Toni Basil - still from "Mickey" video. Source: YouTube | Toni Basil - Mickey (Director's Cut) - ToniBasilVEVO - (c) Razor & Tie Recordings

From Tapeheads to Toni Basil: an education

Many years after first hearing the line “Let’s get into trouble, baby” in a Spring-Heeled Jack song, and years more after becoming aware of the movie the band sampled for their track, I watched Tapeheads.

The movie is good, in its way. A total mess at times, but with heart. Some good gags, some that fall flat. It’s an odd dance in and out of the lines. Hey, it was the 80s, which brought us oddities like One Crazy Summer and Better Off Dead (to stay on a John Cusack theme).

It also brought us gentle, enveloping oddities like the music video for Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime”.

I am old enough to remember the 80s as a time that belonged to me and young enough that I needed my older siblings to fully expose me to a treasure trove of popular culture — all which finds me grateful.

The 80s did not have the World Wide Web, however, a boon we got probably before we could fully learn to appreciate it. Once upon a time, if there were a poem I thought I remembered, I would have to get my hands on a book that would index popular poems by first line, by keyword, by subject. Finding a match for something pulled from the dim resources of memory could take real effort. You might ask your family, your friends, your teachers, a librarian, and come up empty…until some glorious, lucky moment when the thing you had sought off and on for weeks, months, years is staring right back at you from the pages of a magazine.

It is difficult to know how much of the wonder of that time was childhood, and how much of it was the fugue accompanying our last, grinning, drunken stumblings before we fell headlong into the Information Age.

Years into the Web, now, I visit only a handful of sites with any real regularity and most of what I happen across get saved to my “read later never” list. Thus it was surprising to find myself, during and after the viewing of Tapeheads surfing the Web just like the old days, teasing out connections and, ultimately, learning loads more about one bright, single-dimensional icon from my childhood: Toni Basil.

For one thing, I’ve been saying her name wrong, with a long rather than a short ‘a’. I had also known her purely for one stand-out music video that played over and over on early MTV. Decades of subscribing to common knowledge had fully convinced me that Ms. Basil and her music video for “Mickey” were the definition of the “one-hit wonder”.

Had I been a bit older, I would have known better. Had I been a bit younger, I would have known nothing.

I wish I could really delineate the steps that brought me from Tapeheads to a new appreciation of Toni Basil. It would be a long story, needlessly complicated, probably boring, and almost certainly inaccurate — how does one recreate a thousand thoughts with any kind of fidelity? For posterity’s sake, though, I can at least note down my browser history, more or less. Not every page is included in the list below (I would browse around an IMDb entry or listen to a few different track on YouTube, for instance), and none of my reasoning for moving from one page to the next is given, nor could I hope to reconstruct it all. This list and its omissions span just over three hours…

Tapeheads (IMDb)
Bill Fishman (IMDb)
Jessica Walter (IMDb)
Mary Crosby (IMDb)
Car 54, Where Are You? (1994) (IMDb)
David Johansen (IMDb)
New York Dolls (Wikipedia)
New York Dolls (YouTube) – various tracks
Dead Kennedys (YouTube)
Bad Brains (YouTube)
Buster Poindexter (YouTube)
Katy Boyer (IMDb)
King Cotton (IMDb)
Don Cornelius (IMDb)
Rocky Giordani (IMDb)
John Marshall Jones (IMDb)
John Durbin (IMDb)
Coati Mundi (IMDb)
David Anthony Higgins (IMDb)
Jim Ward (IMDb)
Angelo Moore (IMDb)
Chris Down (IMDb)
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone (IMDb)
Same Moore (IMDb)
Junior Walker (IMDb)
Ebbe Roe SMith (IMDb)
Keith Joe Dick (IMDb)
Clu Gulager (DuckDuckGo)
Mike Nesmith (DuckDuckGo)
Michael Nesmith (Wikipedia)
More of the Monkees (Wikipedia)
Head (film) (Wikipedia)
Elephant Parts (Wikipedia)
The Monkees (TV series) (Wikipedia)
Neil Diamond The Monkees (DuckDuckGo)
I’m a Believer (Wikipedia)
Bob Roberts (IMDb)
Solarisation (Wikipedia)
John Brockman (literary agent) (Wikipedia)
Victor Mature (Wikipedia)
Toni Basil (Wikipedia)
Jack Nicholson (Wikipedia)
Mary, Mary (song) (Wikipedia)
Rockula (Wikipedia)
Toni Basil Mickey (YouTube)
Toni Basil Mickey (Director’s Cut) (YouTube)
Five Easy Pieces (YouTube)
Five Easy Pieces (IMDb)
Toni Basil (IMDb)
Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime (YouTube)
Rockula (IMDb)
Dean Cameron (IMDb)
Bo Diddley (IMDb)
Pajama Party (film) (Wikipedia)
Fishbone (YouTube)

Here is what I now know: Toni Basil’s career now spans more than fifty years of choreography, singing, dancing, performing, managing, you name it. She directed a couple Talking Heads music videos; she was an assistant choreographer for a seminal early James Brown televised performance; she choreographed, danced, and acted in a classic Annette Funicello beach film; she choreographed on The Monkees’ movie Head; she helped bring street dance to a popular audience as a founding member and manager of The Lockers; she acted opposite Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda in two classic American films; she has done choreography for well-known films, two of David Bowie’s tours, and has worked extensively with Bette Midler and Tina Turner besides. She’s even an active YouTuber.

For more than thirty years, I have been able to recall her name, her song, her music video in less than a moment. For more than thirty years, I believed that was more or less all there was to know, at least regarding the public person (I try not to deny celebrities the presumption of their having rich personal lives). For all this time, I have known next to nothing.

“Mickey” is a great pop song to this day. The video is a classic of its genre and era, which, thanks both to its own values and to its replay ad nauseam on MTV, informed the style of countless others. Those things alone were enough to be entrenched in my memory. But Toni Basil is an interesting, smart, versatile, talented, career artist who has been involved, without my knowing, in all kinds of other things that live in my memory.

Secondarily, and less well-explored at this moment, I discovered the band Fishbone, who appeared in Tapeheads and played the best music, of several acts, in the movie. Fishbone was/is a band that, according to Wikipedia, plays “a fusion of ska, punk rock, funk, hard rock and soul.” My older siblings really let me down on this one! To bring it part-way back to Toni Basil, Fishbone also appeared in the 1987 movie Back to the Beach with Frankie Avalon and…Annette Funicello.

So that is what I get for watching a goofball, punk-flavored cult comedy of the 80s: meeting Toni Basil again for the first time and having a whole new ska/funk/soul band to discover.

This age is prone to most of the same ills that plague every other, plus a few all its own, but there is some amazing stuff, too. The Web offers so many avenues for discovery that a problem of our time is knowing when and how to turn the information off. I do a pretty good job of filtering for myself, but sometimes opening up the spigot and letting the Web run is the right thing to do, and not a bad way to feed and fortify one’s mind.

Photo: Toni Basil, still from “Toni Basil – Mickey (Director’s Cut)” via ToniBasilVEVO (YouTube). © Razor & Tie Recordings. Used under principles of Fair Use.

Media’s media literacy could use some work

When I saw the headline in my Facebook feed, I was intrigued:

Mark Ruffalo on the ‘I am not a feminist internet phenomenon’

The unattributed article, on the website, reprints the contents,  with additional commentary, of a post on Mark Ruffalo’s Tumblr page that takes to task people (implicitly, women) who reject feminism and the “feminist” label. Here are two relevant excerpts (emphases mine):

Dubbing the ‘I am not a feminist’ school of thought “degrading” and “insulting”, Ruffalo does not hold back on the impact he thinks this has on everything women have fought for “the past 200 years.”

The post, which written in March, has started to gain a bit of traction online thanks in part to the Reddit AMA Ruffalo hosted earlier this month.

Here’s the problem: Mark Ruffalo did not create this post. Nevertheless, the article giving him credit has been shared on Facebook over 100,000 times and tweeted over 500 times since June 1st.

As a former classroom educator, I know that media literacy is a huge problem for students. It is a huge problem for their teachers. It is a huge problem for citizens and for politicians. The one place where I would hope that media literacy would be at least above average would be in the media.

I could argue that attributing this content to Ruffalo works to obscure the woman who actually composed it, but I will let that one slide.

And I take nothing away from Ruffalo. It is great that he shared these sentiments on Tumblr and is willing to align himself with them. It is great that his celebrity status not only helps these words find a large audience but helps to “legitimize” them for skeptical readers.

Nor do I take anything away from those who see an article extolling a celebrity for taking a distinct stance on a social justice issue and share that article with others (although I counsel plenty of caution).

My argument is with a media outlet that is willing to post this story with additional commentary and context — I mean, they put at least a bit of work into it — while completely failing to (a) understand how Tumblr works, and (b) follow these words to their source.

Heck, I barely understand how Tumblr works and have never published anything on the site, but I can be of some assistance. Maybe it is just my undergraduate history training, but I like to interrogate my evidence:

(1) See how the entire post on Ruffalo’s Tumblr page is enclosed by quotes, as though to suggest these are the words of someone else? Hmm. Maybe Ruffalo likes non-standard punctuation, but still…

(2) Use the “via” and “source” links just below the post to walk it back along the chain of custody…pretty quickly, attributions to one “Libby Anne” start showing up.

(3) Or, hey, use a search engine to walk it back by publication date. I grabbed a chunk of text, entered it into Google enclosed in quotation marks, then used the search tools to limit results to only those before March 2015. Although this tool is wildly imperfect (not Google’s fault; the Web is a hot mess and Tumblr posts seem to be dated to the creation date of the blog), it can help to clear out some of the noise. On the first page of results, I found additional confirmation: a Bust article that correctly attributes the post to Libby Anne Bruce and that suggests that Ruffalo has tried to correct the record (although the March post does not seem to have been updated).

Three cheers to Bust, then, for getting the story straight (which is to say doing their jobs); no cheers for

The Bust article, attributed but undated (the Web giveth, and the Web taketh away — comments are fresh, though), has been shared on Facebook just 1.3 thousand times and on Twitter just 19 (according to the AddThis bar stats).

All politics aside, my takeaways for readers are these: media literacy is hugely important and hugely undervalued; the truth is regularly abused in small ways by smart, well-meaning people who help things go viral (microaggressions, anyone?); try to support media outlets and journalists and friends in your network who try to get the story correct; call out those who fail to perform due diligence before broadcasting a half-lie to a too-trusting audience — on the Web, the genie never can be put back in the bottle and lies live alongside truth substantially forever.

Addendum: It looks like Daily Kos initially got the story wrong but the author has thoroughly corrected the title and story, as well as issued a mea culpa in the comments.

More at:

[Not] Installing Moodle on DreamHost


Moodle, as you may know, is an open-source Learning Management System (LMS). I first encountered it as many educators probably do — when being forced…er, encouraged to use it to build lessons and units for deploying with my students in the classroom.

Even without having to deal with the back end, I was not especially impressed. At my technology-focused school, it was no surprise that teachers would be encouraged to adopt EdTech, and I am no Luddite (well…I did have a phase). It’s just that, since getting all the kids onto working computers was nearly impossible and rendered irrelevant anyway by the unpredictable network, I just did not see the value in Moodle for me or my students.

I reckon I played with it longer than other teachers — a lesson or two — before tossing it aside.

My current employer does use Moodle, and in fairly non-traditional ways, which has given me additional exposure over the past several years. It’s still awkward and frustrating, but hey…it’s practically family.

So, long story short, I have wanted to install Moodle for some time on my server just to see how it goes, what challenges it presents, and if building a course or two is any fun at all.

I’ll be using and referring to this guide throughout the installation process:

Spoiler alert: if you’re serious about installing the latest Moodle on DreamHost, skip to the end.

The Files

Downloading Moodle as a .zip file was a breeze. The plan had been to un-pack the archive and copy everything with my handy-dandy FileZilla to my server. Then I saw how big the unpacked directories are: north of 130 mb. Since that would take close to forever, the plan now is to unzip them on the server itself. “Duh,” some techies will say. “Obviously.” Yes, thank you…but on my shared server space I don’t already have a user account with SSH access, and have successfully avoided making one so far.

Today is the day.


Enter the DreamHost wiki article on SSH. Today I learned that Windows does not have a native SSH client. Since firing up my OS X, Chrome OS, or Linux machines would just be cheating and the Chrome OS extensions are rumored to be problematic, I’m going to have to download PuTTY.

Just as I was about to create a new site user, I learned about DreamHost’s one user per domain policy, which seems to say that my brand new SSH user would be essentially powerless over my current domain directories and files. Instead, I upgraded my current user/owner to SSH privileges.

Now, skipping over the public and private key instructions in the PuTTY article on the wiki (which would allow for credential-less logins and probably be super-convenient when using SSH all the time), logging into my server is easy enough…


I uploaded the .zip file to a likely enough spot within the domain files on my server…not the right spot, but moving stuff around once uploaded is pretty trivial. Cobbling together the wikis, the DreamHost forums, and my own ancient knowledge of…um…DOS commands, I managed to issue the right unzip command to right folder. Success!

Well…I can’t see the /Moodle/ directory in FileZilla, but it’s there, plain as day, in SSH, with all the files inside. Sigh. When I visit, I get the set up screen, so I’ll plunge on ahead.

Setting up

I’ll need to create a a MySQL database, create and designate the data directory, and then hope everything was done correctly.

The database

I’m an old hand at this by now: new database, new database username and password. If all goes well, there will be no need to dive into this wild power user nonsense.

The data directory

This has the usual dire security warnings about where exactly the directory should go and how to set access permissions. In general, I find, the more dire the warning/security risk, the more difficult it is for an average layperson to know they are doing it right. Some hand-holding would be pretty nice right about now…

Moodle tries to provide a doc to make it clear, but the really important bits just repeat what is already in the installation guide. Time to cowboy up and try to not break all my stuff, I guess.

I went with a permissions set from the doc above and compared the file permissions to a data folder for another script that I think is probably set up correctly, and the result is similar. Not sure yet whether this will work, but the proof is in the pudding.


This is the part of the installation process in which I select an appropriate adult beverage to keep the fires burning. A tip of the hat to the fine people of Atlas Brew Works in the greatest city on Earth!

Atlas Brew Works' Rowdy Rye Ale

This is also the part of the process in which I close some of the 21 tabs and six programs windows dedicated to getting Moodle up and running.

The Installer

Oh, how I love a good installer and being back in the work of a clean GUI. The installer asks to confirm the URL/location of the public-facing Web address for the Moodle site, the Moodle directory (with server username as part of the path), and the location of the data directory.

I then choose what kind of database I want (MySQL, with other options available).

Easy enough…specifying the database settings is where I usually mess something up, though. Host name, database name, user name and password are all easy enough, but Moodle wants me to specify a tables prefix, database port, and Unix socket.

Hmm. This is the part where I ignore what I don’t understand and keep moving.

And…holy cannoli! One is rarely so happy to see a copyright notice; I must have done something right!
Moodle Installation copyright notice


Well, that’s where it all falls down, of course.

(Slartibartfast, *The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy*)

Moodle error: wrong MySQL version

Not with a bang, but a whimper: DreamHost has a woefully out-of-date MySQL version, which was being argued over in their forums more than a year ago. Many of the people clamoring for an update are current and would-be Moodle admins, as it happens.

And with that, I think I will finish my adult beverage and go to sleep. It would appear that, if I wish, I can install the not-long-for-this-world Moodle 2.6, hope and wish for a DreamHost upgrade, or, somewhat mysteriously, “contact support to be provided with other options.” Why do I get the feeling that “other options” include a higher payment tier? [EDIT: deep in the long forums thread is the information that, upon request, DH will move all of my stuff over to an experimental server in Irvine, CA. Nice to have, but more than I want.]

I fought the good fight, and I retire from the battlefield tireder, older, wiser, but not Moodler.

Images: Author – (1) Atlas Brew Works; (2) & (3) Moodle 2.9 Installer

An RSS feed reader of one’s own

Curating the Web

My project this Sunday — an easy enough one, as it turns out — was to install Tiny Tiny RSS on my DreamHost shared server.  Ta-da:

Tiny Tiny RSS at neonacorns

When you are trying to eat better, you can stack the deck in your favor by not having junk food easily available while purchasing healthful and convenient food — and finding ways to make it as easy as possible to choose the good stuff. Curating your pantry, if you will.

With the Web, avoiding “junk food” is comparatively more difficult, unless you want to lock down your browser. Curating good content, however, is not especially difficult at all; you can use tab groups, bookmark folders, shortcuts, and so forth. You can also use the trusty old feed reader.

I have used a number of readers both personally and professionally, including Google Reader (then Currents, then Newstand), The Old Reader, browser-based feeds, and even the TT-RSS Chrome extension. All of them have provided only limited success, because I never got into the habit of using them daily. Even so, I appreciate the utility of a good feed reader. As big, open, and discoverable as the Web is, if left purely to my own devices, I typically end up checking the same five or six sites. When I seem to run out of the good stuff, reaching for the bad stuff is a likely next step.

The choice of reader is important. Many modern readers focus on bright, beautiful tile displays . They are visually engaging, with a major focus on images. They are ideal for certain kinds of content, but when you need to be able to quickly scan a few dozen titles/headlines from different sources and determine what to read and what to leave behind, the utility of these photo-forward readers vanishes. That is why, as Google dropped its Reader and moved rapidly in the direction of a Feedly analogue, others have been hard at work resurrecting Reader in various guises, including The Old Reader.

For my latest attempt to curate my online life, I have chosen Tiny Tiny RSS, which has been around for a decade or so. It is clean, simple, and I have some existing familiarity with it. I also wanted something open source and installable on basic shared hosting, for two major reasons: (1) getting the thing up and running would be a fun project; (2) having an instance all my own might inspire greater attention and use.

Installing Tiny Tiny RSS on DreamHost

This turned out to be surprisingly easy, taking maybe 25 minutes from end-to-end, using this simple recipe:



  • I took the easy road from the installation notes and downloaded the master branch from GitHub as a .zip file, then unpacked it to a new directory.
  • I used FileZilla to created a new directory under my primary domain and FTP’ed all the TT-RSS files to that directory.
  • I created a new MySQL database and user via DreamHost.
  • I used the link provided in the install note to run the automated installer, which was able to access and initialize my database and spit out contents for a config.php file.
  • Given a choice, I elected to create my own new config.php file from the provided information.
  • The remainder of the directions deal with changing the admin password, creating a non-admin user for daily use, etc.

Navigating the preferences for Tiny Tiny RSS, like almost any software, takes some getting used to; the best way, in my opinion, is simply to click around and gradually become oriented. Simple Web and forums searches quickly solve specific problems.

And I did have one: attempts to save changed preferences were failing, behavior which did not occur in an incognito tab. It turns out that, as noted in the FAQ, one of my browser extenstions was causing some problems. Someone in the TT-RSS forums offered a simple solution, which worked just fine.

What now?

What now, indeed. Hopefully, I pull together a good a useful slate of feeds to keep my mind well-fed. Maybe I play with some of the included features such as the ability to “publish” articles in my feeds, which effectively nominates them for inclusion in a public RSS feed — basically, a public favorites list that could then, say, help to populate this blog, a “reading room”, or just feed into some other RSS client like Pocket or Google Newstand or whatever.

Time will tell.

Rebooting my studies – Day 1

Duolingo Daily Goal
Nowhere to go but up.

In keeping with my Learning Plan 0.1, I tucked back into Duolingo today, and…eesh. Picking up after an absence of a couple months is a bit of a shock.

The good news is that starting from the very first lessons is easy enough…every time I have had to do it. Seems like Duolingo has also instituted a small but welcome change — skills that have weakened through neglect can now be tested out of rather than laboriously re-strengthened, with lingots as the reward.

Today, then, I celebrate my one-day streak; a little Memrise and some Codecademy will have me fully on track.


Duolingo Skill Tree
Two tests for tomorrow’s study.