Merlin Mann

Merlin Dean Mann III (RL37) lives in San Francisco, California with his wife Madeleine and his daughter Eleanor (children). His office is very close to his home. There is often a street car coming by audibly. (RL238)

At one time he lived in Tallahassee, Florida. (RL238)


His dad died 1974 (RL238) when Merlin was really young. He discovered little caches of his clothes over time. He was a little taller and skinnier than Merlin, but Merlin still wears one of his dad’s jackets from the early 1970s. (RL158)

His parents were friends with Nick Clooney, the father of George Clooney. (RL239)

His grandfather worked at a car dealership in Cincinnati, Ohio. (RL239)

In 1999 Merlin was getting divorced and his wife moved out before he moved to California. He was listening to Elliott Smith, at the time. (RL10)

Merlin's daugther is going to be 10 this year in 2017. (RL248)
He picks up his daughter at 3:15pm. (RL238)

Merlin's daughter loved John's RV, but it smells a bit funny. (RL184)

Merlin's daughter is now in the phase where she is an "advanced beginner", because she knows just enough to think that she knows everything. She didn't want to watch a TV series about molecules, because she "literally already knows everything about molecules". (RL109)

Merlin has adopted a cat, because his daughter really wanted a pet. (RL184) This animal that has been very costly and a pain in the ass. Their previous owners have lied about her medical condition and her age. Merlin’s daughter has found a NatGeo-book about cats in the school library and is now finding scientific reasons for why their cat grinds her teeth or is meowing at night. (RL272)

On a weekend in July of 2015, Merlin was just hanging out with his family at the country side cuddling in a hammock. We need to disabuse ourselves of Norman Rockwell's ideas from the1950:s about how families are supposed to spend time together, because a lot of it is excruciating. It is extremely rare to have the moments that are depicted in Coca-Cola commercials, but when it does happen while you are not trying to create a Coca-Cola moment, it can be really nice! Merlin had been with his family numerous times where he felt that he was not participating as much as he should. (RL161)

Merlin's wife is working more right now and Merlin is really enjoying his increased time with his kid. Merlin used to have only a few constraints throughout the day. (RL153)

Merlin invented a new phrase called the grumble brag, when he claims that he is not complaining about something while he is totally complaining about it. (RL153)

Every time Merlin and his family are driving through California, he is desperately trying to pick out what Popeye's to go to. His family is discouraging him from eating terrible food, but on road trips he always gets a coupon from his wife for one Merlin-meal. There will often be different Popeye's with different Yelp-ratings only 5 miles appart. Merlin’s band during his time in Talahassee was called "Three Piece Spicy White Meat", because they were right across the street from Popeye's and he ate Popeye's before every band practice. It was a big part of his life and he had Popeye's at his bachelorette defense. (RL256)

Merlin's daughter is reading Lord of the Rings at school and Merlin got her a nice box set, but it is very hard to read, because it is on very thin paper with tiny letters. If you buy a complete Sherlock Holmes and it is not huge, it is probably hard to read! Reading all the street signs when driving down the street is an old-man thing. (RL256)

Merlin got his daughter to try some sides at Popeyes which was a great victory. She tried Red Beans & Rice and Cajun Rice. (RL293)


Merlin had his first kiss when Sherry Edwards kissed him in 3rd grade during a fire drill. (RL259)

Merlin and his first grade girlfriend often talked about the date they would eventually have in a York Steak House and what they both would order. It was an aspirational date with an aspirational girlfriend. She is a health professional now and because she has always been Merlin’s age, she must be 50 now, which is very difficult to imagine! Merlin never went out with her because he changed schools in fourth grade in 1979, which was the age when something like that even kind of might have begun to have happened. They had mostly phone calls about York Steak House. (RL259)

Merlin never dated in High school, because he doesn't like dating and thinks a date is just an unsuccessful long-term relationship. Only one person, Elaine, came close to being an actual date when Merlin had dance classes at age 13. They learned for example Disco and Waltz and they met girls from a girls-only school nearby. Dancing and touching a girl was horrifying! Elaine was six inches (15 cm) taller than Merlin, he doesn't think she liked him and she allegedly barely suffered through the night. She was really cute: A tall, slender Chinese-American girl. It ended okay, but there was no kissing or anything. (RL240)

Merlin's mom found it confounding that neither Merlin nor any of his friends were dating. To Merlin dating seemed weird and slutty. Getting a girlfriend was a constant yearning for stable monogamy. You are either seeking for monogamy or you are in the monogamous thing, but you would not be dating. At the same time, Merlin had zero interest in getting married. His mom thought he should trying to meet more people, do different things, be exposed, meet people from different places, maybe not from school, but Merlin showed no interest in any of that. He just wanted this girl from class to like him and dating seemed like a lot of overhead. (RL161)


In the past, Merlin had some jobs where he felt like an information janitor. Nobody notices the job you do until the toilets back up. Merlin never wanted to have a job where people only notice him when things go wrong, and he never wanted to have a job where the success of the interaction is measured based on how little people had to interact with you, like checking into a hotel late at night or customer service at a rental car company. Every picosecond that goes by where you have to interact with that person asking you all those questions is too much, while you really want to interact just with a device. You evaluate it based on how much time it took you. When Merlin goes out to eat, he wants someone who is extremely efficient and doesn't want to talk about his day. The thing with the rental car business at airports is that they know that you are exhausted and want to get out of there and they take the chance to upsell you 14 times. (RL153)


Merlin picked this spot 19 years ago and he is not budging. Everything he needs is right here. He can look out the window and see if there are people on the basketball court. He can see if there are people in line at his hair place, but he can’t see if there is a line at the Kentucky Fried Chicken. (RL312) Merlin lives in a rented house (RL293)


Merlin does this thing called the Wolverine chord. He can play almost all major, minor or suspended fourth chords with his three fingers on his right hand, as long as it is in C. Like anyone, Merlin prefers a D suspended fourth (Dsus4), but it requires him to concert-tune down to D or drop-D. Jonathan Coulton has explained this way of tuning to Merlin, but Merlin still doesn’t understand it. John thinks that Merlin is a much better guitar player than he lets on because he has that rare quality where a person with an artistic impulse picks up an instrument, teaches it to themselves and comes up with something that no-one else would have thought of, like playing his Ds backwards because he learned from fake books, or his general approach to the instrument. (RL48)


In June of 2018 Merlin needed to have his eyes examined, but he hates making appointments. His glasses broke 2 years earlier and he gorilla-glued them back together. He even had a set of Warby Parkers set aside, but he first needed to call Kaiser and have his eyes examined. (RL294)

Once or twice a year Merlin gets a malady, a nerve thing called Piriformis Syndrome or at least a Sciatica where he gets big pain in his buttal and legal area. It is bad because it distracts him and he will have a hard time to sleep. He was off his game the whole weekend, but he powered through it. They had the Walkathon on Sunday, there was lots of stuff to do, and he also got a Flu Shot. Few things are better for a man of Merlin’s age than waking up and feeling less bad. (RL310)

Knowing why things are wrong (RL161)

Merlin used to think that he has a set of principles, values or any of these other nouns that white men like to talk about and he applied them to life in a very masculine way. If things don't go the way he wants, he is grabbing his bag of nouns, slapping it onto things, saying "This is why this is wrong!" Instead he needs to realize: It is ramifications! Pointing at other people who are doing it wrong, assuming you are doing it right because you have this bag of nouns is a form of a personal nimbus. John is convinced more than ever before that he does not have special knowledge and that he is not doing it right. If you have time to sit and think and stew and stream and various other ways of mentally cooking yourself, you can really dig yourself into how correct an idea about something is. You might suddenly be exposed to several dozens of other people who not only disagree with you, but who actively and demonstrably show you how full of shit you are in a way that is incredibly humbling.

Sous-vide cooking (RL246, RL159)

For father’s day in 2015, Merlin got a sous-vide cooker which he had been wanting for a long time. It looks like a big light saber, you attach it to a pot, put your steak in a bag, get the air out and it will cook it flawlessly. It makes the steak exactly 129 degrees, perfectly cooked and you don’t even have to do anything. You don’t even have to put it on the stove, but you just plug it in somewhere. It takes 1-1,5 hours and it stops at the temperature you tell it. Then you sear it on the range. (RL159)

You cook bags of food at a very specific, rather low temperature for quite a long time, which sounds very strange at first, but it will kill all the pathogens. John suspects that the steak cooked in a bag does not have a very appetizing outside, which is correct, but after the cooking, you dry up the meat with paper towels, get a lubricant of your choice (which for Merlin is lard since he tried it for the first time in a Blue Apron recipe) and sear it for a while in a cast iron pan. Merlin even has an old cast iron pan that he is using as a pressing pan, so he puts the steak into the new pan and puts the old one over it, like a chicken under a brick. You can add a bit of extra butter or salt. Then he drops it into aluminum foil, folds it up and lets it set up a little bit while he finishes the side dishes. (RL246)

Merlin's wife saves all the food, even the last burned chicken wing that nobody will eat, because she does not want to waste food, but now she is wasting food and a bag! (RL246)

Office Space (RL182)

Episode 182 was recorded face-to-face in Merlin's office in an undisclosed location on Taraval St in San Francisco. John was eating Merlin's custom nut mix from Walgreens and was drinking his Seltzer water. They had a lot of fun and John was astonished by Merlin's collection of superhero action figures, X-Men paraphernalia and all the technical equipment that Merlin has collected over the years.

There is "Pupilless Girl" and her friend "Robot Arms" from the adventure "These Legs are Impossibly Long". They look like gold-plated skeletons, but they have wedge clog shoes, are 14 inches tall and disproportionately worse than Barbie. For John, you don't need high heels if you are superheroeing, because they are the wrong kind of boots and you can't climb a fence with them. Seeing the action figure as a doll, she would be really hard to play with, because her legs spread all too much when you sit her down. The only way one would sit like this is if they are having a gynecological exam. Even the most angry people in the universe have to sit down, meaning that these will only be collected by angry people. Also, not as much hair is needed for a superhero. Furthermore, John mentions "Naked Penis Man" from the comic book with the man with the bag over his face.

John is also playing with Merlin's Amazon Echo, setting off many listener's devices during the process.

Computers (RL242)

When Merlin and John and Sean first met and made The Long Winters website, Merlin had his desktop Mac, a big Blue & White G3 with Yosemite, a Windows PC or ColdFusion development, and his PowerBook from the late 90s. There is also a computer in the background doing SETI research which is still running from that times. Merlin was using Macs since 1987 when he got a Mac SE in college. Before that he hated computers and did therefore not have an Apple IIe.


At one time a friend recommended Merlin to get a sleep watch to track his sleep. It was a giant dorky thing that you would connect to your computer in the morning to download the data to a terrible app. It was like a Palm Pilot for sleep. Now his FitBit does all that automatically. (RL260)

Having too much coax cable in his house (RL329)

Every time Comcast came to fix Merlin's Internet it would get worse and worse. Finally he got to that one useful guy who said that he had no idea who did this, but they had added so many yards of unnecessary coaxial cables like layers of the city of Rome that Merlin’s signal was so degraded that it couldn’t make it up two stories. The guy took out a quarter mile (400m) of coaxial cable and then Merlin’s Internet worked. You don’t always get the good guy, but they are all equally confident! Merlin had even gone out to buy amplifiers! If they wrap your house like a Seymour Duncan (a type of guitar pickup) it is not going to work.

Military School

During 7th grade, Merlin went to Admiral Farragut Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida, a boys-only military school. The school was strict (for example you had to shine your shoes properly and you had to have a proper haircut), but it was not based on punishment. Although it was a prep school, it was not a place you send a bad kid to straighten them out. Merlin was on the drill team and marched a lot. (RL240) He was also pretty good at the rifle drill. Every day they would announce the uniform of the day and although it was almost always the same, you would have to be ready because you might have to put your blues on just because they said so. (RL48)

Merlin picked up some things in military school that he is really glad he has kept with him and that he thinks about a lot. When somebody says About, FACE, he still knows how to do that. Most of the time he was in a pseudo-official environment and had to be in uniform. You have to follow a lot of tacit rules when you are a paramilitary teenager, like no skylarking, no smoking, and no spitting. You were in official capacity whenever you were not at ease, but even then you couldn’t just turn your hat on backwards. Your belt-buckle had better be polished, just like your shoes, and don’t use Mop & Glo because that was pretty obvious and might get you a demerit. (RL48)

They didn’t blouse their boots because it would have been a little tactical for what they were doing. Merlin had dress blues and one of his favorite uniforms was salt & pepper where you had a white shirt with epaulettes with your rank on it and black pants, which is a sharp look! They had khaki pants and a short-sleeve khaki shirt for their every-day. Sometimes they had to wear their hat, which kind of sucked. Then they had a slightly more informal one like a white T-shirt with khakis, like Tom of Finland. Even their gym uniforms were highly prescribed. When they would dress out, they would wear Admiral Farragut Academy shorts with either a white Admiral Farragut Academy shirt or a shirt for your company. Merlin was in 4th company and had a purple shirt. (RL48)

One day at Christian camp, Merlin got the skunk bunk, which is the worst bed in the whole camp. Merlin had never been this humiliated by a man in his whole life. When he finally moved on from Christianity to Paramilitary gear, he made the fuck out of a bed in military school! Quarters bounced off that bed, you could bounce a pound off of that! (RL48)

One thing that Merlin didn’t like in military school at the time, but he is starting to understand the appeal, is being in an official formation during an inspection. There were exactly three permissible answers to any questions: "Yes, sir!", "No, sir!" or "No excuse, sir!" The whole point of military school is not to help you bloom as a special flower, but it is to take you at the point where it is most possible that you would become an interesting person and try to make you a miserable brain-dead. It is a very interesting idea! Merlin is a bit of a talker and because of his extensive liberal arts background he got a reason for everything. (RL48)

Several celebrities went to the same school, like actor Ashton Kutcher, Spike Mendelsohn from Top Chef, the singer Stephen Stills or actor Lorenzo Lamas. Even 2 of the 12 men who ever walked on the moon are among the alumni: Allen Sheppard and Charles Duke (RL240)

Writing a book (RL153)

Merlin once started to write a book about Inbox Zero. He produced a lot of words, but didn't love that many of them and the part that makes it painful is the sunk cost fallacy, because the writing process demanded a lot of understanding from his family. He just wouldn't learn that he won't write anything good after 6 o'clock at night and would leave his wife with all her household duties to go out there and feel terrible about himself. He still does not feel like a success about how that whole thing went. Merlin had close to 100.000 words, but he never got it to be the thing he wanted, and it felt more and more just like a milestone.

In the meantime, the landscape for content creators changed. The ideas behind the concept are still very powerful and lively to Merlin, but now he communicates them in his podcasts. He would not rule out writing a book again at some point, but writing anything right now is a tough racket and the industry has changed, the business has changed and the audience has changed. The kinds of things people don't pay that much money for are not the things that Merlin wants to write. He doesn't want to write listicles and he doesn't want to produce dozens of Kindle books. This is how you get invited onto Fresh Air, Hodgman said. Once you are an author, it changes everything, but that wasn't even what Merlin was looking for. He just wanted the stress and energy he had invested to turn into something timeless, but maybe that was too much pressure to put on himself. Today the whole Inbox Zero thing is a bit dead in the water, because so many people misunderstood what he was struggling to say. He still feels terrible how that went for everybody involved.

Merlin’s trip to Washington DC in Summer of 2016 (RL259)

Merlin visited Washington DC during the summer of 2016 and had a lot of fun. He did

Merlin twisting his back in his sleep (RL259)

At the end of September 2017, Merlin twisted his back in his sleep and had to steal his wife’s Vicodin to be able to sleep. First he harmed himself with sleep and then he might have been on the opioid epidemic. John warned him not to get addicted to opioids, but Merlin countered that it supposedly was not as bad as the media, who don't like the white working class, are blowing it up. It is really about heritage! John thinks that state attorney generals are bored and decided to sue pharmaceutical companies, like it was with the cigarettes in the 1990s. Although they are liberal democrats, there is trial lawyer culture.

Random facts

Merlin is troubled by birds and how they move, like pigeons when they are walking over the ground. (RL160)

Merlin is not a sales person and does not like to talk about money, unlike his mother who was a great sales person and worked as a real estate agent. (RL238)

When Merlin was in college, he was watching a lot of TV for his work. (RL109)

When he records the podcast with John, it is from 10:00 to 12:00, then he will "slice that bitch up" and put it on the internet. (RL238)

Everybody has tattoos now. Merlin lives in a city bubble and as soon as he goes out to the country land, he can't find a clean ankle, but some kind of shitty insignia is affixed to every leg! (RL161)

Merlin always tries to say the name of the person at the register because he wants to call people by their name, it is a Dale Carnegie thing. (RL294)

In August of 2018 Merlin was growing a mustache, not as part of Do By Friday, but just on his personal recognizance. He hadn’t shaved for a while and as he eventually did want to shave he found that there was more hair than usual out there and he should just let it rip! The mustache was really appalling and he looked like a cross between Rob Delaney and Commissioner Gordon with a little bit of a Gary Oldman thing and a little bit of LCD Soundsystem hair on top of it. (RL301)

In October of 2018 Merlin's wife decided for them to paint the bedroom, but you have to move a lot of stuff to paint the bedroom. The color is called Quiet Moments, but Merlin would describe it as light blue. It is nice and soothing and the room lights up really well when you open the blinds. Merlin was not involved in any of those decisions, he didn’t even know they were going to paint, but he just got a text that she had a wish for this weekend. She did most of the job, but Merlin did a lot of the moving. (RL310)

In September of 2018 Merlin was trying really hard to fix his ice machine, but it was low on his list because it was not very interesting. He loves ice and he was struggling. It might be some missing gear teeth. They only have a small capacity refrigerator and the amount of ice Merlin requires would take up a surpassing amount of room that could be filled with frozen chickens or whatnot. (RL306)

Merlin's bachelor's thesis was about cultural criticism in TV. (RL224)

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