Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas Debrief

A week and a half since my last post. Eek. Sorry, guys. My life has been a little crazy. Graduation, finals, my girlfriend was in town last weekend, then I had to do all my Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve Eve because I hadn't even had a chance to think about Christmas yet since I had been so busy with school.

At the same time, I'm moving back into my parents' house, where I'll be living until May, so all my earthly possessions were in a huge mound in my room which I was unable to "circumvrent", in the words of Gob Bluth. (Watch this, then this for an explanation.)

I can't believe I'm leaving Manhattan for good. It hasn't quite sunk in yet, but I'm really going to miss all of you who are still out there. Like really a lot. Luckily, I'll be back for quite a few weekends to see my girlfriend and go skydiving, so I'll get to see you all from time to time.

Anyway, the Christmas loot was pretty awesome this year, especially since it was combined with a graduation gift: the Marantz PMD620 portable audio recorder. It's pretty much what it sounds like. It records audio, and you can carry it around. It has built-in mics, but I can use my fancy external mics with it, too. It probably sounds kind of lame, but for an audio gear geek like me it's awesome. And I need it to record interviews and stuff for my 2009 Project. Amongst the other awesome gifts: long underwear, 30 Rock DVDs, and Tom Moon's book "1000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die".

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Barbarism

When you think about what we can do today compared to a few millenia ago, it's a bit mind boggling. We can communicate with people on the other side of the world nearly instantaneously. We can access volumes of information in seconds that would have taken a lifetime to collect twenty years ago. We can power a city for years on a few pounds of radioactive material. We can fly. We can walk on the moon. You might be inclined think that we are approaching the pinnacle of technology, or perhaps that we are soon going to get stuck in a quagmire of diminishing returns. Sure, we'd all like flying cars and 3-D television, and teleporters, but all that stuff seems either silly or impossible. In a hundred years, I think life will be much the same as it is today, but there's one field in which I predict technological advances will make early 21st century theories look downright barbaric by 2100: medicine.

I've thought this for a while, but this article reminded me of it today. We are constantly adding and subtracting mental disorders from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders all the time, but do we have even the faintest idea of what the brain is actually doing in these disorders? How it is supposedly malfunctioning? No. Do we know how to cure cancer? No. We douse cancer cells (and normal, healthy ones) with toxic chemicals, or blast them with radiation. When someone's heart stops working, we cut open their chest and give them a dead person's heart. We stick plastic lenses onto our eyeballs to help us see better.

We suck at fixing people.

In a hundred years or so, we may not have walked on mars, we may not have figured out teleportation or time travel, we may even still be using computers with silicon-based microprocessors; but will we still be using circular saws to cut people's chests open when their organs aren't working right? I doubt it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Goodbye, Office.

It hurts to say this, but it must be said: "The Office" is not funny anymore.

The first season was good, the second was brilliant, and the third was decent, with a great finale. After that finale, I was content. When I heard there was to be a fourth season, I was truly scared and a little disappointed. I thought three seasons was just the right amount.

Well, here in the middle of season five, I stand firmly by that opinion. In the beginning, "The Office" let us laugh at all those real-world awkward office moments when you desperately wanted to laugh but couldn't. It let you vicariously vent your workplace frustrations through lighthearted pranks and clever wisecracks. It caricatured office stereotypes in fun, silly ways. Not anymore. "The Office" has devolved into emotional torture porn. Yesterday's episode was the last straw for me. It was awful. Sick, actually. If I had been watching that with other people and they had been laughing at a lot of that stuff, I would have been really offended. It was just some people being humiliated and other people being insensitive or just downright mean. I admit, sometimes I laugh at other people's embarrassing moments, but there was nothing funny about what was happening in that episode. No one was having fun. It was just sad. Ironic that "The Office" should hit rock bottom in an episode where "hitting rock bottom" is explicitly discussed.

I'll still go back to my DVDs of the first three seasons, but I think it's time for me to leave Dunder Mifflin. Consider this my letter of resignation.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"Let the great experiment begin!!!"

-Tobias F√ľnke


Well, I have a new project. Surprise. See, a few weeks ago my friend John came up with this great idea to do some year-long projects in 2009. Basically, we are going to get a group of people together at the very beginning of the year, then each of us will choose an individual project, and we will have all of 2009 to complete it. At the end of the year we will meet again, and anyone who failed to complete (or at least do their damnedest to complete) their project will have to donate $100 to charity. I think it's a brilliant plan. We each get to do a big fun project and we'll each be held accountable so that we actually get it done.

When John first announced this challenge, I already had a project picked out. I was going to build this analog synthesizer. It would make a great year-long project, although I could probably do it in a couple months if I really buckled down. I would learn new things, I could be creative, and it would be a cool and fun finished product. Then I had a better idea.

I'm sort of obsessed with audio. I love music. I love sound effects. I love NPR and other radio shows and podcasts. I love fiddling with recording gear and editing audio clips. So for the last year or so, I've really wanted to start a podcast, but I haven't done it for a couple reasons: First, I never could come up with a solid concept for an entire show. As you can see from my blog, I am interested in a lot of completely unrelated things, and I couldn't really come up with a framework that would tie all of them together into a cohesive show that normal people would want to listen to. Second, I'm a quiet guy, and I can't imagine trying to talk continuously for even half an hour every week or two. I decided I needed a co-host, but then I'd have to find someone who I think would be good, and they'd have to agree to do it, and I'd still have to scrape together a whole show's worth of content even if I'm not the one talking. Essentially the idea of being host, producer, director, and engineer all at once was a little daunting. I still aspire to have a podcast one day, but I think it's beyond my current ability.

Today though, I found maybe the perfect way to start my journey toward being a podcast hostducerectoreer. It's my new year long project. In 2009, I'm going to submit at least four stories to This American Life. Until today I didn't really know whether they used unsolicited stories, but it turns out that they do. They even have a whole page on their website about how to get on This American Life. Between that and the wealth of tips on Transom.org, I think I can put together some possibly usable stories. Actually, I kind of doubt that any of my four will get on the air, considering I've never really done anything like this in my life, but hopefully I'll at least get some feedback, and I'll be a lot closer to being on the radio than I was before. Here's a snippet of what Ira Glass (host of TAL) has to say in his manifesto about recording stories for radio:
Force yourself to do a lot of stories. This is the most important thing you can do. Get yourself in a situation where people are expecting work out of you, or where you simply force yourself to do a certain number of stories every month. Turn the stuff out. Deadlines are your friend.
So that's exactly what I plan to do.

Weird Secret Stuff

You have no idea how many times on this blog that I have had perfect tie-ins to 30 Rock, but have been unable to find an online copy of the clip that I wanted to use. Well, today, success!



There are lots of things that are weird and potentially creepy about me. I usually keep them secret, but sometimes they are so curious and interesting that I want to talk about them. So here's just one: I am bizarrely attracted to the recorded female voice.

There's no rational explanation for it, but I like more chick music than a guy probably should, and I develop weird crushes on female radio hosts (not Terry Gross, in case that's what you're thinking. She just does great interviews). And I've decided it's because women's voices just sound better to me than men's. It's not an overtly sexual attraction. I don't think, "Damn, she sounds hot." It just stirs up subtle, almost imperceptible warm, comfortable feelings. Maybe it's a weird Freudian maternal attraction thing, who knows? Also, I don't notice it when I'm talking to people in real life, only when I'm listening to recordings.

Well, that's all I really have to say about that. It's just a psychological curiosity, and I can't seem to keep myself from pondering curiosities [I guess that's a bit of a tautology, huh?]. Ladies, I hope that doesn't make me seem creepy and fetishy. I know that baring weird secret stuff is not a good idea a lot of the time, but this one seems pretty harmless, right?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Tour Egg? Tijuana?

Why does Volkswagen insist on giving its SUVs unpronouncable names?

First the Touareg...


...now the Tiguan?


I doubt any Tuareg buy Volkswagens, but it turns out that the Tiguan was the winner of a public naming contest in Germany, so I guess at least one country in the world can pronounce that one correctly.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Musical Education

Before I say anything about this song, you should just go listen to it. Click here, then scroll down to "Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra" and listen to "We Are MTO."

Listened yet? Okay. Now I can mention the word "jazz" without scaring you away. I know almost nothing about jazz. It seems to be an acquired taste. It's on my list of things to learn about, but I haven't had the time to really give it a fighting chance yet. I've heard a few jazz songs (like the one above) that I think are totally awesome, but so much "jazz" is either syrupy Kenny G easy listening crap, or overly obtuse, self-involved, dissonant, technical showing off.

While jazz is one of the biggest gaping holes in my knowledge of pop music history, it is by no means the only one, so at the top of my Christmas list this year is Tom Moon's book, 1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die. I'm really excited to read it. I think it'll help me start filling in a lot of the gaps in my musical education. Unfortunately, recordings are not included, but hunting down the music can be an adventure in itself, and it'll help me pace myself and not get burned out on a music listening binge.

Hooray learning!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whatever.

Speaking of things that are inexplicably funny...

sock puppets, anyone?



Yeah, I know it's an old song/video, but everyone needs some anthropomorphic socks to cheer them up every now and then.