Monday, July 21, 2003

Event-O-Dex LXIX

Thursday, July 24: The Anchormen count down to the rock with Big Digits and the Count Me Outs at P.A.'s Lounge in Union Square in Somerville.

Read But Dead XVI

Penthouse soon to be homeless? Staff receive 25% of their pay. The mansion is about to be foreclosed. No issues of the magazine were published between April and July. Yet a spokeswoman insists the magazine has no cash flow problems. If the skin mag goes down, whatever will Pud read?

Thanks to Fucked Company.

Rock Shows of Note LXXI

Friday night after work, after catching up on mail at home, I walked to the Zeitgeist Gallery to see Paul, Jef, and Jen perform as Sinkcharmer. I was running a little late, and I thought I'd miss some of the other bands performing, but the show started late, as well, so I didn't. Static Films opened. A three piece led by a bearded man wearing a trucker's hat, Static Films specializes in sleepy Elephant Six- and Orso-like post-rock, bordering on alt.country. The frontman had a resonating voice, and their use of clarinet, electronic drums and other recordings, mandolin, melodica, piano, and miniature steel drum made for a wonderful set. A member of the next band, Elephant Micah, who also worked the sound board, joined them to add a fourth harmony part on one song. Well done.

I missed most of Elephant Micah's set, though, because Jef, Jen, and I hustled over to the Druid for a quick beer and conversation. But what I heard when we returned, I enjoyed. Some of the material reminded me of Static Films, but their later pieces were more straight-forward indie rock-meets-alt.country trio work featuring traditional instruments. I picked up a cassette that they self-produced, complete with spraypaint-stenciled cover, and look forward to a deeper listen.

Lastly, Sinkcharmer. Paul's written several new songs and debuted them Friday night. One was a slower, more ambient number featuring an electronic drum track. Another was more indie rock in nature. Overall, the set was energetic, the three-part vocals were well placed, and Sinkcharmer delivered another solid performance. The crowd seemed to particularly enjoy the increasing intensity throughout the show, and the band ended on a delightfully high note, with Paul turning his back to the crowd and really putting his guitar through the paces. I look forward to more new songs!

Comics and Community XIV

I spent much of Saturday at the Somerville Arts Council's annual ArtBeat festival volunteering at the Somerville Comics Collaborative table.



Jef Czekaj, Dan Moynihan, and I provided paper and drawing supplies to help the entire city draw a comic.



More than 40 people of all ages contributed panels to a collectively developed story about a dog-turned-cat that took over the world, a flying turtle, the Hulk, and banana pirates. One boy sat at the table for most of the day working on his own 24-page story about "snow goons." We plan to compile the contributions into a booklet to distribute to participants, as well as publish the collaborative comic online. Working title: "The ArtBeat Monkey Eat."

Among the Literati XLIV

Poetic Inhalation Vol. 2, No. 6 features the stories and drawings of Mission of Burma's Roger Miller. The pieces included date between 1993 and 2002, and examples of Miller's graphite rubbings, or frottage. This edition also includes writing by Benjamin Miller, Roger's brother and a musician in his own right.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Corollary: Signs of the Times

As previously mentioned in Media Diet, the security guard at 601 Montgomery St. in San Francisco is a bit of a wordsmith. Here is an article that a friend wrote about him. It's an amazing story.

Did you hear the one about the croissant?
One San Francisco security guard's commentary on life, the universe, and everything.
By Alison Overholt

Everyone has a morning ritual: for some it's coffee, for others a jog through the park. Mine is a little different. I think about the sign -- the one that sits next to the security guard station in my office lobby. Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes I just shake my head in confusion -- but I always feel that the day hasn't begun until I get the joke on that sign.

Take the day that it read, "Beware croissants of dubious origin." Usually the topic relates to current events (my personal favorite, from the week after the Enron scandal broke: "Note to Congress: Lay off Dick Cheney about Enron so he can get back to being President."), but this one had me stumped. My fellow nine-to-fivers tried to figure it out in the elevator -- had there been an International Croissant Incident of some sort that we'd missed in the morning news? When a second reading of the newspaper yielded nothing, I went straight to the source.

The source is Steve Kiernan, the 50-year-old site supervisor of security at 601 Montgomery. He's been sitting watch from behind the guard's desk from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day since 1987. Kiernan is a stout guy with close-cropped salt and pepper hair, wire glasses, and a tendency to stare just slightly off to the side of you when you're having a conversation with him. Even when he's sharing his life story, he doesn't take his eyes off the front doors of the building, and glances now and then at the security monitor set into the desk at his station.

I ask him about the croissants of dubious origin. "It's true, I usually aim for one of the 'Big Three' -- news, sports, weather -- but anything is fair game, even if it only makes sense to me," Kiernan says. It turns out that on this particular day, the line for breakfast at the Bush Street McDonald's was halfway down the block, so Kiernan bought food at a local bakery instead. Their croissants tasted foul, and the sign went up as soon as Kiernan arrived at work. "Above all, this entertains me," he says with a chuckle. "It's my intention to make people do double takes. Often they do triple takes." I got lucky with this straightforward explanation. People ask Kiernan what his jokes mean all the time, and he's often known to smile and answer vaguely with a comment such as, "Sorry, this is no-explanation Thursday."

The signs started appearing about eight years ago when the building manager gave Kiernan the board to advertise outside meetings on the 4th floor. The meetings business never took off, but Kiernan still had the sign - and suddenly, he was hit with the muse. "I had this board, and they gave me all these letters," he says, "so one day I decided to put up something totally off the wall."

That first message wasn't off the wall enough for Kiernan to remember it now, but he does have a few favorites from over the years, like this choice comment from the day that the O.J. Simpson verdict was announced: "Double homicide in CA is now punishable by a really big fine." Or this note from when the Unabomber's hermit cabin was discovered: "Also found in Unabomber cabin was O.J. knife, Amelia Earhardt & the 49ers pass rush." The messages, which began as occasional comments when something particularly funny struck Kiernan, are the talk of the building and have become a daily affair. You can even win compilations of his jokes from over the years by joining an annual holiday raffle.

Occasionally, Kiernan's signs take a serious turn. After September 11th when many struggled to find a reason to show up for work, Kiernan encouraged with postings such as, "Rally caps on, people!" More importantly, when anti-Arab propaganda appeared in the building's elevators, he responded immediately with a sign proclaiming that "Willful stupidity never did anything good for anyone." His familiar sign was a peculiar source of comfort as we tried to get back to the business of doing business.

Occasionally, Kiernan has tried his hand at longer writing styles. In 1981 the Examiner ran a weekly writing contest that lasted for 24 weeks and culminated in a serialized novel, and Kiernan won two of the segments. He's toyed with the idea of writing an entire novel, but says, "I don't have the discipline to sit down and do it. Being a security guard has a better stress-to-pay ratio." It seems that his creativity works best on a 12" X 12" sign, with a stash of white letters. His favorite form is the haiku, or what Kiernan called an "M-Stew-ku" a few weeks ago when he posted this gem: "Today on Martha/I'll teach you how to build a/nice legal stonewall."


The story was submitted to the San Francisco Chronicle but declined. Silly, silly Chronic. Herb Caen would've been all over this.

Geocache Me If You Can III

Oddly, my Geko stopped working. I let the batteries run out and left the device in my bag for several days. Even when I tried several sets of new batteries, the on button wouldn't respond, and I couldn't the device to work. So I contacted Garmin, and they requested that I send it in for repair under warranty. Even though I can't use my Geko to determine where it is, I can use FedEx to track its location. And FedEx says that it arrived at Garmin in Kansas this morning. I should get it back in 7-10 days.

Corollary: Virtual Book Tour XII

Inkblots' conclusion to the Virtual Book Tour is an excerpt of the first 1,000 words of the book. Huh. The tour ends where the book begins.

Well, it's been a good run, I guess. I may share some of the feedback I plan to offer Kevin in the future -- perhaps mapping out my own design for a virtual book tour.

Event-O-Dex LXVIII

Friday and Saturday, July 18-19: The Somerville Arts Council's ArtBeat takes place on Davis Square in Somerville. Some friends organized the Pajama Soul Dance Party on Saturday night, and I'll be volunteering at the Somerville Comics Collaborative table, where we plan to once again help the entire city draw a comic.

These Links Were Made for Breaking? XI

Thanks to our country's current administration, here's to a less responsive -- and responsible, it seems -- government. So much for a representative democracy, much less participatory government and serving the American citizenry. You can no longer email the White House. You have to follow a multi-page process, assigning various qualifiers to your communication before it can be sent. Those qualifiers include indicating whether you're for or against a policy. Guess which messages will actually be read? Attempting to access the White House's new "user-friendly" Web mail form just now, it timed out while attempting to connect. I'm sure it's struggling because people are sending in letters of concern and complaint today, but wow. Way to make it harder to access our "elected" leaders. Boo? Meet Hiss.

Thanks to Slashdot.

Sites for Sore Eyes II

Looks like Media Diet has a little friendly competition! The Haas Culture Review is a Web zine featuring bar, book, movie, record, and restaurant reviews. Meghan Haas' writing is relatively brief and balances fangirl giddiness with clever commentary. But the neatest thing is that occasionally, she reviews something when she's only seen the trailer, hasn't seen the movie at all, and is halfway through a book. Funny stuff. Some samples:

I really really want to see this movie…I've seen the previews where Jon Cusack is all wet from being in the rain and he looks really concerned and scared and I could watch that preview over and over again…but I'd rather actually see the whole movie.

I didn't see this movie, but I am so tired of seeing Hilary Swank on talk shows saying over and over again, "this movie really puts the science back in science fiction."

I'm actually only half way thru this book at this point, but I'm loving every word in it.

Any band that can keep a serious groove going with all the passion of a Baptist preacher, while singing about wet paint, for 4 1⁄2 minutes is pretty damned good in my book.

I drink two beers here once a week.


The material currently available is labeled Vol. 1, No. 1, and I'm not sure how frequently Meghan will update this, but it's good, good stuff.

Virtual Book Tour XII

Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their tenth and final stop.

At some point today, Roach will be featured in the July 18 edition of Geoffrey Long's Web magazine Inkblots. I'm not sure when, where, or how, but given that the upcoming edition will also feature work by Kevin Smokler, Ben Brown, Derek Powazek, and Heather Champ, it's sure to be a doozy.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Markets, Flash Mobs, and Mayhem

I adore the idea of flash mobs, well-coordinated, inexplicable sudden critical masses of people participating in a shared activity for 10 minutes and then gracefully dispersing. What a beautiful, beautiful concept. Makes the city dance. So imagine my delight that the project has come to Boston. Yes, oh, yes, it has.

From the In Box: Rock Shows of Note LXVIII

Via the Boss Improv mailing list, more news about the Berwick Research Institute:

ISD Inspires New Era for Non-Profit Art Space in Boston

Boston is not particularly well known for being a safe haven for experimental art. But as the Berwick Research Institute approaches its fourth year of operation, Berwick artists and all-volunteer staff are working diligently to ensure that the non-profit visual and performance art space will continue to provide a sanctuary for community-based film, dance, robotics, sound, performance, conceptual and new media art in Dudley Square.

Recent months have seen great victories for the organization, bringing respect and accolades from important members of the Boston arts community. The Berwick has seen a notable increase in favorable press attention since January, when the artists' space won the largest monetary award given to an arts organization by the prestigious LEF Foundation. The grant was given to develop the Berwick's innovative Artist in Research residency program. Since receiving the award, the Berwick has hosted three site-specific artist's projects, while simultaneously expanding its footprint to include affordable studio space for artists working in new media. One of the artists in residence, Aliza Shapiro and her group of architectural designers, PodLab, spent the month of May developing new plans for the exhibition space, which will improve the safety and handicap-accessibility of the gallery.

The growing strength and notoriety that the Berwick has gained over the past year is sure to help the group manage a new challenge that presented itself on Friday when the gallery was temporarily closed by officials from Boston's Inspectional Services Department. The ISD informed the artists that the building in which they rent a space had fire-code, zoning, and occupancy issues that needed to be addressed. Several violations were immediately rectified upon the arrival of the ISD officials, and a full inspection of the building on Wednesday will determine what other changes the building's owner, Nicholas Spelios, needs to make in order to bring the building into compliance with the city's code.

In addition to the Berwick, the building is also home to a number of artist studios, grass-roots community activist organizations, religious groups, and neighborhood businesses. Spelios has made a conscious effort to provide these burgeoning community-oriented enterprises with a comfortable and supportive space. "This building has always had an important place in Dudley Square's history, but its current role is just as vital," points out Katya Gorker, a founding member of the Berwick. "It's a multi-use space that serves a variety of purposes and a variety of audiences. Mr. Spelios could make a fortune renting or selling this property to commercial interests but he chooses to rent to us instead because of his dedication to the community."

Spelios and members of the Berwick attended a hearing with the ISD on Tuesday to discuss the zoning and fire-code breaches in the former cake factory. Berwick members feel optimistic about the outcome of the hearing and their interaction with city officials. The timing of the ISD hearing may actually be auspicious for the organization, which has been preparing to gather resources and funds to implement the new PodLab plans. As news of the city's pressure on the space spreads, the community is showing their support for the organization. "In the past few days I've received many phone calls from city officials, artists, producers, other art spaces, community organizers, and audience members asking how they can help," says Meg Rotzel, the Berwick's Director. "We need to raise money for our improvements, and we always welcome volunteers, especially assistance from people with special expertise. This is an opportunity to become involved in the arts community and have a direct impact on the cultural climate of Boston."

All Berwick programming scheduled for the month of July will be re-located or postponed, including a performance by the internationally regarded sound artist Francisco Lopez, curated by local experimental music series, Non-Event; "Effigy," a new stage production by renowned artist/activist Nomy Lamm; and a sound and video exhibition by Dudley Square-based youth program, Arts in Progress. For updates on the status of Berwick events, please refer to the organization's website. Anyone interested in donating funds to complete the new architectural design, please contact the Berwick Programming Director, Meg Rotzel.


Kudos to the Berwick staff for downplaying dissing Boston's lack of arts friendliness in lieu of highlighting the institute's contributions to the local arts and business community. That's a good strategy to seek support!

Read But Dead XV

Just received this via email from a Media Dietician:

One of my favorite magazines, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, is about to go the way of many other feminist outlets recently (Sojourner, New Words) and succumb to a struggling budget... but you could save it.

We all know we need more independent media.

Subscribing to Bitch is only $15/year, and your support could make or break them. (See letter from the editor below.) -- Sady Sullivan

Dear friends:

As many of you know, Bitch has always functioned on a shoestring budget, especially in the spreading-the-word department. Well, our mid-year financial statements show that the shoestring has gotten even stringier of late. We're falling pretty short of our projected magazine sales for the year, and to ensure that there's a Bitch next year and for many years to come, we need your help now. To put it bluntly, we need more subscribers. About 3,000 more.

Here's why subscriptions are so crucial to our financial health: When people buy Bitch at a bookstore, we eventually (four to five months later) get between $1.77 and $1.98 of the $4.95 plus tax that it costs. When people subscribe, they pay only $3.75 per issue (better for them), and we get all of the money right away (better for us).

A lot of people think that buying Bitch on the newsstand supports us just as much as subscribing. Some even think it's more helpful because it convinces bookstores that Bitch is worth carrying. But the bottom line is that Bitch is much better off having you as a subscriber than as a newsstand buyer. (Of course we'd rather have people buying it in the bookstore than not buying it at all, but I promise that stores will continue to stock the magazine, and new newsstand buyers will always come along.)

And then there are all those folks out there who say, "Oh, yeah, Bitch, I've thumbed through that in the bookstore/been to the website/read a friend's copy, and I always meant to subscribe." Now is the time to get all of these people to actually sign up!

Here's what you can do to help:

  • If you are not a subscriber right now, become one today. Go to the Web, call us toll-free at 877-21-BITCH, or send a check for $15 to Bitch, 1611 Telegraph Ave Ste. 515, Oakland CA 94612.
  • Buy gifts for your friends and family. Multiple subscriptions are even cheaper: $15 for the first and $12 for each additional. See info above, and please note: If you are ordering online, the discount for multiple subscriptions will not show up automatically. Write a note in the comments field about it (along with the other addresses, of course) and we will manually adjust the price.
  • Pass this message along. This e-mail is going out to about 700 or so people. To meet our goal, every one of you would need to buy 4.3 subscriptions -- or we would collectively need to reach out to a whole bunch more than 700 of Bitch's closest friends. So please send this to anyone you know who likes the magazine or who you think would like the magazine. Help us get the word out!
  • Tell people about Bitch. Read it on public transportation. Leave a copy in places where people will discover it (your local coffee house, your college's student center, the waiting room at your friendly women's health clinic, etc.). If you want to take part in a more formal effort to do this, e-mail publicity director Marisa Meltzer at and tell her you're interested in helping to promote the magazine in your area.
  • Buy a t-shirt, too. We have a bunch of styles now and they're super-cute. If you're an exhibitionist, we also have very happenin' underwear for sale. (Pictures and descriptions are online.)
  • Pester your local library to buy a subscription (they really do listen to patron requests).
  • Donate a subscription to your local campus women's center, community resource center, or the like.

    Anything you can do to get us further toward the goal of 3,000 subscriptions will help Bitch be strong and healthy!

    With gratitude,
    Lisa Jervis


  • Thanks to Media Dietician Sady Sullivan for bringing this to my attention. Bitch is an amazing read that combines straight-up media studies-style critique and analysis with a healthy, forthright feminist bent. Think Bust plus Stay Free. If Bitch folds, the media world is the lesser for it. And the staff does good work, so supprt their efforts and spread the word!

    Bait? Meet Switch.

    This email, received today, cracks me up:

    Dear Evite-On-The-Go Users,

    Due to our efforts to improve our most popular tools as well as grow our gallery of designs, Evite will no longer offer wireless services. Suspension of Evite-On-The-Go will take place July 22, 2003. Please make a note of it.

    You can still access all of your event and calendaring information on your MyEvite homepage.

    We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your continued support of our free service.

    Sincerely,
    The Evite Team


    I laughed out loud because of the misleading marketing speak in the opening sentence. That line, in effect, says, "We are no longer offering a used service, and somehow, taking it away makes Evite better." Ceasing the support of wireless services neither improves Evite's tool set nor increases the range of services they offer. It takes something away from customers. Something customers might use and appreciate.

    That said, I also laughed at the closing sentence, which pairs the recognition that they're taking a service away from users -- while reminding them that it is, in fact, free, so what are you complaining about? Fair enough. I don't pay to use Evite, so you can scale it back all you want. Maybe you could remove the occasionally pesky @'s from your Evite URL's.

    But this is particularly interesting because it strikes me that wireless services are on the rise writ large, not on the wane. And isn't Evite a possible tool to support moblogging and on-the-street mobilization of people using wireless devices for ad hoc events and gatherings? How can the company not see that potential?

    Whatever. It's their free service.

    Virtual Book Tour XI

    Even Doc Searls is cracking wise about the dead. His idea is certainly an intriguing use for the dearly departed.

    Everything's Coming Out, Rosie III

    This is interesting. Even though Rosie O'Donnell and former publisher of Rosie magazine Gruner + Jahr USA filed motions to dismiss their lawsuits against each other, a judge has denied them, pushing the two parties into a court trial. What part of "We don't want to sue each other," did the judge miss? It's fascinating -- and sad -- that the legal system can force people into court cases.

    Thanks to I Want Media.

    Read But Dead XIV

    The Oxford American is folding again. This is the second time they've had to shut up shop, doing so previously just more than a year ago. This time, relatively new investor At Home Media Group says that advertising revenue isn't meeting expectations. Huh? You buy a magazine that folded because of low ad revenue, and then you're surprised when a year later, ad revenue is low? Go figure. More coverage available in Media Life.

    Thanks to I Want Media.

    Happy Birthday to Media Dieticians XVI

    Cory Doctorow turns 32 today. Woohoo, 32!

    Rock Shows of Note LXX

    Met Geraldine for dinner at the Middle East last night so we could go see the Kills play downstairs. They're Geraldine's sister Meghan's favorite band of the moment, and word was they put on a stellar live show. They do. But first, we caught the end of a set by the Horrors, an intense three piece that specializes in sludgy, blues-tinged swamp garage rock. Or something. Sometimes, the wall of guitar sound would get so dense, my ears would trick me into hearing trumpets or some sort of keyboards. Maybe the guitarist was using some effects. Relatively run of the mill, their sound was still fun, and I'm glad we caught a little of their performance.

    Then the Kills! They were amazing. A two piece featuring dual guitarists and electronic drum tracks, their sound reminded me a little of PJ Harvey by way of Mecca Normal or Lois. Extremely distraught, intense singing by the woman. Such presence and danger. Her stringy black hair obscured her face, her skinny frame convulsed and enveloped the microphone stand. Her bandmate was also wonderful, playing sludgy groove-oriented swamp rock accompanied by occasional herky-jerk contortions of his body and sharp guitar stabs. Their interplay was interesting. He was relatively confrontational -- to the audience as well as his bandmate. And when they focused on each other while playing, the intensity increased immensely. An extremely moving, visceral experience. Wonder how it translates to record?

    Lastly, the Dirtbombs. With a go-go band-like gimmick (They dub themselves a "dance combo.") of having two bassists (one a diminuitive Asian woman) and two trap set players, the band had straight-ahead R&B-meets-garage rock energy. Yet they were a little too clean for me, falling somewhere between the Estrus roster and the Get Hip back catalog. Perhaps it was the lead singer's vocals -- or the frat party nature of their playlist and songwriting style. We left before the end of their set.

    Interesting bits of tour trivia: The Kills' road manager Dave was in a band with Geraldine's sister Meghan. It was fun to meet him -- good luck with your new job! And while the Dirtbombs were playing downstairs, the High Strung was playing upstairs with Squirtgun and a band featuring members of Screeching Weasel. Just the night before, the Dirtbombs and the High Strung played a show together at the Bug Jar in Rochester, New York. Small world, and intersecting tour schedules!

    Virtual Book Tour XI

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their ninth stop.

    In his blog Crabwalk, Joshua Benton interviews Roach about the writing process behind Stiff: the book proposal process, the book's inspiration by her Salon column, her pacing and use of the first person, and other books similar to hers. It's an in-depth conversation that reads as witty as Roach writes.

    Good to see Virtual Book Tour participants increasing the amount of content they offer during their stops! Roach's post to Jason Kottke's Undesign yesterday sparked a lively conversation among readers. And Erik Benson's interview with Roach is also well worth reading. It's interesting how participants' questions overlapped -- or didn't. Once you've done one interview, you've done them all, I suppose.

    Wednesday, July 16, 2003

    Blogging About Blogging LXIV

    I'm going to take the day off from Media Diet today. You can continue to follow Mary Roach and the Virtual Book tour at Jason Kottke's Undesign. Or see what I cared about a year ago.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2003

    Rock Shows of Note LXIX

    Last night, after watching "Murder at Harvard" on television, I felt a little bored and antsy. It wasn't too late yet and I wasn't really tired enough for bed yet, so I decided to go to the Middle East to check out some new bands. Usually, when I go to shows, I know at least one of the groups performing. Not last night. I decided to go to a show not having ever heard -- or heard of -- any of the bands playing. And you know what? It was fun, and I think people should do it more often.

    I arrived a couple of songs before the end of Elad Love Affair's set. They play rather intense, dark rock featuring dense guitar washes and a female singer, Nola, who can really belt out the vocals. Songs such as "On Wifeburning" include some nice angular guitar stabs, as well, but given the neo-gothic nature of their lyrics, this really isn't my cup my cup of tea. Regardless, the band played well, and Nola was a kick to watch.

    Next up, the Call Up. This band struck me as your typical suburban punk rock band. High school kids weaned on records from Epitaph and Fat. It was energetic enough, and they were having fun enough, but nothing really stood out beyond the singer's shouted vocals and the guitarist sitting in because the band's original guitarist had broken his arm. He joined them on stage to sing a Jawbreaker cover. Oh, the bassist was really skinny and jumped around a lot, too. Fun, but forgetable.

    Lastly, the Broken Word. I only stuck around for a little of their set because I was feeling like I shouldn't stay out too late on a school night. And, similar to the Call up before them, they didn't leave much of an impression. Regardless, like Moose Taverns of the Weekly Dig, I'm now a fan of Monday night shows. It's a good start to the week, they're usually less crowded, and you can absorb some interesting music -- even if you know nothing about the bands playing.

    Go see a band you've never heard of soon, Media Dieticians.

    Virtual Book Tour X

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their seventh stop.

    Later today, Erik Benson will publish an interview with Mary. He also reports that there will be some new material available in All Consuming, as well.

    I'll continue to follow the tour as it progresses.

    Monday, July 14, 2003

    Pranks People Play

    In a disturbing bit of synchronicity, the fine minds behind Reason magazine and the Boston Herald report on a couple of innocent pranks gone awry. July 8, the Herald included a short piece on a parade goer in Dixon, Illinois, who was arrested, charged with felony aggravated battery, and charged $25,000 bail -- for throwing a water balloon at an antique fire truck during the Dixon Petunia Festival parade.

    His crime? U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert -- third in line to the presidency of the United States -- was behind the wheel. Hastert got wet but was not injured. Now, the fun-loving "felon" didn't know Hastert was driving the truck. Don't you think the speaker could have been a little more understanding given that it was a holiday weekend? This is not the kind of man I want to be my president.

    Meanwhile, in Florida, a 12-year-old boy was -- as reported by Reason -- cuffed and hauled off to jail by police after stomping in a puddle to splash classmates and school officials. The boy was charged with misdemeanor disruption of school activities.

    Remember: It's all fun and games until somebody gets a little wet.

    Music to My Ears XL

    I am listening to some of the more fascinating sounds I've ever heard. Further afield than John Oswald's Plunderphonics and mash ups, the "songs" created by Jason Freeman's Network Auralization for Gnutella application are a shadowy snapshot of the sounds between songs. What we'd hear in the narrow spaces between parallel planes of existence. The songs that shadows and static sing.

    N.A.G. (Network Auralization for Gnutella) is interactive software art for Mac OS X and Windows 2000/XP which turns the process of searching for and downloading MP3 files into a chaotic musical collage. Type in one or more search keywords, and N.A.G. looks for matches on the Gnutella peer-to-peer file sharing network. The software then downloads MP3 files which match the search keyword(s) and remixes these audio files in real time based on the structure of the Gnutella network itself.


    The New York Times quotes Freeman as describing the program as an instrument that plays the Internet. Wow. My ears are bleeding.

    Corollary: Event-O-Dex XXII

    The Globe today also keys in to the Illegal Art exhibit curated by Stay Free! publisher Carrie McLaren. Media Dieticians, you read it here first.

    Corollary: Factsheet Life II

    The Boston Globe gets hip to Found Magazine. Media Dieticians, you read it here first.

    Event-O-Dex LXVII

    Friday, July 18: Sinkcharmer works its musical magic with Elephant Micah and Static Films at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge.

    Conferences and Community VIII

    Dave Winer just added me to the invitation list for BloggerCon 2003, scheduled for early October at the Harvard Law School. That is, oh, so long away, but I'm already excited about going.

    Virtual Book Tour IX

    British poet laureate Andrew Motion has written a handbook about writing eulogies. Responsible for writing the funeral speeches when a member of the royal family dies, Motion collaborated with Co-operative Funeralcare to develop the book, which is titled Well Chosen Words. So far, 100,000 free copies of the guide have been distributed.

    Thanks to Bookslut.

    Virtual Book Tour VIII

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their sixth stop.

    In his site Consolation Champs, Toronto-based blogger James McNally remarks on the black humor and scatology that I've referred to previously, cites Six Feet Under, and offers a brief excerpt.

    I'll continue to follow the tour as it progresses.

    Rock Shows of Note LXVIII

    Last night, Jef, Mac, Dave, and I met up at the Middle East to hang out and soak of the sounds spun by our friend TD, who's been DJ'ing most Sunday nights lately. It was a quiet evening, with very few people in the restaurant, and TD's set impressed me as quite different than the other sets he's played. Lots of international music, some long-playing funk, and an ample selection of dance music. One Blondie 45 was so warped that it sounded like a dub remix. Fun!

    Not so fun was the fate of two local shows this past weekend. First, a Friday night show at the Berwick Research Institute was shut down by police. According to the institute's online calendar:

    The Berwick is temporarily closed this week due to a visit from the City’s Inspectional Services. We are working with the City to put in place the proper licensing so we can continue to bring you quality programming. In the coming weeks, we need your support to make this process go as smoothly as possible. If you can help with legal council, relocation of events, or monetary assistance, please contact us! We are confident that with support and resources we will be up and running in no time.


    Then, Saturday night, a show at the Oni Gallery was interrupted by police. During the first couple of songs performed by Laughing Light, which I'm told were primarily a cappella vocal noise -- read: screaming -- plain-clothes police officers in Chinatown were concerned that someone was being attacked. Word is that the windows had been left open and that much of the sound was making it to the street. What police found on the fifth floor was a musical performance.

    They warned the organizers about charging admission and closed down the show, which was shut down just as I called Jef to see if Plunge into Death had played yet. They hadn't, but it was unclear what would happen next, so I stayed home. Turns out that Travers performed his video piece without a microphone, and then the show relocated to the Choppin' Block so the Japanese band Peelander Z could play. Word is that their set was amazing, involving hand-drawn signs, costumes, and loads of audience performance. You can access a video online. Plunge into Death did not play.

    Is this the start of a Boston-wide police crackdown on musical performances? In Cambridge, the Zeitgeist Gallery has had its own troubles in the past because of not having the appropriate permits -- and instead of charging admission at the door, soliciting "donations." Perhaps we'll see a similar stifling of independent music venues in Boston? I hope not.

    Sunday, July 13, 2003

    The Free-Range Comic Book Project XXX

    This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project:

    The Dirty Pair: Run from the Future #4 (Dark Horse, April 2000). Writer and artist: Adam Warren. Location: On the floor outside the Million Year Picnic.


    For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

    Friday, July 11, 2003

    Event-O-Dex LXVI

    Saturday, July 12: Plunge Into Death dives in with Peelander Z, Laughing Light, and Travers at the Oni Gallery in Boston.

    Sunday, July 13: The Fully Celebrated Orchestra parties hearty at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade.

    Virtual Book Tour: Corpses and Conversation II

    Even though Mary Roach and the Virtual Book Tour have moved on from Media Diet, Mary agreed to a brief follow-up interview via email.

    Media Diet: Yesterday, when we were talking on the phone, you said something intriguing. I had just told you which pages have made me queasy so far -- pp. 48 and 68, the sections involving the "dead houses" of Scottish churches and the process of bloat and putrefaction -- and you said something to the effect of "You get used to it after awhile." Are you at all queasy or squeamish by nature?

    Mary Roach: Oh, quite the opposite. I'm happy in an O.R., standing at a surgeon's elbow as he's operating. In fact, on the several occasions I've done just that, they've had to politely ask me to step back. Bloating or putrefying bodies are about as queasy-making as life gets, but even then, my curiosity outweighed my revulsion, and it wasn't really hard for me. It's possible there's something wrong with me.

    MD: Did you encounter anything that made you wonder whether you should keep going, though?

    Roach: My first research excursion was to a local mortuary college to sit in on a student embalming. The guy had been autopsied before he got there, so all his organs were taken out and put in a plastic bag like giblets, and his body cavity was all hollowed out and meaty and wide open. The image stayed with me for a couple days and kept intruding in my thoughts. I'd be having a pleasant conversation with an officemate about the plants on the roof or something, and then FLASH! there's the ghoul from the embalming lab. I worried that it was a permanent condition. And that I might have made a serious mistake deciding to do this book.

    MD: What helped you keep focused and driven?

    Roach: The flashbacks went away after a day, and I calmed down and carried on. I'm a workaholic. I love reporting and writing. No problems there.

    MD: On pp. 13-14 you mention what it was like to have the project come up in polite conversation. What drove you to write such a book in the first place?

    Roach: The book grew out of a Salon column I did, which had to do with medicine and the body. As a writer, I tend to gravitate to the less-explored fringes of a subject. And I enjoy writing about topics that seem to be taboo in mainstream publications. Anyway, two or three columns had to do with cadaver research. These were among the most interesting and certainly got some of the highest hit rates. I found the topics fascinating, and clearly others did too. And it struck me as one of the very last subjects that hadn't been written about in a book. Honestly, it was either cadavers, or, I don't know, squirrels.

    MD: Last year, something akin to the Scottish dead houses hit the news when a Georgia crematorium was charged with discarding corpses it was paid to cremate. What's your take on that case?

    Roach: It's actually in there, in chapter 11. [I'm currently on chapter 10. -- MD] My take is that Ray Brent Marsh is either extraordinarily, unfathomably cheap (I mean, it doesn't cost that much to keep a crematory retort burning.) or he's nuts. Marsh's antics gave a real boost to a new disposition process that's waiting in the wings. It's called water reduction -- or, less euphemistically, tissue digestion. Basically, a pressure cooker with lye. Reduces bodies to liquid and a couple pounds of bone hulls. Right now, it's just used on livestock, but ever since the Marsh brouhaha, the company that makes the machinery has been getting calls about building a mortuary edition. In other words, Marsh was mondo bad PR for cremation.

    It's an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World XXVII

    I don't know whether Andrew Keller and his team at Crispin Porter + Bogusky are behind the BMW Mini print advertising campaign, but they keep trotting out some fine innovations. If any Media Dieticians ever visit the Big Blue Couch on Church Corner, you'll see that I've punched out and assembled the perforated paper-board Minis inserted in some magazines in recent months. And while I'm not too convinced of the practicality of this month's "Mini Guide to Tranquility, Bliss and Utopia" insert -- a map indicating mileage counts between American cities such as Allgood, Alaska; Difficult, Tennessee; Loyal, Wisconsin; and Soso, Mississippi -- I am thrilled silly by another recent ad insert.

    Headed by the phrase "Let's embrace Evel," the Mini advert is an iron-on transfer featuring daredevil Evel Knievel illustrated in classic '70s fashion design style. The insert even includes a quick how-to to ease your iron-on pain. "Jumping iron over image will not be effective," BMW warns. I know I own an ironing board, but I wonder: Do I own an iron?

    Magazine Me XXXVIII

    Last night, the August 2003 issue of Details magazine almost restored my faith in a periodical I've had trouble pinning down for more than a decade. While I breezed -- breezed! -- through the current issue of Men's Journal paying attention to next to nothing, the current edition of Details is quite impressive and interesting.

    Despite Details's contention that it's not oriented toward gay men -- while Men's Journal is published by Wenner Media, a company chaired by a gay man -- its sexual orientation continues to confuse me. On the cover, Tobey Maguire is touted to take off his tights. Whitney McNally dissects gays and guidos, claiming that the Italian stallion and Chelsea boy are indistinguishable. (p. 32) Augusten Burroughs touches on the risks of checking out other men's endowments while standing at the urinal. (p. 60) And Lee Smith considers whether the Taliban were gay. (p. 62). Yet people continue to debate which side of the bed Details sleeps on.

    What impressed me? Steve Kurutz blurbs It's a Man's World, a new book from Feral House celebrating pulp adventure magazines. (p. 40) His quickie Q&A with editor Bruce Jay Friedman is a nice thing to see in the usually ho-hum, edge-free magazine. Jeff Gordinier's page-long look at what he -- and others, it turns out -- terms "dadrock" is a welcome consideration of "music performed by aging rock stars; also, music that is strongly influenced by groups from the '60s and '70s." (p. 49) Go back to school, old school. And local literati Pagan Kennedy queries "Can a Car Run on Corn Oil?" in her profile of alternative fuel advocate Justin Carven. (p. 84) Another nice, on-the-edge piece for Details.

    That said, it might be Kevin Gray's feature, "The Bone Collectors," that clinched the deal for me. (p. 140) His extremely well-photographed (by Reuben Cox) article about a team of U.S. soldiers and scientists exhuming corpses in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia resonates well with my reading Mary Roach's Stiff. In fact, I need to recommend the article to her.

    ***


    To Esquire's credit, its August issue also pushed some buttons. First there's the Q&A between Paul Giamatti and cantankerous comics creator Harvey Pekar, whom Giamatti portrays in the forthcoming movie American Splendor. (p. 22) Best quote from Pekar: "I didn't hold it against you that you played an orangutan." Dirty monkeys. Then there's this little item:

    Best Execution Scene
    "Her mantle trimmed with ermine -- she had worn a royal fur to the last -- was removed. Then she took off her headdress herself. ... She knelt and, for decency's sake, tucked her dress tight about her feet. Then one of her women blindfolded her.

    "Immediately, before she had time to register what was happening, the executioner swung his sword and her head was off." -- from Six Wives, a new book about the fate of Anne Boleyn and five other wives of Henry VIII, by David Starkey (p. 20)


    I might have skimmed past that had I not been reading Stiff. Funny how you see stuff you're not looking for just because it's on your mind!

    Virtual Book Tour VII

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their fifth stop.

    In Min Jung Kim's blog Brain Dump, Kim likens reading the book to watching television programs such as CSI and Dead Like Me, citing the shows' witty dialogue and humor as reasons why their subject matter is so palatable. Kim also mixes in a bit of scatological humor.

    Both are present in Roach's book -- humor and scatology. Roach approaches the subject matter with a keen mind and a sharp wit, perhaps using humor to distance herself somewhat from the people and places she encountered while researching and reporting the book. We laugh at what makes us uncomfortable. Similarly, Stiff shows a deep interest in the solids and fluids our bodies produce while living and dead: bile, blood, feces, saliva, sweat, tears, urine, and vomit.

    In fact, I've felt queasy twice so far while reading the book. On p. 48, Roach details the "dead houses" of Scottish churches, structures in which bodies were locked until they had decomposed past the point of usefulness to anatomists, who would rob graves for research subjects. And on p. 68, Roach expands on the process of bloat and putrefaction, which I mentioned Tuesday.

    Roach's fascination with fluids isn't as strong as, say, that exhibited by Paul Spinrad's book Bodily Fluids. But there are enough crying decapitated dogs (p. 207-208) and excretion-based medical remedies (chapter 10) mentioned in the book that if it's gore you want, it's gore you'll get.

    ***


    Special thanks to Mary for being such a Media Diet sport yesterday. Wanting to up the ante in the Virtual Book Tour a little, I kind of put her through the paces. She rose to the occasion in fine style.

    I'll continue to follow the tour as it progresses.

    Thursday, July 10, 2003

    Virtual Book Tour: Products I Love

    Funeral directors and other professionals who work with the dead have a wide array of products and tools available to them. Here are two of the leading suppliers in such goods:

  • Amra Instruments: This maker of disposable medical instruments for pathologists and morticians offers eye caps, dental simulators, and "natural expression formers" in its catalog
  • Kelco Supply Co.: A provider of cremation urns, embalming fluids, drainage tubes, body and feature positioning supplies, body bags, cemetery flag holders, and other chapel and funeral home furnishings. Customers must be validated licensed deathcare practitioners, funeral directors, crematories, or cremation societies
  • Virtual Book Tour: Magazine Me

    Subscriptions to the now-defunct Casket and Sunnyside and other trade publications are costly and hardly worth it for rubberneckers like myself. The simply curious [morbidly curious, or curiously morbid? -- MD] are better off browsing the Web. Here are a few eye-opening online selections:

  • Funeral industry magazines: Includes links to titles such as Embalmer, Mortuary Law & Business Quarterly, and Death Care Business Advisor
  • Canadian Funeral Director Magazine: The trade publication for Canadian funeral service professionals
  • Forensic Nurse Magazine: "Advancing the frontiers of the forensic nursing community"
  • Mortuary Management: The Arizona Highways of these eerie-odicals covers strategies and tactics to help increase productivity and reduce overhead, industry news, legal advice, and coverage of trends in cremation, low-cost funeral providers, and retail casket sales
  • Alliance: Information about the business of funeral service, trends in funeral planning, burial customs, burial rituals, mortuary science, mortuary schools, cremation, cremation laws, and grief and loss
  • International Journal of Crashworthiness: "Devoted to all aspects of the crash behaviour of structures and materials and impact biomechanics"
  • The Journal of Trauma: Clinical applications, techniques, and new developments in trauma care
  • Virtual Book Tour: Corpses and Conversation

    As part of the Virtual Book Tour, Media Diet conducted a brief interview with author Mary Roach via email.

    Media Diet: Early in the book, you find yourself in a University of California, San Francisco, medical school anatomy lab to witness head dissections. Yvonne, the lab manager, gives you a hard time: "Does publications know you're here? If you're not cleared through the publications office, you'll have to leave." Did this exchange surprise or worry you?

    Mary Roach: Both. I'd had a hell of a time getting into that lab. The surgeons who were running it turned me down -- not that I blame them. If you were a plastic surgeon giving a nose job to the severed head of someone who'd donated their body to science, would you want a journalist there? Not likely. I'd even considered paying the $500 fee and showing up as an ersatz surgeon, hoping no one would notice that I was dissecting my head with a pickle fork and an Exacto knife. In the end, I'd had to call in a favor from a plastic surgeon I knew. I was cleared, though not through publications.

    MD: When organizing your interviews with the various sources and at the different facilities, did you regularly have to seek permission and clearance? From people and departments other than your direct source?

    Roach: Yep. I'd wanted to visit a military plane/helicopter crash site, because the military routinely does injury analysis of the bodies, and I had a chapter on that. The pathologists were fine with it, but the legal department turned me down, saying they had to protect the privacy of the deceased and their families. No way around that one. With all the military sources, I had to get permission from highers up. Meant of a lot of letter writing, assurances, and stating my case -- followed by out-and-out pleading. Definitely the hardest part of doing the book.

    MD: In chapter four, you describe how cadaver UM 006, which was used at the University of Michigan to research side-impact car crash damage, was masked and gloved to obscure his identity. How careful were sources to disguise cadavers' identities in your presence? How careful did you have to be to ensure anonymity?

    Roach: In most cases, the faces were not covered. They explained the importance of my not revealing identifying features, and they pretty much trusted me. (Except for the military folks.) In one case, the researcher had the identity card lying out on a table. But I had no reason or wish to reveal anyone's identity, and I think they knew that.

    MD: What kind of fact checking did you do with sources and others involved in the book? Did anyone request to clear what you wrote about them before the book went to press?

    Roach: I did a round of fact checking, double checking my notes and sources. Ideally, you want a hired fact checker to do this, but it's an enormous and costly undertaking, and few authors do it. (Magazine pieces, on the other hand, are almost always fact checked.) People often ask to be shown what you've written. Usually they phrase it as an offer to read the manuscript over for accuracy. You never say yes to this. They may intend to read for accuracy, but invariably they want you to emphasize something else, change what they said, or omit something that might get them into hot water. Your job would never be over.

    MD: Without giving up too much of the ghost, what would have liked to include in the book -- but couldn't because you didn't get permission or approval? What interviews did you miss out on because you couldn't get clearance?

    Roach: I wanted to visit Gunther Von Hagens' cadaver sweat shop in China. He's the guy who did that plastination exhibit of preserved, flayed humans that caused the big furor in London last year. His technique is time- and labor-intensive, and he hires a lot of Chinese to do the work. His staff stalled me for weeks, and I finally decided that they were never going to grant permission anyway. To be fair, though, if it were my operation, I wouldn't want a writer coming to visit either.

    Virtual Book Tour: Books Worth a Look

    Welsh medical historian Jan Bondeson wrote an entire book about live burial. It's called, no surprise, Buried Alive. Came out about three years ago. Bondeson not only knows everything about the subject, but he owns a private collection of old (i.e., pre-stethoscope and EEG) medical devices designed to determine for certain that a patient was dead: nipple pincers, hand-cranked tongue pullers, and a rococo bagpipe-like affair designed to administer tobacco enemas up the -- as Bondeson genteely calls it -- "rear passage." If they weren't dead yet, they probably longed to be.

    Virtual Book Tour: Sites for Sore Eyes II

    This is hard for me, because what I really want to be doing this morning is reading Autopsy Report. The hardest thing about writing Stiff was the constant distractions in the form of peculiar and wonderful Web sites I came across. Here are some of them. Now you, too, can become distracted and nonproductive.

    The Web archive of Frederick T. Zugibe's Pierre Barbet Revisited offers photographic proof that the cadaver hoisted upon a homemade cross in Dr. Barbet's lab in 1931 does indeed, as I say in the book, look like Spalding Gray. Barbet was attempting to use his anatomical savvy to prove the authenticity of the blood stains on the Shroud of Turin. The site contains a paper by medical examiner and contemporary Shroud researcher Frederick Zugibe, refuting Barbet's theory. Zugibe puts volunteers up on a cross of his own (using straps, not nails), which is housed in his garage in upstate New York.

    This document is the official report of the Medical/Forensic Group that examined the bodies of the victims of TWA Flight 800. To solve the mystery of why the plane went down (missile? bomb?), the government brought in injury analyst Dennis Shanahan, who makes his living examining the bodies of crash victims to try to figure out what happened during a crash and why. The cadavers, contrary to the conspiracy theorists, say a fuel tank exploded. Warning: The report is quite detailed ("Code Red = loss of 3 or more extremities or complete transection of body" etc.).

    Then there's the official Web site of the Swedish human composting movement, which I talk about in chapter 11 of Stiff. Human remains -- but not cremains -- make excellent fertilizer. The plants to be fertilized would be memorial trees or shrubs, not pole beans or a crop of corn. The movement's founder has the King of Sweden and the Church of Sweden on board. Rest in pieces.

    That's it for now. More soon.

    Virtual Book Tour: Sites for Sore Eyes

    Autopsy Report is a "log of experiences as a medical examiner intern" published by Brian. Seemingly launched in mid-May of this year, the blog shares stories about plane crashes, stillborn babies, visiting morgues, the lack of current research in forensic pathology, and other day-to-day encounters as part of Brian's internship.

    Brian's writing is a mix of reportage on how people died, as well as the medical underpinnings and analyses of the autopsies performed. He also offers a range of medical and forensic links. The blog is an in-depth, personal peek at the life of a medical examiner. Readers of Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers might find it an intriguing parallel read.

    Thanks to Metafilter.

    Virtual Book Tour VI

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their fourth stop.

    At some point today, Mary will join me as a contributor to Media Diet, offering pointers to and commentary on magazines, books, movies, music, and other media items and artifacts related to the subject of her book.

    Nervy, Pervy XVIII

    Media Dietician Noah shares this "more pervy" Web resource: Mobile Asses. Perhaps not the most inspiring application of moblogging, the site claims that it is the "real reason mobile phones have cameras."

    Basically, it's a Hot or Not?-style rating site in which you can grade cell phone snaps of people's hind quarters. The photos are of varying degrees of quality and resolution, and the occasional horizontal shots will bring on a crick in your neck if you're not careful. Despite the silly fun of the idea -- they even offer T-shirts! -- I won't be revisiting the service. Still, it's nice to see the photographer credits, locations of the shots, and other information.

    Wednesday, July 09, 2003

    From the In Box: Music to My Ears XXXIX

    Special thanks to Media Dieticians Joe Germuska, Andre Torrez, and Sean Kennedy for the dub pointers. Andre even asked, "Reggae dub or like techno trip-hop dub?" There's a techno trip-hop dub? Let the learning begin!

    Technofetishism XL

    It's been a good PowerBook day. I downloaded and installed Eudora 5.2.1 so I could access my personal email in OSX instead of using Classic. I started running a mail server on my laptop so I could do email without depending on the off-and-on auxiliary mail server at work. And I installed Fugu, a fun little GUI SFTP client that's been helping me snag all sorts of wonderful dub music from a friend.

    Music to My Ears XXXIX

    Lately, I've been jonesing for some dub, but I don't really know where to start. If any Media Dieticians can recommend any necessary dub recordings, let me know.

    That said, a friend in Chicago suggested I check out Urban Funk Ordinance. Listening to their song "Da Da Da," I'm stuck by memories of other largely white funk bands: the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their copycats, natch; Billy's Sandbox; and Uptighty (which doesn't really fit this list). UFO's no Trouble Funk, and there's a little Digital Underground thread running through their music, but it's fun stuff. Perfect for a slightly rainy Wednesday.

    Corollary: Conferences and Community IV

    I decided not to go to the first international moblogging conference in Tokyo earlier this month so I could take some vacation time in northern Wisconsin. Luckily, Justin Hall and others helped document the event. Yesterday in the Feature, Justin reported on the proceedings.

    Among the Literati XLIII

    Dude. Ben Weasel, former frontman for Screeching Weasel, a wonderful Chicago-area punk band, slags Norman Mailer in his blog this past weekend.

    This is neat on several levels. One, I had no idea Ben blogged -- I'll have to add him to my frequent reads. And two, while I've yet to read his book's Like Hell or Punk Is a Four-Letter Word, I'm quite delighted that the author of such lyrics as "Why don't you beat it? Why don't you go away, you smelly butt? Why don't you go away? You're just a turd. Why don't you go away? Sit on it, nerd? Why don't you go away? Dummy, dummy, dummy, dummy, dummy, dummy," is ripping into Mailer.

    "Why don't you write properly?" Pot. Kettle.

    Thanks to Dr. Frank's Blogs of War.

    Magazine Me XXXVII

    A former CNN reporter and producer is launching a new magazine aimed at women who travel. Atlanta-based Stephanie Oswald's title Travelgirl hits the stands this week, entering a niche crowded by heavy hitters already reaching a sizable female readership. How will Travelgirl stand out?

    Travelgirl attempts to lighten the load with articles on how to survive a road trip with small children and how to travel safely and comfortably during pregnancy. There are also stories on planning a bachelorette party, financing a child’s college education, and cooking exotic meals. Each article falls into one of five core areas: family, finance, health, humor and spirituality.


    Media Life quotes Oswald characterizing the new magazine as a lifestyle title with a travel bent. I'll have to check it out!

    Virtual Book Tour V

    Jessa Crispin of Bookslut has some valid criticism of the Virtual Book Tour to date.

    Some of her comments hit rather close to my own responses so far as a participant, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow, when Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers contributes to Media Diet.

    Roach will also be "taking over" Jason Kottke's blog for a day later in the tour. I think those two tour stops will shine. Yes, Kevin is still working out the process and format for the tour. Stick with us! And Jessa's instinct to start her own virtual book tour is right on in fine DIY style.

    Technofetishism XXXIX

    Awesome. After two months of frustration trying to figure out why they couldn't get the Ergo Audrey I sent them to work again, my mom and dad decided that it was their ISP. When my dad dials in from the desktop, it can take several tries before a connection is made. Because Audrey doesn't indicate the status of your dial in or connection, they had no way of telling what was happening -- or whether they needed to try again. Then, their ISP announced that it was shutting down its local office and that no local dial-in numbers would be available any more. So they switched ISP's. And the new service provider rocks.

    Audrey works. My mom's back online in the kitchen. And she's been peppering me with emails -- one chastising me when I suggested she tweak her settings somewhat. "Give me a break!" she wrote. "I'm lucky to do Audrey at all!" I'm lucky to get emails like that. Audrey rocks.

    Nervy, Pervy XVII

    Media Dietician Richard Lawrence turned me onto a new "public art apparatus" titled I Shot Myself.

    Each day we exhibit a new folio in which the artist presents herself in a bold statement about nudity, fame and the Internet. This is Selfploitation. It can make you look, make you think, make you jelly-kneed, and if you want, it can even make you famous.


    Think Suicide Girls by way of Hot or Not?. Think the Mirror Project via Natacha Merritt's Digital Diaries. The concept of selfploitation is interesting. On one hand, it's a new way to seek microstardom. On the other, it's a nice experiment in DIY media making and self-documentation, albeit on the softporn tip.

    With just over 100 "artists" -- read: models -- submitting more than 1,500 photographs in almost 60 folios, the service is still relatively young. I had some trouble accessing the site using Explorer, and I can't log into the discussion forums with my username and password, so there might still be some technical kinks Richard needs to work out. However, based in Australia, the project was inspired by American photographer Spencer Tunick's visit to the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Tunick photographs people naked in public places. The project has an intriguing lineage and shows promise.

    Besides, it's nice to see so many people uncovered down under.

    Virtual Book Tour IV

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- have moved on to their third stop.

    In her blog Rogue Librarian, Carrie Bickner considers the contributions that cadavers have made to automobile safety research -- and offers a personal comment on the impact of the book: "I'll never look at my own flesh quite the same way."

    On the T this morning, I reached page 92, just into the fourth chapter that Bickner discusses in her post today. I've been making ample notes on the books, magazines and journals, and other media mentions that Roach makes throughout the book. There are some fascinating resources available. And Monday evening, while reading on the T ride home, I saw a woman sitting across from me reading Michael Paterniti's Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip Across America with Einstein's Brain. While Roach doesn't include the book in her bibliography, I'm sure it'd be an interesting parallel read. From Amazon.com:

    After Thomas Harvey performed Einstein's autopsy in 1955, he made off with the key body part. His claims that he was studying the specimen and would publish his findings never bore fruit, and the doctor fell from grace. The brain, though, became the subject of many an urban legend, and Harvey was transformed into a modern Robin Hood, having snatched neurological riches from the establishment and distributed them piecemeal to the curious and the faithful around the world.


    I'll continue to follow the tour as it progresses, and this week Thursday, July 10 -- tomorrow! -- Mary will join me as a contributor to Media Diet, offering pointers to and commentary on magazines, books, movies, music, and other media items and artifacts related to the subject of her book.

    Tuesday, July 08, 2003

    Virtual Book Tour III

    While I thought I was participating in the first ever Virtual Book Tour, it turns out that there's a precedent. Last spring, Jason Kottke participated in a virtual book tour to promote Greg Knauss' book Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard.

    Virtual Book Tour II

    Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers -- and the Virtual Book Tour -- has moved on to its second stop.

    Kristin Garrity's blog Booboolina includes a brief excerpt of the book, focusing on a vignette in chapter three about the University of Tennessee Medical Center's forensic anthropology facility. It's a poignant part of the book -- the second bit that made me feel queasy while reading last night -- and ground already well covered. The facility has been featured by Popular Science, Newsweek, and CNN.

    Regardless, Roach's juxtaposition of the facility and the photograph taken from The Wizard of Oz that leads off the chapter is clever.

    Do you recall the Margaret Hamilton death scene in The Wizard of Oz? ("I'm melting!") Putrefaction is more or less a slowed-down version of this. The woman lies in a mud of her own making. (p. 68)


    I'll continue to follow the tour as it progresses, and this week Thursday, July 10, Mary will be joining me as a contributor to Media Diet, offering pointers to and commentary on magazines, books, movies, music, and other media items and artifacts related to the subject of her book.

    Among the Literati XLII

    Former Fast Company contributor and Iowa Writer's Workshop grad Curtis Sittenfeld just sold her first novel. The book's titled Cheer, and Publishers Lunch describes it as a "humorously observant and uncannily realistic story of a fourteen-year-old girl who chooses to attend a prestigious East coast boarding school and soon realizes how different from her romantic illusions the reality of her new home is." The book is slated to be published by Random House. Congratulations, Curtis!

    Street Art VII

    Cabbing into Fast Company's New York office from LaGuardia this morning, I was struck by some paint work on the barrier wall along the highway near the airport. Initially thinking that I was seeing some sort of postmodern, abstract art akin to zebra or giraffe spots dotting the red barrier wall, I soon realized that it was in fact spray paint marking stress fractures, cracks, and chips in the wall -- areas that require repair. Boy, was I disappointed. Still, we take our art where we find it!

    Then, the taxi was driving a couple of car lengths behind a tricked-out van with a full-body graffiti-like wrapper that said, "Are You Hip-Hop?" along with a URL for the WonderTwinZ, which seems to be a radio program produced in Long Island -- or "Strong Island." Sonic and Lord Vader appear to be the heads of "All Time Flava," a DJ and graf crew that specializes in hip-hop and R&B theme parties. They also publish a magazine called the Connex List, which features a resource listing of media shows, support services, producers, and retailers for the hip-hop industry, as well as articles and editorials.

    The TwinZ also do radio promotion. Wow. More vehicles should have URL's on them. That'd get us even closer to hybrid moblogging and mapblogging.

    Monday, July 07, 2003

    Corollary: Auto-Numismatic

    It is the H.E. Harris & Co. folders that include the additional contextual history, not the Littleton Coin Co. editions. Clarification made, stick to the coins, please, regardless of my interest in coins as touchstones of history.

    [This entry was transmitted via Sidekick Hiptop.]

    Comics and Computers IV

    "Last year at SPX, Brad Collins wandered around and asked everyone to draw robots in his sketchbook." The results are online.

    Thanks to Go Away.

    Blogging About Blogging LXIII

    Bryan, proprietor of Arguing with Signposts, recently stepped up as the new lead editor of MediaReview. Founder Kevin will remain an active contributor. Additionally, after a year and a half of active publishing, MediaMinded is shutting up shop. I've never really followed either site, but with the new energy and insight Bryan is sure to bring MediaReview, it might be worth Media Dieticians' attention.

    Mikey Dee, Deceased

    I hardly knew Mikey Dee, a long-time local music supporter, show organizer, and radio DJ. But I know how important he was to -- and how influential he was in -- the Boston music scene. I felt a loss when he was hospitalized following a stroke in 2000, andf I feel an even greater loss today. Mikey Dee passed away early Sunday morning.

    Area musicians, friends, and family are posting memories and testimonials to his Web site, and people -- including Media Dietician Brad Searles are posting appreciations on their respective blogs and Web pages. Boston has missed Mikey Dee. I've missed Mikey Dee. And now we will miss him more.

    Rest in peace, Mikey Dee. And rock on.

    Auto-Numismatic

    Don't worry, I'm not such a geek that I've become a coin collector (just kidding, coin collectors). But I have recently become fascinated by money. Part of this stems from my parents' interest in the 50 State Quarters Program of the United States Mint. And part of it stems from the coffee cans full of wheat cents we used to store in our basement when I was growing up.

    In any event, I've recently acquired several coin folders, and I've started sorting my big bag of change by year and mint location. Once I go through the bag, I'll take the remaining change to a Coinstar machine to cash it in. In any event, this is a surprisingly fun hobby. For one, there's something soothing about the manual labor involved in sorting and organizing one's change. I don't have many projects in my life with such repetition, much less clear goals and progress. Secondly, the connection between coins and history is amazing. When I come across a 1968 penny, I think about what happened in 1968 -- politically and culturally. When I discovered a 1978 nickel, I thought about grade school. We carry touchstones to the past in our pockets every day, and we handle them without thinking.

    It's also interesting because of the accoutrements of numismatics. Several publishers offer coin folders, and they're all different. I know which kind I like the most, and it might be useful to share my comparisons and commentary with you. H.E. Harris & Co.'s coin folders are my least favorite. Even though they've been in the business since 1916, the cover paper -- and backing to the coin slots -- is much too thin. Will it rip? In addition, the cover designs are rather garish. I much prefer the mottled covers used by other coin folder manufacturers.

    Of those, the custom coin folders made by the Littleton Coin Co., which has been in business since 1945, are a close second. With an austere mottled green cover, these folders offer a much better backing. That said, the coins almost fit in too easily. Will they fall out? While the Littleton folders offer as much historical information about the coins in question as H.E. Harris & Co.'s wares, they also include somewhat distracting corollary history about current events of the time. Stick to the coins, please.

    Lastly, my clear favorite, the Whitman coin folders supplied by St. Martin's Press. With their classic mottled blue covers, ample backing, occasionally too-snug coin slots, and coin-related history, these are my pick of the litter. To my surprise, H.E. Harris & Co. acquired the Whitman line of numismatic products from St. Martin's early this year. Ouch. If president Mary Counts isn't lying when she says, "We are committed to continuing the Whitman legacy," H.E. Harris & Co. would be well advised to follow in the footsteps of Whitman and drastically improve their product line. When I was shopping for the folders, H.E. Harris & Co.'s folders dominated the shelves. Whitman's quality is, oh, so much higher.

    Sheesh. You know you're a geek when you complain about the quality of coin collecting folders. I think I've crossed a line, Media Dieticians.

    Hiking History VII

    Saturday, before leaving for my week in Wisconsin, I went on a historical walk and talk through the South End of Boston. Offered through the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and organized by Mytown, the two-hour walk included several interesting labor organizing-, multicultural-, and counterculture-related sites, many of which I wasn't familiar with previously.



    Starting at the Back Bay T station, we gathered at the statue of A. Philip Randolph, an African-American civil rights leader who helped organize the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. After walking through Tent City, an affordable housing complex now located on the site of a protest against urban renewal that involved 100 neighborhood activists, including Mel King, we continued to the original location of Harriet Tubman's house.



    From there, we walked through the Southwest Corridor Park, a 4.7 mile-long green belt between Back Bay and Forest Hills that was originally planned to be an 8-12 lane highway. That took us to Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, originally opened in 1927. Owner Charlie Poulos served blacks and whites before many establishments in the Boston area, and his restaurant also served as a hang out for jazz musicians and labor organizers. If you go, look for the dice set in the sidewalk in front of the entrance. Lore has it that local craps players left one set -- a lucky 7 -- so Charlie would always have good luck. That set sank, so they left another. The original set rose again, and now there are two sets of lucky 7 gracing the pavement.



    Leaving Charlie's we went to the Lucy Parsons Center, a long-running radical bookstore and community center that's also had homes in Central and Davis squares. What I didn't know was that it's now located at the original site of the Academy of Musical Arts, an educational facility run by a Native-American woman who wanted to provide affordable arts programming to disadvantaged area youth. From there, we passed the former residence of Martin Luther King, Jr., who lived in Boston in the early '50s while attending Boston University.

    The final stop was Wally's Jazz Cafe, which opened in 1947 across the street from where it is now -- and was part of the Chitlin Circuit of jazz clubs that supported African-American musicans. After the tour ended, I swung back by Lucy Parsons to see if it had opened. It hadn't. Regardless, what a wonderful way to start my vacation!

    Anchormen, Aweigh! XXVI

    It's not often that the Anchormen advertise our wares and whereabouts beyond our own circles of friends, but we're taking out an ad in Magnet.



    Nifty, eh?

    Virtual Book Tour

    Media Diet is a member of the Virtual Book Tour, which starts today. Over the course of the next two weeks, Mary Roach, author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, will be making her way to and through 10 different blogs -- including Media Diet.

    Today, you can read Mike Carvalho's impressions of the book in his blog Barking Moose.

    I'll continue to follow the tour as it progresses, and this week Thursday, July 10, Mary will be joining me as a contributor to Media Diet, offering pointers to and commentary on magazines, books, movies, music, and other media items and artifacts related to the subject of her book.

    The Free-Range Comic Book Project XXIX

    This is an installment of Media Diet's Free-Range Comic Book Project:

    Detective Comics #743 (DC, April 2000). Writer: Greg Rucka. Artist: Shawn Martinbrough. Location: On a bench at Downtown Crossing on the Red Line.


    For more information on this project, please refer to this Media Diet entry.

    Friday, June 27, 2003

    'Tis the Season to Be... AWOL XIV

    Sunday morning I fly to Wisconsin for a week's vacation in a cabin on a lake in a forest. I will return to the Boston area July 6.

    While I always hope to update Media Diet while traveling, if I don't, that doesn't mean that Media Diet is dead (long live Media Diet!). It just means that it's resting.

    Worst case scenario: Media Diet will be back up and running July 7 or so.

    Corollary: Nervy, Pervy XV

    Steve Safran's recent column on why journalists should blog is an interesting parallel read to Glenn Reynolds' essay in Suicide Girls. His commentary on the role of bias is spot on. All news is biased. No one can be totally objective. The important thing, as Safran indicates, is to disclose your bias. Honesty and context will help the blogosphere near the intersubjectivity that David Weinberger talks about.

    Hiptop Nation VI

    According to Cory and Gizmodo, T-Mobile is no longer supporting the video games that were bundled with the new color Sidekicks. But they're not just withdrawing their support of the games, they're actually withdrawing the games themselves from your Sidekick. That's right, apparently, T-Mobile thinks it's fair game to reach through the airwaves into a device that you own and snag applications and information away from you. What if they step past games? What if, suddenly, my Web browser app is gone? Or notes I'd left myself were erased? Or emails I'd saved were deleted? All by T-Mobile? While I still have a service agreement with them? That seems pretty shady, and it makes me trust the company a lot less.

    From the In Box: Today Is Media Diet's Birthday II

    Mail a Meal is a website dedicated to sending Postcards featuring food/drinks to friends in cyberspace!

    Apparently, Kathy Biehl sent you a Drink Postcard.



    A toast! Long life to Media Diet!
    -- Kathy Biehl

    ***


    Okay, so I've only been reading Media Diet for a couple of weeks. Congratulations on making the 2 year mark!

    My two year old son celebrated his birthday by eating bagels and cream cheese, blowing bubbles, and falling down on the grass with his Auntie and Grandma.

    Go out and do the online equivalent!
    -- Tim Ereneta

    ***


    I've been a daily reader of Media Diet since our mutual friend, Johann, tipped me off of your whereabouts. You've made the Internet fun again for me, so much so, I get a little too preoccupied at work reading blogs. Filling my head with new ideas and a new taste to innovate. Notwithstanding, inspiration for me to carve my own space into the blogosphere. Best to Media Diet, Heath & the readers! -- Noah

    Corollary: Workaday World XXXIII

    A friend took a bunch of snaps at the going-away party at the Sail Loft last night. These are some of the people I work -- and worked -- with.

    Rock Shows of Note LXVII

    Playing catch up on a relatively busy show-going week. Tuesday night, I went to the Kendall Cafe with Andrea to see Francine play a low-key set. We arrived just in time for their performance at 11 p.m. I really enjoyed the multiple small-group settings -- Clayton and Steve played several songs as a duet before being joined by more people, who later stepped away so the band could end on a small-group note. This was the first time I really listened to Francine and appreciated their music. Well worth going out rather late on a school night!

    Wednesday night, I met Hiromi and Audubon at Club Passim to hear their friend Ryan Montbleau, who leaves today for a five-week tour of the west coast. Ryan's a lot of fun live. He writes interesting, energetic songs in the vein of Stevie Wonder and Jamiroquoi by way of Ani Difranco. Ryan's got an amazingly soulful voice, and even though his songwriting and guitar playing can follow the thump and growl of so many singer-songwriters, Ryan's much more than a jam band-inspired musician. A solid set.

    Next up was Rachel McCartney, who also performed a nice set. I don't always know what to make of music like this because it's not quite folk, it's not quite pop, and it's not quite rock. But it was enjoyable roots-oriented rock, I guess, with Rachel playing with an able four piece. The drummer seemed to have a lot of fun during the show. The bassist doubled on soprano sax for a couple of well-detailed pieced. And the guitarist, Brian Webb, was amazing. Such a good sense of humor and several moments of explosive rock guitar to counter the more folk-oriented material. He was definitely a standout and one of the best things about the set.

    Then last night, after hanging out with co-workers for the last bash seeing everyone off, I caught the E line to Brigham Circle to catch some of the last Handstand Command residency show at the Choppin' Block. I arrive just as Origami wrapped up their set -- and too late for Choo Choo la Rouge -- but I did catch the Operators in full. And I wasn't disappointed I made the trip. They opened with my favorite song, and the set was energetic and fun to watch.

    A couple of late nights, but good music all around.