Sunday, 15 March 2015

Amid a Feast of Foodie Videos, 6 Unusual Cooking Channels To Try on YouTube

Cooking on YouTube has become big business for audience views and chef revenue — but there are still a few truly quirky originals out there, from culinary canines to black metal vegans. Who knew?

I wrote this piece about YouTube's foodie success stories and some of its more, er, unusual cooking channels for KQED's Bay Area Bites blog, so go read it over there!

Obsessed with... a nasty little short story from Hilary Mantel

I'm currently adding my two penn'orth/cents to KQED Arts' new Obsessed feature, "a weekly series featuring everything the KQED Arts gang can’t stop talking about." My contribution to Mar 5's post:

My history nerd heart is most excited for the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor intrigue-a-thon Wolf Hall. To sate myself until its premiere on U.S. TV next month, I just re-read Mantel’s strangest, most compelling short story from her Assassination of Margaret Thatcher collection: “Winter Break.” Barely skirting 2,000 words, this nasty little shocker about a vacationing couple in their airport cab is what the phrase “sting in the tail” was invented for.

Her writing is typically flawless, but something’s up: its revisiting of the frequent Mantel theme of childlessness is so on-the-nose, the inevitable “gotcha” so blatant that I suspect (to borrow a line from one of my favorite guilty pleasures) it’s all “so overt it’s covert.” Even on second reading, I can’t quite work out exactly what Mantel is up to here, and I look forward to cracking it one day. Read “Winter Break” online!

Obsessed with... the birth of Wayne Campbell

I'm currently adding my two penn'orth/cents to KQED Arts' new Obsessed feature, "a weekly series featuring everything the KQED Arts gang can’t stop talking about." My contribution to Feb 26th's post:

It may be a depressing indictment of Saturday Night Live’s current form, but I loved that the only truly funny part of the show’s 40th Anniversary last week came courtesy of Mike Myers and Dana Carvey resurrecting Wayne’s World. As a sincere, longtime fan who knows both spin-off movies by heart (my all-time happiest childhood memory, no joke, is when my parents pretended we were going out grocery shopping but took me to the movie theater to watch Wayne’s World instead), discovering Mike Myers’ first outings in character as Wayne has brought me so much joy.

A year before SNL, Wayne made his debut in 1987 on Canadian TV variety show It’s Only Rock & Roll (as a ‘contest winner,’ no less) in his own recurring segment called Wayne’s Power Minute. From the very first one, he’s still basically the same loveably enthusiastic, incongruously florid Wayne, just with a strong Canadian accent and a slightly worse wig. All his It’s Only Rock & Roll appearances make me laugh like a drain, but my favorite has to be ‘Wayne’s Encyclopedia,’ in which Wayne discusses his self-penned Encyclopedia Metallica, complete with ‘History of Metal’ biology flowcharts (“Amoeba → Protozoa → Zep”) and tips for living the metal life: “A Volvo is bogus.” With the self-indulgent horrors of the later Austin Powers movies and The Love Guru, it’s easy to forget Mike Myers used to be really funny.

8 Things To Do Solo In San Francisco

Basheer Tome / Flickr
Sometimes you find yourself with the day off but no partners-in-crime available. Other times, you just really want to spend the afternoon on your lonesome. Whatever the reason for ditching the plus-one, here are eight things to do in San Francisco that are either best enjoyed alone, optimized for the individual visitor or at least won’t make you feel at all awkward for being by yourself.

Read my full piece over on!

Obsessed with... 'Spem in Alium' by Thomas Tallis

I'm currently adding my two penn'orth/cents to KQED Arts' new Obsessed feature, "a weekly series featuring everything the KQED Arts gang can’t stop talking about." My contribution to Feb 20th's post:

Strictly speaking, I’ve been ‘obsessed’ with this gorgeous 450-year-old choral work for years. Thanks to an adolescent combination of insomnia and a precious tape-radio that received a particularly strong signal from the local classical station, early modern choral music (Tallis, Allegri, Byrd) is my lifelong jam, and I still remember hearing Spem in Alium for this first time like you’d remember falling out of a tree.

Written around 1570 for an unbelievable 40 voices, which overlap, build and soar for ten overwhelming minutes, Spem in Alium is almost unhumanly beautiful. (There are umpteen renditions out there, by the way, and this one by the Tallis Scholars is my favorite for its pacing.) It’s a rare month that goes by without me listening to this on full blast at least once, but I’ll be honest: with the inescapable release of a certain movie on Valentine’s Day, what reminded me to turn it up this week was remembering the horror of seeing my beloved Spem slapped with an “As featured in Fifty Shades of Grey!” banner on Spotify last year. Yes, apparently a Renaissance masterpiece makes a ‘special appearance’ in the book (although not the movie?) and I dread to think how, but you know what: I’ve gotten over it. Frankly, we can all use a reminder not to be a tedious snob about how and where people discover the good stuff.

Obsessed with... the 'How Did This Get Made?' podcast

I'm currently adding my two penn'orth/cents to KQED Arts' new Obsessed feature, "a weekly series featuring everything the KQED Arts gang can’t stop talking about." My contribution to Feb 13's post:

Experience has taught me that comedy podcasts are the best way to make long, tedious car journeys seem shorter, and binge-consuming several episodes of this very funny discussion series about very bad movies made a recent slog down Hwy 1 in one-foot visibility virtually fly by. In each episode, comics Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas (plus special guests) watch a gloriously dreadful movie like The Devil’s Advocate, Anaconda or Neil LaBute’s remake of The Wicker Man, then get together to discuss the burning question of the title: how did something so nonsensical, badly acted or tasteless like this ever get off the ground, let alone onto your screen?

Alongside the incredulous scene-by-scene commentary, there’s some genuinely fascinating “inside baseball” nuggets for movie dweebs like me about the missteps that lead to these cinematic catastrophes. (My favorites so far: Jackie Chan was going to play the Wesley Snipes character in Demolition Man, and there was an apparently quite good Michael Crichton source novel for 1995’s Congo, but nobody involved in the movie bothered to read it.) As a sincere appreciator of this stuff, I cannot wait for my next episode: Nic Cage’s 2011 horror (in all senses) Season of the Witch. Listen up over at Earwolf.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Obsessed with... the British Library in real time

I'm currently adding my two penn'orth/cents to KQED Arts' new Obsessed feature, "a weekly series featuring everything the KQED Arts gang can’t stop talking about." My contribution to Feb 5's post:

Carly Severn: Stalking Book Requests at The British Library

Thrill-seeker that I am, I’m currently obsessed with this video showing “10 hypnotic minutes of real-time book requests from the British Library’s book delivery system.” Yes, this really *is* just 10 minutes of scrolling book titles, and it’s mesmerizing. Marvel as you bounce from Hebrew poetry and a 1963 New York Review of Books to The Life and Lore of the Bird. Like whenever my dad insists on showing me his (admittedly fascinating) historical coin collection, I love wondering about the hands that these objects are being passed back and forth between; all the novels being researched, the PhDs and night classes being labored over. And in case that all sounds a bit insufferable, you’ve also got bizarro titles like London is a Man’s Town, But Women Go There (1930) to chuckle at.

Missing The Actors Who Quit Downton? Here Are 3 Strange, Dark Gems To Watch Them In

(My deep, abiding love for Adam Wingard's 2014 film The Guest prompted me to write this for KQED Arts. Here's an excerpt on that criminally underrated movie — you can read the full piece about Boy A and Black Mirror too over on KQED!) 

‘Twas ever thus: seasons change, dogs molt and stars of phenomenally popular television shows junk their secure employment for "exciting new roles." Downton Abbey, now in its fifth season (9pm Sundays on KQED 9) is no stranger to departing actors—many of whom came to the Crawley estate from very different roles, or have since gone on to unexpected things. So to all those still missing Matthew, Sybil et al, I say: why not let that aching sense of loss be your spur to discover some dark, strange and under-appreciated stuff these actors have given the world before or since Downton?

Dan Stevens (as Matthew Crawley, last seen in 2012’s Christmas Special)
Why not watch him in: The Guest (2014)


Well, I’ll be damned if little Matthew Crawley wasn’t responsible for the best — but also most underrated — American thriller of last year (even better than Nightcrawler!). The Guest was the movie for which Dan Stevens got buff and jumped the Good Ship Downton to widespread outcry — particularly in his native Britain, where ridiculing homegrown stars who exhibit any sense of ambition to “crack America” is basically a national pastime. On the evidence of this irresistible homage to 1980s thrillers, the doubters should now be eating humble pie, or at least they would be, if anyone had actually seen it. (The Guest made barely over $300,000 in the U.S., and was met with a critical reception best described as “eh?”)

What’s the Great Fuss About ‘The Great British Baking Show’?

(Courtesy of © Love Productions)

No drama, no drumrolls: just twelve people baking in the middle of a field in England. So why is The Great British Baking Show (a.k.a the U.K.'s beloved Great British Bake Off) so hugely successful over here in the U.S? I wrote this piece explaining the mystique of Mary Berry and co. for KQED's Bay Area Bites food blog, so go read it there!

5 Authentic Anglophile Experiences in the Bay Area for Downton Die-Hards

The Pelican Inn, Muir Beach (photo: Frank Towery / Flickr)
Has your Downton Abbey obsession reached unprecedented heights with the arrival of Season 5? Does your general addiction to Masterpiece Theatre have you craving the English life, with only the small matter of 5,000 miles of U.S. soil and Atlantic Ocean standing in your way?

The Bay Area may not be overrun with bona fide Anglo experiences (the sunshine and cheery dispositions here don’t help), but there are a few select places to enjoy a suitably authentic Anglophile afternoon, without the buzzkill of an 11-hour flight to Heathrow. So without further ado, here are the local spots that make this particular English lady feel peculiarly at home.

Read my full piece over on!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

To Thine Own Sell Be True: or, Why Arts Marketing Isn't Going Far Enough

When I was about fourteen years old, I saw an actor named Samuel West perform Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company. If you'll permit me a bit of hyperbole, seeing this production at London's Barbican Centre kind of changed my life.

For the first time, I understood why this 'stuff' (Shakespeare, theatre, poetry, performance, everything) mattered, and how it could make my life better. It set me on a path in which the arts became my passion, my study -- and finally what I'm privileged to call my career.

The reason I am telling you this story is that over a decade later, I am following Samuel West on Twitter for old times' sake, and because he's funny. This, in particular, made me laugh a little while ago:

It made me laugh because it's Uncle Vanya, silly -- how funny to sum up Chekov thus, and in a tweet, too! Just imagine if theatres really did promote their productions with this kind of campaign!

And then I stopped laughing and thought: if this type of approach were to get people through the doors, who cares?

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

What Facebook Graph Search Might Mean, or 'Last Recommendation in Brooklyn'

Facebook's Graph Search announcement yesterday has many people predicting the decline of other search services and platforms that the humans of Planet Earth would otherwise use for recommendations on what to do with their evening. And with the commentator focus on mining this functionality for guidance concerning, say, 'Mexican restauarants my friends have enjoyed in Brooklyn', I couldn't help wondering: when did the opinions and recommendations of our social circle become so important online?

Hey, I don't know any of these people!

What I mean is, speaking objectively: why should knowing somebody personally elevate their opinion above that of what might be termed an 'expert'? Just because my friend, er, Curly likes Mexican food and used to live in Brooklyn, why does that mean I should trust her experience or recommendation (as handed to me by Facebook Search) more than 450 reviewers on Yelp? Or (just imagine) a Brooklyn-based food critic, whose 50-year newspaper career has been dedicated specifically to the evaluation of local Mexican 'eateries'? Does knowing and (presumably) liking Curly make her recommendation any more valid, or me any more likely to agree with her tastes vis-a-vis carne asada?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Facebook 101!

I had the pleasure of visiting Facebook HQ down in Menlo Park, CA yesterday to participate in an awesome 'Facebook 101' Live Talk for the Facebook for Non-Profits Page, with Strategic Partner Manager Libby Leffler. We chatted about how to grow an authentic, appealing presence on the platform, what social media can do for the arts, and the tips and tricks behind some of our most successful social content at SF Ballet.

Cheers for the awesome opportunity, guys! You can watch the recording (and enjoy my effusive hand gestures) here on the Facebook for Non-Profits Page.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Tea and Posting in Las Vegas

Shamefully, I have not yet had the opportunity of mentioning what an awesome time I had last month on my trip as one of the three Community Manager of the Year award finalists at the Oracle Social Media Summit in 'Fabulous' Las Vegas. I can honestly say that the Wynn was the fanciest hotel I have personally blighted in my entire life, and spent an entire five minutes trying to wrench open the curtains in my palatial suite before working out that they were remote-controlled. (I'll stick the managing the communities, I think.)

When I wasn't attempting to destroy expensive furnishings, I finally had the pleasure of meeting my fellow finalists in person, the lovely Stacey Acevero and Jeff Esposito, as well as hearing from a wide range of speakers about their use of social media. I also had the fortune to be part of a panel on best Facebook practices, in which I spoke about the anatomy of a successful post.

Me with my fellow finalists Stacey and Jeff. I love this photo for two reasons: 1) I clearly can't smile appropriately, and 2) I have managed to photobomb myself via Twitter.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hashtag

Indulging in a recent retrospective of my Twitter timeline—the 2012 equivalent of flipping through your baby photos—I came across this heartrending cri de coeur from my previous self: "Maybe life *would* be better if I just relaxed and learned to love wry hashtags." 

By happy coincidence, this was on the same day I read this beautifully serious-minded examination of the hashtag from the New York Times, which charts its evolution from simple topic aggregator to a bona fide 'literary device'. I'm pleased to say that after a conscientious program of self-reeducation, I myself did indeed learn to stop worrying and love the hashtag, but I'd still argue that my early objections to the medium hold some valid truth-nuggets for individuals, brands and organizations committing crimes against Twitter with a blunt tag:

Crime #1: Unnecessary. When I first started using Twitter, my key problem with hashtag use was that everyone was doing it (with trending hashtags as the proof.) I've since gladly accepted that hashtagging is actually a central part of the Twitter vernacular, a mode of expression that's evolved out of the necessary brevity of the platform and come into its own. But the worst-judged brand/organizational hashtags I see out there seem to be employing them just for the sake of doing so, because everyone else is—and wind up appearing misplaced, inappropriate or just plain embarrassing  My favorite example of how comical an incongruous hashtag can be comes in the shape of an endearingly befuddled Liam Neeson instructing fans via this promotional video to “tweet hashtag #Taken2Scene” with the air of a man who's just learned these words phonetically five minutes beforehand. This video is the reason I have my 'Not everything needs a hashtag' tattoo. (Just kidding! I got that done way before.)

Sometimes going through a YouTube video
frame-by-frame can really pay off

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Some thoughts on Election Day

To tell you to truth (because I usually lie, duh), I hadn't expected to feel quite so powerless today.

For the past 1.5 years I actually rather enjoyed being able to escape campaigners proferring leaflets on the street with the words "Sorry, I can't vote"--delivered in an exaggeratedly cut-glass accent that explained the whole thing--but today I really feel I'd love to be able to fill in a ballot. This is because I love the city that I live in, and I also love the people I share it with, even if they do get a little 'shove-y' on the bus sometimes. I want my friends to have the rights that are currently denied to them, and for them to retain those that are under threat. To add my voice in support of them is what I want, but for now at least, I'll have to trust that a significant number of those around me feel the same way when they go to the polling stations today.

I've seen more than one post from friends online proclaiming that they can't wait until tomorrow, when their social media streams and feeds are free of people's 'political opinions'. Respectfully, I couldn't agree less--and not just because I think the word 'political' is redundant here. 'Politics' isn't something that happens somewhere else, to other people. It's the stuff that dictates how good our human lives are, and how the lives of others can be made better. The more we talk and listen, through the myriad of channels that are now open to us, the better people we become and the more we're able to consider a viewpoint outside of our own. So remind me: how is this a bad thing?

So, yeah: go and vote, Americans! I'll know if you don't.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Unbearable Hugeness of Jupiter

What is the exact point at which 'much-needed perspective' becomes 'abject terror at the basic futility of human existence'?


Answer: "around the third click on this utterly amazing 'Magnifiying the Universe' interactive".

Enjoy your important weekend on this tiny, insignificant planet, friends!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Lessons from Sesame Street, Vol.17,998

It's clips like this that remind me that enthusiasm and sincerity are pretty much the best things in the world, and there's almost nothing they can't accomplish. And if it wouldn't make for such an unwieldy tattoo, I might consider getting that etched somewhere discreet.

For some context, it might help to clarify that this guy playing it straight on the Street is literally the coolest man alive. Be proud, folks!

Monday, 22 October 2012

10 Pointes for Gryffindor

I was interviewed about dance and digital by fellow social media* enthusiast Amanda McAlpine for her great blog You can read it here!

* or as nobody calls it, 'smedia'. Make it happen?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Community Manager of the Year Awards!

VERY exciting news: I've been chosen as one of the three finalists for Oracle/Vitrue's inaugural Community Manager of the Year award for my digital engagement work at this fine organization!

As with many awesome things, this started with a single tweet from a user who most kindly suggested our social media work would be a good fit for this award, which looks to "recognize and celebrate the incredible work being done by the fastest growing, most in-demand position in all of social network marketing." I'm delighted to say that my teabags and I are being sent to Las Vegas next month for Oracle's Social Media Summit, where I'll get to meet my talented co-finalists, speak about my work and hear what some of the most exciting people in my field are cooking up.

I'm particularly psyched that we're the only arts or non-profit organization represented amongst the finalists. Tea all round! See you in Vegas...