Snow Day

It’s Tuesday night. I’m nice and warm and on my sofa, I’ve got things baking in the oven, and I’m watching a TV show that I’m barely interested in. When the storm began on Monday night, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to say any of these things tonight, let alone say it from a computer with the screen brightness turned all the way up, so I’m not at all annoyed with myself for watching something dumb and forgetting that I rented a terrific documentary a couple of nights ago.

That is: well, yes, I’m a little bit annoyed. I’ve been looking forward to seeing “Finding Vivian Maier” ever since I saw the trailer last year. But it sure beats clinging to a Kindle through numb fingers and an uncertain future.

Whoops! I forgot that I didn’t lose power during the blizzard. Also, the communities that really got socked by the snow (and boy, did they ever) were well north of here. My town only got what might be termed “a buttload of snow.” It certainly wasn’t the kind of storm that invites survivors to add dates to the end of that phrase (“The Buttload Of 2015”) or to call themselves “survivors.”

Put it all together, and I really shouldn’t be kiting up the drama of the situation…even I’m only kiting up how badly the Andy in some alternate universe is suffering. No need for sympathy for Ihnatko-prime on this day.

Oh, what a relief it was to wake up this morning and see the correct time on my cable box! I went to bed at about 3 AM Monday night, after essentially replaying that scene from “Apollo 13” where Command Module Pilot Kevin Bacon finishes shutting off every last electrically-powered system in the CM. The camera pans across acres of panels that are seriously never supposed to be totally dark like this. He takes a moment to appreciate there is no circumstance in which you are floating in zero gravity inside a command module without any power and can say “my life is going very, very well.”

As a preventative measure, I shut down all of the things inside the office could be damaged by a sudden loss of power and also unplugged everything from my uninterruptible power supplies, so that all of that stored energy could be used to recharge tablets, phones, and laptops over the next few days if necessary. My NAS was cold, dark and silent, as was the iMac that I normally set to crunch on a project overnight, the network bridge that turns lights on and off at the right times, the SONOS interface…all kinds of beep-boops were no longer beeping nor booping. For the first time in ages, there were no fans whirring or LEDs blinking anywhere in the house. Actually, just for the first time since the last power outage, but you know what I mean.

The house was restored to a state of utter quiet, and a minimum of visual distraction. It was like a meditation space.

This didn’t create a space of calm and peace. Quite the opposite: like Kevin Bacon in his darkened spacecraft, I found it slightly unnerving. And then, I was unnerved by the fact that I found this decreased level of distraction unnerving. This observation makes me want to seek out one of those monasteries that maintains a few minimally-appointed rooms for paying guests. That’s a real thing I once read about. The monastery gets a few bucks, and their visitors get couple of nights of distraction-free contemplation.

(Ideally, this monastery would also Chipotle-adjacent.)

I think of my brain as a computer running the general-release human operating system. I customize and extend the OS as I go, but there’s still some core code that’s so important it’s flashed into the bootloader and its expression can’t be suppressed by circumstance. So, for example, if someone fails to have a child, and also fails to die before age 35, then the “be alert to the possibility that a child has either wandered off or stopped moving and breathing” background daemon shrugs and finds another outlet.

In my case, this code making me react to house-wide silence by making me worry that maybe my servers have crashed or the main board of a computer has failed.

Oh, and I took one hell of a stupid risk before I shut everything down. I needed to free up some space on my DVR, but it was filled with hours and hours of shows that I wanted to keep. I hooked my Mac Mini to to the DVR, started a “Great Performances” broadcast of “The Marriage Of Figaro” playing, and spun up the capture software.

It’s three and a half hours. But hey, man…free opera!

This was a fine idea, in the sense that deleting this one show would free up more than enough space for future recordings. This was also a terrible idea, in that oh, right, a blizzard was just starting up and I’d been preparing as though I were certain that I was going to lose power sometime between Monday night and Tuesday afternoon. Cutting power to a hard drive while it’s writing data is muchly super doubleplus ungood.

I dunno. I guess I just wanted to feel like a Han Solo-esque rogue. The man who starts a 210 minute write operation on a machine that’s not plugged into a UPS and could lose power at any moment is definitely the sort of devil-may-care scoundrel who would try to shake off pursuers by attempting to manually navigate an asteroid field. The loser who busts his ass hauling a completely-not-even-connected-to-anything thirty pound UPS up a flight a stairs doesn’t win the heart of a kick-ass princess at the end of the movie.

Well, everything turned out OK; the capture ended and I shut down the Mac Mini safely. Which means it was definitely a safe thing to do! I knew it all along. “¡La historia me absolverá!” I shouted, as I defiantly stabbed my index finger onto the mouse button to begin the 210-minute capture. And hey, I wasn’t wrong.

So I somehow fell asleep inside a creaking and rattling house lashed by high winds. I woke up Tuesday morning, I discovered to my profound relief that the power was still on, and then I pulled Lilith off of the nightstand for my first look at the world.

I tabbed into Messages and eyed, with a mixture of interest and concern, my Buddies list. It had become a status board of how my New England friends had fared over the evening. A green pip next to the name signified live computers and, likely, a home with power. A grey one told me to, um, keep an eye on that one, and to remember to send a reassuring text message from my phone later in the day if the situation hasn’t improved.

I didn’t consider myself to be totally out of the woods until about noon, when the winds had completely died down. The fierce, blizzard-like conditions of night and morning transitioned into a mere Lovely Non-Aggressive Powdery Snowfall.

In fact, the weather had completely lost its ability to intimidate. The neighbor kids texted me to see if they could incorporate parts of my yard into an epic multiple-property sled run. I was so eager to grant my consent that I flaked and gave them Monday’s passphrase. Needless to say, when the backyard critters working on my security detail rounded them up and herded them to my back door, I had a lot of apologies to make all around.

Other than that? This has been a semi-uneventful Tuesday. The MacBreak podcast went off hitchlessly and afterward, I was left in a house filled with snacks and the other things I’d bought to stave off what could have been serious stuck-in-the-house-without-electricity-for-a-long-time grumpiness.

I’m closing out this day with some Amazon shopping. It’s hard to think of everything you’d like to have in a certain situation until you’re actually in that situation. Now’s a good time to order those things so that they’ll be on hand for the next one of these. I used to own a lovely pair of Army-surplus windproof and dustproof goggles but I can’t find them anywhere. I won’t have ’em for whatever cleanup duties I need to perform outside tomorrow, but a few days from now I’ll have a new pair standing by. I also thought about what I’d be doing right now if the power cut out and that’s what took me to The Wirecutter’s page of head lamp recommendations.

(I love The Wirecutter for stuff like this. I’m grateful to the sort of people who, unlike me, care enough about this sort of thing to obsessively test out twenty different options and present a parametric argument defending their choice. I kind of feel guilty when I wave off the twenty eight-by-ten color pictures with the circles and arrows and the paragraph on the back of each one explaining what it is and instead just buy what they suggest I buy, without any further questions.)

Ultimately, I reflected on the fact that during previous power outages, walking through the house at night holding an LED lantern before me like a slightly doughy Diogenes had been a perfectly fine solution and that perhaps I should spend $40 without some additional contemplation.

As for the storm prep stuff I bought over the weekend but didn’t have to use? Almost all of it is a useful thing to have on hand, whether I need it today or two years from now. As for the rest…hey, cool, I have corn chips and salsa. I almost never have corn chips and salsa in the house.

I guess the fun ends on Wednesday. That’s when the kid comes by with the snow thrower, I hope. If not? We didn’t get so much snow that I can’t just shovel my car out by myself. But I’d rather do that work in the form of writing columns, for which I get money, which I then pass along to the kid with the snow thrower.

A pile of automated shipping notices in my Inbox underscores the fact that it’s vitally important that I clear a safe path from the street to my front door. There were an unusually high number of FedEx and UPS and other deliveries scheduled for Monday and Tuesday. One of them is — oh, dear — a queen-size mattress and platform.

Truth be told, I’d really like to spend Thursday in Boston, taking a long walk and a pile of photos of the city decorated with a couple of feet of snow. But if I came home in the early evening and discovered a door tag waiting for me, I’d be nervous and guilty. I’d examine every loop and whirl of the handwritten “time of failed delivery” for signs of hostility. Poor driver. Came all this way, in terrible roads, probably in shorts, even, only to find a recipient who couldn’t be bothered to hang around.

If I do make it out of the street tomorrow, maybe I’ll pick up a few Dunkin Donuts Gift Cards. It’s gotta cost less than the expense of removing muddy boot prints from a mattress.


Okay! I’m done. I carried the last handcart full of firewood from the car to my Supplemental Woodpile, wrapped it up in a blue tarp, laid a pair of snow shovels on top like the cross marking the furtive burial plot of the weakest member of team of Antarctic explorers, and then I said goodbye to the outside world. If things go well, I’ll be free to go back outside on Wednesday. If not, then Thursday.

If things go very badly, the neighborhood will lose power. In which case, my parking the car close to the end of the driveway changes from a “too lazy to shovel the whole thing in case the snow-removal guy never shows” move to part of an escape plan. And yes, I mean “escape plan.” If there’s an extended outage, the ability to get the hell out of Dodge will become an important thing. I’m well equipped to hunker down in an unheated house for a night or two but after that, I’ll bunk in with friends whose living rooms are well above freezing. In a situation like that one, I’ll want to be able to get my car freed and on the road after something less than six hours of shoveling, you see.

No worries, though…this is just good planning. By stacking a night’s worth of heating fuel by the wood stove, and another couple of night’s supply by the front door where I can easily get at it, I’ve reduced a long list of variables to an easily-managed list. I can now enjoy a winter-weather lockdown.

If you’re well-prepared for these things, the experience is a lot like camping. I assume we all agree that the signature feature of camping is “enjoying nature while being annoyed by your temporary living situation?” Good. There you go. You get Nature in the form of gorgeous flocks of snow all around, and Annoyance is represented by the fact that you can’t leave the house and nobody’s willing to deliver a pizza.

The pluses: you get to sleep in a real bed and you’re surrounded by all of your stuff. Even if you lost your electricity, well, you wouldn’t have had that in the tent, either, right? At least here, you’re cold in a real bed. And you won’t have to carry all of this stuff back to the car when you’ve finally had enough.

I’ve been prepping for the blizzard all weekend. I think I’ve completely run out of batteries to charge. After topping up my phones, my tablets, all of the USB battery chargers in the house, and a couple of batteries for the camera — critters come out in force after a big snowstorm — I started charging up a few Bluetooth speakers. I honestly don’t know why I wouldn’t prefer to listen to music through headphones, but how much work is involved to plug this thing into the wall? It’s actually more work to think the decision through than to just shrug and go ahead.

Besides, I might be glad I did. After two days without electricity, I might need to turn the kitchen into a roller disco just to maintain my sanity.

(Crap. I don’t own roller skates. Well, wool socks on my feet and Lemon Pledge on the floor will do just as well. “The old Dunkirk spirit” and all that.)

Lilith’s battery is at 100%. I can keep charging it for a couple of days off of the UPS in my office. Check and check. If I want to put in damned-near a full workday, there’s little to stop me. I’ve got mobile broadband and days and days worth of electrons socked away. Even if the town loses power, the cell tower will keep running for a day or two. Meanwhile, there’s a police-grade LED flashlight in my pocket at all times and big LED lanterns in almost every room, waiting to be put into the game.

I went out for breakfast this morning. It was just one last, long, lusty sniff of the outside world before the indoor camping holiday began. As I tucked into a plate of hot French toast and sausage and thought about my battle plan, I realized that although I’d done such a careful and thorough job making sure that all of my digital necessities were in order, and laying in fuel for the wood stove, I was only about 70% certain that I owned a box of matches.


This would have been the classic “larder full of canned food, not a can opener in sight” blunder. As I truly was in no rush to go home and begin my three days of contemplation, I set out to lock down this ability to make fire.

Once again, I’m embarrassed by the ease with which a freelancer can get things done while the normal people are at their offices. I encountered no lines at the Home Despot (box of strike-anywhere matches, box of firestarters, plus a butane fire-lighting stick thing which I’ve always wanted to have). Even the supermarket was barely lapping above a Saturday-afternoon level of crowding and hostility. Peanut butter, sliced turkey, bag of apples, tea, cocoa, oooh they have the BIG cans of alcohol cooking fuel. I have a camp stove that can make quick work of a pot of liquid or a pan of vittles, but it’s even quicker work with the softball-sized cans. Two in the basket.

Sterno is terrific stuff. It’s like a stovetop burner that you can safely use indoors, and you can keep lighting it, dousing it, and resealing it over and over again. Toss it in the pantry (unlit, ideally) and it’s good forever. Honestly, losing electricity to the house during winter sucks, but so long as you can have hot oatmeal or scrambled eggs in the morning, hot soup and a sandwich for lunch, and a burger or a steak for dinner, it’s easy to recite prayerful thoughts for Those Less Fortunate instead of focusing on the lack of any microwaved Hot Pockets.

I was well-prepared before the trip to the store (two bags of tortilla strips, two jars of salsa, and enough whiskey to keep me naked and raving for days on end). Now I’m weller-prepared. It’s all an investment in the ability to relax through this. It’ll be okay. I’ll be warm and I’ll eat well, and though the outside temps would be a threat to life and limb if I didn’t have a roof over my head, I have that thing. Plus, if I lose power I can empty the freezer into a cooler and drag it into the garage; nothing will go to waste.

As such, I am indeed looking forward to a couple of days of quiet contemplation.

It’s weird to say that. I’m a freelancer. I could arrange a couple of days off from my work schedule at any time and just, you know, not leave the house. But the words “snow day” work the same magic on the adult as they did to the child. It’s the hand that stills the daily metronome and an opportunity to do something else.

I have a shelf of new, unmarked notebooks, collected in stationery stores from across the country and all over the world. If I do lose power, I’ll pull one of them out and write longhand for a few hours at my desk, by lantern-light, living the dream of being the struggling writer in a freezing garret trying to eke out a single solitary bud of genius before dying in a fashion that a moody artistically-inclined teen will one day commemorate with some Sharpie art on a jean jacket.

Oh, some folks asked me about MacBreak Weekly tomorrow. I am not only going to participate but I’m going to participate the hell out of it tomorrow. Even if there’s no electricity, I’m going to stream live video and audio through my phone, and I’ll have the curtains open so everyone can see just how bad it’s all coming down. It might cost me forty or fifty dollars in overages on my data plan, but you would — nay, you should — question my fitness for command if I don’t take advantage of this opportunity for such a killer backdrop, and exploit this gold-plated opportunity for generating sympathy and shoring up my fragile legend.

So to everyone who’s emailed me on social media: I’ll be fine.

I am not, however, expecting that the “guaranteed Monday delivery” of the new mattress I ordered will happen.

Outside, the snow that’s been falling all day is now being tossed around by high winds. That’s the difference between a blizzard and a mere snowstorm. It’s also the reason why being outside in this is absolutely foolish and why by the time this dies down on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, many people will open their doors to find another door of packed snow preventing their exit.

That won’t happen here (for reasons). Once again, this all could be very, very worse. Here’s just one example: I could be the parent of two children who were only just this month starting to stop being such obsessive freaks about “Frozen.” I’m not a parent but I instinctively believe that the sight of several feet of snow everywhere will trap mothers and fathers in a Frozen hell of Disney’s making until the next “Avengers” movie opens, at the very soonest.

Google Project Ara Update

The Verge got another chance to fondle Project Ara, the big stinkers. They wrote up what little details exist of this most cool work-in-progress.

Project Ara is (a) Google’s experiment to build a fully-modular smartphone, and (b) a strong example of why the tech world needs Google. It’s bonkers. Phones cost anywhere from $0 to $199 on contract and by the time one stops working, or requires an upgrade, we’re kind of sick of it anyway and are ready for a new gadget. So why design a phone in which every major feature — screen, camera, battery, storage, CPU — is a snap-in LEGO piece?

Asked and answered. Maybe we’re all dopes for falling for Apple’s and Samsung’s and HTC’s (and Google’s) constant string of “next big thing” phone announcements. Maybe we’re dopes for buying phones on contract instead of buying them as plain consumer items.

I’m shopping for a new phone right now and when you come down to it, if I can just keep everything I have now and just get a better camera…I’m good. Seriously. Better photos is the engine of about 80% of my lust for new phone hardware and that goes for both iPhones and Android phones. On top of that…how many times have I settled for a certain device because it has everything I want except for, say, removable storage?

Ara would let you build a phone with exactly the features you want. Upgrade specific components without having to ditch everything else.

Another another cool twist is implied, though it hasn’t really been covered: if your phone’s identity is on a swappable module, it’s as easy to have multiple styles of phone as it is to have multiple styles of wristwatches. Your daily carry is a 4.8″ frame and screen, but youalso have a flip or candybar frame on your dresser, for formal events when you’re only carrying a tiny purse or wearing an outfit without real pockets.

But yes, Ara remains a bonkers idea. The concept of a power and data bus with modules that can be ejected and remounted without necessarily rebooting (or crashing) the whole platform is…OK, I’m enthusiastic about Ara so I’ll be nice and describe it as a “nontrivial issue.”

The interesting thing about ideas like this one, however, is that they’re only bonkers until someone goes ahead and actually builds one of the damned things. Figuring out how to land people on the Moon in less than ten year’s time was a crazy idea, filled with seriously nontrivial problems. We not only landed on the bastard…we left three golf carts up there.

Another thing about Ara that I like: Google isn’t afraid to experiment, or even fail, in view of the public. Project Ara may never ship, and it might not even be a marketable product. But this is in no way a sign of defects in Google’s way of doing business. On the contrary. Projects like Ara and self-driving car tech and Glass make plain the tactile, and often fumbling, nature of product development.

Help Me To Samsung “Six Colors”

Why does the official name of this website still say “Beta?”

Jeez. Well, look at it!

Yeah, see, for years I’ve been trying to make this site look nice and clean and modern. But in golf terms, I have no short game. I can move the ball from the tee to just short of the green with accuracy and precision. Would it be tooting my own horn to say that I can even do that thing where you open up your stance a little and put a little spin on the ball so that my drive follows the curve of the fairway? Perhaps. The greater risk would be assuming that any of my readers would have any idea what the hell I was talking about but frankly, I stopped worrying about that sort of thing in 1997.

What is it that I lack as a web developer? Well, it’s a certain zen. I have a solid basic sense of design when I’m not designing websites. I’ve also written a lot of code both for play and for pay in my day and some of it’s pretty good. What I assuredly do not have is the ability to demonstrate both of those competencies at the same time.



Yeah, this scene pretty much sums it up. I need two hands to hold the logic of a piece of software and another two hands to hold the visual design of something I’m creating. If I put one of these things down to pick up the other, it all goes blrrppthh across the table, like Jello that’s only halfway-set.

It’s an interesting insight into mind-mapping, isn’t it? My creative mechanism that thinks “Wouldn’t this CSS element look nice if it were centered?” is located in the part of the brain that I need to solve the problem “Why the HOLY F*** isn’t this stylesheet targeting the correct container?!?”

Have I completely given up?

No, but ask me again in another couple of months, maybe.

Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll keep working on it. My personal blog here has always been a bit of a mutt and at this point, its slappy appearance is kind of a signature feature.


I’m considering starting up a brand new site just for my tech stuff, including my Chicago Sun-Times columns. Like all of the best web startups, the primary inspiration for this new venture is the shocking revelation that a certain URL, perfect for a tech blog, was available for purchase. It seems like a damned shame that you can’t type [REDACTED] into a browser and then start reading about tech.

One should definitely take pride in building something with your own two hands (or one, or none, please select as appropriate). One should also definitely acknowledge that there are people in the world who can do a far better job of it in one hour than you can do in a whole week, and that many of these people do things for money.

So. It’s time for me to find out just how much money that is.

The most efficient way to describe my design mandate: I want to rip off my good friend Jason Snell’s design for “Six Colors.” Just Samsung the whole damn thing.

What if he tries to sue me for damages? Hahahaha. See this half-finished bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper on the end table? I don’t own it. For legal purposes, I’m leasing this beverage on a non-ressertive quarterly basis from an untitled holding company, which is itself a subsidiary of an LLC retitled from an offshore trust. Then the next step from that one gets kind of shady. Jason’s a close pal and a smart man and I’m sure he knows that unwinding the legal barbed wire back to the source of my actual assets would require the sort of machinery that Bletchley Park threw together to crack ENIGMA.

Okay, maybe I don’t literally mean I want to rip off “Six Colors.” But I’ll tell you people what I told Jason when he launched the site last year: I admire how he managed to make the site simple without resorting to the sort of bleak, Soviet starkness that makes other blogs look like a turreted no-fun zone.

  • This is a “longish post”-powered blog. So I want everything to be easy to read. Visitors land on a page that shows off the latest stuff, as opposed to a magazine cover sort of thing.
  • I want a dominant column of content (full blog posts like this one, quick links, some posts that are just embedded media like Tweets, videos, or single photos that span the whole column).
  • I have lots of content on the site. If readers want to spend a lot of time reading stuff, I want them to stick around and be able to find stuff to read. But I don’t want one of those sketchy designs where the user is forced to click around to find things, as a way of tricking them into following more links.
  • If I decide to take on sponsors, or to sell digital content, I want the site to support that kind of stuff elegantly. This site isn’t a moneymaking venture but wouldn’t it be lovely to have it start making money for me?
  • I want this all to run off of WordPress (because it’s what I’m familiar with) but I’ll consider an alternative (like Squarespace).
  • I reckon that an existing theme with some custom CSS will do the trick. Budget-wise, that’s probably what I can afford, as opposed to “build me a”
  •  It should be dead-simple for me to put things on the site. I want to write something and tag/categorize it and click “Publish.” Done.
  • No ad trackers/beacons, apart perhaps for stuff on the “mostly harmless” end of the scale that allows me to figure out who’s reading what stuff and when.

If you’re someone who can pull this off for me, or if you’re thinking “Hell, Andy…here’s a canned WordPress theme that’s pretty much 90% there, right out of the box”…leave me a comment below. I’ve enabled comments for this post. Or contact me privately at (my last name) at



I decided to run a not-entirely-necessary errand in the city yesterday. I could have put it off until next week but I wanted an excuse to see the lights and the city tree — or at least a tree in the city of Boston — before Christmas.

This here is my kind of Christmas tree. It’s just a little bit lopsided, and the lights were hung with care, but not with obsessive precision. It’s charming and human and analog and friendly and 100% in keeping with the spirit of the season.

Sometimes, I look at holiday decorations and I can only imagine the sorts of arguments that broke out at every step of the process. It’s definitely the result of two or three highly-fussy people butting heads all day, with each one repeatedly insisting that the others were “doing it wrong” and sighing that “it’s up to me, alone, as always, isn’t it?”

Result: a very pretty house. And a catalogue of petty resentments that have almost, but not really, blown over when it’s time to decorate again next year.

(“Mom? It’s almost time to open gifts. Is Uncle Dave coming to Grampa and Gramma’s Christmas party?” “Shut up. But tell me: doesn’t Grampa’s inflatable Santa totally make much more sense there in the front yard, next to the mailbox? You’re not opening any presents until you agree that putting it close to the house, by the walk, would have been completely insane.“)


This was a Three-Tree Holiday Season for me. I seemed to be campaigning my way up the Eastern seaboard and checking off big city trees as I went. I saw the National Christmas Tree in DC. It was a perfect cone with such a precisely-laid grid of LEDs that I was a little disappointed that it didn’t blink over into a conical video ad for LG 4K HDTVs every six minutes. The Rockefeller Center tree is somewhere on the “amazing” spectrum, for sure. But it’s huge, and up on something that looks uncannily like an altar, and it seems to demand that you bow down before it. The fact that the approach is preceded by trumpeting angels and terminated by a huge golden man grasping fire adds to this off-putting “LAY THE BODY OF YOUR FIRSTBORN BEFORE ME AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE CAROLS” vibe.

The tree in Boston Common hits it right on the nose. Tall and proud, bright and beautiful, well worth the trip, and at no point is any reasonable person inspired to wonder how many additional teachers’ salaries could have been paid with the budget for that thing.

It was colder last night than I imagined it would be, and the steady drizzle made me regret using my daypack’s umbrella pouch to hold a camera monopod instead of the item the good people at Osprey Bags intended. I walked from Copley Square to South Station, spending time at the library, the Public Garden, the Common, and the shop windows at Downtown Crossing.

I found myself in a rather prayerful mood as I strolled through the evening mist, my hands clasped behind me. I was aided by the weather, I suppose. But I gave thanks for the people in my life, and I thought pleasant, comforting thoughts and enjoyed many fine memories of those people I’ve lost.

Plus, I arrived at South Station early enough to get a burrito at Chipotle before my train. All in all, it was a very good day.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

Grace Notes


Sometimes, you see a work of art and you break out into spontaneous applause. Here we see two examples.

Augustus Saint-Gauden’s “Diana” there in the background is well-known. It was originally designed to adorn the top of Madison Square Garden (the cool, original one) and was fitted out as a weathervane, of all things. It proved so successful that Saint-Gaudens refined the original over the next few years and produced it in different scales.

It’s deceptively simple, isn’t it? Diana is perched on one toe, leaning slightly forward towards her target, captured in the moment before she releases the arrow. There’s nothing complicated about the pose but executing it with consummate grace must have been a nightmare. The human body is composed of hunks of irregularly-distributed meat suspended on stems connected by dozens of joints. We can intuit when an artist or sculptor has articulated a figure correctly and when it’s even slightly “off” we can spot it instantly and intuitively, even if we can’t figure out exactly <em>why</em> we’re reacting so negatively.

The same puritanical groups that drove MacMonnies’ “Bacchante And Infant Faun” out of Boston attacked “Diana,” too. What a bunch of dopes.

I imagine, and hope, tat Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s “The Vine” gave the all of the members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union heart attacks. I’d never seen or heard of it before my first visit to Gallery 700. Via the Met, I read that she often posed dancers for figures and the edition of bronzes she cast of this one in tabletop size was so successful and well-received that she decided to re-do it, with a new model, in this monumental scale.

I keep learning about figure sculpture and my mind continues to boggle. To conceive of this figure; to execute it flawlessly; <em>and</em> to solve what must be some serious engineering problems to keep this dynamic pose stable as it’s built up in clay and then fixed in bronze; all in all, this is the calling card of consummate skill.

It also pleases me that Frishmuth has taken a very real ballet dancer by the name of Desha Delteil and made her immortal, as MacMonnies immortalized Eugenie Pasque. Dancing is a hard legacy to preserve because it all about motion and time, and photography is about freezing motion and stopping time. Desha Deltell was well-photographed and even filmed during the 1920s. But no photo or movie could have created such a lasting monument to Delteil’s form and movement as the series of sculptures she posed for in Frishmith’s studio.

I read that Deltell lived into her Eighties. I like to imagine her stopping by the Met every now and again to say hello to Twentysomething Desha. If I looked as good as that at any brief period of my life, I’d be pretty happy that it got captured for posterity.

None of that distracts from the dramatic impact that “The Vine” has on you. It’s like a Maxfield Parrish painting in three dimensions.

I keep coming back to the sculpture gallery in the American Wing because I keep failing to get a photo of “Bacchante” that I’m totally happy with. And I keep reading about “Bacchante” because every new detail I learn about the work, its sculptor, its subject, and that era of sculpture draws me in deeper.

The nice side effect of all of this is that although I’ve become so distracted by “Bacchante” that I’ve barely spent any time in the rest of the Met, I’m growing to know all of the figures in this one gallery in greater detail. I know the stories of many of the artists and many of the models, even. I can see Audrey Munson’s face in two sculptures that surround “Bacchante,” and I think about the two very different fates of those two models. I see “Diana” in the background of “Bacchante,” and I think about what a valuable teacher and mentor Saint-Gaudens was for MacMonnies, and I also think about MacMonnies’ own “Diana” and how heavily influenced it was by another of his teachers. During my previous visit, I realized that the gallery had two works by this other sculptor I’ve been reading about, a guy who was born about twenty years too soon to take advantage of this vibrant revolution that came in the late 1800s and whose work seemed to me just so leaden and obligated to 100 years of tradition.

Et cetera. Though I’d certainly admired “The Vine” during my previous visits, I didn’t learn anything about its sculpture. And now, after 45 minutes of image searches, I want to get to know this Harriet Whitney Frishmuth a lot better.

My pal Mark Evanier has been to every San Diego Comic-Con and offers great advice to first-time attendees. It’s so big that you can’t possibly see it all. So focus on just one <em>kind</em> of Comic-Con you want to attend. Meeting artists and writers? Attending panels? Shopping for cool stuff? Pick one and you’ll have a great time.

This wisdom occurred to me during my visit yesterday. Big museums are baffling. Maybe the best way to enjoy it is to think of it as seven different museums sharing the same space, and then go deep-dive on your favorite one. I suspect I’ll have years to go before I’m done with this sculpture gallery.

Amazon Advent Calendar Day 1: “Golden Ticket”/”Pure Imagination”

Willy Wonka iPod

“Pure Imagination”/”Golden Ticket”

We kick off the season with a double-header, sensation-seekers. We have the pig-bastard greed of the record industry to thank for this: the movie soundtrack to “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory” is only purchasable as a whole album, not as individual tracks.

I ought to approve of this, in principle. Ugh. Seriously? You know I want “Pure Imagination” so much that I’ll probably buy a dozen instrumental tracks I’ll never listen to in order to get it. Jerks.

But I’m becoming increasingly worried that we, as consumers, have been steadily and cheerily grinding away at our favorite musicians’ ability to make a living from their creative talents. Step One: we refuse to buy the whole album just to get the two or three songs we want. Step Two: we don’t want to buy anything at all; we’ll just give the artists a few pennies for the ability to stream their stuff. Step Three: well, why even bother with Spotify? Almost every album in every back catalogue is on YouTube.

The whole system is staring to give off the vague whiff of ammonia that eventually made me stop buying anything via Groupon. The sooner the creative community moves on to a system where I can just put some money in a box and send it straight to the artist, the better.

Fortunately, the “Willy Wonka” soundtrack is just five damn dollars. I’d pay two bucks for “Pure Imagination,” maybe a dime less for “Golden Ticket,” and the whole rest of the soundtrack is three times a bargain at just a buck and a couple of nickels.

Gene Wilder’s performance of “Pure Imagination” is iconic. For years, this soundtrack wasn’t available digitally and my futile searches turned up two different cover versions that tried their damnest to duplicate the song. A Gene Wilder soundalike backed by as much of an orchestra as the producers could afford, with an orchestration as close to the original as they could get away with without having to pay the original arrangement.

This is one of those few songs that had a real influence on me as a kid. It still does, particularly this one line: “If you want to view Paradise, simply look around and view it.” The lesson, as I saw it, was that stop dreaming. You’re here. You’ve been given Paradise; some assembly is required and maintenance is going to be your responsibility.”

There’s also an amazing and subtle message about the power of individuality and cultivating your own mission on this world. Willy Wonka, as portrayed by Gene Wilder, isn’t a freak, an eccentric, or a borderline mental case. He’s a serious man with a specific vision of the world he wishes to live in and rather than change to fit in or complain about things…well, he just went ahead and built his candy factory and created the situation where he could live life as he wants, making incredible things, doing no harm to anybody (small nasty children excepted) and articulating his artistic vision in a way that’s readily digestible (literally) by the outside world. He makes joy, and understands the responsibilities that come with all of that.

I wonder how all of this went over to audiences in 1971. “The Graduate” (1967) and “The Heartbreak Kid” (1972) were, and generally still are, thought of as “important” comedies. Funny, yes, but the humor was powered by the frustrations of a certain generation at a specific point in time. What role has American society laid out for me? How pissed off will it be if I decide to go my own way?

I feel as if Willy Wonka is the guy who shrugged those questions off as irrelevant. Instead, he thought hard, planned well, and got to work making the world he wanted to live in. Ben just floated around in his pool, and Lenny took great pride in the fact that though he had no idea of what the hell he was doing, Society wouldn’t approve.

(Signature scene from “Heartbreak Kid”: Eddie Albert, as the WASPish Old Person™, tries to prevent Lenny from marrying his daughter by buying him off. Lenny’s smug smile gets wider and tighter as the figures keep getting higher and Albert’s voice keeps getting louder. I imagine that in 1972, there were people in the audience who were cheering Lenny on. I was salivating in anticipation of the moment where Albert would snatch the huge bronze eagle off of his desk and then beat Lenny to death with it. Alas, this moment never came.)

Pure Imagination” is also one of those songs that explains the difference between a movie with songs in it and a true musical. The audience is still getting to know this guy. This song efficiently lets us orient him on the game board. No matter what happens after this point — and yes, some freaky stuff is assuredly going to happen — the kids (and we) are in good hands. This is definitely not a movie where the “quirky chocolatier” turns out to be Jigsaw in Edwardian finery. The movie needs to establish that fact early on, or else it sits at that nauseous tipping point between fantasy and horror. One lovely little song, sung and presented well, and that’s off the To-Do list.

Fiona Apple recorded a cover of “Pure Imagination” to serve as the music for a super-downer message-mercial for Chipotle. The track is exceptional in the sense that I thought it wasn’t possible to knock this piece of music to the ground and beat all of the hope and joy out of it. Well, some people see a distant peak and see only a challenge. I’m not linking to the whole ad because Jesus Christ.

But if you accidentally heard the song, no worries, there’s an antidote. “I’ve Got A Golden Ticket” is a pure, non-ironic expression of delight. It’s hard not to skip a little while you listen to it, and if you have enough self-control not to lift your arms up in the air while you listen and skip, you’re a stronger person than I.

So: five bucks for the whole album. But well worth it, I think. I see that Amazon has this one on its “autorip” list, which means that if you buy the CD, you immediately get all of the MP3s and then receive the CD itself a few days later. And now we’re back to my opening thoughts. I sure hope this is another one of those cases where Amazon loses money but builds customer loyalty. I don’t particularly care that I drove an old car that gets half the gas mileage of a modern hybrid but I don’t want to participate in a transaction that works out great for me but which helps drive a talented musician out of the recording studio and into the real estate business.

Check out “Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory: Music From The Original Soundtrack Of The Paramount Picture” at Amazon.  These links are embedded with my Amazon Associates ID and I’ll get store credits based on anything you buy after landing in the store offa my link. I promise to spend said credits on silly things and not blow them on, say, water and electricity.


It’s All Run By A Big Eastern Syndicate

My annual Musical Advent Calendar always begins with the best of intentions (“Recommend one music track every day between the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day”) and then ends about a week short of the original goal. “It’s Christmas,” the reader is inclined to shrug, when a blogger’s series of posts about favorite music tracks inexplicably ends on December the 17 instead of December the 25. “Peace on Earth, good will towards peoplekind and all that.”

Speaking of which, I extend my hearty thanks to everybody who clicks on my various Amazon affiliate links and then buys whatever stuff they were going to buy anyway. My first Amazon Advent Calendar inspired me to sign up for the program because I thought “Well, a nickel of store credit from every 99 cent track that people buy from my links might slightly offset the fifty to a hundred bucks I spend auditioning new music for this series.” I didn’t realize that the percentage is based on all purchases that people make immediately after walking through Amazon’s doors. Not until the first month’s credits arrived, I picked myself off the floor, and realized that I was able to substantially accelerate my schedule for replacing the old Trinitron in the living room with something that has more pixels. Or, anything that might be termed “Pixels,” for that matter.

I usually spend those credits on two kinds of things. Sometimes I’m writing a column and I think, for instance, “But what would it even be like to use a little phone like a desktop computer?” I discover that to conduct that experiment I’ll need a special kind of Bluetooth mouse that’s Android-compatible. I might balk at blowing the cost of five burritos (for the love of God) on a flyer like this, but then I think of the pool of credits I have in my Amazon account — practically free money, don’t you know — and I prepare my One-Click button.

And then there’s the larger category of “fun stuff I might not ordinarily buy for myself.” Have you been enjoying the photos I’ve been posting from this year’s New York Comic-Con? I can thank you folks for them, in part. I bought an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in February, thanks largely to how many people clicked my Amazon links during the week after Thanksgiving. The Panasonic GX-1 that I bought a few years ago was a stopgap diversion from the Bigass Consumer SLRs I’ve been favoring and this Olympus is a glorious return to form, a modern camera by every conceivable definition, a “pro” camera by almost every definition as well. The difference between “competent consumer camera” and “something built for use in rough weather and in tricky situations” has never been more apparent to me than it has in the past seven months. For the first time in my life, I have a camera for which the only real excuse for a bad photo is incompetence on my part.

(Which might not seem like such a great advantage.)

I have rules for these affiliate links, o’course. I never ever ever create affiliate links to anything that’s tech-related. When I recommend a good deal on a USB microphone that I own and like, I’m a tech journalist and I post a plain link to the sale page. When I recommend a song from the 80s that I like chiefly because it’s in my vocal range and it’s kind of intentionally written so that the sillier you sing it, the better it sounds, I’m just a guy with a blog and a Twitter account. A journalist must scrupulously avoid conflicts of interest. A Guy With A Blog And A Twitter Account can think “Hey! Free Amazon credits! Cool!”

If all of this sounds exploitative and crass to you, I can only say…



Okay, I don’t know what to say. I have indeed thought about this sort of thing a lot and if I believed it was even remotely exploitative, I wouldn’t come near it. “Crass,” I suppose, is a subjective opinion. I think it’s important for people to know that I do derive a personal benefit from these non-tech-related Amazon links, and that I’m linking specifically to Amazon tracks instead of iTunes or Spotify tracks for totally selfish reasons. Along the way, I try to use a bit of humor. If the humor makes it seem like I have a careless attitude and that I’m trying to fleece Loyal And Decent Readers, well, who gives a **** so long as I get my credits?

See! I did it again! Whee!

Buuuut seriously. I like these affiliate links because all you have to do is something you were going to do anyway. Such as buy, like, ten or twenty original oil paintings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece. Your friends get some wonderful stocking-fillers (assuming large, square stockings), and I get to buzz over to the comic book store in this awesome dune buggy that I totally don’t need but when else am I going to be able to buy a dune buggy for zero cash!

Please do feel free to create your own Spotify playlists or links to any other music store based on my picks, if you think it’ll benefit other people.

This year, I decided to tighten up the Advent Calendar a little bit. The source of my picks is a playlist entitled “Advent Calendar Candidates” that I’ve been curating over the past two or three months, mostly populated with songs I’ve bought since the last Advent Calendar. Every year, there are a dozen that I can’t wait to write about, a half dozen to ten that I like a whole lot, and enough left over to make sincere recommendations to fill out any gaps that remain.

(Or, as is more likely: “quickies that I can slap into service when I look at the clock and realize that I’ve written 1800 words about a Specials bootleg track and I’m still no closer to the finish than when I started two hours ago and holy crap dental appointment jesus well what song can I start and finish writing about in the next ten minutes why do I always DO this?!“)

So! Be warned: the 2014 Andy Ihnatko Holiday Musical Advent Calendar starts tomorrow. For the aforementioned wholly selfish reasons, they’ll all contain links to Amazon tracks. If I were a more perfect person, I’d paste in a bank of links to every streaming service and online music store on the planet. Alas, I am an imperfect vessel for the perfection of the universe AND I seriously have my eyes on a super-awesome f2.8 sports zoom that Olympus released just a month or two ago.

Adventures In Nitpicking

I was up early (fine: “early for me”) to see the Orion launch. NASA livestreams are totally exciting. Jargon jargon jargon (my ears perk up at every third or fourth line, when I recognize an acronym; I feel very clever) change of camera angles Three!…Two!…One!…Lif




Yeah, at the critical moment, when I should have been watching a massive piece of engineering urge itself into the sky amidst blossoming clouds of fire, I was looking at a spinning Buffering circle.

But Orion launched successfully (hooray!) and I got a Funny Little Tweet out of it.

So I guess you can say that both NASA and I spent our morning productively and have ample cause for pride.

It was less a complaint about the livestream than it was about how things tend to go wrong at the worst times. But it did get me thinking about how easily our tendency towards smirk can dampen a brilliant moment.

Orion is amazing. Every time we launch something into space, the meatbags are gloriously flipping the bird at the selfish mudball. Screw YOU, planet! YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF US!!!

Orion excites me in a way that the shuttle didn’t. As impressive as that spacecraft was, it was clearly a ferry. Orion feels like a true multipurpose vehicle, suited to tasks that make complete sense today (get people and cargo to the ISS) and to missions that are so far-fetched that it’s possible none of us will live to see them. Orion, if it meets its potential, can be the line of continuity that connects multiple eras and venues of exploration.

As for the video, well, livestream buffering is annoying, but this technology is still a huge improvement over getting live video by mail, in printed form.

While waiting for the launch, I read the reviews of last night’s live production of “Peter Pan” on NBC. Many of the complaints seemed preordained: “You could see the wires holding the performers up”; “Christopher Walken looks weird”; “The pirates weren’t exactly butch”; “the Lost Boys were way too old.” I didn’t see the show but I get the impression from the AV Club review that the producers (wisely) decided to let a stage show be a stage show.

Many of these complaints are simply that this was a stage musical produced for a live broadcast and not a $280,000,000 Peter Pan Cinematic Universe production complete with digital wire removal, lens flares, and a post-credits sequence that links “Pan” to “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.” I suspect that the show was perfectly fine, if not perfect.

(Aside: I wonder why NBC doesn’t stage these things before a live audience and go all the way. As-is, this kind of broadcast is a weird hybrid in which there’s all of the risk of live performance without the primary benefit: the reactions from the audience that feed energy to the performers.)

And then there’s Mariah Carey’s “vocal FAIL” during the live telecast of the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting. Audio of her raw mic feed is all over the Internet and I love this chance to hear a pro sing without any help from engineers. Was it at the same technical level as a studio recording? Hell no, but isn’t it time to acknowledge that “Photoshopping the vocals” can disrespect the natural human voice in the way that massive photo editing disrespects the natural human figure?

Singing is really, really hard. Raw audio proves it. You can hear the strain and stress on Mariah’s voice and you can see the effort she’s making to control the notes. And tell the truth: if a woman at your bus stop were singing along to her iPhone with that voice, you’d be in awe, wouldn’t you? All in all, this is way more compelling than any Dick Clark-produced special with lip-synced pre-roll.

We’re entitled to not like things. I’m just reminded that Orion was much bigger than a streaming issue, that if the best thing an audience can say about a live stage musical is “You couldn’t see the flying wires at all!” then it couldn’t have been worth watching, and that a high-end singing voice, like a high-end sports car, is meant to be driven at the edge of its limits.

The Mona Lisa is the Mona Lisa, not just the weird eyebrows.


The time I spent fixing my eyeglasses last night allowed me to fixate on one of my weaknesses this morning.

No, not my eyesight. My vision is actually very good. I don’t require glasses to drive…I’m just a bit nearsighted. I have a set of prescription sunglasses as well and when it came time to attack tiny screws with tiny, shallow grooves last night, I could see my work much better with my unaided eye than with vision that was slightly sharper, but also darker.

The weakness in question is my general approach to problem-solving. I’m prejudiced towards creating a process that solves the problem efficiently, as opposed to solving the problem itself the quickest way possible.

Case in point: one of the earpieces on my glasses broke off so I had to remove and replace it with a not-broken-earpiece taken from an identical pair of vintage frames I bought on eBay. When I tried them on, I realized that I needed to replace the “good” one as well, because after several years of wear, it was bent at a different angle and made the glasses sit all lopsided on my face.

The first earpiece went on quickly. The second was giving me lots of trouble. Two sets of holes need to line up properly, it’s hard to keep control of this tiny screw without sending it flying off, and even when you’ve got everything right, once you try to apply some torque and downward pressure to get the threads to engage, the screw wants to pop out entirely as if it has its own agenda.

After ten minutes of failure, I leaned back and tried to think of a better process. Like, what if I:

  1. Insert a needle through the hole to hold the earpiece in position and keep the holes lined up;
  2. Tear a little strip of gaffer’s tape, spindle it on the pin, wrap it around the works;
  3. Pull out the pin, leaving the earpiece held in place with the tape;
  4. Insert screw into the perfectly-aligned hole and turn until the threads engage;
  5. Carefully peel away the tape;
  6. Fully tighten the screw.


I needed to accept, however, that the current process wasn’t wrong…it was just inefficient. It relied on trial and error; the missing ingredient that guaranteed a successful outcome was simply Patience. Once I reflected on this, and accepted that fixing my glasses was going to be a Meditative Act, it seemed to come together with much more quickly. I let go of the frustration of Something Not Working and focused instead on the understanding that this process Will Definitely Work Eventually If I Stick To It.

And! I didn’t let myself get sidetracked by a whole new project: “Develop an efficient method for putting a screw in a pair of eyeglasses.” This Wonderful New Process might have allowed me to get that screw into place much more quickly…but how much time would I have wasted getting the process right?

I shall continue to reflect on this. Once again I’m reminded of the importance of understanding the actual goal of any endeavor. What did I hope to get out of this? Well, I guess I just wanted to have a pair of eyeglasses that weren’t being held together by tape. Given that I didn’t intend to fix eyeglasses for a living — hell, I didn’t even have to do the other side of these frames — there was no added benefit to developing a foolproof and efficient process.

“What do you want?” It’s a powerful a question. Not knowing the answer — or, worse, forgetting what it was — is a major cause of pain.

This kind of mistake prevented me from having these things fixed a week ago, in fact. When my glasses broke, and the replacement frames came in the mail, my original plan was to pop the lenses out of the old ones and pop them into the new ones. But wow: the shop that made the old ones have heated and stretched the rims a little to get ’em in. I damn-near broke my thumbs trying to apply enough pressure to get the final corner of these plastic lenses to snap into place.

Great, fine, awesome! Now I need to take these back to the original shop and have a pro do it for me!

Then I discovered that they were closed (for renovations or for good; I couldn’t tell). Now I had a NEW problem to solve: finding a new eyeglass shop, and hope they’d be willing to just snap in a set of lenses. Would they make me have an in-house eye exam and have new lenses made? Crap. SO many variables to navigate…and without any real promise of success, either.

Then I realized that I’d lost sight of the goal, which was simply “have a pair of eyeglasses whose earpieces aren’t broken.” The hinges on the old frames were just fine. Once I saw the obvious solution to the real problem, I had what I wanted in less than a half an hour.

This sort of thing is often on my mind as I evaluate hardware and software. Is a maker so entranced by a manufacturing process or a style of interface that they aren’t paying enough attention to the kind of experience they’re delivering to the user?

Results are always more important than the processes that got you there (unless your chosen Process attracts the attention of law enforcement and/or a war crimes tribunal).

The Troubles With New Memorials

This monument to Edgar Allan Poe was erected in October. It honors Poe’s roots in Boston and shows him returning to the former home, just down Charles Street. He stands in “Poe Square.” It was named after on Euriabam Daniel Pograham, a mid-1800s grocer and chorister known as “Poe” to his friends. He had a shop in that area.

(Ho, ho.)

I’ve been taking an interest in public sculpture and I’m very pleased to see some more of it placed in the city. It’s quite appropriate that this figure be located where it is (above and beyond the historical connection, that is). He’s walking away from Boston Common and the Public Garden, where a couple of dozen gorgeous monuments exist…so this one only adds to the value of a good walk around these two blocks.

Second bit of pleasure: they went with a representational approach. I’m often disappointed by modernist public sculpture. I’ll see a monument that looks like nothing so much as a fish being crushed by an acorn, the plaque says “In Honor Of French-Hungarian Immigrants, 1872-1905.” I blink and I re-read the plaque and then I think there’s at least a 70% chance that the artist had this thing cluttering up his garage for twenty years, unsold, before he heard about a competition for this memorial. The greatest effort he put into it was to explain how these shapes related to the subject.

Okay, and I’ll tread softly into a sensitive issue: the 9/11 memorial in the Public Garden. The Public Garden is filled with remarkable sculptures and monuments, most of them placed no later than the 1920s. Placing a new memorial there was an interesting challenge, no doubt, and given that two of the four hijacked planes departed from Boston, bearing so many New England passengers, the connection to the city is quite a painful one.

The memorial isn’t supposed to be a sculpture; it’s meant to be a contemplative garden. Benches are arrayed around a stone crescent engraved with the names of those murdered during the 9/11 attacks who had connections to Boston.

I walk through the Public Garden and I sometimes wonder if this was the most fitting tribute possible. How will visitors to the Public Garden relate to this monument in fifty years’ time? Will it draw people in? Will it cause people to stop, and sit, and reflect?

Or will they simply see another stone shape with names carved on it, and not look or think twice?

I think about the George Robert White memorial, also in the Public Garden. Also known as “Bread Upon The Waters,” it was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, one of the three dominant American sculptors of the age. It’s objectively a thing of beauty. You want to come closer and examine it. And this winged figure, casting seeds from a basket, is a fitting tribute to a philanthropist who contributed so much towards the beauty of the city’s public spaces and to area hospitals.

I learned about him and his work because the monument intrigued me. Me, someone born seven decades after White died.

Ditto for the Robert Gould Shaw memorial on Boston Common. It engages people’s minds and spirit in a way that a basic marble plinth engraved with the names of the members of the 54th Regiment never could.

Back to Ed. I’m surprised he isn’t little bit further up towards the Common, though. If he were nearer to the corner, he’d be easier for people to spot. As-is, anybody headed up Boylston Street — a major thoroughfare, particularly for pedestrians and tourists — is likely not to spot him.

Curious, I looked up the story behind the statue. Ah. Poe hated Boston and mocked certain Boston writers as “Frogpondians.” He’s walking purposefully away from the Frog Pond in Boston Common, and towards his former home. Cool.

Spoke too soon-ish!

Well, now that’s odd. I switched from the WordPress iOS client back to Safari just to see how that blog post looked in the metal, as it were. The last page I was on was the WordPress web client.

And now I find that there’s a toolbar here that certainly wasn’t there before. A mobile-ified version of the usual WP menu, with a drop-down for creating a new post. And unlike the other button that claimed to do that function, this one seems to actually work.

Or does it?! Only one way to find out!

(Drat and blast. I tried to insert a photo using this web client. It gamely invites me to upload a media, even exposes the camera roll so I can make a selection…then fails with an error.)

Push the button, Frank…

First Post from THE FUTURE!

This is a boring post that will do nothing to enhance your understanding of the world or the amount of joy you experience in it. So, a typical tee shot from your correspondent.

It’s a little bit remarkable from this end, however. I’m writing and posting this with the iPhone 6 Plus. Hey! Cool! New iPhone! Yes, that would almost be enough. But I’ve also got a vintage ThinkOutside Stowaway folding Bluetooth keyboard hooked up to it.

Ever since learning that — wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! — Apple was making a real, Android-style BIG phone, I’ve been itching to see if it could fill the role of “that writing tool that I always carry with me.” Typically, I throw at least an iPad into a bag every time I leave the house for any real amount of time. Because sometimes, you just gotta write, you know?

Also, sometimes you Just Gotta Go To A Meeting and then dash off a column about what you learned and file it with your editor before you go home. This is another scenario in which I wish I had something I could pull out of my pocket that could give me the full Ford Prefect Field Researcher And Reporter experience.

The screen’s certainly big enough to handle the job. But what about the keyboard? No way. I can’t type at length on a sheet of glass and dictating into speech-to-text is socially awkward, particularly if I’m trying to sneak in a little work during time I’d otherwise be wasting during a relative’s wedding service.

Therefore I’ve been taking a look at pocketable mechanical keyboards. I bought an iWerkz folding keyboard from Amazon last week. It works nice, and it’s no larger than the iPhone 6 Plus itself when folded. The keys are a little short, though, and there’s a gap in the middle of the key bed to accommodate the hinge.

“Oh, if only the ThinkOutside Stowaway bluetooth keyboard were still for sale!” moaned I. Fortunately, I moaned this on a podcast and a listener happened to have one of these decade-old accessory kicking around a closet, begging for a new home.

It is the bees’ knees on sliced bread, wearing the cat’s pajamas.

Expect a full accounting in video and text form in the near future. Right now, I just wanted to see if I could write at length with this setup.

It’s a delicate balance, trying to find a screen and a keyboard that enable creativity. I’m pleased to discover that the iPhone 6 Plus screen is big enough that I quickly stop being impressed that I’m writing on a phone, and the Stowaway is pretty much a standard laptop keyboard. It has its quirks, but like the size of this screen, my brain quickly decides to move past them and just turn on the taps of genius.

The only disappointment thus far is in WordPress. I tried logging in through the web client, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to make a new post. I see a button for it, eventually, but tapping it does nothing.

So I downloaded WordPress’ own house-labeled iOS client. It seems to be working. But! I’m forced to rotate the iPhone 6 Plus into portrait mode and early on, it refused to scroll. Hmph.

An earlier experiment with Google Docs went without a hitch. Hooray!

But iOS, at one point, refused to make the onscreen keyboard go away. Boo. But I seem to have figured out how to make it go away (by tapping the new — ugh — emoji button to reveal extended keyboard options, tapping the onscreen “delete” key, then replacing what I typed with the Bluetooth keyboard. Apparently this gave iOS the required kick in the pants. I’m still looking for a manual “hide the keyboard” command that ought to be in iOS.

Anyway! So this post was like me, working in my garage, with the garage door open, and you get to see me sanding the old paint off of a flea-market dresser and occasionally cursing.

And this is the moment when the dog you were walking pulls at the leash and reminds you that you were meant to be letting him discover things with interesting smells in the neighborhood.

Now let’s see if posting this works. Push the button, Frank…


“Amanda Palmer and The Littlest Dalek”

This is a cute video of Amanda Palmer, shot by Neil Gaiman.

It also defines a children’s book that demands to be made.

It begins with a similar opening to “Edward Scissorhands.” The Scientist is creating a brand-new, very special kind of Dalek with a brand-new, very special kind of encasement that is completely, totally, and utterly unbelievably impregnable. But the encasement isn’t ready yet — it’ll just take another few days for him to finish the extra-scary paint job — so as a temporary measure, the Scientist’s nana (who makes tea cozies as a hobby) knits the Dalek an encasement out of wool to keep it warm.

But the Scientist dies before he can finish. He’s killed, probably. It has something to do with the new Doctor, who doesn’t wear fezzes and doesn’t seem quite so friendly as the most recent batch. I’m just saying that of all the people standing at the train platform, this new Doctor isn’t the one you’d approach and ask “Is this the 8:15 to Attleboro, or is it the 8:08 to Franklin/Forge Park?”

So this new Dalek has to make his way in the world on his own. He is encased in warm snuggly wool instead of impregnable metal. Which has two effects:

First, unlike the other Daleks, he’s very very VERY very very aware of how vulnerable he is. So he tends to avoid conflict if he can. He’s a talker. His first instinct is to try to understand the nature of the conflict, and see if there’s an alternative solution in which the needs and concerns of each individual can all somehow be addressed or at least acknowledged.

As such, rather than screeching “EX-TER-MI-NATE!” he rolls up to people, stops, waits for a natural opening in the conversation, and then introduces himself as “Alfie.”

(He has calculated that this is the least-threatening-sounding name, what with its lack of hard consonants.)

Secondly. Because he’s made of warm, fuzzy wool, children like to come up to him in the park and hug him. Kitties like to climb to the top and sleep on him. The parents of the children and the owners of the kitties look to see where their little ones have gone off to, and see them enjoying a peaceful and contented interlude with this Dalek. And then, if they have picnic hampers, they ask the Dalek if he would like to join them for lunch.

So he comes to enjoy company, and the taste of potato salad. He realizes that he would get no potato salad and no company if he were encased in completely, totally, and utterly unbelievably impregnable metal instead of wool.

It’s still a real drag when he gets caught in the rain. He also has to remember a lot of names and phone numbers. This is not a problem shared by the other Daleks, who kill people before they can collect any contact info, and would never be invited to call this weekend and make dinner plans, anyway. But overall, he reckons that he made out okay.

Oh, and: stairs are not a problem. He just tumbles down them WHEEEEEEE and rights himself when he gets to the bottom. And! The homeowner is pleased that all of the dust and cobwebs along the banisters have been so nicely dusted clean in the process. He or she offers the Alfie The Wooly Dalek a bowl of ice cream as a thank-you.

Bonus: this story presents a natural opportunity for a “Shawn The Sheep” crossover.

I’ve seen exactly three episodes of “Doctor Who” but I’m pretty sure this can all be canon and it’ll be fine.

Upon reflection, I suppose we can’t establish this as a “Doctor Who” tale unless we somehow acknowledge the presence of death-dealing cyborg pepperpots prosecuting an unknowable but surely wide-angled agenda just outside the boundaries of the story. No need to overthink this problem: I reckon all we really need to do is find a spot in the story for a shot of baffled policemen examining a skeleton that’s been charred into a twisted vulgarity of its living form.

(…In the background of one scene, I stress: this is a children’s story, after all. Can we do this one page of the book as a pop-up? I think that would be a lot of fun and the kids would get a big kick out of it. Pull the tab and one of the policemen bends forward and vomits into his helmet, that sort of thing.)

Why I’m Flying To Chicago In A Few Weeks

Mostly: To attend the Motorola press event. They’re likely to launch their sequels to the Moto X and Moto G phones, as well as the Moto 360 Android Wear watch.

Partly: To say hello to my Sun-Times editors and a couple of other Chicago friends.

At least 20%: To go to the Art Institute of Chicago and get photos of the Holsteins with “American Gothic,” “Nighthawks,” and “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.”

The AIoC also has a 34-inch “Bacchante And Infant Faun.” I’ve never seen one of the smaller castings. If it’s out in the open (and against a wall or wedged into a corner) it’ll be neat to see this from new angles.