Archive | Space Monkeys! RSS feed for this section

Things Conclude

14 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MY car.

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

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

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

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

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

The end of TWoP

 

End of TWOP

A last message at TelevisionWithoutPity.com

 

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

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

Recode broke the news about TWOP being shut down.

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

Previously.tv

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

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

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

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

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

Walking Dead S4E12: Beth and Daryl get drunk-ass

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

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

Walking Dead S4E14: Lizzie's folly

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

Walking Dead S4E15: Shut up, Glenn

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

 

Walking Dead S4E16: Terminus among us

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

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

 


 

 

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

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

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

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

HIMYM S9E20: Oh cool, I like that guy.

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

HIMYM S9E21: Jeez, FINALLY.

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

HIMYM S9E23: How to Mess It All Up

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

Ginsberg done lost it!

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

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

 

Statesman stuff (non-SXSW)

"Titanfall," a game I wrote about

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

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

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

 

SXSW insanity

#SXSW in one photo. #360sxsw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Panels and other coverage stuff:

Daft Punk but Latino

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

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

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

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

Titanfall is here. #sxsw #sxsw360

The George Takei story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Monkeys

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

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

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

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

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

Bobbo and Meany tried Google Glass, with disastrous results.

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

Expect the comic to return around July 10.

 

Other random stuff

A few more random things.

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

Rides.

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Probably my favorite picture of the girls right now:

Yesterday, Easter part 1

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

Me, when #SXSW is over. #360sxsw

Super resemblance, right?

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

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

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

See you soon.

‘Casting

2 Mar

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

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

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

It did! And I didn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

Statesmanshots-tolly-omarblog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Statesman stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Previously.tv

A boy and his pudding

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

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

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

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

Space Monkeys!

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

A comic about LEGO obsession.

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

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

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

Other stuff

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

Post-show

Selena lives!

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

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.