Twitter, The Watcher, and the change you want to see

Please be advised, dear reader – I’m going to share my thoughts on the show made by Netflix called The Watcher below, and there is a potential spoiler. Don’t worry – that is several paragraphs away from here, and I’ve marked it with a subheading.

If we’ve ever talked for any length about social media, I’ve probably mentioned that all the big platforms will eventually go away. Ice melts, even the biggest bergs in the ocean (sadly, truer today then when I thought of the analogy). Remember when AOL was monolithic?

I joined Twitter in 2007. A lot of good came from my participation. I made a lot of good friends, I learned a lot that helped my career path, and it was a positive experience. Sitting in front of monitors all day in a closet of an office at Johns Hopkins Hospital, I felt a connection to peers in my field. One time, there was an active shooter in the building, and I knew about it 20 minutes before the administration alerted the building occupants because of Twitter. Once, there was an earthquake the shook my home. I had never experienced one before, and local folks on Twitter confirmed that’s what had happened. Etc.

For me, things changed when:

  1. Twitter switched from linear posts to algorithmic feeds, and
  2. When 45 was elected. The divisions in our country became more visible (to me, at least).

My feed on Twitter shifted to more news/politics, and every day seemed to bring some new disquiet. I quit Facebook a few years ago, and aside from some FB only events/posts, I haven’t missed it. As a visual artist, I feel the need to be on Instagram, and to smaller extent, TikTok. I use Snap Chat with my partner, my buddy Dusten, and kiddos. I have limited my Instagram use, and regularly remove it from my device.

So, Twitter is now under new management, and a lot of folks I like are leaving. Other’s have described the potential perils of the new management, and I particularly appreciate Dave Troy’s thoughts and ideas on this. It makes me a sad, even though I’ve been an extremely passive user these past few years. Change is inevitable, as I’ve been telling people for years.

About a decade ago, I had a very healthy LinkedIn account, with 500+ contacts. Someone on Twitter pointed out that LinkIn was allowing various people to appear in targeted ads without their consent. Everyone was opted in by default. I thought about it, and decided I hadn’t gotten any real opportunities from LinkedIn, and so decided to delete my account. I had mild regret over that decision a few times, because I wasn’t able to backup the contacts, and, years later, decided that maybe I did need to hang a shingle out on linkedIn and wouldn’t it be nice to have those old contacts? So, now I’m back on LinkedIn.

I said all that to say I am weighing the value of staying on Twitter. My pal Jenn says she’s staying. She’s my favorite technologist, and I respect her and her opinions more than most. I had been keeping my Twitter handle warm, thinking it might become useful in the future, when I want sell more of my work online.

And I have a nostalgia for when I was able to use Twitter effectively – to develop relationships and opportunities. I miss those days.

On the other hand, social media is tiresome, and I’ve come to resent platform algorithms, the influencers, and a lot of performative advice given copiously by strangers. Not to mention political hostility. There’s just so much bad noise.

I suppose these ruminations have reactivated my feels for… blogging! I’m grateful to still have this shingle, which I’ve maintained for longer than I’ve been on Twitter. I use it to document my art, and rarely, the occasional opinion. I think it’s time to share more of those, hence this long article. It also reminds me of another loss, of which I don’t think we ever fully recovered. Google retired Reader, which was the best RSS tool I’ve ever used. I’ve tried Digg reader and Feedly, but neither really measure up. Hey, Automattic! This seems like a no-brainer for folks the power ~60% of the CMS market! Why not make an RSS tool to go along with WordPress and your other fantastic tools?

A big part of blogging for me used to be connecting with people on this blog, and on their own blogs. I disabled comments back in 2013, when the gale of divorce kicked up. I wanted to close my shutters over the windows, and just be quiet for a while. If you’ve read this far, and want to comment, please email me Maybe it’s time to enable them again? But, I think the choice to disable comments and the loss of Reader changed blogging, at least for me.

I recently started reading The Haunted Looking Glass. It’s a collection of Edward Gorey’s favorite tales of ghosts, ghouls, and grisly goings-on (selected my him). It includes stories by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, M. R. James, W. W. Jacobs, and L. P. Hartley, among other masters of the fine art of making the flesh creep, all accompanied by Gorey’s inimitable illustrations.

I picked this up to take to Yarmouth. Beverly and I read it to each other before sleep in bed. I can see why Gorey liked these stories. Oddly, some of them just stop abruptly. Imagine you are walking through a rambling Victorian house as a grandfather clock starts to chime at midnight in the distance, when your candle blows out, and you step off what you thought was a landing to find you are falling, falling, falling thought the darkness. That would be abrupt, yes?

The Watcher

Beverly and I just finished the Watcher. I hoped it might shape up to be a “Haunting of Hill House” type twister. Not so much. I recently finished The Devil in Ohio and Dahmer, both good October fare. But The Watcher left me feeling much like the incomplete stories in The Haunted Looking Glass. It claims to be based on true events, but imagine if you brought an Agatha Christie novel on vacation and you enjoyed tripping over red herrings and false leads, only to read that Hercule Poirot can’t solve the mystery. Or, can you picture yourself watching seven episodes of a season (when maybe two could have done the job) only to find you are falling, falling, falling through what should have been a satisfying conclusion? I feel conned by this show. On the other hand, I thought about the show for days, and it made enough of an impression to inspire me to record these thoughts. So, yay?

The Change I want to see

I’m looking into making my own RSS reader and I’ll share my work on this soon. I found some encouraging tools that I think I can use to cobble something together. I miss following folks. If Twitter really is borked, maybe this is at least a partial solution. More soon.


Fender vs. Ibanez, a tale of customer service

I’m a fan of affordable equipment. I’m also a fan of quality and I want to share with you a story about customer service.

A few years back, I bought a Fender Mustang GT40 desktop amplifier after watching Nick Reinhart demo the thing on the Fender YouTube channel.

It’s got some really cool amp + effects modeling built in, and I was particularly fond of the USB connectivity to my computer. This became my main studio amp, which I used frequently. I became quite attached to it, mainly because of the USB connectivity and the clean pre-amp setting. It’s absurdly lightweight, sounds good, and has an app that lets one make signal chains from an iPhone. I bought one for my daughter, and my bandmate bought the newer 100 watt model on my recommendation.

Last year, the female USB connector broke – it simply came out of the back of the amp. It had just been sitting on my desk – it has never left the house.

Fender doesn’t service their own amps unless they are under warranty. I called all the local repair places in Baltimore that I could find, and no one will touch this amp.

I asked Fender if I could just buy the USB connecter to fix it myself. Here’s what Caesar A. Tapia (Gear Advisor, Fender Musical Instruments, AZ) had to say:

The part you are looking for is not offered on the consumer end.

You would have to go to an Authorized Service Center for a direct replacement and installation.

You do have Warranty coverage for 2 years from the date of purchase on new amps. The process is fairly simple, You’re welcome to bring your amp to a Authorized Service Center with your purchased receipt to have it evaluated under warranty.

None of the Fender service centers are close, and I didn’t have a working car. In fact, one of them is in a guy’s house, which is cool, I guess? My warranty expired a few years ago, anyway. If your Fender Mustang or Rumble amp is older than 2 years and it breaks, apparently you are out of luck.

I managed to take the amp into a repair placed recommended on the Fender website. The tech explained to me that when one of these break (under warranty), Fender usually instructs them to pull the amp’s board out, snap it in half, and pitch it. Fender then sends another one. The are made in China and very cheap. This explains why “The part you are looking for is not offered on the consumer end.” It’s not the micro USB enclosure that I needed, but rather an entire new board. The tech also said this policy also extends to the Fender Rumble amps.

Fender no longer makes the parts needed for my amp.

These are disposable amps. I’m stunned.

By comparison…

Around the same time, I picked up a Chase Bliss Blooper pedal on It was listed as new. When the pedal arrived, I noticed one of the knobs was missing the micro-screw that keeps the knob attached to the pedal. I emailed Chase Bliss, and they immediately sent me a couple of new knobs, free of charge, no questions asked. The knobs seem to contain more metal and engineering than the tiny female connector I need to repair my warranty-less Fender Mustang GT40 amp. Or, so I thought. Aside from this excellent customer service, I will say that I love Chase Bliss’ pedals. I own several, and haven’t exhausted their possibilities.

A bit later, I bought an Ibanez AF55TF Tobacco Flat Hollow Body Electric Guitar on Reverb. It played like a dream out of the box. I removed the protective foam padding from under the bridge, and ran into some trouble with the intonation. I wrote to Ibanez for help. They sent me a manual, and after a follow-up email, an engineer patiently wrote a very detailed explanation on how to set up the bridge myself. Fantastic! Above and beyond, as usual. Thank you, Ibanez!!!

Okay, back to the Mustang GT40.

Here’s another drag about the snap-n-pitch method. The Mustang allows it’s operator to create and save amp/effect combos, which can be recalled in the amp at another time. I’m guessing those would be lost to the owner, once the old board is “snapped and pitched,” unless they happened to be shared on the Fender website, which is something I am not interested in doing. But, you’d need to be aware of this before servicing the amp. FYI.

I was happy to pay for parts and labor, but that is no longer an option, as the tech can’t get the part(s). I was also told I’d be better off just buying another Mustang – it would cost about the same.

Okay, so what if I was willing to buy another Fender garbage amp? I will admit I considered it. I reasoned the newer models would probably be better – more solidly built, with more features and better performance. Yet, after reviewing the newer versions of the Mustang at Guitar Center, I see they don’t have the same presents – they are dumbed down.

Maybe Line6 is the way to go?

And here’s something else that really bothers me. I’ve gotten used to consumer grade products having a very limited life. DVD/BlueRay players don’t last. Apple wants us to buy new iPhones and iPads every few years, because they are a hardware company. Major household appliances tend to expire within 10 years. Running shoes don’t last, and shoe makers discontinue popular and well-loved models annually. I’m sure you can add your own examples to this list.

Musicians get attached to their gear. Vintage amps and guitars are sought after, and good gear can become integral to a musician/producer’s sound. For myself, I find something that works, and I stick with it. I’m stunned that I got suckered into buying cheaply made, disposable garbage by two brands that I trusted (Reinhart & Fender).

In conclusion, I’m very disappointed in the quality of this amp. I think I do understand Fender’s seeming lack of interest in helping me – the business model of this amplifier seems to follow other consumer grade disposable devices, and customer service isn’t built into that model.

I miss being able to use the amp. It was lovely while it lasted. Whomp whomp, lesson learned. I will never buy a new piece of Fender gear again. I’m not going to punish myself by saying I will boycott Fender stuff completely. I’ll just find stuff in secondary markets.


Loop Research

Justin, Billy Martin and me

Are loops interesting? Are they useful? Why, or why not?

I started asking these questions in graduate school, and browsed through scholarly sources. I didn’t find a definitive answer from others, but I will put forth that “Yes, they can be intersting and yes, the interesting loops are very useful.” Maybe the why doesn’t matter.

I recently visited the studio of one of my favorite drummers, Billy Martin, in search of more information. He’s inspired me for many years, from the first time I saw him play at the Knitting Factory in NYC with Calvin Weston and John Lurie, to the time Medeski, Martin, and Wood rocked the Ottobar in Baltimore. His short instagram loops have certainly informed some of my S.Ex work (putting an iPhone under the drums on selfie mode, particularly). So it was a thrill to stand in the room where he makes this stuff, and be able to ask a few questions.

Billy is easy going, and generous with his thoughts. There were probably 10 or 12 other people there, and he spent time with everyone. I enjoyed the whole day very much.

I’m about to embark on another studio building project, and he answered my questions about his own studio, The Herman House, which is behind his home in NJ.

A barn like building surrounded by bamboo.

After spending time looping sounds in this place, I came away encouraged by how much I’ve figured out on my own this past year. I have the feeling I’m on the right track (for me, that is). And a few thoughts drifted to the front of my mind.

It’s important to get it recorded – get it on tape, in your phone, in the computer, as it’s happening. Don’t wait for perfection, and don’t lose it by spending time getting set up, practicing, etc. The content of a loop can be simultaneously magical and imperfect, and therein lies charm. They are highly usable that way. I’ve found that a lot of cool loop segments have incomprehensible time signatures, and I get lost trying to find the “one” downbeat when I’m trying to play along with them on my drums. Billy said “forget about finding the one. Just find a shape and go with it.” I really like this idea, and playing this way is new to me. Something the either adds tension to the loop, or supports it, so I’m going to work with this for a while.

Ultimately, if it brings joy, then it’s working.

A diorama of Billy Martin's Herman House Gallery.

The Labors of Love: Animation

I started animating stuff back in 2001. I was working at a shop that needed a Flash developer to accompany their Director developer (software for making CD-ROMS). I liked Flash’s drawing interface, and I was able to quickly get a grip on ActionScript. When the iPhone came out, Flash lost favor and marketshare, and I stopped working with it. Flash finally died last year.

In 2016, I began animating again in earnest, this time using a DSLR on a camera stand to make stop motion. Sometimes, I drew on an iPad. I decided to focus my graduate school efforts on pursuing animation. I’m still putting down roots as an animator, and finding my way.

In 2020, I made eight animated films. They are all “shorts,” and they all took a long time to make. On more than several occasions, I would glance at the clock and see it was 2:00am, and I would wonder why I decided to undertake such a long, protracted project that asks for so much patience, concentration and focus.

Then, I’d finish the project, edit it, and publish the video. Soon, I’d forget all about what it took to make the film, and I’d start thinking about the next one.

A colleague warned me that it’s difficult to find festivals to show work. The competition is thick. Most festivals charge an application fee, which violates my rule of never paying to enter work for a show. It can get expensive. My pal Martha Colburn advised me to drop animation and just keep working on dioramas. Lucky for me, I ignored that advice.

I’ve had some luck. I checked a big item off my bucket list by having not one but two films in 2020’s Sweaty Eyeballs Animation Festival. I’ve had a few other screenings, too.

So, animation is expensive, both in terms of my time, and trying to find an audience. And what I’m doing is not likely to make money.

Why do it?

First, I don’t make art to make money. It’s delightful when someone buys something, for sure. Money is important. But having other sources of income lets me make the art I want to make, without the consideration of living off the proceeds of sales.

Second, I’m a storyteller, at heart. Animation has been a lovely addition to my artistic pursuits. I get to combine and incorporate many things I love into a single work: drawing, storytellings, puppets, writing, costumes, decor and sets, music and sound. Animators invent both technical and narrative solutions, while completing projects. There’s a kind of magic in thinking of something, giving it form in the world, and creating the illusion of life. Like Dr. Frankenstein. It’s challenging and rewarding.

While I was watching other animations at Sweaty Eyeballs, and listening to some of the animators talk, I was struck by the idea that animation is a lovely labor of love. Independent animation is a form where the animator has the complete freedom to make lots of decisions and choices about what to do. The end result can be a singular piece of work reflecting its creator in a way other forms do not, and it’s a form that, to me, inspires wonder.

I make these films because it’s fun to make them.


A few days away…MFA

Jim Doran Weird Science

It’s been a long time coming!

This is a screen capture of digital signage that is displayed on Towson University’s campus for my upcoming MFA graduate show.

I’ll share more shortly, but couldn’t wait to post this.

UPDATE 4/29/2021

It’s almost a full year later as I write this. We are still in the pandemic. We have a new president and administration. Things are opening back up for in-person events, dining, etc. Here’s how things stand.

I graduated from Towson University with an MFA in Studio Art. I’m happy about this, and I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, some of which I’ll share here.

I applied and enrolled in 2015. My employer offers very generous tuition remission, and I love school. I wanted to study art in college, but ended up studying music, and earned a minor in art history. So, when I was looking at graduate programs, I found Towson offers a part-time MFA. I applied, and to my delight, got in.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Art School. As a non-art-schooler, I imagined difficult art school critiques and such. I also was going in with fully formed processes, and wasn’t sure what I wanted to get out of this, or what to expect.

I found a very flexible program, with many avenues of study available. The Fine Arts Building is a wonder. I had a leaky, floody studio on campus for a year. I went part time until 2017, when I took a break. Actually, I quit. I thought I might study instruction technology or cyber security. I was also questioning my purposes in spending so much time in grad school – earning 60 credits over a part-time schedule can take over 5 years.

I decided to reenroll in 2019, only this time I would go full time. I think that was smart. I returned to find a new cohort of diverse, smart, energetic people with lots of positive energy. I threw myself into exploring animation, and I had a wonderful time.

What I learned about graduate art school: graduate art school provides one time to make work, and get feedback from others. You teach yourself most of what you want to know – either by sitting in an undergrad class, attending a seminar, etc. Faculty can point out things you might not know about, and offer feedback on stuff. Faculty members are humans, and they only offer opinions – some are helpful, some are not. Smaller committees work better than bigger ones. Ultimately, you get out of it what you put into it, and what you bring into the experience with you (baggage, ideas, fear, joy) will most certainly inform the outcome.

What I got for my time: My thesis was an exercise in self reflection that helped my pull together a bunch of notions, inspirations, and ideas that were all inhabiting different parts of me. Practically speaking, I learned how to make cyanotypes, and plastic replicas of my figures. I learned about 3D scanning and printing. I developed several studio processes for animation. My interest in music and audio recording deepened. I made some wonderful friends.

I’ve reworked to show my animations, as per my original plan. I removed the artist talk and a few of the posts showing non-animated pieces that I would have used in my real life exhibit. Here’s my artist talk:

I considered my MFA presentation successful. For my part, it felt a little one sided, in that people viewed my work from their computers or phones (if they viewed it at all), and that was that. At a normal opening, one can visit with people, explain ideas, and generally have a good time. In this case, I could see numbers from analytics, and aside from a few emails, I didn’t get much feedback. Which is completely fine, because I was able to complete the degree and graduate on time.

Almost a year after posting my graduate work and completing my thesis, and six years after undertaking this whole project, I can say it was worth doing. I entered the program with a developed set of processes and completed body of work, and discovered the value of research as it pertains to art.


April Dawn Alison

April Dawn Alison holding photos

While cruising through SFMoma, my companion and I stumbled on the dye diffusion transfer prints (Polaroids) of April Dawn Alison.

The exhibition drew from over 9200 photographs of April, taken by herself, or, very probably, a photographer named Alan Schaefer. Schaefer worked as a commercial photographer, and doesn’t seem to ever have had any gallery shows or exhibits. According to his friends and neighbors, he loved playing tennis, jazz records and was known simply as ‘Al’. 

No one knew that Al was also April. And no one had seen these photos until after his death in 2008. This collection was donated in 2017 to SFMOMA by painter and collector Andrew Masullo.

April Dawn Alison and her stats

Al and April lived in Oakland, California, and April’s world seems to be completely contained in Al’s apartment.

April Dawn Alison's legs
April Dawn Alison as a maid
April Dawn Alison in various states of undress
April Dawn Alison in a poodle skirt

There are many, many photos in the exhibit – I’m only sharing a handful here.

There is a joy in the photos I saw, which are beautiful, hilarious, enigmatic, and heartbreakingly sad. The work span more than three decades, beginning in the early 1970s, and then developing during the 80s into an exuberant, wildly colorful, and obsessive practice inspired by representations of women in classic film, fetish photography and advertising.

I wonder – did Al want these photos to be found? Would April want them to have been seen by the world? If they had it all over to do again, would April (And Al) have been happier and fulfilled if they had the chance to “go public” while they were alive?

There is a catalog on Amazon from the show, if you are interested.

Catalog from SFMOMA'S April Dawn Alison collection.