Sunday, October 5, 2014

MORNING BLAST = our secret to health and vitality

MORNING BLAST is the juice that I make every morning and that my wife and I slam back within minutes after it pours out of the juicer (best consumed at room temperature). This has been a staple of our existence for the last six months, and in that time we've both been totally free of any kind of cold or flu bug.

Ingredients (makes 24-32 ounces [700 -1,000 milliliters] of juice) = 

  • 3 oranges 
  • 1 lemon 
  • 1 kiwi 
  • 3-5 carrots (depending on size) 
  • handful of blueberries 
  • a bunch of ginger**

**Ginger is the "blast" in "Morning Blast"!

Here's a pictorial overview of the process of making MORNING BLAST

MORNING BLAST ingredients, unpeeled

MORNING BLAST ingredients, peeled & chopped.
(Notice that I *refuse* to peel the blueberries!)

Our juicer, set up and ready for action

Our juicer, after the fact

The unmixed juice, as it is straight from the juicer
I use an empty measuring cup of equal size to do the mixing, chemist-style (dumping it violently back and forth between the cups, getting it frothy and totally aerated).
The finished product, ready for slamming back (best if slammed back quickly, while it's freshest). The frothy head on top is from the ginger (the "blast" in Morning Blast).
Down the hatch!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014


Here is a comment that I posted on Facebook in a conversation in which the teachers in Staten Island who wore NYPD t-shirts to school were being discussed.

Imagine a twentieth-century America in which the 18th amendment to the constitution (prohibition of alcohol) was NEVER repealed, and so America was never able to join in grappling with the challenges that the world later faced in the mid-twentieth century, because it was too busy destroying itself in the conflagration of an ever-escalating "war on booze". No counterweight to Fascism or Communism from us; we were too busy stamping out the nastiest of vices in our own communities (turning them into raging war-zones) to be effectively engaged in the world.

Now flash forward to the reality of twenty-first-century America, in which a very similar "war on drugs" has been raging for 40 years(!), and various skirmishes in that war are raising tensions in various communities across the country. This has led us to this debate on whether it was appropriate for a group of teachers in a Staten Island school to escalate tensions in their community by wearing T-shirts that appear to have them "taking sides" in one of the recent skirmishes.

I don't want an America in which we're choosing sides against one another in an internal war. It's especially exasperating because we are so blatantly ignoring the lessons potently offered in the relatively recent history of our own country, the lessons from the failed experiment that was the 18th amendment. It was repealed by the 21st amendment, not because we decided that we liked the horrors of alcoholism and other social ills resulting from alcohol abuse, but because we decided we did NOT WANT TO BE AT WAR WITH EACH OTHER!

Today, I became an associate member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. (I'm living in Japan right now, so it was the most potent way I could find of trying to make a difference back home at this very moment.)

Friday, August 29, 2014


I got tired of Facebook deciding what will appear in my newsfeed. (What was I missing that friends were posting, but that the FB algorithms decided not to show me?) So I simply created a list that amounts to an unexpurgated newsfeed (showing all postings from all friends).

If you'd like to try this too, just create a Facebook "list" that includes all of your friends. I only know how to do this via the web browser interface to Facebook (although I suppose it can also be done via one of the mobile FB apps, as well).

The following instructions worked as of August 29, 2014. Facebook often changes their interfaces, so these instructions may no longer apply at any time after (or even before) I finish writing this.

To create any list, bring up Facebook in a browser, and hover over the "FRIENDS" section over on the left. This causes a link titled "More" to appear to the right of the "FRIENDS" label.

Click on "More" and up will pop a "Friends" box in the middle of the frame that has a button labeled "+ Create List".

Click it to create a new list, and call it whatever you like (e.g., "All Friends" or "Unexpurgated Newsfeed" or whatever). Do NOT enter any friends in this window. Just click the blue "Create" button after you've given the list a name.

This takes you to a big, mostly blank window with a big "Add Friends to List" button. CLICK IT!!

This takes you to a window with pictures of ALL of your friends, listed in alphabetical order by their first names. Click on each picture to select it (which will make a little blue box with a white check appear in the bottom right corner of each picture). Scroll down through all the pictures and click each one. (Sorry, there is apparently no "select all" button available!)

After you click finish on this last window, it will take you back to the big blank window that says "No posts to show" and the "Add Friends to List" button, which might fool you into thinking that the whole thing didn't work! But if you refresh (reload) this page in your browser, you'll see your new Unexpurgated Feed list appear before your eyes, with every one of all of your friends' most recent postings at the top.

After you complete this process, the name of your new list should begin appearing over on the left of your main Facebook page, as one of the options that may be clicked on in the "Friends" section. However, I noticed that it took a few minutes for my new list to start appearing there right after I created it.

For ease of access, I also placed the link to my "Unexpurgated Feed" list in my browser's bookmark bar.

Give it a try if you want to see which of your friends' postings the FB algorithms are stripping out of your newsfeed!

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I usually refrain from making blog postings that are anywhere near the realm of things political, but here are a couple of points about the state of things in the U.S. (and anywhere else where the following apply):

(1) When your government is fully owned (lock stock and two smoking barrels) by a small group of extremely wealthy people, you are not "moving toward oligarchy", you are living in an oligarchy.

(2) When local police forces are armed with military gear as they are now, you are not "moving toward a police state", you are living in a police state.

(3) The combination of conditions (1) and (2) above cannot be a healthy thing.

That is all.

Friday, August 15, 2014


Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

It's what we're all going for, what we're all seeking. Even as we 21st-century artists strive to jump through vaguely-defined, socially-engineered hoops to sell our wares in the cacophonous and severely overstocked marketplaces of this digital age, we're still looking for the same thing that artists of any age have always sought: success. And I think we're just as ill-equipped to define what "success" really means. How crazy is that: to be striving desperately for something, and yet having no clear idea of what that something is?

But I suppose that most of us do actually have some notion of what "success" is, at least on a very personal level. It appears on our horizon in brief flashes, when some stranger posts a positive comment about one of our works, or when we see an inexplicable spike in views or downloads or purchases (or whatever other abacus beads we use to keep accounts on our self-worth). But what is that flash on the horizon, really? Just a mirage?

Well, it certainly seems to indicate that we've connected with at least one human being who clicked and consumed (and apparently appreciated) our work. But how many clicks = success? At some point, we just have to stop counting, stop looking at the graphs and charts, and set our work free to simply find its way (or not). In my case, my most-clicked works have risen to "fame" without the least bit of overt promotion on my part. I have absolutely no idea what made them "popular".

Here is my most-viewed short story recording, among all those that I've married to gently-moving images and posted to my YouTube channel. It's THE GIFT OF THE MAGI, by O. Henry. If you click on the play button and enjoy it -- hey, SUCCESS!


Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

For those who might be interested in seeing how an audiobook narrator’s prosodic abilities can evolve (hopefully improve) over time, you need look (or listen) no further than my most recent epic-length offering on LibriVox. I've mentioned in previous posts the substantial challenges in bringing to life a modern verse (mostly iambic pentameter) version of the classic work, ON THE NATURE OF THINGS, written originally in Latin verse by Lucretius as an extended discourse on Epicurean philosophy for the aesthetes of the Roman Empire.

I was inspired to produce the audiobook (and put it into the public domain via LibriVox) after reading the New York Times bestseller, THE SWERVE, by Stephen Greenblatt, which (in its less-controversial passages) makes the case that Lucretius's work is one of the foundational works of our "modern" world, via the substantial influence it had on most of the superstars of the Enlightenment era (including Newton, Voltaire, Jefferson, and many others).

Here's the thing, though: I started work on my recording of ON THE NATURE OF THINGS before I had gone very far in developing my skills as an audiobook narrator, about half a year before I ever attempted my first professional audiobook work. As such, I am fairly horrified at the sound of the opening sections of the work -- the over-enunciation of consonants, the half-assed dramatization of simple phrases, and a host of other sins of commission and omission.

But at moments when I can forgive myself for my early-on display of ineptitude, I can start to appreciate my full recording of ON THE NATURE OF THINGS as a longitudinal record of my development as an audiobook narrator.

To get a quick idea of what I’m talking about, listen (if you can bear it) to a few lines of one of the first sections that I recorded in Book 1; then listen to one in the middle (perhaps one of the sections of Book 3), and finally to one of the very last sections, in Book 6. I think you'll agree that the differences are striking!



Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

I’ll keep my offering brief this week, as I spend most of my time these days reconstituting old software design and development skills that have lain dormant for quite some time. But I am still keeping up my audiobook narration and production skills by mining public domain classics available on the Internet, not only to add to future CLASSIC TALES collections, but also to contribute to LibriVox projects currently underway.

In the latter category, I stumbled across this snippet of a novel, penned by an author you may well have never heard of, but who was held in high enough esteem by her peers in the late nineteenth century to have had this excerpt included in one of the volumes of LIBRARY OF THE WORLD'S BEST LITERATURE - ANCIENT & MODERN! Her name is Mary Elizabeth Braddon, and this is an excerpt from her curiously-titled novel, MOHAWKS. (Fans of DOWNTON ABBEY might be particularly entertained by this sample of Braddon’s work!):


Another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

I continue to be thankful for the existence of, a place where volunteers cooperatively interact to create audiobooks drawn from the multitude of written works available in the public domain. I think of it as my own personal prosodic playground, where I can experiment and push myself in ways not feasible in the commercial audiobook domain.

But just because a playground is a playground, doesn't mean that one won’t encounter ethical quandaries there, and the LibriVox playground is no exception. In my recent meanderings through the LibriVox forums I stumbled across a fascinating project to create an audiobook version of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT by Jefferson Davis. Overcome with curiosity, I immediately volunteered to produce one of the most vitriolic and incendiary chapters in the book, and submitted the completed recording a few days later.

Here’s the thing: we live in a world in which a great many people willingly submit themselves, mind and soul, to ideological subjugation based mostly upon the STYLE with which an argument is presented to them, with little (if any) regard to its SUBSTANCE. In such a world, what might be done (for good or for ill) with a passionately-rendered recording of the words of a major historical figure, words which in part serve to frame absolutely reprehensible ideas and ideals (as when Davis obliquely refers to slavery as a "wise and useful institution")?

When I record Davis’s words, should I give them a perfunctory reading with little or no inflection, simply to enter his work into "the public record" with little chance of anyone thinking that I (the narrator) might agree with him? It not being in my nature to give "perfunctory readings" of anything, I chose what I thought was a middle road: to assume his point of view, to try to get inside his head to a certain extent, and then read the words from some approximation of his apparent point of view, without going "over the top" and becoming a bloviated Thomas Nast caricature of Davis.

What do you think? Is it okay to produce earnestly and passionately voiced recordings of historical works which contain vile and abhorrent arguments? Was it okay for me to do it with this work of Jefferson Davis? Would it be okay for me to give a similar treatment to Adolf Hitler's MEIN KAMPF? Where do you draw the line, if any is to be drawn?

Here, for your consideration, is my recording of Chapter 42 of Volume 2 of THE RISE AND FALL OF THE CONFEDERATE GOVERNMENT, by Jefferson Davis (the erstwhile President of those same Confederate States):

Sunday, August 3, 2014

HERE'S WHAT'S NEW: August 2014!

On a recent edition of one of my favorite techie-oriented podcasts, one of the participants in a round-table discussion offered the off-the-cuff guesstimate that the U.S. has evolved into a society in which 50% of the population is unable to perform any useful function, since they lack the requisite skills and knowledge-base to do so. While one could easily (and justifiably) quibble with the "50%" figure, the overall gist of the comment rings true to me: that our public (and even potentially most private) schools -- with their assembly-line classroom structures and their pathologically obsessive focus on preparing students to excel in completing one-size-fits-all fill-in-the-bubble tests -- turn out graduates who are, by and large, unprepared to fulfill a meaningful role in modern society.

Accepting this as an essentially true assessment of the state of things, I come to a juncture in my life when the paths that I and my wife have followed (which rather substantially deviate from what most Americans would consider "normal") require of me a career change. Given that I have always been (and remain) one of those starry-eyed types, idealistically bent on maximizing my usefulness in the world, yet pragmatically allowing that I also need to continue to "make a decent living", I am embarking on my first serious job hunt within the IT realm since the mid-90s (almost twenty years ago!).

Starting in early 2008, I began a deviation from my previous twenty-year career in software engineering, and delved into elementary school teaching in international schools in the Far East. These last few years devoted largely to educational endeavors have left me not-a-fan of classroom-based teaching of any kind. Forcing people to learn, en masse, in a "learning factory" (i.e., a traditional classroom) is a good way to all but guarantee that anything ostensibly learned will be quickly forgotten.

I am convinced that by far the most effective learning is self-directed learning, whether it be that of a six month old baby beginning to teach herself to talk, or of a 78 year old man beginning to teach himself how to use an iPhone so that he can have video chats with his grandchildren.

With all that said, I come back to the topic of my "job hunt". In the ideal world (and, being an idealist, I'm always on the hunt for the ideal world), I could bring all of my past experiences together --
  1. my software engineering experience (1989-2008), 
  2. my teaching experience (2008-2013), and even 
  3. my brief foray into the world of audiobook narration and production (2013-2014)
-- to fill a role in what might broadly be call "the educational arm" of the IT industry.

As part of my search, I'll be looking for small companies (either well established or new start-ups) that are taking on the challenge of providing tools or environments that assist people in self-directed learning endeavors.

However, I'd also like to broaden the search, to include companies of different sizes in a potentially broad array of industries, who see a need to provide learning opportunities for any of their stakeholders (employees, customers, managers, etc.), and who might benefit from my help in doing it.

What am I doing right now, at this very moment?

I'm currently engaged in very focused self-education, reacquiring my skills in Java software design and development that have lain dormant for the better part of a decade. In the next few months I plan to turn out one or two web-based services and to make some contributions to the code-bases of at least one open-sourced Java-based project. Then, confident that my head is once again screwed on right with respect to the essentials of software engineering, I will seriously begin to look for professional engagements with organizations operating at the nexus of technology and learning.

Thursday, July 17, 2014


This is still another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

I know that all of the other artists who take part in the discussions on the Plum Tree Books page share with me a common bane. After putting in hours, days, weeks, years to create one of our artworks, we are then faced with the unevadable need to put in many more hours, days, weeks, (gasp, years?) to PROMOTE our work. And given that, for most of us, our promotional budgets are at or near zero, we have to get very creative in our use of the cost-free promotional tools available to us to get our work out there into the hands, eyes, ears of our audiences.

Ultimately, it comes down to this:  to succeed as an independent artist in this day and age, you must be just as creative and innovative in promoting your art as you were in creating that art in the first place.

For many of us, this means we have to develop not just business-oriented skills, but also new artistic skills -- artistry that has little or nothing to do with our original artistic passions, but which must be honed solely in the service of promoting our foundational works.

For me, this means (among other things) creating videos to promote my audiobooks: videos which could be thought of as advertisements, but which stand as works of art unto themselves. I’ve had to get adept at pulling together public domain or creative commons images, giving them a “Ken-Burns-like” pan and zoom treatment to heighten visual interest, sometimes adding a soundtrack that I compose and perform myself, and then marrying all of that together with my original work of art: an excerpt or entire track from one of my audiobooks.

This body of promotional work has now become a YouTube channel in and of itself*. Here’s my latest offering (completed just a few hours ago!), a video created to promote my new audiobook, CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE -- but hopefully it stands as a worthwhile work of art on its own -- THE WAR PRAYER by Mark Twain...

*You can find (and subscribe to) my YouTube channel here:


This is another reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook

Join me for a moment in consideration of two wildly divergent literary genres: magical realism (in honor of the very-recently-deceased Gabriel García Márquez) and political science (in stark realization of this Second Guilded Age in which most of us find ourselves). Quite different, no? In fact, we could think of them as almost polar opposites: one sitting out on the extreme, fantastical edges of modern fiction, and the other found firmly and conservatively planted in the potentially drier (perhaps sleep-inducing?) regions of NONfiction.

How does one person, one narrator, approach the creation of audiobooks based upon writings in these two opposing styles? Well, many don't even try. Either by their own choice or by typecasting imposed by others, they stick to a single area, like children's books or mystery/thrillers. But, for whatever reason, my personal constitution always seems to make me a sucker for a challenge.

Rather than bloviate any further in print on this topic, I'll simply let you hear one example of my work from each genre, and let your ears and your sensibilities do their own "contrast and compare" of the two.

The first is from the opening lines of one of my favorite audiobooks, which I completed early last year for the brilliant authors of magical-realism, Amy Krout-Horn and Gabriel Horn: their novel, TRANSCENDENCE.

And the second is an excerpt from a very important work of modern political science, one which focuses on the all-encompassingly-important topic of campaign finance reform (a topic that SHOULD *transcend* political ideologies): Lawrence Lessig’s, ONE WAY FORWARD.

Friday, April 25, 2014

ON THE NATURE OF THINGS by Lucretius -- new audiobook just out!

It took about a year and half of recording in my spare time, but the complete recording of a modern English verse translation of the classic poem ON THE NATURE OF THINGS by Lucretius is finally complete. The public domain recording is now available in the LibriVox catalog.

Read a synopsis and stream it here:

Download the audiobook (in iTunes-friendly M4B format) here:
Part 1 -
Part 2 -
Part 3 -

I actually started this work BEFORE I got into professional audiobook production, and the first few sections sound pretty "raw" to me. On the positive side, it shows the complete evolution of my skills as a narrator, and reading a work like this (with extremely long, convoluted sentences, in iambic pentameter, with Elizabethan-era vocabulary) was a challenge for me throughout the project!

For those of you would rather WATCH the writings of Lucretius rather than READ them, here is a brief taste: the opening lines of the work, which amount to a hymn of praise to Venus (a rather curious way to start a discourse on Epicureanism, but hey, you gotta allow a guy a little poetic license!).

Friday, April 4, 2014


This is a reposting of an entry recently appearing on the Plum Tree Books page on Facebook.

Each time I’m ready to begin recording a new chapter of an audiobook, I sit down in my recording studio and go through a ritualized sequence of technical preparations. And then, I begin to read aloud -- TO ABSOLUTELY NO ONE. Nobody is EVER there!

How weird is that? It certainly FEELS weird – especially the first few times I did it. And honestly, I still occasionally pause in wonder at the strangeness of the act of reading to people who are not there – who are instead off in some unseeable and untouchable future. This visceral experience is part of what anthropologist Michael Wesch and his students term "context collapse". In their studies of YouTube culture, they not only observed, but also experienced for themselves how strange and awkward it is to sit alone in front of a webcam and say, "I'm talking to you, but … I don't know who you are." (To get a better sense of what "context collapse" is to Wesch and his students, click here to watch a minute or two of their video.)

The fact is that I will never meet and will never know most of the people who ultimately listen to my audio and video productions. But I’m actually fine with that aspect of context collapse, perhaps due to my decades of previous experience performing and speaking before LIVE audiences.

Instead, my occasional stumbling blocks come from another major component of context collapse: my own spontaneous judgment of my own performance, as I am performing. This instant self-critique can be helpful when I catch myself accidentally deviating from the way I had originally planned to read a passage. In some of these cases, it is wholly appropriate to stop dead in my tracks and go back to re-record a section to correct an obvious mistake. But there are times when an unexpected and unplanned deviation is NOT a mistake, but is instead a moment of creative serendipity. The challenge in such cases is to allow myself to keep going, to overrule the voice in my head that might be screaming "STOP," to permit the spontaneous creation of something OTHER than what I had (sometimes rigorously) originally planned for.

The best example of "extended serendipity" that I can offer from my collected works is my recording of THE TELL-TALE HEART by Edgar Allan Poe:

I knew that this reading required a special approach, since it consists of the first-person ravings of a psychopathic murderer. While I carefully studied the narrative beforehand to intimately refamiliarize myself with the arch of the story, I determined that it would not pay to plan my performance with the same level of detail that I usually do. Most importantly, I made the complete recording in two long takes, not stopping for ANYTHING (also very unusual for me). The end result is a recording that captures one serendipitous moment after another, because very little of what you hear was planned out in advance. (Be advised that this material may not be appropriate for small children -- it is, after all, the murderous ravings of a lunatic.)


This is another posting that first appeared on the Plum Tree Books blog.

One of the most profound differentiators between audiobook narration and any other type of oration lies in the need for the lone narrator to create distinctive voicings for all of the characters that engage in dialogue within a story being recorded. While it's not always necessary to go to extreme lengths of making unique voices and personalities (i.e., the job is not to fool the listener into thinking that they are hearing multiple actors performing a work of radio theater), it is absolutely vital to provide enough voice differentiation so that the listener can tell when a particular character is speaking.

With that said -- I, for one, do indeed like to strive to give even minor characters as much unique personality and "attitude" as I can. And all aspects of prosody are at my disposal, including tempo, pitch, amplitude, volume, vocal placement (throat vs. mouth), percussiveness, and accent. But I don’t really think of these individual aspects in technical terms as I create a voice; instead I spend some time simply imagining what the character is like. Then I locate some of their dialogue in the text and just start experimenting with it, until I find a sound that "fits". I don’t agonize over this -- the entire process of establishing a voice, even for a main character, usually takes no more than a minute or two.

A standard challenge that all narrators face is the cross-gender challenge. For me, being a male with a naturally baritone to tenor speaking voice, the challenge comes in reading the dialogue of female characters. As the best vocal coaches teach, it’s not all about pitch. (Speaking in falsetto is definitely off the menu. I don’t want all of my female characters to sound like they popped right out of a Monty Python sketch.) Again, finding a voice is more about first establishing and solidifying my ideas of a character's personality. With women characters this usually then calls for potentially adding an effeminate lilt or breathiness to the voicing, as much (or little) as might be fitting given whatever persona I've conjured up for the character.

But above all, the one aspect that I love to play with is accent. However, I only stick within a narrow range of regional accents that I feel at home with. It's fortunate that I spent some formative years both in Texas and in New York City, so dialectical traces from both those places show up naturally in my everyday speech. When I have a character that needs either a full-throttle New York or Texan accent, I simply take the part of my regular voice that leans that way, and consciously crank it up!

In the case of the two O. Henry short stories that I've made recordings of, I came to think of the third person narrator (the author himself) to be a "character". And despite the New York City settings of most of his stories, O. Henry was a southerner who spent some of his formative years in Texas. So I can't imagine reading his stories with anything other than a light Texas accent -- the style of his writing simply demands it. In "The Gift of the Magi" below, you’ll note that I give the lead female character a midwestern accent and her husband, the male lead, a Manhattan/Brooklyn accent, while reading the main narrative with the best Austin (Texas) accent I could manage. Also here for your enjoyment is O. Henry’s "The Last Leaf", a more recent recording of mine that will appear on the upcoming audiobook CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE.


This is another blog posting that originated on the Plum Tree Books blog.

Let me tell you the story of how I began … with nothing in my pockets but a jack-knife and a button. -- Robert Graves
It was one of my favorite times of the school day: the hour when we would sit on the carpet gathered around my second-grade teacher, as she sat in her chair and read a few chapters of a book to us, in a captivating voice that never failed to completely enchant me.

Even though I had devoured the entire book in one sitting the previous night, after my teacher had lent it to me to take home, I still passionately looked forward to hearing her read it to us. And she did not disappoint -- we were all enraptured by her reading of the opening chapters of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”. If I recall correctly, she was about midway through the second chapter, when a most annoying interruption came!

An emissary from the school’s office barged in, insisting that my teacher come to the office that very instant to tend to some bureaucratic humdrummery that ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT WAIT! As it became clear to my teacher that she could not ignore this edict, a thought appeared to come to her, which she then acted upon with cool certainty. As she stood up and took a step away from her chair, she pointed to it and beckoned me to take her place. She then handed me the open book, pointed to a specific spot on the page, and said simply, “Start here.” And then, she walked out.

Someone had raised the curtain on my life and said, “begin”. And so I began.

Having absolutely no time to think anything through, I knew, above all else, that I could not let my classmates down. I had already been on this fantastic ride: been there with Charlie as he miraculously stumbled upon the last golden ticket, watched in amazement as Augustus Gloop zoomed up the pipe, sailed with the Oompa Loompas up the river of chocolate and beyond! I had been there, and was now tasked with revealing this wondrous world to the others seated before me. There was nothing to do but the doing of it. So do it, I did!

It was, in a word, glorious. In a few more words -- I did not disappoint (neither myself nor my classmates). A rather animated child by nature (who was still several years away from learning the adolescent truth that it was “not cool” to be so outgoing), I let the lid come off, and made my voice do whatever was required to fully communicate the roller-coaster of urgencies, joys, horrors, and wonders that were magically contained on the pages in front of me.

When my teacher returned a few minutes later, she (being a sensible and sensitive individual) did not interrupt the proceedings, but stood at the back and respectfully allowed me to keep going for the rest of the hour. And the next day at story hour, still I kept going. To my teacher’s credit, in subsequent days she let some other volunteers in the room take their turn at the helm. But that seat of honor, the reading seat, had clearly become my place. I owned it, and it owned me. 

Since then, throughout my life, there have been countless opportunities for me to fulfill this fundamental calling -- to be a storyteller. Perhaps I’ll have appropriate chances in future blog postings to relate some of those to you. But for now, let me fast-forward to the present, to the storytelling project that is my professional focus of the moment.

I am in the midst of putting together the third installment in my “Classic Tales” series of audiobooks: CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE. But I’m sure at this point you’ve had quite enough of my writing, so no more tedious text. Instead, here is a video to give you a feel for the upcoming audiobook.

You may notice that it’s not just a stand-alone video -- it’s couched within a *Kickstarter* project! I’m experimenting with using Kickstarter as a way to “pre-sell” my audiobook productions, which will allow me to ramp up production of more “Classic Tales” audiobooks. If you like what you see, hear, and feel in this video, then please click on through to the Kickstarter project  and become involved in whatever way works for you!


This is a reposting of a blog entry first published on the Plum Tree Books blog: 

What exactly is prosody? That’s a tough question to answer succinctly, but if pressed for an answer, I would say that “prosody” is roughly synonymous to what we otherwise call “expressiveness” in oral reading. Or to analogize -- prosody is to reading aloud as musicianship is to musical performance. But it might be better to break prosody down to its component aspects, which include rhythm, intonation, phrasing, stress, tempo, and volume.

These components represent some of the tools of expressiveness that are available to a storyteller to engage and entertain an audience. It is neither accident nor coincidence that the expressive tools of the storyteller are almost exactly the same as those that a musician uses. In my mind, there is NO distinction between prosody and musicality: prosodic expression in storytelling is merely a specific kind of music-making, and all of my past experiences as a classical musician directly inform and shape my work in the creation of audiobooks.

Musicians actively develop their musical expressiveness every time they pick up their instrument, and likewise, good storytellers are constantly cognizant of improving their prosody in the midst of each reading. But musicians and storytellers alike usually feel a need to take things further, to persistently work in a very focused way to develop specific aspects of their expressiveness. A pianist might choose a few pieces from Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” to use as the basis of their personal expressive studies, working with them rigorously in a practice room to hone their craft. The equivalent for me over the past year has been to utilize a modern English verse translation of “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius, the lengthy Roman-era exposition on the fundamental tenets of Epicureanism that was so influential to the predominant figures of the Enlightenment.

There are very few pages of “On the Nature of Things” that fail to provide numerous prosodic challenges -- considerably greater challenges than I generally encounter in the modern literature that constitutes the bulk of my regular work. I particularly get a workout with phrasing and stress, since I’m reading English poetry that has been translated from Latin poetry, making for some of the most awkward (yet often, strangely beautiful) phrases and sentences that I’ve ever had to utter. And I’m striving always to make it comprehensible to the listener, because I am giving all of my recordings of “On the Nature of Things” to the Librivox project, to be made part of their public domain collection of audiobooks.

To give you an idea of what it’s all about, here are the opening stanzas of Book 1 of “On the Nature of Things” by Lucretius.

Friday, February 7, 2014

GAMING THE SYSTEM: Striving to understand how complex algorithms and human group-think intersect in social media systems to produce "results" (or lack thereof)

PART 1: Trying to understand "success"

This is not scientific. It is purely anecdotal, one person's experience and observation.

I have one pretty-damn-big, grass-roots, organic success on YouTube, and I did absolutely nothing to attain that "success" other than post a video publicly. From the feedback I get in the comments these days, it appears to be genuinely helping people of all ages (around 400 each day) understand how long division can be done, all in the context of one single, annotated video example.

The video was something I spent one morning putting together, as a review for the 4th graders for whom I was serving as interim math teacher in the spring of 2012. And I posted it to YouTube for their benefit, and as a message-in-a-bottle to anybody else on the web who might (a) stumble upon it and (b) find it to be useful. There was zero expectation that anyone actually ever would.

I don't understand the algorithms behind YouTube and the Google search engine that are partly responsible for the relative success of this video. (I don't think there is any human being, even on the teams of people that design and maintain the underlying algorithms, that fully understands how they "work".) And I don’t understand the group dynamics that originally (before the video was a "success") made a certain critical mass of people "go for" this one math instruction resource as opposed to the others that were presented to them by search engines.

But I do know that within systems like YouTube/Google, nothing succeeds like success, and NOW it is almost certain that, on any given weekday while school is in session, this video will receive slightly more or slightly less than 400 views. And the average daily view count is steadily growing.

But this "success" was not a given when I first posted the video. In fact, at the time I would have been thrilled if just 10 of the students in my class had watched it (and they didn't, by the way). What is it about this video that gave it even the possibility of gaining an initial groundswell of "popularity" that ultimately led the cold equations buried within the YouTube and Google algorithms to pick up on it and eventually show it as a top result when anybody searches for "long division"?

I've got no real answers here. If, after viewing the video, you think that YOU know what aspects of this video led to its "success", please comment here and enlighten me!! I would like to produce more instructional videos that are (1) as helpful and (2) as successful as this one, but to do that I feel a need to get at least a tentative handle on what made this one "work".

Coming soon…

PART 2: Trying to understand “failure”

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


I've just launched my first experiment in the world of crowdfunding, with a Kickstarter project designed explicitly to "pre-sell" at least 50 to 100 copies of my upcoming audiobook, CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE (the third in the "Classic Tales" audio series).

While I do have a steadily growing group of Facebook fans (650+) who seem to be engaged by my work, it's an open question whether a Kickstarter project can be used to finance production of an audiobook in this way.  We'll see how it goes!

In the meantime, enjoy the project video here, and click on through to the project's Kickstarter page to find out more (and to participate, if you'd like)!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014


The following is a reposting of a blog entry that I originally posted to the Plum Tree Books blog.

Most composers write music with the intention and full expectation that it will ultimately be played aloud. Such performances represent the ultimate fruition of their art -- the notes in the score MUST be brought to life in this way, or else the artistic cycle is not complete! On the other hand, writers, while they may be cognizant of the possibility that the prose they are writing *might* at some point be read aloud to an audience, do not necessarily give predominant focus to the "oral readability" of their work as they write. (There are no doubt exceptions to this, particularly in genres like children's books, but I'm speaking in generalities here.) A wonderful and complete fruition of the writer’s art might lie simply in its being read by individuals in silent solitude -- the artistic cycle is complete without need of giving physical breath to the words on the page.

Thus, there is a significant body of perfectly wonderful prose that can (and DOES) prove quite a challenge to the audiobook narrator -- the challenge being to bring the words off of the page and deliver them to the reader’s ears in a way that is not only crystal clear in its meaning, but also aesthetically gratifying and stylistically appropriate. A good writer *does* have rhythm in mind, either consciously or unconsciously, as they write, but it is not necessarily a rhythm that is naturally and instantly amenable to expressive and effective *oral* reading. So in some cases I find that I have to really *work* with a text, being willing to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail, until I finally stumble upon a style and rhythm that *works*.

One of my most recent challenges in this regard was in creating a recording of Jack London’s iconic short story, TO BUILD A FIRE, for inclusion in my upcoming audiobook collection, CLASSIC TALES OF HOPE AND COURAGE (which will be coming soon to I ultimately had to make three complete recordings of the text before I finally fell into the “right rhythm” in the third recording. In my first misbegotten takes I was somehow missing the mark that London’s writing needed me to hit. But those initial takes, while sounding rather forced and stodgy to me, proved to be effective rehearsals that ultimately helped me find my way into the more naturalistic and understated reading that London’s prose demanded.

Here is a five minute excerpt from my final take, in which I found the rhythm I had been looking for. Below that is the recording of the complete short story, which will require slightly over 45 minutes of your time if you’d like to experience it.