Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘me’ Category

The Ruling Zeitgeist is Dead

Long live “The Ruling Zeitgeist!”

This blog is moving to my official site at www.jeff-holmes.com/blog. The blog as it exists here will not be deleted, but neither will it be updated. The past 4.5 years of archived content is already over at my new site, just as it was here (minus the random broken video embed). The new RSS feed is here, so please update your bookmarks.

Since moving to Atlanta I’ve had no luck acquiring a full-time job, not least because neither my potential employers nor I are sure what to make of my eclectic background*. Luckily I’ve so far been able pay my bills freelancing as a writer, researcher, and production assistant. Embracing that the forces of nature do not wish me to have a steady job with paid benefits and vacation time, I am consolidating my vast online presence into one site (still being tinkered with, FYI). This will, I hope, help to rationalize what I’ve done with my life so far and generate more work for myself by making it easier for folks to figure me out and witness my idiosyncratic swathe of skills.

*Suspected additional reason: gigantic world recession.

There are also attitudinal changes behind the move. When I first starting blogging, I kept my online activities in semi-anonymous silos and was mainly interested in providing value for myself. Monetizing my musings was not a priority. I often blogged like the tenured econ professors I still love to read, but I am not an academic and my blog posts on economics don’t get me columns in the New York Times or invitations to TED. My focus now is on creating content that gets me paid one way or another. Moving the blog to an official “me” site helps, as does being selective about time and topics. I like many of the econ-nerd posts I did here, but unless I go back to school, it feels self-indulgent to do many more. New site, new start, even if it’s the same blog.

I appreciate your continued readership. Please visit the new site, subscribe anew, click around. Experts agree there’s something fun for everyone.

Thanks,

Jeff

Read Full Post »

The Nile Anniversary

 

Two years ago today Thelma and I were rafting in Uganda when we tipped in a torrent and were plunged into the Nile’s chaos. I surfaced quickly, calm and collected thanks to my extensive experience kayaking on streams and man-made lakes in South Carolina’s golden corner. Thelma, on the other hand, had grown up in Chicago and like most mid-westerners had no idea how to acquit herself in water. While her life jacket had returned her to air, it was too big for her slender frame and was threatening to abandon her. Knowing me as I knew me (and sometimes know me still), I should have met her plight with gentle indifference; instead I swam over and granted her a portion of my buoyancy. It was then I realized I loved her.

Later while pondering this on a calm stretch of the river, Thelma sensed my conflicted thoughts and tried to engage me with some playful foot tickling. I told her I wasn’t in the mood and to stop touching me.

 

Read Full Post »

To listen to my half-hour radio piece about Bensonwood, click here or listen at the player below:

The background…

I spent the first eight years of my life in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, a small town now numbering around 6,700 people. When I prepared to move near Walpole, New Hampshire about a year ago to start at Florentine Films, I used my birth town as a model to imagine what Walpole might be like. This turned out to be unhelpful, as Walpole is practically star-studded even with 3,000 fewer folks: where Walpole has Ken Burns, Fountain Inn has Peg Leg Bates.

Though it sounds odd to American ears, Walpole is probably best described as a village, considering the ‘central settlement’ only has about 600 people. Yet in this village you can dine at the posh flagship cafe of LA Burdick, whose high quality chocolates are produced nearby and shipped hither and yon. If you sit long enough, you’re sure to see some of the Florentine Family grabbing a coffee or a bite to eat, seeing as the edit house is a five-minute walk away.  And you might meet there, as I did, Gary Smith, record producer most famously for the Pixies.

I’m terrible at the thing businesspeople call networking, so the first time I met Gary I really had no idea who he was or what he did, even though the night ended with him, another guy, and me sitting on his porch swapping stories for a couple of hours. I didn’t see him for a several months until we met again at a birthday gathering for one of the Florentines. During the chitchat, he mentioned he was trying to find content for the small community radio station he ran across the river in Bellows Falls, Vermont. The opportunity was perfect for me–except that I was moving to Atlanta in about a month. D’oh, I thought.

I met with Gary a few days later to discuss what I might produce for WOOL FM, and he suggested a series of ten-minute vignettes on local companies. Not the podunk ones*, mind you, but regionally or nationally-known ones of the Florentine Films and LA Burdick flavor. He gave me a list, and I was again amazed at the caliber and variety of companies in and around Walpole. The idea was to cover one company per week in the three or four few weeks I had left.

*Though as a Florentine assistant editor notes, Walpole does somehow summon the economic might to support two dentists.

The one I eventually decided to start the series with was Bensonwood, whose facility I had driven past dozens of times without really noticing it. Bensonwood designs and builds homes and commercial buildings all around the country using a pretty ingenious method, and Tedd Benson, the founder, was chiefly responsible for the national revival in timber-frame construction starting about thirty years ago. I interviewed Tedd, took a tour of the facility, and interviewed a few other people over the course of two days.

As I began putting the piece(s) together, it became clear that I wasn’t going to meet Gary’s output goal. The pace of my creative process is slow to begin with, and nearly glacial when haunted by the specter of possibly ruinous technical challenges**. Instead of doing three or four ten-minute pieces on different companies, I would tell one half-hour version of the Bensonwood story. In the end I finished it several weeks after moving to Atlanta.

** BLOG EXCLUSIVE: I recorded all my voice-overs in my car, as it was the most convenient and acoustically-suitable environment I had.

My goal was to achieve professional-level quality despite my limited resources, and it wasn’t until the final few hours of work I put into the piece that I felt I was getting anywhere close. I’m proud of the final product, even if it still sounds a bit amateurish to my ears. Gary and the folks at Bensonwood enjoyed it at any rate, and I hope you do too.

Read Full Post »

I spent hours drooling in front of the TV as a kid, but mostly I channel-surfed and didn’t follow any particular show. It wasn’t until I was close to graduating college that I began watching TV with purpose. Speedy web browsing had largely replaced TV viewing by that point, but the internet had also exposed me to loads of info and critical opinion about good stuff on TV. Eventually enough of this info entered my brain that a synapse fired, causing a thought to occur that went something like this: “Hey, I might want to check some of this stuff out.” And so I did, and quickly discovered I was missing some great stuff.

A visualization of my childhood, where TV, chips, and socks were the order of the day.

First there was Rome, which had already ended its brief two-season run. Then came Arrested Development, whose three majestic seasons helped me get through my hastily written thesis. I stayed away away from new shows at first, instead focusing on successful shows that had aired for at least a season and often more. I watched the first three seasons of LOST, a show that quickly took hold of my heart, the summer before I left for Germany. While abroad I hit my stride, watching shows like Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, and Weeds in season-sized chunks

Young expats are wont to pack media-filled hard drives along with extra deodorant and favorite snacks, and I was no exception. When I left for my year in Rwanda, I had dozens of movies and several seasons of shows like Deadwood. There I realized that I’d much prefer watching two hours of a good TV show than most any movie. I binned my movie collection when I got home, never having watched most of it.

For a lot of people television is about reality shows, but for me it’s all about scripted hour-long drama: Fringe, Mad Men, Dexter, Justified, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and the best show I’ve seen, The WireThis is not to say I don’t enjoy the more digestible half-hour stuff like Parks and Recreation, Archer, or the genre-dodging Louie, but they lack complex serialized storytelling, which is what TV does best. Long, skillful plotting takes viewers to deeper and unexpected places and gives characters time to fully fleshen. Payoffs can take years to realize, making them that much more delectable.

Not every show catches me, of course. Treme is usually well-done but often boring. Friday Night Lights was I’m sure good, but for some reason I stopped watching near the end of the first season and haven’t missed it. Sadder to me are the shows I quite liked but were canceled after one season. Terriers had a decent resolution at least, but Rubicon‘s de facto series finale was unfortunately pretty awful.

Not every AMC show is a success.

For all the shows I’ve listed and love (and there’s more),  I don’t spend anywhere close to the American average of five hours a day watching TV. I don’t watch sports, and I almost never watch live TV.  As the Nielsen data indicate (pdf), TV is the preferred timesuck for older folk, with teens watching half as much as retirees. I’m even worse than a Nielsen teen. I watch my few shows a week and I’m done, leaving my time be hoovered away by the internet. And honestly many shows don’t require a huge time commitment. If I adopted the 7-hour-a-day habit of African-Americans, I could clear out the first seasons of shows like Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abbey, and The Walking Dead at a rate of one per day, and most premium-channel shows would take less than two days per season. It doesn’t take long to see a lot of good shows.

Being abroad also gave me the habit of watching shows on my laptop, which I continue. Alan Sepinwall has written about being something of a TV-less TV critic. The internet has made sampling and following shows very easy, all while avoiding most commercials.  For me, it’s a great time to be watching television, even when it’s usually not on a television set.

Up Next: My favorite TV opening credits sequences, for which all of this was merely background.

Read Full Post »

A Year in Cities, 2010

A new year approaches yet again, which means it’s time for me to list the stops I made this past year. Smaller places are excluded save for those in which I spent a longer amount of time. This time around, asterisks indicate a city of residency, while bold type indicates a new-to-me place.
  1. Kigali, RW*
  2. Greenville, SC*
  3. Charleston, SC
  4. Washington, DC
  5. Cincinnati, OH
  6. New York, NY
  7. Keene/Walpole, NH*
  8. Concord, NH
  9. Cologne, DE
  10. Freiburg, DE (where I am at the moment)

I spent the first five months this year in Africa, but unlike last year, I didn’t venture outside Rwanda. As per my 2008 wish, however, I did see much of the great American homeland, as Thelma and I drove from DC to SC to OH to DC on a family-acquainting driving tour.

Unlike previous years, I head into 2011 knowing where I’ll be residing this year and the next. Thelma’s agreed to indenture herself to Teach for America handling drooling pre-schoolers in metro Atlanta, so it’ll be southerly I go. I don’t think my expat days are fully behind me, but I am looking forward to a more staid couple of years living a certain version of the American Dream. There’s also the fact that  Thelma has summers off and tho’ it surely be a forsaken place, ATL will be but a peanut’s throw away.

Read Full Post »

Every so often when I glance at my Facebook feed, I’m reminded at how many of my childhood friends have stayed put in the place where they’ve grown up.  And it’s not hard to see why, since the private Christian school we attended runs all the way from preschool to postgraduate. Whereas I parted ways after twelve years to go to a secular university somewhere else, most of my class–and all of my friends–opted to rollover into what I called the 13th grade. There’s a whole host of reasons why staying for college made sense for them, however, and so it’s only been after graduation where location decisions were less obvious that I’ve been surprised. Forget going ye therefore to different nations, or even states; Greenville County is home. To a lesser extent (and yes, I am just speaking in anecdotes based on my FB friends), many of my USC acquaintances have stayed in South Carolina and (perhaps most perplexingly) in Columbia, even if they’re not from the area.

A typical suburban household.

What to make of all this? At first, my quick-draw explanation was to throw in some combination of status-quo bias and path dependence. Applying the status-quo bias I imagine is straightforward enough, but path dependence less so: here I’m using it to mean that the longer one stays in one place, the more geographically-bound his social network becomes, thus also binding his options to wherever he happens to be. Plainly put, people stay in a rut because there’s nothing strong enough to pull them out, and the longer they stay in, the deeper the rut becomes.

As I was googling around on this topic, however, I also came across two related psychological effects which might also apply. The first is the appealingly-named propinquity effect, which says that closeness (in one way or another) matters a lot for attraction. Similarly, the exposure effect holds that “people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them.” Perhaps then the status-quo bias is powerful because people like where they because that’s where they are.  Ain’t nothing like social science to make intuition sound complicated, is there?

How then have I managed to overcome the mighty propensities of my brethren? My city of residence has, after all, changed once every six months on average since graduating from college.  There are the Adamsian reasons, yes, but those are probably just cover for the real–but less noble and wise–motivations to signal how cool and cosmopolitan I am.  Something about this story is awry, however, because every time I move (Happy New Year!) I still feel a need to explain that I’m not cuckoo bananas.

Read Full Post »

House to House

The editing house of Florentine Films is located in a small town without a lot of housing options, so I live instead 18 miles southeastish in a more respectably-sized place called Keene, where I let a room in a house owned by a middle-aged couple. Instead of a house tour, I put together a video of my autumnal commute from home to work.

As you watch, you may find yourself asking these questions:

  • For reasons of video quality and safety, shouldn’t Jeff have mounted the camera instead of holding it? (Maybe!)
  • Why does Jeff’s camcorder overexpose everything? (It’s cheap!)
  • Are Ken Burns’ films, which have audiences in the tens of millions, really edited in an unmarked house on the corner of a residential street in a sleepy village? (Yes!)
  • If Jeff is working in an editing house, how come he fails so miserably when cutting a home video? (Irony!)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »