Monthly Archives: October 2013

War of the Worlds

Happy 75th birthday, Orson Welles’ radio adaptation of War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells.

Having lived much of my childhood close to Grover’s Mill, New Jersey, this broadcast was always mystical to me. I’ve driven past Grover’s Mill, located in West Windsor Township, and imagined what it would have been like if Martians had landed in the farm fields nearby.

And I’ve thought about how easy it was to convince many radio listeners that the events described in the broadcast were real. People were used to getting their news from the radio. They were used to emergency interruptions with news about the war. People were nervous about the state of the world, and this broadcast, although many people understood an alien invasion is the work of fiction, were primed to cognitively accept this kind of disaster. The medium legitimized the story; reading a book is one thing, but a news story on the radio lends authority to the story, despite the prevalence of drama on the radio.

Imagine yourself in your sitting room a night in October of 1938, with the radio as the centerpiece. And spend the hour listening to the broadcast.

Words I don’t like, part III.

Big Data.

While this series is called Words I Don’t Like, today’s subject is a phrase. So much for literal accuracy.

Big Media has been trying for years to instill in the American populace a subtle form of megalophobia. Big Government is intruding into our lives, and we don’t want that. Should we be scared of Big Data?

Companies and industries are now using Big Data either to find ways to better serve their consumers or to exert power and control over those same consumers. Companies have been collecting data on the public for many years, but the availability of cheap storage and processing power has made it much easier to handle large amounts of data.

Data accumulation has been increasing, and today’s consumers are, more than ever, willing to provide personal information, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in return for the use of services and products.

Information is information, regardless of the size of the set. Calling data big is not descriptive  of the size, but it does put the idea in the reader that the data sets are powerful.

When we use a cell phone, for instance, a database is created of every location. We trust the mobile phone companies to keep that information private, but they don’t. Not only can the company use that information to analyze patterns of travel, but they have shown that upon request they will turn that information over to the government.

The minute-by-minute location data for every mobile phone user is a pretty big set of data.  But unless you’re trying to convince a reader of the possible tyranny of data — by those who own or have access to it, not by the data itself — then just stick to the word data.

Strike that. Just stick to data in all cases and retire Big Data.

Words I don’t like, part II.


Although I’ve never considered myself an entrepreneur, that seems to be what I’ve become.

It’s my own impression of the word. Checking WordNet, there’s no sense that implies anything negative about entrepreneur, but somehow hearing the word has always stirred up the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard in my inner ear.

Entrepreneurs are sleazy. Entrepreneurs are scammy. When they hustle for a buck, it’s a buck taken from someone who doesn’t realize it was a buck that could have stayed in the pocket. They eschew education in favor of street smarts and deride the concept of broadening knowledge.

Entrepreneurs rely on instinct rather than careful consideration. They take credit for their success and pass blame for their failures.

But an entrepreneur is just a business owner, a starter. Of course this isn’t how all entrepreneurs behave, but it’s the impression I get when someone uses this word as a self-description.

I’ve always been a starter, rarely a finisher. Ideas flow through me like other things that might flow through someone, and in the event I actually initiate one of these ideas, there’s a possibility, a small probability, that the idea might succeed.

I’ve undertaken — or entreprit — many internet-related projects over the years. One became, to me, an unbelievable success. I guess that makes me an entrepreneur, but I’m not happy about it.

Intonation conditioning and reconditioning.

Listening to She & Him Volume 3 on vinyl, I was struck about how my expectations for vocal music, and the performance capability of singers regarding intonation, has changed.

Intonation has always been an important part of music for me, particularly since I have a background in instrumental performance. Teaching a young ensemble to play in tune is a difficult but rewarding endeavor. In pop music, technology has replaced training and excellence in performance.

Why bother trying to sing or play in tune when the computer can correct your pitch? Well, pitch-correction with a device like Auto-Tune or software will alleviate the necessity for any pop singer to learn how to sing.

It’s clear Zooey Deschanel, the female vocalist in the group She & Him (and an actress), isn’t interested in assisting her performance with technology. But she also sings slightly out of tune.

Not terribly out of tune, but enough to be noticeable, and that’s in a musical environment in which we just expect everything we hear to be in tune — except on American Idol, where the contestants are criticized for being pitchy. Not flat, not sharp, just pitchy. I don’t know any music teacher who could get away with using the term pitchy when offering feedback on his students’ performance.

Zooey’s intonation — or outtonation, I guess — is actually kind of refreshing.

Also, why does no one think it’s weird that She & Him music is playing the background of the bar scenes on Zooey’s television show New Girl? Don’t the characters recognize their friend’s voice? Zooey’s character is not a singer on the show.

Saving the day.

In the end, the Doctor always saves the day. And that’s what the BBC is asking the world to do for 23 Nov 2013, the Day of the Doctor.

On that day, one month and one day from today, the 50th anniversary episode of my favorite sci-fi television program from across the (Amy) Pond, Doctor Who, will be simulcast in 3-D around the world. See the first trailer full of interesting Easter eggs for fans.

Save the day.

Words I don’t like, part I.


The word mastermind is a new business word, and I am loath to discover that I’ve been involved with the concept without knowing it.

One day each week, with exceptions, I speak with two of my colleagues: two entrepreneurs who have experienced some of the same business developments I have experienced, namely building blogs, turning them into businesses, and selling said blogs to larger companies for a sum likely unimaginable several years prior.

During this discussion, which takes place using Skype, we talk about upcoming projects, both shared and individual. We discuss strategies for doing interesting things. We dominate the world.

Or perhaps we will someday.

And all this time, we’ve been participating in what some people seem to want to call a mastermind group. Have we mastered the complexities of the human cranium and the neurons within? I don’t think so.

Mastermind seems to imply some kind of auto-idolization, a sense of inflated self-worth, faux-grandeur. It’s not accurate. But say mastermind group and other entrepreneurs know you mean a discussion including brainstorming sessions and internal idea-pitches. Throwing concepts against a wall to see what sticks.

Say mastermind to anyone else and it sounds ridiculous.

How I met your mother, season 9.

Initially, How I Met Your Mother was set to run eight seasons on CBS, but after improved ratings, the show’s producers added one season to wrap up the story.

The ninth season, twenty-two half-hour episodes, takes place over one weekend leading up to the Wedding of Barney and Robin. It’s forced. Ted-ius. But there is one bit of good news: the role of the Mother is portrayed by Cristin Milioti, hot off the Once stage on Broadway.

Cristin is sometimes an adequate proxy for Marketa Irglova in Once, playing the part of “Girl” that originated in the movie, but she should shine in HIMYM. Nevertheless, if her character isn’t given any depth — and I don’t see how t possibly could have any depth if she’s only a regular for several episodes — the inspired casting choice will be rendered irrelevant.

Life is too short for bad writing, but I want to see how the show ends. Is that so terrible?