RL260 - My SnapChat Years

This week, Merlin and John talk about

The problem: "John’s touched more dicks than you’ve had hot dinners", referring to one of John's friends back when he was in his 20s who was bragging about how fluid his relationships were, while John didn't have the heart to tell him the truth about his own situation.

The show title refers to John's millennial girlfriend being a SnapChat employee and John being close to that world while they were together.

During the recording of the show, John’s mom came in and handed him a note that said ”I’m sorry, I’m getting sick and I’m going home to bed. I’ve given Peter the codes to the storage unit” It was not clear what his mom and Peter have discussed.

John has now achieved that his basement is a constant 65 degrees (18° Celsius), which is very appealing. It used to be a root cellar and a coal hole, but now it is a constant temp. In a root cellar you put some tubers for the winter or some rutabagas. You can put your canning and your peaches. John went through a stew-making phase and someone got him on a rutabaga tip which he put in some stew.

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

Street Fairs (RL260)

It was a long time since Merlin had been at a state fair, he wouldn’t even know where to go. When he lived in Florida, they would go to many regional fairs. On two occasions as a child he was almost killed by Bob Hope at the Ohio State Fair when he was almost hit by his limousine. A lot of young people aren’t going to appreciate how cool it is to almost get killed by Bob Hope, he was arguably this countries most popular and best known comedian. He is the original Tom Hanks. John once saw Count Basie at Disneyland and thought he had some real connection to the real America, but Merlin almost got killed by Bob Hope!

Merlin’s favorite fair is the Strawberry Festival in Plant City where they celebrate the harvesting of strawberries. It was a generic fair, you could see Night Ranger or a Country band, but you could also make your own strawberry shortcake and Merlin likes anything with strawberries. But it was not a Build-A-Bear-type situation. John is spending a lot of time on the Internet lately and is back in this mode where he realizes that people just make sex dolls for themselves based on just whatever they want now. Now that China has gotten into the game, the whole industry has exploded. You could get any model that looks like Anny or the lady from Lost, you could 3D-print different faces on it. People in the 3D-printing world keep telling John that 3D-printing is not as good as we all want it to be yet. It is kind of a teaser yet.

VR and AR (RL260)

The same is true for VR. Seattle is a big VR community and John went to one of the VR startups, actually went to their shop, tried their apparatus on and felt he was at the IMAX at the Air and Space Museum in 1979. Merlin is excited when every kind of technology is moving forward, even when the tip of the iceberg that we see is kind of silly, because it is going to have a lot of knock-on effects. Merlin has no desire for VR, but he finds it amazing how his mind can be tricked he is falling at Universal City on a Harry Potter ride and he is a little bit impressed by that. AR is where John is excited, because if your body is not engaged in VR, it is always going to be a demo. If you can’t touch with your fingers and cannot walk around in the environment, you are just sitting in a chair, watching a thing. Now matter how realistic it is and no matter how much you are playing Myst, you will never get across that uncanny valley, while AR really thrills him. They continue to talk about several examples of VR and AR applications.

The launch of the SnapChat spectacles (RL260)

John is not longer under SnapChat-NDA. His millennial girlfriend was a SnapChat employee, but time passages and now he can talk about that. John was in a very privileged position during his SnapChat years prior to the release of the SnapChat glasses. They were rare as hens’ teeth and even Matt Haughey asked him what he would have to do to get a pair of those glasses. John’s lady was the lawyer of the labs developing the technologies. Nobody could talk about it, but little by little they trickle down to John. She had a pair all of a sudden and they were playing with them a long time before it could be talked about. John was very excited about them, because they seemed like the beginning of real useful AR. They would put SnapChat filters on people in real-time. Merlin previously thought it would be cool to always record everything they see and be able to go back and double-check things. When Google Glass came out, John’s friend Dave Meinert who owns the 5 Point Bar in Seattle put up a very conspicuous sign not allowing any Google Glass in the bar and the story got into the New York Times.

As it came closer and closer to release, it turned out that the SnapChat glasses wouldn’t do anything except take 30 second snaps and it was just a tiny camera in the corner of some sunglasses. It also couldn’t take a selfie which was the number one thing that made SnapChat interesting to people. John actually went to New York City with his girlfriend for the big roll-out and there was a popup store that they had built right next to the Apple Store across from Central Park and it was all secret and covered in scaffolding. The night before they went into this big cold empty room and at the very end of this room there was this little vending machine that looked like a Pokémon with a computer screen that sees you. Everything about it was beautiful, they just didn’t do anything. On release day there was this line down the block and Kanye’s manager was there. They went on the internet for $1500 a pair. Tons of SnapChat employees were there looking very casual, but their clothes were extremely expensive, it was very tech up down cool, everybody had a headset on with little earpieces and they were offered to get into the line themselves to get their own spectacles, because everything was embargoed and not even employees were able to get a pair for free. As they walk up to the machine, all eyes were on them, because people had been waiting all day and they just cut ahead in the line. As they were interacting with the machine they came to the conclusion that neither of them wanted any pair for themselves and they didn’t want to sell them on the Internet really quickly either. They had already tried them out during the three days leading up to the event, wearing them in Manhattan until some young person would look at them and was about to ask. That was a recent tech moment for John where he at first was super-excited about what a thing could be, but then as it came closer to real, it became clearer that this would not be cool at all. It would merely lay the groundwork for someone else to come along and do the thing that we all know is coming, which is to make a Google Glass that looks cool. The Google Glass was dorky and a bit ahead of its time. The SnapChat spectacles look super-duper-cool, and did zilch. We are still waiting for someone to come out with cool looking glasses that also can do things.

Merlin being an early adopter (RL260)

For a long time people were hoping Apple would make a real TV set, which is a possibility on an infinite timescale, but do you really want that? Merlin wants fewer things that have to be this one way. Your phone went from a flip phones that had numbers and Snake on it to become something where you could put apps on that did lots of stuff and the smartness of the device came out of what you were able to put on this really top-notch thing that was a pleasure to use even without apps. The problem is: Would you ever just buy those round glasses with a little camera on it? No, you want something bigger out of it. The real technology seems like it is going to be a SciFi contact lens type situation where you take whatever glasses you already have, fix this impossibly tiny dingus to and get almost all of the functionality without needing dorky glasses with a camera built into them. You have to go through these stages of awkwardness, you have to learn what doesn’t work, Merlin is always skeptical of the first version of anything, not because it is a bad idea, but because there is so much stuff out there that is fun for around 90 minutes. This is a gadget, but it is not part of his life yet.

Merlin got a sleep watch to track his sleep that had been recommended by a friend. It looked so dorky and was a giant thing that you would connect to your computer in the morning to download the data in this terrible app. It was like a Palm Pilot for sleep. Now his FitBit does all that automatically. Merlin bought a lot of digital cameras over time and when he first met John he was just getting into this stack of digital camera plus Flickr, which was a really fun community and a great site! Merlin was also an early adopter of LiveJournal, certainly the stuff he took with his first digital camera in 1999 together with his now-wife is hilarious! Those pictures are just a colorful smudge. Even photos taken during his daughter’s lifetime have a huge difference in quality! Otherwise Merlin hasn’t been an early adopter of that many things. He did many Charles Peterson-style things with his camera and ruined a lot of photos with filters long before they even existed. There is a photo of John in San Francisco with chopsticks holding up some kind of bean and Merlin has digitally smeared it with light, which is very cool! John has a picture of him and Madeleine (Merlin’s wife). Merlin got a lot of pictures of John’s mom when they did their little Inside Seattle mini-tour for probably ”Putting the days to bed” and they and Josh and Emilie, he got some photos of John’s dad as he had lots of high-quality hang-time with him during a Death Cab show they played at.

How John and Merlin met over a bag of Pirate’s Booty (RL260)

A lot of people don’t realize that the first contact John had with Merlin was contact that maybe not even Merlin was aware of or made the connection when they actually met in person. Merlin’s friend Dan came up to John in Boston and asked him to hold a bag of Pirate’s Booty in order to take a photo of John for his friend back in San Francisco for a blog of rock musicians holding Pirate’s Booty. Dan was one of the mafia of Indie Rockers who would come to all Indie Rock shows. John looked like a scallop, like he was 17 and he had that big dumb smile, because that was what the Internet was to him at the time, like a message board for nerds, sharing this type of thing. As John met Merlin, which wasn’t that much longer after that, John remembers having a conversation where Merlin was like ”Wow, you are in the Pirate’s Booty thing”, and John was like ”Wow, you were the San Franciscan guy?”. Merlin got David Cross, Mac from Superchunk, Merlin’s dog, Matthew Cauz, all of The Long Winters at the time, Merlin’s friend Matt the surfer, Jay and Chris from Sloan, Matt from Oranger. These are good photos! Boy, the photos are terrible!

The early days of digital cameras (RL260)

John wonders if Flickr is still available and asks why they are not the future, because they had been the present. It is a long story. They got bought up by the Yahoo and everything was fine for a while, then they got under- and deresourced. Merlin had actually visited them after the acquisition and they were still so game and so hot! There was no wood behind the arrow once you are part of the big company. It sucks, it was a great site and it was so fun to use and it really was a little community, it was one of those rare things at the beginning of the web 2.0 era. It was actually useful and fun and you would meet people through it. Like LiveJournal, which was very web 1.0

The first digital camera John ever saw was at a restaurant in Seattle where he used to go to get late night Stroganoff. When he was a kid, he loved Stroganoff, because it was made with hamburger and cream of mushroom soup (by Campbell’s). That was back when America understood how to make garbage food for kids. Now where are we? We are somewhere further down the road it seems. John started going to restaurants at that magical age where he could suddenly afford to buy not just Tacos, because he had a job and he could go to places at 11pm and could order things that he wanted. The Stroganoff was like ambrosia and it was flank steak and onion, cooked and put over noodles. A thing you don’t want is a long cooked onion over a plate of noodles, because it looks like a noodle. It was an early experience of the overfancyfication of things and John realized that maybe that was the original version and the hamburger-version was an abomination, but this was way worse. John loved Stroganoff and so he spent years eating flank-steak Stroganoff, but dreaming of Hamburger Stroganoff. Now he is finally at the age where he can just go back and eat bean casserole and hamburger Stroganoff and nobody can tell him different! He can have cafeteria food for the rest of his life, although people yell at him with their eyes.

John was at a party the other day and people asked him what was involved in making a podcast and he said that he goes up in the morning, microwaves a cop of coffee and talks to his friends. They both took a small step back because John microwaves his coffee. But then he will microwave some hamburger Stroganoff and will sit on the front seat of his dad’s car which is like a couch, sigh, go to the state fair. Part of it is to blame on the Internet, which Merlin does for so many things. Part of him pines for a time when he could be at a party or a dinner and have an argument with somebody whether something existed and they couldn’t go to the library and look it up because they had to go on their bus. Today somebody else will have already looked it up before you are done! The other side of it is that back in the day you could also get to hear from so many people who said you are doing Stroganoff wrong, so now as the aggrieved party could pull out your phone and show them that there are many different kinds of Stroganoff and you can make this any way you want because this is your house. Both Merlin and John miss the unknowability of things.

The Greatest Generation (RL260)

John had an interesting insight not that long ago, his dad being from the Greatest Generation, born in 1921, together with his cohort, which includes Sammy Davis Jr, John F Kennedy and Johnny Carson. They continued being the prime movers of the culture all the way through The Beatles about 1968. We normally look back and think that from The Beatles or from Elvis on it was the youth of America in Rock’n’Roll, but those people were just children in terms of who was really driving the culture. Only in the late 1960:s did the kids in college have their protests and everybody from the liberal dream of John’s dad’s generation with Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Lyndon B. Johnson, was killed. Following that, right about 1970 the steering wheel just got taken from the Greatest Generation. John’s dad was as far left as he could be, but it took him several years to come to an understanding that you could protest against the army being in Vietnam. It had never occurred anybody in his generation to be against the war. It was pretty awkward, especially after the veterans against the war march, when things got further radicalised, as can be seen in episode 9 of the Vietnam War TV Series. Even though the tide of opinion across the nation was turning against the war, now they were radicalizing everybody by telling them that they were doing the protest wrong. It must have been hard to know what kind of footing to find.

John’s mom was against the war from the very beginning and it was a contention within their marriage, but that is the way liberals still are: She was against the war and dad was like ”You can’t be against the war!”. His dad’s first wife is the mother of John’s older brothers and sister. At one time his dad was running for a major position in the Washington State democratic party and his wife, Gene, decided to run against him. Can you imagine how it was around the dinner table between those two! He was running and she said ”I don’t think so” and threw her hat in the ring. This is the early 1950:s and their marriage didn’t work out. They were married for 8 or 9 years, though, which is not nothing. She ran at him from the left, too! The insight John had was: In 1968 his dad was 47 and that was the moment when the culture just went past him and his friends and from that point on the Baby Boomer were determining what the dialectic was and the Greatest Generation just gradually had to seed that they were no longer were laying it out there. It was so clear that they didn’t have that veto power or utter primacy of opinion anymore and a lot of people aren’t automatically going to agree with you just because you are from the Greatest Generation and because you are the dad or the mom. Carson retained his cultural presence and when Dean Martin was on the show he felt comfortable but when he had young people on throughout the 1970:s we was like ”so what are you young folks all up? What are you kids doing today?” He would have people like Tiny Tim mostly as a curiosity. Dick Cavett was more on the street.

That is the age that Merlin and John are now. Unfortunately the Generation X was so small and too resigned which never really gave them the feeling that they were making the culture. No-one ever cared about what they think. You watch the reigns get handed over in front of you and didn’t even get to touch them. They are like the Prince Charles of cultures, sitting in his double-breasted jacket until the sleeves are all frayed, waiting to be king even for a minute. The man is in his 70:s! His top-son is very handsome, but has surprisingly lost his hair as his hair-line has receded all the way when he still was so young and so beautiful. He didn’t do a Donald Trump who thought that he would be standing in front of an airplane a lot during the next several years and he is just going to be president baseball hat or president pastry hair. Merlin has a collection of unflattering images of the president, which is one of his many small therapies. It is believed, but not proven that he has some kind of xiety about stairs, but for years he had been tweeting that president Obama should use the handrail when he gets off Air Force One. We know he doesn’t like wind and getting on and off of planes must be a stressful thing for him. Lately he has been doing more and more screaming-over-the-helicopter-blade-sound mini press conferences, so he must have found something that is working for him.

When John was in DC recently, some minor dignitary drove by with a police escort and a caravan of two SUVs and he was thinking who would get a minor league police escort like that. Somebody said that it might be Paul Ryan. The King of Mombasa would have gotten a big entourage and they would have thrown flower pedals out in front of him. That’s the thing money can’t buy! Zuckerberg doesn’t get 50 cops following him and running red-lights. When the president comes to Seattle, they close down the Freeway. That is a big thing that has to be really enticing for president baseball hat, even if he doesn’t get a chandelier in his limousine. Such a thing would make you think twice about resigning. Once that goes away, you never get it back. Something that many of us can appreciate is first class on a plane. Merlin had an okay number of plane flights during his life and at one point during the .com days of his life a boss upgraded him and he flew in first class the first time. It is such a lame joke to make, but it is kind of hard to go back once you have been there, especially today! You have the experience that flying a plane does not have to be stressful and awful and you got to feel a little bit fancy, especially as a poor kid like Merlin. Riding with a police escort must be this to the 10th power, especially if you are someone like Steve Mnuchin.

The generational conflict (RL260)

John believes the children are our future, the question is if he is prepared to let them lead the way. His challenge is to continue to be useful, which he has always tried to do, while also acknowledging that whether or not he thinks a thing matters or is good or is sensible no longer really matters. You don’t want to be Homer Simpson’s dad, yelling at clouds. There was time, a long time before John’s dad’s generation, where the understanding continued to be that as people get older they accrue more wisdom and so are more useful, even if they aren’t down in the trenches doing things, but you go consult them. For centuries, the pace of change would not exceed what happened over two generations and you could say that mom and dad ave seen some shit and we should listen to them! Like grandpa would know how to fix the wheel on the wagon or how to water and older horse, but now grandpa still wants to tell us how to water an older horse while the kids are going around on hover-boards. How can the older generation be useful without being grouchy?

Looking at the photos of John’s dad right around the time when John himself was a young young guy, everybody in his dad’s generation grew their sideburns long. His dad went from a James Bond tuxedo to having sideburns and wearing a suede trench coat. They were going on ski trips and were wearing big white ties. It was during the era when his dad was appearing in court and a couple of times the judge would be telling him that the blazer he was wearing in court was not acceptable. John doesn’t want that to happen to him where he will just dye their hair with Manic Panic to stay in the game. Two things you can do are to embrace curiosity and kindness. Kindness doesn’t hurt anybody. Merlin goes to the bodega a couple of times a week and sees the lady at the bodega, who is a woman in flux, a recent grandmother who is always trying new things. She has different nails, different eyebrows, she is trying some things out. Sometimes he will tell her that he really likes her hair. That’s it! He should say that her eyebrows are on fleek, but he doesn’t want to be too personal about a specific part. They continue to talk about odd idioms and memes that have probably the origin that somebody spelled something wrong, like John is ending most of his text-messages with ”B” because the ”B” is right in the middle above the space bar. Or on 4Chan, they have replaced ”LOL” with ”KEK”. There is also the word shipping” used somehow in connection to ”relationship”, which probably means that millennials have many more levels of relationships that Merlin and John didn’t have. They might not even have the concept of a relationship, but everything is just hickety pickety.

One of John’s first millennial friends, back when they were like 20, used to brag to John about how fluid their relationships were. He was making a contrast between their young, cool, groovy people and the old stuck in the mud people and John never had the heart to tell him that he had touched more dicks than the guy had hot dinners at the time. Now he is a person in his 30:s and his fluidity has really coagulated and he just wants a girlfriend now. You get in the habit to think that you are progressive and that you and your friends always are going to pigpile naked and Netflix and fleek all night and day. Well, maybe, but eventually everybody wants a white picked fence, except for very few of us. Merlin knew some guys in their late 20:s, 30:s, 40:s or even 50:s who kept coming to college parties after they had gone there for one semester, that is not a good look in a pigpile. There was a young kid who had a band during peak Indie Rock times in Seattle and his dad was the bass player in the band. He was probably in his 40:s while the kid was late-teens and his dad core color in his hair. It was very uncomfortable with all of them, because they didn’t really want to interact with the kid, because he is a child, and they didn’t want to interact with the dad, because he is a dad, but they would be at parties and events. Now John can go to these parties, there is usually a padded chair he can sit on in a corner and if people want to come and pay their respects, they can. But John is not circulating, trying to find out who the young bands are and go hang out with them. If they want to come say hello that is wonderful.

John is doing a recording right now, actually, and the person playing the drums is a member of one of the young bands and they have a great time together. Music really is an inter-generational language, but then John realizes that he is 20 years older than this person, which is the lifetime of an entire cool musician. These young musicians are already in their late 20:s and do already have to confront the fact that maybe they didn’t make it and now they are on some old guy’s record sitting on a chair with his fly unzipped, like they are playing with Howlin’ Wolf now, having reached that John Hooker stage sitting on a crate out in front of a diner, which would absolutely be John’s dream. Apparently, John Lee did just keep his fly down in the later stage of his career. The audience couldn’t really see it, but everybody else did. That is a bold place in life! Those are squad goals: A group of men that you can really relate to and you are just totally comfortable sitting with your flies down. Nobody talk about it, it doesn’t have to be weird, it doesn’t even have to be coordinated, but it just happens! For John, squad goals is only an internet joke. Personally he doesn’t have squad goals. He does have a goal to have 5 or 6 people around his property in his employ, but he wouldn’t call that a squad. When you think about Elvis or Don Corleone, you think of these people who are in this Hammer, this retinue of characters who move in and out. John was at Hammer’s 50th birthday party and now Merlin is 50, who is the asshole now? Merlin’s birthday party is not happening at the Tonga Room, they are just going to have a quiet dinner and get to bed early.

Both John and Merlin are members of a couple of squads, but there are people who’s squad is full on where they live and belong. Maybe it is a FOMO, the primary existential characteristics of millennials. The squads John attends are not millennial squads, but they are squads of guys who get together to watch football games and play poker. They are mostly rock people and they used to be ashamed that they would watch football because it wasn’t very rock, but at a certain point they just wanted to watch football, whether it was rock or not and they made it rock. John always described it as something people were taking it very seriously, they weren’t just allowed to shuck and jive and walk around and play grab-ass. Like Game of Thrones: You have to watch this with a very peripheral mindset. Particularly in Seattle, the professional sports are understood in a kind of George Will context where people intellectualize about sports where people have read the book about sports and are not just there for the movie. Particularly when they lost their basketball team it became existential and you could be dark about sports.

Eastern Slovakia is a very mountainous region. The Romanians get all the Transylvania vibe, because it is mountainous and scary, but there is a place in Ukraine, Slovakia and Poland where the Carpathian Mountains are very tall, like icy full of bears tall. People are up there doing very gothy things. Merlin doesn’t doubt that there are metal bands in Prague, but you have to really go up into the Carpahtians to find some serious goths, people untethered from the expectations of the city. Those are not even the serious goths! The Finns hated the Russians so much that the sided with the Nazis, not because they believed in Nazism, but because they hated the Russians that much. There are surely some holes up there in Finland full of dark magic. Island, Sweden, Norway and Denmark has gnomes, but not Finland. The Island gnomes were probably in the hold of the ship that came from Denmark and they snug out, like a brown rat. For them, gnomes are like Pokémons, they are just part of the culture and nobody is going to be freaked out that you believe in gnomes. For a true Russian-hating Finn, their attachment to the gnoming culture is something that is more bespoke in person, like that is their squad goal! In Finland, they probably have wraiths more than gnomes.

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