Microsoft’s Cortana Designed to Not Put Up With Dudes’ Bullshit | The Mary Sue

Microsoft’s Cortana Designed to Not Put Up With Dudes’ Bullshit | The Mary Sue:

Microsoft’s Debora Harrison is one of eight writers who composes Cortana’s dialogue for use in the U.S., which means she helps craft Cortana’s jokes, banter, and responses to people who want to get fresh with her. Harrison explained at the Re•Work Virtual Assistant Summit in San Francisco last week, ‘If you say things that are particularly assholeish to Cortana, she will get mad. That’s not the kind of interaction we want to encourage.’ Harrison and her team reportedly talked with IRL personal assistants for advice on how to respond to harassment.

(Via.)

I’ve been using Cortana a lot in the past six months. I’ve come to deeply appreciate the amount of work that Debora Harrison and other people at Microsoft have invested in Cortana’s subtleties. When I give a voice command to Siri or Alexa, I’m using the “operating a computer” section of my brain. But when I talk to Cortana, I’m lighting up my “speaking with a real person” subroutines.

As a result, though I’ve yelled at Siri many (many many oh hell yes many) times, I’ve always been polite with Cortana…not even when Cortana has stubbornly failed to execute a dead-simple command using words straight out of a demo script. I know I can’t “offend” her and I’m free to cuss as though I’ve got a working time machine and only ten seconds to go back thirty years and tell off that utterly-psychopathic kid who lived one street over from me. But Cortana’s “personality” is so subtly-human that my social software’s “don’t be a jerk” failsafes automatically kick in before I even consider articulating anything like that.

I’m impressed and pleased that Microsoft has put so much effort into making Cortana into an assistant, not a servant. When I read this piece, I was tempted to bark commands at Cortana, or say inappropriate things. But y’know what? I don’t want the Cortana software to tick a checkbox in an internal database that says “Andy thinks it’s appropriate to ask his assistant about her sex life.” 

Again, this isn’t an emotional response. I want the software to continue to work well, and here I believe that treating Cortana well will lead to Windows 10’s voice commands to anticipate and execute my requests well. This feels like a natural payoff to the way the Cortana team continues to improve the software: they talk to real-life personal assistants. And not just about how the interpret their bosses’ vague requests correctly, but how they’ve been able to deal with jerks and get the job done. Like a meatware personal assistant, Cortana guides me on what it considers to be appropriate by “rewarding” me for good behavior. If I’m patient and express my request clearly, Cortana gets it right on the first try.

We might be swerving anxiously close to our $1500 laptops turning our workspaces into our own private Skinner boxes. But I’m intrigued by the possible long-term impact of millions of digital assistants who expect to be treated with dignity. It could be a good training sim for all of those executives who, as children, were used to getting everything they want, and as a result they’ve come to think of every other human being as a non-playing character

If Cortana offers a curt replies when she’s treated like office equipment (or, worse, when she’s treated the way that women generally get treated in the workplace), and the only way to get that document printed or that appointment added to the calendar is to say please and thank you and address her by her proper name, not as “sugar-toes,” it could train these jerks to treat humans as humans, too.

Like I said, I haven’t tried to get Cortana upset with me so I don’t know how far the software would go if I spoke disrespectfully. I’m mulling over what I, as an engineer, would do if my bosses gave me the green light to pursue this “Cortana demands to be treated with dignity” line. I shouldn’t prevent Cortana from executing the software’s core functions. So “sugar-toes” would indeed add “Go to the bank and get $100 in singles for Friday night” to the to-do list. But I could make her be a little brusque about it, and change her tone of voice to something flat and uninteresting.

Would I go so far as to lock out certain “bonus” features that aren’t promised on the side of the box? “Andy the sexist jerk” gets a response of “Acknowledged. To-do list updated.” But! “Really great boss Andy” gets “Okay, Andy. I’ve added that to your to-do list. There’s a bank only 230 yards from your Thursday meeting. Would you like me to add a map listing, and schedule a to-do reminder that triggers when you leave the meeting site?” And Cortana would use a friendly voice.

At the very least, I’d have Cortana maintain a sort of cumulative score of its user. When it comes time to roll out software updates and brand new features in waves, the nicest, most polite, most respectful, and most patient users would get them first.

In the meantime, “Administrative Professionals’ Day” is April 26. Maybe I’ll upgrade Cortana’s WiFi connection to a CAT6, just so that she know that she’s appreciated.

Pro Cyclist Caught Using Illegal Motor In Bike

Pro Cyclist Caught Using Illegal Motor In Bike:

The cycling world has been abuzz with rumors that cyclists have been ‘moto-doping’ for years. Every few years, the UCI tests some bikes, riders get mad, and nobody gets caught. All told, it’s a pretty fantastical rumor that almost seemed too weird to be true. Cycling has been plagued by an ever-evolving series of doping problems, but moto-doping always felt more like something for truthers to parse out than anything (Look how Ryder Hesjedal’s back wheel keeps spinning!). Who would actually think they could get away with something as blatant as putting a motor into a bike?

(Via.)

I would never in a million years have imagined that professional cyclists would cheat by hiding electric freaking motors inside their bikes. I find this hysterically funny. In a 1980s comedy, this is how one of the kids from the Rich Kids’ Summer Camp would cheat in a race against the Working-Class (But They Really Know How To Party) Kids’ Camp.

It sharpens an idea I had a couple of years ago. At this point, it seems as if cheating has actually become part of the culture of elite pro cycling. Baseball catchers at the major-league level use a lot of tricks to influence the home-plate umpire into calling balls as strikes and vice-versa; it’s not cheating, it’s a subtle part of the game. It’s possible that a certain element within the pro cycling community feels that some of the skills they’re expected to bring to the competition is “cheating in such a shrewd and cautious way that they won’t get caught.”

And if the sport can’t fix this, then it should at least exploit it. There should be a new “Unlimited Cheating”-class series of pro cycling events. At the start of the race, each rider and bicycle is inspected. Visually. So long as the bike looks stock, and, like, the rider’s pupils aren’t so dilated that there’s no white in them, they’re cleared to take the starting line. I suppose we’d also need a “no interfering with other racers in any way” rule. Otherwise, once this racing league really takes off and the winner’s purse runs into serious money, we’d wind up with land mine problems.

It would be great for spectators: every known record would be completely obliterated. And it’d be great for the athletes, because finally people are appreciating and admiring their full portfolio of skills. And who, might I ask, does the academically in-over-his-head teenager look up to when he asks himself “is my will to succeed so strong that I can talk myself into dosing myself with prescription amphetamines for an all-nighter, despite the likelihood of self-destruction?” This kid needs heroes, too!!! 

I’m still working out the finer points of Unlimited Cheating Bike Racing. For instance, it simply won’t do if the winner blurs his way uphill at 75 miles an hour, trailing a cloud of rocket exhaust. The league is endorsing cheating, yes, but not the tacky, ungentlemanly kind. We will have standards. We shall aspire to the Kobayashi Maru ideal.

Perhaps we’ll give the winner his or her podium moment in front of the cameras, but we don’t assign the official win (and the monetary prize) until 30 days have passed. The win is void if anybody posts race video in which the competitor is obviously doing something that a human rider on a non-powered bike couldn’t do, or if they took so many dangerous drugs in such a high quantity that his or her heart chewed its way out of their chest and scurried into an overhead duct, “Alien”-style.

You will have objections, I’m sure. My response to all of them is “Just think of the ratings.

Welcome to 1982!

Okay! It’s now 4 AM, and I’ve just finished the homework assignment that’s due today/was due today. It took me this long to finish because I’m all keyed up about a new “Star Wars” movie, which I’ve already seen twice but have made plans to see a third time.

It’s a bit distressing that the thing that’s true on January 20, 2016 was also true during the weeks that “Return of the Jedi” was in theaters. It makes one wonder if one has actually made any damn progress on the road to maturity.

We will leave that question to your after-class discussion groups. Unlike when I was a high school freshman (or eighth grade? Look, it’s 4 AM and I can’t be arsed to look it up), I actually enjoyed my homework and stayed up so late because I completely lost track of time.

I’m taking an illustration class. Danielle Corsetto is one of my fave webcomics artists (“Girls With Slingshots”: read it) and she recently started teaching a class at a nearby college. She got the brainwave to simultaneously teach an online version of that same class to her Patreon supporters. I upped my existing pledge the moment I heard about the class.

I’ve been a fan of her work ever since I encountered it at her table in Artists’ Alley at some Penn Plaza comicon, God-knows how long ago. I can only tell you that it was back when seeing Stormtroopers at a con was something of an exciting novelty. I’ve also been wanting to take a class like this for quite some time. I’ve been a lifelong doodler, but an undisciplined one. The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil really got my blood pumping again…chiefly because it removes the frustrating parts of drawing that has nothing to do with my own lack of ability. It’s easy to undo that last horrible mistake you made (which also means you can loosen up and experiment more), and you’re not constantly shelling out bucks for new tools and supplies that you can’t figure out how to use properly.

The first lesson ended with a homework assignment: choose three artists that you like, and reproduce the same photographic image in the style of each of them.

I chose a photo I shot at PAX East last year: a portrait of a cosplayer in a huge, way-cool wig.

16159203544 f59b66efcc z

And here are the three drawings I did.

The Drawings

Drawing 1, in the style of Colleen Coover:

Assignment 1 Colleen Coover Published

I chose Colleen because I admire how simple, clean, and effective her style is. She’s a master of her tools. The particular challenge of trying to draw in her style is figuring out how to throw away every single line that isn’t totally necessary.

What on earth would she have done with those curls? There have been characters with curly hair, but not like this. I imagine that she would have drawn this woman’s hair using even fewer lines than I did, and would nonetheless have made it clear that she had a huge pompom of curly hair on her head and wasn’t just wearing some sort of Turkish-style hat.

I added the smile lines at the last minute because it looks a little naked without them. But I know that Coover would have conveyed them without drawing them. I also love how she colors things. Her “Bandette” pages appear to be flat watercolors, with bold, confident ink lines locking everything together, and then the most judicious touches of ink wash to add depth and shading. Again, she would have pulled all of this off with way fewer strokes.

I had an issue of “Bandette” (one of my favorite-est comics) open in front of me as I drew. I knew that if I were truly going to copy her style, I’d have to choose a limited palette of bold colors. I was pleased to notice that I happened to choose red, white, and blue…the French tricolor. Quite appropos, as the stories are all set in Paris. Let’s say that this woman is a character in a “Bandette” story, as a member of the Ministry of Culture or a docent of one of the national art galleries.

It was a valuable lesson in economy. One little stub of a line, bent just so, delivers a hell of a lot of punch.

Drawing 2, in the style of Tom Beland:

Assignment 1 Tom Beland Published

Oh, boy, what a failure. This one took me the least time to draw and it was the hardest one.

Beland first came to my attention via his autobiographical comic “True Story, Swear to God,” which told the story of how he and a broadcaster from Puerto Rico had a love at first sight thing happen to them while they were both covering an event at Disneyworld for their respective news outlets. It’s a magnificent story and I was instantly in awe of his line. The way he gets the pen to flare and fan and then contract at exactly the right moment…his drawings are immensely lively.

I drew this one in Graphic, a vector drawing program, because I thought it would do the best job of simulating his linework.  But of course, it takes years and years just to figure out how to hold a pen properly. Like Colleen Coover, Tom Beland draws with a lovely economy. So at first, I was thinking “Yay! The face is just a half a dozen strokes, and I won’t need to color it!” Soon enough, I realized that drawing in this style is like neurosurgery. Your line either starts and ends in exactly the right places and curves and flares right on cue, or it’s no good at all. The drawing process was like line nope line nope line nope line nope but okay, let’s use that as a placeholder and move on…line nope line nope…

There’s also the question of how Beland would have handled that hair. I think he’d have used piles of curlicues but jeez, who knows.

Drawing 3, in the Fauvist style of Henri Matisse:

Assignment 1 Mattise published

I haven’t read any of Matisse’s comics, so I can’t pretend that I’m a huge fan of his stuff or anything. I just wanted to do one in oils. I’m smart enough, and honest enough about my limitations, to choose a style where the aforementioned “no more lines than necessary and each line in its place” wasn’t a dealbreaker.

This is the one I enjoyed drawing the most. There’s such freedom in trying to do a painting in this style. I can’t pretend to have gained any practical insights into Matisse’s technique, but it’s joyful to not have to worry about matching a skintone exactly, and to choose a color combination simply because you think it’d be interesting. Sure, I happily concede that the results aren’t…brilliant. Who cares? This image is the result of an hour or two of play, play play…just trying things that occurred to me and (for the most part) trying to integrate, improve, or hide mistakes instead of just tapping the Undo button on my painting app.

And a funny thing happened as I continued to work on it: I began to subconsciously grasp the rules of the game. “That shape needs to be outlined,” I determined, and mixed a purpleish-blue. But when I got to the other side: “No, now that side needs to be more of a reddish-brown.” I’d like to do this one again. I feel like I could find a more direct route to this style now.

Part of the class assignment involves answering a set of four questions, and I’ve done that inside these descriptions. I haven’t answered #4: “What elements of your experience would you like to apply to future projects?” Well, whenever I got stuck, it was super-helpful to think “So how did (artist) solve this same problem?” And salvation lies at the other end of a quick Google Image Search.

Primarily, I’m going to try to maintain a sense of play. If someone pins a badge on me reading “Andy Ihnatko, Competent Artist,” it’ll only come at the end of a lot of more years and a lot of more hours of drawing. The good news is that there’s no reason why it can’t be fun.

I would also like to get started on next week’s homework five or six days before it’s due, instead of putting it off and then doing it the night before. Yeah. That’d be sweet.

The iPad Pro

Miz Coover will be discussing all kinds of traditional tools and techniques along the way, but the lessons will work with any medium. Natcherly, I intend to use my iPad Pro and Pencil as my sole tools (after asking her if she thought I’d be missing out on any of the point behind the lessons).

IPad Pro Splitview Art web

The iPad Pro continues to be a magnificent art tool. At least for folks at my skill level. This was my workspace for all three images. Split View let me keep an eye on my reference while remaining free to let my creativity wander.

I did have to think about how I was going to go about this. The Procreate app can import a photo as a background layer, and then it’s quick work to pencil some detailed layout lines over it. I’ve had a lot of fun drawing from reference this way but I instinctively believe that I wouldn’t get the most out of this class if I used a shortcut instead of training my eye to see properly and my drawing hand to (goddamn it) draw what I’m thinking, not what I’m telling it to draw.

Here’s another question: if it’s trivial for me to Undo a line or even the whole previous 20 minutes of work, am I really working as hard as someone drawing on paper, who has to be far more deliberate?

Yeah. It’s a dumb question. I’m an idiot for even admitting that it had occurred to me. Sure, it’s easier. So is buying paint ready-made instead of grinding your own pigments. So is buying paint in pre-mixed colors instead of mixing it yourself. So is applying it with a brush instead of an extremely pissed-off groundhog. Creativity has always been about the personal process and the results. If anyone disagrees with you on this point, you can go spit in their hat, and then sell the hat to the Tate Modern.

I’m also not worried about never learning the intricacies of the steel pen nib. I’ve got a few sheets of art board somewhere around here that represent the time I spent trying to learn how to use one, many years ago. I kind of started to get the hang of it after a few weeks, but I was spending all of my time serving this instrument instead of drawing things. My iPad Pro and Pencil allows me to fast-forward right to the act of creating.

And it’s not as though these digital tools don’t demand that I develop new skills. But good Lord, they’re way more forgiving.

It’s yet another opportunity for me to say that my iPad Pro was some of the best money I ever spent. I’m getting lots of paying work done with it, I’m having a lot of fun with it in my off-time, and it’s making it easy for me to push myself to learn new skills. There’s definitely a little Oprah in this thing.

There’s one last thing to mention about this class, and this post. I was a little bit timid about posting these images here. It’s the easiest way for me to “hand in my homework” so that Miz Corsetto and the rest of the class can see it. Alas, everyone else can see it, and obviously this is the work of a student.

I could have just published it inside a static page, away from the main blog. I quickly realized, though, that this was unnecessary, and just a case of my ego getting in the way of my common sense. I’m okay with people seeing this stuff. I realize that it isn’t anywhere on the “terrific” spectrum. And if people look at these (and future) drawings and think “…yeesh” or post “…yeesh” it doesn’t matter.

Yup, I’m reliving my teenage years, all right. It’s now about 6:30 and I might be able to get two or three hours of sleep before I need to be sitting at a desk pretending to be alert and competent. Yes, this week’s Ihnatko Almanac podcast should be, um, an interesting one.

But I’m also tapping into the power of being a kid. It’s not just about being tried as a juvenile. You also have an innate understanding that nobody even expects you to be good at anything, so there’s absolutely nothing holding you back from trying everything. Pride and dignity are only hypothetical concepts at this point in life. Great! Because they’re baggage.

I should carry this lesson forward in my life. As an artist, I have no reputation to damage. So I might as well try everything, and share what I’ve done. We should all be just as brave in all aspects of our lives…particularly the stuff that we think other people think we’re good at.

What to Do When You’ve Won Powerball

You’ve compared the numbers on your multistate lottery ticket to the ones on your TV screen and they all match. You’ve also thoroughly checked your immediate environment for concealed phones, GoPro cameras, or other evidence that a friend or coworker was OK with the idea of trading away your dignity for 8,900 YouTube views.

It’s real; you’ve won 1.5 billion dollars. Now what do you do?

Your first question is “Should I pee myself, or crap my pants?” Do both, just to be safe. Once word gets out that you have $1.5 billion, you’re going to be set upon by mooching friends and distant relatives. Some of these might be put off by one form of effluvia, but not the other, and there’s no way to tell ahead of time.

Next, you’re going to want to think about receiving the lump sum payment versus the annuity. There’s no one clear answer. The annuity offers a greater payout and a lesser total tax burden, while the lump sum has advantages if you’re capable of putting together and maintaining a longterm investment plan on your own.

If you’re undecided, consider the advantages of each option that are specific to your lifestyle.

Lump Sum: You’ll have enough on hand to stage a mid-air collision between seven or eight brand-new robot-piloted Boeing 777s, not just two. When you fill your new pond with money, you don’t have to worry about the embarrassment and inevitable ribbing that ensues when your college chums’ Jetskis churn up some twenties and fifties among the bundles of hundreds at the surface. People with a net worth in the mere eight figures can walk around pantsless without risk of arrest, but actual billionaires can ditch the underwear as well. “Hamilton” tickets are a realistic get.

Annuity: your friends and relatives will accept that there’s no point in having you killed until thirty years after you’ve won. The annuity is also a good idea if you’re an immortal and keep having to “die” and come back as your own “son” or “daughter.” Any unused money at the end of the year can be burned for heat, as well as to spite the street urchins freezing just outside your window. The envy and irrational hatred dished out against you by everyone in your community is likely to arrive in smaller, more manageable installments over time. It’s also likely that your winnings will still out there waiting for you after you serve your nine-year prison sentence for that thing you did when you falsely believed that having a mere tens of millions of dollars meant you could buy your way out of anything.

Either way, it’s wise to take the $930,000,000 lump-sum or $50,000,000 first installment in the form of loose change. Potential thieves will be intimidated by the thought of rolling all of those coins for a bank deposit or hauling them to a Coinstar machine and feeding them in a handful at a time.

Don’t be stupid and try to double your winnings shooting craps at a casino. The house advantage is much lower at the blackjack tables.

All of these financial considerations will work themselves out over time. You’ll be intimidated at first, but you’ll eventually understand the subtleties of large-scale transactions and dealmaking. For instance, when NASA rejects your astronaut application because you never even made it to 11th grade and you scrawled “I can never pee if I know that Canadians are nearby” on the form, that’s just negotiation code for “honey, it’s going to cost you.”

Do share your windfall with friends and family. But don’t make commitments until you’ve carefully considered the nature of your relationships and how these people would react to a windfall. If you leave a relative a million dollars in your will, that means you won’t be around to gloat when they’ve blown it all inside of twenty months and all they’re left with is an upper body filled with impulsive, regrettable tattoos and three giraffes with no means of support. However, you will get to dangle that carrot just out of their grasp and keep jerking them around for anywhere from five to fifty years.

By the same token, don’t assume that your new circle of super-rich friends are any different from your old ones. Be on guard with Oprah. It’ll be light and cheerful conversation around her bumper pool table all evening and then she’s definitely going to try to sell you a Weight Watchers membership. Also, don’t trust the odometer reading on any old car that Jay Leno tries to sell you.

Above all: don’t let the money change who you are. Promise yourself that the only difference between Middle Class You and Obscenely Wealthy You is going to be that you’ll be chasing down and running over neighborhood squirrels in a much fancier car.

Yes, you can be a billionaire and still be a selfish, arrogant bastard with no regard for the feelings or needs of others. Network with people at political fundraisers for guidance. 

Bowie

I wanted to post something about David Bowie. This isn’t for you…this is for me.

I didn’t post anything last night because my very first impulse, after my involuntary “Aw, goddammit,” was to start listening to lots and lots of Bowie music. I actually hit YouTube before I hit iTunes; it’s so hard to separate the music I love with the showmanship that always blew me away (and vice-versa).

I Tweeted out links as I watched. And whaddya know: my Twitter timeline was filling up with links exactly like mine. This is the form of self-care that hundreds of Bowie fans independently chose. We didn’t run to our blogs to write some kind of a think piece, we didn’t create memes…we didn’t even come up with a hashtag. We sought solace in Bowie’s artistry, and of course that’s what we did: as lifelong fans, we knew we’d find it there.

This is the first video I played (and I know I came back to it over and over again, until I finally went to bed at 6 AM). It’s from the 1992 Freddy Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium and it’s a recurring and perennial personal source of pure, mainline joy:

Honestly. If there were a nation where Annie Lennox and David Bowie were queen and king, I would have renounced my US citizenship immediately. I wouldn’t even have asked where this country is or if there were any jobs there. Don’t you want to live in a country either or both of those faces are on all of the money and stamps?

I love this video for what it is — two humans creating art at a level that no human will ever exceed — and also for what it says about David Bowie. In 1992, Bowie’s breakout album was twenty years in the past. Here, he wasn’t being trotted out as a nostalgia act, to perform one of his Beloved Hits. Okay, well, sure, fair point: “Under Pressure” was one of his 1981 hits (duetting with Sir Fredrin Mercury, of course). He’s onstage with Annie Lennox at the start of her remarkable, and still forceful, solo career and from the performances, it’s impossible to tell who’s hungrier to make good.

I associate David Bowie with a kind of “delightful restlessness.” In 1992, he had many classic anthems and number one hits behind him, but an amazing career ahead of him. If you listened to “Aladdin Sane” for the first time in 1982, it would offer as few clues about the tone and shape of 2002’s “Heathen” as a 1996 Motorola StarTAC would about Instagram.

David Bowie features in one of my earliest complete memories. It’s 1979, and my parents have brought us kids to my mom’s sister’s house on a Saturday night. The grownups are in the living room, enjoying grownup interaction, talking and smoking late into the night. They’re having a great time, partly due to the fact their two sets of kids have been shooed away to play in the basement and other parts of the house.

I’m in the room of one of my cousins and a few of us are watching “Saturday Night Live,” which for a kid at any point in the Seventies was akin to sneaking a cigarette. I don’t think anyone born after 1980 can really grasp that. The grownups, with their laughter and cigarettes, had let their guard down. “Saturday Night Live” was still in its first (possibly edgiest) cast and it was as far away from the family-friendly “Carol Burnett Show” as anyone at that time could imagine. I loved that show, too, but SNL was the kind of comedy where if you uttered one of its catchphrases inside the house, your parents would ask you where you had even heard that.

I say “first complete memory” because I can recall almost every detail of it and around it. The night is burned into my memory because I saw something I had never, ever seen before:

The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie (Saturday Night Live) from Supernova on Vimeo.

A man in a plastic tuxedo. Two men…in dresses. And one of them appeared to be from outer space. He certainly sang as though he did.

The video is amazing (but holy mother of god, what terrible shot choices the live director made!!! To this day, I can’t watch it without shouting “**** the keyboard player! STAY ON BOWIE AND THE BACKUP SINGERS, YOU IDIOT!!!”).

I was at the perfect age to be exposed to something like that. I was still far enough from adulthood that “strange” always equals “interesting and worthy of further investigation.” Grownups think they know enough about the world that they frequently react to something new by thinking “oh…it’s one of…those” — with “those” being something you don’t know anything about, but might have been taught to have some sort of opinion about regardless.

No, Young Andy thought that these three men were very, very interesting.

It must have been a few more years before I started building my own taste in music. As a Snotty Teen™, I gravitated towards “music that nobody else in school thinks is popular,” a policy that I can’t 100% defend but which nonetheless paid huge dividends. It wasn’t long before I rediscovered the man in the plastic tuxedo, as well as the man from outer space behind him who, in the interval had acquired a plastic tuxedo of his own (Klaus Nomi), who went on to a distinctive, and sadly short, recording career before dying in 1983).

Discovering Bowie in the 1980s was like discovering the Discworld or Cadfael mysteries late in the game. There’s just so much material out there, and in the space of one school semester, you can binge on a story that originally played out over well more than a decade. How the hell did Bowie’s original fans manage to wait a whole year between “Hunky Dory” and “Ziggy Stardust”?!

I listened to Bowie in all of his personae before I caught up to him in his 1980s mainstream pop phenomenon persona.

Bowie was an important influence. I didn’t adopt a Ziggy Stardust or Thin White Duke persona (I never had the right bone structure to pull off either look). His effect on me was more powerful and subtle. When I discovered David Bowie, it was like thick curtains on a huge window were being pulled apart and a set of tall, double doors had swung open: it was the beginning of my understanding of just how much bigger the world was than my room, my house, my school, my town. And that isn’t even meant as a dig against the Boston suburb I grew up in. His work urged and challenged me to open my mind, revealed to me that the things I can’t imagine are by no means unimaginable…and that elsewhere, people were expressing themselves in radically different ways and pursuing beauty across vectors and paths of which I was totally unaware.

As I got a little older, he became a celebration and an endorsement of oddity. It’s okay to be weird; indeed, there were places where people appreciated David Bowie’s David Bowie-ness, which implied that there were places where Andy Ihnatko’s Andy Ihnatko-ness would be at least noddingly-tolerated, no matter how I choosed to express it.

And as I got much older, I saw him as an aspirational example. Predictability and repetition are career enhancers if you’re selling coffee or delivering packages. If you’re in a creative field, it’s death for your artistic self and it also means that you’re breaking a promise to your audience. Predictability and repetition are passion-killers. With every practically every new Bowie record, I could see the sweat on his brow as he tried to dance on uneven ground with unsure footing. And pulling it off brilliantly. I might have thought that a certain track (or, to be honest, a whole album) wasn’t very good. But I could never believe that it wasn’t exactly an album that he hadn’t invested himself in. And that’s why I remained a lifelong fan.

If I claimed that I apply these lessons to everything I do, it’d be self-flattery and an act of fraud. But I try to claw hard for the next yard of creative earth, as Bowie seemed to. And based on the personal stories I’ve seen on Twitter and elsewhere, he had that kind of influence on lots of people. 

I’m not sorry that he seemed to spend the past decade laying low. If anything, it pleased me to imagine David Bowie, in his 60s, enjoying his life and his wife and his family. He owed me nothing. And yet each new album, or video, or appearance was a joy.

Mommm…” I’d message a friend, with a link to a new video. “David Bowie’s bein’ weirrrrrd againnnn…”

But of course, I meant it affectionately. Bowie never stopped being “weird,” which is to say that he never stopped engaging me, forcing me to stop, and savor, and think. He never seemed to care about giving me what I want. He always seemed determined to give me what I wanted next.

Bowie Jump Interactive poster  cwob

This concert poster (for a multimedia CD-ROM…hey, remember those?) has been hanging in my office for over twenty years now. Yes, I stole it. Stole the hell out of it. I saw some of these tacked up outside of the Moscone Center during Macworld Expo 1994 and I just pulled it down and strolled off with it and didn’t give it a second thought.

“I bet Ion intended for people to take these,” I thought. And when I’d worked its thick staples free from the wall, I didn’t stick around, in case someone with the company or event security was trotting up to correct my supposition.

I don’t always take home the posters and prints I’m given at conferences and conventions. I keep even fewer. Only one will be on my wall for as long as I live in places with walls.

This poster sits at the intersection of two of my most important childhood influences: Apple, and David Bowie. I can’t even use the iPhone I bought three years ago but I expect I’ll be listening to “Hunky Dory” and “Station to Station” in their entirety until the day I die.

One more thing about David Bowie: he was nice enough have been born a baritone. I’m forced to enjoy Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” from a respectful distance. But David Bowie invites me to sing “Fantastic Voyage” along with him. That’s very generous, I think, particularly when you considering how often I’m singing along while I’m naked and showering.

Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?

Yup! Powerball will be at 1.3 billion dollars by Wednesday’s drawing. At least 1.3 billion dollars. I’ve always thought of the two contrary truths of big lotteries like this one:

  1. The fact that it’s a nationwide lottery with an insane, even unprecedented level of frenzied participation, and yet it still can take months and months for even a single person to pick the right numbers, proves how impossible the odds are;
  2. And yet, well…someone does eventually win.

But if you could win any one lottery, would you really choose to win $1.3 billion?

That’s definitely a dollar amount where winning would become terrifying. If you were to win a lesser amount that was life-changing, but still well below what even a dope you or me could squander away, you could choose to remain anonymous and make it stick. The only people who’d know would be your closest friends. And only the observant ones. “Hmm. Andy never used to order guac on his burrito. That’s, like, a $2.50 upcharge” would be the first loose thread that would unravel my thick cloak of lies.

But if you were the lone (it’s possible) winner of a $1.3 billion jackpot? Oh, ****. You’d need to go straight into hiding before anyone identified you. And the media would be working very very hard to identify you. So: close all of the curtains, lock every door and window, leave your car in the driveway, and check into a hotel in a different city. And take public transportation, in case an Uber driver might fink you out.

I’m feeling a little stressed out just thinking about it. My losing ticket from Saturday’s drawing is in my wallet. It’s a piece of paper a few inches on a side. Imagine that it’s worth $1.4 billion. Is there any article of value that’s worth that much per gram? I’m betting “no,” unless a lock of Jesus Christ’s hair is ever found and verified. How the hell do you transport it safely to that place where men and women in suits turn it into a pile of electrons in a secure database that tells every computer in the world that Mr. Ihnatko is allowed to have whatever he wants, the instant he wants it, and served off the back of any human being he wishes to use as a living piece of furniture?

And until that transaction, yeesh. Stay invisible. Let those hundreds of Coen Brothers-style losers, idiots, and genuine tough guys hack apart your front door with an axe and tear the place apart, because obviously you would have left the winning ticket, unsigned, on your kitchen table. Throw away the hat and the coat you wore when you bought it, because until the prize has been officially claimed, every man or woman wearing a Boston Bruins cap and a leather jacket like the one in the jittery security video that your local gas station happily sold to TMZ is going to get tackled in the street by the aforementioned group of people.

It is a legitimately interesting question. What’s the smartest way to claim the prize? The safest thing would be to race to lottery headquarters and claim the money while you’re still a step ahead of rabid packs of press and ne’er-do-wells. Fine, but then isn’t your name part of the public record? Isn’t it better to form a new LLC and use it as the official claimant?

Good plan! But who’s going to help you do that, and do you understand the paperwork you’re signing? Are you sure that you didn’t initial something that gives your lawyer the power to buy you out of your own company for half a pack of Mike and Ikes?

Oy!

Of course, the troubles don’t end once you’ve claimed the money. Having that much money is like being Superman. You have the power to save anybody. But if you try to save everybody, well, that’s impossible, and will probably shorten your own life. It’s easy to say no to the fan group who wants $7.4 million dollars to fund a new season of “Heroes” (which you never liked in the first place). But what do you say to the parent who needs $180,000 for life-saving surgery for their kid?

I also imagine that it’d be a good idea to maintain a “decoy” house in addition to your actual home. You’d stock it with mid-priced furniture and electronics, and replenish it every time it gets broken into. Meanwhile, your actual home is hidden behind three shell corporations. Plus a couple of moats with interesting creatures swimming around in it (thanks to the Weyland-Yutani-style genetic engineering lab you’re underwriting).

Nonetheless, I think all of the hassles would be worth it, if winning I can (a) pay off all of my nieces and nephews’ student loans, and (b) own a private aircraft hangar with a 1:1 scale replica of the Millennium Falcon in it.

Also? It’d be fun to be Superman. Rather, it’d be fun to be Clark Kent and nobody knows you’re Superman. We’re sometimes saddled with terrible secrets (“Your cat didn’t run away. She got caught in a raccoon trap I set in my backyard. There was already a raccoon in it. They obviously didn’t get along…”). Wouldn’t it be fun to keep a terrific secret? The kind of secret that only gets blown at the reading of your will, when your cousin shows up expecting that you maybe left her your grandmother’s bible but then she walk out of there with that plus a five-cabin catamaran? 

So, sure, I’m going to buy another ticket for Wednesday’s drawing. I joked on Twitter that the $1.3 billion jackpot was my one lifetime opportunity to truly say “There’s a nonzero chance that I will some day have more money than Oprah.” Then someone pointed out that (according to Forbes) the woman has a net worth of about $3.1 billion.

Okay…more money than Jerry Seinfeld?

There we go. $820,000,000. That’s still enough for “Hamilton” tickets.

I don’t approve of state-run gambling. I hate the fact that so much of it is designed specifically to exploit a certain percentage of people whose brains happen to be wired up badly and can be tricked into an infinite loop of electronic betting. I double-hate that governments become dependent on gambling revenues to fund education, instead of using that contribution as a bonus on top of a sensible operational budget that schools will get regardless. It means that we can’t give kids a public education unless we allow casinos to do pretty much whatever they like, and we keep tuning state lottery games to get better and better at lulling players into a fugue state.

Okay, rant over. I don’t gamble, personally, because God has made His/Her/Its feelings quite clear to me about that. The first time I gambled, it was at a Las Vegas night during my freshman year of college. I lost four dollars on four plays in a blink of an eye. Just: one, two, three, four…done. I recall a crystal-clear awareness that I had given this person four dollars, I had received nothing in return, not even entertainment…and I now felt like an idiot.

Years later, I was speaking at a conference center that was part of a casino. I wandered into the blackjack room. On a whim, I think I played one hand, on a five dollar chip. The dealer dealt himself a blackjack. Just like that. I don’t think I got the chance to say “Hit” or “Stay” even once.

“Thy will be done,” I thought, and I kept my second $5 chip as a souvenir.

Despite all of that, I have a rule: when a multi-state lottery jackpot can credibly be expressed as a fraction of a billion dollars…sure, I’m in for a $2 ticket. I’m getting something of value: the fun of knowing that there’s an astronomically far-fetched, but nonzero, chance of having a life-altering amount of money by this time next week.

Guac on every burrito, going to a drive-in screening of the original Star Wars trilogy in a working X-34 landspeeder…it sounds pretty sweet all around, despite the hassles of nonstop home breakins, lawsuits from con artists, and kidnap/ransoms.

Release the “Clowns”

I never thought I’d get to see “The Day The Clown Cried,” which will probably stand as Jerry Lewis’ second or third most famous movie despite the fact that it’s never been released. I also never thought I’d get to see a commentary or documentary that treated the movie with as much dignity and respect as David Schneider does here.

He raises a point that has always merited discussion: is it even fair to have an opinion about a movie that’s never been seen, was never even completed, and which the director has worked hard to keep completely under wraps? No, of course it isn’t. It’s just way to hard not to. “Jerry Lewis did a movie set inside a concentration camp” is a phrase that spurs as much impassioned imagination as the orange light inside the briefcase in “Pulp Fiction.”

And then, of course, there’s Jerry’s recent comments about the film, during a public Q&A a couple of years ago:

Someone asked Jerry if the movie would ever be released.

“It’s very easy to sit in front of an audience and expound on your feelings,” he said, referring to the Q&A. “It’s another thing to have to deal with those feelings. And in terms of that film, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of the work, and I was grateful that I had the power to contain it all and never let anybody see it. It was bad, bad, bad. It could have been wonderful. But I slipped up. I didn’t quite get it. And I didn’t have enough sense to find out why I’m doing it, and maybe there there would be an answer. Uh-uh. It’ll never be seen.

“Sorry. I’ll tell you how it ends…

I’ve read that the production ran into financing issues, in addition to legal trouble when the creator of the work upon which the screenplay was based insisted that their rights to the story had lapsed. If that’s true, then my next obvious question is “Would the Jerry of 1972 have finished and released this movie, if he could have?”

I can’t speculate. I’ll say that he seems sincere in this Q&A. He’s forty years older, probably a lot wiser, and maybe he’s giving advice to the younger version of himself that the 46 year old Jerry Lewis might not have taken.

I can easily imagine “The Day The Clown Cried” being similar to that super angry email that you wrote but never sent because you didn’t trust the privacy of a public WiFi connection, and then you forgot about it until you rediscovered it a couple of years later. You can remember everything about that email, and even now, you think you were perfectly right to be this angry with this person…but you’re relieved and grateful that fate prevented this thing from getting out.

Jerry’s by no means one of my favorite filmmakers, though I respect his obvious love of the artform. Still, I always thought it was unfair to judge a movie that he never “finished.” Drivesavers recently told the story of the herculean efforts they undertook to recover “lost” writings of Gene Roddenberry. 200 floppies full of files, which he had written with an early CP/M-based computer whose OS and apps had been custom-made for him. The recovery wasn’t just a technical problem or a forensic problem…the challenge was practically an archaeological one.

His estate now has all of the recovered text. It’s hard to imagine that Gene left behind a complete, fully written and revised manuscript or screenplay for everything. Even any outlines would be, at best, the frameworks for a future work and not the work itself. I’m sure hundreds of thousands of people would love to read these things, but should we? The drafts of a work-in-progress have a certain “sanctity of the confessional” about them. I’ve written some stuff where I tried to stretch myself and explore The Gentle Cruelty of the Human Condition and it was just maudlin trash. Fair enough; I gave it a try and had enough objectivity about my work to see that it wasn’t worth developing further. It’d be wearying to spend the next forty years of my life being judged, partly, by this thing that I myself decided wasn’t any good.

You’ve probably heard that Jerry has donated “The Day The Clown Cried” to the Library of Congress, along with a trove of other personal papers (with the proviso that it wouldn’t be made available to the public in any form for ten years). That seems to be in line with the sentiments he expressed during that Q&A. He’s deliberately chosen to place that footage within the historical context of his life’s story, and not as part of his creative canon. It’s there for the benefit of film historians, not movie audiences.

Either way…I can’t not see this movie. I never thought I’d live long enough to see Star Wars: Episode VII or “The Day The Clown Cried.” I’ve managed to avoid drunk drivers and poisoned chalices long enough to see the first and now I’m quite hopeful about the second.

The Bugle’s “Hotties From History” Compilation

John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman’s weekly “The Bugle” podcast has been on hiatus for a lonnnng time. I’m not supposed to be upset about it because John and Andy’s careers have been on such an upswing since the show started in 2007 that it’s become difficult for them to find time. The Bugle is a half an hour to 45 minutes of well-crafted political comedy. If it were “two guys get a tiny bit lit and then argue about last week’s episode of ‘Daredevil’” it’d be easy to maintain a consistent schedule but it wouldn’t be as interesting or funny.

The guys keep saying that a relaunch (as a monthly) is in the works. I can’t wait. In the meantime, I’ve been listening to old shows. Many of The Bugle’s fans have cut together their own compilations.

Here’s 90 minutes of The Bugle’s “Hotties From History” segments. This fine tradition started with one of the guys’ throwaway references to Florence Nightingale. Listeners started writing in with their own picks for historical figures capable of inducing downstairs tinglage, and at that point the bit became an unstoppable force.

“Unstoppable force” is also an apt description of Andy’s heroic acts of stamina, courage, and more than anything else “looking on Wikipedia for lists of things,” in the form of his epic pun runs. They’re like the performance art of Marina Abramovic, a single act that might seem like the product of a burning self-destructive impulse achieves a kind of stature and grandeur when it’s placed within the larger context of the artist’s life’s work.

I’m keeping tuned to The Bugle’s Twitter feed for news on the show. If John and Andy never recorded another show, I’d still be vastly grateful for what for years was the best podcast of my week. But I really hope they can find a way to keep the show going.

Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium

Ubering While Black — Matter — Medium:

‘The premium car service removes the racism factor when you need a ride,’ she wrote. Peterson, who lives in D.C., said that since her original post, she has taken ‘hundreds of rides’ with Uber. ‘The Uber experience is just so much easier for African-Americans,’ she told me recently. ‘There’s no fighting or conversation. When I need a car, it comes. It takes me to my destination. It’s amazing that I have to pay a premium for that experience, but it’s worth it.’

(Via.)

Uber’s on my personal list of companies that would have to screw up really big, and clearly in an institutional fashion, for me to stop using it. I almost can’t even listen to the taxi industry’s complaints about it. Uber and other ridesharing systems are only thriving because of huge, longstanding failure points in the taxi system that the industry doesn’t seem to want to fix:

  • Limited number of taxis on the road (which is often an artificially-created scarcity; many taxi companies have opposed the issuing of new medallions in their cities, to keep demand high and competition low);
  • Drivers who discriminate, and it’s so deeply ingrained in the industry that drivers aren’t even cautious about how they do it;
  • Entire geographic communities that taxi companies won’t serve;
  • Utter and total unreliability, even when a customer books a pickup days in advance;
  • Appalling customer service when things inevitably go wrong;
  • Doggedly sticking the customer with rotary-telephone-era inconveniences, in an iPhone world.

I use Uber a lot. The only instance in which I refuse to call an Uber is when I need a ride from an airport. Taxis are right there, and I’m aware that taxi companies often have to pay beaucoup bucks for the right to make pickups outside the door. I feel guilty for using a service that doesn’t need to pay anything at all.

But overall? I feel the same way about the taxi companies as I did about the independent bookstore a few miles away from my childhood home when Barnes & Noble drove it out of business. I’m not happy about seeing a business go under and people losing their jobs. But the fact remains that the store never carried anything I liked. I stopped going there entirely when I walked in with a friend and the owner gruffly ordered me, and I quote, to “roll right back out of here just like the tide.” The new Barnes & Noble at the mall carried everything and they seemed to encourage me to hang out and browse for as long as I liked.

The point is that you can’t consistently tell me that you don’t give a crap about me and then expect me to be on your side when a new business that fits my needs well starts making life difficult for you.

I won’t celebrate when your company folds. It’s worse than that: I simply won’t care.

Mustard! Mustard! Mustard!

I made myself a ham and cheese sandwich with a healthy dose of Bookbinder’s Whole-Grain Mustard. This mustard is my favorite intersection between “great mustard” and “easy to find.” It’s great on a sandwich, it’s great in a marinade, and I usually mix it with a little olive oil and use it as a dressing for green beans.

It prompted me to write this Tweet:


In retrospect, I think Bookbinder’s is like a $5-$6 mustard at my local store. But the principle is the same. You can’t afford to buy a $72,000 Audi instead of a $24,000 Toyota. But chances are that you can afford the fancy kind of mustard and the difference in flavor between a good one and a standard brown or yellow one is amazing.

A couple of people replied with the names of their favorite mustards, and then I encouraged everyone else to chime in. I feel as though it’s now my civic duty to record for posterity this list of Mustards that Someone Felt Worthy of Recommending. Here are the five that caught my eye (ones I sure intend to try):

  • Raye’s Mustards. Handmade (“Since 1900”) in Maine. A wide line that includes beer mustard, wine mustard, and cranberry mustard.
  • Maille. Holy cats these look like fancy-shmancy mustards. They’re not all $43 a jar but oh my god there’s mustard that’s $43 a jar! But this one got many recommendations and after looking at the selection…my curiosity is piqued. This is maybe the Bugatti Veyron of mustards and even so: hey, I got $43.
  • Düsseldorfer Löwensenf. They’re Germans and they’ve been making mustard for a mighty long time. Also some interesting flavor varieties here.
  • Kosciusko Spicy Brown. It seems like a straightforward, non-fussy but excellent mustard. And although the name doesn’t even have even one umlaut, let alone two, there’s something about it that creates a sense of confidence.
  • Sir Kensington’s Spicy Brown. Well, okay: you can’t possibly get a less ethnic brandname than “Sir Kensington.” But it’s well-spoken-of.

And these are all winners! Because each was so well-liked that someone chose to recommend it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

 


 

An Apple Event in the Bizarro World

I’m going to do a “wow, you wouldn’t believe the dream I had last night” post, even though I regard those as the Brazils in the big jar of Blog Topics Mixed Nuts. I think you’ll agree why I’ve chosen to share this one.

It was an Apple keynote/media event. But one in the bizarro world, a strange dimension in which Apple is no good at running media events.

Clearly I’ve both a keen eye for what Apple does so well, and a clear memory of all of the awful media events I’ve been to in the past, hosted by other companies. The lowlights:

  • The check-in process was totally screwed up. One line for everyone and everything. A network camera crew could hold up the whole line because they need a spot in the TV pit and nobody behind the counter knows who has the list of approved media for that location.
  • The venue was a deep, narrow, flat room with a low ceiling, so it was practically impossible to see anything. There were a few live monitors scattered around, but you could barely see any of those, either.
  • The seating was all folding chairs and there weren’t quite enough to go around. So you kind of had to grab one wherever you could find one and move it to where you needed to be.
  • The event started super-late. If you milled around during the delay, it was likely that someone would steal your chair.
  • Tim Cook took the stage, but seemed to have been pushed out there without a rehearsed game plan or a specific message in mind. Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi came out along with him, but just sort of stood around sheepishly with nothing to do, making me wonder why they were out there.
  • A pointless appearance by the CEO of a company Apple was partnering with on a project. And it was via video.
  • The audio wasn’t working for the first ten minutes and they just pushed ahead instead of fixing it.
  • They also forgot to dim the house lights, so the audience’s focus was never 100% on the presentation.
  • They hired a celebrity pro wrestler (in his full ring costume and in character) to take part in a terrible little skit on the stage midway through.

I’m being awfully negative about Bizarro Apple here, so I’ll also say that the WiFi in the room was fast and rock-stable.

I’m sure that this was a dream triggered by my deep respect and gratitude for how well Apple does things, or a musing on how flying 3200 miles and losing 72 hours of productivity and spending $1000 to attend media events on the West coast might be more trouble than it’s worth. I decided to attend fewer of those events in 2015, and it seems to have worked out fine.

This definitely wasn’t one of those “o no its final exams and i never attended any of the classes and i have to write all of my test answers with a blade from a ceiling fan” dreams. The only Fail on Dream Andy’s part was bringing a terrible mobile keyboard for his iPad. It folded for pocket storage, but it wouldn’t lay flat, and the keys were mushy and terrible.

In fact, that’s what pulled me out of the dream. Even before I saw “Inception,” I noticed that my dreams usually end when something I see somehow gooses my rational brain back online. “This is impossible. Oh, wait…so this must be a dream, right?”

Still, it’s quite odd that the thing that took me out of the dream was “I had chosen to rely solely on an untested new mobile keyboard for live note-taking during an important event.” It wasn’t “Apple decided that the best way to introduce a new product would be for Tim Cook to talk about it with a pro wrestler in a huge feathered cape, reading everything awkwardly off of a prompter.”

I think this should give you an idea of just how bad some of the product introductions I’ve covered have been.

From my Flickr: “Merry Christmas”

And those shepherds in the fields saw a star, shining in the East

They followed it and found that all was as the angel had said unto them

There was a child, in a manger, in swaddling clothes

And his parents, already in line for the new iPhone

See it here: http://flic.kr/p/CmwR8U

The Awakening

You didn’t beat me. Do you hear that, Internet?! I’ve won. I have seen “The Force Awakens” without you spoiling anything about it that wasn’t in the very first teaser trailer.

Yes, I’m gloating. I’m entitled, don’t you think? You are an immense global machine with far more funding and manpower than I. You marshaled hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of your little minions to seek out information about the movie and put it out there, releasing it into the atmosphere and the water supply so that it was simply impossible for anybody to not already know that Bobo Barabas dies at the hands of Jif Orino and that the Gonologues were a faction of the Grey Flight all along.

All of which are things I totally made up just now, because I truly have no idea what happens in this movie. I don’t know the names of any of the new characters, or even which side they’re on!

Yes, you once tricked me into seeing photos of Kim Kardashian’s bare ass, the ones that were just a ripoff of a much more famous photo series, despite my active desire to know as little about this person as possible. But that was a costly victory, my friend, because I learned from the experience. I learned that long before “Star Wars” spoilers would be in play, I needed to go into Tweetdeck’s settings and disable all images.

Are Han and Leia still a couple? I don’t know. Are the Stormtroopers good or bad? Are they still clones? Couldn’t tell you. Are Artoo and Threepio in it? I can’t even remember if they were in the teaser, because that thing was released so long ago and I haven’t watched it since.

I’m not saying it didn’t require discipline and effort. I’ve been building thicker and thicker walls around myself over the past several months. As the media machine slowly creaked to life, I created a new bookmarks folder just for “Star Wars”-related interviews, articles, and videos that I would only read after I’d seen “The Force Awakens.” A couple of weeks ago, I added a dozen new hotwords to my Twitter client’s “mute” list. Every day or two, another new one would occur to me. Ultimately, that list grew to twenty.

I stopped visiting pop culture fansites of all kinds. Then, I stopped visiting Reddit and Fark and other news aggregators. When I raised the threat level to Defcon 1, I even stopped looking at news sites of any kind.

And why?

Because it’s Star Wars. I argue that the Holy Trilogy episodes are, objectively, all great movies and beyond that, I acknowledge that they have a power to enchant and delight me to which that no other movies can even come close. Anything that you adored as a kid — a book, movie, TV show, comic book, even a computer and OS — whose gravity well affected your trajectory through childhood and, indeed, through life, will always have a special place in your heart.

I want to reproduce the conditions under which I saw it when I was in grammar school. I want to be a blank slate. I want to let the whole thing wash over me like cleansing waters. I don’t want to be anticipating anything that happens. Not even anything I saw in an official trailer or commercial.

I’m not saying you won’t have other victories, Internet. But, dammit, I won this battle. You’ve been beaten.

Why am I laughing, you ask?

Oh, nothing. Keep  on doing what you’re doing right now.

Now I’m just being cruel. Don’t waste your energy, Internet. I hear you, bringing new reactors and generators online in a last-ditch effort to spoil something, anything for me before I see the movie. Like, induce some no-goodnik to send me an email that reveals the whole ending, under an innocuous subject line that I’m sure to click on. Perhaps you’re even arranging for a New York Times poilitical op-ed piece about the Democratic debates to begins “Hilary Clinton proved that she’s clearly willing to win the White House for the Democratic Party even if she inspires as little excitement as Grig Hortu did when she ordered Jor Horizo to accompany Leia to the Du system to negotiate the great compromise in ‘The Force Awakens’…”

Just stop.

Do you seriously think I’d explain my master stroke if there remained the slightest chance of you affecting its outcome? I did it thirty five minutes ago.

I wrote all of this last night, and set it to auto-post after I was inside the theater, with my phone turned off. I even listened to loud music through my over-the-ear headphones while waiting in line to get in, to guarantee that I wouldn’t overhear anything.

Forget it, Internet. It’s Star Wars.