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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.


The 50 Least Consequential Innovations Since the Wheel

Kottke links to this post in the Atlantic where “eminent historians” weigh in on the 50 most important innovations since the wheel. 

And that’s fine, that’s fine. Some people get all caught up in the “important stuff,” and I understand that. But here at Oblogatory, we have another list. OK, I have another list. And the significance of the items on this list, I’d aver, simply can’t be measured. 

So without further ado, here are the 50 Least Consequential Innovations since the Wheel:

  1. Mirrored mirror
  2. Grease desexer
  3. Dissolving harpoon
  4. Monkey gloves
  5. Training training wheels
  6. Cheese icer
  7. Nitrogen non-intervention
  8. Inert electricity
  9. Totally normalizing ray
  10. Mustard boiler
  11. Flypaper shoes
  12. Cat isolation chamber
  13. The study of meh
  14. Queasy water
  15. Florm
  16. Arnaz-style sideburns
  17. Personal computer scabbard
  18. Whey-based monetary system
  19. Art
  20. Fruit suede
  21. Reverse frontal rear projection
  22. Light hard lemonade
  23. Angel dust cover
  24. Bull milking machine
  25. Howard spotter
  26. The “Shaved Heiress” Theorem
  27. Gelatin grater
  28. Dead calm mill
  29. Water loaf
  30. Murtaugh’s Law of Guesstimates
  31. The “aware” tattoo
  32. Toenail defiler
  33. Self-fouling latrine
  34. Bullshit multiplier factor
  35. Tree bark condoms
  36. Ever-randomizing grammar
  37. Artificial organic vinyl
  38. Not-quite-slow motion photography
  39. Tank cozy
  40. Eccentric canals
  41. Woven mercury
  42. Aluminum butter
  43. Snerd’s Law of Ventriloquism
  44. Underarm reodorant
  45. Interchangeable punchlines
  46. Hummingbird leash
  47. Remaud’s Law of Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other
  48. Curd-powered engine
  49. Never-drying ink
  50. Bioengineered lint

No, Mazda, Edison did not "invent" over 1,000 patents

That’s a still from the opening of a TV ad for Mazda’s CX-5, which, as you might guess, celebrates the car’s innovativeness. (See the ad here if you want, but it’s not really worth it.)

That little caption drives me crazy. One does not “invent patents.” One invents inventions, which then may be patented. But patenting something doesn’t mean one invented it. 

In fact, a lot of the patents held by Edison or his businesses were invented—or, some allege, stolen—by underlings at his Menlo Park research lab. And there are arguments back and forth to this day that some of Edison’s greatest “inventions” were simply refinements of inventions created by others. 

But, no. What would have been wrong with the caption, “Thomas A. Edison, world renowned inventor?” Or even, “Thomas A. Edison, inventor who changed the world?”

Holding a patent on an invention doesn’t prove who invented it. It just establishes a legal basis for protecting the commercial exploitation of the idea, which the litigious Edison well understood.

Ugh. If you are going to sell innovation, shouldn’t you understand what it really means?


Catnip for comic fans: Interview with Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes

For their December issue, Mental Floss scored a real coup: an interview with Bill Watterson, the famously exploitation-averse creator of my favorite comic strip of all time, Calvin and Hobbes. There’s an excerpt of the interview on the Mental Floss site. Here’s what Watterson has to say about making an animated film of the strip:

“The visual sophistication of Pixar blows me away, but I have zero interest in animating Calvin and Hobbes. If you’ve ever compared a film to a novel it’s based on, you know the novel gets bludgeoned. It’s inevitable, because different media have different strengths and needs, and when you make a movie, the movie’s needs get served. As a comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes works exactly the way I intended it to. There’s no upside for me in adapting it.”

Great! I don’t want Hollywood telling me what Calvin or Hobbes sound like. I don’t want those characters forever associated with the voices of whichever actors are chosen to play those roles. Their voices, especially Hobbes voice, belong to each individual reader. 

By the way, did you know the entire run of Calvin and Hobbes is available free online? There goes half my day.

And speaking of big cats, Mental Floss cross-linked the Watterson interview with their re-post of this viral video from Big Cat Rescue, in which—spoiler alert!—big cats go ape for catnip:


Cat gets name of new TV show so wrong


Why does DirectTV think poor rural whites are an acceptable stereotype to ridicule?

Searching for “DirectTV hillbillies” turned up these Facebook postsIt’s the baseball playoffs, so I’m watching more broadcast TV than usual, which means I’m finding plenty of commercials to get annoyed at. A spot DirectTV is running now is particularly obnoxious. In it, failing to have Direct TV causes the hero of the spot to be menaced by hideous caricatures of rural whites, all of whom seem to have disgusting rotting teeth, leering looks and creepy high-pitched cackling laughs.

I can’t find the spot online, but my search did turn up several complaints on Facebook, as shown above. Hopefully the fact that I can’t find it means DirectTV has received enough bad feedback to pull it. Nevertheless, they already spent big bucks to produce it. Why does DirectTV feel that it needs to create an undesirable “other” in its ads to sell its product? And why do they feel that regional socio-economic stereotypes are any more acceptable than racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes? They aren’t.   

The spot below has been alternating with the “rabid hillbillies” spot. It, too, posits the same kind of “us against them” world, only this time using cultural stereotypes, namely people with neck tattoos. Uncool.


OMG, Jeff Beck IS Nigel Tufnel

I watched the 2008 documentary The Story of the Yardbirds on Amazon Prime. It’s pretty good, but what really amused me was the interview footage with Jeff Beck. I guess I’d never him interviewed before, because it was instantly apparent that his look (shag haircut, sleeveless t-shirts, bulbous red nose) and accent were so obviously channelled by Christopher Guest into Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel. Check it out. Hell, you can just look at the preview frames to see what I’m talking about. 

By the way, if you’ve been interested in trying it out—and for me it’s been worth it for the instant video selection alone—use this link to get a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime. You’ll be helping support good ol’ Oblogatory when you do. Thanks. 


My latest letter to the editors of People Magazine

Dear Peoples of People:

I can’t believe it, but you did it again! You looked at everything that was going on in the world today—EVERYTHING!—and you zeroed in on the one thing that means everything to me.

Miss Micha Barton. Sorry, I mean Mischa.

Has a talent ever burned so bright? I mean, her work on… that television program that she was on—WOW!

And then, to live through the “Hollywood nightmare” she did, where it’s nothing but the best drugs and the most sex all the time—who would want that? For very long, I mean.

People Magazine and Micha—sorry, Mischa—Barton, you are the perfect marriage of excellenceness, and I am the best man!

Stay relevant,

R. Ichley Ardmal



Cat unwittingly gives spoiler to his own TED talk


The Blood Telegram: Nixon and Kissinger rock the genocide

What I don’t know about the events leading to the breakup of Pakistan and the formation of Bangladesh could fill several books, and Gary J. Bass’s The Blood Telegram is one of them. It’s a gripping, chilling read. 

Based on newly unearthed Oval Office recordings, recently declassified documents and contemporary interviews, Bass tells how the Cold War connivances of President Richard Nixon and chief foreign policy adviser Henry Kissinger led to the death or displacement of millions of Bengalis living in what was then East Pakistan and soon became Bangladesh. 

The “blood” in the title refers not to the bloodletting that occurred during these events—though there was plenty of that—but rather to Archer Blood, the loyal but principled American Consul General in Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan. America’s South Asian policy—which is to say Nixon and Kissinger’s policy—was to support the repressive dictatorship of Pakistan’s Yahya Khan at nearly any cost. They saw no irony in the fact that this put them at odds with India, the world’s largest democracy, whose leader, Indira Ghandi, Nixon and Kissinger loathed with a passion. Besides, Nixon had a personal fondness for the brutish, drunken Yahya, and, more importantly, he was the conduit to the Chinese government, which Nixon and Kissinger were just then heatedly beginning to court as a counterweight to the Soviet Union in the Cold War balance of power.

When Yahya grudgingly agreed to hold Pakistan’s first democratic elections, Blood knew the result would be a disaster. He knew the Bengalis in more populous East Pakistan would dominate the elections and get to choose the country’s leadership. He also knew that this would be intolerable for Yahya and his ruling junta. As events played out per Blood’s predictions and Yahya ignored the election results and began a violent crackdown on East Pakistan, Blood’s official diplomatic cables reported on the brutality and repression beginning to take hold, and predicted with great specificity and accuracy where they would lead. These honest assessments caused extreme consternation to his boss, the U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, and especially to Nixon and Kissinger. 

Ultimately, Blood’s principled young consulate staffers drafted a cable (the telegram of the title) dissenting from the official U.S. policy that Yahya’s thuggery was exclusively an internal Pakistani problem. Blood, knowing it spelled doom for his career, signed it and sent it to Washington. While Blood’s principled reporting did dstall his career, it also proved tragically prescient, with nearly every dire consequence he predicted becoming fact.

Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis, overwhelmingly Hindus, were killed in a genocidal crackdown, and some 10 million mostly Hindu Bengali refugees fled East Pakistan to India, dragging that country into the conflict. The resulting brief war quickly led to East Pakistan becoming independent Bangladesh. That result was inevitable. The massive human misery accompanying it was not. And through it all, Nixon and Kissinger schemed—and knowingly broke the law—to continue supplying Yahya with the arms he used to slaughter his own citizens.

To read the transcripts of the conversations between Nixon and Kissinger during this crisis is to glimpse the cynical dark heart of evil. Check it out.


After Senator Cruz Meets with House Conservatives in Restaurant Basement: A play in one act

 Inspired by TPM—Senator Cruz Meets with House Conservatives in Restaurant Basement

Dramatis Personae
Ted Cruz: Republican senator from Texas
Abby: A struggling mother of two employed as a waitress
The Chorus: Senator Cruz’s toadies in the House of Representatives
Sergio: A busboy, offstage.


A restaurant foyer. Senator Cruz and the Chorus are headed out the door when Abby runs up behind them. She’s holding something. 

Abby: Uh, Senator! Senator Cruz! One moment, sir.

Ted Cruz: Yes, what is it?

Abby: You tell me. What the fuck is this?

Voices from the Chorus: Say, now! You can’t speak to the senator like that! The unbridled nerve! Who is this commoner?

Abby: Back off, fellas. This is between me and the senator. (To Cruz) Well?

Ted Cruz: Well what?

Abby: Like I said before, what the fuck is this?

Ted Cruz: Well, I can’t be certain, but it looks like two United States dollar bills.

Abby: That’s EXACTLY what it is.

Ted Cruz (smugly): Then I’m glad I could help identify them for you.

He and the Chorus resume their exit.

Abby: Not so fast!

Ted Cruz (irritated): Miss, just what is the problem?

Abby: What is the problem? I’ll tell you what is the problem. The problem is I just waited on close to 20 of you for more than two hours and you left me a $2 tip.

Voices from the Chorus: Well, just get another job… Probably here illegally anyway… Doesn’t the restaurant pay her?… Service wasn’t that great, anyway… Only got three coffee refills myself… Harumph…Etc….

Ted Cruz (clearing his throat): Well, miss, I don’t see how your economic irresponsibility is any of our concern.

Abby: Oh, no?

Ted Cruz: No. Now you have a nice day.

A high keening wail rises. No one can figure out where it’s coming from, until they realize it’s coming from Abby. As they look on in horror, she seems to transform in front of them. Her eyes appear to glow red, and her face is drawn back into a fierce snarl. She advances on the group, heading straight for Cruz.

Ted Cruz (panicked): Now, miss, wait. I’m sure we can work this out in committee.

Abby: (inhuman snarling, gnashing sounds)

Voices from the Chorus: Oh, shit… I’m getting out of here… What about the senator?… Who cares? This is a meritocracy of the fittest…. And the closest to the exit…

Just then, a loud clunking noise is heard. The members of the chorus try to open the door. It’s locked. Abby, tossing aside an electronic key remote, continues to advance menacingly.

Ted Cruz (pleading): M-m-m-m-miss, please. Let’s be reason—

Before he can finish, Abby has leapt at his throat, sinking her teeth in up to his spine. A sound like a baby rabbit in distress issues from Senator Cruz as he crumbles, bleeding from the throat, to the floor. Abby turns to the Chorus.

Voices from the Chorus: We’re trapped… We’re all going to die!… I can’t die, my best years of being an asshole are in front of me… Wait, please!

But it’s too late. Abby lunges at the chorus members in an orgy of gnashing teeth and claw-like fingernails. In minutes they all lie dead or dying. A few muffled moans issue from the pile of bodies. Abby bends to retrieve the electronic key remote, aims it at the door, which issues a clunk as the lock opens. Abby steps over the bodies, opens the door and is just about to leave when she turns and calls back into the restaurant.

Abby: I’ll see you tomorrow, Sergio.

Sergio (offstage): See you tomorrow, Abby! Have a nice night.

Abby: I left a bit of a mess by the door, sorry.

Sergio: That’s OK. I’ll take care of it.

Abby: Don’t forget to lock behind me.

Sergio: You got it. See you tomorrow.  

Abby exits. The lock clunks shut.




'Scuse me while I put on these miracle shoes so I can kiss the sky


Click to view at readable sizeWhen I see a shoe ad with the sub-headline “Excitement swept through my body,” I don’t just think, “Man, I wish I had snuck that in a brochure for Dell when I had the chance.” No, excitement sweeps through MY body, too, because something this outrageous just has to be shared. The copy in this full-page ad from yesterday’s NYT Magazine is so over the top I’m going to have to quote liberally.


This is my story… I used to be more active. I used to run, play basketball, tennis, football… Nowadays I rarely walk. For some reason, it’s just harder. Gravity has done it’s job on me.”

Note how we move from the wonderful, light-footed past to the crappy, dead-footed present, all in one paragraph. We’re living in the here-and-now with some unnamed narrator guy, and the living sucks. Goddamn gravity!


“‘Wear them and you’ll know.’ That’s what my doctor recommended. He said, ‘Gravity Defyer shoes absorb harmful shock that may cause pain in your feet, knees, back and joints.’ He promised they would change my life—like they were a fountain of youth… The longer he talked, the more sense it made. He was even wearing a pair himself!”

OK, where to begin? Who is the doctor making these fantastic promises? Is it Dr. Arnold Ross, the endorser at the top of the page? We don’t know. Although it is impressive that Dr. Ross is an associate professor of podiatry at the Western University College of Podiatric Medicine, isn’t it? (But why is Dr. Ross not included on the faculty page of that august institution of lower extremity learning? Hmmm, interesting.) But what I love about this part is that the narrator and the ad aren’t making the claims, some doctor is making the claims. Tricky.


“Excitement swept through my body… I received my package from and rushed to tear it open like a kid at Christmas. Inside I found the most amazing shoes I had ever seen… I put them on and all I could say was, ‘WOW!’ …I felt invincible, tireless in my new Gravity Defyer shoes. It was as if my legs had been replaced with super-powered bionics. What the doctor promised was all correct. At last, I was back in the game. Gravity had no power over me!”

The bold is from the original. But what I really want to know is how you type ad copy in zero gravity. Desk straps? Anyway, there’s a lot going on here, not the least of which is the implication that our narrator can now dunk a basketball through a goal of any height.


“So, my friend, get back on your feet like I did… You have nothing to lose but the gravity that is holding you down.”

Moral: If your feet hurt, get these shoes. Your feet may still hurt, but once you become completely unmoored from the only planet you have ever known, you’ll have much bigger things to worry about. Like floating free of an oxygen-rich atmosphere and suffocating in the ionosphere. It’s unlikely you will give a shit about your lousy sore feet then.  


Cat on govt. shutdown, being turned away from feline veterans memorial


Skeptic Davids take on Goliath Gladwell, so obviously he's going down, right?

It’s nice to belong. I used to feel like a wet blanket for dismissing Malcolm Gladwell over his facile, seemingly counterintuitive arguments based on flimsy evidence that excludes inconvenient facts. But now it feels like a party! 

In his WSJ review/takedown of Gladwell’s new bestseller David and Goliath, social scientist Christopher Chabris’s closing reads like a clarion call to the Gladwell Skept-o-Sphere: “Mr. Gladwell should acknowledge when he is speculating or working with thin evidentiary soup. Yet far from abandoning his hand or even standing pat, Mr. Gladwell has doubled down. This will surely bring more success to a Goliath of nonfiction writing, but not to his readers.” BOOM!

Now Chabris goes long(er) in Slate. In The Trouble with Malcolm Gladwell, Chabris links to several reviews of David and Goliath that find fault with it for much the same reason he does (e.g., that Gladwell overplays weak evidence, ignores contrary evidence, and blithely casts his huge logical leaps as given scientific fact or law). Then he really gets down to business, arguing that some of Gladwell’s own statements reveal the cynicism behind his game.

Chabris finds that Gladwell at times claims he’s just a storyteller whose work is merely a gateway for readers to the true scientific research undergirding his arguments. Chabris suggests that Jason Kottke carries this water here. He also cites instances where Gladwell has argued the opposite, essentially saying, “The public at large is never gonna read that heavy scientific shit, so I’m summarizing the work and placing it in a context that my simpleton readers can relate to.” Both are true in Gladwell World. Let’s call it the Gladwellian Law of Whatever.

But more than anything, I’m glad I saw the Chabris piece because it links to the Guardian’s brilliant 600-word parody of Gladwell’s entire oeuvre. POW!

At any rate, those of us in the Gladwell Skept-o-Sphere can at least take some comfort from the very premise of David and Goliath itself: with all of us Davids throwing stones at Goliath Gladwell, his credibility is going to fall and he doesn’t stand a chance of being taken seriously. Right? Oh, wait


Hello, goodbye: Abraham Nemeth, inventor of Braille for math

Often the first time I learn about an interesting person is when he has died and his obituary appears in the New York Times. So it is with Abraham Nemeth, a scholar and educator who was blind since infancy.

During the time he grew up, visually impaired people were discouraged from studying for careers in math, because Braille was too limiting. Nemeth rejected that limitation and instead created a subset of Braille to accommodate mathematical expression. The Nemeth Code is still in use today and has made it possible for untold numbers of blind people to go beyond a rudimentary study of math.

What an amazing thing. It’s virtually impossible for me to conceive of working out a math problem without a visual reference, like a pencil and paper, or a calculator. 


Latest highlights from the neighborhood listserv

Hi, NGIERBORS!!! This might be a little LAST MINUTE but if there are any musicicins playing at that BIG festival going on near the “hood” right now and THEY DON’T HAVE A PLACE TO STAY—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.

Hello, we are new to the neighborhood and to the city. I would like someone to tell me what in the hell that all was about last night. The sound from the nearby multi-million dollar music festival was thunderous and deafening. My 6-month-old baby was so upset by my screams of frustration that he may be scarred for life. I called the festival hotline set up by the promoters, Fill, Coffers and Getalong, to handle noise complaints, and they referred me to 3-1-1. When I called 3-1-1, they took my report, but the volume never went down! In other words, I complained and nothing happened. Would someone please explain this to me? It was not like this at our gated community.—Robert on Summer St.

HOWDy!! NIGEBROS!!!! I hit ‘send” too soon!!! What I “MEANT” to say was if ANY MUSICICIASN playing the “rock and roll” FESTIVAL need a place to ““crash””—HEY! That’s what we called it in the ‘70s!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.

I know this is a shot in the dark, but I lost my 6-week-old kitten about 8 months ago. Have you seen it? It’s got four legs and fur, and it was real small then, but it’s probably bigger now, if it’s still alive. I am offering an almost full 50 lb bag of kitten food as a reward. No, wait.—Gary on Banderson Way

Hello, it’s Little Anthony on Clabber St. Remember me? All the kids used to shoot baskets in front of our house on account of the basketball goal my dad set up near the curb. Yeah, that’s me. Long time, no see. So anyway, dad died and I came down to help my sisters empty out his house. First thing we need is a body bag. Anyone got one we can borrow, hopefully a nicer one?—Anthony formerly of Clabber St.

NGEIBOSR!1!! I am SO sorry!!! I DID  IT AGAIN!!!! WHAT I “meant” TO SAY was any musicicicis PLAYING THE ROCK FESTIVAL if they don’t have a “place” to “crash” at, THEY CAN COME STAY IN THE TREEHOUSE!!!! MY “KIDS” LOVE IT UP THERE!!!! I hope this massage gets to them!!!!—BERTHA ON HOLMES AVE.

Hey, y’all, just want to remind you that the second half of the music festival is this weekend. I am collecting the addresses of people in the neighborhood who will be leaving town to get away from the crowds and the noise. If you will be away for the entire weekend and not liable to show up unannounced anytime between late Friday and late Sunday, please send me your address. I will check your home while you are gone to make sure that all of your valuables are still hidden where you left them. So along with your address, please also include the hiding places for any guns, high-end electronics and negotiable paper, so I can keep a vigilant eye on them.—Seth on Ryant St.




Cat freestyles with open forum


What's New in Version


  • Compatibility with latest OS updates.
  • Compatibility with your Aunt Margaret’s husband Phil, whom no one else can stand.
  • Fixed a bug that caused certain users to have the app drain their checking accounts via Electronic Funds Transfer.
  • Created another bug that will cause different users to have the app drain their checking accounts via EFT, because the other users got wise and were being all pissy about it.
  • Started wearing a new cologne, not that you’d notice or anything.
  • Added new levels, chapters and tasks featuring Sparky the Wonder Pig.
  • Reassured Sparky the Wonder Pig that chapter 13’s new “Find a Pig and Roast It” task had nothing to do with him.
  • Let one of our junior programmers add a bunch of superfluous text to the code, because it was his birthday and we were all drunk.
  • Made the junior programmer remove the superfluous text from the code and ordered him to go buy us aspirin and breakfast tacos.
  • Buried an Easter egg in Level 18, Chapter 6, Task 3, “Go find Janet’s reading glasses.”
  • Oh, shit. Never mind.
  • Did some stuff that made it look like we were working when we were really playing Plants Vs. Zombies.
  • Upped the dosage of virtual antidepressants for Sparky the Wonder Pig. 



Monday Morning Ethicist: Just Bag Me

Chuck Klosterman is The Ethicist for the NYT. I am the Monday Morning Ethicist.

Yesterday’s second question for Chuck:

I accepted a gift from my insurance agent. It has the company name and logo on one side. I dislike advertising on clothes and such, so my inclination is to carry the bag logo-side in. But am I obliged to show the company name because I agreed to take the bag?

Chuck said: Nah.

I say: Are you for real? You really had an ethical dilemma with this? You really had to write a professional to ask whether you could turn some old raggedy-ass, made-in-China imitation polyester giveaway tote bag inside out? Lookit, sweetheart, don’t be bothering Chuck with this bullshit. Chuck got better things to do than be advising every helpless deer-in-the-headlights citizen with an email account or a postage stamp. I know I’m sometimes tough on Chuck and all, but I feel for him here, because if this is indicative of the quality of questions he’s got coming in, then I don’t even want to know what’s in the bottom of his mailbag. I will say that whatever you do, hang on to that tote bag, because your clueless ass is going to be on the street and living out of that thing before too long.


Cat uncertain whether to attend electronic dance music festival this weekend


This man thinks he can teach me how to fold a fitted sheet.

I have tried to learn this essential and elusive life skill before. Once a number of years ago I was using someone’s bathroom and they had an issue of Martha Stewart Living stashed next to the throne. Leafing through it—as one will in such situations—I found an annotated step-by-step diagram illustrating this process. Hooray for Martha Stewart, I thought. But when I tried it later on, I wound up with the same wrinkled wad of cloth as always. I’m hoping if I follow along closely with this video, I can crack this nut. This clip has over one and a half million views(!), probably because everyone who tries it has to watch it several times to get it right.

I’ll follow up with my results the next time I confront this horrific task.