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My Ogygia

Growing up in Florida, there was one essential truth that I knew beyond any other: that someday, I would move out  in Florida.

It didn’t even seem like a conscious decision, just something that seemed obvious. In fact, I don’t think it even occurred to me until I was in my teens that staying in the same town, or area, or state where one grew up is something that plenty of rational human beings do; that, actually, that had been the way of the world for most of human history. In high school, I had one teacher who had gone to that very school where she now taught, studied under the same other teachers that I did, gone away to a state university and then came back home to teach. In a lot of circumstances that would be called, “giving back”; I just felt bad for her. I couldn’t fathom why anyone—especially someone in their late 20s like that teacher was—would choose to live in Palm Beach County.

Despite having three entire generations of my family in Florida, our roots there did not go deep. The only reason we were there is because my grandparents, each set independently of each other, had retired to Florida and my parents followed them. We all came from New York—everyone except my sister, the only native Floridian in my family (though currently the only one among us living in the motherland, i.e. Brooklyn). When my grandparents told stories, it was of that other place that they had left. Sort of like the narrative arc of my family history had gotten bleached out by the Florida sun.

I came to think of Florida like Ogygia, the island where Odysseus was stuck at the beginning of Homer’s Odyssey: a warm, sunny place that is supposed to be full of passion and leisure but really everyone just loses track of time and no one realizes that they’ve turned into animals. Calypso, anyone?

And of course the stories that come out the state. Stories so bizarre and sad and strange that you couldn’t make them up. Homeless meth addict accidentally burns down the state’s oldest tree. Crazed naked man tries to eat someone’s face. Giant python swallows giant alligator whole and they both die in a gruesome tangled messImmigration fates contingent upon whether you can get out of your raft fast enough to touch dry land. Mines where they extract phosphates by mixing earth with sulphuric acidTrayvon Martin. George Zimmerman. Katherine Harris and dimpled chads. Elián González.

Don’t tase me, bro!

I left Florida when I was 22, and for the most part, not living in Florida has been everything I had wanted. I’ve lived in places where there are seasons, where you can see snow sometimes, where the primary reason for living there isn’t the weather. Where you can get places without a car, and there are actually places you want to go. Where there are young people. Where there are all different kinds of people.

But the thing about living in not-Florida is that it’s a really huge and diverse part of the world. It’s hard to know where to go because anywhere seems about as good or as viable a place to live as anywhere else (that’s not Florida). I could live in Chicago, but I’ll never be a Midwesterner, just like I could move to Japan but never become Japanese. I could move to New York, but I think I’d be too self-conscious to ever call myself a New Yorker. I could live anywhere, but don’t feel like I’m from anywhere.

Which, I guess, is how some people end up living in California.

I still don’t totally get the vibe here. There are palm trees and beaches, but it’s not warm. It’s a hub of power and a magnet for smart people, but it goes to bed early. It’s liberal in who gets a elected, but conservative in terms of wanting anything to change. The housing market is going through the roof, yet most of it is not very dense at all.

But maybe I’m only wary of it because in some ways it reminds me so much of Florida. (“Did I really end up living in a place with strip malls and no seasons and palm trees again?”). Yet despite all that, I suppose Oakland might as well be home. I still think kind of wistfully about New York, or Chicago, or Paris or Berlin or Rio de Janeiro—places with deep history and an urban fabric that is just stunning and fantastic. But as the economist Edward Glaeser says, a city isn’t buildings and alleyways and infrastructure—it’s the absence of physical space between people. And you can be close to some cool people here. There is movement and signs that something really big could happen here soon.

And it’s also kind of the only place this side of Crystal River where you can get a decent grapefruit. 


a moment in a movement

The thing about a movement is that calling it a movement usually means that it’s over.

How incredible would it have been to have been invited to bring your keyboard over to some lower Manhattan warehouse and jam out the new minimalism with Philip Glass?  Or to have argued narrative with Truffaut and Godard in Paris?  Or to have hammered out new understandings of culture with Boas and Meade and Benedict and the gang at Harvard?

These questions are as rhetorical as they are maddening:  you weren’t there, you don’t know, and you never will.  The way we’re taught to think about and classify movements of art or film or music or literature, or whatever, is that there were a few key players, they made their contributions, and now it’s pretty much over.   At least that’s how it felt to me growing up in suburban Florida—that not only was everything far away, it had already happened.

The wonderful and exhilarating weekend in Chicago at the Third Coast Festival made it clear that something is happening in the medium of sound.  Right now.  The medium—which is actually the oldest time-based medium—is undergoing more innovation now than in its 100-or-so year history.  

A funny thing happened while I was at Third Coast:  people kept praising my scarf. It’s red and looks like it’s for some soccer team, but it’s actually a CBC Radio 3 scarf that I got while visiting the CBC headquarters in Toronto a few years ago.  After getting asked by (I’m guessing) all of the Canadians at the conference if I’m Canadian, they’d all say pretty much the same thing—that there’s some amount of fascination (or maybe even envy) for the indy radio community in the US.  In Canada, I’m told, either you work at the CBC or you don’t.  There aren’t these pockets of radio artisans doing weird things on their own.

And that is a perfectly frustrating thing to say to an American indy producer—how great would it be if we could all get jobs actually making radio on the clock instead of doing it in off hours in our bedrooms?  Sometimes I think I would learn French and force myself to enjoy cold weather if it meant getting to listen to the CBC on terrestrial broadcast—not to mention the ability to work there.

But that observation does seem to point to the fact that there’s this something happening in the indy radio community, in pockets of the US and abroad.  

The major evidence of this is obvious:  there’s Radiolab, This American Life, Radio Diaries, the incredible stuff people are doing over at the ABC, BBC, and CBC.  But I’m even more inspired by the people who are making some of the most compelling radio out there in their off-hours, alone or with groups, for broadcast or podcast or just for their friends to listen to.  The producers who are cramming passers-by into darkened tiny venues to listen to things together; the producers who are hoodwinking the smartphone-savvy into spending afternoons wandering around neighborhoods because the voice in that app told them to; producers who, in a time when record stores are practically fossilizing, opened a new one that only sells recorded stories and soundscapes.

So it seems that radio/audio, for the first time in history, is being taken seriously as an art form—both in its creation and reception,  The only thing that kind of bums me out about this explosion of medium is that we’re all so far apart from each other (and it sure can get exhausting when you’re thrown into the same room with most of everyone making this stuff, and all you want to do is talk to every single person there).  We have no Greenwich Village, no Right Bank, no Cambridge that can contain us all.  We’ll have to keep making things in our bedrooms and on weekends, usually alone or with a close cadre of collaborators.  

But when we ship our product, it goes viral, and it goes global.  People is listening.

When I left Third Coast, it was the first time that “going home” meant going to California.  But even since going back, I’ve already been to several indy radio-affiliated things in my new hometown.  Almost like it’s a scene, or something.

Just don’t call it a movement.  And least not yet.



Jesse, Roman, Ira, Glynn, Sam.

If you’ve ever wanted a peek “behind the curtain” at the lifestyle of a menswear blogger… it’s mostly just hanging out in hotel bars in Evanston, Illinois with Roman Mars, Ira Glass, Glynn Washington and Sam Greenspan.



Jesse, Roman, Ira, Glynn, Sam.

If you’ve ever wanted a peek “behind the curtain” at the lifestyle of a menswear blogger… it’s mostly just hanging out in hotel bars in Evanston, Illinois with Roman Mars, Ira Glass, Glynn Washington and Sam Greenspan.

(Source: notinahundredyears)


Longshot Radio: Creativity and Failure: Creativity and Failure: A Little of Both


Whew. From noon Thursday to Friday evening, Longshot Radio and Radiolab used the 99% Conference in NYC as our home to talk about creativity, failure, and revision.

In a little under 30 hours we received over 75 pieces of raw tape, and ended up with 25 finished stories. We wanted to find a…



Episode 51- The Arsenal of Exclusion

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(Above: The Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion, illustration by Lesser Gonzales. Click image to go to another site with a larger image.)

“Cities exist to bring people together, but cities can also keep people apart”
- Daniel D’Oca, Urban Planner, Interboro Partners.

Cities are great. They have movement, activity and diversity. But go to any city and it’s pretty clear, a place can be diverse without really being integrated. This segregation isn’t accidental. There are design elements in the urban landscape, that Daniel D’Oca calls “weapons,” that are used by “architects, planners, policy-makers, developers, real estate brokers, community activists, neighborhood associations, and individuals to wage the ongoing war between integration and segregation.”

Daniel D’Oca is an urban planner with Interboro Partners, an architecture and design firm based in New York City. Over the past few years, D’Oca, along with colleagues Tobias Armborst and Georgeen Theodore have been cataloging all the stuff inside of a city that planners use to increase or restrict people’s access to space. They’re publishing their findings in a book called The Arsenal of Inclusion and Exclusion: 101 Things That Open And Close the City (Fall 2012).

D’Oca took our own Sam Greenspan and Scott Goldberg on a tour of Baltimore to demonstrate the subtle ways different neighborhoods are kept apart.

Interboro Partners described more weapons in the Arsenal of Exclusion & Inclusion in a great Esquire article.

(Above: Daniel D’Oca shows Sam Greenspan the iron fence at the site of the former Hollander Ridge housing project on the Baltimore County line. Credit: Scott Goldberg)

(Source: 99percentinvisible / Roman Mars)



Episode 50- DeafSpace

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(Above: Plans for LLRH6, or Living and Learning Residence Hall by LTL Architects / Quinn Evans Architects. Notice the blue walls that provide the best contrast for seeing American Sign Language.)

The acoustics of a building are a big concern for architects. But for designers at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, it’s the absence of sound that defines the approach to architecture.

Gallaudet is a university dedicated to educating the deaf and hard of hearing, and since 2005, they’ve re-thought principles of architecture with one question at the forefront: how do deaf people communicate in space?

Unlike hearing people, the deaf have to keep sightlines in order to maintain conversations. So when deaf people walk and talk, they’ll lock into a kind of dance. Going through a doorway, one person will spin in place and walk backwards to keep talking. Walking past a column, two deaf people in conversation will move in tandem to avoid collision.

Spaces designed for the hearing can also give the deaf a great deal of anxiety – when you can’t hear footsteps from around the corner or behind you, you can’t anticipate who or what is around you.

Robert Sirvage is a deaf designer, researcher, and instructor at Gallaudet, and in collaboration with Hansel Bauman — who is not deaf – and a group of staff, students and architects, they’ve developed a project called DeafSpace. Reporter Tom Dreisbach took a tour through the new building at Gallaudet that is incorporating the innovations of DeafSpace to create an environment more pleasing to everyone, both hearing and deaf.

(Above: The SLCC or Sorenson Language and Communication Center by SmithGroup Architects)


Thanks to some amazing people who responded to my cry for help on twitter. This episode and the last few have been transcribed for the deaf, hard of hearing, and people who just like to read along with the radio. Look for the “Transcript” link at the top of the post. We’re working our way back through the catalog.

Hooray to @bbhorne @redtwitdown @e_ramirez

You guys are amazing! Follow them and heap praise on them.

(Source: 99percentinvisible / Roman Mars)

Who will win over America's Latino Voters?

I contributed to this story from Falls Church, VA!



Episode 48- The Bathtubs or the Boiler Room

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(Above: The Bather: 1869, by Peter Waddell. “The Senate bathing facility, pictured here, boasted of tubs carved from single blocks of Carrara marble.  Minton tiles covered the floor.  In 1869 a city newspaper published a description of one of these luxurious bathing chambers, noting that ‘when not in use, it is always open to the inspection of visitors.’  Here a senator is surprised by two misinformed visitors.”)

In 1869, the bathtubs in the basement of the US Capitol building looked something like the painting above. Here they are today:

(Above: Andrea Seabrook showing us the baths today. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

The Senate bathing facility has since become a maintenance room—a maintenance room that happens to have a marble bathtub carved from a solid block of Italian marble. Sitting on the steps to one tub is our guide, NPR Congressional Correspondent Andrea Seabrook. In the eight years she’s been reporting on Congress, Andrea has made it a point to get to know the whole Capitol building. “The members of the House Republican Caucus—and sometimes the Democrats—meet in the basement for their closed door secret strategy sessions,” Andrea says. “And it’s really good place to get a tip from members that you know about what’s going on.” One day, after getting the info she needed for her story, she decided to press further on into the depths of the Capitol. “I have this habit of walking into any door that’s unlocked…You start poking around, going into doors…you find the coolest things…”  she says. During one of these explorations, she found the marble bathtubs.

(Above: Andrea does some fact-checking in the tub. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

The bathtubs were installed around 1860 during the expansion of the Capitol. DC is known for its swampy summers, and legend has it that senators could be banished from the chamber if they were too smelly. But lawmakers—like most Americans at the time—didn’t have indoor plumbing at home. They needed a place where they could wash up. So, the Architect of the Capitol ordered six marble bath tubs, each three by seven feet and carved by hand in Italy, to be installed in the Capitol basement—three on the House side, three on the senate. Today, only two tubs remain on the Senate side, in a room which now stores the building’s heating and cooling equipment. But evidence of room’s former grandeur remains.

(Above: The Minton tile has been covered over with gray industrial paint. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

(Above: Look closely and you can still see the egg-and-dart molding through the tangle of duct work. Credit: Sam Greenspan)

Web Bonus!

Sam says: “After exploring the basement, Andrea took me to another hidden part of the Capitol—the attic.  The attic has roof access, which means that it’s been trafficked by decades-worth of Congressional Pages, who are charged with changing the flags that fly over Congress.  And the Pages, like most teenagers, wanted to leave their mark.”

(Source: 99percentinvisible / Roman Mars)


How public radio convinced me not to get a new smartphone (even though I really want one)

I got an iPhone 3Gs right before the 4 came out, and have been kicking myself for almost two years.  Next month I can get a free upgrade for $100 or so to get a new iPhone 4s, which has a way better camera, better microphone, better screen resolution, and just looks a lot sexier.  And the added bonus of actually being suited to work with the new iOS 5 and not crash all the time (like my current phone).

But oh, no.  This is the part where public radio actually teaches me something, by which I mean laying stuff on my conscience.  Just like vegetarians will talk about the hidden costs of cheap meat, or environmentalists will talk about the hidden costs of cheap fossil fuels, public radio has been all about the hidden costs of cheap electronics.  

Things I learned about my smartphone from listening:

1.  Where it comes from.  One key ingredient in all smartphones is a mineral called coltan, which happens to be sourced from high-conflict zones.  Though some are now calling on Apple to pledge to make their wares from conflict-free minerals, Apple don’t show any signs of doing so.

I first heard about this from Greg Warner’s award-wininning a portrait of coltan-mining life in the Congo.  Story:  Fidele Musafiri:  Miner 

2.  How it’s made.  I knew that my iPhone was made in China.  I even knew that they all came from one plant in Shenzhen.  And I even knew about the nets that managers had installed to keep people from killing themselves by jumping off the roof.  

Mike Daisey visited the plant, called Foxconn.  His narrative and revealed how surface-level even that last factoid is.  Story:  Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

3.  Where it goes.  There are lots of places you can send your old cell phone besides a landfill.  Two phones ago, I had Blackberry Curve, which I sent to Cell Phones for Life, an organization that repurposes unwanted phones into emergency phones for the elderly, people with disabilities, and battered women.  I felt pretty good about that.  

But when my last phone (also a Blackberry Curve) had totally stopped working—as in, the scroll wheel feel out and the “send” button stopped working, I wasn’t going to burden someone in need with that.  I had every intention of recycling it, I swear I did.  But then a coworker sent an all-staff asking for an unwanted cell phone.  I volunteered mine and, ironically, it was used as a prop for a radio story that required the sound of a cell phone getting smashed.  

I have no idea what happened to that phone, but Jens Jarisch leads me to believe that it, along with a lot of the country’s “e-waste,” wound up somewhere in Africa.  There, children will crack it open, extract valuable materials, and try not to get poisoned in the process.  Story:  Children of Sodom and Gomorrah

It’s kind of amazing how not 50 years ago you only got something new when the thing you had broke.  And 50 years before that, you only got something new when the thing you had broke and you couldn’t fix it.  We don’t wear things out anymore.  We upgrade.

I really, really want a new iPhone.  But I also want to find out how long the one I have will last.