Chumpass link-bait site thinks Jim Morrison is alive and transmogrified into Steven Tyler

I was on some site somewhere reading something when I saw an ad for one of those obnoxious multi-page click-bait features, "17 Celebrities Who Are Aging Terribly."

Ordinarily, I avoid that shit like the plague, but every once in a while, something moves me to click. This time I clicked because the thumbnail with the link was a photo of Clint Howard (Opie's little brother) that I could've sworn was a Drew Friedman caricature, and I wanted to have a closer look:

Here's a Drew Friedman (love him!) caricature for reference:

Irony number one is that nowhere in this execrable web feature of 17 badly aging celebrities is Clint Howard mentioned or pictured! Ha! Irony number two is that Clint Howard is the "celebrity" they chose to feature in their ad. It's hard for me to imagine someone somewhere saying, "Hey, Barry! You wouldn't believe how that Clint Howard pic converted!"

And irony number three? Well, here's irony number three. Words fail:

Video battle: AOL "futurist" Shingy vs. hip hop's Chingy

Chingy is a hip hop artist who seemed poised for domination in the early '00s, and then kinda fizzled out. (Here's what happened to him.) Brilliant? No. Entertaining? Very. I love the dude's flow. Plus, like me, he's from St. Louis, though I suspect we might've grown up in slightly different neighborhoods.

Shingy is a futurist at AOL, where he earns a nice dollar by stringing together interactive marketing catchphrases in ways that are just indecipherable enough to make people think that he is being profound. 

I am able to watch all 3:44 of Chingy's Right Thurr video. I can't make it much past the 90 second mark of the Shingy video without wanting to stick long needles in my eyes. How about you?

My audition tape to be the fill-in announcer on This American Life

The radio program This American Life is known for bringing a diverse array of non-traditional American voices to the radio. And by non-traditional American voices, I mean actual voices that don't sound like people you normally hear on the radio. 
The people you normally hear on the radio have polished, pleasant voices. This American Life takes it as a point of pride that the voices on their show are not that. In fact, host Ira Glass recently did a segment (click the right arrow under "Act Two") acknowledging that his show was responsible in part for the proliferation of "vocal fry"-inflected voices on the airwaves. What is vocal fry? It's the raspy, clicky vocal sound you get when you try to speak in a soft conversational tone, while simultaneously trying to project your voice for radio. Or when you just want to sound like a valley girl. 
Vocal fry (or, more properly, glottal fry) is produced by speaking only from the vocal chords while leaving one's chest and diaphragm completely out of the equation. Ruminating over why the annoying technique had become so prevalent among the presenters on his show, Glass was forced to admit that perhaps it was because he was its leading exponent—he speaks in 100% glottal fry. Yeah, it probably makes sense that when your boss, one of the most influential people in radio, has found great success speaking like a munchkin, you'll try to talk like a munchkin, too. 
But not all that long ago, the show took its flaunting of the non-traditional radio voice to a new extreme. The advertising inserts for the show—heard at the beginning, middle and end of each episode, are now voiced by a human gerbil. In my mind, I imagine this kid being the This American Life intern when one day Ira Glass hears him say, "OK, who had the decaf soy latte?" And he immediately says, "Kid, I'm going to make you a public radio s-s-s-s-somebody."
Anyway, at the top of the post you can hear the actual This American Life announcer guy, followed by my audition to fill in for him on days when his voice sounds too normal. 


Downtown living, billboard views

There’s a new multi-use development going up at South First St. and Riverside Dr. It’s called 422 At The Lake. Here’s what the artist’s rendering on their Facebook page looks like:

Pretty nice, huh? OK, not really. And the artist left out everything that isn’t part of this developer’s property. Notably, the artist left out a new high rise directly behind the building. Were it included, it would loom center left in the image above. 

And there’s one other curious thing the artist left out. It’s a structure that has been bordering the southeast corner of this property for many, many years. And I can’t help but think it may affect the desirability of certain units in the complex:

Um, why would you put apartments there? I can’t help but notice that there’s a big billboard in the way. The side view shows just how close they built this new building to the existing billboard:

Ah, progress. 


NYT Op-Eds vs. E-Cigs: Talking Loud (and Long) and Saying Nothing

The nicotine molecule. If the gateway argument were true, wouldn’t everyone hooked on cigarettes graduate to injecting straight nicotine?I am perplexed by the New York Times’ coverage of e-cigarettes and snus (a type of Swedish smokeless tobacco that is demonstrably far less harmful than smoking).

On the one hand, the Times is to be lauded for recognizing these new forms of nicotine consumption as a topic with potential major implications for our health, and thus one worthy of serious coverage.

On the other hand, it seems that they have taken it upon themselves to be the national nanny/scold on the topic.

Last week they reported that the CDC announced a dramatic rise in teen use of e-cigarettes, while also noting that the CDC’s report buried a contrasting statistic—a dramatic, unprecedented fall in teen smoking of traditional combustible cigarettes.

This should be a good thing, no?

And yet today the Times devotes almost 1,400 words to two separate editorials, one by their own op-ed board and one by guest writers. Both of these editorials urge the need to regulate e-cigarettes in a similar way to conventional cigarettes, alluding to the potential harms, dangers and risks of e-cigarettes. Yet neither offers a single documented fact substantiating even one of those harms, dangers or risks!

And what are those alleged harms, dangers and risks? I suppose the most supportable one mentioned might be that nicotine may change the adolescent brain. The editorials don’t say that it damages the adolescent brain, just that it may change it. If I had to guess how it may change the adolescent brain, my guess would be that it may make the adolescent brain crave nicotine. 

To which I reply, so what? Don’t caffeine (or Pop-Tarts, for that matter) change the adolescent brain this way? I categorically reject the notion that all substance addiction or dependence is equivalent. I have never missed a day of work with a coffee or e-cigarette hangover. I have never robbed a bank or burglarized homes to get money to buy caffeine or nicotine.

The other canard both editorials fall back on is that e-cigarettes may—not that there is one iota of proof about this—but that they may lead kids to start smoking traditional cigarettes. The “gateway drug” argument, in other words. 

As I have pointed out before, this fear-mongering tactic is not only unsupported by evidence, it flies in the face of common sense. It’s equivalent to alleging that drinking beer or wine is a gateway to drinking straight grain alcohol, which we know it is not. And why isn’t it? Because drinking beer or wine is, for the vast majority of people, a much more pleasant and desirable way to consume alcohol.

It’s the same with e-cigarettes. I truly can’t imagine someone developing a nicotine habit by using e-cigarettes and then graduating to a product that is famously more dangerous, and also much more expensive and much more unpleasant to use.

Really, what the scolds’ argument should be is that e-cigarette use is a possible gateway to drinking straight e-liquid, the nicotine solution used in e-cigarettes. But they don’t make that argument, because it’s obviously specious. Yet the “gateway” canard about e-cigarettes persists.

No one is arguing that e-cigarettes are a risk-free behavior. Crossing the street is not a risk-free behavior. Drinking coffee is not a risk-free behavior. Virtually nothing we do in life is risk-free. The argument is about the relative risks and the relative harms. And it is indisputable that if every combustible tobacco smoker in this country switched to e-cigarettes, and that if every kid who experiments with nicotine does so using e-cigarettes instead of smoking combustible tobacco, the net gain to our society would be enormous and immediate.

Smoking combustible tobacco puts a healthcare burden of billions of dollars on our society every year. It kills many longtime users, often by literally leaving them gasping for their last breath. It’s time to stop equating e-cigarettes and other vastly less harmful means of nicotine consumption with cigarette smoking. It’s like comparing apples with… poisoned apples.

Any regulation of e-cigarettes should not impede their tremendous potential to reduce the enormous harm that conventional smoking does to our citizens and our society. 

8 Potential Titles for My Upcoming Memoir

Author photo by author.

Screwed Up and How I Got This Way: Living with the Legacy of a Dysfunctional Family

Looks Aren’t Everything: How I Achieved Mediocrity Without Them

Again, My Name Is Rich: Coping with Being Utterly Forgettable

The Courage to Change The Things I Can’t: Why I’ve Found Serenity So Illusory

Hey, Where’d Everybody Go?: A Cautionary Tale of Deteriorating Personal Hygiene

A Round Tuit: How I Will Confront Chronic Procrastination, Eventually

Sketchy Memories, Misplaced Grudges: Looking Back with 20-50 Hindsight

Here with Yeti: Five Years Spent Being Upstaged by a Stupid Cat


Signs of the End Times: The Nut Locker Flush Valve Anti-Theft Device

I was using the facilities in a gas station restroom on the outskirts of Houston yesterday when I noticed an interesting piece of hardware on the urinal before me. (Yes, I was going #1 at the time.)

It was stamped with the name “Nut Locker,” and after looking at it for a few seconds, I understood what it was for—to prevent the theft of the urinal flush valve by covering the large nut that connects it to the fixture’s water supply.

All at once my mind reeled with the significance of two pieces of information I had been completely ignorant of seconds before: First, that urinal flush valve theft was a thing, and, second, that it’s such a big thing that at least one company, Punter Distributing of Houston, has designed, manufactured and marketed a product to combat it.

Once reconciled to this new information, it did not surprise me that Houston might be both the epicenter of flush valve theft and the efforts to prevent it.

God help us.

Buy "All Tore Up: Texas Hot Rod Portraits" by George Brainard

George Brainard is a professional photographer here in Austin, TX. He’s also led some really cool bands over the years. And he’s a true Texas original, whose mama raised him right.

George’s new book, All Tore Up: Texas Hot Rod Portraits, published by UT Press, just came out. Last year I got to see some of its portraits of hot rod-lovin’ guys and gals, and they are just stunning. And the book is beautifully put together, as befitting George’s fine work.

And what a bargain! Only $33.50 if you buy online for UT Press

Highly, highly recommended. And such a great gift it would make!

Spring Pop Quiz!

1. Effecting change within a large organization has been compared to getting a supertanker to do a 180º turn. If a supertanker takes 34 minutes to go from a dead stop to its top cruising speed of 17 knots, which of the following are true?
A) It takes at least 34 minutes for a supertanker to do a 180.
B) The harbor master should be contacted before any such tomfoolery.
C) My dad was in the merchant marine back in the day.
D) I get nauseous on large seagoing vessels.

2. Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was just convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Early in Hernandez’s brief pro career, Partriots coach Bill Belichek devised an unusual play, “Triple dog 9, reverse flare, hash left,” to take advantage of his unique talents. Which, if any, of these statements, describes what makes the play unusual?
A) Upon the snap, the interior tackles slant right and the action follows in that direction.
B) The interior tackles slant right as a feint and the action goes left.
C) The play called for Aaron Hernandez to garrote the middle linebacker when no one was looking.
D) The one time the Patriots planned to use the play in an actual game, they were penalized because Hernandez was caught lining up offside, with his foot down the throat of the opposing team’s cornerback.

3. The European Union is threatening to fine Google billions of dollars for alleged anti-competitive practices. Which of the following statements are true?
A) Very few Europeans could hack it for even one week in the office of a major American corporation.
B) In Europe, “winning” is a synonym for “anti-competitive practices.”
C) The European Union will use the money to buy Albania and shut it down.
D) “Don’t be evil,” Google’s founding ethos, was never meant to apply to Europe.

4. Hillary Clinton finally announced what everyone already knew, that she was running for president. Which of the following statements about her candidacy are true?
A) She will represent the lesser of two evils.
B) She will represent the evil of two lessers.
C) If she blows it this time, they ought to just give her the presidency in 2024, as a combination 97th birthday present and retirement gift.
D) Even if she wins, I may still threaten to move to Canada, but never follow through on it.

5. Racial injustice in the U.S. has been brought into stark relief by a continuing string of incidents in which white police officers kill unarmed black men. Which of the following policy recommendations are likely to reverse this trend?
A) Adding a “gamification” element to the problem by erecting large signs in communities throughout the country saying, “The United States of America: Now Celebrating __ Consecutive Days without a White Police Officer Killing an Unarmed Black Man.”
B) Arming all black men.
C) Equipping all police officers with body-worn moral consciences.
D) Equipping all police officers with guns that, when fired, raise little flags that say “Bang!”


Apple can't sell me a watch, but their early adopters might.

With very few exceptions (backpack vacuum cleaner, e-cigarettes, treadmill desk, Jose Altuve), I am not an early adopter.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, my current desire for the newly launched Apple Watch is a 1. I know lots of people are ordering them, and I hope they enjoy them, but it’s not for me.

At least not yet. I’m not naive enough to proclaim that I will never buy a new class of Apple product just because I don’t “get it” when the product comes out.

I didn’t get the iPod when it came out. A couple of years later, after seeing people use them for a while helped me “get it,” I bought a second or third generation iPod from a friend who was upgrading to the latest generation. I used the hell out of that thing and came to see it as an amazing product. I later supplemented it with an iPod Shuffle.

Same with the iPhone. I didn’t really get what it was about, or how it would be more useful to me than the mobile phone I then had. Now I’m on my second iPhone, having upgraded to the last two previous versions when their replacements came out (i.e., I got the iPhone 4 when the 5 came out, and I got the iPhone 5 when the 6 came out).

In both cases, I came to understand the utility and desirability of these devices by observing how earlier adopters used them.
I find that pretty interesting. In both cases, my desire started at around 1, but I ultimately acquired the items once I saw and understood how other people used them and relied on them. And I came to rely on them a lot, too.

Apple knows this. They know that there are scads of people who will buy the next cool Apple thing as soon as it comes out, whether they need it or understand it or not. And they know there are even more people like me, who will wait and see how those early adopters take to the product and, in so doing, define the way it is used and shape the narrative about how it is described.

Sure, I’ve read quite a bit about the watch on and other sites, and I’ve read some early reviews. But right now, Apple can’t sell me a watch. I don’t wear a watch, I don’t want a watch, and I sure don’t want to spend a few hundred bucks on a new type of watch that I don’t see the utility in.

I can read statements like (and I’m paraphrasing here) “integrates the various components of your digital life” until the cows come home, but until I see what that actually means to people, to me it’s as abstract as abstract can be.

Yet, I wouldn’t bet against me wearing one by 2018.