Tuesday, November 30, 2010


And with that, NaBloPoMo is over. Much to my surprise, I actually made it. I posted 30 times in 30 days, which is about twice the output this space has seen in the previous 11 months. It has cost me sleep and a bit of my sanity and I came within a few minutes of blowing the whole thing with just a few minutes left in Sunday.

And after a project such as this, it's natural to take a look back and see if anything has been learned and what it might mean for the future. And on both counts, the answers are a bit murky.

As for what I learned this month, I think I've learned I'm very close to being completely scheduled out. Increased responsibilities with the kids and increased demands from the podcast have greatly limited my time to do other things. Most of the time spent writing here came out of my sleep time, and that's had some seriously negative consequences. I've been sluggish and grumpy and shorter with my kids than I should be. The lack of sleep has also contributed to what were likely a few depressive episodes this month. That's no good, and it can't really continue.

I've also learned that I'm still finding my "voice" for this period of my life. It was pretty well developed when I was writing humor at BYU (fish-out-of-water, sexually frustrated), and at Cal State, Northridge (liberal smartass), and even while in Texarkana (fish-out-of-water, culturally frustrated). But here, it's a little harder to find. Perhaps I've found it, but I'm really too afraid to embrace it. That humorless and not terribly thoughtful rant against the holidays I posted yesterday was about the easiest thing I've written all month. I just opened up the tap and let the bile flow.

But I don't really like that piece and, quite frankly, if I didn't have the need to post something every day, it wouldn't have seen the light of day. I guess what I didn't like about it was that it was simply a list of grievances without any value added in terms of insight, humor or solutions. In short, it didn't justify it's own existence, which any piece of public writing needs to, in my opinion. But maybe unfiltered anger and dissatisfaction is what I've got to offer right now. If so, I don't think I'm all that interested in serving it up.

So then what does this mean for the future? Well, it certainly means I will NOT be able to keep up a daily posting schedule like I did this month, much as I would like to. But there needs to be more action here in the future and I need to devote more time to writing stuff that isn't email or descriptions of islands in the North Atlantic.

In short, watch this space. Hopefully it will still flicker to life several times each month. But now, a little rest.


Monday, November 29, 2010


I'll just come right out and say I don't like the holidays, at least not since I became a working adult.

It has been a slow realization over the years that began when I started working in the news business. You never get holidays off, but your job is much harder because there really isn't much news happening on Christmas or Labor Day or whenever. Furthermore, all the stores and restaurants are closed, so there's nowhere to get lunch during your normal busy workday. Except, Jack In The Box. They're open on Christmas. For many years, that's what Christmas meant to me, it's the one day each year when I eat at Jack In The Box. That's hardly a day worth celebrating.

Things got much, much worse once the major component of my job title became "full time dad." Everyone already knows the common gripes that come with parenthood: the hours are horrible, you never get any days off, you don't get paid, it's tedious and unrewarding, the people you're working for (assuming they're 4-year-old boys) are complete sociopaths. It's well trodden territory, and it's all true.

But the holidays take those problems and turn them up to 11. Just like working a news job in Christmas, you have to do all the same things you normally so, but you have fewer resources to help out. The preschools are closed for two weeks, you may be traveling, the small, daily rewards you give yourself to help you get through the days aren't available.

So it's harder, but it's called a "holiday." Everyone keeps asking you things like, "how's your holiday?' And the real answer is, "This is no f---ing holiday, this is the exact same thing I do every day, except I'm more tired, more frustrated, I'm working longer hours doing more difficult work, and I have to endure questions from people who want me to pretend that I'm enjoying this crap!" But it usually comes out something like, "it's a lot of work, but we're gettin' by," followed by a forced grin.

The real holiday will be somewhere around January 4th or 5th when everyone is back in school and perhaps the youngest is taking a nap and maybe, just maybe, you can get some rest or steal away for a short bike ride or something.

Until then, I'll endure this "season of joy" through gritted teeth and secretly wish I had been born into a religion that didn't forbid alcohol consumption.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Oh crap... almost out of time for today.

So here's something, Eliza really seems to be talking a lot these days, which is impressive because she's just barely 13 months old. Two examples:

1) I woke up this morning and Eliza walks up to me and hugs my leg and says something that sounds like "My daddy." It was adorable.

2) Eliza was not good at church today. When we got home, I asked her, "Did you have fun at church today?' She scrunched up her face, and flatly said, "nah." It wasn't adorable, but I laughed so hard I nearly threw up.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


There appears to be no end to the strange television produced under communism. I still have no idea what precisely these people are supposed to be doing. But there is a mime, so you've got that...

Friday, November 26, 2010


One of the funnest things about doing my podcast about the Faroe Islands is getting to meet fun and interesting people. One such person is Jennifer Henke (pictured above). She's an American who lives in the San Francisco Bay area who decided to investigate her Faroese roots a few years ago. The result was a reunion with dozens of long lost relatives, and a book written by her about her experiences.

Henke has been a guest on the podcast a few times before, and we were in the Faroe Islands at the same time last summer. So when I was driving by her village, I paid her a visit. And a little of our conversation can be found in this week's show...

As always, you can listen to the show on our media player at the top of the the podcast blog, get it on iTunes, or download it directly here:

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I know I just spilled a few million pixels bagging on Thanksgiving, but I actually like it in theory, if not in practice. So in the tradition of this day of thanks, let me count up the things I'm thankful for. Let's see... One, two...
Ah yes... four... the most important thing I'm thankful for.
Happy Thanksgiving, y'all. I'll go back to complaining tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Oh crap! It's late in the day and I've not written here.

Not much time to write anything profound (although it has never stopped me before), but I'll offer one short take on Thanksgiving, a holiday I like in theory--who can say being thankful for stuff is bad?--but hate in practice.

Mostly it's a turkey thing. I really don't like eating turkey. Don't like holidays centered around meals at all. And this one is a doozy. It can last for hours and, if there are strangers around, I'm subjected to a constant barrage of questions centered around why I'm not eating turkey and usually ending with a plea to enter therapy.

I'm also somewhat bemused by how traditional Thanksgiving is, at least in terms of gender roles. No matter how progressive a family is, when Thanksgiving rolls around, the wife is in the kitchen and men tend to gather around the TV watching football... even if they don't like football. I don't know that I hate that, but I find it interesting.

And now I've got to go retrieve my car from the window glass replacement shop. A full-length takedown of the holidays will come at a later date.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


As soon as somebody starts a sentence with, "last night I had a dream that...", it's time to start ignoring that person. They've got nothing interesting left to say.

With that in mind, I've been having some odd dreams lately. The first involved me just sitting around reading a book called, "Big Freaking Deal: A Parent's Guide to Lowering a Child's Self Esteem." I've no idea what that's supposed to mean, but I know that somewhere buried in my subconscious is a best-selling book just waiting to get out.

But the stranger evening apparition involves Paul F. Tompkins. For those of you who don't know who Paul F. Tompkins, shame on you. He's a wildly talented stand up comic who has worked with the likes of the Mr. Show crew. Much of his live act is improvised, which is not an easy thing to do. I've seen him live a few times and have laughed so hard I nearly peed myself.

I don't know Paul F. Tompkins, though I've no doubt he's a lovely person spend time with.

But when I shut my eyes last night, I was holding an invitation to Mr. Tompkins' birthday party. I've no idea when his actual birthday is, but in this dream, it was on Thanksgiving Day. (This dream may be based on an actual experience where I scored an invite to Dave Foley's birthday party in 1999. Foley was a former Kid In The Hall. I couldn't go because I was out of town that weekend, but he told stories about the party the next week on the Tonight Show.)

Back to the PFT party... The invitation was printed on a sheet of copy paper and featured an itinerary for the day, and I must admit, it looked pretty lame. People were supposed to meet at his house at about 2:00 PM and start drinking (kind of a non-starter for me as I don't even drink). Then there was supposed to be some hanging around a pool and more drinking. The big highlight of the evening would come at 2:00 AM, when everyone went to a local Best Buy to wait in line for the Black Friday opening at 6.

In the dream, I'm trying to convince Julie that the party will be really cool and that hanging outside of a Best Buy at 2 in the morning with a bunch of drunk people is really fun. Julie counters (correctly) that I hate all of the things listed on the flier and therefore would have a terrible time at the party. I counter with some really sound logic like, "Yeah, but it's Paul F. Tompkins' birthday!"

I woke up truly puzzled by what this was all supposed to mean. Most theories these days say that dreams don't really mean anything and it's basically just your brain taking out the trash, and I'm inclined to agree. I'm just surprised something that odd was even lurking around there to be discarded.

But one thing is certain: this is the kind of post you get when you're 23 days into a 30 day writing project.

Monday, November 22, 2010


So there's this group of friends of mine who were really close for many years but we've since been scattered to the four winds and haven't gotten together in a long time. We used to get together once a year, but eventually everyone got married and had kids and got real jobs with limited vacation time and it all just sort of broke down. So what are a bunch of 40-somethings, some of who are growing a bit thick in the middle, supposed to do?

A during the Labor Day break, two members of the old posse were sitting around mulling over just this problem when they hit on the idea of a long-distance bicycle ride down the Pacific Coast... or at least part of it. This idea turned out to be a stroke of genius for a few reasons.

First, it combined the notion of fitness with hanging out with friends. Second, it was immediately titled the "Mid-Life Crisis Bike Trip." This meant most of us were given immediate sign-off on the project by our significant-others. After all, who wants to say no to fitness? And the "mid-life crisis" label subtly implies that the alternative to this trip is buying a sports car and having an affair. By comparison, a bike trip with some friends is nothing.

Now we're deep in the planning phase, with routes being mapped out and people looking at new bikes and Lycra shorts being eyed suspiciously in the store. And I must say, I'm pretty excited about the whole thing. Before I got a driver's licence, I rode a lot. When I was 14, I even bicycled from Rochester to Niagara Falls, Canada with another 14-year-old friend (I've no idea how I got permission to do such a thing).

I've started training and it's become quite apparent I'm not 14, or 24, or even 34. During my epic teenage ride, I literally hopped onto a bike and rode it to Canada. No training. Not even any stretching was required. I think I wore a pair of jeans. Now it's more complicated. Arms and legs actually get sore and various important bodily regions can become numb if you sit the wrong way. I also get tired and thirsty sometimes after a ride. I don't ever remember feeling that when I was 14.

Bikes have gotten more complicated, too. The last time I really looked for a bike was in 1998. I've tuned up that bike and am riding it now to get back into shape. But I think I may need something a little better suited for the job, and there are a mind-numbing number of options and geometry and carbon forks and computerized shifting and other things like SRAM that I don't even know what they are but everybody seems to think you need.

Plenty of time to work that out, I guess. The important thing is that I get my lard-ass on a bike and start riding more. I'll need to be in much better shape if I'm going to pull this off. Mentally, too. The thing that perhaps frightens me most about this project is the prospect of being alone with my thoughts for 8 hours every day for an entire week. I actually don't like that. It's kind of like meditation, and that just drags ugly sludge up from the recesses of your mind.

My early test rides have gone better than I would have imagined, after having two blowouts on my first two attempts. I actually did a 20 mile ride in about 90 minutes and felt pretty good when it was over. So there may be hope for me yet. I'll keep you posted as the planning and training progresses.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


In basketball, soccer, and (if you're the kicker) in football, having mastery of the flop is an essential skill. I was not aware, however, that it was needed to attend city council meetings...

Saturday, November 20, 2010


This is a photo from one of the more amusing moments from the summer. We had friends over and someone turned on the sprinkler and that's all the incentive Nate and Will need to strip down to absolutely nothing.

So they're running around the backyard and eventually they come back inside, where our friend's daughter is playing the piano. They run towards her and she says:

"No, no! No naked boys."

As you see, her command fell on deaf ears.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I've put out another podcast this week, so I'm going to tell you about it.

This week, the Faroe Islands National Football team played a match against Scotland and, well, it didn't go well. But it was excuse enough to talk to our intrepid international sports correspondent, David Scally, who once chartered a fishing trawler in an attempt to visit the Faroes. But that's a different story altogether.

Then, part two of our conversation with Leif Sorensen about fine dining on the Faroes. And finally, we travel to Sumba (pictured above) to look for the beautiful people.

As always, you can listen on our audio player on the podcast blog, on iTunes, or get the file directly here:

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Dear Mail Tribune:

Before we get started here, I need to make one thing clear: I like you. I think you’re a good newspaper. You’re an important resource to our community. I’ve worked alongside of several of your reporters and photographers and have found them to be hard working and professional people. I was also the subject of a story in your paper a few years ago and I thought I was treated very fairly. In short: I’d like you to stick around.

But with how you’re handling your transition to becoming a paid site, I’m genuinely concerned you won’t be with us much longer.

The concerns started when you first announced you would be putting most of the content on your website behind a paywall. Immediately, your site had ads informing readers about the change. But if you clicked on the ad, there was no information about pricing, and no way to actually sign up to start paying for access to the Mail Tribune site.

Once pricing information was available online, I learned the link on the ad was the least of your problems. The price for access to the website is $14.99 per month, the same price as a subscription to the print edition.

There’s a lot wrong with this, and it’s hard to know where to start, but let’s start with the price. Put bluntly, it’s too high. People aren’t going to pay the same for online access as print access. While I’m sympathetic to the fact that news costs money to gather and distribute, that’s not all you’re paying for when you buy a printed newspaper. You’re also paying for newsprint, printing costs, and a costly distribution network.

But online, the customer has already paid for the distribution in the form of a computer or phone, and access to some internet network. It doesn’t cost the same to put out an online newspaper, and people aren’t going to be willing to pay the same price.

Two examples come to mind in the music industry when they were facing similar issues. Back when Napster was revealing that people wanted to download music, the major labels started selling music online. They charged the exact same price for a digital download as they did for a physical CD. The plan failed miserably and only started working once Steve Jobs convinced the labels to start selling songs for 99 cents.

Compare that to what Radiohead did when they released “In Rainbows” in 2007. The band employed a novel “pay what you want” system for downloads where fans could pay as little as nothing for the album. I’ll skip to the end of the story and say Radiohead made more money off of “In Rainbows” than any of their other albums, but that’s actually not the point. (The point also isn’t that your paper should employ a “pay what you want” model, just in case you’re wondering.

Research found that most people paid between $5 and $10 for the album. When asked by journalists how they came up with the price, customers said they tried to figure out about how much the band would get in royalties on an album sale, then paid about that much. So here’s the point: people have a basic idea of what is fair and they don’t mind paying what they feel is a fair price. From an informal survey of people I know, a fair price for you is probably somewhere around the $5-$7 per month range.

What I suspect is that you priced the website at $14.99 per month to encourage people to simply subscribe to the print edition of the Mail Tribune. After all, online access comes free with a print subscription. I’m not familiar with the business model for newspapers, but I’ve a hunch that print advertising is still where the money is. So it looks like the plan may be to use the popular website to artificially pump up the print subscription numbers. In other words, to use the product people do want to convince people to keep buying the product they don’t want.

Evidence of the folly of this thinking can be found in my hometown of Rochester, New York. When digital photography was on the rise, Kodak was more concerned with preserving their margins on film (the product fewer customers wanted) than on establishing themselves as a leader in digital imaging (the product customers wanted). The result was the “Photo CD.” Customers were to take pictures on Kodak film, then turn it in for developing, then get their pictures back on a CD ROM. It was a dismal failure. Kodak’s stock traded at about $80 in 1995. Now you can pick up a share for about $5.

You’re probably hampered a bit, too, by your ownership. The very people who would be willing to pay $14.99 out of a sense of duty or liberal guilt or something also happen to be the types who resent writing a check to help prop up Rupert Murdoch’s empire. But in the grand scheme of things, that’s small potatoes.

The main point is, get that online price down to something in the $5-$7 range, because I think you’ve probably priced yourself out of the market. But while I’ve got your attention, here are some other suggestions of ways to do more with your online presence without spending much more money. On any given day, you’ve got way more reporters in the field than anyone else. Press that advantage and use it to expand your presence online and elsewhere in the community.

Get some video back up on the site. A few years ago, you were the first news outlet in the valley to put news video online. You even beat all the local TV stations to this goal by simply by sending your reporters out with camcorders and putting the raw footage on YouTube. If you want to get more fancy, you could even put out a short 10-minute newscast using rewritten stories from the paper. This valley is littered with unemployed broadcast journalists that could probably do this on a freelance basis.

Podcast. Another extremely low-cost way to repurpose your material. Slate Magazine set up a nice template for this. They started by simply having someone read a selection from the magazine each day, and then expanded their offerings to include roundtable discussions with their reporters on various subjects. In your case, you could produce a morning podcast featuring highlights of the local stories in the print edition… something to listen to instead of what passes for local news on the radio. Manpower needed for this is minimal, and server space (assuming you don’t already have it) can be obtained for about $10 per month.

Maybe, just maybe, it might be time to think about getting rid of the print edition altogether. Might be too soon just yet, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Like I said at the top, I like you and I want to see you survive. But behind your paywall, you seemed destined to fade into irrelevance. And if that happens, we all lose.

Best Wishes,

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


It's much too late and I can't finish my longer post I'm working on. So instead, here's a trivia question I got wrong on Monday night:

What comedian and filmmaker said the following:

"All I need to make a comedy is a park, a policeman and a pretty girl."

Hint: It's not Benny Hill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


There are many reasons why I love the internet, but a day like today is a pretty good example. I was working (yes, actually) working on my computer when I see a tweet scroll by that says "Girl Talk Album Review."

What? New Girl Talk Album? Yup, it's true. You can download it for free at his website:

To understand my excitement, perhaps a little background is order. Girl Talk is basically the Beethoven of the mashup genre. He takes hundreds and hundreds of small hunks of songs and assembles them into full length mixes that become something above and beyond the source material. I compare him to Beethoven because he hears sound differently than other people and is able to turn that sound into art. If you want to see an example of how he works, check out this video I shared in this space last year:

Girl Talk's (real name: Greg Gillis) last album, "Feed the Animals," was nothing short of brilliant. I'll go so far as to call is the coolest musical thing ever. About 350 samples were used to create the album. There are moments on that album that actually made me scream with joy the first time I heard them.

That sounds a bit extreme, I know. I assure you, I'm a pretty-much sane person. However, my brain is hooked up a little oddly to the point where certainly auditory forms of stimulation affect me more than others I know. So when I can listen to 300 great songs in an hour, it just knocks me on my back.

How best to describe this? When Girl Talk plays Deee Lite, Nirvana, and Salt-N-Peppa at the same time, I swear I can feel the individual parts of my brain that store these songs being stimulated and the synapses creating new and strong connections between them. It feels good. It kind of tickles.

So seemingly out of nowhere, the internet drops a new Girl Talk release. Just like the Radiohead album a few years ago, the time between knowledge of the release and listening to it is remarkably short. I would have been even shorter if Girl Talk's website hadn't kept on crashing.

Instead of a gradual roll out where the music press gets to listen and write and tell us what to think about it, we all got to listen at the same time. Within minutes, trainspotters took to Wikipedia and blogs to start trying to identify the hundreds of samples that make up "All Day." (Good luck, after more than two years of searching, there are still at least 15 samples from "Feed the Animals" that haven't been found yet.)

So now it's extremely late and I'm taking my second spin through this new album. Do I love it as much as the previous one? It will take some time to know, but any album that mashes up Radiohead and Ol' Dirty Bastard without making it sound like a gimmick is probably pretty good.

Ooh... Beastie Boys and Iggy Pop! No more writing, only listening.

Monday, November 15, 2010


The point of blogging every day is to write about something interesting and useful and unique, not to write about the fact that you're writing. But my longer piece isn't done yet and we're about halfway through this experiment and that seems as good a reason as any to evaluate how things are going and get a prognosis for the rest of the month.

As for how things are going so far, I'm pretty pleased that I've been able to post stuff every day, and that most of it has been writing that's more than 500 words long. So far, so good.

But the prognosis for the future is much more cloudy. This is really kicking my butt in terms of sleep. These early morning hours are just about the only ones where I've got the house to myself and I can actually concentrate on writing (as opposed to whether or not one of our children will die because of a falling bookshelf or something.

I'm noticing my lack of sleep is starting to affect my emotional and physical well being. I'm always tired, and mostly grumpy, and a little stressed about whatever else I need to get done while I'm writing this (right now, this week's edition of the podcast it awaiting my attention).

So more so than other years, I don't know if I'll actually make it. In the past, the problem would have been forgetfulness. This year, I may just chose to walk away and get some sleep instead.

The jury is still out.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


For this Wordless Weekend post we offer two pictures. The first is of Eliza being extremely cute... And the second is of Nate... well... being Nate.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Mr Show's classic "pre-taped talk show" sketch. The whole thing swallows its tail at the end. Brilliant.

Friday, November 12, 2010


Food seems an odd subject for me to tackle, seeing as I have made a name for myself by maintaining the eating habits of a 6-year-old well into my 40s. But it's an interesting subject, so tackle it we must.

Faroese food has a reputation for being... how best to put this... bad. Lots of dried fish and lamb, maybe some whale blubber or, if you're lucky beef. Not very tasty. For years, Faroese restaurants served mostly beef... with your choice of sauce. But things are starting to change.

Part of that change is Leif Sorensen. He worked in the kitchens of some of Europe's finest restaurants before returning to his home in the Faroe Islands to start a fine dining establishment. In this week's podcast, I talk to Sorensen about that experience, and find out if his restaurant was able to survive.

As always, you can listen on iTunes, or you can download the file directly here:

Thursday, November 11, 2010


On the morning of August 26th, Greg Gibbs wrote the following on his Facebook profile:

"what is in store for me today? Recording? Pool? drinky drink? Silkscreening? Ebay? too many choices...make money? hell no!"

Later that day, Greg died. For a number of reasons, that event passed without my notice. Tuesday was Greg’s birthday, and I dutifully left a short note on his Facebook page before learning what had happened just over two months ago.

The active portion of my friendship with Greg lasted just four months and was born of mutual loathing of Rexburg, Idaho where both of us somehow found ourselves attending college. He had come from Ohio, I had just arrived from upstate New York. We were on the same floor in the dorms and two of a small handful of students there not from either Utah or Idaho. In a place like Rexburg, that’s enough to base a friendship on.

Turns out, we had other things in common, too. We both liked the type of hardcore punk coming from Los Angeles in the late 1980s (it was the late 1980s, so it wasn’t a nostalgia thing), and he was actually dating a girl I was friends with back in Rochester.

So we became fast friends and spent a lot of time together that semester. We made something of an odd pair with Greg typically wearing all black and sporting a look that split the difference between goth and punk, while I was all northeastern preppie with thick, floppy bangs, docksiders, and an extensive collection of rugby shirts. But, even in the terrible stinkhole of Rexburg, we had fun. He got me to stand on skateboard for pretty much the only time in my life (also the only time I was ever busted by the police for skateboarding) and introduced me to a lot of cool people, one of whom would become my first girlfriend.

The apex (if you can call it that) of our collaboration was The Buttwhalers… also known as the Phallic 5. It started one afternoon after Greg got home from guitar class. He walked into my dorm room with his black (of course) electric guitar around his neck and said, “come on, everybody, let’s sing a song!” Then he started playing the Mormon children’s classic “Give, Said the Little Stream.” I joined in, shouting the lyrics in my best Johnny Rotten impersonation. This apparently amused Greg, and moments later we were recording the song into his cassette recorder.

Other recordings followed. Not surprisingly, most were adaptations of songs Greg had to learn for his class. The classic of the bunch was probably “Go Tell Dean Sessions,” set to the tune of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” Greg wrote it after the Dean of Student Life, who really was a pretty despicable person, tried to get him kicked out of school for… well, for nothing really, he just didn’t like Greg. The dean’s attempt at character assassination failed, and this song is Greg’s revenge. He posted a recording of it, and two other songs on his Facebook page. I tried listening several months ago and was so horrified at hearing my 18-year-old self try to sing that I’ve never been able to get all the way through the recording.

The semester ended and I went back to New York and Greg went back to Ohio. And that was that. A few years later, I met a friend of my older sister’s who had dated Greg for a little while, but other than that I had basically no contact or knowledge of what he was up to.

Then came Facebook and, all of the sudden, old friends were coming out of the woodwork. One day, I get a friend request from Greg and we share the 3-4 emails it usually takes to catch up before settling into the low-touch, low-impact sort of friendship that Facebook makes possible. In time, he would post the requisite embarrassing photos and, of course that horrific audio recording.

So, with the exception of the Facebook stuff, I hadn’t really had any contact with Greg in 22 years, but learning he had died hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out exactly why I’m having this reaction, and I don’t know if I’ve drawn any firm conclusions. I’m sure the closeness in age has something to do with it. He was about six months older than me and the first friend so close to my age who has died.

Maybe it’s the time in my life that we were friends that made such an impact. Those four months in Idaho were not so great. Having friends like Greg helped make that time much less dismal. I’ve looked back at his Facebook page and seen tributes from people who had only met him once, and one who had only talked to him on the phone on one occasion. So maybe it didn’t take much for Greg to make a big impression on a person, an impression that you didn’t even know existed until you learned its source was gone.

I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. All I know is that a long-lost (and newly rediscovered) friend is dead, and the world is a little poorer for it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I'm working on a longer piece for tomorrow, so today, I just have this small thought inspired by a bumper sticker I see all the time. It's on the back of a truck parked two doors down from us and says:

"If There Wasn't a Pearl Harbor, There Wouldn't Have Been A Hiroshima."

This bumper sticker drives me up a wall, so much so that I just want to find the owner of that truck and start yelling at him.

The debate over whether it was a good idea to drop the bomb rages to this day, and I don't think I really have much to add to that debate. Some say it saved us from a long and bloody invasion. Others claim it was an unwarranted, illegal, and cruel attack on a largely civilian target.

I see both sides of the argument and I don't really think I have a deep enough base of knowledge to make a forceful case one way or the other. But it's clear that the attack on Pearl Harbor and dropping an atomic bomb on Japan really aren't equivalent actions. Pearl Harbor was a military target. Hiroshima was, well, a city.

What annoys me about this bumper sticker is that it asks you to view both of these events as equal in the severity, the latter being the equal payment for former, perhaps with a few interest payments thrown in. It makes about as much sense to have a bumper sticker that says:

"If You Hadn't Run Over My Dog, I Wouldn't Have Had To Murder Your Family"

I'm deeply troubled by the fact that we dropped nuclear bombs on Japan all those years ago. I recognize there may have been some sound military reasoning for it at the time, so I'm hesitant to judge the people who made that decision based on what we know about the incident now.

One day, I'd like to have better idea of why we did what we did and if it was the right thing to do. Bumper stickers like my neighbor's take me further from that ideal.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


A couple of times each month, I like to meet with a few friends at a local pub and participate in a local trivia tournament. I do this because I'm of the impression that I'm a storehouse of worthless knowledge and as such am a perfect trivia player. Tonight, that theory was proven completely wrong. My team did poorly. And to prove it, here's a sample of the questions we missed:

Q: In ancient Egypt, if a surgeon had a patient die, what part of their body did they cut off?
A: Both hands

Q: What state has the highest percentage of people who walk to work?
A: Alaska

Q: What state has the most tornadoes per square mile?
A: Florida

Q: What percentage of people in the US have never been to a dentist?
A: 40%

Q: How tall was the original Stanley Cup?
A: 7.28 inches (We guessed 36 inches, which is only .75 inches taller than the current cup)

Q: What kind of berry is a bounceberry?
A: Cranberry

Q: What state was home to America's first brewery?
A: New Jersey

Q: True or False: Tug-of-War was once an Olympic sport.
A: True

Q: Former President Franklin Pierce was arrested for allegedly running over an old woman with his a) horse, b) carriage, or c) car.
A: Horse (the charges were later dropped)

There is one other question I got wrong that I can't even bear to admit here. It was an easy question that everyone should know. The rest of our team had it right, and I insisted the answer be changed... to the incorrect answer.

Oh well, at least we knew that "Muhammad" is the most common male name in the world.

Monday, November 08, 2010


So there was this meme going around Facebook for a while this summer where you were supposed to pick 15 albums that were important to you in some way. Maybe it was 15 albums that would stick with you, or that would define you, or something… it mutated a bit while it was out there. The rules were that you were supposed to pick the albums quickly and not think too much about it and just post the albums quickly. But I missed that part of the note and wrote this really long explanation and then forgot to post it. So I dust is off here tonight for your reading (or ignoring) pleasure. For you people on Facebook, if you tagged me on this meme back in August, you got tagged here. So there.

1. Billy Joel, 52nd Street. For any of you that thought I was aspiring to hipster-geezer status, this should pretty much put that to rest. This is the first album I bought with my own money. I thought it fairly sophisticated musical listening for an elementary school student. At least it wasn’t Raffi.

2. Depeche Mode, Black Celebration. In 1983, my favorite album was “Sports” by Huey Lewis and the News. Then my older sister went to Germany and came back with a 12 inch single by Depeche Mode. While the band had already gotten big in the west, they were pretty much unheard of in upstate New York. But I liked it and wondered why I had never heard any of it on the radio. Days later, I did something daring and turned the dial past “Q-92” and discovered college radio. All of the sudden, the world of music was a whole lot bigger. Nothing would be the same. In 1986, Black Celebration came out and I saw my first concert when Depeche Mode played a nearly-empty Finger Lakes Performing Arts center. Blew my mind. Black Celebration is still one of my favorite albums from that decade.

3. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet. I’m driving home from college from Utah to New York, taking a serious detour through Arizona, Tennessee, Kentucky and Michigan. My friend Sam and I are pulled over in Oklahoma under suspicious circumstances, given a warning for basically doing nothing wrong, then let go. Feeling a little paranoid, we set the cruise control exactly at the speed limit and hope that will be enough to keep us out of trouble. But right at the Arkansas state line, the police are waiting for us. They pull us over, make us stand in the rain, and search our car for drugs. Eventually, they call for a drug-sniffing dog, who tracks mud all over our car. After about 90 minutes we are allowed to continue, but we’re left with a lingering paranoia. Sam reaches into his bag, and pulls out “Fear of a Black Planet” and pops it into the cassette deck. It was the perfect soundtrack for the rest of the trip (and the THIRD time we got pulled over for doing NOTHING).

4. Radiohead, OK Computer. I was late to the party on this one, but I finally discovered the album in 1998s. For reasons too complex to explain here, I ended up with 5th row seats to Radiohead’s show at the Universal Ampatheater and decided to attend. The show featured Thom Yorke having a nervous breakdown on stage, an ex-girlfriend dealing with extremely difficult personal problems, and a shattering moment of clarity when I realized that I was miserable in every aspect of my life. But the music… the music was amazing. The next day, I bought OK Computer. Twelve years later, it’s still in heavy rotation.

5. Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill. While it’s not the Beastie Boy’s best album (that honor goes to either “Paul’s Boutique” or “Hello Nasty”), “Licensed to Ill” will always hold a special place in my heart. Timing is everything, and this album came out when I was 16… the perfect age for the expression of snotty teenage rebellion. And the humor was on my level. MCA howled, “every day I take a wee and I don’t go to work,” and I understood just where he was coming from. To this day one of my fondest teenage memories (perhaps my only fond teenage memory) is sitting in a car with my friend Scott screaming “Ali Baba and the 40 thieves” at the top of our lungs while “Rhyming and Stealing” played.

6. Deee Lite, World Clique. It’s 1990 and I’m at college after being a Mormon missionary for two years. Being a Mormon missionary is something like being a monk in that (beyond a handshake) you have no physical contact with members of the opposite sex and access to the news from the outside world is limited. But now I’m home and the world seems completely different than when I left two years earlier. After all, the Berlin Wall has fallen and Communism is collapsing throughout Europe. There’s also a wave of optimism right now. For the first time in a while, people are feeling positive. I’m feeling positive, but for other reasons. I’m sitting on a couch with a girl named Nancy. I’m pretty sure we’re going to make out later tonight. She turns on MTV and on comes this colorful and exuberant video for “Groove is in the Heart.” People are wearing crazy clothes and dancing in front of psychedelic backgrounds. Two funky looking guys are standing behind turntables while a woman in an argyle bodysuit sings… and Bootsy Collins plays bass. It looks like a pretty good time, and at that moment, it seemed to represent all the fun and possibilities of this new stage of my life. A good time, indeed. (Iraq invaded Kuwait around this time, too, so it wasn’t all roses.)

7. Portishead, Dummy. Hard to imagine just how different this sounded when “Sour Times” started playing on alternative radio stations choking underneath a pile of flannel grunge. A few years after this album came out, I saw Portishead perform live in Santa Monica. An amazing show.

8. Dizzy Gillespie, Con Alma. This is just a low cost sampler of some of Dizzy’s Afro-Cuban era music, but it’s the first jazz album I ever owned. I arrived via the ska door. I had been to a Toasters show, and they did a cover of “Tunisia” that gave me chills. I bought their album and resolved to find a recording of the original tune as well. As it turns out, I didn’t like the version of “Tunisia” on this album, but the rest of the album blew me away. I’ve added somewhat to my jazz collection since then, but this $5.99 CD with no liner notes is still my favorite.

9. Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet, The Juliet Letters. My cabinet groans under the weight of all the Elvis Costello albums I own, so why did this one make the list instead of all the others? The Juliet letters has been written off as Costello’s dalliance with chamber music, nothing to be taken seriously, and certainly nothing that should be compared to, say, “This Year’s Model.” I disagree. I don’t know if it’s the format or just the time in his life, but Costello’s songwriting shows as much or more depth of emotion here as anywhere I’ve seen. And some of the themes, such as disillusion with adulthood, hit me right where I lived in 1993. I was poor when this album came out, but the owner of a record store let me take it without paying because I came in every day to listen to it. I bought the double-disk reissue years later, to Elvis got his money eventually.

10. Girl Talk. Feed the Animals. I’ve often compared music to drugs, and this album is basically a speedball. It’s everything that’s awesome about music cut into pieces, pureed in a blender, distilled, and then injected directly into an artery. “Feed the Animals” really should be a novelty album, what with its parings of Nirvana with Salt N’ Peppa and the like. But damn, it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard in my life. Two years later, this “novelty” hasn’t worn out its welcome. And unlike a speedball, it’s unlikely to leave you dead in some skanky Hollywood motel.

11. Z-Trip, Uneasy Listening. I was at the “Brain Freeze” show being put on by Cut Chemist and DJ Shadow at the El Rey in Los Angeles when this unknown guy from Phoenix takes the stage and starts doing some crazy stuff on (I think) a total of six turntables. It was equal parts hilarious and genius. Here was a guy who could rock a room with obscure cuts, but never take himself too seriously. A year or two later, this mix came out that sums up where he was in his career circa 2000. Just like the live show, it’s a stunning listen. Still can’t get enough of it all these years later.

12. Ben Folds Five. This is another example of music that hit me where I lived at a specific time in my life. I was 25 when Ben Folds Five released their self-titled debut album. One song begins, “I was never cool in school, I’m sure you don’t remember me. And now it’s been ten years, I’m still wondering who to be.” That pretty well summed it up. I listened to this album constantly as I drove to and from my job working as a liftie in Park City. The kind of job that delivers just enough money mixed with a sufficient amount of fun that you can delay making any life choices for a couple of years. Of course, now it would be just as accurate to sing, “Now it’s been 20 years, I’m still wondering who to be…”

13. Gorillaz, Plastic Beach/Demon Days. I can’t make up my mind on this one. “Demon Days” came earlier and (in what’s becoming a theme on this list) perfectly summed up the uneasy feeling of living during the War on Terror ™. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of all time. But now there’s “Plastic Beach.” I think it’s even better. It’s only been out for 7 months, so it may be early to know if it will have the staying power of its predecessor. But I’ll make the call anyway: it has the staying power of its predecessor.

14.Madness, One Step Beyond. What can I say about this album? It was my introduction to ska. It had a credit for a band member who contributed “various shouts.” They cover “Swan Lake.” It ends with a military march dedicated to chipmunks. It is a giddy, exciting, exuberant, dizzying, thrilling, masterpiece. I don’t even feel old when I’m listening to it.

15. Various Artists, Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack. I at least have to give a shout-out to the first album I ever owned (as opposed to the first album I ever purchased with my own money). This album was a gift for my 8th birthday and I treasured it. I listened to it until I literally wore down the grooves. I was much too young to see the movie when I owned the album, and I was certainly too young to go to discos. That always kind of bummed me out. When I was 22, I finally saw the movie. Turns out, Saturday Night Fever is a really bad movie. I was much better off with just the album.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


With fall in full swing, Nate and Will went to the park with their mom, who was nice enough to snap a few pictures. Will enjoyed the leaves. Nate enjoyed the dandelions.
And they both enjoyed riding bikes... except Nate who isn't so much riding a bike as he is riding a girl's plastic tricycle. For heaven sakes, it's not even a Big Wheel, it's pink and purple plastic thing that was given to us for Eliza to ride. It's not like Nate doesn't have his own bike. Oh he does. He's got an AWESOME bike. He got it for Christmas. My boys can't read, so I'm free to tell you that Nate's bike is much better than Wills. But he won't ride it. Instead, he wants to ride this nonsense designed for a baby girl, not a four-year-old boy.

Ok, ok. This is becoming less and less wordless by the minute. I'll calm down. Here's the picture...

Saturday, November 06, 2010


To help make things easier on lazy bums like me, the good folk at NaBloPoMo have suggested that lesser bloggers try "wordless weekends," where you can just post a youtube link or photo instead of actually writing something. I've already written something in the form of this lame paragraph, but anyway, it will be wordless after this. Here's Thom Yorke laughing in a very strange manner...

Friday, November 05, 2010


I try not to cross-post things from the podcast blog here, but this really is worth having a listen to. It's a podcast I made from a recording I made inside a tunnel (pictured above). I got some weird sounds and later somebody told me the place was supposed to be haunted. I'm writing a short essay on the topic that I'll post here later. But for now, you can listen to the show I made about it by looking up "Faroe Islands Podcast" on itunes and listening to Episode 70. Or you can download the file directly here:

Wanna hear the unedited audio I recorded in the tunnel? Sure you do. It's right here:

Also, here's a short video we made outside the tunnel:

Enjoy your weekend.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


This is one of what may be several posts that will attempt to answer the question: “Where the hell have you been for the past year?”

It’s a fair question you ask. Since participating in NaBloPoMo last year and successfully posting for 30 days in a row, I cranked out just over a dozen posts in the other 11 months. That’s a pretty serious drop off when you consider I used to average about 10-15 posts a month here. So what exactly happened?

The two obvious suspects are a person and a country. The person is Eliza, our delightful daughter who was born about a year ago. Her arrival in our lives has been one of the most wonderful experiences ever, but it seriously eroded the time I have to spend on things that aren’t my children.

The country is the Faroe Islands. In the past 18 months, I’ve devoted more and more time to my media projects about the islands, including a blog, http://faroepodcast.blogspot.com , a Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/faroepodcast , and a podcast/radio program. The obsession with the Faroes started right here on this very blog and has ballooned into a multi-media non-empire enjoyed by literally dozens of people around the world. But interviewing people from other countries and editing programs and researching topics takes time. Much of that time has come out of my sleep time. The rest, comes from here.

There are other, more niggling things that chipped away at the foundation of this blog. Being able to share stuff quickly on Facebook and Twitter http://twitter.com/matthewworkman makes me feel like I’m connecting with people and being somewhat creative, which was the main purpose of this blog.

But the silent killer in all this is a much more subtle thing… the very vastness of the web itself. I’ll explain…

Way back in the early 1990s, before the internet was a going concern, I wrote a humor column for a weekly newspaper written by naughty students at BYU. Considering the audience and venue, it was actually pretty successful and earned me a small degree of local celebrity that I used mostly to try to score with girls.

Apart from the ego-boost, one of the things that kept me going was the feeling that what I did actually mattered. There were basically two outlets for student writing in Provo back then: the on-campus newspaper (professional and excruciatingly dull) and the off-campus paper (funny, irreverent, occasionally irresponsible). With the stifling atmosphere at the school, we at the off-campus paper really did feel like we were doing God’s work. Sometimes we’d get letters from some student who, like me, had left home back east to attend school in Utah and felt completely at sea in a place others literally called “Zion.” The letters would typically say things like, “I was just about ready to pack up and leave this humorless hellhole when I stumbled across your paper. Made me feel less alone, like maybe there was a place for me here after all.” I lived for letters like that.

With the advent of the internet, the doors were thrown wide open and the possibility of writers gaining a worldwide audience was available to anyone with a computer and access to the Information Superhighway. (That’s what we used to call it back then, the Information Superhighway. Now gather ‘round kids and I’ll tell you about something called a Palm Pilot…) The internet has largely delivered on that promise. There is an abundance of great writing to be had from thousands of sources around the world. Indeed, one of my colleagues from that naughty student newspaper has gone on to international fame by doing nothing more than being an amazing blogger.

But the downside of all this great stuff is that there’s just too much of it. Even if you devoted your every waking hour to it for a week, you could never possibly read all of the great stuff that was posted on the internet on this day alone. So does the world need anyone else adding to that pile of ultimately unusable data? Probably not.

So therein lays the irony. The same internet that empowers the individual also renders him utterly expendable.

Of course, I had always written here for myself, rather than any specific audience, so perhaps that’s no excuse either. All I know is that I’ve been at this for four whole days, and I’m so tired I can hardly stand up. If I’m going to write another 26 of these, I’m going to need more sleep or more Pepsi, and probably a combination of the two.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010


So what to make of Tuesday’s election results? It’s conventional wisdom that the president’s party loses congressional seats in the midterms. But this looks bigger than “oh, well, you lose a few.” Especially in the House of Representatives, it was more like “you lose a lot.”

I was hoping that I could offer something insightful or perhaps even witty now that most of the races have been decided. But this is one of those annoying moments where it’s not all that accurate to say that everything has changed, but everything has stayed the same, too.

On most major issues, the congress has been paralyzed for some time. After the election, it will still be paralyzed, but for different reasons. Representatives will still shout, one party will accuse the other of being obstructionist, the other will counter that the party in power isn’t interested in compromise. The House of Representatives will almost certainly spend their first week or so passing dozens of bills that will be declared dead on arrival in the Senate.

Put another way, the country’s problems will continue to fester while both parties do little more than posture for the 2012 elections… which I predict Obama will win (you heard it here first).

At least some of the nuttiest candidates didn’t make it into the senate. Christine O’Donnell, who never stood a chance anyway, has been sent back to her coven to figure out another way to get back on TV. And Sharon Angle will never get the chance to tell us what she would do if elected to the Senate, but that’s probably for the better. I imagine she lost once Nevada voters realized that the only person standing between their state and the rest of America’s nuclear waste is Harry Reid.

Rand Paul is headed to Washington, though, and that’s probably not a positive development. I used to think, “how much harm can one crazy person do?” In the Senate, the answer is “quite a lot.”

But still the question remains: what to make of these results? The TV pundits say that America is angry and nervous about the future, and I guess they’re right. I can’t see anyone getting any less angry over the next two years.

The Daily Show will likely continue to be funny. Other than that, not much else to say about the end of this dreary election season, or the equally dreary presidential race that is scheduled to start… right about… now.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


That was a close one. It was 11:00 PM when I realized that day one of NaBloPoMo was almost over and I hadn't written anything. Sad to fail at the challenge on the very first day. Luckily for me, I caught it just in time.

That's a long-winded way of saying, "yes, I am going to actually try and post something... hopefully writing... on this blog every single day." I'm quite surprised and quite flattered by how many people have asked me if I was going to participate this year. Several friends and even my dad asked me.

So the mob has spoken and I will listen. This month will be the toughest yet for getting anything written. My other responsibilities in life have so eaten away at my time as to reduce my blogging time to something approaching zero. There are other factors that have contributed to this space falling mostly fallow, but we'll get into that later.

But this month... this month will be different. We will write, post some videos, tell a few stories. And perhaps, through it all, an old romance with the blog will be rekindled. Or maybe I'll just end up getting one less hour of sleep every night.

I'll keep you posted.

Monday, November 01, 2010


In about 24 hours, this will be old news, but I thought I should chime in on the Stewart/Colbert rally that took place over the weekend.

Of course, I couldn’t travel across the country to attend, much as I would have liked to. Indeed, I couldn’t even watch it live, what with feeding kids lunch and errands and stuff like that. But I did get a chance to watch it on TiVo late Saturday, and I gotta say, it was fun viewing. Not only that, it was a (dare I say) hopeful moment in the midst of what has been an otherwise dreary political season.

Like most people, I didn’t know really what to expect from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Some said it would be an ironic mockery of political rallies, others thought he was there to hatch some new political movement where lefties rebrand themselves as moderates and attempt to… I don’t know… legalize weed or something. There was even hand wringing among some Democratic organizers that their best campaign workers would be out on the Mall partying instead of trying to get out the vote just days before an important election.

All of these views seem to utterly miss the point. From the start, Stewart framed the event as a rally for people who don’t have time to attend rallies; a rally for people who are genuinely turned off by what typically happens at political gatherings. People who were anxious to attend this rally were never going to knock doors for any political party. Seriously, who has time?

So the event begins and it’s The Roots playing and it was outdoors but they still blew the roof off the dump. There is no gig those guys can’t rock. But I digress. What was immediately noticeable to me was the smiles in the audience and the positive vibe that seemed to exist there. The assembled crowd seemed a creative lot as well, holding signs that ranged from the post-modern (“I’m Holding a Sign”) to the pointed-but-witty (“Birthers for Hawaiian Statehood”) to the just plain silly (“WWOPD: What Would Optimus Prime Do?”).

Over the course of the three hours, there was some music, various comedic bits skewering the conventions of most political rallies, and something resembling a 15 minute sermon by Jon Stewart at the end of the thing. I liked the message. In a nutshell, most Americans are pretty reasonable and understand the compromises required to get through daily life. Only the politicians and pundits don’t get this basic fact, but they run almost all of our public discourse. Not the kind of battle cry one is likely to hear just before storming the Bastille, but perfectly appropriate for the event.

When the whole thing wrapped up, I wondered if the sense of satisfaction I felt was similar to what people attending Glenn Beck’s rally felt last August. To me, it seemed like Beck’s crowd was all about fear and grasping for a lost America that never really existed. But perhaps that’s to be expected. I’m not Beck’s crowd, so perhaps I’m inclined to think the worst of them. I’m sure they thought they were gathered with the understanding that they were there to reclaim America for the normal people, “people like us.”

Oddly enough, that was basically the theme of Saturday’s rally: we’re here to reclaim America for the normal people. Obviously, I tend to think of the crowd at Stewart’s event as the normal people. But in all honesty, it’s probably because they’re more like me.

Whether they were anything like me, they weren’t shouting, and I liked that. I liked most everything about the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. I liked the music (Kid Rock excepted), I liked the comedy (mostly), and I liked the creativity displayed by the audience. I wish that this rally could be the start of some sort of actual movement. But by its very nature, “sanity” can’t ever be the foundation of a mass movement. First off, shouting makes more noise and will always get more attention. Second, the very sane people who were out on the mall on Saturday are back at their jobs today. They’re picking up their kids from preschool, taking piles of work home, and trying to figure out how to keep the bathroom sink from clogging again. They’re busy, and they’re tired. Just like me.

For one day, though, it was nice to see several thousand “people like us” having a good time and offering hope that maybe everyone can take it down a notch for America. That hope should be completely dead by Tuesday night, but still…

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