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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Brooks and Dionne Video, Live with Krista
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

For those of you who only follow the blog, I finally was able to get the video of the Georgetown event encoded to the proper aspect ratio even though the crunch times are still taking way too long. Many thanks to listener Michael Wong for the advice.

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A Pipeline to Nowhere Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
More than a year ago Krista, Mitch, and I drove to rural Maryland for an interview with Jean Vanier. When we arrived I assumed we would be setting up in a retreat center with modern amenities. Nope. We were directed to a small, old farmhouse that had been converted for group meetings. It wasn’t much, but most of the power outlets worked, and it had a weak wireless signal.
'Why not experiment and stream the interview live?' I thought. Krista was game and Mitch was cool with it too (although you can hear an occasional squawk in the audio from me tip-toeing between the two cameras). We hadn't promoted it and there probably wouldn't be much of an audience, if any.
As many of you know, weak wireless often means a drop in signal at times and uploading anything crawls. I was sure our test balloon was going to fail. It didn’t; we piped the full 90 minutes through a free third-party service without a glitch. And, we did the same for Krista’s interview with Columba Stewart in the heart of Marcel Breuer’s concrete walls with another weak WiFi signal.
You know where this is leading. Me making excuses. That’s right.
When I found out Krista would be interviewing David Brooks and E.J. Dionne in a well-equipped auditorium on the campus of a major university, I was convinced this was an opportunity to give our audience a front-row seat for a high-profile event. I promoted the live discussion in our e-mail newsletter; I created an event on Facebook and invited all our SOF group members to attend in person or online; I tweeted about it (@trentgilliss). People showed a healthy amount of interest.
The auditorium was lovely, and, as luck would have it, I was able to get a wired Ethernet cable for a dedicated connection for streaming. Then I lost one of my cameras (the downside of sharing equipment), but I thought, ‘well, at least we’re doing a live stream.’ For five hours before the event, I tested the connection. Success. Uninterrupted video streaming. Then the doors opened.
For five minutes, we were piping high-quality video of the conversation while the crowd filed in and took there seats. Then it dropped. I’m receiving tweets from colleagues; viewers start asking what happened on the blog; my wife phones me. I’m frantic trying to switch to the wireless connection, which was also at a dead halt. Georgetown’s Internet connection was so slow that loading the front page of The New York Times took nearly 10 minutes — without the images loading.
In the end, I failed. I let down our audience and I hate doing that. All I can do is apologize and say we’ll do better next time.
I needed a back-up plan, but I’m still not certain what that is without spending some cash. Cash that we don’t have. If you have any suggestions, I’m game on hearing how others work or ways of making this happen. Post your comments here. And, if you want to let me have it, post your comments here too.
(photo: Marc Zielinski for Speaking of Faith)

A Pipeline to Nowhere
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

More than a year ago Krista, Mitch, and I drove to rural Maryland for an interview with Jean Vanier. When we arrived I assumed we would be setting up in a retreat center with modern amenities. Nope. We were directed to a small, old farmhouse that had been converted for group meetings. It wasn’t much, but most of the power outlets worked, and it had a weak wireless signal.

'Why not experiment and stream the interview live?' I thought. Krista was game and Mitch was cool with it too (although you can hear an occasional squawk in the audio from me tip-toeing between the two cameras). We hadn't promoted it and there probably wouldn't be much of an audience, if any.

As many of you know, weak wireless often means a drop in signal at times and uploading anything crawls. I was sure our test balloon was going to fail. It didn’t; we piped the full 90 minutes through a free third-party service without a glitch. And, we did the same for Krista’s interview with Columba Stewart in the heart of Marcel Breuer’s concrete walls with another weak WiFi signal.

You know where this is leading. Me making excuses. That’s right.

When I found out Krista would be interviewing David Brooks and E.J. Dionne in a well-equipped auditorium on the campus of a major university, I was convinced this was an opportunity to give our audience a front-row seat for a high-profile event. I promoted the live discussion in our e-mail newsletter; I created an event on Facebook and invited all our SOF group members to attend in person or online; I tweeted about it (@trentgilliss). People showed a healthy amount of interest.

The auditorium was lovely, and, as luck would have it, I was able to get a wired Ethernet cable for a dedicated connection for streaming. Then I lost one of my cameras (the downside of sharing equipment), but I thought, ‘well, at least we’re doing a live stream.’ For five hours before the event, I tested the connection. Success. Uninterrupted video streaming. Then the doors opened.

For five minutes, we were piping high-quality video of the conversation while the crowd filed in and took there seats. Then it dropped. I’m receiving tweets from colleagues; viewers start asking what happened on the blog; my wife phones me. I’m frantic trying to switch to the wireless connection, which was also at a dead halt. Georgetown’s Internet connection was so slow that loading the front page of The New York Times took nearly 10 minutes — without the images loading.

In the end, I failed. I let down our audience and I hate doing that. All I can do is apologize and say we’ll do better next time.

I needed a back-up plan, but I’m still not certain what that is without spending some cash. Cash that we don’t have. If you have any suggestions, I’m game on hearing how others work or ways of making this happen. Post your comments here. And, if you want to let me have it, post your comments here too.

(photo: Marc Zielinski for Speaking of Faith)

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A Three Pound Brain, Contemplating Galaxies
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

[Online editor’s note: For a better, more immersive experience, I recommend filling the screen by clicking the outward-facing arrows icon in the lower-right hand of the video. And, for good measure, put on a set of headphones.]

Science was never my best subject in school, but as an adult I’ve become a total science geek. And our recent program with novelist Mary Doria Russell was full of topics, from Neanderthals to alien communication, that got my geek juices flowing. I especially loved what she said about looking at a recent diagram of the universe, showing how it might expand and contract over time.

I thought, “It’s the breath of God.” That God breathes in and God breathes out. And when he breathes in, the universe is contracting, and when he breathes out, the universe is expanding. And I immediately was charmed by the metaphor…. God is the largest, most complex, most inclusive, most explanatory idea that human beings are capable of imagining. Now, that said, we’re primates and our brains are like two and a half to three pounds. You know, we’re doing the best we can. But I would hate to say that we’ve got a lock on the universe and deity at this point.

I was reminded of an interview with astrophysicist Howard Smith that we’ve had on the shelf since the summer of 2008. Our production schedule is such that we’re sometimes unable to use every interview that we do. But there were parts of Howard Smith’s interview have stayed in my mind for months. He is a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the author of Let There Be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah, a New Conversation Between Science and Religion. I loved how he described what it’s like for him to stare into the heart of a galaxy and discover something that no one else knows. That moment, he says, is a spiritual moment.

I wanted to see Howard Smith doing that work, peering out at the universe through the tiny window that is his computer screen, using his three pound brain as best he can to understand what he sees. So with help from Howard Smith, NASA, and Flickr, my colleagues and I gathered images to create this slideshow, exploring how we can find spiritual meaning in the stars.

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UPDATE: I’ll be posting footage to this entry over the weekend as soon as I get the session audio.

UPDATE: I apologize for these technical problems. The bandwidth at the venue came to a screeching halt and has precluded us from streaming live. I’ll post our tape as soon as I can. Thank you, and let me have it. Trent

Live Video: Krista with David Brooks and E.J. Dionne
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

At 6:30 pm Eastern today, we will be streaming Krista’s live public interview with New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne — all live from the campus of Georgetown University. For those of you in Washington D.C., there’s still time to attend the event in person. For those of you who can’t, the best place to watch the conversation is right here at SOF Observed.

The topic of conversation is the legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr and the future of his idea of Christian realism. I’m excited — and prepared to be surprised — to hear where Krista directs this topic as the U.S. shifts gear during a new presidential administration.

I got a preview of Niebuhr’s relevance during our morning briefing (actually, a confab with coffee and pastries). Krista has been reading one of Niebuhr’s later works, The Irony of American History. Part of his book addresses the very real threat of communism of the day. But, Niebuhr warns, that the virtuous founding principles of the United States — simplicity, rugged individualism, frugality, modesty, faith — has lead to the country’s success and great wealth. This prosperity comes at a cost of abandoning some of what made the U.S. great; the threat is to wield such power and might with humility.

I’m also opening up the chat dialog that accompanies this live feed so that you can share ideas with others who may be watching with you. Please let me know what you think of this endeavor. We really do this for the many of you who can’t attend these events in person. It’s a great honor for me and I love to get feedback, even criticism so we can serve you better.

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Editorial Session: To Script, or To Give Goose Bumps?
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Ideas from an interview and approaches to editing it can change during the production cycle of each show. I might hear something that I relished in the “pre-edit listen” that’s lopped off before the first group listen — which we call the cuts and copy — and wonder what happened.

Most of the time, it’s for the better. I hear the value in making some of those tough deletions — the conversation flows better, points are made more clearly, ideas are distilled. But, sometimes I’m disappointed at what is cut; an indescribable essence of the conversation is lost for the sake of understanding or expedience, an incredibly human moment of imperfection that didn’t cut the muster.

Coming out of our pre-edit listen with Robert Coles, all of us were enamored with something Coles said. His words were poignant because he said them in a different time — during his conversation with Krista in 2000. He provided a glimpse back to what things were like only eight years ago; the world seems like such a different place now.

Well, what he said was a challenge because Krista didn’t want to confuse the listener with an outdated reference. His words were cut and Krista had scripted in the notion of what he was saying to bring people into the present. But, to my ears, the moment was lost. So, what you see here is our production staff deliberating this edit, and coming to a resolution.

And, if you haven’t listened yet, check out the produced program with Dr. Coles, and compare the finished product.

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Live Blogging Krista’s Video Conference with students at American University
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Three hundred students in the general education program at American University participated in a course in which they read Krista’s book Speaking of Faith. In a live video conference with Krista in St. Paul and the students in Washington DC, they ask questions that arose out of their reading. And Krista answers them.

This is part of our continuing effort to reach out to different groups and also share with our audience all the activities Krista participates in. We’re blogging it here for the sake of experimentation and also for the benefit of those of you who don’t have bandwidth or like to read with some producer commentary. If you prefer, you can watch a video version here. Let us know what you think.

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Live Video Stream of Krista’s Video Conference with Students at American University
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Three hundred students in the general education program at American University participated in a course in which they read Krista’s book Speaking of Faith. In a live video conference with Krista in St. Paul and the students in Washington DC, they ask questions that arose out of their reading. And Krista answers them.

This is part of our continuing effort to reach out to different groups and also share with our audience all the activities Krista participates in. For those of you who would rather read a running producer commentary of the event, check out our live blog version. Let us know what you think.

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Hitchcock’s Rope, Music for Our Autism Program

by Mitch Hanley, senior producer

Frame from Alfred Hitchcock's "Rope"

When we first produced our autism program a little over a year ago, I had just watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, a fascinating movie that was shot more like a play than a movie. All of the scenes take place across two adjacent rooms and were shot with one camera, meaning all of the edits were just end-to-end, joining edits, without any cutaways to other angles, etc. So, it is as if you are watching a play without any set changes.

There is a scene in the film where Philip Morgan (Farley Granger) is playing Poulenc’s “Perpetual Motion” at the piano and Rupert Cadell (Jimmy Stewart) is asking him sensitive questions, with metronome in hand, intermittently dialing up the tempo with Morgan in lock step, playing this same piece faster and faster, the tension building.

That setting of the tune is rather anxiety-inducing, but I found the piece to be light and jaunty, with a tinge of melancholy, which reminds me of this time of year. I found James Campbell’s recording of that piece for piano and clarinet and set it into the autism program and it took on a whole other mood than was presented so cleverly by Hitchcock. You can hear the piece on the Being Playlist.

I tried to find the scene at the piano on YouTube, but I could only find the trailer in which you can faintly pick out an arrangement of the Poulenc piece for orchestra, in the background.

Hitchcock’s Rope — great movie, even if it is a bit grim. Check it out! Incidentally, if you rent the DVD, make sure you watch the additional “behind the scenes” segments; they explain the challenging shooting process (during one of the shoots, a member of the crew had his foot broken by a camera dollying across the floor!)

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"Lei Zhang: Floating in America”
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

It’s been a heavy week, hasn’t it? I could use a little beauty and a short respite this afternoon. Here’s a video snack to ease you into the weekend.

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SoundSeen: Titling a Show on Seane Corn’s Yoga
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

In between the interviewing and scripting, the SOF staff congregates for two editorial sessions where we hash out the details of each week’s program. The first — which we call cuts and copy — can be really rough around the edges; the second — which we call the final listen — is more of a fine tweaking of script changes, music selections, Web language, and, at times, we’re still coming up with a title for the episode.

This happens to be the case for our upcoming show on yoga as conveyed through the experience of instructor Seane Corn (I dig her Jersey accent!). We regularly struggle at naming each program, especially because there are various approaches to it: an apt description of the content, a clever literary device, a poetic encapsulation, a highlight of an outstanding idea, keywords that trigger curiosity, etc.

But, the title has multiple purposes. It’s spoken by Krista in the radio and podcast; it populates the subject line of our e-mail newsletter and browser title; it complements the feature image for the program Web site and all sorts of data in third-party vendors like iTunes, Google, Facebook, last.fm, Yahoo, and so on. Can one title serve all masters? Probably not. But, in the end, we just want  people to listen to the show so we’re trying to take a more direct approach in front-loading the words or ideas that will appeal to you and others. See what we came up with.

I’d love to hear where you stand on our titles, or if you have thoughts of your own. I’m open to advice. Cheers.

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When the Day Breaks
Andy Dayton, Associate Web Producer

This weekend I came across this beautiful animation created by Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis at the National Film Board of Canada, which somehow seems especially fitting for a Monday morning. What begins looking to be a cute and clever animals-behaving-like-humans story (I especially enjoyed the first character’s hat) takes a suddenly darker and more contemplative turn. I have to say, I’m quite amazed that the film’s creators were able to attain this kind of emotional depth in a story where all of the characters are anthropomorphized barnyard animals.

Note: If you have a faster Internet connection you may want to check out the higher-quality version.

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Scouting Locations for Tomorrow’s Interview Trent Gilliss, Online Editor
Father Columba Stewart, executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University, and Wayne Torborg, its director of digital collections and imaging, give Colleen, Mitch, and me a preliminary tour of the bowels of the room where they digitize ancient manuscripts. I’m excited for Krista’s interview with Fr. Stewart tomorrow. I’ll post video in a few hours when I offload from my phone.
(photo: Trent Gilliss)

Scouting Locations for Tomorrow’s Interview
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Father Columba Stewart, executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at St. John’s University, and Wayne Torborg, its director of digital collections and imaging, give Colleen, Mitch, and me a preliminary tour of the bowels of the room where they digitize ancient manuscripts. I’m excited for Krista’s interview with Fr. Stewart tomorrow. I’ll post video in a few hours when I offload from my phone.

(photo: Trent Gilliss)

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The Fastest Pitch-to-Interview Ever
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

It’s been a hectic several weeks around SOF, with various staff vacations and Krista traveling to New York in mid-July for an event at the Council on Foreign Relations and her moving in to a new home. So, before she hits the road again, Colleen made an appeal to the staff for a guest Krista could interview by the end of the week.

Somewhat hesitantly, I sent an e-mail containing a brief pitch early Monday morning:

Over the past five years, I’ve had ample opportunity to grab a few volumes from the dead books pile. The most memorable one was snatched during the first month of my tenure in 2003 — back when Tippett and Farrell shared the top of a file cabinet. And, to boot, it was a story about fly-fishing (Fly-Fishing the 41st Parallel).

I don’t fly-fish, but he makes me wish I did. Here’s a brief sketch.

James Prosek tells stories and ruminates about life through the lens of angling. His appeal to me is that the ritualistic act of fly-fishing serves as a meditation on place and self, on people and the world around us, on our communion with nature, on art, on home and the necessity of leaving it. Yet, I don’t sense an agenda or a lecturing, didactic man.

He’s in his early 30s, has a somewhat soft, pubescent voice (which I find endearing) and has published nine books — his latest a work of fiction. He writes and talks about trout in such intimate ways that he gives me a sense of the importance of solitude and contemplation.

For Prosek, fly-fishing serves as a way of crossing class boundaries. He won a Peabody and an Emmy for his film, The Complete Angler. Watch the first chapter to gain a better flavor of his voice and sensibility: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwZAR4mJEa8.

NPR produced a 12-minute piece with him as part of their Creative Spaces series: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=3622503. What does he mean when he talks about “creation is the act of playing God?”

He’s a wonderful artist who illustrates in the style of James Audubon. Although he’s renowned for his portraits of trout, he currently has a series “Life & Death–A Visual Taxonomy” exhibiting paintings on birds in various states of life (quite reminiscent of J.A.): “The boxes conceptually reference how man tries to fit nature into neat little containers through collecting, naming, classifying, and cataloging.”

He’s also partnered with the founder of Patagonia in a conservation effort called the World Trout Fund: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kpx_fsMRkYs.

By the time we had our staff meeting at 11 (Krista hadn’t read the e-mail yet), I did a quick 60-second recap. I got a fair nod from Colleen and Kate, and Krista gives the go-ahead to book the interview.

So, here we are, just minutes before 3 p.m. Central and Krista will be talking to James Prosek from the studios of WSHU at Sacred Hart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I hope it’s magic, and I’ll be uploading some video of the interview in the coming days!

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Ancestors at Meal Time
Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

Yesterday, Krista had an early evening interview with the chair of the Asian Studies department at the University of Sydney, Mayfair Yang. Thankfully, within the first five minutes (before I had to leave and perform my parental duties), I was able to capture this endearing story.

Her tale about cuisine was a perfect continuation of Krista’s interview with Nicole Mones a few days earlier. I’m trying to find expedient, thoughtful ways of including our readers and listeners in the production process. The product is a bit rawer, but, from what I’ve gleaned from the response to our unedited interviews, people appreciate hearing the savory elements that might not be as polished.

Right now I’m able to film, edit, and upload this video using my Nokia N95 mobile phone. In the coming weeks though, I hope to stream our cuts-and-copy sessions live using this same phone and a great third-party service. I’m testing it now and am astounded at how well it works. In the meantime, please let me know what you think of our endeavors. Post a comment here.

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