Category: Maria Barnes

Notes from the New Normish

Hi, we’re alive and fine. My privilege is as evident as ever, as my daily routine of isolation with Kat resembles what Maria called “an extended snow day,” mostly but not entirely without snow. I hurt for the sick and grieving; I worry for the essential and vulnerable; I watch Bon Appetit and experiment with vegan baking; I do my internet job and I watch out my window and wait. Here are some things that have held my interest in the last little while.

  1. As mentioned in asides, I read too much about menswear online and off these days. My favorite habit is to bargain-hunt for clothes from Japan on eBay, prance around the living room in them to aggravate Kat, and then secret them away so I can buy more. But the emergent result is that I’ve learned a lot about things I might have disdained ten years ago. I don’t have any special interest in James Bond, for instance, but Matt Spaiser’s blog about the tailoring of the films has taught me a ton about men’s fashion in the last sixty years. His post on how Cary Grant’s suit in North by Northwest (1959) went on to influence Bond’s costuming is a great example of the dry clarity of his writing.
  2. It seems like I’ve never written about Porpentine Charity Heartscape here before, which is strange, as her work has loomed large in my view and admiration for… seven years? Eight? Her work in writing and game design blends the sweet, the filthy, the transgender and transhuman, the pure and the skin-crawlingly cute in a way I find singular in every sense. If that sentence doesn’t hint at some content warnings, then I hope this one does. But that boundary is very much worth braving if you are so emotionally equipped. Her recent story “Dirty Wi-Fi” on Strange Horizons is a good introduction to her prose and perspective.
  3. Despite my limited dabbling in microelectronics, I can’t follow many of the technical specifics in this review of process and call for aid on a final, perfect Super Nintendo emulator. But the SNES was a system that still informs my design and aesthetic sensibilities, twenty-seven years later, and I respect the author’s work very much. The most striking quote to me:

    “I can tell you why this is important to me: it’s my life’s work, and I don’t want to have to say I came this close to finishing without getting the last piece of it right. I’m getting older, and I won’t be around forever. I want this final piece solved.”

    What an extraordinary thing it seems, to me, to know what your life’s work is. I hope one day I do.

“Who’s the agent in charge to get my sister-in-law into bed these days.”

In the grand tradition of Dada Everything, and appropriately via Adam Parrish, comes Josh Millard’s Previously, on the X-Files… It’s fun! In a few minutes of hitting refresh to perform my valuable human function of sorting random nonsense from random inspiration, I was able to generate some pretty great stuff, like Dana Lebowski, Scully’s Terrible Realization and Scully/Langly: Dance Remix. But the best part about it is that the transcripts from which it draws seem to include a great many standalone ellipses, which work beautifully in the context of textual noise. Besides creating these amazing awkward moments, you also get tense standoffs and very confused Mulders and this spectacular failure to communicate.

Someone make one of these for Next Generation now please yes.

Rock Band Wishlist

My phone has no ringtones and I’ve never owned a CD I didn’t rip, but the record industry has finally found a way to get even me to pay for songs I already own: Rock Band. At least the downloadable tracks have the value-add of being interactive at multiple levels. What they do not have, sadly, is a way to cater exclusively to my taste. Until now!

I put these together working on the three-songs-per-band model they’ve established on Live so far, and basically within the creators’ bent toward three- or four-piece groups and a fairly narrow definition of “rock.” Also with the fact that I don’t really know anything about music before 1998.


  • “Brand New Baby”
  • “Closing Time” (well, I mean, come on)
  • “Get a Grip”

Queen, although I know these are all impossible for one reason or another:

  • “Bohemian Rhapsody”
  • “Under Pressure”
  • “Killer Queen”

Jimmy Eat World:

  • “Lucky Denver Mint”
  • “Sweetness”
  • “Nightdrive”

Barenaked Ladies (man, this is hard):

  • “Brian Wilson (live)”
  • “Too Little Too Late”
  • “Maybe You’re Right”

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists:

  • “Me and Mia”
  • “Counting Down the Hours”
  • “La Costa Brava”

I know there are already a million Foo Fighters songs, but still:

  • “Everlong”
  • “Breakout”
  • “All My Life”

The New Pornographers:

  • “Mass Romantic”
  • “Letter from an Occupant”
  • “Sing Me Spanish Techno”

And, finally, U2 (yeah, I know they’re working on it):

  • “Desire”
  • “Mysterious Ways”
  • “If God Will Send His Angels”

I invite you to eviscerate me in commentary, or post your own wishlists. Maria, for example: Prince? Lisa: TMBG? Someone: Beck or the Decemberists?

Update 1432 hrs: Andy suggests replacing “Sing Me Spanish Techno” with “The Bleeding Hearts Show,” and offers a Tragically Hip three-pack:

  • “New Orleans Is Sinking”
  • “38 Years Old”
  • “Fireworks”

And Ken, inevitably, has a list with a lot more depth than mine:


  • “Canned Heat”
  • “Alright”
  • “Black Capricorn Day”

Smashing Pumpkins:

  • “Cherub Rock”
  • “Bullet With Butterfly Wings”
  • “Today”

Guns N Roses:

  • “Welcome to the Jungle”
  • “Live and Let Die”
  • “Nighttrain”

Pearl Jam:

  • “Life Wasted”
  • “Alive”
  • “Rearviewmirror”

Talking Heads:

  • “Psycho Killer”
  • “Uh Oh, Love Comes to Town”
  • “Take Me to the River”

Beck (most doesn’t translate well to guitar, bass and drums):

  • “Loser”
  • “E-Pro”
  • “The New Pollution”


  • “Don’t You Evah”
  • “I Turn My Camera On”
  • “Sister Jack”

Jimi Hendrix:

  • “Spanish Castle Magic”
  • “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”
  • “Fire”

Pink Floyd:

  • “Comfortably Numb”
  • “Money”
  • “Arnold Layne”


  • “Smoke Two Joints”
  • “Santeria”
  • “Pawn Shop”

And single songs:

  • The Dandy Warhols – “Bohemian Like You”
  • TV on the Radio – “Wolf Like Me”
  • !!! – “Must Be the Moon”
  • Arctic Monkeys – “I’ll Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”
  • Styx – “Renegade”

And Scott put up a list for Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears, who would be insanely fun (and REALLY HARD) to play in RB–not impossible, either, as Harmonix has been pretty good to indie rock:

  • Flight of the Knife
  • Imitation of the Sky
  • Son of Stab

This is for everybody who misses how the Internet used to bag on Studio 60

The sitcom is killing sketch comedy.

Maria was emailing around this one Muppets bit from Seth Rogen’s stint on SNL and she apologized if anyone had already seen it, but, as she pointed out, “nobody watches SNL anymore.” This is hardly news. SNL’s function now is not so much to be watched as to give Andy Samberg Emmys for songs that have a penis joke. The only reason I’d even set it playing on the Tivo was because they had Spoon on, marking the first and only time I’ve deliberately watched the show for the music.

The rest of the show was factory standard, a very careful reenactment of the weekly SNL ritual (is it really a coincidence that part of the show actually airs on Sunday?). The freshest joke was a Macgyver reference. Macgyver ceased production before some of you were born.

I’ve mentioned here before that sketch comedy is unprofitably hard; not coincidentally, I was talking about Studio 60 at the time, like I’m about to do now.

Studio 60 had a running thing where one of the writer-performers wrote and led a commedia dell’arte sketch in several episodes, evidently so Aaron Sorkin could demonstrate that he took Intro to Theater History. The focus groups hated it but the head writer heroically kept it in until it could build an audience (“Matt, Matt! This week two guys in Dallas liked it!”). There are a few problems here.

  1. Commedia dell’arte isn’t funny.
  2. At least, not in and of itself, and not anymore; humor needs context, and a modern audience–even an audience that took Intro to Theater History–doesn’t have the same context as one composed of 16th-century Venetians.
  3. Dated and ritualized forms of comedy getting inexplicably more popular every week is the kind of thing that can only happen in fiction.
  4. Unfortunately for Studio 60, it can’t happen believably even there.

Now, could you write a funny sketch that incorporated the stock types and exaggerated physicality of commedia dell’arte? I doubt it. What you could do is write a ten-minute play or one-act, which gives you the time to introduce the conventions to the audience, set things up going in a direction that the tropes predict, upend the whole thing and finish with a telling and funny point about the form’s influence on modern writing.

Studio 60 tried to go a lot of places, but that wasn’t one of them. Sorkin, bless him, doesn’t do reexamination; he does reverence.

This is where I get back to SNL, as revered an institution as exists in modern television, nowhere moreso than within itself. Like Studio 60, it can’t bear self-examination; the brand of comedy in which it traffics is built high and shakily on mannerisms that date back to Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, or even Abbott and Costello. It persists entirely due to inertia and the occasional breakout YouTube bit (ever noticed, by the way, that those look and sound like nothing else on the show?).

Now, when every network ran three or four sitcoms and they all made use of the same stylized rhythm as sketch, that was enough: they supplied each other with context. But sitcoms don’t work that way anymore. Poetically, it’s due in part to Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night that shows like Arrested Development, The Office and My Name is Earl were able to take hold and eventually shatter the studio-audience / three-camera format.

I misstated my thesis at the beginning; it’s not so much that sitcoms are killing sketch as that sitcoms have been its life support, and now they’re pulling plugs out, one by one. If the dependency holds, SNL has about as much time left as Two and a Half Men. Both of them are rigid guardians of their genre and flagship shows. Personally, as Matt Boyd once said about syndicated comics, I want to punch a hole in that boat.

Ommatidia cover mockup round 2 go!

Brendan Adkins: Ommatidia

The images I wanted to use have since been withdrawn from CC license and weren’t working out right anyway; this one is from this lovely composite shot by DimSumDarren and it’s a lot subtler, I think. Possibly too subtle. Maria pointed out that those are not technically ommatidia, but she also pointed out that “eww,” which is a better reaction than anything I managed with the bug-eye attempts.

So close, guys, we are so close to a finished book. Quick poll (and yes, COMMENTS ARE ACTUALLY OPEN): how long did it take you to notice that something in the picture was a little off?

And now it is later

I read the arrival time on my ticket as the departure time. That is what I did. That is the stupidest and most expensive mistake I have ever made.

My housemates kindly refused to let me heave all my luggage to Heathrow myself, and so we set out together with a bag apiece at a little after 10 am. We took the express and I was at the check-in counter by 11:15, smirking at the former self who had worried about transportation time and long lines. There was no line! There was only a brusque man explaining that my flight was not at 1:00, it had been at 10:30.

I explained that I had still been on the first of several public transportation routes at 10:30.

The brusque man directed me to the ticketing counter.

I got on standby for the next flight for 200 bucks, and I did end up on it, and my seat was actually one of the best on the plane. I completely missed the last plane to Louisville from O’Hare, of course, but got on a different standby flight to Lexington and Saint Maria drove out to those hinterlands in the middle of the night to pick me up.

It should be noted that my seat on the Lexington flight was also impossibly good. Here’s what I have learned about American Airlines: reserve a seat and get fucked, or get on standby for infinite leg room and an unobstructed window view. I’m never flying on a reserved ticket again! Wait, no, I said “on a reserved ticket” when I meant “anywhere.”

My original mistake almost ended up much more costly than I anticipated. The somewhat hilarious coda is that, during my panicky evening in O’Hare, I had to make a number of pay phone calls to David Flora and Maria, trying to figure out whether I would have to stay overnight in Chicago in order to get a morning flight to Louisville. I had forgotten that trying to call a nonlocal number (like, say, any cell phone ever) from a pay phone requires more quarters than I could have held in my cupped hands, so I had to charge all these to my credit card. This meant swiping the card directly on the phone, punching in the number on the keypad, and reading it aloud to the operator before I could connect.

Apparently someone wandered by and listened to me obligingly reading out the number, expiration date, CV2, et cetera, and proceeded to charge an amount greater than my entire credit limit to the card. Capital One actually noticed and denied it; their overenthusiastic fraud department often made things inconvenient in London, but my attitude toward them is much warmer now. I’ll miss my old card number, though, which I’ve had memorized for almost ten years. Farewell, 5291071505966037! May you serve Internet in poor decision-making as well as you did me.

There is a subtext to this story: I had three friends in London to help take my luggage all the way to Heathrow, buy me yogurt and let me send emergency emails from their phones. Those emails went to more friends, one of whom was willing to put me up in Chicago, another of whom was willing to drive to tiny airports late at night just so I could get home when I wanted. I traveled across seven time zones and I had people offering me help at every step. Who cares how much ticket changes or credit card scammers might cost me? I’m rich.

The insignificance of numbers

Today I posted the 1001st story in Anacrusis, and I wanted to do something a little different for the occasion: an audio story, read aloud by a startling array of generous people. I thought the hardest part would be actually asking them to read the silly little thing without cringing, and the next-hardest would be the actual mixing process. It turns out that the hard part is not being able to use all the material from everyone for the whole thing. They were all so good!

Thanks to Robert Baker-Self, Maria Barnes, Amanda and Jon Brasfield, David Clark, Amanda Dale, Kevan Davis, John Dixon, Holly Gramazio, Josh Hadley, Sumana Harihareswara, Stephen Heintz, Catriona Mackay, William O’Neil, Leonard Richardson, Kristofer Straub, and everyone who’s had a kind or critical word to say about Anacrusis. Let’s do this again when we hit 10,201.


The animal turned one year old on Tuesday; there was a party with cake and everything, which I got to attend via webcam. We live in the future.

Wednesday night (or Thursday morning) I was too exhausted to write another story for the Anacrusis queue, so Maria wrote one for me. You probably cannot guess what it is about.

Once there was the puppiest chomper in all the land. She woke up in
her chompy bed scratching her chompy head. Today was an especially chompy day.

She climbed into all the windows and looked out. She took all the
socks from the hamper and hid them. She sniffed.

Something was off.

The chomper followed Person to the car. They went adventuring!
Person bought a large box.

They got home. All of the chomper’s friends sang songs to her and
gave her stuff and there was a cake with her name on it!

It was the chompiest. She went to sleep.

Brenna is concerned about the cake.

I never remember that when I need to apply a style to a server-side generated element, I don’t have to dig ten stupid lib files deep into the PHP or whatever and add a class attribute, I can just put it in a span (or div) and style all the elements of type x within that. So in case you forget the easy way to style server-side generated elements: put them in a span or div and style all the elements of type x within that!

Okay, hi. Working a lot.

Maria visited last week, and alleviated any potential self-absorbed silliness just by being here. But we also went to Brighton and the Tower of London (pictures soon), and played lots of games, including some with Leonard and Sumana. London had changed its mind and decided to be cold, but at least it didn’t start snowing until she was on her way home. I am still not doing my fair share of the cooking.