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I get irritable at the end of the summer. It wasn’t always that way. I liked the fall, liked the transition to the new season, a shot at a fresh start whether academically or at work. September always seemed like a clean slate. Now I dislike it, in no small part because of the insisten cultural pounding that always starts toward the end of August around Sept. 11. The image pictured is pretty much what I saw that day, and it seared itself into my brain as I stepped out of the subway tunnel at the 22nd St. and Park Ave. and walked west toward the Flatiron building.
This is the time of the year where people ask me “where were you when it happened?” I was underground, okay? I didn’t actually see the planes hit, but I saw the buildings fall. I stopped to vote. The primary election for mayor was on that day, and I stopped as I left home, first thinking I wouldn’t bother, as everyone knew that Bloomberg was going to win in the general election. Then I remembered how much I really disliked Mark Greene and figured I’d go to the trouble of voting for Alan Hevesi, not that Hevesi stood the slightest chance of winning or anything, but it seemed important at the time. If I hadn’t stopped to do that, I’d have seen the whole thing, not that I would have wanted to.
I remember the subway ride was uncharacteristically slow, but nothing else about it. I wasn’t terribly eager to get to the office, and it was an incredibly beautiful day, the kind of day that makes you depressed that you have to be cooped up inside doing things that seem important but really aren’t.
So I got out of the subway and walked west, crossed Broadway and noticed something I can only really describe as a buzz around me. I didn’t hear anything that told me something was wrong, but it was just a sense of something out of place, of people agitated for some reason, but I couldn’t place it and from where I was, couldn’t see anything amiss. The first clue was people looking at their wireless phones, that look that says “I’m trying to make a call but can’t get through, let me look and see how my signal is.” Two or three guys were doing this, and as I pressed on in the along the south side the Flatiron building a woman, walking east who seemed to know the guys walking near me, said “This is just insane.”
At this point my pager went off. I reached down to grab it and looked south, at 22nd Street and Broadway. I don’t remember which came first: Did I read the pager, or did I see the holes in the towers? The message was a news alert from CNN that arrived at 9:12 AM. It read: “World trade center damaged; unconfirmed reports say a plane has crashed into tower. Details to come.” I could clearly see that there were two holes, one in each tower, and couldn’t figure out why that would be caused by one plane. Of course by this point the second plane had already crashed into the towers ten minutes prior. CNN got around to “alerting” me to the second plane by 9:22, by which time I was already in my office.
From that location I was one of several who watched the towers come down from Jim Spanfeller’s office. Someone hadn’t paid the office satellite TV bill, so I and my colleagues couldn’t watch TV news like the rest of the world. We didn’t really need it.
That’s the gist of my Sept. 11 story. I’m not terribly interested in observing the 5th anniversary of what was for me a really unpleasant day with the rest of you. Images of that day on TV make me shaky. Seeing the trailer for that Oliver Stone movie made me mad, but I was glad to see no line outside the Zeigfeld theater where that cinematic calamity happens to be playing as I walked home tonight.
I want to get over it. Its the rest of the country that insists on dredging up old video tape and pictures and survivors tales and permeating the media with it all. I don’t want to weep and shed tears while watching stupid movies made by and for stupid people about it. I’d like to forget it, and frankly I wish those of you who insist on partaking in this cultural weepfest, buying special anniversary editions of magazines and watching TV documentary specials about it all would find something else to entertain yourselves. I have a better idea: Go rent “The Cruise” instead. I found a clip from that neglected 1998 documentary on Youtube, and it appears below.
The phone rang late in the morning as it often does. I expected the usual — some PR person looking for a little attention for a client. It was a PR person, but was actually one who worked for my own outfit fielding a request from an outside outfit needing some comment on the latest corporate happenings at a certain computer company. A TV news crew wanted to chat with me on camera.
“Great,” I said. “When do they need me?”
“They’re setting up now. Can you be down in five minutes or so?” was the answer on the other end of the line.
So that’s how I happened to appear on “the telly” in London and throughout the UK last night.
I’ve appeared on BBC TV a few times over the years, most recently in a live shot from its studios on the West Side of Manhattan, but almost never been able to see the segments. This week’s slot on the World Business Report was a little different, as the network streams the show online in Real Video format. But what it doesn’t let you do is save the file as it streams to your computer. So how did I get the video above? Well it was a bit of a hack….
This turned out to be an excuse to try a new program I just learned about called Display Eater which captured the video, sort of. What it appears to have done is capture a long string of still images, which it then converts to a Quicktime video clip.
I thought this was all well and good, until when I played the resulting Quicktime clip and learned that Display Eater doesn’t record audio. Here, the solution was to turn to my favorite, app, Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro which saved the audio stream of my segment into MP3 format.
Armed with a silent video clip and an MP3 sound file of the segment, I poured both into iMove HD, which would have seemed to be a straightforward operation. All I had to do, it seemed was synchronize the sound file and the video file as best I could. Simple right? Wrong.
As interesting and potentially useful as Display Eater is, it doesn’t come close to capturing the full video stream, but more an approximation of it. The result I had was a video clip that was not only out of sync with the audio, but actually shorter than the audio clip that accompanied it.
So at least now you know why the audio and the video are not synced up right.
One interesting bit of trivia about this clip: Steve Jobs appears once late in the segment giving one of the keynotes for which he is famous. But he actually appears twice, though its kind of hard to spot him. Can you guess where it is?
Silent in this space now these 71 days. It’s not as if I’ve had nothing to say, rather that I’ve been saying it elsewhere, where my words pay my bills.
This is of course the curse of blogging. In order to make it seem worthwhile you have to feed the beast regularly. This of course takes effort and time, the latter of which is in critically short supply these days it seems.
The onset of summer hasn’t done much for my time budgeting. Perhaps better calendar management will help. I’m somewhat encouraged by what I see of the new Google Calendar service. It seems that with a little outside help, it will sync up with the Outlook calendar on the Windows machine at the office, and thus bridge the gap with the iCal calendar on the Mac, all the while creating a long-term record of where I go and what I do.
Will this magically create some kind of quantum singularity through which I can pull additional time which I can use for writing pointless screeds here? Certainly not.
The key is to simply waste less time, though one could argue that blogging is itself a waste of time. There certainly appear to be a lot of people with opinions on that very subject.
I have been at times variously inventive and not with how I’ve been wasting my time these 71 days. There have been a few too many hours playing “Command and Conquer: Generals”, another set of lost hours downloading Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker concerts (see sample below) from Dimeadozen and trading them with the folks on the Vantrades mailing list.
Intermittently I’ve devoted some hours to raising money for the Columbia’s J-School Annual Fund, an effort to which I have committed five years of my life.
But mostly the hours are tied up with the job. Its as simple as that. It’s now been almost a year since the big change and there hasn’t been a single nanosecond of regret or second-guessing. I guess that, coupled with the lack of personally blogging, combine to be a pretty good sign.
Enough about that. Here’s a shot of Hooker from ’76.
It’s been about a year since this was published, but I’m just now getting around to posting it. Below is the text of the piece I wrote on Hunter S. Thompson for the summer 2005 issue of Oregon Quarterly, (cover at left) the magazine sent to alumni of the University of Oregon. It’s a more concise version of the blog entry I wrote on Feb. 26, 2005. I offered it up to OQ editors Guy Maynard and Ross West on a lark, and they were kind enough to publish it. Sadly OQ never published the text online, so here’s the text. You can see it as it appeared in the magazine here, courtesy of my Pixily account.
Going, Going, Gonzo
Six-thirty came and gave way to 7 o’clock as I anxiously paced the hallway of the University’s Sweetser dormitory. Five friends were coming down to Eugene from Corvallis, and they were appallingly late. The date was Feb. 28, 1991, and we had to get to the ballroom at the Eugene Hilton by 7:30 in order to get seats at a lecture given by the outlaw journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
I shouldn’t have worried about running late. Just as we sat down a woman, presumably with the UO Cultural Forum, which had invited Thompson to speak, took the microphone and apologized for this tardiness. Last seen at the hotel bar, he had disappeared.
Thompson was governed by his own twisted version of the circadian rhythm. If his daily routine, as described by his biographer E. Jean Carroll is accurate Thompson, would typically lunch around 7 p.m. on cheeseburgers and fries, several bottles of Heineken, followed by carrot cake or ice cream, a snort of cocaine, and a “snow cone” — a glass of shaved ice flavored with a generous pour of Chivas Regal. No wonder he was late.
An hour late. Ken Kesey ’57 and Ken Babbs made a brief and disastrous effort to sate the increasingly impatient audience by telling a few choice anecdotes about their friend. The effort was cut short by a surly heckler. Right about then Thompson emerged from wherever he had been hiding and sat down at the table from which he’d speak. In his hand, he held a yellow plastic cup filled with Chivas and ice — perhaps the remnants of a “snow cone.” He opened by mumbling incomprehensibly into the microphone.
Drunk and likely stoned, and with no prepared remarks, he rambled for about ten minutes. This changed when someone in the audience called out a question. Thompson perked up. His voice became clearer. He seemed to draw strength from two-way dialogue.
There was much in the news to talk about. Operation Desert Storm was winding down, Kuwait having just been recaptured by U.S. forces the day before. “I have the tape machine running back home recording the whole war,” he said. I piped in with a strangely prescient question of my own: Should we go in and get Saddam? Answer: “I don’t see what difference that would make.” Ever the political junkie, he described then-President George H.W. Bush as “the meanest yuppie who ever lived.” He predicted that the 1990s would be “like the 80s but without the money.”
At one point, one of my friends approached the stage and casually tossed a small plastic bag of marijuana into Thompson’s lap. This started a stream of other ever more interesting tossed gifts: More grass, several sheets of LSD, and a mysterious paperback book offered by an agitated long-haired chap who insisted it was “extremely important” that Thompson read it.
Later Thompson received a strange visit from a local homeless woman known popularly around campus as Hatoon (see sidebar). Entertained, Thompson let her try to make a speech on the peril of water in campus drinking fountains, but she struggled and sputtered. Seemingly frustrated, she said, “If you could point a laser beam at my brain, you might understand.” Thompson smirked, and pulled a laser sight — the kind used on rifles — from a pocket and pointed it at her as she had described. She didn’t like this and fled the stage.
Throughout the course of his sometime variously incoherent and eloquent ramblings, emerged the kernel of the message that runs through his published work: That the American Dream is nothing if not ambiguous, uncertain, and for far too many elusive. Chronicling “the death of the American Dream” was his journalistic mission, despite the inconvenient fact that through his own success he proved his entire premise false.
As Thompson’s talk wrapped up, the crowd — including me — rushed forward in search of his autograph. Someone standing next to me reached through the scrum and swiped Thompson’s cup of Chivas, still about a third full. While he wanted the cup as a memento, he was kind enough to let me drain its remaining few ounces of watery Scotch. Perhaps I hoped it to be an elixir, that might mystically convey a touch of Thompson’s gift for powerful prose.
I wasn’t the least bit surprised to hear that Thompson had turned a gun on himself on Feb. 20, 2005. Watching his father die after lingering powerlessly in a Louisville Veteran’s Administration hospital in 1952 would have left an indelible scar upon Thompson’s then 14-year old psyche.
A piece he wrote in 1964 for The National Observer on the 1961 suicide of Ernest Hemingway in Ketchum, Idaho is about the closest thing once can find in the Thompson oeuvre to the kind of self-reflection his readers hungered for, particularly in his later years. And it’s also easy to see it as a blueprint for the exit Thompson would choose for himself forty-one years later.
It opens with a quote from a neighbor describing Hemingway in his final days as “That poor old man. …He was so frail and thin and old-looking that it was embarrassing to see him.”
“Frail” was no adjective for Thompson. He knew the clock was running out. Approaching his 68th year, various health problems had started to mount. He sometimes used a wheelchair after breaking a leg last year, had recently acquired an artificial hip, and was at the time of his death recovering from spinal surgery.
He was far from the man who a little over three decades earlier had written his last great book, the one Frank Mankiewicz, George McGovern’s campaign manager in the 1972 presidential race, often described as “the most accurate and least factual book” about the election. Fear and Loathing: On The Campaign Trail, 1972, a dazzling and disturbing indictment of the dirty business of presidential politics. In it, we see Thompson at the height of his power, flexing his strange muscles for the polemic and inventing fictitious anecdotes that in fallacy contain more truth than most meticulously fact-checked news reports.
This made the terse news reports that first revealed his death that cold Sunday night all the more unbearable to read. They unflinchingly called it a “self-inflicted gunshot wound,” robotically reciting the unforgiving clinical facts, with neither texture nor style. How might Hunter Thompson have described the scene of his own final exit?
The indignities of human age had launched their final, unshakable assault upon his body, and he would deny them their prize. Seated at his kitchen “command post” before his typewriter — the word “counselor” cryptically typed on the center of the page — he paused mid-conversation to set down the telephone receiver, his wife Anita on the other end of the line. Then he wrapped his lips around the barrel of a .45 caliber pistol, and figured he’d see what happened next.
On March 1, fourteen years and one day after her encounter with Hunter S. Thompson, Hatoon, a colorful campus figure for more than three decades, died after being struck by a motorist while riding her bicycle across Franklin Boulevard. Hatoon, whose given name was Victoria Adkins, had lived on a bench near the UO bookstore since early 2000 and before that kept her possessions in front of the Knight Library. News of her passing rippled across campus and an impromptu memorial sprang up outside the bookstore, followed days later by an on-campus memorial service attended by many friends and acquaintances. Her death followed Thompson’s by only nine days. Both were sixty-seven years old.
As I write its about 1 AM and I feel like a grad school student again with much to do and precious little time for niceties like sleep.
First of all, thanks for having me in advance. I always like visiting with the class every year, if only because it gets me back up to campus.
As you know I was in the class of 1997, way back in the dim mists of history for the new media workshop days. In fact those days are such ancient history that the school stopped storing the archives of our projects sometime in 1999 or 2000 when the server they were living on crashed.
I’ve been slowly and painstakingly re-assembling the projects from the shreds that remains, in a project I’ve come to describe as digital archaeology. I use the piecemeal pieces of the projects, luckily preserved at The Internet Archive to put them back together one file at a time. With my job schedule and so on, I don’t get much time to work on this restoration project. But here’s a few things you can look at. First is the NMW home page from 1997. This was the first year that Dean Sreenivasan taught the class with a chap named Andrew Lih, who now teaches in Hong Kong. Andrew used what I think was the first commerically available digital camera — made by Apple oddly enough — to take the picture of me on this page in late 1996.
I don’t know what it was like this year, but the New Media Workshop was the hot ticket class in 1997. After the bubble burst in 2000, I noticed the class size tended to shrink, and so I’ll be curious to see how full the room is tonight. It tends to ebb and flow with the perceptions of students that the Internet is where the jobs will be after graduation, or not. We should talk about this.
If you’re interested in the historical perspective of the class you’re taking, I’d encourage you to check out what’s available from The Internet Archive. You might also find this early iteration of NYC24 interesting as well. I’ll talk a bit more about the history of NYC24 later tonight.
I point out all this ancient history because I think in those days we focused a lot more on the nuts and bolts of production than on compelling storytelling. In 1997, we hand-coded the HTML almost 100% of the time, and had never heard of Dreamweaver and knew nothing of Flash. Creating an audio file – what we now in some instances might call Podcasting – was a rather involved affair involving cassette tapes borrowed from the radio folks, a trip to the radio lab, a session in ProTools, and so on. Today I could speak into the Mic on my iSight camera, record an audio or video stream, edit it in a few minutes with Audacity, or iMovie and publish it in another two or three minutes via Audioblog. The tools we dreamed of then are common now. As John Prine so famously sang: “We are living in the future.”
What else would I like to talk about tonight? What life is like on the job as a reporter for an Internet publication. I’ve worked for a few of those over the last decade or so. And speaking of a decade or so, what was I doing 10 years ago tonight? Probably writing a weekly column that appeared in the paper I was working for at the time, predicting that within 15 years most of the paper of the newspaper industry would be gone and we’d be reading digital tablets. Well, how far off the mark was I in 1996? We can talk about that. I’ll be very interested to know where you think digital media is going, where it should and should not go, how your media consumption habits differ from mine. I’d like to know what you’re reading, watching and listening to, online, in paper, and in whatever other forms of media the engineers are dreaming up these days.
Other things you should remind me to talk about: Internships, and other situations that might be available with my current employer. The strange realities of Internet journalism, how a guy like me ended up as a business reporter, what I think makes for a good story, and whatever else comes to mind. And I’ll be interested in hearing what you all have to say, so come to class ready to talk back and forth. Duy tells me to be prepared to talk for 45 minutes and leave 15 minutes for questions. We can also talk about your pitches for the next issue of NYC24 if you like.
If you’d like to know what I’ve been working on recently, here are some links:
AMD Plays Offense
And some stuff from the old place:
See you in about 16 hours.