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Autre temps, autres moeurs.

There are two reasons to post a link to this story. First, €2.6 million is a cracking bargain. Second, if you’re not familiar with Hergé’s Tintin series, well…what are you even doing with your life?

Make that three reasons: It’s after 5:00, I’ve been working on a single mind-numbing project all day long, I promised regularly scheduled programming this week, and I need to go home.

So there you have it.

And…We’re Back

It’s been a minute, as the kids say.

I thought it might be a good idea to not post anything during the week before Easter. That’s Holy Week* for a lot of folks, after all, and the dreck I write feels a bit…well, if not exactly blasphemous, unedifying at the very least.

As for the week following, I have no excuse, other than a rather large project that consumed most of my time.

Then this morning Shirlee says to me (and here I’m paraphrasing somewhat): “Dude. Get off your arse and blog about something.”

So here we are. Let’s lead with what Robin Sloan has to say about the Twitter situation.

How about the rise, fall, and rise again of polyester?

You fellow Spokanites weren’t wrong about this spring being colder than normal. But don’t complain. It could be worse.

Our next weapon in the fight against superbugs? Honey.

And finally, 1,100-year-old graffiti.

There. That should keep y’all busy until next week, when we return to our regularly scheduled programming.

*The missus and I attended Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Vigil, and Easter morning services, so we’re probably holier than you.


Ordinarily, I don’t post anything on Fridays. But my source in Cambodia just sent my this story, which, for men of a certain age (i.e., me), is, if not exactly the fulfillment of prophecy, at the very least a nod to the ne plus ultra of 1980s filmmaking.

Yes, I saw it in the theater. And yes, it was glorious.

Musings of a Wannabe

“Good writers make you want to read,” writes Matt Labash, “but great writers make you want to write. To ride the whirlwind, pin it down, then to try and make some sense of it. They can make you want to do what they do, or to die trying and failing.”

It’s true. But is that a good thing? Back in my misspent youth, for instance, I worked (with only a modicum of success) as a professional musician. And I blame everyone I saw live—Wynton Marsalis, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Michael Brecker, Pat Metheny, the Grateful Dead, Mike Stern, Dizzy Gillespie, Michael Hedges, Chick Corea…hell, even the Philadelphia Orchestra—for making me think I could do what they do. Because ultimately, unless you’re really, really good, disappointment awaits. (There’s a joke we used to tell: What’s the difference between a Spokane jazz musician and an extra-large pizza? An extra-large pizza can actually feed a family of four.)

It’s the same with writing: Every time I read Marilynn Robinson or Thomas Merton or Christian Wiman I’m reminded how much I suck and how little I know. And that my grasp of our language is tenuous at best.

The only real difference, I suppose, is that I’ve managed to make a living as a writer. Maybe it’s a function of the marketplace—after all, do we really need another jazz musician?—or maybe it’s because that’s what I should have been doing all along.

“I was just blouse…browsing.”

Not sure about the somewhat, um…provocative photo accompanying this story, but there’s a lot of truth in what John Sturgis says. Browsing in a book or record store is so much more rewarding than ordering exactly what you want whenever you want it.

“So much time in one’s cultural life before the digital revolution,” he writes, “was spent physically flipping through things: racks of records, CDs, VHS cassettes, DVDs and books. And the very act of doing that would set mental hares running: you’d come away with the fresh desire to watch or listen or read something new. Or something old.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love how just a few taps on my phone will result in an obscure, out-of-print, or just plain hard-to-find book or album landing in my mailbox days later. But I’m not discovering anything in the process. There are no surprises; no “cultural detours” along the way.

Not too long ago, in fact, I was browsing at Go! Records up on Garland, searching for 70s and 80s ECM titles to add to my collection, and walked out with Silver Apples’ debut album and the Electric Prunes’ Release of an Oath—neither of which was even on my radar. And it was glorious.

I know, I know. There’s a distinct “back in my day” vibe to this post. But I really do think we’ve lost something in the mad dash toward the future.


Electronic Beowulf? For reals??? Guess my weekend’s settled, then. In the meantime, I’ll be re-reading Maryann Corbett’s masterful take on translation in the third millennium.

Friendly reminder: It’s “moot point,” not “mute point.”

“A robot made of magnetic slime with a custard-like consistency can navigate narrow passages, grasp objects and fix broken circuits. It could be deployed inside the body to perform tasks such as retrieving objects swallowed by accident.” Check it:

This steaming pile of techno-horror was six years in development. Six years! Quick: What are the odds it makes it to production—and is actually worn by a real human?

Fight the Matriarchy!

“Younger women have closed the pay gap or are outpacing their male counterparts [emphasis mine] in nearly two dozen U.S. metropolitan areas, according to research published Monday, as gains in higher education and more transparency about what people earn help defy entrenched disparities.”

That’s from the Washington Post, so, you know, grain of salt and all that. But still.

Is it too late to change the title of this post? Because I for one welcome our new female overlords.

Knocking First Is Always a Good Idea

“When we inadvertently open a door and see someone pooping,” writes Adam Mastroianni, “we could curse ourselves, the someone, the door, and the universe. Or we could ask: why? Why doesn’t good design replicate and dominate?”

It’s a good question. And the answer, he argues, is that design requires two kinds of engineering: technological and psychological. And it turns out that the second one is a whole lot harder than the first.

“We all share the same laws of physics,” says Mastroianni, “so the technological engineering that works for me will also work for you. But we don’t share the same minds, so the psychological engineering that works for me may only work for me.”

It certainly explains the surfeit of bad design.


I suppose it’s cheating, but I always skip ahead on stuff like this—because the number-one pick will tell me how seriously to take the entire list. I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice to say I didn’t read any more.

Behold the Beefchain!

Yeah yeah, this is cool and all, but why on Earth did they go with “narluga”? That sounds nasty. Why not “belwhal”?

Maybe we’re not doomed after all.

And then there’s this:

“I’m Susie. She’s me.”

This is like that Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s coworker mistakenly refers to her as “Susie,” and Elaine decides it’s easier to live a double life than try to correct her.

Should we just stick with “Machu”? Smallpox and Spaniards pretty much wiped out anyone who might object. On second thought, though, maybe that’s reason enough to change the name.

Side note: Bingham’s Lost City of the Incas, the 1948 book about his discovery of Machu Huayna Picchu, is a great read.

Math Is Hard

In addition to self-reflection, common decency, and basic infrastructure maintenance, we Americans are apparently really bad at demographic math.

“When people’s average perceptions of group sizes are compared to actual population estimates,” writes Taylor Orth, senior survey data journalist at YouGovAmerica, “an intriguing pattern emerges: Americans tend to vastly overestimate the size of minority groups.”

For example, poll respondents guessed that 21 percent of the U.S. population is transgender while the actual proportion is 1 percent; military veterans were estimated at 40 percent while it’s really only 6.

Interestingly, the reverse is also true: People tend to underestimate majority groups.

Why the discrepancy? A recent study claims that it’s entirely rational, but I have my doubts. After all, coherence isn’t exactly one of our strong suits, either.

Quote of the Day

Karl Ove Knausgaard: “The expectation of an answer runs so deep that it is presumably fundamentally human, the most characteristic trait of our nature.”

Thanks, Captain Obvious

I’ve been banging this drum for some time now—and it appears that the eggheads are finally on my side. From a paper co-authored by Jan Fields, senior lecturer in economics at the School of Economics and Finance, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand:

We have shown that writing matters. Making the writing easier to understand causes economists to evaluate academic papers more positively. This finding has obvious implications. To improve your chances of publishing well, you can work on your writing by, for example, spending time polishing your paper and paying for language editing. These efforts are likely to be particularly valuable if you find writing challenging.

Bonus! Appendix B, “Language Editing Guidelines for Experiment,” which begins on page 38 of the paper, contains some pretty helpful information on how to write more clearly—or, in the words of the authors, “so that an expert who has 10 minutes to evaluate the paper will understand it more easily.”

Pi Day Plus 1

Kind of cool that Archduke Eduard of Austria—Hungarian ambassador to the Holy See and the Sovereign Order of Malta—took to Twitter today, the Ides of March, to show us the very spot where Julius Caesar was assassinated 1,978 years ago.

According to National Geographic, “a group of as many as 60 conspirators…stabbed Caesar a reported 23 times, killing the Roman leader.” But it turns out that’s not the only reason the soothsayer warned Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.”

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…”

I felt pretty good about the state of the world after reading this piece over at Axios this morning.

No, really—I mean, if 98.5 percent of the U.S. population isn’t watching Fox News or MSNBC on an average weeknight, then maybe there’s hope! Maybe we’ll survive after all! Maybe…

Yeah, never mind. We’re still doomed.

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