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I’m a freelance interactive content strategist and copywriter in Austin, TX. See my work here.

I post about whatever geeky stuff interests me. Sometimes I post funny stuff that I make up. About once a week I post videos of my cat Yeti ignoring me. I welcome reader suggestions and feedback. I seldom get any.

Oh, yeah. I’m also the recording artist currently known as ManChildATX.

Wednesday
Mar252015

Dork-cation extra: Litter grabbing boat on the Bosphorous

One of the things that impressed me most about Istanbul is how tidy it is. I mean, don’t get me wrong, any city of nearly 15 million people is going to display some soot, grime and wear. And the ─░stanbullular as individuals don’t seem any more fastidious than, say, New Yorkers. You see people flicking cigarette butts in the streets everywhere, and a fair amount of casual littering. Plus, we were told by our vacation rental rep that when we needed to discard of our household trash, we were to find a place on the street where others had dumped their trash. But under no circumstances were we to let a policeman see us doing it, because it’s illegal.

So why don’t you see cigarette butts and litter and piles of trash on the streets? Because Istanbul is constantly cleaning itself up. Those illegal trash piles? They never get very big and they are gone—all of them—by sunrise, every day. Mechanical street sweepers are omnipresent, as are human street sweepers with brooms and dustpans. Relentlessly, they go after every cigarette butt and gum wrapper in sight. 

And along Istanbul’s extensive waterfront teeming with tourists? You’d expect to see quite a bit of floating debris in the water, wouldn’t you? Well, you may see a little here and there, but not for long. The Rube Goldbergian boat in the video above sees to that. Dork that I am, I could’ve watched it all day. 

Thursday
Mar122015

Uh, from the flight deck, this is your captain...


Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. We’d like to welcome you aboard Skyward Airlines flight 3233, with service from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. That service specifically being moving you through the air between those two cities while dehumanizing you in every way possible.

Our flight plan calls for us to cruise at an altitude of 36,000 feet, which sounds crazy high to me. But what do I know? I’m just the ringmaster of this circus. Anyway, we hope you’ll just sit back, though not with your seat actually back, and enjoy the flight. As much as humanly possible, anyway.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. A brief announcement: when I referred to myself as the ringmaster of the circus I was speaking metaphorically. There are no clowns or wild animals in this cockpit. Well, except for First Officer Dougie. Now, feel free to relax and enjoy the flight, while preparing at any moment to engage in emergency crash landing procedures.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is your captain. Dougie up here reminded me that some of his in-laws are on board and he’s a little miffed that I may have given the impression that the way he and I used to cat around back in the day is still the status quo. That’s a negative on the status quo from back in the day. I repeat, negative on the catting around status quo from back in the day. Dougie is a happily married man and is entirely faithful to Janet at all times. Now just sit back in an upright position with your tray table stowed and your feet under the 15 pounds of personal items placed under the seat in front of you, and make a good faith effort to enjoy your flight.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain reporting a bit of a good news/bad news situation up here. As you may have noticed, we haven’t moved a mother loving inch since we closed the cabin doors. The good news is this is nothing to be alarmed about, as an aircraft that remains motionless on the ground is an aircraft at low risk for plummeting from the sky. The bad news is, we’ll be stuck here, where you all will feel increasingly trapped like sardines in a tin can, until we make a very late departure, at which point, yes, there will be an increased risk of plummeting from the sky, because upon departure we will be moving, and quite rapidly, I might add. We will also be quite a ways off the ground, which, in all candor, does mean that in the unlikely event that any plummeting situation should occur, the cessation of said plummeting will be more consequential than if we, say, jumped the curb on the runway. Not expecting any plummeting, just want to cover off on all possibilities. We should be getting under way eventually, so just sit back, enjoy the sensation of not moving while planted firmly on the ground, and enjoy this indeterminate pre-flight interlude.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. You may have noticed we just started to roll back. That was my bad. We didn’t have clearance to do that yet. We’re awaiting instructions from the tower as to whether we should roll back forward to where we were, but as of now, it sounds like they are a little upset with me and just want me to, in their words, “stay put and don’t go playing cowboy on the taxiway.” Just sit back, sit tight, and I’ll be back shortly with more information, presumably. Thank you.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. A little inside baseball here. You may not have realized it, but the jetway? That long serpentine indoor-outdoor kinda hallway thing that you walked through to get from the terminal to the aircraft? Well, folks, you probably didn’t know this—fact is, I’m just learning it myself, but it has other functions. Namely to provide standby power to the aircraft when it is parked at the gate. Now, as you may remember, a little while ago I mentioned that I did a little-bitty unauthorized rollback. Based on my instrument readings and the angry gesticulations from the ground crew, it appears that our standby power connection has been severed, and so very shortly I will be shutting down all non-essential power consuming systems, such as cabin lighting, cabin ventilation and the pumps that supply that blue water to flush the toilets. This is only a temporary condition while we are stuck here in limbo halfway between the gate and the runway. As soon as I am authorized to move the aircraft, we’ll be bringing the engines up to speed, and they should be able to recharge those non-essential cabin systems well before halfway through the flight. Which, by the way, could be getting under way at any moment. Or not. Hard to say. Now, just sit back, and enjoy some quality sitting time in the stuffy darkness. And for the benefit of your fellow passengers, for the time being, please refrain from using the restrooms for anything other than number one. Thank you.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. I forgot to let you know that we were given permission to roll back from the gate. Well, we were given permission to roll back from where we had already rolled back a little from the gate already. You have probably already realized this, as for some time the aircraft has been rolling hither and yon as we traverse the lengthy and serpentine route to our takeoff runway, which we are just now turning onto. I would have announced this sooner, but there’s been a lot going on up here, what with all of the driving of the aircraft that I’m responsible for and everything, and I should probably cut this communication short, because this is the important part of the takeoff checklist where I actually do the things I need to do, like jam the throttle hard onto full power, to get this enormous and heavily laden aircraft airborne. It’s not a big deal, I’ve done this kind of thing many times before, but, really, let me get back to you, because we’re approaching the speed at which it is too late to abort our takeoff and I only have a couple of fractions of a second to figure out what this little flashing light and audible alarm are trying to tell me. Not to worry, I’ll be back with you momentarily, successful takeoff or not. Now just sit back, remain strapped in, and remember it might not be a good idea to have any sharp objects in your pockets. Thank you.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. Well, we made it! Into the sky, I mean. Are those airport engineers good or what? They designed that runway to be 8,600 feet because they knew someday a flight like ours would need every last inch of it. I’m a little in awe, frankly. But now that we’ve heaved this massive lumbering bird into the sky, our autopilot is taking over and it’s pretty much a piece of cake from here on out. Well, until we have to land in a couple/few hours. But don’t you worry about that now. I’ll update you when we have that mess to look forward to.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain. Did I forget to announce that we were heading into that turbulence that we just headed into? Sorry about that. Better late than never I guess. If that last jolt didn’t help you figure it out, it’s a real good idea to remain in your seat with your seatbelt fastened to avoid smacking your head into the overhead compartments. If that just happened to you, then it’s pretty obvious you’ll want to avoid it from happening again, so word to the wise and all that. By the way, in my experience, scalp wounds bleed a lot but are usually not all that serious. If you can’t stanch the blood flow, please press the call button and a member of our flight crew will bring over some towels, although they can’t really get up now either, because, hey, after all, they’re on the same aircraft as you, and as I intimated, we’re going to be bouncing all over the sky like a pinball for God knows how long. Now, just sit back, relax with your hands clenched firmly on both armrests, try to keep the blood out of your eyes as best you can for the time being, and enjoy the remainder of the flight, which, God willing, won’t be until we land at our arrival airport.

Uh, from the captain, this is your flight deck. I beg your pardon. You know what I mean. As you may have noticed, we have begun our initial descent, which is why, if you are sitting by a window, everything on the ground looks a lot bigger now. That’s just an illusion. It’s all the same size, we’ve just gotten smaller. All part of standard landing procedure. I’d like to remind you to sit back and relax as you remain strapped in, alert and ready for any eventuality. I’ll be honest, I’m not in love with the way landings work at this airport, although I’m certainly not complaining. Other pilots seem to have no problem with it, so I’m big enough to admit that maybe it’s just me. At any rate, it’s always worked out fine up until now, for all intents and purposes. You may not even be able to tell what kind of a nightmare we are going through up here as we try to bring this beast down safely. So hang in there, and I’ll be back with our final announcement once we stop skidding and I’m pretty sure everything is A-OK. Please keep us in your thoughts.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is your captain. We’d like to welcome you to Los Angeles, which is, it turns out, our correct destination, although there was some brief disagreement about that up here for a moment. We know you have a choice of airlines, and we do appreciate your choosing Skyward for your travel needs today. And we hope that the big takeaway is that everything worked out this time, more or less, so why not give us a shot at it again sometime? Now, as you prepare to disembark, we’d like to wish you a nice stay in San Diego.

Uh, from the flight deck, this is the captain one final time. I mean Los Angeles. Sorry.

 

Friday
Mar062015

What's In My Bag

OK, first of all, it’s none of your goddamn business. If you were a cop, no way is it constitutional that I have to show you what’s in my bag. So just keep that in mind.

Second of all, this is my old bag. I switched to a new bag last week. HEB gives away a limited number of free reusable bags on Fridays, but it’s first come, first served. I got there early and bought a pack of gum so’s I could get a new bag.

And I been carrying it around all week and thinking it didn’t feel right. So that’s when I went through my extensive collection of worn bags and found that I left all kinds of good stuff in my last bag. Really, this feature should be called “What’s In The Bottom Of The Last Bag I Was Using.” But fuck it. Let’s do this.

13 Cents, a button, and a video game token

Never leave home without them, unless you leave them in your old bag.

iPhone 4 Case

I found this baby in mint fucking condition. Someday I WILL find the phone to go with it. You can bet on that, Jack.

 

Blueteeth Headset

I found this, too, and what a pain in my ass it’s been. First, it hurts my ear hole. Second, it keeps falling out. And third, it picks up signals from the Trilateral Commission only sporadically. Screw it.

Checkbook

Remember these? This is from a bank account I had when I was runnin’ with my old lady. No, I mean my old, old lady. The bank that gave me this checkbook closed in the bust during the early ’90s. Whatever.

Stick On-able Velcro

What’s not to love here?

Metal Thingy 

Yeah, I wrote about this before. So what? It cares more about me than you ever will, so shut up.

 

Plastic Thingy

I have no fucking clue what this is for. Still, could be useful someday.

Used Ear Plug

Still valuable if for no other reason than if I am found dead, they can find this in my bag, test the DNA on it, and confirm that it had been in my ear at some point before I died.

Small Rock

This is not just any small rock. It’s this small rock. And it’s mine. So shove off. 

Pay Stub

Somebody no longer has a durable paper record that one day long ago they received $100 from Texas Monthly Magazine. Because I have it. Obviously, it’s safer this way.

Other Metal Thingy

I have no clue what this thing is or what it is for. But I do have a very strong feeling that it was instrumental to me in one of my past lives. So, no, you can’t have it.

Plasma TV Cleaning Cloth

OK, Mr. or Ms. Irresponsible, when you are ready to admit that your plasma TV is filthy because you couldn’t keep track of a simple little cleaning cloth—and one that comes in its own individual anti-static tote bag, at that—give me a call and you can reclaim it. IF, that is, the serial number you have written down matches the one in my head.


Confabulotron

At one point, I needed this to connect one thing I had to another thing I had, but I do that all virtually now, so I just keep this around for sentimental purposes. And for aesthetics. 

Open Sack of Balloons

It says 50 balloons on the package, but I only counted 43. Now I may have used a balloon or two at some point. But seven? Come on. Lesson learned: count the goddamn balloons as soon as you open them.

Lip Balm Collection

This is how I figured out I still had stuff in my old bag. ‘Cause my lips get real, real chapped sometimes. And I couldn’t find any lip balm. Why? It was all in my old bag. That’s right. Reunited. And it feels so good.

Friday
Feb272015

The Most of Yeti, Vol. 1

Our cat Yeti may have crossed the rainbow bridge, but his work lives on. Here are some of my faves from the early days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Somehow, the “Shit My Cat Texts Me” concept never took off, but, hey, cat tongue:

Yeti was into the “food thing” back when most people thought it was just something you eat to obtain nourishment:

The first on-camera incidence of Yeti “cranking one up”:

Yeti again shares screen time with one of his animal co-stars, never breaking character even with a dog snout up his bum:

Sometimes Yeti couldn’t help but make an on-camera editorial comment, as at the end of this video:

 

 

 

Thursday
Feb262015

Yeti, Feline Star of Obscure Web Video Series, Dies at 18-ish

Baby Yeti: Could you not just plotz?

Yeti, a Siamese cat from South Austin who was featured in a series of over one hundred YouTube videos which never managed to catch on with viewers beyond a cultish, highly select audience, crossed over the rainbow bridge on Wednesday, February 25, 2015. He was 18-ish. The cause was in-home humane euthanasia following a diagnosis of advanced kidney disease. “Essentially it means he died of old age,” said Dr. Michael Stone, Yeti’s longtime veterinarian.

 

Yeti, who was also variously known as Yedward Crookfinder, Yetwurd Spaghett-wurd, Fur Guy, Mr. Man, Gorilla-faced Boy, Crybaby Yeti, the Orb, Yedouard Shevardnadze, Monkey Man, Dr. Humpenstein, Sky’s-the-Limit, and the Bird Killer, was adopted at the ridiculously cute age of six weeks by his human mom in 1998. When she married five years later, Yeti was enthusiastically adopted by his human stepdad, too. But not, like, legally.

Yeti, with his step-canine, ZeusHis humans spoke with awe about how freaking sweet and cute he was. “I mean, if anything, I should hate him,” said stepfather Rich Malley, the off-screen cat interviewer in the video series that never achieved more than “very highly acquired taste” status. “I had dreams of being a celebrity cat interviewer and he held me back for five years,” Malley said.

“All the same,” Malley immediately continued, before his guest was able to gracefully ease out of the conversation, “I know I’ll never have the same connection to any cat I work with again. Communication like we had is rare in this business, my friend.”

Making poor editing choices for his never-popular web video series.Yeti’s mom related an anecdote to explain the cat’s singular specialness to her. “I was filling out an advanced pet care directive at the vet’s office, so they’d have a record on file in case one of our six animals had an emergency while we were traveling,” she said. “As I went down the list, I found myself checking off low dollar amount ceilings for five of our pets, but when I got to Yeti’s name I ticked, ‘The sky’s the limit.’ That’s where his nickname Sky’s-the-Limit came from.”

Yet there were occasional reminders that Yeti’s paws were made of clay, and not just that one time when he tracked some kind of clay-like mud all over our newly cleaned floors.

He was a shameless and inveterate bird killer, with all-but-defenseless baby birds being his preferred quarry. Unlike some hunting housecats, he never presented the corpses of his kills for his owners’ approbation. Typically, the only evidence remaining from an avicide was an orderly pattern of baby bird feathers in the yard, leaving observers to speculate that he scarfed down virtually everything else.

2008: Again with the dogs?On the negative side of the ledger, too, was his legendary appetite for chewing on electrical and electronic cords. His teeth were renowned for being able to destroy a cable either by puncturing its insulation or slicing it clean through. This destructive urge presented itself in a clearly recognizable pattern, but was nonetheless difficult to prevent given the profusion of cords in every single goddamn room of the house. “The only way to stop it was to pick him up and hold him in your lap and give him lots of attention until he forgot that he wanted to chew on cords,” Mr. Malley said. “He didn’t care whether you had work to do. It was either lavish him with attention for as long as it took him to get over the cord-biting thing, or constantly replace chewed up earbuds and power adapters.”

Yeti’s backyard boulder. His grave is beneath this favorite perch.Perhaps an equally annoying but much shorter-lived behavior of Yeti’s was his climbing up on the roof—either his own or the next-door-neighbor’s—and screaming pitifully until one of his humans came outside and coaxed him to jump onto and climb down the tree that he had climbed up and jumped off of to get on the roof in the first place, often only minutes before. The full-body throb of his purring upon being held and cuddled after he was gently plucked off a low fork in the tree led some to believe that this was the entire point of the exercise. “Totally,” his human mom said. “He used cuteness as a deadly weapon.”

2012: Executing the rare combination question mark tail and rear twinkle toes maneuver.But without question the most idiosyncratic and deeply disturbing of Yeti’s signature behaviors was his late-stage pelvic humping. Long neutered, and, at 12-years-old, seemingly beyond any vestige of sexual drive, at this advanced age Yeti’s innocent pre-snuggle biscuit kneading was suddenly replaced by a mindless—and endless—lascivious hip thrusting kinda thing, which was accompanied by a facial expression that seemed, well, shall we say, just a little too content. Viewed at first as a naughty but amusing behavioral aberration, as it became an everyday thing his grossed out and annoyed humans soon actively discouraged it by physically separating Yeti from the current focus of his ardor, whether it was a bedspread, the fuzzy red wool blanket, or, in one often recalled embarrassing incident, a party guest’s heirloom fur coat.

Still, his endless good nature and limitless capacity to give and receive affection more than outweighed his annoying habits. Recognizing his one-in-a-million specialness early on, his humans learned to cherish each and every day they spent with him, knowing their time with him would someday have to end. They were gratified that they were able to ease him from this life after he received his fatal prognosis, but before he knew a single second of suffering.

He lived. He loved. He had fur on his face. There will never be another one like him.

In lieu of flowers or donations, please send contact information for reputable siamese breeders.

Saying goodbye to Mom on his final day. Note tongue.
Monday
Feb162015

Jon Ronson takes on Internet shaming

Sacco’s original tweet. 

The Valleywag blog post that opened the gates of hate.

British writer/journalist Jon Ronson (The Psychopath Test, The Men Who Stare at Goats) specializes in human foibles. Many of his subjects have already been judged and found to be zeroes by society’s binary assessment machine (1=good, 0=0). One of Ronson’s interests is what happens to those zeroes after society moves on to assess someone else. Justine Sacco is one such person, and Ronson interviewed her in yesterday’s New York Time’s Magazine. (UPDATE: Ronson’s article is actually an excerpt from his forthcoming book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, to be released March 31. Want.)

Sacco sent the infamous tweet above while waiting for an 11 hour flight to South Africa to see her family. She meant the tweet as a sarcastic satire of white privilege. I could’ve told Sacco that underlying sarcasm and satire are often invisible online, leaving the words they are meant to upend to be taken literally.

At the time she sent the tweet, Sacco had fewer than 200 followers on Twitter. But someone who saw it forwarded it as a tip to the editor of the Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag. Valleywag editor Sam Biddle embedded Sacco’s tweet in a blog post and slapped a snarky headline on it, as seen underneath Sacco’s tweet, above. Of course, Biddle’s sarcasm was understood correctly. And then it was Katie bar the door.

You probably know how the story played out online. While Sacco was in-flight, the twitterverse rose up in indignation at her perceived racism. By the time Sacco landed—and completely oblivious to her—she’d been fired from her job and, for a day at least, become the most hated person on the Internet.

Like many people, I was initially amused by Sacco’s plight. But quickly, it started to seem like crowd-sourced cyber bullying. Why would thousands of people go out of their way to pile on this gleeful, retributive bandwagon? How could people who’d never heard of Sacco before decide that her life deserved to be derailed because of one viral tweet? And, what interested me most, how does someone survive such a coordinated and vengeful vendetta of public vilification? Did no one who took delight in skewering Sacco stop to think, “Whoa, one misplaced word here or there, and that could’ve been me?”

Because that’s what I thought. And I questioned how I could ever possibly live through such a public humiliation and shaming. In his article, Ronson talks to Sacco and others who have inadvertently become the momentary target of the Internet’s ire. They’ve lost jobs, relationships, friends. And many of us—myself included, at times—cheered at their shaming. Not our finest hours.

 

Monday
Feb092015

My Cat Yeti on Harper Lee's New Book

Wednesday
Feb042015

I'd Rather Be Selling Supplements

Photo by Jeff Nelson from Canada (ft_edm_park__0080.jpg) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

You and I are in the wrong business, my friend.

Well, unless you are in the nutritional supplement business. In which case only I am in the wrong business.

Because only in the nutritional supplement business can you make billions selling products that not only don’t have to do what you say they do, they don’t even have to be what you say they are.

Unless you get caught. Which GNC, Walgreens, Target and Walmart just did, by the State of New York.

Conservative politicians like to talk about stamping out waste, fraud and abuse. I can’t think of three better words to describe the nutritional supplement racket, and the we-trust-you-until-people-get-hurt regulatory environment it operates in.

(Note: the term “nutritional supplement” as I’m using it is meant to describe products winking-ly sold as specific remedies, like echinacea for colds, or as specific preventatives, like ginkgo for Alzheimer’s disease. But considering there’s a whole section at my local Walgreen’s devoted to vitamins and minerals dispensed in gummy candy form—for both adults and children—there’s a lot of snake oil selling going on there, too.)

What the New York case brings into stark relief is that anyone in this country can sell anything as a nutritional supplement and market it as a specific remedy or preventative, with no testing or evidence to support the claims.

How is this legal? Because it’s legal. Not like this kind of thing wasn’t happening already, but a 1994 federal law specifically made it legal. To make all sorts of unverified claims for a product, all supplement sellers need to do is tack on this Food and Drug Administration disclaimer: “This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.”

That’s it. No state or federal government agency needs to investigate the product, either for safety or efficacy. The FDA only investigates a nutritional supplement when problems are reported. By that time, consumers of the product may be very sick. Or even dead.

But a product that doesn’t kill you or make you sick is fine. Even when, as we have now learned from the New York case, the product does not contain the allegedly “active” ingredients it is supposed to. Again, there is no federal oversight or inspection ensuring these supplements contain the ingredients they claim to. Unless, of course, people start getting sick or dying.

The government tells supplement sellers, “We trust you, so don’t do anything bad.” Supplement sellers, in turn, rely on their “trusted” suppliers to accurately list the ingredients that should go on the label that carries the seller’s brand. If you take nutritional supplements, these nod-and-a-wink relationships between suppliers, sellers and the FDA are the only things protecting you.

Not only may the product you think you are buying be ineffective for the purpose for which you are buying it. And not only may it not contain any of the key ingredient(s) you are buying it for. It might also contain unlisted ingredients that you are deathly allergic to.

How did this happen? I think there is a direct line from the beginnings of the alternative health movement to now (and it encompasses the nutso anti-vaccine movement as well). After World War II, our culture embraced the primacy of science as never before. Anything old-fashioned and not scientifically validated was discredited. Like breast feeding and midwifery, for instance. When it came to folk wisdom and remedies, it’s true: we threw the baby out with the bathwater.

The counterculture of the 60s and the 70s changed that. As with the examples cited above, there was plenty of justification to argue that there were products and practices outside of establishment medicine that might have a benefit.

But, again, we threw the baby out with the bathwater. Instead of saying, “Well, yeah, some of these substances and practices may have merit after all, but we should test them to find out,” we said, “Screw testing! Screw validation! We’ve already seen that establishment medicine is biased. Anything might be possible! Anything might be true!”

As some of us UT grads learned in Professor Rory Coker’s wonderful course on pseudoscience, “Anything might be possible” and “Anything might be true” are key rhetorical weapons in the huckster’s arsenal. (See: Earmarks of Pseudoscience, by Prof. Coker.)

What savvy business man or woman wouldn’t be attracted to a market where “anything might be true,” and no one was bothering to check what was true and what wasn’t in any case? Is it any wonder that nutritional supplements eventually became a mainstream, billion dollar business?

So, in the early 90s, after huge numbers of consumers had already been defrauded and/or sickened, Congress finally decided to act. But by then, the horse was already out of the barn and too much money was at stake. The industry by then was big enough to throw a lot of money around for lobbying and campaign contributions. And once it got what it it was after, it would have even more money to spend.

Thus the industry got the law that it wanted. Now it can make virtually any claims for its products—so long as it also disclaims those claims. And it can stuff anything it wants in its capsules—so long as it doesn’t get caught. And if there are any penalties for being caught, I for one certainly don’t expect them to be severe enough to deter future abuse.

You think supplements made big money before? Whoa, daddy. Look at them now.

Like I said, I’m in the wrong business. Walmart, Target, GNC and Walgreens? They’re in the right business.

See also, NYT: What’s In Those Supplements?

 

Friday
Jan302015

How people outside the U.S. enjoy their superior Internet service

“Americans pay far more and get far less when it comes to the Internet than many other people around the world.”—HuffPo, America Pays More For Internet, Gets Slower Speeds, Than Other Countries

While we dupes here in the U.S. contend with internet service providers fighting for their right to continue offering the least service for the most money, people in other countries have been enjoying faster internet speeds at lower cost for years. In fact, internet users in those countries have developed ways of using the internet we couldn’t even think of, such as:

Grocery delivery—Move over PeaPod and Greenling. In Norway, where they get download speeds of 5GB/sec for $14/month, the clever Nords don’t have to wait for their groceries to be delivered after ordering them online. Now using a 3D bioprinter they can download their groceries directly (after carefully placing a reusable grocery bag under the output chute, of course). Over there, “printing” groceries for a family of four takes around 15 minutes. Contrast that with your house, where downloading a single cocktail onion would take the better part of a day.

Streaming video—A while back I posted a video showing the different download speeds I get on different streaming services. But even my relatively quick Amazon Prime streams pale in comparison to what they get in Peru, where they pay the equivalent of $8/month for 10GB/sec service. There even home users of limited means have banks of monitors, allowing them to watch multiple ultra-high definition streams at once. A Peruvian man recently boasted on Twitter that he watched the entire run of Breaking Bad in 90 minutes. Granted, he probably missed some stuff—he admitted he wasn’t sure who “Heisenberg” was—but still.

Telemedicine—Here, we brag about the latest advances that connectivity has brought to our medical care, such as when a rural hospital is able to fax an x-ray to a big city specialist in just under 9 hours. But let’s look at Albania. There, where users take for granted speeds of 20GB/sec for around $3/month, your doctor can perform a “remote physical” exam on you in real time, via your government-issued tactile sensory responder. (Citizens themselves are responsible for removing and replacing the disposable lubricated rubber finger on the tactile responder after each exam.)

Audio in/out ports (shown) optional for extra chargeE-Learning—More and more U.S. students are attending college courses online. Sure, the audio and video can be as much as a minute out of sync, making it seem like your professor is a raving schizophrenic. But, hey, at least you can attend class in your PJs, right? Well, screw that. In Tanzania (40GB/sec, $.50/month) you can have a USB3 port installed in your skull that lets you transfer a bachelor’s degree’s worth of knowledge into your brain in just under a minute. (Example reflects liberal arts education. STEM-related degrees may take slightly longer.)

Monday
Jan262015

An update from my neighborhood listserv

HELIO NGIEBSOR!!!1!
I just wanated to ALERT EVERONE that a man knocked on my door. Hel said he was LOOKING for HIS DOG. He was about sixty-two. and he was black. I’m NOT BEING RACIAL. I’m just saying that for identifi… for ifden… for to help recognize him. If in case the police are called.—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE

Hi, I just wanted to alert everyone that an elderly man knocked on my door (he was about sixty-four), and he was black, which I only mention so you will know if a man comes knocking on your door whether it was this man, or perhaps another man of a different skin hue. That’s the only reason. At any rate, he seemed like a nice man, but I didn’t open the door. I’m not sure what he wanted—it was hard to make out what he was saying through the reinforced steel panels—but I think he was asking if I had seen his doll. Maybe he’s senile? In which case hopefully the police are kind to him, if anyone feels the need to call the police.—Janet on Pierce Pl.

Neighborhood residents who live on the south side of the ‘hood, please be aware that there have been reports of a man knocking on doors looking for young women. For identification purposes (only, not for any other reasons) he is a large black male, approximately 6’2”-6’4”. I’m not sure if the police have been called.—Marvin on Hackberry St.

HELO NIEGBSOR!!
I forgotted to MENTION that the Afro-American gentleman who CaMe to my door was holding a dog collar and a LEESH!!!! So he may rilly BE LOOKING FOR HIS doG.—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.

Neighbors, we are trying to locate my dad. Our son’s little dog ran away and Billy was so heartbroken that “grandpa” has been canvassing the neighborhood all morning trying to find him. Unfortunately, Dad left his cellphone at the house, so we have no way of letting him know that Rascal came home safe and sound. If you encounter a man carrying a leash and dog collar, will you please tell him his daughter said the dog is safe and he should come home? Thanks.—Candace on Cedar Elm St.

HEY , NEISGHROB!
DOES ANYONE know why there are ALL THOSE POLIC CARS at the corner of HACKBERRY and CEDAR ELM? It looks like WORLd WaR IIII over there!! Just askin’!!!!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE

 

 

Monday
Jan192015

NYT Op-Ed: "Will the FDA Kill Off E-Cigs?"

The great and powerful nicotineBoy, it’s rare—and possibly unheard of until now—that I agree with any of the thinking that comes out of the American Enterprise Institute think tank. But here is Dr. Sally Satel arguing many of the same points I made a few weeks ago about how federal regulation of e-cigarettes should make them MORE attractive and accessible to smokers than conventional cigartettes. Strange bedfellows. 

Friday
Jan162015

My Cat Yeti Is Unmoved by Houston Astros Trading for Evan Gattis

Thursday
Jan152015

Culture Catchup #3: "Ten Years in the Tub," and my ginormous Nick Hornby man-crush

I kinda wanted to open this post by asking, “Where has Nick Hornby been all my life,” but the answer—in England, mostly—is pretty obvious. And, it’s not, like, all my life, since he’s only been publishing books since 1992, when I was in my, um, late-late-late adolescence.

But nevertheless, that “where has he been” feeling kind of aligns with the GINORMOUS MAN CRUSH I’ve had for Nick Hornby since I started reading “10 Years in the Tub,” a collection of his books columns for the magazine, “The Believer.” (According to Mr. Hornby, I shouldn’t feel too bad for not even really knowing that “The Believer” existed, because that doesn’t make me any more ignorant than billions of other earth folk.)

I’ll just insert here that one of the unfortunate side effects of my GINORMOUS MAN CRUSH on Nick Hornby is that once or twice a day, I’ll hear Mike Myers, in character as Austin Powers, inside my head asking, “Do I make you Hornby?” Sadly, I’m not making that up. I don’t even like those movies.

So, I know I’m an ass for never reading Mr. Hornby before, although I think he’d be pretty understanding about it, since eliminating guilt from the reading list is one of Mr. Hornby’s—oh, hell, let’s drop the formalities, this isn’t the New York Times—since eliminating guilt from the reading list is one of Nicky-boy’s frequent touchstones.

Read what you like, and blow off those who would shame you into reading unenjoyable stuff because it’s “good for you,” that’s our Nicky-Nick.

Good ol’ Nickums.

I have vague memories of two dear departed friends ages ago both urging me to read the Nickster, and then getting into a beery disagreement with each other over the reasons I should. Agreeing in principle I should read Dear Nick, but vehemently disagreeing on the particulars as to why. I could be manufacturing that out of memory fragments real and imagined, but it could also be true, as anyone who knew those friends will understand.

Here’s the thing about reading Nick’s “10 Years in the Tub:” I started feeling sad about finishing it on, like, page 5 of its 800-plus pages. I savor each column-length chapter like a delicious morsel of chocolate.

Here’s another thing that made me sad about how happy I am to have finally “hooked up” with Nicky-poo: it’s so freaking obvious that a huge chunk of the people who read him will feel exactly the same way I do. In other words, I’m not special. In other words, I’m just another one of the fan-boys or -girls that Joey Nickels probably spends an increasing chunk of his waking hours trying to avoid.

Poor Nickly. That’s what happens when you write prose that reads the same way butter melts in your mouth. Except letting butter melt in your mouth doesn’t make you laugh and feel smart. Also, reading Nicksy-wick is not literally like reading butter. I won’t be responsible for what happens if you put butter in your eyes. (Unless it winds up erasing all of your annoying crows feet and laugh lines, in which case let me know. Then watch this space for a post announcing the launch of my new EyeButter™ line of bio-ceuticals.)

This fanboy/girl effect was proved to me by the response I got from my mother-in-law when I sent her an email thanking her for the book and telling her how much I was enjoying it. She said, in so many words, “Oh, yeah, you read Nicky-Nick and you just think, Wouldn’t he be great to have a beer with?”

Oh, really? So, you, too? Hands off, bitch, he’s mine. I don’t care who came out of your womb.

But you see what I mean? To read Sweet Nick is to love him.

Even more, for me, is that to read Nicksy-poo makes me want to write, in the same way that seeing a great band in a club makes me want to go home and work on my music. I’ve always felt like my creativity is a vessel that can only hold so much consumed inspiration. If I read, watch or listen to too much, the excess forms a wax-like plug at the top of the vessel. In fact, I feel like a wax-like plug has formed at the top of this metaphor, trapping me—and you, on the off chance one of you has made it this far—inside.

At any rate, Nicksums (this is getting challenging) quickly fills my vessel to the “time to go create” line. Not too many other writers do that in quite the same way.

Unfortunately, there’s a strong urge to emulate, too. Nickers’s writing is so deceptively natural, easy and conversational that, yes, he makes me want to go write, but he makes me want to go write exactly like him. Which is not cool.

Nonetheless, I’m indulging myself by shamelessly ripping off Nikki Nixx throughout this post.

Because, you guys (note the hopeful plural), he does so many little things that I love and relate to and like to do in my own writing. Like writing as if it’s just the two of you kickin’ it, just havin’ a conversation. And writing discursively, while still being, um, cursive enough to create an overall sense unity to each piece.

Oh! And in “10 Years in the Tub,” he has this little running gag based on a throwaway reference to the Polyphonic Spree. The Polyphonic Spree! From Dallas! He knows who they are! And bases a running gag—running as in 10 years running—on them. Who else would do that? No one. How cool is my Lil Nicky?

I don’t know where he’s been all my life, but I’m pretty sure Laddo Nick will be hanging around on my bedside table long after I finish “10 Years in the Tub.”

 

Thursday
Jan152015

NYT on E-cigarettes: again with the "gateway drug" argument

The Times had a story about JuJu Joints yesterday. These are a new kind of disposable e-cigarette sold in Washington, where marijuana is legal, in which the active ingredient is THC instead of nicotine. 

After the inventor explains the product, we get this from Times correspondent Kira Peikoff:

“Not everyone is so enthusiastic. Many addiction researchers fear that e-cigarettes will pave the way to reliance on actual cigarettes, especially in teenagers.”

Forget the fact that she abruptly stopped talking about a THC delivery system to insert boilerplate handwringing about a nicotine delivery system. There’s that “gateway to real cigarettes” argument again.

This is like saying, “Thrill researchers fear that playground slides will pave the way for children to want to slide down storm drains.” Or, “Harry Potter researchers fear that children who enjoy the stories will make a complete break with reality and live in a fantasy world in their head.” Or, “Cupcake researchers fear that children who learn to eat a cupcake at one sitting will graduate to eating a wedding cake at one sitting, because, you know, more of a good thing.”

Shouldn’t the researchers stop “fearing” this and that, and do some actual research to find out if it’s true? Will relatively low-risk, easy-to-consume e-cigarettes lead people (especially teenagers!) to inhale more expensive, noxious burning tobacco that all of them know is much riskier to their health? 

I “fear” this bullshit will continue until someone actually produces some research, at which point I fear these frightened researchers will be eating a bit of crow.

Tuesday
Jan132015

Culture Catchup #2: "Beware of Mr. Baker"

 

I’m a rock drummer, OK? Not a great one, certainly, but I’ve had my moments.

But until I saw Jay Bulger’s terrific documentary about the drummer Ginger Baker, “Beware of Mr. Baker” (on Netflix), I never truly understood the concept of “time.”

Or “toyme,” as the Cockney Baker pronounces it in the film. Or often spits it out:

Interviewer: What did you like about (any musician from his past whom he respected)?

Ginger Baker: TOYME! HE HAD TOYME!

Interviewer: So, why didn’t you like working with (any musician from his past whom he didn’t think much of)?

Ginger Baker: HE HAD NO TOYME!

Oh, sure, I understood about rhythm, about keeping a beat, and all the cool things one might do within the confines of that notion.

But I never really understood that “toyme” itself could be a musical medium, at least in Baker’s hands. I’m going to have a hard time (heh, unintentional) explaining what I mean by that, probably. But basically, this guy, Ginger Baker, seemed to be able to take time and subdivide it so that the component pieces themselves were music.

In other words, I heard Ginger Baker play things in this movie, that if you converted them to a series of identical clicks—rather than a series of sounds made by a drum kit—those clicks in and of themselves would be musical. It’s like painting with math instead of color. 

Or something.

That didn’t really help, did it? Oh, well. Listen to Cream’s White Room in the video above. Ignore the overly grandiose parts. Listen for how the drums seem to propel the music forward while simultaneously seeming to be slowing musical time down altogether.

That’s not really a great illustration of what I’m talking about either, but it is a great illustration of a rock song with a really cool fucking drum part.

So, yeah, I knew Ginger Baker was supposed to be this incredible rock drummer, and I knew that he was in Cream, the first rock “supergroup,” and I knew that I grew up hearing a few Cream songs, like “White Room,” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” on the radio and that the drums sounded really cool. And I guess part of me always wondered, if this guy was supposed to be so amazing, why didn’t he do much that I have heard of since then?

Well, one answer is that he did a bunch of stuff afterward, and a lot of it was really cool and worthy of listening to, but it just never came up on my (limited and weak) musical radar. I mean, sure, I’d heard of Ginger Baker’s Air Force—which AllMusic.com says was ”arguably the pinnacle of the legendary drummer’s achievements of the 1960s”—but I never sought their music out.

Another answer is that he did a bunch of music afterward that was perfectly awful.

And the ultimate answer is what unifies the first two answers—he was incredibly difficult to deal with. When he made really cool and worthy music, it wasn’t for very long, because every group he was in would implode within a short time. When he made perfectly awful music, it was because the only people left who would play with him specialized in the perfectly awful genre.

Dude was difficult. Incredible, once-in-a-generation talent. Uncompromising personality. Hardcore heroin junkie. Hell, combine any two of the three traits and you get “difficult.” Combine them all and you get a human Category 5 hurricane.  

In all sincerity, after I finished watching this documentary, I thought, man, I am glad this movie got made. Not only was I glad the story was told, I was glad it was told this way.

Just to point out a couple of things I learned that were especially gratifying/mindblowing: One, the movie directly confronts a question that I’d wondered about, which is, if Ginger Baker is so great, what sets him apart from and above other celebrated rock drummers, like The Who’s Keith Moon or Zeppelin’s John Bonham? (Answer: just about everything aside from the fact that they all used wooden sticks as part of their jobs.)

And, two, Ginger Baker sat in regularly with Fela Kuti’s house band. In Lagos. In 1972. And kicked ass. (Fela Kuti was, well, look it up.)

In closing, I’ll point out that one of last year’s heavily hyped indie narrative films was “Whiplash,” about a young jazz drummer and how the pursuit of musical excellence compromised his humanity. I liked it fine. But, oh, boy, does “Beware of Mr. Baker” cover the same territory in a more compelling way. And it really happened.

If you are interested in stories about creativity and creative people, or if, like me, you just always wondered, WTF with Ginger Baker?, you’ll enjoy this film.

Monday
Jan122015

Culture Catchup #1: Don Hertzfeldt's "It's Such a Beautiful Day"

 

“Donhertzfeldt” by Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Donhertzfeldt.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Donhertzfeldt.jpg

Don Hertzfeldt makes animated films, and I became aware of him through his Academy Award-nominated short film from 2000, “Rejected.” This short has been viewed millions and millions (and millions!) of times on YouTube. and deservedly so. It’s dark and brilliant and ridiculously funny. It’s well worth investing 9 minutes in.  If you’ve never seen it, you should watch it. I’m embedding it at the end of this post. Do it. 

Whether you should watch Hertzfeldt’s “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” well, that’s another matter. I saw that it was added to Netflix and eagerly checked it out. It started out as funny and dark and brilliant as “Rejected.”  

Here’s the thing: I love Hertzfeldt’s style of dark, twisted humor. In fact, I’ve often plumbed the same depths in my humor writing “career.”

But whenever I’m writing stuff in this vein, I’m always conscious of how limiting it is. There are only so many gags that can end with someone’s limbs falling off and blood spurting out, or someone being killed unexpectedly in some absurdist way. IMO, of course. 

It’s not like Hertzfeldt doesn’t have things to say. He does, and he says many of them brilliantly. He also uses a lot of interesting, creative animation craft and technique in “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” resulting in sequences that alternate between arresting beauty and dark malevolence. I also find his use of classical music here inspired (just as it is in “Rejected.”)

But, man, I found getting through the hour-long running time of this film to be a slog. It starts to feel like Hertzfeldt’s absurdist darkness works at cross purposes with his attempt to present a coherent theme (the film was stitched together from several short films).

Let’s ruminate on the randomness and isolating forces of modern life, and then a character gets run over by a train. Ha ha! See?! I’m glad you think that’s funny, because it happens over and over and over again (literally, with the same train).

Watch “Rejected.” If you love it as much I do, you may want to consider giving “It’s Such a Beautiful Day” a try. Or you might want to savor and celebrate “Rejected” as a singular work, without feeling the need to supersize it.

 

 

Tuesday
Jan062015

A 1908 Impressionist Masterpiece: The Artist's Son, Texting

M.S. Rau Antiques, of New Orleans, has a full-pager in today’s New York Times advertising two works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, an important 19th-20th century impressionist painter, and the father of celebrated film director Jean Renoir.

One of the works is, in fact, a portrait of Jean Renoir dated 1908, when the future director of “Grand Illusion” and “The Rules of the Game” would’ve been 14.

And, OK, I know Jean Renoir is not sending a text in this painting, but, geez, doesn’t it look like he is? I mean, the subtle way Renoir Pére uses light and color to capture the young man’s mien and attitude—it’s uncanny. If the painted figure could talk, you could imagine it saying, “I could give a shit about you and your portrait, Dad. Can’t you see I’m busy?!”

 

Monday
Jan052015

My Cat Yeti on His 2015 New Year's Resolutions, Or Lack Thereof

Thursday
Dec182014

New Study on Teen Smoking Defies Warnings of Harm Reduction Foes

Nicotine molecule (not to scale)A federal study on teen smoking rates shows e-cigarette use among teens has surpassed their use of traditional cigarette smoking, and that the number of teen tobacco smokers continues to fall. This should be good news.

But wait. Nicotine prohibitionists who oppose harm reduction efforts tell us that as more teens try e-cigarettes, many of them will use them as a “gateway” to the traditional, vastly more harmful tobacco kind. 

The lede in the New York Times story about the study explains (emphasis mine), “A new federal survey has found that e-cigarette use among teenagers has surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes as smoking has continued to decline. Health advocates say the trend for e-cigarette use is dangerous because it is making smoking seem normal again. They also worry it could lead to an increase in tobacco smoking, though the new data do not show that.”

And, “E-cigarettes have split the public health world, with some experts arguing that they are the best hope in generations for the 18 percent of Americans who still smoke to quit. Others say that people are using them not to quit but to keep smoking, and that they could become a gateway for young people to take up real cigarettes.But that does not seem to be happening, at least so far.”

O, cursed data! How you confound knee-jerk, unsupported naysayer theories! And those stupid teens! Why are they resisting going through the gateway? Maybe it’s because unlike e-cigarettes:

Cigarettes taste bad
Cigarettes make you cough
Cigarettes make your hair stink
Cigarettes make your clothes stink
Cigarettes make your breath stink 
Cigarettes are way harder to hide from your mom (see stink items)
Cigarettes are heavily taxed, and thus cost more
Cigarettes are known by everyone as a reliable way to destroy your health and give you cancer 

All of these things nudge teens who are going to experiment with nicotine (like, probably all of them) to do so with e-cigarettes rather than regular cigarettes. 

Harm reduction foe: But then, just as with traditional cigarettes, a subset of teens who experiment with e-cigarettes will become hooked on nicotine!

Me: Riiiight, so? 

Harm reduction foe: All addiction is bad-wrong. Say, might you have a cup of coffee by chance? I need a little pick-me-up.

Me: Sure. Here’s a cup. 

For more of this kind of ranting, read my three-part screed, Nicotine Is a Great Fucking Drug: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

NYT: E-Cigarettes Top Smoking Among Youths, Study Says

 

Thursday
Dec112014

Latest rejected letter to the editors of People Magazine

Dear People Editor of People:

I am writing about your issue with “Bil Cobsy: Is He Really a Raper?” on the cover. Bil Cobsy was a famous entertaner with a big TV show. Now he stands accursed of drugging and raping women over periods of time.

I have give it a lot of thought about the question “Bil Cobsy: Is He Really a Raper?” Can not we give him the buffet of the doubt? Can not we say, “OK, yeah, maybe he raped those women, but he didn’t mean to drug them?” Or, “OK, yeah, maybe he druggded those women, but he didn’t mean to rape them. He fell.”

Let’s be fair. Here.

Sincerely and for fairness,
Viddra Chirm Yedalla