Monday, January 29, 2007

Poetry Reading by Phillip Block

Thursday evening Phillip Block, a recent product of the DSU English program who is now a graduate student at The University of South Dakota, read from his poetry at the Vermillion Literary Project's monthly poetry reading and slam. Five professors and a student from DSU went down to see the show, and we weren't disappointed. Many good poets read, and Phillip did a fine job. Here's a recording of his poem "Nightmaring Under Red Stars" from that evening and a photo of some of us and Phillip standing. Adam Bruns served as an excellent judge for the poetry slam that followed the reading. It was a great time, and we survived the fog that enveloped us there and back. For more about poetry slams, check out the Poetry Slam Inc.'s main page.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Al Gore's Crusade

The man who calls himself the man who used to be the next president of the United States was in town yesterday, and some colleagues and I were fortunate to go see him speak at Augustana College in Sioux Falls last night. A passionate speaker, Al Gore is a great spokesman for the need to act on pollution levels. While he might not have offered a list of "to do's" and "not to do's," his interest was in galvanizing his listeners into paying heed to the problem and recognizing the importance of acting. The primary problem, he says, is that people aren't well-informed enough to insist that their legislators act in the country's, and the world's, best interest. I hope his campaign for action gets the job done.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Rise of Democratic Multimedia

YouTube has been getting a lot attention lately and not sharing it, but some see in that situation an opportunity for them to grab some attention for themselves. One site, OurMedia, offers the promise of more user-created content, and I look forward to looking at it further, but today it seemed a little overloaded. It's "The global home for grassroots media," and they've got a "clay and computers" group I'll look into. Another site, WGBH, offers their WGBH Video Sandbox, with free video clips they welcome you to download and use as you see fit. Need some video of a 1939 NYC street scene? Comin' right up!

The WGBH Lab is offering some opportunities for budding video producers. Check it out! Finally, while looking at these sites I stumbled upon the Open Media Network that offers high-quality, varied video for download and full-screen viewing.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

More Stop-Action Action

There's been more stop-action from a couple of people I know, one a student and one my son who got a webcam for Christmas. Both take off on the ease of making the stop-action films using Lego building blocks and figures. Check out Adam and my son's videos and give them a little feedback to show you've been there! Follow links here to Adam's and my son's. It's good to see people using computers for creative, inventive ways to tell stories. I like the use of technology that allows people to be creators. I need to finish up some of mine I've been working on!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Putting My Zen to Work

MP3 players are often thought of as simply devices for listening to music, but my new Creative Zen asks for more. I've been listening to it during exercise, and it's much better for that than my iRiver H10, which is much bigger and doesn't like the jostling of exercise. The Zen has a radio, but like all MP3 players, it will also play any audio files, including recorded books and podcasts.
I looked a bit for some free audio books, and good people out there are supplying some, though not of even quality. I'm going to try out a collection of Chinese stories from Audio Books for Free.
The files aren't the best quality; you have to pay for the better ones. I would like to know how to listen to the great programs on Sound Portraits on my player. NPR has a lot of great podcasts for listening to, including peoples' stories on Story Corps and The Writer's Almanac. So, we'll see.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

I'm Not the Old Me

I was hunting through some stuff in the basement and found this old picture of me and my siblings, circa 1973. We were quite a crew. My haircut in those days was a lot like my son's is now; it must be a thing for 16-year-olds.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

A Ballad of the Lost and Found

Who knows the pleasure of the surprise of finding something you thought was lost forever, perhaps nothing special, just something that represents a time and a place, and the person you were when you lost it? When my daughter was about eight years old, and we had just moved to a small hobby farm in northeast South Dakota, she and my older son became very interested in treasures and making maps. My daughter made a treasure, some objects in an old black plastic lunch box. I don't remember what she put inside--some yarn, a plastic figurine, a bottle she had found. It disappeared. Years later, I found it next to a log in the shelterbelt, and all the treasure was intact, including a map she had drawn showing some marks for the location of the treasure (yes, I know, the map was inside the treasure). I got a thrill when I opened it, a lost treasure, a time capsule. She was thirteen, and when I showed it to her, she was ashamed, indicated that this silliness was something she would rather have forgotten. I gave her the treasure, and she threw it away. I wish I had kept it. I would like to have kept the map at least, and maybe a photo of the treasure in its chest. She would like to have it some day, I suspect, like Scout's cigar-box treasures.

I'm a keeper, much to the wife's chagrin. But this past weekend we hunted up an old treasure of her own. She was sure a cabinet matching the one we use for a bed table was still in her parents' old abandoned house. After a search, I found it in the basement, much the worse for wear; the moisture and racoons had damaged it, but not beyond repair. The drawers were stuck, and I could tell there were items inside. I got it home, and one drawer wouldn't give up its treasure, but finally, I banged it open and found, among other things, an old Korean shoe, one of the ones her aunt had bought for her and her sisters. Here's a picture of it. Those girls wore those shoes, but they appear to be more intended for placing on a shelf and admiring their hand-painted flowers.

What once-lost treasures have you found?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Kick-Ass Blender

When we got married the wife indicated that she wanted a kick-ass blender, one that wouldn't wilt when you asked it to make good smoothies. Here's one, complete with videos showing testing on cell-phones, cans and bottles, and even an iPod. Will It Blend?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A Note on Books

Books, books, books. Besides the copies of the magazines and journals and online and paper newspapers, I've been busy reading over the break. I just finished T. Coraghessan's Greasy Lake and Other Stories, a book with a wide range of subject matter, but with a consistent attention to detail and style. I had read two stories some time ago--"Greasy Lake" and "The Overcoat II"--and these prompted me to pick up the collection, which didn't disappoint. I'm also reading Amy Hempel's collection of stories Reasons to Live and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, both excellent books.

Didion's book is a sharp reminder of a class of people that live lives very different than mine and yours, I'd guess, people who can tick off the names of doctors and lawyers and writers and celebreties they count among their friends, people who pack up and fly across the continent or the ocean on a moment's notice, people for whom budgets do not seem to exist, people who call up neurologists and argue with them. I'm struck by that notion of power and wealth more than the anguish that she faces in light of the death of her husband and the illness of her daughter. Mostly the book seems to illustrate the frustration the author feels in having the orderly, managed, and comfortable world she lived in shattered by tragic events that she cannot control. For most of us, that world of chaos and disorder is far closer than it is for her; we live in the expectation of its arrival, in ongoing efforts to keep our footing within it. The plans of the world are always unfolding without our approval.

The world of Boyle's "Greasy Lake," where adolescents pretending to be "dangerous characters" actually run into some truly dangerous ones, is a lot closer to the world most of us live in. Still, there's a strange attraction to seeing Didion's dawning recognition of what most of us knew all along.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Regina Monologue

Of the gifts I got for Christmas, one has captured my attention in a surprising way, coming out of the blue with a sound unique and haunting, a new CD from Regina Spektor, someone I'd never heard of before, her fourth collection called Begin to Hope. Previous releases include Soviet Kitsch (2004), Songs, and 11:11 (the first two were self-released). Born in the Soviet Union, Spektor is part of the New York "antifolk" movement, quirky and independent; she has a powerhouse voice like Norah Jones and the offbeat quality of The Ditty Bops.

Here's from a review by Jenny Eliscu of Begin to Hope: "Compare her to other eccentric, female, piano-playing crooners, but New York singer-songwriter Regina Spektor is an oddball unto herself. Less miserable than Fiona Apple, less wacky than Nellie McKay and less hippieish than Tori Amos, Spektor shows off her gorgeous, fluttery voice, her burgeoning writer chops and her God-given quirks on her second disc, Begin to Hope."

Check her out! Thanks for the Christmas present, daughter!