Friday, February 27, 2009

Research.... yeah.... sure.

"Excuse me, Facebook User....err, Research Subject: my name is Dr. Albert Scientist. I'm doing important research on research about things, and am in no way any sort of plant or shill. This is a purely scientific study. Please answer truthfully, as it would throw off the research otherwise.






Now, I'd like to ask a few follow up questions.

Are you aware that men's turtlenecks are being offered at the amazing price of two for $22?

O - I AM AWARE OF WHAT A GREAT DEAL THAT IS

O - NO, I HAD NO IDEA THAT SUCH A GREAT DEAL IS CURRENTLY OFFERED


Did you know that you'd be scientifically classified as a fool to miss this one-day sale?

O - YES, I DID KNOW THAT, SO I'M HALFWAY TO THE STORE ALREADY

O - NO, I HAD NO IDEA, BUT THE SHAME WILL INDUCE ME TO THE SALE NOW


What is your unbiased opinion of the fine Banana Republic clothing chain?

O - POSITIVE, I WORSHIP THEM AS MY NEW GOD-KINGS

O - NEGATIVE, I LACK EVEN THE BASIC FUNDS TO PERMIT ME TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GLORIOUS SALES, BUT I DO NOT BLAME THE STORE. ONLY I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR THE NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE OF NOT BEING ABLE TO BUY NICE, REASONABLY-PRICED THINGS.

O - UNDECIDED, IN THAT I CANNOT DECIDE HOW MANY OF MY CHILDREN TO SACRIFICE FOR BETTER DEALS. IF I OFFER FRANKIE AND JIMMY, I MAY GET THEM TO THROW IN AN EXTRA PAIR OF SLACKS.

Thank you for your participation in this Research Poll, which was in no way an advertisement. As scientists doing research, we don't know if Banana Republic is having a one day sale, so you should probably just stop by your local store, just in case. In the name of science and stuff."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Don't you judge me, Subway lady!

Last Sunday, while I was running between a religious service and a performance at a religious school, I stopped for a quick lunch at a Subway. The Catholic high school where I was performing is at the extreme western edge of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, in the wilds of what is known as Lenexa. Lenexa is a product of the previous years of economic growth, as most every building there has been built in the last five or six years, except for the original farmhouses. The discontinuity of seeing an old farmhouse next to a modern medical center is jarring.

The immediate area around the high school also represents a personal milestone for me: I've never been in a place with so many consecutive traffic circles. The parkway that cuts through the suburb is still in the process of being constructed, but moving from one highway to the other requires passage through at least seven roundabouts. I'd point out this section on Google Maps, except that there isn't any current satellite imagery that includes this new road. It keeps the traffic flowing, but considering I saw at most three or four other cars, they must be looking into the *very* long term.

But back to the Subway. I spotted the restaurant in one of the local shopping complexes just off the highway. The shopping area is the sort of place that feels so new, you feel like you might be able to look around the side of buildings and still see the plastic wrap they came in.

The Subway reminded me of my favorite Subway branch back from my time in Columbia. That one (and the one in Lenexa) were part of the "other" style of shop. The most common one is the strip mall variety, where the store is hemed in on three sides by other stores. There's a panel of class across the front end, but they tend to feel cave-like, as they are usually narrow and deep.

The other design of Subway stores are stuck on the end of a smaller 5-7 shop freestanding building. They have glass on three sides, including the long "building end" wall. They have massive amounts of natural light and are generally more pleasant to be in.

I ordered my sandwich and was half-thinking about the upcoming music, when the woman making my sandwich stopped and eyed me. "That's a very ... interesting sandwich." The word "interesting" was emphasized as one might use it to describe uncovering someone's collection of a year's worth of used chewing gum, carefully labeled by day and flavor.

Not in the mood to be looked down on by a sandwich clerk, I said, in a bright and irony-free voice, "Thanks!" The clerk looked at me as I would imagine someone would if they were trying to determine, by sight alone, if someone else was a communist.

I think what I ordered was a footlong spicy italian, with pickles, lettuce, cucumbers, black olives, tomatoes, and the southwest sauce. Obviously, that's not weird to me, but maybe no one uses black olives out there in the Dustbowl. Having worked in food preparation before, I don't think anything related to combinations of ingredients would phase me, short of combining two different sauces: a blue cheese and horseradish combination would make my eyebrow raise.

Were I training employees, I'd encourage them to make conversation, of course. But I, the customer, would have been far more likely to leave with a favorable opinion if the woman had said, "I've never had pickles and the southwest sauce together before; is that good?"

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Music (and non-music) of Doctor Andy

I've often seen people passing around a meme that directs you to set your iPod to random and assign the sequential tracks to a set of random questions. The hope is that things turn up either profound or funny ("What is your philosophy?" Makin' Whoopee). More often than not, they become astrological in obscureness and require a lot of squinting to make out ("What did you think of your first kiss?" Largo from Beethoven's Second Symphony).

I'm not going to do that here, because I find it non-illustrative even when it does line up. It's really just an excuse to show a sampling of what's in your music library. So I'm going to skip the "horoscope destiny" part and just show you the music.

Here is a sampling of tracks, with some commentary where appropriate:

1. "Master of the House" from the complete recording of "Les Miserables".

I was exposed to this musical in my freshman year of high school, when the second concert band I played in did a suite of songs. This one was the most fun because of the trombone sliding around. I remember a boy two years ahead of me was obsessed with musicals and knew ALL about this, assuring me that it was great. He then proceeded to sing several of the songs while I looked to the floor to avoid the eyes pointed in our direction.

2. "Runaway Stage" from the "Maverick" (1994) soundtrack, by Randy Newman

I don't remember when I first saw this movie, but I thought it had a pretty good score for a comedy western. Also, it has a fairly present bass trombone sound, something that you'll find in common with a large fraction of my collection. Randy Newman has gone on to score many of the PIXAR films, so this bears some interesting predecessive similarities to the cowboy aspects of the "Toy Story" films.

3. "Pomp and Circumstance, Marches 1-4.," by Sir Edward Elgar. From the "Fantasia 2000"
soundtrack, performed by the Chicago Symphony.

I saw this film in 2000, in Chicago, with the rest of the DePaul trombone studio at the time. We saw it at the IMAX theater on Navy Pier. As students of Charlie Vernon, we wanted to make sure we supported his endeavors, however indirectly. The IMAX was cheaper and easier to access than the symphony, unfortunately.

4. "Base Theme No. 1" from "Contra" (1988), on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

This track isn't in my collection for musical value as much as nostalgia. There's only so much that music can enrapture the new listener when it comes from an 8-bit microprocessor. However, two notes performed simultaneously were possible at this electronic stage, so that broadens composer's horizons. This one takes me back to sleepovers at friend's houses in elementary school. And, of course, up up down down left right left right B A select start, which is the only way "Contra" was even possible at kid-like skill levels. I once had a girlfriend who didn't care for "Contra", and it was largely to be blamed for the failure of our romantic endeavors.

5. "Ghetto" from "The Merchant of Venice" (2004), by Jocelyn Pook.

A track from the suprisingly weighty score to the film. Scores that go along with Shakespeare films and plays vary wildly in execution. On one hand, music under dialog must be uninteresting, so people will focus on the words. On the other hand, modern storytelling conventions demand extended plot explanation, which comes from sources other than the text, and are thus dialog-free.

6. "Fond Memories" from "Casper" (1995), composed by James Horner.

A sweet track from a score I wasn't prepared to like. The movie was one of those films where I came out thinking I really liked it, but what I *actually* liked was all the concepts it made me think about. The film brushes close to romantic ideas, where we define "romantic" as the quality of freeing the spirit. Over and above the obvious humor of "spirits", the score and film deal with Casper, who is a tragic character. The score brashly (and hilariously) quotes from the Erich Wolfgang Korngold scores of old during a swordfight, but it also quiets down to reflect the underlying sadness.

7. "Carmen Sandiego" from "Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?", by Rockapella.

This track never fails to make me smile. Rockapella is an acapella vocal group, and they were an integral part to the PBS children's game show, based on the best-selling educational computer game. Not only did Rockapella perform the opening title, they were also a physical presence during the show, providing a large number of the sound effects of the game in progress. This title track contains a dizzying amount of geographical references and I haven't been able to decipher the whole thing to this day.

8. The second half of Chapter 13 from the unabridged audiobook of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams. Read by Stephen Fry.

I love book readings. This is a particularly good one. Actually hearing Stephen Fry deliver the line '''You know', said Arthur, with a slight cough," provides an extra level of artistry to an already excellent satire. Obviously, the synergy was well-known: Fry also performs the voice of the epynomous book in the recent movie adaptation.

9. "Me Faltas" performed by Andrea Bocelli with Kenny G.

Kenny G doesn't rub me the wrong way like he does a lot of musicians. I'm not a fan and I certainly didn't buy Signior Bocelli's album simply because Kenny G was on there. I can see how his trademark noodling would get on people's nerves, but it just doesn't make my skin crawl.

10. Introitus Dominicae secundae post Natvitatem, performed by the Schola of the Hofburgkapelle, Viena.

One of the chants from the first CD my family ever owned. As a Christmas present one year, we gave to ourselves a boom box with a compact disc player in the top. This was the disc that came with it. Now, I'm the only family member who doesn't have a car with a CD player.

Annie, get your fun!

I've gone back to high school this week to do a musical. Far in the west and south of Kansas City, so far it's almost in the proper dustbowl of Kansas, there's a relatively new Catholic high school. They've got a fledgling music department and the money to hire ringers, so yay!

The show they're performing is "Annie", which is on the short list of regularly performed musicals. Despite its common nature, almost none of the orchestra has ever played it or even HEARD it. I recall watching bits of the movie at points in my life. Tim Curry's in it, and I think Telly Savalas was in there, too. Maybe not.

Anyway, I had no idea how any of the songs went. Neither does our esteemed leader, who's from England: "Annie" isn't in vogue over there. The trumpet player next to me had to be informed by his girlfriend how great the show was. Needless to say there was a lot of fishing for tempos and feels in the first rehearsal.

It's also rather timely. It's the Depression, President Roosevelt makes an appearance and comes up with the New Deal (complete with people shouting, "Let's get people to build infrastructure!"). And into all this walks Mr. Warbucks with his billions and rescues a cute little 16... err... 11 year-old kid.

Rehearsals have been a blast, so far. We're trying hard to make each other laugh, and the jokes have been flying fast and furious. Everything from crashing computers to Neville Chamberlain, brother to Wilt. The orchestra is thin (we're covering one out of four reed parts), but our little chamber orchestra will suffice.

Basically, they just need trombone to gliss around a little and act tromboney. Which is about all I can manage, since I'm playing all the high stuff.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Three years of Doctor Andy

I looked back through my archives to see when my actual first post was dated; it's February 19, for those keeping score. Since I may not get around to it on the actual day, I thought I'd talk a little bit about my thoughts relating to the anniversary.

In three years, I've published 458 posts (+1 when this one is finished). I have 40 uncompleted posts waiting in the wings in various states of repair or worthiness (-1 when this one is finished). The most posts in a month has been 29, in July of 2006. The fewest has been five, which has occurred several times, including four of the twelve months of 2008. My blog has a 94.7% bounce rate, defined as people who only view the front page and make no other clicks. The last 3500 views have represented 42 countries.

The average number of visitors-per-day fluctuates between 10 and 15, and has a direct (but trailing) correlation to how much I post. The more I post inside a particular time frame, the number of people viewing gradually increases as people realize that I'm in one of my more reliable periods.

Over the years, I've trended towards longer and more infrequent entries. And yes, looking back on some of the entries does make me laugh.

I've been very pleased with both the execution and reception. I say in the first entry that I don't know what the blog's purpose is... and I would guess that's still true. Whatever it is supposed to do, it's currently doing it. This does not (alas) include making me wealthy, but perhaps in 3 more years...

My goal is, as it always seems to be, to write more. We'll see how well that works, moving into the final stretch of my doctoral study. Either I'll be very busy and update less, or I'll be procrastinating and update more!

Thanks to those who follow. It still takes me pleasantly by surprise whenever anyone says, "Oh, I read about that in your blog." What's even better is when people tell me intelligent things that turn out to COME from my blog.

Here's to all the times we've had, and all the times on the road ahead.

This isn't the Andrew Schwartz you're looking for. Move along.

In the wake of last week's traffic explosion, I had another eyebrow-raising social oddity occur. Over on the Facebook side of things, I had a complete stranger request to be my friend. I've mentioned it before, but one has to put a little effort into inviting a complete stranger on Facebook. Sure, I can go back to the page of that recently-added friend from elementary school and come across dozens of people who I've never seen or heard about. But if I added any of them as friends, we'd still have one friend in common: that same 2nd grade friend, and those people would see "You have one friend in common," when they looked at my friend invitation.

So logging in and finding a friend request from someone with "no connexions" (as Jane Austen might say) is worth a pause. How did this person even come across me? In all fairness, I do have friends with whom I have no other friends in common. Though the current number happens to be one, in times past I've had more. Most of them have bonded to other friends, since usually friends come in groups.

His name is George, and I can only think of a couple of people I've ever known called that. One was George from grade and high school, but this guy isn't black. So it's probably not the same guy. The other one was at Mizzou with me, but I can never remember his name unless someone else mentions it, and seeing this name didn't trigger it. Besides, according to this person's profile page, the closest he's ever been to Columbia, Missouri is attending school in Springfield, MO: Central Bible College.

And that's a nice segue to another reason why I don't feel any particular connection with this George. He went to high school at Downland Catholic High School, in Des Moines. He then went for one year at North Central University, which is about the most generic name one could get for a university. I wasn't sure I'd be able to find it, but Wikipedia has a page for it. It's a school in Minneapolis, affiliated with the "Assemblies of God" pentecostal church.

It seems a little strange to me to drift from Catholic to American charismatic, but maybe it's not that strange. It's very difficult to try and sketch out someone's life from the bare bones of their Facebook profile. The only group to which he belongs is the "fans of Buffalo Wild Wings", which grants many speculative insights into his character.

Perhaps he's looking for some other Andrew Schwartz. A quick glance of Facebook turns up three others in the general KC area. One of them is even a Methodist youth pastor, which might be a better (or worse!) fit. Or perhaps he's a fan in the wake of my brief explosion of web fame?

It's safe to say that I've got nothing in common with George, not even a taste in hot wings, so I'm not going to approve his request. No doubt we'd have lots of laughs with the vast oceans between our societal viewpoints, but that's not the reason I follow Facebook.

Sorry, George.

NOTE: George's name was changed to protect George.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"'I have done that," says my memory.

'I cannot have done that' -- says my pride, and remains adamant. At last -- memory yields."
--Friedrich Nietzsche

I can't decide if I have just the right amount of humility. I wonder, because sometimes no matter how hard I try, I am unable to suppress the feeling of my superiority. At other times, I recoil from unnecessary displays of pride, even to the point where I frown at the sentence I wrote just before this one.

First, I should establish that I don't think I'm alone. No doubt many people struggle with their own pride, so I don't wish to give the impression that I'm experiencing something that no one else has. That being said, few people my age seem to talk about it, so when I go cycling back through memories on the subject, I couldn't think any conversations to draw from.

It's perfectly natural to be proud of one's accomplishments. What I'm talking about goes beyond that, however: I feel superior, pure and simple, in some circumstances. Once again, the grandmother voice in my head purses her lips and says, "What an ugly thing to say."

For example: I was driving in moderate traffic the other day and our traffic lump stopped at a red light. There was a large black pickup truck who zoomed up behind me as we were slowing down. As I slowed to a stop behind the traffic, he accelerated as he passed me on the right, into a right-turn lane at the light. He zoomed up to the stoplight, touched the brakes long enough to determine the cross-traffic, then gunned the engine and dashed through the intersection, against the still-red light.

Obviously, that's illegal. Beyond that, it's also unsafe and is asshole-level stupid. But sitting in my car, my primarily reaction to watching this incident was "I'm a better person than they are."

I'm not sure why that's my gut reaction. Perhaps it's a latent defense mechanism from junior high and dealing with bullies: they do things that are against the rules and get away with it, so the only recourse is to turn inward. Or perhaps it has more to with feelings of disconnection from the society at large, allowing me an opportunity to apply my own evaluative overlay.

Or perhaps I'm just a killjoy who doesn't enjoy other people having fun. Or perhaps I'm a stickler for rules, ignoring the fact that blind obedience is no virtue.

Any of these (or [gulp] all!) could be true. I'm not really good at differential diagnosis of completely self-accepted behavior; there's no room to start peeling it back. It's not that I'm a jealously prideful person. There are some issues that I feel like I'm in the right, but many others where I happily cede all judgment to someone else. I have no pretensions towards any knowledge of fashion or quality of clothing, for example. Very expensive or inexpensive items are usually lost on me, and I can't remember the last time I judged anyone's personality based on their clothing. Well, except when someone wears black Crocs with a concert-black outfit, thinking "it's all black!": that's just gauche.

I thought about this in the wake of that traffic incident a few days ago. I had such a smarmy feeling of self-satisfaction in my own righteousness that even *I* couldn't fail to miss it. It didn't matter that I thought afterwards of things that could possibly have brought that behavior about: rushing to the hospital with a bleeding son or something. I still felt superior, in addition to ten kinds of smug.

As long as it's kept under good regulation, I suppose it's not much of a problem. I certainly don't have the power to enforce my superiority over anybody. I can't take away his undeserving driver's license with a wave of my hand, or silence the chatty movie patrons with an eyeblink. However, it remains one of those parts of my personality that always gives me pause: the so-called "darker elements". Perhaps ethnobiologists would describe it as a "selfish gene" or the fading echoes of my "reptillian brain center".

Mostly, it just worries me that it's some symptom of a larger intolerance of people who don't agree with me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Celebrity is as celebrity does

In the years since I was in high school, the Internet has grown into a vital communications outlet for the vast majority of Americans. We no longer even see articles about the percentage of total Internet access; we've moved on to discuss the number of Americans with high-speed broadband access (55%, as of 7-2-08, says the Pew Internet Research Group). Electronic commerce represents a huge portion of the market, and companies like Amazon.com are doing very well (on 12-31-08, Amazon entered the S&P 100). Chances are that as long as you're younger than 80, something you do is on or affected by the Internet, whether at your home or your job.

The Internet has even changed how we interact with our two biggest obsessions: death and fame. People commit suicide online in real-time and others become minor celebrities for capturing video of themselves lip-syncing to Romanian pop music (see "Numa numa", also known as "Dragostea din tei"). The Internet is a surprisingly effective tool for connecting two (or more) people and letting them exchange information. Whether or not that information is of value depends on the people, I suppose. Sending my cousin a virtual birthday card with an animated frog may be less consequential than the exchange of law enforcement information, but they're both perfectly valid uses for the Internet.

So the Internet excels at allowing people to feel close to one another. Even as far back as 2000, I knew families who were communicating with people in Venezuela over the phone "using the Internet". For free. Coming from a childhood where my parents scheduled their long-distance calls around "the cheap times", this was revolutionary. Now I can sit at my computer and call my mom at a moment's notice, for free, while I update my Facebook page for all my "friends" to see and write emails regarding next week's lessons and rehearsals. I almost can't believe that.

Naturally, the celebrities of TV, film, and politics aren't immune to the draws of the internet. In fact, I'm sure they appreciate the internet greatly for one of its defining features: anonymity. Aside of being a mostly-obscured number that identifies your access point, traffic on the internet is largely faceless. When I comment "THAT"S A FUNNIE CAT!" on a YouTube video, the person who responds "NOt ITs NOT!!! U R DUM!" right beneath me (username "akur891326") could be anyone. Anyone! It could be the pope, Brad Pitt, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, or the homeless guy with the dog who uses the computer at the library while his dog eats castaway french fries outside. As a matter of fact, it's probably Brad Pitt: I bet he hates amusing cat videos.

If I were living a life where whenever I set foot outside my apartment, photographers followed me everywhere I went and took pictures of everything I did and every person I smiled at, I'd probably crave the anonymity, too. This picture embodies the romantic notion of celebrity:


It's from an article about services you can pay for to have the "celebrity experience". The company "Celeb-4-A-Day" offers you the deluxe package of 2 hours with six paparazzi, a bodyguard, and a publicist to follow you around. Cost: $2500. I can't believe that.




Of course, in reality, paparazzi are more like this:

Here's Britney Spears with her accompanying school of non-aquatic remoras. I couldn't deal with that if that scrum was always between me and my car, me and my restaurant, me and my less photograph-worthy friends.





This situation happens in varying degrees to just about every celebrity. Even the guy who played the second vampire in that one episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" [no, not that one, the OTHER one] probably gets recognized out at dinner with his wife and asked to sign menus and take photographs with his arm around people of imperfect hygiene.

There are even rankings of the "fan friendly" quotient of various celebrities, as indicated by autograph collectors. Jay Leno is on the nice list, and this affinity is shown by how much face-time "regular" people get on the Tonight Show. Will Farrell is on the angry list, but that's probably not surprising, considering how many half-drunken frat boys probably bother him every night.

Given that many celebrities jealously (as in the Latin root "zeal") guard their privacy, it can be surprising to the everyday person how involved some can be in "putting themselves out there". Bruce Willis went into video chat with a fan to prove his identity after making comments about movies he'd made. Sir Ian McKellen contributes answers to submitted questions at his official website. Amusingly, some questions are of the "Could Professor X beat up Superman?" variety. It's amusing and endearing to think of Sir Ian sitting at a computer somewhere forming an answer to this immediately after addressing other weighty answers about gay rights and theater training. "I can't believe this. Of course Professor X would win!" [As an aside, his website talks continually. Dialog clips play in the background, so you'll hear Lear and Gandalf delivering their bon mots. Be warned.]

And if you've been following my blog recently, you know that LeVar Burton is "out there", too. His blog and Twitter are freely available from Adis Ababa to Zlin. I don't know where he ranks on the official scale of "likelihood of having his dinner interrupted", but he's definitely somewhere between Jim Carrey and John Hurt.












[If I could digress for a moment, repeatedly referring to someone you don't know personally requires a bit of creativity. Calling him "Mr. Burton" seems too formal, calling him "LeVar" seems too informal, and referring to him as "LeVar Burton" repeatedly in close order makes it seem rather mechanical: "LeVar Burton was at the awards show. LeVar Burton took time out of his busy schedule... *beep* LeVar Burton requires some of your earth foods for sustenance! *whrrrr*"]

Not only is Mr. Burton out there blogging, but he's also interacting with the greater community at a personal level. His mention of my blog in his Twitter feed drove a ton of traffic to my door, but also connected me to other people (and their blogs) who commented on my site. And while the majority of those visitors will not return again, perhaps at least one may be interested enough to keep reading. That hypothetical person is someone I wouldn't have had any contact with, except through a chance connection on the internet.

In the end, my close brush with the "famous" shows how much of the "mystique" of the celebrity is an illusion of perspective. Sure, it's really cool that someone I watched on TV for years read something I wrote and liked it. That provokes the gut response of "I can't believe it!" But he's also just some guy writing a blog and trying (like me) to use good grammar.

That sort of "equal footing" is appealing and makes for good ground for friendships, but really kills off the "hero worship" vibe. Maybe that's a way to moderate people's reaction: giving them the opportunity to see that everyone shops at Target, makes mistakes, vocalizes their conversational pauses ("ummm"), and generally just lives their way through life. Having a hard time quitting smoking once and for all seems to be one of LeVar's things. I have no doubt he knows that smoking is a poor health decision; that's not a recent discovery and it's pretty damn hard to willfully block that information out in this day and age. Perhaps somebody reading about his day-to-day coping decides now's the time for them. Now they feel a connection with a celebrity. Struggling together, as it were.

And maybe Sir Ian's family will call him up and tell him to wear a sweater if he blogs about cold weather, just like mine does.

I can believe that.

Friday, February 06, 2009

I didn't build a better mousetrap, and yet...

...I hear the distinct rumble of MANY footsteps outside my door.

Our story so far:

Yesterday, I wrote an entry about making audio recordings. As usually happens, I made a digression and started talking about LeVar Burton and my teaching philosophy. I publish it and step away.

Sometime between the time of the post (8:12 PM) and 12:30 AM, LeVar Burton reads it.

Somewhere around 12:30 (I'm guessing), Mr. Burton tweets about it HERE.

LeVar Burton (wittingly or no) invokes the First Rule of Celebrity: Après moi, le déluge.

By 12:40 am, a few people have commented saying that they found my entry via Twitter.

Inside of one hour, my blog has seen fourth month's worth of regular traffic.

At the time of this posting (10:30AM), the last 10 hours have seen 18% of my blog's total lifetime traffic.

One begins to see why people pay good money for celebrity endorsements.

The fact that LeVar Burton bestowed such an endorsement on me personally is amazing.

The fact that I didn't have to pay him union scale plus 50% per hour, while he says "If you have trouble sleeping, use doctorandyspeaks at blogspot.com. It works for me! No more sleepless nights," is just a bonus.

I'll be back later today to present my "already-in-progress-before-this-happened-but-now-I-have-to-extensively-rewrite-'cause-LeVar-Burton-and-some-of-his-friends-stopped-by" entry on celebrities and the internet.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Once again, LeVar Burton affects my life.

ARTIFICIAL PRE-ADDENDUM: So, there's a deal that needs explaining about this entry. I wrote it today, intending to publish it with an attached .MP3 of the read through. However, I couldn't find a good way to record without getting a lot of room echo or breathing, so that's tabled for the moment. The formal premiere will have to wait, but I ended up writing some meaningful (to me) things later on, so I'm publishing it as is.


First point: yes, I *did* have to look up to make sure I was using the correct affect/effect case.

Second point: I'm trying out some new technology. My brother Ben got me a nice quality audio headset with microphone for Christmas and I've been trying to use it in as many different computer applications as I can. I'm already debating whether or not to drop my land line phone in favor of a "virtual" land line from Skype. That's probably going to happen.

I'll also be using the headset to record audio versions of blog entries. It most likely won't be every single entry and it definitely won't be instead of an entry. I'll only ever use them as audio transcripts (is there such a thing?).

I already read the entries out loud before I publish them; it's been that way from the beginning. I do that because it's the best way I know to catch spelling mistakes, unidiomatic grammar, awkward turns of phrase, and produce a good entry in general. The "concept" (if you wish to call it that) of this blog has always been that it's basically a one-sided conversation. In the space of an entry, I try to have a conversation with a person who isn't right here, sitting next to me. The other participant in this conversation is not just one particular person, so I try to craft the entries in such a way as to be familiar to many people.

This "read along" is really just the record (so to speak (heh)) of something I do already, so it's no great complication. Occasionally over the years (!) I've been writing this blog, I've wished to have a particular emphasis on certain sentences. These particular words may change the meaning subtly if they're stressed or weakened, or make it funnier or more emphatic. This effort is a method of tackling that issue, too.

What it's not is a complete audio duplicate of everything I write. This is a writing effort, my blog is, so I'd be doing it a disservice to glom a podcast onto it. I can think back to particular entries I've written that are not particularly suited (in one way or the other) to being read aloud. The list-based ones would be boring, I'd think. The "previous journal entry" category would be strange, since it would be "now-me" standing in for "then-me". And some things are just too personal to try and capture twice.

Third point (yes, I do have one!): I got the push to do this from LeVar Burton. Not directly, of course: he and I have never met and certainly aren't on friendly terms. Yesterday, I stumbled across Mr. Burton's Twitter log. For those not in the know, Twitter is a scaled-down dormroom sign. In 140 characters or less, the Twitterer captures the mood of what they are thinking or doing. These thoughts are then published to a public space, where anyone can visit. It's basically like a blog, but they are confined to the character limit, so they end up being concise and more frequent than blog entries. As a rule.

Anyway, LeVar Burton "twitters", as they say. And Mr. Burton found that he may have ideas that don't fit into 140 characters, so he created a blog. And this blog has a cool in-line audio player that features him reading his entry. I suppose this wouldn't have had anywhere near the effect on me that it has, had it not been for "Reading Rainbow". Listening to Mr. Burton read his entry immediately took me back to those by-gone days of watching PBS and hearing him read books. He even ends his first entry with the "Reading Rainbow" catchphrase, which made me laugh in remembrance.

I really like LeVar, though I didn't realize it until yesterday. Isn't it funny how that works sometimes? It feels strange to say that I've respected him since yesterday, because that implies that I *didn't* respect him on Monday. In actuality, it's simply that the lines that he and I live haven't exactly crossed lately.

On the nostalgia wagon, I browsed through YouTube yesterday for "Reading Rainbow" videos. That's when I realized what I've seen in LeVar that I hope I bring to my own teaching: the importance of being earnest. Whenever I've seen him interviewed, he's always earnest about whatever he's doing. It doesn't matter if he's talking about the technology involved in his "Star Trek" props or listening to a little girl explain why her boots are the best. He respects himself and others enough to pay attention.

It's basically the same thing I do with little kids. I don't really know much about how to interact with them, so I treat them like I do all my other friends: if they have something to say, I listen and comment on it. Even if it's telling me that wheels are round, or that the Ninja Turtles are attacking the couch, or something I can't even understand because the words aren't *quite* there yet (Hi, Alana!).

I treat students the same way. I don't find it condescending at all to say that I treat them the same as little kids, because I treat little kids like I do adults and so forth. It makes teaching them much easier if I listen to whatever it is they have to say about what we're working on. Sure, maybe it's just complaining. Maybe it's nonsense ("No, Brad, I do NOT want to see your Transformers again in our tuba lesson!"). But it shows them respect and that's never bad.

My old Boy Scout leader, Mr. Neu, always called each scout "Mister". So, all through high school, I was "Mister Schwartz". That was a kick, because the only "Mister Schwartz" I knew dressed in a suit and went to work each day. But in exchange for this courtesy, he expected us to be just as responsible as the adults he referred to us as. I didn't want to let him down and hear him say "Mr. Schwartz, this tent setup is not acceptable."

I don't think that I'm trying to "be like" LeVar Burton. I think it's more that he and I are inadvertently trying to be like some phantom archetype, in one way: affecting respect does a lot for you.