Archive for November, 2012

The Oatmeal’s Commentary on Internet Writing Renders Everything I Have Ever Said Redundant

oatmeal-icon-robot-headI’m not actually a huge The Oatmeal fan, at least as far as the internet measures such things; I pretty much only remember to go to the site when someone links to it on Facebook at the title catches my attention. In a world where true fans know the number of hairs on their beloved content-creator’s chin, or maybe buttocks (“LOL chin hair counting is for noobs”), that makes me pretty fairweather.

But damn, was today’s* comic about writing for the internet spot-on.

Were there any writing-related points I’ve ever talked about on MA101 that [The Oatmeal creator and artist] Matt Inman didn’t hit on? I think his one comic nailed them all:

It is enough to make me believe that Matt Inman is stealing from me, except that I’m pretty sure everyone who makes a living as a writer goes through most of these thoughts at one point or another.

(That said, I did write a post about pirating Game of Thrones once, and an almost-identical comic showed up on The Oatmeal some time later. So I’ve got my eye on you, Matthew Middlename Inman. On you.)

Say what? Oh. The comic that I was so impressed by that is the entire subject of today’s post. I suppose you all would like to see that? Well too bad; you’re going to have to go look at it on his website. It is cleverly formatted to prevent freeloaders like me from just copy-and-pasting it, which is pretty smart when you think about it.

I know this because I tried.

But really, if you’re any kind of writer, go read it. It will make you smile.

*I don’t know if it was actually posted today or a while ago. Today was when I saw the link. It’s not dated, so who really knows? Matt Inman, hopefully…

Boston Chef Explains Polite Way to Express Displeasure with a Meal; Calls Customer a Fat Bitch

Are you ready for today’s dose of cognitive dissonance? It comes courtesy of Boston-area blog We Love Beantown, whose staff apparently keep an eye on the Facebook pages of fancy restaurants all night long. They caught the brief appearance of some quality customer service on high-class restaurant Piagelle Boston’s page late last night, first as a response to a customer’s complaint and then as a separate, follow-up post:


(The “marc” mentioned in the first set of comment replies, it should be noted, is chef Marc Orfaly, who apparently confused the issue for a good thirty seconds by slyly referring to himself as “marc the dishwasher.”)

Now, normally this would be a little too small-time for my highly selective standards of public relations cock-ups — we can’t run the story every time someone says something stupid on the internet, people — but the total disconnect was too good to pass up.

Calling your customers fat and telling them to go fuck themselves is run-of-the-mill dumb. Calling your customers fat, telling them to go fuck themselves, and then reminding them how educated, intelligent, and polished diners register a complaint is classic MA101 fodder.

Good job, Chef Marc Orfal! You are an idiot. But you woke up the next morning and realized you were an idiot, and promptly switched into Grovel Mode, making you a way smarter idiot than some of the people we’ve had here on the blog. As far as desperate face-saving apologies go, yours was a pretty decent one:

So good catch We Love Beantown, and remember, kids — if you see someone doing something stupid on the internet, screenshot that shit. It might just be hilariously funny the next day.


Nothing Says the Holidays Like Victorian Streetwalkers

“You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Apparently this is tomorrow! Shall we all Google “victorian streetwalker” for some costume ideas? I think we shall:

Oh my.

Ooh la LA.

And one can always count on Shutterstock for true historical accuracy.

Well I’m certainly feeling the holiday cheer! Are you feeling the holiday cheer? If not, get yourself on down to Saratoga Springs — I guess they really know how to party out there.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a lacy red costume to try on.

Rabid Wolverines and Broken Glass: Your Helpful Guide to Bad Days

A lot of people say they’re having bad days.

In fact, if you’re on “the social media,” it’s hard to go twenty-four hours without hearing about someone’s bad day.

But let’s all stop and think about perspective for a moment. This handy scale has always served me well, and it will serve you well too:

  • “I got mauled by a wolverine.” That is not a very good day! But we must take into account, wolverines are quite real, and their propensity for mauling is well-known. If you happen to encounter one, you may be mauled. While unfortunate, it doesn’t really single you out as someone cosmically marked for doom. Take it easy on the hyperbole when you complain about your day!
  • “I got mauled by a rabid wolverine.” Wolverines, as discussed above, do sometimes happen. But for your particular wolverine to be rabid as well? Now that is bad luck. You are having a genuinely shitty day! It is reasonable to be upset by that. But try to remember that mammals in the wild do often contract rabies, and that wolverines (what with the mauling and all) are especially likely to have been exposed. This is a bad day, but not an unreasonably bad day.
  • “I got mauled by a rabid wolverine that had been rolled in broken glass.” Someone is just fucking with you! How did that wolverine get covered in broken glass? He did not do that to himself. Broken glass does not occur naturally in a wolverine’s life. Someone went out of their way for that shit, and your day sucks.

I don’t remember where I first heard this scale explained to me. I Googled “rabid wolverine broken glass” to try to make sure I wasn’t stealing someone’s work, but all I found was pro wrestling sites and something called the “Men Going Their Own Way” forum in which young men are advised that sex with Ladee Bitz is roughly equivilent to “skydiving with a rabid wolverine strapped to your leg over a field of broken glass inhabited by cannibalistic mongols,” because slutty slut-sluts are diseased.

Which let me tell you was a downer! Their hate-filled dribble has really put a damper on my day. But it is okay, because no wolverines as of yet.

Sometimes you just gotta keep things in perspective.

No, You Can’t Copyright Your Facebook Posts. Why Would You Want To?

One of the more interesting cultural quirks the internet has brought out in us: people seem much more concerned about their right to privacy in public spaces than they ever were about the real world.

Maybe it’s that your public online behavior happens, from your point of view, in “private.” You can post to Facebook from a coffee shop, or these days from a gathering of a million people if you have your smart phone with you (and can get a signal in all that crowd), but most of us are doing it from the comfort of home. We’re posting cat pictures and news stories we didn’t check the date of in our pajamas, or maybe in a reinforced bunker as we clutch a shotgun and eat a can of beans. Who knows.

Here’s the reality: the privacy you may expect for anything you post to Facebook is the privacy defined in their Terms and Conditions, which you didn’t read. Things that will not change that include posting a status update like this one:

In response to the new Facebook guidelines I hereby declare that my copyright is attached to all of my personal details, illustrations, comics, paintings, professional photos and videos, etc. (as a result of the Berner Convention). For commercial use of the above my written consent is needed at all times!

(Anyone reading this can copy this text and paste it on their Facebook Wall. This will place them under protection of copyright laws. By the present communiqué, I notify Facebook that it is strictly forbidden to disclose, copy, distribute, disseminate, or take any other action against me on the basis of this profile and/or its contents. The aforementioned prohibited actions also apply to employees, students, agents and/or any staff under Facebook’s direction or control. The content of this profile is private and confidential information. The violation of my privacy is punished by law (UCC 1 1-308-308 1-103 and the Rome Statute).

This is meaningless. Someone probably made it up as a joke just to see how far it would get (which, judging by my news feed the last few days, is pretty damn far). It does not change Facebook’s Terms and Conditions, which you agreed to, and it does not “copyright” anything you’ve posted on the website.

(Also, seriously, “the Rome Statute”? I realize most of us are not lawyers, myself included, but we should all still probably know that the “Rome Statute” is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. Given that re-posting your cat GIFs without permission is neither genocide nor a war crime, though in some cases it could be considered a crime against humanity, the ICC is unlikely to be interested, and its mention maybe should have tipped you off. While we’re at it, it’s the “Berne Convention,” not the “Berner Convention.”)

More to the point, though, why would you care if someone stole your Facebook content? Is anyone writing a novel via Facebook updates or something? It could be a cool art project, I guess, but I’d go ahead and suggest that in a case like that the inevitable “theft” is, in fact, part of the medium, and complaining about it would be like whining that your pastel drawing is prone to smudging.

For most of us, at risk are re-posts of other people’s content, photos with captions on them, and perhaps some personal pictures.

Vastly more effective than posting bold declarations of your copyright would be to simply not post anything you don’t want the public to have access to. Why were you doing that on a public networking site in the first place?

If you have something worth stealing on Facebook, you’re doing Facebook wrong.

My Family’s Traditional Thanksgiving Poop Story

There’s something a little backwards about my family’s traditional post-Thanksgiving Christmas tree hunt. To get to an actual Christmas tree farm, as in one where the trees still grow in the ground and you have to cut them down with a saw or an axe, you need to drive most of the way from Chicago to the Wisconsin state line. It would be vastly more efficient for me to stop on my way down from Madison and just throw a tree on the roof of my car, although my two-door Honda Civic would put a pretty hard limit on height. But efficiency’s not really the point, now is it? It’s tradition, and that’s the important thing.

Of course, there is a Christmas tree farm closer to Chicago. But we can’t go there anymore, because of shame. Would you like to know that story?

Obviously you would like to know that story.

It goes like this: turkey and cranberry sauce, in massive quantities and well-lubricated by the finest in wines and liquors, have predictable after-effects the next day.

These after-effects are not meant to be shared with the world. Ideally they are dealt with in a second-story bathroom while the rest of the house is on the ground floor, perhaps with a boombox playing something soothing and classical in the background. (In the background for the turkey-and-cranberry-sauce-sufferer, I mean. The people downstairs want something loud, with lots of percussion, to drown out any stray sounds.)

But one Black Friday my family and I had traipsed out to somewhere or other in Lake County and hunted the wild Christmas tree, and we were just paying and having it fed through the little wire bundling machine when Thanksgiving dinner struck.

I fled to the outhouse, a porta-potty stationed not fifteen feet from the checkout area. This being back in the days when November was a cold time of year, I was not thrilled with the amenities, but Mom’s cranberry sauce brooks no argument. It is fiberful stuff. My butt was going on that freezing plastic whether I wanted it to or not.

And then, the apocalypse happened.

I have no idea what it was about that particular year. Perhaps the cranberries were especially thick-skinned. Perhaps portapotties are simply very effective echo chambers. We’ll never know, but I’m sure they heard me in Kenosha:




And so on, for what seemed like hours but was (I am told) more like five, horrifying minutes, during which the entire gathering of family, Christmas tree hunters, and Christmas tree farmers turned and stared, drawn as if their stunned faces were iron filings and the rocking outhouse a particularly foul-smelling magnet.

I, of course, was oblivious to all of this until I emerged, having done what I could with the tissue-like toilet paper. To this day I am a little hurt that no one applauded. We paid in a sort of awkward silence, and left, never to return, the only remnant of our stay a defiled Port-A-John in a farmer’s field.

Needless to say, this story comes up nearly every Thanksgiving dinner, usually in the form of an admonishment: “careful with that fourth bowl of cranberry sauce, Geoffrey…”

We all have our quaint little holiday traditions. What’s yours?


Thanksgiving Will Always Be My Favorite

No holiday, I think, revolves more around the concept of the central meal than Thanksgiving.

To some extent we have concepts of “the Christmas dinner,” and to a lesser degree the Easter dinner (often replaced by brunch, these days). Passover seders can be magnificent, but aren’t on the table (no pun intended) for most of us year to year. But all of these have something else going on as well; some significance beyond the meal itself.

Thanksgiving, less so. Unless you happen to have a vested interest in whatever football is going on that evening, the main and sole attraction is the feast (even the football crowd usually picks up some of the Thanksgiving spirit in the form of more-elaborate-than-usual snacks, often involving slow cookers).

For that reason alone, Thanksgiving will probably always be my favorite holiday. It emphasizes so many of the things I find worth celebrating: food, drink, company, conversation; companionship. It’s a social holiday. You’re expected to sit, and chat, and eat, all in excess of your daily routine.

And if a bit of overindulging occurs along the way, well, everything in moderation, including moderation.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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