Dispatch 9: I Don't Do Requests

Us and Them

I don't normally do product recommendations in Dispatches, but since it's had a tight grip on my brain, I want to tell others about this amazing photo book I received as a Christmas present.

If you have ever followed fashion photography, you've heard of Helmut Newton. He was absolutely prolific in the 70s and 80s and defined a fairly specific couteur look that became synonymous with French Vogue. His wife of many years, Alice Springs, was also a photographer and artist in her own right and the couple documented their lives and careers. Those photos of their life together were collected in the book "Us and Them."

Even if you're not the biggest fan of Newton's work (I respect his skill, but editorial fashion photography doesn't really "do it" for me), you'll come away with an appreciation for both of Helmut and Alice. They are clearly a powerful duo. The images collected over their lives are remarkable for the breadth. I came away feeling like I knew these people.

I highly recommend this and for the price, you'll be glad you bought it for yourself or some other shutterbug in your life.

The most expensive media

Techmoan posted a video detailing the most expensive home audio format: reel to reel tapes.

As usual the video gets into the fascinating details of the technology. Reel to reel was always an enthusiast format. It was more cumbersome than vinyl albums or enclosed tape formats like cassettes and 8-tracks. But the up side was that, if properly mastered, the tapes wound sound far better than just about any other format. There are some additional caveats to that, but it is still pretty interesting to see that tapes are still being produced (albeit at exorbitant prices.)

Play it again

There are no shortage of piano covers on youtube, but I happened to have this particular video recommended to me and it is probably the end-all-be-all of piano cover videos.


I didn't bother to even count how many songs Lara6638 plays, but it's an astounding amount only made more remarkable by the fact that she was taking requests live. Since it was originally streamed on Twitch there are a lot of videogame covers (Legend of Zelda makes multiple appearances), but there are a lot of other pop songs in the mix as well.

That'll do it for this dispatch.

Dispatch 8: How to read


How to read

While these posts tend to include a lot of Youtube videos, it's important to consume broadly, and unfortunately that may mean having to read some books. Fortunately, one of my favorite channels, Philosophy Tube has a video on how to read difficult books.

One of his main points is to give yourself permission to take breaks and even re-read passages or chapters if you need to. Secondly, reading two different kinds of books can also be beneficial, as well as speeding up your completion rate.


I'd also like to add that while some books may take some time to "get going," we should all give ourselves permissions to stop reading a bad book if we really don't like it. This also goes for any other media. If you really don't like something and it's bringing you no joy or intellectual sustenance, turn it off. Even if everyone else loves it. Your time is worth more than that.


Patreon doesn't pay enough, (The Outline)


If you listen to enough podcasts, you'll probably hear a couple ads for Patreon. It's a "crowdfunding site" only instead of paying towards the completion of a specific goal, you directly support an ongoing creative endeavor.

For the ones at the top (for example Chapo Trap House pulls in over $80,000 a month), this has been a great way to monetize their work. But for the vast majority of patreon users, it hasn't allowed them to quit their day jobs. Brent Knepper at The Outline breaks down exactly why that is, and what Patreon doesn't do to help creators.

It is interesting to see how Patreon has been able to insert itself in the middle of all of these transactions, while apparently adding very little in the way of value, and a lot of extra work, to creators' plates.


Christmas time means Christmas movies


I haven't been able to get the movie One Magic Christmas out of my head ever since I saw it back in the early 90s on The Disney Channel. I don't know why exactly, it is, in many respects not all that memorable.


The thing that stands out most to me is that it was the first Christmas movie I saw where Santa Claus doesn't really play a big roll. Yes, he's a big feature of the children's Christmas experience but much of the magic in the film comes from plainclothes angel Gideon (played by Harry Dean Stanton.)


Why are computers beige?

Just a random video I stumbled upon. Pretty much all 1980s/90s computers were a rather terrible beige color. They may have a dark-gray accent color here or there, but overall the beige box was ubiquitous in offices of the time




As it turns out, the reason that beige was the rage had to do with a German workplace regulation from the 1970s. This standard was eventually adopted by other countries throughout Europe to the point where it made very little sense to make any other color options besides beige.


While Apple gets a lot of credit for shifting the aesthetic of home computers, the black IBM Thinkpad was a major force in changing office hardware.   

Tin foil square dance society

Finally, I'll close with a link to this amazing thread by @robynelyse on the secret cabal that has sought to make square dancing the national folk dance of the United States. I'm not kidding. It's weird.




Dispatch 7: Spooktacular

As Halloween approaches, I am possessed with a desire to find some good seasonal content. And of course, Halloween is weird in its own right so there are lots of great things to share. So open up that pillow case and receive this bounty.

Up first is none other than Vincent Price.

Though, perhaps you haven't heard him quite like this.

"Wine is Elegance" was a spoken word LP released in 1977. In his time, Price was an ambassador of California wines and clearly had a passion for fine dining. Maybe not the most spooktacular aspect of his career, but it's entertaining to hear Price talk up the virtue of wine and good company.

We'll turn it up just another notch with another illustrious voice.

Paul Frees was a renowned "golden throat" who voiced many commercials and cartoons. He was also the original voice of the "Ghost host" of the haunted mansion. Here is a raw recording of his introduction with some witty, if problematic, banter in the studio.

You must remember this takes on classic horror monsters

Karina Longworth's podcast about Hollywood history is often essential listening for classic movie buffs. This latest season (or cycle) profiles the careers of two of Hollywood's classic monster actors: Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. The first episode appeared recently, so you aren't too behind if you start listening now. And once this season has concluded, go back and listen to the riveting, epic season about the Manson family.

A Youtube Playlist for you

I happen to love the "PG" side of Halloween. I think it's just a big nostalgia trip for me to remember watching 'spooky' stuff like Disney's Halloween Treat in late October. So in that spirit I've put together a YouTube playlist of "VHS classics" there are Halloween specials and commercials from the 1980s and early 1990s.

Remember when the McNuggets were a Halloween staple?

That'll do it for this Dispatch. A veritable pillow case of tasty treats, in my opinion. Remember to brush your teeth.

Dispatch 6: Leon's Island jams

Nanowripod's final chapter

For the past 4 years I produced (and originally hosted) a podcast about National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) called Nanowripod. By the number of listens, downloads, and comments, it is probably the most successful things I've worked on outside of my "civilian" career.

However, the core group (Jim, Ed, and I) have found our interests diverging and the workload of trying to do a Nanowripod season without our hearts really being in it didn't feel like something we should do. We also didn't want to just abandon the podcast, as happens to so many shows.

So we recorded our "Omega episode" a couple weeks ago. Please give it a listen and don't hesitate to go back to the whole show.

Leon's latest mix on Soundcloud is something else:

It turns out that the guy with the Yoshi's Island twitter avatar has a thing for sunshine-y bouncy dance music. Go figure.

While the days are getting shorter and colder, this is something to help keep a bit of summer going.


20 year old Doom videos look better than ones from 10 years ago

I'm still on my Doom kick from the past few weeks, so why not share this interesting nugget from decades ago.

I was a bit young, and my computer was a bit too isolated to participate in Doom deathmatches, but I remember that multiplayer was definitely a big selling point for Doom, and even moreso for Quake. Unlike with most games, if you wanted to record a video of you playing a game back in the 90s you either needed a very specialized piece of hardware that could capture the video output, or you would just point a camera at your monitor.

Doom, however, had a brilliant feature that let you record "demos" of yourself playing. The demo is the gameplay that occurs when the game first starts and you're still navigating the menu. By default there is some pretty rudimentary gameplay in the demo, but players can basically record anytime they're playing, including multiplayer matches. These demo files used the game engine for playback, so they didn't require a video encoding to be saved. Anyone with the game (millions of players) could load up a demo and watch it run.

What this meant was that players could record high quality, low filesize, 'videos' of their gameplay which could be shared easily even back in the old dial-up days. Because the game engine plays back the demo, a player using modern HD capture software can now make high quality videos for Youtube of classic Doom deathmatches and speedruns from decades ago.

Check this out:

And that'll do for this dispatch. It's a bit lighter than I would like, but I've been holding out on this one for a while and I want to put together a properly spooky dispatch for all you groovie ghoulies.

Dispatch 5: Hold Please

This week I found myself making a few customer service calls and it made me think about hold music. And of course, the top result for "hold music" on the ol' Youtube and found what is, quite possibly the most famous hold music of the 21st century:

From the info on the Youtube post:

“The song is called Opus No. 1, by Tim Carleton and Darrick Deel. It’s never been on a Top 40 list or gotten radio play, and yet it’s heard around the world by the millions of people who are placed on hold each day.

Darrick and Tim’s story actually begins back in 1989, when as teenagers and friends they recorded a song in their garage. Unfortunately, they didn’t go on to rockstar fame and fortune, but years later Darrick would go on to take a job with Cisco. In his role building Cisco’s first version of IP phones, he was aware of Cisco’s need for a piece of music to use as the default hold music for the new system. Cut to several years later, and their high school composition has become the hold music for the world’s most popular phone systems with over 65 million IP phones sold. With that, Opus No. 1 has left the safety of Darrick and Tim’s childhood recording studio and entered ear worm status.” — Cisco Blog

You can read more about Opus No. 1 at:

Listen to the This American Life episode about it at:

These piece in itself has now become something that falls under the "aesthetic" umbrella of ephemera that holds an almost totemic importance to a subset of millenials. (yes, that is hyperbole, as is everything in aesthetics.)

Also, something about those chords makes me think of Toto's Africa... go fig.

Point, Contrapoint

Youtube has a problem with the alt-right. Or, at least it should be treated as a problem. It’s hard to look up any pressing social issue and not find ultra conservative talking heads dominating the search results. Fortunately, a few stalwart folks are putting some work into pushing back, and using even better style and aesthetics.
ContraPoints is a genderqueer genius doing the work of educating the masses, and delivered humorously.
They recently released a video that directly addresses the signalling and messages that the alt-right and fascists use to appeal to ‘moderates.’

Once you’ve finished enjoying that, i highly recommend Contra’s more personal video essay about coming out as genderqueer and what that means to them.

Happy Labor-Doom

Being that we’re looking at a long weekend, I plan to spend some of that time with an old friend: the venerable first person shooter, Doom. thanks to speedrunning and modders, many groundbreaking games have fandoms that continue to this day. However, I was surprised to learn of a mod that was created a few years ago named, appropriately, Brutal Doom.

Brutal Doom is basically everything we feared of the original Doom. The violence is cranked up, the enemies are harder, the sound is bigger. Where in the old game monsters would collapse in a gross meaty pile if exploded, now you have proper “gib” effects as well as massive blood splatter effects that cover walls and ceilings. It’s most recent updates came just a few months ago, so it’s still actively being developed and I can’t wait to give it a shot.

Doom is now almost 25 years old and, like a classic film, there are certain qualities about it that have stood the test of time, despite advances in the underlying technology. The first episode in the series deftly introduces the player to the mechanics of the game with very little (virtually no) overt hand holding. In this regard it is similar to the original Super Mario Bros.

That'll do it for this long weekend post. If any of these links have sparked a thought or response, share them below.


Dispatch 3: Pepsi-free

An Agent of Love

I've been mildly obsessed with Griffin McElroy's Polygon videos. The most notable of these is Car Boys, in which Nick Robinson and Griffin McElroy take the car physics simulator BeamNG.drive, and turn it into a magical journey of discovery and truth. It's the most compelling "Let's Play" style video that has ever been made. Like it actually makes me want to play a freaking physics simulator.

But not griffin has done other video series as well. Another notable one is the hilarious and wonderful "PeaceCraft." In PeaceCraft, Griffin plays World of WarCraft in a "pacifist" style. He eschews all combat, and resolves to not harm anyone while he tries to traverse the massive in-game realm, essentially on a "tour" of game. Of course killing things is a primary way you survive, complete quests, level up and earn money and other goods so his innovative ways of working against this core game mechanic are the crux of the show. Griffin's struggle to live a peaceful life is both hilarious and heartwarming. I highly recommend checking out the best of video, and if you find yourself cackling at your computer, watch the whole series of videos.

Why is "the web" awful? 🤔

This is the question asked by The Outline (a website that's not bad)... there's a pretty straightforward answer. The web is fine. Corporate websites are awful. They're hard to use, littered with pop ups, and user-antagonistic when it comes to insisting people white list their ad-riddled monstrosities.

Personal websites, by and large, are still fine. Blogging platforms like blogger (in the year of our lord 2017, freaking blogger) is more than enough for most consumers of the readable web. The big difference is how desperate you are to compromise everything to try and earn some money on it? It's all compromised vision and it is hard to feel much sympathy for gargantuan sites that struggle.

My point is, read more blogs.

Cassettes were the jam

I grew up at the height of cassette tapes as the primary means of listening to music. Yes, vinyl was king in the home but cassettes were truly portable listening and were far more compact.

It also turns out, that we all really didn't know what we were talking about when it came to cassettes and audio quality.

Techmoan on Youtube breaks down all the interesting features of classic format


As you probably noticed, I have a fairly  new public instagram account to showcase my photos on that site. While I still like how feature loaded Flickr is, Instagram is where people see your work. People are less inclined to click Flickr links, and you don't really feel like it's an active place compared to Instagram. And, surprisingly, I've had almost exclusively positive interactions there so far.

I got the name "30 Ghosts" from a reference I believe I read from Warren Ellis. I don't know exactly where, but it was probably in his newsletter. In it, he mentioned that each person currently alive on earth has about 30 ghosts out of the population of humans that has ever lived. Something about that is both ominous and somewhat inspiring.

This is from my first scans done from my own developing. Two guys walking in Millenium Park a few weeks ago.

This is from my first scans done from my own developing. Two guys walking in Millenium Park a few weeks ago.

While we're on the subject of photography, here's a great video by photographer John Fee. It's a bit long, but even just watching for the first few minutes is refreshing. He genuinely loves teaching and sharing, and he also has some very incisive thoughts on what makes a good photo.

Dispatch 2: What is the fastest music?

The Best Art

Artist Nicole He has created a collaborative art experiment with her Macbook as partner. Every day, the computer creates a new piece of art that it has calculated to be "the best art" for that day. It is then up to the human (He, in this instance) to create that art piece.

You can see the project in action here.

The math of maps

Numberphile, a favorite Youtube channel, has a great video explaining the theory behind "four color theory" in cartography.

In short, there is a well known fact of maps that you only need 4 colors to delineate the borders of states. Numberphile goes into why that always works.



How fast can you hear?

Musician Adam Neely answers a very intriguing question: "what is the fastest music?"

The answer is a bit more complicated, of course.

Adam analyses popular performances of fast music, virtuoso performers and explains one of the thresholds of human perception.


Another music streaming service

We aren't really wanting for options for paid music streaming services, but we're getting another one anyway. Pandora, which was one of the earliest (and still in existence) music streaming services, now has a true on-demand option that will rolling out to subscribers and then to the general public.

What makes this interesting is that Pandora acquired Rdio's assets a few years ago which made this possible. Pandora, by virtue of it being fairly long lived for such a service, has a large installed userbase. So there will certainly be takers for the $10-a-month option to listen to music on demand, as well as harnessing Pandora's algorithmicplaylist generation feature.

The biggest stumbling block, as far as I see, is that this type of service needs to have some other hook to truly stand out and I don't think that just smart playlist/'radio station' creation is going to do it. Yes, as The Verge's article mentions, new users are probably put off by the sheer vastness of most online catalogs (i.e. "I just want to listen to something") but the other streaming services have some additional value adds.

For example, Google bundles in Youtube Red, which turns off preroll ads on Youtube, making the vast music stored on Youtube feel like an add-on to Youtube's music offerings. Spotify has extensive support across various other apps, or being accessible directly through channels on Amazon Echo, Roku, etc.

All those things add utility, and more important for Pandora, keep users around. The catalog is almost beside the point.