20 Question Tuesday: 208 - Tom Merritt

This week I get the extreme honor of asking 20 Questions to the delightful Tom Merritt. Tom is one of the main personalities on the TWiT network.  He is the host of Tech News Today (TNT) and he is the cohost of the FSL Tonight podcast.  I watch him with Brian Brushwood on the show Framerate.  Due to TNT I now know waaaay more about Android Ice Cream Sandwich OS, the tech patent and Intellectual Property cold war, and the earnings reports for Research in Motion (Alas poor RIM we knew you well).  He is a voice of tech reason in a sea of tech crazy. I have been aware of the wonderful Mr Merritt since way back in the days of Tech TV.  The channel that I slavishly watched to the detriment of my wife’s TV viewing pleasure.  Put it this way, I watched Tech TV enough that my non-tech wife started enjoying The Screen Savers.  I still miss Tech TV, but not as much due to the tech podcasting juggernaut, TWiT. Until recently he was the co-host of Fourcast.  I listened to his dulcet voice when he was on the Frogpants show Current Geek and the TWiT show Current Geek Weekly (RIP)… wait… it seems that I know Tom  mainly from things that no longer exist.  He is also associated with a few more podcasts that I have not watched.  Anyway… on to the questions

So, I have to know. Question 1: Why are you associated with so much of my entertainment that no longer exists (Tech TV, Fourcast, Current Geek, Current Geek Weekly)?  Will you also take Tech News Today away from me? Oh God!  Don’t take TNT away from me….

A: I have no desire, plans, or inclination to stop doing Tech News Today. Sit … no.. really… please.. OK. That’s good. You forgot to mention Tom’s Top 5, The Real Deal, and Road Warrior.  I think when you have tried as many shows as I do, you’re obviously going to have some that reach the end of their life or just don’t end up doing well. That’s how we find the things that do work, by trying lots of things.

I know that is the case.  Fourcast had clearly run its course (which was a pretty long course) and Current Geek had been on for a good long time prior to the Morning Stream becoming a long form version of that show.  All of the podcasts’ deaths make sense in the long run.  Now onto the regularly scheduled programming.

I have my MA in geography specializing in cartography, so place and space are super interesting for me.  I was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, moved to Montgomery, Alabama when I was 3, moved up to just Northeast of Birmingham, Alabama where I stayed until I went to college.  Went to school in Kent, Ohio and then moved down to Columbus, Ohio for my master’s program.  I have been living in Columbus ever since. Question 2:  What is your geographic story?

A: I was born in Greenville, IL, went to college in Urbana-Champaign, IL, had an internship in Washington DC and lived in Arlington, Virginia, moved back to Urbana for a summer, then went to grad school in Austin, Texas, stayed there for 6 years. I moved to San Francisco to take a job in 1999, moved across the bay to Oakland in 2006, then up to the north bay to San Rafael in 2010.

Question 3:  Of all those places which one is truly “home” in your heart?  For instance, I grew up in Center Point, Alabama and my parents still live there, but since my married life and kids are associated with Columbus, Ohio, this is where I consider “home.”

A: It depends on what you mean.  When I say I’m “going home” I mean my house in San Rafael with my wife and dogs.  When I say “I’m from” I mean Greenville. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Greenville, so it’s always going to be my hometown. But home is where the heart is, and that’s wherever I have my family and my desktop computer.

I will go with the wife, dogs, and desktop.  That is a perfect answer.

So I am now going to ask the question that everyone is waiting for with, quite possibly, bated breath… Question 4:  Cake or pie?  Which specific kind and why?

A: PIE OMG PIE. Specifically fruit pies, and more specifically cherry or secondarily some kind of berry. I also have soft spots in my heart for grape and rhubarb pie, which my Grandma always made. Apple pie is fine, but the most boring of all pies, in my opinion. Cake seems like eating bread to me.  I love fruit and pie just seems to have so much more flavour and less filler.

I have found that most people who answer with cake truly love frosting more than the spongy foam that is a frosting vehicle.  Here and now I suggest to them to frost a pie and tell me it is not made by celestial beings.  My mother used to decorate cakes as a side business.  I have had frosting on nearly every kind of confection.  Pie included. There is a place not far from here called “Just Pies” and well, they are known for their seasonal cherry pies.  I will check their baking schedule and see when you should visit Columbus.  I do not know if they ship….

Question 5: Umm… “flavour?” I seem to remember you waxing eloquent about your love of hockey, and now the “Queen’s ‘u.’”  Are you secretly Canadian?

A: Chocolate pie is kind of like frost pie I think. I am not secretly Canadian, I just grew up reading a lot of British literature and when I was younger and more pretentious figured that grey spelled with an ‘e’ and colour with a ‘u’ was arbitrary and I could do it however I wanted and since someday I would buy a time machine and live in 1920s London for a while I’d better start training for it. I love Ireland, Wales, New Zealand and large swaths of England and Scotland, especially the parts with pubs and whiskey distilleries.

For the record it would be fine if you were secretly Canadian.  I love the word “whilst,” and I try to pepper that into daily speech as much as possible.  “Whilst” and “Yard Gnome…” My two white whales of conversational vocabulary.

Question 6:  You host many a podcast, but which podcasts do you consume?  I listen to about 30 to 40 hours of podcasts a week. I clearly have a terribly exciting job that requires my constant attention.

A: Yeah, one thing about my job, I can’t really listen to podcasts while I do it. I subscribe to about 30 but there are three that I always listen to no matter what.  The Economist, This Week at NASA, and The Instance.

If you were listening to podcasts whilst podcasting, I imagine there would be some lovely gaffs. (notice the use of “whilst.”  Now to figure out an organic way of inserting “yard gnome.”)  I listened to 4 podcasts just today driving around the state getting GPS points for our most recent boring locations (actual location where we bore holes into the ground… which are boring as well) I listened to last night’s Tech News Today and the most recent Framerate.  I also listened to Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy and Pete Holmes’ You Made it Weird, but you have nothing to do with either of those, therefore they are immaterial. Disregard them.

Question 7: Considering your interviews with sci-fi/fantasy authors on your Sword and Laser podcast as well as the new Geek and Sundry YouTube channel show, have you been surprised by any responses from the big name authors with which you have chatted?

A: Whilst I haven’t had any shocking revelations about relations with yard gnomes, I have been surprised by the number of authors who used role-playing game experiences to develop their worlds.  I mean, I think EVERY author we talked to has used RPGs as some influence on their work. It’s kind of crazy.  I’m looking forward to having the founder of Rhaposy on the show, who has a scifi book out, but I think may not have played RPGs to develop his world. Watch me be wrong.

A good RPG system can really create a nice believable set of rules for a fantastical realm. I feel lucky to have been associated with a local RPG as one of their “resident artists.”  It is built off of D&D 3.5 and set in an alternate 1904-1915 where limited magic exists.  Now we just need to find someone willing to take authorship of the idea and make a best-selling book, then be interviewed by you and Veronica Belmont.  Simple plan, really.

So, by my inaccurate count, you have about 5 active podcasts that you work on (TNT, Framerate, Sword & Laser, Autopilot, FSL Tonight,) a few less active ones (Triangulation, East Meets West), and I am sure there are other ones I have missed (not counting your guest appearances on other podcasts).  Question 8: Ummm… do you have any “down time?” and if so, how do you enjoy spending it?

A: I actually just re-focused what I work on so I can spend more time making the things I do better. I was definitely spreading too thin. Hence the sad goodbye to FourCast and my leaving co-hosting duties on Triangulation. East meets West has always been a fun “when we can” thing with me and Roger so that’s actually part of the downtime, to be honest.

When I’m not working on shows, I watch TV, mostly SciFi. I play a few video games. Right now I’ve been playing Diablo III. I also dip in and out of World of Warcraft. I’m a big RTS fan, so I love Civilization and SimCity. I go running with my dog 3 or 4 times a week. Not a euphemisim. I literally go outside with one of my dogs and we go jogging. Well for him it;s, what the hell are we running without stopping for, and for me it’s jogging. And I write. I like making up stories. They’re not all that good necessarily but they entertain me. Basically I’ve cheated the world into letting me do what I love as my job, so it’s all sort of hobby work in the end.

We are in the process of moving to a bigger and better house, so I have to let my monthly subscription games go to the wayside.  No more SWTOR for me, but I am playing D 3… I have a young Barbarian named Dave and a Monk named BrotherBob… that is a delightful game.  I envy your finding an occupation that you love.  One day my occupation of choice will come…

Question 10:  How many NaNoWriMo’s have you done now? and how can people consume your writings?

A: I have at least attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) each year since 2003. I’ve reached the 50,000 word goal three times.  Two of those are sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to edit them. Another one, UNited Moon Colonies is out there in the universe at http://unitedmooncolonies.squarespace.org/ and a book I wrote in the 1990s called “Boiling Point” has a little mini-site of its own at http://www.subbrilliant.com/boilingpoint .

I think I need to wait for the kids to get a bit older before I attempt NaNoWriMo again.  the one time that I got a full week into the writing process and was actually ahead word-count-wise, the oldest got sick and derailed my novel ambitions.  I will get my novel about the c/d-rate superhero done… oh yes I will.

Now we are onto the downward slope of the 20 Questions, and a slippery slope it is indeed.

As many of my readers know, I have completely and wholeheartedly adopted my Mother-in-Law’s saying of “Don’t let the fuckers get you down.”  Question 11: Do you have any particularly meaningful sayings, adages, mottos, credos that you adhere to? If so, where did it/they come from?

A: Fear is the Mind Killer
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration
I will face my fear
I will permit it pass over me and through me
And when it has gone I will turn the inner eye to see its path
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing
Only I will remain
- Litany Against Fear of the Bene Gesserit - “Dune”

“I’m a coffee achiever!”
- Kurt Vonnegut

You are the first person to ever quote Frank Herbert on the blog.  There should be some kind of prize for that… or maybe some spice….  I have always enjoyed the sentiment behind the “Fear is a Mind Killer” mantra, however I am a rather fear based person (thanks parents!). I come from a long line of fear based people… it is quite crippling really, and it is the main reason I keep myself from doing something for a living that I might actually enjoy.  There are many mantras about overcoming fears and facing them, etc… that are extremely difficult for me.  WTH, Merritt?  How did you get me to open up like that with some Dune-age?

Let’s bring it back to the lighter side before I go depressing it up more!

Question 12:  Think of a song… any song.  What is it? and be honest?  To help you with not being embarrassed by whatever song you are thinking of, my song that popped into my head is “Can You Picture That” by Dr Teeth and the Electric Mayhem.

A: The Red Flag by Billy Bragg is actually the very first thing that popped into my head.  I think I’m so busy right now that my brain wants to sing battle songs. And you were trying so hard to lighten it up.  I know.

It is like you are fighting me at every turn.  I kid.  I kid.  I was actually surprised when “Can You Picture That” popped into my head… I haven’t heard that song in at least a year.  Moving right along

Ah… we are now to our unlucky 13.  So… Question 13: Do you have any superstitions to which you ascribe? or any rituals? an example of a personal ritual: Sitting in the lotus position and internally repeating the mantra “Fear is the mindkiller” prior to any and all knife fights.  It just gets you in the right frame of mind.

A: One ritual I subscribe to is avoiding knife fights. Or at least bring guns to them. I’m not very superstitious actually. I do ‘knock wood’ a lot, but I just sort of like the phrase. It makes me feel closer to the elves of the woodland realm or something. The thing is, I never do it when I’m alone, so it’s not a very strong ritual. Other than purely entertaining things like that I just try to imagine how I want things to go, and do as many things as fit into that way of the things happening. And adapt as I go, since nothing ever happens the way you expect. It’s sort of like looking at a block of wood and making a sculpture of a turtle by cutting away all the things that don’t look like a turtle. But then I’m always prepared for the sculpture to end up being a rabbit, and that’s fine too.

That is truth right there, “nothing ever happens the way you expect.”  Even if you do use positive visualization and try to imagine how you want things to go.  If positive visualization worked, I would be fabulously wealthy and own a vastly successful DRM-free publishing conglomerate. Instead I am cataloging holes in the ground for the state DOT.

Fill in the blanks Question 14: A: I find that I am mostly _________.  B: Others find that I am mostly _________. (feel free to ask others or use your own conjecture)

A: Blank1 - Anxious. Blank 2 - Not shutting up when I need to.

Question 15: Do you think that A leads to be in this case?  Does your anxiety lead to overtalking?

A: Quite the opposite. I’m carefully quiet when I’m angry or anxious or unsure in any way.  It’s only around people I’m comfortable with that I blabber on. Unless I’m drunk. My wife says the only thing that bothers her about when I come home drunk, is that I won’t shut up and she’s trying to finish that episode of Gray’s Anatomy.

Interesting.. That being said… (Backstory alert) I do not have much of an accent.  I spent a solid 15 years in ‘bama, but kept a Southern accent away… So when I get drunk I talk about theoretical set theory mathematics with a Southern drawl. I do tend to be a quiet angry as well… so if we were in the same room and were quiet… shit is about to get real, yo!

So, when you are broadcasting Question 16: what are your personal foibles that you have to keep in check that would be bad for the netcast/podcast/vidcast? (I curse like a drunken sailor with terrets and am constantly modifying my language to keep from constantly carpet bombing with f-bombs.)

A: I try not to curse as well. I don’t have a problem with cursing, but some people do and cursing is not essential to most of my shows. I’ve become better at not interrupting people. I get so excited about some topics and worry I’ll forget my point that I used to just blurt stuff out which can be darned rude. (see darned not…)

All people who do voice work have crutch words that they say too often and I try to stomp those out.  But as soon as you cure yourself of saying “basically” suddenly you find you’re saying “allll righht” all the time. It’s a constant battle.

Video brings its own set of issues, like when to address the camera vs. the co-hosts, not looking like you’re picking your nose. All that stuff. My hair haircuts have become infinitely better since I started doing video.

The constant camera exposure really makes one notice all the little barely visible imperfections… a mirror takes care of the gross imperfections that everyone else can see.

One thing I have always enjoyed in your tech reporting is that you tend to bring a bit of silliness and whimsy to the plate, whether it is from your sarcastic asides or from your droll use of puns.  We all know that hyperbole is the funniest form of humor ever, but Question 17: What is your favorite way of injecting humor into your reporting/podcasting?  Is there a way you wish you could add in the humors but just have not found the correct vehicle/moment to do so?

A: I sometimes think that my humor is a bad idea and I ought to stop, but I’m glad some, like you appreciate it.  At the same time maybe you shouldn’t encourage me on the puns. Frankly, it’s just me being me. One thing I try to do in all my ventures is be genuine. I think it’s one of the best things about the Internet. You don’t have to impress some mid-level management type to find an audience.  So I can be silly and punny, and if it doesn’t bother people, it works. I do hope it doesn’t get in the way of good info. In fact I hope it makes good info more enjoyable.

Oh, it’s that time in the 20 Questions again.  The time where the circle comes round and the tables are turned.  Question 18:  Is there any question you want to ask me?

A:…I mean… Q: Of the hundreds of millions of blogs, podcasts, twitter feeds, YouTube shows, etc., what’s the one nobody’s doing that you wish someone would? Also, the turtle is on its back in the desert, why aren’t you helping?!

Interesting question because I think there are podcasts and twitter feeds and YouTube shows for everything imaginable under the sun.  I know that if I were to do a search (editor’s note: I will not do the search, this is a hypothetical search parameter) on underwater basket weaving there is at least one podcast, one twitter feed, and at least 10 YouTube vids on underwater basket weaving.  The problem with the existence of these online “resources” is that most of these items are utter and complete shite.  The existence of the topic is not in question, the quality is.  That being said, and I know I will catch hell for this, but I have not found a comic book podcast that trips my trigger just yet.  The sound quality or the poor host talent tend to push me away.  Readers, if you know of a GOOD comic book podcast, leave its name in the comments… I have already tried about 7.  Can you make a comic book podcast, Tom?  you and Scott Johnson and Justin Robert Young?  You have 1 listener awaiting.

I am not in the desert, and therefore question the validity of the statement.  I do not believe there is a turtle on its back.  I cannot help that which I do not believe exists.

Ah, the penultimate question, these 20 question pass so quickly…. Question 19: What are you taking from this 20 questions that you did not bring in with you?

A: They’re just questions, Leon. Designed to provoke an emotional response.

One thing I’ve found is that I tend to respond to a series of questions with Bladerunner references.

I also have found I like your questioning style, which is cool. And I learned that I get really philosophical about stuff if I don’t watch it.

I also found out you’re an android. SPOILER!

Isn’t the spoiler alert supposed to come prior to the spoiler.  Has Framerate taught you nothing?  So, you have seen through my Turing test conversation. I was almost a sentient robot, but you have seen through me, and now my sentience is in question… as it has been since 1974… and I am running iOS.

Question 20: So, what is new and next for you? Be as concrete or philosophical, be as precise or vague as you want.

A: I am trying to focus down on what projects I should be working on.  For a few years after leaving CNET I’ve been trying all kinds of things, and I don’t regret one of them.  But now I’m narrowing down.  Tech News Today and Sword and Laser are my main efforts. I want to concentrate on making those shows the best they can be.

Frame Rate with Brian Brushwood is a project I love and will keep doing.  We talk about tech and programming for cord cutters. I think it’s too early for this show to really take off but we’re perfecting it in advance of what I think will be a huge future audience.

And then there are fun projects like FSL Tonight, a podcast about fantasy and scifi characters playing in an imaginary and undefinied sports league.  Autopilot is a seasonal look at TV pilots. And I’m hoping to self-publish another novel or two, and maybe a book about tech history.

So yeah.  Really cutting down. Ha!

At least I’m doing stuff I love and having fun. Thanks for a really enjoyable conversation here man.  It’s been fun!

This was a blast.  Now that I have power again from the derecho of June 29… I have 42 podcasts to catch up on.  2 FSL’s, 6 Tech News Today’s, and 1 Framerate…. hours of Tom Merritty goodness.  

Everyone, if you don’t follow Tom on Twitter you should.  He is acedtect on the twitters and add him to your circles in Google+ at http://gplus.to/acedtect.  All of his stuff can be found though at his website tommerritt.com

To recap:
We have power
The wife and kids are in Tucson, AZ for the week
They left Monday morning
I miss them already
I am packing up the house this week
Cause we are getting kicked out on July 24th
I did have pizza for dinner Monday night
Grabbing dinner with a friend Tuesday night
Seriously, Tom was a delight
Everyone should have the pleasure of trading emails with him
I got 99 problems but empty boxes ain’t one
I need to go running cause I ain’t got no parenting duties this week
Look out world, heavy dude walk/running
We went through a ton of candles and dealt with the insane heat
Have a great weekend everyone… Yard Gnome

Edit!… wow We completely skipped Question 9… so without further ado

Question 9: Umm… how did I miss Question 9?

A: Seriously!  How did we both go through this and not realise you
went straight from 8 to 10.  Is it a conspiracy? A blind spot? A
symptom of heat stroke? The world may never know. I have decided to blame Google.

Google it is Tom!  Thanks for doing this to the nines!