The Ballad of Austin G

For most of the time that we lived in Latham, New York, we were hard-wired for both television and internet purposes to Time Warner Cable of Albany. They were not cheap, and we had occasional service problems, of course, but they were generally resolved quickly. Having entertainment being pumped to us over that fat, underground wire seemed a good system, and having actually worked for Time Warner Cable of Albany for several years, I was favorably disposed toward them, even when they weren’t performing at the top of their game.

When we moved to Des Moines, I assumed that we’d find a similar “all services on one wire” situation with whoever Central Iowa’s leading cable provider might be. I was wrong: cable service in our neighborhood is patchy, low quality and expensive, so we were forced to enter into split contracts with an internet provider who pipes our bytes in via a DSL telephone line, and a television provider whose signal comes into the house via an antenna on the roof. Since the prior owners of our house had used Dish Network, it was an easy transition for us to take that contract on ourselves.

There are some things we like about Dish, but their pay-per-view service is not one of them: they have limited offerings, and since our television is not connected to the internet, we have to order movies online in advance, then make sure that we are in the TV room at the right moment to tape or watch the movies in real time. The last time we tried to do this, we pre-ordered the very marginal The Rum Diaries, and when we went to watch it, almost 25% of the movie did not successfully load, due to some communications glitch.

While Marcia fumed in her recliner, I retired to the home office to contact Dish Network, hoping that we could salvage our movie night. I used their online technical assistance service, and was connected to a technician who identified himself as Austin G. Within the first few lines of online communication, it became very clear that Austin G was a chosen (or assigned?) name of convenience for an individual who (a) was not a native English speaker, and (b) had been trained to offer replies to customers culled from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

To his (her?) immense credit, Austin G did a great job resolving the customer support issue that I brought to him/her. But as the clearly canned responses that he/she was trained to offer crossed my computer screen, the creative writer in me decided that I needed to create a character myself, one just as eager to please, but language impaired, as Austin G him/herself.

I recorded the text of the conversation and share at with you at this link:

Austin G Provides JES a Customer Service Championship Performance

I found the whole exchange very amusing, though I admit to feeling marginally guilty about it, seeing as how my amusement sort of came at someone’s expense, when they were just trying to do their job and bring home the bacon. Or the saag paneer, as appropriate. When all was said and done, Austin G took care of the problem I brought to him/her. That’s what customer service people are supposed to do, and Austin G did it well. So when I received an e-mail from Dish Network asking me about the quality of my customer support interaction, I was delighted to respond their request, even if I was not quite ready to give up the creative writing character I had embraced during my correspondence with Austin G. Here’s what I told them:

Austing G RatingI have no idea what Austin G’s real name is, nor what his or her future holds . . . but I sure hope that Austin G finds great personal and financial success in whatever city and country he or she resides in. Their assistantage was really great. And the gratitudinous was sincere. Thanks, Austin G!

I Do What I Do, Indeed I Do

I have been online for a long, long time. When the World Wide Web launched 20 years ago, I was one of the first people staking a claim to my own website there. I acquired jericsmith.com in 1999 and started blogging on September 7, 2000, before most people had any idea what “blog” meant. WordPress tells me that Indie Moines now contains 975 posts, incorporating articles written here, and at Indie Albany, and at jericsmith.com, and at Upstate Ether, and several of my earlier websites. I received a coveted Freshly Pressed nod in November 2010, and my 2004 “Worst Rock Band Ever” survey went viral in ways that most bloggers can only dream of. At bottom line, I’ve written an awful lot of words in the public domain, and had an incredible number of people read them. I’m pleased and grateful for that experience.

There are few things more boring than blogging about blogging, so I generally try to avoid doing so. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t spend a fair amount of time thinking about blogging, and what it accomplishes, and why I do it. Recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that my primary motivation for blogging is best summed up by one of my favorite Bonzo Dog Band songs, “What Do You Do?” Here’s that crucial cut, well worth listening to, with the lyrics transcribed below:

\

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it every day

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
Indeed I do

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, every day
I do what I do, I am what I am
We are what we are, we do what we can

What do you do?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it everyday

Why do you do it?
I don’t know, but I know
I do it anyway

I do what I do, indeed I do
I do what I do, everyday
Indeed I do

At bottom line, in 2013, I blog because it’s what I do. Indeed I do. Why? I don’t know, but I do it (almost) every day. Is that enough? Today, I find myself answering “no.”

The most rewarding blog experience I had occured in 2004, when I set myself the task of writing and publishing a poem a day, for a full year. On December 31 of that year, I achieved my goal. Many of the poems I shared that year were, to be honest, marginal works, at best. But the discipline involved with producing them also resulted in occasional moments of brilliance, and I think some of the strongest writing I’ve ever done occurred that year, with a dozen or so of the poems I wrote going on to see publication in traditional print outlets.

After I finished the Poem A Day Project, I lost any sense of urgency for blogging, so I took a year-long blog sabbatical. When I returned, I found myself with a more engaged audience than I’d had when I retired my keyboard, so it seemed like absence actually made a lot of hearts grow fonder for my piffle and tripe. A phrase which, if you’re not a long-time reader, stemmed from a poem I once wrote, as follows:

“Piffle and tripe and balderdash!”
roared Lord MacCormack, his purple sash
rucked up beneath his ample chin,
as he pounded his desk again and again.
“Codswollop, blarney and twaddlerot!”
the good Lord raged, his temper hot,
his anger roused by news reports
of politics and sex and sports.
“Bosh, bunk, claptrap, bull and fudge!”
MacCormack the day’s events soundly judged,
while flinging his papers across the room,
and gesturing angrily into the gloom.
(His manservant, Roger, knew this was the cue
to roll in the cart, with the buns and the stew).

I have been thinking about tackling another project of the Poem A Day variety in 2014, to mark the 10th anniversary of that rewarding foray into sustained, public creative writing. But this time, I am thinking that I need the sabbatical before I start, not afterwards. So with a little bit of regret — but a larger amount of relief — I announce my intention to take an Indie Moines blog sabbatical until January 2014 to recharge the batteries, focus the thinking, and come up with a reason for blogging that’s more profound than “I do what I do, indeed I do.”

Does this mean that I’m going to quit writing? Of course not. I wish I could say that I write because I want to, but the reality is that I write because I need to. In my 2001 novel, Eponymous, protagonist Collie Hay (who I have always publicly denied is me, though everyone knows that is just diversion and posturing) is quoted as saying: “Writing is the only way that I can actually get facts and my thoughts about them in order, then do something about them and (more importantly) begin to believe that they actually happened. To me, no less. Because if I don’t (or can’t) write about something, then it’s generally not real to me — and I’ve reached a point where I want my life and my history to feel real.” That’s a true statement, made in a fictional context.

What and where will I write? First off, I have some bigger writing projects that keep getting back-burnered — since given the choice of doing a hard writing job or an easy blog post, the latter almost always wins. My primary writing objective for 2013 is to finish a theatrical adaptation of Eponymous that Marcia deftly framed, ideally creating a work that she and I can shop to local stages and actors to see if it has real-world audience appeal. I think it will, and I think Des Moines is a great place to launch it.

I have half-a-dozen short story ideas parked on my office whiteboard, so I look forward to having time to develop them fully, undistracted by self-imposed blog posting requirements. I also have many research pieces related to the Salisbury House library and collections that I will post to the blog I launched on behalf of my employer, here. I have worked as a volunteer “Art Blaster” on behalf of the Des Moines Art Center, so I intend to coordinate with volunteer and curatorial staff there to develop an outlet, somewhere, to help them interpret and share their extraordinary collections online, one way or another.

I also intend to continue communicating in the public domain via the Indie Moines Facebook and Twitter feeds, so I heartily encourage you to like or follow those pages, if you are not already doing so. I find lots of cool stuff in my forays online, and I look forward to sharing such things with you all via those social media outlets. If I place any work in traditional print outlets, I will announce it on those sites. When I travel or have other photographic adventures to report, I will post them at my Flickr account, so you might want to follow that as well.

For most of the past decade, I have done 95%+ of my pleasure reading on the elliptical at the gym or while sitting in my hot tub, so I also look forward to having more time to just sit in my own living room, reading. It will be refreshing to step away from the computer in the evening, since I’ve rarely done that for many, many years. And, finally, I am also looking forward to having our lovely daughter, Katelin, moving to Des Moines in May. It has been seven years since we’ve lived in the same city on a permanent basis, so I want to be available and accessible to her, without feeling like I have an online community that must be serviced as a priority.

All of this being said, I am humbled at the response that my writing has garnered in this and other, earlier spaces over the years, so I thank you all — my faithful readers — for your support, encouragement and interaction. I hope that you will return as active supporters in January 2014, when I launch the next phase of my blogging career, whatever it might entail. I think the break will do us all good.

I hope that you all agree!

Shotes

For a variety of reasons, both personal and professional, I’m re-engaging my social networking connections on Facebook and Twitter. If you aren’t following along, the Indie Moines Twitter feed is here, and the Facebook Group is here. I’ll wait for a minute while you go follow both of them. All set? Okay, great. Moving right along . . .

I was very active on Facebook from 2008 to 2011, but then The Destroyer blew up my account there, dropping all of my friends, likes and connections, leaving only the Indie Albany Group (which also blew up) and then the Indie Moines Group. When I decided to re-active my personal Facebook profile last week, it really bugged me when I went back in time and saw all of the dead links to old Indie Albany pages, as well as the live links to a certain Albany newspaper whose name shall not be mentioned here, because they keep my words in the public domain against my expressly stated desire that they delete them. So even though I know that virtually no one is going to go back in time to look at those updates, I felt that a full clean up was in order, because I am tidy and obsessive that way.

Thing is, though, that Facebook does not really want you to delete your back pages, so they do not provide any convenient way to batch edit that which has been posted before. So it took me about six hours to go back, post by post, through my entire Facebook account, to delete the things that I wanted deleted, leaving my profile and time line with only those links, notes and connections that I would want there if I had created the entire page in February 2013.

Since I was a prolific poster during my first foray in Facebook, this means that a whole lot of stuff went “poof” into the virtual ether as I vigorously slammed the “delete” button again and again and again. So in recognition of this corpus of lost work, I post my 50 favorite deleted status updates below, allowing you to experience in a pure, distilled version just how annoying-to-amusing it was to have been one of my 700+ Facebook friends back in the day. Proceed at your own risk . . .

  1. I shaved my head again today. Because life is so much easier when shampoo and soap are the same thing, and you don’t need to own a hair brush.
  2. Theory: Hardcore is Ayn Rand for boys who don’t like to read. Discuss.
  3. Did the Times Union win “Best Times Union” in the Times Union‘s “Best Of” poll again this year?
  4. After the rapture, all your breakfast are belong to us.
  5. 18 holes at Winding Brook Country Club today . . . . Slicey Lostballs rides again!
  6. OMFG!!! SUPERMOON CAUSES BIG EAST TEAMS TO FORGET HOW TO PLAY BASKETBALL!!!! OMFG!!!! SRSLY!!!!
  7. The Cowboys are 1-4 and the Yankees are done for the season. The Universe is a good place to live in tonight.
  8. I have no idea who these Jon and Kate people are, nor why I see them every time I log onto any major news/public website. As best I can figure, all they did was have a litter of puppies and cheat on each other. Why is this news?
  9. In the 44 Stanley Cup finals since 1968, 19 titles have gone to Original Six teams, 15 titles have gone to the eleven franchises added in the ’68-’75 expansion, eight titles have gone to the four World Hockey Association (WHA) franchises that were merged into the NHL, while only two titles have gone to the nine franchises added in ’92-’01. Can we just move the WHA franchises back to their original markets, and write off that ’92-’01 expansion as an expensive mistake?
  10. Why does Albany’s Hipsteroisie care more about chickens in backyards than they do about education, transportation, public health, absentee landlords, and street safety? Is it because hens are generally cuter than cops and teachers and bus drivers?
  11. I was sitting in IHOP eating all-wheat pancakes when the Talking Heads song “(Nothing But) Flowers” came on the stereo, and I found myself thinking: “This may well be the worst song ever written, arranged, recorded and released.”
  12. Oxymorons: jumbo shrimp, minor crisis, old news, instant classic, conspicuous absence, Academy Award Winner Sandra Bullock.
  13. I think the world would be a much, much, much better place if Jane’s Addiction would just GO away, and STAY away. Thank you.
  14. Mean grows The Bumble, Oh.
  15. Eric: “Why am I a crank??” Marcia: “Because you have strong opinions about too many topics.”
  16. I am awe-inspired afresh every quarter when my new issue of “The Journal of The International Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Association” arrives. Riveting reading. Great graphic design. Aces.
  17. Dear FOX Sports TV, Please, please, please retire the stupid football robot. And also Jimmy Johnson. Signed, Grateful Football Watcher.
  18. I lost my harmonica, Albert.
  19. I just finished watching Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.” What a stupid, artless, pointless, needless piece of marketeer-driven codswollop, one of the worst movies I’ve ever sat through. I’m not sure I can forgive Tim Burton for this one. I know that Lewis Carroll can’t, since they even botched and truncated the magnificent “Jabberwocky” poem.
  20. I am making Turkey Tetrazzini out of leftover Thanksgiving white meat, but I know that THE BROOD is going to be gnawing the dark meat off the bones tonight, regardless.
  21. Accounting is a science. Budgeting is an art.
  22. Taking a benadryl at 9 AM on a work morning = BAD IDEA.
  23. JES lives in a capital I. In the middle of the desert. In the center of the sky.
  24. We ate at Reykjavik’s finest traditional Icelandic restaurant last night. Minke whale, puffin and foal (horse veal) were on the menu, though (alas) fermented ammonia shark was not.
  25. My father and I both went through our 20s being told we looked like Tommy Smothers. I’m reading a bio of the Smothers Brothers now, and learn that their dad was from the Winston-Salem, NC area . . . the same area that my dad’s dad was from. I wonder if we’re cousins?
  26. I can now plug an iPod into the car stereo. This is the official death knell of the CD collection accordingly.
  27. Uh oh . . . Capitals take a 3-1 series lead over the Rangers. For a lifelong Caps fan, there are few more terrifying situations than a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs . . .
  28. I always liked Goofy Grape better than Choo Choo Cherry, although Rootin Tootin Raspberry wasn’t bad either.
  29. Okay, I declare spring in Albany to be a bust. Again.
  30. Fragment from an old music review: “There are only three contemporary vocalists more annoying than Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst, and all of them are members of the Beastie Boys.”
  31. Revive the dying vine, restore the ruling line, then contemplate the whims of fate, until the next decline.
  32. I have put 197 songs by COIL, Throbbing Gristle and Butthole Surfers on his iPod Shuffle. There will be many dramatic commutes over the next couple of weeks as a result.
  33. I am trying to catch up with the spirit of the age.
  34. My inner monologue sounds uncannily like Nathan Explosion.
  35. I am trying to figure out how to get Marcia to like Napalm Death, so I can put them on the family iPod play list . . . . . hmmmmm . . . . . .
  36. I can’t decide how I feel about one of my student board members greeting me with “Hey, dog” as we passed in the hallway.
  37. I just listening to Alice Donut’s cover of the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind,” which replaces Black Francis’ vocals with a trombone solo. It’s the best Pixies cover ever, for people like me, who don’t actually like the Pixies.
  38. I am having a Uriah Heepathon tonight. Because . . . . well, just because.
  39. I get mad at people who think the walrus says “koo koo ka-choo”. It’s “goo goo g’joob,” dammit!!!
  40. I am off to Binghamton. I hope the mud is in blossom!
  41. I practice conservation of friends: when new friends are created, old friends must be destroyed.
  42. Be careful what you ask for, because I just might make a spreadsheet.
  43. I am raising intellectual self-indulgence to an art form.
  44. The most convincing proof of institutional racism in the NFL is the fact that Norv Turner has been hired to coach three teams in the league.
  45. I have been listening to a lot of grindcore and jazz lately. When you put them in the same iTunes playlist, magic happens . . . they totally go together like peanut butter and bearing grease . . .
  46. The female-to-male ratio on the dance floor tonight was about 8 to 1 when “Don’tcha” by the Pussycat Dolls played. I really felt let down by the local chapter of Team Testosterone.
  47. I had to turn off Napalm Death tonight, because the child said “It makes my insides hurt.”
  48. I wonder when people stopped understanding which music you mosh to, and which music you don’t.
  49. I think “fantod” is a magnificent word.
  50. I am cooking up a pot of Allen’s White Hominy. Please . . . try to contain your jealousy.

Oh, and the title of this post? I meant to type “Shorts” as a place holder, but my typographical error seemed somehow more fitting. I don’t know why.

How Dare I Be So Beautiful?

1. This morning we got up early so I could drive Marcia downtown to run in a 5K race that was staged alongside the Des Moines marathon. It was a chilly, early way to start the day, but I was happy to hang out near the finish line, so I could watch the results shown in the strip above (click it to enlarge): she won her division (based on age and gender), finished 26th out of 682 women running the race, and 135th out of 1,123 finishers overall, including all the men. I was exhausted just watching her sprint across the finish line, well ahead of the main pack of runners. Imagine how all the dudes that she smoked on the course felt.

2. It’s probably not surprising, given how many words I pump out on various keyboards every week, that I am a very accomplished typist. I would readily put my words-per-minute and accuracy rates up against pretty much anybody, and I know that I can hold my own against a lot of really speedy administrative professionals when it comes to moving words from brain to screen. What might surprise people, though, is how I manage to type extremely quickly and accurately without ever having learned the “proper” way to work a keyboard. I do not use all of my fingers when I type, and the ones that I do use don’t ever sit on their home keys the way they are supposed to. I was sitting in a meeting a couple of weeks ago, recording the proceedings in my role as secretary of the corporation, and I found myself actively watching my fingers as they worked, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before. So here’s a synopsis of how hideously I type, by finger, recorded while watching myself pound the keyboard in real time:

Left hand, pinky: Shift key.

Left Hand, ring finger: Not used.

Left hand, middle finger: Q, A, Z, W, S, X, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 keys.

Left hand, pointer finger: E, D, C, R, F, V, T, G, B keys.

Left hand, thumb: Not used.

Right hand, thumb: Space bar.

Right hand, pointer finger: Y, H, N, U, J, M, I, K O, L, P, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, colon, quotation, comma and period keys.

Right hand, middle finger: Backspace.

Right hand, ring finger: Not used.

Right hand, pinky finger: Not used.

I have had several surgeries on my right hand, and I think that the fact that I don’t use most of that hand is probably a function of the fact that it was often wrapped in casts and splints when I started typing regularly in college. I had not realized how much distance on the keyboard I covered with my right pointer finger, though. And I don’t know why my left ring finger never strikes the keyboard. That just seems weird. But I guess it doesn’t matter, in the end, since I manage to do something in a completely inept and unconventional way, but yet manage to achieve above satisfactory results while doing so. I think there’s probably a lesson in here, somewhere. Do you know what it might be?

3. As I’ve noted here before, I don’t watch a lot of television, so when I do, I probably pay more attention to commercials than most people do, since I don’t watch many of them. One of the major themes that I have noted in commercials sponsoring the shows I watch is that apparently having the very latest and greatest in computer and phone technology is a very, very important thing to a lot of people. Personally, I don’t even have any idea what “3-G” or “4-G” or “5-G” means when it comes to my phone, but this seems to be something of deep import to the sorts of folks who camp out overnight to get new tech toys, or who walk around with phone things sticking out of their ears, talking into the air, looking like idiots. I guess I am something of an iconoclast in this regard, as I do everything I can to make my electronic devices last as long as they can. Case in point: I have owned only three computers since 1993, all of them PCs, and all of which I’ve expanded, adapted or adjusted over time to maximize their life expectancies. So I only update my main tech toy every six to seven years, and when I do, it’s usually because something has broken beyond my ability to repair it, not because I am dazzled by its replacement. I guess I am not the target audience for most of those “gotta have the new thing” commercials, huh?

4. Music is an obviously effective communication tool, which is why many artists use their musical talents to make political statements, especially in election years. Here are three of my favorite 2012 tunes that touch on important socio-political themes underpinning this year’s election:

Subprime Lenders by Crudbump (language warning)

All Hail the Corporation by Andy Prieboy

Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro by Devo

Come, Let Us Gaze at our Navels Together! (Blogging on Blogging)

As I’ve written here and elsewhere many times before, I’ve been longtime online . . . and the odds are very, very, very good that I’ve had a personal website and a blog for a lot longer than anybody else reading this post today.

That being the case, I don’t make these statements today with any authority or arrogance in my (written) voice, since I’m not really sure whether my internet longevity as a (mostly) unpaid “content provider” is something that I should revel in or be punished for at this point. I’m kind of thinking more the latter lately, truth be told, as it becomes increasingly clear to me that the whole concept of blogging probably jumped the shark quite some time ago, and I continue to engage in it more as an act of inertia than an act of exploration.

When I sit down at the computer these days, I generally feel the same way that I do when I sit in front of a television with cable service: I have thousands of channels to choose from, but I can never find anything that I really want to watch or read, 99% of the time. (The online “one percenters” for me are, for the most part, linked on one or the other of my blogs, so if you see a link to someone on any site I administer, you can be sure that I consider it to be a highly valuable internet commodity). I just keep clicking and clicking and clicking, and maybe I’ll find something that amuses me for 10 minutes or so, but I rarely stumble upon anything that truly rocks my world anymore, the way the internet, websites and blogs did when I first discovered them. Why is that?

I think in large part it is because most of the large and busy blog portals these days are built upon a model where profit-earning corporations squeeze dollars from the sweat equity pumped in by unpaid bloggers eager to earn “exposure,” even though most of them would never, ever be able to earn a paid print byline based on the quality of their contributions. But in a world where anonymous cranks and sockpuppets can generate massive advertising revenue in the comments section of an amateurishly provocative blog (much to the finance department’s great and glowing satisfaction), where are the quality filters?

Frankly, I am just as tired of having to trawl through the growing mass of words tossed online by unrealistically enthusiastic amateurs as I am of untrained film-makers thinking that they are artistes because they shoot scenes in shaky-cam mode on their phones and can’t be bothered with scripts. I want some editing these days, dammit. And quality control. And good lighting and cinematography. And stories, not just opinions, or reactions. Whatever happened to those things, oh, my droogs? Lamentations!!!

I’ve been a regular, steady, forward-looking adapter throughout my time online, and when things have gotten stale for me, I have always been able to find something new and exciting to represent the next phase. But I’ve not (yet) figured out what comes after blogging at this point, since the alternatives all seem feeble by comparison.

The way I see it, a blog is a modern-day equivalent of a thoughtfully-composed diary or a journal, except that it gets shared with whoever wants to read it, rather than getting stuffed between the mattress and the box-spring of the bed. There’s a lot of potential there, even if the execution is often lacking.

Facebook, on the other hand, is nothing more than a high school yearbook that you try to get all the cool people in school to sign. Twitter is a note you pass around class with a funny picture of your Spanish teacher on it. Pinterest is a cork bulletin board above your headboard, most of it filled with things (and people) that you covet, but will never own. LinkedIn is a sterile speed-dating service, where you swap business cards instead of saliva. None of those are even vaguely viable replacements for blogs/journals/diaries, in my eyes . . . and it’s disturbing to me that I don’t really see anything else that is.

I’m really pretty good at walking away from things when the time comes to do so. Good case in point: I don’t miss social media of the Facebook variety at all, having turned my back on it well more than a year ago now. Sure, it was fun to accumulate 700 “friends” and to try to find amusing bullet points and pictures to share with them all on a daily basis, but the reality is that ones I really care about (and who really care about me) have always been able to find me online: I mean, if you know how I write my name, then I’m the number one reply on Google for “J. Eric Smith,” and I make my e-mail address public, so how much simpler could connecting with me be? And on the flipside: how much do I really want to know about what 700 people ate for breakfast, or what their children did in the bathroom last night, or where they are having coffee this afternoon? (A: Not much, sorry.)

What inspired this round of bloggy navel-gazing? I received a “your domain is about to expire” notice on Indie Albany this week, and I had to decide whether I wanted to spend the money and time required to renew the domain, and the private registration, and the no-advertising premium payment, as well as the emotional/psychological/time commitment needed to provide quality control and promotion for the site at a level commensurate with what I have provided since I launched it a couple of years ago.

I decided to renew it all for one more year, mainly because I really love all of the writers who write there, and I can’t think of another place where I will be able to read what they have to share if I shut that platform down. I’m hoping for a bit more clarity in the months ahead, and perhaps the emergence of a more obvious next step before July 2013, when I will have to make this decision again.

At bottom line, though . . . I am interested in why you blog, and why I (and the other writers on the websites I administer) should continue to do so, especially if our online neighborhood becomes increasingly polluted and/or pedestrian, which seems to be the case. Care to share?

Automobiles, Architecture, Artistry and Awe

One of the biggest events we do each year here at my place of work is the Salisbury Concours d’Elegance, an exhibition of exquisite classic automobiles which will be held on Sunday, September 9, 2012. This event is a good fit for our organization on a variety of planes, first and foremost because we have three exceptional automobiles of our own in the House collection — two Packards (1929 and 1933) and a Cadillac (1932) — and it’s nice for them to have classy company and eager visitors on occasion.

But I think there’s also a deeper resonance between the aesthetics of classic car design and the artistic and architectural presence here at Salisbury House. To explore this theme further, I wrote a piece for the Concours d’Elegance Planning Committee’s newsletter about how we fit and work together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. You can read it by clicking on the image of our ’33 Packard below, parked in front of our cottage. It includes some other awesome shots of art, architecture and automobiles, all taken where I go to work each day, at Salisbury House and Gardens.

Just When You Thought that the Interwebs Couldn’t Get Any Stupider

In a recent e-mail exchange, a friend ended a conversation by noting “Just when you thought that the interwebs couldn’t get any stupider . . . “

But, of course, we both know that the interwebs will invariably generate something even stupider at some point, and we will invariably spend way too much time looking at it and laughing. I know this for a fact, because having been online since the early ’90s, I’ve watched a lot of entertaining internet stupidity over the years.

My friend’s comment got me to pondering some of my favorites from way back when, before instant indexing and social media and simple blogging software and organized web portals made it relatively easy for things to go viral and gain large, instant audiences. Once upon a time, you had to look to find the stupid online, and it was totally worth it when you found it, since you’d really earned the right to giggle like an idiot.

So here are a dozen of my favorite classic time-wasters, in various flavors and shades of stupid or sublime, from those earlier days of the world wide web:

zombo.com: (Sound required). From around 1999, and still possibly the greatest website ever, because you can do anything there!

Alkulukuja Paskova Karhu : (Sound required, mild language warning). Is there’s a better way to teach kids about this particular aspect of mathematics? I do not believe that there is.

snarg: (Sound required). This goes back to about 1995 or 1996, and it is one of the first things I saw online that made me thing that the internet could actually serve as a platform for creating legitimate art. Click around and explore: there’s a synthesizer so you can adjust the music, lots of cool popups and pretty images, and a hidden message board so you can let folks know you were there.

Frog in a Blender: (Sound required). I’m guessing this is among the most well-known items in my list, since it was one of the first interactive Flash animations that was widely shared online at the time, and it launched the Joe Cartoon brand. Still funny. Still wrong.

Annoy the Little Man: (Sound required). This originally appeared on futile.com, which was an amazing portal of time-wasting internet stupidity back in the day, where the Little Man was joined by other pointless gems, like Squish the Bug. I should probably be embarrassed to admit how many times I annoyed the Little Man and squished the bug. Heh heh. Heh. Heh heh heh.

The Stinky Meat Project : Answers the immortal question: “What happens if I leave some hot dogs, a steak, and some hamburger in my neighbor’s back yard for a couple of weeks?”

hell.com : The original website is no longer online or available, so I’ve linked to the Wikipedia article about it instead. What happened at hell.com? Absolutely nothing, for years and years and years. But there was just enough interactivity, and just enough text about membership and secret stuff, that it made you feel like if only you could find the right combination of clicks, you’d enter some amazing Internet Kingdom of the Damned. But you couldn’t, and it didn’t, though you kept on trying . . . for years and years and years . . .

Superbad : One of the first sites that specialized in massive cross-linking of seemingly unrelated images and texts, creating something of an art statement that was greater than the sum of its parts. I kept trying to get to the end of it, and am not sure I ever did.

Applied Solipsism Campaign : Website banners were a hot thing online for a few years. These were the only ones that I flew on my websites, much to my own amusement.

Flame Warriors : I watched the database of Flame Warriors being compiled in real time, one warrior at a time, many of them suggested by readers. The concept was originally themed around online message boards and forums, but it applies just as well to today’s unmoderated blog comment pages.

Tolkien Sarcasm Page : If you understand why this is hilarious, then you are a dork. Welcome to the club.

We Like the Moon: (Sound required). The Spongmonkeys are terrifying and cute in equal measure, and their little song about some of their favorite things is a weird masterpiece.

JES Live: The Digital Tourist

I mentioned here a while back about having spoken at the State of Now Conference in Des Moines, on the topic of what I called digital tourism, which probably doesn’t mean quite what you might think it means. I was pleased to learn this morning that a high quality recording of my ten-minute remarks is now available online, so even if you weren’t there, you can learn what my secretarial position in the government of Cyber-Yugolslavia was. Seriously. So if you’ve only experienced my piffle and tripe in written format to date, here’s what it looks and sounds like when I deliver it live and in person . . . complete with a screen-capture that makes it look like I am about to attempt to fly, or deliver an interpretive dance . . .

BLANGA: In Praise of a New Hawkwind Album

My longest-standing claim to Internet notoriety stems from a 1993 online exchange on Compuserve’s RockNet Forum about the pioneering space-rock band, Hawkwind. Fellow RockNet denizen Zen Poet (a.k.a. Steve Pond, in the real world) shared my enthusiasm for Hawkwind’s thunderous noise-scapes, which he’d experienced in a very personal manner, both having seen the band in its heyday as an impressionable youth, and then later having played synths and guitar with Inner City Unit (featuring former Hawkwind mainstays Nik Turner, Dave Anderson and Dead Fred), and backing erstwhile Hawkwind frontman Robert Calvert (also with Dead Fred) during the final tours Calvert played before his untimely passing in 1988. (Steve and Fred still work together, by the by, now as the mighty Krankschaft).

At some point in some conversation way back then, in a stab at onomatopoeia, one or the other of us described the lock-step grinding guitar figures that anchor some of the group’s most scintillating flights of fancy as making a sound like “BLANGA BLANGA BLANGA BLANGA BLANGA . . .” We eventually started using the word “BLANGA” as a short-form description of the best qualities of Hawkwind’s music, and along with another RockNet chum named Dave Rice, we started compiling rankings of various Hawkwind albums based on their BLANGA scores, rating them on a scale from 0 to 10. As I wrote at the time: “A BLANGA Score of 10 is the epitome of the form; a BLANGA Score of 0 is ANTI-BLANGA, music from an evil alternate universe where all male musicians have their testicles removed at age 13, and female musicians are only allowed to sing seven-part amens whilst shrouded head to toe in surgical gauze.”

I had very limited Internet skills at the time, but Steve and Dave were both very technically adept, and at some point in the earliest days of the World Wide Web, the three of us agreed to craft an online version of our unofficial Hawkwind BLANGA Guide. I wrote the copy and assigned the ratings, then Dave worked his coding magic, and Steve did what needed to be done to host it on his Doremi website (named after the Hawks’ masterful Doremi Fasol Latido album), where it soon became an important part of the online Hawkwind experience. Amazingly enough, the BLANGA Guide lives there at Doremi to this very day, with one major sprucing and updating completed in 2010, some 15-plus years after the original version went online.

It has been quite an amusing treat over the years to watch the word BLANGA propagate among the Hawkwind community, to the point where I have heard band members using it in interviews, have been challenged by former band members about low BLANGA scores given to discs they played on, and seen tape traders rating various shows based on the quality of BLANGA therein. Other bands and their fans have adopted the term as well, with the most obvious nod coming from American space-rockers F/i, who titled their 2005 album Blanga, and filled it with songs like “In the Garden of Blanga,” “Blanga’s Transformation,” “An Extremely Lovely Girl Dreams of Blanga,” and “Grandfather Blanga and his Band Light it Up.” It’s kind of cool to have influenced people that way, without them having any idea that the word “BLANGA” wasn’t something that just emerged spontaneously from the ether, but rather has a specific, definable birth-place and pedigree. It was my word and it was Steve’s word first, but it has since flown away and taken on a life of its own, with meaning to countless people who we have never and will never meet. How cool is that? Pretty darn cool, I say . . . we invented a word!

Why do I bring this up now? Because on April 30, Hawkwind released a new studio album called Onward, and with a few days worth of listening under my belt, I’m thinking this disc deserves one of the highest BLANGA scores of the group’s past two decades, joining such latter-day crunchy classics as Distant Horizons (1997), Electric Tepee (1992) and The Xenon Codex (1988). It’s pretty amazing stuff for a band whose founder (Dave Brock) has been playing live for more than half a century, and who has worked with more members and put out more records than pretty much anybody this side of Mark E. Smith’s The Fall. It is also, frankly, pretty suprising to me, in that this is the second album produced by the current line-up (founder-leader Brock, stalwart drummer Richard Chadwick, prodigal synth player Tim Blake, and relative newcomers Niall Hone and Mr. Dibs), and the first studio record this version of the group released, 2010′s Blood of the Earth, did not impress me at all, from either a BLANGA or a melodic or a performing or a production or a songwriting standpoint. There were times on Blood of the Earth where I felt like I was listening to a Hawkwind cover band, so the creative growth in two short years that this group of players has achieved together with Onward is remarkable and delightful, as it is a very solid addition to their studio canon, with numerous songs that should be concert staples for years to come.

As has been the case with most Hawkwind studio albums since the late 1980s, Onward features an assortment of new compositions interspersed with recastings of older material from their catalog. Robert Calvert’s “Death Trap” and “Aero Space Age Inferno” both get excellent, high-energy treatments on Onward, while Dave Brock’s evocative “Green Finned Demon” gets a suitably moody treatment that presents it as well as it’s ever been framed since first appearing as a B-side to “Night of the Hawks” in 1984. The acoustic-synthetic freakout of “Mind Cut” (which evokes the equally twangy-loopy “Hurry on Sundown” from the group’s 1970 debut album) is a re-casting of an ancient, pre-Hawkwind Brock busking number called “Get Yourself Together,” and it’s aged surprisingly well all these years on. “The Flowering Of The Rose” is a walloping long-form groove built on a riff that appears to have been culled from the Calvert-era “Steppenwolf,” with some tasty leads tossed out by some combination of Brock, Hone, Blake and Hawkwind’s late keyboardist Jason Stuart, who died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorage in 2008. 1993′s “Right to Decide” also gets a fresh run-through recorded with Stuart before his passing, and it’s a nice enough version, though it really can’t match the power and passion of the original, which was one of the finest songs Hawkwind produced in the 1990s.

Among the new numbers, standouts include opening BLANGA-fests “Seasons” and “The Hills Have Ears,” (the latter featuring long-time lead guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton in a guest spot), the topical “Computer Cowards,” and the flat-out groovy “The Drive By.” The short spoken-word piece “System Check” is a worthy follower in the tradition of “Sonic Attack,” in which the concept of musical machinery as a weapon is explored, while Brock’s “Howling Moon” and Blake’s “Southern Cross” are evocative mood pieces, painting pictures with sounds and textures in lieu of tints and brushes. Onward is a long album, true, clocking in at nearly an hour and twenty minutes, but it is a very rewarding listening experience, and I recommend it highly, for both grizzled BLANGA veterans and space-rock newbies seeking a fresh thrill. It’s good to have fresh BLANGA in hand, especially when it’s delivered by the masters of the genre. We’ll have to update the BLANGA Guide soon . . .

Hawkwind 2012: Blake, Hone, Brock, Dibs, Chadwick.

Thanks, Readers!

I’m a Southern Gentleman by both breeding and upbringing, so I’m generally not one to kiss and tell in public about the traffic that my various websites generate. But as Indie Moines closes out its fifth month in operation tonight, it was nice to look at the monthly summary page and see how things are trending, thusly:

After 12 years of blogging in a variety of places, it’s nice to still see positive trends in new environments. When Marcia and I launched this site in December, we had no idea whether what we’d done with Indie Albany would translate into a new market or not.  Apparently it did, and it’s been a pleasure to establish a variety of virtual relationships with new friends in Iowa, while also introducing old friends from back in New York to our wonderful world out here in Des Moines.

We appreciate all of our readers — old friends and new, active commenters and lurkers, regular readers and pop-in visitors — with equal fondness and vigor. Thanks for making our first five months here so rewarding, and for reading the piffle and tripe [See Note 1, below] we publish here. We appreciate it!

*****

[Note 1] For new readers, this seemingly self-deprecatory phrase was widely used on our old blog to describe the sorts of things we (and by we, I mean I) post online, culled from a poem I wrote, which follows:

“Piffle and tripe and balderdash!”
roared Lord MacCormack, his purple sash
rucked up beneath his ample chin,
as he pounded his desk again and again.
“Codswollop, blarney and twaddlerot!”
the good Lord raged, his temper hot,
his anger roused by news reports
of politics and sex and sports.
“Bosh, bunk, claptrap, bull and fudge!”
MacCormack the day’s events soundly judged,
while flinging his papers across the room,
and gesturing angrily into the gloom.
(His manservant, Roger, knew this was the cue
to roll in the cart, with the buns and the stew).

%d bloggers like this: