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2015: Cohesion

2 Jan


This will be short because it kind of has to be.

My word for 2015 is “Cohesion.”

Last year it was “Outside,” part of a goal of getting outside of my own head and being a greater part of the external world around me. That happened, to a large degree. I helped get a podcast launched that now puts me across a table from a great friend and a different guest every week and the conversations we have are wonderful and perspective-changing for me.

I haven’t gotten to travel as much as I’d like, though there was a surprise trip to New York City in the summer and more road trips than we were ever comfortable taking in the past with the kids. I got outside, though a big chunk of my time is still spent inside, nose to my phone, reading or connecting or Tweeting. That’s a habit I’m having a hard time breaking, though a lot of vacation time in December got me out of my usual habits.


Here’s the thing: I’m doing fine, everything’s great, but writing-wise, I feel like I’m kind of a mess. I did a lot of writing in 2014, maybe too much and not all of it as high a quality as I would have liked. I wrote a lot of things in a rush, I wrote a lot of other things antsy and not wanting to be sitting and just feeling my attention drifting constantly.  I don’t have the patience to sit and write for hours like I used to and that’s caused all kind of problems with bigger projects.

Mostly, I’ve let my work stuff affect stuff I should be working on at home and stuff I’m working on at home distract me from getting enough rest to focus and adequately tackle my weekly workload. I perform well under pressure, but that’s been requiring constant panicked pressure, and of course that gets exhausting.

This blog is a good example of the breakdown of that cohesion. It used to be essays and personal reflections and over the last few years, it’s become a dumping ground for links to all my work projects and writing elsewhere.  And since the last few posts, I literally wrote so much stuff for work and did so many podcasts that I couldn’t physically even list them all here. Even a bulleted list of all that stuff seemed too overwhelming and I spend several weeks of vacation just dancing around the idea of doing that instead of actually doing it.

And I’m kind of glad. I shouldn’t have spent my free time stressing like that. And maybe I’ll get to that now that I’m getting back into work mode, but what if I don’t? Would it be the end of the world if I didn’t deliver those blog posts to the only person who really cares about them at this point, me? Why am I such a demanding boss to myself? Can I give me a raise or something?

Bottom line is that I’ve had work/life balance issues, and not because of anyone but myself. My workplace is incredibly supportive and lenient about my work hours, work-from-home days and how I meet my deadlines. So much so that I’ve become my own worst critic, calling myself out for stuff that seems fine to everyone else and feeling guilty for not pushing myself harder on personal writing (like this blog).

So for 2015, starting from this first day of the year, I want to have better cohesion of those separate parts of me. Of Work Omar1 and Freelance Omar and Dad Omar, to make those guys work together instead of compartmentalizing and putting them at odds with each other. Am I the only one who feels like he’s wrangling different selves? Should I not have watched “The One I Love” right before bed?

There used to be a very clear line in my business between home writing and work writing and pretty organically, those lines have largely gone away. But I haven’t allowed myself to embrace that instead of creating more lines.

So, “Cohesion.” 2015.

That’s my word of the year.

And maybe I’ll get to those other catch-up blog posts, maybe not. I’ll let Complete Omar decide on that soon.


I hate when people refer to themselves in the third person. That’s Douche Omar talking, sorry.

The Fractured Week-Long Blog Post Pt. 1: The Steady

17 Nov

Credit: Clipart.comThings went awry.

The plan with this blog, what it has come to, is me telling a little story, a mini-essay maybe and then launching into all the stuff I’ve been working on since the last blog post. This blog started back in 2000 (!) with the intent of just being the place to put all my online stuff so I wouldn’t have to go hunting around the web for it later.

It still serves that purpose, even after all the changes to the online world, from online journals to blogs to microblogs to whatever the Hell it is we’re calling what we do on sites like this these days. I still need a place to park all the things I want to be able to find later if I need to find them. And if I can entertain or Say Some Stuff along the way, all the better.

But this blog is not my main gig, not even close, and hasn’t been for a while. If I lost my job tomorrow, you can bet it would be my first rallying point of retreat. But I’ve been a bad combination of busy and lethargic, manic and exhausted, barely hanging on with some deadlines, way far behind on other important ones, and it’s easy to get paralyzed and discouraged and Why Bother/Who Cares? about it all. I don’t like that and this blog was making me feel that way because of a post I’ve been working on, quite literally, since September.

And it’s not even like a great blog post, not a “Wait till you read THIS shit!” masterwork manifesto. It’s just a blog post full of links and stuff I’ve been working on and cute photos and that sort of thing. But here’s the thing… that blog post kept growing. And growing. And every week, as I wrote more stuff and recorded more episodes of Statesman Shots, this work-in-progress blog post couldn’t keep up with the stuff I wanted to put in it.

So I feel behind. And further behind. It got to where it was basically Lucy and Ethel with the chocolates conveyor belt. I used to think that bit was kinda funny. Now it haunts every waking moment.

Rather than continue to try to whip up this gigantic thing that has built up into an impossibility in my mind, I’m going to take the easier route and try to GTD this shit into submission.

The blog post, this gigantic thing I have been afraid to tackle in anything more than feeble late-night attempts, is going to be broken down into its core components. Will it be complete as I wanted? Who the fuck knows? Will it all make sense? MOST LIKELY NOT! Will I be a little saner doing it this way, spreading out the labor over a few nights? I sure hope so.

How will it be divvied up? I think tonight’s post, the first of four or five posts this week, is going to be the little mini-essay I was working on. That’s coming up here in a sec. And after that, I’ll probably do a post just about all the stuff I’ve been doing at my day job (exciting!) and about some news I want to share about some radio stuff I’ll be doing soon (also exciting!). I want to do a post about Statesman Shots because these blog posts have sort of been sort of serving as an episode guide in lieu of one on our actual blog/site.

What I said earlier about having a place to park all my stuff? One thing I have learned from being in a big media company that lives on the web is that you can’t trust that stuff will always be around. Things you worked so hard to get online have a way of just disappearing before you know it, and I’ve always taken it upon myself to catalog it all here, even if the links may one day rot and dry out.

I’d like to do a photos post because in these two months, everything from Halloween to Wurstfest to The Daily Show in Austin have happened.

And I hope that by the end of these few posts I figure out how I’m going to do this in the future (or if I’m going to) because clearly my current model is unsustainable.

But enough complaining. Here’s the thing I wrote a few weeks ago that now feels oddly distant, like some other dude wrote it and asked me to edit it. And I guess that’s really what it is; Past Omar is asking Present Omar to take the wheel and get this thing published.

So I’mma do that. And then post a bunch of other stuff in the next few days that has been building up.

That first post follows:




It’s hard to say where my head is these days because I’ve done such a good job distracting myself by being really busy.

I don’t do well with inactivity, and I know that’s a little bit of a problem, but I swear I sleep better, eat less and overall am less anxious when I’m busy with things I not only have to do, but want to be doing.

And some would call it overextending, but I rarely get in over my head with stuff when it comes to writing assignments. I may stress out a little, but I always remind myself that I’ve been here before, under the pile, typing my way out at full speed.

But despite the being busy, I’ve been a little out of sorts mostly by proxy. I have one friend whose marriage is very close to ending and I’ve been asked for advice on a subject I really am no help on except as a cautious voice of logic and safety. I have another friend who is leaving a job they are closely associated with and although there are happy faces put on the situation, I know there’s a lot more to the story and not all of it is good. And then another friend was hit with a sudden breakup. Maybe it’s the fall shifting into winter, but I was seeing a lot of sudden dissolution all around me.

I don’t like involving myself with other people’s dramas. I don’t seek it out and it certainly doesn’t give me a thrill like it might have in my 20s when other people’s personal lives were fodder for the imagination and got the writing wheels in motion. These days, I mostly just hurt for the people I care about and hate to see them going through bad stuff, especially when it’s past the point where anything can be fixed or salvaged and they must move on.

It’s different in that these are friends who specifically sought me out to talk (and trust me, it’s nobody you know so I’m not spilling any secrets here). As much as I worry that I could make things worse with bad counsel, I think I’m at least a good listener and that’s probably what’s needed most in all three situations.

These  situations, though, made me aware of how little interaction I typically have with friends about these kinds of things. When a friend gets divorced or engaged, I usually hear about it on Facebook. When a co-worker is going away, I learn in a staff email. I’m not really plugged in to gossip channels anymore, but more than that, I find I have very few friends who confide these kinds of things in me anymore. I’ve wondered if people think I’m too busy to listen (a valid concern) or that I’ve just drifted too far away from friends who once considered me a confidante.

It’s not like I stopped making friends when I turned 30 or something; I have new creative partners and friends who I discuss things with. I’m not a hermit, I don’t shut myself out from the world.

But I’m not too old to remember a time when it felt like I knew so much about the private lives of my friends and co-workers. Way more than I really wanted to know, but certainly enough to feel connected to the comings and goings of people’s lives. I wasn’t always so out of the loop.  Or maybe I was listening more intently back then.

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!)


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).



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
<img class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-6074" src="×666 peut on prendre du viagra.jpg” alt=”Mmmm Torchy’s” width=”500″ height=”666″ srcset=”×666.jpg 500w,×240.jpg 180w,×350.jpg 262w, 1224w” sizes=”(max-width: 500px) 100vw, 500px” />
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.


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.


“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.


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.


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:


New Braunfels


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!