Pops Oral History Project

Hey everyone! Above is my finished (finished!) oral history interview project about my grandpa Pops’ life. Clocking in at around 2:40h, the interview is broken into 16 clips by topic and arranged chronologically. It covers everything from growing up during the Great Depression to reflecting on a life of raising six kids, 12 grandkids, and countless great-grandkids (single MP3 version).

Why did I do this? Other than “because it feels like the right thing to do,” I’ve always been interested in hearing personal stories. My mom used to bake pumpkin bread loaves around the holidays and take us to deliver them to older people in our church, and during those visits I was always taken by the conversations we’d strike up about their lives, history, family, and kids. As I grew up, I gravitated towards NPR, PBS, and other conversational media. In 9th grade (late 2000) I was assigned an oral history project in History class and chose to do it about my grandpa. It was relatively simple and hastily captured on a cassette tape, but the stories he told in that short half-hour captured my interest. The experience left me with a nagging desire to go back one day and do it justice, with actual preparation.

As my previous blog entries attest to, I’ve been really focused on goals and projects since late 2016. I decided to circle back and do a thorough oral history project with my grandpa, this time with a (more) professional setup, better-researched questions, and a commitment to making something concrete and lasting. Over the July 4th break in 2017, I drove up to Jacksonville with a Shure MV5 microphone (purchased with the cash my grandparents gifted me for Christmas), an iPad Mini, and a document full of questions. After our first session, I backed up all of the raw audio and reviewed as much as I could, creating follow-up questions for the next day’s recording session. At the end of the two days, I’d captured over 8 hours of audio, stories, and memories. It was a good experience, both for what I captured and for the opportunity to spend some good time with my grandparents.

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Pops showing me a newspaper (The Florida-Times Union) from 1939

The amount of material was overwhelming—I put the project off for months not knowing what I should do next. For better or worse I’m a big fan of poetic opportunities and I just couldn’t find the right fit for a package for this material. From my year-in-review post for 2017:

Despite having the idea for years, I finally interviewed my grandpa about his life, memories, advice, and everything else I could think of. […] I have yet to figure out exactly what to do with all of the recordings, but that will be a goal for this new year.

After finishing off some goals toward the beginning of the year, I circled back and committed to finishing it. I brainstormed with some friends and eventually settled on “topics sorted chronologically in a YouTube playlist” as the best fit for ease of access, sharing, and preservation. I listened to each of the 50~ raw recordings and made notes about each discrete topic discussed. I then coerced Rob to my office the night of Memorial Day to do a card-sorting exercise.

We wrote each discrete conversation on a sticky note and drew a timeline for important events (birth, going into the service, getting married, etc.). We started grouping topics until all the cards were sorted and gave names to these groups.

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I began creating Audition audio projects for each of these topic groups, pulling the raw audio in and roughly cutting out the topics that were relevant. It quickly set in that working with 8 hours of audio, even in this really-organized way, was going to be a huge time sink; even minimal edits to the audio would be tens of hours of review.

Shortly after I got into the thick of things, my grandpa was admitted to the hospital. We’re not entirely sure what happened, but we assume a combination of high blood pressure and his existing medications being unable to compensate appropriately led to a small stroke. He was released to rehab and is back to normal (whatever normal is at 90), but it lit a fire under me to bump this to the top of my list full-time.

Each audio segment went through several rounds of revision and included edits for removal of silence, removal of stumbling, rambling and repetitive remarks, re-arrangement of clip order to add context and generally make more sense, application of noise reduction effects (lots of background noise despite my best attempts), and volume mastering. I also had to re-record my own questions (the mic was pointed away from me) and mix those into the projects. It’s not perfect—my grandma’s moving about the house and doing dishes is present in some clips—but the finished audio really outpaced my expectations. It sounds really good, thank goodness. I saved each project to an MP3, reviewed the audio, make some spot-corrections, and called that part done.

The video portion was less grueling. I designed a simple timeline graphic and prototyped settings for an After Effects generated waveform on top. I acquired and scanned some old photos of my grandpa to include on the video. On a recent flight back from New Hampshire, I came up with titles and summary bullets for each topic clip. I then spun all of these elements together into video clips, threw them on YouTube and into the above playlist, reviewed each (with help from friends!), and finally emailed it all to my grandpa.


It took about 5x the effort I expected but I’m super happy with the results and thrilled that my grandparents have the chance to listen to it in good health. It’s always deflating to put this much work into something and tuck it away on the shelf, but it’s important work and I’m glad to have completed it. An enormous amount of thanks to my grandparents for not only putting up with my weird project for a couple days but being candid and thoughtful during the interview.

Consider doing something like this for relatives, if you have the opportunity! It’ll be very rewarding for both of you.

Custom Pony Table Top

Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, Rob and I (and a number of friends) have really enjoyed playing and keeping up with EnterPLAY’s My Little Pony Collectible Card Game (MLPCCG) over the past few years. After hurriedly learning the game the morning of the 2nd set’s pre-release (May 2014), we’ve traveled to Regionals in both Atlanta and Miami, played multiple years at GenCon, and even threw our own pre-release (rented out a room at Dunkin and everything!). It was something we were able to really invest in together and meant a lot to us.

We recently decided to redo our living room and bought a small coffee table for IKEA hacking—we planned to replace the removable plastic top with a piece of stained pine. Along the way, we had this crazy idea to create a collage of memorable MLPCCG cards on the flip side of the wood top. Over the course of a few weekends and through a series of much-more-involved-than-we-first-thought steps, we:

  • selected all of the cards across all sets to include (all of the cards held memories to us, whether it was a tight win, a bitter loss, or a favorite episode)
  • double-sided-taped down each card to poster board sized to fit on the wood
  • cut off the overhang
  • taped the mass of cards and poster board to the wood
  • mixed and poured a coat of lacquer over top (and let sit for days)
  • shaved off the edge drip and nailed down the unfortunately-bubbled sections
  • created a frame out of old plastic and poured a second lacquer coat
  • beveled the edges on all sides with a router
  • dropped it in the dang table

Taking the idea from silly concept to finished table top was more work (and more costly) than I think I was ready for, but it was a super fun project nonetheless. Many thanks to Erik for the tools and know-how to get something like this done. It’s a shame the game itself doesn’t have much of a following anymore, but we’ll always have the good memories.

PS: We’ve still got two unopened boxes of Seaquestria and Beyond if anyone local would like to do a draft or something!

Hack Day, Summer 2018

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This week I participated in one of the first combined Hack Days at my workplace, which brought together IT teams from across campus that normally don’t interact on a daily basis. I’ve always loved the concept of trusting people and letting them work on whatever they find most valuable for a period of time (it is baked into my team’s sprint schedule three times a year), so I wanted to support the event and encourage my peers to do so in the future.

I’ve been acting as a Scrum Product Owner for the past year and am in the process of transitioning to a team wide ScrumMaster for the foreseeable future, so my hack day projects were centered around building two small tools to assist in the calculation of business value and effort estimation (exciting stuff!):

  • Protocalc: Not the best name I’ve ever come up with, but it works! This simple tool sucks in a JSON object of categories, questions, and answers (and weights to those categories and questions) and dynamically generates a web form out of them. Filling out this form will give you a business value estimate for any item or feature, both out of 100 and out of 20 (depending on how you’d rather round). It’s a simple way to share an understanding of what drives value on our team and removes a lot of the overhead and ambiguity in calculating some usable value indicator. The question and answer set can be easily swapped out for different teams and different value streams making it reusable.
  • Plokker: Most Agile teams regularly estimate the relative effort of items on the backlog as this scoring is useful for determining how much a team can and should commit to in sprints. A pretty popular way to do that is through “planning poker” in which team members determine their own estimates and then try to reach a consensus.

Don’t judge the JavaScript too harshly (it was a hack DAY), but it was really reinvigorating to sit down and just create with no real risk in doing so. I’m still feeling the positive effects from the experience days later. If these small tools have any real impact in our day-to-day work I’ll be sure to report back!

E3 2018 Music Video

 

Here’s a music video / clip reel of my favorite game announcements, trailers, and gameplay from E3 2018! I used to make a point to make one of these every year but it dropped off many years ago. After a really thrilling set of reveals (and the sad state of world), I decided to dust off the process and take on the simple creative exercise.

The whole process is so enjoyable: finding the game trailers I love, selecting the perfect song for the mood I want to impart, extracting the most thrilling video clips, creating a beat track to align the clips, arranging everything…it feels awesome to feel a clip slide right into place with the music. A couple nights of that and some polish and viola, a little time capsule of my mood, interest and excitement bundled into one hype reel.

Even if these games never live up to the hype (or come out at all), I’ll always love a good E3 trailer. Enjoy!

Continue reading “E3 2018 Music Video”

Short Trip to Charlotte and Blowing Rock

Last Wednesday, my friend Vic and I took off toward Charlotte for a couple opportunities at checking out the suburbs on the way to and back from Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I’m half-considering the move to Charlotte for a change of scenery and closer proximity to the mountains, but I also just wanted to get away for a bit and breathe some crisp, fresh, cold mountain air. Some thoughts and highlights from the trip!

  • We unintentionally ended up at the same Arby’s on the way up and the way back. We got embarrassingly bad service both times, but nothing stopped those Chicken Bacon & Swiss from being delicious.
  • The southern and eastern areas around the 485 (Charlotte’s beltway) are pretty nice! I could definitely see myself staying there if the opportunity was right.
  • The typical places described as desirable north of the city (Davidson, Mooresville, Huntersville, etc.) are very crowded and the traffic / construction on I-77 was horrible by 2:30pm on a Thursday. I don’t think I could deal with that, but the parks and amenities on Lake Norman felt like they could be frequent visits.
  • Our room at the Hemlock Inn in Blowing Rock was upgraded to…the same room Rob and I stayed in last October. Not complaining!
  • Restaurants that remain stellar: Local Lion, Bella’s, Our Daily Bread. Those that weren’t so great this time: Capone’s, Blowing Rock Brewery. New find that is pretty solid: The New Public House’s breakfast.
  • The weather and forecast only gave us a couple mornings’ worth of sunshine so we crammed a lot of hiking into those windows. Friday morning we hiked a trio of trails (Beacon Heights, Flat Rock, and Linville Falls Plunge Basin) and braved a starting temp of 25* Sunday for the Green Knob loop. On our dreary, wet Saturday, we stuck to the flat lake loops (Trout Lake and Bass Lake).
  • I joined my team’s Daily Standup from the top of Beacon Heights.
  • It snowed Saturday night and I was a nervous wreck, having never driven in snow. But uh, it was mostly just in the air, and literally everyone I asked rolled their eyes at me. It made for a really pretty Sunday morning hike atmosphere!
  • Vic started a new Pokemon Go account on Wednesday and was level 21 by the end of the trip. Oh look a Wailmer!

All in all, a pretty great trip! It’s a nice holdover until Rob and I likely return for another early-October week in the mountains. For now, back to work finishing out the Spring semester and looking forward to an early-May trip out to the Bay Area!