Author's details

Name: John
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Lake NeuronLake Neuron: On Screen — April 14, 2014
  2. Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Welcome! Enjoy the show! gotta go! — April 8, 2014
  3. Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Mighty casey strikes out — April 5, 2014
  4. Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Who’s next at the ‘late show’? — April 3, 2014
  5. Lake NeuronLake Neuron: I kissed minnie — March 28, 2014

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  1. Lake NeuronLake Neuron: ‘Doctor Who’ announcement special liveblog — 1 comment
  2. Lake Neuron: An open letter to Alton Brown — 1 comment
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Apr 14 2014

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: On Screen

Original post at

When I got to Learning Way Elementary this morning for my weekly “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer session, I noticed a pile of equipment, including a couple of tripods, lying outside Ms. Aymett’s classroom. I figured there was something going on and was just about to turn around and ask the office if it would be better for me not to disturb them. Just then, Ms. Aymett popped her head out of the door, about to hang a sign on the door that said “VIDEO SHOOT – DO NOT DISTURB”

“Oh, Mr. Carney!” she squealed. (Regan is a wellspring of enthusiasm.) “Come on in!”

As the Times-Gazette reported a few months back, Regan Aymett has been chosen as an NEA Master Teacher, meaning that they would be shooting video of her in the classroom to be used as a reference by other teachers. That’s what was happening today.

Regan Aymett video lesson

For the particular lesson that was being recorded today, Regan had the kids divided up into pairs. She had me work with one girl who was without a partner (and, perhaps, who needed a little extra encouragement).  There were two people shooting her with video-enabled digital SLRs, along with an audio person using a long boom mike.

The lesson was helping the kids understand what Ms. Aymett referred to as “text features” – things like captions and titles that stand apart from the main body of a composition. The example she was using was some sort of magazine article about the importance of helmets for things like bicycling and horse eventing. (Regan is also a riding teacher!)

The girl with whom I was working was fully on board with the importance of helmets, but had a little trouble understanding that we were looking at the mechanics of the article and not its content. I tried as best I could, but I didn’t have much success getting her attention away from helmets and putting it on captions and headlines.

Still, I tried to at least be patient and encouraging. Ms. Aymett may be a master teacher, but I’m an amateur, a volunteer, and sometimes that’s the best I can hope for.

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Apr 08 2014

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Welcome! Enjoy the show! gotta go!

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As regular readers here know, one of the great passions of my life has been the Symphony at the Celebration concert, which brings the Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony to Shelbyville each year for a family-friendly concert.

The first concert was in 1989. The first couple of concerts were sponsored by a local manufacturer, but after that one of our local banks took over. The late Scott McDonald, president of that bank, put together a local steering committee for the concert and asked me to serve on it. I’ve been a member ever since – more than 20 years now. The past few years, I’ve been co-chair of that committee, along with longtime chair Dawn Holley.

For some time now, the concert has featured our local public high school bands (in rotation). The band gets to play a few numbers on its own during the first part of the concert and then returns at the end of the evening to play a couple of pieces in tandem with the symphony, always ending with “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Traditionally, the high school band’s piccolo player is asked to take the solo.

Prior to the concert, we have the Nashville Symphony’s “instrument petting zoo,” which lets kids pick up and try real instruments under the guidance of trained volunteers. The Motlow College jazz band performs, and there’s an art show on the arena concourse.

Normally, a representative of the primary sponsor gets up at the beginning of the evening, welcomes the crowd and introduces the symphony.

This year, for a variety of reasons, we don’t have a primary sponsor. That means it’s up to either me or Dawn to welcome the crowd. Today, Dawn asked me to do it. I want to do it, and I’m going to do it.

But, here’s the thing. As soon as I welcome the crowd, I will walk right past them and out the doors of Calsonic Arena. You see, our concert happens to fall on Election Night, and with this year’s complex and significant local elections, I and a number of my co-workers will be needed to cover the incoming returns, post them to the web site, interview the winners, and so on. Elections are my beat, my responsibility, and I fully understand that. If I leave the arena right after my introduction, I will get to the county courthouse just as the first precinct returns are coming in.

I know I need to work the election coverage, but it will kill me to miss this year’s concert. The second half of the concert is just dripping with Aaron Copland, one of my favorite composers. We have a new conductor this year, Vinay Parameswaran, and I’m curious to see how he interacts with the crowd. And this year’s high school band is my alma mater, Cascade High School. (I originally thought my percussionist nephew might be participating, but while middle schoolers play in Cascade’s marching band they don’t play in the concert band.)

Dawn and I don’t really have much control over the scheduling of the concert – the Nashville Symphony and the Celebration work that out between them, based on the symphony’s schedule and the availability of Calsonic Arena. We’re just happy that this year’s concert is a week or two earlier than last year’s, which was so close to graduation that it hurt attendance.

Anyway, I’ll get over missing the concert. It is what it is. But I had to vent about it.

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Apr 05 2014

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Mighty casey strikes out

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It has not been one of my better weeks.

We started out the week with the revelation that I recently committed to pay $350 for a new computer for no good reason, since my old computer could be easily fixed with a few cents’ worth of heat sink paste. The good news, of course, is that the old computer can now be sold to help offset a little of the new computer’s price. The bad news is that I feel like an idiot for buying the new computer, which I really can’t afford, in the first place.

Then, Thursday night, I had a minor traffic accident which left a three-foot-long dent in the passenger side door of my car and which will no doubt raise my insurance premium.

It was also a quite busy week at work. I took the day off Wednesday, however, to account for the fact that, today, I was supposed to go to Murfreesboro to cover a conference on Baseball in Literature. I had been looking forward to the conference, and my sister-in-law (who is an English professor and a Dodgers fan) was jealous.

I indeed drove to Murfreesboro this morning, only to discover that the conference had taken place on Friday.


The news release, correctly, states that the conference was on “Friday, April 4.” But I also downloaded the conference agenda, and it said “5 April 2014,” and that was what I put into my calendar.

So I drove to Murfreesboro and found that the James Union Building was empty. I got back in my car and came back home, feeling like an idiot for the third time this week. Three strikes, and the week is out.

On the bright side, someone stopped by the apartment just now selling homemade tamales door-to-door. They were wonderful the last time I bought some, and so I happily sprang for another set. I’ll have them for lunch today.

Maybe next week will be better.

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Apr 03 2014

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Who’s next at the ‘late show’?

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I have been a fan of David Letterman ever since “Late Night with David Letterman” started on the air in 1982. For years, my shtick at United Methodist singles retreats and Mountain T.O.P. camp events was to do a “Top Ten” list.

I still remember a night back in 1984 when I was feeling hurt and alone because of a romantic disappointment. I was curled up in my bunk in the dorms at ORU. “Late Night” came on. Then, as now, there’s a different humorous introduction of David each night. That night’s introduction, delivered by “Late Night” announcer Bill Wendell: “… and now, a man who’s sick and tired of your whining…. Daaaavid Letterman!”

I nearly fell out of the bunk laughing.

Well, now Dave has announced that he’ll be retiring at some time in 2015. It’s the end of an era – and the beginning of a guessing game about who or what will take that time slot.

I have no knowledge whatsoever, just layman’s guesses from watching the late night scene over the past three decades. Let’s look at some of the names that have come up tonight:

Craig Ferguson: Supposedly, Craig’s contract includes a clause giving him the right to succeed Letterman, but CBS could almost certainly pay him off if they went another direction. I could be wrong – my brother in North Carolina and I are in disagreement on the issue – but I’m not really convinced he really wants the pressure and network supervision that a move to the earlier, more high-profile time slot would entail. He would have to rein in certain aspects of his comedy. He saw what happened to Conan O’Brien when Conan tried to move his show intact to the earlier hour and resisted network interference.

It’s true that Dave himself struggled to translate his comedy from the late time slot to the earlier time slot when he moved from NBC to CBS. I was faithful to him all the way through, but there was a period when he struggled creatively. He ultimately emerged with a quite different kind of show than “Late Night” had been, but there were definitely growing pains – and in the current, much-more-competitive environment, the network suits don’t have as much patience for growing pains.

I think Craig will get some sort of raise out of this, but ultimately CBS will go another direction. After all, Craig was losing consistently to Jimmy Fallon when they were both on in the late time slot, and the network has to be concerned he would lose to Jimmy in the earlier time slot.

Stephen Colbert: An immensely-talented man who could probably break new ground in the time slot. But the question is, would he bring along “Stephen Colbert,” the character he plays so brilliantly in his current venue? Would “Stephen Colbert” translate well to an hour-long talk show format? And if not, would people be confused to see Stephen Colbert instead of “Stephen Colbert”? Then again, maybe Colbert is capable of blowing up the format entirely and creating something new that would suit him and/or his alter ego.

Jon Stewart: He’s denied any interest in such jobs in the past, and rightfully so. He has the perfect format and forum for his talents. Sure, there’s a potential to earn more money on a broadcast network, but Jon’s smart enough to know that money isn’t everything.

Tina Fey / Amy Poehler: While either might be momentarily intrigued by the idea of breaking new ground, I don’t think either is looking for the nightly grind of a talk show, especially Fey, who is now branching out as a writer and producer.

Aisha Tyler: I’ve enjoyed her since “Talk Soup” and think she’d be great. I’m shocked at some of the online vitriol directed at her by people who still want Drew Carey to host “Whose Line Is it Anyway?” But you can find online vitriol directed at just about anyone if you look hard enough. I don’t know if the network suits are willing to bet the farm on her (and lose her from “The Talk”), but I think she’d be a smart choice.

Chelsea Handler: Coincidentally (at least, I think it’s a coincidence), she just announced she’s leaving her E! network show. She’s undoubtedly talented and funny. She would probably have to tone down certain aspects of her bad-girl image for this kind of network gig – as Conan learned during his brief tenure on “The Tonight Show,” the network must not only worry about ratings but about individual affiliate stations, some of them located in parts of the country where Chelsea’s brand of humor may not play as well. I have no doubt that she could do that and still be funny – but would she want to?

Jay Leno: I don’t think this is going to happen. I just don’t. Jay could still get good ratings for a few years, but if the network is going to build up a new show from scratch, they’re going to want a long-term investment — someone younger, and someone with more of an eye towards social media and the younger demographic.

Louis C.K. – a former writer for the Letterman show. I’m not sure he’d do it, because he’s gotten used to a high degree of creative control with his FX show and his self-distributed standup specials that I don’t think CBS would give him in this case.

Format change – The ratings for all the late night talk shows have been declining in recent years, because the sought-after younger demographic isn’t locked into the format and would just as happily watch Adult Swim. ABC and NBC have tried to buck the trend with younger hosts, but maybe CBS will decide to go some complete other direction – a reality show or a game show or some different comedy format or the night-time equivalent to “Today” or “Good Morning America.” I don’t necessarily think this is likely, but I do think it’s possible.

I am guessing that if CBS does stay with a talk show, it will be based in Los Angeles rather than the Ed Sullivan Theater. Moving to L.A. would help restore the balance that was upset when “Tonight” moved east. Currently, Fallon, Seth Meyers and Dave are all in the loop for movie stars on the New York leg of their publicity tours. Dave’s successor will, I think, go to the West Coast.

Some have speculated that CBS has been preparing for this moment and may already have someone waiting in the wings, ready to be announced after a respectful interval. In any case, it should be an interesting few months. Bill Carter, the New York Times writer who has been the unofficial historian of late night, should be busy.

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Mar 28 2014

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: I kissed minnie

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Last year, I worked the ticket table for the annual “Hee Haw & Howdy” show to benefit the American Cancer Society Relay For Life.

For you out-of-towners, this is a Bedford County tradition going back to the mid-1970s: a revue done in the style of the “Hee Haw” TV show, featuring corny humor and some surprisingly-good local musical performers.

Anyway, in recent years the local Relay For Life organizing committee, of which I am a member, had been responsible for “Hee Haw & Howdy”; this year, it’s being done by one of our individual Relay teams, Strength In Numbers, which was basically formed for that purpose. So the committee didn’t actually have to work the show.

I wanted to go, however, because a) it’s a great show and b) I knew this year’s show would honor Harriett Stewart, our former American Cancer Society staff partner, recently retired. (Harriett has been playing Lulu Roman in the show for several years, and did so again this year.) Judi Burton, Relay’s grand poobah, got me a ticket.

I went and thoroughly enjoyed the first half of the show – but it had been a long week, and I was kind of restless. During intermission, cast members mingled with the audience, and I got to speak to Harriett. But I decided to slip out, quietly, rather than going back into the theater for the second act. Let me be clear – it wasn’t the show; I was just restless.

I was at home, wearing pajama bottoms, when Harriett (who had no idea I’d left early) messaged me to say some of the cast was at Casa Mexicana, and did I want to come join them?

Yes, I did, if for no other reason than to see Harriett, who lives in Lebanon and who we won’t get to see as often now. So I got dressed and headed over to the restaurant. I had a wonderful time. I slipped out again, just after midnight. Letha Marlow, who plays Minnie Pearl in the show and was still in costume at the restaurant, said something, and I responded by posing for a photo planting a kiss on her cheek. It’s probably on Facebook by now.

Harriett did not know the show this year would be in her honor, and I was delighted to be there at the beginning of the show when Judi made that announcement and Harriett teared up. They had to keep her from seeing the programs before the show, since they featured her prominently (including a photo of me and Harriett from one of her retirement celebrations a few weeks ago).

Anyway, it was a nice evening, and I’m glad I decided to get back out and join the others at the restaurant.

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Mar 26 2014

Lake NeuronLake Neuron: Back in black

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A year and a half ago, when I first started getting the two major mobile providers to send me gadgets to review for the newspaper, I got to try out the FitBit tracker. Their model at the time clipped to your pocket or belt. It tracks steps, of course, but you can get a $5 pedometer at Walmart that will track steps. The FitBit also tracks steps climbed, and you could even wear it on a wristband to track your sleep. It wirelessly transmits your stats to your computer, where you can view all kinds of charts and graphs, and compare your progress with your friends’. It even gives you little badges when you pass certain milestones (such as 10 flights of stairs in a day, or various round numbers of lifetime steps walked).

I loved the FitBit, and wrote a glowing review.

A few months later, in North Carolina, a co-worker of my brother Mike had decided he liked Nike’s new fitness tracker. He offered his FitBit to anyone who wanted it. My brother, remembering my review, took the device and sent it to me. And this is a device that, at the time, cost $100 new. I haven’t checked lately; while FitBit still makes a waistband-based tracker, their hot new model is a wristband.

I loved it. I wore it all summer, and I think it motivated me to be more active.

Then, in August of last year, came the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. I was there the first night (out of 10) to cover the event for the newspaper. I got home that night and realized the FitBit was no longer clipped to my pocket. I had lost it somehwere on those huge grounds – and I had, in search of feature photos, walked all around the grounds.

To the untrained observer, the FitBit would have been nothing but a pinky-shaped piece of black plastic. Unless you’re pushing the button to make the display light up, it doesn’t look like an electronic device. I knew it had probably been swept up and thrown away without a second thought. I had some slight hope that it would turn up, and I looked to see if it was in my car or somewhere in my apartment, but to no avail.

Tonight, after dinner at church, I stopped at the laundromat to get quarters from the change machine so that I could do my laundry here at the apartment complex (we have coin-operated washers and dryers, but no change machine). I stuffed the quarters into my jacket pocket, but when I sat down in my car some of them spilled out. I picked up a couple there and a couple more when I got home.

When I went to do laundry, I realized that – while I had what I needed for the immediate purpose – I did not have all of the quarters I’d pulled from the change machine. I went back to my car and looked a little more closely.

I found one more quarter. I think there’s still one or two more hiding from me.

I did, however, find my FitBit.

I tell you, I thought I had searched the car thoroughly last August. But the FitBit hid from me, wedged in between the driver’s seat and the emergency brake. It’s been there for seven months, all fall and all winter, through subzero temperatures and what have you. But it seems to still work (we’ll know for sure after it’s fully charged).

Fortunately, I did not throw away the charging station / base receiver which the FitBit needs to charge and to download its stats to the computer. I even remembered vaguely where I had stashed it.

This sounds like it ought to be a sermon illustration, perhaps tied in with the parable about the woman finding the lost coin. I’ll have to file it away for that purpose.

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