RL58 - Squirearchy of Monks

This week, Merlin and John talk about:

The Problem: At least John got an A in Newspaper, referring to John not getting into college after High School because he had mostly Fs, but he had one A in Newspaper.

The show title is a word play between hierarchy and Mike Squires and refers to how different groups of monks are hierarchically related to one another.

They start the show singing each other’s names. For a while John was trying to sing a song for Jonathan Colton every time he talked to him on the phone, but the only thing he could come up with was ”Jonathan Colton helps your hamburger help you make a great meal” and it didn't make any sense to either one of them. As time went on it evolved to ”Jonathan Colton helps you! Jonathan Colton!”

Towards the end of the show Merlin had to pee so bad! This was a really good episode, but they didn't exact find a dinger. There was a dinger somewhere in the middle and Merlin could cut it off, but he had to pee really really bad and John had to poop. "Talk to you soon!" - "You are the best, Merl!" - "You too, buddy!"

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

Benjamin Franklin is responsible for the French Revolution (RL58)

John has been thinking a lot about Benjamin Franklin and is convinced that Benjamin Franklin is more or less responsible for the French Revolution. He was the American Ambassador to Louis XVI’s Versailles, waltzing around at Versailles in his intentionally shabby American clothes, screwing girls left and right, having a witticism or bon-mot for everything, doing his Ben Franklin rag, and all the aristocracy said: ”This guy! He is incredible, this Ben Franklin!” It was planting a seed that they had to get rid of their king. The Americans were onto something, Ben Franklin was such a character, they wanted a little bit more of the action, they were all dressed in pink silk, pooping behind curtains and doing the whole French thing while Franklin was just wearing his tweeds or whatever. He probably had sweat pants on and they were thinking that this was what freedom looked like.

The French Revolution was 1789, the American Revolution was 1776 and there was this little interregnum. Benjamin Franklin introduced La viralité, viral politics. Louis XVI hated the British so much and thought that Franklin and the Americans were on his side. He was focused on England and thought that allying himself with Americans was going to work out for him because they were all fighting the British, but he didn’t realize that Franklin was shagging Freuleins and spreading sedition. Franklin was basically a giant bald stress bump in Louis XVI underwear drawer and when the French were fed up they had this role model, this American idea and they thought ”We can do this! We are all going to be Franklins!”

If we think of aristocracy in Europe at that time we always think of England. England had several hundred really rich and powerful families, but there were 50.000 aristocratic families in France with all these minor barons. The court of Louis XVI was a big house and there was aristocracy everywhere. They were in the flower garden and behind the cupboard in the kitchen, there were people everywhere! There was this hierarchy, or squirearchy (after Mike Squires) and America was very fashionable at the time because they just had a revolution, they were the Justin Bieber of nations: brand new, swoopy hair, and Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution, was a French guy. The French helped out big time and the Americans couldn't have done it without them.

The Saxons fought on behalf of England against the Americans, but the French poured money into the revolution. America and France were fast friends and big bros, but Franklin was over there. The Continental types had sent Franklin to France just to get him out of their hair, but he was just a swinging dick with all his slyness and he was a goer, a finger in the pooper. First the French Revolution happened, then Napoleon, which lead to World War I, which basically means Franklin was responsible for the Holocaust. Merlin needs to make a chart for that. John really believes that there is some meat to his ”Franklin started the French Revolution” theory.

The other day Melin read a story about Franklin and he was thinking about two people this week: Glenn Gould and Benjamin Franklin. They had both learned how to deliberately work their eccentricities. People have tried to replicate the whole kite and the key-in-a-jar lightning thing and it seems that it either wouldn't work and or you would die. Only Franklin was there and he knows whether or not it worked. The story went out, people knew about Mr. Franklin and his stuff and he apparently did very little to dispel that story or he may have said: "It totally happened and I was there, I am Ben Franklin! I'm a big swinging dick!” To have these things out about him probably helped him get the tip into a lot of butts, continentally or otherwise. Like the equally annoying Oscar Wilde, Franklin was great at a bon mot, which is a French phrase and also a Vietnamese sandwich with carrots and sliced pork, if you want to call it pork. Vietnam: French colony, Ben Franklin: responsible for Vietnam! Vichy France was the first non-German country who sent their Jews to the camps.

The original ”turns out” things for Merlin were dispelling a lot of these myths. In the days before Snopes (by William Faulkner) you could read The People's Almanac or the Book of Lists 1-3 and Merlin learned a lot from these books that he should be un-learning. Far be it from Merlin or John to ever subscribe to the Great Man theory of history, because they believe in the small actions of many anonymous people over the centuries. There is no theory of great man on this podcast, except in this one instance they can say that Ben Franklin was the wheel upon whom history turned. If John was going to go back to the Continental Congress, he is afraid for himself how much he would be the Ben Franklin, but you want to be the Jefferson.

A lot of those guys were farmers. They were used to getting up early and they started early, but John thinks Franklin rolled in a little bit later. He was a lot older than most of those guys and he rolled in whenever the hell he wanted. He was born in America, he is one of the original Americans, he is an OG. You definitely don't want to be Adams in that situation, even though he was a great man and he wrote a lot of great stuff, but you get a sense that he was a very tense guy. Merlin thinks he was the Antonio Salieri to Franklin's Mozart, because he did a lot of shit and heavy lifting. John thinks Jefferson was the Mozart in that analogy, but who is F. Murray Abraham? Merlin would hate to be seated next to F. Murray Abraham on a plane. There are so many people on John’s list of people he would hate to be seated next to on a plane.

It is incredibly frustrating that this great man got so much accomplished. If he did half of the stuff that he appears to have done! Particularly you get the sense that he was a tinkerer and a polymath, kind of a Da Vinci, and he was very confident. Merlin loves a tinkerer who actually ends up producing things in addition to the ability to synthesize information. ”This might be a thing! I'll spend half a day on this! … Haha! Bifocals!” - ”What? What is a bifocal?” - ”You’ll see, literally!” Merlin and John sit around, devoting their entire lives to turning lead into gold and at the end of their lives they have 42 notebooks. Paracelsus was Merlin’s favorite alchemist.

Wanting to stay in bed in the morning (RL58)

Merlin can’t get his family to adequately understand how important it is for him to lay in bed awake but not completely awake in the morning, although he understands he has to get up and participate in family life. Merlin got curious based on the dynamism that John was bringing with a discussion about Franklin and the Holocaust in five easy steps: When Merlin wakes up in the morning he won’t remember dreams like he used to and he doesn't care because dreams are stupid, but he does feel a process of thoughts arranging themselves. Little Will-o’-the-wisps are wandering and things are slowly starting to make sense, but at just about the moment when he is ready to figure everything out his daughter comes in and wants to watch Milan and gets him out of bed. That was daddy's special thinking time!

John agrees: That process of waking up and gradually coming into the world is absolutely the magic hour, otherwise known as noon, the magic hour between 11:45am and 12:45pm. John loves to find himself coming into awakeness, he rolls over, starts staring at the ceiling and all is still a dream. His thinking is happening in dream language, but he is awake. John processes all kinds of things and tries not to interrupt that by letting his worries about the day intrude. That is the time when he wonders if Ben Franklin can be blamed for the Holocaust and he reverse engineers that.

Perceiving others as more adult than yourself (RL58)

A few times during the last month, John had the experience of perceiving a friend or an associate and their family from one remove, like peering in their window on Christmas morning. The thing about Facebook and also knowing people in a wide circle is that every once in a while you get this glimpse inside someone else's home from a really intimate vantage point, but you are just looking in their window. When seeing people his age that way, John feels like they are adults. They have an adult house, their family and their kids think of them as their parents, they are mom and dad in the way that John and Merlin thought about their parents.

In the reflected glow of that, John looks at his own life and discovers that he is not grown up yet in that way. His house is not an adult’s house, but it is a hunting lodge where Grandma's bomb went off. It could be a delirious 84-year-old man's house, someone who retired from the Foreign Service after many years. John got a glimpse of other people's worlds and realized that part of what makes their house adult is that no-one has a half an hour in the morning to lay in bed and let their dreams manifest. All those people are waking up to a bell, they are kicking it into gear and, breakfast is at 7:30am and let's get going!

Acceptance is something that Merlin and John think of as very adult. An adult they aspire to be has a long view. But in fact, relative to this looking into other people’s windows on Christmas morning, adulthood by their standards or by normal standards is not at all about accepting the long view. What keeps that engine running is the acquisitive nature of wanting a bigger house, a nicer living room, more stuff from Restoration Hardware, or more Williams-Sonoma kitchen appliances.

That is the stuff that you envy when you look into the window ”Oh my God! They have a bread maker! All their kitchen chairs match! They only have one kind of fork! Wow!” John’s kitchen chairs match because he found them in his barn and somebody else arranged the matching. When he got to this house, he wondered what was in the barn and he found a kitchen table and matching chairs and moved those over into the house. John's forks do not match, which is a source of personal pride.

Merlin’s house and his landlord (RL58)

The thing John likes about Merlin’s kitchen is the stainless steel table, which was one of the best things they ever did, given the constraints. Their house was built in 1928 and it feels like it: It is really weird and like a lot of San Francisco houses it was probably built as flats, maybe a flat for a divorced sergeant in 1946, somebody who was about to lose all their money, somebody with a snap brim Fedora and spats.

Many things about Merlin’s kitchen are completely wrong. His friends have all the mod cons, as his mother in law says, but Merlin only has a single sink, and he doesn’t have a hood or a vent. When their house fills with smoke, they turn off the smoke alarm, open the windows and a greasy fog hangs over Merlin’s daughter's room for two hours. If they had a hot plate for braising tuna fish it wouldn't be a problem, but they also have a really shitty oven with 5 BTUs. Merlin has to heat a pan up for 4 hours, he has to cook with coconut oil because it is the only way he can get a sear, he makes an incredibly hot pan, throws the fish in and the place just fills with smoke like some Cajun hut. They also don't have a dishwasher because there is no space to put a dishwasher.

Some of this is because they are renters and can’t improve their kitchen with their own money. They have a wonderful relationship of 13 years with their landlord, but they are literally the cheapest people in the world and if you got a cheap landlord you have to be cautious about what you ask them to fix. They have some Old World Irish craftsmanship. For example when their original 1928 furnace broke, their landlord said ”I haven't had heat in my house in 20 years!”, even though he had three children. He is a man is in his 80s and he is a multimillionaire because he bought all these houses when there were $20.000-60.000. He got broken windows and so on.

For example some tiles were falling in the bath area and you could push the wall by 1/8 inch. Merlin thought his landlord could take care of this, because he is a guy and a hole in the wall made of mold is the kind of thing that makes your kid weird. Merlin tried to patch it, it didn't work, he called him up, the usual drill, and they came over and they essentially put tile over the hole without fixing the underlying wall. They literally put tile over a hole in the wall, which is a great description of Irish politics too. They have been tiling over the hole in Irish politics for 250 years. It is a starchy diet.

+ Accepting that you can’t please everybody (RL58)

Back when Merlin used to be a web guy, clients he hadn't worked for in months would call him up and complain that the internet wasn't working, like the modem didn't work, and because Merlin was the person they knew to call and he would answer the phone because he is a gentleman, he ended up having to listen to their complaints and the more he explained to them in the nicest way possible that he wasn't responsible for that, the angrier they got.

If Merlin is that guy in a transaction, he tries to figure out who he is yelling at and why. First he will take a step back and ask himself whether this is something he needs to accept. If he is not willing to accept it, is there something other than google that he can do to solve this? On the other end Merlin has become monumentally universally okay with the fact that he not only can't please everybody, but if he did try to please everybody he would screw up pleasing the people that he likes and that has become like a huge value for him that a lot of fucking adults need to adopt!

The false expectancy of perfection (RL58)

People get further and further away from understanding what is going on in computers, but their sense that perfection is still possible grows. They don't understand what is wrong with their computer, but nothing keeps them from thinking that their computer can still do everything they want. When you are using a hammer, your awareness of what the hammer is capable of is pretty one to one. You don't look at a hammer and think that this hammer can make stained glass windows. You look at the hammer and you understand that it pounds things. It can pound nails or it can pound holes in the wall, that is the extent of what you can do with it. As you get more and more confused about what the capabilities of a thing are, nothing keeps you from thinking that this thing is capable of perfection.

That is why we yell at politicians and why we are so mad at the world: We are confused about what the stakes are, we are confused about what banks even do, and in our minds there is no reason why these things can't be made perfect. All we know what to do is call somebody at a call center and scream at them. We think that the problem with our iPhone is not that things are imperfect and this little machine is struggling to keep up, but the problem with our iPhone is that somebody in Cupertino has been a dick and was intentionally programming it to be stupid as a research project. They are filming us with a secret camera in the phone when we are frustrated because they are sadists. In reality, consumer electronics do not have some kind of sadistic built-in obsolescence, but we are at the dawn of this age and this stuff is just barely able to do what it is doing and it cannot keep up with our imaginations.

John wouldn't have wanted to fly in one of the off-brand airplanes in 1918, like Wright Brothers with no ”W”, did you say ”White Brothers”? This is one of the things that Science Fiction has done to all of us: It has leapt ahead and has become real in our minds so that we have a pretty good sense of what interstellar space travel looks like, what fusion energy looks like, and how these technologies work, but in fact none of those technologies exist at all and we live in a world with a constant low level frustration, wondering why we are not on space battleships yet.

Our imagination is constrained by what has been possible in the past and any decade's version of Science Fiction is based on iterating or making a super-version of something that already exists. In the 1950s everything looked like a television and in the 1960s everything was like rockets. The control panel in Star Trek was levers and lit-up a buttons. Science Fiction is about a future where you have moving sidewalks and laser guns and things you can plug into your brain, but the more salient parts are these somewhat dystopian tradeoffs that got us there. Anything that is not too heavy handed is going to be based on the idea that the thing you thought was going to turn out great is not only not great, but really complicated in a way that we never could have expected. That is why all the narratives in science fiction are 500 years old.

When Merlin was in his former racket of trying to help people do work stuff, he did not have enough time to lay in bed and think about Hitler, which is actually really important. We need to have time everyday where we don’t have to think about how quickly we are going to get our minivan on the 580. To Merlin Science Fiction is ray-gun stuff and everything else is Speculative Fiction. He doesn’t know if that is correct, but their listener John Siracusa will be able to tell them. He is in into fantasy, like Gandalf Sex Vampire TV shows.

Our vision of perfection is not only unattainable, but once you get into a certain suburban treadmill it seems just slightly out of reach all the time. Merlin had an iPad 2 that is perfectly fine, but now there are rumors that there will be an iPad 3. What size will it be? How many pixels will it be? What will the aspect ratio be? Merlin’s friends are writing about aspect ratio, but who fucking cares? Then the iPad 3 comes out, is ridiculously faster, has a better screen and is on a completely different level.

Everybody is excited and they run out and buy an iPad 3. Perfection has finally been reached! You know what happened in the last month? The iPad 4! Now there is an iPad that is twice as fast as the iPad 3, the iPad 2 is obsoleted and turned you into a punk-ass Cupertino bitch because you put your money on the electronic Barrelhead and now you got your dick in your hand and there is a better iPad. Nine months ago you had a perfect device, but now you are mad because they made a better one.

For Merlin, the least interesting part of Science Fiction is the science-y rocket car stuff, while the part that appeals to him is that human nature never really changes. Merlin and a lot of other people felt this every day: ”All I need is the 4516 Breadmaker and I'll finally be where I need to be!” You are never going to be where you need to be because your essential nature is to be keening toward the acquisition of something not even nominally interesting that you have decided is something that you really need to have. It could be you want a curly P. V. Portland beard. The take-home message of all the good Science Fiction novellas is that human beings are always going to be meddling, selfish, and really unuseful people who look out for themselves more than for others.

In comics they will always try to turn things into a weapon. Everything cool we get, like T’Challa, the Black Panther who is the king of this country in Africa (Wakanda) and one of the most powerful of all, they have the cure for cancer but they won't give it to Cap (Captain America?) or anybody else because they know that S.H.I.E.L.D. will turn into a weapon.

The technology that most people envy or covet is the technology of leisure time. When people imagine what they really want, they want to move out to the country, turn off all their electronic devices and listen to the wind whistle through the trees. It is a powerful fantasy for most people, partly because it feels completely out of reach and the only way you could achieve that is through earning money.

At college graduation people say they want to do good things for the world and devote themselves helping other people, but what they need to do right now is make a lot of money first and then they can be a Liberal and help people later after they went and worked in banks for 10 years. Many people who make $620.000 a year on Wall Street will give it up in their early 30s to become environmental activists, it is a very common experience (they mean that ironically)

The power of that dream of leisure time may be waning, because John hears about it less and less these days. People are more aware that they have to continue to work in order to feel valid. Nobody has this ”Let's go down to Florida and sit in a rocking chair for the last 40 years of our life” dream anymore that their grandparents had.

There was this idea that you would be going to have a ranch in Montana with five dogs and you were going to get up every morning and walk through the fields, with the top your hand just barely grazing the wheat, like Russell Crowe in his death scene in Gladiator, while Enya is playing in the background. John always says to people who talk about that fantasy that Montana is really cheap to live and they can go do that right now.

Merlin thinks that one reason this has become harder is the cost of going to college and the subsequent student loans. Most people who finish college today have a pretty big tab, definitely a bigger tab than the average graduate when Merlin and John came out of school.

Let's say you are Benjamin Braddock in 1964-1969. You get out of college and you make a statement by deciding to join the Peace Corps, to move to Haight Ashbury, and to just disappear helping this little village in Southeast Asia without any Facebook page. If you did that in 1967 you were in the CIA because nobody back then went to Southeast Asia to help a little village. The CIA recruited a lot of Ivy League hippies and they were never interested in people who didn't go to one of four colleges.

When you did all that, you were doing more than trying to help somebody. You were making a statement about society, you were saying that you were opting out of this plastic society that we know about to go do this thing. Today you can be just as high and mighty about buying CFL bulbs. On one hand you have a debt, you buy CFL bulbs, you are spending less money so you can pay down the debt, and on the other hand you get to be a giant dick about how your bread machine is green or whatever. That is a big difference from even 22 years ago when Merlin graduated from college.

John being dependent on his phone for social interactions (RL58)

A year ago, let alone four years ago, John could not have anticipated that he is now spending an average of three hours a day looking at his Twitter stream. He gets his news and his entertainment from there, and he is having fights with idiots there that he used to have to farm out to the world. He used to have to go to Costco or to a hipster bakery, he used to have to drive all over town to get in fights with 10 idiots, but now he can sit in a comfortable chair and have fights with an almost unlimited stream of idiots, people he has never met.

Right now John is having a political argument with a Dominican brother on Twitter. He doesn't know why a Dominican monk is on Twitter, but they have different rules. He is politically conservative because he is a devout Catholic, but he is also an incredibly thoughtful Monk who is based in San Francisco. John doesn’t know if he is Dominican, he could be Corsican, but it has been a long time since John was at Jesuit school and he doesn’t remember all the Squirearchy of monks. John is talking to this guy online and at first he was provoking him, like "You liberals think you're blah blah blah blah blah", but John looked at his thing and followed his blog where he was writing academical pieces on how to interpret certain aspects of John 3:16 or whatever. He is a Catholic scholar, but he is not sitting at Notre Dame University trying to get himself appointed to the bench.

John started writing him back, like ”We've got this, we got that, we got to think about this, we got to think about that” - ”Good points, but what about this and that?” and all of a sudden John was arguing with this guy, and not even arguing because they agree on most things, and John pulled back from his phone and was like ”Point to Twitter!” There is no Science Fiction book or film in the world that could make an action movie out of John sitting in a chair staring at his little black box.

John is falling into this world of interconnected communication with people all over the place, even though he spent his whole life trying not to ever be a person who needs to get an iPad 3 let alone an iPad 4 when his iPad 2 works just fine. John did not buy a CD player ever. When CD players came out in the late 1980s, he knew they will never last and he maintained that attitude all the way through the lifetime of CD players. In 1999 he was still not getting one of those things, because they were junk.

Now John is finding himself socially dependent on this interface machine that gets him into this new realm. He is embarrassed about the time he spends on Twitter because if anybody would ask him to justify it, he still doesn’t know if he gets more out of it than he puts in because many of the interactions on there are just transitory, people posting a picture of their fart and you click on the picture and it's a picture of empty air. Hahahaha!

First Paul F. Tompkins posted a picture of John Hodgman taking a picture of him eating dinner. Then somebody was saying that a bunch of people were storming their embassy in Syria and John got into some intense politics for an hour where shit was happening in the world. Then Sarah Silverman said ”My boob hurts!” Should John comment? 42 people had already commented on Sarah Silverman's boob post and 43 of them were like ”I'll help you with that!” You are constantly falling down the stairs, but every once in a while something happens as you are tumbling.

When Merlin was a kid and they first got MTV, there was a phenomenon where you just wanted to wait and see what the next video was, which is totally addictive. Now imagine that the videos are talking back to you! John is dependent on this machine now, his iPhone, and if there were a new one of these iPhones that will show Sarah Silverman's boob tweet in higher resolution? John doesn’t want to be that!

Merlin thinks that she is really John’s type and can think of a couple / three things about her that are in John’s wheelhouse. She is pretty close. John met her a couple of times and one time many years ago she used the bathroom in John’s trailer and when she came out she said ”Don't tell anyone I used the bathroom, because I don't use the bathroom. Do you know what I mean?” She was very weird about people knowing that she ever goes to the bathroom. It seemed like a window into her soul. Crazy girlfriend is one thing and John will chase a crazy Jewish girl across five continents, but not if she has a ”I don't go to the bathroom” thing.

Of the literally billions of different transactions that have occurred on the Internet in the last month, John’s exchanges with the Dominican monk are probably in the top 0.001%. Next time John is in San Francisco they will get drinks at a teahouse and argue in real time.

John having three cookies for breakfast (RL58)

John had three chocolate chip cookies and is feeling a bit… Merlin is not a cookie guy, he will eat a quarter of ice cream at night but he is not a big sweet eater.

Podcast show art (RL58)

Merlin and John still have cause to provide information and artwork about their program to some people who are interested in helping to publicize it. Merlin's biggest challenge in this regard is to come up with presentable show art that can be used in a high resolution environment because the show art for their program, which Merlin happens to love because it doesn't look like the show art for a podcast, is a photograph of the two of them at the UCSF computer store in probably 2003 or 2004 on the day John bought his first Mac laptop.

It is a picture of the Monitor that was taking their picture and Merlin doesn't have it in any larger resolution because he took it with a Samsung flip phone. Podcast art for popular podcast distribution facilities is 300x300 pixels and Merlin had to stretch it to fit into that, increasing the size and reducing the quality of it, because that is what a camera on a phone was capable of at the time. If they want to put Rodrick on the Line up on one of those LED billboards in Times Square, Merlin would need to put on one of those halftone screens he loves so much or he might just go with a Macintosh dither, which was actually right before the Charleston caught on, the last great dance craze of the 1920s.

Fritz the Cat (RL58)

The other day John read the collected Fritz the Cat cartoons in one volume that was given to him by his good friend Adam Pranica. Fritz the Cat is a pretty lean cat while most of the female cats in Fritz the Cat are chubby R. Crumb looking cats in sweaters with big boobs and big behinds. Talk about in John’s wheelhouse! Robert Crumb did Fritz the Cat, not Ralph Bakshi who did the movie.

John meeting someone who did not go to college (RL58)

The other day John was at the MaxFunCon East event, a Jesse Thorn production. There he met somebody who elected not to go to college in order to become a comedian. What a radical idea! It was a smart and young middle class person who didn't even consider going to college, because college was superfluous to their desires and they wanted to be an entertainer of some kind, a comedian or a writer. That idea would not have occurred to John at 18 years old! He couldn't get into a college when he was 18 because his overall grades were F F F D+ F A with the A being in newspaper, but the idea of going into adult life without first passing through the lens of college was inconceivable because you would be walking out into the world with a giant red L for loser on your jacket.

Coming out of college with a degree in Sociology and $120.000 in debt is not a very smart move on your part. A lot more people who are at that point in their lives are now saying that there is nothing they are going to learn in college that they don't already have access to on the internet and they are to just going to find their way through life on their own. John really does feel that colleges are pricing themselves out into irrelevance and we are going to look back at this era from 50 years in the future and say: ”Yeah, that was the moment that colleges completely lost their game”

Technology evolves faster and faster (RL58)

The pace at which technology becomes faster, more ubiquitous, less expensive and more widely adopted is not being matched by an evolution in a wide, broad, contiguous and agreed-upon evolution in terms of how we use all that stuff. A lot of kids coming out of college today think that email is for old people. They just don't send e-mails. The other day somebody was DM:ing John on Twitter and as John wanted to take the conversation to e-mail they said: ”Oh, classic style!”

Merlin is a willful loner about a lot of these things. He doesn’t have a presence on Facebook and everything he ever gets from Evite goes into the spam filter. People are frustrated and tell him ”You didn't respond to my thing” - ”I'm sorry, I am not very good at emailing” - ”No, it was on Facebook!” with the natural assumption that a) he is on Facebook b) he is following their Facebook and c) he uses that to determine how he is going to spend his night.

Merlin telling people he is not on Facebook is the same as telling them he worships goats with the mountain people and sounds bananas to his family. His kid’s school tells him that they have put up the photos from this event on a Google+ group and his heart sinks. Merlin doesn’t do Instagram either because he likes his photos to look like photos: ”Oh look, a picture of clouds, that's handy! Forty more of those and it should be good.”

John goes onto Facebook about once a week as part of his profession, just to see what is going on. The other day somebody had left a message in his inbox that was incredibly time-sensitive, like a ”You need to respond to this in the next 30 minutes!” type of thing. ”Who do you take me for?” She has John’s phone number and email address and she did not take half a second to stop and think about if this was really important. It it was, why don't they do a little bit of the heavy lifting to reach a person in the place that will be most cogent for them to receive an urgent message. Could be phone, could be whatever. It is all about their convenience and now it is John’s fault because he was the dick and they are mad.

The person has an 18 year old daughter for sale and wanted John to have first crack at it, first route of refusal, what is it called? Kristallnacht? When you get to have sex first, like in that movie with the kilt? The girl wanted to go to a Rock show by a band called My 7th Heaven or My Diminished Return, some kind of floppy hair goth-y Emo band, and her mom wanted to take her to the show, but it was sold out and she was writing John to ask if he could get them in.

This is a woman John knows well and he knew her daughter when she was young and now the daughter is 18, this alone is a surprising fact, and she wanted John to get them into a show that started in half an hour. John suspected she might have sent it on Facebook because her daughter was sitting there and this was her due diligence, like ”Could you get us into this show?” and ”Oh, he didn't reply!” Maybe she didn’t actually want to go and see this show.

Merlin apparently has an inbox on Tumblr that he didn't know about, which is not a bad thing in itself, but as it seems people can send him messages called Fan-mail or Ask me Anything. He knew this existed somewhere, but in their redesign Tumblr has added a bright red rectangle on their beautiful blue page that says 20+ although Merlin never asked to have that turned on. Every place that can will at this point create some kind of an area that you have to check to not be a dick, which is not tenable.

There will always be 20+ on Tumblr for Merlin because if he clicks it and answers every one of those, setting aside all the things that he hasn’t answered in all these other affordances for trying to communicate with him that he never asked for, people will say ”There is an urgent note that I sent you, why didn't you get it?” - ”Where is it?” - ”I put it in the left shoe of your white bucks! Why aren’t you checking your bucks?” Merlin has no idea how or why anybody would keep up, even if you have a lower volume of people interested in communicating with you. Why does everything on your attention radar screen come with a thing you have to check.

Big Trouble in Little China (RL58)

Merlin has never seen Big Trouble in Little China with Kim Cattrall and Kurt Russell and he has never seen Buckaroo Banzai, which John hasn’t seen either. John is in so much trouble right now because he was part of some quiz show recently and one of the questions was Buckaroo Banzai oriented and he faked his way through it. Buckaroo Banzai was advertised to his generation as something on the level of Fletch or Monty Python Jr.

For Merlin that is The Princess Bride and Spinal Tap. How can John not understand Merlin’s references to The Princess Bride and Spinal Tap, the two most quotable movies of all time, apart from The Godfather? John started to watch Buckaroo Banzai when it appeared outside the theaters, either on VHS tape or cable, but nothing about it was interesting. John faked his way through this Buckaroo Bonzai thing in the quiz show, but now he has been outed and busted.

Big Trouble in Little China has Kim Cattrall at a time when she was hot, but it is also a San Francisco movie and will help Merlin to understand the guy at the dim sum place. Have you checked in as the mayor of the local dim sum place there? Are you the mayor? The other day Merlin went to the dim sum place and was hypnotized by the amount of century old dirt from money and pork under the guy's fingernails.

John walking from Amsterdam to Istanbul without documenting it (The Big Walk) (RL58)

The Big Walk

Not having any pictures from age 17-22 (RL58)

Early Days

Merlin offering strangers to take their pictures (RL58)

Merlin's pastime or hobby in San Francisco is noticing tourists who are taking photos of themselves and their friends. He will walk up and ask ”Hey, would you like me to take a photo of you? I'd be happy to take the photo for you!” His job is to educate and first of all they are backlit, having the sun behind them, so why don't we do it this way? Let's get a solid background! If you want a picture of you with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, why don’t we do it from this angle? Merlin art-directs it because he knows how many shitty pictures people take every day.

The important thing is that he never takes fewer than three photographs of people in these situations. He was trying to become a better photographer a few years ago before he got sick of carrying a five pound camera with him everywhere. If you take six photographs of the same thing, first of all there will be at least two or three that are markedly different and there is very likely to be one that is an order of magnitude better than the others for no reason that an amateur like himself could identify.

People take 50 blurry photographs of the same 20-year old man playing guitar on stage and that is not useful to anybody. They will post stupid fucking videos on YouTube that are of no use to anybody. Try to find a good Built to Spill live video! People will take this one photo for an important event and then put it straight on Facebook or whatever.

Merlin has a guilty conscience about having been somebody who would try to get a photograph of famous people, but he wishes there were more photos of them five dudes hanging out when Merlin was in Seattle. He would have felt like a dick to say: ”Let's do this!” The photo they got of the five of them in tuxedos sitting around backstage was taken by Chad. They should have had somebody professional come in and take really cool pictures of them that they could use for stuff.

Merlin was a little bit gun-shy and when they got interviewed in that booth he was short of being unprofessional and did everything he could to stay out of the camera. He stayed right over the edge, talking to John’s PR friend, because he did not want to be part of the ”photograph everything” culture. It's not privacy, it's not anything, but with the ubiquity of those devices he is now a little gun shy about taking pictures of people for fun.

Taking too many photographs and not organizing them (RL58)

John’s friend Autumn de Wilde is a Rock ’n’ Roll photographer and she tells a famous story about the first time she photographed Elliott Smith. Years later after he died she went back to find the first roll of film that she shot of Elliott the first time they met, a roll of 24 exposures, and she had three or four pictures of Elliott, then a picture of her cat and a picture of a sunset. This was 24 exposures, but when she took a few pictures of Elliot she didn't want to waste the film, because a roll of film was valuable.

She got three or four exposures, but then she needed to save that film because that 24 exposures represented that month of her life and it was pictures from all different places she went. She thought to herself: ”Was I crazy? Why didn't I just take 24 whole pictures of Elliott Smith?” It was early on in his years and those early pictures of Elliott are some of the things that she treasures the most. She is trying to get inside of her mind and think: ”Why didn't I just blow a whole roll on this dude?” She just took a couple of pictures and then she had to save that film.

Today nobody takes just five photos of their bachelorette party that are actually good. Look at them in the camera! Don't just chimp and take a photo in mid-air, but take a good photo like a gentleman! It is another one of these things where the culture has not caught up with the technology and the parts of the culture that do catch up with the technology are sometimes a little bit paradoxical or contradictory.

The Library of Congress is archiving all our tweets and everybody assumes all of our Flickr photos and everything is archived forever. We are creating a tail of frozen experiences that no one will ever sift through. How could you? How could you possibly sift through the billion photographs of three girls with red eyes holding up their cups? Merlin still hasn’t organized the photos of his kid’s first year, they are too many and they are in too many different places. He is paranoid about losing them! From the first year he got thousands of photos and since then he takes two photos a year

John has every photograph that exists of his grandmother's entire life in a shoe box and he can tell you the story of every one of them. He has every single photo of his dad, unless there are some in other people's photo albums floating around and those people’s kids don't know who John’s dad is. When they are going through their parents’ old photo albums‚ they are throwing those pictures away, just as John throws away pictures of people in his dad's photos. Who is this? Some guy who worked on the pipeline that his dad took a picture of in 1972? Don't need it! There is something about that culling that is very important.

Every time John opens up his iPhoto he is deleting the pictures he doesn’t need anymore. If Autumn de Wilde was taking that role with photographs of Elliott Smith today she would have 700 pictures and John is not sure if the additional 695 pictures were needed. At least those five that she took are our treasures, even the one that's a little out of focus. John and Merlin are old! John’s eyes and his ears ring.

Merlin feeling old (RL58)

Merlin got a new brand of generic Adderall and was about to use a pill identifier site where you can enter whatever letters are on the pill and it very magically shows you what you've got. He was sitting in the admittedly somewhat dim and comfortable golden light of his office that he keeps a certain way and he has never looked more like an old man in his life as when he did that thing where he had to hold it in a certain place to see it.

He was doing the Benjamin Franklin-esque or Leeuwenhoek-thing (the microscope guy), pulling it to arm's length first, then pulling it up close, and then putting it next to the dim IKEA light and ”Fuck! What does it say?” Then he went into the bathroom where he has giant 23 watt light bulbs, which is hippie for 100 watt, because he likes a well-lit bathroom and he had to turn the lights on and stand so that he could see the subtle shadow. This is why Merlin needs glasses! It is awful and he can't see in the dark anymore either. He needs a big Sherlock Holmes style magnifying glass like Grandpa when doing the crossword. ”What does that say?”

Running out of your pill prescription (RL58)

John wonders if Merlin could get Ketamine, which is an animal tranquilizer, and kind of a PCB. Somebody sent John a link to an article in the Yale Medical Journal, saying that small doses of Ketamine have been found to be an instantaneous cure for depression and he would be very interested in trying this. It is on the list of those drugs like monkey adrenal glands and stuff that John never got around to taking during the drug years.

Merlin will say that there are things that one is not supposed to have that can be acquired, while the process he has to go through each month to get a prescription filled is fucking medieval! It is ridiculous, because the stuff he takes for his stuff is speed and he has to get a physical prescription, which means he has to drive across town, park his car, go in, take a piece of paper, go back, pay for his parking, leave, go somewhere to drop it of, and he has to do that every 30 days on the dot, otherwise he will run out because you only get 30 days worth.

Merlin takes less than he is prescribed, which is always a good idea. Within reason he should take the amount that makes him feel good and doesn't give him side effects and sometimes that is less than his prescription, meaning he is fortunate that he got a little bit of wiggle room.

John follows Daniel Shannon on Twitter who has been talking about the fact that he ran out of Adderall because the pharmacy was closed for Hurricane Katrina and he has been sitting on a toadstool in his apartment for the last four days with none of his meds, falling deeper and deeper into some kind of crazy hole. He is just waiting for this pharmacy to open on Monday morning and he has to put on snowshoes to get over there to get this medicine. He is in New York and there is not even snow on the ground, but he has to put on snowshoes because that is what his brain is telling him. That is why he needs the medication. Homosexual men on toadstools like to have their snowshoes. He is a riot, by the way!

Merlin talks about Ambien people, the sleeping pill that everybody takes. Some people get up in the middle of the night, have group sex and then don't remember it. Merlin once had a prescription for the one that was on This American Life that makes people gamble and have intercourse. Make sure you shop on the Internet and have intercourse and gamble and not remember it!

John used intoxicants on a regular basis in the past and of course he had the feeling of ”Oh my gosh, I need to get more of this!” Merlin has known some Ambien people and he has an Ambien user in his family. Just the very prospect of her prescription running out makes her lose it. She is a very sane person, but if she is visiting a different state and there was a confusion with the prescription, she goes off her nut at the prospect of it abstractly not being available, although she still got some! That is why people hoard! You got to always have a stockpile, like swords and military hats, like Smaug the dragon sitting on his horde of dwarfish gold.

There are many other things that Merlin has taken for various other things that he much rather be not out of than this stuff, like Soda water. When Merlin runs out of Soda water he goes bananas! He stacks up on his medicine, but because of his basement problem he was on steroids for a while, on Prednisone, and you have to taper that off because if you run out of that you are mega-fucked. It gives you lots of extra steroid activity, but it also causes your body to produce much less naturally and if you don't taper the shit out of a steroid, you are going to be in a really bad way. John doesn’t even know really what steroids do. They make you bulky and you get moon faced. There are pictures of Jerry Lewis when he was moon faced and half the people in Wales are Moonfaced. Wales is a drinking country. They are Celts and they drink just to get by.

Movies depending on a phone booth (RL58)

What do The Matrix, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure and to a certain extent Glengarry Glen Ross have in common? All three movies rely very heavily on payphones. In the Matrix they use a payphone to do that little travel deal, in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure they travel in a phone booth to go through time, and in Glengarry Glen Ross some of the most poignant moments happen when Jack Lemmon is on a payphone, setting aside Dial M for Murder and the various 1970s cop shows that depended on payphones. You could not have fucking Dirty Harry without payphones. For many stories, when you watch the movie now and showed them to a kid today, they would ask ”Why don't they just…?”

Gene Siskel’s rule was that no movie should ever involve an easily overcome misunderstanding, because then it becomes a French play, not a good movie. ”I don't understand, you are not really having sex in here? Why did I kill you?” There was a recent movie called Phone Booth with Colin Farrell trapped in a phone booth and a sniper. The Matrix is part of the modern age, but t guy with the glasses has to get to this one phone booth and then the phone rings. It is from the same period as Rushmore.

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