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In Which an Old-Fashioned Writer Praises New Media

Posted by Peder on 16 August 2009

Local columnist Garrison Keillor had another witty, pertinent opinion published in today’s paper. It rambles a bit more than some of his other pieces, but the salient takeaway is that new media, the blogosphere, has liberated the opinions of Americans by democratizing its publication and broadcast. Unfortunately he lays the groundwork for those who would argue the value of this populist movement when he contends that people use e-mail to share well reasoned opinions, and that the world would be better off without professional journalists.  But he brings his point home about two-thirds through the article when he comments on the factors that have left newspapers open to competition and casts luminous support of the independent American writer.  Ultimately Mr. Keillor is a writer who is first and foremost an advocate of his craft.  That he muses here on social and technological current events is merely a backdrop for that advocacy.

I’ve rebroadcast the article in its entirety below, but to get started I suggest you press play on the music file below (hosted by SoundCloud).

You know it’s going to be a difficult day when you wake up with “Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera, Guantanamera, Guajira Guantanamera” going around and around in your head and it won’t stop. You know that probably you should not tackle health care reform today, though brainlessness has not stopped other people from weighing in on it.

Here are mobs of flannel-mouthed robots denouncing Socialist Gummint Takeover as Medicare goes rolling along rather tidily and the private schemes resemble railroads of the early 19th century, when each line decided its own gauge and each stationmaster decided what time it is. Anyone who has tried to coax authorization for payment from Federated Amalgamated Health knows that, for incomprehensible standards and voluminous rules and implacable bureaucrats, the health insurance industry carries on where the Italian postal service left off. But don’t mind me, I’m a man with a viral song in my head and I should go soak it.

The goons who go to town hall meetings and shout down the congressmen are museum pieces. They can shout until the bats fall off the rafters, but if you really want to know about health insurance, you just look around on the Internet and it’s all there and more. The president gave a good solid tutorial on the subject back in June to the AMA, and you can still find it at YouTube. When you come to choose between him and the goons, you don’t have to think too hard.

This is the beauty of new media: It isn’t so transitory as newspapers and TV. Good stuff sticks around and people e-mail it to friends and slowly it floods the country.

What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend. There will be no TV networks to put on dramas in which actors in costume strut and orate and gesticulate, but you can see home video of dogs and anybody’s high school graduation anywhere in America. We will be a nation of unpaid freelance journalists and memoirists. This is not necessarily a bad thing.

It comes too late for Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton. In the new media age, there would not be a Watergate or a Monica Lewinsky. The president could conspire to break the law or canoodle with anybody within arm’s reach and likely there would be nobody in the forest to hear that particular tree fall. And that would be just fine. All we got from those enormous Old Media events, frankly, was entertainment. They were no more enlightening than a Harold Robbins novel.

I’m an old media guy and I love newspapers, but they were brought down by a long period of gluttonous profits when they were run as monopolies by large, phlegmatic, semiliterate men who endowed schools of journalism that labored mightily to stamp out any style or originality and to create a cadre of reliable transcribers. That was their role, crushing writers and rolling them into cookie dough. Nobody who compares newspaper writing to the swashbuckling world of blogging can have any doubt where the future lies. Bloggers are writers who’ve been liberated from editors, and some of them take you back to the thrilling days of frontier journalism, before the colleges squashed the profession.

The Internet is a powerful tide that is washing away some enormous castles and releasing a lovely sense of independence and playfulness in the American people. Millions of people have discovered the joys of seeing yourself in print — your own words! the unique essence of yourself, your stories, your jokes, your own peculiar take on the world — out there where anybody can see it! Wowser.

Unfortunately, nobody is earning a dime from this. So much work, so little pay. It’s tragic.

But one door closes and a window opens. The health care industry is wide open and there’s a need for writers. Old people are lonely, old people want to be listened to and their stories written down, old people need entertainment. That’s why I am opposed to the current health care reform bill — there is nothing in there for creative therapy and the artistic fulfillment of the sick and elderly. A humorist in every hospital ward. Laughter is the best medicine. Sick people need distraction. When you wake up in the morning with “Guantanamera” going around in your head, you forget about your troubles except for that one.

P.S. – I’ve previously offered my support of Mr. Keillor in a bad haiku.

Posted in Communication, General Tech-ishness | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Sapodilla Cayes, the String of Pearls and Swimming with Whale Sharks

Posted by Peder on 19 June 2009

Last week I went on a dive trip to the Sapodilla Cayes (Hunting Caye) with some friends. A late night, nearly last minute decision that lead to one of the coolest experiences of my life. (Similar to my decision to move to Shanghai.)

Dive Prep

Dive Prep

Our first dive was to be an easier affair and a chance for us to re-acclimate ourselves with diving. There were a few divers who hadn’t been in the water in a while. Not me though, I recently got certified. I saw a very large green moray eel and a spiny lobster on the dive. There was also a section of rock with large coral colonies that had fallen off during the recent earthquake (7.3 mW off Bay Islands, Honduras, June 2009). I swam in a couple crevices and regained some proficiency with my buoyancy.

When we came in from the dive we cleaned up and immediately started on some dinner that our host was making. It wasn’t just for us. An upscale time-share group called Tradewinds had moored two large catamarans off the caye and brought about 20 guests onto the island. Our host had a weekly contract with them to provide a few dinners and a presentation on wildlife around the reef, and provided us our opportunity to dive. Because our departure from shore had been delayed a bit and because of the length of our afternoon dive, we had precious little time to get the four courses ready for the guests. Everyone helped prepare the dinner. Meanwhile, we prepared for our night dive.

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Sunset on the Caye

Sundown was a beautiful vision on the caye. Looking west where paradise eventually reconnected with land, the sun touched down on the Caribbean lagoon with a bath of reds and oranges, magentas and yellows. Once the sun was below the horizon we were ready to look for the “String of Pearls” phenomenon. This is one of the more rare sites for any diver to encounter. In select few places around the globe around the time of the full moon, if one were to venture onto the water in the period after sunset and before the moonrise, they would see one of the most peculiar displays of bioluminescence on this Earth. Once we were underwater and accounted for, we gathered together and shut off our lights. Slowly and all around us, new young star constellations began appearing in the water. Some were close, and some were far away. After just a few minutes the water was transformed into a young Milky Way galaxy as thousands of small lights surrounded us. But these three-dimensional constellations were actually small critters. (Here’s one explanation I found for it.) The effect was amazing. The lights seemed to cascade down – newer dots lit below older ones – as the whole array appeared to move upward. It was difficult to tell if the upward movement was real or just a visual effect caused by the wriggling shimmer of the light bearers, but seeing this behavior – this String of Pearls – was awe inspiring, utterly poetic in an underwater universe.

The String of Pearls wasn’t the only amazing visual that evening. Water, or perhaps saltwater, is inherently phosphorescent and small air bubbles produced by regulators, fin kicks or a hand being swept side to side produces small, glowing orbs which you can watch float to the surface. Light from our flashlights attracted small one-inch worms ranging in color from tan to blue which would swirl around in our light beams. Benign as they were, those little creatures were spooky in their voracious swimming and we had fun moving our lights onto each others’ arms to bring the swarming masses ever closer to our dive buddies.

That evening, when the diving was done we sat down to enjoy some of the dinner we helped prepare and shared our stories with some of the Tradewinds guests. We relaxed and enjoyed a peaceful night on a tropical paradise. I slept outside in a hammock that night and had a wonderfully restful night.

Let's go diving!

Let's go diving!

It’s a good thing I got a good meal and an even better rest because the next day would prove to be one of the most memorable days of my life. We planned to make one dive that morning and then head back to town around midday. After a breakfast of eggs, bacon and homemade tortillas we got our gear ready and headed back to the reef.

Lime Caye Wall (link, scroll down to “Sapodilla Cayes”) was a fantastic dive site. About 20 feet below the surface was the reef, full of corals, trigger fish, parrot fish and small to medium snappers. As you swam to the east the reef wall dropped around 100 feet as the continental shelf started to drop into the open ocean. Two of the divers immediately took off down that wall with their cameras. Of their various photos, one of my favorites was a video of a green moray eel who was sharing a small cave with a spiny lobster. (Seen below.) The rest of us stayed closer to the top of the wall, but as far as we ever were from the other two, we could always see their bubble streams. Visibility must have been over 100 feet.

Actually I didn’t really stay on top of the reef wall the whole time. I was anxious to see the side of the wall so I swam down along side of it. That’s where some of the larger fish were hanging out. I swam over a coral head through the middle of a school of dog snapper and explored under some of the ridges in the wall. Meanwhile off to my left was the open ocean – any matter of creature could have been out in that blue abyss, including the largest fish in the world.

My depth gauge was apparently malfunctioning. My whole time along the wall it never recorded a depth lower than 25 feet, though our dive master said we were closer to 60’. Around the midway point of the dive my equipment had another malfunction. My secondary second stage – affectionately referred to as “the octopus” and used as an emergency air supply if a buddy runs out of air or if the primary mouthpiece malfunctions – began to “free flow,” uncontrollably spewing air upward. The dive master and I both looked at it underwater, and after exhausting the PADI-approved techniques as well as the “hit it until it behaves” broken TV technique, we agreed the only solution was to hold it mouthpiece-down through the rest of the dive, as if I was navigating with an underwater compass. That stopped most of the leak, though it continued to expunge air whenever I exhaled. As a result, the deeper portion of my dive was over, as I stayed closer to the surface so as not to run through my remaining air at too fast a clip.

Due to the lost air from the octopus free-flow, I had to end my dive earlier than the rest of the group. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with the dive’s result. It was a beautiful location and it was my last dive in the foreseeable future. To have it shortened by malfunctioning gear was a bit hard to take. So fun is diving that anything that takes it away from you equates to a major buzzkill.

After the rest of the group surfaced we headed back to the island. En route the captain saw a congregation of birds over the open sea. As we approached we also saw the “boil” that indicates tuna feeding. According to the more experienced naturalists on board these were telltale signs of whale sharks feeding and we maneuvered the boat closer to look for the fins that would confirm their presence.

Whale Shark

Whale Shark

I was told to put on my mask and fins in anticipation of finding the gentle giants. Once they were confirmed we immediately dropped into the water. I entered on the port side of the boat looking past the bow and immediately saw a whale shark vertical in the water. To the right was another animal in a horizontal position. When I came up for air I yelled, “There’s two of them!” Someone else yelled, “There’s a third!” When I went back under I looked to the starboard side of the boat to see the additional shark. I was amazed. The water was littered with chum – the bits of baitfish that had been shred by the sharks and tuna. Both bonita and the larger yellow fin were present. I spent a minute or so sitting under water, surfacing for air and watching the mêlée in front of me. I looked down. Below me was only unfettered blue, streaked by the occasional tuna tens of meters below. Light streaked upward from some unknown horizon point in the depths. As I would later think about the experience, I was surprised by my lack of fear for swimming in the open ocean next to a feeding frenzy. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins.

At one point one of the sharks started swimming toward the stern of the boat on the opposite side of the boat from me. I shadowed it from the port side and eventually found myself behind the boat with the beast a mere ten feet from me. For one reason or another it made a hard, right hand turn and aimed itself directly at my position. I froze. What should I do, I wondered. I decided I wasn’t going to move, I was going to let the animal dictate the situation. So I went up for one more breath and re-submerged my face in the water in the classic “dead man’s” float. The whale shark – a juvenile at around 20 feet in length – swam toward me. I could see its small beady eyes fix their gaze on me. And then I remained motionless as it coolly swam directly underneath me. I was paralyzed in excitement. As its head passed underneath I reached out my right hand and grazed the top inch of its dorsal fin as it passed. I touched the whale shark!!

Say "Cheese!"

Say "Cheese!"

I gave a light kick so as to get out of the way of the animal’s massive tail fin which I hoped wouldn’t hit me. The animal must have been diving because we missed each other as I remained on the surface. I popped up and screamed my excitement to the group. Two of them had been nearly as close themselves. Neither had touched an animal, which is the appropriate protocol around these passive creatures. In fact, it’s illegal to touch them and molestation of the animals can come with a BZ$10,000 fine. But as I explained, the animal swam toward me and I simple extended a hand to see how close it truly was to me. (Diving masks magnify underwater visuals and it can often be difficult to accurately gauge size and distance below the surface.)

The Beast Approaches!

The Beast Approaches!

I swam over toward the rest of the group on the starboard side of the boat. As I looked back at my whale shark I saw a silhouette of a more traditional shark in the distance. Swimming at a depth of perhaps 15-20 meters, it had a rounded body around 10-12 feet long, an extended top pectoral fin and it was swimming away from me. In later conversations, others would speculate it was a lemon shark, though it could have also been one of the more common reef sharks found in the area. The other two whale sharks were still off the starboard side of the boat and I joined my companions to watch them. Immediately off to our right we saw a large manta ray gently gyrating its wings through the water about a meter below the surface. What a menagerie!

As the feeding frenzy moved away from us we boarded the boat and recounted what we had seen. We then waited about 20 minutes and set out for another swim with the pelagic predators. The second time we entered the water we only swam with one whale shark, but it was a true behemoth and was clearly a full-grown adult. It was hard to say whether that was the fourth animal we had seen or part of the original three, as it had been hard to track each animal as the bait ball dissipated and moved away from us. I used my fins and a freestyle swim stroke to come up to the animal at an approximate 7 o’clock position a few meters off its tail. It was swimming fast and quickly eluded us. But it was of little matter … the experience was set. We swam with whale sharks!

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Epic Music During a Post Office Showdown

Posted by Peder on 12 June 2009

Post Office Showdown

The strip includes the caveat, That song (“Fight Without Honor or Humanity”) — like “Ride of the Valkyries” — improves *any* situation.  Which is true. 🙂

Can’t remember the songs? Here are some memorable performances of each.

Happy Friday everyone!

Fight Without Honor or Humanity

Flight of the Valkyries (turn your volume up)

Original comic published here.

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Muppets

Posted by Peder on 6 June 2009

I’ve been watching old Muppet videos online today and had to throw up links to some of their new stuff. I love how they’re staying current (esp the Rowlf videos) while sticking to their roots – music, slapstick and sarcasm.  And Statler and Waldorf.

First, some music:


Muppets take on an Internet meme:


Is there a way we can put this on just the American part?

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Live Blogging Every Commercial Flight in 72 Seconds

Posted by Peder on 16 January 2009

… Every flight in a 24 hour span, that is.

I’ve just been watching this back to back to back this morning.  I love how the volume of flights drops as night sets in, only to pick back up with the morning.  It’s really easy to see the main travel routes too.  #1 is easily North America <–> Europe.  At about 0:35 in you can just see the morning slew of planes descending westward over the Atlantic.  Lots of flights connecting Europe to Brazil and East Asia too, but not nearly as many trans-Pacific flights as I would have expected.

It’s fun to follow the paths least traveled too, like one originating off the SW coast of South America around the 0:10 mark.  Is that lone flight connecting Santiago, Chile to Sydney, Australia?  And what about his buddy originating from Buenos Aires 6 seconds later?  Think those two captains talk on the radio, and if so, what do they talk about?  Sooo … how ’bout that Antarctica, huh? Looks cold. At 0:28 they cross paths with an eastbound loner and I can’t help wondering why they cut so close to each other with all that space around them?  High stakes chicken?

Which path do you think is Oceanic Flight #815?

So here’s a live blog of the video:

0:00 – 0:10 — Wow there are a lot of flights in North America.  How come it doesn’t feel like I see that many when I watch the sky?  And look at Asia, they just have their own little thing going on there too, huh?  Hawaii gets a lot of love too.

0:10 – 0:20 — Ah, there’s Europe. Wake up sleepy heads!  The large stream from North America to Europe has dissipated, and did anyone else see how many connections there are between Brazil and Europe?  Must go to Brazil … Hey, who’s that little guy over the south Indian Ocean?  Where’s he going?  And there’s a dude up above Alaska!  (This reminds me of a trip my mother took.  Apparently Newwark –> Beijing flies pretty much right over the North Pole.  Go ahead, get a globe.)

0:30 – 0:40 — Europe is blossoming and the Americas have slowed enough to follow individual flights up and down the two continents.  That wave coming over the North Atlantic is pretty cool.  And then the USA/Canada wakes up — new flights following the sun.  Asia’s still humming.

0:40 – 0:50 — G’night Asia, good morning California.  North America and Europe are in full bloom again.  There are a bunch of flights shooting over the North Pole and Siberia, but no one’s crossing Antarctica.  A place only penguins dare to tread?

0:50 – 1:00 — Wow, there really is an ocean of land to cross in the interior of Asia isn’t there?  There’s a ton of flights there but they’re all sooooo spread out.  Looks like Europe –> North America is wrapping up for the day and the Asia <–> Australia flights are picking up.  And boy does New Zealand get an early start or what?

1:00 – End — Flights paint the Asian coastlines.  That little bugger in the south Indian Ocean is headed back east.  Lots of Europeans are flying to China and Japan, maybe Korea too.  Hawaii is booming again.  Woah, did you just see that flight over the south Atlantic blink and disappear at 1:04?!  … Oh thank God he’s back at 1:10, but where’d he go?  Flying under the radar?  The deck is 10,000 feet Maverick!

That was a lot of fun to write.  Here’s a little bit more about that video on Wired, and here’s where I first found it on Clusterflock. I got to that page by first reading this neat story, which I heard about on Kottke.  Lots of shout outs there, but you gotta recognize good things. Have a great Friday everyone!

Posted in General Tech-ishness, Internationalism | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

He Ain’t Heavy

Posted by Peder on 29 October 2008

Let’s take this blogging down a notch.  Yesterday’s post was heavy.  I guess during this heated election season and with my having a lot of time on my hands these days I’ve used the time to take my opinions very seriously.  Well, here’s a very serious opinion:  This video is rad!!

Takes me back to the days in college when we used to play a lot of chess. Spending all those wintery days in Northfield, Minnesota we had to be a bit more selective when we spent time outside.  By my senior year we had our games down pat.  Chess was a big one.  We also played cards:  Euchre if there were four of us, Widow Whist if there were three, and Gin if there were only two.  If you were alone you had to play with yourself.  Zing!

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