Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Best Of’ Category

Message boards of the rich and famous

A few years ago, I formed a light long-distance friendship with a successful screenwriter out in LA.

After launching a barrage of questions that all boiled down to, “How can Duff get famous?” I put the narcissism aside and started asking about the interesting stuff.

I wanted to know the inside story. How do million-dollar deals get made? Who decides when a script is good enough to get funded? Where do the gatekeepers go to decide the future of the entertainment industry?

These decisions used to be made in person but increasingly they’re being made on Internet message boards. My friend let it slip and tried to move on to other topics but I made him go back.

I said, “Wait a minute. You’re telling me there are secret Internet message boards where the Hollywood elite gather to decide the future of the industry?”

He said, “Pretty much, yeah.”

I asked if he’d let me see one and he laughed in my webcam-transmitted face.

I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracies, secret societies or the Illuminati but I find the idea romantic. I want to live in a world ruled by an elite conspiracy of supergeniuses, but surely if someone was ruling the world it would make more sense.

I suspect that the world is run by a collection of tedious workaholics, like characters on the West Wing who’ve had all their charm and sex-appeal removed.

But the dream remains.

Not all “elite” web sites are secret. Black Card Circle.com made waves last year by sending out special black cards to invite high-profile people to their “8-8-08” launch. Unfortunately, many users thought the invites looked like marketing material and threw them in the trash.

I’m not cool enough to be invited to Black Card Circle but their marketing materials are unabashedly elitist: “Black Card Circle’s community is comprised of ‘Influential Individuals’ whom are defined as ‘CIAs’ – ‘Connectors, Influencers, and Alphas’. CIAs possess either financial capital, social capital, or both, and include, but are not limited to, respected professionals, upstanding community leaders and inspiring entrepreneurs.”

I love the use of the word “Alphas” here. It makes me think of Bill Gates with his foot planted on the face of a defeated enemy, beating his chest like Tarzan.

It sounds like a great opportunity, a secret message board where you can mingle with the rich and powerful. But in my experience, the more powerful a person is in real life, the less likely they are to have computer skills.

We’ve seen it over and over again — respected politicians and celebrities reduced to gibbering rage when they see what people on the Internet are saying about them.

Swapping message board chatter with the rich and famous may sound like fun, but I suspect the result would be less impressive in real life.

I suspect it would look something like this:

“New to this Internet thing but thought I’d say hi. What is everybody doing?” — owinfrey


“This board is free but watch out for spammers. And look for me on Twitter!” — ngingrich

“‘Sup, Newt. Bill wanted me to invite you for barbecue next week.” — hclinton

“CAN I COME?” — jbiden

“Is it just politicians here or can normal people post?” — stillbono

“Who are you calling ‘normal?'” — sting99

“Any TV people here?” — rphilbin

“Reeeeeeeeeeg!” — kgifford

“Is that Regis Philbin? I thought he was dead.” — dhasselhoff

“OMG, it’s the Knight Ridder!” — mcyrus

“Oh for god’s sake. It’s Knight RIDER. How old are you? And I wasn’t THE Knight Rider. It’s not a title. It’s not a job. It was just the name of the show. God, I hate when people do that.” — dhasselhoff

“You got off easy, Hoff. Twenty years since my show went off the air and people still treat me like an illiterate thug. Oh, BTW, the Blizzard people asked me for your number. You wanna be a Death Knight or a Priest?” — mistert

“Nice work, Hoff. Pick on a teenage girl. That’s it, you and me are done professionally.” — cbale

“Hey guys, check this out. It’s a photo of a cat, but it’s got words printed on it like the cat is talking. It’s saying something cute, like a person would, but it’s spelled wrong because it’s a cat, get it?” — shawking

“Oh god, more Ron Paul spam. Anybody know how to get yourself off a mailing list?” — hclinton

“You could always fake your death.” — rnixon

Written by Michael B. Duff

May 28, 2009 at 18:44

Posted in Best Of, Columns, Humor

38 Candles with Sarah Vowell

I decided to spend my birthday with Sarah Vowell on Tuesday.

Specifically I went to the Allen Theater and got her to scribble “Happy Birthday” on an issue of GO!

A Sarah Vowell reading in Lubbock turned out to be a great choice on my birthday. The crowd made me feel young. Average age was below 40 but definitely above 35. Grad students in jeans, professors in bow ties, soccer-moms in shoulder pads with sharp Southern cheekbones and one gray-haired man with a pony tail. I think I dropped his English class, many years ago. Or maybe that was the one I passed.

This was not a typical Lubbock crowd. This was like a band of expatriates, huddled together in a foreign land. In Lubbock, Sarah Vowell’s name is a litmus test. Most natives won’t know who she is, but one in five people who hear her name will nod and wink.

These are the NPR people — a dot of blue in a sea of red. We’re working on a handshake.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

March 3, 2009 at 23:48

Posted in Best Of, Books

Post-award interview with Peggy Olson and Carri Bugbee

michaelduff: @peggyolson is crouched in a stairwell at the #shorty awards, so we’re gonna get started. Peggy, feel free to use more than one tweet.

peggyolson: Will do. Unfortunately, the music is so loud here at the hall where they held the Shorty Awards, I can’t hear myself think.

michaelduff: First off, congratulations, on your big night. How does it feel to be getting an award?

peggyolson: It feels amazing. There were so many people here at the awards show that wanted to meet me, I was surprised.

michaelduff: Were you nervous on stage?

peggyolson: No, I wasn’t nervous at all. But was surprised that the crowd hushed when I walked on stage. Didn’t expect that.

michaelduff: I have to ask, what did Peggy Olson think of MC Hammer?

michaelduff: (Ha, that one made her think!)

peggyolson: A reporter asked to take my picture with that musician and later said that I was more popular tonight than the musician was.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

February 12, 2009 at 01:59

Posted in Best Of, Culture, Journalism, TV

Transcript of Live Tweets from The Shorty Awards

Live video from Shorty Awards starts in 40 minutes, according to my rudimentary grasp of time zones and basic math. http://shortyawards.com/

Wacky Internet fun time starts now! http://blogs.lubbockonline….

The most prolific Tweeters in the world will be in one room tonight, trying to route their collective genius through one cell tower. #shorty

Got called, “the Joan Rivers of the Shorty awards” yesterday. I have heels and a wig, just need gold lame dress and old lady pearls. #shorty

Apparently the venue is floating on water? Did they remember the giant Styrofoam whale? #shorty

Join me for live interview with @peggyolson after the show. #shorty

Wonder who picked the music here. Last time I heard music like this, Orson Wells broke in for an alien invasion. #shorty

As pre-shows go, I think I prefer the HuffPo inauguration chaos. Geeks in black t-shirts running around with AV equipment. #shorty

Muzak is Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Is this really the tone we’re going for? #shorty

My Way summarized in 140 char: Life rocked. Dead now. Have you married Ava Gardener yet? Get busy! #shorty

So, the revolution won’t be televised, but there will be a band. #shorty

Just think, in 5 years this’ll be the Honda/Snapple Shorty Awards and the video will be obscured by a giant Chili’s banner. #shorty

I wonder if the Mad Men will get in a fight with Tweeters from other shows? Betty could totally take that tramp from @gossipgirl #shorty

@EHolmesWSJ “@PeggyOlson wearing fishnets and red pumps” I probably owe WSJ a royalty for quoting that. #shorty

Song topics include: death, murder, Sinatra and SATAN. For a finale, the Devil will challenge @charlestrippy for a gold guitar. #shorty

Massive props to band for using phrase “corral of glory” I think I have that on VHS. #shorty

Tonight’s “Music to sell your soul by” provided by @tinpanband #shorty

@socialmediagods have quote of the show so far, “Do you want us to make a benediction to kick off your little show?”

I just heard that @peggyolson has 10 people helping with her “big reveal.” What is she revealing that takes 10 people to lift? #shorty

That’s what I came to see. Young men in ties gesturing frantically to the band. #shorty

I think Greg taught me Political Science in 8th Grade. #shorty

“The 10 Commandments are ten Tweets.” Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s follower count. #shorty

Shorty Awards sponsored by Pepsi and the Knight Foundation. #shorty

@ricksanchezcnn is on screen now, so if he tweets in the next two minutes, it’s his assistant. #shorty

“The idea that you can mix old media with new media is pretty crazy.” Reference to “old suits” at CNN. Cough. #shorty

“You are my assignment editors, you are my focus group, you are my friends.”

Nice touch with the failwhale in the skit. #shorty

@ricksanchezcnn is adding class and professionalism to the proceedings. #shorty

He loves to remind people “he’s a Miami guy.” Did it 5 times during each Imus appearance. #shorty

The phrase, “Journalist who gets it” makes my eyes narrow. #shorty

Let’s get ready to Twumble! #shorty

Quick, how many of these people will be drunk? #shorty

Oh lord, first acceptance speech with a URL in it. #shorty

And here’s Peggy! @peggyolson #shorty With AMC Director of Online Media presenting

That’s Carrie Bugbee, the “real person” behind @peggyolson. I’ll be chatting with Carrie after the awards. #shorty

MC Hammer joins the party. Lot of energy in the room. Could perhaps use a bit more on stage. #shorty

Using Twitter for marketing? After these awards, you’ll wonder if it’s used for anything else. #shorty

#shorty And now the @charlestrippy moment, quoting Rick Astley. I think the biggest problem here is that we can’t hear the audience well.

Reading your 140 char speech VERY SLOWLY may be considered cheating. #shorty

Kudos to the Mars Rovers! Nice to see the inanimate objects represented tonight. #shorty

@actionwipes winning out over bitter rival @papertowels #shorty

Maybe not the most polished presentation in history, but there’s a sincerity here that makes it kind of sweet. #shorty

Wow, Twitter, inc. is really phoning this in. “The power of constraints?” Biz Stone #shorty

The Knight Foundation, they do JOURNALISM, or something. Kudos to the Shorty people for providing an open bar during a recession. #shorty

Working out interview details with @peggyolson Cell and Internet traffic must be crazy over there. #shorty

AFAIK, this will be the first real interview done via Twitter. Maybe because it’s a new idea or maybe because it’s a BAD idea. #shorty

Written by Michael B. Duff

February 11, 2009 at 20:59

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

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

18 Reasons Why Lubbock is Better than Austin

Terry ran a “suitable for grownups” version of this on A-1 today, but gave me permission to post the original on my blog.

The print version was co-authored by Superstar Editor Mel Tittle, but please don’t blame him for these.

Tortillas hurt less than hacky sacks when hurled from the stands.

Tech cheerleaders take showers, eat beef and most of them shave their legs.

Tech mascot performs better knowing that horse is not a food.

Lubbock elects politicians and sends them to Austin where they can’t hurt anybody.

Tech’s historic come-from-behind victory will make a better movie.

Fans in Tech colors less likely to be mistaken for crossing guards when leaving stadium.

Which would you rather have come out of your college, 60 experimental wind turbines or 60 student films about death?

“Guns Up” more intimidating to opponents than “I love you” in sign language.

Our English majors can beat up your English majors.

At Texas Tech, Interpretive Dance is not a sport.

Tech student parking lot still a safe place for McCain stickers.

Wide, clean streets allow easy escape during post-game riots.

Soft, grassy medians provide alternative lodging for fans who couldn’t get hotel rooms.

In Lubbock, a “hybrid” is an R.V. with an electric stove.

Tech locker room less likely to smell like patchouli after the game.

Tech fans toughened by 60 m.p.h. winds and daily 8-mile hike to class.

Mike Leach plushie will sell better than Mack Brown action figure.

And finally, an Austin editor would bury this on D-6.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 31, 2008 at 20:28

Posted in Best Of, Humor

We have always been at war with 8:30

At 8:20 this morning a Citibus driver showed up at my door and told me I was 20 minutes late for my 9 a.m. bus.

I was dripping wet and pantsless at the time, so I hope you will forgive my lack of critical thinking. As a certified computer geek, I assumed that there had been a time change Sunday morning, my phone and my PC had adjusted to it, and my analog-bound bus driver hadn’t noticed.

I called my buddy Scott for a ride and pounded out this frantic series of Twitter posts.

michaelduff IT IS AN HOUR EARLIER THAN YOU THINK IT IS. For God’s sake, why is this so complicated?

michaelduff NEVERMIND. It’s 8:30. It’s always been 8:30. We have always been at war with 8:30. GAAAAHHHH! Winston needs gin.

michaelduff @JohnCleese See? Even British people are confused. This is not my fault. Is there a website that can help me find my pants?

michaelduff Hide the old people and lock up your women, it’s Y2K8.

In the middle of this, the bus driver came back and said, “Oh wait, it really is 8:30. Also, Darth Vader is not Luke’s real father.”

Scott did some research for me and called back with the scoop. Until 2006, daylight savings time ended on the last Sunday in October, but as of 2006 daylight savings time does not end until Nov. 2.

This is particularly dangerous for people who rely on smart phones and dumb PCs to tell them what time it is. Your devices may or may not adjust automatically next week, so you have to be on your toes.

So what happened to me this morning? Only the Naval Observatory knows for sure.

Written by Michael B. Duff

October 27, 2008 at 09:08

Posted in Best Of, Humor

Duff and the Hacker

Back in the 80s I ran a bulletin board — a kind of primitive web site that you had to call and connect to over the phone. These systems had message boards, file downloads and live chat, but mine could only support one person at a time.

I come home from class one day and find my board gone — not just down, but gone. Deleted. Destroyed. Wiped off my hard drive like it never existed. I called my friends and connected to every board in town, initiating a city-wide manhunt for the jerk who took me down.

I had no proof, but I found a suspect — a small-time hacker who liked to brag about all the ways he could destroy a bulletin board. I don’t remember his handle, so I’ll just call him “RaZor.” RaZor talked big, and my friends said he was smart enough to kill a bulletin board, so I called in some favors and learned his real name.
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Written by Michael B. Duff

July 22, 2008 at 19:54

Posted in Best Of, Culture

Duff: Surfer dude discovers theory of everything – maybe

Roger Highfield, science editor for the UK Telegraph, has discovered the next Einstein – or not.

On Nov. 14, Highfield published a story with the magnificent headline, “Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything.”

The theory has something to do with E8, a mathematical shape that occurs at many different levels of physics. Garrett Lisi thinks the universe is shaped like E8 and that this shape will become the dominant framework in physics – a kind of Periodic Table for subatomic particles.

The source material includes pretty pictures and contains many big words. I’d like to tell you more about it, but the truth is, I dove into this research and was in over my head so fast, it felt like a ride at Texas Water Rampage.

I took some courses in college, but now my knowledge of physics can be summed up in one phrase: “Fire is hot, and sometimes when I drop things, they fall.”

I realized I was out of my depth, so like any good geek, I Googled it. Here is a summary of my findings: “Garrett Lisi is the next Einstein!” “Yes he is!” “No he’s not!” “Yes he is!” “No he’s not!” And so on.

Look for details of this search in my upcoming paper, “Limitations of Google as a tool for scientific research.”

Internet research wasn’t going to cut it this time. I needed a physicist, and fortunately, I have one on speed dial. One of my favorite professors at Tech was Dr. David Lamp in the physics department.

Lamp has a gift for explaining complex things in plain English, which is probably why he got stuck with the “Physics for Misunderstood Artists” course that I took in college.

I rang up Dr. Lamp and asked if he remembered his favorite C-student. This kind of thing isn’t really his specialty, so he directed me to Richard Wigmans with the High Energy Experimental Particle Physics group.

Internet critics have alternately canonized and crucified Lisi, but Wigmans is taking a wait-and-see approach. Physics profs hear theories like this every day, but Wigmans said, “The difference in this case is that the author is a person with a respectable scientific background. He holds a Ph.D in physics from a good university, and this is the reason that other respectable scientists go through the trouble of reacting to his article.”

Wigmans works in experimental physics and is not particularly concerned with theory.

“Until now, string theory has not provided anything in terms of verifiable predictions, and is therefore not considered very meaningful by experimentalists such as me,” he said. “From what I read, it seems that some aspects of Dr. Lisi’s theory might be experimentally tested. In that case, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN which will start operations next year – and in which my TTU group is heavily involved – may provide some judgment.”

Right or wrong, Lisi’s theory can be tested, and when the data come in, representatives from Texas Tech will be on the front line.

While the media is fueling the hype around this theory, Lisi himself is trying to tone it down.

“I hope people can keep in mind that this is just a theory,” Lisi writes. “It has no experimental support, and it might be wrong. I think it’s got a shot, which is why I work on it.” He warns, “Don’t go crazy, people; but yes, it is pretty damn cool.”

Local experts are willing to wait for evidence and give this theory a chance, but for many casual readers, the issue has already been decided.

Hey, I saw “Good Will Hunting.” I know how this stuff works. The cool guy with the surf board is always right and the boring old guys at the university are always wrong.

It’s a fundamental law of the universe – the physics undergrad version of the American dream. But judging theories based on Hollywood story conventions is not good science or good journalism.

Garrett Lisi is a great story. Writing about him doesn’t make Roger Highfield a bad journalist, but making up your mind too quickly might make you a bad reader.

That’s the great thing about science. It’s the one place left in society where evidence counts for more than authority, where being proved wrong may be the greatest moment in a man’s life.

Maybe the critics are right and string theory is our best tool for understanding the universe, or maybe E8 is a Rosetta Stone and Garrett Lisi will have the last laugh.

The question will ultimately be decided by evidence, so in the meantime, don’t believe everything you read.

Written by Michael B. Duff

December 7, 2007 at 18:11

Posted in Best Of, Columns, Science