Dan Conover Is On Fire

I got to spend a little time with Dan Conover last Saturday, kicking around ideas that have floated between us personally, between our blogs and in the aether. Ever since he took the buyout for his job from the Charleston Post and Courier, he has really been on fire at the Xark blog.

Just this evening he made a post (which I think would rock even if it didn’t name check me) about the damage that narrative is doing to the current state of journalism. I find it amazing how hard it is to get facts from a news story nowadays. Any news story – print, web or video – that begins “It was a day like any other for Joe Bob …” is one that has already lost me.

He also wrote a piece yesterday that used BarCampCHS as an example of the things that are typical of a New Charleston forming that doesn’t need to ask permission of or win the approval of the old money, Old Charleston power brokers. It is also a kick ass read that I highly recommend.

Our conversation Saturday kept coming back to this journalism grenade he lobbed earlier this year. I think this is an idea he should pursue and since no one else seems to care, he should do this and force everyone else to adopt it by succeeding with it until no one else can possibly ignore it.

Check out Dan’s work. I guarantee you that it will rock your little world.

My BarCampCHS Experience

BarCampCHS 2009 Introductions

Last Saturday, October 24 2009, was the first ever BarCamp in the state of South Carolina, BarCampCHS. It was held at the Lowcountry Innovation Center which is in a former Navy yard. The Charleston contingent has been highly supportive of CREATE South the last few years so it only seemed reasonable to support them in this effort. I got up at 5 AM and drove up first thing in the morning. It was pretty uneventful as a drive up until the point I hit the roadblock with the cop blocking the road that both my GPS and a biiiig BarCampCHS sign said was the way to the venue. There was a road race coming through and the cop said I could not go that way. “Where are you going?” he asked. I replied “The Lowcountry Innovation Center.” “I don’t know where that is.” I asked him how long before the road reopened, trying to figure out if we are talking minutes or hours. “I don’t know, I can’t tell you” was his response, which I didn’t believe for one second. I’m sure the cop on this Saturday morning knew when he was able to leave this spot and get on with his life. I opted to just drive off, head in the general direction I believed the building to be, and hope that the Garmin Nuvi GPS would send me to the right spot. After about 10 minutes of meandering around North Charleston, I did in fact get to the venue.

Heahter, Dave, Lisa, Cal, Vera

I got there during the morning breakfast time, and got a chance to chat a bit with friends from the area. I had plenty of time to mingle before the introductory session kicked off at 9 AM. After introductions and some basic housekeeping announcements, the agenda turned to the session pitches. Each person who was interested in presenting gave a 30 second abstract on their session. Theoretically, the sessions would get voted on by the attendees based on how much people wanted to see them. In practice this wasn’t actually necessary because there were more open room slots than session pitches, so everyone that had a session got a room.

This is the first BarCamp I had ever attended, and I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of this part of the structure. A lot of people seem to love it but I’m not wild about it. It definitely distills the attendees down into a class of rarified geek attendees because I’d imagine for most ordinary people the notion of going to a conference that is getting assembled on the fly is off-putting. I find it a little bit so, and I’m in the choir waiting for the preaching. It worked out fine, as I’m sure it always does. I’d be just as happy if the voting happened exclusively online the week before and it got mostly or completely set the day before so that I could plan out which things to attend and know when I got there, with maybe a room or three devoted to the on-the-fly sessions. It’s just my personal preference. I know that the BarCamp format is very popular and I think most other geeks love the feel of just barely pulling it together. I freely admit this is my personal tic, and that I’m a spazz. Milage varies.

As an organizer of a conference myself, I know that it is impossible to predict exactly how things go in practice. One of those things was the placement of the session board and how it affected traffic flow. For 2010 a better spot needs to be found for it. It was at the top of the stairs, and there just wasn’t enough room for many people to jam in and read it at the same time. I’m not sure where it could have gone easily. It made it tricky to figure out where one wanted to go at any given time. I did work out a way to mitigate that some, which I’ll talk about shortly.

BarCampCHS 2009 - iPhone App Development Session

At 10 AM, the sessions kicked off. I spent most of my time in Paul Reynold’s iPhone development session, which was well attended and the crowd seemed pretty into. Somewhere in here, I realized that I had screwed up and completely forgotten to charge up my camcorder. Between the laptop and the camcorder, most of my seating choices during the day were driving predominantly by access to AC outlets. Even though I’ve never even touched an iPhone, I found Paul’s session pretty interesting. In the middle I bugged out for a little bit to go look at that session board. I talked to a few of the people around, asking if anybody had put up a really high res photo of it. There were photos but nothing so high res that you could use it determine what session to go to next. I made the statement that “Someone should set up a wiki of this, so that you can tell from your laptop or iPhone what sessions are what.” Almost as I was saying it, I realized that was a ridiculous statement and with a sentiment contrary to the day. Of course, what that meant is that I should do it. So I quickly created a WikiDot account and created a wiki page for the sessions. By the time I was typing in sessions, it was about 10:45 AM. I entered in all of the 11 AM sessions, saved it, and then tweeted some links for it. Then, after that, I went on with putting the rest of the schedule in. Over the course of the day, I kept checking back in to see if anything had changed. A few times I had to move things around or add sessions and I think what is up there is mostly accurate other than the fact that the 10 AM hour is not represented at all. Because I was filling a need to figure out what to do rather than archiving it, I didn’t think to go back and put in the already past sessions which is now slightly problematic since the Charleston city paper linked to it as a canonical representation of the sessions. If I can find a good photo of the board I will go back and put those sessions in (Note: I did). Funnily enough, as I went through the day I found people using the wiki on their iPhones or laptops, so “Mission Accomplished.”

The 11 AM hour was particularly bad for me, as seven of the nine sessions are ones I would have attended if I could. I went to about half of the XMPP session, put on by a guy from Collecta, and around the halfway point moved over to the Amazon Cloud Computing session. Both were interesting and I could easily have spent the entire time in either or a number of the other sessions.

Once we got into the noon hour, it was time for lunch. It was bbq catered by the Barbecue Joint, a restaurant that was near the venue. I had a giant plate of pork, cole slaw and baked beans. I made an effort to sit with people I didn’t already know, but I didn’t talk to them that much. I did soak in the vibe and listen, but I didin’t have much to say and didn’t introduce myself. I spent a fair bit of time talking to Dan Conover about an idea of his that he posted to the Xark weblog that I think should really be its own business. We talked about his life, why he should pursue this idea, how he could do that without starving and all that fun stuff. This was really a long lunch break we had, which allowed for lots of talking to people and meeting new folks.

There was an assemblage of people outside the back door to take a group photo. This was one of those moments where the hippie anarchy of self-organization really needed to take a back seat for a minute, with one and only one person in charge. After some milling around, Chrys and a few others snapped the pictures for the official record of the event. I’m pretty sure that in a number of those, I am occluded from view. In pretty much all the ones I looked at, I’m not visible. After the photo shoot, it was on to the afternoon.

At 2 PM, I went to the session on Ruby on Rails with git. it turns out that the Ruby on Rails portion was too rudimentary for me, and I ended up getting called out of there anyway. I had a spare projector I had borrowed from my day job, and I was asked if I could set it up in the main room for Team 342 to use during their robot demonstration. I went out to my car to get it, set it up, and the damn thing never worked. After some troubleshooting, I realized that the projector I took of two choices completely at random had a burned out bulb. Unfortunately, that pretty much ate a lot of the 2 PM hour for me. I did go over and walk through the art area, which I liked a lot. I wanted to have something like this last year at CREATE South and I hope to have it more fully fleshed out this year. My goal is for anyone that comes to the conference with something to sell has a community area where they can make that happen. That’s very much like how the art room worked at BarCampCHS and I hope to steal from them what worked.

At 3 PM, I went into the big room for the Team 342 robot presentation. They talked about how the program worked, how they got students involved from college and high school, about the actual bulding of the robot and such. I’ll have to admit that as neat as the robot was, I was more interested in the team, the team dynamics, and how they were organized. I found a lot of that fascinating and interesting for what lessons can be abstracted out to serve as a template. I’m interested in getting involved in helping to create the next generation of geeks in the Grand Strand so I was happy to hear those stories. The presentation ended around 3:30 after which people could fool around and drive the robot. After watching a few of the early amateur attempts, I got the hell out of dodge, spurred on by my own self-preservation gene.

BarCampCHS 2009

I had a few more conversations and met a few more people before the beginning of the 4 PM sessions. At 4 PM, I went to Chrys Rynearson’s session on Drupal. I’ll admit that I knew practically nothing about it before the session began. I got very interested really quickly and decided that this might be good for the CREATE South website so I installed it in our hosting account as I sat there and began working along with Chrys as he showed parts of the administration GUI. I’m far from done with it, but what I have started is here. Chrys is a Drupal wizard who works with it every day at his job, I’m a duffer. His session made me believe that it might well be the best tool for us, though, and made me want to learn more about it. What can be better than that? This sort of thing is why I came, and honestly by itself this session would have made the drive worth it. After this session, I made my goodbyes and hit the road. The 5 PM hour included the popular “BaconCamp” session but I wasn’t on fire for it.

One nice bonus was that they had a stack of books to give away to attendees. You marked three items you were most interested in winning, and they did drawings to give them out. I won one of them, a copy of Microformats Made Simple. Interestingly enough, I had multiple conversations during the day that microformats were applicable to, so I’m looking forward to reading this book.

So overall, I had an absolutely great time. It was fantastic to feel the energy and to see people excited, and excited about how they could learn things to allow them to do good and interesting work. I’m all for anything that raises the tech profile of the South Carolina coast. I think the event generally ran very smoothly with the hiccups being minor in the big scheme of things. The only issues I had were the placement of the session board and my structural qualms with the BarCamp format itself, which is no knock on BarCampCHS. I like the idea of BarCampCHS being a regular annual event in the fall, alternating with CREATE South in Myrtle Beach in the spring. Both events have different feels and different scopes and the presence and possibilities of both make the pair stronger. It was a great day, with great people, great friends, great food and as such, I had a great time. Let’s take what we learned, get smarter and tougher and more bad-assed, build some stuff and teach even more next year!

Mobile Users, I Need a Favor

For folks who read this blog via any mobile platform – iPhone, iPod Touch, Android, any other handheld device, I need a favor. I’ve just this morning installed the Wapple Mobile plugin for WordPress. This is supposed to intelligently render the blog in the maximally usable form for the capabilities of all mobile platforms. I’m curious what your experience is. I don’t have any of these platforms except the kindle to test with so I’d like to hear input about how this works for you, what it looks like and how usable you find it compared to baseline. Thanks!

Update: I turned this plugin off after reports that individual posts were not readable. If this isn’t plug and play, I don’t have time for it, especially since I have no device to look at it with. Que sera. Thanks for looking at it for me, folks!

BarCampCHS Rocked

This is not the full post about BarCampCHS last Saturday in Charleston. That will be coming shortly. This is just a note to say that I had a great time, really appreciated the opportunity to see friends and make new ones, and to help geek up the South Carolina coast. This was a fine event to happen right as we begin to plan CREATE South 2010. It gave us some ideas about how we structure the event as well as provided everyone a booster shot of energy about how great these events are when they come off.

Thanks to Chrys Rynearson and the cast of dozens who helped put the event together, and the 200 or so folks who came out and made it a great day. Full recap coming as soon as I can find the time to type it.

25th Anniversary Destroy All Music Festival

For you Atlanta GA area lovers of the industrial noise, this Saturday Oct 24th is the 25th Anniversary Destroy All Music Festival being held at the Eyedrum. I was sent the press release by Tony Gordon, longtime co-host of the Destroy All Music radio program on WREK FM. I saw him and his co-host Ellen McGrail at the memorial for Thomas Peake. I hadn’t seen Ellen or Tony since I left the ATL in 2003. In the 2001-2002 time period when I was doing a lot of work for the station, I’d go in on Sunday mornings to work on things and hang out a little with Tony while he did his shift. I really like the guy and was glad to see him and Ellen again, even under the somber circumstances. When I was at WREK in the 1980’s, the original series of Destroy All Music festivals were going on. It’s great to see them return with ear splitting vigor.

The festival will be this Saturday, Oct 24th with doors opening at 6 PM, music starting at 7 PM and as the press release says “continuing on until all music has been destroyed!” The lineup will be:

Andrew Coltrane

Wasteland Jazz Unit
Sean Meehan
Tamio Shiraishi

Traum
Mr. Natural
Graham Moore

Fenton

If you are in driving distance of Atlanta and dig the avant noise scene, this is the place to be. Check it out.

Big Day in the eReader World

I missed it yesterday when Paul Biba at Teleread picked up on my ‘Kindle is not closed’ post from the weekend, which is gratifying and predictably brought out pushback in the form of comments including this one from Mitch Ratcliffe and a contrary response post from David Rothman. Some people agreed with me, some didn’t but in all the dissents they are talking about the Kindle store lacking openness. I agree with that but that’s not what I said. I very specifically was talking about the device, not the store or the upstream ecosystem. I stand by my post – the idea that one must purchase every book on the Kindle from Amazon is a misconception that needs clearing up. Less than 5% of the books on my Kindle were purchased from Amazon’s Kindle store.

Today came out with the news of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader. My very first reaction was “Really, B&N? You spend however much money to build, design, roll out and market this device and the best you can do on naming is ‘Nookie Reader’?” Like I tweeted within a minute of hearing the brand for the first time, that’s a name that is derision ready.

I’m looking forward to the point when the Nook is available for hands on fiddling at my local Barnes and Noble. My initial thoughts on reading the specs and looking at the feature comparison chart is that not a lot of the differences on their matter to me. Having wifi sounds great at first thought, but I’ve never once failed to get a Whispernet connection so what is the advantage there unless it is filling in gaps and jankiness in the AT&T data connection? When I turn on wireless on the Kindle, the job gets done. What would be different if that was wifi rather than Whispernet? The sharing sounds great, just like the Zune sharing does on paper. How many Zune users ever find themselves in the room with another Zune user? Very seldom have I seen other Kindles when I use mine, and that has a 2 year headstart in market share. If the Kindle had this functionality, I wouldn’t have used it once in the 7 months I have owned mine. The first time someone I know gets a Nook file shared with them I’ll care about this feature, until then it’s purely a theoretical curiosity.

The SD card expansion up to 16 GB seems useful, particularly if one wanted to put lots of graphic heavy books on there. The lower screen LCD touchscreen seems to make sense for browsing the library but other than that, what is it other than a battery drain? Swiping a touchscreen to change a page is not easier than clicking a button. The only reason that would seem to matter is if everyone’s iPhone muscle memory tells them to do that. The two worst parts of the Kindle 2 I have are the library management and the off-whiteness of the screen background. It looks like the Nook screen is the same one as the Kindle, so that’s a wash and the library management looks better. Being able to read PDF natively (without a conversion step) on the Nook is better than what I have, although it is available on the Kindle DX.

Overall this doesn’t look like the predictably named “Kindle Killer”. It looks like a rough Kindle equivalent with slightly different affordances. I am delighted that it exists though, because it will put pressure on Amazon in all the aspects I want them to have some pressure. I want to see them improve the sucky bookshelf management in some future system update. The contrast of the screen is what it is on the model I have. It’s acceptable but any device I buy in the future needs to be better. I probably would never buy a future one until the color e-ink technology comes along.

Whenever they hit the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble stores, I’ll play with a Nook. Anyone who wants to make a bet with me on when the Nook install base exceeds that of the Kindle, you set the line and I’ll take the over/under action. Chances are for any line you set, I’ll take the over.

Crafty Rooster

There is a new restaurant called the Crafty Rooster in the downtown of the little community I live in, Conway SC. We bicycled by this place the weekend before last but weren’t sure of what state it is in. Apparently they are caught up in some bureaucracy and are having a hard time getting a liquor license. Until that point, they are open for lunch and have was sounds like some pretty good deals, including the giant bowl of chicken bog for $4.

I’m of two minds. I’m always a little peeved at these “new business started up and needs X to survive Y hurdle.” It doesn’t take a genius to budget into your startup cash requirements that a lot of things will go wrong and business will probably ramp up slower than your predictions. On the other hand, I’m always happy to see more options to eat in downtown Conway, and particularly businesses that give people a reason to be around downtown in the evening. We have a beautiful little place and it’s sad to see the streets roll up at 6 PM.

I hope that the issues work through soon enough and the Crafty Rooster is open for dinner and serving the hooch that they need for their cash flow. In the meantime, check them out if you are in position for lunching there. I don’t generally lunch in Conway because I work close to the beach but if I find myself there in the middle of the day I’ll do it, or perhaps one of these weekend days. I’m always up for a steaming bowl of chicken bog.

Inbox Zero(ish)

Over the last week I made a serious effort to get my email inbox under control. I entered the week with over 200 messages in there, and now I have 13. That’s the limit that seems about like zero to me because I can see every mail in there without scrolling. I returned some of the really old mails that needed replies, filed or deleted some of the ones that were for offers or situations that long ago expired. I’m going to try my best to stay on top of this from here on out, but it will require vigilance. I’ve been down to this level before and it got over 200. I sure don’t want that to happen again. My goal is to keep it so that my in box never has the scroll thumb on the side, if not exactly at zero. I’d love to not have to reply to anymore mails with the preface “Sorry I didn’t respond in the last 18 months but …”

The Kindle is NOT a Closed System

I want to address one of the biggest bits of spurious push back I see on the Amazon Kindle. I see people over and over saying they don’t want one because it is a “closed system.” This is not the truth and I’ll get to that after a little prelude.

I’ve had mine for about seven months now and really enjoy it. It’s worked in to being a reasonable part of my daily life. About 80% of the non-comic book pleasure reading I’ve done in the last six months has been on this Kindle. When I do cardio at the gym I take it. When I need to be able to use Twitter or the the web in a mobile situation, I take it. When I shop the cheapo comic bins at a comic convention and need easy access to my collection inventory, I take it. This started as a luxury splurge for me, but it has become a daily tool of my life.

The counter argument I see over and over, in blog posts, in Facebook or FriendFeed comments when someone talks about the Kindle is something of the form: “I don’t want one because it is closed. I don’t want to have to buy all my books from Amazon.” I’ll give folks credit for not deliberately telling falsehoods, but that type of statement is not factual. You aren’t required to buy all your books from Amazon. You can put arbitrary documents on there from a variety of sources. I certainly do, and I’d imagine that practically every person that owns a Kindle has something on there that they didn’t purchase from Amazon.

I justified my Kindle purchase because in preparing for Reality Break interviews I get electronic copies of books. Sometimes these are prerelease manuscripts the author sends me, or electronic copies of a released book or in the case of Baen Books sometimes it is just temporary access to their Webscription catalog. Regardless of the path, I get ebook versions of a book I need to read to conduct an interview. Previously this required either reading on my laptop or printing out the book. I went to Dragon*Con 2008 with a giant stack of loose page printouts of books from Mur Lafferty and Tobias Buckell. It was a huge drag trying to read these things while standing in line or sitting in a restaurant with pages spilling everywhere. At that con, I thought “This would be so much easier with a Kindle.” Before the next year’s con, I did in fact own a Kindle.

In my seven months as a Kindle user, I have purchased exactly five books from Amazon for it: Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed, Anthony Artis’ The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide, Scott Kirsner’s Fans, Friends And Followers , Paul Melko’s The Walls of the Universe and Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc. In each case, the purchase process was simple and downright pleasant. I bought most of those from the regular Amazon web page but the Artis book I made a point of buying it from the Kindle itself as an experiment. Both ways of purchasing were equally easy and without issue.

I’ve paid Amazon around $60 (not all of these were the $9.99 price). However, I have hundreds of books on my Kindle. How did I get them? The first day after I bought it, I downloaded my entire library from Fictionwise and transferred it to the device. Because with Fictionwise you can choose a preferred format of books, I changed mine to MOBI and in 5 minutes had every book, short story and magazine that I had ever purchased with Fictionwise on my Kindle, in native format at that. Very sweet and easy.

It doesn’t stop there. I did an experiment where I took the first page of my recommendation list from the newly revived AlexLit site (I’ve had an account on there for 12 years!) and for every book that is in the public domain, I went and downloaded it from Project Gutenberg. That put another few dozen books on there, all for no cost and without any intervention from Amazon. I put them on via USB so I’m not paying the $0.10 per document to have them transferred. Even if I had transferred them at a dime apiece, that would have been $2.50 or so.

Add to this, I keep on my Kindle two text files related to my comic book collection. I take the data dump of my collection and my wishlist from ComicBookDB, run them through a formatting program and put the resulting text file on my Kindle. At Heroes Con, Dragon*Con and XCon, when I dug through the 3/$1 bins I had my electronic wishlist at the ready. If I wasn’t sure whether I had a specific issue, I’d switch over to my collection inventory to double check. It has a geeky irony to be using an ebook reader to handle my purchasing of paper comic books but it works out well.

These are just a couple of sources of books that one can use to get books for Kindle without paying Amazon. There is no definition of a “closed system” that this fits. One can argue that if such a proportion of my reading is non-Amazon why didn’t I get a different device? Fair enough question. In my case, I fiddled with a Sony Reader and just didn’t like it that much. I considered waiting for some cheaper Korean knockoffs but if my cheapo MP3 players are any indication, the spec sheets will tell one story while the actually usability is a whole different thing. I like the wireless access and I use it a little, for mobile tweeting and yelping and the like. It’s not good enough to do that iPhone/Blackberry thing of ignoring everyone else at the table but it is good enough to use Twitter to find parties at a SF convention. That’s good enough for me. It might be enough for you too. I’m not asking people to love the Kindle – everyone makes this decision for themselves. I am asking people to use valid and factual arguments when making the case for or against the device.

And while I’m on it, let me point to a dishonorable mention in Kindle criticism, here is a piece at Suvudu by Joe Schreiber, which includes this risible line:

If you own a Sony Reader or a Kindle, and you are able to use this amazing device to read hundreds of pages while its soft blue glow exhales into your eyes, well, big ups. I’m very glad for you.

That’s a clear indicator that Joe has determined these devices won’t work for him without ever actually being in the room with one. They don’t glow. That’s kind of the whole point of e-ink, my friend. It doesn’t glow, is opaque and easier on the eyes. It’s why we pay a premium for black and white e-ink devices when LCD are easy and cheap – it uses less power and is easier on the eyes for long haul reading. It’s OK to not like the device, but you should criticize it on aspects it actually has.

Update: I forgot a few other sources of books on my Kindle, all non-Amazon. I purchased the amazing King Dog by Ursula K. Le Guin from Book View Cafe, which is another up and coming source of electronic texts. I also purchased The Definitive ANTLR Reference from Pragmatic Programmers, which was more than a standard Kindle book at $24 but also cheaper than the paper version and allows me to download in MOBI, PDF or ePub but also tells me when the book has been updated so I can get an updated copy. That’s using the low friction distribution to good effect there.

Technorati Shuts Down OpenID?

I have been using Technorati.com as my OpenID delegate for years now. Just this morning I went to authenticate to something and got a “404, Page Not Found” error from the open ID access page. I know that David Sifry is no longer with them and the company seems to be changing focus more towards some kind of general, mass appeal slick thing, just like Bittorrent.com, Azureus->Vuze, etc. That seems to be the death throes for these interesting projects, is trying in vain for some kind of broad acceptance.

I’m not sure if Technorati has permanently turned off OpenID or just restructured pages without letting people know, but I’m pretty sure that I no longer have much use for it in my life. Oh well, it was a good run. Have fun with whatever it is y’all are trying to do now.

Free Mojo Nixon MP3s at Amazon

I have no idea how long this deal will last but the last one like this I linked to was about 2 hours from when I posted it. I’d recommend jumping on this sooner rather than later. Right now, all Mojo Nixon albums are available for free from the Amazon.com MP3 store. I downloaded them all last night. I have a number of these on vinyl and/or cassette but there are multiple albums I’ve never heard of. If you have any interest, I’d suggest you strike while the iron is free.

Talk Geek with Cheap Truth

I got an email from the host of the Talk Geek to Me podcast. He’s doing an interesting sub-project on his main show, periodically doing some episodes that are an audiobook style reading of the seminal Bruce “Vincent Omniaveritas” Sterling edited cyberpunk zines Cheap Truth. I downloaded and listened to this episode and really liked it. His plan as I understand it is to record all of these eventually and put them together as an audiobook. I find that a fine goal and will be looking forward to listening to them. It’s fun to listen to these nearly 30 year old missives from Cousin Brucie and hear the snarky commentator that we’ve all gotten to know so well the last few years getting formed.

Possibly the Last Sushi Beach Lunch of the Year

Possibly the last of the grocery store sushi beach lunches to... on Twitpic

Today might well be the last day that weather permits my standard “sit on the beach and eat mediocre grocery store sushi” type lunch. So I did it. I love fall in Myrtle Beach so much, it’s really the absolute best time of the year here. Instead of being 93 degrees on the beach, it is 78. Instead of being packed with tourists, it’s pretty wide open. Plus now you can park on the street on Ocean Boulevard. It’s clearly a win all the way around. Here’s hoping there are a few more wins this year but if not, I did it today. Carpe diem, y’all!

Hoarders and Procrastination

I watched the TV show “Hoarders” at the recommendation of people who thought I, ahem, shared some characteristics with these people and their pathological accumulation of useless crap. Ahem. I guess it all comes down to degrees.

Some time back I have identified the root cause of practically every problem I have as procrastination. This is why I found GTD such a compelling philosophy because it addressed the real problem I have. I have a huge buildup of emails in my inbox. This is mostly because of the ones that will take some time to address – not a huge amount of time , but some. I don’t do them now, and procrastinate. I have clutter because I am failing to make a choice in what to do with this thing. There is some future point at which value will be realized, but I’m not making the choices that will realized the value and instead just hold onto the crap by default.

There was a point in “Hoarders” where a clutter addict was confronted about a broken vacuum cleaner. “It only needs this one thing to be fixed up and sold at a yard sale.” The organizer pushed back with “What is your history in actually doing that?” The response, a reluctant “… well, I’ve never actually held a yard sale.” Check and mate. I have the same problem. I really want to address it and make the choice now. This might be a fall of purging. I hope so. I don’t want the city condemning my office.

Peake Foundation and Peakecast

Yesterday would have been the 40th birthday of my late friend Thomas Peake. His wife Dena launched a project called The Peake Foundation. You can read the mission statement here. The very short version is that it is a call to action for people to make a difference, with a timetable given. On October 8, 2010 there will be a gathering, recounting and celebration of the success people have had in the previous year. It’s a nice way to keep the urgency alive. We all have the best intentions but life gets in the way, so for this there is a clear timetable and deadline to work to. They don’t specify anything about what shape the action should take, just that you do something, in some fashion, somewhere. Start in your own community, start anywhere, just start.

Also, Chris Campbell and I launched yesterday our Peakecast project. It is an ongoing collection of any audio we can scare up from Thomas’ career as a DJ, a music historian, a writer about and compiler of music. We begin with the audio I already published a few weeks ago, and our second episode will be the show Thomas did as a tribute when Witt Mills died in 2000. If you have any recordings of audio from Thomas, please submit it to the show.

Above all, help someone out. Make a difference. VIsualize what a better world looks like to you, and then put your shoulder to the earth and try to move it that way.

SciFiDimensions Big Auction Running NOW

At Dragon*Con I had a chance to talk a little with John C. Snider, the proprietor of SciFiDimensions. I’ve actually known him for approaching 10 years now. I won tickets to the Atlanta Comiccon from SFD back in the early 2000s when the site was very new and talked to him at that show. I’ve periodically been seeing him at Dragon*Cons ever since.

Right now, the fall fundraiser auction for SciFiDimenions is running. There are a lot of books, DVDs, magazines and toys of interest to the SF fan out there. I just put bids in on a couple of items. Either I’ll win them or I’ll drive up the value that the fundraiser takes in, and frankly either outcome is great with me. I will go back and bid on some more things later on. If you are a fan of Georgia big-time SF author Michael Bishop, there are several signed items from him in there. Felicia Day/ Guild fans, there’s a DVD in there. Doctor Who fans, some toys are in there and they are currently very cheap.

Go check it out and help out a good cause. John is a great guy, the podcast version of SciFiDimensions has great interviews, the text site is great. It’s not pure philanthropy though because you can score great stuff for cheap. We all come out ahead on this deal.

The Melancholy of Fall

I enjoy fall and after the sometime oppressive heat of a coastal South Carolina summer, it can be quite refreshing. However I always find it a melancholy point in the year when we hit the last day where one can reasonably wear shorts and sandals. I believe today might be that day. It’s downright chilly here and even though I’m wearing closed shoes, long pants and a long sleeved shirt, I’m wishing I had also brought a jacket.

Let’s raise a toast to one more lovely summer and wish it well. I’ll deal with my melancholia by drinking lots of coffee on this cold and dreary October day. I wish I could take a nap, but that’s generally frowned on in the workplace.

XCon in Myrtle Beach is NOW

Myrtle Beach’s comic book convention XCon is happening this weekend at the Springmaid Beach Resort. This turns out to be a huge weekend in the Grand Strand with multiple Oktoberfests, the fall bike rally, the Live Oak Art and Music Festival plus I’m sure other stuff. It’s going to take an unusually early trip to the dog park just to get this all in.

I’ll be spending what time I can out at the XCon convention, shopping for comics and getting books signed by the creators . I’m looking forward to meeting Roy Thomas, Frank Brunner, Joe Staton, Jonathan Hickman and the other creators. I could use some escapism. Hope to see you there!

Moving On In This Post-Peake Life

For the last ten days, this blog has been quiet and mostly been about the late great Thomas Peake. On Tuesday I went to the memorial service in Atlanta, where I saw a lot of old friends I haven’t seen in years (or in some cases, decades) and met many other friends of Thomas for the first time. I was expecting a big turnout filled with lots of people I didn’t know but it was beyond my craziest estimate. This little space had 400 people in it in a Tuesday evening in Inman Park. His friends reached so far that he had entire subgroups of friends that all knew each other that I had no conception he knew. He was a guy who lived his life as if people were the most important thing in it, and people responded in kind.

Chris Campbell passed out fliers for our Peakecast project in an effort to round up audio people might have, and after the ceremony and reception I had a little bit of pizza with Chris and Sharon at the Fellini’s in Candler Park. I had heard from them that some of Thomas’ friends were getting together at The Local, which was approximately on the way back to my hotel anyway. I figured “what the hell, why not stop by?”

I walked around in The Local and I saw people I recognized from the service but no one that I knew personally. My initial inclination was to get back in the rental car and leave but that didn’t seem the right thing to do for the occasion so I approached a table with an empty chair and said “I don’t know any of you, but can I sit with you?” I did, and we talked about Thomas and told crazy anecdotes and it was good. I’m glad I did it. As time went on, a few people from other groups around the bar came over and talked to me and said they had read my blog posts and found them helpful.

This floored me because I didn’t quite follow the chain of events that would make that possible. I guess they recognized me from the Facebook profile photo and connected that with my links from the memorial page. I personally probably couldn’t have done that to anyone else so it shocked me that others could to me. I had a hard enough time connecting people I spent 5 minutes talking to with their Facebook photo. I’m glad people that I don’t even know were able to find some value and some comfort in my writings about Thomas and even more glad they were willing to approach me and discuss it. I’m trying to do more of that, because its the way Mr. Peake lived and the world could use a little more of that.

I thank everyone for being patient with me. Most of my blogging, Twittering et al for the last week and a half has been about this guy and his loss even though I know most of the people in my sphere didn’t know him. I’m going to turn down that proportion but it will never go to zero. I just won’t invoke his name so much because it will be part of my new baseline. I’m not going to say “I do this because Thomas Peake would” about things but it will be true and a part of the new me, the kinder more generous me. I think it will take all 400 people who were at the Trolley Barn and all of the thousands more affected by this loss, each of us to be more kind, more respectful, more generous and more goofy to replace what the world lost in Thomas Peake. We don’t want to have to but we do, and because we are strong and want to honor the man we will. The torch has fallen, and we pick it up and light more and from this tragedy we build better communities and a better world because that’s the only thing that makes sense. Do it for Thomas. I love you, Thomas. Goodbye.