A podcast from Sno-Isle Libraries for lifelong learners with inquiring minds. Check It Out! introduces the amazing people who work at, use and collaborate with the library district – and all of the services it offers to residents of Washington State’s Snohomish and Island counties.
Episode 63: Podcast creator Jason Becker will change your mind about umpires
Let’s meet the baseball nut who sticks up for the guys behind the plate that every baseball fan loves to hate.
Yes, we’re talking about umpires.
In this episode of the Check It Out! podcast, host Ken Harvey talks to his friend Jason Becker, creator of the Umpire Inspire podcast.
“In my book, he’s a genius, and he’s producing a fascinating podcast for the officials behind America’s favorite round-ball sport. That’s baseball, and those are umpires,” Harvey said in introducing Becker. “Fans and players often disagree with what the umpire says and what the umpire does, which can make it a lonely job even when there are two of them on the field.”
Becker humanizes umpires. He explains why they love what they do, even when they don’t get paid to call balls and strikes and outs. They’re inspired to do it for the love of the game.
Becker’s podcast invites listeners to come in and hear a captivating conversation with an enthusiastic umpire who may be from anywhere on the planet.
“Baseball isn’t just American, it’s global, and these umpires consider their jobs to be a lot more than just calling balls and strikes,” Harvey said.
Becker said baseball has been his passion “for practically my entire life.” He started playing when he was 5 and continues to play today in a senior adult league.
“I've played since I was a kid, like a lot of people. Coached my boy all the way through Little League, and my girls for a couple years while they were playing,” he said.
About eight years ago, he grabbed a mask and tried umpiring.
“It was a need that I felt I could do some good with in our local Little League here in Mukilteo, and it turned out to be a really great fit,” Becker said. “Being out on a baseball field makes more sense to me than being just about anywhere else, so I've really enjoyed umpiring.”
He takes it seriously. He umpires Little League baseball and softball around Washington and umpires high school baseball in Snohomish County.
It took Becker a couple of years of umpiring before he could see the connection between his love for umpiring and his love for fascinating podcasts.
“There’s a lot of folks out there for whom umpiring means an awful lot, and they put a lot of their heart and their time into it, and it’s often not paid. Little League is an all-volunteer organization, for instance,” Becker said. “I found that umpires were generally just a really great group of people to hang around with because of their giving spirit, their commitment to public service... how umpiring is a public service for many of the friends that I have in the umpiring community.”
That’s when the “two worlds” came together in Becker’s mind, and the idea of the Umpire Inspire podcast was born.
In late 2019, he decided it was time to make it happen.
“Now’s the time,” Becker said. “We’re going to take a swing. Hopefully, I’ll connect. Maybe I’ll miss, but it’s going to be an interesting journey, and it has definitely been such a joy and such a privilege, as I have completed this first go-around, and I’m just on the doorstep of getting my own season two underway, so it’s been great.”
The first episode of Umpire Inspire debuted on March 17, 2020, with minor league umpire Bobby Tassone, who works the Carolina League. Interviews with seven more umpires followed.
Season 2 started on Aug. 11. Among Becker’s interviews so far are umpires who work in Venezuela and the Czech Republic, and two women who call the game.
Some are professionals. Some are amateurs. They come in all shapes and sizes and range in age from 16 to 76. All have interesting stories to share.
“You’ve had an opportunity to have some conversations with some remarkable guests already,” Harvey said.
Episode 62: Professor's academic research on racial strife leads to his first novel
In Episode 62 of Sno-Isle Libraries Check It Out podcast, co-hosts Ken Harvey and Tricia Lee talk to local author Stewart Tolnay and learn how he has used his study of American racial history to create interesting fiction and nonfiction.
Tolnay is a Ph.D. professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Washington. His first fiction novel, “Less Than Righteous,” features a Black Vietnam War veteran, his white girlfriend and the struggles they face as an interracial couple in Everett in 1969.
Tolnay is also the author or co-author of nonfiction works that include “The Bottom Rung: An African-American Family Life on Southern Farms”; “A Festival of Violence,” which analyzes Southern lynchings from 1882 to 1930; and “Lynched,” which studies the victims of Southern mob violence.
Tolnay’s work resonated with Harvey, the Director of Communications for Sno-Isle Libraries. Harvey is Black. He grew up in Mississippi at the dawn of the civil rights movement when white supremacists killed Black people with near impunity. Lee, the Director of Inclusion, Equity and Development for Sno-Isle Libraries, wanted to know more about Tolnay’s work and research and how it dovetails with the library district’s goals and objectives.
Tolnay said it took him years of his own academic work and encouragement from his wife before he could sit down and “write a novel.”
“Actually, it had been brewing in my mind for years as I was doing my academic research and realized there are some really important stories, interesting stories here, that might take us into dark corners of the American past that many people aren't familiar with,” Tolnay said. “That’s what got me motivated to try my hand at fiction.”
Harvey wanted to know which writing was harder: creative fiction or academic nonfiction?
Academic writing is “kind of formulaic almost, a template of here’s the research question, here’s the evidence, here’s my interpretation of the evidence, here’s my conclusion,” Tolnay said.
It’s nothing like writing fiction.
“You start with a blank slate,” he said. “You have ideas about plot and characters in your head, but you somehow have to bring order to that chaos. I understand some authors begin with a very detailed outline of their novels. That didn’t work for me, so I had to kind of search and find my way along this story as I went from chapter to chapter.”
Lee wanted to know how Tolnay translated “some very heavy topics” on racial violence into fiction. “Are there things that you found you couldn't express fully in nonfiction that you can express at a whole different level in fiction?” she asked.
“The academics, especially those like me who typically do highly statistical, quantitative work can be sometimes accused of, ‘Well, you’re leaving the people out of this.’ We’re talking about patterns and trends and data, and where are the people? Where are the personal emotional experiences behind this?” Tolnay said. “That’s what writing ‘Less Than Righteous’ allowed me to do, is to take those conclusions that I had drawn from my nonfiction writing and research and bring it down to a personal level, to try to highlight it in a way that is really more accessible to most readers I think.”
Tolnay knew he had to tread carefully as he wrote the novel. He’s white and privileged, and he didn’t want to be accused of cultural appropriation by telling a story of an oppressed social group. That happened to “American Dirt” author Jeanine Cummins earlier this year.
“I will admit, I’d be a fool not to, that I don't know intimately the African American culture. I don’t know what it’s like to experience the fears, concerns and discrimination and prejudice of the Afri
Episode 61: Peek inside the childlike mind of Chris Ballew and meet Caspar Babypants
Part 1: You Don’t Wanna Be a Rock-and-Roll Star
Chris Ballew lived the rock-and-roll life.
As frontman for the late, great Presidents of the United States of America, he wrote infectious, goofy, catchy hits about “Peaches” and a “Dune Buggy” when heavy grunge dominated Seattle’s FM radio waves. He toured all over the world. He played to packed arenas and stadiums. He even won a Grammy award.
But that’s the old Chris Ballew.
Today, Ballew is a genial, funny everyman who now can laugh about his discomfort with his “Presidents” fame. He’s still well-known and beloved in the Seattle music scene. He still makes infectious, goofy, catchy music that his fans love.
And those are fans of Caspar Babypants.
Yes, Chris Ballew has become a children’s musician. He loves it. Little kids love it. And the kids’ parents, who grew up listening to the Presidents of the Unites States of America, they love it, too.
We told a friend about our Check It Out! podcast interview with Ballew.
“Caspar Babypants, you mean the guy from The Presidents of the USA? COOL!!”
Yes, Check It Out! podcast hosts Kurt Batdorf and Paul Pitkin found it very cool to talk about music and creativity with the one and only Caspar Babypants.
When Ballew decided he’d had enough of rock-and-roll and hopped off the “pony that was (making) gold bricks,” it wasn’t a big musical leap for him to change things up. It’s easy to hear similarities between “Peaches” of 25 years ago and the current “Noodles and Butter,” or between “Dune Buggy” and “Butterfly Driving a Truck.”
They’re all goofy and funny and infectious. And as Ballew says, “That’s just the sound I make, and I’ve been making that sound my whole life, really.”
When the Presidents became a thing in Seattle music in the early 1990s, it was a matter of good timing, Ballew said.
“The music scene at the time was ‘heavy,’ and not bad, but it just had a very visceral, kind of heavy, grungy vibe,” he said. “And I think people were really enjoying it, but they also wanted just some candy, you know, something really fun and bouncy.”
The Presidents satisfied that craving at the right time. And now, Caspar Babypants satisfies Ballew’s innate “childlike” nature.
“As Caspar Babypants, people ask me like, ‘How do you make this music for children?’ and I tell them, ‘I really don’t make it for children, I make it for myself, number one,’” Ballew said. “And I am just childlike. I live my life like a child. It happens to resonate with kids, but it’s really pleasing me. So, I think that’s how it kind of works. So, yeah. I was just pleasing myself, and it turned out to please a whole bunch of other people too.”
The Presidents of the United States of America released three studio recordings, but Caspar Babypants has been much more prolific: 18 albums released between 2009 and 2019.
Ballew has “thousands and thousands of little recordings” constantly running through his head as part of his creative process. He’ll play something for a few minutes and sing a little melody.
“You never know what it might grow into,” he said. “So, I record it. In that sense, I’m always kind of allowing myself to just make a little mess, and not try to make sense of it. And then, maybe later, I’ll figure out what it is, after forgetting about the initial, sort of moment of creation. I’m constantly recording tiny little bits.”
It means Ballew has a lot of material to draw from, and a lot of songs ready to go. His laptop is full of songs in various states of the recording process.
“When it’s time to make a record, I listen to all of them, and I just cherry-pick the most developed,
Episode 60: Thanks to the internet and copious amounts of data, the future is now
Rodney Clark helps deliver the future.
As the vice president of the Microsoft Azure Worldwide Internet of Things and Mixed Reality Team, Clark and his crew work with more than 8,000 partners and clients to connect billions of everyday devices to the cloud.
Sensors on stop lights, cash registers, automobiles, home appliances, exercise monitors, video doorbells. They all generate information and data that allows organizations to take action on that data and insights.
“It’s a wave, it’s a reality,” Clark said.
It’s no longer “the future.”
“The job that I have and the privilege that I have is working with companies who want to participate in this new reality and new opportunity of building solutions that connect everyday devices and experiences to cloud and data,” Clark said.
Microsoft calls it “edge to cloud,” and Clark said the company believes that cloud computing is “the here and now.” He acknowledges it’s a lot to process.
As a real-world example, consider a Fitbit exercise monitor.
“When I think of Fitbit, I think of personal cloud,” Clark told Check It Out! podcast host Ken Harvey, Director of Communications for Sno-Isle Libraries. “So I always ask the question, ‘How many personal clouds, Ken, do you have, or do you think you have?’ Do you think you have zero, or do you think you have 10?”
Harvey thought he might have as many as 25 personal clouds. Clark said that’s probably right.
He explained how personal clouds work, with Fitbit, SimpliSafe alarms and Ring video doorbells as examples.
Fitbit tracks your steps, heartbeat, pulse and more, and stores that data in the cloud. It’s powerful information for your health provider, Clark said. The SimpliSafe alarm and Ring doorbell camera in his home send notifications directly to his smartphone, so he knows if his son is trying to get in the house because he forgot his key, or if it’s something bigger.
“I can control my home from the other side of the state,” Clark said.
SimpliSafe and Ring devices collect household and neighborhood data and images. The companies can share that data with consumers, potentially to improve neighborhood security.
“All of those are just real practical examples of the Internet of Things at work,” Clark said. “We don’t realize it every single day but it is the reality that I mentioned.”
During the interview, episode co-host Lynne Varner, Associate Vice Chancellor at WSU Everett, said she got a phone notification about her dogwalker’s location in her house.
As a self-described technologist, Clark thinks constantly about the internet of things and the insights its data provides to numerous industries.
“You name it, there’s an industry at play for the internet of things,” he said.
Clark has been fascinated by the possibilities in scientific solutions since he was a student, but he’s no engineer. He worked for IBM for nine years in sales and marketing. He came to Microsoft 21 years ago so he could answer all of his “What if?” questions.
"I saw an opportunity about six years ago for these devices that were embedded and fixed, and at the time we were building our cloud business,” Clark said. “I asked, ‘What if we were actually talking about cloud for those things that are traditionally fixed-purpose devices?’ It wasn’t the birth of our internet of things business. But it was for me the continuation of this fascination of technology.”
“But it all started with you being curious and asking, ‘What if?’” Varner said.
Now he tells STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) students and young professionals to focus less on what they want to be when they grow up. It’s more important to be flexible.
“You have to allow yourself to experience different things,” Clark said. “
Episode 59: If coronavirus has you worried, this good doctor reminds you you're not alone
If you’re anxious about the global coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19, you’re not alone.
In this episode of Sno-Isle Libraries Check It Out! podcast, you’ll hear how a globe-trotting disaster-relief doctor loses sleep about the deadly virus that has upended our sense of “normal.”
Dr. Dan Diamond is a clinical assistant professor at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine after spending 33 years at the University of Washington School of Medicine in a similar role. In 1994, he and his wife, Debbie, founded CMRT, the nation’s first state-affiliated medical disaster response team, and it has sent them around the world.
Former TEDxSeattle and TEDxRainier co-curator Phil Klein shared his interview with Diamond with Sno-Isle Libraries.
“We thought it would be something really timely for the audience to listen to,” said Check It Out! podcast host Ken Harvey.
Diamond and his team have been to natural disasters in Haiti, the Philippines and Mexico. They went to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Today, Dr. Diamond is using insights he gained there to cope with the uncertainties of coronavirus.
“These are some weird days we're living in for sure,” Diamond said about the aftermath of coronavirus.
"Katrina was crazy,” Diamond said. “The medical triage unit at the convention center was the wildest thing I've ever done, but this one's different. This one's overwhelming. When we deploy to disasters around the world, I know I can always come home and it's all good, but now there's nowhere to hide. This is a global pandemic that's affecting everybody on the planet, and it's important to remember that. We are not going through this alone. We're going through it with everybody.”
And like almost everybody, Diamond said he feels the tension and worries and uncertainties that coronavirus has raised.
“Let me just tell you a personal story,” he said. “Two weeks ago, probably three o'clock in the morning, I found myself sitting on the edge of my bed going, ‘What in the world am I going to do?’ Then I had this interesting conversation like, ‘Am I going to die? This isn't going to be good. This is horrible. This is the worst thing that's ever happened to mankind.’ Then I got into this conversation with myself of, ‘Diamond, jiminy. You're a disaster, doc. You need to buck up, be tougher.’”
Before he could clear his head and get back to sleep, Diamond had to remind himself that he needed to take care of himself with three steps of self-compassion.
“First is to realize that you're suffering or that you're afraid,” he said. “So, I sat there and I thought, ‘Wow, man. You are really struggling with this one, aren't you?’ I thought, ‘Yeah, yeah.’”
The second thing is to show up with kindness.
“So, I’m sitting there saying, ‘Well yeah, this is a tough one. I can understand why you’d be afraid,’” Diamond said.
“Then the third thing is to realize that you're not alone, that we're going through this with lots of people. So, I sat there and I thought, ‘I wonder how many thousands of people are sitting here on the edge of their bed going, “What in the world am I going to do?”’ I thought, ‘We’re in this together. We’re going to get through this. It is scary, but I’m going to be kind to myself and go back to sleep.’”
Taking a break from television news for a few days also helped him sleep better.
“I decided to quit watching the news for three or four days and just focus on taking care of myself and getting my focus back in the right spot and being positive,” Diamond said.
Still, as the uncertainty of coronavirus wears on everyone, Diamond said the anxiety weighs on him, too. He tries to remember the lesson he brought back from New Orleans in 2004, when so many people l
Episode 58: Claudia Samano-Losado loves libraries as much as she loves her communities
Claudia Samano Losado has many talents.
Early-childhood educator. World traveler. Life coach. Recreation-center owner. Dance-movement instructor.
But maybe most importantly, Losado is a fervent Oak Harbor Library supporter.
“I think I’m very passionate about a lot of things, and one of my passions is to share with others and to take and give in the same way,” said Losado, a member of the library’s board. “Since I have had so much from the library I’ve wanted to give back to, and this is a very good way to give back, but not just that, to know more about the library.”
What she gets from the Oak Harbor Library, she returns to the Oak Harbor community.
“It’s a way of connecting the community and the people with the same interests, so I’m connecting businesses, connecting families, connecting families with little kids, connecting families with teenagers,” she said. “So we are all in the same boat and it’s awesome for me to be able to share one thing from another.”
Losado grew up in Mexico City, where her future husband was visiting when they met and started dating. She has lived in the United States since 2002 and her husband’s military career sent them to California, Florida and Oak Harbor. She used the library in every community she lived in.
“I’ve been involved in every single place with libraries. What the libraries offer to the community in each state is amazing. Not everybody everywhere has the opportunity to have a library that offers free books to check out, free programs, help for the parents, so many things,” she said.
“When I moved to Washington state and I discovered this library system, I just fell in love. It’s the best experience I have had with libraries. The community needs to know. Because the community sometimes are not fully aware of everything the library can offer. It has been kind of like my job lately.”
Losado makes it a point to spread the word about all the services and programs the Oak Harbor Library and Sno-Isle Libraries offers to its customers.
“I think it’s important for us, for the leaders in the community, to spread the word of what things are happening, and good things are happening since I took advantage of that,” she said. “I want everybody to know what is happening at the library.”
When Losado says “community,” she sees a big picture. It’s the people who use the Oak Harbor Library. It’s the customers in her In Motion recreation center. It’s the island’s Navy population. It’s the people who live in Oak Harbor and the surrounding North Whidbey Island area. They all connect.
“I see it this way,” Losado said. “We have our own interests and our own little communities in Oak Harbor. We have a military community. We have people who go to the library every single Tuesday, every single Wednesday, and it’s the library community. My people, my families ... it’s a small family that knows In Motion, that advocates movement, advocates physical activities. I see that some stuff connects us, however we need more connection. We need more connection between us, between all these little communities, between military, library, In Motion and all the places that are of course part of this community.”
Losado’s upbringing in Mexico, a year of study in Great Britain followed by time in Spain, plus her 18 years in the U.S. gives her an open mind about immigration issues and diversity.
As a child, she said she always looked for and saw the similarities in people, not differences.
Now she notices how many people focus on differences instead of similarities. She believes it complicates how we live as a society, “and how we express our interest as a community.”
“I think since I moved to the United States, I recognize something that I didn’t know before,” Losado said. “I recognize
Customer ReviewsSee All
I checked it out and liked it.
Surprisingly interesting. Getting to know the guests is like discovering new friends. And always learning more about what the library offers.
Ken and his co-hosts continue to help me understand the value of my Sno-Isle Libraries card to myself and my community. Very informative podcast!