Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for December 2008

2008, the Year the Internet Moved Out of Dad's Basement

2008 was not the Year of the Internet. I can’t even describe it as “the year the Internet grew up.” The Year of the Internet was probably 1996, and the year the Internet grew up was 2004.

I guess we’ll have to call this, “The Year the Internet Had to Move Out of Dad’s Basement.”

The metaphor works best if you imagine it like a Saturday Night Live skit.

“Dad” is a clean-cut man in a black business suit, representing REALITY, and the INTERNET is a pudgy college student in a Google shirt and Cheeto-stained sweatpants.

REALITY descends the staircase: “Son, we need to talk.”

INTERNET apologizes to his raid group and logs out of Warcraft.

REALITY: “Now son, I know you’re a complex, creative person. You’re smart and funny and everyone loves those little videos you make, but your mother and I have been talking, and we think it’s time for you to get a job. We’ve tried to be patient, but Hot Pockets cost money, and you’ve been wearing the same sweatpants for three weeks.”
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 31, 2008 at 17:29

Posted in Culture

Jeff Goldblum wants you to get a life

When you finish Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Jeff Goldblum actually tells you to turn the game off and go outside.


Written by Michael B. Duff

December 18, 2008 at 17:45

Posted in Games

Tell John Hughes I want my money back

My 20th high school reunion is coming up next year, and the usual suspects have already found me on Facebook.

The pace of friend requests seems to be accelerating, as the organizers round us up and stuff us in the alumni corral.

It brings up a lot of conflicting emotions, watching these half-remembered names pop up. Bad enough to be traumatized by high school, but I’m also traumatized by the last reunion. I don’t remember what I wrote on my blog back in 1999; I just remember that I made the organizer cry.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 18, 2008 at 14:22

Posted in Culture

Confessions of an Incompetent DJ

My “KTXT memories” column is live on GO!

Print version comes out Friday.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 17, 2008 at 17:02

Posted in Best Of, Music

Webster's Dictionary selects 'overshare' as Word of the Year

I woke up Tuesday morning and found out my blog had been linked by an unusual source — the dictionary.

Webster’s New World Dictionary has selected “overshare” as its Word of the Year. They link to a variety of great sources, including the original piece by Emily Gould and to me.

Specifically, they link to my column about The Overshare War and to the Rex Sorgatz post that inspired it.

Webster’s defines: overshare (verb): to divulge excessive personal information, as in a blog or broadcast interview, prompting reactions ranging from alarmed discomfort to approval.

I’m delighted to see “overshare” get the respect it deserves. Oversharing isn’t exclusive to the Internet, but before the Internet, there was a limit to how much trouble an individual act of oversharing could cause. Oversharing at a dinner party might be awkward, but real-life indescretions are less likely to travel around the world and be archived in Google.

I’m generally pleased with Webster’s definition and I’m always happy to have my name associated with “alarmed discomfort.”

Now that we’ve accepted “overshare,” I’d like to define its opposite. “Undershare” may not sound as cool as the original, but it’s an important concept, and I’d like to get it out there.

undershare (verb): to ruin a blog with vague, stilted or legalistic prose, as in a political speech or press release

If readers are expecting honesty, candor and personal disclosure and end up with legalese or corporate boilerplate instead, that’s undersharing.

This goes back to the first column I ever wrote. If it’s not personal, don’t call it a blog. I’m not saying Chris Matthews needs to post pictures of his kittens at MSNBC, but blogs need to sound like blogs — clear writing in short paragraphs, written as if you’re talking directly to the audience.

Generation Y really is The Overshare Generation. They’re used to getting their information straight up, unfiltered and direct. They don’t just ignore obective prose, they’re actually put off by it, as if anyone writing in third-person has something to hide.

I’m not saying every news story needs to sound like a blog post (yet), but Internet readers expect an intimate first-person voice, even when they’re reading about Darfur or the stock market.

Undersharing happens on the personal level as well. When a family member turns their blog into a commercial for Herbalife, for example, or when a beloved Usenet personality turns his blog into a half-assed advertisement for his newspaper column…

Oversharing may look like a fad, but I believe it represents a larger cultural shift. The baseline of our public discourse is changing. Readers have grown suspicious of press releases and corporate doublespeak, particularly after what’s been done to our economy.

These bank failures were facilitated by a culture of deception that used weasel-words and clever accounting to hide the truth from investors.

The economic collapse has made readers suspicious of vague numbers and vague language. Readers need straight talk and hard facts, interpreted by people who don’t believe everything they read. Increasingly, we’re going to see people turn away from “official” information sources and seek out sources that sound like real people.

Bloggers need to engage their audience on a human level. I don’t care if you’re blogging for PETA, General Electric, or the White House — if you want your readers to take you seriously, you have to show them the person behind the screen.

Anything less is undersharing, and in a world crippled by half-truth and broken promises, it’s a luxury we can’t afford.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 16, 2008 at 13:33

Posted in Culture

Capsule review of Neal Stephenson's Anathem

“Look, it’s a Vout! Peaceful monks who devote their lives to the study of philosophy, science, and math!”




“He used devil-science to save my life! Dump him the river!”

“Watch out! He summoned science-ninjas to save himself!”

“Run away!”

I’m paraphrasing, of course. The real version has a lot more made-up words, and takes about 60 pages to present this scene.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 16, 2008 at 08:07

Posted in Culture

A 5-point Plan to Resurrect KTXT

An open letter to the gang at KTXT:

Step One: Don’t ask for money

I know you guys are angry right now, and I know what kind of people were drawn to KTXT. You guys are advocates and organizers and champions of noble causes. Your first impulse will be to protest, to throw your energy into petitions and signs and marches aimed at reversing this decision.

The movement has already started.

I respect your efforts and I know you have to try. Think of this plan as a fallback position — something to keep the torch burning if the protest doesn’t work.

Step Two: Don’t sell out

If you can’t save the station with pledge drives or public money, your minds will naturally turn to sponsorship. This sounds smart, but it’s actually the worst thing that could happen to you.

Do you really think some nightclub owner with hair plugs and cowboy boots knows how to do Indie radio?

In this arena, you guys are the experts and a sponsor is baggage you don’t need.

Step Three: Embrace freedom

Remember all those rules you hated? The time constraints and content restrictions? The FCC rules and the university rules and the student media rules? The gentle lectures and the angry phone calls and the lame debates that came up, every time you wanted to do something cool?

All those rules just vanished. Poof. Gone.

You guys are free now.

There’s a whole new world waiting for you, and the FCC can’t touch it yet.

Step Four: Build a new wheel

Alternate title for this was “Duff’s Dirty Dozen plan for saving KTXT”.

First, get 12 people. Find 12 of the coolest, smartest, most passionate people you know — people with drive, people with connections — people who love music more than anything else in the world.

Go to WordPress or Typepad or Blogger and grab a free blog. Make 12 user accounts and turn them loose. No categories, no editors, no rules. Let these people post about anything they want — movies, comics, politics, music, books — whatever.

Here’s video from a show I saw last night. Here’s 30 shots from a party I went to. Here’s a Rolling Stone interview with some guy from The Flaming Lips. Here’s five questions with the guys who were at Bright House last night. Here’s an hour-long podcast we made at somebody’s house after the show.

Don’t plan too much, don’t overthink it, and any time somebody talks about money, kick them out.

And if any part of this is not fun, stop doing it and do something else.

This isn’t about money. This is about love.

You can’t make money yet because you have nothing to sell. All money can do at this point is start fights. At this stage of the project, money really is the root of all evil. Don’t just ignore advertising — actively refuse advertising, for at least three months.

You’re building a brand here; it’ll take six months just to see what you have.

Some people will post like mental patients and burn out in a week. Some people will set schedules and post every day. Some people will go strong for months and fade when they get married.

Don’t worry about it. Just wish them well and replace them. And remember, there are no rules anymore. You’re not restricted to Lubbock people and you’re not restricted to current Tech students. You’ve got 20 years of KTXT alums on speed dial, and Skype calls are free.

You can assemble a podcast with Skype, Audacity and a free RSS feed — pulling talent from anywhere in the world.

Step Five: Don’t stop the music

Here’s the part I don’t know. You guys are the music experts. Put your heads together and call in some favors. I know Indie artists are eager to establish themselves on MySpace and most of them distribute free MP3s.

Contact the agents directly and assemble all the music you can. Launch a free station on Shoutcast — mix in humor bits, stings for your podcasts and a catchy plug for your URL.

Do your homework and keep it legal. It’ll be tempting to cheat on this, but an RIAA notice could kill the whole thing. Do a tour of big music blogs and see how they do it.

Then, in six months or so, when you’re at your bandwidth limit and posts are coming in faster than you can count, that’s when you talk about money.

Twelve hosts, three podcasts, one blog, six months.

You guys took a hard shot this week. I know you’re angry and I know you’re hurt. But I also know what kind of people you are. The KTXT people I knew were brave, passionate, and smart as hell.

They were “mavericks” and iconoclasts and masters of guerrilla marketing.

You have a choice now. You can turn out the lights and feel sorry for yourselves. You can sell your souls to a guy who thinks music stopped with Def Leppard. Or you can invent the future, and make the suits come to you.

UPDATE: Former Station Manager Rocky Ramirez makes some good points about Internet streaming and the unique value of terrestrial radio.

UPDATE: Dawn Zuerker brings up an excellent point in Josh Hull’s story this morning:

Because KTXT-FM is licensed through the FCC as an educational station, regulations strictly limited the type of advertisements that could be broadcast, making revenue generation difficult, said Dawn Zuerker, associate director of the department.

“It can’t be a commercial at all,” Zuerker said, adding the only information that could be mentioned on air was the name of a business, a slogan, the address and a phone number. “It’s harder to sell because you can’t give any specials.”

UPDATE: Here’s a copy of my reply to Rocky:

I can’t dispute the value of terrestrial radio, but please keep in mind, students don’t walk around listening to the radio on Walkmans anymore. They’re listening to podcasts and mp3s on their iPods.

A KTXT podcast, mixing music samples and commentary like the one from KEXP could recapture some of what you’re losing, and a lot of blogs offer free mp3 downloads.

Become a source for smart commentary, in blog and podcast form, distribute promotional mp3s song by song, and students all over campus will access you on laptops and listen to you on iPods.

Streaming audio is a limited application, but iPods can make the whole thing portable.

Podcasts are also timeless. Listeners can grab them and listen to them at their convenience, without worrying about broadcast schedules. Podcasts are also durable.

If listeners want to relive a Christmas concert in February, they can go to the archive and download your coverage of the show.

Of course you’ll still want to focus on Lubbock, but an Internet music hub could reach far beyond Lubbock and get you on the radar of people who will hire you for jobs in the music industry.

A podcast archive becomes an audio resume, available on demand for anyone who notices your work.

UPDATE: And here’s one that just occurred to me. A college radio station is transitory, with a naturally high turnover rate. Students work there for a year or two and move to other cities. An Internet show can let good people stay on after they graduate, contributing to the project even after they move out and get jobs in the “real world.”

These people can add perspective and give career advice. They can even bring trends to Lubbock, as they share music and concert stories from other cities.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 10, 2008 at 20:16

Posted in Best Of, Music

Groping Hillary: Obama should pardon Jon Favreau

Groping cardboard women is not a crime; even if it’s Hillary.

Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau sparked a minor scandal last week when the Washington Post published a picture of him groping a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 9, 2008 at 11:17

Posted in Culture

Eidos orders journalists to hold bad reviews

A year ago this week, game reviewer Jeff Gerstmann lost his job. After 11 years of overseeing editorial content at GameSpot, after earning a reputation as one of the most honest and most entertaining reviewers in the video game industry, he was let go.

The gaming community thinks Jeff lost his job because he gave Kane & Lynch — a shallow, foul-mouthed travesty of a game, a 6.0 review, at a time when its publisher, Eidos, had just spent thousands on an elaborate wall-to-wall advertising campaign.

The story seems simple enough. Jeff embarrassed a major GameSpot advertiser and lost his job. But a year later, it’s still just a story. Eidos assures us that Jeff’s firing “was purely for internal reasons” and was not related to any publisher or advertiser.

Both parties have signed legal agreements that keep them from talking. Gerstmann and GameSpot have moved on, but gamer suspicions remain.

Eidos was widely regarded as a bullying, sleazy company, but there was no hard evidence to prove it.

With legal agreements in place, we’ll never really know if Eidos was involved in Gerstmann’s termination, but this time we’ve caught them red-handed.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

December 3, 2008 at 14:21

Posted in Games