Static People CD Release Party

Sonoma Valley?s most secretive music endeavor, Static People will release a self-titled five track CD, 9 p.m., Friday, May 28 at Sonoma?s Moose Lodge, 20580 Broadway, Sonoma.

Static People, comprised of vocalist Dmitra Smith, guitarist Pascal Faivre, percussionist Mundo Murguia and bassist Daedalus Howell (c’est moi) formed as a secret project last September when the four working artists discovered they all lived within blocks of each other in Boyes Hot Springs.

Since then, the band has diligently honed a ?indie art-rock? sound at a Sonoma warehouse in the shadow of a 19th century iron and stone gate that once contained the inmates of a French insane asylum (Faivre imports such curiosities for his design business). Under the guidance of multi-platinum producer Jason Carmer (Third Eye Blind, The Donnas, Run DMC, Kimya Dawson, Chumbawamba and Korn), Static People have made occasional appearances such as at the recent Sonoma International Film Festival where they played to a capacity crowd.

The 21 and over gig is open to the public. Tickets, available at the door, are $10. Doors open at 9 p.m., Moose Lodge, 20580 Broadway, Sonoma. An optional pasta feed is an additional $8. Static People CDs are $6.

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I Can Has Creative Commons

An Interview with Cheezburger maven Ben Huh

Often when journalists go online, they merely turn their beats into blogs and continue churning the chum of bleeding leads. But for journalist Ben Huh, a different path beckoned. “There was this idea,” he says, “about a cat website.

“I had a job I didn’t like and I wanted to leave. I might as well go jump in with the sharks,” continues Huh, the 32-year-old founder of the Cheezburger Network, a blog-based enterprise perhaps best known for propagating the “lolcat” phenomenon, which usually manifests as a photo of a feline humorously captioned with intentionally poor grammar (the “lol” prefix is a net-borne acronym for “laugh out loud” or “lots of laughs”). Huh formally launched I Can Has Cheezburger, a site dedicated to lolcats that he acquired from its founder-blogger Eric Nakagawa in 2007 after a brief collaboration.

“I figured that if I don’t do well, there goes my career, and if I do well, there goes my career,” Huh said during the Web 2.0 Conference, co-presented by Sebastopol’s O’Reilly Media. At any given point, Huh operates over 40 sites, each representing a crash course in internet memetics and user-generated content. The sites receive over 19,000 submissions a day, which Huh and his staff of 42 individually comb for appropriateness and to spot trends. Throughout, Huh says he asks himself, “Is this a thing?

“I’ve found that I’m no better a judge of what’s going to work versus anyone else in the world. So we’ve made it into a numbers game,” Huh says. “We make it as organic as possible. If users send in content that we see in large volume, we’ll attack those first.”

Given the low cost of launching a site, Huh experiments with combinations of content and community until he has a hit. Some sites last only weeks, while others flourish and draw millions of eyeballs a day, which he monetizes through ad sales and by hawking related merchandise. And like porn sites, each has its own community of fetishists ready to share and revel within their particular niche.

Take graphs, for example. Graph Jam, one of Huh’s more esoteric sites, is devoted to “life and pop culture graphed for your inner geek” and consists of an ever-growing collection of pie-charts, bar graphs and sundry other illustrations positioned as observational humor. A recent submission graphed the “Motivation to Paddle Faster in a Canoe,” with “Canoe rental time is almost up” and “To keep in control while negotiating rapids” represented as small slivers in a pie otherwise dominated by “You hear banjos.”

Deliverance meets PowerPoint — it’s precisely the kind of cross-pitch that would have one thrown off a Hollywood lot that’s the lifeblood of Huh’s empire. It’s also an indication that the way we both consume culture and create culture is changing. It’s a Mulligan stew atop the hearth of the creative commons, but the question looms: Who owns it?

The answer is fraught with implications for content creators of every stripe, particularly when they intersect in the cluttered byway of internet culture and traditional media.

“There’s been a recent example of a photo of a monkey that’s frowning while riding on top of a kid who is swimming, and it looks like the monkey is drowning the kid. So one of our community members captioned it with ‘Assassin Monkey Is Not Pleased with Its Dayjob.’ This photo went around the internet for a long time, and a major comics house picked up the photo and said, ‘We’re going to build a character out of this.’ And I thought, ‘Well, that was created by one of our community members, and they’re claiming it as their own,'” Huh says.

What bristles Huh and others in his position is the lack of reciprocity between traditional media enterprises — those who leverage their copyrights and trademarks — and the world of user-generated content. If the community member in question posted images from the comic that poached Assassin Monkey, he would quickly be served with a cease and desist order, suggests Huh.

“It’s a very unfair relationship,” he says. “They’re drawing inspiration from a community of people who are putting it out there in the public domain. Therefore, there’s some obligation for them to put it back into the public domain.”

The graph depicting the outcome has yet to be submitted, but one can assume it will make one laugh — or maybe cry.

AMGEN Tour of California cycles through Sonoma

The AMGEN Tour of California cuts its two-wheeled swath through Sonoma County today and local media can’t get enough. Beginning at 11 a.m. in Davis, the cyclists will log about 110 miles on a leg that will see them through Napa, over the treacherous Oakville Grade and down Trinity Road into the Sonoma County. No word if any of the teams will be doing any wine tasting along their way to Santa Rosa where this particular leg of the race ends. The Tour of California concludes in Los Angeles, seeing as it?s downhill from here, I suppose.

Here?s a video interview I recently conducted with the Bissell Pro Cycling Team while they trained in Santa Rosa:

Napa World’s Top Food and Wine Destination – WTF?

My e-mail inbox is a magnet for publicity spam, particularly those breathless missives regarding the “Wine Country experience.” How can I tell the difference between spam and a press release in the nanosecond before I delete it? If it’s about Napa, it’s spam. Seeing as my beat is decidedly Sonoman, I haven’t the time or inclination to study up on the “other” Wine Country. Except when the headline crows from the subject line, “Napa Valley Honored as the World’s Top Food & Wine Destination.”

Cue the sad trombone.

Apparently, TripAdvisor, the online travel site, which encourages its users to, “Find Deals. Read Reviews from Real People. Get the Truth. Then Go,” held an opinion poll as part of its 2010 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice Destination Awards and, from “millions of real reviews and opinions that actual travelers share with each other on the popular travel website” concluded that Napa Valley was tops.

The fact that theirs was not a scientific poll notwithstanding, Sonoma should be aware that its neighbor to the east is already mounting its case for the world’s tourism dollars – hard, cold cash that could be ours for the taking with just a modicum of moxie. Bolinas, the coastal West Marin enclave that is known to sometimes refer to itself as “The Republic of Bolinas,” routinely removes the roadside signage along Highway 1 that indicates where one might turn to visit it. This ritual rebuff to tourists and developers is legend and has certainly added to Bolinas’ mystique, even if it has not helped preserve whatever it is the republic is hiding from the world (dilithium crystals, I bet).

Now, here in Sonoma, we’re big on signage. One can’t drive down Highway 121 into our Valley without being besieged by a number of billboards extolling our virtues as “Real Wine County,” or asking us not to sit in the big blue chairs in front of Cornerstone. We’re too invested in our signs to even consider using Bolinas’ reverse-psychology approach to boosting tourism through obscurity. Instead, we should introduce this approach to Napa by removing their signs.

In order to get to Napa from the Highway 101 corridor, one must drive through Sonoma County, whereupon one might see a number of signs directing tourists and their pocket books out of town. Now, I ask you, why would we ever put signs on our own land instructing people how to visit our competition? Have we not deferred enough to Napa? It’s as if we’re saying, “Welcome to Sonoma, Napa is right this way.” Must we remain the overlooked second son? These things never end well, just ask Shakespeare. Invariably, the wine gets poisoned and everybody dies.

How many times have visiting friends called you from the road having missed that crucial turn in Schellville, only to find themselves about to hook a left on Highway 29 into the heart of Napa? Even if we remove all of Napa’s signs, Sonoma still needs bigger signs. Carneros Highway should look like the Strip in Vegas, with enough blinking lights to cause epileptic seizures.

Too gaudy? Perhaps we could go conceptual and create a sign that offers directions to either “Heaven” or “Hell” (despite what the teenagers say, Sonoma would be heaven). Or, even more abstractly – “Ginger” or “Mary Ann” (Sonoma is Mary Ann, duh). Or, we could just build a wall.

Meanwhile, Clay Gregory, CEO of The Napa Valley Destination Council gloats from my inbox, “From stunningly beautiful locales to spots with outstanding attractions, the 2010 Travelers’ Choice Destination Award winners are truly incredible places that travelers love – and we are honored to be selected as the world’s number one Food and Wine Destination.”

Which, I guess, is also a way of saying we’re number two. We should spam this column to him.

Sebastopol’s National Media 3-Way


Anyone notice the recent rise of Sebastopol, CA, in the national print media? The month of May has seen handful of locals from the west Sonoma County enclave break into national consciousness (at least for those in the nation who are still conscious and can read). Though these west county chaps do not share the same publicist (I checked), their stories all share a defining characteristic ? they?re mavericks. I?d expect nothing less of the place where I nursed organic Gravenstein apple juice from bottle topped with a natural latex nipple ? a few decades before it was hip.

Among the cover boys was Jay Shafer who was featured on the cover of Parade, the national magazine inserted in to your local daily metro. Shafer was photographed in front of his 96-square-foor home for the mag?s ?Where America Lives? feature.

Likewise, Sebastopol businessman Andy Cohen got oodles of ink in a Wired Magazine profile entitled ?The Lost Tribes of RadioShack: Tinkerers Search for New Spiritual Home.? That new home spiritual home seems to be Cohen?s Radio Shack on Gravenstein Highway, which still stocks the electronic widgets and doohickeys that once defined the Radio Shack experience.

Sebastopol?s own ?Oracle to Silicon Valley? and fairy godfather of Web 2.0, Tim O?Reilly, is featured on the cover of Inc. magazine. paired with a feature about his ??lifestyle business that got out of control? ? a fine and inspiring read, which will have one thinking Gravenstein Highway is paved with yellow bricks. Read it here.