03. January 2017 · Comments Off on Lather, Rinse, Repeat · Categories: Convention, Work

And it begins anew.

2017 is in its third day and I’m sitting at the gate in Long Beach Airport, waiting to head to the first of several conventions this year, as in every year. It’s what I do, I cover conventions, and there are worse fates in life, no doubt. This time, it’s CES — the CTA has decreed that it’s just CES now, not International CES or the Consumer Electronics Show — and I’m going just for the preliminaries (opening trend speeches, Media Day and some panels, one hectic day of the full deal) this year because I have to be back for personal reasons before the convention hits full speed. I’d love to be able to do these things the way others do, foregoing the panels and wandering the show floors checking out the wares, but I have a job to do, so that isn’t going to happen.

I’m more skeptical than ever about what the consumer electronics business is hyping these days, because, let’s face it, what we’ve seen them push in the last several years hasn’t been impressive. 3D TVs flopped and flopped hard. 4K TVs are selling only because the price dropped to commodity levels, but you don’t see much 4K content. The Internet of Things is coming but people seem pretty unenthusiastic about it. Wearables? In people’s junk drawers within a few months, though the technology will find its way into the medical field before long. Drones? Please. The one thing that they show at CES that will be a game changer is the autonomous car, which stretches the definition of “consumer electronics” a bit but will obviously be everywhere at some point. Yet we’ve been seeing that at CES for years. This year’s hot thing? No clue. Guess the CTA will spin that as the maturing of the industry, or they’ll stress growth in developing countries. Yeah, that’ll work OK.

But I’ll be writing plenty about that this week for All Access and maybe here, too. This is how every year really starts for me; it’s not officially a new year unless I’m off to Vegas for CES. Here we go.

01. January 2017 · Comments Off on The First Thing You Hear In 2017, And I’m Sorry · Categories: Podcasting, Radio

Hey, I’m on the first 2017 episode of the “Sound Off” podcast with Matt Cundill. You can hear it here if you wish. I get ornery about radio’s performance in 2016 and the development, or lack of same, of the podcasting industry as well. It’s not upbeat.

Happy New Year, y’all!

07. December 2016 · Comments Off on Let’s Test Stuff, Shall We? · Categories: Video, Work

Hey, I’m back!  Again!  After only four months or so!

Well, I’d explain what the holdup has been, but it’s complicated and personal and we’ll let insurance handle it.  But more’s coming, and part of it is video.  So, let’s test out some embed code for Facebook Live and see if this test video — really, it’s just me blathering on about testing things out — works:

Huh.  I have some things to learn, like spacing and stuff (I did figure out how to get embed code to work, so there’s that).  So, more of that coming, only talking about radio stuff and podcasting stuff and other stuff because I get bored with radio stuff and podcasting stuff sometimes.  You’ve been warned.

11. August 2016 · Comments Off on Work From Home · Categories: Cat, Work

There are benefits to working at home. The commute, of course, can’t be beat.  The flexibility of work attire is obvious.  (Yes, I do get dressed.  No, not a suit.)  The availability of your own kitchen, your own bathroom, your own everything is ideal.  And I’m pretty good at warding off distractions; I don’t turn on the big TV, I don’t go off and play video games all day, I don’t really do anything but work.

Which is how I get days like this, on which I never leave the house.  Other than a break for my daily run, and 10 minutes to slam down what passed for lunch, I spent all day right here in front of the computer, writing and researching and writing some more.  I saw nobody, talked to a few people on the phone but that’s all the human interaction I had, and… well, I don’t want this to become the Daily Ella Mourning, but I used to at least be able to check on the cat and maybe feed and pet her for a few minutes for some semblance of socialization, and now that’s gone, too.  So, solitude.

When you’re solitary like this, you tell yourself that you’re going to make a concerted effort to break that chain, that you’re going to schedule lunches and coffee and whatever else would work to just get together with friends and business associates.  And I’m going to do that.  My pending schedule changes will help, and I already have some scheduled.  But it’s an effort, especially when you live, as I do, very far, far away from everyone you know.  That leads to conversations like this:

“Okay, let’s do lunch on Friday.  Where’s your office?”

“Palos Verdes.”

Long pause.  “Um… Let’s meet up here.”

But I will.  I will get in the car and drive and drive and meet up with people, because if I stay in the office all by myself, I am going to do crazy things like talk to myself and write blog posts about how I work alone and have no human interac…

Never mind.  If you’re in the L.A. area and know me and want to grab lunch, all I’m saying is that I’m open to that possibility more than ever.  A change of scenery is always a good idea.

10. August 2016 · Comments Off on Updates: Missing Ella and Fixing Up This Place · Categories: Cat, Work

IMG_1170Most of the last 24 hours have been a blur, but recovering from the events of yesterday has… well, I’m functioning and ambulatory, so there’s that. We cleared out as much of Ella’s belongings as we could in an attempt to keep from being triggered at every turn, but even without the accessories, I’ve been finding myself looking for her in her usual places — the couch in the library, the bed, the other bed — and quickly closing the front door to keep her from running out, and going to the cupboard to get some food for her. And in each instance, it stings. I suppose I’ll be doing that for a while. Fran says she’s doing the same thing. There’ll be a period of adjustment, that much I know.

Adjustment is the watchword here at this site, too. My daily work schedule is about to change, and while the specifics are not relevant to anyone but me, it means more time to do new things, and old things I’ve neglected. The latter would include this site, which I know has been a wasteland for a while. With more time to just write whatever I want, I think I’ll be a little more active here, not for any reason other than I like to write and not everything fits in a tweet. I can’t guarantee something every day, or even anything coherent and interesting, but I’ll be here. At least it’s free.

09. August 2016 · Comments Off on Ella, 2001-2016 · Categories: Cat, Family · Tags: , , , ,

ella0503

I know.

I know cats don’t have the same cognizance that humans do. They don’t understand language, they don’t perceive things the same way, and we don’t know if they experience the same emotions. We anthropomorphize them, projecting what we want them to be thinking and feeling, whether or not they really do. I get that.

Yet, I do everything that every other cat “parent” does, especially since we are the stereotypical childless-couple-with-cat. Ella was our child, our fuzzy, inscrutable daughter. We loved her, she was our family, and now she’s gone.

I know, “only a cat.” It still hurts.

Ella came into our lives as a surprise, and she left us almost as quickly as she arrived.

First, her entrance came at a time when we really needed her and just didn’t know it. It was in the aftermath of 9/11, a few months after the attacks, and we were killing time on a Saturday afternoon when Fran said she wanted to look at kittens for adoption. She’d long been on that campaign, and I’d been resistant — allergies and the need to devote time and effort (and money) into taking care of a pet were my objections, and I had in the back of my mind the fear of welcoming a new family member who we, based on all actuarial tables, would have to see pass away in a decade or so as well. But I was feeling a little generous that day, so we walked into a Redondo Beach pet food store and looked at the available cats.

“I have my heart set on a kitten,” Fran told the woman in charge of the adoptions, who responded that it wasn’t “kitten season” (a thing that I was unaware was a thing until that moment), but that she thought an adoption service in Long Beach might have some.

“How long will it take to get to the PetSmart in Long Beach?,” Fran asked. About 20 minutes, I volunteered. She thought that it wasn’t worth the drive, but — I told you I was feeling generous, and, besides, I wanted to duck into the Barnes and Noble there anyway — I said, oh, it’s not that far.

Ella 022105And that’s how we ended up at a PetSmart in Long Beach, looking at cats being given up for adoption, and while Fran was in the room with all the cages, I stood by, basically disinterested, until I looked down at a pet carrier on a card table and saw two eyes staring up at me. I asked the people running the adoption if the cat in the carrier was available, and they said yes, she was picked up from a playground in Long Beach not too long before and had just been trained by the leader of the adoption agency. I asked if I could see her, and within seconds, a little Torti kitten was clinging to my shirt, looking up at me and being as adorable as any creature ever to walk the earth. Within a half hour, we were on our way home with a kitten and a car full of cat food, toys, and accessories, and a driver who was not expecting to be bringing home a cat when he woke up that morning.

But we needed her. Fran christened her Ella, and I added a surname, “The World’s Most Famous Cat,” because I thought it would be funny to force that into Google searches. (It wasn’t.) And for the next 15 years, she brought us love and joy and warmth and fun, and hair shedding all over the place and middle-of-the-night wake-up nudges and all that comes with a cat. But it was never annoying, just amusing. Okay, it might have been annoying when she’d repeatedly walk on Fran in the wee hours, or would occupy part of the bed in the precise place that made it difficult for Fran to get out of bed or roll over or even move. But she was also there to help Fran recover from cancer, she was there when I’d come home from business trips to greet me and meow at me (“Where have you been?”), there through all of the peaks and valleys life brought us.

A few months ago, she went from an energetic, active cat to a lethargic, too-skinny shell of herself, and our vet diagnosed kidney disease, a common thing for cats of her advanced age. I was tasked with administering subcutaneous fluids, injecting her with an IV bag and squirting steroids into her unwilling mouth, and she seemed to be responding, briefly, until last week, when she just stopped eating. And then she began to twitch and bat at her mouth, and we called Amy the vet to come in and take a look.

Oral cancer. No wonder she couldn’t eat.

At 15 years of age, oral cancer would be tough enough — they can remove part of the jaw and do chemo and radiation, but that would be a very tough recovery and recurrence is practically guaranteed in a short time — but combined with kidney failure, there was no reasonable expectation of improvement. There was nothing we can do, and she was in obvious discomfort and losing weight at an alarming rate, unable to eat or groom herself or do anything anymore. It was time.

The two days between the vet’s determination that Ella wasn’t going to make it and the appointment were agonizing. Nobody knows what’s on a cat’s mind — we don’t even know what their thought process is like — but to see her curled on the couch, or on the bed, or walking, slowly, around was truly sad. She doesn’t know what’s going on, I thought. She doesn’t know that she’s about to die. She doesn’t know what or why or how. And we can’t communicate any of it to her. All she knows is that she’s hurting.

We cried ourselves to sleep last night, Ella curled up next to Fran as always. They were in the same position when I woke up at 3 am for work. I put food out for Ella, but she couldn’t eat. And I did my best to work through it all, but it’s hard to be funny when the tears are welling up.

She knew. Okay, maybe she didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, but she knew something was up nonetheless. That would explain why she did something today that she hadn’t for a long time, paw at Fran’s face to wake her up. And why she was walking around as if she was taking a tour, one last tour, of the house that was her world for 15 years. And why she climbed into a cubby hole in her bed/scratching post, one she hadn’t been in for years. And why she then hid under the bed and snarled when I went to prod her out of there. Something wicked this way comes, she probably thought. Or maybe she wanted to go out on her own terms, in that cubby hole or under the bed, the way, my friend Johnny reminded me, that feral animals go off into the woods and find a private spot in which to expire. But it really did seem like she knew, and as we got her in the pet carrier and took her out of the house, she howled a couple of times before giving up. By the time we got to the animal hospital and into the room, she was curled up at one end of the carrier, silent, seemingly resigned to her fate.

I thought I could not bear to be in the room for the final moments. The idea that the last memory I would have of Ella would be of her being scrawny, vulnerable, scared, cowering on a table at the veterinarian’s office while her life was “peacefully” going away was incomprehensible to me. But when the time came, Fran’s explanation of why she would be there with Ella at the final moments — “I don’t want her to go alone” — echoed in my mind, so there I was, petting and murmuring my love and regret to her and bawling my eyes out.

She went as quietly and peacefully as they say it goes — first, taken back for a sedative and a catheter, then returned to the room, placed on a blanket, and after a few minutes of alone-time with us, Dr. Amy gave her three injections through the catheter and within 30 seconds, she was gone. And that, unfortunately, is the image burned into my mind right now, just as I feared: Ella, on her side, eyes open but no movement, jaw disfigured from the cancer, shedding fur on the blanket. That was last-two-months Ella. I would rather remember the other 14-1/2 years, and I suppose that’ll come back soon enough.

It would be different if we could reorder our memories to take away those last moments and instead remember only the happy days. If that were possible, I wouldn’t have the last image of my father being of a frail elderly man in extreme pain propped up in a hospice bed, or my mother, only a few years older at the time than I am now, lying helpless in a bed at a New York hospital as the cancer took away her will to fight. I’d only have the memory of my dad playing tennis and basketball and enjoying every second of life, and my mom doting on me and my sister and talking in Yiddish on the telephone, secure in the (mistaken) knowledge that we couldn’t understand what she was saying.

And I’d have only the memory of Ella scooting past my ankles and rubbing up against my office chair in an always-successful attempt to get me to rub her, or chasing down little rubber soccer balls I’d throw while marveling at a cat playing fetch. I’d remember the midnight wake-up calls — tap tap tap tap HEADBUTT — and the adorable tableau of Fran sleeping with Ella curled up right beside her in her customary position. But for now, I have the memory of a cold veterinarian’s office and Ella laying still on a blue blanket. That’ll be with me for a while, maybe forever.

The last few weeks, though, were relatively fast. Her deterioration was swift, and for that I might have to be thankful, because, as so many people will say in these situations, at least she didn’t suffer long. That leaves unspoken the part where I wonder why she had to suffer at all. We’ll never know. Having a shorter period of pain doesn’t make having to have endured the pain any less excruciating. And pain has a way of making a minute seem like an eternity.

So we mourn, we cry, we feel guilt, we deal with it. I will miss my daily office companion, our sleep buddy, our unconditionally loving family member. We will remove all the things we had around the house for her, the toys, the litter box, the water fountain, the steps we put by the bed so she could more easily join us each night. The hair she shed all over the place will eventually be vacuumed up, although I doubt we’ll ever get all of it. The bathroom that has been her domain for 15 years will be reclaimed. Soon enough, there will be little physical trace of her life in this house.

Except that when I said that “now, she’s gone,” that wasn’t quite correct. She will be here as long as we are. And she will be with us wherever we go, whatever happens. She was not “only a cat.” She was our family.

20. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Five: That’s All He Wrote · Categories: Convention

The end came, as it always does, early. I was in the back of the room during Wednesday’s NAB Show Digital Strategies for Radio session — a grueling five-and-a-half hour parade of stultification in a single room with no breaks — when the urge to leave became overwhelming. So I did,

The theme of the convention for radio this year was, if there was any theme at all, “The Best Defense Is To Get Really, Really Defensive.” AM/FM radio, I was told, is indispensable to all. The 93% reach number was trotted out several times. Podcasting was featured, but in an anthropological way, a curiosity approached more in terms of whether anyone’s making any money on it and a place radio can put radio-style programming rather than a separate art form and medium. Certainly, there were no podcasting stars on display.

Yeah, but it’s not a podcasting conference, you might say. But, as the NAB is fond of saying, the Spring show is a content show. “Content is King,” the slogan read this year, only about a decade or so after that phrase was a thing. And, certainly, the show has forsaken the “B” in NAB — broadcasters are segregated into small areas of the massive exhibit halls and into narrow management and engineering conference tracks, while the majority of the show involves video production, with an emphasis on online and SVOD content. So, yeah, why not podcasting? But unlike our own Worldwide Radio Summit, there were no speakers you’d identify primarily as a podcast star. (Scratch that — Graham Elwood was there, but I didn’t run into him. He would count, but he was decidedly not being treated as a major attraction, relegated to a panel right on the exhibit floor, maximum capacity a few dozen.) You’d think they’d take a run at a Maron, a Carolla, a Hardwick or Koenig or Alex Blumberg or Dan Carlin.

But they didn’t. Status quo was celebrated. (Not Status Quo the band, either.) And at about 1 pm Pacific time today, I was done with that. I got up, walked out, headed for the monorail, got my rental car, and drove off onto the horizon… okay, to Henderson to kill time at a Barnes and Noble for the Wi-Fi before heading to my flight. But you get the idea.

19. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Four: The Sweet Smell Of Success · Categories: Convention

The less said about today, the better. Nothing particularly bad happened; it was just boring. After a nice meeting with a couple of industry colleagues back at the hotel and a lovely gathering of radio folks at the Palm last night, today was… meh. Dull panel in the morning, interminable Radio Luncheon, general fog.

And the Perfume Cloud. This morning, after a panel at the Encore that was less than illuminating, I caught the last shuttle to the Convention Center, the next to last party to board. The last party to board was a couple without badges, clad in black, brushing past me and sitting a few rows behind.

The scent hit a few seconds later. Imagine every bottle of perfume and cologne and body wash and deodorant in a department store cosmetics department, emptied in the bus aisle and intensified. It was practically mustard-gas intense, so intense you could taste it. There was no escape. The windows were sealed. The traffic was slow.

There have been several moments that summed up the convention experience for me. That was one of them. The other today came in the long, winding hallway that leads from the upper level of the Convention Center to the Westgate ballroom area, when a conventioneer, a small, bald man in a suit, walking ahead of me, calmly, without any outward emotion and without breaking stride, unleashed an enormous, earthquake-like, wall-rattling fart. He gave no acknowledgement of his accomplishment. He just kept walking as if nobody else was there.

I was there. OF COURSE I WAS. And that’s NAB Show 2016: I’m told there are some interesting things going on in the video part of this thing, but I wouldn’t know. For me, it’s all perfume and farts.

18. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Three: Perchance To Dream · Categories: Convention

I was unprepared for the entire convention panel experience to be summed up in one incident, but there it was, this afternoon, in a hotel ballroom, the ultimate commentary on what I do for a living. While three Congressional aides droned on about legislative activity regarding communications issues, being careful not to say much about anything, the gentleman sitting next to me was snoring.

Loudly.

Snoring and snorting and drooling, he was. He tipped forward, then jolted awake; he closed his eyes again, instantly fell asleep, snored, and tipped to his right, directly at me, before jolting awake once more. And then he leaned back and fell asleep again.

That was my cue to get out of there. As I slipped out of my seat and up the aisle towards the exit, I could hear him snoring again.

Maybe he was tired; Lord knows, I sometimes drift off momentarily at these things. But snoring, waking, and snoring again is pretty extreme. And understandable. Most panels at these conferences mystify me, because I work in industries nominally part of “show business,” yet the panels have no show business about them. The most we get is PowerPoint, but even that’s rare. More likely, it’s three or four or five or, at some, six or eight panelists, usually white middle aged males, monotoning their way through whatever topic is at hand, making everything a chore. Last week, when I hosted a panel on podcasting in Hollywood, I took care to bring guests who know how to be entertaining, and entertaining they were – I would ask a question, and they’d run with it, giving great answers with humor and energy. I love them all. (Chris Hardwick, Jackie Kashian, Dave Anthony, Alison Rosen, and Katie Levine, by name. They were terrific. I was… adequate.) But the panels I’ve been sitting through in Las Vegas this week have been lacking in humor, lacking in animation, lacking in memorable moments.

It shouldn’t be that way. There’s no reason any talk needs to be dull. You’d think entertainment industry people would understand that. Deep down, I’m snoring like that guy who nearly fell asleep on me, and no amount of caffeine is going to prevent that.

18. April 2016 · Comments Off on NAB Show, Day Two: Back In The Back Of The Room · Categories: Convention

Conferences that last all day in one room are the worst experiences of my job. I recognize that my work does not entail a lot of physical exertion — physicians define “sedentary” by citing the kind of labor I perform, basically sitting in front of a computer writing nonsense all day — but the psychic toll can be pretty heavy. Being confined to some hotel ballroom all day while mind-numbingly boring panel discussions are conducted in your presence is a challenge I invite you to try one of these days. Take away Wi-Fi and power outlets so you have limited access to the outside world and see how you do.

I didn’t get through Sunday without a splitting headache. This was the RAIN Summit, a day-long conference on digital audio that precedes the NAB conventions and is alternately good, infuriating, and boring. This time, the boring overtook good and infuriating. I will spare you the details, which I wrote about at All Access; let it suffice to say that the day was long, uncomfortable, and sapped my spirit to an alarming extent.

I can’t allow too much spirit to be sapped when I’m in Las Vegas. A few days in Vegas are fun when I get to be here without work and with Fran. This trip, like most of my Vegas jaunts, is with work and without Fran, meaning it’s wall-to-wall work, punctuated by exhausting dashes from venue to venue and across the vast Las Vegas Convention Center, a circle of Hell unmentioned with the others. I’ve been here for one full day and I’ve had enough.

But maybe this time will be better. The schedule for the NAB Show is especially light on radio topics; I’ll have more time to check out the exhibits, at least, which isn’t really what I want to do — this is not CES — but beats the meeting rooms, of which there will be plenty enough.

You’ll read all about that at All Access. The stuff I can’t put there, I’ll put here. We’ll see how that goes soon enough.