Wednesday, February 03, 2010

orange barrels

Many of the web designers, I.T. guys and better bloggers I've known over the past few years have advised me to use different software on my website. Specifically they wanted me to dump However I thought of the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."

Back in the olden days, my choice of web hosting service was based on whether or not they could handle Microsoft FrontPage extensions. The computer guru at KLOS helped me get started. I still use FrontPage to upload photos to my site, even though Microsoft discontinued the product about three years ago.

At first, I used my website to host my résumé, some sound files and some photos of my trip to Alaska. All that changed in 2005 when I decided to start writing a daily blog. Rich Hailey, my "blogfather," told me about the software he used at the time, which I think was Movable Type. I downloaded it and looked it over but ultimately went with a beginner-level choice. I've been using ever since.

Most people who use Blogger have a URL that ends with "" It means that their content is hosted for free by Google. Because I already had my own domain, I decided to reinforce my personal brand by keeping the blog at Blogger had a simple option for that. I upload each new entry from Blogger's interface to using their FTP service.

Yesterday I got an email from Blogger that made me feel like they were breaking up with me. Apparently I have one of only .5% of active blogs that are published via FTP.
Dear FTP user:
You are receiving this e-mail because one or more of your blogs at are set up to publish via FTP. We recently announced a planned shut-down of FTP support on Blogger Buzz (the official Blogger blog), and wanted to make sure you saw the announcement. We will be following up with more information via e-mail in the weeks ahead, and regularly updating a blog dedicated to this service shut-down here:
There are about seven weeks before my FTP blog gets kicked to the curb. I have a lot of reading to do before I will fully understand my Internet options. At first glance it looks like I could let Google become my hosting service. Because I want my blog to be a large part of my site but not all of it, that may not be the best option for me.

Chris Townsend, the talented web designer who started Maverick Advertising, has suggested several times that I migrate my blog to WordPress. Migrating makes me nervous because I worry that something will be lost in translation. I dread the possible abundance of broken links. Nevertheless, I have set March 1 as a target date to make some kind of switch. The road ahead may be a little bumpy but I hope you'll stick with me.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

audio killed the video star

The digital TV transition last year prompted me to put a WiFi clock radio on my Christmas wish list. I wanted a way to listen to news during the 4:00 a.m. hour, which I used to do when WATE's analog signal could be heard on 87.7 FM. I now wake up to WTOP from Washington, DC.

When I have a few extra minutes, I've been scouring through the source codes for two radio stations' websites hoping to find a hidden URL that will work on my Sanyo device. I got 101.5 FM The Music Place to stream successfully but not WINC-FM. I will keep trying because WINC is my station of choice in Northern Virginia.

I have also been adding more stations and podcasts to the subfolders on my radio via As I was scrolling through the thousands of available choices, I noticed that the TV audio streams from CNN and MSNBC are available.

Because I've heard that WiMAX is in our future and that we will all have Internet radio in our cars someday, I think it would be a good idea for local television stations to offer streaming audio of their newscasts. I could easily fall back into my old habit of listening to WATE. A local gospel station simulcasts WVLT's noon news, which is good if I happen to be in the car during those 25 minutes. WBIR has a cable channel called 10News2 that repeats their most recent newscast until the next one comes along. I think its audio would be ideal for Internet streaming. Who's with me?

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

but wait, there's more

The goal I set for myself last night was to figure out how to get WINC and WVMP on my new WiFi clock radio. I located both their streams online and added them to "My Streams" at Just before climbing into bed this afternoon for my nap, I saw that a new menu item had been added to my radio but neither station connected. I will keep trying.

The good news is that the results of my other experiments did work. Included in the new menu item called "My Stuff" were "My Stations," "My Podcasts," and "My MP3tunes." Since the eight stations I put on my preset buttons aren't enough when the whole world wide web is available, I now have a menu with some stations I'm interested in occasionally sampling like KIIS, KFI, WMAL, WWVQ and WXMX.

Registering the radio gave me a free membership at a site called It offers a "music locker" where I can upload my own files from anywhere and then listen to them on my clock radio. I uploaded a bunch of Christmas songs and Frank Jr.'s version of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." I'm not ready for the season to be over yet, which is good because I will be the narrator for the Christmas Cantata at All Saints Church this weekend.

So far my favorite feature has to be "My Podcasts." I was too excited to sleep, so until I drifted off, I listened to the latest podcasts from Kevin & Bean, Fr. Gary Braun and Coverville. The latter was a countdown of their top ten cover songs. A country version of "Gin & Juice" (NSFW) was outstanding.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

tenth or eleventh day of Christmas

The new clock radio I wanted for Christmas passed its first test this morning. It turned on at 4:30 a.m. and began playing WTOP. Or more accurately, The great gift from my wife receives both local FM stations and Internet streams.

The Sanyo R227 has eight presets for FM and eight presets for WiFi. I had a hard time finding eight local stations I liked enough to fill all the presets. I'm having the opposite problem narrowing down the thousands of Internet stations to pick my top eight.

For starters, I have programmed four news stations and four music stations. The news stations will stay on my buttons as long as their programming during the 4:00 a.m. ET hour interests me. I picked a station in each of the three cities where I've lived and one in St. Louis since I visit there often. They are WTOP, KNX, WINS and KMOX.

The music stations were a little easier to choose. I went with KROQ, KCRW and WLNG. The owner's manual says I can register my new toy at By doing so, I can add stations to my device. I joined the site tonight and requested WINC, where my friend Paula works, as well as 101.5 The Music Place, where my friend Sarah works.

Since neither WINC nor The Music Place were on the list of stations already in the radio, I have temporarily assigned the last button to an Internet-only stream called "Christmas Vinyl." After all, the Christmas season runs through Sunday at my church.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

blood relative

Pomegranates have been my favorite fruit since I was a kid. Nowadays, I use them as a salad garnish. Before dinner tonight, I put one in a large bowl of lukewarm water and plunged a paring knife into the stem. As I twisted the knife and cut through the white membrane on the inside, my son started humming a familiar tune. He even activated the mp3 player on his phone to play the theme from "Dexter." I peeled away the skin and accidentally broke an aril or two, which reminded me all the more of the show's outstanding opening sequence.

The show was top of mind for both of us. It's been a favorite of mine since it debuted. When my son got home for Christmas break, he expressed an interest in catching up on the exceptionally good season 4. So far we have watched four episodes in high def via video on demand. I don't usually rewatch shows that I've already seen but with the advantage of hindsight after the shocking season finale, I am interested in looking for clues and subtext.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

sync or swim

The technological challenge of presenting the Living Christmas Tree in a basketball arena is mind-boggling. I was impressed with the professional caliber of the performance. It's as good a show as you would expect to see at a theater in Nashville or a theme park in Orlando. Was it too good to be true?

As I watched the program yesterday, I wondered where they placed the microphones for all the singers in the enormous, tree-shaped riser. Some of the soloists had flesh-colored headset mics on their cheeks. I thought about how many wireless channels it would take to collect the sound from the hundreds of cast members.

My suspicions were confirmed today by someone who attended the matinee performance on Sunday. She has a friend who played in the sizable live orchestra. The friend told her that the acoustics of Thompson-Boling Arena would make it impossible for all the musicians and singers to play and sing together. The distance between the orchestra pit and the singers in the tree would create an audio delay. As a result, the musicians and most of the singers pre-record their parts in October. A few of the soloists sing live with the recorded track. The rest of the singers and musicians aren't just mouthing the words or playing air guitar. They do actually sing along and play along with themselves but without microphones.

Armed with this information, am I surprised? A little. Am I disappointed? No. Do I regret going to the show last year or this year? No. Will I go again next year? Absolutely.

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

we have clearance, Clarence

The third meeting of the FBI Citizens Academy involved pizza and a field trip. We went to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory tonight for presentations on super computing, espionage and counter-intelligence. Our FBI instructors knew that no trip to Oak Ridge is complete without Big Ed's Pizza. Either someone at Big Ed's has a security badge that let's them make deliveries past the guard shack or someone at the FBI picked up the food and brought it to the meeting.

The lecture on super computing included high-resolution images shown on a power wall. Imagine 27 rear projection screens seamlessly blended to show 35 million pixels. They told us about the Jaguar, a computer that performs 1.3 quadrillion operations per second. I learned that floating point operations per second are called "flops." They are dealing in kiloflops, megaflops, gigaflops, and teraflops.

A counter-intelligence agent showed us Internet chat transcripts between an ORNL engineer and an alleged woman in China. She, if she was really a she, tried to get him to come to China for a visit. He finally got around to reporting his relationship with a foreign national months later than he should have and ended up losing his job when he tried to rekindle the online romance after being warned by his bosses.

The highlight of the evening for me was the hidden camera footage from operation "Barrier Reef." An FBI agent took us through the case study of Roy Lynn Oakley, a laborer for Bechtel Jacobs, hired to help dismantle the K-25 uranium enrichment plant. He smuggled out pieces of sensitive equipment in his work gloves and tried to sell them to France. His first plan was to contact the French government while traveling to Canada but he couldn't shake his wife and her relatives. Then he bought a Tracfone and tried calling the French consulate using the fake name "Paul Collins." The FBI assigned an undercover agent to run a "false flag operation." Oakley made a dead drop of a CD with photos of the stolen barrier tubes. The photos inadvertently showed part of a mailing label with Oakley's real name and address. The agent met Oakley at McGhee Tyson Airport and videotaped him as he showed the stolen tubes and took $200,000 in cash. They arrested him and got the money back. He pleaded guilty this past January.

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009

dynamic utilization of the audio medium

One of the first things I did this morning was to ask the following question on my Twitter and Facebook pages: "Other people seem to be a lot more excited about 09/09/09 than I am. What am I missing?"

Johnny from Wise Brother Media replied that I must be "missing the idiot gene." A former WAVA engineer wrote that today is negative day in Germany: "Nein, Nein, Nein!" Richard from Academy Ballroom said that 999 is the emergency number in the UK, similar to 911 here.

My daughter sent along a news story about all the people getting married in Las Vegas today with the comment "they must have all had a dose of Love Potion # 9/9/09." One reader pointed out that today Apple finally came out with an iPod with an FM tuner in it. I had been griping about the need for that just this past Sunday.

All this "nine-sense" reminded me of a Mylar balloon that I saw at Patrick Sullivan's last night. It was in the shape of the number 9. It inspired me to start telling some of the guys in Einstein Simplified about the famous parody of Top 40 radio called "Nine!" which was created by Howard Hoffman and some others.

WVWA, Pound Ridge is a fictional station that evolved the same way many stations of its era did. A tribute site has links to the audio and to an actual engineering website which made the station its "Tower Site of the Week" on April Fool's Day in 2004.

I don't know Alan Furst but I can tell you that he sure knows what he's talking about when he compares my favorite station, WLNG, to Nine Double O Radio and the Nine! format to modern day Portable-People-Metered stations. WLNG sounds exactly like Nine Double O Radio with its flagrant disunity of programming elements and abundance of unnecessary sound.

Without further ado, here's the audio history of Nine! Any real radio guys and gals will laugh heartily at the legal ID heard at 5:28 into the clip.

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Sunday, September 06, 2009

firework modulation

To prepare for tonight's Boomsday fireworks, I have been advising listeners to bring a portable radio to better hear the synchronized soundtrack on Star 102.1. It would be easier if all iPods and cell phones had FM tuners in them the way my Walkman does.

While our daughter and her friends were at Mass, my wife and I dug around my home office looking for some other FM radios and putting batteries in them. We found a total of three (including my Walkman) and figured that the five of us could share the six earbuds if we stood close enough together. Here's a little secret, the part of the soundtrack we hear is in mono. The guys from Pyro Shows use the right channel for the commands to fire each shell.

I was pleasantly surprised when the girls got back to find out that they had taken my advice. On the way home from church, they stopped at Walgreens and bought small FM radios for $3 each. One of my daughter's friends used her fancy camera to take a picture of two of them. I used my fancy springsuit to reduce the glare coming off the plastic package.

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Tuesday, September 01, 2009

upper class twit of the year

Because today was my first day with a new QWERTY phone, I was inspired. My wife and kids chipped in to buy me an LG enV3. It makes it much easier to exchange text messages with the kids and to post status updates to Facebook and Twitter.

A week ago, I used my old phone to post a couple of Twitpics during the Einstein Simplified improv show. I was eager to try out the better camera on my new phone during tonight's show at Patrick Sullivan's. This afternoon I thought about posting the pictures to my own Twitter account and decided that the group should be on Twitter too.

I created an account and sent the password to the other members. Unfortunately Twitter only allows 15 characters for its user names, so I couldn't get "EinsteinSimplified." Instead I settled on "EinsteinImprov." This is the same reason my personal account is "FrankMurphyCom" instead of "FrankMurphyDotCom."

Obviously, I haven't figured out how to use the camera yet. The three pictures I posted came out sideways. Mike Richardson got involved by posting two TwitVids, one before and one during the show.

For the bio line on our Twitter account, I typed "Relatively Funny, in Theory." I liked the way Paul Simmons accepted it and advanced it by changing it to Relatively Funny, in Theory, Hilarious in Fact."

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Friday, August 21, 2009

small talk

If you asked me a year ago, I would have said I didn't need Facebook, much less Twitter. But things change and I joined one and then the other. For a long time, I believed that if any of my friends or former co-workers wanted to find me, a simple Google search would lead them to

At the time I joined LinkedIn, Facebook was still for kids. I found LinkedIn to be rather dry and I couldn't get excited about logging on. Last October, I participated in the filming of a no-budget horror film called "Fish Bait." I quickly discovered that the New York based cast and crew all used Facebook as their networking tool. For show business, Facebook was a better fit than LinkedIn. Through Facebook, I learned that the movie will have its premiere on September 19 at Flat Hollow Marina & Resort.

After a couple of months of rumination, I finally joined Facebook on New Year's Day. By then the service was being overrun with the parents and grandparents of the original audience. For many people, having a Facebook page is now as essential as having a cell phone. I opened an account for people I know from "the business" and another one for me to communicate with listeners. I know of several news anchors who have at least two pages, one for their public persona and another for their families and friends. I post links to my blog entries on Facebook. I also like to post events such as the weekly Einstein Simplified shows and my remote broadcasts. So far I have ignored most invitations to join Farmville, Mafia Wars or whatever flavor-of-the-month application is making the rounds.

Text messaging has been a thorn in my side for a while. I understand supply and demand but it still bothered me that the cellular companies charged so much for texting. Don't even get me started about having to pay for incoming messages. When I got a message that read "Money is tight, times are hard, I just texted you my Christmas card," I called my cell provider and canceled my text service. Recently my wife and I got to the point where we had to increase the number of texts per month that our children could use. The best available option was to pay $30 a month for unlimited texting for the family. Ugh.

When a good friend heard that I had reactivated my texting, he immediately sent the following message: "Hey glad 2 hear u r textable! U want a palm treo phone I don't use anymore? Let's hang out soon." Here's my feeble reply: "Hello! let's chat soon. I Am not good at texting. FRanj." He gave me the Palm Treo but doesn't have the power cable. My son joked that the free phone was "without charge." At this point, I'm not even sure if I will be able to use it. My cellular provider may insist that I carry a data and email package in order to use a smart phone. All I want it for is the QWERTY keyboard. By the way, I"ve been surprised by the number of people I've met this week who didn't know that the QWERTY keyboard gets its name from the letters on the first six keys.

Now that I have unlimited texting, I may as well get my money's worth. I'm usually on the computer early in the morning and late in the evening. I am usually offline from the time I leave work around noon until after dinner. On nights that I have an improv show or other activity, I often don't get back on the computer until after the performance. Some of my Facebook friends with smart phones are able to update their status from anywhere. If I joined Twitter, I could tap out an update on my alpha-numeric keypad and have it simultaneously show up on Facebook by using the Selective Twitter Status application.

Twitter has its own pros and cons. My friend Bean mentioned on his Twitter feed that I had joined and 20 of his followers immediately started following me as well. I haven't quite yet mastered it. I still need to figure out how to send a picture to Twitpic and how to receive messages from certain people but not everyone on my phone. As of now, Twitter is a one way street for me, which is not how it's supposed to work. Just the other day I read a "tweet" that said, "LinkedIn is like your office. Facebook is like your home. Twitter is like a cocktail party."

I agree with all those who think that the words associated with Twitter are embarrassing. Who wants to Tweet? Not me. Tweeple? Give me a break. The Tworld Twide Tweb? Okay, I made that last one up. After a week on the Twitter, I have yet to write anything memorable. It's harder to on some days than it is others, probably because of my pre- and post- improv show sleep schedule. I look at Twitter as a series of disposable comments that were not intended to withstand the test of time. Here are some of the more riveting Tweets I am responsible for (sarcasm intended):
  • Why did "Chad Ochocinco" kick an extra point? They have the TV volume muted here at Backyard Burgers.
  • Note to self: search the YouTube for an a cappella performance of "I Gotta Feeling." Could be funny.
  • Surrounded by thunder and lightning at Turkey Creek. #fb
  • The manager of Pimento's finally asked us to leave at 9:00 p.m. Turns out they had closed at 8:00. #fb
  • My near daily dilemma: it looks like rain just as I am ready for the pool. I need to figure out how to reset my circadian swim rhythms. #fb
  • Some people think that Feast with the Beasts should be a vegetarian event. When the lions stop eating meat, so will I.
If after all that gibberish, you are still interested in seeing my updates, feel free to follow FrankMurphyCom. If I can figure out how, I'll place a widget on this page to show the most recent efforts.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

punt, pass & cake

Maybe Google Maps was in a playful mood the other day. All I wanted were the directions to Comcast's office on Asheville Highway. Google said I should take I-640. I wanted to see if it would be faster to go through downtown on I-40. I dragged the blue line from 640 to 40 but Google had me getting off the Interstate and taking surface streets. I dragged it back and Google reacted with yet another detour. It took me a moment to realize that the almighty Google doesn't know that SmartFIX40 has been completed since June 12th.

I had been invited to a press conference on the day that additions to Comcast's sports line up were activated. They now carry ESPNU on channel 735. Their high speed Internet customers now get access to at no additional charge. Locally, Comcast will televise seven high school football games. The last game of the season will be chosen by viewers' votes at If you don't have a dog in that fight, do me a favor and vote for Bearden at Catholic once the season starts.

The food at the press conference was themed like a tailgate party. They had mini corn dogs, chips, dip, sandwiches and a cake. The cake was actually two cakes. A football made of pound cake sat atop a field made of sheet cake. I wonder if they got the idea to use pound cake from watching "Cake Boss."

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Monday, August 03, 2009

what happens in vagus…

Now that it's a month later, it's obvious that there were no lasting side effects. However three-and-a-half hours into our road trip, we almost called off our vacation to New England. I was riding in the back seat of our CR-V with my feet up on a cooler. When I shifted positions, my left leg cramped up. The pain was so bad that I couldn't speak. There wasn't much room for me to stretch my calf muscle. When the pain eased some, I told my wife and son that I felt lightheaded.

The next thing I knew, my son was saying "Dad, Dad can you hear me?" It was like he was trying to wake me from a deep sleep. I had passed out. By this point, my wife had already taken the next exit on I-81. We were somewhere in the vicinity of Radford, Virginia.

In addition to being lightheaded, I now felt nauseous . My wife called GOOG-411 to find the closest hospital. She couldn't tell them where to look because we didn't know exactly where we were. She had pulled into the parking lot of an office building with no visible landmarks. She called her brother, who was able to access the Internet and give her directions to the New River Valley Medical Center in Christiansburg.

While my wife was on the phone, I laid down on the back seat with both doors open. The cool air felt refreshing and I didn't want to get up. The late David Bloom was on our minds although I thought I had walked around enough at our last bathroom stop to prevent a deep vein thrombosis. I silently said a bunch of Hail Marys, with an emphasis on the line "now and at the hour of our death," just in case.

When we got to the hospital, I got into a wheelchair and was pushed into the emergency room. I was tired and thirsty and honestly thought I might get out of there with a diagnosis of "dehydration and exhaustion." They eventually gave me a bag of saline solution and some anti-nausea medicine that they normally give to chemo patients. The nurse didn't get it when I joked, "you don't mess with the Zofran."

They asked my wife and son if I looked pale when I fainted. It was hard to tell because I had gone to Sun Tan City the night before to get a VersaSpa treatment. Later, when they peeled the EKG electrodes off my chest, a layer of tan came off too.

When the doctor asked me what day it was, I confidently replied "Friday." Wrong. It was Thursday. In my defense, the last thing I did before leaving work on Thursday was to voice-track Friday’s midday shift. I recorded several announcements saying it was Friday and to meet the station staff "today" at a contest registration event.

The doctor diagnosed my incident as a vasovagal syncope. The intense pain caused my heartbeat to slow down. I wasn't getting enough blood to my brain and I passed out. Apparently something, possibly my swimming, has lowered my resting heart rate. The pulse oximeter showed my heart rate to be around 58 beats per minute. Reclining in the hospital must have gotten the blood flowing back to my brain because I thought of the title for this blog post while lying on the bed.

In talking with the doctor, we realized that this had happened to me once before. Several years ago I was trying to help my father-in-law replace the InSinkErator in our Dale City townhouse. We were about to put the house on the market for our move to Burbank. While trying to remove the old disposal, a shard of plastic broke off and punctured my right palm. There was very little blood but a lot of pain. I felt lightheaded and nauseous so I went into the bathroom to throw up. Instead I passed out. I woke up to the upside-down sight of Aunt Dee headed toward me on her walker to take my pulse.

By the time we left the hospital, it was too late to continue driving to my mother's house in Northern Virginia as planned. We went to a Denny's but I was nauseous again and had no appetite. A full night's sleep at the nearby Holiday Inn Express cured me and I was able to enjoy their complimentary continental breakfast. We re-routed our trip from there directly to Saugerties, with a stop for lunch in Hershey.

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Saturday, August 01, 2009

digital examination

A few old pals were in Nashville for Morning Show Bootcamp this past week. Some additional responsibilities at work kept me from attending on Thursday or Friday but I was able to stop by today for the final two seminars.

I especially enjoyed the Digital Media Forum and not just because today happens to be my blog's fourth anniversary. The session was moderated by Jeff Dauler. The panelists were John Peake, Kipper McGee, Joel Denver, Daniel Anstandig and Michael Gaston.

I came out of the meeting with a list of things to look up when I got home. Some had funny names like Twellow and Twuffer. One of the panelists uses Scribe4You to update his blog. Others recommended that website owners take a look at BrowserShots, Feng-Gui and Quantcast. If I had an iPhone, I would be interested in the FaceMic application, which was suggested by one of the attendees, Justin Kaiser. Justin also likes BlogDesk.

The panel said that it was only a matter of time before automobiles will have dashboard Wimax receivers. When that happens, we'll be able to drive around and listen to any radio station that streams on the web. It's up to each radio show to establish their own brand identity so they'll be ready to compete with thousands of choices during the morning commute instead of the just the others on the local AM and FM dials.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A recent movie reminded me of the trip that is responsible for my quest to visit all fifty states. My wife and I saw "The Proposal" after it had been out for a couple of weeks. I really liked it and was pleasantly surprised that the trailer didn't give too much away. Most of the film is set in Sitka, Alaska, although the credits indicate that it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. The beautiful mountains in the background were added by a special effects company in Boston.

When my mother and my sister invited me to meet them in Anchorage, I had nothing but time on my hands. The Comedy World Radio Network had gone bankrupt and I had not yet landed my first job in Knoxville. I arranged my flights from Burbank to Anchorage with a 24 hour layover in Seattle so I could visit my friend Bean and his wife Donna.

My mother had a Sony Mavica camera at the time. Before the trip, I bought a package of 3.5 inch disks to use as "film" in case I saw a moose. The only moose I saw was a baby at the Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center, which now has the more politically correct name Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I remember buying two Christmas ornaments in their gift shop.

We saw some animals in their natural habitat during a wildlife cruise through the Kenai Fjords. The ship sailed past some cool-looking glaciers, pardon the pun, and a Dall's porpoise swam alongside.

The best part of the vacation was a Denali (that's Mt. McKinley to the non-Alaskans) "flightseeing trip" aboard a Talkeetna Air Taxi. The little Cessna landed on a glacier with a good view of the mountain. We got out of the plane and walked around. I used the opportunity to eat the "portable birthday cake" that my wife and kids had put in my luggage.

I didn't know it at the time, but on the way to Talkeetna, we passed right by Wasilla. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see Russia from there, no matter what Tina Fey says.

By the time I got home, I had been to 25 states, including the two hardest-to-reach ones. I set a personal goal to visit the rest within ten years. When my wife and kids were ready to move from California to Tennessee, we routed our trip mostly along I-70 instead of I-40 so I could add Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky to my list. As you probably know, my current tally is 43 down, 7 to go.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

bear marketing

As the bear trainer went through his act, it occurred to me that if I told the same jokes three times a day and didn't get laughs, I would change my jokes. Not so at Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Early in the routine, one of the bears opens a mailbox. The trainer, one of the Clarks, wonders if the mailbox will contain another AOL disc or Publisher's Clearing House entry. AOL disc? Really?

Other than the patter, the bear show was enjoyable. The black bears raised a flag, dunked a basketball, rode on a swing and more. One of the bears rode a Segway around the ring as a promotion for the Segway rides available at the other end of the property. My family and I headed that way so I could finally get a chance to ride one myself. It was fun and I would have liked to stay on it longer than my allotted three minutes.

Before departing the 42nd state on my to do list, we paused for a swim at Weirs Beach on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

plus eight minus me

The on-screen guide displayed a new reality show that I kind of like. I was about to flip to TLC last Monday night and wait for it to start when I saw that the program was both preceded and followed by Jon & Kate. The last thing I want to see is the Gosselins, even by accident. Fortunately the show I wanted to watch has been available in the On Demand menu that I now get from Comcast. I recently got their cable, phone and Internet services as part of a radio endorsement deal.

"Cake Boss" is far from perfect, however I'm finding that I'm enjoying it more than "Ace of Cakes" on Food Network. Admittedly, I've only recently started watching "Ace of Cakes" but I feel that "Cake Boss" does a better job of explaining how the cakes are actually made. Also, the cakes they show from Carlo's Bakery look more tasty than the sculptures I've seen made by Charm City Cakes. They show Buddy Valastro filling his cakes with delicious chocolate or fresh strawberries. Duff Goldman and his crew of Baltimoreans seem to focus more on researching, designing and building their creations. They also look for inspiration by going on field trips a lot.

The drama on "Cake Boss" appears staged. They recently had a completely implausible episode with a bridezilla who was left alone in the bakery with her lovely cake. She defaced it with various colors of frosting. Despite that, I'm looking forward to getting caught up with last Monday's show because it's about making a zombie cake. Zombies are hot right now. Just ask Jane Austen.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

sweating the details

The long holiday weekend gave me the opportunity to see two recent movies. Well, technically my son and I saw "Terminator Salvation" on Thursday night at the Regal Riviera. I liked the way the chase scenes and fight scenes were easier to follow than many of the action movies I've seen recently. As usual, I tried not to drink too much so that I wouldn't have to go to the bathroom during either film. (Thanks for the link, Bean!)

"Star Trek" was easily the best movie I have seen in a while. We saw it at the often overlooked Carmike Wynnsong. The seats are almost as comfortable as those at the newer Regal Cinemas. However unlike the Regal Pinnacle, every screen at Carmike offers DLP. However I recently read that Regal plans to install Sony's 4K digital projection system at all its theaters.

There seemed to be more commercials before the trailers at Carmike than at Regal. An ad for Axe Dry was very funny in a Farrelly brothers sort of way. A spot for Dove Body Wash showed some attractive body parts in an effort to be sexy but the ad was about as sultry as a segment on "The View." The combination of ads made me think that someday R-rated commercials will be shown before certain movies.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

this site won't harm your computer

The news that Google accidentally broke the Internet came as a great relief. I was glad it was them and not me. I was one of the many people using the search engine around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday. Everything I searched for came back with a warning that clicking the links would hurt my computer. The stumble by the mighty Google surprised me so much that I didn't even try another search engine. I might have thought to save a few screen grabs if I weren't worried that I had been infected with a virus or spyware or whatever the next bad thing will be called. Or that maybe Google had been hacked. Fortunately others did save their weird results. Depending on your political views, you can choose to be amused by the idea of a dangerous Pentagon website or a harmful New York Times homepage.

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Monday, December 29, 2008

is this my new TV?

Contrary to popular belief, today is the fifth day of Christmas. In lieu of golden rings, I'm taking a break from holiday themed blog posts to share a podcast with you. Today is also 50 days until the digital television transition. As a cable and satellite subscriber, I thought I was ready until WATE ran a test recently and my cable company failed. Way to go, Knology!

On yesterday's public affairs radio program, I interviewed Russ Manning of East Tennessee Public Television. They had to make the switch early when their analog transmitter broke down last June. You can listen to the show by clicking on the play button below or you can download it by right-clicking here. During the interview, Russ mentions that you can get more information from their website. He also recommends a site called Antenna Web, where you can enter your address to find out about the broadcast towers near you and where to point your antenna to receive their free over-the-air broadcasts. There is still time to get a converter box coupon before the switch.

After the taping ended, we were still talking about local TV. I told Russ about my blog entry on WBIR's local HD programming. And we both wondered why WVLT cannot control the volume on their local commercials.

I had fun with the on-air conversation too, especially since I got to gripe about the way some local stations switch from HD to SD before the late local news. I also talked about a blog post by a woman named Cassie whose mother hated the new digital TV they bought for her on Black Friday. Toward the end of the show, Russ and I reference a very funny viral video that I told you about forty days ago. Whether you've seen it before or not, please take two minutes to enjoy this PSA from "Talkshow with Spike Feresten." And then you'll be up to speed for the thirty-minute podcast.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

gifts received

The Christmas gift from my friend Bean is perfect for me. The book "Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America" by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor is filled with chapter after chapter of my favorite comedians. The first random page I opened to had a picture of the Marx Brothers on it. A second flip fell open to a photo of my radio idols, Bob & Ray. My luck held when the third page I saw had Jerry Seinfeld's picture. Thanks Bean! I'll continue to enjoy this for a long time to come.

My lovely wife was thinking of my desire to listen to more podcasts when she got a good bargain on a Sony Walkman. Not only does it hold plenty of audio, video and picture files but my friend Sandy will be interested to know that it has a built-in FM radio too. I listened to a podcast of last week's "Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me" while eating dinner tonight.

My kids were thoughtful and generous with their gifts too. My son gave me Stephen Colbert's book, "I Am America (And So Can You!)," which looks like it will be a fun read. My daughter knew that the DVDs of the old "Mission: Impossible" TV series were on my wish list. She also knew that while I would probably be most interested in the episodes with Peter Graves as Jim Phelps, the completist in me would need to have season 1 with Steven Hill as Dan Briggs also. That's why she got me both the season one and season two sets. I'm watching a season two episode as I type this. I love that show. Too bad Tom Cruise defiled it with his movie version.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

fertile crescent of imagination

Farragut High School was the scene of comical murder and mayhem this past weekend. My wife and I were invited to attend a performance of "Broadway Babylon" on Saturday night. We had gotten to know the school's drama teacher, Lea McMahan, when she used to come to see Einstein Simplified shows. Lea directed the play, which starred her talented students. She correctly thought that I would enjoy seeing the partially improvised production.

As the Farragut Press reported last week, I was asked to arrive in a limousine. What they didn't tell you is that my wife and I got into the limo in the loading dock area outside the backstage door. The car only drove us around the building. Students playing paparazzi photographed my wife and me as we got out of the limo and walked the red carpet into the high school.

Radio production whiz Gene Wooten did the sound for the production. He does an incredible job of hiding tiny microphones on the actors. They had flesh-colored mics on their foreheads, with the wire hidden in their hair or under their wig.

The play is an interactive murder mystery that the audience is encouraged to solve. The printed program had spaces to write down the clues uncovered throughout the night. They changed the ending at each performance to make a different character the murderer. The reviewer from the Farragut Press was there the same night as me. While they were changing the endings, I felt that they could have also changed a few outdated '80s references to Oliver North and Fawn Hall. However, the actors were great. Most of them were better than the cast of a college musical I saw recently.

I was surprised to find that they made me and another audience member suspects in the murder. We were brought up on stage and questioned as to our whereabouts during the crime. I said that I was in the fourth row, aisle seat when it happened. Later, the detective character suggested that I had reason to want the victim to be dead. I said, "I may have had motive but I didn't have opportunity." In addition to all the other fun, they had cake at intermission! Mmm... cake.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008


The countdown clock to the digital TV transition reads 90 days and 38 minutes as I type this. Most of us won't be bothered by the switch because we get our television via cable or satellite. During our last trip to St. Louis, we stayed at the condo that belonged to my wife's late aunt. My mother-in-law was there too. She asked if I could get the TV to work even though the cable service had been canceled some time ago. I found a piece of coaxial cable in another room and used it as an antenna that picked up most of the regular broadcast stations. We were able to watch "Saturday Night Live" and some NFL action the next day.

My mother-in-law was thrilled that she would now be able to get the local news and weather during her visits to St. Louis. I tried to explain that my temporary fix would only work until February 17, 2009. When my wife and I asked her if she planned to get a digital converter box for the condo, we realized that she was not familiar with the concept. She subscribes to cable at her home in Virginia and had no concerns about the switch until now. I'm not saying that her reaction was exactly like that of the lady in this hysterical parody video but I will say that there is some truth in comedy.

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Sunday, October 05, 2008

the good kind of tired

The other cast and crew members who I met this weekend on the set of "Fish Bait" are probably posting their personal snapshots to various social networking sites tonight. I will add a few minutes to my own personal sleep deprivation and put mine online here. Co-directors Jeff Joslin and Darby Totten filmed the movie on location at the very nice Flat Hollow Marina & Resort on Norris Lake.

Cinematographers Pierce Cook and Wes Halula used a Panasonic DVCPro HD camera to capture the action. They transferred the footage directly on to a computer and did some rough cut editing each day.

Former pro wrestler Kodiak Joe made a cameo appearance during a party scene filmed last night. He's also a former college football player who is now better known as Fr. Joe Campbell, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in nearby LaFollette. My wife and I went there for Mass this morning.

I had a great time as three of my fellow Einstein Simplified members and I played a group of fishing buddies. We did our fishing boat scene very late Friday night as the fog rolled in. Those shots were finished somewhere around 4:30 a.m. Saturday. Earlier today I spotted a pile of movie props that may or may not have anything to do with our characters' fates. You'll have to see the movie to find out. If you know any independent theater owners who might be interested in showing it, we wouldn't mind one bit.

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

color, cut, clarity

Apparently the clues were out there if only I had the slightest idea to look for them. Instead I flipped past a locally produced show on WBIR tonight and did a double-take. Did my eyes deceive me or was "Heartland Tonight" on my screen in glorious high definition? The episode followed a barge up the Tennessee River to Knoxville. It almost didn't matter what the show was about, I couldn't stop watching.

I was under the impression that our local stations only aired HD programs that "passed through" from the networks. I didn't know any of them had bought the equipment to broadcast their own shows in HD. When I saw John Becker at Boomsday, I asked him when WBIR would go HD. I was thinking of their annual telecast of the fireworks as well as their news programming. John's quick retort was "do you have two million dollars?" Switching the local news to HD will require all new cameras, sets, lighting, etc. The prerecorded shows I saw tonight were shot on location with smaller, more affordable HD cameras.

What's that? Did I say show or shows? Yes, "Heartland Tonight" was followed by another local HD show. WBIR pre-empted a rerun of "Chuck" to air "Tennessee Shines," a bluegrass music program recorded at the Bijou Theatre. The same performances aired live on WDVX radio last month. The great-looking TV show is a feather in the cap of Doublejay Creative, a relatively new company founded by married couple Adrian and Larsen Jay. Another new project of theirs gives flowers to hospital patients.

While searching out links for this blog entry, I discovered the HD clues that were out there in cyberspace. The second paragraph of a press release from the Knoxville Tourism & Sports Corporation mentions that "Tennessee Shines" would be in high def. Better still, the program listings on also announced the big news. I guess I expected a lot more hype for a major development in Knoxville television history.

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Sunday, September 07, 2008

son of glitch

Here's a suggestion for the NFL and DirecTV. Next year, add some preseason games to your fabulous NFL Sunday Ticket subscription package. It's not that I particularly need to see second and third-string squads battling for a place on the roster. Every year the first Sunday of the football season means that it's time to work out some technical problems before being able to watch a game. Why not let us fans get our bugs fixed during the preseason?

The DirecTV Supercast came in handy last year. I often watched games online while at work on Sundays. My first several attempts to log in today failed. The error message told me that the Supercast was only available between noon and 8:15 p.m. There was no way for me to tell it to check its watch and see that it was just after 1:00 p.m. This year, the Supercast uses its own streaming video player powered by Adobe AIR technology. They say it's still possible to watch the feed through a web browser with the latest version of Macromedia Adobe Flash. Unfortunately the computers at work don't have the right software and I don't have the administrative privileges to do anything about it. Once I got home from work today, I gave the Supercast player a test drive and was duly impressed. There was no delay between the video on my television and the video on my computer. The picture quality was very good in the small player, not so much when expanded to full screen. I could easily click between games and the Red Zone Channel. At least next week my son will be able to use my password to watch the Redskins game in his dorm room. During our practice run today, neither he nor I had any trouble viewing the games that were also being shown on broadcast TV in our respective areas.

NBC's "Sunday Night Football Extra" player was less impressive. The bells and whistles are a great idea. It's cool to be able to switch camera angles at will. However the stream was choppy and the picture was a little blurry. During commercial breaks, the NBC feed was replaced with other game highlights presented by studio hosts from the NFL Network. Those hosts and highlights had a much better picture quality than the live game. After a while, the video player tried to cut me off. I had to click "yes" to continue watching. On top of all that, the Internet feed was sometimes delayed from the broadcast by up to ten seconds. I was hoping that NBC would give us picture quality as good as we saw online during the Olympics. Instead I was left wondering if some network executive gave the order to keep the online stream inferior for fear of losing his television viewers to the Internet.

An online promo for Notre Dame football reminded me of something I heard during yesterday's NBC telecast from South Bend. Knoxville Catholic High School standout Harrison Smith is a red-shirt freshman for the Irish. You might remember reading my blog entry when he was being recruited by both Charlie Weis and Philip Fulmer two years ago. When Harrison made a good tackle in yesterday's game, the announcers revealed that the other players call him "Hayseed."

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Monday, August 11, 2008

man with the Midas touch

Last nights 4 x 100 meter freestyle relay will go down in Olympic history alongside the famous "Do you believe in miracles?" hockey game of 1980. The race was on close to midnight, Eastern time. My wife had gone to bed only a few minutes earlier. I called out to her and convinced her to get up and come watch the TV in my office.

This morning she urged our son to go online and find some video highlights. First he tried to watch it on an older laptop, choosing the option to watch without downloading Microsoft Silverlight. That didn't work. He then found that it wouldn't work without updating the version of Firefox on that machine either. I sent him upstairs to get my laptop. We downloaded the application and finally watched the race. It was well worth it. In fact it was even better the third time around. If you haven't already seen it, click here to watch the race. And then watch it again a couple of times so that we'll be caught up.

To win more gold medals than Mark Spitz, Michael Phelps needed to be on a winning relay team. Obviously he could not do that on his own, especially against the heavily-favored, smack-talking French team. Phelps swam an American record time in the first leg and still got beaten by the Australian competitor. His teammates took the lead, lost the lead and then came from behind to win the race. Jason Lezak's anchor leg was amazing. Equally outstanding is the jubilation of the American team as they celebrate their victory.

All the teams were so good that even the fifth place finisher came in ahead of the old world record time of 3:12:23. Imagine explaining that one to the grandchildren. "Oh yeah, we broke the old world record. Yet somehow we came in fifth!"

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Monday, August 04, 2008

listen freely

Maybe one of these days I'll get an iPod. I've gotten by with the mp3 player on my cell phone and by listening to an occasional podcast on my TiVo or my laptop. Over the weekend I went along on one of my wife's many shopping trips during the sales tax holiday. While our son picked out a silicon cover for his iPod, I looked at the other accessories and got to thinking about how convenient it would be to use a little FM transmitter to listen to podcasts in the car or on my clock radio. I'm not really interested in using the earbuds.

Today I started downloading a free audiobook from Project Gutenberg. Last month I had the idea to listen to something by Mark Twain during our upcoming road trip to Arkansas. At the suggestion of blog reader Clay, I limited my search to only human-read books rather than those done with a computer generated voice. Although the selection wasn't as good as I had hoped, I thought "Chapters from My Autobiography" might teach me about my distant relation. I downloaded most of its 25 chapters today. Tomorrow I'll get the rest and start burning them to a stack of CDs. I hope the disc player in my wife's car works better than the one in mine. Months ago I burned a CD of a podcast by a GMU economics professor. The disc is still in my car's player, unwilling to play. I think it's too long for the machine to read.

Reader John suggested I pry open my wallet and buy some of Chris Addison's CDs. Perhaps next year. For this trip I'm sticking with the free downloads. John's idea did remind me to look for some NPR podcasts for the show "Radiolab" that I discovered in June. There's still time for you to nominate a free download for my travel playlist.

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