Author Archives: Ihnatko

About Ihnatko

I'm a technology pundit. I claim to be internationally-beloved, but if you challenge me on it I'll change the subject entirely and talk about my regular columns for The Chicago Sun-Times, Macworld, The Mac Observer, my series of best-selling tech books for Wiley Publishing, and my regular appearances on The CBS Early Show. If that fails, I'll show you my Red Cross donor card. Can you possibly not like somebody who regularly donates blood? If so, then I don't even want your approval.

“Fake News”

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

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

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

Some fitness rewards can’t be tracked by an app

The fellow waiting behind me at the market didn’t seem annoyed, or impatient, and I didn’t intend to give him any reason to be. I tried to load all of my shopping into my backpack as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The clerk was handing me bottles as he was scanning them.

“You’re going to carry all of this home…in that?” he asked. Continue reading

Farewell, Doctor

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

Continue reading

End the suckage of 2016 with fonts from the 2017 Comicraft sale!

If, at the end of “The Wizard Of Oz,” one of the three freaks who somehow blagged themselves onto Dorothy’s warrior quest asked the Wizard for “an ineffable and infallable sense of visual design,” he would have responded thusly:

“My lad, I have read catalogues, advertisements, book covers, movie posters, and product packaging. I have attended design conferences and watched endless keynotes from the best minds that ever escaped from Madison Avenue, who, when confronted for the first time with actual reality, could only speak in adverbs. Softly. Continue reading

Why ALMANAC #2 is super-crazy-late

Thanks, everyone, for your wonderful reaction to the first episode of my new podcast, “Almanac“!

It’s intended to be (and will be) a weekly-ish show. So why has it been a month already and now Show #0002?

While Almanac isn’t going to be an “Andy spouts off about what’s on his mind at the moment” show (well, not primarily, anyway), I feel like the next show has to focus on my reactions to the election. Because, truth be told, I’ve been thinking about little else. Continue reading

Check out my new podcast:

"Almanac" podcast logo

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

Here’s a direct iTunes subscription link!

Here’s a direct Overcast subscription link!

Here’s a direct Pocket Casts subscription link!

RSS? Sure! Here’s an RSS link!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is “Almanac” about?

Oh, you bastard.

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

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

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

This’ll be followed by something scripted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But first, I checked Twitter…

And then The New York Times…

… … ……

…Oh holy ****warts.

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

I hope you like it, all, the same.

Why I Often Buy Kids-Oriented Comics

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

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

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

The #LibertyDonut


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How much do you love this country?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also a fatter one.

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



(Podcast) Material #47: “Removed Your Head In Daydream? No Donuts For You!”

Material #47: “Removed Your Head In Daydream? No Donuts For You!”

Russell, Yasmine and I got to spend an hour talking about Google’s VR plans in general and Daydream in particular, with Google senior designers Manuel Clément and Robbie Tilton. It was a swell opportunity to go beyond the hardware that was demonstrated at I/O and talk about the level of thought that goes into the creation of an entirely new UI.

I’m eager to see how far developers take VR. Gaming is the most obvious application but to me, it’s the least interesting. We recorded the episode over a Skype video call, as usual. Why do we use video chat, when Material is released as audio? It’s because we have a better conversation when we can all see each other and pick up all kinds of little visual cues.

Over the course of the hour I couldn’t help but think about how a VR recording session would be even better. Even if I were interacting with four VR approximations of flat video screens, the ability to turn to face the person I’m focusing on would root me in the conversation, and it’s also help everyone to feel the direction of the talk as it moves between people.

Oculus Theater kind of blew my mind when I used it for the first time. It’s a simple MP4 video player that inserts the 2D video into the screen of a multiplex-style theater environment, rendered in 3D. It’s way more than a cute little demo. I was watching “1776” in a real theater, which meant that for the first time I got to see it as the filmmakers intended. I’ve seen this movie on video a hundred times but this was the first time I was aware that certain people and actions were meant to be in my peripheral vision as I focused on just one side of the screen.

I’m looking forward to more revelations like that one. The good stuff in VR will come after lots of conversations about how people truly interact with their environment and with each other.

(Podcast) IA #00175 – “Dusted With Glitter”

Dan Benjamin is back in this week’s Ihnatko Almanac!

We did a little bit of catching up. My chat with Greg Pak last week led to a conversation about Kickstarter. And since Dan and I haven’t talked in a while, we naturally started getting into recent comics and why I even like the comics I don’t like.

I also have almost two hours of monologue about Google I/O on my hard drive. I’m hoping to edit it down to something manageable but even more than that, I want to actually release an episode containing this content. So I might just have to hold my nose, commend my soul to God, and post it as-is.

Tornado Town, USA | FiveThirtyEight

Tornado Town, USA | FiveThirtyEight:

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


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

Standard In The S-Class Model

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

I Am Deep Thought

Welp! I screwed myself real good last night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Podcast) IA Episode #00174 – “Greg Pak/Kickstarter Secrets”

The latest episode of The Ihnatko Almanac is now up! This time, I’m talking with my pal Greg Pak about his latest Kickstarter project. “Kickstarter Secrets” is a practical, protein-packed PDF that’ll guide you through running a successful Kickstarter campaign, from concept to fulfillment.

I backed it (at my usual “skinflint” level) as soon as he announced it. It appears to be exactly what I’ve been hoping for. This isn’t a TED talk on creativity and the new crowdsourcing economy (with all due respect to TED). This is going to be a book full of specific warnings, answers, and encouragement, with the full authority of someone who’s successfully funded (and shipped!) several books. The “shipped” part is fairly important, you know. A creator should have several sensible fears before pushing the Big Green Button, and one of the largest should be “will fulfilling the rewards I’ve promised be an albatross around my neck for anywhere from a whole year to the rest of my life?”

As Greg and I discussed on the show, I’ve been tempted by Kickstarter for a few years now. His book will be delivered in October and I reckon that’s enough time for me to finish writing something that I can Kickstart.

(I am, alas, a creature of deadlines. I kind of need to see that brick wall off in the distance before I can plant my goalposts on a project.)

Subscribe to The Ihnatko Almanac, or listen right here:

And back “Kickstarter Secrets”! Even if you aren’t thinking about using Kickstarter for anything, I’m sure it’s going to be a great “behind the scenes” look at the mechanism that enables so many ideas to become reality. Also, at the $22 level you’ll also receive a damn fine library of PDFs containing Greg’s comics work with Jonathan Coulton and his terrific kids’ books. The campaign ends on Wednesday morning.

Incidentally, the weekly Almanac has been…something Less Than Weekly recently, and I apologize for that. I like doing the show with Dan, and prefer it immensely to doing a solo show like this one (even when I’m talking to someone fab, like Greg). Dan and I had a regular weekly appointment to record the show and it worked great for a year or two. Now, alas, the sands of time have shifted and Thursday mornings have found one or both of us with another commitment.

We’re working to set up a new schedule (along the lines of “put our heads together once a month and hash out that month’s recording calendar”). I love recording with Dan and I hope to keep doing shows with him more or less forever.

(With bathroom breaks. I like recording with Dan, but catheterization seems like sort of an extreme expression of commitment.) 

“Avengers” movies and choices made

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

So I’m not gonna go see this new one.

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

The logic of these statements seems irrefutable.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Status Report

Well Red

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easy come, easy snow.

A video posted by Andy Ihnatko (@ihnatko) on

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