My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden: The most heartbreaking, devastatingly beautiful voice you’ll hear today

My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden

Shara Worden is an amazing woman. She’s the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist behind My Brightest Diamond, the artist name she releases music under for Asthmatic Kitty Records. Shara grew up in Oklahama, went to high school in Ypsilanti, Michigan, studied opera in college in Texas, lived in Moscow, NYC… She mixes experimental rock, droning pop, cabaret, chamber music, and her own quirkiness into a sound that’s hard to define — you could call her the female, operatic answer to Radiohead, but that would only scrape the surface.

Her voice is stunning, and her songs are so unique that my only complaint I could ever offer is that sometimes she takes away from own voice with the noise-pop touch she gives her albums. As such, I love it when she performs without any production or effects (or her concerts’ goofy-but-fun costumes).

In a Take Away Show for Blogotheque, Shara crept into a Berlin hotel bar on a Sunday morning to sing “I Have Never Loved Someone,” a track from My Brightest Diamond’s brand-new album All Things Will Unwind. Unlike the album version, she performs accompanied only by her acoustic guitar and it’s just… heartbreaking. She cried after filming this semi-impromptu performance of the song, written for her son, and so did the person filming. It’s beautiful.

Shara Worden performs “I Have Never Loved Someone” acoustic:

As another testament to her amazing vocal talents, one performance I’ve long been a fan of is this YouTube video filmed by a friend in Brazil. She and her husband were at a karaoke bar, just having a good time, and she got up to sing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Yes, it’s originally a Dolly Parton song, but she sang the Whitney version — and crushed it. She was barely even trying (she might have only barely been sober) and her voice still devastates me. She could do an album of all pop covers and it could be the greatest thing anyone’s ever heard.

Shara Worden sings “I Will Always Love You” in a karaoke bar:

Seriously, take some time and check out My Brightest Diamond. It might be hard to get into at times (and I confess, I sometimes skip the tracks on my iPod if I’m not in the mood) but your ears will thank you for listening. And if you find you can’t get enough, Shara has also recorded with Sufjan Stevens, Jedi Mind Tricks and did the song “Seven Years” for the David Byrne-Fatboy Slim rock opera Here Lies Love about Imelda Marcos. There’s also a lot of My Brightest Diamond remixes, too. :)

Harder, Better, (slightly) Fatter, Stronger: One year after I broke my leg in roller derby

Funk Roll Brother, my roller derby alter ego, a few months before breaking my leg.

On October 16, 2010, I broke my leg playing men’s roller derby. I shattered my fibula and broke my tibia, the only two bones that connect the knee to the foot. After two surgeries, I now have a metal rod in my right leg, plus a plate on my ankle and a dozen screws holding it all together (see: x-ray photos).

A year later, I’m harder, better, (slightly) fatter and stronger.

Harder: With my new bionic leg, the doctor told me I was virtually indestructible. It should be harder to break my leg than ever. Kind of like the movie Kick-Ass, only I’m certainly not about to dress up like a superhero and run around fighting crime. “Virtually” is not the same as “completely.” Plus, spandex? Ew.

Better: I’m about 98% recovered. I can walk normal, go up and down the stairs, dance, skip, even run a little bit. My knee is the only thing still holding me back sometimes, as the joint still hurts if I push it too hard — so I try and stick with non-impact cardio whenever possible, but I’ve done a few kickball games this summer and I’ll sprint through the rain to my car. I’m almost all better.

Fatter: Since I broke my leg, I’ve gained about 10-15 pounds. I was on a couch for two months, recovering, but that’s not much excuse 10 months later. My diet isn’t great (but it never has been) and my job is pretty sedentary; still, I really just need to motivate myself to exercise more. I’m not going back to roller derby, but that wouldn’t help much anyway — the sport’s fun, but it doesn’t really do a whole lot for fat burning. Suzy Hotrod didn’t get her body from just roller skating around, folks.

Stronger: Not being able to use my leg for two months, I built up upper body strength. Using crutches, I was forced to use my arms more for everything. I don’t have tickets to the gun show or anything, but I can carry my DJ equipment more easily than I used to.

In the rest of my life, I’m still doing the same things I enjoy doing — music, going to concerts, socializing, writing, movies, etc. The only thing I have yet to attempt with my new bionic leg is airport security. I haven’t flown anywhere since the injury, and I’d be curious to see if I set off the metal detectors. The doctor told me it wouldn’t, but we’ll just have to see…

Steve Jobs’ lasting legacy isn’t ‘things’ – it’s iVision

Steve Jobs memorial at Apple store in Sydney, Australia.

Fans pay tribute with a Steve Jobs memorial outside an Apple store in Sydney, Australia.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer, the laptop, the mp3 player, the smartphone, or cloud-based storage. He didn’t create Pixar, the animation studio behind “Toy Story” and countless other beloved movies, and he didn’t come up with the idea of people paying to download music. But he had the vision to see the potential in all of them and make them unique, changing the world we live in.

The Mac computer line is simply that — a line of computers. They should be considered personal computers (because that’s what most people use them as) but Jobs kept their concept (and especially their marketing) so different and unique from Windows-operating systems that no one will ever call a MacBook a “PC.”

There were hundreds of MP3 players being designed at the turn of the millenium, but one emerged as “the” MP3 player: the iPod. First released in October 2001, it was just a white MP3 player with white earbuds, but the company’s genius ad campaign made it seem like the iPod was a completely different lifestyle. It wasn’t long before any other MP3 player was considered low-tech and the iPod defined the way we listened to digital music.

At the same time, Jobs’ vision helped make legal downloads of music a viable source of revenue — not just for Apple, but for the music industry itself. Napster and dozens of other P2P file-sharing sites like it changed the way users consume music to the point where we expected (and some still do expect) to get music for free, without even considering it “stealing.” But iTunes changed that too. Earlier this year, iTunes celebrated its 10 billionth music download — that’s music that we’re paying for, and 10 years ago it seemed impossible. But Jobs managed to spearhead a revolution that, to a degree, saved the music industry.

The iPhone was not the first “smartphone” either. But Jobs foresaw a future without physical keyboards, with beautiful screen displays, and with combining talking and surfing the Internet at the same time, he set the standard that all other smartphones compare themselves to. Android loyalists accuse Apple of making “new” features that have already existed, but that was Jobs’ power — he made everything seem unique, and fans ate it up.

No other smartphone gets as much hype, speculation, or anticipation as the iPhone. Rumors spread like crazy for each device, and everyone claims to know what the next one will look like and when it will come out. The media doesn’t do stories on any other product that doesn’t exist without facts or confirmed sources — except the iPhone.

Lastly, Jobs should be given a ton of credit for the iPad. At no time was anyone saying to themselves, “Hmm, I wish I had a computer that was smaller than a laptop but too big to fit in my pocket.” Yet the visionary then-CEO convinced the world that we needed tablet computers, and every other technology manufacturer followed suit — suddenly, millions thought they “needed” a tablet. And the iPad is now “the” tablet.

Jobs may be remembered most for all of the “things” he oversaw and helped create, but he should be remembered most for his vision. His iVision. All of the products he’s been a part of, it wasn’t the products themselves that were unique — it was Jobs that made us see them as unique. And therein lies the genius of his legacy.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary… Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” — Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech in 2005.

RIP Steve. (1955-2011)

8 obnoxious (but quick and easy) ways to improve your Klout score

Klout logo

Klout ranks social media users in influence with a score out of 100. Most people have less than a 50, but Justin Bieber has a 98. How can you catch up to him?

“How can I improve my Klout score?” For those not in the now, Klout is considered the foremost measurement of social media influence — I can’t go more than an hour or two without seeing someone whine about their Klout score. It mostly measures activity on Twitter, such as number of followers, retweets, clicks-from-links, mentions, and quality of who they “influence” but they also claim to look at Facebook, Google+ and other social networks.

While I applaud Klout for attempting to assign a numerical value to something that’s virtually impossible to assign a number to — influence — I think it’s ridiculous how concerned people have gotten over it. They go on vacation for 3 days and their score goes down, boohoo. My alma mater Syracuse University dropped from 2nd to 7th place on this year’s list of the “top 10 most influential colleges” and fellow alumni are having a coronary.

RELAX, people. Klout is not that important. (See: “Klout only matters if you say it does.“) But for those of you that are concerned with it, here are some tips — obnoxious, but quick and easy tips — to improve your Klout score:

1. Tweet a lot. A LOT.
One friend of mine currently has 2050 followers, follows 1484 people and has tweeted 12,110 times. Another friend has 526 followers, follows 1148 people and has tweeted 59257 times. You might assume the one with more followers has a higher Klout score, but nope — despite having only 1/4 as many followers, the second user has a Klout score of 64 while the first has a 61.

2. Follow a lot of people on Twitter.
In tip #1’s example you’ll notice both users follow roughly the same amount of people. Several blogs have claimed that the number of people you follow has no impact on your Klout score, that they just look at who follows and tweets you. Even if that’s not true, a lot of Twitter users still adopt the philosophy “if you follow me, I’ll follow you” so the more people you follow, the more will follow you. (Of course, following thousands of people isn’t ideal for a quality social media experience, as Chris Brogan learned way too late.)

3. Be “influential” about popular topics.
Klout’s decision about what you’re “influential” is always dubious (I love how @dagsly once gave me a +K for the Shaq Fu video game) but if you tweet about popular topics (i.e. Facebook privacy, Apple iPhone) then you’ll get more responses and be considered an influencer on those topics.

4. Participate in every Twitter chat you can.
There are tons of chats which happen every week on Twitter (such as #SEOchat, #blogchat, #cmgrchat) where people pump out 50 tweets an hour, including a lot of retweets.

5. Hijack every hashtag you can.
Most conferences and events (i.e. #SXSW, #140conf, #grammys) are easy to follow and, if you tweet them (whether you’re at the event or not), other people following the tag will likely see your posts and retweet/respond even if they don’t follow you. Do it with weekly events, such as #MusicMonday, #FollowFriday, #TravelTuesday.

6. Live-tweet everything.
Watching #Glee with another 10 million people? Post a reaction to every little thing. “OMG, Artie’s new glasses are sexy! #Glee” will likely get you a few responses and retweets. (Note: Live-tweeting laundry and household chores won’t work, unless your socks come to life and put on a show.)

7. Post inspirational and funny quotes.
Steal them from @iheartquotes, @quotations, or any site with Twitter-ready quotes. People are suckers for retweeting these. Accuracy and correct attributions matter little, as a fake MLK quote went viral after Osama Bin Laden’s death.

8. Start a fight.
Most social media gurus/experts/rockstars embrace the philosophy “respond to criticism before it becomes a PR nightmare,” so they’ve conditioned themselves to reply to any mention, especially the negative ones. Say something controversial and debatable (not “your face sucks”) and you can go back-and-forth tweeting for hours. Others will see the debate and chime in, too, and you’ve just boosted your number of @ replies.

If you think these tips are absurd, you’re right. But that’s my point — Klout scores are flawed and shouldn’t be used a yardstick for social media success. At least, not yet.

I’ll point out that Klout gives their own suggestions for improving your score — including signing up for a Klout account, which is ridiculous to bother with since they now measure 100 million users whether they have an account or not. I have a score, but I’ve never signed up for Klout — why would I? Really.