The Bears Want To Eat Her

Here’s what happened with Windows 8, in one sentence: Microsoft asked too much of its users.

I could write thousands of words more on the subject, and come to think of it…I have. It’s a complicated subject. Microsoft needed to make Windows relevant in a new, multitouch world, and with an installed user base consisting roughly of (everybody who uses a computer) – (Macs + Linux), adoption of W8 was never going to be instantaneous. Historically, Microsoft has always had three major editions of Windows in play at once: the newest one, which everyone who buys a new PC runs; the one before that, which runs on the majority of PCs because IT departments have certified it and users have been trained on it; and then the one before that, because many people and companies are desperate cheapskates who’d rather cover up a desktop’s Packard-Bell logo with tape than consider springing $500 for a new computer that isn’t made of sticks and animal hides.

See, I didn’t say “Microsoft asked too much” as a slam against Windows 8. It just illustrates a problem that’s faced by big companies with popular products and a large installed customer base. For many (even most) Windows users, the amount of effort required to get spun up with the changes Microsoft made didn’t seem worth the benefits of staying up-to-date…particularly with such a high cost of admission.

Tonight, it suddenly occurred to me that this same problem is the reason why my comic book buying has gradually tailed down to almost nil. It’s not a reaction to the quality of their books. They’ve just…made it too hard.

DC keeps rebooting things. A few years ago, they decided to restart the entire DC Universe from Day One. I don’t think that’s a dumb idea; done right, it’s a helpful bit of periodic housecleaning. “The DC Universe” is a 75-year-old machine with thousands of moving parts, with new characters and concepts bodged in here and there throughout. A reboot lets the company’s editors and writers rebuild everything so all of these pieces fit together harmoniously. But: I honestly have no idea who most of these characters are any more, and they move around in a world where I don’t instinctively understand the laws of physics.

I need to read lots of comics before I can get my bearings back…and I don’t even know where to start. It’s not an insurmountable challenge but do I want to even bother? Particularly after hearing that DC is going to perform another screwy system-wide time-leap at the end of the year?

My obstacle with Marvel is that I have no idea how to get a single unit of story from them. Stories start in the middle and they’re resolved later (sometimes after months) in another book entirely. Marvel’s “Avengers” books are such a mess that they often include a little chart of what books you need to buy and what order you need to read them in. Good lord!

Or, the story is all carbs and no protein. “I’ve just had a shattering revelation that will fundamentally change my relationships with the most trusted people in my life!” a character exclaims in Issue #3. Issue 4, 5, 6 go by without any hints about what that revelation was, and what effects it had. To learn that, I’m supposed to go to that character’s solo book. But which one? He’s got four. I’m left with a series that describes a sequence of events but delivers no story.

Overall, Marvel comics make me feel like Dr. Hackenbush in “A Day At The Races,” getting scammed at the racetrack. He’s trying to buy a tip on a horse. But every piece of paper Chico’s character sells him is no good unless he buys another piece of paper that explains what the other one means. The tip is in code; the codebook requires the use of a second codebook; the second codebook requires information only available in a breeders’ guide…hilarity ensues! Because it’s Hackenbush who has to dish out for all of these books, and not me.

I rarely get to the end of a Marvel comic and feel like the curtain has closed and the lights in the theater have come up. It’s frustrating and unsatisfying. And Marvel isn’t entirely immune to DC’s troubles, either. Marvel’s story continuity is deeply contaminated with characters who are someone’s son in an alternate-reality, but a future alternate reality, from an Earth that’s a parallel-Earth to the Earth of that alternate reality, who traveled back in time to reach this character who turns out to be a clone of a robot of…


See what I mean? I just want to get a single, satisfying unit of entertainment. When I was a kid, I could get that by just buying and reading the issues of a series, in numerical sequence. Years later, I could get it by waiting for a story arc to be collected into a trade paperback.

Now? It’s just too hard. I have to do lots of research to get myself oriented and then track a story across many titles to get the whole story.

(This would all be bad enough even if each comic (which just takes 15 minutes to read) didn’t cost $4. Now it costs a fortune to get that Beginning, Middle, and End. How many of these stories are worth $68?)

Reading comics requires a lot of work, a lot of money, and a lot of faith that the work and the money will pay off by the end.

Which isn’t to say that there’s no reason for a sane person to read comics. I suppose it might still be worth the effort to me if all of this were still new. And of course, there are still tiny islands inside DC and Marvel that are free from this kind of madness…to say nothing of the other publishers.

I guess it’s just easier to let go of something I used to love after I’ve worked out the reasons why it no longer makes me happy.

“I’m surrounded by bears and other animals that want to eat me,” says Sue Aikens, one of the regulars featured in National Geographic Channel’s reality series “Life Below Zero.” “And I don’t want them to.”

She’s not using a metaphor. She lives all alone in an isolated camp in the Arctic.

I love this (paraphrased) quote because it’s brilliant storytelling in just two lines. You instantly know the characters, the situation, and the stakes. It wouldn’t be half as effective if it were surrounded by tinsel and flashing lights and clouds of purple smoke. It’s an aspirational ideal of simplicity for all authors.

When an author tries to obscure a solid premise or doesn’t stick to the basic path of “Beginning, middle, end end” I wonder if it’s an artistic choice or if it’s a sign that they doesn’t know how to make something good out of something simple and clear.

Kotaku: $900 Blade Runner Gun Looks Totally Worth It

Kotaku: “$900 Blade Runner Gun Looks Totally Worth It”.

Having read the article and seen the pictures, I have absolutely no argument whatsoever with that headline.

What is it about movie props that triggers the lizard/monkey/Ferengi parts of our brains? Our powers of critical thought abandon us, replaced with a clear, single urge: WANT.

(“Our” = “geeks”; but I feel I know you well enough to just assume you’re one of us.)

The Blade Runner blaster is just…I have no words. I support all measures of gun control except for those that would make it difficult for me, personally, to own this gun, specifically.

What a marvel of design! It should have received its own Oscar. How do you design a prop that has a clear, familiar function but is emphatically from a future world that includes flying cars and replicants? This blaster reflects the fact that gun technology might change in 50 years, but a cop’s relationship with his or her gun will stay the same. It can’t look like the remote control for your smart sous vide machine. This weapon needs to reassure the user (and communicate to its target) of its ability to project lethal, irrevocable force.

It’s badass without going overboard, is what I’m saying. If I were a movie bad guy, I wouldn’t worry too much about a hitman who draws a chromed revolver festooned with redundant tri-color laser sights and custom “angel of justice” grips. That’s the kind of gun that you’d give to a cop played by Hasselhoff.

But the Blade Runner blaster! Clearly, a weapon fit for a Harrison!

The above photo reflects a fact that I have the right kind of friends. Namely: the kind who might show up at a dinner party with the Blade Runner blaster replica she just bought. This isn’t the model mentioned in the Kotaku article. It’s a garage prop, I think, handmade by someone who’s such a big fan of that prop that they wanted to make one for themselves, and who got so good at it that they made a few for others to defray the expenses.

Of course, the most famous of the Blade Runner blaster-obsessives is Adam Savage. His name is so tightly bound to this prop that when you type “Adam Savage” into Google, “…Blade Runner” is the first autocomplete.

Watch the video. It’s a fascinating look at how obsessive these prop fans and rebuilders are (he said, quickly adding that “obsessive” isn’t always a negative thing). It delights me to think of a “Star Wars” propmaker assembling Han Solo’s blaster out of handfuls of whatever components they had around the workshop, checking their final work, and then thinking “forty years from now, hundreds of people will band together to try to figure out which component from which model kit or plumbing assembly I used for this detail.”

It’s just an intense level of commitment. Replicating an old prop is often like trying to replicate a Jackson Pollock painting. All Pollock needed to do was splatter paint where he felt it needed to go. The forger needs to put exactly that color paint in exactly the same spot on the canvas in exactly the same way as he did.

Screen Shot 2014-06-20 at 12.37.28 PM

I’ve asked myself if I’m as fond of any one movie prop as Adam is about this blaster. My instinctive answer is “the deep-dive helmets from ‘The Abyss‘.”

“The Abyss” doesn’t take place on an Earth that’s unrecognizably different from our own. But the prop designers’ challenge was much greater than the one faced by the “Blade Runner” crew. All of actors performed their underwater scenes themselves, for real, in a forty foot tank. So the priorities for the dive helmets were, in order of importance:

  1. Keep the actors alive.
  2. Be comfortable enough to wear every day during months of shooting.
  3. Allow the actors to act.
  4. Look real cool.

I’m dazzled by the engineering challenge. “Allow the actors to act” was a big deal for James Cameron. It meant that these helmets needed to achieve the first two goals while still allowing the camera to see the actors’ faces and hear their voices. Another director would have just had the actors loop all of their dialogue back in later, instead of capturing it live on-set. But then, I suppose another director would have thought “we’ll do the underwater scenes with a combination of stunt divers and principal actors on a dry effects stage” instead of “Obviously, we’re going to buy an abandoned nuclear power facility, convert the retaining vessel into the world’s largest and deepest underwater shooting set, and get all of our actors certified with ‘master’ dive ratings.”

Though “The Abyss” was notably one of the toughest shoots in film history, it would have been even harder on the actors if two of their three primary instruments — their faces and their voices — were taken away by a face mask that obscures their expressions and by a technical need to create a vocal performance weeks or months after creating the physical performance.

And yet, the designers achieved the “look real cool” thing. These helmets weren’t fiddly movie props. They were sturdy, functional dive equipment built to the same standards as working production hardware.

Would I spend years trying to build my own “Abyss” helmet, like Adam Savage and other prop replicators? Naw. But I’m cheered to think that if one came up at auction, the bidding wouldn’t be nearly as competitive as the bloodbath that ended with the $270,000 sale of an original Blade Runner blaster.

It’d likely still sell for way more than I could afford, but at least it would be a dollar figure that I could easily translate into units of work. “Twelve columns. I write twelve extra columns that I otherwise wouldn’t — this helmet’s gotta give me topics for at least two — and it’s paid for.” It’d be a nice little fantasy. But no, no, not even then.

I think an Abyss dive helmet on a display shelf in my living room would mock me every time I got back home. “Congratulations on being soooooo careful with money that you didn’t cave in to temptation and buy that $7 takeout burrito for dinner today. Really. Your folks would be so proud. Oh, they still think I’m just a piece of interesting junk that you picked up at the MIT Flea Market for $12, right?”

But…the Blade Runner replica is different! It has LEDs! It’s…it’s a tech item! I’m practically obligated to acquire one for a review, right?

(I bet the maker is one of those selfish stinkers that don’t loan things out, either.)


(Perhaps I should get a burrito for dinner tonight.)

Like an X-Prize for boozehounds

DNA Lounge is putting together a robotic bartender competition. Competing robots will be judged on all good things. Does it make good drinks? Does it do it with a certain style and grace? Is it “Full-Assed,” in the sense that it’s a robot that makes drinks without a full pit crew hovering over it constantly? And: “Extra consideration will be given for terrible ideas and Mad Science.”

As DNA Lounge is located in San Francisco. This is a part of the country where a kitchen drawer is most likely to contain an Arduino board and a few stepper motors. I am therefore optimistic that the competition will draw a great many highly beautiful, functional, and obliquely dangerous competitors.

(Given how rapidly robot battle competitions flourished in the Bay Area back in the Nineties, one hopes that this robot bartender competition will finally produce an end-to-end solution: robots will get robots drunk, and then they’ll fight each other.)

Mystery Portrait May Be a Lost Raphael

Mystery Portrait May Be a Lost Raphael.

Has Peter Silverman done it again?

He’s the art expert who spotted a nifty portrait of a young woman in Renaissance-style clothing, which had been attributed (and priced) as a mid-ninth-century work from an unknown German artist, and bought it on the hunch that it was actually authentic Renaissance…and possibly drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.

He amassed a body of expert opinion, scientific analysis, and old-fashioned detective work to defend the case that he’d discovered previously unknown da Vinci (and that his $21,850 purchase was actually worth upwards of a hundred million). It’s a great story and you should read the book he wrote about it, or watch the PBS NOVA special.

In the book, he describes a peculiar passion for hunting down mis-attributed works. Now he claims that a $50,000 portrait he bought in April is actually a Raphael.

My initial reaction: “Cool.” This is precisely the sort of story that makes for great reading: buried treasure, hanging in plain sight, waiting to be claimed by the first person to look harder and think “Heyyyy…”

Second reaction: “Aw, crap…this is precisely the sort of story that some basic-cable network will try to turn into a reality series.” Round up a couple of colorful characters, spend a few months hammering them into reality TV stars (odd facial hair, labored nicknames, hire them an office assistant with a complicated personal life…the works) and then stage a series of “finds” for ’em.

James Bond Gunbarrel Sequences 1962-2012 – [HD] – YouTube

How about “the gun barrel sequence of every James Bond movie, ever?” C’mon. It’s not like you were going to get much done on a Friday anyway.

You can tell that the first few use a stand-in for Sean Connery, and that the producers only ever reshot the sequence when a new Bond came in. Filmmakers knew that they could get away with this stuff back in the days before home video. It’s like they had a different relationship with the audience; they knew that an individual was only going to be able to watch this movie a few times, and only at 24 frames per second. Today, Quicktime Player is like a CSI crime lab. If the film editor ever told the director or the director ever told the censor “Don’t worry…it goes by so fast that nobody will ever notice it” you’ll find out pretty damned quick!

I think about the fact that a movie would be around for a little while and then disappear for years. Now that Turner Classic Movies can screen an all-day marathon of a certain actor or director, the greats seem even more so. Marathons prove that Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, and John Ford each kept exploring and inventing throughout their careers. With other actors and directors, the ability to see all of their work in a single stretch leaves you thinking that their “signature style” is just a collection of reliable tics and tricks from which they never tried to escape.

Call it The McDonalds Syndrome. I have long held that a Big Mac Meal is one of the tastiest things on the planet, provided you haven’t had it in at least a month. It’s junk, but it targets our pleasure centers with a certain amount of precision and flair.

If you last had a Big Mac a week ago, it’s just okay. If you ate McDonalds yesterday, you’ll probably end up wondering why the hell you keep doing this to yourself.

And so it goes with the Bond movies. If you haven’t seen a Bond film in a couple of years, it’s one of the most entertaining nights you can spend at the movies. If Netflix recommends “Diamonds Are Forever” because it knows you watched “Thunderball” last week…it’s just okay. A James Bond marathon on cable will put you off of talking moving pictures entirely.

The Birdman, starring Michael Keaton

One hell of a strong trailer for the upcoming Michael Keaton film “Birdman.” I’ve no idea what kind of movie this is, mind you. Is this, like, “The Wrestler,” if the lead character were a former A-list movie star instead of a former star wrestler? “Sideways,” only with fame instead of booze? Like that Marvel series “The Sentry,” in which bad guys try to convince a legit superhero that he’s just a normal person with a mental illness and that his caped antics are all just a delusionary comic-book fantasy?

I think it’ll be worth $11 to find out.

Fox Searchlight almost deserves the money just for producing a trailer that works on me. Earlier, I posted about great movies with weak trailers. I’m going to acknowledge a couple of movies that I saw solely and specifically because of great trailers.





And how could I not include:

…Well I could go on and on, not all day, but at least for three more.

I’m having a sort of “thanks/no thanks” relationship with the news item that introduced me to the “Birdman” trailer. I love “The Dissolve.” It’s helping me to fill the huge movie-commentary void left when Roger Ebert passed away. But geez. Does Matt Singer have a problem with Michael Keaton? Despite the brevity of the piece, Singer seems to have found multiple opportunities to imply that Michael Keaton’s career is on the skids and that he didn’t need to dig very deep to connect to the character of a former movie superhero with few current prospects.

One sees this sort of thing frequently. I don’t get it. Stars have the right to do what they choose to do with their lives. Sure, I snicker as much as anybody else at the Troy McLure-style arc that Eddie Murphy seems to be pursuing in his career. But if he wants to act in fantasy films underneath latex and foam and effects, why shouldn’t he? If Robert De Niro wishes to spend his golden years acting in lighter films that don’t require him to gain fifty pounds and terrify his family on a nightly basis, hasn’t he earned that right?

And if Michael Keaton (or any other A-list star) recognizes that he’s got enough money to keep himself and his family in giraffes and chocolate-covered Bentleys for life, doesn’t it make sense for them to enjoy said life?

I’m not even saying “It’s OK that De Niro is doing movies like ‘Little Fockers’; he’s using those checks to endow his arts programs’.” I’m saying that it’s rude to suggest that he’s required to hand in one Jack La Motta or Travis Bickle a year in perpetuity. I wish Gene Hackman were still making movies but for Pete’s sake…he’s allowed to spend his Seventies and Eighties watching sports on TV if he wants.

‘Man on the Run’ Excerpt: Paul McCartney Almost Kicked Linda Out of Wings | Billboard

'Man on the Run' Excerpt: Paul McCartney Almost Kicked Linda Out of Wings | Billboard.

It’s a clickbait-ey headline, but a nice excerpt of the new Paul McCartney biography. It ought to be pretty interesting: it’s based on firsthand interviews that McCartney granted specifically for the book.

I’ve already pre-ordered it. This seems like a particularly interesting time for McCartney to be working so closely with a biographer. He’s now officially in his Seventies. Is this a time of life when someone in the public eye starts to think more seriously about the legacy that they’re going to leave behind? I suppose if people are going to talk about your thoughts, actions, and motives long after you’re gone, you might as well get your side of the story down on paper while you’ve still got all of your faculties.

This excerpt covers a particularly interesting period: McCartney figuring out how to build a new life as a former Beatle. Remember that he had been one of those since he was 15 years old. In the 70s, he was starting over again…with the added handicaps of the world’s attention. Fans and press were going to use his solo efforts to prove their own favorite theories about why the Beatles succeeded.

Great biographies, like great documentaries, try to answer the question “why did this person do what they did?” instead of just telling us what they did. If you’re the person who wrote “Hey, Jude” you’ve earned the right to hit the “snooze” button every morning for the rest of your life. McCartney also had millions, plus a family. So why form a new band and go out on tour?

Bill Watterson retired “Calvin And Hobbes.” He was content to lead a private life. But he didn’t quit doing art! He kept right on drawing and painting. He turned his creative passion into a private hobby. He felt no need at all to show his work to anybody. He’s published only twice, and both times, his motive seemed to be to raise money for Parkinson’s research.

Forget birthplace and upbringing and girlfriends and kids…the most valuable part of a biography would explain why each of those men made each of those choices.

Not My Job: Project Runway’s Tim Gunn Gets Quizzed On Terrible Fashion : NPR

Not My Job: Project Runway's Tim Gunn Gets Quizzed On Terrible Fashion : NPR.

Tim Gunn guests on “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Of course he’s wonderful.

Be sure to download and listen to his recent “Fresh Air” interview as well.

I’m a fan and an admirer. Over the years, I’ve come to believe that Tim Gunn picked up the torch of TV Kindness that Mister Rogers laid down. I’ve bought an episode or two of “Project Runway” specifically because I found some of Gunn’s interactions with contestants to be so sweet and moving.

Imagine my relief when this impression of the man remained intact, after hearing a bunch of interviews with the man and reading his combination memoir and collection of essays about life. It’ll seriously bum me out if I learn that his personal assistant has been instructed to keep a pot of hot coffee at hand at all times, strictly for throwing-at-underlings purposes.

The Memory Game

Every time I travel for a conference — like, I don’t know, how about WWDC? — I get to experience the alpha and the omega of my brain’s memory skills.

The alpha: I have a freakishly-good memory for hotel room numbers. The desk clerk hands me my key, says “You’re in Room 2713…the elevators are down towards the bar and then to your right,” and bango: that number is locked in for the duration of my stay.

The omega: names. Stupid, stupid brain! I’ve got my hotel room number written down on a little cardboard folder! Even if I lose the little folder, I can just go down to the front desk and ask! The desk clerk’s feelings won’t be hurt. Can I say the same of someone whom I see at least twice a year at Apple-related events, of whom I can immediately recall every last detail except for a first name?

“Hey, were you able to join up with a new hockey team?” I say. “I remember that when you took the new job and moved, you were worried that you’d have to put away your goalie pads for a while.” Yes, I’m genuinely interested in this fine person’s life. I’m also hoping that this will make up for the fact that when I saw him, my brain said to me “It starts with an ‘M’. Or an ‘N’. Definitely a pointy letter, anyway. Well! Good luck! I’ll be watching what happens next with great interest.”

(Stupid, stupid brain.)

I’ve long been aware of, and puzzled by, this memory dichotomy. But I finally figured it out during my WWDC trip:

  • After I learn my hotel room number, I walk, alone, for a few minutes until I get to my room. Then I usually kick off my shoes and enjoy the first ten or fifteen minutes of Not Traveling I’ve experienced all day, before I unpack and get on with things.
  • After I learn someone’s name, I immediately get interested and involved in a conversation with them. If it’s a meeting or a briefing, we start discussing the thing I’m there to talk with them about.

It’s so obvious. Downtime is known to be essential for certain brain functions. The brain uses these stretches of low stimulation to process the information and experiences that you threw at it during a period of high activity. That’s the time when your brain turns information into learning, and experiences into actual understanding.

(This is why if you’re feeling stressed out on a project, “taking a break” should mean “Go for a walk.” Playing a game on your phone or checking Twitter might not be work-related stimulation, but they’re still stimulation. They won’t help lower your stress level or improve your problem-solving. Let your brain’s flywheel spin down. When you return to your task, you’re likely to have some fresh ideas ready to pull out of the deep-frier.)

Mystery solved!

I wish it were “problem solved,” but at least it’s something.

I did take away a new lesson, though: if I can’t remember someone’s name, not only should I just come right out and ask…but I ought to do that at the end of the conversation instead of at the start. Because I do enjoy these conversations and get involved in talking with this person. Better that I get this information right before a two-minute walk to my hotel room, as it were.

…And sometimes, one of those lottery tickets pays off!

So I wrote back to Bill.

“Dear Bill,

I will do whatever you want, including setting my hair on fire.”

via Ever Wished That Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson Would Return to the Comics Page? Well, He Just Did. | Pearls Before Swine.

Well! It turns out that Bill Watterson actually was ghost-drawing “Pearls Before Swine” this week!

(Plus, we got iOS 8. It’s been a pretty good week.)

Read Pastis’ blog post. It’s amazing. How does a comic strip artist — even one as successful as Stephan Pastis — get an email from Bill Watterson offering to draw his strip and not immediately dismiss it as a cruel and obvious hoax?

The Washington Post also has a story with exclusive quotes from Watterson himself.

I’m sure that everyone in my rough age group is going fairly nuts about this. It’s hard for people in their teens and twenties to understand how big this strip was, and still is, to those of us in our thirties and forties. Comic strips, y’see, were once a very, very big deal.

20 years from now, only a sliver of the population will remember “The Oatmeal” or “PVP Online” or “XKCD,” despite the fact that they’re three of the most successful webcomics of the 2010s. It’s no reflection on their creators. I’m certain that fans of those strips will find themselves thinking “Sudo make me a sandwich” at least once a month for the rest of their lives. It’s just that the 1980s were the last time when a comic strip could be a huge popular phenomenon that reached the whole of society. Back then, the comics page was like a TV station, or a movie theater; it was a universal touchstone and a legitimate contributor to pop culture.

Things are different today. Matthew Inman is so successful that he drives a luxury car, has published a New York Times best-selling book, and can raise millions of dollars for one of his pet causes. But did you immediately recognize that name as the creator of “The Oatmeal”? If you mentioned “The Blertch” to people in your office, how many would know what you were talking about?

And that’s what I mean about a strip becoming the cultural property of a whole generation. No modern strip will ever have the sort of broad, lasting cultural impact of “Peanuts” or “Pogo” or “Li’l Abner” or “Calvin And Hobbes.” Inman, Scott Kurtz, and Randall Munroe are all “world-famous in Poland.” Charles Schulz, Walt Kelly, Al Capp, and Bill Watterson were, in their heydays, world world-famous.

(How deep was their culture impact? Well, just now, I Googled for a list of words and phrases that entered the mainstream lexicon after Al Capp coined them for his strip. It turns out that every time my father announced that we were having “Po’k chops!” for dinner…he was quoting “Li’l Abner.” I had no idea! I always thought it was just a “dad” thing. I actually feel a little bit closer to him right now.)

There’s also the matter of how “Calvin And Hobbes” ended. Almost all successful comic strips go on for decades…even decades past the deaths of their creators. We get to let go of our favorite strips gradually, on their own terms, when we’re ready. We weren’t even nearly ready to lose “Calvin And Hobbes” in 1995, and its sudden absence was keenly felt.

So forgive our exuberance, o younger people. Our thirty- and fortysomething-year-old brains are wired up to produce intense joy at the thought of new Bill Watterson comic strip art. And the day has finally come. We are, collectively, the dogs in those YouTube videos who freak the hell out with joy when their masters come home from a long tour of duty overseas.

Speaking of joy, visit and read the complaints that people were making about the “new artist”‘s drawing style:

Sherlock Watson said: “Those are the ugliest crocs I’ve ever seen, including the shoes of the same name.”

Ratbrat said: “Nope – bring back my usual crocs and zeeba and the rest.”

danketaz said: “Meh. Libbie can’t seem to get the hang of croc eyeballs. Why else draw them shut?”

If you’ve ever posted something online and received negative comments…oh, this is a heady draught! I urge you to drink lustily from this flagon.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to email Bill Watterson and arrange for him to draw my next three columns. Because apparently that’s something he does now, and I can see no reason not to commit to that conclusion.

Philip Seymour Hoffman on Happiness | Blank on Blank | PBS Digital Studios – YouTube

Philip Seymour Hoffman on Happiness | Blank on Blank | PBS Digital Studios – YouTube.

“I would definitely say pleasure is not happiness. Because I think I kill pleasure. Like, I take too much of it and therefore make it unpleasurable. Like, too much coffee, and you’re miserable, you know? And I do that to pleasure, often. There is no pleasure that I haven’t actually made myself sick on.”

Another enormously satisfying “Blank On Blank” video, set to an interview with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The list of all of of the impacts of suicide is long (though insignificant after Item One). “Afterward, everyone can’t help but re-interpret everything he every wrote, said, and did through the awareness that he ultimately killed himself” must be on that list somewhere.

It’s a shame, for instance, that sometimes we look at a Van Gogh and fail to see it as a pure joy of perception.

The Illogical Reasons Why You Love Giant Smartphone Screens | Co.Design | business + design

The Illogical Reasons Why You Love Giant Smartphone Screens | Co.Design | business + design.

I’ve no idea why so many commentators are still so committed to “proving” that people who prefer phones with larger screens are wrong. At this stage, a larger phone — even a huge honkin’ pop-tart — is clearly just as credible as an iPhone-sized device.

Those who want a more luxuriously-sized display and those who want something smaller and easier to manage each have options available to them. And that’s terrific!

Apple made no announcements about a bigger iPhone at WWDC. As anticipated, though, there are enough clues in the new guidance they’re giving developers that it sure seems like a lock for the fall.

Is Bill Watterson ghosting “Pearls Before Swine” this week?

Pearls Before Swine” sports a new art style this week. The running joke is that Stephan Pastis, sick of the regular complaint that he draws like a two-year-old child, arrogantly handed his pen to an actual two-year-old. And she’s kicking his butt.

I noted the new style but the thought “Maybe Bill Watterson is ghost-drawing his strip!” didn’t enter my head until this piece on suggested exactly that.

I don’t know if this rumor is true or not. Pastis has responded to queries with “Wait and see.” The revelation at the end is meant to be a surprise (and I’m sure the rumor, even if false, will do nothing but good for the strip).

But I don’t need it to be true. This rumor is like when the multistate lottery jackpot is up to a quarter of a billion dollars (I buy one lottery ticket when the prize can legitimately be expressed as a fraction of a billion). I know in my heart that it won’t happen. But for just a few days, I live in a world where maybe it’s going to happen.

It’s worth a dollar. And when believing in something as cool as “The creator of ‘Calvin And Hobbes’ is drawing a daily strip” cost me nothing? Sold, sold, SOLD.

Pleasure An eBook Will Never Give


Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.” It’s belongs to a personal movie genre: “Movies I love, whose fine qualities didn’t come through to me in the trailer.” The trailer and the ads just didn’t make any kind of impression, despite the fact that the movie stars the always-good Frances McDormand, and thus I didn’t see it until it turned up on cable. I liked it so much that I saw it a bunch of times and then when it went away, I bought a copy for my library. I almost never buy movies.

“Miss Pettigrew” is a gentle, sweet-hearted character piece centering around a magnificent woman who’s long led a life filled with gentle disappointment but also of quiet bravery and admirable endurance. It’s chock-full of strong performances, wall to wall with lovely 1930s set designs, boasting a soundtrack in which even incidental music is worth a download, and powered by a confident sort of storytelling that trusts the audience to pick up on subtlety. It’s dramatic without ever being loud.

And yup, it’s a genre. Almost all of the movies I’ve bought in the past year are titles that I was aware of but wasn’t able to enjoy until they just sort of landed on my TV one day. “The Descendants,” “Up In The Air,” “The Big Year,” “Moonrise Kingdom“…each of them so badly under-served by their theatrical trailers that the only way I was ever going to see these films was if I was only required to look up from my bed and not reach for the remote.

I even liked “Miss Pettigrew” enough to seek out the 1937 novel by Winifred Watson. The book was just as much a treat as the movie. The story is just different enough to make the novel into a different experience and Watson gives the reader more access to Guinevere Pettigrew’s internal monologue. I was enjoying the book so much that I couldn’t bear to not finish reading it during my trip to San Francisco for WWDC.

I should mention that “Miss Pettigrew” is out of print, and you can’t buy it as an ebook unless you can read German. I had to buy a secondhand copy via Amazon. Given that my determination to travel light is starting to amplify itself from a Skill to a Mania, the fact that I chose to tote a slab of paper during a trip in which I only had one shirt is a level of endorsement that can’t be quantified, but must be some multiple of the prestige of a Pulitzer.

I can’t even remember the last time I read a treeware book that didn’t come to me as a gift. As I often say: only a print book can convey the pleasure of a book…but ebooks are just as good at serving the pleasures of reading.

But this trip reminded me of a unique advantage of printed editions.

I finished “Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day” on Tuesday morning. Later that day, I was having tea with a good pal of mine and catching up on things. I praised the book and then recommended that he read it, by way of handing over my copy right there.

I miss lending books to people. I also miss borrowing books from people (and not because I’m a cheapskate. Though the fact that before I handed Miss Pettigrew over, I delicately removed the dollar that I had been using as a bookmark would argue against that point). I enjoy the borrowing and the lending because it’s a tactile, personal, and deeply satisfying endorsement. This is an object that I’ve been holding and carrying for days, weeks, or months. I’ve touched every one of these 240 pages. It has the stains of a few lunches on it.

And remember: I bought it as a secondhand book! It doesn’t have the ugly scar of a remainder, which means that this title had been read by others. The book becomes a shibboleth among people who like to read.

Lest I wallow my way into a luddite essay about the evils of Progress (written on a manual typewriter, with a lede paragraph that explains precisely why the author only writes with manual typewriters), I should point out that I was only able to get this book because Amazon makes it just as easy to locate and buy an out-of-print book as a new title. And though I definitely want to read this book again one day, I gave it away without a second thought. I knew I could get my hands on another copy just as easily.

Isn’t that a terrific twist to modern reading? I used to have to protect my out-of-print books. It was though my copy of “The Book Of Lists” were “The Book Of Kells.” Now, I will eagerly give away a book such as Simon Gray’s “Fat Chance” and not even expect to ever get it back. If it stays in a friend’s library for two years before he reads it…isn’t that a win?

Gifting a book that I like just feels like a more thoughtful kind of recommendation. I would never have watched “Miss Pettigrew” unless the movie happened to already be in my house already. And getting a friend to like something you like is way too important to leave to chance.