Twitter? Facebook? Put Down the Social Media and Pick Up the Telephone

Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 | 0 comments

I did not watch the Oscars last night. Which is something of a rarity. Rather, I spoke on the phone with an old friend who rang me up out of the blue. We talked through nearly the entire show.  And, I can say that I did not miss the award show one bit.

As most of my friends who call or speak with me on the phone know, I love to talk, at length, about anything and everything – from politics to personal life – and some conversations are marathons.

Alexander Graham BellBecause of that, I have a good number of old and new friends who seek me out for just that: long,  very specific, multiple-topic, gregarious, nostalgic, personal, emotional, intellectual, political, spiritual, goofy conversations, and / or just plain old chat-chat.

Our long conversations are a throwback to the days when we’d meet at the pub, sit down over a pint (or two or three) and eat some food and just talk about our lives, the world in general, politics, music, cinema.

Today, the 138 year-old phone allows us to have those conversations when we live variously in NY and Fort Collins, or in different boroughs of the city, or upstate and the city or NYC and Omaha. We do “talk” regularly via social media, but it’s just not the same. It is sorely lacking.

It occurred to me how under-appreciated the phone is these days. It really is superior to all the social media. As fun and great looking and immediate as social media is, it lacks something integral and very important. Conversations on the telephone function as a true dialectic. The written word of social media is inferior to speaking when creating a dialectic, because writing interferes with the back-and-forth, as emotional context, and intellectual context are removed with the use of the written word.

For example, how many times have you misread someone’s intent as being serious when they were being sarcastic? It happens repeatedly in a written discussion, especially one that is online. It is why so many of the discussions on the internet bounce around in a pointless loop. It’s why “trolling” – the act of deliberately inserting emotional wedge issues and diversion into a conversation – is so popular and works so well on the web. If you were in a bar, and tried to “troll” a face-to-face conversation, you would more than likely get punched in the face.

The use of anonymity on the web also fosters a certain level of hubris. Even when people aren’t anonymous, they feel empowered to say things online that they would not actually speak aloud in person. Physical presence and an actual dialectic have a strong role to play in our lives. The emotional and intellectual impact within a conversation remain intact in a face-to-face or a phone conversation. Hubris and sarcasm and all the rest come into play, but it’s more directly understood and dealt with as such immediately. It trumps social media in that regard.

In the end, engaging a dialectic properly (and often), means that a conversation will yield ideas, and solutions. A deeper emotional connection between two (or more) people will develop. Some discussions are actually meant to last a life time. If we practice them properly.

To the ancient Greek Sophists, the dialectic, the discussion, was an art form. It was the practice they taught to achieve higher truths. And, through those higher truths, lay peace, happiness and community. It’s something we’ve lost along the way, and should endeavor to re-establish and nurture.

The lesson for me is that, like my friends, I have remembered that simply picking up the phone to talk is important and valuable. The telephone is old technology, but it’s still the best if you want to have a conversation that breathes, and grows and adds to your life.

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Kristin Hersh Nurtures Sound and Soul in a World of Noise

Posted by on Jan 20, 2014 | 0 comments

Three hours before she’s due to appear on stage at New York City’s Rubin Museum of Art for the Naked Soul live music series, musician and author Kristin Hersh is enjoying a personal tour of an exhibition on the fourth floor of the museum. Titled “llluminated: The Art of Sacred Books “, it’s a diverse collection of beautiful and inspiring sacred texts from all over the world, representing Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism.  For Hersh, it’s not only a chance to see ancient art, but an opportunity to integrate a few pieces from the collection into her own work. Photos of chosen items from the exhibit will be projected onto the screen behind her during her spoken word and musical performance later in the evening.

Walking among the gold embossed books, elaborate tapestries, ornate boxes and delicate scrolls is a journey of discovery for Hersh. Soaking it all in, she comes to a Renaissance era book, openly displayed to reveal its painstakingly detailed handmade pages. Hersh leans in closer to the glass encased book as she notices the writing on the pages looks like musical notation. “Is it music?” she asks Tashi Chodron, the Museum Guide and Founder of Voices of Tibet. Tashi explains that the book is indeed a collection of songs. It was created by the community “to preserve their common spiritual, musical and artistic culture.” Undertaking such a project, she says, “was a monumental task to plan and complete, bringing together artists, printers, writers, musicians and financiers. It was a singular community event to create the book, meant to nurture and expand upon their shared sense of place, togetherness and spiritual bonds as a people.”

Hersh is visibly moved and fascinated, for the building of a community to support creative endeavors is something she practices and aspires to herself. To hear Hersh tell the story, it was both a necessary and a natural development when the traditional music business began to become less relevant to her long term goals.

“One of the side effects of extricating myself from my recording contracts was that social networking became immensely important.”, Hersh tells Buzztwang. “To help my people align with each other and to keep them abreast of any solo, 50 FootWave or Throwing Muses projects. Without a middleman like a record company, even a shy person like me has to be social!” she says with a laugh.

A simple visit to her website or attendance at one of her shows and it becomes readily apparent that the relationship between Hersh and her community is very deep and appreciated on all sides. “I wouldn’t be able to do the work at all without the support of my Strange Angel subscribers.” Hersh continues. “They pay all of my recording costs and when the Throwing Muses record is released, we’re hoping we’ll raise enough to mix, master and promote the record as well.”

Much like the sacred music book Hersh zeroed in on earlier, her own music and words are the common link that cements the bond between Hersh and her community. It’s sharing on the most personal of levels. “I think my goal as a musician is to create noises that could be adopted by others as their soundtrack.” she says. “I’m not particularly interested in self-expression, only writing what I know… a subtle but important difference.” Hersh concludes: “So, I tell my truth and hope that it somehow resonates with others as theirs, if that makes any sense.”

And, while she works hard at ensuring she has a good amount of artistic and financial independence – she co-founded CASH Music in order to facilitate funding for all musicians, utilizes social media to expand her outreach and attends to the very supportive Strange Angels community – the realities of a life spent in a business that can be brutal (to say the least) are not lost on Kristin Hersh. “I probably consider quitting every day.” she states bluntly. “Because, I’m an actual musician, not an entertainer. I’ll never stop playing music, but the entertainment industry is ugly and silly; it’s easy to lose patience.” It’s a topic she has thought about a great deal and discussed at length, with her family and her fans. “My listeners, however, tend to feel similarly, and as long as there are ears to adopt soundtracks, I feel it’s my duty to provide the noise.”

Kristin Hersh at The Rubin Museum
Onstage a few hours later, Kristin Hersh provides not only the “noise”, but spoken excerpts from her memoir Rat Girl/Paradoxical Undressing.  Walking out onto the stage, only a guitar on a stand and a padded piano bench await her. The show is performed with zero amplification, no microphone, no amps. Only Hersh’s voice and guitar to fill the room. She sits down on the piano bench, opens a copy of the book and begins to read an excerpt. The book is an eye-opening, often shocking, always very funny look at her life. Finished reading, she picks up the guitar and plays a song. It’s a seamless transition from music to words and back again, from moments of pain to moments of laughter, quiet melodic interludes to raucous confessionals.

Hersh’s solo acoustic performances are well-known for their emotional and powerful energy level and this show is no exception. The audience feeds off of the raw energy, catching and responding to every word, every nuance, every emotive change in phrasing. The emotional tension and release that fills the room is uncompromising. The result of Hersh’s unyielding and endearingly enigmatic approach to her work: “All I do when I work is disappear.” she states. “So whatever happens in a studio or a concert hall is a direct result of active listeners allowing music to resonate. That seems magic to me: lovely and spooky and inexorable.” When asked if there is a spiritual element to her writing and performances, Hersh says: “Spirituality and electricity are closely linked for me. Songs are buzzy and they ascribe a glow to whatever on this planet is a necessary beautiful image or sound for a particular moment. When a song begins, my husband will often feel it before I do. The electricity is palpable, the accompanying spirituality is what keeps me addicted to the process.”

Hersh’s electric performances are also the direct result of her effort to ensure that the work and the experience is, in her words, “real”. Very much like the works of art she looked at earlier in the day. Hersh gets specific: “There is no lack of magic in the real.” she says. “If we strive for timelessness and we’re willing to work unself-consciously – meaning that we let our work embarrass us when it needs to, make us feel ugly, uncool, guilty, evil, whatever’s necessary- then we align with what in the past was called “sacred”. Real music is as close to religion as I’ll ever get.”

The confluence of music, self-publishing, DIY (Do-It-Yourself) work ethic, emotional honesty and spiritual integrity have always been bedrock approaches for the punk movement, especially before it was “commercial”.  For a lot of bands, that self-reliant and honest approach was abandoned and compromised and very much betrayed when big labels entered the scene.

But, as the music business began to falter financially due to the proliferation of internet piracy, a lot of musicians such as Hersh found themselves in a fight for survival. It was a challenge she engaged. She reinvented herself and learned how to use the internet to her advantage.  “It was inevitable, certainly, and I loved being able to jump in and change the rules, shift the paradigm early, even if it was because I was one of the first musical soldiers to fall!”

In the end, Hersh appreciates the upheaval for it helped to create her current independence artistically and financially: “For me, it’s a dream come true to be able to leave the game behind, to have no one ask me to dumb down my product for an imaginary ‘lowest common denominator’. ” she says emphatically.

Writing a book and performing at the Rubin Museum brings a certain form of artistic “legitimacy” to how one is perceived. The line between artist and teacher is blurred. Hersh embraces it as a natural development: “I’d like to see music move out of the sphere of the entertainment industry and into the sphere of art; to be judged according to that criteria and contained within those parameters.” she says. “So, I guess, I’d rather be seen as an artist than a teacher. I learn from what I do as much as anybody else does.” Being real means that it’s more often about the work, rather than the creator. “The word “artist” sorta makes me gag,” Hersh says. “Somewhere between grammy nominee and pretentious urbanite, but I think I’m gonna have to swallow my pride on this one!”

Today, the internet is ablaze with sites such as Kickstarter and Fundrazr that empower artists and allow them to finance projects independently. And, while the jury is still out as to whether it will be the cornerstone of a “new economy”, Hersh is positive in her assessment in regard to art. “It IS the future,” she says. “As long as we take all this free music in the ether and educate ourselves musically with it. I have no problem with people devaluing money as long as we demand to be moved every time we hear a song.”

In the end, for Kristin Hersh, her fans and those who aspire to create good and lasting work, the modern rules are not that far removed from how a village created a sacred book centuries in the past. There is a higher calling at work when a community works to create something they could not create alone due to lack of money. And, the act of coming together invariably creates something unique and inherently emotional, and real. “My generation (“X”) has always lived by the “broke but real” ethos.” Hersh states. “And we essentially stayed underground, so that philosophy was passed on without being watered down, thankfully. We’ll see how it works out, but at least we know it’s the right thing to do.”

Kristin Hersh is currently mixing a new Throwing Muses album, recording a new 50 Foot Wave album, and writing a new book she refers to as “Science Non-Fiction”. Further information can be found at

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Site Under Construction

Posted by on May 28, 2012 | 0 comments

Please bare with me. The old theme was hacked and unusable, so am upgrading. Thus, the simple theme for now.
Stay tuned. Cool things on the way!

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The Epistemology of a Charlie Sheen World

Posted by on Mar 11, 2011 | 0 comments

Over the past 250 years, as the industrial revolution progressed and was then superseded by the modern technological age, an epistemological crisis began to fester and grow quietly in the shadows. Our ability to obtain, disseminate, and – most importantly – apply knowledge, has been severely hindered by our industrial and technological success and our response to that success. We have achieved great feats with little or no perceived negative ramifications, thus establishing a false sense of stability in ourselves, our place in the natural order, and the way in which we process and use knowledge. Our ability to shoot for the moon – literally – meant that we presumed we could do no wrong. A precarious place to be to be sure.

And, as the decades rolled on, each continual success served to confirm our superiority over all – even the truth was manipulated. Responsibility fell to the way side. And, if a negative ramification presented itself, we quickly waved it away with the simple justification that the world and everything within it was ours to do with as we wish, and profiting from it was a natural act. Our birthright. It never occurred to us that building an economy based primarily upon a single finite resource – oil – would some day place our entire civilization at great risk of collapse.

Adolfo Doring‘s excellent documentary Blind Spot, contains an interview with Jason Bradford, who explains this epistemological issue very succinctly and eloquently as it relates to our inability to see reality and deal with the responsibility of our massively consumptive society.

We have lost the ability to deal with the concept of responsibility in a proper manner both as individuals and as a society. It’s quite important because lack of responsibility, and its consequence of not confronting reality, leads to the inability to solve complex problems and establish consistent ethical boundaries. Both are the cornerstones of a successful society. A society that is unable to deal with important issues responsibly, and use that knowledge to its advantage in a way that is beneficial to a majority of its citizens is a society that will die. We see the results today in the current culture war. Everyone senses that something is wrong, we simply can’t agree on the truth. It’s as if we’re entrenched in a form of madness.

Which brings us to Charlie Sheen.

As the mass media exploits and the public gorges itself on the ever-unfolding tragic life of actor Charlie Sheen, it has become apparent that Sheen is a practitioner of this epistemological disconnect. So is the mass media. They are by no means alone in this endeavor. It’s widespread. We are all in some way or another, practitioners of the epistemological disconnect from responsibility.

We now face the challenge of rebuilding how we think, how we acquire knowledge and information, and how we apply that knowledge. It is, as Douglas Rushkoff has said, a new renaissance.


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Program or Be Programmed

Posted by on Mar 25, 2010 | 0 comments

Douglas Rushkoff @ SXSW on being a victim of media, an observer or a proactive user. Great stuff. We need to create an environment where media is not accepted at face value but rather is appreciated as the tool that it is… We tend to allow our literacy to be absorbed by technology and immediacy of media in the 21st century. New dialogs need to be created. And, they will.

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The MediaSquat: Michael Jackson Almost Crashed the Internet

Posted by on Sep 21, 2009 | 0 comments

A segment that I wrote and produced for The Media Squat with Douglas Rushkoff on WFMU 91.1 FM on Michael Jackson as media star and hacker.

During the show, Douglas has an interesting conversation with Paul Krassner that touches on how issue oriented satire has changed over time from Lenny Bruce to Jon Stewart, conspiracy theories in the real world and Krassner’s new book Who’s to Say What’s Obscene:Politics, Culture & Comedy in America Today.

Please listen to the entire show.  The segment below runs five minutes.

Mp3 file located at Internet Archive

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new and improved

Posted by on Sep 3, 2009 | 0 comments

A new look which brightens up the space, puts the posts front and center and gets rid of the clutter by placing it in the menu at top. Any thoughts or suggestions, let me know.

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webuzz: ted hope, yoko ono…

Posted by on Sep 1, 2009 | 0 comments

A few links worth sharing….

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crisis as opportunity

Posted by on Jun 5, 2009 | 0 comments

Douglas Rushkoff on how to take back our world by seeing the current economic crisis as a great opportunity.

Life Inc. Dispatch 01: Crisis as Opportunity from Douglas Rushkoff on Vimeo.

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snafu principle is now buzz twang

Posted by on Dec 20, 2008 | 0 comments

Some changes are afoot. The S.N.A.F.U. Principle is being laid to rest and up rises buzz twang. More soon.

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snafu principle optimized for mobile browsers

Posted by on Sep 7, 2008 | 0 comments

So, those of you who have asked about a mobile version of The SNAFU Principle, it should be up and working. Your phone browser should be detected automatically and load a Google Reader version of this site, no graphics and such. Just posts. Pretty cool.

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everybody’s talkin’ bout: online literacy

Posted by on Jul 29, 2008 | 0 comments

Starre reminded me about online literacy with this New York Times article today.

It’s an interesting debate: Is our experience online a cognitive process that is sub par to traditional processes such as reading or speaking?

Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic also addressed the debate, asking the question: “Is Google making us Stoopid?

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

What’s important to remember is that media formats are only tools. The internet is only a tool. And, like all new media- written word, printed word, radio, TV- at first there is a predisposition to overly trust all the information conveyed by that media as truthful. It’s on the internet, it must be true, right? And, to be sure, there are those who really do believe this to be the case. The lack of critical literacy is the central issue at hand. It’s no great skill to surf the wave of information that is available to us. The great skill is to know whether that information is true.

If the internet is, as Carr describes “chipping away” at our “capacity for concentration and contemplation” then it becomes necessary to find new ways and manner of regaining that capacity.

Social networking provides a certain amount of this, but not nearly enough IMHO. So much of the “interaction” of online communities is really just restating preset opinions and agendas. Very little
actual discussion of ideas and exploration of concepts and debate occurs.

Many would say that is the exact problem with society in general. Look at the current election process. How much real discussion is going on amongst the rumors and attack ads? Not very much.

So, what’s at work here? Are we simply incapable of being serious about our own cognitive abilities to find solutions via real debate? Are we overly enamored of the junk information like gossip?

What does it mean when a society shuns reality based informatin for fantasy? Is it possible to turn the tide?

Are we too Stoopid to change?

I don’t think so.

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the social media unrevolution

Posted by on May 1, 2008 | 1 comment

Or How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Echo

he great promise of the internet was that it would level the information playing field by allowing equal access to all information, and facilitate the production of new information. The relationship between the two would, in theory, allow for a more democratic bottom up approach to solution based innovation. In a nutshell: we are stronger as a group, and the internet will allow us to function at a higher level to solve our problems.

Or so we thought.

The onslaught of investment during the dot com boom of the late 1990’s was rooted in the idea that the internet was a new form of television, and that if we apply those creative, financial and production processes directly, it’ll work. It didn’t, for lots of reasons but mostly because there was no monetary infrastructure for online content and web users didn’t want their MTV on the web, they wanted to connect with others via the web. So, the TV web went away and the social web rose up. And, revenue from ads began to pour in.

It’s important to remember that in 2001 everyone was still wondering how and if Amazon and then Google were going to be profitable. Ad revenue finally kicked in. But, unfortunately it was too late for the web TV movement. Sites such as and died from lack of revenue before web ads had become viable. It took a few years to figure out how to monetize it, figure out what worked and what didn’t, and for essential tech advances to come into play. (Front loading ads on video, bad idea. Clickable hot spots in video and embedding, good idea. Pop ups, bad idea. Banners and text ads, good idea. Ad sense, good. Subscription, bad.)

In the past four years the reintroduction of “social media” and “social networking” (which was the attraction of AOL back in the mid 90’s) applied in tandem with marketing and ad placement has become all the rage. And, the rush was on to create content to take advantage of this newest “revolution”.

Except, none of the best practices of producing video content that we know work in TV to attract an audience have been put into use. Some of this is due to the over reaction to user created content, and the assumption that low budget and thus low production value would translate into revenue. There was an assumption made by many involved in the web 2.0 movement that simply putting content out there would translate into financial gain if they could get the page hits. Not necessarily true it would appear. It’s a gamble given the rather nebulous manner in which most of the content distributors are handling revenue sharing; one person’s money train is another’s dripping faucet. A verifiable form of revenue sharing and accounting still needs to be set up and agreed upon in order for the big money to spend big money.

Among independent web content producer’s there has been a strong push to attract venture capital, with very little traction because of the lack of dealing with the reality that investors – whether in film, TV, or web – don’t merely want a return on their investment but also to see and understand that they are getting something tangible and valuable for their money. They want a simple value for value exchange. They want to see something great too. And, there seems to be a real lack of understanding of that basic rule by many content producers in the web 2.0 world. The governing rule is: just get it online, who cares what it looks like, people will watch. And, it’s not true.

The problem is so acute that Bill Cammack, an Emmy Award winning editor who knows of what he speaks, works in the web 2.0 area and realizes this is an issue, felt it necessary to video tape a how to shoot video 101 class and post it on his site.

I admire Bill’s patience, he does a nice job of laying out the basics, he has provided a real service, and it shines a light on the central issue that the web production community will have to aim higher in quality of production value and creative ideas if we are going to attract the big money and then begin to also nurture those relationships in the long term. I think that Bill understands this as well.

In the next few years the web landscape could change pretty dramatically. Social networking combined with video and mobile technology is going to create the next information movement. How we use it is the question. I agree with Deborah Schultz on this. We need to do more to make social media more viable, more useful, more informative and more entertaining. And, it begins with the community and the work. We need to be more innovative, more interesting and more professional.

At the moment, I’ve also become a bit disenfranchised with the web 2.0 community because on one hand it loves to play footsy with itself, it functions as a giant echo chamber looped onto itself. And, in some quarters, it’s turned nasty. It also feels way too much like the nascent independent film movement of the early 1990’s. Everyone was running around spending their own money on projects looking for an angel to come down and pave their way to creative and financial bliss. Now, I don’t have a problem with the work, or the dream, but in how it’s done. From two decades of experience what I do know is that the people who succeed are those that work on the craft and create compelling and professional content. It’s a real skill and an art. Forgetting that is deadly. If you endeavor to reach out, and communicate with others with skill, it works and people watch. And, when that occurs, the money follows. And, if you are lucky, a lot of money follows.

And, of course, since it involves money, which has its own pitfalls. By the late 90’s, the indie film industry was overtaken by the Hollywood “indie” studios. Even if you could raise your own money, make your film and get it into a major film festival, that didn’t guarantee that it would ever get into theaters. The studios had too many competing “indie” films of their own to release anyway. Many studios would buy up small film festival entrants and put them on the shelf to languish, just to ensure the film wouldn’t be released, its topic too close or too good to compete with something they’d already produced. Or even better, they’d manipulate the festival buzz on a given film to ensure that it did not find a buyer.

Today, the internet promises to provide a venue to equalize the distribution playing field a bit. But, it is important for web 2.0 producers and filmmakers looking to the web as a distribution model to realize that right now as I write, the big fish in Hollywood are planning to do the exact same thing in distribution online as they have done in theaters and TV. That is: control a good portion of it. And, access to the internet, with very few exceptions, is through corporations that are currently creating long term relationships with Hollywood studios and independent studios.

This is why the professional writers and producers are holding back in getting too deep into the web production world. The money isn’t in place, and the distribution is not in place. Thus, the atmosphere for many in the independent web production world is one of the wild west- no adults, free to do what you want, there’s always a seat at the bar and the drinks are all free. Thing is, you look around and it’s the same faces all looking for the same person: the one who has the wallet to pay for the drink.

There will be a user created world, a semi-professional world, and a professional world in the next web movement. Quality and money will be linked at the hip. A few in the first will make money, a few in the second will make money, and everyone in the third will make money. The big pay days will be there. The others will be seen as necessary to maintain viable communities online.

The interesting show to me would be one that combined those worlds to their greatest advantage. Democracy in action. At least for a little while until the next next web comes along.

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The Truth According To Wikipedia

Posted by on Apr 29, 2008 | 0 comments

A documentary on how the web 2.0 “revolution” is kaput. Old news, but essential watching for those interested in the issue. Will blog on this later.

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radio radio

Posted by on Apr 26, 2008 | 0 comments

Was on Sirius Satellite Radio this week, as a guest on The Blog Bunker. Will write about that this weekend, as I’ve been rather busy, but I shall. Promise.

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