Category Archives: podcasting

Electronic Devices

 “A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child.”

Whether the origin is an old Russian proverb or a Hint from Heloise, the poignancy of the unending love and concern for a child even after the kid retires and moves to Boca Raton is heartwarming.  To my knowledge I am the first to be so materialistic, self-absorbed, and gadget obsessed to apply it to a relationship with electronic devices.  I have real children, now adults, but they do not need me the way my iPod, iPad, and Kindle do.  A crackling in my earphone or a slow podcast download is as unnerving as a CROUPY COUGH low battery signal.

The little scamps frequently need downloads, uploads, updates, operating system upgrades, and a new app, not to mention battery charging and screen windexing.  It takes considerable work, but the rewards!   I can walk down the street to “Saturday Night Fever”, play Words With Friends, or watch a short video of a duck mother and a baby kitten, all while waiting to have my teeth cleaned. I have no idea how I stumbled through life without these necessities.

A toaster makes toast (or in my case melts plastic bread bags left in its path) but it is (no offense) an appliance.  My little Kindle and Apple friends grow and learn.  Whether it is a stimulating new podcast, or a bug fix for a favorite app, it is as if they go off to school in a Wi-Fi cloud and come home bursting with new information, just like human children.

What, no iPhone?  As crazy as it sounds, I gathered my little electronic family and we discussed having podcasts, music, Internet, e-mail, photos, and video on a telephone.  My trusty iPod was strangely silent. Intimidated? Jealous?  We, I mean I, am so used to my iPod and earbuds that a new device would jeopardize our bond.

My usually reliable iPad II froze when I attempted to download articles about the new iPad Air.  In my defense I never used the phrase “relatively clunky;” that was a reviewer.  I admit I was curious about the retinal display, impressed by the weight, and momentarily seduced by the pixels.  As I said to Mona, I mean my iPad II, hadn’t I stood in line for five hours in the bitter cold the first week she/it was available?  She said we met in Manhattan Beach, it was 60 degrees and the wait was more like four hours.  I replied that I am loyal and never even considered the iPad mini.  Still, my downloads were slow for a week.

There were no objections to the Kindle joining our family.  It is interesting to browse Kindle Buffet for free e-books, although most are categorized as Bulgarian Women/ Christian Fiction/Romance/Adventure/Amish/Coming of Age.  The Kindle is lightweight and backlit, making it possible to read even heavy books in bed with the light off.  I have borrowed some e-books from local libraries and I may even buy a few to help support the fledgling company Amazon.

My editor (JoAnne) is often in Atlanta with our granddaughter Charlotte (HLP 10/13).   A great night for me is not networking at Chateau Marmont with industry types or doing shots with my bros in Hermosa Beach, but early bed with dogs for warmth and my Kindle and Apple buddies for entertainment.  In The Usual Suspects, the phantom world of Keyser Soze, the devil’s greatest feat is convincing people that he doesn’t exist.  My electronic friends have us believing they are not real.

Tom H. Cook a former local has moved far west of Hennepin Avenue.  He has come a long way from his acerbic suggestion that computers make the unnecessary possible.       



Tom at the loom


This would have been a great column twenty years ago.  Much like my breathless exhortation on the world of podcasting (HLP May 2011), I am late to the dance with this revelation (to me only) of the puzzle-solving power of Internet communities.  Other than bemusement at Lindsay Lohan’s multiple escapes from justice, I do not follow any topic closely enough to grasp the full force of the axiom that everyone is smarter than any one.  That changed when JoAnne was stumped by a weaving problem.

I have watched her chase the two sirens Curiosity and Creativity for four decades.  As a serious artist and president-elect of the Southern California Hand Weavers Guild, and even with decades of experience, she continually seeks challenges.   Being temporarily over her head attempting to refine the weave structure on a project is a normal state of  affairs.  The goal is creation not extension.  Following a pattern is merely replication.  The art and anxiety comes from bringing together your own vision with the wisdom of other artists.  Being a “fiddler on the roof” at times is the price of originality.

When she is off in her own world, a bobbing, riffing, weaving John Coltrane, I usually grab a good book and the nearest dog and retreat.  But, her latest caper intrigued me.  She had a copy of the not totally obscure 1926 text How To Weave Linens by Edward F. Worst.  Using Worst’s instructions, charts, and black and white photos, JoAnne used her weaving software to digitally represent one of the cloth designs. Her computer program revealed the same weave structure except it came out sideways.  Analyzing 17 other weave drafts in that chapter, she discovered all were inexplicably a quarter turn off.

Rather than just rotate the patterns 90 degrees, JoAnne wanted to know what had gone wrong.  She needed to understand Edward Francis Worst (1869-1949), unfortunate name and all.  Worst was a manual arts teacher, a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement, and the author of four books on weaving.  By 1926 Edward Worst was America’s foremost authority on hand weaving. Surely the man knew what he was doing. JoAnne, after blaming her own reading of the instructions, the software, and briefly me for hovering, turned to WeaveTech, an international 2,000 member Yahoo group, for answers.

A WeaveTech member from Sweden solved the mystery.  The photos in Worst’s chapter were lifted directly from Nina Engestrom’s book Prastik Vavbok, published in Sweden in 1896.  Nina or a careless typesetter had turned the fabric photos 90 degrees in her book, and Worst had included them (unattributed and still sideways) along with instructions in How To Weave Linens.

I was ready to write an expose on “Fast Eddie’s” grab for the gold when I began to read other posts and articles.  Worst, a Chicago, Illinois native, looked like Daniel Day Lewis looking like Lincoln.  Rather than a quick-buck plagiarist, he was more of a saint, committed to reversing the divorce between the hand and the brain.  He was a school principal and early advocate for nascent programs in occupational and physical therapy.  He taught weaving and other arts that emphasized the therapeutic value of handcraft to staff at state mental institutions.  He pioneered handweaving as a resource for low income people suffering the effects of The Great Depression.

Worst was so taken by the early efforts to establish a weaving cooperative in North Carolina that a feel-good made for television movie could be made from what happened next.

Worst, the Yankee school principal, traveled to the Blue Ridge Mountains town of Penland, North Carolina to teach weaving in the summer of 1928.  His classes were so popular the community committed to building a studio.  A visionary local woman, Lucy Morgan, “borrowed all the money they would let me have” and led grass roots efforts to finance and construct the log “mansion in the sky.”  In May 1935 the locals came  together like an Amish barn raising (but with liquor).  They cut logs and used their mules to drag them into place.  The women cooked the noon meals, which became a community event.  In August of 1935 the last nail went into the roof of the four-story 50 X 80 foot Edward F. Worst Craft House the day before Worst’s arrival.

If this is a movie, the locals will be lining the streets of Penland as a deeply moved Edward Worst (Tommy Lee Jones if Mr. Lewis is unavailable), and his wife Evangeline (Holly Hunter?) slowly motor into town.  Prominent in the crowd would be Lucy Morgan (Meryl Streep?), the driving force behind the school.  The closing credits reveal The Penland School of Craft has become internationally recognized, and the Edward F. Worst Craft House and particularly the Chicago Room is a cornerstone of the campus.  The next to last visual would state “Edward Worst began teaching summers in North Carolina in 1927, and returned every year until his death in 1949.”  Then the last screen: “During his more than twenty years of teaching at Penland, he never accepted compensation.”  There will not be a dry eye in the house, and I am misting up as I write this.  It is amazing what you can learn on the Internet.

 Tom H. Cook is an adept blogger and the host of four sites dedicated to Philadelphia Athletics left fielder Gus Zernial.    

 JoAnne adds: You can read more about  Penland, Lucy Morgan and Edward Worst at     

By the way, my handwoven linens came out beautifully.  Still sideways, but lovely.  




So How About That Twitter!

It would be convenient to blame age for my initial wariness and reluctance to try new things.  Unfortunately it is more a lifetime pattern.  A local fast food restaurant nearly ground to a halt because as a seven year old I would not abide even the hint of a condiment on my hamburger.  In those days special orders did upset them, as well as my parents who were less than pleased when I, years later, not only saw the light but became a ketchup pusher, extolling its virtue at nearly every meal.  Not only am I late getting into the pool, but once I am wet I become a secular Billy Graham urging others to join me.

So how about that Twitter!  Now that there are over 500 million users I have decided to tweet.  Previously the few social media comments I read were hopelessly banal: “I just had a peach, yum!”  T.S. Eliot mused about daring to eat a peach in “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock”; everyone else need not bother.  If someone had told me that Twitter is a way to make snarky irreverent comments about fools in high places without getting punched in the arm I would have joined years ago.  The haymaker came from a self righteous classmate at Pennsauken High.  The PA had come on in homeroom and the office secretary began, “May I have your attention please…Mr. P___ has an important announcement.”  “Yeah,” I said, “if he doesn’t spill it.”

It was fairly well known that our principal liked to drink, and this was before the era of political correctness.  Most of the class broke up which helped ease the pain of Donnie Cutler’s fist on my bird-like bicep, and the detention I received.  My career of slipping banana peels under the feet of jack booted lock-stepped conformists was born.

I am a long time commentator on the wardrobe of various emperors.  Having worn out most of my friends and family I am delighted to have a new vehicle and hopefully an audience for smart-aleck remarks, wry witticisms, petty digs, and wrong-headed yet trenchant observations.  I will of course save my scurrilous and borderline libelous remarks for The Hill and Lake Press.  If you are willing to indulge me, I am untethered, but my twitter handle is  @tomhowardcook.

Tom H. Cook is (despite the continued presence of Michelle Bachmann) a proud Minnesotan stationed in Southern California.  He hopes that you will friend, follow, or at least attempt to understand him.



We have met the enemy and he is us.                    —Walt Kelly

For a long time I have been railing at friends, and even total strangers trapped in slow moving bank or grocery checkout lines, about the nearly universal use of ear buds.  Without sounding too much like the late Andy Rooney, I was against them, almost to the point of producing spittle.  I viewed the ubiquitous ivory colored plugs as more than a minor distraction or fashion statement, but an antisocial act.  By choosing to seal ourselves in an audio bubble, we not only erect additional barriers with others, but we may stifle our own thoughts.  A brimming haiku, a stinging letter to the editor, a snappy retort for the next tailgating yahoo in a monster truck…snuffed out by a medley of The Grass Roots Greatest Hits.

When I really got going I could verbally Evil Knievel the Snake River Canyon of logic and extrapolate a world of isolated Bee Gees listening zombies, anesthetized and ripe for totalitarian picking.  We walk the lakes and hike the wilderness for the quiet and ambient sounds.  Nature does not require a soundtrack.  Thoreau cruising around Walden with an iPod?  Blasphemy!

Profound alienation, a diss to the environment, issues of safety (distractibility and what that can entail), and the risk of hearing loss to the wearer.  That was my platform, shared with anyone who would listen, and a few that merely turned up the volume to mute my diatribe.  I now see these views as more than a tad extreme, but not without merit.  Nonetheless I have done almost a complete 180 degree turn.  I still do not know what others were listening to, but I always assumed it was music.  I enjoy music, but I do not need it piped over a loudspeaker in a mega mall (another topic) or in my ears.

Podcasts are another story.  I can go for a walk with Ira Glass (This American Life) and not need to hold up my end of the conversation.  I do not watch sports very often, but I am hooked on the soap opera which is Peyton Manning, Jeremy Lin, and Ryan Braun.  Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd, Mike and Mike, are my podcast pals that make going to the post office or to buying gas (ouch) more interesting.

I have the zeal of a convert.  Do I want to invite a friend on a walk or for tea, and risk a possibly tearful/angst ridden/ intimate/messy/galvanizing/soul-baring/cathartic/breakthrough/bonding/heartfelt exploration of the preciousness of life, the impossible pain of unrequited love, the existential barrenness of possessions, and the hollowness of unfulfilled dreams? Or do I want to go out alone, but with the voice of Keith Olbermann updating me on the latest hijinks of fools in high places?

Tom H. Cook is a very longtime writer for this paper, which is not an excuse, but perhaps an explanation.  He will probably return next month unless someone tells him to stop.



Podcasting:  A digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.         –The New Oxford American Dictionary

The term podcast, like radio, can be the content or the process, a noun or a verb, the medium or the message.  “The New Oxford American Dictionary” labeled podcasting the new word of the year.  What pleases me is that the year was 2005.  Meaning I am not that far behind in at least this tiny portion of the rapid dissemination of information and entertainment.

I still do not have a cell phone to instant message photos to my website/blog/You Tube/My Space page, but I really enjoy listening to quality podcasts.  In other words I am a fogey reaching out to other technologically fearful folks who have grown to accept the computer as a lightning quick encyclopedia/shopping guide/road atlas, but are still intimidated by the interactive facet of the Internet.  I do not make my own podcasts, but the process of downloading quality programs is incredibly easy and free.

Podcasts are programs made available either on your computer or iPod (MP3 player) — all right, now I am showing off.  It is an opportunity to Tivo (so to speak), or time shift and capture shows for later viewing or listening.  I do not have a video feature on my iPod and worry that too many people who are already busy on the phone will also attempt to catch up on re-runs of The Office as they barrel down the highway.

Public radio has jumped into the new medium and most of their programming can be automatically downloaded.  If you are like me and your eyes glaze over when you hear the word gigabytes, find a fourteen year old to get you hooked up.

There are thousands of podcasts with the number growing exponentially.  Here are a few of the fun and quirky shows I look forward to receiving every time I update my iPod:

–The Cheap Seats also known as Bleacher Guy Radio is a weekly conversation between Rob Visconti in Detroit, and Eric McErlain in Washington D.C. about sports from the knowledgeable fans perspective.   They are two thirty-somethings who have real jobs, and do not claim to have inside information.  Their easy banter and clear love of all sports comes through.

–The President’s Weekly Radio Address is a dead-on parody of George W.  While truth is often stranger than fiction in this White House, this two-minute show is topical and humorous, and cuts eerily close to the bone.

–Slate Magazine Daily features excellent thoughtful essays contributed by the staff of the magazine and read by Andy Bowers.  The first class ideas on politics and culture delivered in a straightforward manner tempts me to get the magazine.

–ESPN Baseball Today is worth listening to for commentator Alan Schwarz.  If you download only one baseball show, try Schwarz.  He is knowledgeable, not a shill, and Twins-friendly, despite being based in New York.

–Filmspotting (formerly Cinecast) is a conversation between two young film lovers.  It is how Siskel and Ebert might have begun if they were starting out today.  I am not a film expert, but being thirty years older than these guys, I sometimes grimace at their knowledge gaps. They are smart, enthusiastic, and delightfully lacking in pretense, unlike some older jaded critics.

–Martini Shot (KCRW) is a five-minute weekly rant about the vagaries of Hollywood by insider Rob Long, formerly a writer for Cheers.  Long tells inside stories of how the entertainment industry really works.  He does not gossip about individuals, but tells very funny self-deprecating horror stories.

–Driveway Moments (NPR)  are those exquisite times when the radio program is so captivating you sit in the car and listen, even after reaching your destination.  Now you can listen at you leisure, be on time for dinner, and save the car battery.  Yes, progress can be bittersweet.

–This I Believe (NPR)  is the fruition of an idea I thought I invented.  Individuals from all walks of life speak from the heart about what they have learned, and what is vitally important to them.  The statements are a succinct five minutes or so, but when the fluff and social niceties are eliminated that is plenty of time.  Turns out Edward R. Murrow had such a show on television before my time.

–The Onion Radio News with stern-voiced announcer Doyle Redlands is a satire on news reporting and those who listen to it– in other words, all of us.  Like the newspaper formerly based in Madison, Wisconsin, The Onion reports news such as “Local man finds sweat shirt he’d given up on ever finding!!!”  Sandwiched in these daily one minute reports are short sound bites from either the “official spokesperson,” “hero,” “victim,” “bystander” or “noted authority.”


Tom H. Cook still lacks a “web presence”.  He remains on tsunami alert in southern California.