‘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:

IMG_3090

Wintry mix

26 Jan

Nobody's house in Austin looked anything like this during our "Snowpocalypse"

Nobody’s house in Austin looked anything like this during our “Snowpocalypse”

Here are three short things and then everything else I’ve been working on.

Ice

As I’m writing this, we are getting past a very brief ice/snow storm that in central Texas was treated as apocalyptic. At first, people were calling it “Snowpocalypse” ironically because all we ever get is a dusting of snowflakes and maybe half an inch of ice in our worst winters, but then more than 200 people got into car accidents and suddenly it doesn’t seem like such a joke.

Transplanted northerners who live here think the whole thing is silly but they’re also smart enough to stay the Hell off the roads because people here can’t drive even when it’s 70 degrees and sunny. I used to think we had pretty decent drivers compared to other parts of the country but that was before smart phones. Now I don’t trust anybody on the road; I just assume they’re all texting and playing Angry Birds as they drift out of the lanes at 80 mph. Trust me. I commute more than 100 miles roundtrip. I see this shit every damn day.

The ice meant we stayed home with the girls. We took turns doing work-from-home shifts as we alternated entertaining/feeding/keeping warm the daughters. After much pre-production, they finally got bundled up and went outside into the wintry expanse of our backyard which was pretty iced over. It wasn’t the wintry wonderland they were promised by dreams of Frozen-like snowfall (more on that in a minute). But they were enchanted anyway, especially Carolina, who hasn’t really ever seen snow and was too young to appreciate icicles and crunchy grass last time we had this.

By the afternoon, they were completely stir crazy from being inside the house too long. Before dark the ice was already gone and it was just a cold day.

I really don’t know how people who deal with months of snow do it. Not the de-icing the car part or the driving on snow. I lived in Oklahoma, which isn’t that much further north, but gets tons more snow. It never bothered me and I actually prefer it to the 110-degree summers here.

But having kids in cold weather is stressful. You always imagine they’re going to throw over the covers and wake up chilled in the morning or that an icicle will fall off the roof and pierce them in the eye. I guess summer has dangers, too, but they’re dangers I grew up with and that we’re used to dealing with. Sunscreen, A/C, lots of shade and trips to cool swimming pools.

Winter is… what? Hot chocolate, lots of Netflix and clothes layering?

Ice explorers (not much ice)

Imminent launch

Last time I wrote here, I was about to go back to work after several vacation weeks and was full of nervous energy about what was ahead.

Part of it was that I was returning to writing my weekly column with absolutely no idea what I was going to write next, which is always a scary leap of faith that tends to work itself out. That’s exactly what happened. After a few days of fumbling and catching up on email, the ideas started coming and now things are pretty much scheduled more than a month out as things should be in the months before South by Southwest Interactive arrives. (I felt the cold chill of something walking over my grave as I typed that.)

The thing I was most excited to get back to was preparing to launch our podcast. We did a pilot/test episode back in November and as cobbled together as it was, we all really liked how it turned out and everyone agreed we should do more of them.

By the time you read this we may have already recorded our first new episode. It’s going to be called “Statesman Shots” and it will have its own blog and will be a weekly show about Austin culture hosted by me and by the charming and wonderful Tolly Moseley. You’re going to get sick of hearing me talk about how great Tolly is, but everyone who has met her through working on this agrees: she’s the best. Funny, nice, full of great stories, curious about culture and possessed of a great voice made for broadcasting.

It turns out that putting together a podcast for work (as opposed to doing one myself in the garage) is a shit-ton of work and involves lots of moving parts. I’ve basically become a project manager, something I haven’t really done since my days as an editor, but I’m so determined to make Shots work that it hasn’t been a bother at all. It’s been fun to geek out about audio quality, to talk about how the podcast will work in the context of everything else we do (including ways to get things that come out of it into the print edition) and planning ahead.

I want you to hear it and that will be something that can happen very, very soon. It’s hard to believe that it’s taken a year and a half for Tolly and I to turn this into a reality, but I’m so glad neither of us gave up on the idea and that the talented people I work who are helping make it happen believe in it, too.

As soon as we have the first new episode and videos posted (oh yes, there’ll be videos, too), I’ll put up a blog entry about it here. It could be as soon as Thursday or Friday.

Thinkery

This was a very small thing, but something I haven’t forgotten since last week.

We went to the Austin children’s museum, which moved and was renamed The Thinkery. (Try explaining that name to a four-year-old. Not possible.)

It was great, just the right amount of learny stuff mixed with fun, running-around stuff and the kids didn’t take a moment to overthink any of it, they just dived in and grabbed and jumped and did whatever was called for in each area as if there were specific microchips in their brains that were activated in each new environment instructing them what to do and how it was to be done.

There was one big playroom with big, foamy objects to climb on and toys to bounce upon. I noticed right next to it was an area that was closed off and meant for infants and toddlers. There were soft toys like giant carrots strewn on the floor of that area and kids were having a great time.

My daughters didn’t even give that space a glance. They walked right past it without any inkling of curiosity and went straight to the big-kids area.

It left my breathless for a moment. I know they’re not toddlers anymore. Lilly’s long past that. I know it. But Carolina was just a baby. She was just in diapers. Lilly grew fast, but her move from infant to toddler to little girl seemed to take ages. Carolina, on the other hand leapfrogged through those stages impatiently, never clinging to them the way her sister did. She never looked back in her race to be like her sister.

It was a weird moment that they didn’t notice, but that made itself loud and clear to me. I don’t have toddlers. My toddlers are long gone. And it’s way past time to treat them as if they were.

Lilly at Thinkery

Carolina at Thinkery

Statesman stuff

In addition the podcast stuff, which is taking up more and more time as we get close to launch, here’s what else I’ve been writing in January.

As soon as I got from vacation, I wrote my annual Omarstradamus column, predicting 2014′s year of technology trends. I also took a look back at my 2013 predictions to see how I did.

Over my vacation, I got pretty obsessed with the movie Her (which I got to see early) and the British TV show Black Mirror, which aired on DirecTV. I jumped at the chance to write a story comparing their opposing views of the near future.

My next column was about wearable tech, inspired by my finally breaking down and buying a Fitbit device. I’m still wearing it and I’m getting better about remembering to turn it on/off for sleep and using it as a motivator for exercise, not just as a pedometer. I also did a short follow-up blog post with a few more observations.

Last week’s column was about a Saturday I spent at Data Day Texas, a conference for data geeks where I was in way over my head. That’s not such a bad thing! Turns out I still learned six things worth passing on.

My disc-less disc adventure with Redbox

Micro features in January included one about Austin e-lending library help, an explainer on dual-boot devices, about what’s going to happen when Microsoft stops support Windows XP and a recent one about ways to watch the Super Bowl online and on an iPad or smart phone.

For the Digital Savant blog, I had some South by Southwest Interactive news, including speakers added to the lineup such as Julian Assange, Mindy Kaling and Neil deGrasse Tyson (!).

I also wrote about my weird adventure renting games on Redbox. Or rather NOT renting games because every disc I rented turned out to be a piece of paper put there by a PlayStation 4 disc thief. It turns out it’s a huge nationwide scam that shows no signs of going away. So I’m not renting anymore, obviously.

And like I said, there’ll be lots more to share once the podcast gets going.

Previously.tv

Credit: Cartoon Network

Credit: Cartoon Network


The Walking Dead
is still on hiatus (but not for long).

For now, I’m still writing about How I Met Your Mother’s wildly erratic last season. Their new Slap Bet episode was a huge disappointment but then the episode right after that (which featured bugs with boobs, follow the link to see) was a big return to form. Conclusion? Every episode is a crapshoot.

My favorite thing I got to write was a “Get on board!” about the animated show Rick and Morty, another recent obsession. I’ll be talking about it a little bit on the first new podcast as well.

Space Monkeys!

Blackfish comic

Lastly, our monkey friends have kept on keeping on after the holidays.

We made a comic about Her and its implications for future man/sloth-computer romance.

We also did a comic featuring the return of Anything But Mini-Me, a child we have not abandoned in the story.

And most recently, Meany embarked on the creation of a documentary, inspired (or angered, at least) by Blackfish. He might be the only character around who can find a reason to be mad at orcas.

Other stuff

If you made it this far… wow, congratulations! Here are some other random things happening:

  • I was on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time to talk about tech that came out of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. The MP3 audio is here directly.
  • The Mexcentrics, the new sketch troupe I worked with last year, has a new show coming in February! We wrote it in a blur through December and early January and it’s already in rehearsals. I really dig the poster for it.
  • What I’ve been playing: I finished Super Mario 3D World, which was just absolutely fantastic. I’ve been playing Brothers, I finished The Banner Saga (which my next column is about) and I’m still trying to find time to dig into Gone Home and other games I missed playing through in 2013.
  • I’m sure there’s a lot more I’m missing, but that’s all I can think of. The kids are doing great (they got to go to the San Antonio Zoo in addition to The Thinkery this month and have been having lots of adventures around here).

That’s it! Thanks for sticking through a long update.

Outside

1 Jan

Outside

I’m starting writing this at the very end of 2013 (local time) and it won’t be finished until 2014.

I don’t really do resolutions or Best Of lists here or anything more reflective than what’s in my memory. I don’t go back and read old blog entries or skim what I wrote over the year on this site the way I do with year-end stuff I do for work. Maybe I should. Maybe there are weird personal patterns to be discovered, things that would be painfully obvious about repeated habits if I only put in the study time.

But right now I’m less reflective about what happened in 2013 (which was a mixed bag for sure, but I got out pretty well unscathed compared to lots of my friends and co-workers) than just trying to figure out how to start ’14.

I spent a lot of 2012 in a weird, spiraling kind of panic. Not a mid-life crisis, I don’t think, but definitely hearing the ticking clock of aging more loudly and realizing I wasn’t happy with what I was doing with my writing. I got really lucky; the only way I’ve found to dig out of a hole like that is to get busy with something new you’re excited about. It turned out I had three things start to form at the end of last year. The relaunch of Space Monkeys! (both the website and the comic, rebuilt and relaunched on Jan. 1, 2013). An idea for a novel that I thought I could actually finish this time (it was completed in June). And a podcast that Tolly Mosely and I wanted to do together.

In terms of concrete goals accomplished, 2013 worked out really well. Once the novel was complete, I was able to let myself start doing some regular freelance again, something I really missed while I was head-down the first half of the year.

But as the year closed and I had some vacation time to rest up and slow down, I came to realize something. I spent a lot of this last year closing myself off.

I’m a bit isolated living outside of Austin anyway, but this year, I really retreated into myself more than I probably ever have. I worked from home more and I didn’t socialize as much. I missed lots of happy hours, stopped asking friends out to lunch and did a lot more communicating over social media and email than in person.

Some of it was intentional. I had a goal of writing every night from January to June no matter what. That didn’t always happen, but when I missed a night, I would try to make up for it the night after. That didn’t leave a lot of time for making plans to go out. I mean, I went out. I went to concerts and South by Southwest and some comedy shows. But each time I did that, at least from January to June, I associated it with having to pay a time-and-effort price later.

More often than not, I would sometimes see something on the events calendar I would have normally jumped at the chance to do and just say, “Nope.” Can’t do it. Not enough time or energy. Going out felt like a hassle much of the time. So I stayed home more.

I have some friends this year (on social media, of course) who’ve chosen a word for 2014. For some it’s a goal, for others it’s a theme like “Connect” or “Happy.”

Mine is just “Outside.” Not camping, God forbid, I mean just getting outside of my own head and having more real-life experiences and conversations.

It’s so much easier to never leave your desk, to just post stuff to Twitter like thousands of tiny notes in bottles that may or may not reach the right eyes. I’m becoming old enough that it’s becoming a real challenge to make new friends and maintain ties with old ones.

I just know that retreating further into my own headspace isn’t what I want to do with this new year.

I think the podcast may help. It’s something I think will be great fun and something I hope people will want to listen to because we plan to fill the guest chair with really smart, insightful people Tolly and I want to engage with in conversation. But I think one thing that’s been driving the effort on my end is having a place to talk about stuff, out loud, every week with other people in the same room.

That seems like a lot of hoops to jump just to yap my mouth, but maybe that’s just the age we’re living in.

I honestly don’t know what to expect next in 2014. The literary agent has the first few chapters of the novel and I’ll be emailing soon to see what the status is on that. I’m hopeful, but I won’t be devastated if I have to move on and figure out what to do next if the answer’s not what I’d like.

The podcast (fingers crossed) will begin regular production toward the end of January and we’ll be working very hard to get that on its feet.

I hope to keep writing for Previously and to do a little more freelancing elsewhere as well as some shorter-form stuff here. Blogging has become really difficult. I used to knock out three entries a week back in the day and now it takes me multiple days to do one. (Sometimes weeks. They grow if I don’t tend to them, like ragged fingernails.)

Honestly, this is the first year that I’ve looked at the blog (which I used to call a journal) and thought, “Maybe I won’t be doing this by the end of next year.” Maybe the blog will stop at some point. That seems to be the way things are going, right? Less blogging, more… I don’t know… other kinds of saying what’s on your mind.

This is all just about writing stuff and work. I haven’t even talked about the challenges of being a dad, which is wonderful and sometimes demoralizing. I sometimes wonder if I’m a good enough parent, if the kids are picking up bad habits and unhealthy emotions and whether there will ever be enough time to do it right or if we just put too much pressure on ourselves instead of having fun and being present.

I think I could do a lot better, but I also know that trapping myself in my head obsessing doesn’t help anybody. I think taking action outside my head, allowing myself to do stuff and make stuff instead of turning everything inward is the way to go.

So that’s what I’ll be doing. That’s really what I’m working on.

Statesman stuff

Because of my extended vacation, I haven’t had a whole lot written for work lately, but the week I was in the office, I did write a piece that ran on Christmas Eve about last-minute (and post-Christmas) stuff to do related to tech gifts. It’s probably too late to be much use for you, but probably worth keeping bookmarked somewhere for next year.

Twitch

I did a Digital Savant Micro explaining the video game broadcasting service Twitch as well and some blog entries about my friend Korey Coleman’s new post-Spill.com Kickstarter project and top Google searches in Austin for 2013.

The column returns to its weekly perch starting next week with some 2014 predictions from Omarstradamus and with Micro in tow.

Monkey stuff

New Year's

Our Space Monkeys tried to gain science-based super powers, exchanged Christmas gifts and counted down to the New Year.

With some major WordPress help from a friend/professional, we were able to restore some functionality on the site we’d lost. Hundreds of blog posts related to the comics weren’t appearing on the site, so once they were gone from the home page, they were pretty much lost forever to anybody but us. We fixed that and one example of a blog post that I would have hated to lose is one in which I talk about our first year back doing the comic.

The comic has been the very definition of a passion project for me and my brother. We don’t make money on it and the audience is still pretty small, but we really do enjoy it and have found working together on it to be really rewarding.

Previously.tv stuff

Just one thing: I wrote about the last episode of How I Met Your Mother before the show went on winter break, an episode called, “Bass Player Wanted.”

Other stuff

In completely random order:

  • We got some really great medical news about our older daughter. It’s not something I’ve ever written about publicly, but it’s something we’ve been dealing with for a few years that, unless something unanticipated happens, we’ll no longer have to worry about at all. This happened right before Christmas, good news of the sort that made presents seem redundant.
  • Carolina turned four. She had a birthday party earlier in the month, but for her actual birth day, we kept it pretty low key with bowling. It’s very easy to love and become attached to your first-born, but Carolina has developed her own personality and way of doing things that make her absolutely charming to everyone she meets. She’s chatting and funny and so loving, you almost forgive her when she breaks things and creates a constant  little cloud of chaos at home. Almost.
  • I spent a chunk of my vacation playing Super Mario 3D World, which is just fantastic, and went back to the PS4 to give Killzone: Shadow Fall another try. To my surprise, I liked it a lot more the second time around. It’s a very mediocre game that looks great on the new hardware, but sometimes a mediocre game with lots of eye candy is exactly what you’re in the mood to play.
  • Our Alamo Drafthouse movie theater finally opened! We went and saw American Hustle and though my wife wasn’t wowed by the food (mine was good), the movie experience was fantastic. The remodeling they did of that formerly crappy theater is remarkable and having it so close by makes me want to go see movies all the time.
  • I caught up on the entire run so far of Saga. It’s brilliant. Go read it. You can get back issues on Comixology for only $1.99 each or just grab the trade paperbacks that’ll get you up to issue 12. (They’re at issue 17 now.) I’m now reading Doctor Sleep, which is also great.

The rest in photos:

 
Birthday girl

Lilly the pizza eater

Bowling booth

On Christmas

Christmas day

The vacationer

10 Dec

Quick caption sidebar: this is one of the images that came up when I did a paid image search for "Staycation." I have NEVER had a stay-at-home vacation that looked anything like this. Why are they so happy? Because they DIDN'T go to Paris? Are they making fireplace toast? Is that a white people thing? This image just depressed me far more than having multiple staycations ever could. [/End of Sidebar]

Quick caption sidebar: this is one of the images that came up when I did a paid image search for “Staycation.” I have NEVER had a stay-at-home vacation that looked anything like this. Why are they so happy? Because they DIDN’T go to Paris? Are they making fireplace toast? Is that a white people thing? This image just depressed me far more than having multiple staycations ever could. [/End of Sidebar]

 

“Where did you go on vacation?”

I felt like that was the wrong question even though it was asked of me multiple times. And not just by one person. Several people asked. And each time, I thought, “That’s not the right question. It should be ‘what did you do on vacation?’ Who cares where I went? I got some serious shit done! Right here! In my house!”

I didn’t leave my house very much is what happened.

But! It’s all right! I’m used to it! I have two kids. This is not a life you choose for jet-setting unless your children are Spy Kids. I don’t go to The Club. My life is boring sometimes, but in the best way possible.

So here is what happened: I ended up, with two months left in the year, with a lot of vacation time left to burn. I didn’t get sick this year, really, and the various times my kids had to go to the doctor always fell on days when I could work from home and knock out a quick appointment or had help from my wife, parents and in-laws.

We took a week of vacation for Disney World, but when you factored in work make-up days for stuff like South by Southwest, it was still a lot of vacation/sick days (which for us are rolled together into one big Ball of Time). So I’m in the middle of vacation time after having just taken vacation time in November and am looking forward to going back to work next week and then taking time off again.

It was a lot of time to burn.

It didn’t occur to me to book a trip or sign up for skydiving lessons or anything like that.

On my vacation, what I really needed to do was pick up boxes that had been boxing it up on the floor of my home office for months with no one to pick them up and deal with their content.

I needed to buy a new car, something I said I was going to do a year ago and that just seemed like too big a hassle to take on at any point in the previous twelve months.

And I still had things to write on the freelance tip (more on that below) and work-related emails to at least glance at even though I was “not working.” In fact, the first few days of my vacation, I exhausted myself just writing and organizing and them sleeping half a day away because I was staying up all crazy hours as if I was not a person who had to get up at 6:30 a.m. every day because my vacation did not mean my kids were on vacation. No, it was pretty much the opposite of that.

So it’s been a weird couple of weeks where my expectations of leisurely relaxation, iPad propped on belly and a continuous row of beers extending off into the distance, would keep me company as I hung out on the porch in unseasonably warm November weather.

Even that part didn’t quite work out. It was rainy and then super-fucking cold, the kind of weather where if I had been working I would have had trouble even driving in.

“Where did you go on vacation?”

I probably should have planned to go somewhere, all right! The whole concept of a vacation that lasts more than a few days was so foreign to me that it didn’t even pop into my head that there was enough time allotted to get on a plane and go see some stuff in a place that is not here. But that’s just it. I wouldn’t want to go on a vacation trip thing without my wife (who doesn’t have time off like I do and reminds me of it at least once a day with, “Must be NICE!”) or… OK, maybe the kids, too. If they’re behaving. Holy crap, that trip back from Disney World might have put me off of flying with children forever.

What else I did on “Vacation”:

    • I went to Austin a few times to attend some going-away events for 17 of our beloved newsroom colleagues.
    • After some weird performance anxiety and a few months of second-draft editing, I sent the first few chapters of the novel I finished in the summer to my literary agent. Yes, I have a literary agent; I signed with him more than a decade ago. No, I’ve never written a book before. Yes, he’s the most patient person in the world.
    • I put in some major video game time, which I haven’t been able to do in a while as things were so busy in November. Super Mario 3D World is really fantastic, as is Resogun on the new PS4. Not too crazy about some of the other PS4 games I’ve tried, honestly, but the system itself has impressed me, especially the game-streaming stuff, which I never thought I’d care about.
    • I put up Christmas lights. Then I ran out of special staples I use and had to use stickies and stickies are terrible and fall down, so I’m going to have to do a re-do.
    • Thanksgiving turkey. I didn’t cook it, but I sure ate some.
    • This was a little bit before vacation, but I had a tech gift guide slide show run on Television Without Pity. An annual tradition!
    • Started working with Raul Garza and the other writers on the next Mexcentrics sketch comedy show! I was dubious about the timeline we have to work with, but in one meeting, we pretty much sketched out the frame for the show and ended up with more than a dozen solid ideas. Latino work ethic ftw! This show is scheduled for February.
    • Wrote this blog post! What? This was on my to-do list!

Statesman writing stuff

I’ll keep it short, unlike last month’s barrage of stuff.

Digital Savant column took a short vacation as well, but there was a column that is running in Tuesday’s newspaper, my look at the state of social media in late 2013, from selfies to Snapchat and more.

On the Micro side, I advised a reader about large-format e-ink-based ebook readers.

Last time I mentioned we did a pilot episode of a new Austin culture podcast. The response was really good! My editors and other folks I worked with really seemed to like it and we’re planning what to do next. My hope is we can get moving in January to continue what we started, but we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot of logistics stuff that needs to be worked out. But I’m so glad people seemed to enjoy what we did and that a year of anticipation seems to have paid off. In related news, podcast co-host Tolly is pregnant! Congratulations to her and her husband who have a lot of great times (and little sleep) in store for them.

And that’s it! Vacation!

On Previously.tv

Oh, Canada!

I think there’s only one more episode of How I Met Your Mother before they go on a little break for the holidays. My most recent Show-O-Matic about it is for this last season’s Episode 12, which was a gigantic ode to Robin’s Canadian heritage.

Governor Bloody Jerkface

More significantly was the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead where lots of characters died and much mess was made of converging plotlines. It was a ton of work visually recapping in Particles form all the late-episode action, but somehow it all worked out. The show returns in February for eight more episodes.

In space with simians

New Space Monkeys! comics:

Gobble Gobble

Only one, but it’s a Thanksgiving comic that I really enjoyed writing. (It was very little writing, honestly)

Last things

Dr. C

Carolina got a haircut (not pictured) and a medical degree.

We went to a comic book convention in Austin and THIS HAPPENED:

The gentleman (Giancarlo Esposito) and us

I can’t top that. Talk to you next time.

November bounty

26 Nov

Festive things in November

This entry has taken a few weeks to write.

Not because it’s long (well, it is, but I’m pretty fast), but because things kept happening all through November that in a slower month all would have warranted their own lengthy write-up. A few things I’ve been working on and planting seeds on for a good long while (one of them for more than a year) finally started to bear fruit and all of a sudden I was busy tending to them.

These things definitely fall into the banner of “Good problems to have,” but it’s made summing up what’s going on a little difficult. On the one hand, I’m thrilled that a story I was working on for a long time and a podcast project I was beginning to worry would never happen have finally gone public. I can talk about them without setting up expectations that don’t pay off.

That said, I’m so far behind on putting it all together in context that they already seem like they’re in the rearview mirror.

But it’s still remarkable to me that those two projects, which just seemed impossible and daunting a few months ago, are now real. And then there was another goal of mine for this year, to write for a website I really admire. I’m now writing for them every week and couldn’t be happier about.

Last week, I started a vacation for an unseemly amount of time due to not getting sick or taking much vacation this year and I’m working on making the last major thing on my year’s to-do list, getting the novel I finished over the summer, into the publishing process.

That’s a big one, a big, scary task that has been looming since the thing was finished. I didn’t really have a guide for what to do next besides work on a second draft and start seeking a little bit of feedback. But publishing seemed like a whole other obstacle course, one I had no experience with whatsoever. So I fretted. And waited. And ended up doing not much at all and moving on to other things.

I figured out I was actually scared to even try to move it forward. The other things that have happened this month finally gave me the confidence to say, “Fuck dat noise” and to try even if it means rejection and doing some hard work on my own to make this happen. It never occurred to me, in all my worry since finishing the thing, that it might not necessarily be a series of rejections. Maybe someone will want it. What then? I never even considered that and skipped ahead in my mind to the part where it was already rejected and I was bouncing back from this imaginary turn-down.

I’ll talk about that one more later when something has happened. Right now I actually am in the waiting phase, but if feels good to have the ball on someone else’s court instead of spinning my wheels alone in mine.

Here are the other things that have happened over the last month. There’s lots to share.

Francis Tsai

Photo by Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman

Photo by Ralph Barrera / Austin American-Statesman

[Note: I wrote this part a few weeks ago right after the story was published in early November]

Things have been a little emotional around here lately.

Let me back up.

Everything’s fine, the kids are good, there’s no family strife or hidden personal drama I’m secretly alluding to.

The emotions were work-related. I was working on a story for a very long time for work, since summer, and it finally came time to write the story for an early November publication. The story got moved once when it became clear that there was no way I could finish it to run in September.

So here I was, at this desk, having worked on a million other things and procrastinated two work days away when I was supposed to be finishing this big story. I ended up here at home, at my desk alone, writing and writing and writing with a 50-page stack of typed-out notes and the Internet to help me double check a few things that weren’t in the notes.

At about 2:30 a.m., I had a draft that was close to what I was going for, but in those hours I was finally locked in, finally putting words together that had only been little fragments in my head for weeks and weeks, I would write and go over the notes and stop and then start and write some more and in that process, reliving some of it and giving new life to other parts that weren’t previously evident, I cried several times.

It wasn’t bad, ugly, hurt crying, it was good, cathartic, embracing crying. It was seeing connections come together that I hadn’t been able to verbalize before, putting together lines and quotes that had resonated with me before but now on screen, they felt more powerful. I would tell the sister of the subject late that I cried a lot not because it was a sad story, but because I was so inspired writing it.

Anytime I’ve ever written something that made me cry as I was writing it, the response has usually been good. It usually means I’m on to something and that I’m not just doing little dumb verbal gymnastics around the word court. It usually means that what I’m writing is more truthful than normal and that what’s coming of me is making my body hum and my brain let loose.

It’s good. It was good crying. But I was so glad when it was finished.

* * *

That’s not the end of a story like that, of course. Even in that first draft, it was the longest single piece I ever wrote for the Statesman and it wasn’t over.

My editor gave it a really good, thorough read and worked her magic to re-order some things to make them more clear and to resonate properly. (This is what a good editor does; I would not have seen these good moves on my own.) I answered questions and cleared things up in the story, I added a few new chunks based on a very late interview with a doctor and, the hardest part, was I worked with my editor on a new ending because the first draft felt incomplete and didn’t land where it should. That meant making the story even longer, but I was given the rare leeway on this one of not really having a word-count limit.

We fixed, we tweaked, we tightened up, I cried one or two more times re-reading the drafts, and then, when the text was finally in a form we were happy with, I worked on other things like photo captions, uploading artwork, stressing about what the web presentation would be and helping make sure there weren’t weird, stray errors that got into the online muck.

And then it finally, finally appeared online and in print and it was emotional all over again. For the few hours that it was out there and before I started hearing back from people who read the story or, most importantly, from the family who’d trusted me to tell their story, I was kind of a wreck. I didn’t know what to do with myself; it was very much like going out in public naked, putting all of yourself out there, and hoping that the feedback wouldn’t be, “Put that away, it’s horrible.”

The very short version is that the feedback was all positive. There were no glaring errors to fix, no hurt feelings from sources who felt they weren’t portrayed accurately, no drive-by ugliness from online commenters taking pieces they didn’t like out of context.

And then, after that very emotional weekend of waiting and expecting and hoping nothing went wrong, I felt happier, lighter, less stressed because it was over. Every other thing in front of me, all the other assignments still due, seemed so much easier and do-able in comparison.

So here it is. I’m really proud of this one and I promise it’s worth your time. My Sunday Statesman profile of Francis Tsai, a remarkable artist whose family allowed me into their home to tell his story. There’s also a photo gallery with some of his great art and lots of photos from Ralph Barrera. (The story is behind a paywall, but we have a 99-cent day pass. As I told people online when it ran, if you don’t feel the story is worth your 99 cents, I’ll happily refund you a dollar.)

And lastly, here’s the video Ralph shot for the story:

 

Statesman Shots: a new podcast

The other big project was one that was hatched more than a year ago, as I explain in this Digital Savant blog post. Tolly Mosely is someone I’d been wanting to work with and we both loved the idea of doing a podcast together.

Because of how busy we both are, it wasn’t something we thought we could produce/record ourselves, but with some help from the Statesman, it actually grew into something even more ambitious: an Austin-centric culture podcast that will also have a video component.

We recorded the first episode of a podcast called “Statesman Shots” (or just “Shots” for short) with special guest Joe Gross, a guy who knows a lot about everything Austin culture-related.

You can see a video below to give you a flavor of what the podcast is like or just listen to the whole thing here via SoundCloud or as an MP3/AAC download.

 

 

Other Statesman stories

I did a column about the future of consumer drones, which if you can get past the part about how some drones kill people, are actually super fun and make you want one if you get to see one in person.

Here’s a video that went with the story:

I did a blog post following up on the column with suggestions from readers on how they’d use drones. Fun!

For Halloween, I debunked a bunch of scary technology urban legends involving stuff like laptop battery life and gadgets getting wet. Bonus debunking here on the blog.

I did a column on the ways that Dell Children’s Medical Center is using apps and video games to help treat kids in areas including bedwetting and obesity.

"Kentucky Route Zero"

Last week, I praised the virtues of episodic games like Kentucky Route Zero (pictured above), The Walking Dead by Telltale games and also their new The Wolf Among Us.

And most recently, my annual holiday tech gift guide ran in the Statesman. Sometimes I try to stuff it with off-the-radar esoteric stuff, but this year, I decided to keep it simple since there are way too many options and a lot of my readers just want to have some of that mess narrowed down to nuts and bolts.

On Digital Savant Micro, we explained OS X Mavericks, talked about what’s going on with Amazon MatchBook, introduced our readers to Twitter custom timelines, talked about a new concert-going app called “Jukely” and explained Bitstrips with the help of this visual aid:

Bitstrips starring Omar

On Previously.tv

Walking Dead gif!

Still covering The Walking Dead and How I Met Your Mother for Previously, which has been a lot of work, but a ton of fun.

I’ve started doing a few animated gifs on the Walking Dead ones and really having fun with the “Particles” format.

Here are the recaps for Season Four’s Episode 2, “Infected”; Episode 3, “Isolation”; Episode 4, “Indifference”; Episode 5, “Internment”; and Episode 6, “Live Bait” featuring a very worn out The Governor and Episode 7, “Dead Weight,” which goes in the direction we probably knew was inevitable with The Governor. Only one episode left before the holiday break and then the show returns in February for eight more.

How I Met Your Mother has been more of a trudge, but I’m hoping it picks up toward the home stretch. New Show-O-Matic features were written for Season Nine’s Episode 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The most recent, Episode 11, was all-rhyming and I wrote the recap accordingly.

It’s kind of crazy how much great stuff goes up on that site every day. If you aren’t reading, you should at least be listening to the “Extra Hot Great” podcast, which has been fantastic.

Space Monkeys!

Space Monkeys in "Gravity Falls"New comics!

We did one about the popularity of sloths on Etsy.

There was also a Halloween strip in which sexy costumes go awry.

Bobbo and Meany tried to terraform a planet the hard way.

The new Thor movie was discussed.

And most recently, gravity failed on the ship, requiring a call to tech support.

You can continue supporting the comic by following our space-faring friend on Twitter or Liking the page on Facebook.

And, you know, reading the comic itself.

Everything else

The rest of what’s been going on I’ll go over in some quick photos:

Halloween '13

Our girls had a great Halloween. They dressed as a pretty friendly witch and a Rapunzel mouse. This was the first year that nobody cried over candy and costume woes or complained that walking hurts, so I guess they really are growing up.

Carolina at Wurstfest '13

Wurstfest was great except for the part where I had a stomach bug and had to miss part of it (covered in the podcast). The girls went four times this year, which is a record for us.

IMG_2838

I got to see an amazing concert: Janelle Monae at ACL Live. My wife couldn’t make it because it was on a weeknight, but my brother and I got to go and it was just an astounding concert. Here’s a quick video. We had really great seats.

I also saw the Eric Andrew Show Live which… wasn’t as great. I love the TV show, but the live show was just clips from the series and throwing things at the audience with a good stand-up comic opener and some audience embarrassment. Still a fan of Eric’s comedy (and when the show was sold out when I tried to buy tickets, he Tweeted me back that he’d sneak me in. The Tweet got me in even though I never got on the list!).

Much more fun was Wizard World Austin. My wife and I went with our friend Andy and although we only got to be there for a few hours, we had fun people-watching. And the only money we ended up spending was on these two photo ops (and autographed photos):

Gus Fring! (er, Giancarlo Esposito)

With Michael Rooker!

We missed Stan Lee, but we did get to eat some of his birthday cake:

11036570776_5d45fb937c_o

And that was pretty much late-October and November. I’m enjoying my vacation, but much busier than I was expecting. I hope your holidays are great and one of my goals (the same as earlier this year) is to post more often around here and not just about stuff I’m working on for other places. Hope to have some shorter stuff to share in December when things slow down even more.

The Worry

17 Oct

Screenshot: AMC

Screenshot: AMC

 

Navel-gazey post ahead. Please beware.

I think I worry about stuff a lot less than some of the people in my life, but I do worry. Worrying can be useful. It can be one more ingredient in the rocket fuel that makes you get off your ass and do things. It’s a powerful motivator if you don’t let it overwhelm and paralyze you.

I think I do a good job masking my worry, especially around my kids or on social media, where I don’t really let myself indulge in much angst.

But I worry. Not all the time and sometimes not even very often. It’s rare that I lose sleep, lying awake, thinking about the stuff that has to happen and the things that aren’t happening. But once in a while, maybe once a month, those nights do happen and those worries do get the better of me.

What do I worry about? Things that other parents worry about. Things that are specific to my job. Things that are specific to my personality and my own unrealistic goals for myself.

But I can be more specific.

Stream-of-consciousness mode ON:

I worry that I don’t spend enough time with my kids. That they spend more time at school and daycare than they do with their parents and that this time that we have with them at this age is going to be gone soon and we will have lost that part of their childhood forever.

I worry that I haven’t been a good enough parent and that, especially with Lilly, who had to suffer us figuring out how to be parents the first time, that we’ve somehow damaged her emotionally.

I worry that so much change has happened at work that I no longer fit in there. That I haven’t adapted as well as I should have and that the changes coming are going to make things worse for me. I worry that I’ve stayed there too long, but I also worry about what life would be like if I left. I worry that I’m not doing my best work and that people are being kind by not telling me so.

I worry that the thing I spent the last year writing is unpublishable. I worry that even if I self-publish and promote the crap out of it, no one will want to read it. That it will be this foolish thing that only I care passionately about, so much so that I couldn’t see how terrible it was as I was writing and editing it.

I worry that I’ve recently taken on too many things at once, but also that I haven’t taken on enough and have allowed myself to get lazy and complacent with age.

I worry about my parents. That I also don’t spend enough time with them and that at any moment their health could deteriorate. And the health and well being of other relatives and friends who are going through pain or divorce or job transitions.

I worry about an upcoming deadline that I feel unprepared to meet and a story that feels too big for me to tell properly. I worry that I won’t do the story justice and that everyone will be disappointed with what I write and that I will have screwed up a story that, when I describe it to people, all agree is an amazing story.

I worry that my commute is a huge waste of time and that it’s ruining my health.

I worry that I spent too many years writing for other people instead of writing for myself or creating new things and that it’s too late for me to change course on that.

I worry that I missed an important window when I should have struck while the iron was hot and that instead of focusing on what was in front of me I should have been planning ahead and seizing the moment.

I worry that I haven’t given close friends much attention in a long while and that they must think I don’t care.

I worry that I don’t sleep enough and that many of my other worries stem from that.

I worry that the things I care about and that I’ve worked toward won’t matter in a couple of years, culturally, and that I’ll suddenly feel a generational shift that will signal that I am too old to be relevant.

I worry that the technologies that I advocated for years are actually messing up everyone’s lives, or at least making people more obsessive.

I don’t worry about actual zombies (or zombies falling from the ceiling), but I do worry about whether we’re overdoing it on zombie culture.

I worry that putting all this in a blog is a bad idea, but I worry more that not posting it would be something like being dishonest. I’ve tried not to go back and re-read and second guess myself. In an hour I may feel differently and some of these worries won’t even apply anymore. But when I wrote them, I was feeling them.

I worry about running in circles.

I’m sure there’s more, but I worry that’s all I can think of right now. The nice thing is that I don’t worry about all of these things at any one time. I mean, except for when I’m rounding them up for a blog post and seeing them all together. Then it’s really shitty, let me tell you.

OK, moving on to happier things:

 

Stories

Credit: The Fullbright Company

Credit: The Fullbright Company

 

New stuff I wrote in the Statesman:

A Digital Savant column about video games to play that aren’t Grand Theft Auto V.

Weirdly, that full column appeared on the LA Times website.

Here’s a column I did about TV spoilers online inspired by the cranky people who were trying to avoid Breaking Bad spoilers last month. The blog post I did to go with that had lots of feedback from social media friends on how to handle online spoilers.

The Baylor Lariat had a full version of that one as well.

And this week’s column was about ways to juggle multiple digital gadgets. That one also ran in full on the website Hispanic Business.

In Digital Savant Micro, I defined “All-in-one computers,”  and answered a reader question about printing from an iPad.

Elsewhere, I wrote a story about Bitcoins right after the recent Silk Road arrest, wrote about some new stuff related to the crowdfunded Austin game Star Citizen and dropped some news about SXSW Interactive 2014 panels and speakers.

Previously

I mentioned last time that I was doing some writing for the fantastic TV website Previously.tv. What I didn’t mention was that I’ll be regularly covering not one but two TV shows, How I Met Your Mother and (wait for it…) The Walking Dead!

Screenshot: CBS

Screenshot: CBS

 

HIMYM will be run through the Show-O-Matic and you can already find my first three write-ups for the third, fourth and fifth episodes of the final season.

For The Walking Dead, I’m doing “Particles,” which are an extremely challenging and cool way of recapping a show. They’re told in short stories, often with photos/screen grabs. The one for the season premiere was an awful lot of work, but I attribute that to the learning curve of adjusting to a new way of doing something. I’m hoping I’ll be a lot faster as it as I keep learning. I’m thrilled with the way that one turned out and can’t wait to do more.

Space Monkeys!

"Gravity"We did a comic and blog post about Gravity (with a guest appearance by Sandra Bullock).

We also did a comic about the last episode of Breaking Bad (no spoilers, we promise) and there’s a blog post to go with that, too.

Our latest is about fantasy football with an emphasis on fantasy. And there’s a blog post.

We fixed most of the website issues we were having, but we still haven’t fixed the problem of old blog posts not appearing with comic posts. I’ll let you know when we figure that WordPress conundrum out.

Everything else

  • I went to ACL Fest, but only for one day before it got rained the Hell out. I didn’t take photos like last year but I did shoot a Vine video of my brother attempting to eat a “Tiffwich”:

  • Due to worky obligations I also missed the Atoms for Peace show. My brother and his friend Graham were second row. Lesson: BEING OLD SUCKS.
  • I did get to see the Wild Child album release party, which for me trumped anything on the ACL lineup. We got warpainted by singer Kelsey:

  • At the same time that The Cure were playing ACL Fest, our water heater sprang some leaks. Lots of things got wet, much garage organizing was done and long story short, I found a bunch of old photos. I may post some of them. They are kind of hilarious.
  • Despite my worrying above, the girls are doing great. They got to go on a bunch of carnival rides and ride ponies at the county fair, which if you’re a nearly 4-year-old or 6-year-old is pretty much the ultimate.

Upon this pony we ride