Things I Talk About at Bars

I’m a pretty good talker. Not all the time mind you; but get me a drink, a seat, and a captive audience (preferably tied to their chairs) and I will talk their ears off.

Unfortunately after a night of hardcore talking, which probably involved me telling you an embarrassingly personal story about an ex-girlfriend, people ask me to e-mail them all the things I was talking about. They also ask me to untie them.

Below is a list, in no particular order, of what I’ve been talking about for the month of March 2011.

Comedy Stuff

  • Kumail Nanjiani – Another great stand-up from Pakistan. Love his bit about Benjamin Button.
  • IT Crowd – Super funny BBC comedy about an english IT department.
  • Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – Is a total cult classic BBC comedy in the style of old 1980’s tales from the crypt, Stephen King style horror. Probably the best show to convincingly do badly done.
  • QI – One of my favorite UK vices after PG Tips, Qi is a quiz show, but a quiz show unlike any you have ever watched before. The point is not to get the answer right, but instead to be interesting. Hosted by the incredibly smart and interesting Stephen Fry.

Tech Stuff

  • Stacey CMS – This little Content Management system surprised me because of how easy it is to use and install. No Databases, just easy to write templates and text files. Very good for the beginner. Can be completely pimped out as seen in the architecturally inspired theme Assemblage.
    Stacey CMS
  • TwentyTen Five – Based on an article in Smashing Magazine, this WordPress theme is wonderful for those wanting to dip their toes into HTML5. Based on WordPress’s default theme, it is very easy to work with and style. You can see templates I have built using it here on this website and on
    TwentyTen Five
  • Pure Reader – For all of you who use Google Reader to read your RSS, the Pure Reader browser extension makes that experience amazing. Seriously, I cannot recommend it enough.
  • Ultimate CSS Gradient Generator – I do love me some smooth gradients, especially when I can create them in CSS3.0 ala an Adobe Illustrator style chooser. Found this via 25 Super Web-based HTML & CSS Tools an incredible resource for great web tools.
    CSS Gradient Generator
  • Calibre – If you own an e-Book, then you must have Calibre. Although the interface is chunky and pretty counter-intuitive, Calibre can convert any eBook format to any other e-book format. It also organizes books and allows you create e-books from a website’s RSS feed.
  • Roku Player – Still my favorite video streamer. If you subscribe to Netflix instant watch, you owe it to yourself to get a Roku Player.

So, now you know what it’s like to have drinks with me. Pretty exciting right? My calendar is pretty open if you?… no? You have to?… go? Oh, okay, maybe next time. Here, let me untie you.

About Books

Renewed Writing

Sleepwalk With MeI’ve recently been reading Mike Birbiglia‘s Sleepwalk with Me: and Other Painfully True Stories and really been enjoying it. There have been some full on laugh-out-loud moments and I normally don’t laugh-out-loud while reading — I hate those people. But now I’m one of those people and I have been thinking, I should write more! Why don’t I write more? I have funny stories too?

And so, I have been writing again. It’s taking a lot longer than expected and also longer than it takes to read Mike’s stories, which seems like a ridiculous thing to measure against, but I do. I think oh this is funny, I can do this too! And I start dictating in my mind, which is a terrible habit because my mind never writes anything I tell it down. And then I’m like PERFECT send it to press and my mind goes, sorry I wasn’t writing ANY of that down. I don’t even have hands, what were you expecting? Also ‘send it to press’? Where are we Citizen Kane, the 40s?

I should really fire my mind and get a real assistant. Keep an eye out for some ridiculously embarrassing stories soon.

Update: You should also check out my new bestie Kimmy Gatewood’s blog My Boyfriend Tolerates Me — very funny and has also been inspiring me to write more.


Back to the Way It Used to Be

Recently I’ve been on project overload. Too many things to focus on and not enough time to complete them all. One of my major stress points was figuring out which blog I should be using to talk about my life. I have one for work, one for personal work, one for documenting my improvisation studies, and this one. Up The Tree has long been used solely to house the podcast Tracks Up The Tree, which has been my on-again, off-again (love/hate) focus for the last 5+ years. When I wasn’t podcasting, I was neglecting the site.

Eating a sandwich
Me circa Dec 5, 2002 – Eating a huge sandwich

I can remember originally starting it on Blogger in 2002, back when there was such a thing as Blogger. It was originally called Fun Time Tree House, where I gained my nickname, Funtime Ben. The most amazing part of blogging back then was that there were a few thousand of us, and everyone was hungry to connect with one another. I would post something, and within minutes a stranger had commented. People were literally waiting for blog aggregators to list the latest blogs which had been updated.

It was back then I discovered some of my favorite sites:

  • More Than Donuts (now KDUNK) was the most rockenist bloggers in New York and someone I truly looked up to in terms of style and wit.
  • Fireland (now Fireland) was an edgy and well-designed blog I thought pulled no punches in terms of content and tone.
  • Dooce was and still is the mom of the blogosphere and became quite famous when she was fired from her job for blogging. I loved her stories about LA and her move back home to Mormon, Utah. Her Leaving Los Angeles mixtape effectively opened my eyes to indie music.
  • (now Eliot Shepard) Was the first photoblogger in my book. His photographs inspired me to take pictures and make art. He was also one of the first bloggers I ever met in real life and was very kind to me.
  • Little Yellow Different (now Littlest, Yellowest, Differentest) Was the irreverent writing of wonderfully hilarious Ernie Hsiung.

It really feels like going back in time to revisit these blogs. I can remember so well the feeling of checking in to see if anyone had updated. Looking for a new writer to read while I should have been working — back when that was a new thing.

Sadly I no longer read any of these blogs anymore. Not because of any one reason. Life gets in the way. Like relationships that grow apart, so too did my connections with each of these blogs. Dooce had babies, More Than Donuts and Fireland closed up shop for a while to regain sanity, and Slower moved to Flickr. The technology and landscape for expression had changed.

And so… in honor of those days passed, I rolled out my new and improved old website today. I have decided to eliminate all the complications and return to the weblog I started so long ago. I have restored it to how it looked back in 2006, with all the bells and whistles of a modern site. It’s my blog, back when I was most fond of it, back when blogging was about expression rather than the guilt of neglecting the thing you once loved. I hope you enjoy the new old me.


Long Live Pepper

Early on in dating my first serious post-college girlfriend in Brooklyn, somewhere in the days of 2002, she adopted a cat named Pepper. Pepper was the troublesome ward of one of our improv classmates Amaya, who had gotten Pepper to keep her ailing cat Sherman in better spirits. Sherman, the elder statesman of the house, had not aged particularly well and now had 3 legs and lack of teeth, which to my spotty recollection was in neighborhood of one.

While Sherman was at a definite disadvantage, to put it mildly, it was his apartment and he had called dibs long before this upstart kitten was even a glimmer in its mother’s bowl of Fancy Feast. At the time of the adoption Amaya had installed a screen door in her apartment to stop Pepper from attacking Sherman, by locking the cats away from one another. Both cats were medicated and were in short, not getting along terribly well. So when Amaya desperately called out for a good home for Pepper, my new girlfriend Diane took the opportunity to take the troubled cat and reform it into a constructive part of society.

When we arrived at Amaya’s apartment on 7th Avenue and Union in Park Slope, I have to say I was more than a little nervous to see this terrorizing cat which had so completely ruled her life. Having a friend with a medicated psychotic cat is one thing, but to offer to adopt it? There was a certain illogical nature to the whole thing. Lucky for my new girlfriend, I was not living with her at the time, or I would have told her it was a terrible mistake. Being her new boyfriend, and having no clout with which to reason with her or reason to mess up a good thing, I could only watch from the sidelines as she agreed to have her life ruined by a four legged demon spawn.

We returned from Amaya’s apartment in a yellow cab, with the new cat meowing protests. We took the black Sherpa cat carrier into Diane’s small bathroom to acclimatize Pepper to her new apartment. Popular wisdom told us that we should wait a few days to allow the new cat to “get used” to the new surroundings before letting it loose in a new apartment, but I have to say that no cat I have ever known has ever respected such boundaries. Pepper stayed very quiet as I sat next to her petting her head. She slowly wandered around the bathroom exploring the bathtub and silently judging the decor. Within minutes Pepper was waiting patiently at the bathroom door thoroughly ready to explore the rest of the apartment. “I assume there is more to this apartment than this room?” she seemed to say.

Over the next few days Pepper became a fixture of the apartment. Gone were the outbursts of feline power struggle and instead we discovered a lovely hand-me-down cat. Despite being known as a terror to those who had occasional dealings with her, Pepper was a very gentle cat. She was especially fond of keeping your relationship on her terms. She was pet when she wanted to be, ate when she wanted to, and played with the laser-pointer every opportunity she got. She was also very fond of catch where she would race down the stairs of the apartment after a foam rubber ball and then bring it back up the stairs, slightly more soggy for the trip.

Over the 4 1/2 years Diane and I were together Peppé was a fixture. Even as the relationship self-distructed and most evenings were spent slamming doors, Pepper was a singular point of comfort. She was always there for me, to cuddle when no one was there to cuddle, to want me when I went unwanted.

Pepper on a Chair

When I moved out, my time with Pepper had come to a regrettable close. She was Diane’s cat after all, and although we all hope in our hearts that our relationships to those we love will never change, it did. Diane and I fell out of day-to-day contact and Pepper was an unfortunate casualty.

Diane wrote me to let me know that Pepper passed away last night at 11pm. Pepper had some considerable health problems, which eventually led to her demise. I cannot truly say how I feel about Pepper’s death. I loved her so for so many years and once you love something, it will always be highlighted in the world and your emotions. My thoughts at the moment revolve around those first few days of meeting Pepper and how I will miss the cat who so selfishly cared about my happiness in direct relationship to being fed and how warm I could keep her.

I will miss her and feel the world is a little more empty today, then it was yesterday.


…Unlike Son

My father is not of the web generation. He is a 65 year-old architect turned graphic designer who couldn’t give a flying flock about weblogs, but now has a corporate journal thanks to my pushing. Part of having a journal is commenting on weblogs which you find interesting, but that can bring up problems you may not have anticipated.

“It’s SO SMALL! How can you read that? That’s ridiculous!”

(6 Comments on the weblog)

“Dad it’s a comment box, just write a comment.”

“I can’t just write a comment in that small little space,” he pleads to me “I can’t see it! I’ll copy and paste it into an Indesign document and paste it back when I’m done.”

“It’s just a comment dad, just write something… anything!”

40 minutes passes a he studiously refines what is to be the comment to end all comments. A profound, engaging recourse with the weblog community in which he shall connect with the webloggers.

(16 Comments on the weblog)

“Okay, hows this look?” He asks.

“Fine.” I say not really paying any attention.

“is it too negative?”

“Maybe the ‘vomit out type’ bit’s a little strong, but it’s fine.”

“Yeah, that seemed a little much to me too.”


All Things Must Pass

NY sky

Tom Whitehouse, my sweet and eggplant shaped grandfather peacefully passed away in hospital today in Petersfield, one day before his 93rd birthday.

He was a sweet little man with more wrinkles than a bloodhound, long sleve shirts buttoned to the top, glasses thinker than the bottom of milk bottles, and a voice smaller than a shout – yet louder than a whisper. My granddad was a rockstar of an old man.

Whenever people would ask about my granddad I would tell them that my Tom had two identical black Casio watches, one on each wrist. They would stare at me for a moment – wondering why. Thinking up long explanations, balancing delicate psychoanalytical diagnoses, or making connections between my granddad and I. Ultimately asking “Why?” as I had when I noticed the two watches 10 years ago. Tom had turned to me beaming.

“You see, I have these two programs that I like to watch on the tele. The left one’s alarm goes off for the first show and the right for the second. That way when I’m sleeping I’ll be sure to watch my programs. Would you like one? I’ve got another 6.”

I wish him the best of luck, wherever he next calls home… I hope they have black Casio watches.

Bye Tom.


Like Father…

Roger at his first wedding

Some people think my dad and I look alike, but although my dad may be a cute little English dork it is still not cool to look like your dad. _I mean he’s my dad dude!_ Then my father was sent this picture by his first wife of their wedding 30 years ago. Everyone at the office is all giggly “You look like your dad.”

They were married for a few years, but it was apparently evident that it was not quite right. They are still friends if you’re concerned.

Now, I know it’s not cool to look like your dad and everything, but I do admit there is a resemblance.

Ben and Diane


Baby you can’t drive my car


Anyone who knows me well enough, knows I don’t have a drivers license. This often comes as a shock to most people, likening it to being illiterate. The truth of the matter is I know how to drive, but it’s the test I don’t know how to take. I have procrastinated so long in getting a drivers license, my learners permit has finally expired after 6 years.

So now I have to get a new one and trust me the bureaucratic implications of this are astounding in the metropolitan area, but it’s just something I have to do… mainly to stave off strange glances at me at parties.

“Oh, this is Ben. He doesn’t know how to drive, so don’t use any big words in front of him.”


Recording Influences

I love music. Not only listening, but from 6 months old playing with sounds that I could make by fluttering my lips. I am by no means a professional, but more a lover of audio. I’m not sure where this love came from. My father is probably the cause, being a man who implored in me a love of all things.

*Including the Beatles.*

I can remember the day I heard them. My parents were visiting their friends who lived somewhere near the bear mountain bridge. They were nice people and all, but I remember that their children were complete animals. After an hour of these children, I escaped out the front door and into my parents’ silver Volvo. I knew the tape player worked without the key in the ignition, so I grabbed one of the tapes my father kept in the car and sat in the drivers seat. It was at this point that I heard a jet plane about to land on my father’s car. I can remember, quite vividly, looking up through the windshield at the sky as Back in the U.S.S.R. began to play. I knew from then on that this was the band for me.

*This was it.*

Since then it’s happened a few more times (in date order); Paul Simon’s _Graceland,_ Talking Heads’ _Stop Making Sense,_ Nirvana’s _Nevermind,_ Counting Crows’ _August and Everything After,_ Jeff Buckley’s _Grace,_ DJ Shadow’s _Entroducing,_ Bob Dylan’s _Blond on Blond,_ Jellyfish’s _Spilt Milk,_ and Wilco’s _Yankee Hotel Foxtrot._ Looking at them as a whole, they all represent very distinct sounds-capes. Each one has an amazing “transparent” production, where you feel like you’re sitting in the midst band not listening to a recording.

*These are my influences.*


Monster Cheese

When I was young, I used to love Muenster cheese, because I thought it was called Monster cheese. I used to imagine that the yellow-orange outer coating was part of it’s monster quality. I imagined Frankenstein eating slices with the wolf man.


When I found out it wasn’t called Monster cheese I was devistated and stopped eating it altogether. My point being, change the name to monster cheese — guaranteed you will sell more.