Archive for the ‘rant’ Category

The Game of the Name

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

Woke up today to learn that the file-sharing site has changed its name. To Hightail.

I know, right? So much better because…huh? The old name, comprised as it is of three words that make up an understandable sentence, a sentence that is also a call to action and an actual explanation of what the company offers and why you are using said product—You. Send. It. Well, that’s not good enough in a world of Accentures, Aventures and all manner of cutesy Internet babyname companies.

CEO Brad (he has a last name, but just goes by “Brad” on the blog) claims that the new moniker “strides like a giant across a landscape of Boxes, Syncs and Shares alongside an audaciously elegant look that contrasts with the endless dreary blues of the cloud space, Hightail leads by example.”

That example is apparently red. Red is the new logo color, so obviously superior to blue that why are you laughing?

Hightail has produced a video to help explain why 43 million registered users were somehow wrong about choosing Yousendit over the Boxes and Syncs and Shares. The first scene presents Chief Product Officer Matte Scheinker under soft pastel lighting with lots of pillows in the background. So many pillows, I thought at first he was in a bedroom and that this was something from the LL Bean catalog. (LL Bean—you need to rethink that name! Stride across your landscape! You’ve got the clothes for it!)

“The one thing you don’t want working against you is your name,” says Scheinker of the name that attracted 43 million customers. Rather, he insists, you want “to be able to put any meaning behind it you want.” Because a name that actually has meaning and nearly a decade of branding goodwill is clearly not good enough. I’ve written before about this folly. It’s called Brandicide™.

But let’s talk about meaning. Matte and Brad claim the word “hightail” connotes speed, agility, “terms we wanted to be associated with.” Fine, as far as it goes. But here’s the full dictionary definition:

To move at high speed or rapidly, often in making a retreat.

Or, Urban Dictionary:

To run at great speed away from something. Example used: “Once I saw the cops, I hightailed it out of there.”

Yep, that’s my association as well. A line used by crooks and creeps in every B-grade Western and gangster film.

But the former Yousendit folks prefer to infuse their own meaning into a word everyone already understands. Chief Marketing Officer Mike Trigg disdains names that “are boring and descriptive.” God forbid descriptive!

The problem apparently is that Yousendit the company is “more than just send.” CEO Brad (last name Garlinghouse) explains that the new name offers the company the chance “to be an impact player in that broader opportunity.” The what in the who? Can we storm the gates of the business and technology schools and force-feed some simple English into the heads of these technobabblers?

Yousendit had moved beyond “send” because customers were not just sending files and documents. They were sharing “their passions, their lifeblood, their work.” Let me stop right here and share this screen capture from Hightail’s video:


You see the passion! There’s lifeblood all over the place.

No, it’s work. Even people who are—cough-cough—passionate about their work are also, on most days, just getting by, doing their job. Work is work, and that often means sending “just a file or document” to some clown who is busy playing Solitaire or updating a Facebook page until the file arrives. That’s business in this modern world. Same as ever.

“Say hi to Hightail,” is apparently the catchy new slogan, used at the end of the video and blog post. But I ask: Why keep the GH in High, if you’re going all moderne hi-concept (see?)—why not go all the way: HITAIL. It’s not an actual word, like most companies these days, so you lose that running-away-fast connotation. Though you still have “Hit,” which might be negative. And “Ail,” which is definitely negative.

Oh, I’m just too tired. I’m going to Sendspace.

P.S.: And, yes, I’m still upset that Esso changed its name to Exxon.

Farewell Silverdocs

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013


Silverdocs is dead. Long live, uh, AFI Docs presented by Audi?

Say what? The acclaimed local documentary film festival and industry confab announced that it is changing its name and adjusting its focus, adding venues inside the District line and cutting a few days from its schedule.

Did nobody at AFI see Morgan Spurlock’s cheeky doc, Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold? Which shines a bright and damning light on the world of corporate sponsorship, product placement, and movie marketing—and is itself a much better title than AFI Docs presented by Audi. The AFI’s press release feels the need to point out right away that “[t]he official festival name is ‘AFI Docs presented by Audi’ and should be referred to as such at least once within a story.”

OK, done.

It’s understandable that the American Film Institute, AFI, wants more blatant branding. But tossing out a decade of recognizable branding and good will, along with the much more mellifluous name Silverdocs, seems like brandicide—which is a word I just made up and am now trademarking for all my future branding needs: Brandicide®.

Even without Audi’s moniker attached like a corporate remora fish, “AFI Docs” just doesn’t roll off the tongue and is simply bland. The “silver” in Silverdocs could be read as an homage to silver nitrate film stock, but more directly to the AFI’s beautifully-restored Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, as well as Silver Spring, where all the action takes place.

Or did. Now much of that action will occur at the Newseum, the National Portrait Gallery, and other D.C. venues. Irritatingly, much of the coverage has pitched the story as the festival “expanding into D.C.”—as if a retail chain from the Midwest were opening a new branch. Indiewire got it completely wrong with the headline, “AFI Announces Expansion of Documentary Fest AFI Docs Into DC Area.” Note to everyone: Silver Spring is already in “the DC area.” From under the marquee of the Silver Theatre it’s a fairly short walk down Colesville Road to the District line, or a slightly longer but totally manageable stroll up Georgia Avenue and into George Pelecanos novel territory.

I call this cosmopolitan provincialism, the notion that hipsters seem to have that anything that occurs beyond their particular sphere of coolness—Columbia Heights, Penn Quarter, NOMA—is literally beyond the pale. My pal and Washington City Paper colleague Mark Jenkins once bemoaned in a review that walking from the Silver Spring Metro to the Silver Theater was some kind of burden. In fact, it’s one block from the station, a walk that takes you past the beautiful, LEED-certified Discovery building. It is slightly uphill, but you can see the theater marquee when you step off the train, so the trek shouldn’t seem too hopeless. Note to cosmopolitan provincialists: it’s a quicker walk to the Silver Theatre from the Silver Spring Metro than it will be from any Metro station to the Newseum, where the AFI Docs conferences will now be held.

Or the Catalyst Sessions, the new name for what used to be the fairly traditional though always interesting and helpful industry conferences and symposiums of past festivals. Sounds like organizers may be going for something more TED-like. Which might be cool. Or, like many latter-day TED Talks, insufferable. I’ll wait and see.

Why this extreme makeover is happening was hinted at in Ann Hornaday’s Washington Post story. Discovery Networks, the original co-founder and major funder of Silverdocs, wanted out. As Hornaday put it, “shifts in Discovery’s corporate focus…resulted in a decline in the channel’s support in recent years.” Discovery began as an outlet for documentaries and science-based programming—largely from Australia, as I remember from those early days when cable TV was new and exciting and you’d watch anything, including documentaries from Australia.

But the network has long since traded uplift for downright degradation, with cheap tabloid “reality” fare such as Amish Mafia and Moonshiners. And Discovery’s hideous offspring, TLC (where, please recall, the L used to stand for “Learning”) is given over to even more soul-destroying shows such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and various hoarder-exploitation series. That’s corporate focus.

Standing in the dizzying multi-story atrium of the Discovery building at the opening night party for the 2008 fest, I was surprised to learn from a Discovery employee that the cable network lost money on Silverdocs. How can you lose money, I thought. This place is jammed, and jamming. The opening night film that year was More Than a Game, featuring LeBron James. Who showed up, briefly, I’m told. Money didn’t seem to matter back then. Towering ice sculptures built to dispense fancy vodka drinks (still have the battery-powered light-up martini glass), a special Stella Atois bar as cool as in the commercials, and outside in the lush courtyard, DJs pumping out the beats late into the night—good times.

But the parties became quieter and last year there was no opening gala to speak of.

And what of Silver Spring? Despite the happy spin of the press release, this move is a loss for the community.

Yes, I complain because I’m something of a provincialist myself. I like that I could walk to Silverdocs. But I also complain because I love the festival and want it to succeed.

My relationship with Silverdocs goes back to its beginning. City Paper was one of the first sponsors and, in addition to a free pass to all the swell parties and a cool logo-imprinted messenger bag, I was honored to introduce a film one year. In 2008, as an independent writer, I blogged the hell out of the program. For the last few years (though not this year), I was a volunteer screener, watching as many as 40 films each spring and offering comments and recommendations to the review board. Silverdocs receives upwards of 5,000 entries, each hoping for one of the hundred or so spots, so this work was essential. I saw a lot of junk but also a lot of great films. It’s a testament to the quality of Silverdocs that only a few of the films I recommended actually made it into the program.

So Audi drives to the rescue, for now. But when car sales slip or “corporate focus” changes, then what? AFI Docs presented by Jiffy Lube? AFI Docs presented by Google Street View? AFI Docs presented by the Law Firm of Ashcraft & Gerel?

Well, I still have my Silverdocs messenger bag.


A Scanner Darkly

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

epson scanner

I have a perfectly functioning Epson Perfection 3170 flatbed scanner. Has a backlight for negatives and slides. Maybe 10 years old. Paid something like $130 for it.

Today I went looking for a replacement slide holder. (Things disappear, you know?) informed me that the 3170 was replaced by the Epson Perfection 4180.

epson scanner

Clicking to the page for that scanner informed me that the 4180 was replaced by the Epson Perfection 4490 Office Scanner.

epson scanner

Clicking to that page informed me that the 4490 had been replaced by the Epson Perfection V500 Office Scanner.

epson scanner

Good luck! The V500 is in stock! At $350.

No replacement slide holders available.

Yes, Trombones

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

music man

John August is a smart and successful Hollywood screenwriter. On his blog,, he dispenses invaluable insights and practical knowledge about the craft, business, and art of screenwriting and life in the entertainment business. I read him regularly. I also listen to his podcast.

But his curious post, “No Trombones,” shocked me. It is so wrong in every single way I thought it might be an April Fool’s joke — but December is much too early or late for that. For some reason, August believes that children should not be taught to play such one-note instruments as trombone, rather they should take up the more elegant piano, or perhaps guitar.

As I posted in a comment on the site, perhaps Mr. August’s young daughter came home from school with a trombone and that set him over the edge. I feel his pain. I play the drums, but can’t imagine living in the same house with a kid banging away on a set. But I bless my parents every day for their unselfishness — and endurance.

Please read the entire farrago here. I don’t want to quote the entire piece, though practically every sentence demands response for its utter wrong-headedness.

August begins with this falsehood:

“With the best of intentions, we’ve taught kids to be helpless cogs in a symphonic machine. Worse, we’ve created a system that pretty much guarantees most adults won’t be able to make music by themselves.

We need to stop teaching kids to play the trombone. And the oboe. And the French horn. Particularly the French horn.

Kids should learn piano and/or guitar.”

OK. Cogs in a symphonic machine? Sorry, the system that guarantees that most adults aren’t wonderful musicians is the same system that guarantees that most adults aren’t wonderful plumbers or architects or even screenwriters. That lots of kids spend time not fully learning to play an instrument is no worse a crime than the fact that most little girls in ballet class will never dance at the Met or most boys tossing a football will never win a Super Bowl. So let’s stop buying them tutus and helmets?

August continues: “So we’re clear: I have nothing against the other instruments. They just don’t belong in the hands of children, and they shouldn’t be anyone’s first instrument.”

I think if Mr. August was being clearer, he’d admit that he doesn’t like the sounds made by band instruments in the hands of children. And who does? But a good parent won’t stifle a child’s interests and, as above, most kids won’t stick with it anyway.

Consider how we adults feign delight over a child’s incoherent crayon scribbles, awarding them a place of honor on the refrigerator door. By August’s logic, we should keep all drawing instruments away from young fingers until they are somehow able to produce gallery-worthy work.

Of course the obvious problem with this reasoning is best summed up in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, where he quotes research that indicates that an artist must spent 10,000 hours practicing to become even good.

music man

So denying future Urbie Green’s a trombone and expecting them to put in the necessary hours of practice as an adult is simply ridiculous. Most of the readers of Mr. August’s site are themselves amateur hopefuls who would surely agree that finding time for any kind of practice is extremely difficult once you’ve moved out of your parents’ house. Those unpleasant hours kids spend torturing some poor instrument, and adult ears, is the important foundation of any future in music — or any skill.

Let me attest to this personally. While I did take rudimentary drum lessons (a pun — I in fact studied drum rudiments. Ha!), I never truly learned to read music. And, unlike August, I never joined the school band. It wasn’t cool. They didn’t play rock.

And for playing rock at the teen center, no charts were required. It wasn’t until I’d been playing for nearly 30 years, put in my 10,000 hours playing professionally and then part-time, that I joined a big jazz band with the express purpose of learning to read music. As an adult, it took me a very long time to get it. I still shudder at the memory of a trombone player (yes, trombone!) cringing when I played right through a rest. But eventually I caught on and am now fairly proficient. I am comfortable sitting in with other bands without fear that I’ll embarrass everyone. But, because I’m still quite a ways from my 10,000 hours of reading practice, I’ll probably never be able to, say, walk into a Nashville or LA studio session and nail a chart on the first take. Or work the pit at the Kennedy Center.

And neither will anyone who doesn’t start studying as a kid. NPR’s Noah Adams decided to take up piano at age 51. He got a book out of it (Piano Lessons: Music, Love, and True Adventures). He has yet to release an album. Which is probably for the best.

August complains that instruments other than piano or guitar fail because “These instruments play a single note at a time, which works great for bands, but is incredibly limiting overall.”

Limiting how? Surely August understand’s that his own industry works the same way. Like an orchestra, each department in filmmaking — art, makeup, costume, crew, etc. — contributes to the success, or failure, of a movie. I guess learning lighting is limiting because you’ll never be able to go to a party and recite Shakespeare. You’re just a “one-note” kinda guy. But try shooting a movie with a cinematographer who didn’t spend his childhood messing around with lights.

August goes on to warn that “if you pick tuba, you’re never going to have a solo. Ever.” Where would film music be if little Tommy Johnson hadn’t picked the tuba? He’s the fellow who made the Jaws soundtrack the Jaws soundtrack. (Everybody sing: “Duh-duh. Duh-duh. Duh-duh…“) Johnson also played on more than 2,000 other soundtracks. Poor guy. Shoulda played piano.

Indeed, August seems fixated on the “problem” of instruments that “only” play one note at a time. If he knew any trombone, tuba, or sax players he might understand that they find joy and beauty in finding that one note to follow the previous, and then the next. Kinda like finding that right word to follow the next in your screenplays, eh, John?

“As a clarinet, you’ll form the backbone of most school bands,” writes August, “but no one will actually be sure what a clarinet sounds like.” Seriously? Is there anyone who doesn’t know what a clarinet sounds like? I suspect August’s problem is, as with tuba, the player supposedly won’t get to stand out. No solos. And here perhaps we get at what bugs August about trombones and one-note instruments and instruments that don’t sound pretty right away. The nature of August’s job is that he usually works alone and gets a single credit — his solo, if you will. He’s the star in the John August show. So from his perspective shouldn’t everyone want to shine in the spotlight, every time, all the time? That’s certainly the current zeitgeist, the look-at-me, I’m-so-special culture we’re enduring. But any solo is only good in the context of the work it’s part of.

Again August’s complaint reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of bands, orchestras, and music. I rarely play a drum solo, but the times that are the most fun and satisfying are when the entire band locks together. Nobody stands out because everyone is blending in. All those one-note instruments. Even the piano player.

Another ill-informed comment about high school band: “If you’re good but not great, you may be asked to ‘take one for the team’ and switch to an unpopular instrument like tenor sax,” August writes. Before the electric guitar, the saxophone was the lead instrument in rock and roll. It remains fundamental to jazz and is popular generally. Perhaps he meant soprano sax. Everyone hates Kenny G.

“The French horn is difficult, expensive and sounds terrible at a student’s level of proficiency. Ditto oboe. We might as well slaughter geese on stage.” Again, August’s discomfort with children’s lack of proficiency is irrelevant. Let parents decide if they can afford to buy an oboe and endure the learning curve.

August explains that he first learned piano as a child, then switched to clarinet, where “compared to other fifth graders, I was amazing at clarinet.” We’re so proud of you, John. But he goes on to contend, “[t]he problem is, success at clarinet doesn’t translate to music as a whole. I never learned chord progression, because clarinet plays one note at a time. I forgot how to read bass clef, because clarinet is written in treble. I only knew how to make fairly pretty sounds within a narrow range of musical genres: classical, Woody Allen jazz, and When the Saints Come Marching In.”

Haha. But stupefying wrong. Success with one instrument does indeed translate to an understanding of music as a whole. Because it’s all of a piece. That August forgot how to read bass clef is only a comment on his lack of commitment and interest in being a musician. He’s not a musician. He gave it up to became a writer. Fine for him. But if a kid has a true interest and desire to play music, they’ll pay more attention than did young Johnny. And that’s good for the future of music.

And that little joke about the “narrow range of musical genres” only demonstrates the narrow range of August’s musical knowledge. There is much more to clarinet music than “Woody Allen jazz.” Indeed, much more to jazz than Allen’s fixation with Sidney Bechet.

In half-hearted praise of learning guitar, August writes that “you’re unlikely to strum Beethoven.” For a start, these five people prove August utterly wrong. Again.

After bashing the idea of school bands, August then contradicts himself with the sentence, “If we’re going to save high school marching bands, we’ll eventually have to teach the band instruments. And we can, quickly. Because here’s the secret about marching bands: not only is the music fairly easy, so are the instruments. In fact, it’s common to switch players between instruments to make up for gaps in a marching band. We break out the mellophones and the marching bells and somehow it all gets done.”

Sorry, playing glockenspiel is not the same as trumpet, sax or, yes, trombone. Those players who switch instruments so easily are the ones who generally go on to become serious musicians, the outliers if you will. The same ones who were studying those horrible sounding one-note instruments as children. And nobody “quickly” learns an instrument. Especially if they’re denied the opportunity to start in grade school.

August then insults a “publishing industry that creates sheet music so that twenty-five kids can lurch through a patriotic medley.” Note to John: the sheet music industry has been as hard hit by piracy as your precious movie biz. Here’s an NPR story on the subject. The Hal Leonard company is not a cabal forcing John Philip Sousa on the public.

August sums up his jeremiad with this howler: “[I]f we got rid of grade school and junior high bands and replaced them [with] pianos and guitars, I think the actual learning outcome — the ability to make music — would be much better.” Make what kind of music? All George Winston and William Ackerman? A crazy assertion based on nothing at all.

August is currently producing a Broadway version of his movie Big Fish and notes that, as is the common practice, the creators are working out the show around a piano. He does acknowledge that the show will “ultimately have a full orchestra” to perform the song. Surely he must understand that the top-notch musicians who will play his score began as clueless kids making caterwauling rackets on one-note instruments in their parent’s basement.

That horrible sound is the price we all pay so that the show can go on.

UPDATE August has turned off comments on his entire site. Coincidence after they ran about 90% against him on the trombone piece? I’m not buying his explanation. Also, he says I’ve learned nothing. That’s true in many cases, not here. But welcome to all the John August fans. Hey, let’s start a band!

Don’t Follow Me, Jack Shafer, I’m Lost, Too!

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Slate’s Jack Shafer has posted his Twitter Philosophy, who he follows and why. One person Jack does not follow anymore is me. The Twitter-crime that earned me the swift slap of Shafer’s delete key? I had somehow linked my Youtube and Twitter accounts and the automated tweets annoyed him:

@jackshafer: You’re sending out multiple messages abt who you’ve subscribed to. I’m unsubscribing you.

I don’t think my “live-tweeting” the Alamo (hashtag: #alamo) in February and March helped my case with Jack, either. But it did get me several Texas followers.

Jack’s attempts to maintain a pure and functional Twitlist are admirable, but doomed. And also a nice bit of old-media thinking. Having labored for Jack at Washington City Paper, I’ve witnessed the force of his ironclad desire to impose order on an unruly world, damn the excuses. Though the bellowing man could make reporters and writers cower, the Twitterverse is deaf to the likes of Jack Shafer.

And that is its charm. It’s the happenstance, the random re-tweeting of stuff you didn’t know you were interested in, the six-degrees-of-tweeting that makes Twitter such an entertaining time-waster. Which is what Jack misses with his authoritarian attempts at tweet organization. But Jack is not one for entertainment or time-wasting. I, on the other hand, greatly enjoy both pastimes and so here is my Twitter Philosophy.

I came to Twitter for laughs, following funny people. “OMG! John Cleese is on Twitter!” But most professional comics use Twitter as annoyingly as carnival barkers: “Come to my show in Seattle!” Even Cleese handed much of the tweet duties to an assistant before disappearing for months.

But where the comic pros failed, the scalawags are succeeding. Accounts for imaginary people and things are a rising trend and hold up a fun-house mirror to the culture. Most notably, the fake BP Oil PR account offered real-time laughs to counter a real-time outrage. As soon as that snake escaped his cage at the Bronx Zoo, Bronx Zoo’s Cobra was on the case with the play-by-play.

Many dead people have been reanimated on Twitter. (And here a special shout-out to TweetsofOld, which, while not a fake person, puts all modern news gathering in perspective by merely typing up what passed for news 100 years ago.)

So of late I have taken a perverse delight in following fakes—including more than the full cast of Mad Men. Of course there is Don Draper, but also Good Don Draper,” “Elderly Don Draper,” “Mister Draper,“Bizzaro Don Draper”, and Don Draper’s Liver. Not to mention various Betty Drapers, Joan Holloways, Peggy Olsons, on down the cast list. Each and every major and minor player on the show has at least one account dedicated to he/she/it, including the Sterling Cooper building’s elevator operator, the janitor, the vending machine, the fainting couch that Betty Draper purchased in one episode, and a mouse that appeared in one scene.

Most of these accounts are idle, which is a good thing. The joke began and ended with its creation. However, Old Don Draper and Don Draper’s Liver are pretty good, operated by people who understand the show, the character, and the gag.

My triumphant tweet announcing I was now following minor MM character Ted Cheough brought a swift rebuke from the man, or bot, him/itself: “Fake? Wow.” Perhaps the account belongs to Kevin Rahm, the real actor who plays the adman. Don’t know. Don’t care. It’s Twitter.

Similarly, my allegiance to Coca-Cola brought a quick reply and follow from the soft drink’s inventor Doc Pemberton, dead these last 123 years. Good to have him back.

(BREAKING: Just this moment, I was notified that Anna Draper’s Ghost is now following me. Yes!)

To eavesdrop on these imaginary people (and things) conversing with each other on Twitter is fun, generally funny. Ghosts of dead characters happily chatting, often in character, with other “ghosts” and “live” characters are in some way a new twist on fan fiction. So far, this Twitter version is much more satisfying than wading into the sludge that makes up so much of fanfic. (Yeesh!) Credit the 140 character limit.

“Whenever TweetDeck overflows with messages, I go through and unfollow a dozen people,” writes Jack, and I can hear the glee in his voice. His happy dismissal of “hashtag half-wits” is not surprising to anyone who had their copy slashed (for the better, usually) by editor Shafer. But I fear that the finger that Jack has so eagerly poised above the delete key is in for a bad case of carpel tunnel syndrome, because Twitter moves too fast—as fast as an escaping cobra.

Dan Snyder Needs a Hug (Not Getting One Here)

Friday, February 4th, 2011

magic book

I could only sit on the sidelines (football reference!) for so long as my dear pal Dave McKenna and my alma mater Washington City Paper were dragged through the mud by Dan Snyder and his hired goons. I’m sure you’ve read about it: here, here here, here, and thoroughly here. If you haven’t, please take a moment to do so, and also to enjoy the original Snyder takedown that set the tiny teamowner all a-twitter. (And, yes, I’m glad to add yet another link to the very thing Mr. Short Fuse did not wish people to read.)

Therefore, please enjoy my heartfelt “Love Song For a Frivolous Lawsuit.” Please sing along. You know the melody.

Saying Goodbye to Gutenberg

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

future so bright had to use staple

They say the future sneaks up on you. Sometimes, so does the past.

I was reading Gene Weingarten’s typically wonderful story on the new Chevy Volt and how it may or may not rewrite the future, and of course I’m reading it in the Post magazine, not online. Because I’m an olds and like to spend a leisurely Sunday flipping through printed pages.

After I’d finished the piece, I shifted my gaze to the spread-out pages on my lap, and my eye was drawn to one of Dustin Fenstermacher’s photographs. A clever homage to Watergate and All the Presidents Men, it’s a nice image. But for some reason, my attention focused not on the qualities of the picture but rather on the staples sticking through the paper. Nothing odd or out of place about that. Magazines have been stapled together for decades. In fact, a stapled publication is more prestigious than a collated one, whose pages can fly away with little provocation.

Staples in a magazine are something that we are used to ignoring, seeing but not seeing. But this time I saw them clearly, as if for the first time. I brought the magazine closer to my eyes, real close, so that I was just seeing bent metal tearing through thin paper. Metal tearing through paper?! Weird.

Then I drew the page farther back and saw that the metal was poking right in the middle of the picture, basically ruining it. Where normally my brain would have created some neurological workaround, erasing this gross intrusion into the photographer’s art — just as we turn the pattern of tiny dots in a halftone into a recognizable image — now the staples were all I could see. And I was just annoyed. What kind of way is this to present a photograph?

Answer: The best we can do it with the available tools. You might argue that the art director should not have positioned the image over the double-truck spread. But, to paraphrase another epigram, art direction expands to fill the space allotted to it. And, as I said, modern eyeballs have become used to not seeing these obvious pieces of an industrial process.

All of which brings me to the conclusion resulting from this epiphany: iPads and Kindles and digital delivery make perfect sense.

Now, what do I do with this new vision of the world? Give up the familiar comfort of lounging on the sofa covered in piles of newsprint? Just because it doesn’t make technological sense? The bill for my Washington Post subscription is due. Am I brave enough for the new world? Or lazy enough for the old?

Stay tuned. (No, wait — staying “tuned” is a reference to old-fashioned radio and television dials. Oh, boy. The future is hard!)

It’s the Same Old Song…

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

While gathering material for the production of my VeriPhone video, I went searching for the Brokeback Mountain theme song. And at Amazon, I found a whole bunch of albums featuring Gustavo Santaolalla’s heartbreaking Brokeback song.

Except they were actually ALL THE SAME SONG!

Yes, though the “band” names differed, from the generic Soundtrack & Theme Orchestra, to Western Sounds Unlimited, The Cowboy Band, the perhaps misspelled The Wester Film Band, obtusely named APM Music, oddly named The Remotes, grandly named Marquis Expression, confusingly named KnightsBridge, to the apparently versatile Movie Sounds Unlimited, which was represented on four different collections — it turns out that each album offered the exact same recording.

And not a great version at that. (For whatever reason, the original soundtrack was not available as a digital download at Amazon, so I had to go to iTunes. Grumble-grumble, Steve Jobs…)

The practice of anonymous orchestras covering hits of the day is not new. Much of the material that became the bedrock of the “Lounge Revolution” of the ’90s was drawn from records released in the ’50s & ’60s by major, and minor, labels using nameless studio musicians. And some of those records were made just to keep the studios busy and fill the pipeline to retailers.

After Herb Alpert’s spectacular success with Whipped Cream & Other Delights, there was practically an entire industry of faux Tijuana Brass records released: The Mexicali Brass, the Monterey Brass, anything with “Tijuana,” “Mexico,” “Brass,” or cactus on the cover. All performed by anonymous studio cats, sometimes the same players as on Alpert’s recordings.

More recently, producers have been traveling to Eastern Europe to record with large orchestras that are available at much cheaper rates than U.S. counterparts. Hollywood does this all the time for soundtracks. I suspected much of the work I found on Amazon was an example of this practice — and in fact, it is.

Several Soundtrack and Theme Orchestra albums were released by X5 Music Group, headquartered in Stockholm, with offices all over Europe. But S&TO also does work for Countdown Media GmbH, a German company with offices in Nashville — which explains why “The Cowboy Band” is also on its roster. Countdown also does business as CHV Music Factory,” for which “Movie Sounds Unlimited” records. “Factory” is the operative word, because among Countdown Media’s services are “[r]eady-made compilation concepts…available upon request for almost any need.”

And offering the same material in different packages works. Just ask Time-Life Music. Or, more precisely, me.

I was channel-surfing late one night and stopped at one of the ubiquitous Time-Life TV ads, this one offering AM Gold, a multi-disc collection of ’60s hits. The list of songs scrolled by, the clips played, and I found myself saying, “I like that one.” “I like that one, too.” “That’s a good one.” And soon my will was destroyed and my credit card out. Even though I knew I had most of the tunes on 45s.

It wasn’t until about the third AM Gold disc arrived that déja vü set in. I not only had the 45s, I had these songs on CD. I went to the shelf and, sure enough, there was another 10-disc Time-Life collection I had bought: Super Hits of the ’60s. It was THE SAME SONGS! IN THE SAME ORDER! Only the album title and cover art had changed.

But at least I got the original versions. Nothing on there by KnightsBridge.

Damn you, Google!

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Just spent too much time re-editing my audio posts because Google decided to change this code “3247397568″ to this code “3523697345″ in its MP3 flash audio player. Meaning that all the links to music files disappeared.

I’m sure enlightened programmers can explain why 3523697345 is preferable to 3247397568, but I’m more interested in why news of this update didn’t make it my way. It’s not like I don’t pay attention—but do I have to now spend hours on Google’s blogs, too? Hey, I’m already busy enough keeping up with my Twitter updates and RSS feeds about HDSLRs and the end of journalism.

This is also a fair argument against the Cloud. If I installed my own audio player I wouldn’t be victim to the whims of Google. But arguing against the Cloud gets you branded a Luddite. And, hey, I was trying to be all open-source, right? Can’t win.