Musical Postcards are Now Available Digitally!

A Slight Change For The New Year.

2023 marks the 30th Anniversary of the first zine I published, the 25th Anniversary of my first radio broadcast, and as if that weren’t enough, we have decided to relaunch our Digital Lemonade Stand. It’s a great way to start the year, and we hope that you will not only be able to take advantage of these changes, but tell your friends about it, too. Something like this is worth sharing, and we can’t wait to see where the next year takes us.

In the past, I’ve produced a Musical Postcard every month, now for over two years solid. 25 Different Cards to choose from, featuring 30 minutes of experimental music, or a new single by one of my rock and roll projects. Not only did these cards deliver music that you could only access via the codes on the cards, but Digital Lemonade Stand supporters would get access to bonus tracks and other media related to producing the cards. In the past, you had to go to the website, and stream the songs from the Digital Lemonade Stand itself. Now, you can subscribe to a supporter-only Podcast, that features ALL of the songs on each Postcard, AND all of the bonus material. Plus, if you visit the Digital Lemonade Stand itself, you can download mp3s and other media associated with the postcard, to add another dimension to appreciating the card.

These Musical Postcards have become one of the most written about and well-recognized project that I’ve produced recently, and through working on material for the cards, I’ve come to develop a working method that is not only satisfying, but very rewarding.

Making these cards isn’t precisely free. I do use as much cheap and recycled paper as possible, and I’m STILL using the same printer that I’ve used to produce my ‘zines for several years now, using thrift store and eBay printer ink to add a few more years to it’s lifespan. But there are costs associated with making these cards, most notably postage. Help me offset these costs, AND keep this dream alive, by visiting the Digital Lemonade Stand, and supporting me, today!

It’s That Time of Year! The Holidays Are Upon Us…

Usually I try to make a bit of a production about the holiday season, doing weeks and weeks of Holiday Broadcasts, and producing some killer radio content… for those who enjoy this time of year. So when I realized that it is already over HALFWAY through October when I had a chance to sit down and think about the Holiday Season, I realized that this year was not going to get the same kind of treatment that I try to offer most years.

However, as it happened, I managed to produce a fair amount of musical content, all centered around the holiday. Namely: three of the projects I’m involved with actually produced holiday items this year. And there’s plenty of other items to choose from, too, if you want to enjoy material from over the years, too. So this card is a little shortcut to all of that stuff. Here’s a little more detail, for those who are interested:

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1.) The Eleven-SixtyFours new HOLIDAY VIDEO, “An Open Grave”!

The Eleven-SixtyFours are brand new this year, and have already released to singles. This track is from their forthcoming EP, “Sack The Sacklers,” and this is the first video from that EP. Perfect for Halloween, this is our theme song this year, helping get us in the mood when we’re just not feeling it.

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October’s postcard this year is a new release by DEATH MUTATIONS, with a new EP of Experimental Horror atmospheres. This is perfect for putting on the porch, and letting it play for anyone who passes by the house. It also works magnificently on it’s own, in your home or on the bus, commuting to work. Not for the faint of heart.

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3.) IVO – Salientia Cassette

At least a couple years in the making, this new project is the collected effort between Le Petit Sac and Mini-Mutations, and offers an experimental horror release that is a frantic and chaotic as one would expect, with long passages of eerie, spooky sounds that are perfect for setting the mood.

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4.) Mini-Mutations – May The Circle Be Unbroken Split CD w/ Michael Cosma.

Produced and released last year, this split CD contains 30 minutes each from both Mini-Mutations and Michael Cosma, exploring some of the more eerie sides of experimental music. For the Mini-Mutations side, you are treated to an immersive audio narrative, with music, that takes you to some terrifying locations. This release now comes with a download code that offers an EXTENDED version of the story, and instrumental versions of the primary tracks. This is an excellent release that you can’t get anywhere else.

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5.) Austin Rich Reads “The Ways of Ghosts” by Ambrose Bierce

One of the earliest attempts I made at spoken word, this collects all the pieces that I aired on the radio, plus some bonus bits that hadn’t been released yet, to create this holiday offering. The CD and the digital release each contain slightly different bonus tracks, making your preference determine what sort of extras you’re likely to hear.

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6.) Mini-Mutations – Hallotide Harmonies (Live Digital Album)

Recorded during the first Mini-Mutations tour, opening for Mark Hosler in 2018, this digital album collects all the spooky and scary material that I performed. Two and a half hours of live, mutated and creepy performances, guaranteed to put you in the mood for an All Hallow’s Celebration!

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7.) Austin’s Annual Halloween Spook-tacular Podcast!

For the past 18 years, I’ve been collecting and presenting Halloween Radio, every year around this time. Now, you can listen to all of those broadcasts, covering a number of shows with over 100 hours of programming. Music, Old Time Radio, listeners calling in with scary ghost stories, live performances, experimental radio, and plenty of vintage audio fun, as we mine all of recorded history for anything scary, spooky, sinister, or just plain full of Halloween Fun. It’s all right here, for you to enjoy!

New Mini-Mutations! A New Podcast! And A New Postcard!

It must be March. 

This month, Mini-Mutations has a new 30 minute EP that you can only hear via the new postcard that is being mailed out to mailing list subscribers AT THIS VERY MOMENT. This EP, “Five Hundred Thousand,” is a three part exploration of new material, new ideas, and new experiments that is at the heart of all that Mini-Mutations does. I’m excited to have the EP out, and would love to share it with you. 

Which brings me to these postcards. Every month, original content that is not available any other way is available for you to enjoy, directly sent to your mailbox. It’s a musical postcard that combines old-fashioned Postcard technology with new-fangled QR-code technology, to offer you new music in the privacy of your own mailbox. Join the mailing list, and receive each new postcard when they are made! These were recently written up by the Eugene Weekly, and are now an international sensation! (Cards have landed in Canada, Germany and Taiwan.) We’ve hit almost 30 states, too, so help me make it all 50, and join the mailing list, today! 

As an incentive: this month’s postcard comes with some bonus material, in addition to the new Mini-Mutations EP. On March 21st, a new podcast is launching. 20 Minutes Into The Future: A Max Headroom Podcast is a show where we watch Max Headroom, and talk about it. With this postcard, we offer a chance to hear the first episode before the show officially launches. You can find out more information about the show at We officially launch on March 21st. Our second episode, where we discuss the UK Telefilm, will coincide with the 36th Anniversary of the original broadcast. Keep your eyes on the website, as we will be hosting a watch party on Zoom, the details of which will be on our site. In the meantime, you can enjoy our first episode via the postcard, before anyone else can hear it. 

March is going to be a great month, and. It all starts with this new postcard. Get yours, now!

New From WTBC In 2021

WTBC decided to hit the ground running this year, and that means that we have four new releases, all within the first month of 2021! And with these releases, we are debuting a brand new project that we have the pleasure of working with: Shot Reverse Shot. THIS IS NOT EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC. Shot Reverse Shot offer Space Grunge Metaphors that offer a charming glimpse into the musical world of deep space travel. This band isn’t like anyone we’ve worked with before, and we are very excited to bring you this band. 

WTBC now offers professionally duplicated CDs, limited edition lathe cut records, and hand-made ’zines and paper ephemera, all delivered from our house, to yours! These are just some of the things we have to offer for the music and written-word enthusiast in your life. And all of them are available, NOW!

Our musical postcards contain new music by WTBC artists, designed in-house, and mailed directly to your home.  The music on those postcards are unique to those cards, and are currently unavailable any other way. Think of them as socially distanced audio performances, that you can enjoy from the comfort of your mailbox. 

We also have 8” records, split tapes and CDs, and a selection of ’zines that are not available elsewhere. If you want to enjoy these unique items, visit our store, and find releases by Mini-Mutations, The Olsen Twins Ghostlight Ensemble, Shot Reverse Shot, Half Eye, Formaldehydra, DEATH MUTATIONS and more, all of this – and more – are all waiting for your enjoyment at

Order Today! And: Be Seeing You!


It’s Time To Celebrate With Holiday Memories

Holiday Memories and Mid-Valley Mutations

For many years I tended to ignore the simple pleasures of the holidays, and as my radio show became more singular, I resisted the holiday season, often openly mocking it (with shows like, “Christmas Music For People Who Don’t Like Christmas Music,” etc.).

But even someone like me, who has come to enjoy radio at it’s most unusual or atypical, there is a certain appeal to finding the place between “typical holiday music” and “what I usually do on this program.” And with Old Time Radio, punk rock holiday albums, experimental live radio and performances, and everything in-between, I have been fortunate enough over the years to avoid, “Here’s some Christmas Carols for you to enjoy this year.” The closest I come to that is putting on detective radio shows for the holidays.

Regardless, there are over 20 years of Holiday Programs in our “Holiday Memories” Podcast feed, waiting for you to enjoy. This includes broadcasts on a number of stations, in a number of forms, with a wide range of holiday offerings for you to put on and digest. Over 100 hours of programing, with over 80 different shows to choose from. This year, we’re adding some new items to the feed, including some holiday episodes of Somewhere In-Between: A Radio ‘Zine that are new this year, and a handful of new Mid-Valley Mutations, where we feature a Hal McGee holiday album, cut up some amazing Old Time Radio stories, offer some futuristic Christmas Carols, and a full episode-long holiday deconstruction by Mini-Mutations. We’re pulling out all the stops this year, and we would love to have you come and join us, too.

The easiest way to get it is to subscribe with our App-Agnostic-Feed, where you can get all the goodies. But you can also find it in iTunes. (I’ve heard it is in other services too, but I haven’t put that to the test.) Just search for “Holiday Memories Austin Rich,” and it usually comes up pretty quickly.

The Holiday Feed contains everything from all the end-of-year holidays from November through January, so if you want individual episodes for separate holidays, here are all the Christmas Shows, and here are all the New Year’s shows.

If you would prefer a little music that has a seasonal flavor to it, then you might want to look into our “Seasons Greetings” digital album, perfect for the kind of person who enjoys the holiday season, but wants their music very, very weird. Almost 2 1/2 hours of Mini-Mutations not available elsewhere, with over an hour of bonus instrumental tracks. This includes live radio jams, live performances in front of audiences, spoken word with sound FX, everything in-between. This one is only available digitally, so head to our Wanting To Be Cool online store via bandcamp, and enjoy some new tunes that speak to this time of year.

And, if that’s not enough, we have, hew this year, the Mini-Mutations Musical Holiday Card, with an EP of new Holiday Carols that you can only get via the mail. This is part of a monthly Postcard Project that I’m working on in 2021, and if you want to start getting these, then you’ll want to contact me with your address. There will be one-of-a-kind music offerings through these postcards, that only come via the mail. Support the US Postal Service, and small experimental artists, and get something cool in the mail.

While this year has been a bummer, and it is hard to get into the holidays, maybe our atypical traditions will be the perfect antidote to the holiday malaise.


Look — A Ghost!

Austin’s Annual Halloween Spook-tacular! 

Subscribe in iTunes.

Subscribe with an agnostic feed.

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Halloween has always held a very special place for me, in that it is such a different holiday than almost anything else. Fall is setting in, the actual seasonal change fills you with a sense that you should celebrate the spookier elements in our lives. Dressing up, passing out treats, becoming in tune with the past. It is something we don’t do in that way at any other holiday, and for that, I am actually pretty excited. It has bee fun to see, in the last several years, the holiday become something that is celebrated for months in advance. It feels like something that I could even sense, way back in 2003, and I could tell there was a hole in the musical landscape, that could be filled by Halloween Music.

While there were certainly others who were collecting halloween music, and certainly I was only an amateur back then, I had hit upon this idea that summer, and needed to see it through: let’s put together a Halloween Mix to accompany the party my roommate was holding on The Day. To that end, I assembled a several hour mix of songs that I found, many in my collection (but certainly others from the internet and friends collection, as was the style at the time).

The mix was quite successful, so the following year, throughout the month of October, I brought this mix to my radio program on KPSU. And, since then, I’ve done my best to bring variations on this mix to the airwaves, to help ring in the season, usually beginning at the end of September.

Now, 16 years later, there are a number of shows available for you to enjoy, all with spooky novelty songs, scary Haunted House sound FX records, Old Time Radio in the horror and supernatural genre, and everything in-between, and, of course, plenty of visits from Vincent Price and Edgar Allen Poe. Over one hundred hours radio for you to enjoy, perfect for parties, putting out on the porch, or enjoying late at night, with all the lights out!

This is also a good time to pick up a copy of the new Halloween Release by Michael A. Cosma & Mini-Mutations. Designed like a Halloween record from the old days, this release contains songs and a spooky story (with SFX), that works perfectly out on the porch, on repeat.

And while you’re waiting to enjoy the music, check out the podcast. You won’t be sorry.


WTBC 0025: Michael A. Cosma / Mini-Mutations Split CD

A split release as part of the EC Split series by The Electronic Cottage. The CD includes download codes for “Hallowtide Harmonies” and “The Ways of Ghosts.” You should pick up the digital version from HalTapes, if you can!

To say that discovering Merlin Mann’s podcast Back To Work was a revelation to me both undersells the value of what I got out of listening, and oversells the pedestal upon which I already put Merlin Mann’s online persona, in some ways an entirely separate subject.  True, it is through Merlin that I discovered John Siracusa’s work, and while I covered some of this story over there, this time I’m on an entirely other tangent, one about tangents, one about a shared past, and one about learning to believe in myself.  I think I share some embarrassing jokes about how poorly behaved I used to be, too, so you can at least tune in for those.

Like many people in America, I had a job that did not require any brainpower, took place in a cubical (and later, a “quad” with three other “teammates”), involved the use of dedication to “knowledge work” performed digitally on an out-of-date computer, all with the management allowance that we could listen to whatever we wanted while we did our work.  It was, in many ways, the only benefit the job offered, and as I quickly found myself caught up on every podcast I have ever cared about, I began to find large periods of the day filled with free time that I wanted to fill with something interesting, lest the horror of the drudgery of this job I hated would become too apparent.

I was, in fact, miserable at that job.  But this was nothing new.  I have hated most jobs, and I have never felt the kind of loyalty that most employers seem to be look for in staff that they want to pay a living wage to.  I have explored much of the shitty-job market that is available to people without a college degree: factory work, fast food, janitorial, musician, columnist, computer IT, production engineer, library staff, retail, teaching, farm hand, radio personality, aviary assistant, office detective, etc.  All of it felt like I was being punished for some past sin of which I was very guilty.  I couldn’t stand the rote dependence on arbitrary systems and middlemen to get something done that could be handled so much better in other ways, and I am still astonished at the pittance we receive for the lion’s share of work that keeps our world functional.

I had attended too many meetings, been a part of too many office chess games, have listened to far too many people have their personalities ground down to a nub, and found myself becoming a person I hated being every day when I would go to work.  I assumed – wrongly – that a degree would open doors that could take me to a new class of mediocre jobs, but I soon found that aside from a small bump in pay that barely covers the cost of living increases we’re constantly besieged by, even this six year odyssey toward academic enlightenment was only ever held against me as being too much or not enough to meet the requirements of the job I was looking into.  Most of the time, I spent all my off hours dreading going back, exploited every sick day I could on those mornings when I was about to cry at the thought of going in, and miserably scanned job listings as all of the same things came up again and again and again.

I have never done well with jobs.  And this ennui about my direction in life and my need to add new podcasts to help fill the void overlapped with the 5by5 Network that was always popping up on my phone as a “recommendation” based on the kinds of other shows I also enjoyed.  The name ticked some part of my brain that I enjoyed, and I felt like I had even heard a recommendation, or saw a link once?  Hard to say.  I added several shows, including Back To Work, described as a productivity and creativity talk show.  I (nominally) consider myself to be an artist – or, at least, an aspiring one – and felt maybe the trick to my own work was to start looking at it like work, so I could be more productive.  Having listened to enough NPR, I have surely overheard even stories about successful people who approach their creative lives in a very disciplined way, and my hope was that I could organize my creative work in a way so I could exert a little bit of effort to make it look like I was more productive that I really was.

Up until that point, I really looked at my creative life as a disorganized mess, with little regard to making it easily accessible or available were anyone to want to check it out.  I would make something, I would hand them out to people directly, talk about it a little bit on my blog (occasionally – when I remembered to do so), and then move on.  It was sort of the ephemeral nature of radio and ‘zines.  They are, ultimately, disposable and temporary in nature, fixed in time.  But if I was ever going to live the dream of making these creative works sustainable – somehow – I would need to start getting a little more serious about it.  If I just had some advice – some simple tricks I could use to be more productive – maybe my work would be better, because I was making more.

I fully anticipated listening to Back To Work as being a way to get some hands on, in-the-moment advice on how I can simply apply that one tid-bit and see it have a ripple effect through my creative work.  A sort of magic bullet, that once fired would see results that I could really use to my benefit.  I would listen with a pad of paper next to my desk at work, waiting for a chance to capture something amazing.

I was not at all prepared for what Back To Work actually was.

Admittedly, I did not exactly love it after the first episode.  I find this is common for media with which I become very interested.  I can’t even remember where I jumped in; probably with the then-current show, something from late 2013 or early 2014, maybe?  But in going back through the old episodes – largely in reverse order, humorously – I started to figure out the rhythm of the show, and really came to appreciate both the wit and wisdom of Dan Benjamin, but the wickedly funny Merlin Mann, who play off of each other very well.

Describing what Back To Work actually is sort of requires a brief overview of You Look Nice Today, a show that is so good that the rare and amazing moments when they do – randomly – post a show after having been dormant for over a year – you are pretty stoked to suddenly see a new episodes materialize out of nowhere.  In this show, Merlin, Scott Simpson and lonelysandwhich produce a fairly impressive satire of the kinds of douchy business and office conversations that we’ve all come to loathe.  The genius of the show is in the editing; each episode relies on the razor-sharp jokes that are made possible when you consider the digital nature or recorded Skype calls.  And it makes sense; the show was largely born out of their Twitter exchanges, where people would tracked this sort of thing had been entertained by all three of them piling on each other with 140 barbs that breathtaking in how note-perfect they ring in this age of “everyone’s a comedian.”

You Look Nice Today is a show that, even if largely dormant, works perfect as a document, and probably will for years to come.  It is a kind of comedy – like the work of Kasper Hauser – that will stand the test of time, but was born out of and is a part of The Inter-Web-A-Tron.  You Look Nice Today needs to live as a podcast; it doesn’t fly any other way.  I know that they do live performances, but the pacing of the editing, the Title Sequences by John Hodgman, the music that is used throughout, it is all of a piece that highlights and exploits the best of how a podcast works as a medium, and allows these three personalities to deliver not only the best joke for the show at hand, but the best meta-joke to complement it, and the joke about not having a joke, and another about how all of that wasn’t a joke, it was real, guys.  You Look Nice Today seems so much of the language of podcasts that there is a chicken or the egg quality to it, and certainly the way people produce new shows is influenced by some of the tone they set.

Part of this is owed to the way that Merlin Mann plays a very deadpan office meathead go toe to toe with anyone who wants to spew management bullshit-isms until nearly all meaning is drained from the sentence in the most hilarious way.  The character of Merlin Mann is that of a beleaguered office specialist, a person who has been hired to run a project he knows nothing about, and instead chooses to shuck and jive with tech world and office jargon that barely makes sense, even to those who know half the references.  And – like most tech-world hipsters who are always looking for the next trend to blog about – Merlin interlaces his nonsense with ’80’s and ’90’s indie-rock references, a boatload of Marvel Comics references, mangled malapropisms, 50 shades of “huh” that he punctuates his sentences with, and sprinkled with an incessant request for everyone to watch The Wire over and over and over again.  You Look Nice Today was a stomping ground for Merlin’s hipster’s hipster character to run while, delivering hilarious null-set constructions that perfectly reflecting the bullshit that tech world folks are all uncomfortably familiar with.

It is probably worth mentioning that I understand, intellectually, that this is a character Merlin is adept at playing.  Like John Cleese, Merlin has figured out a way to wear the discomfort of being and outsider in a world of intellectual one-ups-man-ship and let that character unfurl in a variety of ways, to create a comedy persona that – and I should emphasize this – is not Merlin Mann, the guy who goes home to his family at night.  Like Cleese, Merlin can play this character perfectly, from having lived and worked in that world, and having been a part of it since the very early days.  Merlin’s early web presence when the Inter-Web-A-Tron was still only the playground of a handful of nerds is well documented, and he – along with a handful of other early nerds – became the people that set the tone for the way media and the web would work together.  Merlin developed a personality that was informed by self-help and nerdy pursuits, but very clearly drew a line in the sand between his personal life and his “online” one.  For him, the web is his stage, and with each iteration of the outlet he chooses to use, he finds a way to make it uniquely his own.

To tell the story of Back To Work, I have to mention Dan Benjamin, founder of the 5by5 Podcast Network.  Dan is another one of those old-school tech-nerd guys, and after having tried his hand at office work, realized that his real passion was radio and video.  In 2009 he began the 5by5 Network, a place were the people who had been a part of the original web media landscape could develop podcasts that suited the kinds of geeky topics that listeners were looking for.  By 2009, the world of podcasts was still largely undeveloped.  You Look Nice was around very early, and there were some people getting involved, but networks were still something unheard of, and many people were looking to get discovered in podcasts so they could move on to something else.  Unlike Dan, they weren’t thinking about the long-term picture.

Dan began assembling a slew of personalities and shows that featured a number of people who were already a part of the tech media world in some form or another, and Dan even interviewed Merlin early on in an effort to get Merlin to join forces with him.  Merlin held off at first, as he was already quite busy with his own projects.  (Merlin performs seminars for businesses to help motivate staff and improve morale.)  But when a particularly lame presentation came to an end, he made a decision on the flight home to launch Back To Work, a new outlet for the more playful side of Merlin to find a home.  You Look Nice Today was on a hiatus, and the time seemed right.


This Year, Give The Gift of Podcasts

ValentineRadioEmittingHeartsI am reminded of a comment made about (or, possibly, by?) Sarah Vowel, on the subject of They Might Be Giants, and how they had such a vast back catalog that there was a song for every occasion, that could be used in any episode of This American Life.  I’m sure, at this point, I’ve mangled the memory so badly that I’m quite a ways off my mark, but suffice it to say I often feel that there is a similar relationship to holidays and my own radio output.  Over what has almost been 20 years I’ve been on the radio a lot, and sooner or later, I will come across a situation where we have an appropriate show for this time of year.  And, for Valentine’s Day, this is no exception.

If you subscribe to our VD Feed – you’ll have to manually paste this one into your podcatcher of choice – you can check out a slew of old Valentine’s Days shows, going back to 2006.  This includes a handful of What’s This Called? episodes, and all of the old Blasphuphmus Radio holiday jams, too.  This will give you a chance to listen back to all the romantic radio you can fill your device with, and woo the radio nerd of your choosing.

In these fast paced times, you might be asking for a recommendation, on the off chance that you only have time for a small slice of the many offerings available.  If that is the case, then I would recommend that you pick either one of the two shows I have selected below, depending on your interests:

1.) The Future of Love.  In this Sci-Fi audio essay, I explore the story of Lulu, a spaceship that has some designs on one of the occupants of its very own hull.  This is largely built around an episode of the X-Minus One radio program from the 1950s, and some other experimental / jazz music that speaks to the theme of the show.

2.) Isosceles Diego’s Valentine’s Day Special.  In this episode from 2007, my old roommate Isosceles Diego – who first guested on the show in 1998 – drops by the show to deliver his favorite songs from around the world to help put us int he holiday spirit.  There is a lot of really great music by artists that you’ve probably never heard before – save for the brief excursion into ’90’s Olympia Indie Rock – and a ton of Eastern Block Rock.

There’s other great shows mixed in with those links, and I do suggest that you check them out.  While I never really enjoyed Valentine’s Day the way other’s have, I did some pretty decent radio here and there, and that is something of which I am proud.  Hopefully you can dig it, too.


Walking The Bridges of Siracusa County

john-siracusa-maskedWalking The Bridges of Siracusa County.  

(or, “How I Became A Fan of The Internet Nerd of All Time Without Really Trying, And How You Can, Too.”)

It’s hard to say what I should mention by way of an introduction, to really give you the right kind of background to appreciate his character.  Certainly, I would be remiss to leave out his Twitter handle – @siracusa – as that is a primary source of where he communicates with the world and with fans, for sure.  Not mentioning his association with the well-loved OS X reviews that used to get nerds in a fervor would be glossing over a huge part of his career, and the fact that he’s hung up his hat as a reviewer is a loss that the Mac Community is still coming to terms with.  And, of course he is a programmer by trade, and one of great skill, too.  For years now he has supported himself and his family through his work writing code, writing about technology, and podcasting.

Largely, though, John is a geek, and is proud of this fact.  He has immersed himself in the world of computers (Macs specifically), and has found a home where he is comfortable, not always easy for the geeky inclined.  And yet, while the world of geeks is defined by the technology and the way it is designed and presented to us, Siracusa finds that his immersion within this world makes him the perfect candidate to analyze and define of the problems that nerds go through in a world where software, hardware, and our experiences that go with these things could be so much better designed if someone just took the time to do it.

broadcast_artwork_rd_artworkJohn Siracusa is about as far off the path from my own life as you can get without being a scientist or an astronaut.  An East Coaster and fan of TV and Sports, he is the father of two, and by all accounts, a fairly “normal” nerd in a number of ways.  Following the show he does with Merlin MannReconcilable Differences, which is a great way to gain insight into both of their lives – you can tell that he is a family man in many ways, who has to deal with the problems of dinner and raising children and getting to work on time.  For him, clothing and fashion, music and film must follow very narrow guidelines if they are to make it on his radar, as it is for any other self-respecting nerd.  A lover of gangster movies and anime, a gamer and New Yorker by birth, there are only a handful of areas where our mutual interests come into play.

My childless lifestyle, focused on loosing sleep and collecting LPs, seems light-years away from his own, and his confusion about what drugs are and how they work is so cute as to sound like it is a line from a Disney Kids Movie.  (And, he’s a U2 fan, for fuck’s sake!)  John’s accent, even, spells a very unique venn diagram of Boston and Nerdy that makes my laid-back, West Coast drawl sound absolutely hillbilly by comparison.  And, while I understand what computers are and can use them, I can only just barely follow him when it goes on a rant about programming, or game controllers.

This is a long way of saying that I am none of the things that he is.  While my own experience with technology goes back to writing in BASIC on a TRS-80, I learned long ago that my interest in the keyboard really ended with the stringing together of English Text, and I didn’t put my time or energy into learning programming and coding, but rather, how to construct a sentence and a paragraph that read well.  I could wack at code for hours and get something that might work for a little while (largely by copying and pasting someone elses work), but in spite of that aptitude, I was more interested in building stories.  The last thing I made any effort to learn was HTML, and while I’m okay in Visual Basic for writing Macros, I fare much better when the subject is who played in what band.  Once I found that calling, I have rarely looked back except to make sure that I’m not such a grandpa that I can’t use modern remote controls or a wireless router.

So what, then, if not a common background or a similarity in interests, draws me to listen to his podcasts?  Particularly, the wealth of back-episodes that exists in the form of Hypercritical, a show where he gets into detail about the things wrong with Apple and related topics?  It certainly isn’t the current nature of the conversations.  While Dan Benjamin – the co-host of Hypercritical with John – makes a fairly good argument that John’s commentary stands up as something worth reviewing at any time, there is something particularly funny about listening to them speculate about what might be in Lion when it is released, then discuss it after it is released, then wonder what the next Pixar movie will be, then discuss it after it is released… there is a rhythm to it that becomes funnier as the years pass, and the specifics are less and less relevant.  But that certainly wasn’t what Dan was talking about, when he suggested that there is something to the archival nature of John Siracusa’s work, and there certainly is.  There is some other quality to John’s conversations and observations that seems current, even four years after the fact.


logo-theincomparable-1xThe Incomparable w/ John Siracusa

It’s probably not that surprising that I discovered all of this through Merlin Mann, and to a second degree, The Incomparable podcast.  While I wasn’t really a mover and shaker in the world of the early Interweb, there was a core group of nerds who all got online in the early ’90’s, who have stuck with it for the last 25 years, to see it develop and blossom into the racisim-laced comment threads that we see so much of on YouTube.  A lot of those same nerds have helped build the digital media landscape into what it is today, through writing, blogging, and building websites of every variety.  Many of those early nerds joined forces over at Jason Snell’s The Incomparable, something that began as a book-club and evolved into the media empire it is.  Nearly every guest on The Incomparable is part of this core family of early web icons, and Merlin Mann – who I was already a fan of – led me to them.

(How exactly I found Back To Work is sort of lost to the ages, but it was one of those shows that, when I found it almost two years or so ago, I instantly over-dosed on it, and began to trace all the threads that it sent out into other areas of the web.  If Merlin wanted to be a guest on The Incomparable, and played in their world too, I reasoned – correctly – that I should be checking out that show, too.)

John’s role on The Incomparable is not much different than on his own show.  He’s finds flaws and pokes holes in the world of pop culture as much as he does with Apple and their mixed bag of products and apps.  He is the grumpy old man who sits in on these conversations and waits for a chance to offload his argument, his observations, and his criticisms to a group of nerds who just wanted to say how much they loved Real Genius.  For him, it is important to use reason and the clues in the works at hand to find the real meaning and value of a work – be it in software, film, or books – and his willingness to make the unpopular point, and to say things that lay bare the design flaws of things we all love, is not only important, but necessary in our culture.

Too often we get caught up in the enthusiasm machine of marketing and rumor.  We are often left to consider that we should always accept the things we encounter as having some value in our lives, merely because they are the overwhelmingly popular thing at the time.  Apple is a perfect example; the devotees will devour anything as early as possible, but to criticism the design at any level would sound like you’re being a dick.

But there is a value to looking at culture and being critical, and not just because it is easier to distrust and to poke holes in things.  Both John and I want culture to be great.  We want to enjoy art and music and digital media and have it presented to us in a way that is good, and good for us.  John’s desire to find the flaws, to point them out, and to offer insight into why they worked and why they did not, is a lesson we can all learn in life.  It is easy to accept everything, and a tiny bit harder to be critical of all things equally.  But to take it a step further, and to be critical while offering helpful advice and insight into why that aspect of the work is not functioning properly, that is a skill that takes all of us further in life, and not just at work or in public.


cover_quarterA Look Back At The Recent Past

While I’m enjoying the chance to relive 2011 and 2012 through the magic of podcasts that will live forever on the web, I will warn people that it can be trying to listen to five-year-old stale tech news programs if you are not there for something other than the timeliness.  And he does cover a lot of topics on Hypercritical that were valuable then and seem irrelevant now.  (Do people care about iBooks anymore?  El Capitan more or less makes much of the previous OS X conversations seem antiquated and silly, certainly.  And his deconstruction and analysis of programming languages then could probably use an update.)

But even when the topics are not on point, listening to him lay out an argument is a joy to listen to.  At several points in the series he gets preachy about Star Wars preservation, and lays out arguments for Fair Use and curating cultural materials for future generations that is simply incredible, and in many ways, still ahead of its time.  His ability to looks at software and provide a meta-analysis of its merits and weaknesses is something that is straight out of a literary criticism course, and his no-nonsense attitude (and his absolute, self-admitted lack of cool) makes him willing to say things that others simply won’t.  And that, in many ways, is absolutely charming.

He is not offensive.  As a father is is looking for culture that uplifts boys and girls too, and he really does want the world to be as well designed as possible for those of us who have to use it.  But his eye for films like Goodfellas and Ghost In The Shell gives me pause to consider watching something that I had decided long ago was not for me.  While I don’t always agree with him – and, how can anyone always agree with anyone, to be perfectly honest? – his willingness to look at our culture, and to champion where we can make improvements, is absolutely inspirational, and keeps me glued to my podcasts so I can hear another one of his in-depth deconstructions of a book he absolutely hated.  (Ready Player One, anyone?)

He is not for everyone.  He is certainly an acquired taste, and might not ever be exactly for you.  And I even tune out when the tech talk gets a little over my head.  (And it does often.)  But this kind of show is a challenge to my preconceived notions of what entertainment is, and what it can be, and what perspectives I should be considering when I see something new.  I’m getting to view parts of culture through his eyes that I would never look at – and a few things that we both find entertaining, too – and that is giving me pause to re-evaluate my own relationship with parts of culture that I usually never consider.  That alone is enough to recommend him for someone who is looking to challenge your own perspectives, and to consider that the world around us is made up of people that thinking differently than I do.


So… Where Do I Start?

So often with these kinds of recommendations, it is hard to give someone a jumping on point.  The Incomparable is still running strong, several years and hundreds of episodes deep, and he appears in many of them.  Obviously, his current show with Merlin is great, and not only get into the elements that make geeks geeks, but the struggles they have in their own lives with travel, with buying things, witch child rearing, etc.  It is exactly what middle aged men love to do – talk about the minutia of life as if it were something of great academic import – and it makes for great listening if you happen to be self-reflective (and middle aged).

However, to get a sense of what I’m really talking about, and to offer something to dig into that is current, I recommend checking out Incomparable #277: Stormtroopers Are People.  (You can stream or download it form that link.)  This is a THREE HOUR AND TWENTY MINUTE podcast (yes, that is not a typeo) about The Force Awakens, and in it you can hear Siracusa get so excited about this film that even that amount of time seems short for both him and the listener.  (John, Jason Snell, Serenity Caldwell & Dan Moren also appear on the panel discussion, all equally excited about this movie.)

I know, I know.  I am recommending a three hour commitment so that you can decide if you like a guy who makes a lot of podcasts, and this isn’t even his primary piece of work.  But in this three hours you will hear real people who love real things, talk about the way that they love it, and explicate on a story that – hopefully – you also happen to love.  (And who doesn’t?  I mean, The Force Awakens was fantastic, wasn’t it?)  And in this show, you will hear John talk passionately, as a Star Wars fan from childhood, as a person who felt abused and robbed by the CGI Special Editions, as a person who felt betrayed and ripped off  by the prequels – and, most importantly, as a human being who was so touched by a movie that he was willing to talk well into the night – for hours – and was still excited to keep talking when everyone else is ready to hang up and get some sleep.

If this does not win you over as a fan of John Siracusa, then I don’t know what will.  But I have a feeling you might start listening to The Incomparable now.  And that is how all things like this begin.

Let me know when you get a chance to check out his other work, too.  And when you are a converted fan like I am, hit me up on Skype.  I have a feeling we have a few things that we could talk about, too.

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop (Retrocast)

(This podcast and essay was originally posted on 21 January 2013.  At the time, I worked for Portland State University, and got MLK Day paid off.)

This Was The Last Speech He Gave Before His Assassination The Following Day.
This Was The Last Speech He Gave Before His Assassination The Following Day.

I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop
(Featuring an audio-essay cut-up of Martin Luther King Jr.‘s last speech delivered to an audience, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” from 3 April 1968.)

I have always taken for granted the holiday that we take in January to honor Martin Luther King Jr.  It was not that I didn’t care, but that the day usually came when papers were due, or when I worked a job that already required me to work that day.  But in light of my new job, getting the day off – paid – felt a little weird.  I had to be honest with myself that I had never really listened to any of MLK’s speeches all the way through, and that I knew very little about the work he did other than the most general, basic sense.

So today’s radio blast is a bunch of stuff culled from my collection of audio that relates to MLK Jr.  I have an edited cut-up of his last speech, and a radio broadcast from just after his assassination, as a way of presenting some of what I discovered in actually doing some research of this amazing and incredible man.

I do not have any great epiphanies to share with you, and there is no great revelation at work in this show.  It seems very clear that, as he delivered this speech, he knew his days were numbered, but this seems to be the case leading up to his assassination.  I think the arrangement in this little mini-cast works to reveal why he was considered to be one of the best orators of our day, but also to illuminate much of what his work was about in the most basic and general sense possible.

For those who stay to the end: there’s a little joke to ease the tension of such a serious subject.

I urge all of you to listen to his speeches, read up on this man, and let yourself actually understand the value of this holiday.  So much of what happens to us seems so passive, and we let days pass without reflecting on them too often.  This time, stop for a moment to consider who this man was, and what effect he had on the world around us.

And: let’s hope you MLK Day was full of the promise and wonder that every new days brings us.

Be seeing you


I’ve Been to the Bemsha Mountaintop

01.) (What Did I Do To Be So) Black & Blue [Excerpt] * Louis Armstrong * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
02.) “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” [Excerpts] * Martin Luther King Jr. * 3 April 1968
02.) Bemsha Swing * Thelonious Monk * Say It Loud: Celebrate Black History Month & Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
03.) Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated * Bill Kurtis * We Interrupt This Broadcast * 4 April 1968