Saturday, September 23, 2017

Geek Love, a great premise, started the wave of Carny fiction

For a literature major, my book reading has taken a backseat recently due to all the magazines I'm currently subscribed to and, of course, all the time I spend tossing the football and baseball with Jackson and doing "play with me" time with Zoey.

That said, I recently made it through a relatively gargantuan modern fiction classic (from 1989) by Katherine Dunn, which took her many years to write while living in Portland.

Geek Love, a National Book Award finalist, was a trailblazer at the time and set the course for all kinds of freak-show entertainment that has followed, from Rob Zombie's filmography to the Jim Rose Circus to American Horror Story to Stephen King's It.

The premise is the best thing about the book: A man and woman (Al and Crystal Lil Binewski) run a circus that has fallen on hard times. In order to take them to the top, they agree that Lil will start taking drugs in order to deform a whole slate of babies they plan to produce. That way they'll have the best freak show (or call it "geek" show) in the land.

The plan works, and they have Arty the Aqua Boy, Siamese twins Elly and Iphy, telekinetic Chick, and the story's narrator Olympia, a hunchback albino dwarf. Arty is the leader and Oly assists him. She actually tells the story from two points in time, when they are all children and just getting started to bring in the crowds and much later in her life, when she reflects on all her family being gone and watches over her daughter Miranda, who has a tail and doesn't know who her mother is, and certainly doesn't know she is the product of incest.

The whole thing is fascinating, but it drags on far too long. There is way too much descriptive language and Geek Love is easily a quarter-too-long. But a great premise takes it far, and it luckily played a major role in starting a horrifying genre that is tough to get enough of, at least for me.

4 out of 5 stars

And check out this great feature from WIRED about the cult of Geek Love lovers.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: 10 nuggets from Rolling Stone's profile of the EPA's evil Scott Pruitt

There is a lot of incompetence in Donal Trumpland these days, but perhaps nobody should boil the blood of voters more than his EPA appointee.

Rolling Stone's Jeff Goodell profiled all his flat-out wicked deeds in Scott Pruitt's Crimes Against Nature, in its August 10 issue. It seems people wouldn't have to be classified as liberals or environmentalists to be terrified of this person's disregard for the EPA's core mission of "protecting human health and the environment," which has nothing to do with supposedly boosting the economy.

Here are 10 interesting nuggets from the article:

  1. Pruitt claimed the U.S. pulled out of the Paris global climate accord because it's a plot by European nations to stifle our economy. That doesn't account for the fact that you can count which nations of the world aren't a part of it on far fewer than the fingers on one hand.
  2. He claims that 50,000 coal-mining jobs have been created by the Trump Administration, even though only about 1,000 have been created in 2017, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Coal is dying and renewables are the future, creating jobs 12 times faster than dirty coal, but oil executives give a lot of money to corrupt politicians. Why portions of the public can't see that or can't be bothered to care continues to boggle my mind.
  3. He hasn't met with any environment groups yet. Big oil executives are the only meetings he ever takes.
  4. Very few, almost none, of the high-level EPA staffers have ever spoken to Pruitt or even gotten an email from him.
  5. After taking $62,000 from the poultry industry in his run for Oklahoma attorney general, he won and dropped a lawsuit against several major chicken producers for dumping their waste into the Illinois River. His opponent took no money from the industry and lost badly. I sense a theme here: it's "go figure."
  6. We often hear about his lawsuits against the EPA as attorney general. It's true, he filed 14 of them, including attempts to promote mercury pollution because "it doesn't pose public-health hazards" and promote more air pollution in national parks. Fun guy! Now you can basically be assured he's taking these similar kinds of stealth campaigns to a national, completely terrifying, level.
  7. Pruitt views fossil fuels not as the remains of dead plants and animals  but as "God's gift to mankind. Let's use them to power the world."
  8. One thing he's focused on at the EPA is removing climate data and scientific information from its website.
  9. The good news is, as Jimmy Kimmel says, "Put simply, Scott Pruitt is a piece of shit," and his lack of loyalty from anyone within EPA extends outside of the agency, even to Republicans and major climate deniers who think he doesn't have the wits to get any of their priorities, good or bad, accomplished.
  10. And back to the bad news, Pruitt is hoping to dismantle enough of the Earth as quickly as possible before he likely jumps the EPA ship in time to run for governor of Oklahoma in 2018 or for climate-boogeyman Jim Inhofe's Senate seat in 2020. 
Note to self, don't move to Oklahoma. And also maybe consider moving to Canada, where climate change won't be as harsh and as soon as it's set to be here at home.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Sharknado makes us ask if we're even still afraid of sharks

I recently spent a lazy rainy day at the Lake of Ozarks skipping out on a boat ride in exchange for a triple header of Shark Week movies on the Syfy Channel, the only one of which whose name I remember was Trailer Park Shark.



I guess it just goes to show that I, like many others, will watch anything that includes great whites. There's no telling whether that hillbilly jam was better or worse than the grand dame of the new breed of shark movies, 2013's Sharknado.

I finally got around to seeing that alleged classic last night and, despite an obvious decrease in brain cells reported in my head today, the movie is an indelible must-watch for fans of the 90s classic TV show Beverly Hills 90210. Ian Ziering, aka Steve Sanders in Bev 9er, finally found the one role he was always meant to play, as Fin, the surfer dude whose beach bar is destroyed by waves of sharks. He then goes about crossing Los Angeles to drop bombs on tornados and vanquish the flying sharks with his chainsaw.

Really, does any more need to be said?

3 out of 5 stars. Now I have, what, four more Sharknado movies to catch up on?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Moonlight was indeed important, but was it really worthy of so many awards?

Moonlight, which won the best-film Academy Award for 2016, has beautiful cinematography and tells the culturally important story of what it might be like growing up unsure of your sexuality in a neighborhood hardened by bullies and drugs.

It's the story of Little, who grows up in Miami for years before he realizes he's gay. He gets chased, gets beat up, and has rocks thrown at him. His mother is a pathetic and mean addict. He has no role models until a drug dealer and his girlfriend (played by Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monae) take him in when he needs it most.

The performances are superior. Ali won best supporting actor. And the three actors who play Little as he gets older are also compelling. Part of his struggle to find himself includes three nicknames: Little as a kid, then Chiron when he's older, and finally Black.

Despite Ali's character being a drug dealer, he provides the father figure Little needs and, most importantly, the sage advice to find himself and to be ok with himself if he is truly gay.

We learn that Ali's character, named Juan, has died at some point and Little grows up to continue being unsure of how to be intimate with other people and specifically other men. He becomes a very masculine drug dealer in Atlanta before coming back, in the final scene, to visit his lifelong friend Kevin.

I really like this story. But even if Ali's character had served his point (and that point was probably served even harder by Little having to lose yet another one of the only positive models in his life), I would have liked Ali to get a little more screen time to truly deserve his best supporting actor nod. 

I also couldn't get over how slow the film often moved. Largely because of that, I'm a little unsure how it could have a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and been praised so heavily by Academy voters (other than 2016 perhaps being a bit of a down year for movies). 

4 out of 5 stars

Monday, August 21, 2017

How did they get the idea for Amazon's Red Oaks?

Throughout the first two seasons of Red Oaks, on Amazon Prime, I was sure that the only inspiration could've been the classic Caddyshack.

But as this interview with one of the show's co-creators makes clear, it was actually his time spent working at several New Jersey country clubs that proved the impetus.

It's a great show and Amazon has renewed it for a final third season. Bittersweet because it's nice to have it for a third season but not nice to only have it for one more season.

Craig Roberts plays the protagonist David, who is working for the summer as an assistant tennis pro at a country club. He is adorably likable and gives viewers reason to return each episode. He's also a British actor, which I didn't know until after watching all of the first two seasons.


Every story line is great and so are all the characters.

Jennifer Grey is a blast from her Patrick Swayze-matched 80s past along with Richard Kind as David's sympathetic and pretty sad parents.

Ennis Esmer hilariously plays the lead tennis pro Nash and is the older, arrested-development stud who hangs out with kids that we all seemed to know at one time.

Josh Meyers is similar as Barry, but is a painfully self-absorbed Miami Vice type.

Oliver Cooper's Wheeler and Alexandra Turshen's Misty have one of my favorite storylines as the odd couple.

Then there's the whole rich Getty family, not terribly likable but also fascinating as a way to see how the other half lives: Paul Reiser, Gina Gershon, and the Ally Sheedy-like Alexandra Socha.

I gave it 4 out of 5 stars after season 1, but I'm upping that to 5 out of 5 stars after season 2.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

How does The Babadook compare to my favorite horror movies of all time?

Many rankings of the best horror films have 2014's The Babadook, which I finally just saw, as one of the best ever. While I don't rank it anywhere near my personal top 10 within the genre, it does feel like there haven't been many scare-fests in recent years that match its levels of psychological thrill.

Its a tale of a woman who lost her husband in a car crash as he drove her to the hospital to have their baby. Seven years later, she takes care of "the boy" (which you don't want to call him) but secretly can't stand him. Lack of sleep, misbehavior at school and on the playground, and social pressures from girlfriends leads to a psychological and murderous mind bend for the mom. And all it takes is a strange child's book character to set off a terrifying, but only mildly bloody, chain of events.

The Babadook doesn't match the horror movies that made the list of my 90 favorite movies of all time, which included:
  • Psycho at #1
  • Jaws at #3
  • Halloween at #40
  • A Clockwork Orange at #43
  • Friday the 13th at #50
  • The Shining at #55
  • Silence of the Lambs at #76
  • No Country for Old Men at #78
  • The Amityville Horror at #84
  • Donnie Darko at #85
I think other ones not in my top 90 that might fall in ahead of The Babadook include:
  • Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn
  • Suspiria
  • Phantasm II
  • 28 Days Later
  • The Blair Witch Project
  • Poltergeist
  • The Exorcist
  • "Hillbilly horror classics" Wrong Turn, Hills Have Eyes, and Wolf Creek, and
  • The ever-underrated Rob Zombie's terrifying House of 1,000 Corpses and its follow-up The Devil's Rejects.
For more ideas of what to watch, check out the great horror choices on this list.

And next I must see this year's Get Out, which Rotten Tomatoes jaw-droppingly rates as the top horror flick of all time.

Talking about the future of mobility on Tech Pulse TV

I was recently on this Tech Pulse TV show about "the future of mobility."

I believe it aired on Verizon and Comcast channels in Washington D.C. and Boston.

It's a good conversation with Darnell Grisby of the American Public Transportation Association, Russell Brooks of Transportation for America, and Barry Einsig of Cisco about topics such as:

  • Technology shaping transportation
  • The future of mobility
  • Transportation platforms
  • Bikesharing
  • Carsharing, and
  • The sharing economy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Great News and Transparent aren't perfect, but they're worth watching

I've still got shows like The Wire and Game of Thrones to watch. And I'm only in season two of both Breaking Bad and The Sopranos.

But somehow, somehow, I just finished the latest seasons of Transparent and Great News. Both shows have their flaws, but they also have enough to keep me coming back.

Great News just completed its first season and it's returning as part of NBC's Thursday night "Must-See TV" lineup.

The money trifecta is Briga Heelan (who was excellent as the actress girlfriend in Netflix's Love and has serious comic watchability), Andrea Martin (of the famed SCTV comedy troupe and perfectly playing the neurotically wacky New Jersey mother of Heelan), and John Michael Higgins (from Christopher Guest's Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, and For Your Consideration, and here well-cast as a stereotypical newsman).

As with 95 percent of network TV these days, there's a same-y case of over-production sheen with Great News. That hurts its quest for genuineness. Think about The Office. It had a very different feel, production-wise, at the time than most other network sitcoms. Why do they all have such patented style and formatting?

Transparent doesn't have that same problem. It definitely feels different than anything else before. Although, in reality, it's probably not that far off from a prime-time soap melodrama.

Jeffrey Tambor, like in Arrested Development and with his bit roles in Three's Company and The Hangover movies, is just so darn good. The rest of the cast is, frankly, about as annoying as the cast of Girls got to be over time. That said, they're not supposed to be likable, so they get somewhat of a pass.

Not all the storylines work, but the paths they take are never predictable. And that's probably the secret formula causing me to be caught up and ready to watch season four in real time.

Great News: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Transparent: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Musical Find of the Day: Alex Cameron, for fans of Foxygen-like weirdness


I was intrigued by Alex Cameron because his upcoming album, Forced Witness, is co-produced by one of my favorite new musicians, Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado.

And Cameron has the same amount of weirdo, quirkiness as Foxygen, which I saw in concert earlier this year and can confirm the weirdness. The two artists specialize in awkward dance moves that it is very difficult to stop watching.




To kick it up a level, Cameron released the first video for his upcoming release (see YouTube, the dude likes videos) and it features beautiful backing vocals from Angel Olsen and the afore-mentioned awkward dance moves by none other than Jemima Kirk from HBO's Girls (who also directs the video).



I'm not that sold yet on Cameron's older music, but I want to hear more. He sometimes sounds kind of like Meatloaf smushed into Depeche Mode, which isn't very enticing, but, perhaps because of the presence of Foxygen and these other contributing artists, as well as some clearly exceptional character-driven songwriting, there's an opportunity for this song and all of Cameron's work to be a slow grower.

And those dance moves!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Glen Campbell was always in the background, he's worth rediscovering


There are just some artists from my childhood that seemed really great back then. They faded away for years as I migrated to much "cooler" bands from genres like metal, indie rock, and hip-hop. But they've rushed back from time to time in my adulthood to various degrees of rediscovery.

Sonny and Cher, Donnie and Marie, the Jackson 5, the Archies, to name a few. And there was Glen Campbell. His country-pop music was so good. He even became cool over the years, so cool that in 2011 he covered "Hold On Hope," a classic song by my second-favorite band of all time, Guided By Voices.



Those songs from the last decade of his life are just heartbreaking. I defy anyone listen to "I'm Not Gonna Miss You," an ode to his wife, and not get choked up.

His classic songs are too many to rank in any kind of order. But any greatest hits collection would have to feature classics like "Wichita Lineman," "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," "Gentle on My Mind," "Galveston," and "Rhinestone Cowboy," which I love to play on guitar.

Here's a quick medley:



Glen Campbell died today in Nashville, after a life filled with battles, mostly alcohol- and drug-related. But his last battle was the one he couldn't beat - Alzheimer's. He was 81, and he left enough music for all of us to keep discovering for many more years.

A few notable nuggets about him include:
  • He toured with the Beach Boys.
  • He actually didn't write his own songs.
  • And he couldn't read music, but could play just about any string instrument with ease.
Also check out my review from last year of the CNN special (4 out of 5 stars) about Campbell, called I'll Be Me.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: 10 things I learned about Gregg Allman in Rolling Stone's tribute

Although blues and Southern rock have never been my top musical genres, I always really liked and respected the Allman Brothers. It's strange that I think of those as relatively joyful tunes (perhaps because I listened to them a lot in my care-free early 20s), when in fact leader Gregg Allman was a sorrowful, walking ghost for basically his entire life.

Personal details beyond the death of his bandmate and brother Duane in 1971 and his marriage to Cher have always been sparse. But the always-great Mikal Gilmore grabs some good ones in his tribute, "The Last Brother," in the June 29 issue of Rolling Stone.
  1. Referring to Duane, Gilmore writes: "In the early Seventies, following one of the Allman Brothers Band's legendary three-hour shows, Gregg watched horror movies with the sound off, keeping an empty chair nearby. He maintained that a spirit sat in that chair. Into the last years of his life, he said he still heard from that ghost every night."
  2. Gregg's father fought at Normandy in World War II and returned home with what would today be called post-traumatic stress. He was murdered on county road by a man who stole his car.
  3. He couldn't stand racism or the Vietnam War, and he shot himself in the foot to get out of going.
  4. After a falling out, and before Duane and Gregg got back together to form the Allman Brothers, Gregg was stuck playing out a contract with a pop band he hated in Los Angeles and even considered suicide while Duane had great success as a session musician back home in the south.
  5. The band picked its name in a blind poll and it was unanimously the Allman Brothers.
  6. Gregg hated that the last thing he ever said to Duane before his brother died in a motorcycle crash was a lie, denying that he had stolen Duane's cocaine when he really had.
  7. The Allmans held a benefit concert to help their friend Jimmy Carter withstand the costs of the 1974 primaries. He probably made it to the presidency because of the band, and Gregg ate with Carter at his first meal in the White House.
  8. Gregg met Cher in 1975 at the Troubadour in L.A. and thought she smelled like a mermaid would smell. On her singing though, he thought she was bad. The couple released what most would say was his worst album, as Allman and Woman.
  9. The couple's tour didn't work, Gregg passed out in a plate of spaghetti, and they got divorced.
  10. Despite the success of 1986's "I'm No Angel" and the 1989 reformation and tour of the Allman Brothers Band, Gregg hit his most rock bottom of drinking, until he gave a poor speech when being elected to the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, and decided to quit drinking for good.


Monday, July 17, 2017

"Wiener Sausage: The Podcast!" Episode #5 Show Notes: July is the Best Month!

PicturePerfect reading for July.
(These are show notes from my short-lived and perhaps ill-fated podcast with Dan Sullivan. May it always at least live on here. Sigh.)

1:55 - Thought for the day: July overtakes October as Paul's favorite month. Mostly for water-related reasons. And crab-related ones as well. Although Dan has been fighting organizations of various repute throughout the month, he too is fairly keen on the year's middle time. The only months that can cause distress for Dan are August and February, largely because "many people die" during those months.

7:45 - In case you forgot, Dan explains just exactly what this podcast is about. Well, our original musical, Wiener Sausage: the Musical! was a smorgasbord of music and comedy and life, so this is a continuation of that in podcast form.

10:00 - In the name of the DC Capital Fringe theater festival, which is currently underway, and where our musical was staged to sellout crowds in 2008, we start a reading of the script, which will be an ongoing story you will want to follow each week. Kinda like a South American telenovela. It begins with Guy Williams, who is based on a character that Dan created as part of the bedtime stories he would tell his little brother when they were kids and which they termed "Master Pervert Theater."

12:30 - Act One, Prelude of Wiener Sausage: The Musical! An all-knowing, Star Wars-like voice sets the scene. And Guy Williams takes the stage only to ramble a bit before he realizes there's an audience in front of him. Then he sings the opening absurd pop nugget titled "It Starts With a Love Between a Boy and a Girl."

17:30 - Dan and Paul discuss how a business storyline courses through the musical and that it fits pretty well in the current climate, in relation to how we have a CEO In Chief in the White House. Does our audience have any good ideas to add to Wiener Sausage: The Rock Opera? Dan suggests any rewrites should incorporate more music, ala the wildly successful Hamilton.

22:20 - A word from our latest sponsor, Coco Loko! Wildly exciting! Mildly offensive!! Debatably addictive!!!

23:00 - The duo pontificates again on British culture; fittingly, in this the month of our British independence.

26:30 - The magic moment arrives! Dan snorts a thick line of Coco Loko.Dan reveals that he is reclining in his comfortable bed as he does the podcast and snorts a line. Paul says he would never advise such posture during either activity. But Dan interrupts him to report that the energy buzz is kicking in, live, in the middle of the podcast. Quality entertainment!

37:30 - Pop Culture Wiener Sausage News Central Headline of the Week! From the country of Georgia, Nazis attack a vegan cafe by throwing meat around. The story makes very little sense. However, Dan's explanation of some of Hitler's behavior helps explain things, and ...

45:00 - So does the EXCLUSIVE interview that Paul conducts from an undisclosed location, forced to wear a blindfold. He talks with Morty Von Hammenheim, a member of the group, who initially makes Paul quite nervous. But as the interview goes along, Von Hammenheim surprisingly turns out to be a rather sympathetic character claiming his group is simply misunderstood. He just wants cigarette smoking to flower again in full and for there to be "meat in every corner" and "around your neck."

56:45 - Paul and Dan recall the story of the Washington DC Smoking Man, who used to try to get everyone to boycott DC bars and go to nearby Arlington because, at that point, Arlington still allowed people to smoke in bars.

58:00 - Finally, a Pop Culture Wiener Sausage News Update on Carl Edward Cunningham, whom we interviewed in the last podcast and has since pleaded guilty to stealing his buddy's Star Wars action figures, facing four years in prison when sentenced this fall. Dan calls for him to be imprisoned for much longer.

1:00:15 - A phrase to take us out on ... Paul offers, "Go get your Boba Fett figures at the Super Safe Mega Valu Mart."

Picture
Perfect eating for July.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wiener Sausage Rises to iTunes! Episode #4 Show Notes: Independence Day Special Edition:

(These are show notes from my short-lived and perhaps ill-fated podcast with Dan Sullivan. May it always at least live on here. Sigh.)

We start with confusion by numbers. Although this is the fourth (or fifth, depending on who you ask) episode of Wiener Sausage: The Podcast!, it is the first we're posting to the big time: iTunes. You will now be able to subscribe to the show and listen to it with ease as you mow your lawn, drive to work, or enjoy your prescription meth.
Picture

We'll straighten all the numbers out eventually. Meanwhile, here are the show notes. Happy 4th of July!

0:00 - Dan and Paul open in stereotypically morbid fashion, with tales of near-death experiences involving funerals, ocean swimming, and automobiles.

7:00 - Life tip: You should never brake on the highway because it will cause massive delays for hundreds of cars behind you.

8:00 - Dan now owns a Fiat. He doesn't know much about it other than it looks like a little yellow bee. Car Talk this show isn't.

13:00 - A word from our latest sponsor. It couldn't be more fitting, especially in relation to the $500 million worth of hamburger meat that will be sold to Americans over the 4th of July holiday: Meatland!

16:30 - After a very long lead and intro into the word for our sponsor, here actually is where the ad begins.

18:30 - That ad just got Dan and Paul both hungry for some Vienna sausages.

19:00 - Wiener Sausage Pop Culture News presents a discussion on the beauty of obituary writing, the death of Stephen Furst of Animal House fame, and friends who have recently died.

26:00 - Dan and Paul relive some fun stories from college debauchery and academic intrigue at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Washington University.

32:00 - Every time Dan asks whether a celebrity is dead already, they aren't but then they die days later. Let's hope this doesn't hold true after our discussion of the legendary Harrison Ford.

33:15 - "Free," one of the songs from Wiener Sausage: The Musical!, as played by Paul's former band The Sprogs.

38:00 - Paul secures an exclusive, exciting interview with Carl Everett Cunningham, who has allegedly stolen as much as $200,000 in Star Wars action figures from the Obi-Wan Ranch in California.

44:00 - Uh, the interview finally actually begins. If you hadn't noticed, Paul and Dan like long contextual setups.

53:00 - Because meats are about to be served for the holiday, our hosts run out of time. Dan gives Paul another shot at "signing out" after a miserably failed attempt during the last show. He does a tiny bit better this time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

I always wanted to be a professor, so here's maybe the next best thing

I served as an advisor (and even got to teach one class) for a project by George Mason University graduate students this spring semester.

It was really fun and, as a bonus, the report the students wrote is very good. Check it out here, read a Mobility Lab-published article I wrote about it here, and take a look at an article today on GMU.edu. My quotes include:
With deliveries expected to increase by nearly 30 percent in the next decade, it is an area that needs more consideration, said Paul Mackie, communications director for Mobility Lab. 
As Arlington County officials ponder the proposals, Jonathan Gifford, director of Mason’s Center for Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy at Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, said Mobility Lab “was highly enthusiastic about the results. … While Arlington is widely recognized as a leader in multimodal mobility, there are clearly opportunities to do even more.” 
“The Mason recommendations are very practical and should be useful to Arlington, which is already pretty well-connected because of its many transportation options,” Mackie said. 


Friday, June 23, 2017

Wiener Sausage: The Podcast! Episode #3 Part 2 Show Notes: Talking Physics, Sausages, and Geopolitical Destruction with Peter Sullivan!

(These are show notes from my short-lived and perhaps ill-fated podcast with Dan Sullivan. May it always at least live on here. Sigh.)
PictureIs that sausage The Fat Boy is making?
0:00 - A word from our sponsor, Wendy's. "Where's the Beef?"
0:45 - We introduce our interview guest for the show, Peter Sullivan, Dan Sullivan's dad and a financial backer/spiritual guru for Wiener Sausage: The Musical! Everyone agrees that we're exhausted because none of us went to bed early the night before and neither the hosts nor the guest are morning people.
3:00 - We learn that, in the Wiener era, Peter was watching his children become "responsible citizens."
5:30 - As we've entered into Trump's unreal world of reality, we discuss how war and sex has transformed in the decade since the musical was produced in Washington D.C. It's interesting to see the Russian cold war kicking back into full gear.
8:15 - Peter reflects on how many of the wars throughout history have been over resources, and that "renewables" was a forward-thinking theme within Wiener Sausage's plotline since wind and solar power have begun to play a major role as energy sources. Dan establishes that co-host Paul Mackie is "an environmentalist."
12:30 - In the last episode, we talked all about Star Wars. This is a nice segue to a conversation with Peter about the "Star Wars" missile-defense system he worked on under the Reagan administration. He worked on policy issues and was in no way a mad scientist like our lead evil character in Wiener Sausage, Professor Dr. Schmock.
​17:30 - The good new: "The Fat Boy" in North Korea's missiles are still "lower-threat" missile systems and we and the Israelis can be pretty successful at this point in stemming any attacks.
19:30 - The other good news: We probably have never truly developed a doomsday device to destroy the world!
20:40 - Fun fact! Russia can't get Alcoholic Anonymous to work.
24:00 - Dan eloquently waxes on how the writing of our musical was the result of the new dangers felt throughout the country in the wake of the 9/11 years. We dealt with this national struggle with comedy.
27:00 - Peter, in true guru form, says, "The best things in life are a good laugh and a good physic." Look that one up! Aaaaaaaaand this episode returns from its deep political discussion to its scatological roots.
30:00 - Or perhaps politics and sausage are exactly what this show is about. We're still figuring it out, but Peter does an excellent job at helping summarize and lead us into whatever that future may be.
34:00 - Paul and Dan struggle to figure out a great way to "take us out."

Wiener Sausage: The Podcast! Episode #3 Part 1 Show Notes: Parents - Don't Allow Your Children to Collect Star Wars Action Figures

(These are show notes from my short-lived and perhaps ill-fated podcast with Dan Sullivan. May it always at least live on here. Sigh.)
The latest episode of Wiener Sausage: The Podcast! is now upon us. This is how it unfolds:
1:00 - A hot heatwave overtakes the early-Sunday-morning minds of our co-hosts Dan Sullivan and Paul Mackie.
2:00 - Nevertheless, the high standards of podcast recording are not compromised. And somehow our hosts connect the Wiener Sausage Theorem with the algorithms of Garageband.
3:30 - The topic of discussion for this episode is Stars Wars stuff. Also, can Star Wars and Wiener Sausage fans be aligned? Considering the fact that Dan and Paul once walked out midway through a Star Wars movie, perhaps not. But granted, they did walk out at the line, "Hold me like you held me on the plains of Naboo."
Picture
The plains of Naboo
6:35 - Stars Wars is in the news these days, even though there is no brand new movie being released. Sillof is an artist who is modifying Star Wars action figures to be sort of half Star Wars/half whatever the characters were influenced by. Weird, but cool and interesting. Perhaps Dan can collect them since his parents wouldn't allow him to collect the original figures (WTF?).
10:00 - Also in Star Wars news, Rancho Obi-Wan in Northern California is seeing thefts of its memorabilia, and it turns out it's the owner's friend who is stealing the goods, such as a Boba Fett action figure. Dan becomes very concerned about catching the thief, Carl Edward Cunningham.
12:30 - A message from a corporation that may or may not be one of the show's sponsors: Kiva Maqui Berry Powder. Dan and Paul are unsure what the product is, but it may be snortable and/or a supplement.
17:00 - A break at the end of part 1 of this episode prepares listeners for an interview in part 2 with Peter Sullivan, a key backer of Wiener Sausage: The Musical! back in 2008.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wiener Sausage: The Podcast! Episode #2 dives deeper into the Wiener Sausage mysteries

(These are show notes from my short-lived and perhaps ill-fated podcast with Dan Sullivan. May it always at least live on here. Sigh.)

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Yes, we made it back for a second episode.

​These things can never be taken for granted. But again, we think we're finding our groove ... with the help of another excellent guest, Sean Felix, who was a star of the 2008 D.C. production of our Wiener Sausage: the Musical!

3:00 - Dan and Paul discuss who the audience for this podcast might be. The decision: it will help listeners escape reality, much like how dingy taverns helped us do so back when we were in our 20s. Also touched upon: does drinking alcohol help or hurt creativity? The science seems to still be out. But one thing is sure, it's a lot harder to howl at the moon without alcohol!

​7:00 - A word from our sponsor, June Weenie's Self Defense Academy, leads us into a special reading of a never-before-heard extra scene from Wiener Sausage: The Musical!, read by Dan, Paul, and guest Sean. Continuing the tradition, as reviewed by the Washington Post, as "tasteless yet popular." Your job as the listener? Relax, and learn.

12:30 - A word from another one of our sponsors: Prana Bridger jeans. The perfect pants for Kevin Costner.

16:00 - Introducing Sean Felix, who played a character whose name neither one of the playwrights seem to remember. We think; however, that it was Professor Dr. Ewing/Uwe Schmock. Sean reveals that he was drifting around in life until the role came about and he found more purpose.

21:30 - Sean describes what Wiener Sausage: The Musical! is all about, in under a minute. And what does the musical have to do with what we're now trying to do with this podcast/radio show? The musical was insane and so were the times, politically and socially. Nothing much has changed, so this podcast may just be very right for the times.

26:45 - Sean is now a teacher with a family in Hyattsville, Maryland. He reads lots of comic books, and among his favorites is Black Hammer, plus a book called Countdown that is great for teaching kids about the Cold War.

​31:45 - The words for the week. "Sometimes it's OK to pull the covers over your head."

Friday, May 19, 2017

Announcing the debut of Wiener Sausage: The Podcast!

(These are show notes from my short-lived and perhaps ill-fated podcast with Dan Sullivan. May it always at least live on here. Sigh.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Should delivery robots be allowed on sidewalks?

I'm quoted today by the San Francisco Chronicle (and MSN, Market Watch, Government Technology, and others; also subsequently quoted two days later by CityLab) on a topic I've discussed before representing Mobility Lab: should delivery robots be allowed on city sidewalks?

San Francisco, of all places, is considering such a ban. While better city planning in most places is needed to examine the best ways these R2D2s can be helpful and not a nuisance, they also could be an answer to the growing army of Amazon and UPS and other bigger delivery vehicles that more and more constantly block my bicycle path and can make traffic jams much worse.

Here's what I said:
A San Francisco ban is a bad idea, said Paul Mackie, a spokesman for Virginia’s Mobility Lab, which researches advanced transportation.
“The space-saving R2D2s could fix a lot of our traffic headaches caused by the ever-growing number of delivery vans and trucks that have to park illegally and dangerously to make their dropoffs,” he said in an email. “It doesn’t make any sense for San Francisco leaders to be going backwards like this.” 
So far, three cities — San Carlos, Redwood City and Washington — have approved robot deliveries, Mackie said. Virginia and Idaho also allow them, and Wisconsin has passed legislation now awaiting the governor’s signature to allow delivery robots to use sidewalks and crosswalks.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Best Magazine Reads: GQ nails why Federer is awesome, but not my favorite tennis player

Over the years, I've come to appreciate Roger Federer's steely perfection, his Switzerland-ness, if you will.

But he's still not my favorite player.

He's awesome to behold, but in reality, you always know you're going to get the exact same forehands, the perfect one-hand backhand, the same serve percentage, and the same extraordinary-human courteous post-match interviews.

John McEnroe might be my favorite athlete, not just tennis player. I've loved watching Gustavo Kuerten and Raphael Nadal.

So GQ's April cover story on Federer summed it up for me:
Friends of mine, hitting partners, are Federer fans for real. They own his racket, his sneakers, the hat with his RF logo. When he loses, they're wrecked; when he wins, it's only slightly less painful, because it's one fewer win they get to witness. Federer fans admire not only the game but the gestalt, what he represents. Integrity. Class. Flawlessness on and off the court. Whereas my problem's always been with that same idea of perfection, the absence of blemishes. As a fan, I need some grit to grab. More for me are Andy Murray's self-defeatism, Stan Wawrinka's sourness, Nadal's nervous mannerisms. Basically, men who are capable of tragic mistakes, who demonstrate, physically and noisily, what it takes to beat back their own worst tendencies—or, just as often, fail in trying. And then there's a side of my vanity—and I'm not proud to say this here—that's occasionally thought that being a Federer fan is just too easy. 
What is Roger Federer? Roger Federer: is Swiss. Very normal, laughs a lot. On some level he's a product of the '90s—he used to have bleached hair, he had posters in his bedroom of Shaq, Michael Jordan, Stefan Edberg, Boris Becker. (Also Pamela Anderson. “I remember that one,” he said, chuckling. “She was on my door.”) He's polite, he's fastidious. He's a family man who loves movies. In private he's goofy, earnest about his interests, and he seriously doesn't mind getting excited when he tells a story. Basically, Roger Federer is kind of a dork, in the very best sense. 
“You don't want to give anything away to your opponent. I used to do that all the time when I was little. Throwing rackets, shouting, all that stuff. You give an edge to your opponent if you do that. Eventually, you develop your demeanor. Rafa has his tics. Stan has his look. I have my look. You become this shield.”
It's a good, quick read beyond that. And that photo of those hairy-man legs is almost downright shocking.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Will growth of shared mobility make people more willing to share their own cars?

This originally appeared at Mobility Lab.
As many as 95 percent of trips in big cities could be shared with no more than a 5-minute inconvenience for riders, according to a recent report co-authored by Carlo Ratti of MIT’s SENSEable City Lab.
Back in 2010, the Albany Times Union did some interesting reporting to delve into why New York State residents seemed incapable adopting a sharing mindset when it comes to driving. (Granted, 2010 was before the Uber craze, but even that kind of ride-hailing more often has a taxi feel than a carpooling one.) The paper’s own surveying found very few people carpooling and this articlegives a range of the unlimited excuses people can make for their lack of enthusiasm about sharing.
In conversations about mobility these days, sharing is understood as a necessary part of the solution for fixing overwhelming demand on transportation systems. Even (and especially) car companies are beginning to lean heavily on shared rides or shared vehicles as an important component in their future share of the transportation market.
While one kind of shared mobility question may still remain – will people eventually grow accustomed to sharing their private vehicles? – sharing a common, company-owned vehicle does seem to have a growing place.
Walter Rosenkrantz, ‎senior business-development manager at car2go, itself owned by German automaker Daimler, spoke at the Association for Commuter Transportation’s Public Policy Summitlast week in Washington, D.C. (which Mobility Lab co-sponsored).
“Carsharing has exploded. It’s kind of here to stay. The more there is out there, the more personal vehicles are going to be shared. Pretty soon it’s not going to make sense to have a car. It’s just going to be easier to get around without a car, so why have one?”
The numbers indeed look impressive. Car2go’s membership surpassed 2 million in 2016. But looking more closely, those are global numbers, and people in the U.S. haven’t always behaved like those in other countries, especially when it comes to transportation. In fact, carsharing revenue in North America is expected to drop – given faster growth in international markets – to just 23 percent of the global total by 2024. And numbers for projected U.S. growth in carsharing can be difficult to come by.
Further, think anecdotally. When I have conversations with residents of the D.C. region and mention the concept of sharing – even in a place as traffic-clogged as the nation’s capital, where there are tons of alternatives to driving alone – I get blank stares. They may as well be saying to me, “I spent $30,000 for my nice car, why would I let someone else tag along on my commute?”
Surprisingly, it appears we have little understanding regarding the fundamental question of whether or not people are even willing to share their own vehicles in the first place.
And if people are willing to share, is that number going up or down? Does “shared mobility” include being in a small, non-transit vehicle with strangers? The pieces of the sharing economy and shared mobility that are working fabulously – AirBnB for home rentals, bikesharing – are not shared at the same time but rather used continuously.
“I’m not sure people think about their transportation [as shared resources]” said the Shared-Use Mobility Center’s Sharon Feigon, who also presented at ACT’s conference. “People join carsharing programs when their car is broken down, they have a major break up [in a relationship], or have just moved to a new city. They try it as temporary thing and it ends up working for them.”
She’s right: it often takes a major life change to get people to think about not just sharing, but the overall way that they move around.  A brief survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers found that, in 2015, only 44 percent of U.S. adults were familiar with the sharing economy. More specifically:
According to our data, 8 percent of all adults have participated in some form of automotive sharing. 1 percent have served as providers under this new model, chauffeuring passengers around or loaning out their car by the hour, day or week. Of all the categories we examined, this is the one in which consumers would most like to see the sharing economy succeed.
Today, many people simply don’t share their vehicles, for any number of reasons, despite the emergence of some rental-like services like GetAround. But there is hope, because even though nobody wants to share their cars, they all want other people to share their cars.
“Unless you raise parking prices or make it prohibitively difficult to drive, you can’t change the balance,” Feigon added. “[The Shared-Use Mobility Center is] not fixated on whether people do or don’t like to share. There is something healthy about it, given the rise of [sprawl- and auto-driven] loneliness, and land use that promotes pedestrian activity is inherently social and also involves physical activity. Setting up the conditions for that is really good.
“In my own experiences, taking the train, I catch up with people I know. And you don’t have to deal with anybody if you don’t want to. [Taking transit or sharing] can make you more accepting of different kinds of people,” she said.
Other than focusing on people who are making major life changes, one demographic Feigon suggested could be ripe for more sharing is women with school-age children, who drive the most of any category of people and make lots of short trips that conflict with the poor ways we’ve designed our communities.
“That was not the biggest category of drivers 50 years ago,” she laughed.
We often hear how technology alone won’t change behavior; rather, it takes true willingness of people. But with getting people to share, technology may currently be a helpful motivator.
Along with that hope, it’s a safe bet that more research about the willingness of people to share and, specifically, what could make them share seats in their own cars, is equally critical.
Photo, top: car2go cars parked outside of a light rail station in Austin, Texas (Lars Plougmann, Flickr, Creative Commons).

Friday, April 21, 2017

SXSW audio: How to Uber-ize public transit to save it



This originally appeared at Mobility Lab.
Our panel at SXSW in Austin last month, How to Uber-ize public transit to save it, agreed that there is a lot that public transit can learn from Uber in terms of selling the public on its worth. At the same time, we also agreed that Uber absolutely can’t replace transit.
Screen Shot 2017-04-06 at 2.03.06 PM
The PowerPoint slideshow that ran in the background throughout the session
I moderated and asked the panelists (Doug Kaufman of Transloc, Mike Russel of Texas Christian University, and Marlene Connor of Marlene Connor Associates) a series of questions, including:
  • In what ways should and shouldn’t public transit become like Uber?
  • Is transit nearly perfect in any place in the world, so much so that services like Uber and Lyft aren’t even necessary? Where are the candidates in the U.S. for making an “ultimate connected city?
  • What things do you think could get people in the U.S. to change our 100-year-old habit of always defaulting to driving alone?
  • What needs to happen with data sharing for public transit, private service providers, and even roads to all truly work together and make our transportation system benefit from where we are technologically?
  • What do you think autonomous vehicles will do to transit?
  • We don’t know much about what President Donald Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will do, but it seems safe to say they will want private services to complement transit as much as possible. Is this smart and how can it happen?
  • Thinking of technology and AVs, if car companies and tech companies become the big breadwinners, in what ways can that trickle back down and provide jobs and income equality?
  • If the public sector’s role in mobility were reduced (it has been doing some great things like USDOT’s Smart City Challenge and FTA’s Mobility On Demand Sandbox grants), what do you think would happen to the transportation opportunities of unbanked people and people in rural areas?
  • What do you predict we’ll be discussing 5 years from now if this panel reunites?
We finished by fielding about a dozen audience questions from the 200 or so people in attendance.
Listen to the session above or here (except the introduction, which appears to have been edited out by SXSW)

On-demand “flying Ubers” could ease East Coast traffic

This article originally appeared at Mobility Lab.
What would happen to congested urban traffic if some trips could simply be picked up and moved into the air?
That’s a question players from Uber to Airbus to NASA are seriously studying. But to Bruce Gunter, who often has to take unnecessarily long car trips from his home in Virginia Beach to Richmond to visit family, some of the pieces of this “on-demand urban air transportation” puzzle are missing.
“I’m frustrated because most of the research is being done in California and there’s nothing in Virginia along the Interstate 95 corridor. It’s almost comical because almost all the work is being done by NASA [from its offices in] Langley, Va.,” Gunter laughed.
Gunter has more than a passing interest in what can no doubt be simply referred to as flying cars. He is managing director of Veetle, a company that is producing these VTOLs (vertical take-off and landing vehicles). But he also has deep knowledge of lengthy Federal Aviation Administration processes, especially from his days working at Cirrus, which has gotten extensive news coverage about its parachute-deploying small planes.
“We’re a very small company, with big ideas.” Gunter said Veetle is operating on about $1 million in its first year but that once it starts marketing and gathering investments, it could be a $200 million to $300 million effort. “Unless you’re a legacy company like Boeing or Airbus, this is all about putting tons of companies together to put the planes together.”
On-demand air travel in Virginia
Uber, in a report it released last year, predicted:
Daily long-distance commutes in heavily congested urban and suburban areas and routes under-served by existing infrastructure will be the first use cases for urban VTOLs. VTOLs will have greatest appeal for those traveling longer distances and durations [and] a small number of vertiports could absorb a large share of demand from long-distance commuters since the “last mile” ground transportation component will be small relative to the much longer commute distance.
Along Virginia’s stretch of I-95 or in other congested nearby cities like Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Washington, D.C., flying cars could certainly be an option worth exploring.
“This could broaden the scope of how people get around, even more than what Uber has shown us already with cars,” Gunter said, adding that passengers would reserve a plane just like an Uber, but would instead, unlike an Uber, head to a designated rooftop to jump in.
He added that it’s great Uber is one of the few players in the market, but that the ride-hailing company can’t do much until it has an actual product like the kind Veetle is developing. “Logistically, we could be the aerial Uber, for lack of a better term.”
Keys to making flying Ubers a reality
Some of the bigger keys, besides simply getting the public to change long-ingrained travel habits and developing policy guidelines, include making trips inexpensive, reliable, and shared in the sense so they would be more like transit than personal vehicles.
Uber further predicts:
In the long-term, VTOLs will be an affordable form of daily transportation for the masses, even less expensive than owning a car. Normally, people think of flying as an expensive and infrequent form of travel, but that is largely due to the low production volume manufacturing of today’s aircraft. The economics of manufacturing VTOLs will become more akin to automobiles than aircraft. Initially, of course, VTOL vehicles are likely to be very expensive, but because the ridesharing model amortizes the vehicle cost efficiently over paid trips, the high cost should not end up being prohibitive to getting started.
Another matter is whether the vehicles would create noise and air pollution. Gunter said the battery technology is still at least a decade away to make them powered fully by electric propulsion. Until then, they would need to be “some kind of hybrid” of gas and electric. But he added that the noise would be minimal because they would operate somewhat like drones, which the public already largely understands as being relatively quiet.
Also, would we simply be displacing traffic jams on the roads for ones in the sky?
“I’ve got 6,500 hours of flying and, in my experience, it’s rare if you ever see another airplane. If you do, it’s near the big airports by places like New York and Atlanta,” Gunter said, adding that VTOL traffic is mainly a matter of being managed effectively.
As science-fiction-y as it seems, we may indeed be hearing more about on-demand urban air transportation soon. Uber is sponsoring an invitation-only conference April 25-27 in Dallas.
Photo by Uber.