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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


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.


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:


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

The Worry

17 Oct

Screenshot: AMC

Screenshot: AMC


Navel-gazey post ahead. Please beware.

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

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

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

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

But I can be more specific.

Stream-of-consciousness mode ON:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I worry about running in circles.

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

OK, moving on to happier things:



Credit: The Fullbright Company

Credit: The Fullbright Company


New stuff I wrote in the Statesman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Screenshot: CBS

Screenshot: CBS


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

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

Space Monkeys!

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

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

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

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

Everything else

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

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

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

Upon this pony we ride

‘Breaking’ free

29 Sep

Frank Ockenfels / AMC photo

Frank Ockenfels / AMC photo


If I look back over the last few weeks a few months from now, I will probably remember it as the period in time when I was completely obsessed, along with a lot of people I know, with Breaking Bad.

It’s a great TV show, one that clearly has ascended into a piece of art that, assuming things go well (or horrifically) on Sunday, will be remembered and discussed for a very long time.

I know that for my part, it’s affected my sleep and probably my stomach and emotions way too much. It’s been like having a family member who has been very sick for a very long time or being at a job that you know won’t last. You know something bad is coming your way down the road and you both dread and welcome the end to come, if only so you can move on with your life and get some relief.

That’s how I feel about Breaking Bad. It’s been a joy to watch. There has been some really smart writing, great performances and even some real laughs. But these last few episodes have been so grim and hopeless, the explosion we all knew was coming (and that poor, sage Mike Ehrmantraut predicted) has happened and it has been absolutely stomach-churning.

So, as much as I like to think I’m above letting one TV show affect me, it can’t be a coincidence that the last few weeks have felt strange and anticipatory and kind of frozen.

There are plenty of other factors for that, probably; the school year has started, a project I want to do at work has been stalled for a little while and I hit a major rough patch in editing my big fiction story I’ve been working on (that rough patch, thank goodness, has passed).

But I bet I’ll look back at this month and think, “Oh yeah, that was when Breaking Bad was ending. We were all a mess.”

One bright side: I was asked to write a story at work about the ways that the Internet helped fuel the survival and growth of Breaking BadIt runs in Sunday’s newspaper, just in time for the series finale. All that heartache from watching the show was worth it!

[This might be a good place to note that the Breaking Bad story and the columns I mention below are subscriber-only on You can now get a 99-cent day pass and read them all at once. Do that!]

Other stuff…

…that happened this month in no particular order:

Throwin' shade at the parade

Throwin’ shade at the parade


  • We had a gymnastics party for Lilly birthday (which we pushed back the party on a few weeks for after school to start) and that went pretty great.
  • She also lost a second baby tooth on the day I’m writing this. It’s like living near a leaky nuclear power plant around here.
  • I went to an Electronic Dance Music concert (more on that below in the Space Monkeys! section). I was the second-oldest person there. The first-oldest was 60 and sat the whole time.
  • I also went to a game night at my brother’s place in Austin and got to play Cards Against Humanity and Zombicide with a group of really good players. That was super-fun.
  • Progress on the fiction project: I’m about 50 pages from finishing an edit/revision/second draft. It took about 6-7 months to write the first and has taken more than three months to get it to a second draft, far longer than I was expecting. I guess that’s par for the course, I just didn’t know since I’ve never gotten this far on something of this length.
  • Met Doug Benson at Fantastic Arcade!
  • Parade!


Work stuff

Columns: This was a great idea from our editors that I ran with: Why is surveillance video that we see on the news so crummy? Shouldn’t that shit be HD by now? “Zoom in. Enhance!” No? Not really. That column explains why.

I traveled to Belton, Texas, for a column about education. In this piece, I ponder whether a piece of software like the Austin-made interactive whiteboard tool LiveSlide gives us a glimpse of what classrooms of the future will be.


These are some comics of mine. I LOVE "Hawkeye" and "FF."

These are some comics of mine. I LOVE “Hawkeye” and “FF.”


If print and digital comic books are peacefully coexisting, what happens in the future? I’ve gotten a little obsessed with collecting comics again this year and this column talks about what happens to the collectibility of comics when they’re all digital. (Spoiler: as of now, the two concepts are not compatible.)

After a lot of online discussion on the topic, I wrote a column asking “how risky is it to post photos of your kids online?” Bonus: the blog post for this column had some extra content.

Here are the last few Digital Savant Micro features: What is GitHub?

A reader asked for some one-eared wireless headphone options for listening to audiobooks.

What is biometric scanning?

What are some of the best ways to transcribe to digital the audio from a meeting?

Videos: I covered the great indie video game fest, Fantastic Arcade and shot video there.

Austin game developer Richard Garriott had an auction for some of his stuff!

Random: I covered the new Apple product launch with lots of Tweets included in the post.


On Previously

Last time I mentioned that I had written a few pieces for the excellent website Since then I wrote a piece about the ubiquitous host, stand-up comic and Nerdist empire builder Chris Hardwick. The best thing about the piece is an amazing graphic that Glark worked up to go with it. How great was it? Hardwick himself took note:

It looks like I’ll be doing regular coverage of the new season of a very popular show for the site soon. It’s a show that people are dying to see return.

On Space Monkeys!

General Bastid

This has been a bit of an off month with our comic. First, we had a calamitous incident in which we updated a theme for our comic only to realize after the fact that it was a major, major revision that would involve a lot of work just to get our site looking the way it did before the theme “upgrade.”

We still don’t have it quite right, but we’re still working on it and are learning such wonderful, time-consuming WordPress things like how to make a child theme and how to troubleshoot troublesome Typekit fonts that don’t appear when they should.


Due to some of that and also just a lot of work that Pablo and I needed to catch up on this month, we took a two-week break, our first vacation all year after posting a comic every single week since the top of January. The comic will return next week on Oct. 3 and new comics will post on Thursdays thereafter.

Since last time, we posted a comic about hipsters and comics about hipsters!

We posted a comic about our trip to see Major Lazer in concert, and I described the experience in some detail in a blog post called “Old Man at the Show.”

Part of the problem with our website issues right now is that blog posts we write to go along with the comic aren’t appearing with comics in our archive. The blog/news post that goes with the comic does appear, but not additional posts that Pablo and I might have written. That’s a bit of a problem and we’re still trying to get help from the person who created the theme/comics plugin we’re using.

If, for instance, you missed the latest comic and tried to find the blog post I wrote to go with it, you would have missed this amazing Vine video I embedded in the blog:

In conclusion

2 Sep

The littlest cheese truck!

Child and tiny truck. Missing: one tooth.


As every summer ends in New Braunfels I always lament that I didn’t go swimming enough or that I didn’t go tubing or enjoy all the fun, outdoorsy stuff there is to do here. By October, I’m full-on bitter about the cooling weather and how it means no more swimming.

I somehow forget that I’m not really that outdoorsy and that even though I love swimming, I hate being out in 105-degree heat and get cranky if the air conditioner doesn’t stay well below 77 degrees in the house.

This summer is different because instead of somehow feeling like I lost the time due to summer lethargy, it’s actually been jam-packed with activity for me and for the whole family. There’s been more travel than I’ve done since before the kids were born, the conclusion of something I’d been working on for a while (or at least the next phase of work on it), a door opening for a new site that I had been wanting to write for but that I hadn’t been able to commit time to and, honestly, the best summer I’ve had with my girls yet.

That’s been kind of of the showstopper around here. Several times a week my wife and I will exchange a look as our daughters are calmly playing together or doing something completely new and we’ll say, “They’re getting bigger.” They’re growing up. They’re not babies or even toddlers. Our Lilly turned 6 a few weeks ago. Only a few days later she lost her first tooth (no worries; it was painless and she didn’t even notice it was gone until I pointed out the gap). As I write this, she’s completed her first week of 1st Grade. Her sister, the curly-haired wild child, is still destructive and prone to bursts of turbo energy that exhaust us all, but she has also grown sweeter and kinder and more in love with us and her sister than I could have hoped.

She’ll make a huge fuss about taking something to school (a toy, a paper with writing on it, anything) and after giving up on trying to convince her she shouldn’t, I’ll find out that she only wanted to take the item to school to show it to her favorite teacher because she can’t keep something she loves to herself and wants to share.

This summer we got to take the girls to Disney World, we were able to make a beach trip, Lilly went on a bunch of field trips with her older-kids daycare to places I’ve never even seen, I went to Las Vegas for my first work trip in a very long time (more on that in a bit), my wife did some work traveling and I attended my 20-year high school reunion. We sold our damn Austin house, relieving years of stress.

I haven’t been tubing yet (there’s still time!) but as Labor Day approaches and the summer winds down, I don’t feel like I missed much. In fact, I feel like I’m ready for things to calm down and conclude. It was a great summer, but not for all the reasons I usually expect.

Double decker shopping

Work writing

A really busy couple of weeks at work. Here’s what was in the paper and online.

Sam Killermann, one of the working-at-coffee-shop experts I spoke to for my story. Photo by Deborah Cannon / Austin American-Statesman

Sam Killermann, one of the working-at-coffee-shop experts I spoke to for my story. Photo by Deborah Cannon / Austin American-Statesman


Digital Savant columns:


Sony SmartWatch


Digital Savant Micro features:

Other random stuff:

A lengthy blog review of the Leap Motion controller.

A silly blog post suggesting new names for Microsoft’s SkyDrive.

A blog post about a new Austin-based video commenting tool called FrameBuzz.

Las Vegas

Work trips are super stupid-boring, so I won’t subject you to the details of a trip I took for Vegas, but I’ll just say that because of the nature of my beat and the nature of working at a newspaper with a limited travel budget, I don’t take a lot of trips to cover stories outside of Austin.

Since last year, when it was announced that South by Southwest Interactive would be doing a conference in Las Vegas, my then-editor and I assumed I would go, but even a few months before the event in August, I still had my doubts that I would actually go. Things have been so busy this summer that I began to like the idea of just not going but when my editors approved my travel plans, I started to get excited about it again.

I’m so glad I went. Not only where there plenty of things to write about before the SXSW V2V, as the Vegas conference was called, but I had a lot more fun there than I was expecting, a combination of knowing a few people from Austin and other places that I got to hang out with, a really upscale venue with killer hotel rooms (The Cosmopolitan) and an overall laid back and accommodating vibe that wasn’t as crazy or as hectic as the SXSW I’m used to in March in Austin. No matter how wild things might get or how late I stayed out, I didn’t have to worry about a 45-minute drive home, which is always in the back of my mind at SXSW Interactive.

As I tried to make clear in my stories, there’s a lot of change happening in downtown Las Vegas and techies are beginning to take notice that there might be some big opportunities there (MyStatesman version here).

As for what I actually wrote, I did a Digital Savant column about how the event came together and a Sunday business story about the Downtown Project aspects that helped draw SXSW to Las Vegas.

After the event was over, I did a wrap-up of the overall event. (MyStatesman version here.)

I also shot a video at V2V that was expertly edited quickly by Emma Janzen. You can find that below.



Other highlights from Vegas: playing blackjack with friends one night drinking endless Manhattans (my new favorite get-drunk-quick drink!) and woke up to the worst hangover I’ve had since my 20s and maybe ever. I literally could not look at a computer screen for several hours.

And then I thought about how that might look on Twitter.

I went to Ellis Island for karaoke and had the time of my life. Vegas is the perfect karaoke city.

I finally got my ass to the pinball museum, which was pretty great but won’t replace the soft spot in my heart I have quickly developed for Austin’s Pinballz.

I had my doubts about The Cosmopolitan because the first impression it gives is pretty douchey, but my goodness the rooms are enormous and the dealers are super friendly and the restaurants there are incredible. Highly recommended, just don’t let the freaky lobby freak you out like it did me:

I put a whole mess of Vegas photos on Flickr. You can view the whole album here. I put a few of them below as well.

Inaugural #SXSWV2V sushi and fried chicken and Google Glass meetup!


Chris, Claire, Sweet John and Me.


My power

Steve Case keynote @ SXSW V2V


I mentioned the launch of a while back, a site created by the founders of Mighty Big TV / Television Without Pity and featuring lots of alumni as contributors.

It’s a wonderful thing to be able to write for people you love and respect and enjoy working with, but even after the launch, I hadn’t approached them about contributing to the site because I was trying to force myself to stop freelancing and to finish the novel I started before the start of the year. With that finally done in late June and me pretty far into the second draft/editing of it (about 210 of 360 or so pages), I finally sent a query and was thrilled to be welcomed aboard.

My first piece for Previously ran last week and was an “I Am Not a Crackpot!” suggesting that the part of Marc Maron in the TV show Maron should be recast.

This week, I wrote a story about The Walking Dead’s lead character Rick Grimes for the site’s Career Week and I’ve got another piece in the pipeline.

It feels wonderful to be a part of that team and if you’re not already checking out that site and making it part of your daily reading, you’re missing some really fun, creative TV writing. I mean, this Tales of the Gold Monkey post alone… my God. Consider it indispensable for the coming fall TV season.

Those space monkeys

Screen Shot 2013-08-31 at 12.35.04 AMWe’re still updating the space-faring adventures of Bobbo, Meany and the crew in weekly fashion and their Twitter account has been pretty active of late.

Also, we’re about to hit 300 “Likes” on Facebook. More of those are always good, hint hint.

It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog (mostly lethargy, but also I didn’t feel like I had much to say till now) that if you haven’t kept up, you’ve missed five whole new comics!

They are:

We’ve been nothing if not extremely topical.


The All-updates update

27 Jul

A sea turtle

This is what is happening, in bite-sized updates:

That whole selling our Austin rental house thing

Sold! We got three offers the first day and one the second day and then no more offers. We were told by our fantastic realtor that this is common in this market and the good news was that two of the first three offers were serious and we got into a little bidding war situation. We came out about 5 percent above asking price and we closed on Friday, so a combination of a scorching hot Austin seller’s market and good timing means we came out pretty well ahead.

That wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t put a big, scary amount of money into fixing the house up for sale, but the investment and the worry paid off.

Now I need some margaritas to celebrate.


Because of kids, we rarely go anywhere, but this year has suddenly been full of travel. We did Disney World and shortly after that, I went to my 20-year reunion in Oklahoma. We ended up going on a shorter second vacation two weeks ago to sunny S. Padre Island which the girls enjoyed almost as much as Disney.

On that trip, I got to really relax and enjoy myself, eat a lot of seafood and see some rescued sea turtles (above), which I immediately chose as my new spirit animals. As opposed to a cranky crab, which I can be when I’m not at the beach (below).

Crab, man

My wife took a just-concluded work trip, so I’ve been juggling taking care of the kids with work, which has left me exhausted. But the kids behaved, which they always seem to do when one of us is away (do they think they’re in trouble or something?), so it went well. My wife will be taking her turn going solo when I go cover SXSW V2V next month in Las Vegas. I like Vegas, but it’s a work trip and it’s no fun going there alone. Hope the conference is exciting and has good energy.


I feel weird saying much about this because like all superstitious writers, I fear the jinx, but the quick status update is that I took a few days away from the material and have since spent the last week and a half just reading back through it without trying to edit as I go. I was expecting to be horrified and to want to rewrite huge swaths, but instead I’ve been surprised by stuff I don’t even remember writing and pleased with a lot of it. Next step will be to give it a hard 2nd-draft edit/revision and to get some feedback from a very tiny group of people I asked to read the first draft. Not sure what’ll happen after that, to be perfectly honest but I’m definitely not going to just put it away. This year for me has been primarily about this project and very little else.

Things that have brought me joy lately

This video (which I was very late to seeing), this song, this blog post, this Tumblrthis T-shirt, the photo below.

Don’t worry, we were able to reclaim her arm from the seaweed virus before she ate Megatokyo.

Stuff I wrote

My Digital Savant column last week was a roundup of reviews: the video games The Last of Us (depressing!) and Gunpoint (clever and funny!), as well as the Nikon D5200 SLR camera.

This week’s column was about the nonprofit Austin Free-Net, which has been around since 1995 and has been doing great work in the Austin community to bring Internet access and computer services to those who wouldn’t otherwise get it.

I also did some Digital Savant Micro stories about clickjacking and about Google’s just-announced Chromecast dongle.

One new thing at work is that it looks like I’ll be doing more video stuff soon. More on that as it happens.


Monkeys who hump and more

The Space Monkeys! really liked the movie Pacific Rim(which I still need to see) and this week did a whole lot of sexing in honor of “Hump Day.”

Give them a Facebook Like, won’t you?

I made some tacos and they ended up in a book

Through one of those random Austin things that happens from time to time, a friend of mine found himself working on a book about breakfast tacos and he asked if I’d like to be included. This involved me making some tacos and taking them to a photo shoot and writing up a little bit about my love for and history with the humble breakfast taco.

The book turned out beautifully and a launch party for it drew a huge crowd.

Buy a copy. I promise it’s worth your money and time.

In the taco book

On Twitter

Two out-of-the ordinary things that happened on Twitter recently.

The night of the Trayvon Martin / George Zimmerman verdict, I tweeted something I thought was very vague and of course that’s the thing that people latch on to retweet hundreds of times.

You can’t really see the responses or how some people reposted it anymore, but what was interested was the responses said way more about the person than the original Tweet did about me, I think.  It was a very weird, bad week on multiple fronts and in some ways it just summed up the bummer that was in the air that night.

The other Tweet was much more recent and came from my daughter. I think it may have had something to do with a dinosaur exhibit she just saw, which must mean she thinks her father is about to become extinct:

I wish I’d had a good response to that other than, “Damn. You got me. Well done.”

Doing the Disney

15 Jul

We bought hats and the girls made faces. Yup, those are my kids, all right.

We bought hats and the girls made faces. Yup, those are my kids, all right. (All photos in this post by me, my wife or Disney PhotoPass.)


I loved Disney World. It would be easy to complain about individual parts of the experience. I’d never been before, not even as a child, and I could have chosen to be disappointed that because we were toting two kids and fulfilling their dreams (a common parenting thing), my wife and I didn’t really get to go on any boss grownup rides.

I could complain about the heat which, when it wasn’t raining, was a stifling, exhausting omnipresence. I could complain that it was so corporate in that sneaky ingratiating way that makes you forget that you are basically going broke trying to have a good time and I could complain that traveling on a plane with a 3-year-old who decides to completely lose her shit was in my top 10 horrible nightmares list and that this item on the list came absolutely true and was just as horrific as I’d dared to bad-dream.

But fuck all that. I loved the experience. I loved the traveling and I loved the resort where we stayed and I loved the damn refillable plastic cups they gave us that we filled with water or fruit punch or sweet tea. I loved the pool, I loved the boats, even the ones that took forever to arrive to take us two minutes away across the water. I loved all four parks, even poor, divisive Animal Kingdom and Epcot, which could be a complete drag if you’re in the wrong frame of mind for them. Come to think of it, that could all of Disney World. All of Florida, in fact.

Just one example of the insanely awesome overkill of a Disney resort hotel.

Just one example of the insanely awesome overkill of a Disney resort hotel.


But perhaps it was that it had been so long since I’d taken a proper no-work vacation (about two years, honestly) and that our kids had wanted this for so long and that my parents came along, too, and offered some much-needed help. But I had a great, no-lie awesome time. Instead of getting more worn out as the vacation went on and wishing we were home, we settled into a groove where we got used to our surroundings, figured out the best ways to navigate and got into the perfect cocoon of comfort and relaxation.

Of course, if you are a parent, you know that I’m talking about a cocoon where kids still lose their shit fighting over a seat at the dinner table and where you have to have lights out in the hotel room by 9 p.m. even though you want to stay up and drink or watch TV until 2 a.m. But within those boundaries, I found so much to love about the parks and Florida’s general weirdness and the uninterrupted time we got to spend with the kids.

It was expensive. It was a lot of work to keep the kids entertained and fed and content for a full six nights + travel days. But we’re still, nearly three weeks later, talking about things that happened on the trip, looking at the photos we have and talking about it to anyone who’ll listen.

Disney has got this stuff down. They know what they’re doing and even when things don’t work like they’re supposed to (the transportation breaks down or the heat is unbearable amid way too many people), Disney finds a way to distract you. Too hot? Here’s a parade for you right down the damn street! Monorail broken? Here, take a free boat or a bus. Don’t like the food at this restaurant? There are 15 other restaurants in your vicinity and they all serve stuff your kids will actually eat.

An editor friend of mine told me that at Disney World they really take care of you and it was reassuring to be at a place where everyone, from the workers to other parents, understood how kids can be in unfamiliar surrounding and all the little things it takes to put them, and you, at ease.

We could see the monorail from our room.

We could see the monorail from our room.


So here are the things I loved and the things I did not love about Disney World. I imagine we’ll go back in a few years when the kids are older, especially since Carolina at 3 seemed about a year or two too young to really experience it (and who knows how much she’ll remember).

Loved it:

  • Pretty much all the Pixar-themed rides and shows. The 40-minute Finding Nemo stage musical was fantastic, the Buzz Lightyear shooting ride was fun for every single person in our party (ages 3 to my parents) and the Monsters Inc. stand-up comedy show was surprisingly hilarious and not cheesy like I was expecting. It was actually more enjoyable for me than Monsters University.  If you find yourself at Disney World and don’t know what to do, hit the Pixar stuff first.
  • The food was something we were expecting to struggle with. We were on a meal plan and based on the description, we thought the “Quick service” restaurants were going to be a bunch of small snacks or junk food. Turns out they serve quite good food and, most importantly, stuff the kids enjoyed. And there are tons of them, so after you feel like you’re eating the same stuff for two or three days, you can switch it up and try other places at the parks. We fell in love with the quick-service place at our resort.
  • Our resort was amazing. Gorgeous buildings, great service, super entertaining lobby with live music every night, shops, good restaurants and beautiful pools. We would stay there again for sure.
  • I don’t get to travel much anymore, so going country-by-country at Epcot was probably way more fun for me than for the kids. We completely fell in love with the giant Japan store and the Germany stuff took me back to my days living overseas. Mexico completely sucked for me, but probably only because all the stuff you could buy in that area was stuff you can get much cheaper in San Antonio.
  • I haven’t been to Florida much and I guess I was expecting it to be a lot more urban and paved, but there is so much empty land and swamp and water that it really feels like you’re cut off from all the sprawl of a state like Texas. That’s a weird thing to enjoy on vacation, but I liked in some ways the feeling of being a little bit isolated from the rest of the country geographically.

Hated it:

  • That cuts both ways, actually. I felt isolated in a nice way for a vacation, but also in a way that made me twitchy as someone who likes to keep up with the news and know what’s going on. More on that below where I talk about what happened when I got back home.
  • It takes chutzpah for someone from Texas to complain about Florida heat, but seriously, in a park with so many people and without much shade, Magic Kingdom just felt like an oven both days we went. Other parks with more shade and less people like Animal Kingdom and Epcot were much better. The unpredictable weather goes without saying.
  • Transportation was a problem a few times for us with much-delayed boat rides or a monorail that wasn’t working. The buses for the parks not near our hotel were fine, but the stroller we rented was huge and had to be broken down for the bus, which was always stressful for me, the one who had to deal with stroller wrangling.
  • It was great that there was Wi-Fi everywhere, from the resorts to all the parks, but man was the Wi-Fi spotty at the hotel, especially late at night when I was trying to get some writing and news-surfing done in the lobby of our building. Is that when everybody’s in their room jamming up the network downloading porn after their kids go to bed? I imagine so.
  • That’s pretty much it, which should tell you how much we liked the trip. All the hotel and park people we dealt with were super-curteous. As parents, we never felt like we were getting stares or being shamed when our kids occasionally acted up (OK, on the plane ride that happened, but we deserved it). Other parents seemed to take it in stride and staff at the hotel and parks made it a priority to make our kids feel special and welcomed. So, I guess that’s not a “hate” item… I hate that I don’t have more to complain about!
Rebecca insisted that getting a monogrammed hat at Disney is a tradition. So I did. "Where's yours?" I asked. She said, "I already have one at home."

Rebecca insisted that getting a monogrammed hat at Disney is a tradition. So I did. “Where’s yours?” I asked. She said, “I already have one at home.”


Here are a few more photos:


They loved the airport.

They loved the airport.

This image ran in the paper with my column because we couldn't find an image where my wife and I didn't look all sweaty and/or bloated from Disney meals.

This image ran in the paper with my column because we couldn’t find an image where my wife and I didn’t look all sweaty and/or bloated from Disney meals.

Ariel was all by herself in the grotto for hours at a time, which is not at all creepy.

Ariel was all by herself in the grotto for hours at a time, which is not at all creepy.

The first part of a crazy Princess lunch as the Cinderella castle.

The first part of a crazy Princess lunch as the Cinderella castle.

My daughters couldn't understand why Pocahontas and Governor Ratcliffe are just hanging out like it's no big deal.

My daughters couldn’t understand why Pocahontas and Governor Ratcliffe are just hanging out like it’s no big deal.

At a character breakfast in our hotel.

At a character breakfast in our hotel.

Father's Day landed on the day of our trip after we left, so we had to gather for that way later. This was my message to my dad on that Sunday.

Father’s Day landed on the day of our trip after we left, so we had to gather for that way later. This was my message to my dad on that Sunday.

At the Hollywood park

So, here’s what happened when I got back.  I was still Tweeting and commenting on stuff like the Apple product announcement while on my trip (there are some long lines at Disney and I had my phone).  My co-worker Addie Broyles, who writes about food for the Statesman, emailed me suggested we do something together about whether it’s a good idea to unplug from technology on vacation.

She was going to be taking a trip to Florida with her son and was planning to disconnect herself from social media, unlike my Instagramming ass.

It turned out to be a great idea. We wrote dual columns for Digital Savant that ran this past week. Mine was about staying plugged in on vacation and hers was about her experience doing the opposite. (MyStatesman subscription required for those two columns.)

They ran in print with this great Don Tate illustration:


By Don Tate / American-Statesman

By Don Tate / American-Statesman


We also did a public Google Hangout you can watch below talking about the topic in more detail with special guest(s).



 Work, monkeys and more

The Friend ZoneA new Digital Savant Micro ran in print and online explaining “Virtual machines.”

I also got to attend the first day of the huge RTX 2013 (Rooster Teeth Expo) and posted a short blog and some photos I shot at the event. I met some really great people and had a fun time.

I keep forgetting to post this here, but I was on NPR’s “Marketplace” for about five seconds talking about Rolodexes. A Don Draper reference was employed.

In the world of our monkey friends from space, their recent adventures include a forced visit to The Friend Zone and an unintentional drug brownie trip.

We took a much shorter family vacation to the beach this last weekend and because my vacations still involve staying up late and working, I was able to finish something I’ve been working on since around December.

I Tweeted this from the hotel lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn at South Padre Island around 1:30 a.m.:

I hope to have a lot more to share about that soon but the first big step, just finishing the thing, is done and now I’m starting on editing and next-drafting and moving it forward.

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