Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Living in the future: music storage edition

The other day I was trying to find something in my office, which is also the only place that I still have a stereo, so it's where I keep my CDs.

The course of going through things brought me to the decision to grab all these old burned mix CDs and rip the songs back off of them to my hard drive, so that I could get rid of them because I knew a lot of them were duplicates. Various mixes that had similar songs, that kind of thing. Or ones where I have since bought the whole CD, or never deleted the MP3 in the first place.

As I was doing this, I remembered that I made these CDs in the first place because my old hard drive was running out of space and mp3s were such huge files, I couldn't keep them digitally.

So the irony that I was now putting them back on the hard drive because CDs take up too much physical space wasn't lost on me.

Then I had one that was scratched to the point where it wouldn't play anymore. And it got me thinking about how silly CDs are going to look in another generation. They were so fragile. They couldn't take heat or cold, scratches were a constant issue. You couldn't bend them too much, or put too much weight on them. How silly were we to think it was a good idea?

Of course this started me on a conversation with my cousin about all the various media that humans have used for music, and in the end it seems like we still haven't figured out something that was crazy fragile in some way. Records melt in the heat and have the same scratching problem. Cassettes were vulnerable to magnets and getting eaten alive by your stereo.

Even hard drives are problematic in some ways, largely the fact that one day it could just fail to boot up for whatever wacky reason it feels like, and then you're stuck. So now we not only have music collections, we have backups of our music collections. I'm not sure if that's a step in the right direction.

But at the very least, we do finally have the space thing taken care of. While I do think shelves full of records look pretty cool, it is nice that my entire collection of music fits on something smaller than a hardcover book.

Monday, September 17, 2012

An American's Most Important Job

A lot of people have been grumping a lot about people talking too much about the election and making too many political posts.

Let's be honest, when most people post "I'm tired of political posts on Facebook" what they mean is "I'm tired of people posting things I disagree with on Facebook." Because if they agree, then by all means, it's open season to promote that side of things.

I promote some political things on my Facebook account, and I admit that I'm tired of finding out that people I used to like have beliefs I can't respect. So I'm not saying I'm blameless here.

But I'm going to try to be bipartisan for a second and ask that every single American Citizen that may come across this do me a huge favor:

Don't just vote.

Educate yourself. And then vote.

And when I say educate yourself, I don't mean watch the news. Because if there's anything this election has taught us it's that the news is no longer a valid source of credible information.

NONE of the news channels are anymore, okay? Not the liberal ones and not the conservative ones. PLEASE, I'm seriously begging, do not just get all your political information from one news source and make your decisions based on that.

We're all being lied to on multiple levels by the news media. Outright lies, lies of omission, misdirection...it's rampant and it's disgusting.

So please, get online, and start looking around at some of the bipartisan efforts to inform voters.

Start by finding out where the candidates stand based on your OWN beliefs at "I Side With." Their website lets you mark each question with how important it is to you in order to help you find out which candidate is most like you and in what ways.

Once you've got an idea of the candidates and how they feel about the issues, then you also want to stay up to date on two different websites that have proven repeatedly and through multiple elections that they will present the most unbiased and factual information available:

Factcheck.org is run by Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. This is probably one of the most quoted sites for other news outlets (the ones who bother to deal with fact checking) and it's for good reason. They're comprehensive, and they don't hesitate to call people out for lies, exaggerations, false impressions, and out of context quotes.

Politifact is a good stop if you want a quick graphic interpretation of what's true and what isn't. Their truth-o-meter has a variety of settings, but the most infamous is "pants on fire" which is getting thrown around a bit more in this election than last. They're also very good for checking on your local races, since those actually are almost more vital than the presidential race most years. I know I spent a few hours on it recently checking up on the various Virginia politicians up for election this time around.

And a final recommendation: if you read a story that seems outrageous and ridiculous, then do a quick check on Snopes to see if it's actually remotely true or not. This is especially vital for email forwards that you might get, EVEN if they're saying something terrible about the guy you hate. We all should be striving to be the kind of people that dislike somebody based on what they actually said and did, not some random rumor that somebody we barely knew in high school mass forwarded.

So please, be active, be involved. Care about our government, because we elected these people and we deserve to be represented by them. But don't base that vote on random things you're learning from the evening news or Facebook posts. Listen, learn, read, educate yourself, and vote responsibly.

Because let's face it, the mess we're in is because people don't vote with their brains, they vote with anger and misinformation.

And just in case, make sure that you're registered to vote! If you're over 18 and you fit the requirements, then it's vital that you turn up at the polls in November!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Book Review - Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street

Is there anybody under the age of 35 in America that didn't grow up with Sesame Street? I guess there are those people who don't have televisions or allow their children to watch them. Like the Amish.

To be honest, I feel like even the Amish know Sesame Street.

I did watch a lot of Big Bird and Grover when I was little, but the draw that brought me to this book was actually a deep, lifelong love of Jim Henson. It's funny, while most of his most famous works were made when I was very young (and I was only ten when he died so suddenly) my respect and admiration for Henson has actually been something that's steadily grown as I've gotten older and more knowledgeable about him and the industry.

He was a man who had a lot of beliefs that he wanted to impart, but at the same time didn't feel a need to be serious or adult about it. He understood the need to be silly, to play, and to be irreverent. He mocked, but with a good heart. And he fostered creativity, mentored artists, and created a community of performers that made the most enduring media of my childhood. That deserves respect. The more I learn about him, the higher he climbs on my list of most admired filmmakers/media professionals.

So I'll give you a quick warning, if you want to pick up Street Gang to learn a lot of new and fascinating things about Henson then you should look elsewhere. This isn't a book about Jim Henson, it's a book about Joan Cooney.

Actually, to be fair there is a very large cast of characters, dozens of people are discussed in detail during the course of the book (and I'll talk more about that later) but while the book does discuss Henson more often than some, the person it comes back to time and time again is Joan Ganz Cooney, one of the founders of the Children's Television Workshop and the driving force behind the existence of Sesame Street.

This book shines when talking about Cooney, or maybe it's that she shines. She's fascinating, and before I picked up Street Gang I hadn't heard of her. Which made me feel a little ashamed because as a female media professional, she's an amazing role model and one of the women who really forged a path that I've been lucky enough to follow in my own small ways.

The author must have had an amazing interview with Cooney, because she gives wonderful sound bites, she has great stories to tell. I honestly would love to see a straight biography about her, or maybe a documentary.

Which brings me to the problem I had - Street Gang is fantastic when it has a focus. But it has the short attention span of the children who watch the show. There are so many characters, because it seems the author didn't want to leave anybody out. I would have needed to make a chart to keep up with them so I spent the later chapters usually having no idea which person I was reading about unless the author reminded us of something that happened to them.

The other major problem that caused me a lot of confusion was the chronology. Basically there wasn't one. It's fine that the book starts with Henson's funeral and then moves back to Cooney's upbringing, that's a narrative device I can get behind.

The problem is that the author wants to both follow narrative threads to their conclusion and also keep the book in chronological order. Which are two tasks that will always be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish together. Frequently a section will go through three or four years of history and then the next section will suddenly be back to five years before the other started. I had a lot of trouble lining up the whens, whos, and wheres. Especially since everybody's name started with a J (I'm only half joking).

It took me a very long time to read Street Gang, which is a bit sad because the material is so fantastic. I'm not entirely sure how the author could have solved the problems I had with it, because there is just so much history and so many people, and there's nobody that I read about and thought "who cares, why are we talking about them?" They all had a valuable part to play.

If you're a big fan of Sesame Street, then this book is an absolute must. If you're interested in television or education, it's also probably right up your alley. And if you're a Henson fan, there are a lot of stories about him in there, he's just not really the focus at all. But that's good, because Cooney deserves the spotlight, so the book is worth reading just to learn more about her.

State of the Blog!

You may have noticed that it's been about a month since I posted anything.

Long story short, I've had a bit of a personal medical issue, among a lot of other craziness and stress, and I let the blog go to the back burner for a little bit.

I'll be trying to fix that now! I may not go back and post extra stuff to make up for the lost days, but I'll post all the stuff for this week and a book review since I missed that one for the first part of this month too. I'll try to throw in some extra posts to make up for the missing month but I'm not going to be too methodical about it like I was last time, I'm just going to try to go back on schedule now.

Thanks for waiting!