Recently Consumed Media: Behind the Mask

We moved recently, and in an effort to keep costs down, became a hulu-and-Netflix-only-for-tv household. Mostly, it’s liberating to be untied from network ratings battles and the impossibly unpredictable schedules of cable programming.  There are things to miss — for me, it’s the nightly news and Jeopardy! — but for the most part the transition has been a fairly painless.

The best part of being a ‘web-based viewer’ is finding stuff you might not otherwise watch. You’re surfing around looking for the perfect show and something catches your eye… sometimes you’re back to browsing within seconds after taking a gamble on a show that turns out to be totally stupid. But other times, you find a little gem.

Behind the Mask, a hulu original, is one of those gems.

What it is:

Created by filmmaker Josh Greenbaum, Behind the Mask profiles sports and business mascots at various stages of their careers, be it at the high school, college, semi-pro, freelance, or pro level. It has two seasons in the can, and earned a Sports Emmy nomination for Outstanding New Approaches in Sports Programming in 2014.

Why it’s good:

The primary reason Behind the Mask rocks is the people it profiles. Some serendipitous wind blew a slew of really interesting people in Greenbaum’s direction… or maybe this is just a side-effect of the mascot subculture. Either way, these are compelling, multi-faceted, root-for-’em type of people hidden behind fur, fiberglass, and mesh-covered eye holes.

Take Kevin Vanderkolk, for instance, who doubles as the NBA Milwaukee Bucks’ Bango. A long-trained gymnast (who married a neurologist) Vanderkolk has athleticism that rivals and in some ways bests that of the players he’s cheering on.

This also isn’t a reality show that tries to contort its characters into society’s ne’er-do-wells. Instead, every mascot featured in two seasons experiences some type of success, which the show celebrates, and their share of defeats. Thanks to compassionate filming and some great storytelling, I found myself celebrating every win and sharing every disappointment. Real reality programming is so refreshing.

Just one thing, hulu…stop selling ad space to SeaWorld so they can assure us their orcas are happy. Thanks.

PodJax: This is What I’m Listening to. You?

I’ve been a listener for decades. As a kid, I had a weird fascination with talk radio that used to drive my friends batty at sleepovers. That obsession stretched into adulthood; I usually listen to some radio or pod-based talk show every night as I drift off, I often have my phone propped up on a shelf playing a podcast episode while I’m in the shower, audiobooks aren’t relegated to plane trips, and I have multiple NPR stations pre-set in my car; in fact, I’m now at the point at which I can listen to NPR programming seamlessly from one end of Massachusetts to the other.

Podcasts have been around longer than smart phones, but they’re enjoying quite a mainstream renaissance this year, due largely to the success of ‘casts like Serial and Comedy Bang Bang. I must admit, I was listening to Serial and loving it for a few weeks before I realized that the rest of the world knew there was a shrimp sale at The Crab Crib, too. So, here are two shows I’m listening to now, plus a list of what else is in my iPhone these days. I did try to put together some words of wisdom on each show, but at my current pace, I won’t be done until Armageddon. Some are podcasts I’ve been listening to for years, others are brand new. I’m always on the lookout for new stuff, so let me know what you’re listening to in the comments.

Finish Line

Finish Line – A podcast updated every day of the Boston Marathon bombing trial and hosted by David Boeri of WBUR and Kevin Cullen of The Boston Globe. Each episode is about 15 minutes – shorter than my usual fare, but perfect commuting length – and gives a detailed, vivid summary of the day’s testimonies. Much of the coverage reminds us of the week Greater Boston was literally under siege and the events that unfolded, but there are new tidbits each day, too. Last night, for instance, we were first introduced to Stephen Silva by his real name; he first appeared as ‘Sam’ in the now infamous Rolling Stone article.

Invisibilia – Named for the Latin word for ‘all the invisible things,’ Invisibilia is go-to programming for the connoisseur of human behavior. Hosted by NPR vets Alix Speigel and Lulu Miller, each episode takes an ‘intangible force’ we all experience — big things,  like fears, thoughts, and expectations — and breaks it down with the help of interview subjects who’ve experienced some sort of extreme versions of the theme. Episode three, for instance, features a woman who lacks the ability to be afraid. It’s scary good.


The Paperclipping Roundtable – A show for scrap bookers — or, if you prefer, paper crafters — that covers everything from new artsy gadgets to the growing world of ‘alternative scrapping.’
This Week in Astrology – If you’re into what the stars say your week is going to be like, give this ‘forecast’ show a try on Sunday evening.
Meditation Oasis – A great archive of guided meditations for just about any life event, be it a meeting, a pregnancy, or just sleep. My baby daughter likes the ‘music only’ episode.
…Speaking of pods, PodCamp Western Mass., the longest running podcamp in New  England, is coming back to Holyoke Community College on April 25! PCWM isn’t just about podcasting, it’s all things social media. But I’d wager a guess that ‘casting is just one topic we will be exploring this year. Learn more about this event that’s very close to my heart here.

Get Shorty: A Look at Link Shortener Usage

In researching some results for a client recently, I found myself with some interesting statistics on link shortening use I thought I’d turn into an infographic and share. (Read: I spent so friggin’ long on this project I better have something to show for it.)

This is by no means an exhaustive, conclusive, or terribly scientific breakdown of all of the link shorteners out there, or how often they’re used, but rather a snapshot in time relative to a specific company — in this case, a nonprofit organization. I simply searched the 100 most recent mentions of the nonprofit on Twitter*, isolated those that included shortened links, and took a quick measurement.

More than half came from Facebook (, trailed distantly by, Constant Contact (, and a custom vanity URL the nonprofit is using to share its content.

It’s an interesting way to gauge where the chatter about you or your business is coming from and how people are sharing it; for instance, through this particular search, we know that at least 15 mentions came from e-newsletters (Constant Contact). That could be an important nugget of information when planning next quarter’s social media goals… To e-mail or not to e-mail? To go mobile? To blog? To ramp up PR? You get the picture. Or, if not, here’s a picture:

* — Tip: Make sure your search term is in quotes if the company’s name is more than one word, to weed out mentions that are simply Tweets containing those words, i.e. “Burger King” instead of just Burger King. The latter will return Tweets about Burger King the restaurant as well as Tweets like “I just ate a burger, and I am king.” Another tip: Make sure you’re sorting your search as ‘All Tweets’ instead of ‘Top Tweets’ if you’re looking for real-time information. If you’re more interested in which mentions are getting the most action, reverse that.


Whetting for Work

IMG_9696I was in Brattleboro, Vt. last week for a work visit, and got a chance to check out a new brewery and restaurant the Northeast beer community has been buzzing about.


Tim’s Awesome Burger

The reasons to visit Whetstone Station Restaurant and Brewery are countless. If the great food – Tim’s Awesome Burger with peanut butter and bacon, anyone? – and beer brewed on-site don’t tickle your fancy, then how about dining on the banks of the Connecticut River as trains chug by? Sampling small plates in the Bier Garten from May to November? Or how about this … checking two states off of a cross-country beer tour list under one roof? That’s right, the New Hampshire – Vermont line runs right through the Whetstone.

The Noms are Out!

It’s the first official step toward our annual Oscar Party and Food Contest … the nominations have been released. This is it, kids: a veritable menu from which to choose your edible, Oscar-themed creation and vie for the prizes and glory that come with a win.

Let’s take a peek at some of the contenders — for both the Academy Award and voting at our fiesta, via the uncomplicated ‘pen and piece of scrap paper’ system. PriceWaterhouseCoopers was unavailable.

The Academy nominated eight of a possible ten films for Best Picture this year, and it looks like Boyhood and The Theory of Everything are the front-runners. The Grand Budapest Hotel did surprisingly well at the Globes, though, so maybe that’s the Dark Horse.

Best Actor… Michael Keaton and Eddie Redmayne took the Globes home, but can we get a win for Steve Carell? He’s virtually unrecognizable in Foxcatcher and for my party purposes his nomination makes ‘Steve Carvel’ a potential reality.

It only took 30 years

Best Actress… Bummer that Jennifer Aniston was snubbed for her role in Cake.

Best Supporting Actor… Fun fact: in high school, my friends Patti, Heather and I went to a screening of a short film by nominee Ethan Hawke in Provincetown, then proceeded to tail him around the town in my 1978 two-tone Chevy Monte Carlo when he left with friends.

Best Supporting Actress… Oh hi, Meryl.

As for some of the lesser-followed categories, this is the bread and butter of the Oscar Party Food Contest. If a food-themed dish didn’t come to mind in the major categories, these always offer a ringer or two. For instance: 2015 documentary nominee Salt of the Earth and Foreign Language nom Tangerines.

To review, here are some of last year’s entries!

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