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Recent writing: Jack Black’s YouTube, Black Mirror, tech+health and purging, comic’s return and more

9 Jan

“He’s blogging again? I thought blogging was dead.”

 

One of the predictions I made for myself toward the tail end of 2018 was that as the year wound down, things were going to get really quiet and really slow.

This was going to be my first holiday without a full-time job since… before college? Wow. That’s weird to even wrap my brain around.

I’ve been extremely lucky with freelance assignments and my ongoing gig on the radio thanks to Texas Mutual, but around October, it wasn’t certain that my contract for that work would be renewed for another year and how busy I’d be in November and December. I figured things would slow down to the point of worry; that I’d be stressed about money going into that shopping season and that everybody would stop answering their emails and I’d be left with an extended, unproductive hiatus.

That really didn’t happen. My contract was re-upped for another year of Tech Minutes, so I was working on scripts for that through the holidays. I’m still doing weekly segments for “Texas Standard.” And I’ve found a really nice home for weird, pop-culture article ideas on Book + Film Globe, thanks to the wonderful writer-turned-benevolent-editor Neal Pollack.

I also got involved in a few others things I’ll list below. This was a very different holiday season than years past, and with all the shifts and changes, it was nice to have some steady work going, but not be so swamped that I couldn’t take some time off to enjoy a little travel, our first real Christmas tree ever (I really gotta recycle this thing soon), and to catch up on some movies and books.

It was just last week I was saying how grateful I’ve been for how things are going and I keep feeling the need to reiterate it. It’s only because of the people who care about me and those who’ve been kind enough to keep me writing and making stuff that I’m able to sit here comfortably on a January afternoon and say that things are just fine, great, in fact.

So here’s what I’ve been working on that’s out in the world already:

I’m probably having the most fun doing stuff for Book + Film, where I’ve recently gotten to geek out about the most recent season (22!) of South Park, advocate for a forgiving re-watch (but only in 3-D!) of “Avatar” and break down the highly anticipated choose-your-own-adventure episode of Black Mirror, “Bandersnatch.” I liked it OK, I think? Or maybe not? I had mixed feelings about that whole thing.

Originally, the idea with Book + Film for me was just to do the occasional movie or book review, but given that I don’t go to the movies that often, it’s been refreshing to be able to write stuff about TV and other things that don’t quite fit neatly in a box. My most recent article is a review of Jack Black’s new video-gaming YouTube channel, Jablinksi Games, and I got to have a lot of fun with it. And bonus: free curse words! I feel so giddy and unrestrained!

Right before Christmas, the Statesman / 512tech ran a piece I wrote on holiday tech purging. You could also use it for post-holidays spring cleaning. This is one of those articles that has a little do as I say, not as I do.  I don’t always follow my own rules for eliminating clutter, but I swear I am trying to sell/donate/trash as much old technology as I can. I feel like it would be a lot easier if Marie Kondo would just come to my house and do it for me.

I’m still doing more pieces for the newspaper; a family column about taking my kids to see Paul McCartney in concert is running this Sunday (update: it’s been posted online!) and I have another one about what to do with digital family photos publishing sometime in the future.

Speaking of newspapers, I was quoted in a New York Times piece about the changing tech culture of Austin. It dovetails nicely with something else I’m working on, so I had already been thinking a lot about what we lose in a city this size when housing prices soar and it gets too expensive for a lot of people to stay.

On the “Texas Standard” radio show I recently talked about cryptocurrency regulation, whether Alexa or Google Assistant is better, how to save money online when you shop, more on year-end tech purging and what predictions I have for 2019’s tech world. This week, I did a thing about what’s new and weird at CES, the big electronics trade show.

I really should be wearing a costume for these things.

 

Also wearing the Omarstradamus seer headdress, I appeared on the TWiT TV’s Tech News Weekly to discuss what I expect for 2019. Two words: Folding phones! It’s gonna happen!

The other very cool development was that my brother Pablo and I revived our long-in-hiatus comic “Space Monkeys!” for a couple of new strips.

You can find our meditation on the word “Swole” here and a special Christmas comic over here. And we have a brand new one about Netflix and “Bird Box!” We’re having fun with it, so we will probably keep doing more.

 

Happy New Year, everybody! I hope you’re doing just fine and making some time to enjoy your life.

Recent writing: ebikes, dronegriculture and webcamgirls edition

3 Dec

Dor Falu Korngold, MOD BIkes co-founder

MOD Bikes co-founder Dor Falu Korngold. Photo by Nick Wagner for the Austin American-Statesman

 

I am keeping busy! I’ve had several people ask me (online because I’m not out in public as much) “What are you working on?” or “what are you doing since you left the Statesman?” Still writing! Wrangling invoices! Pitching stuff! Going to the gym once in a while. Binge-watching Netflix shows!

Of course, I worried a lot the month or two after I left my job of 21 years that the writing assignments would dry up and I’d be forgotten like a crunchy, fallen and browned Autumn leaf but it turns out I’m one of those perennial plants that just chugs along all year. I have to be very careful when I spell that word, “Perennial,” because I know that spelling it wrong turns it into something referring to penises, and that is NOT what I want prospective employers to see on this site, unless they are paying for that sort of advertising. It wouldn’t be ideal, but a man’s got to eat, hopefully not with funds made from penis-related ad money.

THIS POST IS NOT GOING GREAT, SORRY.

What this is supposed to be is an update on stuff I’ve been writing, so here goes that:

In the Dec. 4 print edition of my old stomping grounds the Austin American-Statesman, they’re publishing an interview I did with Dor Falu Korngold, the founder of a new Austin shop called MOD Bikes. E-bikes are super interesting to me, and we talked a lot about how they fit into an Austin transportation scene dominated by electric scooters. You can read the story online here.

"Cam" movie on Netflix

Netflix

 

I’ve been writing a lot of things for Book and Film Globe, including a review of the new Netflix movie “Cam.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote an impassioned plea to comics artist/writer Chip Zdarsky to bring back “Kaptara,” a comic that only ran five issues and that I thought was hilarious and wonderful. Sadly, I don’t think it’ll be back anytime soon after its great 2015 run. He did respond on Twitter, and that was nice.

I also did a review of a graphic novel about Hedy Lamarr, you can find that here.  Want to dig in more? Here’s all the stuff I’ve written for that site. I have something coming up soon about “Avatar,” so keep an eye out for that, please.

This one’s different: a Q&A with a drone expert about how they can be used in agriculture! The subject of the interview was Neil Marek and the story was for “TNLA Green,” a magazine from the Texas Nursery and Landscape Magazine.

Drone expert Neil Marek at Magonlia Gardens Nursery

From TNLA Green magazine, photo by Phil Kline

 

I’m still doing weekly radio segments for “Texas Standard!” You can find them all here including recent ones about Black Friday shopping and bad Microsoft Windows updates.

Speaking of audio, I’ve got about 15 more audio segments up on Tech Minute Texas. There’ll be a total of 100 one-minute segments on there soon and it’s looking like I’ll be doing 100 more in 2019! Hooray!

Thanks to my good friend Wendi Aarons, I had a pre-midterm elections co-byline on McSweeney’s, which was a huge bucket list item I was finally able to check off.

And lastly, for 512tech/Statesman, I did a review of the Aquio smart speaker/water bottle. This was the last of four reviews I did for the Austin Central Library’s Tech Petting Zoo partnership, and while I’m sad to see that conclude, I’m so thrilled that these devices are still there at the library for people to try out. I just visited again last week and it’s all in place. If you live in Austin, please check it out, it’s on the fifth floor of the library. That’s it for now! I have some more stuff in the pipeline for December and January and hopefully some news about some other projects coming, so stay tuned for that.

Thanks to everyone who has reached out to see how I’m doing or to offer freelance gigs, I’m truly grateful.

 

Statesman print page

At the Austin Central Library Technology Petting Zoo

At the Austin Central Library Technology Petting Zoo

At ‘One Page Salon’

16 Nov

 

This is a piece I read in front of an audience at last week’s “One Page Salon” at the North Door in Austin. Thanks so much to Owen Egerton for the invite.

 

It’s going to be all right.

I can tell from your face that you’re not so sure if that’s true, so this is supposed to be reassuring. It’s all right. You’re going to be OK.

Unless something happens. Or things don’t work out. That’s definitely possible. Things go wrong for people all the time. They make a wrong turn, some barely-there decision, and suddenly they’re neck deep in manure. Not real manure, figurative manure. Do you know much manure you’re need for it to be up to your neck in literal manure? Even if you’re short? That sounds expensive. And trust me, you don’t have money to be spending on that right now.

Hey, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean you can’t afford shit. I just meant you probably shouldn’t be spending money right now on THAT MUCH SHIT.

We’re getting way off track here.

So. Things seem a little weird. I get that. Maybe recapping will help.

You got divorced. Pretty quickly. After being married a really long time. That has to be jarring. The not-being married part. And you bought a house. Buying a house is a huge, ridonk headache, but you did it and now you live in that house and it even has pretty plants and a beautiful patio. Well done.

But then you stopped co-hosting a podcast you loved, one you’d been doing for five years and that stung a little. And, related: you stopped doing the podcast because you took a buyout and left a job you’d been at for 21 years. 21 years! That’s half your life! Wow! And now you’re freelancing, which is a very nice way of saying you’re an unemployed writer. Self-employed. Self-employed sounds better than unemployed or underemployed.

That’s lot of stuff that happened. And see, I think the problem — not that there’s a problem, things will be fine! — is that most people deal with stuff like that over a period of a few years, but you went and did all that in like three months. Some people have a mid-life crisis, you had … like… a midlife Cuban Missile Crisis.

But it’s going to be OK. Unless it’s not, but let’s not think about that.

You’re worried about money, but that’s never been your problem. You hustle, you work hard, you’ll make do. You’re worried that you don’t know what to do next. But remember all those days you sat in an office wishing you weren’t sitting there and feeling like you were wasting your time? At least you can waste your time on your own couch now. That’s an improvement, right?

You’re worried that you have stopped doing the thing that defined you, that everybody knew you for, the thing that gave you worth.

But what if it’s going to be all right?

And it’s just time for some new definitions?

Review: “Harvey Birdman: Attorney General’

16 Oct

Adult Swim / Cartoon Network

 

For Book and Film Globe, I wrote about Adult Swim‘s triumphant and only sorta-political return of “Harvey Birdman” (for one episode at least).

I have a couple of other reviews on the site, please check it out.

Another goodbye: ‘I Love You So Much’

28 Sep

Photo by our pal Megan Renart

My life partner in podcast, Tolly Moseley, put up a beautiful post on Facebook about the end of our hosting gigs on the podcast we co-created with Addie Broyles and Alyssa Vidales, “I Love You So Much” (which, in a previous life, was the successor to “Statesman Shots.”

Without her, there would never have been a “Statesman Shots” and I wouldn’t have wanted to take on either show without her laughter, her talent and her can-do spirit. Which is why it feels right that we’re saying goodbye to the show together. It has been the best kind of creative partnership and I hope we brought the best out of each other. We’ll be on a couple more episodes through ACL Fest with Addie but you can hear our goodbye bonus episode below or on your favorite podcast app.

Thanks to all our guests, our newsroom heroes who said yes again and again when they could have easily said no and to all of you who listened, who shared and who helped make our little dream of a fun Austin podcast a reality.

Goodbye, Statesman

30 Aug

 

A bunch of many years ago, I got an internship at the Austin newspaper. That internship turned into a job and then the job into a career and I find myself 21 years later looking at the exit sign and beginning a long, long set of goodbyes.

I’m accepting a buyout offer from the Austin American-Statesman and GateHouse Media that concludes almost half of my life working as a reporter, editor, podcaster, video shooter, social-media troll wrangler and co-creator of ahora si, the long-defunct Technopolis tech section, the I Love You So Much: The Austin360 Podcast and “Statesman Shots,” and 512tech.com from the Austin American-Statesman for the Statesman and Austin360.

My last day is Sept. 7. I’m still not 100% sure what my involvement is going forward, but I’m hoping to still contribute to the podcast and the paper. And I’m going to be super pissed if the wonderful staffers I work with don’t stay in touch. Not getting to see them is the biggest bummer, the part I’m least looking forward to in this move. (And insurance! Anybody know where I can get some decent freelancer insurance? I like my teeth!)

I have so many memories of this place and so many thanks to give. Editors including Kathy Warbelow and Sarah Lindner Beckham and Sharon Chapman and Barry Harrell and Becky Bisbee and Debbie Hiott and Kristin Finan and Emily Quigley and Kathy Blackwell and Richard A. Oppel and Fred Zipp, staffers and creative partners from Andy Alford to Tolly Moseley to Addie Broyles and Alyssa Vidales and Gregory Kallenberg and Gretchen Heber and Melissa Segrest and Angela Shah and Josefina Casati and Gissela SantaCruz and Sharon Roberts and Rob Quigley and Joe Gross and literally hundreds of other names. Thank you to every reader, even the ones who just wanted me to come fix their broken printer or the ones who thought I was part of a vast left-wing conspiracy bent on turning Austin into a condo-spewing Mecca for tech dudes. (We did it, guys!)

People talk about not getting too wrapped up in a job, about not feeling like you should owe them anything but what you do for the paycheck. But this is a place that has kept me and my family fed and happy for so long, that put my damn face up on a billboard by the highway for the whole city to see, that let me take ridiculous flights of fancy with articles I never thought would actually get printed because they were so dumb, that let me jump from job to job and keep doing outside projects all the while, that allowed me to CREATE NEW THINGS that didn’t exist before. That’s where I got the most joy here, making new things and launching them with a team of passionate coworkers and seeing if they could thrive. I hope to be doing a lot more than that in this new life I’m starting.

I have loved my Statesman family and I’m going to miss it so much. But in the end, it just felt like, for me, it’s time to go. I will keep reading and watching. I’ll keep championing the great work that is done here.

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