Distant signals from the future

radioI was in ear­ly high school when I got my first alarm clock radio. My par­ents were a bit old­er when I was born, so the LPs in the back of our hall clos­et were a generation-and-a-half out-of date: I remem­ber most­ly musi­cal sound­tracks like South Pacif­ic and West Side Sto­ry. My old­er broth­er had brought the Bea­t­les into our house but he had moved away for col­lege and adult­hood years before and the only trace of his musi­cal influ­ence was a Simon & Gar­funkel great­est hits 8-track tape my mom had bought for a pen­ny from the Time-Life record club.

In my bed­room late at night in the ear­ly 80s, I explored the sounds inside my new radio. I would bury myself under­neath my Star Trek sheets, pull the radio inside, and lis­ten with vol­ume bare­ly per­cep­ti­ble. Three was no real rea­son for the secre­cy. I’m sure my par­ents wouldn’t have par­tic­u­lar­ly cared. But I was a pri­vate kid. I didn’t want to let on that I was curi­ous about the adult world. Pop radio and MASH reruns were my secret.

I had had a short­wave radio in mid­dle school and brought the thrill of long-distance dis­cov­ery to my radio explo­rations. Geog­ra­phy and sound had more mys­tery in those days before the inter­net. On a cold, clear night, I could tune in AM pow­er­hous­es half a con­ti­nent away.

One par­tic­u­lar­ly cold night, one of these dis­tant sig­nals played a song I had nev­er heard or even imag­ined. It was half-drowned out by sta­t­ic. The sig­nal drift­ed in and out in waves but I lis­tened mes­mer­ized. To a intro­vert­ed kid in a sleep Philly sub­urb, this song was a key to a yearned-for future. I was instant­ly cer­tain that that no one around me had ever heard this song. If only I could make out some words, maybe I could spend the next year scan­ning the dis­tant radio bands to hear it again. As I got old­er, I could go into the city to scour bins in the seed­i­est of indie record stores. This song no one knew would be a touch­stones to a new adult­hood I was con­struct­ing in the secret of my bedroom.

As the fade came, I bare­ly caught the DJ’s words through the sta­t­ic. “Hotel Cal­i­for­nia.” I vowed to myself that some­day, some­how, I would find this song and hear it again.

RIP Glenn Frey.

Visual storytelling through animated gifs and Vine

NPR’s Plan­et Mon­ey recent­ly ran an arti­cle on glass recy­cling, How A Used Bot­tle Becomes A New Bot­tle, In 6 Gifs. The Gif part is what intrigued me. A “gif” is a tightly-compressed image for­mat file that web design­ers leaned on a lot back in the days of low band­width. It’s espe­cial­ly good for designs with a few dis­creet col­ors, such as cor­po­rate logos or sim­ple car­toons. It also sup­ports a kind of prim­i­tive ani­ma­tion that was com­plete­ly overused in the late 90s to give web­pages fly­ing uni­corns and spin­ning globes.

Ani­mat­ed gifs have grown up. They make up half the posts on Tum­blr. They are often derived from fun­ny scenes in movies and come with humor­ous cap­tions. The Plan­et Mon­ey piece uses them for sto­ry­telling: text is illus­trat­ed by six gifs show­ing dif­fer­ent parts of the recy­cling process. The move­ment helps tell the sto­ry – indeed most of the shots would be visu­al­ly unin­ter­est­ing if they were static.

The short loops reminds me of Vine, the six-second video ser­vice from Twit­ter which I’ve used a lot for sil­ly kid antics. They can also tell a sim­ple sto­ry (they’re par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed to repet­i­tive kid antics: up the steps, down the slide, up the steps, down the slide, up…).

In my work with Friends Jour­nal I’ve done some 7 – 12 minute video inter­views with off-site authors using Google Hang­outs, which essen­tial­ly just records the video con­ver­sa­tion. It’s fine for what we use it for, but the qual­i­ty depends a lot on the equip­ment on the oth­er end. If the band­width is low or the web­cam poor qual­i­ty, it will show, and there are few options for post-production edit­ing. But hon­est­ly, this is why I use Hang­outs: a short web-only inter­view won’t turn into a week­long project.

Pro­duc­ing high-quality video requires con­trol­ling all of the equip­ment, shoot­ing ten times more footage than you think you’ll need, and then hours of work con­dens­ing and edit­ing it down to a sto­ry. And after all this it’s pos­si­ble you’ll end up with some­thing that doesn’t get many views. Few Youtube users actu­al­ly watch videos all the way through to the end, drift­ing away to oth­er inter­net dis­trac­tions in the first few minutes.

I like the com­bi­na­tion of the sim­ple short video clips (whether Vine or ani­mat­ed gif) wed­ded to words. My last post here was the very light-weight sto­ry about a sum­mer after­noon project. Yes­ter­day, I tried again, shoot­ing a short ani­mat­ed gif of Tibetan monks vis­it­ing a local meet­ing­house. I don’t think it real­ly worked. They’re con­struct­ing a sand man­dala grain-by-grain. The small move­ments of their fun­nel sticks as sand drops is so small that a reg­u­lar sta­t­ic pho­to would suf­fice. But I’ll keep exper­i­ment­ing with the form.

(Too) Silent Worship and Whithered Meetings

One of the things I liked about my old Quak­er job is that I occa­sion­al­ly had a moment in between all of the staff meet­ings (and meet­ings about staff meet­ings, and meet­ings about meet­ings about staff meet­ings, I kid you not) to take inter­est­ing calls and emails from Friends want­i­ng to talk about the state of Friends in their area: how to start a wor­ship group if no Friends exist­ed, how to revi­tal­ize a local Meet­ing, how to work through some grow­ing pains or cul­tur­al con­flicts. I’ve thought about repli­cat­ing that on the blog, and halfway through respond­ing to one of tonight’s emails I real­ized I was prac­ti­cal­ly writ­ing a blog post. So here it is. Please feel free to add your own respons­es to this Friend in the comments.

Dear Mar­tin
I have read that Meet­ings that are
silent for long peri­ods of time often with­er away. But I can’t remem­ber where I
read that, or if the obser­va­tion has facts to back it up. Do you know of any
source where I can look this up?

Dear CC,
can’t think of any spe­cif­ic source for that obser­va­tion. It is
some­times used as an argu­ment against wait­ing wor­ship, a pre­lude to the
intro­duc­tion of some sort of pro­gram­ming. While it’s true that too much
silence can be a warn­ing sign, I sus­pect that Meet­ings that talk too
much are prob­a­bly also just as like­ly to with­er away (at least to
Inward Christ that often seems to speak in whis­pers). I think the
deter­min­ing fac­tor is less deci­bel lev­el but atten­tion to the workings
of the Holy Spirit. 

One of the main roles of min­istry is to teach. Anoth­er is to remind
us to keep turn­ing to God. Anoth­er is to remind us that we live by
high­er stan­dards than the default required by the sec­u­lar world in
which we live. If the Friends com­mu­ni­ty is ful­fill­ing these functions
through some oth­er chan­nel than min­istry in meet­ing for wor­ship then
the Meeting’s prob­a­bly healthy even if it is quiet. 

Unfor­tu­nate­ly there are plen­ty of Meet­ings are too silent on all
fronts. This means that the young and the new­com­ers will have a hard
time get­ting brought into the spir­i­tu­al life of Friends. Once upon a
time the Meet­ing annu­al­ly reviewed the state of its min­istry as part of
its queries to Quar­ter­ly and Year­ly Meet­ings, which gave neighboring
Friends oppor­tu­ni­ties to pro­vide assis­tance, advise or even ministers.
The prac­tice of writ­ten answers to queries have been dropped by most
Friends but the pos­si­bil­i­ty of appeal­ing to oth­er Quak­er bod­ies is
still a def­i­nite possibility.
Your Friend, Martin

Add Quaker Blog Watch to your site

A few months ago I start­ed keep­ing a links blog that evolved into the “Quak­er Blog Watch” (for­mal­ly at home at “non​vi​o​lence​.org/​q​u​a​ker” though includ­ed as a col­umn else­where). This is my answer to the “aggre­ga­tion ques­tion” that a few of us were toss­ing around in Sixth Month. I’ve nev­er believed in an uberBlog that would to supercede all of our indi­vid­ual ones and act as gate-keeper to “prop­er” Quak­erism. For all my Quak­er Con­ser­v­a­tivism I’m still a Hick­site and we’re into a cer­tain live-and-let live cre­ative dis­or­der in our reli­gious life.

I also don’t like tech­ni­cal solu­tions. It helps to have a human doing this. And it helps (I think) if they have some opin­ions. When I began my list of anno­tat­ed Quak­er links I called it my “Sub­jec­tive Guide” and these links are also some­what sub­jec­tive. I don’t include every post on Quak­erism: only the ones that make me think or that chal­lenge me in some way. Medi­oc­rity, good inten­tions and a famous last name mean less to me than sim­ple faith­ful­ness to one’s call.

There’s no way to keep stats but it looks like the links are being used (hours after I stum­ble across a previously-unknown site I see com­ments from reg­u­lar Quak­er Ranter read­ers!). Here’s the next step: instruc­tions on adding the “last sev­en entries of the Quak­er blog watch to your site.” I imag­ine some of you might want to try it out on your side­bar. If so, let me know how it works: I’m open to tweak­ing it. And do remem­ber I’ll be dis­ap­pear­ing for a few days “some­time soon” (still wait­ing, that kid can’t stay in there too long.)