Incomprehensible
Wednesday August 31st 2005, 4:31 pm
Filed under: This 'n' That

A reader from Europe wrote to Terry Teachout to thank him and OGIC for their amazing collection of Katrina-related web links and noted

Another point. Weirdly, while the tsunami was a major topic of conversation here in Norway for days, nobody seems to be talking about the devastation in New Orleans.

I have to say that at a local West Coast cafe this morning, one where I generally overhear all sorts of discussions and debates, social or political in nature, not one word did I hear about the devestation in New Orleans or Mississippi. Driving home from there I tried to superimpose the tv images of decimated wastelands over the sunny streets of my neighborhood….I couldn’t, it’s beyond comprehension.


Blues II
Wednesday August 31st 2005, 8:20 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

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If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And the water gonna come in, have no place to stay

Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Well all last night I sat on the levee and moan
Thinkin’ ’bout my baby and my happy home

If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break
And all these people have no place to stay

When The Levee Breaks — “Kansas” Joe McCoy (a/k/a/ Kansas Joe, Georgia Pine Boy, Hallelujah Joe)

At first we react from our own perspective, but my initial incredulity that anyone would choose not to evacuate soon gave way to the growing awareness that many people simply had no choice — no resources, no money, no transportation, and even worse, no place to go. Most of these people are poor — some, families with many children, others, elderly citizens all alone.

When the Levee Breaks was recorded in 1929. Back then flooding was feared by black field hands who lived in low-lying areas near the river, while the plantation owners lived safely on higher ground. In many ways, not much has changed.

Money is an immediate need, to be sure. But after we’ve searched our pockets and donated whatever we can, I hope we search our hearts to find a cure for the underlying problems that plague our society.


Blues I
Wednesday August 31st 2005, 8:14 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

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They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad
They call it stormy Monday, but Tuesday’s just as bad
Wednesday’s worse, and Thursday’s also sad…

Call It Stormy Monday — T-Bone Walker

It might have been the big one – and then it wasn’t, New Orleans was spared…or so we thought for a few hours. Now the situation is worse than ever with two levees breached, water still rising and people trapped everywhere – in house attics, on roofs, in hotels with blown out windows. There is no power, no phone lines, no sewer, no drinking water or food. And in Mississippi entire communities have been leveled. At least a million Americans are now homeless and jobless – they are hungry, tired and scared. Aid workers will soon set up refugee camps, once a sight seen only in foreign countries.

Where’s the silver lining?
Something good comes from even the worst events? Everything happens for a reason? Every cloud has a silver lining? I cannot imagine an upside to the horrors I’ve been watching unfold in Louisiana and Mississippi. People have lost homes and personal property, and that’s a shame to be sure. But to see entire neighborhoods – stores, businesses, schools, churches, hospitals, libraries, museums, restaurants – destroyed is beyond heart-breaking. With the water continuing to rise I can’t help but wonder if New Orleans might become a modern day Pompeii; thousands of years from now, some future civilization might excavate the site and uncover the shards of our civilization.

It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature
Is any of this our fault? Have the changing weather patterns and atmospheric conditions been negatively impacted by our emissions, our pollution. Would the marshlands have saved the gulf cities had they not been eroded and lost? Have we brought this on ourselves in the name of progress and pursuit of the good life?


Interview Process: Technicalities
Monday August 29th 2005, 10:22 pm
Filed under: Writing Life

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Regular readers know that I’ve conducting a lot of interviews lately with people that knew Luther Henderson — nine interviews, totaling sixteen hours, in the past two weeks alone. I’ve met with Sheldon Epps, director of the Pasadena Playhouse and creator/director of Play On!; the wonderful golden gal, Bea Arthur, who Luther coached in her ingénue days; actress Armelia McQueen, who was in the original cast of Ain’t Misbehavin’; Luther’s daughter, Melanie; and composer/arranger Billy Goldenberg,who was a Broadway colleague of Luther’s is also a good friend of Bea Arthur and accompanist for her one-woman show. By phone I’ve talked with Liza Redfield, the first female conductor on Broadway; David Alan Bunn (mentioned here a few days ago); Polly Bergen, who, from the mid 1950s until Luther’s death in 2003, would not work as a singer without Luther as her musical conductor; and Susan Birkenhead, the lyricist/collaborator who, with George Wolfe and Luther, created Jelly’s Last Jam.

I know a few writers who have the ability to either take extremely comprehensive notes and/or retain everything they hear, including the best snatches of dialogue. I take notes, but I don’t feel so skilled, and I don’t need the pressure, so I record all of my interviews. For years I used to use a cassette recorder and rejoiced when they came out with a model that had auto-reverse, thus saving me from having to stop and turn over the tape. My euphoria evaporated on the day of a particularly long interview when I lost track of the time and auto-reverse kicked in for a second go round, recording over the first side of the interview. I didn’t even notice until I got home. A year or so ago, I asked Maria Schneider what she was using to record her audio notes and interviews for her ArtistShare website and she showed me her Sony mini disc recorder. I bought one, a Sony MZ-NH1. It’s small (3-inches square and half inch thick), lightweight (4.5 oz with a disc inside), each disc holds a few hours of audio (depending on speed) and the rechargeable batteries are long-lasting as well. Even better, the recording is digital and the sound quality is terrific. The microphone, which is only an inch long and the thickness of a pencil, picks up everything. For the telephone interviews, I use a Radio Shack gizmo (this one or that one) that connects the telephone to the mini disc microphone jack.

It’s the post-interview process that becomes a bit cumbersome. I want to save the interviews on compact discs so that they will last for a very long time (longer than audio tape) and take up very little physical space. Unfortunately, the mini disc recorder is not meant for uploading files to one’s computer, so in order to store the audio on my computer (and subsequently burn the files on CDs) I have to run a cable from the mini disc headphone jack to the microphone jack of my computer, launch my recording software, hit play on the mini disc and “capture” the sounds. Once the whole audio file is on my computer, I can save it in smaller pieces, making each a track to be stored on an audio CD. (I could save the files on a data CD, but then I would not be able to listen to them on a CD player.) Ironically, once I have burned the CD (I use the discs that hold 80 minutes of audio), I turn around a dub a 90-minute cassette tape that I send off to my transcriber – she likes her foot-pedal-driven cassette transcribing machine. (Radio Shack foot pedals don’t work with portable CD players or the mini disc player….Yes, I did try it.)

It might seem like it would be a waste of time, a triplication of effort, but I find it useful. I don’t listen avidly to an interview while it’s being copied to tape — I’m usually multi-tasking, reading articles, making appointments, following up on this or that — but I do hear it on some level, and snatches of it often grab my attention prompting me to jot down occasional thoughts as they occur to me. And, I might add, these are the kind of thoughts that seldom if ever come to me when summoned — flashes of insight, connections between seemingly disparate events or people, ideas for structure, shape, and transitions….answers to questions I otherwise might never have thought to ask.


New Orleans
Monday August 29th 2005, 7:49 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

[Written Sunday night] On the corner of Touro and Urquhart streets in New Orleans, not far from the French Quarter, stands the house where my husband was born 93 years ago. Today you would call it a duplex, but back then they called it “half a house.” One of John’s earliest memories is of sitting on the stoop and watching his grandmother beat yellow bricks into a fine powder that she used to clean the steps. A few blocks over is the Thompson Methodist Church where John as a pre-schooler attended services with his mother, aunt, and grandmother, and on occasion was permitted to ring the church bell by pulling on the long rope dangling from the belfry. We’ve been to New Orleans only a handful of times over the last fiften or twenty years. A few years ago, we got a cab driver to take us to the house — it’s still a very poor neighborhood — and we were pleasantly surprised to find that, for the first time ever, the long and narrow dirt streets were being paved. Several streets were closed for this reason and the cab driver got as close as he could and waited for us while we walked down to the house to take some pictures. When we got back into the cab the driver could not turn around, so he had to back out down the block. It’s hard to believe that a city neighborhood that waited so long to be renovated with basic amenities may cease to exist tomorrow.

We called our friends who live there. Those we did not reach we assume have left town, but we did speak to one friend and has chosen to stay, not at home but in a downtown hotel. The logic seems to center on being above the water level, so I guess a high-rise building might feel safer, but what will happen when the first floors are under water and the power is out? I’m scared from thousands of miles away. Our friend is not a young man, so he’s not hanging out for the thrill. He’s something of a community leader, active in the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, so I imagine that he’s staying in hope of being useful in the aftermath.

I am watching news of Katrina as I prepare for the interview I have scheduled for tomorrow morning, look up the driving directions to the hotel where my subject is staying, and charge the batteries for my recorder. Then I realize that people in New Orleans are pouring over maps and charging batteries for much more pressing reasons and suddenly my life feels rather small and trivial.


Web Design Pet Peeves (continued)
Friday August 26th 2005, 10:44 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

So where was I when I was so rudely interrupted by technical gremlins? Oh yes, I was commenting on the pet peeves study. Here are my thoughts on the last seven items:

Music or other audio that plays automatically – this doesn’t bother me personally, because my speakers stay turned off until such time as I want to hear something. I do this not so much because of web site audio, but so I don’t have to hear all the audio responses of the various programs I use. (Yes, I know I can turn off the sounds by setting the options of each individual program, but it’s so much easier to just keep the speakers “off.”) The bottom line is that I prefer web sites that give me the option to proceed with or without sound, or even better, to click on a link if I want to hear something, be it a single clip or streaming audio.

Inability to use the browser’s “back” button – this makes me mad. If I choose my browser for the features it provides, no web site should invalidate those features, particularly something as basic as moving forward and backward between web pages I’ve just visited.

Ineffective site search tool – If you do any kind of research, search tools are invaluable. I believe that sites with a lot of content, be they static or ever changing and growing blogs, should provide a search tool specific to that site. On this blog, for example, you can search for Luther Henderson and see a listing of only those posts in which his name appears.

Overdone sites with unnecessary splash/flash screens or animation – Know your audience! For me, “unnecessary” says it all, but I guess if your target audience is young and lots of movement, fast cuts, short takes etc are in vogue, then perhaps it is necessary. Still, I prefer to be inclusive, so I recommend giving visitors a choice right from the beginning.

Text that moves – Annoying! Perhaps with an exception for small changing messages, news flashes and such. It is effective to getting the viewers attention, but the message should be quick.

Opening a new window for a link – I never thought that viewers would find this annoying. You may have noticed that all the links in my blog open into a separate browser window. That is deliberate on my part so that you can check out the link without loosing your place in my blog. It’s true that with newer browsers, the ones that support tabs (i.e. separate pages inside a single browser window with tabs across that allow you to move between web pages), the person viewing can choose whether to view a link in a separate tab. However, of all the people I know, only the real techies take advantage of this option.

Poor appearance due to colors, fonts, format – these things are, for the most part, in the eye of the beholder. Still, certain there are some basic design principles that should be considered, first and foremost that the text be legible with sufficient contrast between text and background. The combination of text color and background color should also be easy on the eyes. Text size used to be an issue, but no longer as most new browsers allow users to increase and decrease text size to suit their own preferences. But again, it all goes back to knowing your audience.

There was a period (mid 1990s) when I was really up on these things. Back then I wrote a whole bunch of computer trade books, including Build A Web Site: The Programmer’s Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining a Web Presence, but I have not stayed current. Hopefully, some of my web savvy friends will chime in on this topic and I can post their emails.


Unbelievable
Thursday August 25th 2005, 7:42 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

If I had not experienced it myself, I would tell you that it is not possible – it just doesn’t make any sense.

My web browser – make that browserS, because it happened with Foxfire and Internet Explorer – were unable to connect to devradowrite yesterday. I could go elsewhere on the net, but every time I tried to get to devradowrite I got one of those maddening ‘server not found’ or ‘timed out’ messages. Maybe the host was having server problems? No, can’t be that because my other sites (devrahall.com and lushlife.com) are on the same server and I can access them without problem. Immediate panic set in as I assumed that some catastrophy has beset my SQL database full of content (one that I admit I had not backed up in way too long). I called my neighbor/web expert.

“Can you see my site?”

“Yup, no problem. Maybe it’s a DNS problem with your ISP.”

Well that didn’t make sense to me because the Domain Name server was converting every other site name into the necessary numeric IP (internet protocol) addresses and serving up every other site I asked to see, but I was told that it could just be one DNS server section covering names that begin with DEV, for example, that was malfunctioning.

I called my Internet Service Provider (my local cable company) and after only eight minutes on hold I was speaking to a young man with an Indian accent who nevertheless said he was just down the road in West Covina. For more than half an hour we went through the required (scripted) troubleshooting steps, power down, reset your registry, try a different computer…..

Finally, I bypassed the router (a gizmo that connects all the household computers to our single cable modem) and suddenly – problem fixed.

So then I had to troubleshoot my router, a lengthy task my neighbor/expert helped me with. It was long past his dinner time when I was back up and running. He left to eat and I turned off all computers, switched on the tv, and promptly fell asleep.

So there you have my excuse for yesterday’s absence. I’m off to physical therapy (whiplash still giving me the blues), but when I get back I will finish the comments I started the day before about web design.


Web Design Pet Peeves
Tuesday August 23rd 2005, 7:15 am
Filed under: This 'n' That

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I subscribe to a slew of free online newsletters and reports, most outside of my normal purview, because I never know what I might come across. This morning’s Research Brief — a free daily newsletter from The Center For Media Research (For Planners and Buyers of Advertising Media) — was about things that make consumers unhappy with web sites. Their data from a survey conducted for The Hostway Company, listed fifteen web site characteristics that people might find annoying. They asked respondents to rank their level of annoyance on a scale of 1(not annoying at all) to 5 (extremely annoying). The characteristics, from most to least annoying, are:

Pop-up ads
Requirement to register and log-on before viewing the Web site
Requiring the installation of extra software to view the site
Slow-loading pages
Dead links
Confusing navigation – hard to find pages, too many clicks
Content that is out of date
No contact information available
Music or other audio that plays automatically
Inability to use the browser’s “back” button
Ineffective site search tool
Overdone sites – unnecessary splash/flash screens or animation
Text that moves
Opening a new window for a link
Poor appearance – colors, fonts, format

The first three seldom apply to blogs, but the others should be taken into consideration for all web sites. Why? Because when encountering a pet peeve, over 70% of site visitors are likely to then:

Refuse to visit the site again
Unsubscribe to promotions or messages from the company
Refuse to purchase from that Web site
View the company in a negative way

Here are my thoughts:

I personally abhor pop-up ads, so you will never find them on one of my web sites, not even to flog my own books.

If you are asked for more than just an email address, the downside of registration for the visitor is the loss of anonymity. (Many people have email addresses that do not include their real name.) Of course, when you give out your email address, identifiable or not, to people you do not know, you have to consider whether that party is going to sell it and/or deluge you with spam. Still, asking visitors to register or log-in can have value for both the site owner and the visitor. Some sites provide registered users the ability to select certain viewing preferences and the site implements them when that person logs-in. And if the visitor shares common interests with the site and wants to receive notifications of any sort, registration is necessary. I know of a few bloggers who send out a weekly recap newsletter containing the first few lines or topics of their week’s postings, complete with links to each. The recipient doesn’t have to visit daily to see what, if anything, is new, and can click on any one or more of the links in the newsletter that are of interest…or none and hit delete.

There are some add-ons that I think are normal to expect, such as Adobe’s pdf reader and an audio player. Still, it should be optional. If you don’t want to play an offered audio or video clip, that should not deter you fro reading the rest of the site. Flash sites annoy me, but those sites that offer a first screen allowing me to choose win my appreciation.

Slow loading pages are a drag — I hope nobody is experiencing delays with my blog or website pages. I try to keep my graphic files small and I don’t use a lot of technobells and whistles.

Dead links are, well, deadly. Still, you can’t control other people’s content, and when you maintain an online archive of past postings it’s way too time consuming to re-visit every single link you ever posted. (There may be some nifty software tools that check every link on your site, and perhaps one of my savvy readers will tell us about it.)

Confusing navigation – I hate it when I can’t find what I’m looking for on a web site. The links should be clear and placed in the same location on each page. This is less an issue for blogs, as visitors generally read down from the top, but I do appreciate sites that have a search feature and for bloggers, such as myself, who write about a few different topics, having categories can be handy for the visitor that is only interested in particular topics. I’m not yet convinced that my categories are the most useful for my visitors…you’ll have to let me know.

Out of date content – well I believe bloggers should post on a regular schedule, be it daily, weekly, or monthly, as long as your visitors know what to expect and are not disappointed too often. Some bloggers can get away with posting a message that they can’t come out and play today, but others will lose their following if they try that too often. I am still in the latter category so I will do my best to keep posting something every weekday.

Contact information should be available, crucial for doing business, but just as important for bloggers. And yet I have not put my email address on the blog site yet. Why? Because the spammers have automated programs that troll for character strings that look like email addresses, grabbing up anything with text@moretext.com. Occasionally in a posting I have mentioned my email address, but I am not getting as much viewer mail as I would like, so sometime this week I am going to make a change and post it permanently on the blog site.

To be continued…


Brick Fleagle
Monday August 22nd 2005, 7:21 am
Filed under: Date Specific,Jazz Ears,Writing Life

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Born August 22, 1906, Brick Fleagle would have been 99 years old today. Before beginning research on Luther Henderson’s biography, I knew of Fleagle only as Luther’s friend and chief copyist. I didn’t know that he started out playing banjo, then switched to guitar and worked with trumpeter Rex Stewart. I didn’t know that he was also an arranger who penned charts for Stewart, Chick Webb, Jimmie Lunceford, Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington. I haven’t yet documented when Luther and Fleagle first met. I have read that Fleagle did a lot of music copying for Ellington, but was that in the 1930s, the 1940s, or possible even later? Did Luther ever go to hear Fleagle’s group at the Arcadia Ballroom in the mid 30s? Did Fleagle hear about the kid who won an amatuer contest at The Apollo Theater in 1934? Fresh out of Julliard in 1944, Luther was working for Ellington — was Fleagle already on Duke’s payroll then? Did Luther hear the tracks arranged and recorded in 1945 by Fleagle and his Orchestra for H.R.S.? [These can be heard on Mosaic's reissue of The Complete H.R.S. Sessions and include The Fried Piper, When The Mice Are Away, Double Doghouse, among others.] Did Luther read the July 30, 1945 review, “Brick’s Boys Go Riding,” in Time magazine? All I know so far is that Luther and Fleagle worked closely together for many years, and that when Fleagle died, he left his belongings to Luther, who, in turn, later donated the wonderful collection to The Peabody Institute. I expect to learn more about that later today when I interview David Alan Bunn who was a protege of Luther. Mr. Bunn, who is a conductor, composer, arranger, and pianist for Broadway, recordings, and television, is also the founder of the Jazz Studies Department for the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Oh yeah, there’s also a great story about Luther visiting Fleagle in the hospital and bringing a voodoo woman with a live chicken for sacrifice…you’ll have to read the book when it comes out.


Why They Write
Friday August 19th 2005, 7:26 am
Filed under: Quotables,Writing Life

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Thomas Wolfe from Of Time and the River:

“At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being — the reward he seeks — the only reward he really cares about, without which there is nothing. It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life, the rude and painful substance of his own experience, into the congruence of blazing and enchanted images that are themselves the core of life, the essential pattern whence all other things proceed, the kernel of eternity.”

Joseph Conrad in his famous preface to The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ (1897):

“My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel it is, before all, to make you see. That and no more, and it is everything.”

Attributed to Albert Camus:

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”

Lord Byron from Don Juan:

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling, like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.
‘Tis strange, the shortest letter which man uses
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper – even a rag like this – ,
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that’s his.