Hosting Marketplace Tech for American Public Media

The logo for Marketplace Tech/Marketplace Tech Report

OK, OK. It’s been a while, I know. But I’ve been busy. Mostly helping to produce, then expand, then step in as interim host for a national show on public radio called Marketplace Tech. If you’re a consistent public radio consumer, you’ve probably heard Marketplace with Kai Ryssdal, or the Marketplace Morning Report with David Brancaccio.

Part of the American Public Media stable of shows, the tech team’s mission is to “explore how technology is changing our lives and our society.” For me what that means is curating a great mix of content, from the biggest business of tech stories of the day to viral stuff, and curiosities you won’t easily find elsewhere. For our nearly 2 million listeners around the country, what we try and do is give them a daily dose of tech news that keeps them informed, inspired and determined to work on changing the world.

It’s a new adventure for me, to sit in the host’s chair. But I think it fits my skills and my path to this spot. If you want to reach me for the show, best way to do that is my email: bjohnson@marketplace.org. I hope you’ll take a listen…and let me know what you think.

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Slate’s YouTube Channel: Can I write 150 Words That Matter?

It’s been a strange few years for me professionally. After nearly a decade reporting and editing for newspapers—a gig I mostly enjoyed despite the doom and gloom in an industry forever changed by the internet—I left to work in another “outdated” form of media: radio. At WNYC I ended up learning about more cutting edge digital journalism than ever before, and used those skills along some new radio chops to get a job at an online-only magazine. Now, I’m overseeing Slate News Channel, which is part of a cutting-edge partnership between Slate and the big bad(ass) Google.

The idea behind the channel is unique. Produce three videos every day, all under a minute long, that give you the most biggest news in three specific subjects: Politics, Tech, and Science. Editorial choice is heavily influenced by what’s trending every morning, but I also try and look forward on topics and even pick out bizarre stories that will hopefully catch wider attention with Slate’s help. We’re also doing longer form videos based on the magazine’s popular Explainer column.

I’m scripting or editing the scripts for all of this stuff, and with the help of an amazing team of video producers, we get the content we choose every morning up by the afternoon. By internet standards it’s not lightning speed. By video production standards it’s the speed of light. But can it matter to users? I’m having fun writing and editing this stuff, and I think it’s informative. The question we’re going to try and answer with our content, is whether we can provide something that users truly want to watch and will seek out.

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Frank Buckles and ‘The American Century’

A photo of Frank Buckles. Flickr user: JSF539 (Creative Commons)

Frank Buckles, the last (known) surviving American veteran of World War I, died this week at the age of 110. Beyond the impressive number of years logged on this world, Buckles also had a pretty amazing life story. Coming from modest beginnings in rural Oklahoma, he developed a tenacious attitude towards serving his country as a teenager, and was turned away several times before finally fudging his age to enlist. After military service he worked in the shipping industry, and during World War II, he was captured by the Japanese while traveling in the Philippines. He would be held in a prison came for three years before allied forces released him.

On Monday President Obama released a statement on Buckles’ death. In part the statement read, “Frank Buckles lived the American century.” As I heard it over the radio and read it online, that statement struck me.

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Do Not Start Fights With James Murphy

James Murphy of the group LCD Soundsystem. (Nasty Little Man Publicity)

You may notice that the attached photo features LCD Soundsystem‘s James Murphy in bare feet. Is this because he is trying to make a statement about the real vulnerability of guys who wear suits? Or because, perhaps, he had been wearing bright sneakers pre-photo shoot and wanted to avoid looking like Garrison Keillor?

No. I’m pretty sure James Murphy has his little piggies out because he is most comfortable this way, and because being barefoot makes things easier if he has to kick you in the face.

I know this because I interviewed Murphy a while back, as he prepared to tour in the U.S. on the excellent “Sound of Silver.” We talked about his bulldog, Petunia, about the ideas behind amusing, contagious and pugnacious songs like “North American Scum.” We also talked about one of Murphy’s obsessions outside of dance records: ultimate fighting.

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Distant Summer Memory: A Night On Waterpod

Sunset beyond Waterpod's geodesic dome..

I’m the kind of guy who dreads winter’s arrival, but eventually gets his boots and Sno-Seal out and starts to really enjoy the cold weather. There’s something about adapting to the seasons that after the initial shock, can be really comforting. I find it’s all about accessories. That wooly winter beanie that doesn’t leave my head; the simple pride in a pair of rugged gloves, or the ritual of strategic layering; they all make me feel like I’m a capable human who can use tools to defy or even embrace the weather, no matter how extreme.

Thinking about this the other day reminded me of a story I wrote about a very different kind of experience in adapting to the elements. Two summers ago I jumped a fence and spent a night with a group of artists, environmental designers, and other warm weather explorers all camping out on Waterpod, a flat barge that had been turned into a kind of mobile scientific sculpture dedicated to a post-apocalyptic idea of sustainable living. Here is my diary of the experience.

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Master Casts of Everything

This is a machine like the one I saw work at Salt Mastering in Brooklyn.

In January’s freezing cold, I went with friend and bandmate Alex to Greenpoint’s Salt Mastering, in the hopes of obtaining masters for a four-song EP Conversion Party plans to release in February. The process was surprisingly painless, and we left a few hours later, excited about the new space and organization audible in our recordings.

I’m not enough of an audio guy to tell you what mastering actually is in the digital age, or explain effectively how the sound changed, but there’s a lot more clarity and power in the music for some reason, and new order, as well, to the sounds coming out of the speakers. Almost as if a bunch of players finally moved into more clearly-assigned sonic spots, instead of projecting their noises from a tiny crowded stage. Needless to say we’re looking forward to having our new recording heard its finished form. All in good time.

Perhaps more interesting than the mastering itself however, was what happened afterward.

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