Category Podcasts

Episode 115 – Idlers and Belgians

Virtual Memories Show:
Edward Mendelson – Idlers and Belgians

“I have a private test for whether I’m an individual person or whether I’m part of the culture: I go to the supermarket and I look at the supermarket weeklies, and if I recognize the names, then I’m not a person, I’m a product of collective culture.”

moral-agents200Professor Edward Mendelson joins the show to talk about his new book, Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers (New York Review Books), which profiles Lionel Triling, Dwight Macdonald, Alfred Kazin, William Maxwell, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, WH Auden, Frank O’Hara. We discuss the role of individuals in mass culture, the intellectual’s temptation to be a leader, the outdated figure of the Beloved Professor, Orwell’s misinterpretation of Auden, the writer he was terrified to meet, the failures of identity politics, the purpose of Columbia University’s Core Curriculum, his lack of nostalgia for the era of public intellectuals, the way certain books need a year off from teaching in order to recharge, and more. Give it a listen!

“All these writers were tempted by the way they were taken seriously.”

We also talk about why he hates one of my favorite novels, why he agrees with my take on Achilles’ uncanniness in the Iliad, why professors think students are getting dumber year after year, how the economic collapse of the ’70s led to improved colleges across the country, why he thinks Stoner is a study in self-pity, and more! Go listen!

Edward Mendelson on the Virtual Memories Show

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About our Guest

At Columbia since 1981, Professor Edward Mendelson has also taught at Yale and Harvard. A recipient of American Council of Learned Societies, NEH, and Guggenheim fellowships, he is chiefly interested in 19th-and 20th-century literature, formal and social aspects of poetry and narrative, and biographical criticism. He is Auden’s literary executor; his book Later Auden (1999) is a sequel to his Early Auden (1981). His book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have to Say About the Stages of Life, was published by Pantheon in 2006. His new book is Moral Agents: Eight Twentieth-Century American Writers, from New York Review Books. He has edited a volume of essays on Thomas Pynchon and, with Michael Seidel, Homer to Brecht: The European Epic & Dramatic Traditions. He has prepared editions of novels by Hardy, Bennett, Meredith, Wells, and Trollope, the first five volumes of a complete edition of Auden, and selections of Auden’s poems and prose. His essays and reviews have appeared in the New York Review of Books, London Review of Books, TLS, the New York Times Book Review, and many other journals and collections, and he wrote an introduction for a new edition of Gravity’s Rainbow. He has also written about computers, music, and the visual arts. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was the first Isabel Dalhousie Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh.

Credits: This episode’s music is Homesickness by Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Mendelson’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Mendelson by me.

Episode 114 – Roller Coaster

Virtual Memories Show:
Brad Gooch – Roller Coaster

“History and culture are the rooms in which a person is living.”

Brad Gooch joins the show to talk about his new memoir, Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s (Harper). We discuss his long relationship with director Howard Brookner, his need to chronicle the New York City scene of his youth, the transitory nature of so much of the great art of that era, the Life-During-Wartime aspect of the AIDS era in the city, survivor’s guilt, how he stumbled into becoming a literary biographer, and why 63 is the perfect age to become a dad. Give it a listen!

Brad Gooch on The Virtual Memories Show

“One friend told me, ‘Sixty is the perfect age to get married. If I’d known, I wouldn’t have had three divorces.'”

Seriously. That guy is 63. Sheesh.

Anyway, we also talk about the influence of Frank O’Hara’s poetry and life, the many faces of Rumi, why he’s hooked on Knausgaard, the differences between writing biography and memoir, his career as a male model, and how it feels to get retweeted by RuPaul and the Elton John Foundation. Go listen!

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About our Guest

Brad Gooch is the author of Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s (Harper) and Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor (Little, Brown, 2009), which was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and a New York Times bestseller. His previous books include City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O’Hara; as well as Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America; three novels–Scary Kisses, The Golden Age of Promiscuity, Zombie 00; a collection of stories, Jailbait and Other Stories, chosen by Donald Barthelme for a Writer’s Choice Award; a collection of poems, Daily News; and two previous memoirs, Finding the Boyfriend Within and Dating the Greek Gods. His work has been featured in numerous magazines, including The New Republic, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Travel and Leisure, Partisan Review, The Paris Review, The Los Angeles Times Book Review, Art Forum, Harper’s Bazaar, The Nation, and regularly on The Daily Beast. A Guggenheim fellow in Biography, he has received a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship, and a Furthermore grant in publishing from the J.M. Kaplan Fund. A professor of English at William Paterson University, he earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University, and lives in New York City. He is currently writing a biography of the Sufi mystic poet Rumi.

Credits: This episode’s music is Beautiful Child by Rufus Wainwright. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Gooch’s office on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Gooch by me.

Episode 113 – Palimpsest

Virtual Memories Show:
Michael Meyer – Palimpsest

“When you look at the history of northeast China, it’s all successive regimes that have tried to import their version of civilization into this area, and they’ve all failed.”

meyer-cover200When he was a kid in Minnesota, Michael Meyer papered his walls with National Geographic maps. A Peace Corps stint in 1995 began his 20-year odyssey in China, yielding two books, true love, and a unique perspective on the world’s most populous country. We talk about his latest book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China (Bloomsbury), life in rural China compared to suburban MN, the country’s changes in the past two decades, the flexibility of the Communist party, China’s uses and abuses of history, the tortured history of the Manchuria region, the need to explode Americans’ myths about the country and its people, our favorite jet-lag remedies, and the Chinese use of “uh” as a conversational placeholder. Give it a listen!

“China isn’t a billion-plus people marching in lockstep. Nor is it some mastermind sitting in some opulent room in Beijing and declaring, ‘Now we will do this!'”

We also get into the time the Beijing police took Michael in so he could teach them American curse-words, why it’s safe to be a writer but not to be a journalist, China’s transition from individual farms to an agribusiness model, why the time to write a book is when the book you want to read doesn’t exist, the differences in storytelling modes between Americans and Chinese, his debts to Bruce Chatwin, Pearl S. Buck, and Ian Frazier, and how tens of thousands of Jews wound up in the town of Harbin.

Michael Meyer talks Beijing, Manchuria, Singapore, and Minnesota

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About our Guest

Michael Meyer is the author of the acclaimed nonfiction book The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed. He first came to China in 1995 with the Peace Corps, and for over a decade has contributed from there to The New York Times, Time, the Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Architectural Record, Reader’s Digest, Slate, Smithsonian, This American Life and many other outlets.He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing, as well as residencies at the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. He recently taught Literary Journalism at Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center, and wrote the foreword to The Inmost Shrine: A Photographic Odyssey of China, 1873, a collection of Scottish explorer John Thomson’s early images. He is a current member of the National Committee on United States-China Relations‘ Public Intellectuals Program, and an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches Nonfiction Writing. Michael’s new book, In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, was published by Bloomsbury in February, 2015.

Credits: This episode’s music is Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy. The conversation was recorded at the Bloomsbury offices on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Meyer by me.

Episode 112 – Remainder

Virtual Memories Show:
Clive James – Remainder

“I should have led a more balanced life, but that’s easy to say at the end of things. When you’re caught up in what you’re doing, it’s very hard to be reasonable. And art isn’t really made out being reasonable.”

sentencedClive James was diagnosed with leukemia and emphysema several years ago, but the poet, essayist, memoirist, novelist, TV host, and charter member of the Virtual Memories Show Dream List hasn’t let his ailments silence him. He joins us for a wide-ranging conversation about poetry, mortality, binge-watching Veronica Mars, writing Cultural Amnesia (one of my favorite books), being Australian despite 50 years in the UK, how his showbiz career hurt (and helped) his literary legacy, and a lot more. We talk about his two new books — Poetry Notebook (Liveright) and Sentenced To Life (Picador, UK only) — and the ones he’s working on, and how he faced two choices after his diagnoses: lie back on a couch, admire himself for his achievements, and sign off; or go on as if he had forever. Give it a listen!

“All that poetry comes in handy when you lie there, contemplating the end. The question is why: Why when your body is about to come apart, is there such appeal in reading such highly organized argument and imagery?”

Clive James on the Virtual Memories Show

We get into the role of culture, the future of the Middle East, his first encounter with a Jew, the books he made a priority of when he realized his time was short, why it’s okay for actors to be shallow, and how he wrote a critique of Daniel Goldhagen while dressed as a mariachi singer for a TV show in Mexico.

“It’s possible to say that if I’d just concentrated on my literary activities [instead of working on TV], I’d have had a less complicated reputation. The question never would have arisen: Is he serious enough to write seriously?”

We talked a lot of books in this one. Here’s a list:

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About our Guest

Born in Australia, Clive James lives in Cambridge, England. He is the author of Unreliable Memoirs; a volume of selected poems, Opal Sunset; the best-selling Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts; and the translator of The Divine Comedy by Dante. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic. He is an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). You can find a longer version of his bio at his site.

Credits: This episode’s music is El Cholulo by Tosca Tango Orchestra. The conversation was recorded at Mr. James’ home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. James by me.

Episode 111 – Time, Memory, Friendship, Poetry, Art

Virtual Memories Show:
Prue Shaw – Time, Memory, Friendship, Poetry, Art

“It’s a cliche to say that the whole of medieval civilization is there in one book, but that’s true, and you get to understand that more and more as you read it.”

WhenAmericaMetChina5 J2.inddScholar Prue Shaw joins the show to discuss Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity (Liveright Press). We talk about our favorite parts of the Dante’s Commedia, the poem’s transformation for her over the decades, Dante’s challenge of expressing the inexpressible (especially in Paradiso), the fate of Jews in Dante’s afterworld, and the reasons why we all — poets and non-poets, believers and non-believers — should be reading Dante. Give it a listen!

“I think it’s very indicative that our strongest word of disapprobation in the present moment is ‘inappropriate’. We don’t say anything is wrong or bad, but inappropriate.”

We also talk about readers’ reticence toward starting the Commedia, why the Paradiso is the most difficult of the three books, the strange role of Ulysses in the poem, Dante’s “mercy rule,” why she chose the structure and themes for Reading Dante, the perfect epigraph to her book, which she discovered too late for inclusion, and why I need to get to the Uffizi!

Prue Shaw w/Gianfranco Contini

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About our Guest

Prue Shaw is Emeritus Reader in Italian Studies at University College London, and the editor of the edizione nationale of Dante’s Monarchia and of a digital edition of the Commedia. Her latest book is Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity (Liveright Press). She lives in Cambridge, England. You can find her extensive bio at her site.

Credits: This episode’s music is Hell by Squirrel Nut Zippers. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Shaw’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Shaw by me.

Episode 110 – Thru’ These Architects’ Eyes

Virtual Memories Show:
Witold Rybczynski –
Thru’ These Architect’s Eyes

“An architect doesn’t build something just because he wants to build it. But as a writer, you can say, ‘I have an idea for a book.'”

how-architecture-worksWitold Rybczynski joins the show to talk about architecture! The renowned writer, scholar, and former architect discusses his newest book, How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit, and talks about that humanist approach to buildings, the problems with Brutalist architecture, the importance of having a canon of great buildings, the ways that digital technology are changing the practice of architecture, why there’s no such thing as a ‘theory of architecture’, the reasons Philadelphia has such marvelous buildings, what it means to ‘review’ a building, why the ‘Starchitect’ phenomenon doesn’t make for better buildings, and whether it’s possible to improve the appearance of malls. Give it a listen!

“There was an enormous excitement about concrete in the early 20th century.”

We also talk about the joys of architecture school, why he got out of the practice, the farthest he’s ever traveled to see a building, how he got started as a writer, his favorite period for American architecture, and how architectural criticism differs from that of other forms (and why it’s a pointless exercise)!

“[The impact of digital technology on teaching and practicing architecture] is like reinventing the English language. You know what a disaster Esperanto was.”

Witold Rybczynski on The Virtual Memories Show

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About our Guest

Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is Emeritus Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania.

Mr. Rybczynski has designed and built houses as a registered architect, as well as doing practical experiments in low-cost housing, which took him to Mexico, Nigeria, India, the Philippines, and China. He has written for the Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Review of Books, and the New York Times, and has been architecture critic for Saturday Night, Wigwag, and Slate. From 2004 to 2012 he served on the U. S. Commission of Fine Arts. His most recent book is How Architecture Works: A Humanist’s Toolkit, and he is the author of many other books, including, Home: A Short History of an Idea, The Most Beautiful House in the World, A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century, Looking Around: A Journey Through Architecture, and My Two Polish Grandfathers: And Other Essays on the Imaginative Life.

He lives with his wife Shirley Hallam in an old stone house, the Icehouse, in Chestnut Hill in Philadelphia. He says, “I don’t think of myself as someone with hobbies — I garden under pressure — but the artifacts I’ve owned for longest are well-used hand-tools. I don’t collect anything, but I have a lot of books.” He is on Twitter at @witoldr.

Credits: This episode’s music is I’m Goin’ Home by The Rolling Stones (because Witold wrote the book, Home, and because this song shuffled up on my iPod while I was driving to his home). The conversation was recorded at Mr. Rybczynski’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone
. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Rybczynski by me.

Episode 109 – The Confidence Man

Virtual Memories Show:
Walter Kirn – The Confidence Man

“He could not imagine what went on in other people’s hearts and minds any more than you and I could imagine what it’s like to live on Jupiter.”

ph-bc-bloodwilloutAuthor and journalist Walter Kirn joins the show to discuss his latest book, Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade (Liveright Press), which chronicles his relationship with con artist/sociopath “Clark Rockefeller”. We talk about how Clark hacked the social software, how attending Princeton and Oxford prepared Walt to be fooled by Clark’s lies, why he thinks Clark was actually a progenitor of the social media age, whether writing his best book was worth losing his faith in humanity, what it felt like to be the Nick Carraway to Rockefeller’s Gatsby, and more! Give it a listen!

“One thing I learned is that I might never have found out about Clark’s lies if he hadn’t made a mistake.”

We also talk about the three things that are most often smuggled into California prisons, what (if anything) can be done to pre-empt sociopaths, the experience of getting trolled by a convicted murderer, the advice he gleaned from Joan Didion before starting up his Great American Novel, what he thinks of New York under DeBlasio, what brought him to Montana and what keeps him there, and where the name “Virtual Memories” comes from!

Walter Kirn on The Virtual Memories Show

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About our Guest

Walter Kirn is the author of eight books and an e-book. His most recent is Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade, a memoir of his friendship with the con artist and murderer, Clark Rockefeller. His other books include Up in the Air, Thumbsucker (both of which have been made in to feature films), Mission to America, My Mother’s Bible (e-book), The Unbinding, She Needed Me, My Hard Bargain, and Lost in the Meritocracy. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, GQ, New York, and Esquire, among other publications.

Credits: This episode’s music is The Secret Silken World by David Baerwald. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Kirn’s apartment on a Zoom H2n digital recorder, because the XLR cables I bought from Monoprice turned out to be crap. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Mr. Kirn by me.

Episode 108 – From Asterix to Zweig

Virtual Memories Show:
Anthea Bell – From Asterix to Zweig

“There were a lot of books in the school library, and they weren’t in English, and I was mad keen to get at them.”

Renowned literary translator Anthea Bell joins the show to talk about getting her start in foreign languages, the schisms in the world of literary translation, the most challenging authors she’s worked on, the one language she’d love to learn, translating everything from Asterix to Zweig, and more! Give it a listen!

“Heinrich Heine goes into English with almost suspicious ease, but Goethe is very, very difficult.”

bell2054

We also talk about where she thinks WG Sebald’s fiction would have gone had he not died so early, why Asterix has never gotten over in America, the one word that’s the bane of her existence for U.S./UK split editions, her worries for the future of translation, her family’s history during the War, and her theory for why Asterix’s druid-pal should keep the name “Getafix”!

“If we had to have the Romantic period — and I do say we did, although I like the Enlightenment a lot better — I say the Germans did it better than anyone.”

We talk about a ton of books in this episode, so here’s a handy guide!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Anthea Bell is a freelance translator from German and French. Her translations include works of non-fiction; modern literary and popular fiction; books for young people including the Asterix the Gaul strip cartoon series; and classics by E.T.A. Hoffmann, Freud, Kafka and Stefan Zweig. She has won several translation awards.

Credits: This episode’s music is Where Are We Now? by David Bowie. The conversation was recorded at Ms. Bell’s home on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Bell by me.

Episode 107 – Silence in Translation

Virtual Memories Show:
Yasmina Reza – Silence in Translation

“When you write a novel with a classical structure, you’re writing horizontally. [In Happy Are The Happy, I can] speak as a character, and the character is also somewhere in the spirit of another. It allows you to see the characters in many ways that naturalism would not allow.”

51PvahAbjAL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Playwright and author Yasmina Reza joins the show to talk about her new book, Happy are the Happy (Other Press). We also discuss the confluence and divergence of love and happiness, her surprise when “Art” was produced in Iran and Afghanistan, the appeal of Sarkozy as a literary character, her love of The Wire, and why she let James Gandolfini transpose The God of Carnage from Paris to Brooklyn. We also get to talking about writing a novel like a constellation, being unapologetic for writing intelligent plays that are accessible, the playwrights in her theater pantheon, and why she’s French first, Jewish second, and nothing third. Give it a listen!

YASMINA REZA (2010)

“A play is good if it can be seen in different cultures, in different languages, different actors. That’s the strength of a play. Just to be played in Paris would have been for me a kind of failure.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Yasmina Reza is a playwright and novelist whose works have been translated into more than 30 languages and include Art and God of Carnage, both winners of the Tony Award for Best Play. The film adaptation of the latter, Carnage, was directed by Roman Polanski in 2011. She has written six books, including Dawn Dusk or Night: A Year with Nicolas Sarkozy (Knopf, 2008). Her newest book is Happy are the Happy. She lives in Paris.

Credits: This episode’s music is The Paris Match by Style Council. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photo of Ms. Reza by Pascal Victor.

Episode 106 – The Magic Circle

Virtual Memories Show:
Matt Farber – The Magic Circle

“You don’t want a generation of children to be content consumers. They need to be the next generation of content creators.”

mattpicEducator (and high school pal) Matthew Farber joins the show to talk about his new book, Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning. We talk about edutainment’s bad rep, developing good games for students, getting getting buy-in from faculty, administration and — most importantly — students, the subjects that benefit most from game-based learning, and why Pandemic is the best game he’s ever used to teach. I also vent about how primitive the technology was when Matt & I were in school, compared to having 3-D printers in the classroom nowadays. Oh, and we get around to dismissing Roger Ebert’s claim that games are not art! Give it a listen!

“A project isn’t good if it’s each student doing his own thing and glue-sticking it to poster-board.”

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 8.39.43 AM

We went out for pizza after. There are perks to recording a podcast at Chez Virtual Memories!

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes! You might like:

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About our Guest

Matthew Farber teaches social studies at Valleyview Middle School, in Denville, NJ, and is the author of Gamify Your Classroom: A Field Guide to Game-Based Learning. He is a blogger for Edutopia and KQED/MindShift, a member of the GlassLab Teacher Network, and has playtested for the Institute of Play and BrainPOP. He is a past recipient of a Geraldine R. Dodge Teacher Fellowship, which sent him on an Earthwatch expedition, and the North Jersey Director for the New Jersey Council of the Social Studies. Mr. Farber holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Technology from New Jersey City University, where he is currently an Educational Technology Leadership Doctoral Candidate. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Laura, son, Spencer, and Weimaraner, Lizzie. You can find him on twitter @matthewfarber.

Credits: This episode’s music is The Glass Bead Game by Thievery Corporation. The conversation was recorded on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Mr. Farber by Amy Roth.

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