Monday, April 25, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 173: Private Life

This week, I've got another podcast installment of Driving With Kumar as I discuss privacy in the digital age. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").





Show notes:



- Is there any privacy nowadays?


- Plenty of personal info is online


- People don't mind sharing every detail of their lives online


- Checking in from wherever you are


- Social media everywhere


- I like Twitter for quick bursts of info


- People are much more apt to voice opinions, good or bad, online


- Message boards and blog comments are an entire subculture unto themselves


- Anonymous comments on newspaper sites are similarly annoying


- How much is too much?


- Immersion in role-playing games, Second Life


- Monitoring kids' online activity


- Putting family photos online


- Facebook privacy concerns


- Folks love posting YouTube videos


- Getting off the grid


- Information overload


- Blogs can be confessional for people


- I write essays, concert reviews, CompCon show notes


- Podcasting allows anyone to create programming


- Never feel like I'm putting too much out there


- Bonehead of the Week



Music:



Dawes - If I Wanted Someone


Eleanor Friedberger - My Mistakes


Boris - Riot Sugar



Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!



The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.



The Dawes song is on the forthcoming album Nothing is Wrong on ATO Records. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at the band's website.



The Eleanor Friedberger song is on the forthcoming album Last Summer on Merge Records, where you can download the song for free.



The Boris song is from the album Heavy Rocks on Sargent House Records. Download the song for free at Pitchfork.



The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his new site PodGeek.



Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tentative Decisions

Life is full of choices. Many of them end up fairly meaningless in the long run, but every once in a while, you make a choice that has major implications on the rest of your life.


I had always done well in school, all the way back to grade school. It always came easy to me. But at the same time, I wasn't obsessed with good grades. I liked reading and doing well in school, but I also liked cracking up my buddies and playing street hockey and listening to music.


My younger brother, on the other hand, always had his nose buried in a book. He was so smart as a young'un that he skipped first grade. My dad used to say I was the smarter one but I didn't try, whereas my brother worked harder and got better grades. I don't buy that assessment. I just think we applied ourselves differently. I was always looking for a good time, and he was driven to succeed academically. My sixth-grade teacher Mr. Grummett had a great line in one of my report cards: "Jay needs to keep his smart remarks to himself."


Fast forward to high school. I had bounced around to four different schools in three years. By the time I got to New Hampshire, the pressure was on to make new friends. And I did, but I also started goofing off in class more, making even more "smart remarks" than before. My biology teacher told my parents that I was a good student, but I was spending too much time hanging out with the "wrong element." John Hughes movies portrayed high school kids as belonging to rigid cliques, but I found that to be a gross oversimplification: I was a dork who played sports and hung out with stoners as well as preppies. It was the best of all worlds. I was on track to be the school valedictorian, but a C in a computer programming course put me two points behind the top student at the end of senior year.


But when it came to deciding about college and what I wanted to major in, I honestly didn't give it much thought. My dad was an engineer, so I decided to declare as a chemical engineering major, like it was the family business or something. I liked chemistry and all, but it wasn't like I was passionate about it. It just seemed like something I should do.


I wish someone had advised me otherwise. All the moving around put me behind in math classes; I had never taken any pre-calculus in high school. At the freshman orientation at UNH in June, I asked if I should take a summer course in pre-calc to prepare me for the fall, but was told I didn't need to. So I enjoyed my last summer before college and showed up that fall thoroughly unprepared for life as a Chem E. major. I had an ass-kicker of a courseload, starting at 8 a.m. Monday/Wed./Friday with calculus, chemistry and physics one after the other. And then there the labs. Oh, and I also had a intro to English course. It didn't take long for me to realize I had made the wrong decision. My calc professor assumed we had all taken some sort of pre-calc and was going 100 mph right from the start. I was lost on day 1 and never caught up. Physics wasn't much better, and I was struggling in chemistry.

And sure, I started drinking that first weekend and continued, but I studied a lot. By November, I knew I was in trouble. One night I lay in bed pondering my future and realized it wasn't going to be as an engineer. I thought about what I could do, and journalism popped into my head. I had worked on the high school paper senior year, and while I never really took it seriously at the time, I had always been a pretty good writer. Even then, I knew it wasn't a high-paying career, but dammit, I was okay with that. So at 2 a.m. on that night in November 1985, I sat up and decided to change my major immediately and the next day, I got the process started.


Of course, there was still the matter of the last month or so of the semester. I ended up with a pitiful 1.08 grade point average: Fs in calculus and physics, a D in chemistry and an A- in...yep, English. I got a letter from UNH saying I was on academic probation; I had to go in to the dean of liberal arts' office and basically plead my way back into school. It was a long way to fall for someone who six months earlier was giving a well-received speech as salutatorian of his high school class. And then I had to back to school to pick up my scholarship check; I could hardly look my old principal in the face when he asked me how I was doing. And of course, my parents were none too pleased. Indian kids were supposed to do well in school. All in all, it was a pretty humiliating few months.


So back to school I went in January as a new English/Journalism major, taking liberal arts electives and actually enjoying myself. I also wisely took courses that started in the late morning or afternoon, since I was staying up late every night. By the end of that semester, I had a 3.08 GPA and was on track to a future that actually seemed bright. I took my first newswriting courses the following year and joined the school paper as a reporter in February 1987, which is when my journalism career really began.


Living in the dorm, we all had little white boards on our doors for folks to leave messages on (obviously, this was before the days of email, cell phones and the Internet). I used to write a quote of the day on my board (yeah, I know, dorky) and one day I used the line from Van Halen's "And the Cradle Will Rock": "Have you seen Junior's grades?" Of course, one of my wiseass buddies crossed out "Junior's" and replaced it with "Kumar's."


Of course, it was second semester and I could laugh at it because I had turned my academic career around by that point. Thanks to a little late-night epiphany. I'm sure glad I didn't decide to become a stockbroker.



Monday, April 18, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 172: Crossroads

Part 2 of my podcast conversation with special guest Tom Salemi as we discuss career shifts. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").




The show notes...

- Recorded at Choate Bridge Pub in Ipswich, Mass.

- Tom moved from local daily newspaper to Boston Business Journal

- Transition was smooth

- After a year, moved on to work at private equity newsletter

- Ready for a steady job with good pay, as opposed to a newspaper job

- Around the same time, Jay left healthcare writing gig for a dotcom

- Had stock in the company, hoped for good payoff but didn't happen

- Now you see the companies who had the best ideas: Apple, Netflix, Pandora, TiVo

- Went back to old job in fall of '01, right before dotcom went under

- Owner of Tom's company had the sense to sell at right time

- Another company tried to hire Tom for eight months

- Finally, he gave in; now writes about medical devices

- Tom has his own office in Newburyport, works by himself

- Jay now has a cube instead of an office

- Jay: Miss covering election nights at paper, court trials

- Don't miss covering night meetings

- Jay: Write a column about running for local paper

- Non-newspaper jobs offer more flexibility

- Tom writes blog about Newburyport

- Neither of us could do PR

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

My Morning Jacket - Circuital

Maritime - Paraphernalia

The Smoking Popes - Wish You Were

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The My Morning Jacket song is on the forthcoming album Circuital on ATO Records. Download the song for free at the band's website.

The Maritime song is on the album Human Hearts on Dangerbird Records. Download the song for free from Dangerbird (right click and "save as").

The Smoking Popes song is from the album This is Only a Test on Asian Man Records. Download the song for free courtesy of IODA Promonet:

This Is Only a TestSmoking Popes "Wish We Were" (mp3) from "This Is Only a Test" (Asian Man Records)
Buy at iTunes Music Store Buy at Amazon MP3 More On This Album

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his new site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

I Got Nothin'

We're on the cusp of yet another Boston Marathon. The 30,000 or so folks who are registered for the race are nervously awaiting the dawn and the running of the most important marathon in the world. But not me. I'm not nervous, because I'm not running.


I've run Boston three times, but I don't feel the need to do it every year. But many folks just assume I'm running it. It's kind of funny to me. People almost seem disappointed when I tell them I'm not doing it. But whatever. This spring, I decided not to do a marathon and I'm okay with that. Sure, there are some slight pangs of anticipation and envy as the buildup towards Boston takes place. But I was pretty banged up physically and mentally after last year's marathons and I just needed a break.


Instead, I'm doing two half marathons, which are much easier to train for. Although the Great Bay Half I did a few weeks ago in Newmarket, NH, kicked my butt. It's very hilly, and I knew that since I ran it in 2007, but it wasn't an easy winter to do hill work. I did most of my running on the treadmill and paid the price in the last few miles at Great Bay. But my next half, The Run to Remember on May 29, is a flat run along the Charles River in Boston, so hills won't be a problem. My only worry is the potential for a hot, humid day. The race starts at 8 a.m., so I should be done before it gets too hot out there. We'll see.


In the meantime, I've also signed up to play on an over-40 soccer team. I was supposed to make my debut this morning but the game was rained out. Of course, an hour after it was called off, the sun came out, but the field was apparently in rough shape from all the rain we've had lately. I decided to go out to a nearby field with the girls later in the day and do some windsprints with cleats on, just to get used to them again. The last time I wore them in a game, Hannah was a newborn (she turns 9 in two weeks). I'm going to be one of the younger guys on my team; I'm hoping I can bring a little speed to the team, if not skill. Should be fun.



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You're All Talk

From the ever-growing file of Things That Make Me Feel Old: David Letterman turned 64 today. Which only makes me feel old when I realize that I've been watching Dave host late night talk shows since 1982, when he first made the move to the 12:30 a.m. time slot with "Late Night With David Letterman" on NBC.


I only watched it sporadically at first because it was on so late, mainly in the summer when I didn't have to get up for school. Eventually I came upon the bright idea of taping the show with our VCR and watching it the next day (a practice I continue to do today, although I tend to skim through much of it in the interest of time).


While Letterman was heavily influenced, as all talk show hosts were back then, by Johnny Carson (indeed, he won the first Johnny Carson Award at Comedy Central's Comedy Awards, which aired last night), he revolutionized the talk show format. Taking full advantage of the late hour, Letterman introduced an ironic, edgy voice to the formerly staid format, flipping the genre on its head with offbeat humor, strange characters and just whatever the hell he felt like, including remote segments, Stupid Human and Pet Tricks, Viewer Mail, and of course, Top 10 lists. Late Night caught on with college kids first--and by the time I got to college in 1985, I was staying up every night to watch it (which didn't help me with the morning classes I had my first semester). One show was done in black and white, another featured a "Monkey Cam," another rotated the camera 360 degrees, and so on.


I had already been a big comedy fan and had hungrily consumed heavy doses of SCTV and Saturday Night Live in my early teens and I enjoyed watching Carson, but Letterman seemed like the next logical step. And he introduced me to a lot of standup comedians including Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison and some guy named Jay Leno, who came on his show a lot back in the '80s and very early '90s (about 60 times). In fact, I attended a taping of Late Night in 1992 that featured Leno's last appearance before he took over The Tonight Show a few months later; Letterman had notoriously wanted to succeed his hero Carson, but the NBC brass ended up going with Leno. And both men were cordial during this taping, although it later came out that their relationship had of course soured.


Dave eventually jumped ship to CBS to start the Late Show at 11:30 and he remains there to this day. He definitely toned down his act, although it hasn't helped him in the ratings as Leno has consistently beat him for the last 15 years or so. While Dave isn't the revolutionary he once was, he's still funny. And he's had some great moments at CBS, such as when he was the first talk show host to go on the air after 9/11 and put into words what viewers needed to hear at that time. But he's turning into a curmudgeon, which can be funny but also gets one to wonder when he's going to hang it up. Asked just that by Howard Stern a few months ago, Letterman said he might have another two years in him, which would put him at about the same age Carson was when he retired in 1992.


Whenever he does call it quits, it'll be a sad day for TV and for me. But it'll also be a time to reflect on the immense comedy legacy he's built over the decades.



The Thrill Cam:




Dave's classic encounter with Crispin Glover:


Monday, April 11, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 171: Right Turn

Part 1 of my podcast conversation with special guest Tom Salemi as we discuss what happens when your career takes a different turn. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").





The show notes...

- Recorded at Choate Bridge Pub in Ipswich, Mass.

- Old newspaper reporters from back in the day

- Tom toured the Boston Herald newsroom as a high schooler

- Went to BU, worked at the Daily Free Press

- Saw journalism as a public service/crusade

- Looked down on journalists who left the fold

- When you're a young reporter, you work crazy hours and don't mind

- Tom started working at small weekly on Cape Cod

- Jay and Tom worked for daily papers in the same chain

- Tom worked at three papers before arriving at Newburyport Daily News

- Eventually, Tom burned out on community journalism

- Jay: Similar burnout story happened a few years earlier

- Weird adjustment to 9 to 5 gig

- Tom was miserable at first non-newspaper job

- Some reporters can't handle the transition to a "regular" job

- Enjoying the casual aspects of the job

- Bonehead of the Week


Music:

Art Brut - Lost Weekend

Sloan - Unkind

Low - Especially Me


Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Art Brut song is on the forthcoming album Brilliant! Tragic! on Cooking Vinyl Records. Download the song for free at Pitchfork.

The Sloan song is on the forthcoming album The Double Cross on Yep Roc Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic (right click and "save as").

The Low song is from the album C'mon on Sub Pop Records, where you can download the song for free.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his new site PodGeek. Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

A Song for the Dead

This past Tuesday was a solemn occasion on the Interwebs as everybody and his or her brother felt obliged to comment on the 17th anniversary of Kurt Cobain's death: where they were when they heard the news (and granted, the news actually broke on April 8 because his body wasn't found until then), how they feel frickin' old because it's been so long, wondering what kind of music he'd be making if he was alive today, pondering the legacy he left behind, etc.

I've certainly done it before, but this year, it just seemed kind of pointless. It's not that Cobain's death wasn't a shock to me at the time; it just wasn't shocking. The signs were there for at least two years before he actually blew his brains out: the heroin use and subsequent ODs, the depression over his fame, his screwed-up marriage, etc. I saw Nirvana in Springfield, Mass., in November 1993 and I felt a sense of relief that I was able to see them play before he died. Because it really did seem inevitable that it would happen soon. And sure enough, he was gone less than six months later.

In a strange twist of fate, another screwed up Seattle singer died on the same day as Cobain eight years later. Layne Staley of Alice in Chains was found about two weeks after he actually died, all 86 emaciated pounds of him. He had been hooked on heroin for years, and 10 years earlier had documented his hellish ride on AIC's classic album Dirt. It was a pathetic end to a sad life.

As I get older, more and more of my rock (and other) heroes are dying. The first death I really remember being bummed out by was that of John "Bonzo" Bonham, the drummer of Led Zeppelin. I had just gotten into Zep, so it was a real disappointment. Then a few years later, Ozzy Osbourne's guitarist Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash. Marvin Gaye was shot by his father. Phil Lynott. Stevie Ray Vaughan. Andrew Wood. Michael Hutchence. Jeff Buckley. John Entwistle. Joey, Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone. Johnny Thunders. Steve Clark. Shannon Hoon. Richard Manuel. Jerry Garcia. Tim Taylor. Alex Chilton. Gary Moore. The list goes on and on. And on.

After a while, you get kind of numb to it all. It's a bummer, but life goes on. And we've got the music to remember them by. And that's the only memory that really matters in the end.



Monday, April 04, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 170: The Rest of My Life

I've got another installment of Driving With Kumar as I discuss the strange sensation of getting older. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

The show notes...

- Don't feel old, but constantly reminded that I'm getting older

- I've been out of college almost 22 years

- Friends have kids who are now in their 20s and 30s

- Time has flown by, but much has happened

- Some of my co-workers were born when I was in college

- The technological advances in the last 20 years are amazing

- My first cell phone was actually a car phone in late '90s

- Had interoffice email at newspaper in late '80s

- Got my first Internet-connected PC in '95

- My new Droid is faster and more powerful than my first few computers

- We've grown very narcissistic as a society

- My attention span is shorter nowadays

- Haven't hit midlife crisis yet

- Definition of fun changes as you get older

- Bonehead of the Week


Music:

Yuck - Georgia

Wild Flag - Glass Tambourine

The Smith Westerns - Imagine, Pt. 3


Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Yuck song ison the band's self-titled album on Fat Possum Records. Download the song for free at SXSW (right click and "save as").

The Wild Flag song is on the B-side of the band's new 7-inch on Merge Records. Download the song for free at Ground Control Touring.

The Smith Westerns song is from the album Dye It Blonde on Fat Possum Records. Download the song for free at Pitchfork.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his website PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.