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August 15 2012


Two views (or more) of VJs…

Newsreel Man (Charles Peden in front with sound equipment)

In the beginning there was the Newsreel Cameraman. Hauling around more gear than a pack mule, he (no shes back then) covered the news and view of the nine-teens and twenties, joined by an Audio Man in 1927.

That was the original VJ. Rough and tumble, but always got the story.

These NR guys held on tenaciously through the birth of television, only getting phased out in the 1960s when the majority of the public chose the boob-tube over the big screen for their daily dose of what’s happening.

In the meantime a new term sprang up on the broadcast side of news: OMB. One man band. A reinvention of the NRC, they (once again) hauled around a camera, audio gear and enough love of news and what’s happening to gather the news in their markets for a hungry audience. I’m guesstimating maybe late 1950s with film and optical audio through…hmmm, today’s digital workflow.

And now we have divergence.

Sometime in the 1990s print photographers discovered an entirely new unheard of medium. They called it multimedia. It was all new – if you could actually believe editing sound with your still photos and then playing it back. Wow.

Then these brave pioneers moved on to an even greater discovery. Something they called video. Imagine, if you can, moving images with audio embedded! Why the world had never seen the likes of it before. But what were they going to call themselves if they no longer shot stills?

Well there were a number of options. Out of the nation’s capitol came the term Backpack Journalist. Made sense because (theoretically) you could fit camera, computer…your entire office into a backpack. Visual Storyteller was another one. Multimedia Journalist or Storyteller was another choice. But most of them went for Video Journalist. And so they laid claim to this new territory as original and new and totally theirs.

Um…but what about those broadcast folks? Weren’t they shooting video too?

Not they way we are, chimed the (print) VJs. Our style of storytelling is unique. We’re not TV.

Looking at it from afar (and for a while from the middle of it) I’d say the two are pretty much doing the same thing.

1) Both use cameras
2) Both gather sound
3) Both work alone to gather and disseminate visuals stories to their audiences


1) Broadcast VJs tend to use cameras meant for “run and gun” shooting with easy to access exterior controls, professional audio connectors, and good zoom lenses.
Print VJs opt for hybrid DSLRs that shoot both stills and video. While they have more control over depth of field with a wide variety of interchangeable lenses, they must also add-on audio accessories and other gadgets.
2) BVJs generally run on a tighter schedule with more packed into a day and more expected of them. Anything from a single package to a few VOs and VOSOTS to a combination of all of the above.
PVJs may have to shoot multiple stories daily also, but often seem to use video for more long form stories or VO/VOSOTS.
3) A good BJV can turn an exquisite daily story using a variety of options from a NATS pkg to pkg complete with narration and stand-up. Day after day, week after week.
A good PVJ can turn an exquisite story in a few days (from what I hear and see on the professional boards) generally a NATS pkg using the voice of the interview subject rather than narration.

You may have guessed two things by now. I tend to favor the BVJ…but there are some equally damned good PVJs out there. The good ones have more in common than not. They live and breathe visual storytelling. They see the kernels of truth, the compelling images, and understand the flow of time and words well enough to go beyond the basics. And more importantly, they learn from everything…from each other, from their subjects…each story is an opportunity to get better.

Why this posting? Just had to get it out of my system. Don’t want history written up improperly with the lineage of VJs lost to the most vocal shooters. Those quiet guys behind behemoth hand-cranked cameras deserve their place in the books too. (And don’t forget…many of them were former still photogs.)

January 07 2012


…and so it began…

Back in the beginning it appears newreel cameramen evolved from newspaper still guys…later moving into a new medium (TV). They are converging again (on the Internet).

Always wondered where the scuffle between brothers began.

(Thanks Amanda Emily.)

Sponsored post

April 25 2011


Good things come in eights

Yep, it’s true, thirty-eight years ago today, I was tossed, kicking and screaming, into this world. I’ve been trying not to screw it up ever since.

Like many, I have a love-hate relationship with birthdays, but this year it’s all love.

Maybe I’m fooling myself, but I feel like I’m in better shape, smarter, and happier than I have ever been, and I have a sense in my gut that it’s only going to get better. That’s a nice place to be when you’re staring straight down the barrel of the big four-oh.

April is also a fun month for celebrating because it’s the month that I officially hung out my shingle as an independent consultant, just over eight years ago.

I once read that less than 50% of new businesses last more than five years, so every year after the fifth has felt like a real victory over the odds.

Thinking back, I like to remember the story of “my first big client,” Grist magazine (now they just call themselves Grist). Grist had published a 50+ page request for proposal for a content-management system, and — in one short week — an ad-hoc team was pulled together and a proposal submitted.

When we heard that we made the short list, we went so far as to send a baby monitor to the Grist office with a note that said “We’ll always be there for you.”

Those were some fun days; it was all raw energy, creativity, and a hefty dose of naiveté.

We got the contract.

We took Grist from a static HTML site that they were updating by hand:


To an industrial-strength CMS that met their needs for the next four and a half years:


It was a challenging project. But it was the important first step on a path that has kept me working closely with online publishers ever since.

Call me crazy, but I can’t wait to get started on the next eight years.

The real work will have to wait until tomorrow, however, because Rule No. 1 in the Phillip Smith ‘Tao of Consulting’ Handbook is “Let go, when your work is done (or when it’s your birthday).”

March 15 2011


Circles and Euclidian Rhythms: Off the Grid, a Few Music Makers That Go Round and Round

Loopseque on the iPad. Courtesy the developer.

We continue our 3.14 celebration with a round-up of circular logic.

There’s no reason apart from the printed score to assume music has to be divided into grids laid on rectangles. Even the “piano roll” as a concept began as just that – a roll. Cycles the world around, from a mechanical clock to Indonesian gamelan, can be thought of in circles.

Imagine an alternate universe in which Raymond Scott’s circle machine – a great, mechanical disc capable of sequencing sounds – became the dominant paradigm. We might have circles everywhere, in place of left-to-right timelines now common in media software. Regardless, it’s very likely Scott’s invention inspired Bob Moog’s own modular sequencers; it was almost certainly the young Moog’s exposure to the inventions in Scott’s basement that prompted that inventor to go into the electronic music business, thus setting the course for music technology as we know it.

Raymond Scott’s Circle Machine
For more background: “Circle Machines and Sequencers”: The Untold History of Raymond Scott’s Pioneering Instruments [as reprinted from Electronic Musician]
One superb modern re-creation, via Synthtopia

Scott’s creation was shaped the way that it was partly out of mechanical necessity. Now we’re gifted with the ability to make any form we like for our electrified music tools. Circles can have appeal not because they’re somehow novel, but for just the opposite reason: they’re ubiquitous, intuitive, and geometrically elegant. So, let’s first consider these in their most abstract, in software.

Euclidean Rhythms

Incredible things are happening to our understanding of music theory as the gap between fields is shortened. Say what you will about the state of communication in our modern society; for the self-motivated, the trip “across the quad” (between academic departments) has nothing on the trip across the Internet.

Godfried Toussaint, a computer scientist with a strong math background based at Montreal’s McGill University, has a whole body of fascinating writing linking math, geometry, and music. One research paper has had a big influence on many of us, myself included. Here’s the beauty of math: an algorithm developed by Euclid in Alexandria around 300 BC also works for calculating timing systems in neutron accelerators and makes nice poly-rhythms for music. It’s rather amazing we don’t talk to each other about math more often.

Toussaint’s paper:
The Euclidean Algorithm Generates Traditional Musical Rhythms [PDF, 2005]

Our friend wesen wrote about the technique, suggesting it could be used to generate new rhythms, and included code in Lisp:
Generating african rhythms using the euclidean algorithm

wesen even made code for his amazing MiniCommand sequencing box, which I hope we’ll see more of this year. (I should have some time to work on it myself.) The actual demo is part of the way through the video:

The algorithm – the recent Bjorklund reinterpretation of Euclid’s millenia-old work – has in turn found musical life in other languages:

Python – the bjorklund algorithm and generative music[astomo.us]
Ruby – Rhythm Generation With an Euclidian Algorithm [Aleksey Gureiev]
More Ruby – jvoorhis GitHub
Java – Generating Musical Rhythms [Kristopher Wayne Reese]
Pure Data + Java – Dave Poulter
Flash/ActionScript (pictured above) – Euclidean rhythms [Wouter Hisschemöller]
Max for Live (pictured below) – Euclidean sequencer [Robin Price]

I’m implementing a touch interface for it now using Pd, Processing, and Android; I had hoped to share it by now, but I’m still fleshing it out – I’ll give it away when it’s done.

You’ll notice in these, too, the similarity to the original Scott Circle Machine, down to the sweeping arm. But that’s a benefit: glancing at them on paper, Mozart and Haydn look the same, and they use the same musical technology, but think of the musical variety that results.

A Few Circular Sequencers

Circular sequencing interfaces are plentiful – indeed, I hope that this story prompts lots of people to say “hey, what about …?” Here are a few examples.

DominoFactory’s dial uses drifting circular geometries to control musical patterns. Created by Hiroshi Matoba, a young designer/DJ, it’s one of a body of work this student creator is building:

17 Dec, 2010
at ImageRama in Kyushu University(Fukuoka/Japan)

dial is a software sequencer using circle to control loop sequences in real time. I imply “speed sync” circular notation system which differ to “angle sync” in my past work “Overbug”.

Now under developing with openFrameworks and Bullet Physics. I use ofxConsole for custom CUI in this version.

*ImageRama is one night event hosted by Genda lab. in Kyushu univ., we setup surround sound(5.1ch) and 1 full HD projector. thank you for all stuff!!

See also Matoba’s earlier Overbug, which assembles polyrhythms in lacy, overlapping wheels, like some strange, elaborate clockwork:


You can download it for yourself for the Mac; it even has Snow Leopard support.

Also from Japan, Nao Tokui has taken these ideas in another direction, still, with “mashup” application and, in three dimensions, his original Sonasphere. The latter was one of the first interfaces to really fire my imagination as far as alternative user interfaces and three-dimensional sequencing.


For an instance of a commercial application, see the iPad Loopseque, the development of which we profiled extensively here on CDM in August:
Loopseque, New iPad App, Offers Circular Sequencing and Visual Inspiration

The one shortcoming for me of that application is the inflexibility of the grid, which is why the Euclidean ideas above interest me, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Dan Trueman (on the faculty at Princeton) built his own Cyclotron for experimentation with cycles, with work going back to 1996. The clever invention here is the use of the spokes themselves as musical information. Quite a lot more detail and code in Processing and ChucK:
Cyclotron project page

Rui Penha and Polygons

Rui Penha deserves his own category here, I think, as he’s done a great deal of research. He has worked with polygonal shapes as a way of displaying evenness in rhythms, and he’s built not only novel interfaces, but entire musical compositional environments using these paradigms. They’re all downloadable, too.

Instrument A, pictured below, uses sampled sounds and pre-composed loops which you can then assemble into a layered composition.

Gamelan, in the video at the top of this story, uses cyclic, circular notation to make interlocking parts of music more visible, in the style of an Indonesian ensemble. I was struck by this myself as I’d constructed a (much cruder) demonstration of the same idea for a talk in Ireland; here, Rui builds it into an entire interface. Also, there’s a meaning to the symbology of the circle: Gamelan looks for other networked players with which it can interact, making this a communal experience – and it can even be used to play a real gamelan ensemble, via robotic apparatus controlled wirelessly.

Políssonosis perhaps the most sophisticated of all of these, mapping those shapes into three dimensions and making the evenness of rhythms more apparent. See video, top, and the same ideas below.

Hardware and Kinectic Art

No discussion of circular design would be complete without the legendary synthesizers of FutureRetro, which uses a cyclical interface to divide patterns and even arranges synth parameters around the rotational theme. You can now pick up an Orb for $550.


It’s worth coming full (cough) circle here and revisiting the mechanical ideas, as I think part of what grounds these abstractions is the progression of time in physical contraptions. That’s what inspires the rotating arms above and so on. Because it’s so fundamentally tied to a motor, there are too many rotating soundmakers to name, but here are a couple. They’re inspired by a discussion following our post last month:

Music, Like Clockwork: Modular Music Boxes with Rotating Wheels, Inspired by monome

Invisible Rhythm worked from the notion of a music box to make their analog drum machine Rhythm 1001.

See also the Conspiring machine – thanks to an unfortunate use of Flash, I can’t link directly easily, but head to http://www.kristoffermyskja.com/, choose work, and then select Conspiring Machine (or some of the other, related ideas) from the left-hand column.

I’m going to turn loopy if I keep going, so I’ll leave it there. But have you found circular sequencers to be musically useful? Are there hardware or software designs you appreciate that I missed here? Research worth checking out? Or are you committed to the rectangle – and if so, can you explain why?

Happy PI day. May your oscillations always be in phase.

February 23 2011


How to Fix the Tech PR Industry's Diversity Deficit

PBS.org has recently been home to some frank and thoughtful discussions about an overlooked issue: the lack of racial diversity in the media.

For those who may have missed it, the dialogue was sparked by Retha Hill in an Idea Lab post about the lack of minorities at new media conferences. Mark Glaser expanded the conversation from the comments section to a wider audience on Twitter with a MediaShift #mediadiversity chat. And Hill has followed up with a post on the need for media innovation in minority communities.

All this got me thinking about my particular media niche: technology public relations. What's so special about tech PR? Well, for those loosely familiar with the PR sector, imagine it as music. Entertainment, fashion, beauty and sports PR are akin to pop music.

Tech PR is more like opera. It requires a slightly different set of skills and media approaches. How many people of color in opera can music-lovers name? Aside from the great Kathleen Battle, not many come to mind. Unfortunately, this dilemma also rings true for tech PR. Persons of color are an untapped market that many PR agencies have not yet explored. Looking back at my six years in PR, I can count the number of brown colleagues I've worked with on less than two hands.

Why are minorities -- especially those of black and Latino descent -- largely missing from the tech media landscape? Inspired by this new-found dialogue on diversity in media, I want to talk about my career as a publicist representing and working with digital media and technology companies and offer some suggestions for remedying the tech PR industry's diversity deficit.

How I got here

When I was about 12 years old, I accompanied my father, who is a professor, to a wrap party for a film project where he served as an academic advisor. At the celebration, I remember one of the producers telling me that I'd be "good at PR" when I grew up. Back then, I didn't know what the producer meant. But that seed of advice remained in the back of my mind as I graduated from Rutgers College (part of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey), studied and lived abroad in Europe and Brazil, and completed a master's program in marketing from the Bristol Business School in Bristol, England.

ana cano nennig.jpg

Upon finishing my master's program, I gravitated back to where my friends and family are from -- New York City, the so-called Silicon Alley of innovation -- and sought to finally discover what this PR thing was all about. Within a few months of my arrival, I landed an entry-level position within the technology practice of Euro RSCG Worldwide PR. It was there that I met my mentor, Ana Cano Nennig, a female of Mexican-American descent. With her encouragement and guidance, I have navigated my way through the close-knit and competitive world of tech PR, representing some of the most innovative and respected companies -- from startups to established brands -- that are advancing the tech and digital media industries.

As Nennig evidences, I'm not the only person of color to succeed in PR. Minorities, especially African-Americans, have done well in sub-sectors of PR such as entertainment and sports where persons of color have played starring roles. This history stretches as far back as 1957, when the United Artists movie studio A.S. "Doc" Young to publicize an interracial love story, "Kings Go Forth."

New opportunities for Tech PR

When it comes to persons of color in technology and digital media PR, history may still be in the making. And, considering that minorities have led the way for technology adoption and innovation, I think a larger role for minorities is manifest destiny.

Take social networks and mobile technology, for example. New media and technology are widely embraced and used by minorities. According to a Pew Internet report [PDF file], 18 percent of Latinos and 13 percent of black adults who are online use Twitter; that's significantly greater than the five percent of white Internet users who tweet. Blacks and English-speaking Latinos were found to be more likely to use the various smartphone features such as web surfing and mobile shopping, according to Pew.

Given this history of early technology adoption and today's rising dialogue about minorities working in media and technology, I'm excited about what's in store. Smart business strategists hoping to increase their multicultural market share would do well to get on board.

How to promote diversity

In addition to continuing the dialogue of #mediadiversity, I want to include a few constructive ways to address the shortage of minorities within tech PR.

  • Weave diversity into everything you do. This is particularly crucial for PR agencies. One way to do that is by actively recruiting qualified minority talent, leaders, and mentors.
  • Create programs to help tell and preserve minorities' history in communications, as well as revitalize the role minorities play in the broader field of marketing communications. PR agencies can create an award or scholarship program to achieve this.
  • Educate minority youth on the opportunities in tech PR by partnering with minority communications professionals, entrepreneurs, journalists, and related organizations.

The reason I enjoy what I do is because of what technology and media represent: advancement and innovation.

In order for the industry to live up to the ideals it represents, diversity needs to be realized not just at the consumer level but at the corporate level as well. More personal dialogue should be encouraged regarding what it's like to be a minority in this industry.

But more importantly, action is required by the leaders driving the PR industry. PR agencies that serve technology and digital media companies should encourage diversity in both personnel team-building and marketing initiatives for clients.

Such steps will help to create stronger and more creative technologies and media that are reflective of our nation's and world's undeniable diversity.

Julian is an account supervisor at the Horn Group, where he has worked since November 2009 to executing PR strategy and manage media and analyst relations for marquee clients. Julian has regularly secured national feature placements for clients in Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Adweek, GigaOm and Computerworld, among many other mainstream business, advertising, and technology publications. He is a martial artist and comes from a family of writers, including his father Dr. David McBride, a widely-known educator and researcher at Penn State University and his uncle James McBride, who chronicled their family in the New York Times and the international best-selling memoir "The Color of Water."

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January 11 2011


The progression of the public

I’m editing the manuscript for Public Parts now and so I’ll be throwing out some thoughts from the book to get your thoughts in return. Here, from my introduction, are what I see as the four stages in our conception of “public”:

1. From ancient times to the Renaissance, “public” was synonymous with the state and the state was synonymous not with its people (that’s our modern notion) but with its rulers. Leaders were not merely public figures; they embodied the public. The people had little political standing. They had little independent identity. “Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family, or corporation—only through some general category,” writes historian Jacob Burkhardt in Civilization of the Renaissance (via Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change).

2. In the so-called early modern period of the 16th and 17th centuries (also known as the Renaissance), Gutenberg’s printing press as well as the theater, music, art, maps, and markets enabled some people to create their own publics, as the Making Publics project at McGill University argues (I’ll explore their ideas further in a later chapter). These were voluntary publics formed among strangers sharing similar interests—which could mean simply that they read the same book and then contemplated and discussed the same ideas. Now it was possible for private individuals to take on and share a public identity independent of the state.

3. In the 18th century, German philosopher Jürgen Habermas argues, the public sphere—and public opinion—first appeared as a political force and a counterweight to the state. Finally, the public began to mean the people. Habermas believes that a brief, golden age of rational, critical debate in society, carried out in the coffee houses of England and salons of Europe, was soon corrupted by mass media. I’ll argue differently, suggesting that the real corruption of the ideal of the public was to throw us all into a single public sphere, a mass—the lumpenpublic. To this day, the assumption that we are one public—which is the basis of mass production, mass distribution, mass marketing, and mass media—has enabled government, companies, and media to avoid dealing with us as distinct individuals and groups and instead to see us as faceless poll numbers and anonymous demographics.

4. Today, with the internet, we are just beginning to create a new notion of what public and the public mean. Like our early-modern ancestors, we—but all of us now—have the tools (blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube…) to create and join publics, establishing our own identities and societies. I see that as a purer form of the public, built not around the interests of the powerful but instead around our own interests, desires, and needs. Rather than being forced into a public not of our own making, we now define ourselves and our publics. The new vision of the public may look chaotic, but then change always does. The critical difference today—the next step in the evolution of the idea—is that a public is no longer a one-way entity, flowing from the powerful—king, politician, publisher, or performer—to an audience. Now through our conversation and collaboration, ignoring old boundaries, we define our publics.

In this progression, we are continuing—but accelerating—a timeless dance of balancing the individual and society: our rights, privileges, powers, responsibilities, concerns, and prospects; our privacy and publicness. That describes nothing so much as the process of modernization. In ancient times, Richard Sennett says in The Fall of Public Man, “public experience was connected to the formation of social order”—that is, the end of anarchy; while in recent centuries publicness “came to be connected with the formation of personality”—that is, individuality and freedom. Ancient and authoritarian regimes told people what they must think and do; modern societies enable and ennoble citizens to do what they want to do, together.

So today are atomizing because we have the freedom to be independent. Then we can reform into new molecules because we are social; we need each other and can accomplish more together than apart. We find the publics we wish to join based not merely on gross labels, generalizations, and borders drawn about us—red v. blue, black v. white, nation v. nation—but instead on our ideas, interests, and needs: cancer survivors, libertarians, Deadheads, vegetarians, single moms, geeks, even privacy advocates. We finally tear down the elite of the public few and each become public people in our own right. . . .

December 19 2009

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