FutureTech Technology

Stranger Than We Know – 16 years later

On October 15, 2008, I had an essay published in Library Journal called “Stranger Than We Know” which was my attempt to try and understand where the next 10 years would take technology and libraries. Written just after the release of the iPhone 3G, I was trying to think carefully about what the smartphone explosion was going to do to culture and technology and how that would impact the world of information gathering, sharing, and archiving.

While I didn’t get everything right, I am proud of the general direction I was able to sketch out, even if I was perhaps a bit utopian, and entirely missed the issues with misinformation and always on social networks.

Here is the article as originally written…it doesn’t appear to be available online through Library Journal any longer, so I’m self-archiving it here to ensure it’s findable online.

Stranger Than We Know

Originally published October 15, 2008 in Library Journal netConnect, Mobile Delivery pg 10.

Arthur C. Clarke once famously said that any sufficiently advanced technology was indistinguishable from magic. The technology that is now a routine part of our lives would have been nearly unfathomable just a decade ago. Moore’s Law has ensured that the two-ton mainframe computer that once took up an entire room and nearly a city block’s worth of cooling now comfortably fits in your hand and weighs only ounces. It is difficult to put the truly amazing nature of this shrinkage into perspective, but consider this: you have in your mobile phone more computing power than existed on the entire planet just 60 years ago.

These new devices are changing the way we interact with information. Their capabilities are even changing how we conceive of information and information exchange, adding significant facets such as location and social awareness to our information objects. The physicist J.B.S. Haldane once said, “[T]he Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.” So while librarians are aware that the next five to ten years will bring radical changes to books, publishing, and the way we work with the public, we must remember: the future isn’t just stranger than we know-it is stranger than we can know.

Let’s see how close we can get to knowing the unknowable. 

The vanishing cost of ubiquity

Several forces are combining to make mobile phones the most attractive method of accessing information across the globe. In countries with a well-developed information infrastructure, mobile phones are embedded in most people’s lives. Reuters estimates that by the end of 2007, 3.3 billion people had some form of mobile phone, and in some countries the penetration rate actually exceeds the number of people. As an example, in June 2008, the Hong Kong Office of the Telecommunications Authority estimated that there were 157 mobile phones for every 100 people living in the city. In countries without a well-developed information infrastructure, cell towers and phones are the most economical method of catching up, costing orders of magnitude less than stringing wires over the landscape. In addition, communications companies have adopted the Gillette model of sales, where the initial hardware is highly subsidized. This makes the buy-in reasonable compared with the very large up-front cost of a desktop or laptop computer, an investment difficult to justify for many in the First World, and impossible for those in the Third.

This omnipresence of cellular signals is quickly being adopted for even nonphone applications, strictly for use as a data pipe. Increasing numbers of laptops now have cellular cards as options, and even noncomputer digital devices, such as the Amazon Kindle, are beginning to show up with cellular connections. When this particular trend crosses streams with the increasing popularity of so-called UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs) and subnotebooks such as the Asus Eee PC, we end up with incredibly small computers that are always connected to the Internet.

In addition to always-on connectivity, this new class of device is also likely to contain a multitude of features. With the ability to fashion chipsets that include more and more functions, the cost to include add-ons such as GPS (Global Positioning System) and cameras is more of an engineering compromise related to battery consumption than it is any real cost to the device in terms of size and weight.

We’re now living in a world where we have nearly omnipresent devices, most of which have the capability of being connected to a central network (the Internet), and the majority of which have very advanced positioning and media-creation capabilities. What can they do?

A place for context

There are several high-end phones these days, but the current media darling is clearly the Apple iPhone 3G. Running Apple’s OS X operating system, the iPhone 3G combines a huge, brilliant display with a multitude of connectivity options (Edge cellular data, 3G cellular data, or traditional 802.11 Wi-Fi) as well as GPS, a camera, and the power of Apple’s iTunes Store for the distribution of applications that run on the phone and extend its abilities. Taken together, these apps are a clearinghouse of clever ideas that combine the technology of the phone with the real world to provide a window onto where we may be heading.

The Omni Group produces a task-list manager called OmniFocus, which is essentially a very fancy to-do list. But it’s an intelligent to-do list and organizes your tasks via what it calls “Context.” For example, the Home context is used for those tasks I can only do at home, Work for those at work, Phone for those that require calling someone, etc. You can, thanks to the GPS in the iPhone, geolocate any of these Contexts with their position on the planet, so that the app knows where Home, say, is. Now that all the pieces are there, the application is smart-when you call up your to-do list, it only shows you those things you can do where you are standing and not the things you can’t. When you change locations, your to-do list reacts appropriately.

This type of location-based information is part of the next step in information use. Imagine geocoding reminders in this way, so that your device could inform you the next time you were within a mile of the grocery store that you needed to get detergent. Or, using this type of information interaction with a social network, having your device remind you the next time you were with a certain friend that you wanted to ask him for his salsa recipe. When information is given context (in library parlance, metadata), the information becomes more useful. When you can easily structure your information and make it scriptable and logical, responding to if-then conditionals, your information begins to work for you.

Getting local-and personal

Other examples of truly amazing mobile technology are just being created. My favorite current model is the Enkin project ( ), a combination of graphic manipulation and geolocation that adds metadata to the real world. Imagine standing in downtown New York, wondering which buildings you are looking at across the street; you pull up your phone and aim the camera in that direction. The camera captures a few photos and sends them to a database of geotagged images that compares yours against the broader set until it hits a match. The phone then overlays the image on your screen with information about the live scene in front of you, telling you the name of the building and when it was built. Extending the existing proof of concept, a natural next step would be to pull up historical photos of the area, overlay them, and let you watch the progress of time.

Examples like these exist, even if only in beta. What can we expect to see from mobile devices in the next three, five, or ten years? While Moore’s Law even today makes it possible to have cell phones that are so small as to be unusable, in the future the same law will simply allow for higher and higher computing power and storage to fit into the same form with which we’re already familiar. These devices will combine wireless standards (Wireless USB, Bluetooth, 802.11a and n) to allow for communication on multiple levels all at once. The device may be checking where you are in the world while also talking to the devices of those around you, sharing information as they go. The desktop as we think of it now will be given over to a terminal that pulls its computing interface from your mobile device, allowing you to carry your personalized computing environment with you anywhere you happen to be.

Within five years, we will see the blossoming of the 700Mhz spectrum, a newly licensed communications frequency band for wireless devices. The existing infrastructure in the United States is hampered by legacy support and historical structures, but the new data infrastructure should take advantage of all of the developments of information and communication science over the last 20 years, without the need to build in backward compatibility. This should give us the next generation of wireless data, as well as a platform for the public to use-imagine an open cellular network that was more like 802.11: it will be required to have open access components, preventing telecom companies from locking it down and allowing for localized uses similar to 802.11 hot spots.

In addition, there will be a multiplicity of services geared toward these mobile devices. Within ten years, music and video will be delivered as subscriptions, where a flat fee gets you streaming access to the entirety of the celestial jukebox and any and all video available, both TV and film. These devices will also have a new hybrid OLED/E-ink screen that displays text for ebooks in a resolution that makes it as comfortable to read as a physical book, with a multitude of titles available for rental or purchase instantaneously through an on-screen library. Popular media will be on-demand and available anywhere you happen to be, while the flowering of independent media production that is going to take place in the next five years will add thousands of options to your consumption of news, sports, and other live events.

Even more significant, these devices will act as a hub for your most personal of area networks, tracking data from a series of sensors on various parts of your body. The future of medicine is in always-on embeddable sensors that give doctors long-term quantitative data about your body: pulse, breathing, blood-oxygen concentration, glucose levels, iron levels. A full blood workup will be delivered wirelessly via RFID from your subdermal implant. 

We have a current model for this in the Nike+iPod device, as well as the new Fitbit, which tracks movement, fitness, and sleep patterns, but future devices will be far more robust. This Body Area Network will extend itself and not only gather information about you and your surroundings but will enable a cloud of information sharing in a flexible but secure manner, amassing and comparing information as you move through the world so that you won’t be caught unaware of environmental hazards again. As an example, imagine walking down a street as your mobile device suggests your route to work based on the allergen counts that it picks up from other walkers.

The cloud librarians

So how do librarians interact with this level of mobile, always on, information space? The most important thing we can do is to ensure that when the technology matures, we are ready to deliver content to it. Our role as information portals will not decline-it will simply shift focus from books on shelves and computers on desks to on-time mobile delivery of both holdings and services. Reference will be community-wide and no longer limited to either location (reference desk) or to service (IM, email, etc). It will be person to person in real time. Libraries’ role as localized community archives will shift away from protecting physical items and toward being stewards of the digital data tied to those items in the coming information cloud, ensuring that our collections are connected to the services in the online world that provide the most value for our users. Our collections will be more and more digitized and available, with copyright holders allowing localized sharing founded on location-based authentication. If you are X miles away from a given library, you should be able to browse its collections from your mobile, potentially checking out a piece of information that the library has in its archives and holding onto it, moving on to another localized collection as you walk around a city.

This new world will be a radical shift for libraries. Library buildings won’t go away; we will still have a lot of materials that are worth caring for. Buildings will move more fully into their current dual nature, that of warehouse and gathering place, while our services and our content will live in the cloud, away from any physical place. The idea that one must go to a physical place in order to get services will slowly erode. The information that we seek to share and the services that we seek to provide will have to be fluid enough to be available in many forms. 

Embrace the revolution

How do we prepare for this new mobile world? The three most important things libraries can do to prepare for the mobile shift of the next ten years: 

 Realize that the move to digital text and delivery isn’t going to go away. Embrace it. Be ready to digitize your unique collections, and ensure that they are available by every method and mode you can find. Hire librarians who are fluent in social networking, train those who aren’t, and provide funding for continuing travel and education. The language of the new web is related to the upcoming mobile revolution in significant ways. Be willing to decouple your procedures from your infrastructure, and don’t let the latter drive the former. Be willing to use the tools your patrons use, and don’t expect them to use the tools you want them to use. 

The mobile technology revolution will change more than just our habits and the way we interact with information. It will change us at a deeper level and allow for interactions undreamed of in our current situation. Think about the ways that the most basic function of mobile devices, that of instantly available communication, has changed our lives in the last ten years. We no longer have to plan to meet someone-we can arrange for meetings on the fly. We no longer have to wonder where someone is-we can text them and find out. This level of communication was literally impossible just 25 years ago, and the next ten will make the previous 25 look like slow motion. We will move through a world of information, generating and consuming it with our every movement and action. Libraries must be poised to dip into this river of data and add their own information into the flow. This may happen invisibly, so that the patron may not even be aware of it. Librarians will have to add value to the everyday experiences of the student, the researcher, and the community member. The services attached to these new mobile devices are going to be the driving organizational and entertainment force for the next generation. If libraries can’t find a way to navigate these information rapids, we may find ourselves overturned.           

Theatre Uncategorized

Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club

I had the opportunity to see the current production of Cabaret on Broadway (thanks to my wonderful family), and as it is my favorite musical…nay, my favorite staged media full stop…I have thoughts.

It is a radical departure from the previous Broadway productions, and while it was magnificent in its way, it wasn’t the Cabaret that made me fall in love with the show. It felt like a blend of the old and new, the Cabaret of Joel Grey and the 1960s, but also bits and pieces of the Alan Cumming Cabaret of the 1990s. They chose to revert at times to the 1960s script, most significantly in my mind they chose to remove the single use of the word “fuck” in the show, with Cliff’s explosive argument with Sally at the club now having the line “When are you going to realize, the only way you got this job, any job, is by sleeping with somebody!” This, combined with the fact that Cliff no longer slaps Sally when he realizes that she’s had an abortion (instead, in this version, he draws back but can’t, and following he breaks down crying in Sally’s arms) fundamentally changes the apotheosis of their relationship. Instead of Sally breaking down, and Cliff running away from Berlin, we are instead faced with a Sally that is far more determined, who has affirmatively decided her fate…granted, that fate is to be a fascist, but it is a choice that feels stronger in this production than others where she is often played as chasing fame, or chosing to remain and party until the end.

The yang to Sally’s yin in Cabaret is the Emcee, played here with an absolute grotesquery of a performance by Eddie Redmayne. Where Grey played the character as a devilish imp, and Cumming as a swaggering reflection of Berlin itself, Redmayne’s Emcee is a goblin that becomes beautiful and horrid all at once. His transformation through the show from clown to Aryan ideal is chilling, but never real enough to feel either threatening or threatened.

I was extremely happy with what I consider the heart of the show, Steven Skybell as Herr Schultz and Bebe Neuwirth as Fraulein Schneider. These two were remarkable, and Skybell specifically was the best Schultz I’ve ever seen…as the only morally uncomplicated (if naive) character in the show, Herr Schultz is the character that I always hope the audience is identifying with as their surrogate. These two were perfection as the lovers displaced by fascism.

I think ultimately the source of my disappointment in the production overall is that it never felt dangerous. There were far too few moments of shock and horror in a show about the rise of the Nazi party and fascism in general. The breaking of Herr Shultz’s shop window was a particularly effective moment…but really the only one in a show which traditionally has several take-your-breath-away moments within. The staging of Tomorrow Belongs to Me in the first act, beautifully sung by Eddie directly, failed to produce the requisite discomfort that is necessary to make the reprise horrifying. The end of act one, typically something that shakes the audience going into intermission, was striking but not shocking, and definitely lacked the gut-punch of most stagings (there were no flags, no salutes, no direct reference to the Nazis at all). In fact, in the entirety of the production there were only two direct visual representations of the Nazi party at all: Ernst’s armband, and a toy rifle with a swastika “bang” flag used by the Emcee during the Entre’act. The production has style and talent, but lacks conviction.

I am full of conflict in my feelings about Cabaret at the Kit Kat Klub. It is an unsubtle production of a show that somehow makes the central message more subtle than I would like. The ultimate reveal of the cast as uniform, colorless cogs in the wheel of fascism, with the Emcee as a delirious conductor of the tune is effective…but I didn’t feel it. It didn’t stab me in the heart and leave me bleeding in the way that other productions have, and I find that somehow I need that pain to be reminded of the importance of the story being told. So as beautiful and wild as the production and performances are, in the end I didn’t weep or bleed for them. And that’s what I want from Cabaret.


Little Shop of Horrors

This blog has entirely morphed into “Jason talks about theater” it appears.

I’m going to be directing another show! I’m heading up the Millennium Repertory Company’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. We open in late January, so rehearsals and such will be over the holiday season. I’ve got an amazing cast:

The biggest challenge for this show? The puppets. Look for a lot of build pics over on Mastodon or PixelFed.

art by the amazing Alex Torrejon


Attending the Tale

Warning: enormous amount of theater nerd opinion below

I had the great privilege to see the current Broadway production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street at the Lunt-Fontanne theater the evening of March 15th, and we got lucky that none of the “star” principles were out (Gaten Matarazzo was out the 14th, Josh Groban the 16th, 17th, and matinee on the 18th), so we really threaded that needle. 

As major Sweeney fan, I was really looking forward to hearing the full orchestration for the first time (26 piece orchestra!), and it didn’t disappoint…although I do prefer a bit more bombast with my Sweeney than we get with Alex Lackamoire’s conducting. The score is almost subtle in places where I didn’t expect, and it took me by surprise at times with how quiet it was. 

I’m also an outlier in that I really love the steam whistle/punctuation of the score and action, and having that missing was a small personal disappointment. I know not all productions include it, but I prefer it.

Sweeney Todd stage pre-show

The set maintains the two levels traditional to Sweeney, but does so with a movable bridge that spans the entire width of the stage. I enjoyed the staging with the bridge, although I think that would be dependent on where you were sitting. We were lucky in that we had front row, front mezzanine, maybe the best seats in the house for this particular show. No issue with sight lines, nothing breaking up the view, extremely close to the action. 

Sweeney is also a show that relies on some special effects, and here this production didn’t disappoint. No red cloth or light effects for these kills, no….here we had blood, and lots of it, freely flowing. The mechanism of the effect was clever as well, with piping/bladder around the neck of Sweeney’s barber towels that was activated as each throat was slit. His “diabolical chair” was also in full effect, dumping his victims down into the basement below…even if “below” was actually stage left. My only disappointment was that there weren’t quite enough kills, as during “Johanna” the normal litany of walk-in customers that Mr. T unceremoniously offs was only three, which felt like maybe not quite enough for me. 

Me with Josh Groban after the show at the stage door

Now…to the performances. True to form, Josh Groban  as Sweeney Todd sings the part better than anyone I’ve heard. Not a note stretched or strained, nothing even remotely off, just beautiful and clean and clear baritone. He plays the part well, his interactions with Lovett are great (he’s the perfect straight-man for Annaleigh Ashford’s manic/obsessive Lovett). But I really do want my Sweeney to be at least a little scary, with some actual menace to him. When he addresses the audience in the song Epiphany, I want to feel it. He had a few moments of physicality when he came close, but just never really got all the way there. I want Sweeney to be a frightening figure, and I just don’t think that Groban ever quite got there.

With that said: he was fantastic. I would absolutely see it again, it’s just not exactly the Sweeney I would want to put on stage. 

Annaleigh Ashford is the standout for this cast as Mrs. Lovett. A new take on the character, which is extremely hard to pull off successfully with a role this iconic. She was the high point of the show for me, funny and ascerbic, and her physicality in the show from the first few moments of her introduction sold me totally. She reinvents Lovett and I’m here for every second of it. She sings it wonderfully, but it’s her acting that sheds new light on Lovett and her obsession with Mr. T. 

Jordan Fisher after the show at the stage door

I was unimpressed with Jordan Fisher’s Antony…he was solid, and the things that I noticed (variable accent being the main) could easily be forgiven. Less easily forgiven is that the part had to be take down for him vocally, so we miss some of the higher notes that the part is written for, and that was a mild disappointment. Overall, solid but not special. 

Gaten Matarazzo after the show at the stage door

Gaten Matarazzo on the other hand was fantastic as Toby. He was absolutely able to pull off the part as written/sung, and his voice and take on the part were perfect. Watching him break down at the end, his interactions with Lovett, etc…just perfection. Really marvelous take on the role, and the other standout besides Ashford. This is the second time I’ve seen him on a Broadway stage, the first in the New York City Center production of Parade from fall 2022. He’s fantastic on stage. 

Sweeney Todd set between acts

Other members of the cast that were real standouts were Maria Bilbao as Johanna, John Rapson as Beadle Bamford, and Nicholas Christopher as Pirelli. I have basically never seen a Johanna that I thought carried the role well, and Bilbao was just perfect both vocally and in character work. Rapson and Christopher were equally committed to the characters, and handled the outsized personalities with aplomb. 

Overall, it’s a fantastic production. Is it my personal perfect production of one of my favorite shows? No, it isn’t, but it’s going to please a ton of people. 

The result of my stage door efforts after the show

I also stage-doored the performance, and the cast was incredibly generous with their time and effort. All the mains came out and signed everything the crowd asked them to, and most of the cast was willing to talk and take pictures as well. Just so, so generous after what must be an exhausting show. I was able to get everyone to sign my window card, which will take a place of honor on my wall as soon as a frame arrives.


TN SB 0003

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee in drag (Franklin High yearbook 1977, page 165)

Tennessee legislators in the State Senate have voted to move forward SB 0003, a bill which will criminalize performance in drag. The bill is not particularly long nor difficult to understand, so I’m going to include the relevant bits here:

SECTION 1. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1401, is amended by adding the following language as a new subdivision:

"Adult cabaret performance" means a performance in a location other than an adult cabaret that features topless dancers, go-go dancers, exotic dancers, strippers, male or female impersonators who provide entertainment that appeals to a prurient interest, or similar entertainers, regardless of whether or not performed for consideration; 

SECTION 2. Tennessee Code Annotated, Section 7-51-1407, is amended by adding the following language as a new subsection: 
  (1) It is an offense for a person to engage in an adult cabaret performance:
    (A) On public property; or
    (B) In a location where the adult cabaret performance could be viewed by a person who is not an adult.
  (2) Notwithstanding § 7-51-1406, this subsection (c) expressly:
    (A) Preempts an ordinance, regulation, restriction, or license that was lawfully adopted or issued by a political subdivision prior to the effective date of this act that is in conflict with this subsection (c); and
    (B) Prevents or preempts a political subdivision from enacting and enforcing in the future other ordinances, regulations, restrictions, or licenses that are in conflict with this subsection (c).
  (3) A first offense for a violation of subdivision (c)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor, and a second or subsequent such offense is a Class E felony. 

SECTION 3. This act takes effect July 1, 2023, the public welfare requiring it, and applies to prohibited conduct occurring on or after that date.

How many plays and musicals are going to be outlawed due to the insane TN legislature? It’s obvious that the law is designed specifically to target the drag and trans communities (because of course it is), and I’m absolutely in opposition to it solely for that reason. However, I have another reason to be wary of this law…I’m curious how many prior restraint first amendment issues there will be in non-profit community theater. 

I’m on the Board of Directors of a community theater here in middle TN. Could I lobby for the theater to perform Rent without fearing for the safety of our actors and the organization? La cage aux folles? White freaking Christmas? Twelfth Night? Rocky Horror? The list of theater that includes dressing across gender identity is very, very deep, and the lines of “prurient interest” are notoriously fuzzy. What about casting women as men when there aren’t enough men who audition?

In my production of Cabaret last year, there was an obviously prurient dance number with a male-presenting member of the cast dressed in a drindl with some frilly panties dancing in ways that were intentionally obscene. Could I put that on stage now? Could the non-profit organization allow the risk of that being on their stage?

Hey lawyer pals: is there a prior restraint 1st Amendment case here? 

Also, TN citizens…elect better people, and tell the Governor to veto this bill.


Testing new things

Now that I’ve almost entirely removed myself from Twitter, I’m looking around at how to…well, do whatever it is I want to do now. I’m definitely going to stick to Mastodon for awhile, and now I’m playing around with adding this old blog to ActivityPub and auto-posting to my Mastodon when I write here.

I’m hoping this incentivizes me to do more of that writing here, and less in platforms that I don’t own or control. To that end, I’ve installed ActivityPub here on the blog to give me a fediverse end-point, and will be thinking about what other ways/things to incorporate. I’ve got a BookWyrm account that I’ve only sort-of used, but maybe I’ll take a look at incorporating it as well.

Any suggestions as to what I should play with in the fediverse these days?


when the flood comes

This past weekend, we had the amazing chance to see the New York City Center production of Parade. I knew the plot of the show, but had never heard the music prior to going in Saturday evening and finding our seats. We knew we were in for something special…this was a fundraiser, the show is scheduled to run only 6 days and stars Ben Platt, features Gaten Materazzo of Stranger Things fame, and has an absolutely mind-blowing cast. The show was also garnering rave reviews, and it seemed certain to be something we wouldn’t forget.

Days later, I’m still thinking about it. Some of that is the sound, the sheer overwhelming emotion drawn out by a fully-orchestrated New York show conducted by Jason Robert Brown himself. Some of it are the voices, the power and beauty and pain that was on display by the entire cast (when the full-cast harmony kicks in during “Old Red Hills of Home” I dare the hairs on your arms not to stand at attention). Standouts include Michaela Diamond as Lucille Frank and Alex Joseph Grayson as Jim Conley, the latter of which got the longest and largest ovation of the night for his jaw dropping That’s What He Said.

But no, the reason I’m still rolling this show around in my head is the story and the way it’s told. The story of Parade is the story of Leo Frank, a Jewish man in Georgia in the early 1900s who was accused of the murder of a 13 year old girl at the pencil factory he managed, and was ultimately convicted and sentenced to be hung. When the governor interceded to commute his sentence, he was dragged from prison by a group of men and lynched. As is the way of musicals, this story is also the story of racism, the story of the history of the South, the story of child labor and abuse, the story of the abuse of the power of the press, the power of politics, and the relationship between anti-semitism and broader racism in the South.

Told with a deft touch by Alfred Uhry (writer of the book of the musical which won the Tony in 1999) and Jason Robert Brown (who wrote the music and lyrics and won the Tony for Best Score), the show doesn’t pull punches in showing the horrors of the time.Nor does it in its portrayal of the villains of the piece that are all too familiar in the modern era: members of the press who are happy to lie if it sells papers, politicians who are happy to lie if it increases their ambitions, and the public who are willing to lie to protect themselves and their way of life. The victims? Minorities, both racial and religious, who challenge the status quo.

But there’s another layer to the show, a cultural one, especially for someone who has basically lived my whole life in the South. For all the cultural baggage that gives me, it was a truly surreal experience to see this show. The South, capital T capital S, is its own character here, in the form of Atlanta and Marietta Georgia. Alfred Uhry was born in Atlanta, which explains why so much of the show’s representation of the South felt so true. But the framing is such that it’s a continuously uncomfortable truth, the type of truth that makes you slightly embarrassed to admit, the type of truth that you really don’t like to look at too closely for fear that you may burn out your eyes. The type of truth that means that you don’t see the same way afterwards.

It’s no secret that my favorite type of theater are the shows that tear out your heart and leave it bleeding on the ground…not that I don’t enjoy happy shows, it’s just that they don’t change me in the same way. Give me Cabaret, Fun Home, Sweeney Todd, and Hadestown…and add to that list Parade. If this production gets moved to a Broadway run, if it has a cast album….just see it, listen to it. I’m going to be thinking about this one for a long time.

Maker Media Theatre Uncategorized

Tonight is opening night

I sometimes describe myself as a ‘Maker’. In online parlance, that moniker places me in the realm of 3d printing, hobby electronics, laser cutting, and the like. That’s definitely true, and I do have and use those sorts of tools regularly for a variety of things, but my reason for using the term is more personal. For as long as I can remember, from the time I was 7 and discovered that with a small screwdriver I could take apart my GI Joe figures and put the head of one on the body of another, I’ve had the instinct to take the things inside my head and make them real. From radically customizing my toys as a kid, to learning computers and sitting for hours programming my Commodore 64 as a teen, to the early web of my 20’s (my first ‘real’ paying job after university was as a “webmaster”), there has always been this continued drive to imagine a thing, consider it inside my head, and then figure out how to instantiate it in the world so others could see it. 

In another life, with a few different initial conditions, this might have driven me to be an engineer. With yet different conditions, maybe an artist. Over the course of my nearly 50 years I’ve scratched this itch through writing poetry and fiction, webpages, scholarly articles, two academic books, creating two different technology products (LibraryBox and Measure the Future), mucking about with Raspberry Pi’s and Arduino’s and software to make everything from halloween decorations to props for musical theater productions. In my “workshop” I’ve got a laser cutter, an electronic soldering station, more 3d printers than I’d like to admit, a wood lathe, and a variety of parts and pieces that would allow me at any time to spend a day building whatever pops into my head, and I have an Etsy store where I randomly add things that I think up.

Tonight, a totally different sort of Making comes into existence. Over the last 4 months, I’ve been spending my evenings working as a Director at the Manchester Arts Center in service of the Millennium Repertory Company’s production of the musical Cabaret. I could talk about Cabaret for hours (and, unsurprisingly, I have). It is my favorite musical, and one of my favorite pieces of art of all time. It is weird, and hard, and full of comedy and horror and sadness, and I love it to death. When given the opportunity to direct it, it was an almost overwhelming sense of “oh, yes…now I can finally get these images, this story, out of my head and into the world”. I had nearly the whole show fully formed inside my head from the very beginning, themes I wanted to work in, stagings for various bits, new ideas for how to handle specific scenes and character interactions. 

The only problem? I had never directed before. In fact, I’ve never been on stage as an actor, either. I had worked many local theater production in all sorts of different technical roles, but if you wanna talk about imposter syndrome…I knew I had the show in my head, but whether I had any clue as to how to make it happen onstage remained to be seen. Compound this with continually second-guessing myself (I kept reflecting on the quote “grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man”) and knowing that I really hadn’t earned this role in the traditional ways and there has been lots of internal conflict and reflection over the last 16 weeks. 

Tonight is opening night. 

To see this show come together has been one of the best creative experiences of my life. The reasons are complicated, but mostly boil down to the fact that in almost all of my other “making” endeavors, it’s just me. I have the idea, learns the skills to make it happen, and then do it. That’s just not possible with a theater production, as it takes so, so many people to make it happen: the cast and their onstage talent, the production crew and their originality and creativity, the backstage crew and their logistics and planning, the tech crew and their knowledge and skills. In just this small community production there are over 30 people involved in putting this show together. None of my previous making involved anywhere near that number of creative partners, all of whom bring their own ideas and talents to things. 

It may be a cliche to say that I learned more from all of these individuals than they learned from me, and it could never be more true. I am grateful beyond words for everyone that had a hand in making this real, and I’m going to miss creating with all of you like mad. These people have helped me bring together so many things to create what will ultimately be just five performances of the show, five opportunities for this thing that’s been inside my head for years to emerge into the world from the stage, full of light and sound and joy and sadness. 

Tonight is opening night. 

It’s nerve-wracking and exciting to anticipate how the audience might react, what sort of feedback we might have. It’s a hard, emotional, edgy show, and I’ve chosen to incorporate modern fascist imagery and video into it in ways that could be extremely controversial. Doing this show here, in Middle Tennessee? As far as we can tell, Cabaret is the first show on this stage to have a same-sex kiss on it…much less a song about threesomes and choreography to match. Between the sexuality and the critique of right-wing extremism, the show doesn’t pull any punches. But the theater that I love is the stuff that takes your heart bodily out of your chest, makes it hard to breathe, and then stomps in flat before returning it to you. So that’s what I’ve tried to create.

Tonight is opening night. 

Let’s see what happens. 

Personal Sickness

Two Weeks in August

As of today, we’re in Day 10 of quarantine, and Day 7 of isolation. 

On Sunday, August 8, after having sinus issues for a few days that we thought were allergies, Eliza tested positive for COVID-19. We were surprised, as she’s fully vaccinated and we know the stats on breakthrough…nonetheless, she ended up being in the very low percentage of fully vaccinated positive cases. Her symptoms were mild, mainly fatigue and sinus issues, and she slept basically the entire day Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday she was feeling much better, and she’s now outside of her 10 day quarantine window and has returned to normal activities. 

However, on that same Wednesday, Betsy tested positive. Also fully vaccinated, it’s clear we should be buying lottery tickets. With that we went into slightly higher isolation mode, separating everyone and masking at all times indoors, and Betsy went into hard isolation in our bedroom…since that day, we’ve been separated. Betsy has been living entirely in the bedroom, having everything delivered to her and then left outside the door again to be decontaminated. 

Her first few days were…bad. Horrid body aches, extreme, crippling fatigue, sinus pressure. She said it felt like the worst flu ever, just awful tiring pain for hours. On Saturday she lost all smell, and taste soon followed. She’s in day 7 of isolation now, and still has mild sinus symptoms, although the worst of the aches and fatigue seem to be past her. The lack of smell and taste may hang on for weeks, we’ve read. She will, most likely, be fine after a few more days.

I’ve been sleeping on an air mattress in my office, raising up my standing desk to make room. Thus far, I’m negative. I’m testing every 2-3 days, just in case, but so far have managed to avoid enough viral load for it to take hold. 

The health department here in Franklin County tells me they don’t have any way to know if it’s Delta…in fact, when we initially called to report the positives from home tests, we were told they didn’t have any mechanism for putting them into their system, since the reports weren’t coming from a lab. But given that we have 2 breakthrough cases, and we know of a handful of others in the same cluster as Eliza’s, there’s certainly a chance that it’s a variant. 

The last 2 weeks have been…stressful. Even though I trust the science, and I know the chances of complications for someone vaccinated is very small, I was still worried. First for Eliza, with all we don’t really know or understand of long COVID effects, and then Betsy. If either of them weren’t vaccinated? I’d have lost my mind with worry. As it is, these are lost weeks, impossible to concentrate, unable to focus because there’s things to do and I’m the only healthy one in the house, consumed with constant background concern about what if and might and could

Eliza was alone in her room for the last week of summer.

Betsy is remote for almost two weeks of the start of school at the University, and she’s missed orientation, welcoming students, and so much more.


Where I live is in the center of the lies and disbelief about the pandemic. The vaccination rate in Franklin County, TN is under 40%, and cases are skyrocketing. Masking is seen as a partisan issue instead of being a basic public health tenet, and arguments against masking are heard constantly. 

Nothing will ever get better unless we mask and vaccinate. We will never, ever beat this virus, it will out-mutate “natural immunity”, we will see more and more contagious variants, and we will still be watching people die by the hundreds of thousands years from now. The only chance we have is to control the spread of it, to choke off its supply of hosts and starve it to death. We do that through universal masking…not forever, just until vaccination rates are up and we limit transmission of the virus to small isolated groups. If you remove the fuel, the fire will go out. 

For a virus, fuel is new hosts. If it cannot find new hosts, it will die. And the two best ways we have to prevent it from finding new cells to invade is universal masking and vaccination. 

No one wants the world we have now. But we don’t get to have a different one until we destroy this disease. To anyone who is hesitant about the vaccine, or is fighting against masking….please, help us stop this disease. If we don’t act now, and fast, the rest of 2021 is going to be a worse bloodbath than 2020.


Into the Future on Neural Engines…

Here’s a presentation I delivered this summer on the near-future of AI and Machine Learning systems and services for the 2021 IDEA Institute on Artificial Intelligence. I discuss how ML systems “create” things, two types of ML systems that are popular right now (CLIP and GAN), how they might be used in the information world, and what sorts of things I continue to worry about as these systems become more prevalent.