Around the Podosphere

Here’s a few things that have struck me as interesting from my recent listening.

I’m a fan of Harry Shearer’s Le Show and the July 20th episode featured a lot of talk with John M. Barry, a writer and expert on New Orleanian issues. I liked how Mr. Barry debunked the whole ridiculous “why rebuild a city under sea level?” meme quite well. If you are at all interested in New Orleans, the failure of the federal levees and related topics, I recommend this for a listen.

I continue to be interested in minicomics. I’ll be honest, most of my inspiration and excitement that I get from DIY media lately has come from the minicomics community. I really want to find a place where I can send them some dough and they’ll send me a grab bag of mixed stuff. I’m interested in the medium but the search costs are high. I do love when I can get a nice compact burst of information on the topic, which I did get from this Dollar Bin recording of the minicomics panel from HeroesCon. This panel had a lot of Alec Longstreth in it. This does make me realize that I need to go to and buy the collection of his minicomics.

I like listening to SModcast and I don’t begrudge the boys making some money, particularly when they are paying a dude to edit and lay in their music bed. Considering the music bed is really the third guy on the show, it’s a significant part of the program. However, their Think Geek sponsorship on the show I listened to today was painful. It was goofy and all and in the kind of style I like to do mine, but damn it felt like it went on forever. I checked the MP3 player and it was a little under 3 minutes but it felt like 10. I’d suggest after about a minute, y’all stop. Past that, you subtract value and make me pissed off at Think Geek. I’m just saying.


We’ll be on vacation next week in a cabin sort of environment near (but not in) Asheville. We won’t have internet in the room, which isn’t necessarily a problem to me. We’re taking the dog because the place has doggie day care, and we’ll be taking him with us to dog friendly state parks. All in all, it seems like a really good time. I could handle a little decompression time.

It’s a little sad that I’m thinking about this in terms of things to do. I’m looking at stacks of books to take and thinking about writing projects I could work on during that off time. I don’t idle well, and even when I’m doing nothing I want to be doing something. Even so, there should be much relaxation involved. We seldom take full week vacations, usually just long weekend getways, so this should be good.

Surreal Podcast Moment

Not to brag or anything, but it’s not that unusual to hear my name mentioned on podcasts. I like it, it’s generally a fun experience (unless the mentioner is a specific Canadian dude) but it has long ceased to be a novel experience. However it is definitely surreal to be driving home from work listening to an episode of News Gang Live and hear them talk about me for five minutes, about how I use Friend Feed and why I have left Twitter.

For the record, I’ve been wanting to call in for weeks because what they say about me is never quite right. When I’ve had the codes to call I haven’t had time and when I’ve had time I didn’t get the codes. I’m also bummed that I never got to call in during the period when they were talking about the recently departed George Carlin. I have a hell of a lot to say about him.

Convention Season

I’m thinking a lot about conventions lately. This is the first year where not only am I not going to Podcast Expo but I never for a second even considered going. I was scheduled to speak last year but when it came down not only was my day job so crushing at the time but it had been for months and I just couldn’t do it. I had to cancel a few weeks before the show, which was a crappy way to go about it and made me feel bad. However when it came to the actual missing of the show other than not being able to hang out with my friends, I was OK with not going. The extended to this year when I just never considered going at all. Nothing against the event but a combination of losing the scruffy charm of the Ontario CA conference center and just not having much interest in the “podcast industry” as a goal left me uninterested this year.

In contrast, since I have a reborn Reality Break on my hands, I’m trying to increase my attendance at science fiction and comic book conventions. That’s where I choose to put my energy and travel budget now rather than Podcast Expo. I’d rather go where my potential listeners and fans are. People generally have this idea of promoting their show at Podcast Expo but really that’s not a great place for promotion unless your goal is to get the attention primarily of other podcasters.

However because I’m ever less enthralled with getting on airplanes the cons I attend will skew heavily towards the southeast where I can drive to them. I missed Heroes Con but I will be attending Dragon*Con where I will be participating in the podcasting track and also doing interviews. I hope to make it to Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland this fall and do some interviews there too. I have an invitation to OryCon in Portland OR that I’m thinking hard about but is low probability. I’d love to do it as I have lots of friends out there but it’s just such a shlep to get there and back. When I went in 2006 I ended up losing most of one of my days with friends and sleeping in Ohare airport.

There is a new comic convention called XCon that will be starting up in Myrtle Beach this Halloween season. I’ll obviously go to that one. If people have suggestions of good cons for both promoting my work and getting new interview material recorded, let me know. The probability that I can go decreases with the square of the distance from the South Carolina coast but I’d love to know about them.

Chris Penn Challenges Podcamp Philly

Chris Penn has a post challenging the attendees of Podcamp Philly to not just geek out but build something of practical use to the citizens of Philadelphia. I really like that idea. When we put on CREATE South our primary motivation was to provide a framework so that people could walk out with a tangible set of things to do in order to join this community. We didn’t want to have a nerdish gabfest, it was always envisioned as a way to bring people out with similar interest and get as many people up to speed as we could.

What I like about Podcamp Philly challenge is that by putting a specific and achievable goal it helps focus the potentially meandering agenda, gets people honed in on not just building things but building things that help. I’d love to see this model work and be adopted at more places. If it works well it will make people feel better about their time, help some people and avoid the tendency for insularity that can come from these events. Make it happen, y’all!

Eno and DRM Free MP3s

I can hit the quinella and make a new post that ties together two recents posts about music I love and DRM protected music. I realized that Brian Eno’s Here Come the Warm Jets is probably the album I love most that I don’t own. Somewhere in a box I believe I have a cassette of it that I recorded during an overnight at WREK. That was one of the perks of working in the station – bring blank cassettes and tape all the music you can stand too. I went to search for it on Amazon and I found that it is available as a DRM free MP3s.

I’ve never bought MP3s from Amazon. For that matter, I’ve never bought from iTunes either. I have one song I got via a coupon for a free download, Jimi Hendrix’ “When 6 was 9”. Apple has never received cash from me for music or movies, mainly because of my disdain for DRM protection, even when defeatable. I downloaded the OS X version of the Amazon Music downloader, completed the purchase and the downloader came up and within a minute or two I had the songs. They are in good sounding 256 kb unprotected MP3s. The downloader tool created an Amazon directory in my OS X Music folder, and it also added them to iTunes. 20 seconds after the purchase, I was listening to the album.

This is really a winner, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not getting involved with DRM music but I will buy it this way. Everything about the experience was pleasant and Just Worked. I like it when it goes like that. Brian Eno (or probably his record label) made a little money he might not have any other way. I wish it could just go straight to Eno. Now, if record labels were largely disintermediated out and bands could sign up directly with Amazon, we’d really have something.

A quote from the album seem appropriate now:

Some of them are old, some of them are new
Some of them will turn up when you least expect them to
And when they do, remember me, remember me.

Statistically Indistinguishable from Perfect

Here’s a summary of why the Amazon S3 service went down last week. The title of this post comes from a statement at the end of their goals for their own service level. I really like that turn of a phrase. The takeaway lessons from this are 1) engineering services at this scale is always an adventure 2) failures of this magnitude tend to come from the places you would never think to look and 3) cloud computing as a model has a set of risks associated with it that tend to be glossed over when people talk about the ease of setup and cost of the service.

Our Ballardian Present

Cousin Brucie blogs about JG Ballard getting recognized as a visionary for his novels of global disaster. When I started getting into science fiction, it was at the beginning of cyberpunk, with which I was smitten including that of Cousin Brucie. At the same time, I really was getting into the “new wave” SF which at that point was distinctly No Longer New. I loved the works of Michael Moorcock but particularly JG Ballard.

I know Ballard was reacting to a specific literary trope, that of the British disaster novel where the heroes stave off large scale defeat by being plucky and British. There was something fascinating to me about these stories of non-plucky Brits facing global catastrophe and almost always failing to avert it. In the best case, they learn to live their lives in the catastrophe. I think of things like The Drowned World where the protagonist learns to love the post-catastrophe world so much that the “happy ending” is his undoing of the fixes to London by the plucky British engineers.

As much as I love those books, I never wanted to live in one. As time goes by, it is becoming clear that those futures are going to come true to a greater or lesser extent. I’m really hoping for lesser, but if you want a moral and emotional preview of what life might be like when the seas rise and wash away most of what we hold dear, try reading some Ballard. To quote Peter Gabriel:

Lord, here comes the flood
We’ll say goodbye to flesh and blood
If again the seas are silent
in any still alive
It’ll be those who gave their island to survive
Drink up, dreamers, you’re running dry.

Pay for DRM Digital Goods and Get Screwed

In yet another data point for why you should never commit your cash to any digital good that is protected by DRM, Yahoo Music is shutting down their authorization servers this fall. What I just said goes double for anything that requires a server hit to authorize or reauthorize. Some day, the server will not be there, because the company has gone out of business or been purchased or, like Yahoo, just decided it is too much trouble to provide ongoing service of the goods you bought in good faith. Pay attention everyone, because sooner or later this is what happens to everything purchased digitally and protected by DRM that requires central servers.

I used to be in this business when I worked for Intertrust. I’m still working off the karmic debt for that (although getting screwed up the butt on the failed stock was a big downpayment). At the time DRM seemed rational enough and now I have completely reversed that opinion. The worst part is that almost always, these goods have a price markup because of the costs of the DRM provider in the chain. In reality, they should be discounted because of the lowered utility to you and the risk you bear of one day not being able to listen to your songs or watch your movies or play your games.

At Intertrust. our system worked by generating keys that were based on a fingerprint of your system. If you changed anything, the fingerprint changed and the keys stopped working, needing a new one to be served. That would include reinstalling the OS, changing a hard drive or MAC address, etc. Basically, make any substantive change to the hardware or OS and you invalidate those digital goods. That is the fate awaiting all the Yahoo Music customers (both of them.) Things will work up until a change and then it is over. Eventually something will fail or you will buy a new computer and there goes that.

So my friends, pay attention to this. It’s time to cut off this style of doing business at the wallet by dropping the demand for such goods to zero. If you trust the market like most libertarian leaning geeks, making sure there is no profit in DRM will get rid of it more effectively than a million words of rhetoric. I’ve bought digital goods that I can no longer access and that will never happen again. It’s not unlike the group dynamics of vaccination or going on strike – it only takes a small percentage of group members breaking out to undermine the whole effort. Don’t pay for DRM goods and help the digital world.

Lunches at the Beach

Lunch at the Beach

Some days I really just feel the need to get the hell out of the office at lunchtime. I really prefer if possible to work in a quick walk on the beach, so I tend to head towards the water. This means that often I’m lunching on Kings Highway or Ocean Boulevard. Often I grab a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on the corner of 21st and Ocean because then I get to park there for free (when there is a space) and then I can walk for a few minutes before heading back to work.

Another alternative is to go to the area by the pier at 2nd Avenue North because there is a big gravel lot to park in that doesn’t charge. I’m trying to pay extra attention to those areas when I can park for free. Since many times I’m at the beach for 15-30 minutes, I hate the electronic machines that require a minimum of the $1 for hour. The coin meters are OK since I can drop in a quarter or two if that’s all the time I’m staying.

I grew up land locked in Nebraska and Kansas and even at age 40, I still can’t get over the novelty of having a beach so readily available to me. Most of my co-workers aren’t as smitten as with the beach as I am. Many live near it (I live 15 miles away) and many others grew up near it. That’s why the beach walk trips are always me solo. When I walk alone, I prefer to be by myself.

PS – I’m beach lunching right now. Thank you SBUX for free parking AND free wifi! Enjoy the cash for that Americano.

Desert Island Discs

I’m currently listening to Wim Merten’s ” Maximizing The Audience“, which is perhaps my all-time favorite song. That put me in mind of other of my favorite bits of music. There is not much here that you’d hear in oldies radio and several songs that few or no one that reads this will know. (Chris Campbell might be the one.)

Here is a list of some of my favorite pieces of music of all time. These are mostly individual songs even when they are the title tracks of albums. If they aren’t I’ll note that.

  • As stated above, Wim Merten’s ” Maximizing The Audience
  • Television’s “Marquis Moon”
  • John Coltrane’s “Love Supreme” (I really consider all 3 parts as one long piece)
  • Muszikas’ “Cold Winds are Blowing”
  • Richard and Linda Thompson’s “Shoot Out the Lights”
  • Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire”
  • Frank Zappa’s “Watermelon in Easter Hay”
  • Michelle Malone’s “Brand New Dream”
  • Pixies’ “Gouge Away”
  • Bad Brain’s “I Against I”
  • T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy”
  • Warren Zevon’s “For My Next Trick I’ll Need a Volunteer”
  • Camper van Beethoven’s “All Her Favorite Fruit”
  • Captain Beefheart’s “Tropical Hot Dog Night”
  • John Cale’s “Paris 1919”
  • The Clash’s cover of Toots and the Maytal’s “Pressure Drop”
  • Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”
  • Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

I’m going to arbitrarily stop because I could perhaps go on all day. That, my friends, is one smoking mix tape.

Myrtle Beach’s War on Tourism

Myrtle Beach is not only looking at driving away the May bike weeks, but when a recent flap arose over an ad encouraging gay travelers people were quick to back away. I’m no tourism expert but it seems to me that in a down economy with crazily rising energy and travel costs, when airlines are cutting routes to the city, maybe just maybe you’d take what tourists you can get. Since both the Harley riders and gay couples tend to be more affluent than average, it might be a good idea to encourage both groups to come to town and bring their checkbooks. When you try to discourage specific groups from coming, the knock on effect is that you discourage everyone. Real life is not so fine grained, everything is connected, and when you try to prevent tourism of one type my bet is you’ll prevent tourism of all kinds. As a year round resident of the area who would prefer restaurants and businesses to be able to survive and serve me whenever I want them, I say bring on the gay bikers!

Moving About

This weekend had a little bit more physical activity than my baseline. Not only were the regular dog walks happening, we went skating yesterday. Next week we’ll be part of a skate party, so we were practicing up a little. I hadn’t been in a roller rink since I was 7 or 8. I tried to get out there on standard quad skates, and it was a bad scene. After one lap, I turned in those skates for some rollerblades which were much better. We skated for about an hour and a half and I only had one wipeout that was unassisted. The rest were caused by trying to not run over little kids. When it was done we were exhausted and I was a tad bruised.

Today I went swimming at the gym. I’ve built up to where I can do 21 laps without stopping. That’s 1050 yards ,which is approaching 2/3 of a mile. It takes me a really long time to do – close to 35 minutes – but I get it done. It’s amazing to me how quickly my performance deteriorates. I can do the 25 yards of one half of the lap in 27 strokes the first time. By the third lap it takes more like 34 and at the low point it was 45. My main goal is to increase my fitness and cardiovascular health so the quality of my swimming is not my primary concern. I try not to be ridiculous but as long as I’m moving, I’m happy with that.

Alison Bechdel

I’ve been a fan of Alison Bechdel’s cartooning for a long time. I have several of the collections of Dykes to Watch Out For comic strips, and when I read her graphic novel Fun Home I was absolutely blown away. I’ve been following her weblog for a while, and I can’t tell you how happy I was to find out that just like me, she’s kind of a disorganized pack rat. However, tonight she’s reversed it and gotten organized. Uh oh, the balls in my court, I guess. Looks like I’ve got some work to do this weekend.

White Smoke, It’s a New Pope

My buddy Andre and his wife Heidi are having a baby. Like, right now. Andre is doofus enough to be live blogging the labor. We saw them just before the 4th of July and Heidi was ready to be back down to a single person at that point. I’m delighted to welcome a new member into our Grand Strand Blogger group the hard way. Memphis will get an automatic bid, she’s a legacy.

Next stop, pictures! I can’t wait.

My Own Quote of the Day

Driving home from work, listening to a Reverend Bleepo Abernathy rant on the Hour of Slack, a quote occurred to me:

One man’s doomsday is another man’s payday.

It seems like about 2/3 of the current news here in the USA could be something that quote applies to, be it economic meltdown and bank takeovers or bailouts, the war in Iraq as a profit center for KBR, you name it. Use it at will, I know I will be.

Recordings and SF Conventions

Tom Spurgeon points out that the panels he moderated at Heroes Con were recorded for posterity by the Dollar Bin guys. I’ve been listening to these and really appreciate them since I wanted to go to the convention this year and couldn’t. This brings up a point I’ve been meaning to blog about for years and keep forgetting to.

When I was a guest at Orycon 2006, on top of interviewing Cory Doctorow I was on a lot of panels. I recorded 5 of the 6 panels I was on. At this point, the only thing I’ve ever done with those recordings was to excerpt a snippet of my closing remarks on one panel in an episode of EGC. However, I do have them and could always do something with them later.

The act of recording them was a pain in the ass – not technically which was very easy – but permission-wise. Every single time, I’d put my Marantz in the center of the table and tell the panelists I was recording. Every single panelist was cool with it every single time. After all, we are there to speak publicly and on the record so why wouldn’t we be? Every single time, though, some bristling occurred from the audience. They always wanted to know what I was doing with the recordings and why I was taping the session. It might have to do with the Oregonian contrarian nature because on the Heroes Con sessions they announce they are taping and no one says a word against it. I hope I don’t seem elitist and like I’m pulling rank but it always bugged me to get push back from the people whose contributions were limited and who might not even be able to be picked up on mic when the panelists were all cool with it.

This did lead me to a way to get around all the painful negotiations and explanations. I think SF and comic conventions should explicitly declare themselves, their grounds and the events that occur during their time period as Creative Commons licensed NonCommercial/ShareAlike/Attribution. Anyone can record via audio or video or photograph anything in public convention space and publish under those terms. 90% of this happens anyway. Flickr is full of photos of any such event you can think of. It just makes it easier and standard how to deal with the issue of recordings. It’s in the best interest of the conventions to spread their mindshare about what makes their shindig unique and this reduces the friction of that. If the convention declares this licensing regime upfront then everyone understand the terms going in.The convention as a whole is on the record and no one should have any issues. It just makes it simpler, and it frees the pros and fans up to do creative work without lots of overhead, which creative work is what they do.

I love the idea of video fanzines published via podcasting mechanisms. It’s the same urge that led to the mimeographs of last century, just realized via a different technology. Let’s make this happen. If you work with a convention, talk about this at the organizational meetings. I’d love to see this adopted around the place.

Democrat Thought Experiment

If I were running for president as a Democrat right now, I’d be hammering on this whole Karl Rove immunity from subpoena thing pointing out that people in my administration are not above the law and are subject to congressional oversight. Then I’d try to force my opponent to say whether his stance is the same, forcing him to either repudiate the Bushista stance or claim the same nonsense. Puts him in a lose/lose.

I don’t know if the Obama campaign will do this. They’ve had ample opportunity to – rather than talk about vague values and leadership – actually put Obama out there to lead. I’ve been underwhelmed with Obama all through this campaign, which has made loyal Obamites insane with me for the last year. I lived in Chicago in 2004 and got to experience his rise from a crowded Democratic primary field to a complete domination in the general election. I was highly impressed by him then, but ever since then he has demeaned actual progressive values. Constantly for the last four years he has hammered about how we need to “stop bickering and foster bipartisan cooperation.” I’ve slowly learned to hate him for that stance. When your opponents are attempting to reinstitute monarchy and tyranny and destroy the rule of law, we don’t need bipartisan cooperation in that effort but Obama does it anyway.

Really, when Edwards left the race there went actual progressive values. I think people are beginning to experience buyers remorse, as we are seeing in the whole FISA bill debacle. I’m tired of bloggers expressing shock and disappointment over this. It’s exactly the same things as Obama has been saying all campaign and all during his tenure as a senator. If you are surprised by this, you just haven’t been paying attention because this was always entirely predictable and from some of us, predicted.

Let me head off what comment #1 will be: “So what, you are going to vote for McCain?” No, I’m not. I’ll vote for Obama because he is what we have to work with. McCain is a corrupt, war-mongering, unprepared partisan hack who is barely a notch above what we have now. However, both Clinton and Obama were in my opinion tied for 4th best choice in the primary, at best. I want to see Obama win, but I sure wish it was John Edwards winning instead. If that happened, we might actually get some progressive policies in place and a rollback of the shredding of the constitution of the last 7 years. What I expect from Obama is at best a stop to the bleeding. But, in lousy times like this I’ll take it.

Samantha Brown in Myrtle Beach

I got a pair of emails from a publicist type who is working with the Travel Channel. Tomorrow night on the Samantha Brown program, they will be featuring Myrtle Beach. I got an email to my regular address here, and then the identical one for the contact address of Grand Strand Bloggers. I could be grumpy, or I could be happy that they consider blogger outreach important enough to pursue. They also have a blog for their TV show although there appears to be no Myrtle Beach related entries.

The episode airs tomorrow, July 10th at 10:30 PM EDT. If you are away from the Grand Strand and want to see what it is that I’m always talking about, check it out. If you find this interesting, you might want to check out the internet TV show that Warren and Marcia do all the time, Myrtle Beach TV. I do love this area and enjoy when it gets coverage like this.