and the epic tiebreaker (which I kinda messed up).

Just want the audio? Here it is below:

Statesman writing

"Port of Call"

A busy few weeks!

I wrote stuff about:

Got to meet Andy Daly and Andy Blitz of \"Review\" today so that was pretty cool. #atxfestival

Other random stuff

I was on Wisconsin Public Radio last week talking about the E3 game conference.

SPURS WON!

Lilly had a dance recital. She did very well (she’s with her aunt Marisa in the photo).

Recital girl with tía @mlimonatx

We discovered a bridge in New Braunfels and it’s our new favorite outdoor spot:

Bridge

New Braunfels

Doubt

27 May

Doubting one's self

[Up-front note: this won't be an epic, Ulysses-length blog post like last time. Relatively speaking, I'm keeping this one tight and short.]

This has been a weird couple of weeks leading up to a Memorial Day weekend where I don’t really have any assignments due or pending stuff. That sends me into a little bit of a panic (weird in that it’s a panic about not having anything to panic over). Then I start to feel guilty for not having something major to stress about right now, a big piece of writing to embark on or a pending project to edit over and revise.

It’s probably not healthy, this worry about things that don’t exist or aren’t happening. It’s like worrying about ghosts but not believing in God. You’d think you could just relax and hang back and enjoy a time when you’re not being haunted, but instead you’re in your haunted house thinking, “This doesn’t seem scary. Something’s up.”

This is why I’m not great with taking real vacations or hiatuses. I can be happy without work on my plate, I really can, but it’s not when I’m happiest, you know? I’ve been filling some time playing video games, doing more reading than usual, spending lots more time with the kids on the weekends since there haven’t been a lot of places I need to rush to-and-fro lately.

It’s nice and lazy and not at all my jam, but I’m trying hard to enjoy it for what it is. Last night, after Mad Men, I lay on the floor with the TV off and looked up at the ceiling intensely and then I dozed and then woke up and stared at the ceiling some more and then I rolled over and dozed with my face against a new rug we just bought and then I woke up and thought, “Well, that was a thing I just did. Dozing and gazing. That wasn’t so bad.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about productivity and creating things and the ways in which we sometimes have control over the things we make. Other times, we’re making things for someone else, or at least to someone else’s specifications-for-hire, and that’s totally all right too. You can be really creative and make neat things even when they’re not things you technically get to own.

Luck, for me, and just sticking with things has had a lot to do with being able to get to create things where I’m pretty much left alone to do them. The column I write for work is very much self-generated. Every now and then, my editor or someone else I work with will suggest a topic, but 95 percent of the time, it’s just a list I keep in my head or in our planner of stuff I want to write about in the future. Ideas are sometimes discussed and fleshed out and tweaked, but there’s nobody telling me, “No, don’t write about that.” It took a long time to get to that point of trust.

Same with Statesman Shots. We’ve had suggestions for guests and for topics from inside and outside the newsroom, but ultimately, Tolly, I and in an increasing number of cases, our great audio/video producer Alyssa, are the ones deciding how it’s gonna go from week to week and what the conversations will be. I don’t take that freedom for granted. It’s what makes the show special.

In other projects, even within groups, I’ve been able to have a lot of control over my own material.

But it gets a little weird when I venture into areas where I don’t know the lay of the land (say, publishing). I’ve had a couple of experiences over the last few years where instead of people telling me, “Yes, and…” it’s been more like, “No, but good luck” and it’s been difficult. It makes me feel like I’ve been shielded for too long from the realities of rejection and it makes me blink and stand there and say, “Wait, what? What do you mean no? That’s not how this is supposed to go.”

And because I’ve been so lucky for so long having the things I work on accepted and carried on and published and produced (in newspapers, on stage, on the radio, etc.) it throws me for a huge loop and fills me with self-doubt. And it’s weird and I’m not used to feeling that way and instead of keeping a cap on it and understanding that it only has to do with the one thing that’s being rejected, I swallow it whole and start letting it define me, feeling that I’ve somehow been talked down to.

I start to believe that I can’t write at all, that the other things I’ve written are no good, that I’m way past my peak and that younger, more energetic writers are doing much more interesting things with much more room to grow.

And then it becomes very easy to lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling and roll over on the new rug and just lay there believing you have nothing to say and no words to share and not even a decent Tweet all weekend to prove that you exist and are worth following.

It’s not self-pity or wallowing exactly and I don’t suffer from depression (thank goodness). But I have been wrestling a lot with self doubt lately, with not throwing out the ego baby with the rejection bathwater when things don’t go my way. I’ve been pretty spoiled by having lots of avenues to push work through and to even get paid at it. But I’ve hit an age where I worry that there are only so many constructive paths left to pursue and that some of the goals I had from so long ago, even as a teenager, maybe just aren’t who I am anymore or what I want. That maybe there should be more focus and less daydreaming, less shooting for the moon and more nosing that grindstone.

Did people really put their noses to grindstones? On purpose or were they forced? Late at night, when no one was around, did perverted workaholics put their balls on a grindstone? That must have been horrible when the inevitable trapped-sack incident occurred and they had to call someone in to take apart the grindstone and free some poor bastard’s grinded-down giblets.

Boy is this off track. No wonder I got rejected. I’m writing about testicles. Why does everything I write turn into scrotums?

So that’s what’s up lately. A little self-doubt, some ceiling-gazing (it’s comfier than navel-gazing) and trying really hard to enjoy the everyday pleasure that early summer is bringing to my wonderful little waterpark town.

Writing this helps. It starts to chip away at the doubt.

Statesman Shots

We’ve had a really great couple of weeks of Statesman Shots episodes. Here’s the two most recent:

Episode 17 with Kristin Finan, my editor! This one’s special because Kristin has been a constant behind-the-scenes advocate for “Shots,” championing its existence before we ever recorded one and continuing to encourage us along the way. Kristin also happens to be our travel editor, so it was a pretty easy decision to ask her on to talk about summer travel and work/life balance given that she juggles a family with all of her work travel. The video below was about one of the short episode topics, ’90s music. Gaze with fear at my aging CD collection!

 

Episode 18 with Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson of the ATX Television Festival: I interviewed Caitlin and Emily last year for a story about TV binge watching and found them to be hilarious and charming on the phone. We talk a lot about TV on the podcast, and knew it would be fun to geek out with them as the third season of their TV fest approaches. They were great on the show and just the kind of pop-culture geeks we enjoy hearing from.

In the videos below, we talk about monsters from TV and movies we love, spurred by the recent release of Godzilla, and about tips for parenthood. This was the last episode we did with Tolly before she went on baby leave (as far as I know, baby is still pending as of this writing!); she’ll be back and we’ll have guest co-hosts while she’s away. Speaking of Tolly, she also wrote a great blog post for the Shots blog about the parallel releases of Bernie Tiede (subject of the movie Bernie) and Michael Alig (subject of Party Monster).

Statesman stuff

The Great App Purge '14

Last week’s Digital Savant column was about ways to clean up app clutter on a mobile device or laptop. Got way too many apps on those home screens? This column should help you round them up and purge what you don’t need.

This week’s column is another advice/service piece about a pretty hot topic right now, whether you should cut the cord on cable or satellite TV service and if so, what your options are. This was a tough one to get down to a reasonable length and still feel fairly comprehensive, but I’m happy with the way it turned out.

I also did a Digital Savant Micro about Twitter’s new mute feature (handy! Dangerous!) and a short blog post about some of the guys from Rooster Teeth appearing on Chris Hardwick’s show @midnight. (They did very, very well. No wonder they have so many fans.)

I’ve got two videos in the pipeline for this week and we’ve already recorded next week’s Statesman Shots (the first without Tolly) with past guest Addie Broyles as our guest co-host and the great Wendi Aarons as our guest. It’s a really fun one.

Other stuff

That’s really about it except for a few photos to share. I’ve been doing a fitness training program that I’ll tell you about next time and we have a trip planned to New York next month that should be pretty exciting. It’s finally summer here and that means lots of summer fun.

Turtling at Schlitterbahn

New bike day

Lilly explains Bar Mitzvah for class: \"they truned into mans.\"

My mom still has a lot to teach me, like, \"Don\'t forget your sunglasses.\"

Happy belated Mother’s Day, kids’ bike day and whatever else you’re celebrating!

Things Conclude

14 May

I’ve seen the world / I’ve kissed all the pretty girls / I’ve said my goodbyes” – The Unicorns

I don’t think it’s unusual to be good at beginnings, OK at middles and not-so-great at endings. Rarely do I struggle with first words, but saying goodbye or ending on the right note or not knowing when to stop is often my undoing.

Since last time, I was looking forward to getting through to the other side of several things, of finishing off a set of assignments so I could get back to things being normal (which is not really a thing, this “normal” time, but I mean relatively speaking). I was looking ahead to South by Southwest Interactive being over in mid-March. I was looking forward to wrapping up the last few episodes of The Walking Dead Season Four and the last season of How I Met Your Mother for Previously.TV as both shows sprinted to the finish. (Who could have know that of the two, HIMYM would have the more controversial, darker conclusion?)

My birthday was coming and I was kind of looking forward to just getting past that and saying goodbye to 38 without giving it as much thought as I did last year, when I felt time rushing at me and very little of what I wanted to accomplish completed. It’s different this year. The two things I wanted most to bring into the world last year have both come to be. Instead of approaching this birthday with dread that so much was left to do, I was able to look back and feel a little more on-track. That was nice. But it was still kind of a so-long to an age and a time.

I didn’t know that there would be a lot more goodbyes than I was anticipating. I didn’t know, for example, that Television Without Pity, my online home for so many years for writing about gay alien superheroes, among other wonderful things, was going to be shut down. For the last few years, I hadn’t been recapping, only working on videos with my brother (which, unfortunately, appear to have not survived the death of TWOP online; maybe we can get them back up somehow) and doing a once-a-year tech gift guide. But it was still the place from which so many wonderful things sprang, where I found a big hunk of my online voice and where I made a lot of good friends. That news stung. You begin to take for granted that things don’t last forever when something like that looms so large you can’t imagine it gone. For a while, it looked as if all the recaps, all those years of work from so many writers, were just going to disappear. It took me a few days to remember that, oh yeah, Pablo and I did more than 100 videos for them as well. Where were those going to go?

I had those things in my head rolling around as SXSW receded into memory and the stuff with TWOP was getting so much attention recently and occupying my thoughts. Then I got a call from my wife. She found our cat, Rico, near our front door. He was gone, suddenly, this sweet, bold, cat who was the active adventurer of our three (then two, now one).

Not to make this the Dead Cat Journal, but I feel like this just happened, like I just buried a beloved friend. It was almost two years ago, but it hit hard. Cosa was a few years older, crankier, filled with strife and struggle. Rico was a happy cat, fun and carefree and completely independent. He seemed ever young and immortal.

MY car.

My daughter is about to complete first grade. My brother and I decided to take a short break from our Space Monkeys! comic for about two months to work on some other stuff and recharge our batteries. This month, I celebrated my 10-year wedding anniversary, which like a lot of things with us, always seems to fall in the middle of the week with a celebration planned later. We ended up making up for it with a fun weekend trip to Austin (away from the kids).  These three things aren’t real conclusions, but they are at least commas in the action, pauses to reflect in a stream of activity.

I don’t really know what to make of all the actual endings, though. I know that the things I care about most continue. I don’t know what to do for Rico’s brother, Diego, but I hope to make him a happy cat who doesn’t grieve for long. Our Shots podcast continues, and it’s been fun and rewarding in so many ways. But that, too, is due for a turn: my co-host Tolly is soon to have a baby, so there’ll be a lot of tap dancing and filling-in with guest-hosts while she’s gone, but that’s not the same as a conclusion, but another pause in the conversation.

TWOP certainly continues in spirit (and then some) at Previously, which in one of those weird, perfectly apt course-corrections of the universe, received a flood of traffic and new forum activity after the TWOP announcement.

Except for the situation with Rico, which is just sad (it took us a while to finally tell the girls and they were crushed for only a few seconds before asking if they could get new pets), the other goodbyes seem like opportunities to reevaluate, to use some of the free time (and vacation time) to figure out what other things I want to be doing and bringing ahead with me and what things I want to leave in the past.

Most of the things I’ve been happiest with have bubbled up from restless energy and, after several months of working at full speed, I’m looking forward to feeling a little bored and then breaking out of that.

The end of TWoP

 

End of TWOP

A last message at TelevisionWithoutPity.com

 

My online life really started with Television Without Pity. So much happened in the more than 13 years I wrote for them. I spent years with Smallville. I met so many of my favorite people. I made videos with my brother, more than 100 of them. And even toward the end, when I was really just doing a holiday tech gift guide for them annually, it still felt like home, a place I’d always want to come back to and check in with, a place I knew I could always go back to if I wanted to.

I said my goodbyes in a forum thread that included farewells and thanks from the staff past and present. I know there’s probably much more to say, but I feel like I left my heart and my tears in that post.

Recode broke the news about TWOP being shut down.

The archives will be preserved, at least for the recaps. The site went dark in early April and the forums will shut down after May 31.

Previously.tv

Part of the weirdness of TWOP shutting down has been that the site’s original creators, who went on to create Previously.tv, suddenly have this huge influx of new forum posters (the forums, as luck would have it, had just gone live a few weeks before the TWOP announcement) and of displaced writers, a lot of whom have a new place to pitch their ideas.

All of this happened on my last week of writing about Season Four of The Walking Dead and the week of the last episode ever of How I Met Your Mother.

It was also the same week that I got to be a guest on my favorite podcast, Extra Hot Great, in a first-ever Skype-remote third-coast extravaganza! We of course talked about those two shows and a lot more and I came THIS CLOSE (fingers squeezed together) to winning game time and then completely choked on my own hubris and exhaustion. Not to spoil it. I won’t tell you who DID win, so go listen to it.

As part of that podcast, I also appeared on four EHG Minis that week, including one about reality show shop challenges, one about documentary TV reboots (shoutout to cranky Mr. Wizard!), a Mini about actors on cancelled showed who should be picked up by other shows and a Mini about the way TV shows get cities we lived in wrong (in my case, Austin and The Real World).

And then here’s all the Walking Dead Particles and HIMYM Show-O-Matic write-ups (all screen shots AMC TV and CBS, respectively):

Walking Dead S4E12: Beth and Daryl get drunk-ass

Walking Dead Season Four, Episode 12: Beth and Daryl hang out and drink moonshine and stuff and it’s not at all weird or overly sentimental.

(I missed Episode 13 because of South by Southwest, but Tara Ariano did an awesome job subbing that week)

Walking Dead S4E14: Lizzie's folly

Walking Dead Season Four, Episode 14: The one where THEY WENT THERE with Lizzie and Mika. Boy did this one bum me out for days. I think this might be the most disturbing episode of the whole series so far.

Walking Dead S4E15: Shut up, Glenn

Walking Dead Season Four, Episode 15: Glenn is all schmoopy about Maggie, blah blah blah, tunnelcakes.

 

Walking Dead S4E16: Terminus among us

Walking Dead Season Four, Episode 16: Terminus is among us and it’s some crazy-ass shit in there.

A half-season that started off kinda slow and got good and crazy toward the end.

 


 

 

And now for that other show that’s not quite as good at killing off characters:

HIMYM S9E19: Oh no, don't do this!

How I Met Your Mother, Season Nine, Episode 19: The one where they hint that something in Ted and The Mother’s future might be VERY WRONG OH NO WHY DIDN’T WE KNOW BETTER THAN TO STOP WATCHING RIGHT THEN AND THERE!?

I didn’t do Episode 20 because of SXSW, but read Tara’s write-up here.

HIMYM S9E20: Oh cool, I like that guy.

How I Met Your Mother, Season Nine, Episode 21: Ted and The Mother’s first date, the actual wedding and Gary Blauman in a weird and random episode that should have flagged us to the misery ahead.

HIMYM S9E21: Jeez, FINALLY.

How I Met Your Mother, Season Nine, Episode 22: The penultimate episode strains and strains to tie things up, which we’ll soon learn was mere misdirection.

HIMYM S9E23: How to Mess It All Up

How I Met Your Mother, Season Nine, Episode 23/24: The finale. Holy moley did they miscalculate on this one and how much people would hate what they saw in the last few minutes. I’m not even going to spoil it or go into it, just Google, “How I Met Your Mother biffed ending” or “HIMYM wtf?” or “HIMYM what the shit went wrong!?” and you’ll get an idea. Or better yet, read what I wrote. I think I was surprisingly kind in my write-up given that I watched every single episode of the show and felt the ending completely negated a lot of what came before. But it’s over. And we never have to speak of it again.

Ginsberg done lost it!

And in a really fun one-shot, I subbed for an episode of Mad Men and it happened to be the nuttiest one of this half season 7, the one with the nipple and the threesome and all the insanity.

I plan to come back for the next season of Walking Dead because those Particles are super fun to do, and hope to write some other stuff here and there this summer. Go check out Previously if you haven’t already. There’s so much great stuff posted all the time.

 

Statesman stuff (non-SXSW)

"Titanfall," a game I wrote about

Stuff I have been writing since March for the Statesman that didn’t involve South by Southwest Interactive or Statesman Shots:

And in a nice break from all the tech stuff, I got to write a few reviews for the Moontower Comedy Festival. One was a review of Maria Bamford, whom I’d never seen live and who, I thought, was revelatory.

Then there was Fred Armisen’s thing that wasn’t really a full performance, but more like a good hang? Is that even a thing? Can you get paid to be a good hang in front of people? Because that’s a career I could really get behind.

 

SXSW insanity

#SXSW in one photo. #360sxsw

It’s been more than a month, so I won’t rehash everything about SXSW Interactive. It’s the busiest work time of the year for me and, this many years later, I still throw myself fully into the thing even as it expands in both directions (starting earlier, ending later as it bleeds into SXSW Music).

This year, one of the interesting things was that Fast Company did an oral history of Interactive and I was one of dozens of people they interviewed about the fest. I’m quoted in a fun wrap-up they did and in the full e-book they released before the festival (iBooks version; Kindle version).

That sort of set the tone of the festival a bit; a lot of it seemed to be spent looking back on how the fest feels now compared to its early years and looking ahead wondering if the tremendous growth has damaged its future.

The main pieces I wrote as previews of SXSW Interactive 2014 included a SXSW 101 for newbies that ran as a Digital Savant column.

During the fest, we ran a photo essay (also as a column) showing some of the visual highlights.

I had a front-page story covering the Edward Snowden talk with a video wrap-up about it as well.

Other keynotes I covered included Chelsea Clinton, Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Mythbusters” co-host Adam Savage, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki, and opening speaker Austin Kleon. I also interviewed Austin Kleon right before the festival about his new book, Show Your Work, and about the talk.

Panels and other coverage stuff:

Daft Punk but Latino

My wrap-up of the festival for the paper that ran two days after the fest concluded was about how SXSW Interactive this year struggled with the signal-to-noise ratio.

We broke some news about attendance dropping at Interactive for the first time in many years, but due to a numbers snafu from the festival, that turned out not to actually be true; the festival actually grew another 7 percent in 2014.

And later on, with a little more perspective, I wrote 10 lessons to take away from this year’s festival (plus two bonus lessons on the blog post about the column).

I probably missed one or two things, but honestly, at this point, who the fuck cares? If you even came close to making it through that list, you care a lot more about my coverage of the fest at this point than I do nearly two months later. It feels like a fever dream, honestly. A really fun one.

Titanfall is here. #sxsw #sxsw360

The George Takei story

Here is the story that goes with that video, in brief.

During SXSW I got offered an interview with George Takei, who was in town promoting a new online show he was working on called Takei’s Take. He was also doing a panel that I was going to have to miss and we kept going back and forth on whether we could schedule something or not.

After lots of wrangling and dealing with downtown traffic congestion, I was able to make it out for a very short window we had with him and one of our new videographers met me there. As we got ready to sit down on the rooftop of a building pretty far away from all the SXSW action, I told our videographer pretty much everything I knew about Takei, from random Star Trek trivia to how much I’d learned about him from his years as an announcer on The Howard Stern Show. Who knew how he’d be in “Real life,” but on that show, at least, he was an extremely good sport, a guy comfortable enough to talk about his personal life, his penis preference, life with his husband Brad and, on an unexpectedly poignant radio documentary on Stern’s network, his time as a child in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

We sat down with George finally, who was as warm, welcoming, sharp and gregarious as one would hope. The video is the bulk of the conversation and I think he was pleased to get questions about the musical he’s working on. And I’m pretty damned sure nobody else interviewing him that day got him to sing. (Around the 9:30 mark) I’m adding a line to my resume’s list of skills that says, “Got serenaded by George Takei.”

Here’s what is not in the video: I asked George if he’s sick of people coming up and doing impressions of his voice and he said not at all, he finds it flattering. He may have been acting polite and secretly despises it but when I intoned in my best Takei voice the word, “Musculature,” he gave out a hearty laugh that didn’t seem faked.

But the best part was after the interview when I was handed a small temporary tattoo of George Takei’s face and I told him, “I know just where to put this!”

And, very naughty, he purred, “Oh, and where would that be?!”

So I fired back, “Wouldn’t you like to know!”

And of course, he said, “Oh MYYYY!” with perfect timing.

We both laughed and he went off to get his stuff to leave.  Then a few seconds later, as he was passing on his way out with a small entourage, we said goodbyes and I called out after him, “You BEHAVE, George!” He left with that delightful guffaw ringing in the Austin air.

And that’s my George Takei story. I don’t think it could have gone any more perfectly.

I made this gentleman sing to me and we kinda flirted. #360sxsw #sxsw

 

Shots

I don’t know what to add since last time about Statesman Shots, the podcast that Tolly Moseley and I started, except to say that I’m so in love with the show it’s really become my favorite thing about my job right now and the thing I look forward to working on most every week.

It’s still a baby podcast, a small show with a small audience as it’s only a few months old. We’re cheap; we haven’t spent much money at all on the show (just time and staff resources and some freelance money) and there’s been no marketing of it at all outside of our editorial department.

That makes me a little nervous, but I also know that we’re putting out a really great show every week and that the people who have found it and have listened to it (or watched the videos) seem to get what we’re doing and enjoy it.

I think it’s hard to convey, especially over social media and other short-form places, how much we’re packing into each episode, how wide-ranging the discussions are and how much ground we cover in about an hour.

My big new year’s thing for 2014 was “Outside,” of getting out of my head and into the world a little more.

I still spend a lot of time at home and in the office, but with “Shots” I feel a lot more connected to the community and for an hour each week (and during all the prep time and post-recording discussion that goes on), I feel like I’m getting to put out there stuff that’s on my mind and to connect with smart, entertaining people. It’s a real gift and I can only hope that the love and care we’re putting into it and the fun we’re having comes across and transfers well.

Here’s all the episodes we’ve done since last time I blogged, two long months ago, with a little behind the scenes.

Episode 7: Dale Roe on Austin comedy  — We didn’t have any videos this week because of a massive memory card failure, but it was still a great pre-SXSW episode with a lot of discussion about comedy. And I got to do my Hank Hill voice.

Alyssa Vidales, who shoots and records our stuff and edits it beautifully, took this photo:

Episode 8 with Peter Blackstock and guest co-host Addie Broyles — I had to miss this recording because of SXSW, but Tolly did a great job taking the reigns with fill-in co-host Addie Broyles to talk about SXSW Music, robots and the future of food. Little did we know how crazy SXSW Music would actually be.

Episode 9 with Statesman music/entertainment editor Sharon Chapman — Sharon is incredibly busy and had to have been super exhausted right after SXSW Music weekend when we recorded, but she was kind enough to join us to talk about the tragic accident that happened that weekend. It was a very heavy topic to discuss, but Sharon was a great guest and her pop culture savvy is evident through the whole episode.

Episode 10 with fitness writer Pam LeBlanc — This turned out to be a really fun one. Pam is one of those people who completely loves her job and her enthusiasm for getting out there and trying new things and experiencing what Central Texas has to offer is inspiring. We recorded this right as I was deciding to take up a new personal training program that has turned out really well. I was getting really tired of feeling like my body and my lack of exercise were getting out of control. I loved the discussions we had about camps in this episode.

Episode 11 with happiness expert (and UT McCombs School of business professor) Raj Raghunathan — this was our first big risk in having on a guest we’d never actually met before. We went back and forth on whether this was a good idea and it turned out great. Two things convinced us we should try it: we couldn’t resist the idea of having a happiness expert speak with us and Prof. Raghunathan’s videos online showed he was a good speaker with personality who wouldn’t freeze up on camera. He was a really entertaining guest.

Episode 12 with Brian Gaar — It would probably embarrass Brian to hear this, but we were actually very nervous about it because Brian is becoming a very successful and respected stand-up comic and Twitter superstar. We began to think there was no way he’d bother with our goofy podcast even though I’ve known him as the guy in the newsroom I geek out with over new Nintendo releases. So we held off on asking him on for a while because of this. Moontower Comedy Fest presented a good opportunity and Brian didn’t hesitate for a moment to say yes. Once we knew he was on board, we knew he’s be great on the show and he did not disappoint. I finally got to see Brian perform live and it was a huge treat. He has a new comedy album you should check out.

And a post I wrote about the addictive games 2048 and Threes!

Episode 13 with Matthew Odam on Austin food culture — This is another one we held off on for a while, but mostly for logistics. As a restaurant critic, Matthew doesn’t prominently show his face in print or on video, living in a state of pseudo-anonymity on the public scene. Since we shoot video with each episode, we had to figure out how to have him on without showing his face. We ended up shooting him from over the shoulder but at one point, we even considered pixellating him. In the end, we thought it would be too distracting to do it that way. I love the “Name Tolly’s Baby” segment, which is one of the first videos I feel really gelled visually with what we do, along with the one about dream desks.

Episode 14 with Nancy Flores on several Latino entertainment festivals and other topics — Nancy was proposed as a guest from the very beginning and said she was interested, so it was just a matter of figuring out the best week to have her come in. With two big Latin-American-themed festivals coming up, the timing was good. Also, and this is delicate to discuss, I feel strongly we need to have a pretty diverse roster of guests on the show and up to this point we hadn’t discussed at all much related to being Latino in Austin. (And I take the blame for that since it’s not something I don’t always feel qualified to discuss as I float between being connected/disconnected to that part of my cultural makeup). (The first video also tells the story of my bummer birthday flat tire fiasco.)

 

Episode 15 with screenwriter and blogger Lauren Modery on hipsterism and more — this was another case of a news event taking over the discussion and working out, timing-wise. A well-known local blogger died in a pedestrian/drunk driving accident and it was someone Lauren knew. We were able to take up a discussion that had been happening all weekend on Twitter and in local blogs and try to put it in a larger context. On a story I worked on about podcasts, I had watched Lauren get interviewed, so it was in the back of my mind that we should have a different conversation than the one she’d already had with someone else.

Episode 16 with nonprofits guru (and fun pal) David J. Neff — Tolly and I both know and have worked with David on stuff and knew he would get our vibe quickly and keep up. I give David a hard time online a lot because he’s silly that way, but he’s actually one of the smartest, get-shit-done do-gooders I know in Austin. Whenever I feel a social group needs to get together for something, Dave is always near the top of my invite list. Shots was no exception. Of all the videos we’ve done, I think the zombie survival one below is my favorite so far.

A post I did about one of my picks on “A Toast,” the TV show Silicon Valley’s first five episodes.

And lastly, a new “MasterGIF Theatre” related to the Star Wars stuff we did.

If you’re not into all these videos and don’t want to go through all the blog entries, you can grab the audio of these episodes directly from iTunes and/or SoundCloud. Please subscribe, please download, please rate the show. We really need your support!

We’re also on Facebook and Twitter, ready to talk with you about pretty much anything.

Space Monkeys

Monkeys discuss TVOur monkeys took a multi-week hiatus during and after South by Southwest as both Pablo and I were so busy in March. Then we got back on track, but decided, two months later, to take a real official break until early July. So here are the last comics till then!

The monkeys returned after SXSW with a comic about Titanfall, which we had both been playing. We actually worked up a SXSW-related comic, but by the time it would have been finished, too much time had passed and it seemed like it wasn’t going to work.

There was also a comic based on the shitstorm that followed the finale of How I Met Your Mother. I’m not exaggerating. I believe actual shit flew in the air in a storm of bad feelings from fans.

We did a comic about scholarships, donors and kidneys. It all ties together neatly!

The General got himself into a scrape by saying, “Oh, HAIL no!” So don’t do that.

Bobbo and Meany tried Google Glass, with disastrous results.

And Bobbo played a videogame about sloths. He found he liked it a lot.

Expect the comic to return around July 10.

 

Other random stuff

A few more random things.

Here’s a photo I love of the girls from a month or two ago:

Rides.

 

 

This was taken around midnight as my birthday was starting when I went to see Wild Child at Emo’s. Fantastic show.

 

Watching Wild Child perform as my birthday rolls in. Doing this one right.

 

Ralph Barrera and I accepting Barbara Jordan Media Awards for a story we worked on with Tina Phan, a profile of artist Francis Tsai.

 

At the Barbara Jordan Awards with Ralph Barrera. Also winning: Tina Phan!

Probably my favorite picture of the girls right now:

Yesterday, Easter part 1

And one more, how I felt after SXSW concluded, taken at the Museum of the Weird, on a day when I get to hang out with Rob and Schuyler, two of my favorite people.

Me, when #SXSW is over. #360sxsw

Super resemblance, right?

There’s more, there’s always so much more, but I’ve been working on this blog entry for two months, the longest I’ve ever let one slide, and it’s time to put it to bed and, I hope, come back more often and much shorter.

Sorry for so much, but it was a pretty eventful two months, right? I always feel like I should be doing more even when the evidence suggests I’m already dong way too much, and I’ve been in one of those strange moods pretty much this whole year, trying to decide on one more thing I could be doing that would be fun and challenging and special.  I’m still working on last year’s thing and trying to get that out somehow, but I don’t want to just stall and not move forward. I have an idea or two and now that this blog post is done, don’t really have an excuse not to tackle it.

That’s probably why it took two months. Nothing like working hard as a means of procrastination.

See you soon.

‘Casting

2 Mar

Recording with Gary Dinges in Episode 3 of the new podcast. "Statesman Shots" photos by Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman

Recording with Gary Dinges in Episode 3 of the new podcast. “Statesman Shots” photos by Ralph Barrera

Last time, I said I would tell you when this big podcasting project went live.

It did! And I didn’t.

Part of it was that things just got really busy. Like cray-cray-biz-bay. I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in a kickboxing match, but not as a fighter because that would be really unfair, more like a referee having to hop back and forth. Still! Very busy. And it’s not even South by Southwest Interactive yet, but that’s coming. Like next week, already!

But I think the real reason I didn’t rush on here and post a shorty just to let you know the first new podcast was posted was that it still didn’t feel real. We recorded a pilot episode in November and as of the last writing, we had recorded our first official, “Real” episode, but even when it was up two days later and we sat back and admired how our little project had become a real reality, it still hadn’t sunk in that this was something we were going to continue doing every week.

Our blog had just launched, we weren’t on iTunes yet (that happened the following week), we were still trying to figure out what to do with Twitter and Facebook and there hasn’t been a moment of recording that I haven’t been paranoid that something would go horribly wrong, equipment-wise, and we’d be left without a podcast at all.

But as of this date, four weeks later, I’m thrilled to report, with a sense of finality and much-boosted self confidence that yes it happened. It is happening. IF this was a movie, it would be The Happening (but with a better ending). This idea we had in freakin’ mid-2012 and that we formalized into a proposal at the end of that year and that Tolly Moseley and I spent the better part of another year trying to make a reality now feels like a real gig. And now it’s a ton of work, real work, week after week on top of my regular work, but it’s work that I’m so happy to do and so thrilled to have some control over that it’s changed the whole dynamic for me of what it is to get my stuff done.

(If you want to hear Tolly’s take on our little adventure, please read her recent post. While I’m dealing with balancing a commute and kids, Tolly is in pregnancy land and handling it all with grace and good humor.)

Statesmanshots-tolly-omarblog

It’s one of those be careful what you wish for things, but I think I wished really well this time. I partnered up with someone who in unfailingly positive and gung-ho about every aspect of what we’re doing and who has built a reputation in town for years as being kind and generous; we’re seeing a lot of that good karma come back our way. (Aside: a big lesson I’ve learned through this has been the difference between working with naysayers versus can-do’ers; it can really tip the scales from failure, delay and unwanted compromise to success and excitement). We knew from the beginning what we wanted to do and never gave up that it would happen one way or another.

statesman_shots_logoSo enough of me talking it up. It’s called “Statesman Shots.” It is a podcast, a weekly discussion with me, Tolly (who I knew as a witty and thoughtful writer on Austin Eavesdropper) and a different guest each time, many of them drawn from the talented folks I work with at the Austin American-Statesman. Back in November, we spoke to Joe Gross, one of the most pop-culture savvy people I know. For our first new episode, we agreed Addie Broyles, our prolific and high-profile food writer, would be the perfect person to join us.

And then we kept rolling! For the third episode, we welcomed TV and radio biz/entertainment writer Gary Dinges and then, music writer Deborah Sengupta Stith came on to talk about South by Southwest Music and a recent set of stories she worked on about pay-to-play in Austin. Last week, Joe Gross returned to talk about SXSW Film, the Oscars and a lot more. And then Michael Barnes, the Statesman’s social writer, came in and blew us away with his wisdom about Austin’s culture and its people. We’re so lucky to have such amazing guests.

The podcast is on a blog that we’re starting to update with non-podcast stuff as well. Like I said, we got on iTunes which was a huge deal. We got on Twitter and Facebook. And, the part we weren’t anticipating was that we’d be pair up with some video wizards, Tina Phan and Alyssa Vidales, who have not only been producing our audio, but who’ve been knocking out videos every week to go with the podcasts. They could easily just be shorter versions of the podcast, but they’ve gone above-and-beyond to make them more visually interesting and to give the videos their own personality.

If this sounds like a big old ad, it maybe should. I’m in love with this project; it’s something that feels like it simply couldn’t exist if Tolly and I hadn’t dreamed it up and willed it into existence over a very long period of time. My kind editors have been great in supporting the project, but also just letting us run with it and shaping it to the things we think would be most fun and interesting to talk about.

This week, we hit six episodes. A lot could change and we’re only now starting to get a little bit of feedback from our tiny starting base of people paying attention. But I haven’t felt this confident in a project I’ve worked on in a while. In fact, for years, I avoided anything that smacked of leadership or project management. I became an editor at a really young age and did it for enough years to realize I was very unhappy as a manager. So I went back to being a creative/worker bee and felt much more fulfilled. I was thrilled to not be in charge of anything but my own work.

But this is different. It’s a passion project and I’m throwing myself into it all the way.

Mostly, I hope you like it. I hope that it’s not just Tolly and me who have this crazy notion that Austin needs a show like this done in this way with guests coming on to blow us away with their expertise.

I’m thrilled with how it’s going and what I’m probably happiest working on right now.

There’s like 10 or more videos by now, at least one or two for each episode, but here’s two of my favorites:

Other Statesman stuff

I wrote a column about the Austin-made, Norse-themed game The Banner Saga and also wrote up a blog post with additional details that didn’t make it into the article.

A column explaining The Internet of Things and examining how the future of Internet-connected everything might play out.

A column about Austin’s podcasting scene and how our new “Statesman Shots” show fits into that.

An overview column about what to expect from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive, which I’ll be attending next week.

And a column loosely related to SXSW about how to use digital tools to manage big conferences.

Digital Savant Micro features about cryptocurrency, SoundCloud and how to listen to and make podcasts and what is “WhatsApp?”

I wrote about Austin’s first Bitcoin ATM and wrote an ode to Clone High on the Shots blog.

When it was announced that Comcast is going to be buying Time Warner Cable, I Tweeted some stuff about it and that caught the attention of a producer I know at the local Fox 7 station. So they invited me to come on the air and answer questions about it! I will admit that my butt clenched up when they started asking, “You posted some Tweets last night…” I mean, shit, that could be anything! But it went well, I think, except for me spilling water in the green room (which was not actually green; the room, not the water) and how after the segment I tried to go up and hug and high five everyone but they were getting ready for the next segment and shooing me out. Here’s the interview:

On Previously.tv

A boy and his pudding

Walking Dead is back! I worked up my first “Particles” feature on the mid-season premiere, “After.” That was followed by Particles for the second and third episodes of Season Four/Second Half.

How I Met Your Mother: not half bad half the time!

A really good, Mother-focused How I Met Your Mother and then a not-so great one about Ted’s continued whining and pining for Robin and then a pretty good one about hangover cures.

Also new at Previously: Forums! Come chat with like-minded pop-culture junkies about zombie TV and comic books and stuff.

Space Monkeys!

Flyin' kitesA comic about fitness wristband gadgets (your FitBit, your Nike FuelBand+, etc…).

A comic about LEGO obsession.

And one about the very-losing Denver Broncos who did not play very well at the Super Bowl.

A comic about Meany’s Oscar submission, which capped off a short two-part storyline.

And probably my favorite of the bunch, a comic about kites that turned out really, really nicely. Ironically, the Zilker Park Kite Festival, which inspired the comic, was delayed for bad weather.

Other stuff

  • As I’m wrapping this post up, Teatro Vivo’s new show, “The Mexcentrics in Pulga Time Machine” just closed its three week run. It was a really interesting writing process on this one, in some ways very different from last year’s “Pulga Nation”. We had a lot less time to write it and we ended up combining a new storyline with some of the stuff we liked from the first, very short show. We saw it last week and really enjoyed it. Here’s some photos from after the show:

Post-show

Selena lives!

  • South by Southwest Interactive starts Friday, so my whole next two weeks are pretty wrapped up in that. I’ll have plenty of updates from that to share, but probably not till long after it’s all over. Pretty much all the action for me will be on the Digital Savant blog.
  • The girls are doing pretty great. Took Lilly to see Wicked, which they’ve been obsessed over since Frozen started to wear off. She had a pretty great time:

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