Archive for September, 2012

MA101 Flees the State; the Law

Beloved readers, MA101 fought the law and the law won.

Today was a day in court! And the court did not find in my favor.

Therefore, we take to the open road, leaving Madison for the greener fields (though probably less fieldy fields, all things considered) of North Carolina. This is not strictly fleeing the law, but some distance between us will probably be healthy for all parties, much like a struggling marriage.

So today’s (very late) post may have to be a placeholder for the next few days, and I will mostly leave it to you the readers and commentors to discuss: just what heinous crime do you suppose the twisted mind behind MA101 was charged with and found guilty of?

I’m genuinely curious what your impressions will be, you who know me through the lens of this blog. No spoilers if you know!

If you’re good and entertain me with your guesses, I will try to find working internet somewhere in NC to fill you in on the story.

But later. The highway beckons!

How to Load Pictures from Your iPhone to Your iMac In 15 Incredibly Frustrating Steps

I’m not sure what it is.

Perhaps my iPhone feels intimidated. It is, after all, the new kid on the block. Dating all the way back to 2008, my iMac must have an almost palpable aura of wisdom by now. It has outlived its warranty, which is as close as consumer electronics come to achieving enlightenment.

Or it could be sullen intransigence on my computer’s part. Maybe it just doesn’t like these new-fangled iOS machines. Maybe it fears obsolescence. Maybe it’s sabotaging the iPhone’s performance to make itself look better — or sabotaging its own in senile self-loathing. Who can fathom the depths of the electric sheep-dreaming mind?

But one way or another these things are terrible at talking to each other. Photos on your iPhone that you’d like to store on your iMac? No Problem! Just follow the simple steps:

1. Plug your iPhone into your iMac.

2. The little storage space message isn’t important. Dismiss that.

3. What? No, you don’t use iTunes for pictures. iTunes is irrelevant. Close iTunes.

4. Okay, now open iPhoto.

5. It’s the one with the palm tree icon.

6. No one knows what the fuck an “event” is. Don’t even worry about that tab.

7. Can you see your iPhone in the menu on the left-hand side?

8. Well, it should be there.

9. Unplug it and try again.

10. There you go.

11. Okay, you’re almost there. Now you just have to select the pictures you want to move onto your computer, drag them into a folder in iPhoto, and let them load.

12. No, you can’t just drag them to the desktop. Obviously.

13. You can drag them TO the desktop FROM iPhoto, once you’ve dragged them FROM your iPhone TO iPhoto.

14. Duh.

15. But only if you took them a while ago. Those pictures you took today aren’t gonna show up on the iPhoto version of your iPhone’s storage for like a week.

16. Sucker.

I may have skipped a couple of steps for people who use complex add-ons like “filters” or “camera programs,” but those people are all pretentious hipsters anyway. Fuck ‘em.

For a company whose brand is built on an image of clever, user-friendly design, these things sure do make it hard on the user. Maybe they need to be a little less friendly to us, and a little more friendly toward other OSX/iOS machines.

My Beautiful and Romantic Life as a Freelance Writer (Has Some Caveats)

I don’t mean to brag, but my life is a thing of beauty and romance. (Mostly.)

I awake every morning to the rays of the sun and the chiming of the church bells. (This is because I sleep on the third floor at the top of a hill, almost exactly level with the steeple of the church halfway down from us. This is also because I sleep until 10:00 AM, when the sunlight finally reaches my bed from the windows way across the room.)

I rise and put on my slippers, which are waiting for me on the Persian rug that lies beside my bed. (Both of these are vital, because my apartment has hard wood floors and is, as mentioned, on the third floor, meaning the floors turn balls-ass cold the moment the mercury dips below 80.)

My cats greet me with sonorous voices and affectionate rubbing about the ankles. (This is because they have not been fed. Once I shake the kibbles into their bowl I can go fuck myself.)

I make my way into the kitchen and feed myself in a desultory way, with an array of dainties spread on a wooden board to select from. (This is because I cannot be arsed to cook for myself, and if you live on bread and fruit and cheeses you never have to wield an implement more complex than a knife.)

My coffee is strong, delicious, and fair-trade. (This is because my roommate makes it hours before I rise, and usually leaves a cup in the pot.)

If I care to, I can wander to the local coffee shop and spend much of my day in a comfortable chair, where pleasant people bring me more fair-trade coffee and good things to eat. (It is also haunted, for extra romance. If you are ever looking for me in a crisis and I do not answer the doorbell, walk down the street and around the corner to Indie Coffee on Regent. Seriously. I will be there.)

Then I write like bajeezus to pay for all this indolent living.

It is high-stress at times! There are moments of uncertainty and paycheck-scrambling. But I am told the same is true of people with Real Jobs in Real Offices, and in Real Offices they do not bring you waffles or espresso.

Mine is the genteelest of poverties, and I love it dearly. (True story!)

Steampunk, Cyberindie; Magicelectronica – Fun with Genre Portmanteaus

One of the advantages of having student friends is that they call you up (or text you, or message you, or utilize some feature of iMessaging you didn’t even know existed to video-call you while you’re on the toilet, or whatever) and involve you in those wonderfully pointless discussions that only students can really have.

So while a lesser man might have resented having his poop interrupted to debate whether The Golden Compass is “steampunk” or not, I just take it as a happy sign I’m still young.

And since we’re on the subject, it’s definitely not. A few zeppelins does not steampunk make. There might be a little “steam” in the background somewhere, but the book is very short on “punk,” which (if we’re taking our cues from the music genre) is riotous, unconstrained, and deliberately overwrought. Giant clockwork robots and corsets with unnecessary gears on them are punk; psycho-religious thrillers about machines that split your soul in half (but what is your soul, really?) are not.

Of course, once you go down that path, it’s hard to stop.

The Golden Compass, for example, was a pretty hiply ironic book. It’s the kind of book that would deliberately grow an awful mustache. With all that dapper, vaguely-anachronistic (but not actually recreationist) fashion floating around in it, I think we can safely say that it’s more LighterThanAirIndie than it is SteamPunk.

By the same token, those fantasy series that take twelve novels just to explain how a multi-tiered system of magic works? Totally electronica, only with wizards. It also shares the features that make most people not like electronica, to wit, endless repetitions on the same theme and a passionate belief that anyone who doesn’t “get it” is just too stupid to appreciate attention to detail.

Girl Genius is pretty much just Top 40 in corsets. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

I’m going to be making these up for a while, and assigning them to every piece of speculative fiction I read. You should do the same! It will help other people resist the temptation to cram every sci-fi/fantasy work out there into one of three or four pigeonholes.

And then I can finish my poop in peace.

Let Crappy Op-Eds Lie

I was going to do something for today’s blog with a Fox News opinion piece that various friends have been passing around (angrily) on social media, but upon reflection I’m not sure there’s much point.

You can click through and read it, if you want to; it’s some random guy telling us all how waiting to have sex until after marriage was great for him. Not exactly heavy stuff.

And yeah, the guy sounds like (and probably is) a total prick. The language is offensive, the attitude condescending, and the actual premise slightly absurd.

But what the hell do people expect?

It’s an opinion piece. They tend to be opinionated, and if you don’t share the opinion in question they tend to be irritating. When it’s on Fox, it tends to be extra-irritating, since the opinions usually exist independent of or often in contradiction to fact.

I’m alarmed that the knee-jerk reaction to someone’s idiotic babble these days is “Christ, what a moron; I’ve got to share this with everyone on Facebook.”

I mean, it works out great for me, since what I peddle is mostly opinionated nonsense. I appreciate the support (and I do mean that sincerely; it is genuinely nice when someone shares a link to MA101 on Facebook or Twitter or whatever). But it does seem kinda silly.

And what would be even sillier would be using your own blog to work out a line-by-line refutation of a piece that is, at the end of a day, just some chip-on-the-shoulder conservative trying to work out some of his insecurities publicly.

So we’re not doing that today.

And neither should you.

Now go post this on Facebook and tell your friends what a stupid jerk I am.


Starving Artists Should Eat More Bread

One of my new roommates made a couple loaves of bread this week, and holy shit are they good. I’d like to say this has inspired me to get back into making bread (which I did for a while), but mostly it inspires me to keep her at home and force her to make more bread, because it’s better than mine.

But either way, people should eat more bread.

Blah blah blah Atkins carbs et cetera. Shut up. Here’s the thing about bread: bread is cheap.

Like, really cheap. A five pound bag of flour costs less than a Big Mac. You can make a lot of bread out of five pounds of flour. And yeah, it takes a couple hours, so there’s the “time cost” or whatever, but if you’re mostly living on bread you’re going to the store for staples what, every month or two? Savings in the long run.

Not that anyone should be living entirely on bread. I’m all for fresh fruits and vegetables and vitamins and all that. But you can do a lot of your daily filling-up for pennies on the dollar if you have a roommate who makes fresh bread.

Or I guess in a pinch you could make it yourself. Come to think of it, I’m filling up for free, since she used her own flour and yeast and so on. But she can dip into mine any time (and I think knows that), so I’m going to hope we’re good on that front.

Maybe I’ll make her some bread this weekend.

Seriously, though, guys, this shit is delicious. Wish y’all were here.

Will You Be Sad to Know that Pink Elephants Don’t Exist?

Pink elephants don’t exist.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. A few albino elephants look pink. It’s not a great condition for an elephant to have, and they tend to suffer skin damage and blindness in the wild, but they are out there.

What don’t exist are the magical dancing pink elephants that you see when you’re drunk. Pop culture has lied to us on that one for almost a hundred years now; Jack London is generally accused of being the first to use the phrase:

…the man whom we all know, stupid, unimaginative, whose brain is bitten numbly by numb maggots; who walks generously with wide-spread, tentative legs, falls frequently in the gutter, and who sees, in the extremity of his ecstasy, blue mice and pink elephants.

- Jack London, John Barleycorn, 1913

(I like how this is a man “whom we all know.” Hard-drinking crowd, Mr. London’s.)

Pink elephants have been with us as a symbol of drunkenness since: in Dumbo when the titular elephant drinks champagne (although in his case I suppose that would be the equivalent of seeing pink people?), on the labels of Delirium Tremens beer, in the names of many pubs throughout the English-speaking world, and so on.

So let me take a moment to clarify the record, and in doing so to provide some very valuable advice for any young drinkers out there:

If the booze you are drinking makes you hallucinate, drink different booze.

Because despite strong pop-cultural programming to the contrary, the effects of alcohol consumption — no matter what the quantity — do  not include hallucinations.

Seriously. It’s not a thing that happens to your brain. Either there’s something else in your booze or it’s interacting horribly with some other medication, if you’re actually seeing things that aren’t there.

The “pink elephants” (and other, less-pleasant hallucinations) that habitual alcoholics sometimes see are an effect of withdrawal after long-term dependency, and don’t start showing up until a good 12 hours after drinking stops at the very earliest. Depending on whether you’re having a mild bout of alcoholic hallucinosis or full-blown delirium tremens, you can expect the horrorshow to last anywhere from a momentary flicker to two or three days.

But again, that’s only for people deep into alcoholism. The rest of us may entertain unrealistic fantasies, imagining that we are stronger or faster or more likely to take that cute girl at the bar home than we actually are, but we should not be getting bogus audiovisual signals from our brain when we booze.

I put this on my blog only because of its long-running devotion to writing about alcoholism, and because an old Questionable Content comic reminded me:

In a way I’m kind of sad. The QC drunken hallucinations always look like pretty fun guys to hang with. But seriously, if your booze is making you see things that aren’t there, switch drinks. And possibly bars, friends, and neighborhoods.

“Are You Better Off Now Than You Were Four Years Ago” — Irrelevant to My Generation

The whole “are you better off now than you were four years ago” thing is a Reganism from 1980, and like most things that dribbled out of that cowboy actor’s incontinent mouth before Peggy Noonan started writing his every word, it’s pretty banal.

I would even go so far as to say “forgettable,” except we can’t forget it, because it comes back up like bad shellfish every time we have an election cycle against an incumbent.

So fine — great. It is a way, I suppose, of cutting through the complicated metrics and the polling data and the debt-as-percent-of-GDP kind of talk that makes people’s eyes glaze over. Forget all that and be selfish — are you, personally better off?

Stupid question, at least for anyone under the age of 30. Forgive me while I talk about my generation for a moment here:

The things that have changed in the last for years for us — “us” being the 20-30ish crowd, and that second number creeps upward as the age of “settling down” does likewise — don’t have that much to do with Presidential politics.

They matter, to some degree. Our lives are probably a bit better under Obama than they would have been under McCain, particularly those of us burdened with student loans (and I suppose potentially all of us eligible for the draft; McCain was pretty damn nutty on foreign policy).

But for the most part the changes of the last four years have not been because of changes in the law and governance of America. They’ve been the natural changes of getting older. Most of it would have happened regardless of who was in the Oval Office, barring I suppose some sort of apocalyptic WWIII or Civil War 2 scenario.

(Random fun-fact break — there are whole right-wing paranoia message boards out there where [CW2], referring to any discussion of a second Civil War type scenario, is a standard-issue “tag,” much as multiplayer gaming boards use [pvp] to denote discussion of player-vs.-player gameplay, or steamy fanfic sites [f/f] in reference to female-on-female content. If you’re on that sort of board it’s assumed that you know what the tag stands for.)

So if we assume that whoever was in charge for the last four years didn’t start something like that, most of us would have gone through our dramatic personal changes one way or another.

For my part, I moved to Madison to live with my girlfriend, bounced through a couple of service sector jobs as I was getting started, and finally clawed my way into enough paid work to settle down as a writer. Moving in, getting cats, changing jobs, getting dumped, and eventually finding a new place and new roomies were not things that Barack Obama had much to do with (although the Scott Walker recall election did help speed the breakup along — long story, that).

Most of my peers have gone through similar vicissitudes. The only ones who haven’t seen much change are the ones who settled down very early, and even they mostly have gone from “newlyweds” or “pregnant for the first time” to “dealing with a toddler,” which I imagine is a big enough change to keep us occupied — and again, not one that Presidential politics has much to do with, although I suppose hypothetically a lunatic like Santorum with a cooperative Congress could see a lot more of us raising a lot more toddlers, involuntarily.

It’s a stupid question, is sort of the point here. Maybe not so much for people whose careers and families are already well-established. At the point where you’re an industry stalwart, and the industry might come or go at economic whims that the government can help influence, then it’s a fair question. But most of us Gen. Yers are still failing around for a bit of solid ground from which to survey the political landscape in peace rather than worrying about which new earthquake will shake us.

You’re going to have to come up with something a little more meaningful than “where were you four years ago” to catch the attention of people who were, for the most part, vomiting cheap beer on their shoes four years ago.

Speaking of which, I gotta order that keg for Saturday. The more things change…

Dr Pepper and the Delicate Dance of Negative Publicity

I’m increasingly convinced that there’s a wonk high up in the Dr Pepper advertising hierarchy trying to figure out who he/she can piss off next.

Not really piss off — or at least, not really piss off anyone sane — but who can be tweaked just enough to froth and rage for a while on Facebook without actually doing any meaningful damage to the brand.

Last year’s ill-fated “Dr Pepper 10: Not for Women” campaign, quite rightly, drew ire for being both sexist and stupid (the soda also tanked, though that might be as much because, like all diet sodas, it tasted like crap, rather than due to any advertising failure).

This year it’s the creationists that are howling, thanks to a new “Evolution of Flavor” graphic. As far as I can tell the image was designed for and launched on Facebook specifically, which seems pretty deliberately-tailored to generate a backlash that is both immediate and inconsequential.

This is, obviously, an offense to Our Lord Jesus Christ, as many people are reminding us. Predictably, tabloid news sites and lowbrow blogs like this one are picking up the “Religious Loonies Freak Out Over Nothing” story, featuring the new Dr Pepper ad prominently.

Accidental? Who can say. I suspect not, myself.

There’s nothing actually offensive about the ad, making stories about people who found it offensive more damaging to those people than to Dr Pepper. Everyone that reads one of these stories is going to at least be reminded of Dr Pepper’s existence, if not necessarily enticed to buy one in the hopes of evolving to a higher stage.  And it’s unlikely that they’re going to lose statistically significant numbers of fundamentalist purchases. Net gain, Dr Pepper.

You can get yourself in a lot of trouble doing this. Actually angering people with legitimate concerns is never a good marketing strategy. But this one — so far — looks like an excellent job at generating lots of storm and noise without upsetting anyone beyond a few isolated and uninfluential loonies.

And since I like Dr Pepper, I’m happy to have done my part in spreading the story. So there you have it.

Don’t bother correcting my punctuation; Dr Pepper has left the period out of their name since the 1950s. Who knew?

A Vanity of Reading

In college, I saved money by checking course books out of the library whenever it was possible, rather than buying the latest “critical edition” from the bookstore. (This was a lot easier in the English and History classes that made up the bulk of my education; science students get, as far as I can tell, fucked.)

There’d be occasional inconsistencies between page numbers and footnotes and the like that mildly irritated some of  my professors, but for the most part they were sympathetic to the “I can’t actually afford to buy nineteen ‘critical edition’ novels at $25 a pop this semester” argument. Bless their hearts.

As a result, I tend to associate the dry-and-dusty literature of American history with equally dry-and-dusty volumes, preferably ones in tough, plain-colored library bindings with the little white-stamped titles on the spine. And this has led to a peculiar vanity: that shamelessly misrepresented copy of The House of the Seven Gables I blogged about last week has been an unexpectedly unsettling thing to read in public.

For those that can’t be bothered to click through, the book looks like this:

And it reads like this:

There were curtains to Phoebe’s bed; a dark, antique canopy, and ponderous festoons of a stuff which had been rich, and even magnificent, in its time; but which now brooded over the girl like a cloud, making a night in that one corner, while elsewhere it was beginning to be day. The morning light, however, soon stole into the aperture at the foot of the bed, betwixt those faded curtains. Finding the new guest there,–with a bloom on her cheeks like the morning’s own, and a gentle stir of departing slumber in her limbs, as when an early breeze moves the foliage, –the dawn kissed her brow. It was the caress which a dewy maiden–such as the Dawn is, immortally–gives to her sleeping sister, partly from the impulse of irresistible fondness, and partly as a pretty hint that it is time now to unclose her eyes.

We discussed the incongruities in detail last week. At the time, however, I hadn’t assigned much personal significance to it beyond amusing blog fodder.

Turns out I’m susceptible to a deep literary vanity.

I deeply disliked reading this particular edition in public. I’m too fond of myself for self-consciousness, most of the time, but something about reading a “classic” that looks like pulp fantasy bothered me far more than actually reading pulp fantasy in public (which I’ve done on many an occasion).

Pure literary snobbishness. We all want to be seen as challenging ourselves, at some level — Gosh, he’s reading Hawthorne for fun. That’s a smart boy there!

I’d have denied it, of course, if it had somehow come up in conversation. I like The House of the Seven Gables, and all the other Hawthorne I’ve read over the course of my years too; I don’t need to impress anyone to enjoy it.

But I can’t deny the impulse to stop the barista as she sneaks a glance and say “It’s an American classic, I swear!”

Nosce te ipsum. Apparently I like my classics to look like classics. Makes you wonder if there’s a market for trashy science-fiction or romance novels done up in dusty leather jackets, doesn’t it?


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