Pioneer Log’s Nerdwatch: Jonathan Coulton complete interview

by Angela Webber

Jonathan Coulton, Internet Superstar, is the nerd and geek community’s troubadour. He rose to internet fame in 2005 when he quit his computer-programming job and started his “Thing a Week” podcast, in which he, as the name implies, published a musical piece every week for a year.

His songs, which include themes of evil geniuses, robot overlords and the Swedish furniture store Ikea, have been described as continuing the tradition of comedic musicians Tom Lehrer and “Weird Al” Yankovic.

Coulton releases his music on a Creative Commons license, which means that they can be reused to share or remix for non-commercial purposes. This leads to much release of fan-made videos and art inspired by his music. Coulton interacts with his fans both online and on stage, and even has invited fans who cover his songs on YouTube to tour with him.
The Pioneer Log spoke with Jonathan Coulton about his upcoming Portland show, his fan base of nerds, and his next steps.

The Pioneer Log: Your songs deal with topics like robots in space and computer programming. Would you consider yourself a musician or a nerd first?
JC: First? I have to say a nerd first. That’s just a deeper layer… For me, being a nerd or a geek is about the way you look at and perceive the world. Really, it’s sort of out of your control. The fact that I am a visual thinker, and the way I approach solving life’s problems is very nerdy, and that’s just who I am and how my brain words. And the music is just gravy; I happen to have a talent for some of that. That sort of sits on top of the nerddom.

PL: Where did you first start working with music? Did this start when you were a kid?
JC: Oh yeah, all my life. My parents were musical; they sang and played instruments. It’s just something we did for fun when I was a kid. When I got a little older and had the focus and patience to do it, I learned to play guitar, and drums, and a little bit of piano. It’s always been something that I’ve messed around with, and I’m very fortunate to have that actually be my job now.

PL: The songs you did for Thing-a-week are more produced and have a more electric sound than when you perform live with just you and your guitar. How do you think about these two different sounds?
JC: I’m a fan of them both. It’s a struggle sometimes to translate what I did in the recording process to a live performance, particularly in some of the faster numbers. A slow song you can always play on the acoustic guitar, that’s fine. But if it’s a toe-tapping rock’n’roll number, it’s a little harder to fake, or to translate. It’s been a process figuring that out, but I think it works out pretty well. I think there’s something magical about 1 person and one instrument on a stage.
I haven’t done all the thing-a-week songs live, because there’s some of them I haven’t figured out how to do, and I may never figure out how to do.
And there are some that are just more fun for audiences. If it were up to me, I’d just be singing sad songs about giant squids all the time. But not everybody wants to hear 10 sad songs in a row. In fact, I don’t think anybody wants to hear 10 sad songs in a row, except me.

PL: What’s it like working with Paul and Storm? (Paul and Storm are the comedy duo who open for Coulton and provide back-up vocals and instrumentation for his set.)
JC: They’re great. They’re good friends. We’ve been working together for many years now. I’m always amazed at how they are able to whip an audience into a frenzy. I mean really, they can start from nothing, with the audience not knowing anything about them, and by the end of it, they have completely transformed the crowd and the energy. They really are very talented.
On top of that, we happen to get along very well, and when you’re out on the road, it’s nice to have people there who you share a common history with. You develop a shorthand for talking about stuff and reacting to stuff, it’s a lot of fun touring with them.

PL: Something unique about you as an artist that is visible in the online community and at your shows is the interactive relationship you have with the audience. What’s it like having this relationship with your audience of nerds?
JC: It’s really great! I’ve always enjoyed going to concerts where the performer is very flexible. There’s some live shows you go to see and it’s like they’re putting on a show that they’ve put on a million times before, and they’re bored with it, and it’s kinda boring for the audience too. And then there’s other shows you go to where the artist actually talks to the audience, and things happen.
I remember when I was younger I saw a concert by a woman named Shawn Colvin. It was just her and an acoustic guitar. Somebody shouted out something in between songs and that got her talking about something. She told this story, and then she was like “where was I? how did we get on this?” It was very cool. That’s what I like, when a show becomes a real moment.
Geeks are always willing to put themselves in the middle of things, so having them in the audience always insures that the show is going to be interesting and different.

PL: After you play in Portland you will be heading to the South to open for They Might be Giants. How did that come about, and how are you feeling about it?
JC: I’m really excited about it. I’ve been a fan of theirs since college, since Flood [TMBG’s first album] came out. I’ve met them a few times because we have some mutual friends. The first few times I met them I don’t think I made much of an impression because I was so star-struck that I could barely speak. The next couple of times I think I made a slightly better impression.
Paul and Storm and I discovered that we were competing directly with a They Might be Giants “Flood” show when we were playing in Chicago a while back. And so we did the only thing we could think to do–which was to do our own Flood show. So we covered Flood ourselves, and I’d been in touch with them about that to make sure that was ok with them. It’s one of those things; It seems like there’s a lot of overlap between their audience and my audience. They just asked me, “Do you want to open up for us for a little run?” and I said “Sure, yes please!”
I’m totally excited about it.

PL: Who have you been listening to recently?
JC: I just bought the new OK GO album and I think it’s really great. Not new, but something that became a big part of my collection a while ago is this band called “Tally Hall.” They only have one record out right now, and it’s called “Tally Hall.” It’s really fantastic. It’s like my favorite kind of pop. They have a new album coming out very soon.
I don’t have a great deal of time to consume media, you would think so, but somehow it never works out that way.

PL: Why is there no theremin in your shows?
JC: A theremin is very hard to play, I cannot play the theremin very will. I do love it, and it’s one of those things that I wish I could play well. It’s one of those instruments that you need to spend a long time learning before it even sounds not awful, and I frankly don’t have that kind of time.

PL: There has been talk on your blog of a “Jonathan Coulton Cruise.” Where did this idea come from, and what’s the latest?
JC: This idea is blatantly stolen from other people. The first time I heard of it was when Barenaked Ladies was doing a fan cruise and I thought that was a very cool idea… and the idea would be to do a “Jonathan Coulton Con on a boat”. So I would have other friends and fellow entertainers with me, and there would be a number of different performances and events and things. I’m a big fan of cruise ships. They’re fun. They’re like giant, floating hotels. I think it would be kind of cool do a concert on a boat like that. We’re still working out the details, originally we had been talking about a Seattle departure, and a cruise that went to Alaska, but I don’t think that’s going to work out; it’s just a little too expensive for everyone. So we’re going to probably do something that leaves out of Florida, and it may be close to the end of this year if we can figure out how to make it work.

PL: Best Concert Ever was a new distribution scheme for you. How has that gone and how was making a live concert DVD?
JC: It was a lot of work! There was a team of people and a bunch of cameras, and I had to hire all of these outside people, professional audio people and video people and color-correcting people – I had to hire people to do things I didn’t even know existed. As everyone knows, making high-quality entertainment in the old-fashioned manner is usually pretty expensive and time-consuming. It was definitely an experiment. I was like, “well let’s see what it’s like to do a full-blown concert DVD. – because I’ve spent all of my career doing the home recording method of everything, it’s all home-brew stuff, so it was really me wanting to try something on the “professional” level. It was fun, and I’m really happy with how it turned out. It was a fun show, and the audience was great, and I think we got some really interesting things that were not just the concert and the music; it sort of tells a story and there are some other themes going on in there, and there’s a lot of extras that make it really fun and interesting. It’s a nice complete picture of the Jonathan Coulton Universe, I think.

PL: If you had a reality show what would it be called?
JC: It would be called America’s Next Top Jonathan Coulton.

PL: You recently posted on your Twitter a picture of you in a history textbook called “United States Government: Democracy in Action” [in a section about Copyright law.] How does it feel to be in a book that is packaged with the Great Gatsby on Amazon.com?
JC: (laughs) I didn’t know that. It feels very strange. Like all of the rest of this it feels pretty weird. A fan sent that picture to me, and I was like, what?

PL: Well, congratulations, and I hope you get to be in many more history books in the future.
JC: Me too, that was always my goal.

Jonathan Coulton plays at the Aladdin Theater in Southeast Portland this Saturday, February 27 at 8:00 p.m. Buy tickets here.

Inequality or hiring practices?

by Lindsey Bosse

The average salaries for female professors at Lewis & Clark are significantly lower than average salaries of male professors, according to the website citytowninfo.com. According to Dean of Students Julio de Paula, however, this is “absolutely not” a case of gender discrimination.

LC is in the top 10 percent of all colleges for full-time professor pay. Starting with full professors, men make $113, 948 while women make $96,032; associate professors make $74,656 as men and $69,685 as women; and assistant male professors make $62,184 to female assistant professors’ salary of $55,968.

According to de Paula and Associate Dean Jane Hunter, these numbers are cumulative of all professors at all three branches of the school. That means that the website took all of the salaries from all the male and female professors at the College of Arts and Sciences, the Law School and the Graduate School, and then found an average. Under the assumption that law professors make more than undergraduate professors, the higher number of male professors at the law school would skew the data. The Law School was unavailable for comment on the salaries of its professors. There are also higher numbers of male professors at CAS that fall in the associate and full professor category. These discrepancies are not indicative of gender discrimination, but instead result from the way history has played out.

When first hired, professors start out as assistant professors and generally spend six to seven years in that position before becoming eligible for promotion to associate professors and gaining tenure. A professor will then spend another six to seven years as an associate professor before promotion to full professor is allowed. Pay starts with evaluation of prior experience before coming to LC, and then professors are reevaluated every two years for salary increase.

Historically, the CAS has had a predominantly male professorial staff. Full-time professors split between 22 male and nine female, with a majority of the men in that category having taught here for longer than the women. This creates pay gaps due to the amount of time the professors have been employed at LC. Again, in the associate category there are 33 males and 12 females. These numbers distort the averages, making it seem like men make more, when the reality is that there are more men than women in the higher-paid positions.

De Paula and Hunter calculated that in the full-time professor position females are 2.7 percent behind the cohort’s salary median, while men are 2.8 percent ahead. For associate professors, women are .4 percent above the median, while men are at the median. This suggests that at CAS there is no pay difference between men and women in that cohort. In the assistant category, where there are 22 females and 21 males, women are 1 percent above the median and men are behind by .8 percent. Overall, the numbers only show a majority of a 5 percent difference between full-time professor pay, which, given the difference in gender numbers in that cohort, makes sense.

The fairly even numbers of female and male professors in the assistant cohort show that the school is integrating more women. This also means that in 6-14 years this cohort will move up together and the wage gap should begin to dissipate.

Letters to the Editor 2/19/10

Casual offensive speech is far too common at LC

During the whole poster debacle the debate (if you could really call it that) over how to handle things got pretty heated. People condemned racism on all levels and anyone advocating anything short of hunting down the person responsible for the posters and causing them harm was labeled as a supporter of racism. It was a frustrating time and left a bitter taste in my mouth at least. After it was all over everyone was talking about how awful racism was and how they couldn’t believe how this had happened. The racism at our school doesn’t really stop with the posters though.

While attending Chinese culture night at the Bon it struck me how often our student body is guilty of casual racism. I saw people heckling the stage and maliciously laughing at some of the performances. Also heard was the edgy comment that, “They should have just called everything Asian food. It’s all just rice anyways.” I understand we all have a right to freedom of speech but it was really frustrating to hear people putting performances down for being foreign and therefore an object of ridicule. It always takes more effort to create than it does to destroy, and part of me still wishes I’d opened my mouth to say something. On the one hand I see students speaking out against racism at our school, but on the other I see some perpetuating it. Is racism against one ethnic group okay and the other not? Is it because your racism is ironic? Because it’s said casually does it not cut as deep?

Aaron Upsal

College of Arts and Sciences

Class of 2010

Quote in evacuation article may be misleading

In the February 12 edition of the PioLog I was quoted as saying, “I have no idea where I am supposed to be right now. If this were a real earthquake I would be dead right now.” I will not dispute this quote but I think that it can be easily misinterpreted. In all reality I knew that I was supposed to go to the parking lot behind Fir Acres Theater. Due to weeks of prior notice and a discussion in class earlier in the week, that information was provided to me. I think the preparation and planning for this event was done very well. I actually received two phone calls, two text messages and a bunch of emails to let me know exactly what was happening.

That comment was more made in the spirit that had this occurred in real life and I were not in Howard Hall I would not know where to go in the event of an emergency. Maybe it is my responsibility to read the emergency handbook in each classroom and figure out where the evacuation area is for each building, but I haven’t and I find it unlikely that most students have. The comment was also made because I was expecting to see more orange vests waving people to where they were supposed to go and I didn’t see any until I actually arrived in the Fir Acres parking lot. Overall I think that the drill and drill preparation were well put together, but I just don’t know how well this theoretical approach would transfer to a real emergency situation. Also reading the quote in the PioLog I was concerned that it made light of the fact that actual injury and death can occur in real earthquake situations, especially due to the close proximity of the tragedy in Haiti. So if that offended anyone that statement in no way meant to make light of the situation

Eli Fabens

College of Arts and Sciences

Class of 2011

Hamslam: DTF

Dear Hamslam,

Again and again, I have come back from a party with the girl of my dreams, only to have the night end with a sweet little kiss and an “I had a good night, call me tomorrow?” And I walk home alone that night. So, as I look around campus to see the droves of beautiful women, some of whom must also have similarly raging hormones, I have a nagging question in the back of my mind – Why isn’t everyone DTF? Hope this counts as a priority on your to-do list.

Dear Reader,

This is not only a wonderful question, but also something I have been puzzling over for the past couple of weeks. Let me begin by saying that this is a complicated and multifaceted issue. The first reason that women at Lewis & Clark are not DTF, that is, “down to fuck,” is that they are woman and are, as a rule, more cautious about that sort of thing than men are. Also, because of our societal standards, women who are promiscuous are often viewed as sluts. This image does not get anybody very far in life if they are not equipped at the player’s game. Most women are not. Additionally, because LC is such a small community, reputations such as being a slut spread rapidly, so that suddenly all 2,000 undergraduates are aware.

There is also the issue of the double standard. While men are praised for being promiscuous, women are not. Some women try to play the powerful, self-directed, independent, feminist type, but this still equates to being a slut, which I think is unfortunate. Also, due to LC’s size, those who do hold out usually end up with boyfriends or marriage proposals. Plus, gentlemen, let’s admit, the chase is 80 percent of the fun. Once you get the goods it’s on to the next challenge. So for women, a good strategy is to pop a lock on the ol’ YKK* until they feel that they are valued as individuals.
Another idea, though, is that the women of LC are just too concerned with what other people think. So much so, that they will not indulge their true desires and instead suppress them. This in the end might be why so many are stressed all the time. It really boils down to a fear. Fear of what others say and a lack of self-respect and confidence to direct their own lives. One last thing to keep in mind is that a large percentage of LC ladies have boyfriends that are off campus, and some have given up on men completely and moved on to the fairer sex.

Now to the next question. This girl of your dreams, dear reader, must have thought of all these things and for that reason she is not DTF… at first. But let me assure you that the hormones are there and they are probably boiling over with desire for you. It’s funny though, because in my freshman year there were a whole slew of women who were absolutely DTF, and now it seems that has changed. My recommendation for the gents is to keep up the good work: Keep your doors unlocked at night and let the ladies read my words of wisdom. Once they have internalized it they will for sure be in your arms. And if that does not work, be sure to go see David Coleman, the real “date doctor,” Feb. 21 at 2 p.m. in Council Chambers. Then you will really get laid.

*YKK is the company that makes all the zippers in the world. Check now. Do it.

Plotkin to speak at 2010 Graduation

by Nichole Carnell

Environmental scientist Dr. Mark J. Plotkin will speak at the 2010 Lewis & Clark College of Arts and Sciences Commencement. Plotkin has spent most of the last 20 years working with and learning from ancient shamans about their traditions and healing plants in the rainforests of Central and South America.

Plotkin currently serves as the President of the Amazon Conservation Team, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting biological and cultural diversity of the tropical rain forest. Educated at Harvard, Yale and Tufts, Plotkin served as Research Associate in Ethnobotanical Conservation at the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, Director of Plant Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund and Vice President of Conservation International in Washington, D.C.

Along with Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg, Plotkin was recently named by Smithsonian magazine as one of the “35 Who Made a Difference.” Plotkin also is the author of Medicine Quest: In Search of Nature’s Healing Secrets, Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice and the children’s book The Shaman’s Apprentice– A Tale of the Amazon Rain Forest.

The 2010 Commencement ceremony will be held on Sunday, May 9 at 10 a.m. in Griswold Stadium.

Cell phone drive connects volunteers to central medical clinics

by Laura Nash

The International Students of Lewis & Clark and the Pamplin Society of Fellows are currently working together to collect cell phones for an organization called Frontline SMS: Medic.

Frontline SMS: Medic takes “retired cell phones,” said Dieterich Lawson (’12) who is taking time off from school to work as a software developer for the organization. “It doesn’t matter if they are broken, if they have been dunked in water, or if they have been stepped on,” said Lawson.

After the cell phones have been collected they are sent to the Wireless Source, which is a cell phone refurbishing company. Wireless Source fixes the phones and sells them again. They give Medic either a check or new cell phones in return. Each cell phone is worth approximately $18. Then, Medic sends the phones to medical clinics in Africa.

“In Africa, and in developing countries overall, there is a huge deficit of doctors. There are two doctors at a central clinic that serves 250,000 people,” said Lawson.

To make up for this deficit, the clinics train volunteers, known as Community Health Workers, to perform basic medical procedures and treat common ailments and afflictions. Lawson said, ”The outlying villages can be fifty, sixty, one hundred miles away and the only way to get there is to walk or bike or motorbike.”

Thus, the cell phones are used for communication between the clinics and the Community Health Workers. With the donated cell phones and the software developed by Frontline SMS: Medic, the Community Health Workers can text medical forms to the central clinic, request more supplies, and generally stay connected.

The cell phone drive was supposed to end on Wednesday, but ISLC and the Pamplin Society have decided to continue the drive for at least another week. The drive was combined with an event in the hopes that this would increase donations, but only eleven phones were collected on the night that a raffle was held in Fields Dining Room for those donating.

Shelley Zhao (’10), co-president of ISLC and a Pamplin Fellow, said, “So far this event has not been successful to me. This is largely due to the organizers’ own fault. This is the first time we did it and the people responsible were not experienced with it.”

The drive was meant to be run around Thanksgiving last year, but was moved to February to coincide with an African culture-themed celebration ISLC was planning to hold. Organizers believe that it is important to raise on-campus awareness of the need for such resources.

Zhao recalled the battery recycling drive that was held by ISLC a couple of years ago. She said, “People need to utilize resources [like cell phones or batteries] to give to someone who needs them. People need to have more awareness of how important that is.”

Lawson said, “This is super easy. It is no cost to you and it goes to a super good cause.”

There are boxes in Fields Dining Room, Maggie’s, and Watzek Library. Pamplin Fellow Warren Kluber (’12) is also willing to take phones.

After the drive, students can print pre-paid mailing labels online from hopephones.org and ship the phones to the company.

Campus to offer interfaith housing

by Stephen Maxwell

Campus Living, the Dean of Students’ office and the Chapel offices are working together to bring an Interfaith Community (IFC) housing option to Lewis & Clark next fall. It will be structured after existing themed floors, and is intended to include students from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds.  According to Dean of the Chapel Mark Duntley, the main goals of the community will be to encourage discussion between the various faiths at LC and to highlight the existence of spiritual groups on campus.  “We want people to be committed to learning about others, to living in a community with other people that are different than they are, but also to be actually interested in their own sort of faith or cultural background,” said Duntley.

This plan was partly inspired by a lack of visibility for religion and religious groups on campus. “We do actually have here people from different traditions and faith,” Duntley said. “This is a way of getting on the map.”  It also becomes one more thing the College can provide to help attract a variety of potentially interested students.  “If you’re trying to recruit students here who have faith backgrounds and are interested in this kind of thing, what do you say is available to them?”

According to the project’s listing in Opportunities & Announcements, students have expressed an interest in expanding the options for religious discussion. “There is a lack of discussion about faith and spirituality on campus, and I think that intentionally creating a space for that is great,” said Carolyn Worthge (‘11).  “It allows people of different faiths to live in community and be in constant conversation while living out their lives.”

According to Duntley, the idea of the community has been on the table before, but a particular catalyst this year is the Dean of Students, Celestino Limas, who was hired last academic year. “Celestino has a particular interest in diversity, including religious, cultural background,” said Duntley. “He wants to see diversity in a broad way, and I agree. He has a good vision for this, so we were happy to talk about it.”

The community will likely be housed in the on-campus apartments.  The convenience of kitchen facilities there helped encourage this choice.  “A lot of religious activities center around food,” said Duntley. “This will give them an opportunity to, in a communal way, share traditional religious and cultural experiences that include food.”

The current IFC mission statement encourages involved students to plan and participate in religious and cultural activities for the student body.  The specifics of the group, however, are all but set in stone. “We’re hoping is that students will be co-creators in this. The community can evolve the way it wants to,” said Duntley.  Fewer than 20 students will likely be involved this year, but the plan is for the concept to grow over time.

As with all themed floors, students can apply for membership until Feb. 18.