Formulate Infinity’s Favorite Albums of 2015

This past year in music marked a significant shift in how albums and songs are enjoyed. 2015 will go down in history as the year that music streaming went mainstream. With Taylor Swift giving Apple Music her royal approval, the music buying public has finally embraced the idea that music should be rented instead of owned. While I have personally resisted this digital transition, I am finally on board with Apple Music and have enjoyed the unprecedented access to artists that were once out of my listening reach. My preference remains one of ownership but I must admit the past year has led to a level of musical discovery on par with the tape and CD hunting of my youth. For this reason, Formulate Infinity has created specific categories to share its favorite 2015 albums. Hopefully, the categories will help express how eclectic my taste have grown over the course of the past year. As always a big thank you goes out to all the family and friends that make it their living to share the very best music!

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats Album of the Year (AOY): Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Great albums have energy. They are timeless. They can be enjoyed by all. Nathaniel Ratliff and The Night Sweets capture lightning in a bottle and run it through a bar-busting, soul-bursting blues-bar amp. Their journey echoes the sounds of Otis Redding, Van “the Man” Morrison and countless others who have bared their souls to a world-weary public. The night is just getting started with this crew and you know you are in good company when you can raise a glass to the home-town band. You need not know the words. Your drunk-ass will find a way to sing along no matter what!

Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A ButterflyRunner Up: Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp A Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar has his finger on the pulse of America and its pointing right back at you (and me). He has produced a cinematic album that is timeless in its musical references (Dr. Dre, P-Funk, Tupac, Jazz, Soul, etc). The album also serves as an audacious lyrical flame thrower that calls out America for its cultural shortcomings and injustices. Lamar’s soundscapes and lyrics are occupied by the troubling reality that America has not made it as far as it thinks it has. Songs like “Blacker the Berry” challenge the listener to examine the societal mind-traps we all set for ourselves:

So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a n**** blacker than me?

As Lamar’s  inventive posthumous mock interview with Tupac at the close of the album proves, To Pimp a Butterfly is smart, brave, daring and, above all else, damn good music.

Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To LoveRunner Up: Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love

No Cities to Love is more than a riot girl reunion. Its is a manic call to arms forged in the raw energy of pure rock and roll. Sleater-Kinney show that they still matter after their long hiatus. The band still has plenty to say and they are not afraid to put their sound up against the post-recession anxiety that looms over us all. No Cities to Love plays with bam-bam feminine gusto. It pushes pure punk power through your living room speakers with the intense sincerity of a band that has nothing to lose. Like all great punk bands, Sweater-Kinney give a a voice to the voiceless. And that voice is screaming with stories that occupy the restless music of No Cities to Love.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live)Live AOY: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live)

The fact that this album exists in 2015 is a testament to the staying power of Jimi Hendrix and his back catalog of music revelations. My dad hitchhiked to this festival from the Carolinas and was happy to recall that the counter-culture was in full effect when he arrived. The cops were held at bay by the throngs of young concert goers that showed up for a festival billed as the “Woodstock of the South.” This would be the largest audience ever assembled to hear the greatest guitarist to ever live. The music does not disappoint. Hendrix’s powers are on full display. His guitar is alive, his band holds him aloft and the music takes to the sky as guitar notes bend, flex and climb upward. Time capsule be damned, this is a great live album no matter how you frame it.

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: [Deluxe Edition]Boxset AOY Bob Dylan, The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12: The Cutting Edge 1965-1966 (Deluxe Edition)

Bob Dylan has always been considered a musical chameleon. His greatest change of musical skin, however, was likely his first. In 1965 he shed his folkie protest-poet pose for the electric mercurial jam of a rock and roll trapeze artist. The Cutting Edge box set captures this intense creative transition with outtakes from sessions that redefined the very nature of Rock and Roll. The release of Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde changed everything. “Like A Rolling Stone” blew apart a rock  song’s acceptable length.  Dylan explored topics and lyric constructs more in line with the beat generation, than rock and rollWhat makes the box set so great is that you can hear Dylan and his band mates closing in on a sound that would remake the world and inspire countless others to abandon simple pop ambitions for something more meaningful and true.

The Most Lamentable TragedyConcept AOY Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy

The Most Lamentable Tragedy is likely the most ambitious album on this list. Named after Shakespeare’s first tragedy, the album tackles the deep stabbing depths of mental health despair. The album is both challenging and rewarding as it explores the very nature of living a life that is constantly measured against one’s fractured self. Music styles change, anthems blast and lyrics take on a complexity only the footnotes of Genius lyrics could explain. Ultimately, the album’s great reward is that these complex issues are presented with the push-punk flare of a great American rock band.

Desaparecidos, 'Payola'Protest AOY: Desaparecidos, Payola

Desaparecidos can be loosely translated from Portuguese as the “disappeared ones.” Short history lesson, the “disappeared” refers to the people who were arrested and killed by Latin American dictators during the 1970s and 1980s. The Desaparecidos, as the name suggests, have a political axe to grind. Conor Oberst leads the march with songs that are demanding and edgy. The outrage is clear and the breadth of topics covered range from economic injustice and racial profiling to domestic spying and corporate greed. Needless to say, outrage and indignation has never felt so good. The album’s first song, The Left is Right, says it all:

It begins when we chain ourselves to the ATMs
Make a mess when we pitch our tents on the statehouse steps
Now we’re taking it, now we’re taking it back
Now we’re taking it, now we’re taking it back
For the greater good
Goddamn Robin Hoods

Fan the flames, serve them cocktails down at the Stock Exchange
Hear the screams, take our baseball bats to the limousines
They’ll be talking us, they’ll be talking us up
They’ll be talking us, they’ll be talking us up
To the journalists

If there’s any left

You know the Sixties proved that change is hit or miss
Every bloody pacifist concedes the truth
If one must die to save the ninety-nine
Maybe it’s justified
The left is right
We’re doomed

Father John Misty I Love You, HoneybearSinger-Songwriter AOY: Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty’s second album hits all the marks when it comes to keen, poetic spill-it-all writing. The satirical, the plaintive, the emotive all coalesce into an enjoyable dare. In the same way that Leonard Cohen sings with a half-wry smile, Father John Misty sings heartbreak like a stand-up comedian who would rather be sitting down. I Love  You, Honeybear is full of lyrical twists that keep the listener guessing (and laughing quietly to themselves). Misty’s lyrics are pressed into action with a variety of music styles that serve as the perfect foil to what is one of the best penned albums of the year.

Simple Songs JIM O'rourkeSinger-Songwriter AOY Runner Up: Jim O’Rourke, Simple Songs

If you have not heard of Jim O’Rourke, that does not mean you have not heard him. He has been behind the boards and played with countless bands, most notably Sonic Youth and Wilco. His solo efforts are always well crafted timepieces. Simple Songs is brilliant expansion of his underground catalog. The music and lyrics are layered with precision. The only simple thing about Simple Songs is how effortless O’Rourke makes the finely crafted results seem.

Vulnicura BjörkAdvance the Avant-garde AOY : Bjork, Vulnicura

Bjork delivers another fascinating turn as musical enigma. She experiments with sound that thrusts longingly through the limitless space she has crafted for herself. What essentially constitutes a break-up album, turns itself into so much more with Bjork at the controls. Like a butterfly that splits from its cocoon, Bjork has released a fantastic album that creates its own atmosphere, rising far higher than the earthly anchors that hold other artists back.

Jenny Lewis The VoyagerAlbum with the Most AOY Pop: Jenny Lewis, The Voyager

If an introduction to Jenny Lewis is needed, check out her classic album Rabbit Fur Coat with the Watson Twins. The rediscovery of that album earlier this year lead me to Lewis’s brilliant new release, The Voyager. While Rabbit Fur Coat quakes with Americana heartbreak, The Voyager is something more confident, more modern. The “pop” tendencies of the album never go overboard. Instead, the songs on the album serve as a fresh assertion of what is possible when you take contemporary music techniques and match them with timeless feeling.

The Shakes avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by turning up the soul and expand the color of their sound. The result, Sound & Color, is enriched by forays into jazz, pop, funk and, at times, psychedelia. The band is still 70% southern charm and heartache but the the soulfulness of the band breathes deeper with each added nuance. Brittany Howard leads her talented bandmates with the purest, most brutal voice in rock. It's a deadly combination that will only become more lethal with each subsequent album release.Rock N Soul AOY: Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color

The Shakes avoid the dreaded sophomore slump by turning up the soul and expanding the color of their sound. The result, Sound & Color, is enriched by forays into jazz, pop, funk and, at times, psychedelia. The band is still 70% southern charm and heartache but the soulfulness of the band breathes deeper with each added nuance. Brittany Howard leads her talented band mates with the purest, most brutal voice in rock. It’s a deadly combination that will only become more lethal with each new album release.

Kamasi Washington The EpicJazz-head AOY: Kamasi Washington, The Epic

Three hours of original sax-jazz brilliance is a phenomenal gift in 2015.  Kamasi Washington’s sends his free-flowing music straight to the listeners head and the results are epic. The fact that this album exists during the same year as Washington’s other breakout performance, the jazz infused flourishes of Kendrick Lamar’s, To Pimp a Butterfly is amazing. The Epic’s standout compositions and performances are a complete 180 from the hip-hop world that dominates the mainstream. Washington paints with a broad canvas and your ears will be surprised by the directions his music takes you. Much of what The Epic achieves can be viewed as the natural extension of the experimental jazz that John Coltrane threw down so many years ago. It appears the heir apparent has finally arrived.

Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment SurfSurprise AOY: Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment, Surf

Surf would not be on anyone’s radar if it were not for the mind-blowing creative fire that was lit by Chance the Rapper’s brilliant Acid Trip. The appeared in iTunes unannounced and surprised fans. The fact that this fulfilling head tripper came free of charge is simply jaw dropping. Sometimes it really is about the music. Chance’s growing collective reaches new heights as Surf beats with an emotive, eclectic heart. The Social Experiment mix multiple musical genres with hip-hop sensibilities and come out ahead in the game. The large cast of performers make for a lively listen, too. Never has an album sounded like such a communal effort. One cannot listen to Surf and not feel like they belong to the Chance collective, too.

Wilco, Star WarsSurprise AOY Runner Up: Wilco, Star Wars

Surprise! New Wilco album, oh and its free, too! Enough said.  Hot off the heels of the bands 20th anniversary, Wilco has never sounded more confident, more loose that on Star Wars. While the release itself has more in common with Tweedy’s earlier work with Jim O’Rourke and the Loose Furs, the album still rings Wilco true. All the right notes are hit with the relaxed precision of a band that has earned a creative license to try anything. Is there any other band more beloved than Wilco? After 20 years of music making, Star Wars shows the band’s creative peak has yet to plateau.

Jason Isbell, Something More Than FreeAmericana/ Singer-Songwriter AOY: Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

The term “country music” has become synonymous with pop chart princesses and brainless bad boys in 10 gallon hats. The term “Americana”now alert listeners to a music that taps into the old bluegrass and country traditions that once helped define the DNA of country rock and roll. Listeners alienated by the plastic music of to the new country world order, will find singer-songwriter glory in Jason Isbell’s finely crafted sophomore effort. From the opening hook of “It Takes a Lifetime” to the last strum of “To a Band I Love,” listeners can be assured that the old traditions are not completely lost. In fact, Isbell proves track after track that he is an artist capable of starting some new ones of his own, too.

Courtney Barnett Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.Slacker AOY: Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett’s slacker daydream immediately sends the listener back to a time many Gen-Xers longingly refer to as the “90s.” With her deadpan delivery, her day-to-day musings, and her shrug it off mentality, Barnett makes not giving damn sound pretty damn good. Choruses like “Pedestrian at Best” are at the core of Barnett’s slacker sound:

put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you
tell me I’m exceptional and I promise to exploit you
give me all your money and I’ll make some origami honey
I think you’re a joke but I don’t find you very funny

The listener, however, should not be fooled. Underneath the slacker pose reside some pretty inventive lyrics and sounds.  For instance, “Depreston” starts out as a simple house hunting song but ends with surprise musings about a long gone Vietnam Vet who once resided in a suburban home that’s now being sold. Just like the 90s music that came before, there’s much more percolating beneath the surface of “Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.”




Merle Williams: Wife, Mother, Grandma (GiGi)

Unfortunately this has been a very difficult week for my family. We lost our leader, mentor and friend. My Grandma was a remarkable woman. I miss her dearly. The following obituary was written by her son, my Dad, in her honor.

DSCN0147Merle Elizabeth Howe Williams, 86, died Tuesday, Dec. 8, after a brief illness.

Born July 17, 1929, to William Leroy and Caroline Wooten Howe, she grew up in Leaksville (Eden). She attended Leaksville High School, where she began to develop the social skills (she was a member of many clubs, a cheerleader and voted Most Popular) that endeared her to so many people throughout her life. She attended Women’s College (UNCG) but happily gave up college after she met Hal, the handsome war veteran she met at a hot dog roast in Elon. They married in 1950 and embarked on a loving relationship that kept them together for 64 years, until Hal’s death in 2014.

The couple settled in Reidsville, where Hal began his career in the retail furniture business, and Merle became a stay-at-home-mom caring for three sons. In 1972, they moved to Durham where Hal managed his own store, Riverview Furniture and Interiors. Merle would later join the business as an interior decorating consultant and accessory buyer. They retired to Reidsville in 2006 after Hal sold the store.

Merle enjoyed more than anything else in her life activities with her family, which included three sons, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Play dates with her great-grandchildren filled her with joy.

She and Hal traveled the world extensively, and Merle’s favorite places to visit after retirement were in the Blue Ridge mountains. She loved to browse shops in quaint mountain villages and was a shopper extraordinaire. That went hand in hand with her favorite time of year, the Christmas season.

Merle was a master at finding unique, fun gifts, and the family Christmas gathering was for her the highlight of every year. Her exquisite decorating skills and impeccable taste were never more on display than at the wonderland home she created. Children and adults alike were delighted and amazed upon seeing what she had done year after year. Her collection of Santas, many acquired during her world travels, was always much admired. Visitors wouldn’t find a “tacky” thing, unless it was intended in her mischievous, playful way to get laughs.

Merle also enjoyed flower gardening and cooking, and meal time events, large or small, brought her great joy. “Let’s have a little Bloody Mary,” she’d say, and then it was time to eat.

Throughout her life, Merle attended church faithfully and was a member of Woodmont Methodist in Reidsville.

She is survived by sons, Bob Williams and fiancé Lea Anne Lamb of Greensboro and Steve Williams and wife Mary Lynn of Reidsville; grandchildren, Brooks Williams and wife Melissa of Whitsett; Kellie DeLapp and husband Jeremy of Reidsville; Garrett Williams and wife Becca of Matthews; and Neal Williams of Brooklyn, N.Y.

Merle had four great-grandchildren, Ella Kate and Kassi Mae DeLapp of Reidsville, Carolina Brooke Williams of Whitsett and Benjamin Reid Williams of Matthews.

She was preceded in death by a son, David Reid Williams, and six siblings.

The family welcomes friends to join them at 10 a.m. Friday prior to services at 11 a.m. at Woodmont United Methodist Church and other times at the Reidsville home. There will be a private burial ceremony at Reidlawn Cemetery

The Rev. Morris Brown will officiate the services at the church and cemetery. Memorials may be made in Merle’s memory to Woodmont Methodist Church.

The family would like to thank the staffs of Cone Hospital where she spent her final two days and the many health care professionals who assisted her later in life.

Online condolences can be made at

To send flowers or a memorial gift to the family of Merle Elizabeth Howe Williams please visit our Sympathy Store.


Formulate Infinity’s Favorite Albums of 2014

The ranking of albums at the end of year is a time-honored tradition celebrated by many websites and blogs. Formulate Infinity stepped into the fray last year with a list that was relatively safe (Formulate Infinity’s Favorite Albums of 2013!). It was so safe that a separate list was needed to include all the albums that were missed throughout the year (Formulate Infinity’s Missed Music List of 2013!). Suffice it to say, that is not the case this year. A big thank you goes out to all the family and friends that make it their living to share the very best music (I am talking about you Brotha B and Jan!).

Spoon Album of the Year Goes To They Want My Soul By Spoon

Spoon has always performed at a high level. So much so that many rock critics are baffled by Spoon’s status as the most under-appreciate band in rock. They Want My Soul is full of great tracks from the punch-punch-punch of “Do You” to the trippy drip drop of “Inside Out.They Want My Soul plays to the ears first and the crowd second. Needless to say, this album has everything.  In a year when U2 pandered to the masses and gave away an album that sent many recoiling from the corporate tie me up tie-in of online music commerce, it is heartening to hear rock and roll that is un-compromised by the quick cash grab. Spoon refuses to become a parody of their success. Instead, Spoon’s below the radar greatness has allowed them to build a rock legacy that will last.

TD'Angelohis year’s Best Album Consolation Prize goes to D’Angelo and the Vanguard’s Black Messiah. This album has appeared at the 11th hour of 2014 but is well worth the listen. I was taken aback by the albums inventive and mesmerizing musicality. Each track is an experience unto itself. D’Angelo and the Vanguard peel back soul music for the 21st Century and put all the soul sucking fakers on notice. This is music that attacks the heart, soul, and mind simultaneously. Simply put, Black Messiah is high stakes R & B art.

Rounding out the top five:

Sturgill Simpson’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music plays like a space outlaw’s metaphysical phone call to Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. This album also includes Formulate Infinity’s Song of the Year, “Turtles All the Way Down.” Turtles stands as a mind bending affront to all things pop country. Take that Darius Rucker! Eat the Document Taylor Swift!

St. Vincent’s self-titled masterpiece, St. Vincent, rams full throttle into the listener’s brain. The music pops, pounds, grinds and pours out with every guitar chop and synth stomp.  The albums electicity is future forward without being pretentious. It is by far the most adventurous album of the year.

Tweedy’s Sukierae turns musical experimentation into a family business. Never has a father-son pairing sounded so inspiring. The combo has me looking forward and backwards as I raise my own family. The music is daring and Jeff Tweedy’s son Spenser is a fantatstic drummer in his own right. The music is fantastic!

In addition Sturgill Simpson gave one of the Best NPR Music Interviews of the Year: God, Drugs And Lizard Aliens: Yep, It’s Country Music

81HBFoiE0aL._SX522_Best Live Album Goes to Gary Clark Jr’s Gary Clark Jr. Live 

“For most rock acts, the live double album is breathing space between studio shots. This rising Texan’s two-CD set is his defining moment, a generous blast of prowess that backs up the future-of-blues-guitar promises made in Gary Clark Jr.’s name since his bust-out performance at Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads festival.” – David Frick, Rolling Stone

dylanBest Reissue Goes to Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes Complete 

The Basement Tapes Raw, like the original ’75 release, blends brilliant performances with pure curiosities. What’s remarkable, though, are how many beautiful, emotionally daunting moments came into being during these rather informal sessions.” – Matt Melis, Consequences of Sound

Honorable Mentions:  The following albums got heavy rotation from my car to my Apple TV to my late night headphone land.

81XrwUxDG3L._SX522_Conor Oberst, Upside Down Mountain 

“All of Mr. Oberst’s gifts align on Upside Down Mountain: his empathy, his unassumingly natural melodies, the quavery sincerity in his voice, the plain-spoken but telling lyrics that he’s now careful to deliver clearly.”  – Jon Pareles, New York Times

riff faffHurray for Riff Raff, Small Town Heroes

“Their faultless fifth album pays homage to a variety of roots forms. There are easy-going country laments here, harmonicas, a blues or three and even a doo-wop number, all doffing hats to tradition. Segarra’s caramel voice goes down spectacularly easily, and the effortless swing of these songs suggest she was born and bred under a bandstand south of the Mason-Dixon line (spoiler alert: she wasn’t).” – Kitty Empire, The Guardian

Beck Morning PhaseBeck, Morning Phase 

“Whether his melancholy morning is a phase or part of a larger cycle to which he may return in the future (the latter is more likely), Beck proves once again here that he’s a tremendously versatile artist, capable of excelling throughout the musical spectrum.” Jordan Mainser, MusicOMH

van ettenSharon Van Etten’s Are We There

“Are We There offers an artist in full command of her voice and her instrument, a woman who knows exactly what she wants to offer listeners and who isn’t afraid to accompany the barest streaks of sunlight with thousands of clouds.”  Todd Van Der Werff , A.V. Club

Jack_White_-_LazarettoJack White, Lazaretto

“You suspect that getting on the wrong side of White would be inadvisable. Thankfully, he has channelled his demons in Lazaretto to create one of the great break-up albums of recent years.” – James Hall, The Telegraph


Beyond the Top Ten: These albums also qualify as Honorable Mentions. Each of them, in their own way, enriched the cinematic soundtrack of my everyday charmed life.

turn blueBlack Keys, Turn It Blue “There’s an ever-expanding diversity of appeal to Turn Blue that should win new fans and please the faithful.” – Andy Gill, The Independent


golden messengerHiss Golden Messenger, Lateness of Dancers “Lateness Of Dancers has the unmistakable aura of a deep classic. It is a US masterpiece. A wonderful thing, for sure.”Max Bell, Record Collector

leonard cohenLeonard Cohen, Popular Problems “At the age of 80, Leonard Cohen has created a masterpiece. It’s a smoky, late-night concoction delivered with a deceptively light touch that masks deep seriousness. Opening” – Neil McCormick, The Telegraph 

thurston mooreThurston Moore, The Best Day “Purists will always pine for Sonic Youth and their glory days, but with a band and album this good, who cares about the past?” –  Matthew Ritchie, Exclaim

remedyOld Crow Medicine Show, Remedy “Old Crow Medicine Show is so consistent, so unfailingly and solidly good at what they do, it’s tough to get exercised about a new record. So here I am admitting a stupid thing. I wasn’t excited about this, and yet here it is, one of the best Americana records of the year.” – Stuart Henderson, Exclaim

everyday robotsDamon Albarn, Everyday Robots ” The 12 songs that comprise Albarn’s first proper recording under his own name serve as a quintessential cumulation of the amalgam of moods reflected in his post-Blur output—the English moodiness of The Good, The Bad and The Queen, the polyrhythmic sway of Rocket Juice and the Moon—in the form of this most intimate and illuminating collection.” –  Ron Hart, Blurt Magazine

my family

Happy Anniversary: 10 Years in the Making

Today, July 31st, marks my 10th year of marriage to my one and only. Our time together is moving incredibly fast. From our first chance meeting outside our simple apartment complex in Boone to today’s kiss before heading out on my morning bike ride, we continue to mark our time with warm togetherness, spirited laughter and limitless love.

With my ride complete, I return home to a dreamer’s dream. As I type my wife is catching up on some much-needed rest downstairs. Baby boy is napping in his crib. The house is quiet. Writing is about reflection and I now have this moment. For starters, thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed on our simple family. My heart and head now fill with memories of our time together. They are the snapshot moments, the prologue past that we build upon.

The lead up to our tenth year anniversary has already been marked by so many great moments. Ten years in, our marriage continues to reach the greatest of heights. We have climbed to the top of the Eiffel Tower and yet our hearts leapt a thousand times higher with the birth of our baby boy. We have climbed hundreds of trails along the Blue Ridge Parkway and yet the trails we stroll today offer greater reward because we take our sweet son along for the ride.

Baby boy in many ways reminds us both to not only be thankful for him, but to also be thankful for one another. We are all precious vessels. We all bring meaning to this world. We each deserve an everyday celebration because each day is its own special anniversary.

As I type/ reflect, I want to remind myself to embrace life. Marriage and family is all about shared comfort in the face of adversity. Love powers us through life’s challenges and helps us share its greatest rewards. Life will continue to present its trials and triumphs. I remain thankful that I have two great companions by my side to help me embrace the ebb and flow of the journey.

These past ten years would have meant nothing without my one and only. The same goes for the infinite future that awaits us . . .

Baby boy is waking up. Life is calling. I am one of the lucky ones. Together we formulate infinity.

I’ll say it all day, every day (quietly to myself and aloud when necessary):

“Happy Anniversary!”

ISTE Relapse: Teaming with Ideas

ISTEI have just returned from my first ever International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) Conference. I was joined by a hardworking crew of fellow Instructional Technology Facilitators (ITF) from Union County, NC. I walked away realizing that all the great ideas that were shared are nothing without a team to help you make them a reality. With that said, here are my 5 initial takeaways from the conference. 

1. No Matter Where You Go, Family is Always First: I missed my wife and son a great deal while visiting the conference. Thankfully, technology keeps us connected with the ones we love. Fortunately, I was able to FaceTime back at the hotel with my family. Unfortunately, I was pushed to tears when I received an iMessage video of my son crawling for the first time. While the moment was tough to take in, it also motivated me to make the most of my time in Atlanta. I have also never been happier to be awakened at 3 A.M. by a crying baby. I arrived home on Tuesday night after my son’s bedtime. I gladly answered his cries and helped soothe him back to sleep. I was finally home!

2. The “T” in ISTE Stands for TEAM: Due to the leadership of our Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis and our Deputy Superintendent Dr. Mike Webb, we were able to send an entire team down to Atlanta. Dr. Ellis and Dr. Webb are both outstanding proponents of instruction powered by technology. In fact, Dr. Webb was honored in March by the North Carolina Technology in Education Society for his concerted effort to set up a true “All-Access” model for our school district.

To learn more about our Access Model visit the following Google Site our ITF team created for Union County Public Schools:

ISTE Karaoke
Edtech Karaoke Tabernacle @ ISTE 2014

As an ITF team, we made the most of our good fortune. While most of the sessions I attended were great, it was the time I spent with my team that was truly valuable. We reestablished relationships, spent time planning the coming year and shared our enthusiasms without the constraints of the working world. Joey Barker, Brady Thomas, Jan Anderson, Becky Swiger, Gina Chisum, Bill Blackledge, Casey Zvanut, Casey Rimmer, and Lisa Thompson earned my respect long ago.  The trip to ISTE, however, helped reinforce my faith that our team is one of the best in the business. Each of us have our own unique talents and it’s the sum of those talents that leads to great professional development. Steve Jobs often said A players like to work with A players. Thank goodness the B team works somewhere else.

3.  Math Can Be Fun: I was completely floored that the very best session I attended centered around math instruction. I went into Desmos CEO Eli Luberoff‘s presentation nervous. I’ve always hated math. I could get all my multiplication tables right but was forever penalized for not doing them fast enough. I had 8 different math teachers in the 8th grade and never recovered. If only I had a teacher like Mr.Luberoff. Knowing math was a blind spot for me, so I signed up for the session wanting a challenge. With that in mind, I held my breath and hoped I’d get something tangible for my teachers back home. I got more than I could have ever asked for. While many in education know about the fantastic (and free) Desmos graphing calculator, Mr.Luberoff showed off some very cool tech that will make learning math way more than just inputting numbers or solving equations. The interactive lessons his company have devised in concert with Dan Myer are truly amazing. I walked away wanting to learn math for the first time in my entire adult life.

To learn more about Mr. Luberoff’s presentation visit his Desmos presentation site here:

Brady Thomas High Score
Brady & Dream Box

Additional Math shout-outs go to Think Through Math and Dream Box Learning for their comprehensive student centered web solutions (Brady I know you could have gotten the high score at the Dream Box booth if I had kept my ill-timed humor to myself, lol!)

Google Classroom
Yes, that’s me (left of center) raising my hand in the actual Google Classroom!

4. Google Classroom is a Game Changer: Our Union County ITF team was one of the few groups to be lucky enough to get a preview of Google Classroom before it’s big ISTE unveiling. After participating in a Google Hangout with Program Manager for Google Apps for Education and Classroom Jennifer Holland, we had the great privilege of trying out Google’s newest ed-tech solution. Ms. Holland delivered several fantastic presentations during the conference, too. While Classroom is a work in progress, I already view it as a game changer for our teachers. All those sleepless nights worrying about shared folders and editing rights seem for not now. I look forward to watching the product grow from the input of so many enthusiastic educators. To be able to hit the feedback button and be heard is a dream come true.

5.  End Your Conference on a high note (Gamification!):  Our last session of the conference was on Gamification. The presenter, Philip Vinogradov, really blew our minds with his gamification solutions for classroom instruction. Even more exciting, his solutions involved Google Apps for Education and shared folders. This means that everything we learned is directly transferable to our district. My colleagues and I walked away with some very enthusiastic conversations. Not only do we want to help teachers gamify their instruction but we also want to explore ways to gamify our professional development offerings. I have heard several principals over the years say that they are going to concentrate on discipline first, teaching second. To me this is backwards. Technology powered instruction (if done right) allows us to better manage classroom behavior. It also has the ability to engage students in a way that will make them life long learners. Gamification, classroom flipping and other instructional methods are needed to make various technology tools meaningful to learners. I also enjoyed meeting Michael Matera in person and can’t wait to collaborate with him in the near future.

To learn more about Vinogradov’s gamification model checkout his presentation materials here:

One final thought: If you go to a Braves Game . . . try to make it to home plate, lol!

Home Plate @ Braves Game, Thank You NCTies!
Home Plate @ Braves Game. Bases Loaded! Thank You NCTies!