April 23, 2015

Timexpo Museum to Close: Social Media Fail

The local news has disclosed that the Timexpo Museum in Waterbury is planning to close.
Low attendance at the museum, located at the Brass Mills Commons shopping center, was the reason for the closure, according to Timex.
I'd like to offer a more fundamental reason: Failure to engage via social media. 

Visiting the Timexpo Museum website, one finds the obligatory social media buttons at the bottom: Facebook, Twitter,  Email, Google-plus, and might think "Oh, yeah, they are doing social media...." But really, some webmaster or marketing consultant put those there (lipstick on a pig, so to speak) because clicking through any of those creates a Facebook post about the site or a Tweet link - but there's little evidence that Timexpo has embraced social media.

Their Yelp Page (4 reviews, 3 stars average) remains unclaimed. So too their Trip Advisor Page (32 reviews, 4.5 stars average).

There is a Facebook Page (not linked from their website Facebook button) - it was set up in Sept 2014 (too little, too late), they've posted less than a dozen times since then, with no serious social engagement (2 reviews, 131 likes, 196 check-ins). There is no Twitter account. Nothing on Instagram. There is an events page, but no blog or news page, no press page, no mailing list. There has been no real attempt to engage fans, visitors, the media, etc.  

It's probably too late for the Timexpo Museum - decisions have been made; plans are in the works. It's too bad, because it's got great location and visibility (who among us has not seen and are familiar with the Easter Island statue along I-84 in Waterbury) and really, time is a pretty ripe concept for social media riffing and event planning (time travel, steam-punk, the new Apple Watch, all come to mind)

But it might not be too late for your small / local business, arts group, tourism destination, community group, or cause. Get on the Social Media bandwagon, now!

April 22, 2015

The Levins at Milford Arts Council / Performance Coffeehouse

I headed out of town (or at least, a little further afield than normal) for a performance by The Levins, at Milford Arts Council's Performance Coffeehouse.

I first encountered Ira and Julia (The Levins) at Falcon Ridge Folk Festival last summer; they were one of the Emerging Artists. As has been my habit, I picked up the latest album (in digital format) for as many of the Emerging Artists as I could, pre-fest, and their My Friend Hafiz album (based on the poetry of the 14th century Persian mystic) really resonated. I subsequently contributed to their crowd-sourced new album, Trust, and have been patiently waiting for them to come to town.

Their music, as recorded and compiled, hit me right in the nexus of yoga teacher, enlightenment intensive attendee, spiritual seeker: positive, thoughtful, searching, expansive. Both My Friend Hafiz and Trust show up regularly in my "pre-class, set the mood" music rotation for yoga classes. 

So I was pretty much ready to enjoy the show, expecting a few hours of gentle, spiritual music with wonderful harmonies.

But oh, so surprising, these Levins. There was romance; unlike many musical couples, the affection, nay, love these two carry for each other is palpable and transmitted through their songs and performance, with very sweet love songs. There was humor - a rollicking ode to Charles Dickens; a nod to ethnic folk (More Yiddish!), there were beloved kids songs I have not heard in years, there were some standards. Ira in particular, seems like he might take a crack at just about any topic as a song-writer and any song as a performer, and they individually and collectively have the chops to pull it off.

They are, quite simply, a delightful addition to my folk music family, and I'm a professed fan (and possibly stalker, depending on how many shows I catch them at in the coming months)

They're playing the upcoming Hartfolk Festival on May 30 (alas, I shall be at yoga teacher training all weekend, sad because pretty much everyone on the bill are artists I have seen and love), but also Kripalu on May 2 and a house concert on  May 22. And (can we actually be thinking this far ahead?) opening for Brother Sun at the Sounding Board on Sept 26 (making that a "can't miss" night). Visit their website for their touring dates - they work a lot!

The Milford Art's Council's Performance Coffeehouse is also a little gem. Not that well attended (most of the house seemed to be regulars) and with a roster for 2014-2015 that is pretty much unknown to me. The space is an old Metro-North station, with a very high ceiling and formal stage - suited for small plays, cabaret, etc. The sound was very good (I believe The Levins brought their own) and the lighting was two cuts above the typical folk show.

April 15, 2015

The Age of Miracles and Wonders

I've been in audio geek mode the past week or so.

The Guinea Pigs sound system lost a monitor amplifier at our last gig - one of two ancient amps that Dan trucks around, and I volunteered to pick up a solid-state replacement that could feed both mains and monitors. I'm slowly building up my own PA system (having previously purchased a mixer, snake, monitor speakers, and accessories), so added a 500W / Channel solid state amplifier at low cost, and a wooden rack to mount it in. I feel very professional.

That got me thinking about Om Street: Yoga on LaSalle Road - I'm the audio engineer in charge, and have been running a "two amplifier" system there for a few years (with digital delay to control echoes for the satellite system, 200' down the road). So while I was prepping and messing with the new amp, I picked up some way too inexpensive (seemingly) speaker cables: 2 x 30' Speakon-to-1/2" ($12.50 per) and 2 x 15' 1/4"-to-1/4" ($12 per) and some 1/4" couplers - which will give me some additional flexibility when setting things up this July. The cables came in today and I spent some time unwrapping them, marking them (I use blue tape on the ends of my cables, and blue velcro ties), and stowing them in the gack bags and bins. 

And while I was at it, I picked up an old audio engineers bible, The Sound Reinforcement Handbook by Gary Davis. (which apparently you can download for free online at PDF Shack - not sure if that's legit or not, but with a 1988 printing date, I am sure they've made their money by now. I'd just as soon have it in print, old school like.

A lot of what's in the handbook will be, I am sure old hat to me, but there are a few things I'd like to learn more about - compression, tone control for various instruments (drums, guitars, voice), speaker placement, etc. I've picked up some stuff over the years; as a musician with electric guitars and basses, as a utility and computer geek at various corporate productions. But always more to learn.

As I lay on the couch reading this afternoon, I thought about how many fun toys I have at my fingertips, in my arsenal these days. I've got a portable o-scope that interfaces with a laptop. I've got a signal generator, both a hardware version and an app on my phone. I've got a kicking audio signal analyzer for my iPad. I can set up a sound system throw some pink noise in, and tweak the tone for the room. I have amazing tech for very little money that would have cost 10's of thousands back in the late 70's / early 80's.

I thought back to my 8th grade self, who wanted very much to mess around with this stuff. How I would love to jump back in time with all my toys and help that little kid with a science fair project. I thought about my college self, getting a EE degree in analog design, running around Worcester county recording marimbas to characterize the frequency content and envelope the better to synthesize the instrument. I was minoring in music, mucking around with an ARP 2600 and a four-track recorder when I could get my hands on it. Having fun.

I never did much with music out of school - the Carter / Reagan recession was in full swing, the cool companies like Bose were not hiring, and I was happy to get my first job that led me down the power quality road. And it was not too many years later that digital sound came along and blew analog synthesizers out of the water. 

But here I am, 30+ years down the road, and whatever fire was there is still burning. I'll probably never be much more than an audio hobbyist, but it gives me great joy to have the right tools, the right knowledge, the experience to put a decent system together. Back to the couch, to geek out. Watch out world!

April 04, 2015

Atari: Game Over

I spent the morning unexpectedly entralled by Atari: Game Over (2014), streaming now on Netflix, and also available in pieces on Youtube. 

The Atari 2600 gaming console game out in 1977; I was 16 years old. I spent many hours in the local arcade (Framingham's Fun and Games, first opened in '74, and still around in an evolved form). And though my gaming days were relatively short-lived (the last game console I've owned was a Colecovision; I never really stayed involved as the industry morphed through PC, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Xbox, etc.), as a young soon-to-be engineer who spent some time in college and in the workplace hard-coding micro-processors, Atari video games were still my first taste of geekery. My family owned a 2600; my younger brother Kevin (now a programmer / database geek himself) had an Atari 400 computer (with that membrane keyboard).

The documentary is kind of remarkable. It orbits two stories: an individual obsessed with the urban legend that millions of Atari game cartridges of ET: The Extraterristrial were buried in an Alamagordo, NM landfill. And the programmer, Howard Scott Warshaw, who created the ET videogame in five weeks at the behest of Atari management, trying to leverage a $22M investment in the game rights before the Xmas season.  When ET tanked (it was reportedly too difficult to play), Howard's career, and the first videogame bubble led by Atari, burst.

The film is technically excellent - interweaving these two stories, abetted by interviews with many of the key players - Warner Brothers executives, Nolan Bushnell of Atari, Atari programmers, and other public figures who have been touched by the games. There's a little bit of playfulness around "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (the movie, and also a successful 2600 game also designed by Warshaw) - comparing the search for the buried games to the search for the lost ark, and a very familiar closing shot....

When the urban archeologists finally get close to finding video game evidence, the dig has become a happening, with video game fans, Warshaw, and others flocking to the desert landfill site. And watching Warshaw (now a psychotherapist) get choked up, first as he visits the site of the Atari headquarters for the first time in 30 years, and then at the landfill, was quite moving.