RL22 - My Own Dungeon Master

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problems:

  • This new chickenshit Navy, referring to the Navy using cruise missiles these days where they can’t see the person they are shooting, and John thinking they should not be allowed to do that.
  • high school steel-folders, referring to John’s lab partner in High School who had forged himself a broadsword that he would then carry around
  • late-night Casals lesson, referring to the cello player Paul Casals. Merlin was at his friend’s house after a party and she let him play her cello.
  • John’s curious imperviousness to est®, referring to John’s dad having done an Est once and trying out some of the theories on John which John was impervious to.

The show title refers to John getting out of D&D because no dungeon master could top his imagination. He was always his own dungeon master.

Merlin has a little bit of his kid’s cold and is trying not to cough. John has a cello that he wants to give to Merlin!

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

John’s keyboard was out of battery (RL22)

John’s bluetooth keyboard was out of batteries and at the same time his iPhone decided on a new text feature called iMessage that is somehow different from texting. It is blue instead of green, but in case it can't send its iMessage over whatever proprietary airwaves it uses it will just sit there like a dumb lump, like having a plastic brick in your hand. John was trying to communicate with Merlin, but his keyboard was down, his phone was messaging incompetently, and it is very frustrating for a verbal man to not have anything to type on.

John tried to figure out how he could send Merlin a Skype message and he saw a little smiley face down at the bottom of the message area, he clicked on it, and he discovered all those emoticons, like the little smiley face with a halo, the little smiley face with the googly eyes, and the little smiley face with the devil horns. John clicked on all these smileys, but without being able to push return he couldn't even send a smiley!

He felt like the protagonist of Metallica's song One: ”Darkness imprisoning me, all that I see, absolute horror” As Merlin was connecting with John he realized that his very byzantine mouse was in the same sad state as John’s keyboard. They have great little headdresses, either byzantine, rococo, baroque or really fucked-up looking, but the battery thing is blinking red.

John and Merlin almost were like that Richard Pryor Gene Wilder thing, but not Silver Streak where the train goes out of control and crashes through a train station, but the one called Wackadoodle or odd job or something, not the one in jail with that fat guy. Wackadoodle is one of Merlin’s special words and he is trying to not use it too much.

Merlin's friend John Gruber likes the word Cockamamie, but he keeps his powder dry because it is a very special word. Another one Merlin got from John Gruber is Dingus, but he used it in the last episode so he can’t use it in this one. John suggests that ding dong is a good substitute for dingus. He recently heard from close friends that his go-to word now is horse-shit.

John and Merlin at parties, being the guitar-guy (RL22)

Once Merlin and John were at a party at the end of a tour and John was so tired he took a nap at the party because he is not a party guy. Fuck yeah, he will take a nap at a party in someone’s room, maybe on some coats, he is still five years old. Someday there will be a plaque there that says ”John Roderick slept on a coat here”!

Sometimes John will get roped into being guitar guy at parties. Merlin has seen John being shy at parties. People come up to him and leave a trail of breadcrumbs and pretty soon they have led him down some primrose path and he is standing in front of a house made of gingerbread, talking about guitars at a party. Merlin doesn’t mind talking about guitars.

Merlin can sill be guitar guy, but he tries not to be. Nobody likes playing guitar at a party guy! Merlin is pretty gregarious, he likes talking to people for a while, and this is totally hypocritical of him, but he will sit there and suddenly… (Merlin didn't finish his thought)

John wonders if Merlin did the thing where he explains to everyone in a loud voice why They Might be Giants are one of the great American Rock bands, but Merlin did not do that at this party. Maybe if he had stayed another hour, around 3:30am he would have talked about The Move.

There are pro drinkers and amateur drinkers. The amateur drinkers don't get out much, they get wasted on St. Patrick's day, New Year’s Eve, or Cinco de Majo, and they are the shittiest drunk drivers in the world. This did not happen at this party, it was great, it was a nice group, they were sitting there watching watching videos from The Who and stuff on TV, and Merlin was like: ”Let me get that cello in my hands! Let me jam out some cello tunes!” He can't believe how much he was that guy that night!

Merlin drinks, but he is not that guy, he definitely doesn't black out, and like the wonderful Bill Cosby once said about cocaine: "It intensifies your personality, but what if you are an asshole?" Merlin would love to play a cello and he tried not to break it while he was playing pizzicato because he knows cellos are expensive.

Merlin playing his friend's cello (RL22)

The other night Merlin’s friend let him play her cello. He was at her house pretty late and he had been drinking, which is a great time to put a cello in somebody’s hands. Too bad she didn't have a clarinet, but Merlin would never ask to touch somebody's clarinet, that would be like french kissing somebody's cockatiel (see RL21), it is disgusting!

You know how it starts: You leave the restaurant, you go to a bar, you leave the bar, and this woman, Merlin’s friend Jessie was nice enough to have them into her home. At 2am Merlin was sitting there, making people watch videos on the Apple TV and at some point he asked Jessie, he can't even believe he did this, if he could fiddle with her cello. She was nice about it and she let him, but she said: ”No fucking way are you touching my bow!” It is $1800 for a good bow, it is made out of horsehair.

The bow that John is going to sent Merlin isn’t $1800. John really wants to send Merlin a cello and Merlin would be so into that. John was struggling with deciding whether the cello was actually within arm's reach of his desk as he tried to get it during the recording and he was playing some notes. John's intonation is terrible because he doesn't play fretless instruments. It sounded like a hill giant or Golem deciding if it has food poisoning.

She gave Merlin the cello, he wanted to play that public saw song (?), and she actually showed him how to hold and he played it right almost exactly once, but then he put it down because he realized he was being that guy. Asking a cutie at her house to teach him Bach at 2am on her very special cello? If there has ever been more of that guy, Merlin doesn’t know who it is. Did he put his ear to her F-hole? The F-entry? (see RL21, Dead Rubber Girl, where they call orifices for entry) Merlin shouldn’t have asked!

John is going to send Merlin this cello. It is somewhere between a real and a joke cello, a German starter cello that comes with a bow. It is a perfectly useful instrument and John has used it on Long Winters records, but he is starting to look at his life and realizes that he is a hoarder, not a hoarder who lives in a shipping container, because there is still the premise that things are stacked and ordered in a way. John doesn't need a cello and if he needs a cello part on a Long Winters record he can hire a cello player.

The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (RL22)

When Merlin was at a party at a friend's house he was the ”Let's watch a quick one on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus!” guy. He has been that guy with John, but a quick one is the key to watching the Rock and Roll circus, that is how you understand why no-one ever saw it before just a few years ago. The Rolling Stones were so embarrassed that The Who kicked their ass all around the block that they didn't put it out.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg is the one who directed Let It Be (documentary), Merlin gets all these guys confused. There is also Peter Shaffer who wrote Equus, Peter Alan is the guy who was married to Liza Minnelli, and the guy who stole the Rolling Stones's money: Peter Burg? Alex Goldsmith? (His name is Andrew Oldham, the dispute about Bitter Sweet Symphony)

The album (Rock and Roll Circus) was recorded in 1968 when The Stones had a TV show. It is worth watching because apparently The Stones put this extravaganza for TV together, probably in England, but the taping went really poorly and it ran really late. You can see in the footage that everyone looks like this wasn’t as fun as they thought it was going to be. Merlin doesn’t know if that is ping pong, but having a dwarf in clown-makeup is probably super-fun for about 30 seconds, but tell that to the guys in Jackass! Are those the guys with the chainsaw? Or are those the Juggalos? The Rolling Stones were the Juggalos of the 1960s.

Merlin is not the hugest Rolling Stones fan. Apparently it was 5am when The Who went on, which contextualizes that performance in a whole different way. There are a few videos that Merlin watches at least once a month. He really likes music, but if he doesn't need his understanding of the importance of Rock'n'Roll renewed on a regular basis.

That whole experience was before cocaine was invented. It is an inflection point for The Who because in the beginning he got the test vest thing (?), it is before Who’s Next, but after the mod thing, right at the point when they became the really really good band. That performance is shattering, it is amazing! John seriously doubts that it is after the amphetamine thing.

Pete (Townshend) looks pretty sweaty. They are very amphetamined, not The Ox though, he is solid. (John) Entwistle still has that stupid-ass haircut with the bangs hat looks stupid-ass on anyone but him because he was a snappy dresser. He looks like an aircraft carrier in a bowl haircut. You could land a jet aircraft on him and he would not miss a beat.

Merlin doesn’t have a huge problem with bass players in general, but that guy is in a different fucking movie. Merlin doesn’t know what the fuck that guy is doing when he watches his fingers. He invented modern Rock’n’Roll bass playing! Carol Kaye invented bass playing in general. She plays banjo on Smile (by The Beach Boys), she is all over it. Merlin mentions The Smile Sessions, the new one.

John played Sloop John B just the other day, which is a pretty good song. He has also been covering The Rolling Stones on the ukulele lately. ”Then he took and ate up all of my corn” (lyrics from Sloop John B), but why did he do that? A lot of Mick’s (Mike Love) lyrics do not bear close inspection. First of all: They are talking about The Beach Boys and second: It is a folk song that has been around forever. The first mate got drunk, something in the captain's trunk, and then he ate up all my corn.

Erhard Seminars Training (RL22)

Merlin just had a moment of revelation, a moment of clarity! Is that an Eminem song? (”Give me a moment of clarity” is actually a Jay-Z song) That is what they say in Est (Erhard Seminars Training) Is it true that they don’t let you pee in Est? Yes, they only go to convention centers without a bathroom. John has never done Est, but his dad did it in the 1970s when it was really the thing, it was like a hip couples retreat or something.

John’s dad had a little clique of Jewish psychologists in Alaska, back before fleece dad turtlenecks, but they wore a lot of turtlenecks and they practiced some of the principles of Est. They tried to practice them on John, but he is impervious and completely bulletproof when people try to practice principles on him because his principal-shield will go right up.

John's multi-page player character sheet is complicated, he probably has a 17 constitution and a 16 or 18 charisma, his dexterity is very low because Merlin has seen that John has trouble playing the guitar. Somewhere on there he would have a new field, you would have to contact Gary Gygax, but he passed, called Impervious to Est.

John keeps his imperviousness to Est in his bag of holding. There is no way to out a lot of nerdy men more than making a slightly loud D&D reference at a party and seeing who turns around. Wil Wheaton walks around with a T-shirt with the 20-sided die on it and people attack him on buses and stuff. That has got to be a pussy magnet! Save vs inhalers (?) Merlin played the shit out of D&D!

Playing D&D, Cosplay, cute nerd girls (RL22)

A lot of the people who played D&D say that what got them out of playing D&D was not that they grew out of it or that they felt it was a child's game, but like in John’s case his own imagination in terms of going on adventures with elves and finding treasure was much more vivid than any dungeon master in his town could conjure. He became his own dungeon master and when that happens you are no longer playing D&D and you don't have to hide the throws behind the screen anymore.

John eventually ended up out in the forest playing swords and sorcery with imaginary friends and imaginary dragons. He made a sword out of the stick of wood that was holding up a political sign that said something like: ”Elect Tom Fink mayor of Anchorage” and then he was off to the races. He didn't need any sneaking books or player characters, he knew his constitution!

People are attracted to D&D and Merlin did some of that too. John seems to be exactly the kind of person all those hysterical articles were about: The teenagers who went into the sewers, looking out at us. If Anchorage had had decent sewers, John would have been down in there fighting Pop Goblins. Merlin spent a lot of his life trying to find ways into other things, he would have loved to find his way into a sewer.

A lot of people say they got into D&D for two reasons: a) There is a lot of reading, which attracted Merlin, and b) it is a relatively easy way to be around people without having to develop all the social skills necessary. When you are little and you are in a church group or in school it is easy enough. You are thrust into situations with other people and there is a tacit understanding of why you are all there and you don't need to explain. In college you just all live in the same dorm. When you get older that gets harder. It wasn't even that Merlin thought he was dorky anymore, but at some point in every D&D guy's life it becomes less about dice and bugbears and more about big breasted ladies and corsets, the wenches.

When you make the transition to wenches you are into a different kind of role playing and you start planning campaigns that involve a lot more going to a tavern. There may be a hot chick in a cave, but by and large it is going to be some saucy girl behind the counter. The hot chick in the cave always has tentacles for arms, that is the problem. She lures you in. Wasn’t Call of Cthulhu the book also a game? There are many Cthulhu games now, John just saw a game called Cthulhu Flux. John spent his whole life trying to find ways to get out of being around other people, maybe that is why he bagged out of D&D!

Once Merlin was off D&D he couldn't get back into it. The girl thing had an effect on it. ComicCon and stuff and that saucy wench thing is during your Guy Erickson D&D period, and if you miss it or don't make it out of there, there is a struggle at every level. The thing that John never understood is the undeniable presence of nerd studs and nerd hot girls, which has been hammered home to him over the last year or two as he has become more and more engaged with nerd culture and more drawn into the nerd nexus.

You see cute girls at these events who are not just a cute girl within the nerd world, but they are legitimately cute girls and nerds. They cast doubt on what John would have agreed with Merlin for years: That there came a time when you had to choose between fantasy and fantasy that was a little bit sexier. The sexy fantasy will lead you into Rock'n'Roll, and Rock'n'Roll will lead you away from swords and sorcery and into actual sex. The nerd people are having this parallel existence where they are actually having sex with each other and some of them just stay over there.

This is a big topic! Are the cute nerd girls there with the guys or are they mostly on a fuck-finding mission? In John’s experience the super cute nerd girls are getting off on being a fetish item and he has never seen them pair up with other nerds, although they surely do. There is nothing wrong with that, you can visit with that, and it isn't like living in LA and having to be a fetish item as part of your existence because it literally is a costume.

John cannot imagine a normal girl, they call them snorks, going to Comic-Con and dressing like a nerd puppet as a tourist act. You have to already be in the nerd family to even be aware of Comic-Con and it is a fully enveloping lifestyle. Merlin thinks it is very empowering. For some ladies that comes out as being sexy nurse at Halloween or whatever, and it is an opportunity to do that in a safe environment. You wouldn’t be sexy nurse and go to some bar by the college. John doesn’t think you can dress like sexy Twilight and go to work at amazon.com! Sexy nurse at a Halloween party is one thing, but cosplay is definitely more of a lifestyle. Merlin says it has become much more acceptable to be a character.

Sword on a bike guy, unique and crazy identities (RL22)

John was taking this some kind of Physics class in High School and his lab partner was working on forging the blade of a broadsword that he was building for himself during the entire semester. He would explain the times he was going to fold the steel and how he was going to incorporate some Japanese sword technology into it, and it never occurred to him or John to say: ”Why do you need a broadsword? You are 16!” He was fit, he was in shape, he was smart, and he was reasonably funny, but he was a nerd all the way deep inside this.

He was going to end up being the guy that was walking around town with this sword that he built himself strapped into a scabbard on his back. That was just going to be his identity! John has seen that type of guy in several towns. 20 years ago there was a guy who rode around Seattle on a pretty hopped-up mountain bike with a Conan sword, like Conan the Barbarian with a really long sword strapped to his back. He had big muscles and that was his identity, that was his way of integrating himself into the urban landscape. He was the broadsword bicycle guy.

Sword on a bike guy? Merlin has a lot of questions about that! John later actually found his lair as he was walking through of a dusty and disused part of town. There was an old building and John was investigating it with his eyes and saw that one of the ground floor storefronts that a 100 years ago would have been the place where you would get gum balls and milk of magnesia, was now closed, but there were newspaper clippings taped in the window. John walked over, started reading the newspaper clippings and realized that it was sword on a bike guy’s house.

He was a Navy guy and he used to be a gunner on a frigate at those hyper-fast Gatling guns that you see on little frigates and destroyers, the same kind of gun that they put in the A-10 warthog. Those fast-moving little frigates can protect a big ship or they can fire on shore when they get up close to shore in a support mission role. They all have cruise missiles now and the new Navy is chicken shit for being 400 miles away sending cruise missiles into your front door. If you can't see the guy that you are shooting, you don’t have a right to shoot him, but that is just John’s philosophy!

This guy had put up his greatest hits in the window of this shop, including a couple of news articles about him getting arrested or getting stopped by the police and detained when he first arrived on the scene. You can't just ride around with a broadsword, but he said: ”It is my constitutional right!” and it made some little news article. John saw how he lived and got a little bit of his backstory. It wasn't a busy street, but four people walk down that street a day. This was his little: ”This is me!”, and it was not a bat cave that us hidden underneath a mansion, he was not trying to hide or anything.

With so many conspiracies in the air now our template for talking about crazy people like that is that every crazy person must be convinced that the government is trying to find them and that they are watching them from outer space and black helicopters and Illuminati and blah blah blah, but 20 years ago crazy people could be heavily armed and very militarized and yet still not have taken a total anti-government stance.

They could be wanting attention rather than trying to pretend that they don't want attention as a way of getting attention. ”I am not wearing this sword because i think that the government is out to get me, but I am wearing this sword to protect damsels from dragons!” He was an older kind of crazy before crazy became so institutionalized or so franchised.

Merlin knows about a guy who runs around in a Superman outfit, and there is a whole webpage about the Peter Pan guy who acted like he was a kid (Randy Constan). In Tallahassee they had a very large garrulous African-American man who went by King Love (Kamal A. Youssef) and wore a fairly resplendent fairytale idea of an ermine-looking outfit with a big crown. He would tell you about his message of love because he was King Love. It turned out he had been a professor at Florida State and you could fill in some of the details in between scholarship and ermine.

A lot of times it starts out as a fun thing and then it escalates. There was a guy down by the Salton Sea who painted a giant Jesus mountain out in the desert (Salvation Mountain, created by Leonard Knight) He showed up by the Salton Sea 50 years ago, he looked at this hill and said: ”This hill is my calling!” and he started getting old buckets of paint and painted the whole thing. He covered it with God is Love messages that are visible for miles around. The ways of the world are mysterious and perhaps it has brought some people peace or brought some lonely travelers closer to God, but mostly it was a waste of time in paint.

Rock’n’Rollen was the guy who started out with the rainbow wig (Rollen Stewart) and you would always see him on TV, the John 3:16 guy (”For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”) It is a well-known story that didn't end great. When he had some problems he really got into it and started devoting a lot of his effort getting into the spots behind the field goals where he knew he would end up on camera and it became a thing, like having Paris Hilton at your party or something. He was the star, but then it got into the John 3:16 thing and it ended up with some kind of a standoff involving guns.

How do you separate that from somebody like Howard Finster or William Burroughs? Some people are just a curiosity. Comic-Con and nerd culture has expanded and has become a genuine third way, an accepted and franchised piece of the cultural pie, and so much of that outsider art that was formerly outsider culture has now been embraced and has become very inside. Daniel Johnston, Rocky Erickson, half of Indie Rock, there are a lot of these characters!

It is pretty easy to pretend that you are a kook and then there are plenty of guys like Howard Finster where there is no pretending. He was legitimately a kook! At nerd events there are all kinds of people where you almost feel like they were born a kook, there is no question about it, but as it becomes more and more of a thing, a culture and a viable way, you see people who maybe weren't born a kook choosing to effect a kind of kookiness that maybe isn't even their birthright.

If the sword guy on the bike was around today he would not run down the street and have everybody go: ”Wow, there is that guy!”, but as he would be waiting at a stoplight some kid in a wizard’s hat would run up to him and ask: ”You want to play Wizards of the Coast with me?” or whatever and he would get absorbed. People would maybe falsely identify him as a member of their tribe. He might get a record contract with Jack City or he might end up as ”I'm no longer the sword guy on the bike, I am now this character that is being semi worshipped by a group of nerds who don't understand that I am legitimately nuts!” They turn him into a fetish item!

Merlin could really use a catchphrase. Should He put it to the voters? Never let people vote on a catchphrase! It would be like going to a second location. You can't make that stuff up either because it would be like giving yourself a nickname. It is really not so different from wearing the duster.

Merlin is not really sure what the impression is that you are supposed to be giving with a duster. A lot of times the taller and heavier nerds are wearing a duster to communicate that they are High Plains Drifters or that they are Road Warriors or that they have 5 Subway sandwiches in a custom-made leather Subway sandwich holster under their coat. A duster is a way to stand at the entrance to a parking garage and look like you mean serious business. It is the universal symbol of: ”What do I have under this coat?”

It is like John in the Walgreens cape (see RL20)! If you see a man in a Walgreens cape John highly recommends you to run for your lives! He is probably the one fully grown man in a Walgreens cape outside Halloween that you should walk toward. If you see him in a Walgreens cape, by all means come over and introduce yourself, but anyone else? Hell no!

Jonathan Coulton, They Might Be Giants (RL22)

Merlin likes to keep their show timeless, so that people can listen two years from now and still get John’s wisdom from it, buy John has actually been at Comic-Con and as recently as last week he was on a cruise ship for people who like Jonathan Coulton, called JoCo Cruise Crazy, named after one of Jonathan Coulton’s songs Tom Cruise Crazy that is about a kind of crazy that only Tom Cruise can be.

”If you had Tom Cruise’s troubles, you might be Tom Cruise crazy, too!” John knew the lyrics to this song because he is a fan of Jonathan Coulton, which Merlin was quite surprised about. He said that John had undergone a transformation because he wouldn’t have seen 2003 John knowing these words. Did John like They May Be Giants back then? He liked The Dead Milkmen, but Merlin doesn’t see Jonathan Coulton in his oeuvre.

One time Merlin was giving John the They Might Be Giants lecture, before he had toured with them and met them and became friends with them, early on in John’s friendship with Merlin. They had a conversation where John started out saying he loved the Giants back in the 1980s, but he thought they were in the novelty music family.

Merlin jumped up on a coffee table and said: ”No! You have no idea what you are talking about! Listen to these words!” and he broke down a few different songs for John, like They'll Need a Crane, which sounds like a very peppy song about construction equipment, saying ”Do you see what is happening here? Do you see what is happening here?” Because John is a difficult person he made Merlin work a little bit harder, saying ”No, I am not sure I do see what is happening there!” There are so many ways John has helped Merlin.

John did see immediately what Merlin meant and when he was going on tour with them he realized that their songs couched in humorous or novel language. They Might Be Giants songs are about the human condition, which is precisely true of Jonathan Coulton. His songs about monkeys and zombies and robots are really about love and sadness and loss and all the things that make us human. The fact that the topics are giggly is what draws the Nerds, but what keeps them, what makes him a cultural force and what makes the Giants of cultural force is that you can listen to this stuff, dig in a little bit deeper, and realize the pathos in this music. The fact that the music is fun to listen to doesn't make it any less meaningful.

Merlin actually gave John that speech about They Might Be Giants before John had ever met them and it truly helped him because when he went on tour with them he was primed to listen to them in a different way. Then of course he became friends with them and they are some of the most deeply human people he knows. It helps that they put on a hell of a Rock show! It also helps that Jonathan Coulton is a songwriter of the highest order. He understands music and how songs are put together.

John has been drawn into nerd culture through becoming an appreciator of some of the highest practitioners of the art, but if anybody stands up with a banjo who wrote a song about a robot he is not going to be like: ”I love songs about robots!” because he does not actually love songs about robots. Merlin doesn’t know if that is true for They Might be Giants, but for Jonathan’s songs there is a sense of being an outsider, not being precisely sure what to do about it, and feeling a little bit misunderstood. It is what he likes about The Mad Scientist / Zombie stuff: The person writing the song has the awareness that they are an outsider and they know why. You may feel like an outsider a lot of times in your life and think all of the tricks that you have for fixing this are not working and it is making it worse.

How John's definition of a nerd has changed over the years (RL22)

This has been a recurring theme for John in trying to integrate or interact with these people because: For most of his life John considered himself a nerd. As a young person at 6-8 years old he was precocious and articulate and he liked talking to adults, he didn't like comic books, and he didn't like sports. His peers in school absolutely called him a nerd, treated him like a nerd, and taunted him as a nerd because of the simple fact that all kids like comic books and all kids like sports and John didn't like either thing. He preferred to sit with the adults and try to listen to their conversation.

The years went by and in High School John still considered himself a nerd. Surely some people who went to High School with him who thought he was one of the cool kids, but John himself didn't. You start to get that self-identification as a nerd when maybe you are not even realizing that you are not one anymore. It was the same for Merlin. John still thought he was one and identified as one and that self-identification carried on into adulthood.

Now John is meeting all these nerds who like comic books and sports and he still has a deep reaction to that. Comic books was what mainstream kids liked, it was precisely not liking comic books that made John feel like an outsider. John understands why all these people who are 40 years old and still like comic books feel like nerds. It has become so much more acceptable and it is super mainstream to be a 40-year old guy who is obsessed with sports or obsessed with superheroes. Adam Savage has made a whole thing out of that, but he also likes science and that is nerdy.

Merlin was fortunate enough to visit Adam Savage’s little area when he tagged along with some people. He always considers himself a Star Wars nerd until he meet real Star Wars nerds, he thought all lightsabers were the same and boy was he wrong! Now he knows that Count Dooku has a really different lightsaber. Adam Savage has made, like machined, alldifferent light sabers for his collecting. He got a TV show (Mythbusters) and stuff!

During one of the performances on this nerd cruise somebody made a Total Recall reference and in the space of 30 seconds three or four more references followed it while John was standing there on stage, struggling to remember Total Recall, the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, and by the time he had even put the plot of it together a Total Recall meme had been visited, explored, and they were on to something else. John simply does not have that kind of absorption and love for popular culture. He did not go back and watch Total Recall again and again as one of 500 movies that he has watched multiple times. He can't play at that level.

Merlin thinks nerds have a lot of retention, just like everybody retains the things they care about. Merlin used to know a lot about Hit Points (from D&D), he didn't have to look that up. John thought Merlin was going to say Hitler, but they have been pretty good about avoiding the Hitler for a while. There are lot of Hitler nerds, and John is afraid he is one.

Airlines making up new rules all the time (RL22)

Last night John got back from Florida because the cruise embarked from Fort Lauderdale. If God was going to give America an enema, he would put it in at Fort Lauderdale. John was flying Frontier on the way back and American on the way there, and both of them were complete slave barges and hell storms. They are just flinging shit at you with a spoon and call it a hell ship. Airlines are inventing new rules every 30 seconds!

John sat in a chair and they told him he couldn’t sit in that chair because he had a baby on his lap, but how was this chair different from any other chair on the airplane? It was behind an exit row! John understands why a baby can’t be in an exit row, but there is no reason that it can’t be behind an exit row. He handed off the baby to his baby mama and the next stewardess came down the line and said: ”There are too many people in that row! There are not enough oxygen masks in that row for two lap babies!” - ”You are just making shit up now!” The stewardesses are so disempowered that the only thing they can do is walk down the aisle and pick on people.

Real power is not the ability to say ”No!”, but it is the ability to say ”Yes!” Bureaucrats mainly drive their power from saying ”No!” Real power in improv is the ability to say: ”Yes, and…” There is a famous story of Joan Rivers doing a scene with Mike Nichols. Everybody learns the ”Yes, and…” from the beginning and supposedly Mike Nichols started with: ”Why are we getting divorced?” - ”What are you talking about? We are not even married!” She was not considered good at that. Yes, that is ridiculous.

There are some fairly sensible baby things, like saying: ”Don't drown your baby in a bucket” - ”Oh, helpful advice! Thank you!” Air harpies are very unhappy people. What drives Merlin crazy is the redundancy. Almost every statement they make on a plane has a built-in redundancy that makes him flip: ”We hav to wait until we come to a full and complete stop!”, or: ”Our plane is 100% full!” It is maddening! John’s ears weren’t attuned to it, but now Merlin is causing a new thing for him to be pissed off about. Air travel is so unpleasant!

Triumph of the Will, Midway (RL22)

Last night John wanted to watch a movie on his iPad and based on the movies John has watched in the past, Netflix suggested that maybe he would like to relax by watching Triumph of the Will. It was so funny that he actually did watch it, lying in bed, watching Triumph of the Will. It is very long with lots of slow motion and lots of martial music. Most of the film is not speeches, but people marching around and slow fades between big flapping swastika-flags and blonde crew-cut guys looking with total adulation at this slumpy little Austrian butt polyp of Hitler.

Halfway through the night John asked himself what he was doing! He was watching a two hour long propaganda film about Hitler. Couldn't he have watched Happy Gilmore? Just go turn his brain off? Instead he was really fascinated by their tailoring and all the kind of ninions (?) It is an amazing film, but Netflix doesn’t really understand John as well as it thinks it does!

They suggested Merlin to watch lots of Thomas the Train things. Netflix’s recommendations can be very odd, but John is fighting an uphill battle: ”What’s Past is Prologue” (Shakespeare) Merlin would worry if John started getting lots of Ayn Rand vehicles or Clint Eastwood movies. Merlin hasn’t seen a lot of Hitler movies. There is one they use in the memes with Bruno Ganz freaking out (from Downfall), he is a good actor. Merlin used to watch Tora Tora Tora when he was a kid, it was his canonical long movie. Midway is a great movie, too!

John watched Midway in the theaters with his dad because his dad was a World War II veteran and they always went to see World War II movies. Midway came out in 1976. It is about the Battle of Midway, the turning point of the war. There is a scene showing the Americans up in their airplanes. The clouds have parted and they can see the Japanese fleet, this is their big moment!

They are surprise-attacking these three Japanese aircraft carriers and it really is the turning point of the war. The Japanese don't know they are there and the Americans nose their planes over and then go into a steep dive, headed down. Then the movie cuts to a shot from on deck of the Japanese carrier where all these Japanese American actors were milling around on the deck, pretending to be a bunch of sailors just going about their business unaware that the Americans are about to attack them.

John imagines that is a hard thing for an actor when the director tells you: ”All right, you are on the deck of the aircraft carrier and you are just doing your work! You are doing your aircraft carrier work and you have no idea that the Americans are about to attack, so just act natural!” All these guys are milling around the deck of the aircraft carrier and all of a sudden one of the guys, right in the center of the screen, spins around, points to the sky, and goes: ”Dive bomber! Dive bomber!”, the famous casual oriental coolness about plane attacks.

This is from the era when the portrayal of the Japanese in war movies was pretty touch-and-go with American actors playing Japanese characters. Two seconds before this one actor was just on his way across the aircraft carrier deck, probably headed somewhere to change the toilet paper or something, but then he spins around and points to the sky. At eight years old that just took John out of the movie, he was really engrossed a second ago, but that one scene! Now he can't watch the movie without waiting for that guy and he loves him now.

World War II, Bataan Death March (RL22)

The Battle of Midway was in June of 1942 and although the Americans were still getting their ass kicked up through 1943 it was a turning point of the war because they sank four Japanese aircraft carriers in one battle. Four carriers, one Cruiser, 248 aircraft, 3057 Japanese killed. The war in the Pacific was an aircraft carrier war because it is a long drive and the carriers were going to be the deciding factor establishing air superiority through all those archipelagos all through Southeast Asia.

The Japanese did not have the same ability as America who kicked their war machine into gear and churned out aircraft carriers like Lay's potato chips. It was much more of a capital investment on their part and it was much harder for them to replace those carriers. At the time they probably didn’t think: ”Turning point of the war!”, but in retrospect we do.

Code-breaking was also a big part of the war with the Enigma. In Europe that helped a lot and the Germans didn't know for a long time that the allies had cracked it. If they knew they would have just changed the code.

Merlin was reading about the Bataan Death March. He doesn’t know why he always ends up reading about awful things. He had been reading the Frederick Douglass autobiography, which is a heck of a read about slave ships and apparently they are pretty unpleasant to be on. He was talking about Bataan Death March and then about Frederick Douglass and John wondered how he was going to pull this all together. His brain was just ”woo woo”, maybe Merlin was going to mention the Denzel Washington movie, John was turning the key, but the starter was just not engaging. Merlin is not the scholar that John is.

The Wikipedia problem is that you end up reading all these things and now John knows more about serial killers than he would ever care about. There is a page where you can find who has killed the most people. It should be Gary Ridgway (no, he is not), the Green River guy. The problem is that you never know how many, but they think 100+. Merlin ended up reading about the Bataan Death March which apparently was pretty unpleasant, and they made it sound like they used the really horrific things very effectively to redouble everybody's effort on how important this war was.

At the time there was whispers about the internment camps and America knew that they were bayoneting people for no reason and that was a very effective way to redouble people's efforts at a time when it wasn't going that great. Also, the soldiers that were Bataan Death Marched were precisely the soldiers that MacArthur had abandoned when he snuck out of the Philippines in the dead of the night, escaping a Japanese advance. MacArthur's whole ”I shall return!” business was shadowed or shaded by the fact that a lot of his army that he left behind got Bataaned.

When he landed in the Philippines again it had the air of retribution, not just that they were there to save their Philippine brothers, but also to salvage his reputation to avenge the death and mistreatment of all the men that he unfortunately had to leave behind when he split early on in the war. In the article they made it sound like the people who were running the death march were particularly nice people, and that it was a resource thing: They couldn't afford ships to transport folks. They were scrounging food and water from the land as they went by, there were a lot of people on that march, and it is very hard to feed them. They also didn’t know how low the morale and health was on the people that were being attacked.

Dysentery killed a lot of people, since they are on such a cheerful topic. Merlin knows two things about death: The reason anybody ever dies is basically lack of oxygen, that is ultimately what it comes down to, whether it is a gunshot wound or obviously auto-asphyxiation, but the other main cause of death in the world is diarrhea. People become dehydrated.

John being mad about emoticons (RL22)

John is still mad about emoticons. Merlin is still weaning himself off them because it has been so automatic since 1993 when he got on the Internet, back when you were just typing. He needs something beside an emoticon. John is opposed to them primarily because he is a student of language and he doesn't think that they do any better job than words.

John's mom was a computer programmer in the 1960s and 1970s and she wrote a lot of the code that still drives American industries of insurance, banking etc. She was also a manager of programmers, she is hardcore, she was like the Carol Kaye of punch cards. During the y2k era she was getting phone calls from people who thought that everything was going to shut down in the year 2000. Nobody knew how to write this code anymore, nobody understood how it was built, and they asked her: ”Will you come back and help us save our skins?” - ”Not for any money in the world!”

Sean Connery said it first with the Alcatraz: They needed an expert on Alcatraz, the one where the people took over the island, not the Native Americans, but the Nicolas Cage movie. They had to bring in somebody who had been a prisoner to really understand how the place operated.

She said: ”Screw you! Damn the torpedoes!” Some days she likes to just watch the world burn. She certainly wasn't going to go back and help them straighten out their problems, which turned out not to be that big of a problem. She talked about it a lot during that time. Every character, every space was so valuable that two more characters in a line of code was a big deal. They were trying to pare it down and make it as efficient as possible. They were not going to throw an extra two numbers to stipulate the date.

In contrast, Merlin has five Twitter applications on his pocket computer. That was just how it was, nobody was looking to the year 2001 because none of them thought that this stuff would still be running then. Not a single one of them in 1967 thought that the stuff they were writing would still be running the insurance companies in 40 years time.

John thinks that way about emoticons: Every emoticon that gets used in the future will be an emotion and has to get parsed by somebody down the line. Some archivist is going to be like: ”Fuck, another smiley face!” Merlin suggests there would be a way to parse that, like with regular expressions, they will just gum up the machines, but that is exactly the logic they used when they used about writing code in the 1960s: ”Don’t you think there will be some magic floating car that solves this problem?” - ”I don't think so!” What happens is that some schmuck at the library of congress is like: ”God, Merlin Mann’s tweets all have these smiley faces!” Merlin thinks that if they could find a way to parse out the poop jokes, they will last just fine.

Merlin is trying to think what he really says when he makes a smiley face. They always make it sound so simple when you buy one of those Internet books in the mid-1990s that would say a smiley face means ”just kidding” or whatever. Smiley faces are so often used as a take-back: It is passive aggressive, like ”I think you are a fuck face! Smiley face!” - ”You don't think I am a fuck face?” Anybody who has John’s phone number enough to text him knows not to send a smiley face in the text. John has started writing in emails: ”You are a fuck face!” and then in parentheses: ”Smiley face emoticon”, just as a way of saying: ”I can play along!”

Merlin sent John a smiley face with an animated music note! He had no idea that he was sending animated music and it is not animated on his end. John does not have the new Skype because Merlin told him that his Skype was the best Skype and he should not get a new Skype. Merlin has some wielding power that he doesn’t even understand! Is this thing now going to sit here as some kind of GIF and animate itself for 1000 years? Merlin loves when John exercises his technical expertise on things.

Hoarders vs Collectors (RL22)

At some point John is going to need all his candles. What if there is a power outage or what if he becomes a Phantom? John got a lot of bells, too, more than he strictly needs. Merlin is very interested in hoarding, especially because he had to clean his office this week. Many people say they are collectors, but they are hoarders and there are usually ways to tell. If you have collected things, then you put them in some kind of an order where you can see them and you have selected which ones to keep and which ones to give away, like if you collect busts of Hitler and you got five of those and you have arranged them, and they are all different.

Merlin’s friend Dennis collected non-licensed ET things at flea markets, like cookie jars, but he would not buy ones that had been licensed. He had them over his fireplace and it was outstanding! That is a lot like having a cape. You walk into a place and you see five or six poorly painted ETs and you start thinking about your life. In John’s case all his candles being together on his piano is super-creepy, but that constitutes a collection. John does not have things in boxes that he doesn’t put out, except picture frames. It is challenging to display picture frames without pictures.

John’s friend Scott Plouf who plays drums in Built to Spill has a collection not unlike Merlin’s friend who collects unlicensed ETs: He has a collection of portraits in a room of his house like you have seen a lot of places. A couple of different bars in Seattle went to thrift stores and bought a bunch of oil paintings of old guys and the mismatched set of thrift store portraits is a fairly common decorating meme. Scott’s collection of portraits is remarkable because they are all found objects. He has an incredible aesthetic and each one of them is an amazing portrait!

He did not just go to thrift stores and see a portrait of a weird guy for $1 and buy it and then suddenly he had a house full of these things, but over the course of years he has only chosen the most amazing portraits. He must have passed on 1000 to have this collection of 12! You look at them and first you think: ”Oh, cool! He has a quirky set of of these things!”, but if you look at any one of them you will find that they are incredible.

He is not a hoarder, he does not fall for the trap of ”I collect candlesticks so I have 600 of them!”, but ”I collect candlesticks so i have six of them, but each one of them is the best candlestick you have ever seen!” That is what John aspires to, but if John is collecting candlesticks it is very hard for him to walk past one. Once he has it, which makes him a hoarder, it is very difficult to say: ”You know what? This candlestick doesn't meet my standards!”, like some luminary Sophie's Choice.

For a lot of people one-in-one-out is not a bad idea unless you have the storage space and you rotate it out like a museum. That is absolutely how it should be‚ or even one-in-two-out. John encounters a lot of picture frames and it is always nice to find old ones in weird sizes and sometimes it is obvious that it sat on some grandmother's piano for 60 years with a portrait of her dead son it in. That stuff really speaks to John, but he has too many of them right now, he is not going to lie!

For external reasons somebody had to come into Merlin’s office, which does not happen because this is his secret Merlin dungeon. It is not a studio! You don't come in! There are no open houses and no canapés! Merlin just sneaks in and locks the door. As it happens, somebody would have to be in there in the next couple of weeks and Merlin had to really scramble to get it cleaned up, which is good because it was time.

It made him realize how much stuff he tacitly keeps for absolutely no reason. He doesn’t want to call it a collection, but it makes him feel a little hoardy and he doesn’t feel good about it. He made a crack about this on Twitter the other day, like ”Don't throw that away! That is a really nice box!” It is a good sign that the crazy is in there somewhere, when you keep something because it is a good box, like a cardboard box!

John has a collection of cardboard boxes. Merlin loves the really rigid ones that can stand up, or if they are a good size. Sometimes you want a box! When you move you do not want big boxes, especially for books, but you want something you can carry, and a small box is not something to be treated lightly, but then you get a storm: You get boxes for your boxes.

Merlin already has so many office supplies, so many folders. Sometimes when he needs to relax he buys a notebook or index cards, and he got a lot of those. He seemed to have a lot of almost full pads of post-it notes, but was never aware of it, and you don't see this until you have to put it all in one place. Merlin can't believe how many of those he has! He doesn’t use post-it notes for anything, he doesn’t even know why he has them!

John has a huge box of almost full post-it notes, not because he has ever bought a post-it note in his life, but because his dad and his mom were both post-it note maniacs. For a long time she was using index cards, but now she just uses her phone and it is all in the computer now. Merlin has no context for understanding that! Post-it note people are like cats and scrapbooking: Eventually the post-it notes will eat your face when you die.

It is hoarding and post-it note people are worried. Hoarding is about the fear of loss. Not to go all DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but it is a form of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Instead of being obsessive compulsive about things being in a row it is a compulsion about losing something. You can't throw out a box full of diapers because one of them might be an important memory or have diamonds in it or something!

Merlin worries about scrapbooking. John is a kind of scrapbooker and that is something to be aware of, just even having a box full of post-it notes that you don't use is something that John might want to think about. How many shoe boxes of power adapters does Merlin have in his life? Merlin has trouble throwing out anything with a USB dingus on it, even if he got 500 of them, because there will always be a time right where he feels like he needs that and he can't get rid of that, and this is partly the problem: When you become this way about stuff you lose track of how much of it you actually have and that is when it becomes dangerous. Not only are you going to keep way more than you need, but you don't even know!

Merlin has been good about this in the past and everything with an USB dingus went in this box. By the time he was done he looked at it and went ”Holy fucking shit! I cannot believe how many USB to standard USB to mini-USB male chords I have!” It is completely ridiculous and he has no need for this!

Merlin has a serious notebook problem. Sometimes he will use them, but sometimes he will just pick them up because they are cool. He makes fun of the notebook people a lot, because: ”Haha, you don't actually write in your notebooks!” He has notebooks he writes in, but he also just collects interesting ones that he finds. They are beautiful little items!

Every notebook you collect is imagining a trip you are going to take where you are going to write every day. You imagine sitting on a park bench and sketching, this is how it used to be for him. He would buy a notebook, look at it and say that this was the notebook he was going to be carrying when he crosses the Hindu Kush. Is that a tantric sex thing? Crossing the Hindu Kush? Hindu Kush is the name of John’s cosplay character.

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