Podcast Radio Station

Radio City Music Hall

One of my favourite CBC shows is Podcast Playlist, which is a weekly, curated show where Matt Galloway & Lindsay Michael sample a set of podcasts, around a particular theme. They play excerpts, or whole episodes depending on length, and talk about why they have included it.

Related, much to my surprise, one of my favourite [ed: counterpoint] developments in media are these post-show discussion shows (Talking Dead, Talks Machina, After the Thrones). I should note that some of these shows are terrible, some are good. The better ones tend to be web, rather than network, and more free-flowing. They’re also all universally too long.

Whether web-based/digital or, my ideal, an honest-to-goodness terrestrial radio station, would combine these into a thrilling, diverse and interesting talk-format discovery station. With programming divided up throughout the day/week, with curated hosts, and re-broadcasting entire podcast episodes, it re-invents the incredibly tired call-in-and-rant structure of current talk radio. It also offers a chance for different new revenue streams for podcast creators (who, in my idea, are of course compensated for all re-broadcasts & take some share of advertising revenue).

Let’s say you divide each day into 4-hr segments, where hour 3 (or maybe just the last 0.5 hr) is the “discussion of what you just heard” segment, ideally including one or more of the podcast creators you were just listening to, and allowing inbound contribution via phone/text/whatever (like any call-in show).

If there were regular, recurring scheduled themes, I’d tune in for topics that interest me. For serial podcasts, like Serial, this offers an opportunity to have a scheduled broadcast over several weeks. Some would be one-offs, and some regulars for weeks or months at a time.

Last-minute thought: In many ways, this is the model CBC Radio 1 already has. Most of the shows are essentially podcasts (Q, Under the Influence, Ideas, Quirks & Quarks, Spark – the lines between regular radio-show and podcast are very blurry) already, intermixed with news/current event shows. The key difference, I think, is an expectation that the station is curating other people’s content, as well as probably producing their own. For a broadcaster like CBC, with a mandate to support Canadian culture, this could be a really interesting new station, pushing out Canadian podcasts to the world.

My 5 Favourite songs about New York City

Cabs near times square

These aren’t “the best”, just ones I like. And I’m pretty-much ignoring hip-hop/soul here, because that is a real void in my musical knowledge. The impetus was listening to the first one, and thinking about other tracks I keep coming back to.

1. Gil Scott-Heron “New York City”

This album was my intro to Gil Scott-Heron. I’m pretty sure I found it amongst my uncle’s album collection as a kid while visiting. It was on a mix-tape I made from his collection, and I played that cassette until a dying Walkman destroyed nearly a decade later.

2. Cub “New York City”

Vancouver’s own Cub. You may know this song from They Might Be Giants’ cover, but this is the original. It is perfect pop-punk.

3. LCD Soundsystem “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down”

(NB: pretty sure that’s not an official video, but how could you not love it?) This song is also peak LCD Soundsystem.

4. Lou Reed “Walk on the Wild Side”

Could any list about NYC music not contain a Lou Reed song? I probably could have chosen any number by him. But this, while an obvious choice, is the soundtrack of when I think about the New York that was.

5. Leonard Cohen “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”

Like Lou Reed’s track, this is a hymn to what was, only from the singer’s viewpoint, a leisurely look back to days long gone.

Honourable Mention – Ryan Adams “New York, New York”

This song, with the lyric “hell I still love you New York” was ubiquitous in the wake the of September 11th, 2001 (the video was shot apparently just days before). I had to put it down for a while because of that, but I’ve recently been rediscovering Ryan Adams, and this song along with it.

Community Amenities in Vancouver

Liam in his waterpolo cap

I’ve been peripherally involved with the use & planning of Community Amenities in Vancouver for a long time – by being politically involved with the Park Board;as a both a participant and board member for the Vancouver Ultimate League; as a parent of a kid in Vancouver Thunderbirds Hockey; as parent of a kid in Vancouver Vipers waterpolo; and as a parent of a kid in Vancouver United FC Soccer. And, there’s a few things (that are probably in some ways obvious, but let us be explicit here) to note about doing all this in Vancouver. Let’s of course be clear that this is all anecdotal based on my experience and limited conversations with other families.

  1. With the exception of my experience as an ultimate player, community sports is heavily weighted towards the periphery of the city: rinks, pools, courts, fields are all generally on the western & eastern edges of the city. If you live in the centre, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fairly lengthy commute. It is sort of the inverse of the home-job principle.
  2. There are not enough playing-surface resources in the city of Vancouver compared to the number of participants. Ultimate, which has the *most* fields, because of the surfaces they’re willing to use, probably has this best. But it is still not enough. In my experience, from least available to most, it is probably: pools, quality fields, rinks, flat(ish) grass surfaces. I don’t know about baseball, but from the outside, it looks like each “area” has a really nice-looking “home” field where stuff happens.
  3. UBC is a terrible community partner. Each association I’ve been part of has been “forced” to use UBC’s fields/rinks/pools because there’s not enough in Vancouver, but each association complains bitterly about how expensive renting UBC’s facilities are. I’m not entirely sure of the justification for this, outside of free-market economics (supply v demand), but it sucks.
  4. The lack of playing surfaces leads to some pretty crazy scheduling decisions by the related associations. In practice, this has meant my elementary-aged kids are doing sports both SUPER early in the am (which generally sucks more for the parents) – as early as 6:15am Sunday in my experience – and also SUPER late at night – as late as 10:30pm Friday in my experience. Perhaps not surprisingly, this leads to some drop-off in participation.
  5. Compared to kids in related associations in the suburbs, Vancouver kids have way less access & time to their chosen sport. At younger ages, this has translated primarily to my being jealous of how little other parents are paying per hour-of-activity. At older ages (let’s say 10+) this tends to translate directly into a lack of competitiveness. In each sport I’ve participated in, as a general rule, suburban teams play at a higher level than Vancouver-based ones. Beyond that, we’ve seen several Vancouver families move their children, if not their actual domicile, out to be part of suburban associations just to give their kids access to higher compete levels.
  6. At an association level, these constraints put incredible pressure on the few paid staff & mostly volunteer organizers. I’ve sat in on several board meetings, AGMs and ad-hoc parent meetings where participants and/or parents complain about fees, ever-reducing availability of activity-time, and so on. And, at the core, the answer is always the same: the association is making awful trade-offs between allowing access to participate vs cost vs scheduling. These are generally pretty committed fans of the activity, and the wear on them shows.

So, what can be done?

Real Estate pricing in Vancouver means we are pretty unlikely to find large tracts of land in the city centre (increasingly, anywhere) to build new pools/rinks/fields. As far as I know, developers are not incentivized to build these sorts of community-centre amenities alongside developments. While I’ve always been a big fan of the existence of our park board, I increasingly wonder if it being distinct from city council really just lets council punt community amenity discussion out of “prime” discussions, to somewhere no one really cares about (if you’re to judge by average number of votes it takes to win a seat come election time).

I don’t have answers, but do have some things I wonder about:

  1. Could/should the city strike some sort of deal with UBC to allow community groups access to UBC facilities at a deal closer to what they pay for city amenities? What if the city bought all the available slots at UBC and then re-apportioned them via the existing city model? I don’t know enough about the political/fiscal relationship between Vancouver & UBC to know how possible that might be. If only from an operational/staffing view, a single purchase-source would be good.
  2. The Park Board’s operational & capital plans are being set for the future. Much like the issue with class-sizes & schools, they strike me as being planned for what’s there now (and not nearly enough), not what is coming in the future, regarding population size. But, I recognize they’re incredibly resource-constrained (both budgetary & physically). I don’t know what the answer is to that, outside of investment from perhaps all 3 levels of government & private enterprise. I’ve been historically averse to having corporate sponsors of community amenities, but if that would, say, double the available pools & rinks and/or cut costs by some significant %, maybe it would be worth it.
  3. Open up school resources more, including private schools, perhaps via the same methods as with UBC. Ontario’s LCBO gets good deals on booze by being (I think) the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. Why couldn’t the city of Vancouver do that for space on behalf of the residents, and let associations just have one source, at, hopefully, lower costs, rather than various small associations all competing with each other across various sources?

 

2016 — my year in books

Liam reads an Elephant & Piggie book to Kellan

I made a New Years’ resolution in 2016 to diversify my reading — not by genre, but by author. I had realized that in 2015, of 26 books that I read, 22 were written by white men — an astounding 85%. So I had a goal to flip that percentage in 2016. Here’s how I did, in a quick summary of books:

  1. Golden Fool (The Tawny Man Trilogy #2), by Robin Hobb
    I love everything by Robin Hobb, and have loved every page of now 8 Fitz books by her. They’re true page-turners in the best meaning of that.
  2. Brooklyn, by Colm Toíbín
    I hated this book. I read it because of reviews and the movie (which I also hated) … and I should’ve stopped about 20 pages in, but I just kept reading, alternately to see whether it would redeem itself (no) or what it felt like to hate-read an entire book (not good).
  3. Fool’s Assassin (Fitz & the Fool #1), by Robin Hobb
    This new series, set when Fitz is much older, is heart-breaking for fans of the series and so, so good.
  4. Fool’s Quest (Fitz & the Fool #2), by Robin Hobb
    See above.
  5. A Man In Love (My Struggle #2), by Karl Ove Knausgård
    If my darkest inner voices were given public attention, perhaps they might sound like this. It is brutal honesty (although fictional? maybe? I hope? A devastating book.
  6. A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab
    So! Much! Fun! I don’t know why I didn’t immediately get the next one in the series, except that I wanted to let Kell ruminate in my mind for a while, this was such a lovely tale.
  7. The Hidden Oracle (Trials of Apollo #1), by Rick Riordan
    So, I’ve read all of the various Percy Jackson-related books to, and with the kids, so I got this one too — and the magic is gone, and Liam didn’t care and I regret reading this.
  8. Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch #2), by Ann Leckie
    Onto book two, where the gender-fuck of the first book has become normalized and the characters, story and setting can truly shine. This is my favourite of the series.
  9. The Fifth Season (Broken Earth #1), by N. K. Jemisin
    An amazing, different take on magic in a dystopian (future?) society. Possibly my favourite book of the entire year.
  10. The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
    The buzziest book I read all year (an Oprah bookclub selection!) that totally held up despite the hype. I loved the magic-realism of the device of a real underground railroad, and it was heartbreaking and hard and beautiful. Contains the most gut-wrenching sentence I read all year (which, for spoiler reasons, I won’t share).
  11. The Obelisk Gate (Broken Earth #2), by N. K. Jemisin
    Not quite as good as The Fifth Season as it normalizes into a fairly standard fantasy/odyssey book, but still well-worth the journey if you love the characters as I do.
  12. Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch #3), by Ann Leckie
    Read this as a meditation on the a nature of identity and empathy and, well, yeah. There’s so much going on in this book, in this series. It should probably be the subject of several academic think-pieces.
  13. The View from the Cheap Seats, by Neil Gaiman
    I needed a Neil fix, and was getting on a plane, and this did the trick (It’s a solid habit to read one book by Neil Gaiman every single year, IMO). It’s all over the place. The best thing though is his unabashed love of Books, in all their forms, and the humans who write them. I added a dozen books, by a dozen authors, to my wishlist from reading this (NB: I’m still reading this. I have read a few sections between each of the rest of the books this year).
  14. A Heart so White, by Javier Marías (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
    I struggled mightily with this book — It came highly recommended by my mum, who rarely is wrong about these things, and, much like reading Shakespeare, it takes a while to wrap your head around the language and format, but once I did, wow! I read it nearly twice over.
  15. Charmed Life (Chrestomanci #1), by Dianna Wynne Jones
    Silly, simple fun. Ends before I was ready for it, but also definitely felt a little dated.
  16. Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse #6), by James S. A. Corey
    The best entry in the series since book 3. Either you love The Expanse, or you haven’t read it yet.
  17. The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty #1), by Ken Liu
    I learned of Ken Liu through reading Cixin Liu, and, am so much the richer for it. This book deserves all the accolades it received, but, it took me a while to get through it, as I didn’t get fully into until about 100 pages in.
  18. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1), by Becky Chambers
    This book is sci-fi equivalent of a Belle & Sebastian album. It is lovely and twee, and not quite what I hoped it was. That being said, I immediately started reading the follow-up, so there you go.
  19. A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers #2), by Becky Chambers
    The first book in the series was self-published — I don’t know if this one was, but it feels so much tighter that I wonder if it at least a new, better editor was found. A similar feel to the first one, only moreso, in all the right ways.

I fell way short of my goal for reading this year — I was aiming for 40 books, and didn’t even crack 20. Of 19, 6 were written by men, or 32% — which also fell way short of my goal of reading only 10% white men. But, a definite improvement over my previous habits. Noticeably, when browsing the Kobo store, the recommended books are much more diverse in authorship than they were prior to this.
I’m hoping for follow-ups from Robin Hobb, V. E. Schwab, N. K. Jemisin & Ken Liu this year, and will continue to try and diversify who I’m reading.

Post-Democracy — Truthy-ism & Disruptacy

So I have this idea. An idea that’s admittedly an off-the-top-of-my-head, not-well-thought-out idea, but none the less, one I wanted to write it out to try and give it shape and see how it feels.

And here’s the idea. Wondering what comes after democracy has been a common thought process for a while, amongst much smarter people than me. But I submit to you that in this American election cycle, we’re seeing one possible new form of governing emerge and crystallize formally for the first time.

There are twin roots to this new mode:

  1. The normalization of Truthiness, the famous “word” from Stephen Colbert. This acceptance of feeling-of-truth vs being-true started off as sort of a joke, but quickly became a more or less accepted fact. The truthiness of its own self. Vast swaths of our political class were able to capitalize on the fact that people want to feel right more than they actually need to be right. And, indeed, people seem willing to accept all sorts of moral and ethical paradoxes if it means they can still feel right. And by making this idea of truthiness normal, we’ve made it normal to hold opinions that contradict facts. Indeed, we’ve made fact almost have itself as an oxymoron, when you can have “your facts” and “my facts” rather than just “the facts”. It leads to where we are now, where opposite opinions are given equal weighting and rating in media, regardless of the merits of those opinions. You can’t talk about climate change without mentioning those in opposition’s “facts”, actual scientific data be damned. You can’t talk about Black Lives Matter without someone’s feeling of All Lives Matter being brought up as somehow being a reasonable, equal response, despite the utter lack of equal status there. It’s sort of the opposite of intersectionality.
    It’s the victory of feeling over fact.
  2. Disruption as idol, as not just a by-product of advancement, but a goal unto itself. In some ways, the victory of technocracy. When the new idea is, by the very fact of being new, held to be better than the existing option. The suspicion of incumbency. This modern view of disruption-as-good originates in Silicon Valley business, but its spread into politics is an astounding feat. For better or for worse, it’s explains both Bernie Sanders’ impressive run, Donald Trump astonishing run. Thinking about it, I think it explains a lot of the Tea Party’s goals, and even obstructionism-as-paradigm that has been the modus operandi of American Congress these past 8 years in particular. There’s a difference between working within the system to foment change, vs fundamentally not caring about the system itself, because it needs to be changed to suit you. And this — this is the doctrine of the politics of disruption. It’s fine to obstruct what until now were common political standards of comportment, because you don’t believe those serve you. Donald Trump’s entire campaign is mostly about disruption of common political standards — being against the existing system, offering radical ideas that each disrupt how Things Are Done In Politics.

And those two trends, I think, as I watch from north of border in Canada combine into something much, much more than just a weird election cycle. I posit that we’re actually seeing something entirely new emerge as a philosophy in politics. We’ve yet to see, really, what governing through truthiness & disruption would look like — although, possibly there’s been some state-level experiments here. I personally hope that we don’t see what Donald Trump’s governing style would be. But — I think that this change is now in the air, and we’ll only see more individuals, and even larger political organizations start to embrace this new thing and start to impose it more successfully on a country or state sooner rather than later.

As I quickly read this back, I wonder if I need to differentiate this idea from existing political models — democracy, socialism, authoritarianism, etc. I think it is. But I’m not a political scientist, I’m not a philosopher. To mock myself, the truthiness of this thought is appealing, but I’d love to be countered, I’d love to find people thinking much more deeply and coherently about this sort of topic.

So — is this actually the start of a new political philosophy? I’ve no idea — I hope I’ve at least made the start of the case that yes, it is. At the very least, I think we’re seeing the end of “traditional” American Democracy, and possibly the birth pains of what is going to replace it. Which is both scary and exciting.

Countdown: June, 2016

5 years ago, I took this photo in Terre de Haut, Guadeloupe

Thirty-one years ago, my parents bought an Apple IIc, and shortly thereafter, two games: Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? and Rocky’s Boots. The former taught me a love of problem solving, reading, and probably travel. The latter taught me the fundamentals of programming and logic — I often wonder why it hasn’t been updated for the iOS-set.

Twenty-nine years ago, I sat down in front of Mac in a classroom and met Logo’s turtle for the very first time. In some ways I’ve never really stood back up from that.

Twenty-four years ago, my high school computer science teacher convinced the school to let him teach a senior-level programming class for myself and 2 other students, so I could continue pursuing my passion. I owe much of my life to that act of attention and kindness.

Twenty-one years ago, I built my very first website, a simple little thing to help me keep notes, and provide the players a recap, for my Vampire: The Masquerade campaign. It didn’t do much, but it represented my first web-based programming, in Perl.

Twenty years ago, I was hired at Envolve Communications, and wrote my first professional website — a Vancouver handyman finder (waaaaay before it’s time), IIRC.

Seventeen years ago, I joined a startup called Up In Front, and got my first taste of dot-com insanity, hours, pressure, success and failure. It was an amazing 15 months before the crash.

Fifteen years ago, I wrote the first version of a CMS, The Pencilcase, with, at the time, an important distinction: it spat out (mostly) standards-compliant and accessible markup. It also had a rudimentary templating language to let my non-programmer design partners pull in dynamic content.

Fourteen years ago, I met Jeff Schafer, a good developer with an excellent business sense. We quickly realized that our skill-sets were complimentary, and we sought to work together.

Thirteen years ago, Jeff & I founded Pencilneck Software. From the start, we had a set of core goals that served us well:

  • Be high-touch: Technology is scary, and we can change that. Always listen to the customer’s needs, not their wants. Sweat the small stuff
  • Respect Expertise: We never set out to be a full-service shop. We wanted to provide excellent back-end code, and partner with experts to provide design, copy, etc.
  • Be a plumber: We prided ourselves on long-lived, excellent code that served our clients, not our egos. We built every website on the goal of a minimum five-year lifespan.
  • Stay nimble: We actively chose to not grow large, but to stay small, and able to shift focus as needed. Hire only when workload dictates — we embraced the agency model.

Eleven years ago, we released version 3 of the CMS, now renamed the The Pencilneck CMS. This project became the basis of all sorts of related platforms, as well as powering some 100+ websites. Several sites still happily use it today. It was modular, extensible, accessible and standards-compliant: From the beginning, we abandoned table-based templates in favour for the still-emerging CSS & standards-based layouts

Eight years ago, in a shift for the company, we were hired to build an entirely new platform for a client. It was the start of Pencilneck as “the version 2.0” company, specializing both building prototypes for clients, and scaling existing codebases to new versions, new levels.

Seven years ago, we became a distributed company when Jeff moved to Texas, and we ran two offices. This trend would continue to expand as we hired new contractors and staff. This transition forced us to confront how technology & tools can both build and break culture. It started a long internal conversation about the importance of the human on the other end of the interface.

Five years ago, we took stock of how poorly the websites we built for our clients were managed post-launch, how many problems our design partners had with dealing with technical requests, and launched a high-touch managed hosting service, specifically aimed at helping design firms and non-technical site owners have worry-free hosting. This move felt directly in line with our renewed focus on customer experience – both in the websites we built, but also in how we worked with our partners.

One year ago, I knew it was time for me to move on: I’d done more than I’d ever imagined possible with this company, with my partner, with my staff and with my clients. I was listless and no longer loving the work that I did. After long discussion, the decision was made to try and sell Pencilneck’s core services: managed hosting and top-shelf development. I would also leave at the same time.

One month ago, we completed the sale of Pencilneck to Pantek, a Cincinnati-based hosting firm whose approaches to caring for their clients closely matched our own philosophies, and who was looking to build out an in-house development arm. Jeff and the Pencilneck staff are all moving on to Pantek, which is an excellent turn of events. I can move forward on my own knowing that my team, my clients are all in good hands moving forwards.

Today, I have left Pencilneck. I’m thinking about what’s next for me — what’s my next focus? It’ll be something new. I’m doing some freelance work as a CTO-for-hire, taking what I’ve learned over the past thirteen years at Pencilneck helping clients build new companies, and scale existing platforms. I’m taking courses, learning new tools and languages in realms that are new to me. I’m thinking a lot about the process & tools of site management, both from an agency/contractor’s perspective and the site owner.

I’m excited to explore the future!

Peeling back the media layers

When I consume fiction, I try to dive in with enthusiasm. I suspend my disbelief and let the story itself carry me. I try hard to not worry about meta-narrative, or technique, or politics get in the way. I try to let the story itself stand on its own. For “good” media, this often works. I readily enjoy the experience, be it book or film or tv or game. Often the first sign of problems is when the media can’t stand on its own, and I end up being forced into analytical mode.

Almost inevitably, the first layer I pull back is technical: with a literature degree by way of a few years of film studies and a perverse need to watch all the extra features, I think a lot about how stories are told. I worry about why that particularly manipulative camera-pan, or upwards-to-the-right angle, or why mention a missile at all, because now I know it’s going to come back later in the book. In the score, was that overbearing timpani in that one scene really necessary? (pro tip: no, it never is). Again, things split here. When I re-watch a really good movie, looking at it through this technical lens only adds to why I love it (My favourite movie is probably I am Cuba, which I like perhaps more for the technical elements of the film than the film itself).

Beyond technical, I start to think about meta-narrative: when you know an author’s work, you tend to see recurring themes, images, etc -both in print and screen, and I start to wonder how the decisions made this time tie into the overarching œuvre. And in film, you not only have the writer’s meta-narrative, but also the director’s. And the cinematographer’s. And sometimes the actors’. When you get to “corporate” film, you also have the producers’ (see: Pixar, Disney, Marvel, etc). Watch a bunch of Scorsese films back-to-back, or binge-watch a tv show under the same show-runner, and see how quickly you can start to identify which episodes were directed by which person – there’s all sorts of little tells that keep popping up.

And then, finally, likely to my own discredit, I often think about the socio-politics of the media (Hi! I’m a Canadian, straight, white male who has the luxury of not having to think about this all the time!). Why this casting choice? why that gender/race for that character? who directed? How is that reflective of the audience’s experience? the creators? the funders? This, most often than not, is where films that have survived all the previous examinations start to fall apart.  Just passing the Bechdel test is hard. Add in “positive/lead/speaking” roles for non-white-men as a layer and it gets worse. I have this immense luxury of approaching virtually any media knowing that I am the target audience for it. I had a small sense of perhaps what it might be like to not be recently reading “Between the world an me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is definitely not aimed at middle-class white Gen-X… and it was fascinating to start to look at the assumed terms of reference in the book that were not at all common to me (aside: this is a reason I like to read foreign novels, particularly from non judeo-christian-heritage authors, because that means I need to work more to figure out the common terms of reference).

(all of this bubbled to mind after binge-watching the 100, and why i thought it was inevitable that Clark and Lexa would kiss. And then wondering why it made me squeamish that the only black lead in the new Ghostbusters was, also, the only non-scientists (indeed, she seems to be the “street-smart” character), and why, while it makes sense to cast a non-white actor in a new Harry Potter play, or as James Bond, it is still hugely problematic that Zoe Saldana was cast as Nina Simone).

 

Vance Joy at the Orpheum

One of Liam’s favourite artists is Vance Joy, who’s an Australian folk singer, in the vein of Jack Johnson, that is to say he’s very charming, pleasant and not particularly challenging, so absolutely radio-friendly and enjoyable.

As a last-minute thing, I found a pair of reasonably-priced, decent seats at the Orpheum, and so suddenly I was taking Liam to his second concert ever (his first being Mumford & Sons out in Surrey).

And… it was perfect. He was happy – singing along, clapping along, dancing in front of his seat – exactly what I want as a parent when I take him to something for him, rather than for me. The late night definitely meant a few yawns, and I think he’d have preferred if people didn’t stand up for the whole concert, but a rousing success.

The show itself? Well, it was mixed. The opening act, Rueben and the Dark were excellent. Really enjoyed their show, their energy, their music – Liam too – he immediately wanted to add their stuff to his music.

Rueben and the dark
Rueben and the dark

Vance Joy was charming as all heck, telling short stories to intro the songs he was singing. But… it all felt a little too pleasant. Charm, not excellence was the tenor of the night. The quality of songs is also widely varied – I’m not sure if he has on occasional collaborator who is responsible for his 3 (to date) radio hits, but they (+ 1 other) stood head-and-shoulders, quality-wise, above most of his material. Then, closing the night, he covered Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al, which.. while an excellent cover, really showed up his own music as lacking a certain something.

But – maybe that’s just where we are. According to one story Vance Told, just 2.5 years ago, he was playing the Media Club, just him and a guitar. And now he’s got 2 sold-out shows at the Orpheum. That’s a pretty good 2 years of work. I definitely enjoyed the show – he’s so damn pleasant you’d have to be a real asshole to not – but, I can’t say he was excellent.

But, that wasn’t really the point last night. The point was to go with Liam to see someone he really likes, for him to experience the pleasure of live music being played well in front of other like-minded fans and that, that was everything I could have wanted it to be. Liam’s just now developing his own distinct tastes in music, and I look forward to learning from him about new and different acts in the way I started teaching my parents about music I discovered, sharing back. This night was a great start to that, sharing his enthusiasm.

Access to reading: architecture informs literacy

riverside book-stall in Paris

I’ve been thinking recently about the privilege of access — mine in particular. A fact about me that I constantly found surprising growing up is that, generally, I’m significantly more well-read — wider-read — than many people that I’ve met. I’ve always loved to read, but I’ve had the immense luck of getting to know many brilliant people with advanced degrees, often in the arts and humanities, which require lots of reading. And while they’ve all read deeper than I have, I’ve learned by taking those Facebook quizzes about what books you’ve read that I’ve generally read more books that most of my friends.

If I start to pull out differences, a primary difference is that I grew up in a house surrounded by books. We had a bookshelf in nearly every room. Each of my siblings and I had overflowing bookshelves in our rooms. There was a bookshelf in our dining room, piles of books here and there. We had a study, which was an unused bedroom that had 2 walls of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. This room was also where our TV sat — explicitly linking the notion of relaxation and entertainment with reading. Beyond the quantity of books, the breadth of topic was huge. As a kid, I could freely explore the massive set of Taschen art books, London Times archives, Complete works of Dickens, Shakespeare, Life-science books, travel books, novels, poetry, plays, non-fiction of all stripes (I learned early on that I generally dislike autobiographies and memoirs, but got a peculiar satisfaction from biographies that were, if not unkind, not wholly flattering of their subjects).

But I live in a townhouse in central Vancouver. While I’m certainly lucky, when I look around the house, there’s not really any unused walls — where could I put a bookshelf? My living room has 1 wall. We put our couch there. The other side is a fireplace. The third wall is doors & windows. The dining area has a no walls: window one side, staircase across. There’s a bit of wall in the kitchen, so we put a shelving unit there to store things like food — but we did cheat and have a lovely cookbook shelf! And that’s the entire main floor! There’s a half-landing as the stairs turn, but it’s too narrow to put a bookshelf there (I tried — even a basic Ikea shelf means I don’t fit width-wise there).

And then I started to think about places where I have lived vs how many books I had. Unscientifically, the older the place I lived in, the more likely it was to have had wallspace for books. But as modern architecture has trended towards open space, this has removed interior walls that are perfect to hang a bookshelf on. Visiting friends, this is true too: Look at where you live. Was it built in the past 20-odd years? If so, I bet there are very few interior walls — it’s not the style — particularly on the main floor. Even large houses often just have larger open spaces. And this, for literacy, might actually be a problem. Sure, I could put a bookshelf in front of that bay window, but I’m not likely to. My bias is showing, but the surest way for me to fall in love with a house while browsing MLS.ca or watching House Hunters is the presence of built-in-shelving. And yeah, once the interior decorator gets done with them, those shelves are generally filled with trinkets, but all I see is double-stacked books in those shelves.

My oldest kid, luckily, is a good reader. But he still is much more constrained than I was by access to books, because they’re not just there. Discovery is a problem. He’s really good about leveraging his own collection, and he gets a monthly eBook allowance, but the issue here is access and discoverability. He can’t just browse the shelves from the couch and pull out an interesting-looking spine to flip through for a few minutes. Buying a book (or even checking it out of the library) incurs a kind of commitment that is larger than we might want. Oddly: I’ve bought many physical books that I didn’t enjoy, so just stopped reading them — because they’re around, I know that I might pick them up again later — and often have. But when I buy an eBook, I slog through it unless I really dislike it — because I know that once I put it down, it’s out-of-sight, out-of-mind, lost in my eReader.

I don’t how how to reconcile interior design and architecture with having more visible bookspace. Indeed, I suspect that architects are responding as much to trends (people own fewer books, so don’t want space for them) as they are causing them. But I do think this is something for parents in particular to think about: Where, in your common family space, can you fit a bookshelf, or bookshelves? And is that bookshelf a common shelf with everyone’s books (yes, even the ones that probably aren’t appropriate yet for your kids)?

Update: The New York Times no less also has a piece on this topic. You should read that one too: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/06/fashion/our-bare-shelves-our-selves.html?_r=0 (H/T to Richard Eriksson)

I can’t take a compliment

Tonight, Steve complimented me on twitter:

And I replied:

Which is true – he really is a super-great guy. But here’s the thing. When someone pays me a compliment, I have 2 conflicting immediate reactions:

  1. I joke it away, denying it, essentially.
  2. I respond immediately with a compliment of my own.

Both of these things feel like their diminishing the original sentiment. If I joke it away, perhaps with self-deprecation, then I’m not really letting that nice vibe linger in any way. I’m just swatting it away because I’m uncomfortable.

But if I just respond with one of my own, does that lessen both? Particularly if I don’t really mean it? or mean it as much? (This is sort of like automatically saying “I love you too” when someone says they love you – without considering your truth of that emotion there).

So – and let’s be clear. Steve is a swell guy. But I maybe, instead of responding immediately, should I have just said “thank you?” – which does two things itself:

  1. makes me uncomfortable, because apparently at some level I just don’t believe that this could be true.
  2. Makes me feel like I “owe” Steve a compliment at a later date.

What’s completely ridiculous is that when I compliment someone, I’m never (ok, rarely – I will admit I have done this on occasion) “fishing” for a return compliment. I try very hard to be genuine in my praise of others – I don’t do it often, and I want it to be meaningful when I do (see, above, why a knee-jerk response is not so good).

What is the proper etiquette to receive a compliment? In a way that makes both the complimenter & complimentee feel good? I think perhaps I should try just letting it linger a while. Acknowledge, thank the person, move on. Maybe blush & bat my eyelids shyly?

Who knows. This human interaction. It’s hard I tell ya!