@jcburns January 15, 2020 at 9:59 pm

The @maddow interview is excellent. And I think one of the reasons it’s so good is it’s NOT live. It’s tight, it’s sober, it’s super-smart, and it doesn’t have all that live faux hoopla and “can you stay with us?” “We have 30 secs.” @npr please note!!

Corrupt all the time.

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020

We’re sitting here listening to Wednesday night’s (tonight’s) Rachel Maddow Show interview with Lev Parnas (and lawyer), and it’s one of those moments like listening to John Dean talk to the house in 1973 or in the world of fiction, where Hal Holbrook tells Robert Redford’s version of Bob Woodward that their reporting was on the right track, and, if anything, the situation was even worse than they thought.

“All that stuff you’ve been hearing about and putting together without paperwork, recordings, or testimony from the White House? It’s all true.”

Rudy Giuliani: the G. Gordon Liddy of this scandal? Ah, well, maybe these seventies-to-now comparisons don’t serve our greater understanding. Donald Trump’s crimes exist uniquely in the messed-up world of today. And the list of complicit conspirators does not stop at the top, it dribbles down through the VP and attorney general, and, and…?

And on a day where the House solemnly delivered the impeachment counts down the hall to a Senate led by a diffident Mitch McConnell, it’s great to have an interview that sheds light into the insane machinations of Rudy Giuliani, lawyer to the President.

And then sometimes, it’s just nice to be able to chuckle at an MSNBC graphic that sums up one tiny component of this mess: “Parnas on Hyde: He’s Drunk all the Time.”

Ah, good night.

(Not so) secret mission.

Tuesday, January 14th, 2020

There was a time when I devoured books like this one (written in the late 1980s by Mac programming legend Scott Knaster) in order to glean new insights into the ultimate Box of Mystery, the Mac computer on my desktop.

Nowadays, my mastery of these mysteries (such as it is) is one of those things people value about me. Also, despite my impatience with so many things, I seem sufficiently patient to check every IMAP setting and every iCloud checkbox and every OS or application version that might be standing in the way of true zen computer happiness, where all your bookmarks are where they are supposed to be and the email on your phone matches your desktop.

So I’m looking forward to seeing an old buddy from Turner days tomorrow for coffee and tech support. Happy to help.

Message deciphered?

Monday, January 13th, 2020

January? My month? Seriously? Well, it must be serious, because there’s a smiley face on there along with lottery numbers. Or a locker combination. Or…a European phone number? Or maybe it means if I decode the numbers, my month will be revealed!

I’m not really sure, but the cookie was tasty, as were the Fish Tacos. Thanks, Doc Chey’s.

Political aches and pains.

Sunday, January 12th, 2020

I have a clear memory of the night that Reagan defeated Carter. I have an even clearer mental tape of when he was re-elected, defeating Walter Mondale.

I find myself playing it in my head now and trying to compare it to how things feel in the cold reality of 2020. Sure, it felt wrong to have the addled actor in the White House. There was a pang, an ache knowing that so many of my fellow Americans were sucked in to the garbage about ‘Morning in America’ and supply-side economics.

But I think the Present Godawfulness has its own special quality of dread. There is world class international corruption, transacted deeply beneath the surface and out in plain sight. Crime. For financial gain, and oh my yes, power.

It is a new, very disturbing ache all its own.

@jcburns January 11, 2020 at 10:46 pm

When a big ol’ front comes through, I’m still old school enough to be reassured by televised weather coverage. Live! Local! Rainy and windy!

Portraits of Terminus.

Friday, January 10th, 2020

©2016-2020, John Christopher Burns

I’m not really sure why the founders of what became Atlanta thought ‘Terminus’ would be a great name. I mean, I get it, it has throughout its history been the place where a lot of rail lines come together. They crisscross. Some even terminate! But that name: it has a certain finality that sounds like a novelist needed to conjure a place where folks assembled to spend their final hours. Or maybe just zombies.

So when the time (quickly) came to change it, it’s not at all surprising they picked something brighter: Marthasville! Feel the Marthaness!

And, well, sorry, Martha Atalantica Lumpkin, daughter of a governor…your notoriety didn’t last. Your name…uh, some of the letters in your name, urr, sort of, well, part of the middle if you said it with a southern accent…aw, face it, it’s Atlanta.

Words worth a thousand pictures.

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

One of the things I used to rely on: when I wrote lots of posts for this site, they would get safely tucked away as a form of digital memory, so that later on I could search and find out what I was thinking so many years ago.

I wrote a post on the first day we got broadband (DSL, in 1999, from a once-huge company called Mindspring.) I wrote about the day a squirrel took out the power in Midtown for hours, some 12 years ago. I wrote about our planned purchase of an iPhone in 2007, because we had up until that point stayed away from having cell phones of any kind. I even wrote briefly about the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series in 1995 because that seemed like such a novel moment, and back in 1995, not that many people in our town had a website, a blog, a whatever-you’d-like-to-call-it.

Yes, that is correct, Positively Atlanta Georgia has been around for something like 24…almost 25 years. Longevity! The key to…being around for a while?

But the past few years, I’ve been much more sporadic in my writing, in part I think because I was struck by how unimportant a lot of what I had to say seemed once it was cast in the electrons of the database that holds this site. This may or may not be empirically true—but it’s certainly the feeling I had as I stepped away from making words appear here.

More recently I’ve been posting photos like this one of our christmas ‘tree’ because I figured a picture is worth some vague multiple of unimportant written words. I pointed the reader’s attention to a larger collection of my photos uploaded to Instagram and Flickr, and I’ve been pretty good about posting a lot of pictures to Instagram…and yet it feels as if in some ways I’m not really working in the spirit of the site. Some of the pictures are posted days, even weeks after I take them. They almost are never of me or of people in general—and trust me, I do know and care for a fairly normal-sized cadre of humans. I try (tried?) to post stuff that is powerful imagery in a square format that maybe punches through the day to day noise.

But there are cats and cheeseburgers too.

Scrolling back through the over 3000 images I’ve tossed Instagram’s way, I feel as if I’ve reached a point where, OK, I’ve visually said a lot of what I’d have to say. Old TV gear, coffee, newsboxes, Macs. Yeah, got it. Although it’s great to see what friends and loved ones are taking pictures of, even that experience is becoming more problematic for me. After all, as I have known for as long as it was true, Facebook owns Instagram. This experience is serving them more than it does me.

So I come back to words, expressed in chunks significantly larger than 280 characters, owned and owned up to by me and hosted right here on a site I have carefully crafted and maintained—although ‘maintained’ might be a bit charitable—sure seems as if it’s time to change the environment that presents these words and pictures because I am a graphic designer and that’s what we do after some time has passed.

I’ll be writing 500 words about the sublimities of cats and cheeseburgers, just you wait.

Points of failure.

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

One of the things I’ve accumulated along with my advanced years is a sense of the impermanence of things that I would have thought were as timeless as the Sun and the Moon.

(I still think the Sun and Moon are relatively eternal. But hey, I guess we’ll see?)

I went to journalism school. I wanted to work at a newspaper, or maybe a magazine, a radio station, or a television station. I ended up doing all of those things to a greater or lesser extent, and now I sit back in astonishment and watch these media struggle to remain viable in a world with vastly changed communication technology, vastly reduced attention spans and in an economic world where their work is, to say the least, devalued.

I read an article earlier this week that said The Columbus Dispatch, one of my hometown newspapers, will no longer be printed at their still-fairly-new facility on the outskirts of town—as opposed to the ancient big rumbling downtown presses across from the state capitol that I associated with “downtown” as much as I did a huge department store, the bus station, and the first Wendy’s. Okay, I’ve checked the dates, and the “new” facility is some 30 years old. Boy, I’ve been away from Columbus for a long time. Is the bus station still there?

The Dispatch will now be printed in Indianapolis. Indiana. 175 miles away. The once family-owned paper sold out in 2015 to a company that…well, the simple version is that it’s part of a massive group with papers numbering in the hundreds, an entity named “Gannett,” although it obtained that old-school-journalism name alongside some very aggressive mergers and acquisitions.

TV stations have similarly banded together, and many are now controlled by “centralcasting” facilities that (their press releases uniformly tout) provide economies of scale and (they don’t tout) fewer but more fragile, centralized points of failure. Our local once-struggling PBS station’s signal now apparently is sent to its Atlanta-based transmitter from some mysterious place in Florida. And some media outlets these days would prefer to keep “where the stuff comes from” a closely-held trade secret.

So when something goes wrong, say when I’m watching a rerun of Perry Mason on a “station” that is a subchannel of an Atlanta station, I can’t just pick up the phone and say “hey, every commercial you’ve aired for the past hour has the slates attached to the front and is clipped off at the end!” —you know, the way a good citizen viewer should report any issue to an FCC-licensed broadcaster. I have no clue where or what (maybe not at all “who”) is controlling these commercials and serving us gobs of televised sloppiness.

As far as I can tell, you can’t tweet @metv and say “hey, your centralcasting facility is messed up.” There’s no “in case you’ve caught us messing up, email us here” notice at these outlets’ websites.

If there’s a multi-vehicle pileup on Interstate 70 in western Ohio in the middle of the night (not at all uncommon, apparently), will the readership of the Dispatch in Columbus notice that their papers haven’t made it to their porch? If a mechanical failure in Indy means that readers in, I don’t know, a dozen cities find themselves newspaper-free at breakfast-time, is that noteworthy any more?

The inevitable mistakes that are a byproduct of media creation have, in a sense, become more anonymous, cloaked behind levels of corporate bureaucracy. Put simply, there are fewer human eyes on the product at key moments where quality control makes a difference. Oh, we put a misspelled thing on the front page or on your TV screen? Ah, well. But look, the computer wrote this baseball piece without any human intervention!

My first job in commercial television, at Ted Turner’s superstation at the end of the 1970s, was at one of those QC chokepoints—master control operator, and somehow (good management? good training? good genes?) we were imbued with a sense of duty that kept mistakes to a minimum and made fixing what was wrong a matter of seconds, not hours. It was a point of pride not to screw things up. Ah, pride. Ah, copy editors, master control operators…ah, human beings.

Imperfectly preserved.

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

I spend a lot of time, particularly at the beginning of the year, thinking about file formats and the preservation of all the content we’ve accumulated over 35 or 40 years of computing. I’ve always had good instincts when it comes to backups, but a backup, many years down the road, can end up being a faithful preservation of what is, to you as a human being, coded gibberish:

46484432 00090000 1EF017E8 17E81EF0 00000000 00000000 00004B05 00000000 012C012C 000A0000 00640002 01410000 0000007B 00000020 00B40000 114C6173 65725772 69746572 20494920 4E540000 00000000 00000000 00000000 064C6574 74657200

…and so on. Could you tell from this that it was a file created by Aldus Freehand 2.0 (and then updated by version 3.1), and, when opened with the correct program on the correct machine with the correct operating system, would looked something like this…?

Behold, the vector artwork for a billboard for a TV station in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, circa 1992. Actually, this was the low-res preview and the full-quality output had…well, never mind. This is work I designed and produced and was paid for and because I am a professional (I tell myself) about these things, I keep all the bits and pieces in case of…in case of…well, what exactly?

A planetary plague that wipes out the world’s logos?

An urgent phone call from Lancaster: “hey, you know that thing you did almost 29 years ago? We need a new copy of it! Yeah, of course we’ll pay you.”

Hardly seems likely. But I have that file, and literally millions of others. (That number seems less preposterous when you consider that television animation appears at 30 or 60 frames per second, and so ten seconds of just one layer of movement could involve some 600 files.) Backed up first on floppies, then on Zip disks, Syquest disks, tapes, CDs, DVD-ROMs, and now terabyte-sized hard drives and solid state drives. And of course there’s the finished television itself, on Betacam, Digital Betacam, D1, D2, one-inch videotape. All ancient, basically obsolete formats. All expensive at the time.

And now?

There’s a certain—I have no other word for it—comfort in being able to make perfectly clean images of standard definition television from years gone by show up on an old Sony Trinitron monitor fed by a five dollar Raspberry Pi computer almost so small it gets lost on my (literal) desktop, next to my coffee cup.

So once again, during this January that marks a new decade in the 21st century, I sit here…comfortable.

A sense of scale.

Monday, January 6th, 2020

I think it’s only appropriate that I write this post using a (wired!) USB Raspberry Pi keyboard plugged into my iPhone. So, so, so very much content these days is scrolled past my eyes on this fancy yet tiny ultraportable display.

If you read it on your phone, does it have the same impact as something you consume off the printed page, off a large (by comparison) laptop screen, or off a massive display on your desk?

I wonder sometimes.

I’ve spent a lot of time the past several years tossing off what are barely sentences into the vastness of the Twitter world, and I’ve taken fine pictures, cropped and enhanced them for maximum impact when viewed small and in square format and, yeah, off they go to Instagram. That’s been social media for me.

As so many similarly assert, it’s a way to keep up with relatives or friends who simply don’t communicate in any other way. You go to where the communication is. Well, I feel as if I have an abundance of options, both here in our fiber-connected Atlanta home and up north in our tiny cottage that still manages to transmit and receive packets via LTE to an overburdened cell tower across the lake. Amazing, really, how in touch I am…and yet, well, I think here in the first month of 2020, I wil recalibrate just a bit and try to figure out what feels satisfying and what feels like a chore.

And if I’m the only one reading this (a very real possibility), I feel quite content with that, too.

So with January we begin our new beginnings and our earnest aspirations and our promises to ourselves and loved ones.

This site has been here a long time, since about as far back into the last century as any website could go. It’s received both attention and neglect from me. I think we might be back to an attention cycle.

We can talk about politics, the way the world sees us, and how technology plays a role in all of that maybe another time. For today, it’s enough to type a few words and say hello again.