Caught Looking

We are being watched.

Webcams and security systems are catching all the activity in selected science labs, hotel lobbies, public plazas and convenience stores. If you walk into the scene, you’re part of the permanent record. You may say “I’m not important enough to spy on. I’m not doing anything WORTH watching.” Probably true. Nevertheless, any time you’re out of your home, there’s a chance you are on camera.

People who are “more important” than you may be behind some of those cameras, but don’t envy the V.I.P.’s. They are also under surveillance. In fact, one V.I.P. is probably more watched than anybody else on the planet. The President of the United States has highly trained experts observing him constantly. And though the Secret Service is supposed to be, well, secret … if you’ve seen a president – ANY president – you’ve seen his detail. The sunglasses, the earpiece, and the dour expression give it away. That, and the fact that they’re all clustered around the big cheese. The Secret Service also keeps an eye on everyone who comes near, so if you’ve seen the president, chances are good you’ve been seen as well, and sized up.

But now the tables have been turned and it’s the Secret Service being surveilled. Details still to come – but right now we’re on high alert. If a Columbian prostitute comes anywhere near that stern looking man in the dark suit, I may have to throw myself in harm’s way to keep something terrible from happening.

The lesson? No one is immune.

Perhaps you thought a humble Senior Citizen could stay out of the glare of the know-everything society, keeping to his mundane routine in an apartment building hidden away somewhere. But a new industry is springing up to keep track of our elders, tracking them as they move around their retirement cages, using sensors to note when they get out of bed, turn on the TV, go to the bathroom and make a meal.

There is a genuine and truly beneficial purpose to this sort of privacy invasion, especially in those cases where the person being monitored is all alone in the home. Were they to fall or otherwise become incapacitated, the interruption in their data stream might be enough to save a life.

But the fact remains – we’re all being watched … or CAPABLE of being watched at any time. Which brings us to the Hawthorne Effect. It’s a term business students come to know, based on a decades-old study of worker productivity at the Hawthorne Works, a Western Electric factory in the Chicago area.

Basically, people’s productivity improved during the study and slacked off once the study ended. The reason? People tend to respond when interest is shown in them. Because the workers knew they were being observed, every study-related change led to higher productivity. When the researchers stopped watching, a lull ensued.

Maybe we’re moving towards a world hyper-charged by the Hawthorne Effect, with everyone super-productive and on their best behavior! But what if I NEED a lull?

Back to our senior citizen whose movements are being remotely monitored in his home. Good thing, yes? But if you knew your daughter in San Francisco would get an e-mail every time you went to the bathroom, would you hold off on having that midday beer?

How do you respond to being watched?

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106 thoughts on “Caught Looking”

  1. Good morning to all. They installed security cameras in St. Paul for the 2008 Republican Party convention and I think they are still in place. All of the demonstrators are probably on video tapes stored in some government agency storeage facility and you are probably being watched or could be watched when you are in down town St. Paul.

    Just as Obama’s security people are being watched, the police are also watching themselves. There are video cameras in some police stations and cars that keep track of what police do. However, if the police are not doing the right thing and the people who look at the videos they take of them want to deny the wrong doing, the videos of the wrong doing might disappear like those White House tapes of Nixon

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  2. Somehow, the Hawthorne Effect seems SO 1930s! Workers might have been impressed by being filmed once, but that was when the act had a novelty that no longer exists. Being filmed now is part of (to use a new but hackneyed phrase) “the new normal.” The more we are filmed, the less we notice it. I’m impressed with how badly people will act now even when they know they are being filmed.

    I’m still a bit camera-shy. If someone installs cameras to record everything I do, I’ll have to start carrying an umbrella when I visit the bathroom.

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  3. I used to think about the Hawthrone effect and try to apply it to teaching.
    I am going to go ride a bike up in our building exercise room. I will on be three different cameras on my trip down hallways to the room and while in the room. I only wish I would do something that would interest anyone–see, the Hawthorne effect.

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    1. what color are your speedos? try getting 7 suits and wearing a different color every day along with your bare midriff muscle shirt. and black knee highs.

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  4. I don’t care for all the attention. If someone is watching me I may do something gross to upset the viewer. At this age I don’t embarass easily.

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      1. Not retired , I usually work most Sat. and Sundays. I am usually off on Mondays and Fridays. In four years I hope to be semiretired. Take care Clyde.

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      2. in 5 or 10 more years we’ll all be there clyde. youll have to wait for us while we envy the retirement lifestyle. any waiting rooms this week?

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      3. I’m retired, but not sleeping late. I think you are just joking about that, Clyde. I suspect you usually get up early like I do. Also, I still have plenty to do even if I am retired. The economy and my economy is such that I feel that I need to keep busy doing things that support my family such as my own home repairs. You can’t expect to make very much on any investments of retirement savings and we are suffering from greater inflation than is being reported by government agencies. The American dream is just a dream and and never was any more than that.

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        1. It will be sold, I hope. I’m trying to get some of those repairs done, that I put off when I was working, so that it will be more attractive to buyers.

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  5. i remember being fasinated by the hawthorne study where the adjusting of the lights and the ditzing around with the work stations resulted in increased productivity. you can see why turning the lights up would result in better results but turning the lights down? made you realize what interesting stuff folks are made of. i was into education at the time and why johnny cant read and teaching as a subversive activity made observations about things like the pygmalian study. the stories about teachers who got the students names with a number after them and treated them differently because the teacher assumed the number was their iq when in fact it was their locker number. if the camera is on and i am aware it messes with me. i do and dont do stuff i would normally not think about. you wonder if people ever review those elevator cameras that catch you picking your nose on film. as for dale throwing himself in harms way by getting between the columbins and the secret service… dale have you too heard that columbia has the most beautiful women in the world. my office partner who stopped in columbia on his way back to the usa after doing his peace corp duty, commented that it was unbelievable. the beauty of the women is what he remembers about columbia. thanks for the civic conscience and the concern about what you can do to help. what about the troops in afganastan fearless leader?

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    1. My ex-brother used to carry the football for the VP (LBJ) and then a long time the secretary of state. He would get hours of training, NOT to take the bullet but to run like a coward. His job was to stay alive to keep communications going, just as happened in the Reagan shooting.

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      1. people in jobs like that have to have an affected view of the world and the way they process the things they see. i got upset watching tv with my 5th grade daughter and how different her view of the world is form the one i grew up with where leave it to beaver, andy griffn and dick van dyke were the tv inputs we got. the commercial for nearly legal, a new show with a saucy hot 20 something acting provocative that goes up as a ho hum add today and would have been pornography in 1960. some people cower in the face of the camera others act out. it is the ones who act out that concern me.

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    2. Alas, when it comes to what our troops face in Afghanistan, I’m a coward. And really, it wouldn’t take much for a Columbian prostitute to scare me. So much for big talk.

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  6. I think that there is an invasion of privacy element that can come with improper use of video cameras an also some repression of free speech. There are some things we do or say in private that no one needs to know about and we should be free to do without being monitored. I think the excessive uses of webcams and security systems is erroding our right to privacy. However, videos of wrong doing made by citizens can be used to catch people who are behaving badly.

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    1. MetroTransit cameras have had an effect on riders and have helped identify some of the misbehavers. I don’t know if it is a slippery slope or a trade off.

      OT Spell check does not like misbehavers either but it merely draws a red line underneath the word and, as far as I know, does not snap my picture.

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    2. I agree, Jim. I think we’re losing some of our freedom as a result of all of this surveillance. The reasoning seems to be that we are all guilty of some crime, guilty before being proved innocent, and we have to be watched to ensure that we don’t commit some offense. What does this do for our cultural self-perception?

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  7. I’m an old hand at this being watched business, so I do now what I’ve always done, I pretty much ignore it. As a small child I was told that God could always see me, and later on in the Catholic boarding school, the concept of my ever-present guardian angel was added to the mix. I pretty much
    accepted that between my guardian angel and God, I couldn’t have any secrets, not even in my mind.

    When I went to the USSR in 1964, everyone was paranoid about being watched, especially the Americans. My attitude then was that watching me had to be the most boring job on the face of the earth, and that has only gotten worse since then.

    I’m not what you’d call photogenic, so I avoid cameras that are actually focused on me as they make me uncomfortable and self-conscious.

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        1. That’s the classic dilemma with security cameras, isn’t it? We might get security and protection, but at the cost of privacy. It seems to be one of those paradoxes that can’t be solved since the compromise involved is inherent to the situation.

          Some clown recently held up a bank in Minneapolis and then, in plain view of a camera, made his getaway on a city bus. When he left the bus the cops were waiting with open handcuffs. It is good when cameras can lead to the arrest of such idiots. I often think, “I don’t mind cameras since I never do anything wrong,” but I’ll admit to being spooked by the Big Brother aspect of it all.

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    1. There was a time in Russia and in the countries they controlled when you could be in big trouble if you said any thing critical of the state. It wasn’t video cameras that would catch you. It was other people who would report you if they heard you saying the wrong thing.

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  8. ah the old god and guardian angel camera, i had forgotten that catholic school implant. kept us in line though didn’t it? isnt columbia a catholic country?

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  9. My story isn’t as colorful as all of your imagined photo ops; the real thing rarely is — We recently moved my mother into a retirement living complex. She’s 90 now and going strong, so she’s in the independent living wing. The so called “cameras” aren’t really that at all. They are motion detectors which record a typical pattern of movement around the apartment so that if a lack of movement is detected, the staff can stop by and ask if all is well. Otherwise independent livers are on their own in all ways unless they request services. Motion detectors mean no visuals, no sound effects. No umbrellas necessary! I know it’s been a relief for me and siblings because when she was living alone, she had had a couple of bad falls as well as getting severely dehydrated and weak once. A friend’s mother once lay on her kitchen floor for almost two days. She had a call alert button but never used it. When she was asked why, she said she “didn’t want to bother anyone”!

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        1. I know, it sounds ominous, doesn’t it? I’m visualizing a separate parallel universe of eensy beensy cameras and swat teams ala “Fantastic Voyage”. Maybe the technology could be harnessed for good rather than evil.

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    1. I grew up always being watched because I looked different from everyone around me. So I guess I internalized a “stop” button. Bashful children usually react to being watched by pulling inside themselves. My sister was “out there” — she jumped toward the scrutiny, not by misbehaving, but by always being the best, the fastest, the mostest. The short times we spent stateside were incredibly freeing times. Anonymity may not be enough for anyone with much of an ego. For myself, I’m happier going my own way without a lot of fuss and bother. Maybe I should be more concerned; I know the cameras are out there, but I learned early to ignore that attention and, like PJ, I’d be boring to watch anyway.

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  10. When you are on camera: malls, parking lots, waiting rooms, many street corners, most public buildings, c-stores, most other stores, banks, many work places. Go ahead, name when you aren’t.

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  11. We are designing a new building for the Human Service Center I work at, and it will not be the Ritz, let me tell you. Not everyone will get a window. Despite all the money that the State of ND has, we have to build within a very limited budget, and the budget for the first year doesn’t even cover shelving or new furniture. We will have to keep our stuff in boxes on the floor of our offices for several months. All the old furniture we have now will be moved to the new building, and newer workstations and decor will have to come out of the next budget cycle. I guess that is why the State has so much money. We are hoping to convice them to put in skylights, but we have to be careful not to look too fancy or the general public might accuse us of wasting their taxes. We are building an observation room with two way mirrors so that the action in the play therapy room and another therapy room can be monitored for supervsion purposes, and parents or law enforcement can observe when necessary. I don’t think we will have much in the way of security cameras since there isn’t even money for lamps.

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    1. i am frustrated with new buildings, i feel like there are plenty of buildings that would suffice and why we need to pay for a new building particularly for office space is beyond me. any 20,000, 100,000, any sized building can be used. they closed my drivers liscence renewing building and i was elated to go to the one down the raod and discover it is in a forer gas station or fast food joint. the waiting room is 10×12 and they manage to get their work done for less than the million it would cost to tear down the building and build a new one to the standards we all expect. if there was money for lamps they’d chose the wrong lamps for sure. enjoy the opportunity to pick your own and make it special. when you have 5 pieces of furniture in your office, each one matters.

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      1. Given the shortage of available buildings out here and the outrageous rents that are charged for the buildings that already exist, building new is probably the cheapest alternative. Right now we are in an old college dorm dating from the early 1960′s. The physcial layout is poor for security and ADA compliance, the elevator is haunted by Jumping Billy, (the ghost of a former resident, who shakes and bounces the elevator and causes it to break down on a regular basis), the basement floods on occasion, there is insufficient space for group therapy and staff meetings, and it is very energy inefficient. ND State law requires that State agencies do not own their own buildings, so the new building will be rented and will belong to a local contractor.

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        1. brand new building for a 2nd hand store? Gonna take lots of used clothes to pay for that. Something doesn’t sound right, especially if there are empty buildings.

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  12. Those cameras are in a lot places and and no doubt in some places where they shouldn’t be. I wonder how many of them work. i know of one system that doesn’t work and hasn’t been repaired.

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    1. I hadn’t thought of that. If they’re in the same state of disrepair as the rest of our infrastructure . . .

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      1. I suppose that some systems may not get repaired due to budget considerations while others just don’t get fixed due to poor management or lack of technical skill. I think it is both poor management and poor skill in the case I know about.

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      1. they sell cameras that you put up just for show. for the back dood of the building etc where the bad guys would see it boofre they approached, but the real thing is so cheap today. 4 camers and the brains for 150 bucks or something like that.

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        1. Several people in my neighborhood have installed alley cams. Have not heard if they have seen anything interesting yet.

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      2. Some friends have property out in a rural area. There is an old house they’ve been fixing up but it’s not livible yet. They’ve been broken into three or four times lately. And honestly, it’s a prime target and they know it; it’s dark, in the middle of no where with no one around. Recently they installed a security system inside the one shed of valuables. Last robbery the thieves took the fake security camera mounted outside… then stole the lightning rods and wire from the barn.

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  13. As long as I am on a whining roll, why don’t all the cameras keep people from setting down their empty drink cups in many places covered by cameras such as mall parking lots?

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  14. And why are those security camera pictures always so crappy? I can understand that a convenience store might have opted for a camera only one level above the fake one, but banks? Did you ever see the footage from a security camera where you could actually recognize anyone? There ought to be a minimum standard for security cameras. And, while they’re at it, there ought to be a requirement that they put in more flattering lighting as well

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  15. Morning–

    I agree that watching me would be pretty boring. I want to know, tim, where do you find these
    videos? Your computer ever gets seized there’s going to be some S’plaining to do I’m afraid… :-)

    However I am always secretly pleased with those people who will ham it up a bit for a photograph. I have a friend here, you point a camera at him and he’ll have the biggest grin or the silliest look on his face you can’t help but laugh with him when you see it. Then you see the picture of me — or so many others– that are shying away or hiding our faces and you don’t get the same reaction. And I’m trying to learn from that. Smile, have fun, ham it up (within reason) and put yourself out there. Life’s too short to constantly be shying away from a camera… pretend you’re 5 years old again.

    (Hoping the rain here will bring out the moral mushrooms….) :-)

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    1. I am another one who has trouble smiling for the camera. Also, I am working on trying to do better. Even when I try to do better, it often doesn’t work. I think pretending to be 5 years old again might be the ticket.

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    2. let me know when they are out and im heading for the river bottoms to do the search this year. or… do you have any clues and secrets. i always heard fallen elms but there are other places too ill bet.

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  16. I Am the Camera: The one place here where they do not have cameras, be they fake or real, is the garage. Went out to drive to sit in a waiting room. Heard a crunch. Watched a woman, young new driver I think pretty new to USA, sit and think and then leave the garage. So went and looked. She hit the car of the building manager. So was I a Russian/Nazi/Catholic school rat-fink for telling on her.?

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      1. I was just punning off the Isherwood based play, the basis of Cabaret, but you could have fun with a political satire called I am a Security Camera, about the time before the Tea Party takes over America.

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  17. There is a highly intelligent independent film that works with these themes, “Red Road.” Anyone with Netflix might want to check it out. It is set in Glasgow (Scotland) in an age when cameras are meant to see everything done by citizens, a grand sort of anti-crime program. The plot will surprise you.

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  18. Nothing interesting here, move along, move along.
    I’m not an especially modest or easily embarrassed type and I feel that I have nothing to hide so the whole surveillance thing doesn’t bother me much.
    An acquaintance is outraged about Google’s Street View because someone would be able to see how his house looked at some undeterminable time in the past (sooo invasive). My block hasn’t been surveilled yet so I feel left out of that. You can “get to” a point about 1/2 block away but there’s no arrow allowing you to “travel” down my block.
    I enjoy poking around with Street View but not to see anything you couldn’t see just driving down the street.

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    1. always think of the house that was the mary tyler moore house in minneapolis wher ethe people were so sick of having public knocks ask to see marys room that when they came to reshoot they hung impeach nixon signs on the house. wouldnt it be fun to know when the google truuck was coming? you could put all sorts of stuff out and have statement along with the picture.

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  19. Oh, boy! You can buy a fairly high-tech security camera for $150. The ad copy for one says: “With 2-way audio, you can monitor workmen, inform intruders that the police are on the way, shoo away interloping animals, or break up your teenager’s unauthorized party. It’s useful AND amusing!”

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  20. After my years as a street character at Renaissance Festival, I have learned to ignore cameras that are pointing at me – generally folks out there wanted a picture of me in action, not mugging for the camera. There were times I was tempted to say, “hey, look – I only have 5 minutes in my schtick – you’ve gotten my five minutes, move along…”

    Also recently was on a market research focus group with folks behind the a one-way mirror observing the discussion for the MN Orchestra. A little odd at first, since you weren’t quite sure who was behind the mirror (other than that it was folks from the orchestra organization), but as the discussion got rolling it was easy to just talk and ignore the observers. What was fun with that, though, was that I was at an orchestra event a month or two after the focus group and one of the musicians found me and thanked me for my participation – he had been behind the one-way mirror and recognized me from the group. Apparently we were a good group with lots of good observations. :)

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  21. God, I love this place… in rare form this morning, Babooners.

    I mostly don’t think aboyut the cameras, but when I do remember they’re there, I get self-conscious. I don’t like being watched all the time, even though I’m doing nothing of note.

    Many of you are a bit too young to remember Candid Camera – but what a different world we lived in then!

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      1. As a kid I memorized the face of Allen Funt so he couldn’t possibly fool me if he ever shot a segment in Ames and catch me looking silly. Which he never did. I had to look silly without the benefit of cameras.

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    1. I remember Candid Camera fondly. I subscribe to Mel’s Video of the Day. They send a video each weekday with funny, touching, inspiring, scary videos (not all at the same time). A mix of great and terrible. They sometimes have clips from a Candid Camera-esque show (website?) that are usually NOT funny and that have awful laugh tracks. I’ve figured out which ones those are and don’t watch them.

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  22. Four years ago, I had the audacity to erect very large Obama signs facing the county road. I even hand-painted the first two – they were all 4 X 6″ signs. All five were stolen within 24 hours of being nailed to my fence, so I decided that I’d catch the offenders myself (the cops said they couldn’t do anything each time). My plan was to camp out all night behind the fence with a cell phone and a camera; “Hi – you’re on Candid Camera!”. When my son learned of this little plan, he freaked out saying, “You could get hurt, Mom!!!” and insisted on ordering a surveillance camera system instead.
    Unfortunately, this $2000 system from Japan was far too complex for him to figure out, so it never got installed. It’s OK, though, because Obama won anyway. I’m gearing up for this fall and think I”ll install some of those fake surveillance cameras or a system which triggers a spotlight when it detects motion?

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    1. get some cattle fencing with the battery and the shocking wire around the outside of the sign. that should do it. fleet farm under 100 for sure

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  23. I’m uncomfortable in front of a camera. I’d much rather be behind the lens. I spend most of my time in places where I’m not on camera and that’s fine with me. As I get older, I’m less and less pleased with my image on film until it has grown into a phobia. Seriously. Get that camera outa here!

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    1. Thanks Holly! I love ‘The Who’. Saw ‘em on tour in 1983 I think… Roger jogged in place for the full song ‘Who Are You’.

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      1. i saw that keith moons agent turned down a request for keith to be the featured guest at a shindig a while back. reason? been dead since 78.

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    1. Holly, this is fabulous! I’ve always wanted the bumber sticker I saw…
      “What would Xena do?”

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  24. FYI, we had an IP camera (a webcam sort of thing) with infra-red capabilities mounted in the theater last fall. We use it in the light booth to be able to see in the dark during set changes. It’s kinda cool! From the laptop we use, I can pan and tilt it to see different areas of the stage. It comes with 6 little LED IR lights around the lens, but they’re not bright enough to help because it’s mounted too far away from the stage. But I do have another light gelled dark red if I need it. Usually, just a little blue light onstage (which is normally used for scene changes) is plenty for the camera.
    Just another example of being caught on camera.

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