Tom & Dori

I don’t think I ever bought one of Tom Negrino’s books. The law of averages suggests that I must have, solely due to how many of the things he wrote.

(I’ve just gone to my analog library to double-check. Sure enough: one of his introductory JavaScript books. Of course.)

I always envied that kind of skill. His books are bloody good; not a bad apple in the whole barrel. Being a productive and consistently-good tech book author requires a special kind of discipline and focus. It requires good instincts, confidence in your skills, an intuitive understanding of how to deliver the greatest amount of value to a reader, and (oh, damn it, Tom) the ability to write well and not slow down the project by being oh-so-precious.

Tom has those talents in spadefuls. I have them in…

I’m stuck for a way to express the opposite of a spadeful.

Spoonful? Or would I be better off sticking with the spade and persuing the digging angle? “Tom writes as efficiently as a man digging a trench through soft loam, while I seem to approach every page as though I’m sure I must have lost a dime somewhere in all this dirt, and I’m terrified that I’ll just re-bury it unless I proceed with the utmost care and caution”?

Well. There you have it. I imagine Tom would have written “I’m a fast writer. Andy isn’t.” and then boom…on to the next clear, well-written sentence.

Books aren’t my user interface to Tom, anyway. I’ve been lucky enough to know him personally. He’s part of a big extended family of people whom I love dearly and will miss when they’re gone. He’s among the two or three dozen people I looked forward to seeing two or three times a year at Macworld Expo and, post-Macworld, at the many other watering holes where members of our tribe of nerds tend to gather.

Honest, I feel closer to Tom than some members of my actual legal family. I wouldn’t always know ahead of time that Tom would be attending a certain conference, but I always knew it was likely. One of the other members of the family would tell me “Oh, yeah, Tom and Dori are here. I said hi to them in the press room about an hour ago.” And then the ten-year-old kid in me would shout YAYYYY!!! Tom is like the cousin whose presence (and backpack full of Star Wars action figures) makes a boring grownup’s party bearable.

I simply enjoy Tom’s presence. I enjoy catching up with him. I enjoy being at a table in a restaurant with him. I enjoy the simple mutual understanding that this life is naught but a vale of tears and that humankind was born unto trouble just as surely as sparks fly upward, doubly so if one is a book author. I enjoy the shared history and the gentle reminders of the time when Mac users were all considered a slightly odd demographic, and the mild stigma bonded us into a distinct community. If I knew you were a Mac user, I knew that you were at least 80% cool. Tom and Dori are, combined, about 280%.

I also dig “Tom and Dori.” A lot. It’s not a given that two excellent, successful  writers can maintain any kind of relationship, let alone the titanic bond of warmth and mutual admiration that those two have. The phrase “peas and carrots” comes to mind. Their bond has been obvious every time I’ve seen them together and only slightly less so when I’ve seen them separately.

Tom “went public” with his terminal cancer diagnosis in a blog post last year. That’s when I learned that he was born with spina bifida. I think he’s wise enough to have leaned on friends for help and support as needed (and Lord knows he has many friends who’d do anything for him). But part of the grind of a chronic illness, I imagine, is that it’s simply a part of one’s life…part of What Must Be Handled If One Wants To Get On With It. I have the luxury of wallowing in a three-day flu. I know it’ll be completely behind me soon. So it’s a dandy excuse to knock off work and sleep for 52 hours. A person with a chronic illness, however, learns early on to Just Deal. Spina bifida is incompatible with a fulfilling, ambitious, successful, and easy life…so, Tom just got on with it, and had a fulfilling, ambitious, successful life in which his backpack contained several extra bricks that aren’t in yours or mine.

I wonder if that sort of stamina helps him as a writer? “Yes, this sucks. Yes, this is hard. Let’s just deal with it and move forward.” Whereas (and I can’t overstress this point) I’m the sort of writer who pictures himself struggling with his Muse every single moment of every single day. In my mind, I toil away in a freezing garret, alone and unknown, my only luxury a single white lily, which reminds me of the Truth and Beauty which I must achieve with each word, certain that my genius will never be understood or appreciated within my lifetime. That’s rich. Because in reality I am on the sofa with my MacBook on my lap, a remote control in my hand, snack crackers ever at the ready, and the knowledge that the next thing I write will definitely be read by a lot of people and I’ll probably get paid for it.

(The part about the single perfect lily was accurate, however. O beauty! Eternal, yet so fragile! [shed single tear] Why must I be cursed with the ability to understand it in such painful detail, even as pale, tart ugliness is lauded by those around me! Et cetera. By the time I get bored with this line of thought, all of my editors have gone home for the day and there’s not even much of a point to my starting work.)

You might have read that Tom will likely no longer be with us a week from now. As he wrote on his blog, his health has been declining precipitously, with no rescue realistically in sight. He’s decided to end his life on his own terms, and he and Dori have picked a date.

My tendency to overthink things and be oh-so-precious with words is nudging me to speak of Tom’s life as his greatest creative work. “…And now, true to form, Tom is wrapping things up, ending the project when he’s sure it’s complete. He’s content to close the back cover.”

But that’s glib. He’s ending his life because after living with cancer for a long time, his health has declined past the point where the powers of determination, family support, and medical science can push back. His choice isn’t based on “quality of life.” Tom’s life will end soon no matter what he chooses.

I’m pleased for Tom, because he’s clearly made the right choice for himself. I’m grateful that he wrote that blog post; it was a generous gift to his friends and fans. Tom has made his thoughts clear.

I can only speak for myself. It feels like Tom is choosing to “be there” when he dies. Both of my parents died from terminal illnesses. I was present during that final week or two when it was clear that their life forces were slowly tapering down to zero. They were heavily medicated to keep them out of pain.

I don’t fear death as much as I fear the idea of my death being taken out of my hands. I’d hate to die before I can tell everyone I love how much they meant to me. Or without making it clear that certain tasks, goals, principles, and even specific material objects were important and might even have defined me.

(Or without secure-erasing my browser history. Okay. Yes. Fine.)

I’m even more worried about existing as a mere memento of myself…to have a pulse and an active EEG, but little else. Once I’ve lost everything that defines me, plus the potential or the interest to define myself anew, aren’t I just hanging around the fairground after the tents and rides have been packed up and trucked away?

Willy Wonka said (in the good movie) that he wasn’t going to live forever and he didn’t want to, either. This is the man who invented lickable wallpaper. Suffice to say he’s a man of great wisdom.

I seem to be fishtailing around my emotions right now. I regret that Tom won’t be popping up in my life any more. I don’t regret Tom’s decision. I’m saddened that he’s leaving us too soon. I wish I had written and posted this earlier.

But I’m tremendously grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to tell Tom that I treasure him. It’s much more pleasant than writing a eulogy that he’ll never hear.

I feel an evening of deep sighs coming on.

I will pivot this ending with a formal declaration. If I’m hit by a bus or something and my family (not just the legally-recognized ones) has gathered around my bed in the ICU and is wondering if I’m even still in there, here’s what I want you to do:

Play either “America” from the Broadway score to “West Side Story,” or “Are You Man Enough” by the Four Tops. Or, in a pinch, the theme song from “Friends.”

If I don’t even try to do the hand claps…look, I’m sorry, but clearly I’m gone and nothing can bring me back. Start divvying up my body parts and my comic books. And please, someone delete my browser history.




An Idler In San Francisco


You can attempt to divide by zero or take the square root of a negative number. It’s adorable that you’d even try, because it’s impossible, of course.

“Getting from downtown San Francisco to Cupertino without any fuss” is the divide by zero of Bay area logistics. It can’t be done. It’s doubly-frustrating because I’m not battering my head against eternal principles of mathematics but against lousy urban planning.

Why, yes! I am on a southbound Caltrain! How perceptive of you! Continue reading “An Idler In San Francisco”

The Official Position Of The Editorial Board On Nazi-Punching

…Is as follows:

  1. If you’re a hero on the cover of a vintage comic book: always acceptable, even desireable;
  2. When the Nazi is either physically assaulting you or is clearly prepating to physically assault you: always acceptable, even necessary;

And that’s as far as I’ve got.

Each of us is an innocent civilian in the war between our Emotional and Intellectual selves. The Emotional self says “It would feel so good if we did this…” while the Intellectual self responds “Yes, but hang on: what if…” Continue reading “The Official Position Of The Editorial Board On Nazi-Punching”


Vintage newspaper photo of suffragettes holding
I wonder what goes on inside Trump’s head. I wonder about this with the same befuddlement with which I wonder how snakes can move without any legs, how that guy I once saw on I-95 managed to get this far without the state police pulling him over for operating a vehicle with three tires and one bare rim, and vector calculus in general.

Trump’s brain is an alien thing to me. I’ve made so many mistakes over the past couple of years due to the fact that I’ve been trying to interpret the man’s statements and strategy with the same software I’ve used every day since I received the “Comprehend The Humans Instead Of Just Being Alarmed By Them All The TIme” system update. But Trump is an edge case, for sure. Continue reading “VOTES FOR WOMEN!”

Paul Ryan 1970-20?? HOLD IN CMS

It’s no secret that people in the news game maintain an inventory of obituaries of prominent, not dead, not even sick citizens. It’s the responsible choice. Murphy’s Law dictates that if Betty White is even capable of dying, it’s sure to happen when we’re recovering from a two-day bender and are incapable of giving this fine lady the sendoff that she deserves.

So the fact that I wrote House Speaker Paul Ryan’s obituary today should in no way be taken as some sort of wishful thinking. I sincerely hope that the man lives a long, long life and expires in a state of peace, surrounded by the many people who love him.

Seriously. If anything, I’m writing this now because I’m certain that the Speaker is going to outlive me. I mean, just look at him. Even the worst photo of him ever taken indicates a man brimming with health, committed to daily exercise and a regular diet.

Whereas I, as I write this, have just eaten a carrot cake donut and am halfway through a twenty ounce bottle of Diet Dr Pepper. Continue reading “Paul Ryan 1970-20?? HOLD IN CMS”

Congress repeals access to free public school education

Of course they didn’t. But imagine it. New Congress and their first order of business is to pass legislation that dismantles the public education system. Children are no longer guaranteed access to K-12 for free. Actually, they’re not even guaranteed access to K-12. Not as a fundamental right.

All schools in America have the right to refuse to accept any child for any reason. All schools in America can expel any child for any reason. And all of these schools will be sharing information between themselves freely, so if Billy or Jane got kicked out of third grade because their school didn’t feel like accommodating their food allergy or their disability, that could disqualify them from ever getting educated anywhere. Continue reading “Congress repeals access to free public school education”

“Fake News”

It’s the hip new PR trend of 2017! I present to you “Fake News”: the miraculous magic wand that can make any inconvenient or embarrassing public revelation disappear in a flash!

Yeah. Bad trend. I hope I’m not just being optimistic when I observe that it only seems to work on people who just want something to stick in their earholes before they clap their hands tightly to the sides of their heads and start humming loudly. To everyone else, it comes across as an act of eye-rolling desperation.

That’s not to say that “fake news” (let’s define it as “clearly non-newsworthy reporting, crafted in the service of impact and manipulation rather than actual journalism”) doesn’t exist. But the more powerful and influential you become, the less entitled you are to use “fake news” as a two-syllable dismissal of reporting. Continue reading ““Fake News””

Farewell, Doctor

I stopped buying sugared soda for the house ages ago. Even when I had the metabolism of a man in his mid-Twenties, some sense of self-preservation noted that drinking as much as a liter of Coke a day was incompatible with long life. It’s a hazard of self-employment. One likes to have a tumbler of drinkable liquid at hand and when the tumbler is empty, it’s a wonderful excuse to walk away from the keyboard. It’s why successful crime novelists are alcoholics.

Continue reading “Farewell, Doctor”

Check out my new podcast:

"Almanac" podcast logo

What a crazy week to launch a new podcast! But yes,”Launched,” Almanac has. Speak like Yoda, I will not, in the rest of this post. and I are launching a new podcast today! Behold, “Almanac.”

Here’s a direct iTunes subscription link!

Here’s a direct Overcast subscription link!

Here’s a direct Pocket Casts subscription link!

RSS? Sure! Here’s an RSS link!

Just please subscribe. Assuming, of course, that the idea of a brand-new podcast by me interests you.

Here’s a blog post about the new show. Very bold of them. They can’t distance themselves from the project later. Which puts a little extra pressure on me.

And now…here’s my blog post about “Almanac.”

First…is that not an amazing show logo? I’ve been looking at it all summer and it still blows me away. We went through only a few iterations and working with Relay and the Grafiksyndikat studio was a dream. Whenever I made a suggestion, they intuited the meaning of the suggestion and came back with something ten times better than I could have proposed.

The final result looks as if the studio has been listening to this new show for a hundred years and know exactly what it’s about.

(About that pebbled texture: it’s the back cover of a 160-year-old almanac from my personal library. Authenticity!)

Second: here’s the short pitch. The editorial mission of “Almanac” is to be…an almanac. Not a dictionary or an encyclopedia, whose missions are to contain all knowledge, and make sure it’s all factual. The latter point sounds like a real time-suck. No, I love almanacs and collect them because they represent the unique point of view of a specific, idiosyncratic editor. More often than not, an editor who got fired from every other publisher because he or she was more interested in researching the origin and evolution of jar lids than the annual rainfall in the Indus Basin.

“Almanac” will always be more than just one thing. But its center of gravity will always be topic that interest me, usually explored with people I’m interested in speaking with. In the coming weeks, you’ll hear conversations with a principal broadway castmember of “Cats,” the producers and directors of a documentary about “the ultramarathon trail race that eats its young.”

And now, strap in for the extended cut about “Almanac.”

Podcasting has become a great joy for me, and a great adventure. Not a few years before podcasting began to mature as a medium — you know, when podcasts stopped being about podcasts and podcast listeners were no longer simply fans of podcast apps — I’d adjusted my definition of my career mission. I felt that I wasn’t doing everything I wanted to do, or everything I was capable of, unless I thought of myself as an “educator” rather than a writer or even a journalist.

So I started to do a lot more TV and radio…because there are people who don’t get most of their info from print or websites. I also tried to stop thinking of the things I write as long magazine articles that tell a story from beginning to end. That is, that’s still my favorite thing in the world and I’ll keep doing that as long as editors and readers are willing to let me get away with it. But since my teenage years as a newbie magazine columnist, pre-Web, many talented folks have proven that a couple of fast and timely paragraphs, or even a link to something else with a personal comment, is of tremendous value to the populace.

I still envy (in the positive sense) that skill and work to acquire it.

And fail. This here blog post was meant to be a quick “Hey, check out my new podcast” and here it is, an essay on communication. Oh, well!

When I learn a new medium, I learn a new skill. And learning how to communicate and educate through a podcast has been a ball. It’s writing, it’s performing, and it’s entertaining. I’ve learned this from all of my fave shows. Many podcasters can hold my attention forever, even though they seem to be speaking completely off-the-cuff.

It’s been a slow and steep climb for me! Somewhere in the Ihnatko Archives I must still have my very first podcast recording. This would have been back when GarageBand first incorporated podcast recording features. Under the tissue-thin excuse of “testing the feature,” I bought a Sony MiniDisc recorder. I remember pacing my office, late at night, trying to express thoughts that were crystal-clear inside my head.

There was a lot of cursing. Oh, so much cursing! And starting and stopping and restarting from scratch…

…Yeah. I hadn’t got it yet. I did a “test” podcast about Netflix movies that ran for about six shows.

But this is the Internet! That amazing place where “learning on the job” isn’t simply tolerated, but expected.

I joined the panel of MacBreak Weekly at the This Week In Tech network, and over time, got better at this whole “consider, reflect, then speak” deal. And gained some great friends in Leo Laporte and Alex Lindsay. (And Rene Ritchie, of course, when he joined us.)

I accepted my friend Dan Benjamin’s kind offer to start a show on his 5by5 network. Producing almost 180 episodes of “The Ihnatko Almanac” taught me how do more than just show up at the right time having familiarized myself with a list of topics that a producer had already prepared. I learned how to lead and produce a show that comes out every week and is designed for the long haul.

It’s hard! Obviously, yes, but there are always boneheaded mistakes that must be made! Over time, I acquired a hard-won skill: how not to put three weeks of work into a show that’s supposed to come out weekly. It helped that Dan is a friend and I enjoyed our conversations. I learned to have faith in the power of conversation and not to over-produce every last thing. Over the course of the hour, I’d often throw away whatever I’d planned to discuss, because the conversation had taken us somewhere more interesting.

Through my friend Jason Snell, I became friends with Myke Hurley. When his new podcast network decided to launch a Google-themed podcast, Relay invited me to join Russell Ivanovic and Yasmine Evjen. I enjoy recording Material as much as I look forward to MacBreak every week, which is a remarkable statement.

I never met Russell or Yasmine before we sat down to record our first show. We seemed to have a natural compatibility. We never sat down to formally divide the workload of putting the show together. Each was motivated to note something that needed doing, the others noted “oh, [person] is taking care of that, good!” and kept out of their way.

My backstage job at Material is essentially that of an executive editor. I put together what I imagine will be an hour’s worth of things to talk about, and I include links, summaries, and quotes when needed. Yasmine and Russell have equal input, of course, but this saves them the time, and also makes me feel less guilty about doing none of the business stuff or post-production, and having none of the hosting responsibilities.

Which set me up for “Almanac.” Remember “Almanac“? That’s the new podcast that this post was meant to tell you about.

How can you tell that you love your work? Easy: when you’re eager to work harder at it. The only thing about “The Ihnatko Almanac” that nagged at me was the hunch that it’s a show for people who like to hear me talk. And boy do Dan and I give it to them. Sometimes we chat for ninety minutes, and we never edit it. We all have a great time — Dan, me, and the listeners.

This new podcast started out with the realization that most of my favorite shows are edited and produced. They’re still lively and spontaneous! But there are few conversational pauses, and they’re produced with the awareness that there are many shows in a listener’s queue. It helps that the producers skip ahead before the listener does.

So I thought about what I would do with a more formally produced show. And even if I could do one. But I inventoried what I’d learned from MacBreak, The Ihnatko Almanac, and Material. It was obvious that I now had enough skills that when I inevitably crashed and burned after eleven shows, I could gracefully pin the public blame on a downturn in the market and a lack of advertising funds.

What is “Almanac” about?

Oh, you bastard.

Yeah, that’s always a tough question. I hope you won’t be scared off when I say “It’s about things I think are interesting.” I assure you that the next thought in my mind is “…and then I ask myself ‘But will the listeners find it interesting, too?'”

Myke had an admirable amount of faith in this vague idea, and we committed to the new show back in April, launch date TBD. I’m glad that one thing or the other delayed everything until the fall, because many of my initial ideas were valuable mostly in the sense that they led me to better ones.

Now, I have a template that I can look forward to filling every week. The crunchy center of most episodes will be a one-on-one conversation with someone I wanna talk to, on a subject I wanna talk about. This is preceded by a couple of short bits. If you only have ten minutes, you can at least listen to part of the show and I hope you’ll get so hooked that you’ll ditch “Fresh Air” just this once and stick with the rest of my episode.

This’ll be followed by something scripted.

No new enterprise is worth doing if you aren’t learning something in the process. The new mountain to climb with “Almanac” is the drudgery of boots-on-the-ground engineering and producing.

In April, Andy thought “And let’s tighten up and edit everything so it sounds professional.” Great idea. Where’s April Andy now, when it’s me who has to listen to my own voice for hours, cutting out every um and pause, and turn 90 minutes of conversation into something Oh My God So Very Less Than 90 Minutes?

But the work is fun. I hope that comes across in the show.

Myke and I chose this week for the launch. Neither of us was particularly aware that it was going to be election week. The case could be made that this was more my fault, given that Myke doesn’t live in this country.

I want you to picture me, at 2 AM on Wednesday morning. I’d been working at my desk for hours. I was so focused on writing project that I didn’t command-tab into Twitter or the Web even once since just past dinner.

“Finally,” I thought,” when I finished. “I can go to bed. All I need to do is edit down the intro to the new podcast, output everything as an MP3, give it a final listen, and post the file.”

But first, I checked Twitter…

And then The New York Times…

… … ……

…Oh holy ****warts.

So despite all of my banana oil about launching an oh so well-edited and produced podcast…I am launching with about an hour’s worth of extemporaneous 4 AM microphoning, recorded just after having received some Shocking News, and finished way too late to even consider editing it down.

I hope you like it, all, the same.

Why I Often Buy Kids-Oriented Comics

Screen Shot 2016 08 02 at 11 52 44 AM
Spectacular Spider-Man (UK) #207.

Why I Often Buy Superhero Comics From Marvel & DC’s Kids Lines:

  1. They never jettison the fundamentals of good storytelling in the name of style.
  2. Even when it’s an ongoing story, each issue is designed to be a satisfying, self-contained unit of entertainment.
  3. Characters act in a fashion that’s rational and consistent with their unique histories and nature…and when they don’t, there’s a reason. As opposed to characters simply performing whatever function the writer requires of them.
  4. I’m usually left with the sense that the writer, artist, and editor were trying to tell a great story. It doesn’t seem like they were executing part of a synergetic business plan and maximizing value to parent-company shareholders.
  5. Action is usually big and exciting and colorful, which is something I believe that right in the wheelhouse of superhero comics as a genre.
  6. Story and character arcs are usually developed through small challenges, as opposed to a weekly Threat To All Life, Time, Space, And Reality. (A good actor can tell you about his or her character just by the way they eat soup; a bad actor requires them to contract a terminal illness or something.)
  7. They’re fun. Comics don’t always have to be fun. But they shouldn’t never be fun, right?
  8. There’s the possibility that the comic will include an awesome toy, like (as above) a wind-up gun that fires a little helicopter.

The #LibertyDonut


It’s no coincidence that “freelancer” and “freeloader” share the same root word. If we freelance journalists, novelists, artists, accountants, et al were to unionize, our union hall would be a coffeeshop with free refills, Google WiFi, and plenty of outlets.

That said, I hold up my end of the social contract. Wherever I go, my work sessions begins with a trip to the counter and the purchase of a Parking Pass. Even at Starbucks, which sells nothing I want to consume (though I’ll happily throw a caramel hot chocolate down my throat during the deep choke of winter). A deal is a deal, so I’ll buy a $2 bottle of water.

It’s much easier here at Dunkin Donuts. A 20 ounce bottle of soda and, if I’m hungry, a donut.

As usual, I took a photo of it and posted it to Twitter under the hashtag “#LibertyDonut” even before I unpacked my iPad.

A random idea starts as something kind of funny, then becomes a habit, and then, rarely, you attach a kind of Importance to some of these things. Such is the tale of the #LiberyDonut hashtag.

It started out a while ago, when a friend of mine (the wonderful writer G. Willow Wilson) spoke of a tradition in her house. Her husband is an immigration attorney. Whenever he wins a particularly tough or grueling case, he comes home with a box of donuts.

I joked back that they were Liberty Donuts: carb-packed monuments to the greatness of America. During a year in which ignorant, ego-driven boobs are spreading lies and fears about immigrants and inspiring hate and violence in exchange for cheers and votes from a handful of idiots, this pleased me. It made me proud, genuinely, of being an American.

How much do you love this country?

Do you love it so much that you’d go through the whole immigration process for the right to stay here as long as you like?

Would you subject yourself to years of uncertainty? To a bureaucratic process that — without a trace of malice — forces you to jump through hoops that keep moving, and possibly perform these tricks all over again because papers got misfiled, or because they were seen by the wrong person on the wrong day? Would you have the courage to have your whole life and the lives of everyone you’re related to and have ever known scrutinized? Would you spend tens of thousands of dollars, knowing that the drug conviction of a cousin you haven’t seen for twenty years could kill your chances or, at best, delay the process even further?

All the while, building a life for yourself and your children, without any assurance that you could keep anything you’ve built here?

It’s a sobering question. How tough are you?

Many immigrants have unusually powerful motivation, of course: their lives in their countries of birth were horrible. Or were about to become horrible. And here we can define “horrible” across a broad spectrum that reasonably includes “I was supposed to be killed with the rest of my family but I was spending the night at a friend’s house.”

They’ve come to America by choice, and through great struggle. This isn’t a dalliance. They’ve decided that of all of the countries in the world, the best possible future — not for themselves, but for their children — lies in the United States.

They believe in this place. I, as a citizen, have never been moved by the sight of an enormous American flag being pulled across an end zone or an infield during the minutes before a sporting event. The tiny, cheap plastic flag in the hand of a beaming, newly-sworn American citizen leaves me muttering things about dust mites and pollen.

I think about my immigrant grandparents. One set had left behind a scene that was so powerfully terrible that (according to my Dad) they never wanted to discuss it, and had left Dad with zero desire to learn anything about the Homeland. Not even when I was flying to Europe on business, and floated the idea of adding in a detour to look around the old place and maybe even spend a day searching local records.

I am so proud of every immigrant. I am so grateful to my grandparents for creating this life for me.

And so, when I enjoy a donut, I think about immigrants, the contributions they make to the American soul, the amount of important crap the government must make them go through before they can become citizens, and I think about the amount of irrational, ignorant, despicable, and entirely uncalled-for crap that some of us heap upon them.

The people who attack immigrants (and not always just with rhetoric, remember) are “big flag” Americans. To them, “America” is a tool of aggression to wield against people deemed “less American” than they. America should be a celebration of the fine eternal principles upon which our country was formed. We’re a nation of mutts, here to receive the full dignities and opportunities that were denied to us by others.

I have eaten the #LibertyDonut that I set down next to the keyboard a little while ago.

I don’t usually spend thirty minutes examining my feelings about patriotism and immigration. But thanks to Willow and Her husband the immigration attorney, donuts come with a new kind of pleasure (that I won’t need to burn off with another half hour on the bike).

Each time I set a donut down on the table, I meditate on this subject. Even if only for a moment. And it makes me a happier, prouder, and better American.

Also a fatter one.

So, yes, even more American than I was before.



Tornado Town, USA | FiveThirtyEight

Tornado Town, USA | FiveThirtyEight:

“My dad, Howard Koerth, moved to Oklahoma in 1994 to teach art at Rose State Community College in Midwest City. He was there May 3, right in the tornado’s path. Instead of going to the storm shelter, he opened the back door of his building and watched the fat funnel tear apart an auto dealership. The tornado was gray, tinted with red from the layers of clay-filled topsoil it had peeled off the Earth. If you watch video of it today, you see it surrounded by a haze of confetti. When the camera zooms in, the ticker tape turns out to be, instead, a blizzard of two-by-fours, siding, whole trucks. Sixteen years later, Dad has yet to exorcise that image from his mind and he’s still asking me about the Bridge Creek-Moore tornado. Or, rather, he asks me about its sister storms — tornadoes that, to him, seem to follow the same path, flattening the same places over and over. Especially Moore. Always Moore.”


My friend Maggie Koerth-Baker joined FiveThirtyEight recently as their senior science writer. This was one of those moves that made me think well of a publication because she’s just plain terrific at what she does. Just the first three paragraphs of this piece about a town in Oklahoma that’s been hit by four major tornadoes within sixteen years will make you seek out her byline elsewhere.

Standard In The S-Class Model

It must also be said that when a bunch of us needed to get somewhere in a Prius, she gamely volunteered to take the least-comfortable option. A great writer and a good sport.

I Am Deep Thought

Welp! I screwed myself real good last night.

Editorial note: Here we have an illustration of why it’s important to just go ahead and finish the first draft of what you’re writing, and then go back and reconsider your choices thoughtfully. The preceding lede graf set me off on this little journey, so, it’s done its job. But what if the reader has arrived at this post immediately after having taken a stroll through, say, one of the saucier subreddits? That opening sentence might give him or her the wrong impression about what follows.

“My,” such a person might think. “Andy has a rather high opinion of himself, doesn’t he?” 

If you read on and feel that you’ve been deceived and left feeling disappointed…well, (after much thought) I guess I should feel flattered. Somewhat. But I’m not prepared to make it up to you in any way.

I’m engaging in a housecleaning campaign that matches Rommel’s North Africa campaign in aggression, cunning, and scope. Visitors to my home over the past few months can confirm that this marks a significant shift in my administration’s domestic policy. Normally, I consider it a really big deal if any of my housework involves moving any piece of furniture for any reason. “I suppose the window above the bookcase is clean enough,” I think, as I prepare to knock off for the rest of the day. I mean, it still lets in enough light to see the rug by.” But this time, I’m even contemplating a (small) dumpster rental.

The “screwing myself” came in the form of going out for breakfast with a few friends this morning. Specifically, in the non-doing of that thing. I knew that I was going to be tied up with lots of typey-typey work this week, so I wanted to spend Monday pushing the Progress bar as far to the right as I could before the Housecleaning process beachballed.

I should have put down the dustpan at 10 PM and gone to bed by midnight. I didn’t drop it until 4 AM.

Why? Because the Housecleaning process is a sick calculus of Messiness, Time, and Effort. The immediate effect of increasing Effort over Time is that the Messiness curve pitches up sharply. Example: the wood-burning stove needs its end-of-season cleanout. Despite my best efforts, ash gets all over everything. I want to roll up the carpet so I can take it outside and clean and air it out properly. That requires me to move most of the furniture into great heaps in a room that I’d just finished cleaning the day before. Et Cetera.

Eventually, the Messiness curve peaks and then slopes towards zero — asymptotically, dammit — but you need to push yourself over an enormous hump before that happens.

This is an overly-complicated way to say “I can only turn a large mess into a smaller mess by creating an even larger transitional mess.” It’s baffling, isn’t it? I thought that the laws of thermodynamics insisted that there would be a Conservation of Mess, at bare minimum! This is why we agreed to not do this kind of housecleaning!!!

I sincerely intended to be in bed by midnight. But those intentions were overwhelmed by four or five hours of walking past, or stepping over, one of these Transitional Messes and then thinking “Andy, wouldn’t it be grand if we didn’t to stand on a sofa and reach over a 3-D printer to use the toaster oven tomorrow morning?”

Result: I woke up roughly thirty minutes after I would have needed to leave for breakfast. I traded French toast and sausage and ninety minutes of conversation for an English muffin and 45 minutes of watching YouTube videos in stoic silence.

My mind is still focused on housecleaning. Before I sat down to write this post, I was about to get a Sharpie and write out a whole bunch of new paper labels for the drawers into which I’m sorting tools, cables, and other bibs and bobs. But I need to get my head out of Housecleaning mode and into Typey-Typey-Typey mode. I had hoped that detouring into the office to dash off something for the blog would distract me and help me to disengage from Edith Bunker Mode. However, as I entered this room, I looked at the pile of things that were partially blocking the entrance and I made a note to clear out that stuff at the very least by the end of the day. (The office, as yet untouched by the chromey melon of Mr. Clean, is the next room to get hosed out.)

My brain can accomplish huge, ambitious, long-duration projects. I’ve written about a dozen books, after all! But it’s optimized for committing to that one thing and forsaking all other tasks until the Big Project has been shrinkwrapped and shipped. Just like the Deep Thought computer in “The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Once it began calculating the Answer to the Ultimate Question about Life, the Universe, and Everything, it couldn’t abort that process or multitask any less-significant ones alongside it.

Each of my books was written that way. When I was deep in production on book number three (? Well, a long, long time ago, anyway) I had a briefing with some unlucky Microsoft executives. To my credit, I did manage to arrive at the downtown hotel suite fully dressed. But otherwise, I looked and smelled like a body that had been buried in a Scottish peat bog since the days when Shakespeare was still stealing jokes from Francis Bacon’s standup act.

I’m better at multitasking huge projects today. I have to be; as a Grown-Ass Adult, I (happily) always have multiple Big Creative Projects going on and I longer have the luxury of only one enormous thing to build at a time.

But just as a vegetarian is incapable of seeing a thick, juicy steak without feeling a heavy tap on his or her shoulder from a spear-shouldering genetic forebear who wishes to remind them that winter’s coming, my brain naturally wants to roll towards Obsessive Task Completion Pursuit. I spent five hours writing today and I had to push my brain uphill the whole way.

Mind you, my brain is also terrific at putting things off until later. I try very very hard to do a big periodic cleaning before things get so untidy that it would be easier and cheaper to just drop a new carpet and set of furniture on top of everything that’s there already. That’s a drastic move, admittedly. But everything compresses down over time and you wind up with a charming two-level effect in the room.

Alas, I’ve already done that twice and my guests at this year’s Oscars party had to resort to stepladders and a lot of crouching. So I suppose it was long past-time for me to really roll up my sleeves.

Postscript: While Tweeting a link to this post I realized that I should have named it “Lysol, the Universe, and Everything.” It would have landed the subsequent HHGttG reference nicely without running any risk of anyone thinking…you know…well. Anyway.

“Avengers” movies and choices made

This weekend, the new “Captain America” movie comes out. I feel a bit like a foreigner who’s in the USA on Thanksgiving. All of my friends have been looking forward to this day for weeks, and I’m glad they’re so happy! They all seem to love the movie, which is all that any movie fan can wish for any other movie fan. It’s just not my holiday. I can only experience it from a certain emotional distance.

I thought the first “Avengers” movie was an OK example of an “Summer blockbuster released in early May” movie (which I acknowledge as an actual film genre). It spools out like a gameplay video. That’s not bad. I enjoy watching gameplay videos. It’s all bright colors and flashing lights and action and noises, and it’s as satisfying as a fast-food burger, which is another commercial consumer product that I rather enjoy. Particularly if the corporation was moved to invent a new adjective for “bacony.”

I was a bit dumbfounded by the reaction to “The Avengers,” though. Nobody is wrong when they speak honestly about how a movie or book or TV show made them feel. But I was fascinated by all of the elegiac praise. I certainly didn’t see it as a groundbreaking movie, or something that set a new high bar for story and characterization in the superhero genre. And I actually thought the representation of the Black Widow was sexist, not progressive. 

My own reaction was to just sort of put this movie in the same mental box where I’ve filed the “Transformers” series. As with a fast-food burger, I thought “The Avengers” was designed to deliver pleasure while one was consuming it, and be totally forgotten about an hour later.

Again, speaking only personally…I found the movie frustrating. There came a point when “The Avengers” had said “This element is awesomely important!” and then said “Actually, no, forget we even mentioned it” so many times that I did something I can’t remember ever doing inside a movie theater: I completely gave up. There were still about forty minutes left to go and I was sorry that I’d taken my usual seat in the middle of the house. If I’d been in the very back row, I could have woken my phone and taken it out of airplane mode without bothering anybody. I couldn’t have possibly cared less about what was happening on the screen.

I participated in a podcast about the movie with my friends on “The Incomparable” and I had a terrific time. I was surprised at how…horrified?…listeners were by what I said. Two years later, I saw the sequel specifically because longtime friend and fellow print survivor Jason Snell was going to be in Boston during the weekend of the premiere. We had a great time seeing the movie and then talking about it around microphones and pizza at Dan Moren’s house. I didn’t like “Age of Ultron” either, but it did hold my attention, and “…with a group of good friends” ensures that it’ll be a great time at the movies.

I’m deliberately sitting this latest “Avengers” movie out, though. I would have loved being a part of the Incomparable roundtable, but (as a Tweet today reminded me) I got tired of the “Andy hates all Avengers movies and thus hates joy itself meme” a while ago and I’m not eager to renew the license.


I don’t think I’ll enjoy the movie, because I’ve seen the two that came before it and I didn’t like them.

So I’m not gonna go see this new one.

And I’m not going to talk about a movie I haven’t seen.

The logic of these statements seems irrefutable.

It all ties into two important items in the Social Contract:

  1. You’re not required to even have an opinion on everything, much less express one;
  2. If someone doesn’t like the thing that you liked, it doesn’t mean that they hate you, or that they like hating.

Ignoring one or the other is a form of selfishness. The dialogue on “Civil War” can be lush and complete without the voice of Andy Ihnatko. As to the second: getting upset about a difference of subjective opinion is a sign of a lack of confidence. Too many people online need to find a reason why an opposing opinion exists and somehow the actual reason (“Someone just as smart and open-minded as I am saw the same thing and didn’t have the same experience”) just won’t do. A creative work is an emotional reaction between the work and the viewer. Change the viewer, and you change the reaction. This isn’t physics, whereupon the rate of acceleration due to gravity is a constant and any answer other than “9.8 meters per second per second” means that this person doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

This is why “So-and-so is just a hater” and “Oh, well, everyone on the Internet just takes some sick pleasure out of criticizing things” are just white noise to my ears. I even wince a little when an actor or a writer whose work I like dismisses online criticism of their work in those terms. Never, ever deny the humanity of another human being. That always leads to tremendous, regrettable mistakes. And reducing someone to just a machine that turns all input into bilious output, instead of  respecting them as a thinking, feeling being who walked into the theater with a unique set of life experiences and expectations, as well as every hope that they would enjoy the movie that they saw, is in violation of that code.

If you go and see “Civil War,” I hope you have a great time.

I’m doing housecleaning this weekend. You’re probably having a better weekend than I am. Just don’t get upset when I close this post by saying I’m having more fun scrubbing floors and scraping down the corners of my countertops than I probably would have had watching another “Avengers” movie.