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.


Status Report

Well Red

Whoops! Yes, the Waste of Bandwidth went away for a day or two. I got a new credit card a month or two ago and I didn’t give my webhost the new digits. But as you can see, I am now off the deadbeat list and the wheels of truth spin and grind once more.

Let’s see. I have also turned off the IFTTT recipes that automatically crossposted stuff I’ve been putting up on Instagram and Flickr. I still wanna do that sort of thing, but maybe in a more deliberate, hand-tooled way. They were cluttering up the feed and I was disappointed that they looked so clumsy, as opposed to the proper embeds I’ve done in this post. We live, we learn.

A few months have passed since I switched to a new WordPress theme, so it’s time for me to switch to another one (the 2016 edition of the official WordPress theme). Please take the subsequent 2,000 word essay on How I’ve Really Solved This Problem For Good, I Mean It as read. It’ll save us both some time.

I now look outside my window and see that the very light drizzle that greeted me when I took an experimental step outside ten minutes ago has blossomed into full-throated rain. And with a sigh of relief, I scritch open the velcro tabs on the bike gloves I’ve been typing in and put ’em next to the keyboard. Sometime tonight, when I’m sprawled on the sofa with a bowl of popcorn on my belly and the new episode of “The Amazing Race” on the TV, I will mutter how I’ve been cheated out of a lovely afternoon of riding but at the moment, I can’t even pretend. Fine, I’ll pedal or walk to the market closeby, just so that I move the dial a little bit towards my Google Fit goal, but even there, it’s mostly to get one of their deli sandwiches and maybe a pie to take home for later, and wouldn’t cheez curls be tastier than popcorn for my viewing party? If I eat them with chopsticks, as the clever folk do, it’ll even add an appropriate international flair to the proceedings.

Besides: I did lots of walking yesterday…and I did it under strongly sub-ideal conditions. I’m thinking back to how I spent Christmas Eve last year: walking all over New York City wearing a thin, short-sleeved shirt. Yesterday, temps were in what might be termed the aggressive mid-Forties. A lifelong New Englander would refer to this as “the air conditioning is a little bit too high.” But the above-freezing cold was amplified by wind and rain, and I only managed to head out for a constitutional after browbeating myself.

(Does God run the weather system the way my school used to handle snow days? Months ago, us kids were all like “Hooray! 70 degree weather in December! 60 degrees in February!” but it means that we’ll only have to perform a makeup week of winter in May.)

I did get two things out of the walk, however — three, if you include the bottle of Coke Zero. I took the photo that begins this blog post. It’s a pip. I’m still not used to just how good phone cameras are. I shot that with my Nexus 5X (and I remind you that it’s a mere moderately-priced phone) in RAW mode with the Adobe Lightroom mobile app, and then edited it on my iPad Pro with the same tool. It’s becoming exceptionally difficult to spot the photos in my Flickr feed that were shot with my pro-quality Olympus. It’d be a different story if the display medium were a published print instead of a screen but that’s hardly relevant. Everyone looks at photos on screens these days, yeah?

And even if I were shooting for print, it’s inevitable that those books or wall art will be burned for fuel in thirty or forty years anyway, because as I’ve noted, the weather systems have all gone crazy and the laughing face of environmental apocalypse is slowly rising in the East, as our mastery of the planet starts to set in the West.

I have one good friend whose life goal seems to be to acquire the learning and equipment required to make just about any useful item you can name. In fact, I’m wearing a jolly wonderful pair of handmade wool socks she gave me for Christmas. I have another who’s taken up archery very recently. Just five years ago, I would have assumed that these two fine people are committed to Personal Growth. Today, I at least have to wonder if they’re preparing for the future and, if so, how I can get invited into their nomadic tribes once the stuff finally hits the fan.

I’m not sure what I, myself could offer as a member of a nomadic post-apocalyptic tribe. Genetically, I’m a good draft pick: I descend from generations of Eastern Europeans, so my body was definitely built with winter warfare and famine survival in mind. I spent most of my childhood helping my father complete various home renovation and repair projects for our immediate and extended family members, but all of that practical experience is only useful if water, heating, and electrical infrastructures remain in place. It might be a good idea if I spend the next ten years sharpening either my card trick skills or my knowledge of mining iron ore and smelting it into useful tools and weapons.

Perhaps I should focus on more immediate kinds of self-improvement. I’m making progress on the first real 100% housecleaning I’ve done in years. Since Obama first took office, I’ve been satisfied with sort of a Sliding Tiles Puzzle approach to the problem. I sort of slide the “scene from ‘Hoarders'” space around from room to room over the course of a year, and periodically clean one room by disaster-ifying another. It’s a brilliant system, but the playbook has started to fray around the edges and now, every room is at least a little messy.

It’s time (oh dear God) for another Big Edit. This is my periodic Life Trauma in which I try to literally lay my hands on every object I own and decide what to do with it. This involves removing every book from every shelf, pulling out every drawer, and dragging every box out of every closet.

It’s a spiritual cleansing as well as a physical one and the ironic thing is that it creates one hell of a damn mess while the process goes on. But it has to be done! The experience of packing for a trip always reminds me of how few things I need to be happy and make my living. During a week of business travel, I’m really not pining away for the boxes of comic books or the bread machine I left at home, am I?

When I’m a little further along in the process, I might try something new: I’ll empty a room completely and, as an organizational mechanism, move in anything I totally can’t get rid of under any circumstances. Obviously, we’re talking about my everyday clothing and my MacBook, but also the paint-spattered hat my Dad used to wear while doing home improvements.

It’s not like at the end of this latest Big Edit, I’d sell or give away everything that isn’t in the Most Important Stuff room. But it feels like it’d be a valuable exercise and help me gain perspective about material comforts.

Most of all, clutter and disorganization — like sweetened sodas, not using the handrail when going down a flight of stairs, and working with total idiots — are things that I’m officially too old for. To my bemusement, I find that I like pulling a boxcutter out of a little cabinet drawer labeled “Lightsabers” more than I hate putting the tool back where it belongs after I’m done breaking down boxes for the recycling bin.

Is it because I’ve crossed the 50 yard line on my lifespan and I’m aware that I don’t have a limitless amount of time to waste? Well, if I were to die in a nursing home 18 minutes before I was able to finish solving a crossword puzzle, I know my last thought would be “I could have made it if only I hadn’t used up so much time on August 17, 2003 looking for a pair of scissors.”

Easy come, easy snow.

A video posted by Andy Ihnatko (@ihnatko) on

Perfect. The rain has subsided to the point where a long walk or bike ride would be foolish, but a short walk to get a sandwich is eminently feasible. Push the button, Frank…

From my Flickr: “The Washington Bureau”

When I’m traveling on my own, I don’t really go out and see the sights until 9 or 10. I was relieved when Mrs. Holstein assured me that they didn’t intend to leave the hotel and start seeing the sights until late in the day.

Of course, dopey me: the Holsteins are very early risers. For me, 6 AM is "wakeup time minus three hours." Whereas Mr. and Mrs. H were already awake, bathed, and had spent two hours catching up on email and other dairy business.

But I won’t complain. During these trips I’m working for them. Plus, I can’t deny that early sunrise really does wonders for an otherwise common tourist photo.

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

This Soviet 1,100mm Lens is Basically a Telescope with a Camera Mount

This Soviet 1,100mm Lens is Basically a Telescope with a Camera Mount:

Ever wanted to strap a portable telescope to the end of your camera and carry it around? With the soviet-made MTO 1000A 1,100mm f/10.5 mirror lens, you can just about do it. A monster of a lens, Christopher Frost Photography put it through its paces for one of his Weird Lens Reviews.

(Via PetaPixel.)

This Soviet lens is heavy, bonkers, and cheap. I want one. I’m certain that it takes “terrible” photos, relative to what a proper modern superzoom lens made in a non-collapsed Communist nation could do. But that’s not really the point, is it? This lens looks like it’s a lot of fun. It’d also encourage me to try some things I can’t do with any of my existing (and sensible) lenses.

Any item that lets you have fun and gets you to try new things has to be worth every penny of its asking price.

(I’m also aware that my micro four thirds camera doubles the focal length of any lens it uses. What in Heaven’s name would it be like to shoot with a 2200mm lens?!?) 

From my Flickr: “Best Airbnb EVER!”

The Gardner Museum has many true international art treasures. And yet, I think I took as many photos of the courtyard as I did of the artwork.

Can you believe that this used to be somebody’s house?! Sure, of course, Ms. Gardner designed and built it to be an "art museum with an apartment up top." But…I mean, imagine every morning, in your socks and flannel pajama bottoms, bowl of Rice Krispies in hand, yawning and padding across this to get to the TV room to watch last night’s Colbert show on the DVR.

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

From my Flickr: “Mars Needs Milkmen”

The bad news is that after walking a distance that seemed extreme even for cattle who are used to long drives, Mrs. Holstein is now reasonably convinced that this is not the way back to the dairy.

The good news is that technically, they have succeeded in claiming Mars for the bovines.

(There was no flag available but if a future NASA mission lands a rover there, soil samples will defnitively prove that the Holsteins planted…something.)

No, no. The Holsteins are well aware that they didn’t walk all the way to Mars. They just wandered a bit too far during a tour of NASA and, after passing through a door that was supposed to be locked, found themselves on the soundstage where they were faking all of the footage from the so-called "Mars rovers."

See it here: http://flic.kr/p/FW6YoS

From my Flickr: “Triborough Bridge From The Cheap Seats”

This photo is almost four years old. I shot it from the window of my Amtrak train home one June day in 2012.

I spotted it again when I was doing some housecleaning on an old drive. I just dragged it into Aurora HDR to see what I could do with it.

Digital photography is endlessly interesting because it’s not just the cameras that keep getting better. I probably took this photo as far as I could back in 2012, but a 2016 app let me take it farther.

Sometimes I think about photographers who threw out boxes and boxes of old slides upon pulling them out of storage discovering that the colors had shifted. In 1983 it was unrecoverable damage, but today, even the free app that comes with your phone can fix it.

See it here: http://flic.kr/p/FtrYq1

From my Flickr: “Boston Opera House”

"The Sound of Music" was a terrific show with a fab cast. But it was also special because it was my first time inside the Boston Opera House.

When I was growing up, it was only famous for its shameful state of disrepair. Once a jewel, it was considered by many to be unsalvageable, and generally assumed to be demolished as soon as that became a part of the street that anybody had any interest in developing, or if one of the possums living in the shell finally chewed through a critical piece of structural carpeting.

So it was amazing to check out this fully restored palace. It’s the prettiest Boston performance space I’ve ever been in.

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

From my Flickr: “Livestock Exchange”

Mr. Holstein was flattered to be invited to sound the ceremonial opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. He was slightly less-flattered when he learned that their regular bell was on the fritz and they just assumed that he would be bringing one of his own, from home, because he’s, you know, a cow.

See it here: http://flic.kr/p/EM7L3Y