Tuesday, August 30, 2011

As the conference turns, pt. 4

Ah, what a difference a week makes. Much of what I'd planned to write is now obsolete, overtaken by reality and fast-moving negotiations. The New York Times reported this morning that Texas A&M has already sent an official notice of withdrawal to the Big 12. Brent Zwerneman, a reporter who is a passing acquaintance, is reporting that A&M denies doing any such thing. And the back-and-forth continues, with rumor and gossip standing in for news and fact. This will continue until Texas A&M finally does depart the SWC Big 12 and joins up with the Southeastern Conference. And don't be fooled--the Aggies are gone. All that's left is to dot the Is and cross the Ts. On Monday, the Big 12 seemed to accept the inevitable, sending A&M a letter outlining the process for withdrawal without provoking any lawsuits from the league. The Big 12 letter came in response to A&M President R. Bowen Loftin's letter to the Big 12 of Aug. 25 stating that A&M intended to explore its options regarding conference affiliation (which itself followed the A&M regents' vote on Aug. 14 to give Loftin the power to change conference affiliation):
"If Texas A&M withdraws from the Conference, we want to do so in a way that complies with the Bylaws and is supportive of your efforts to seek a new member of the Conference," Loftin wrote in the letter. "We would appreciate your conferring with the other member institutions and outlining for us the process to be followed by Texas A&M should it withdraw from the Conference."
So why is this happening? There are lots of reasons, as I've outlined in previous entries. But it all boils down to the Longhorn Network, of more specifically, Texas Athletic Director Deloss Dodds' insistence on seeing how far he can push the other league members to increase the Longhorns' many-fold revenue streams. Even Oklahoma, which has put up with a great deal of burnt orange rah-rah to keep the Big 12 together, is starting to chafe.
Several sources confirmed the A&M situation has developed some serious strains in the OU-Texas marriage. OU, like those who still want to make the Big 12 work, is reportedly fed up with Texas seeing how far it can push the others around with tactics like the Longhorn Network.

"Texas seems to be losing friends in more places than the Big 12 over all this," said a source with deep roots in college football. "Having a network is fine. But it's just the inference that they are trying to play by a somewhat different set of rules than anyone else that creates problems."
When the LHN first became a burning concern last spring, when Dodds used it as an excuse to back out of the proposed Pac-16 deal he'd brokered, all indications are that the scope of such a network were soft-pedaled to the other Big 12 schools. Low-ball estimates of revenue were floated. The Big 12 members agreed that Texas would be allowed one non-conference football game each year, with the remainder of its programming filled with original programming, rebroadcasts of "classic" games and non-revenue sports. Texas agreed to this. Then came the announcement of Dodds' heart-stopping $300,000,000 with ESPN. Suddenly, the game had changed, and Texas started circumventing the rules it had agreed to operate the LHN under. To fill all that airtime and give ESPN a return on that investment, they would broadcast Texas high school football--a move that everyone, except, apparently Texas and ESPN, sees as an unfair recruiting advantage. When the Big 12 athletic directors announced a ban on high school football games on the LHN (a move that was subsequently reaffirmed by the NCAA), Texas (being a "good member" of the Big 12) almost immediately circumvented that ruling by announcing it would show high school highlights. Do we see a pattern developing?

Despite the prohibition on more than one live football game--and no conference games--being broadcast on the LHN, Texas and ESPN announced they would be airing a second game (a conference game no less) right away. It soon came out that they were using strong-arm tactics against league opponents to get their way. Texas Tech was the first to go public, revealing that ESPN had threatened to not carry several of their games during the regular season if they wouldn't play ball with the LHN, so to speak. To their credit, the Red Raiders said "Go to hell." Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State eventually came forward with similar horror stories. To say there is a significant conflict of interest at work here with ESPN is a huge understatement.

And therein lies the crux of the matter. It's not the LHN itself that is the problem, it is the way Dodds is using it as a cudgel to bludgeon the rest of the league into submission. Dodds is fond of saying he's only doing what's best for Texas, and that anyone else would do the same. Well, that's not entirely true. Michigan and Ohio State have pretty big national profiles, but they haven't started their own networks--they are happy participants in the Big 10 Network, which makes a ton of money for all league teams. Southern Cal, likewise, could likely support a lucrative national network, but has thrown its support behind a Pac 12 Network which all can benefit from--something Texas refused to agree to last year, if you'll recall. Texas does do what's best for Texas, but given the choice, will always select the course of action that puts other conference members at the greatest disadvantage. And then dares the other schools to say something about it.

Texas will always get its way. If not right away, then eventually. If complaints go up about overreach, Dodds will back down a little, but rest assured Texas will still be positioned better than before. And they will continue to push. The pressure will be steady until, lo and behold, they're back at their original goal. It's the proverbial camel's nose in the tent. Is there any doubt that ESPN and the LHN will come back to the issue of broadcasting high school athletics over and over again until they get their way? Does anyone really believe the LHN will be satisfied with a single non-conference football game, that they won't keep pushing until they get at least simulcast rights to all of their home games? If not all of their games, period?

For all my hesitation about joining the SEC, A&M is doing the right thing. Texas treats the Big 12 with contempt, behaving as if it is its own personal fiefdom. When A&M departs, expect to see a lot of noise out of 40 Acres about cancelling the traditional Thanksgiving Day football game, and all matchups in all other sports. Don't be fooled--this isn't about punishing A&M (well, it is a little) but rather a threat leveled against Oklahoma. Apart from A&M, the only school in the Big 12 with the clout to stand up to Texas is OU. And OU has let it be known that they've had informal talks with the SEC, and are growing increasingly annoyed with Dodds' heavy-handed tactics. But the Sooners are not following A&M out the door yet for one reason and one reason only: Recruiting. For the Sooners, recruiting in the state of Texas is their lifeblood, and were the annual Red River Rivalry at the State Fair come to an abrupt end, their athletics programs could fall into a swoon they may never recover from. Don't think for a moment Dodds hasn't hinted this. Oklahoma is well aware of what happened to Arkansas once the SWC schools in Texas refused to play them anymore--Texas recruiting dried up and the Razorbacks struggled for more than a decade to become relevant again. This fear is real for Oklahoma, whereas Texas A&M is unencumbered by similar concerns.

If Oklahoma stays (and it will) then the Big 12 will have to expand, as the television contract is void if league membership drops below 10 schools. SMU and the University of Houston are often mentioned as potential replacements--if the Big 12 is desperate. Adding marginal athletic programs with tiny fan bases and non-existent television followings doesn't improve the Big 12 one iota. Likewise, TCU would be a fool to join the dying Big 12 when it can waltz into its new Big East conference and clean up with a BCS bid every year. Other schools mentioned by Dodds (and rest assured, Texas is calling the shots on any future expansion of the Big 12, with the other schools possibly being informed as a courtesy) include Arkansas, BYU, Air Force and Notre Dame. Firstly, Arkansas will not leave the SEC. They're one of the schools lobbying hardest to get A&M to jump ship, after all. Air Force brings national name recognition but nothing else. BYU makes the most sense, has the most to gain, being currently independent without an automatic BCS bid, and they also bring a decent fan base along with a decent national profile. If I were a betting man, I'd expect BYU to be a Big 12 member within a year.

But it's the repeated Notre Dame references that pique my interest, despite the fact that the Irish kind of shot down the idea of joining the Big 12, although not in a terribly forceful way. Two weeks ago, I floated the idea online that Dodds may well have presented an enticing package to Notre Dame: In exchange for joining the Big 12, you get to keep your deal with NBC to televise all your home games. Additionally, you may start your own network to generate even more money. The Big 12 will get your league road games for television contract purposes, which you will have a share of. And you will get guaranteed revenue from bowl appearances, plus better access to Texas recruiting. Guess how long it took for me to be shouted down? Yeah, about that long. But little snippets of information coming out seem to indicate that's pretty darn close to what Notre Dame has been offered to consider joining the Big 12. It is a tremendous amount of money, even by Notre Dame standards. That's $300 million for an Irish network alone, if not more, plus they'd keep their NBC revenues. Think about what that means: Texas is willing to throw the rest of the league out in the cold to ensure special treatment for it's new best friend. Texas is not threatened by Notre Dame in the slightest, 1) because Notre Dame divvies up athletics revenue in such a way that the school's general revenue fund gets the lion's share, which means that no matter how much money the Irish make, their athletics budget will remain only a fraction of Texas'; and 2) Irish football has foundered for the past 15 years, with no indication of turning it around any time soon. Notre Dame, for its part, might be attracted to join a conference as protection against the looming super-conference upheaval, and the truckloads of money Texas is offering is enough to make them at least consider the dysfunctional Big 12 as opposed to their more natural playmates in the Big 10.

But this might not be about the Big 12 at all. Dodds has said in the past that if the Big 12 breaks up, Texas will be just fine--they'll simply join up with Notre Dame and set up their own invitation-only super conference. If that is indeed what Dodds is angling for, then any Big 12 invitation to Notre Dame may well be a bit of mind games, tossing about unimaginable amounts of money in order to establish a more powerful negotiation position for the future. Either way, it is sheer insanity, and Notre Dame would be well advised to stay as far away from Austin as possible, lest they become addicted to the burnt orange teat like Oklahoma.

But either way, Texas A&M is gone. The popular buzz has the Aggies departing within a week, so they might play a full SEC slate in 2012. I don't see that happening, for logistical purposes. Juggling schedules and other practical matters would be possible, but quite difficult. And then there's the matter of a 14th team for a balanced SEC schedule. There hasn't been one identified yet, despite much speculation centering around Virginia Tech and Florida State. To me, it seems much more reasonable that A&M doesn't begin SEC play until 2013: By playing an extra year in the Big 12, A&M reduces the burden of its exit fees; gives the Big 12 an extra year to land a replacement team; and gives the SEC another year to identify and invite a 14th school to that league. When I've pointed this out online, I've been quickly shouted down. I don't know what will ultimately happen, but I do know that by this time next year, college football will be a very different-looking place.

As the conference turns, pt. 1
As the conference turns, pt. 2
As the conference turns, pt. 3

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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Armadillocon 33 post-mortem

I am home from Armadillocon 33. At this particular point in time, it is (I kid you not) 111 degrees Fahrenheit outside. And the air conditioning is non-functional in my car. Driving to and from the con in the early morning and late evening hours was not unpleasant, but the trip home in the blistering mid-afternoon was staggering. Do not try this at home.

Friday saw me involved with the writers' workshop most of the day. There were the usual mix of stories ranging from "almost there" to "needs a lot of work" but all in all it was a stimulating experience as always. Once the workshop wrapped up, I regretfully departed the convention and headed down the road to San Marcos, where I met up with my family to attend the annual LBJ Picnic at Texas State University. Once that wrapped up, I collected Monkey Girl and returned to Armadillocon, arriving just as the opening ceremonies let out.

This was Monkey Girl's first convention as an active participant. She's been to conventions in the past, but only fresh out of diapers and not in any way really engaging with the whole convention experience. This time was different. She's a voracious reader and was eager to explore gaming, the dealers room, art show, panels... the whole nine yards. Before departing, The Wife and I had a serious talk with her, warning her about socially maladjusted congoers of the male persuasion who were likely to hit on her, as she presents as much more mature than the 12-year-old that she is. This caution was met with eye-rolling from her, but was driven home very effectively by the nice lady in the con suite, who, in the process of refilling the Frito bowl, casually asked where Monkey Girl worked. The context of the question made it clear she assumed Monkey Girl to be either an upper-classman in high school or perhaps a college feshman. Monkey Girl was a bit rattled by this (which was a good thing, as she started taking me a little more seriously after that). Saturday saw her dress in her steampunk outfit, with high-heeled black boots, a black bustier and other accoutrements that conspired to make her look a lot older. Quite a few writer friends (*cough* Scott Johnson *cough*) did the classic Looney Tunes eye-bulge routine upon learning that she wasn't at least 16 as they'd assumed. It was great amusement for me, and even Monkey Girl started enjoying their obvious discomfort, twisted child that she is.

My panels this year proved to be quite engaging and dynamic. "Imagining a World Without Fossil Fuels" featured Guest of Honor Paolo Bacigalupi, Matt Cardin, David Chang, Katy Stauber and Matthew Bey (who had the greatest panel entrance ever when he biked in--then proceeded to lock up his bike to protect it from the audience). I co-hosted the Charity Auction with Mark Finn, which raised at least $400 for literacy projects, and I even managed to slip in a few good one-liners amid Finn's polished carnival barker shtick. Probably the highlight of the con for me was the panel "A Look Back at the Space Shuttle Program," during which I shared the spotlight with genuine, actual NASA science folks. The panel included Stauber, John Gibbons, Al Jackson, Bob Mahoney and Bill Frank. The lot of us shared a bunch of great stories about various facets of the space shuttle program, and I got to use the story June Scobee told during a years-ago tour of the old Wet-F tank, about how astronauts and trainers would hide a rubber shark somewhere in the mock-up, rigged to spring out once a panel was opened underwater. Once the shark disappeared, but was soon replaced by a rubber alligator. I expected to be drawn and quartered for my observation that the shuttle was a case of magnificent engineering of a lousy design, but the NASA guys generally agreed with me, and went on to outline and clarify the convoluted and irrational process which resulted in the shuttle attaining the form we're all familiar with. Afterwards, I got to hang out with Jackson and Frank and listen as they swapped war stories about the allocation of office space at JSC, Werner von Braun, Apollo 8, problematic shuttle missions and Space X. For a wanna-be astronaut like myself, it was heaven, and I actually got to cut short a phone call from The Wife by saying "Gotta go--I'm talking with rocket scientists!"

The only downer was my interaction with one particular guest, or rather lack thereof. This guest dismissed me pretty thoroughly at a previous Armadillocon some years ago, and although they seem to get along famously with the same folks I do, they tend to go out of their way to not acknowledge me. I'd almost convinced myself this was the paranoia of my fragile ego at work, but I found myself actively ignored all weekend, without so much as a token pleasantry directed my way. Ah well, I suppose I just rub some people the wrong way. Fortunately, the insanely talented Rocky Kelly isn't one of them, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time discussing the guilty pleasure of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior. He encouraged me to get to work on my long-threatened Hannibal Barca story, so if that comes to fruition, you know who to blame. I also somehow managed to miss Emma Bull the entire weekend, so my copy of War for the Oaks remains unsigned, although I did have a nice conversation with Elizabeth Moon, who subsequently gave Monkey Girl about 50 pounds of dark green yarn to learn knitting with. I'm still not exactly sure how that happened, either.

I also owe Lawrence Person a good smack upside the head for planting the seeds of a truly bignuts story in my mind that refuses to let me be, and accepted a short story challenge that Joe Lansdale threw down during Saturday night's gorilla panel. For the record, Bill Crider, Scott Cupp, Mark Finn, Chris Brown, Rick Klaw and James Reasoner accepted the challenge as well, and are expected to have their respective stories finished in time for Armadillocon 34.

No recap of Armadillocon 33 would be complete without a recap of Monkey Girl's party-hopping experience on Saturday night. Actually, there wasn't much party-hopping on her part. Our first stop was the Space Squid party, where a projector was set up showing episodes of "Kure Kure Takora (Gimme Gimme Octopus)" on the back wall. It is, in a word, bizarre. This Japanese kids' show from the 70s features balloon-like costumes evocative of Sid and Marty Kroft creations on acid, or Yo Gabba Gabba gone horribly wrong. See for yourself:

Monkey Girl quickly became obsessed, laughing so hard she was effectively incapacitated. When I finally dragged her away to visit other parties, she kept pestering me to go back and watch the "Balloon Octopus" some more. All it took to send her into spasms of laughter was to flail my arms awkwardly--I started doing this as a party trick to amuse other con-goers, triggering my daughter's gut-busting Pavlovian response. Finally, I relented and took her back, admonishing her that she was not to leave the Space Squid party under any circumstances. For their part, the Space Squid folks found this utterly hilarious, that someone would banish their child to one of their bashes celebrating all things tacky about science fiction. What can I say? We live in a crazy, crazy world.

Can't wait until next year. We've got all of those Lansdale challenge gorilla stories to look forward to, don'tcha know.

Now Playing: The Smithereens 11
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Wind machine? Check. Random welder throwing off sparks? Check. Hot model, wet for no reason? Check. It's must be Eddie Money's "Walk on Water" video.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Gin Blossoms.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Armadillocon ho!

Armadillocon starts tomorrow, and I'll be right there in the mix of things. Friday I'm participating as once of the sadistic torturers instructors in the long-running writer's workshop, which is always stimulating and entertaining. I'm also co-hosting the Charity Auction with Mark Finn, which promises no end to the shenanigans. The rest of my weekend schedule is as follows:
Imagining a World without Fossil Fuels
11 AM-Noon
P. Bacigalupi, M. Bey, J. Blaschke*, M. Cardin, D. Chang, K. Stauber
Discussing the implications of this all-too-plausible scenario.

Charity Auction
2-3 PM
J. Blaschke*, Mark Finn*
Come buy stuff to help raise money for the Literacy Coalition of Central Texas.

What is the Next Big Literary Movement in Texas SF/F?
7-8 PM
L. Antonelli, J. Blaschke, R. Eudaly, K. Stauber, D. Webb*, L. Thomas
In the 80s and 90s, Texas writers were intimately involved with the cyberpunk movement. Is there a current movement that's about to sweep up the new crop of Lone Star authors?

A Look Back at the Space Shuttle Program
8-9 PM
J. Blaschke, B. Frank*, J. Gibbons, A. Jackson, B. Mahoney, K. Stauber
Now that the last mission is over, let's discuss the successes of the shuttle and what it meant to the space program and the USA.

Noon-1 PM
M. Bey, J. Blaschke, A. Downum, F. Duarte, S. Johnson, J. Vanderhooft

Finding Your Voice as a Storyteller
1-2 PM
N. Barrett, J. Blaschke*, S. Brust, A. Downum, W. Spencer, S. White
The most fun writers to read are those with distinctive narrative voices. How does a writer develop one?
Stop by and say howdy if you get a chance!

Now Playing: Miles Davis Birth of the Cool
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stupid River Tricks

If the New Braunfels city council is meeting, rest assured they're going to pass some damn fool stupid ordinance regarding the Comal River in the face of massive popular opposition. It'd be funny if it weren't so predictable. One might think they'd learned their lesson five years ago, when council member Ken Valentine led a block in voting to severely restrict the size and types of coolers allowed on the river. Ostensibly, this was to curb rowdy, drunken behavior on the river, but in fact was a thinly veiled move to make floating the Comal so onerous and hassle-filled that people simply stop doing so. There are many owners of riverfront property who hate that the Comal is a public water way, and would like nothing more than to make it their own private water front. The council passed that cooler ban in 2007, and shortly therafter, Ken Valentine was successfully recalled and the ban overturned.

That whole scenario is playing out once again, as the New Braunfels city council--again, in the face of widespread and popular community opposition--passed an ordinance banning "disposable containers" on the river. Ostensibly (there's that word again), it's supposed to control alcohol consumption on the river, but in reality it's a blanket ban on any drink container, making no differentiation among alcohol, water or soft drink containers. Heck, even a child's juice box is illegal now. It's even been pointed out repeatedly that this ordinance conflicts with an existing state law, but a promised lawsuit by river outfitters and community members wasn't enough to dissuade our runaway council. Naturally, the local paper sides with the good ol' boys and leads the cheering section:
New Braunfels City Council did the right thing Monday night with the passage of a disposable container ban.

And they did it despite incredible pressure, which is difficult to ignore in this still-small town. They faced picketers, threats of lawsuits and recall elections and still did the right thing.
Is there a problem with unruly crowds on the Comal River this year and litter? Yes, but there are several facts that tell me our council never actually wanted to address that problem in a constructive way:
  1. Opponents of the ordinance requested that the city council put it on a November ballot and allow the citizens of New Braunfels to decide. The council refused.
  2. The council members were inundated with letters, emails and testimony against the ordinance as written. As with the previous cooler ban, council members listened politely then voted for the ordinance anyway. This leads me to believe collusion is at work, that the council members decided well in advance what they would vote regardless of public sentiments. In 2007, a committee had been set up to examine the river issues. That committee's recommendations were never presented during the council meetings, and the committee chair disavowed the ensuing ordinance, insisting it flew in the face of their recommendations. Because said recommendations did not support the council's agenda, the report was suppressed. I see the same back room dealing going on once again.
  3. Of the large, unruly crowds, the council members never once in any of the published reports I saw, acknowledge that the severe drought was a direct cause of the problems. The Guadalupe River flow is less than 60 cubic feet per second, and for adequate tubing conditions, river flows need to be more than 200 cfs. The Guadalupe is historically the preferred destination of young adults and a more boisterous crowd, but with river flows so low, forcing tubers to walk significant distances in the dry river, most are opting for the Comal this year. A wet winter and spring would alleviate those conditions, and the crowd problems on the Comal would go away.
  4. A big justification for the ban on disposable containers was based on the "urine theory." Some area divers, purported to be long-time residents, claim to have noticed a new type of algae in the river in recent years. Their claim is that urine from tubers coming into contact with aluminum beer cans tossed into the river is responsible for this new growth. There is, I'm sad to say, absolutely nothing substantive to back this up. It's anecdotal, nothing more.
  5. Volunteer cleanup efforts of the river were effectively ignored.
Now, how is this ordinance going to fail in every spectacular way possible? Well, it will be overturned in court because it attempts to supersede an existing state law, which municipalities can't do:
A 1993 state law prohibits cities from banning disposable containers. It was intended ... to keep recycling and sanitary disposable laws consistent from town to town.
Of course, defending that ordinance in court will cost New Braunfels hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. How's that for fiscally conservative stewardship of our tax dollars? There will likely be recall elections as well. Mayor Gale Pospisil didn't win her election a year ago by a very large margin. I voted for her, I'm sorry to say. It wouldn't surprise me if her tenure is a very short one, since she seems to be the ringleader in this disaster. And this ban only applies to "disposable" containers. I would not be surprised if we see an influx of kegs, pitchers and other outrageous containers hitting the river to circumvent the wrong-headed ordinance. At which point the council will once again push through an equally divisive ordinance designed to plug the holes in the preceding ill-conceived effort, resulting in more lawsuits. But what upsets me the most is the seizing of an event--in this case, the severe drought--to drive a private agenda. This disposable container ban does not address the problem, it is merely a knee-jerk reaction that is full of sound and fury but ultimately doing nothing to preserve river quality. Does the New Braunfels city council really want to make a difference and preserve the Comal River as an environmentally protected, family-friendly recreation venue? Here are my suggestions:
  1. Go to the legislature. Only the state can regulate alcohol on public waterways, as New Braunfels found out in 2000, when yet another wrongheaded city ordinance was struck down in court. So get the state on your side. Lobby State Senator Jeff Wentworth and Rep. Doug Miller on this between now and 2013 when the lege reconvenes. The Comal River is only 2.5 miles long, and wholly contained within the New Braunfels city limits. A suitably narrow law (or constitutional amendment) restricting alcohol consumption on that limited stretch is not such a high mountain to climb when you consider constitutional amendments granting permission to specific counties to abolish the position of constable regularly appear on the ballot. This approach would require dedication, communication and commitment by our city council. Which, I suppose, is the reason why it has never been tried (As a side note, I never drink alcohol on the river. There's not a quicker way to get dehydrated on a blisteringly hot day, and I've no desire to drown).
  2. If they really care about the river, get with the Texas River Systems Institute up the road in San Marcos to develop a long-term use and management plan for the Comal. Is there really new algae created by the unholy union of urine and aluminum taking over the river? These folks can tell you, and give you evidence to back it up. But issues with the Comal are not limited to too many rowdy tubers in 2011. There is credible evidence that Texas is in the opening decades of a 70-year mega-drought, and if New Braunfels has any vision at all, it needs to prepare for the consequences. Comal Springs, as large as they are, ran dry in 1956--a fact that very few New Braunfels residents seem aware of. String together a couple more years like 2011--which has seen Stage 1 and Stage 2 water use restrictions almost the duration of the year locally, with some West Texas towns running out of water entirely--and we'd be facing a major crisis where "disposable containers" on the river would be the least of our worries.
Instead of a knee-jerk patchwork of ineffective city ordinances driven by momentary crises, New Braunfels needs to get serious and develop a long-term river management plan that is backed by credible science and takes into account the pertinent economic, recreational and environmental issues involved. Unfortunately, that approach is probably far too reasonable and visionary for our current city council, which will likely busy itself in the coming year crafting an ordinance banning floatation devices weighing less than 538 pounds. Sounds crazy? Yeah, but I wouldn't put it past them.

Now Playing: Jim Hancock and the Gypsy Guerrilla Band Good Companions
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Saturday, August 20, 2011

LoneStarCon 3 wins 2013 Worldcon bid for San Antonio


RENO, Nev. – The World Science Fiction Convention will return to Texas for the first time since 1997 after voting results announced Aug. 20 at Renovation, the 2011 Worldcon, awarded the right to host the international conference to the Texas in 2013 bid.

LoneStarCon 3-–the 71st World Science Fiction Convention-–will be held Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2013, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Mariott Rivercenter and Mariott Riverwalk will serve as the host hotels.

The guests of honor list for LoneStarCon 3 includes Ellen Datlow, James Gunn, Norman Spinrad, Darrel K. Sweet and Willie Siros, with Paul Cornell serving as toastmaster and featuring special guests Leslie Fish and Joe R. Lansdale.

Founded in 1939, the World Science Fiction Convention is one of the largest international gatherings of authors, artists, editors, publishers and fans of science fiction and fantasy entertainment. The annual Hugo Awards, the leading award for excellence in the field of science fiction and fantasy, are voted on by Worldcon membership and presented during the convention.

LoneStarCon 3 is sponsored by ALAMO, Inc., (Alamo Literary Arts Maintenance Organization), a 501(c)3 organization. Membership for LoneStarCon 3 may be purchased at www.LoneStarCon3.org. In addition to individual memberships, LoneStarCon 3 will also offer a family rate. For more information about LoneStarCon 3, memberships or hotel information, visit www.LoneStarCon3.org.

About the Guests of Honor

Paul Cornell is a writer of science fiction and fantasy in prose, television and comics, and is the only person to have been a Hugo Award nominee for all three media. He’s written Action Comics for DC Comics and Doctor Who for the BBC. His novels are Something More and British Summertime. His forthcoming novel, an urban fantasy, will be published by Tor in 2012.

Ellen Datlow has edited science fiction, fantasy and horror short fiction for three decades. She served as fiction editor of Omni magazine and SCI Fiction, and has edited many anthologies for adults, young adults and children. She has won multiple Locus, Hugo, Stoker, International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson and World Fantasy Awards. She was the recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award for “outstanding contribution to the genre.”

Leslie Fish is one of the best-known authors of filk songs including “Banned from Argo,” a comic song parodying Star Trek which has spawned more than 80 variants since first performed.

James Gunn is a science fiction author, editor, scholar and anthologist. His most significant writings include fiction from the 1960s and 70s and his scholarly Road to Science Fiction collections. Gunn is a founding director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction. He won a Hugo Award for non-fiction in 1983 and was honored in 2007 as a Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Joe R. Lansdale is the author of more than 30 books and is known to his fans as Champion Joe, Mojo Storyteller. His is known for his horror stories, the Hap and Leonard mystery/thriller series and the theatrical film Bubba Ho-Tep. Lansdale’s many awards include 16 Bram Stoker Aawards, the Grand Master Award from the World Horror Convention, a British Fantasy Award and the American Mystery Award.

Willie Siros was instrumental in starting the long-running Austin science fiction convention, Armadillocon, serving as chair of the first three editions. Siros also contributed to the founding of the Fandom Association of Central Texas, the original LoneStarCon (the 1985 North American Science Fiction Convention) and Adventures In Crime & Space Books. He is a former para-librarian at the University of Texas Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center where he developed its speculative fiction collection.

Norman Spinrad is the author of more than 20 novels, including Bug Jack Barron, The Iron Dream, Child of Fortune, Pictures at 11, Greenhouse Summer and The Druid King. He has also published approximately 60 short stories collected in a dozen volumes. Spinrad has written teleplays, including the classic Star Trek episode “The Doomsday Machine.” He is a long time literary critic, occasional film critic and songwriter, and perpetual political analyst.

Darrell K. Sweet is an artist most famous for providing the cover art for the fantasy epic saga The Wheel of Time. He is also the illustrator for the well-known Xanth series by Piers Anthony, the Saga of Recluce series by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., and the Runelords series by David Farland. He is also the original cover artist for Stephen R. Donaldson’s series The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.

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Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday Night Videos

It is curious, but I never really got into the Gin Blossoms. I find this strange now that I think about it, because I generally like the songs of theirs I've heard and their lyric, guitar-driven tunes are of a style that I tend to gravitate toward. I'm not sure why I've never bought any of their albums or pursued them any further. "Hey Jealousy" was my first exposure to their music, and still holds up well today. And the video's simple, but effectively trippy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Jermaine Stewart

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As the conference turns, pt. 3

Over the years of the Big 12's existence, despite much on-field success, tensions never subsided behind the scenes. Nebraska continued to chafe at Texas' perceived dominance in the league's front offices. Say what you will of Deloss Dodds, but he is a shrewd businessman and very adept at convincing others that their best interests lie with whatever course of action benefits Texas the most. When Tom Osborne returned to Nebraska as athletic director, those tensions ratcheted up--in Osborne's view, the Cornhuskers play second fiddle to nobody. In the spring of 2010, things were about to come to a head, prompted by the Big 10's announcement in January that they would consider expansion.

Enter Missouri. Yes, Missouri, a school with a strong basketball tradition and erratic football history. Mizzou had long harbored a dream of joining the Big 10 and playing the likes of Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin on an annual basis. For reasons I confess I'm still not terribly clear on, Mizzou began agitating for a Big 10 bid in early 2010. On message boards, at least, Missouri fans were quite belligerent about their desires, insisting they had more in common with the Big 10, and that the rival league had wanted to add them for years. Then, unexpectedly, similar rumblings emerged from Nebraska. To his credit, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe pretty promptly demanded that Nebraska and Missouri clarify their intentions or face league sanctions. Nebraska immediately said, "We've got a Big 10 offer. We're outta here." To Dan Beebe's everlasting discredit, he was wholly unprepared for Nebraska calling his bluff. Meanwhile, Mizzou stared slack-jawed at Nebraska's abrupt realignment move, and humiliated by the fact that the Big 10 stopped returning calls.

Over in Austin, Deloss Dodds was anything but flat-footed. In June, it came out that his Big 10 fetish had resurfaced in a big way, in a series of emails between Ohio State President Gordon Gee and Big 10 Commissioner Jim Delany. The messages referenced a conversation between Gee and Texas President William Powers, who purportedly said Texas would welcome a Big 10 bid, but had a "Tech problem." Texas and Texas A&M are both members of the academically-prestigious American Association of Universities, whereas Texas Tech is not. AAU membership would be a requirement for admission to the Big 10 conference, and Texas, remembering the political firestorm 20 years before that landed Tech and Baylor spots in the Big 12, was mindful that it wouldn't be able to strike out on its own.

With a jump to the Big 10 facing complications, Dodds turned to the other league he'd flirted with 20 years before: the Pac 10. The academically respected conference was a decent consolation prize, but wasn't quite as stringent in its admission requirements. As far as I can tell, Dodds pretty much on his own negotiated a bold deal: The Pac 10 would expand to 16 teams, taking Texas, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Colorado as well as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. The league would then split into two divisions, with Arizona and Arizona State joining the Big 12 refugees in the southern division. It was a bold plan, except judging from the way it played out in the media, Dodds hadn't bothered to discuss it with any of the five other Big 12 schools he planned to bring along. Maybe that was a holdover from SWC negotiations two decades before, where he was forced to find homes for other schools. Maybe it was a poorly-timed assumption brought on by all the league office battles with Nebraska where the southern division schools lined up behind Texas. In any event, the announcement that a move to the Pac 10 was a done deal caught most other schools by surprise. Instead of accepting the offer on the table, Texas A&M said "Wait a minute. We didn't want to go to the Pac 20 years ago, why should we want to go now?"

Texas A&M started talking to the SEC. Suddenly, Dodds' plans were in jeopardy. A&M had a large fan base and television following that the Pac wanted. Without A&M, there would only be a Pac 15, and unbalanced divisions make for difficult scheduling. Plus there weren't any other obvious teams of A&M's caliber available to fill that slot--BYU might fit the bill with its large Mormon fan base, but the school refused to play on Sundays, a non-starter for the Pac. The SEC, sensing opportunity, opened up communication with Oklahoma about perhaps joining the SEC along with A&M. The enormous travel challenges of Texas and Oklahoma schools playing schools along the west coast was a big negative, as was the western time zone and perceived liberal, elitist attitudes of the Pac 10 schools. Baylor, panicked at the prospect of being relegated to Conference USA like the University of Houston, started mobilizing its political connections to force Texas to take the Bears along to the Pac 16. The Pac 10, for its part, wanted nothing to do with small, religious Baylor. Colorado, which had harbored dreams of joining the Pac 10 for decades but never viewed them as practical, suddenly saw itself as the odd man out if Baylor did somehow manage to strong-arm Texas. In a burst of self-preservation, the Colorado Buffaloes snatched the open Pac 10 bid and announced they were leaving the Big 12.

The Texas plan was in tatters. Baylor was trying to muscle its way into the party, Missouri--which had started the whole thing--was crying in the corner because no conference was showing any interest at all, and Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State faced the prospect of begging the Mountain West Conference for membership. Talk abounded of congressional hearings in Washington, D.C., about realignment. And the Aggies were still hell-bent on joining the SEC for more money. The entire plan was about to collapse and Deloss Dodds needed an out.

Several years earlier, the subject of a Big 12 cable network was broached, and Dodds was among the voices arguing for the league not to act, but instead take a "wait and see" attitude. Shortly thereafter, Texas representatives approached Texas A&M about starting a joint cable network, called "The Flagship Network" or alternately "The Lone Star Network." Talks never went very far--depending on which side you talk to, it was the other that lost interest and walked away. in the meantime, conference-owned networks proved to be lucrative endeavours. The Big 10 launched a version, resulting in millions in extra income for their member schools. The Pac 10 was in the early stages of launching something similar, as was the SEC. The Big 12 was still taking a "wait and see" attitude. Ever since the joint network with A&M had fallen through, Texas had brought up the prospects of doing its own network from time to time, but abruptly it became a major issue for the Longhorns. With Pac 10 offers on the table, Dodds asked the Pac if the Longhorn Network would be allowed to exist independently of the nascent Pac 16 network, and carry league games. The Pac 10 responded (rightly) of course not. At that point, Dodds announced that Texas would be staying in the Big 12 and work to make the league viable over the long term. And just like that, A&M--still negotiating with the SEC--became the only threat to the viability of the Big 12.

At the time, I viewed Dodds' move as self-serving and transparent. I wanted Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin and Athletic Director Bill Byrne to turn the tables on Texas by saying, "Yes, we will continue our membership in the Big 12 if you give us assurances that you will abandon your plans for the Longhorn Network and instead work to establish a Big 12 network that will benefit all member schools." I doubt Texas would've agreed to those terms, but we'll never know. In the end, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe guaranteed A&M and extra $20 million to stay in the league. It appeared to be the best deal for A&M at the time, despite the sentiment of many students and alumni favoring a move to the SEC. Personally, I favored none of the options, having reservations about the Pac 10, Big 10 and SEC. My preference was to continue the Big 12, but without Nebraska and Colorado, the league was mortally wounded. Without expansion--which everyone involved with the conference insisted wasn't on the agenda--I gave the Big 12 a five-year lifespan at best. Texas, I was convinced, would get the Longhorn Network (LHN) up and running, then bolt for either the Big 10 or Pac 12, banking on their value as a marquee team to convince the destination conference to "grandfather in" the LHN. Failing that, they could go independent and maximize their cash flow that way.

In any event, it appears I was too optimistic on the lifespan of the Big 12 by about four years.

As the conference turns, pt. 1
As the conference turns, pt. 2

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

As the conference turns, pt. 2

After Arkansas left the SWC, it became a dead league walking. With three teams of national prominence and large fan bases in Texas, Arkansas and Texas A&M, the growing problems of the league could be overlooked and glossed over. But with only the two big state schools remaining, the fact that TCU, Rice, Baylor and SMU were small private schools with small alumni bases and almost no television presence was magnified. The fact that the University of Houston played most of its games in a mostly-empty Astrodome despite a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Andre Ware and the excitement of the record-setting run-and-shoot offense didn't help. A&M and Texas were subsidizing the rest of the league's athletic budgets with large and loyal fan bases. SWC commissioner Fred Jacoby, after insisting Arkansas would never leave, began mentioning schools like Louisville, Tulsa or Tulane as potential additions to the league. To try and keep the league viable, A&M made overtures to LSU, which quickly said "Thanks, but no thanks." Likewise, Texas inquired if Oklahoma would consider joining the SWC. Here, things get interesting. Oklahoma was unhappy with revenue sharing in the Big 8 at the time, and felt that too many of the weak sisters--Kansas State, Iowa State, etc.--were padding their athletic budgets with disproportionate shares of money from Oklahoma's television appearances. A "keep what you kill" arrangement similar to what had been put in place in the SWC--in that home schools kept larger portions of home gate revenue, television appearance fees and bowl payouts--appealed to the Sooners' athletic director and president. And they said so. Publicly. Make note of this, because it becomes important. For maybe a week in 1994, it suddenly looked like Oklahoma was thinking about leaving the Big 8 to join the ailing SWC.

Except, that's not what happened, at all. Oklahoma wanted more favorable revenue distribution, but they weren't about to hitch their star to the foundering SWC. A&M and Texas were already looking for a way out. Texas looked westward, wanting to join the academically prestigious Pac 10 and all the member schools there that were part of the American Association of Universities. They also flirted with the Big 10 as well. Sound familiar? Texas A&M, for its part, looked eastward, wanting to follow Arkansas to the SEC and play LSU, Alabama and the rest in that football mad circuit. Texas objected to the SEC because of low academic standards. A&M objected to the Big 10 and Pac 10 because of distance and culture. All of these issue would come into play once again in 2010-2011. In the end, joining the Big 8 was something of a compromise between the two, the only way they'd both be able to get out of the SWC.

Once word got out in Austin that the two flagship institutions were bailing on the SWC, political forces lined up against them. Governor Ann Richards, Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock and powerful State Senator David Sibley were all Baylor alums, and Texas Tech had State Senate President Pro Tempore John Montford and Speaker of the House Pete Laney in its corner. The message was clear--take Texas Tech and Baylor along with you, or don't go at all. If A&M would give up its aspirations of playing in the SEC, legislative opposition to A&M's long-delayed Reed Arena would magically vanish. And thus, the Big 12 came into being.

By all rights, it should've been the perfect athletic conference. The southern division made up of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor were close to the original lineup of the Southwest Conference from 1914. Many of the regional rivalries stayed in place, and the schools were rewarded with a whopping $100 million, five-year deal (a huge contract for the time). It should've been one big happy family, but it wasn't. Almost immediately, Texas and Nebraska started butting heads. Nebraska viewed the Big 12 as an expansion of the old Big 8, while the new Texas schools viewed the league as an entirely new entity--at worst, it was a merger. Nebraska wanted the Big 12 offices to stay in Kansas City, where the Big 8 had been headquartered. The Texas schools wanted them in Dallas, where the SWC had been headquartered. The Texas schools, led by Texas AD Deloss Dodds and supported by the Oklahoma schools, won out. Nebraska supported one candidate for first Big 12 commissioner (whose name escapes me) whereas the Texas schools supported Steve Hatchell, a former administrator from the University of Colorado who'd joined the SWC front office just prior to the league's dissolution. Again, Texas won out. When the league split into two divisions, north and south, Nebraska protested that its annual rivalry game with Oklahoma would end. Nebraska lost that fight, too. The Big 8's more equitable revenue sharing was abandoned in favor of an unbalanced, SWC-style financial arrangement. The bitterest fight came when Texas moved to impose SWC academic standards limiting the participation of partial qualifiers into the Big 12 rule book. Nebraska, which had built a decades-long championship streak on the muscle of unlimited partial qualifiers in the academically lax Big 8 fought the new standards tooth and nail. And lost again. I believe it is no coincidence that Nebraska's on-field dominance waned quickly from that point on, and head football coach Tom Osborne retired shortly thereafter to enter politics.

The final indignity came in the very first Big 12 championship game, where a John Mackovic-coached Texas team stunned the heavily favored Nebraska Cornhuskers for the first league title. At this point, I have to wonder if this was all clever strategy by Oklahoma to undercut Nebraska by using Texas as a proxy. Certainly, Oklahoma's interests paralleled Texas' in most cases, and the Sooners benefited indirectly from the Longhorns' off-field victories over the Cornhuskers. In any event, the Texas-Nebraska antagonist relationship was cemented, with Texas AD Deloss Dodds outmaneuvering his counterparts at every turn. The rot from within had taken hold, and it would be only a matter of time before it made it to the surface.

As the conference turns, pt. 1

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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

As the conference turns, pt. 1

One year ago, I pegged the Big 12 athletic conference's life at five years, tops. Turns out I was being way too optimistic. With Texas A&M's whirlwind courtship of the Southeastern Conference these past couple of weeks, it's obvious that when things fall apart, they fall apart quickly.

This all began, really, back in 1995 when the old SWC went belly-up. That particular death sentence was put in motion several years earlier when Frank Broyles, the athletic director at Arkansas who ran off several coaches--including Ken Hatfield--because of incessant meddling, decided the Razorbacks would profit immensely by joining the SEC and forming a 12-team super conference with a lucrative championship game. Up until that point, such and animal had never existed at the DI-A level of college football. Yes, the NCAA had a rule provision allowing 12-member leagues to split into divisions and hold and extra championship game, but it was originally written for lower-level competition. Trouble is, the NCAA never actually wrote that intention into the rule. The SEC seized the opportunity and soon became the best football conference in the land. Arkansas crashed and burned. Several things worked against Arkansas in the move: Firstly, Broyles refused to admit that more money was the reason behind the conference switch, instead making the duplicitous claim that the Razorbacks needed "better competition" after winning back-to-back SWC titles. You can imagine the embarrassment when the entire SWC--even post-death penalty SMU--pounded the Piggies in their final two seasons of competition before joining the SEC. Secondly, Arkansas had no existing rivals in the SEC, and suffered through an awkward, new-kid-at-school phase where they didn't know anyone and were picked on mercilessly. Third--and this is the biggest issue--Arkansas stocked its football roster with Texas players via its century-long association with the SWC. With A&M, Baylor, Texas and the rest refusing to schedule them after their departure from the SWC, that recruiting dried up quickly. Arkansas made more money in the SEC than it could in the SWC, yes, but the other setbacks took the Razorbacks a decade to overcome to the point where they're only now, 20 years later, consistently competitive in their new league.

Many people point to Arkansas' experience in the SEC as a cautionary tale for A&M as it looks to jump ship. The fact that A&M has lost two games against Arkansas and one to LSU, both SEC powerhouses, in recent years adds to the perception that a move to the SEC is a bad one for the Aggies. The Arkansas experience isn't necessarily relevant for A&M though. Firstly, the A&M recruiting base in Texas won't evaporate as it did for Arkansas, because the Aggies will always play at least half of their games in College Station--a short drive for mamma and daddy to come see junior play. Some argue it will actually help A&M, that in-state blue chippers who want to play against such legendary SEC teams as Alabama, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia will now have an in-state option. Others argue it will open up Texas recruiting to those same SEC programs and hurt all the Texas schools. That's debatable. I see it as a wash, more or less. A second reason the A&M move wouldn't be like Arkansas' is that A&M already has long-standing relationships with several of the schools they'd be playing. Familiarity with Arkansas exists from the SWC days and the recent renewal of that series at the neutral site of JerryWorld up in DFW. LSU is a long-standing rivalry that stirs the passions on both sides. LSU's abrupt cancellation of a long-term contract in the early 90s after A&M had won five games in a row (coupled with a similar break in the series under similar circumstances back in the 70s) merely adds fuel to the fire. And anyone who knows anything about college football knows A&M's ties to Alabama via Paul "Bear" Bryant and Gene Stallings. Finally, A&M isn't pretending the reasons for this potential move are for anything other than what they are: A chance for more money, more stability, and a chance to get out from under the oppressive thumb of the Texas Longhorns--or, more specifically, Texas Athletic Director Deloss Dodds.

Will the Aggies dominate SEC play and rack up a bunch of national championships right away? Not likely. That's not what this is about. There's a huge shakeup coming in college athletics, and for once, A&M wants to make its own destiny for good or ill, rather than tag along on someone else's coattails.

Next: The birth and untimely death of the Big 12.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Aggies to SECede: As done as a deal can be

Wow, that happened fast. If there was any doubt left that the Texas A&M Board of Regents would vote to move Texas A&M athletics from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference during their hastily-scheduled conference call on Monday, this email that popped up in my in-box this morning from the Association of Former Students pretty much laid them to rest. If the university is mobilizing a political phone campaign to counteract protests by Baylor, Tech and anyone else who doesn't want this to happen (University of Houston, aka Cougar High alumni are probably the only people in the state in A&M's corner this time) then you know they're going to the mat on this one. Here's the letter:
August 13, 2011

Howdy, Ags!

Today, as always, Texas A&M University is fortunate to have a University president at our helm who firmly places the best interests of Texas A&M as the top priority in any decisions he makes. In our discussions with Dr. R. Bowen Loftin '71, we often ask him how The Association of Former Students and the Aggie Network can help him and help Texas A&M.

As you may be aware, reports have circulated that Texas A&M is contemplating a change in athletic conferences. This has generated much speculation across the Aggie Network and among alumni of schools that could be impacted by our possible change of conferences. It is our understanding that some of these alumni have begun to exert influence on their elected officials to take interceding action.

While these individuals are certainly entitled to voice their opinions to their elected officials, so too are Aggies. The decision on Texas A&M's conference alignment - or any decision impacting our University's future - is one that should be made by our University leaders. If Aggies, too, will engage their elected officials and ask them to consider Texas A&M's need to do what is right and best for our school and our future, our President and other University leaders can focus solely on the best interests of Texas A&M today and tomorrow.

Opportunities abound for Texas A&M, and our University leaders need the latitude to explore and pursue avenues that will be to our benefit. We should be free to chart our own course without the influence of those who may not have our best interest at heart. If you agree, I hope you will reach out to your elected State of Texas officials and respectfully encourage them to let Texas A&M guide Texas A&M's future.

The Association of Former Students is committed to promoting the interests and welfare of Texas A&M. Earlier this week we shared a video of a recent panel discussion on the future of higher education. Throughout the discussion our panelists expressed the importance of allowing the leadership at Texas A&M to make decisions without outside influence. We believe that to be true in all circumstances.

Thank you for your support of Texas A&M. We ask that you join The Association and our friends at the 12th Man Foundation in supporting Texas A&M President Dr. R. Bowen Loftin ’71 as he determines what is best for our great University.


Porter S. Garner III '79
President and CEO

Jorge A. Bermudez '73
2011 Chair of the Board
The Association of Former Students
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Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday Night Videos

Way back when it came out in the late 80s, Jermaine Stewart's We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off made me laugh. It struck me at the time as supremely silly. And you know what? The intervening decades haven't changed my mind one bit. Although I will admit that Wimberley Valley Winery makes some pretty good cherry wine.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Androp.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Friday Night Videos

I do believe I've found the Japanese equivalent of OK Go in Androp. Not necessarily musically speaking (I've no clue what the song is about, and the style of play is different) but rather in their clever approach to video production. Androp used 250 computer-controlled Canon 60D cameras with shoe-mount strobes to illuminate their video for "Bright Siren." All I can say is, "Way to go, guys!"

And if that's not enough for you, they've also produced a nifty "Making-of video" that's online as well. Fascinating stuff!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cole Porter.

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