Against mediocrity

The one or two people who still check here, months later, to see if anything new has been posted might wonder why I’ve abandoned this site. I haven’t, not really, I just haven’t felt like I had much to say. Still don’t, but in the last couple of days I’ve at least seen some things other people have written that I want to link to, or paste somewhere, just so I can find them later or shove them under other people’s noses.

They’re all rants, as you might have guessed, so they contain bad language and passionate vitriol. Blog rants are like the garage rock of literature, when they’re bad you wonder how anyone can stand it and when they’re good they’re the best thing you’ve ever heard. I read these to be reminded not to settle into a comfortable little spot on my couch and never come out again. I read these to be inspired.

The first is from Merlin Mann, who isn’t exactly hard to find on the internet. I link to it here for the reasons above, and because it presents the best excuse reason yet for my laziness editorial restraint.

What makes you feel less bored soon makes you into an addict. What makes you feel less vulnerable can easily turn you into a dick. And the things that are meant to make you feel more connected today often turn out to be insubstantial time sinks — empty, programmatic encouragements to groom and refine your personality while sitting alone at a screen. Kung Fu Grippe – “Better”.

The second is a rant posted to the off-topic section of a band’s website today. I paste it here instead of linking because it’s really a collection of various posts that need to be seen together, because reposting allows me to edit grammar and capitalization a bit, and because there are parts of the internet I like to keep at arm’s length. If that makes me a bad internet citizen, so be it.

Posted September 05, 2008 02:55 AM
In answer to the question: Tell Me What You Think About U2

They are pretty good. Not great, not shit, but just pretty good. Not quite as good as REM, but alright. Few good songs, couple of genuinely affecting moments like ‘One’ or ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’ or ‘With Or Without You’.

But see, mediocrity will be the death of humanity. It is actually DANGEROUS to lower your standards enough to accept something that is pretty good but pretends to be great. Take Teenage Fanclub. They are mediocre and they know it and that makes them lovable and okay listen to. But U2 genuinely believe they are great. That, that’s actually THE BEST THEY CAN DO. They’re a bank manager’s idea of a great rock and roll band. Quite aside from the fact that they are fronted by a poisonous, self important little tosser who thinks he is a world figure, their music is personally damaging to the listener. We all know that ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ isn’t a bad little tune at all, but its faux epic pretensions and two note riffery through a delay pedal are the beginning of a slippery, slippery slope which ends in utter pointlessness, middle age, bad haircuts, bad breath, tastefully furnished houses, and failure in the sack. If you listen to U2, ultimately, you deserve to die, as you are a danger to the human race. I’ve got no problem with listening to something rubbish…at least it is passionate and inspires a reaction. And I’ve got no problem listening to something brilliant, obviously. But please, please, don’t spend your special, fragile, precious life listening to something that is quite good. It’s a living death. It’s the sound a semi-erect penis would make if it could sing. Burn your U2 records and pray every night for their speedy yet painful death.
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Actually, in the minutes since i posted that, inspired by my maths and music thread, i have reconsidered my position. They are useful as a constant, a kind of cosmological constant of mediocrity. Put simply, if something is better than U2, it is good and worth listening to, and if it is not, then it is bad. There is no need to actually listen to them once you know what they sound like.
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I just proved my own point to myself. I listened to ‘Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses’. And then I fancied a bit of Embrace and quite enjoyed it. If I hadn’t caught myself in time and listened to The Clash as an antidote I would’ve been onto Coldplay, and from there it’s a short fall to the really hard stuff like David Gray, Keane, James Blunt and so forth. It’s like a slow, incremental suicide by auditory torture. It’s a DISEASE.
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We’ve been talking about U2 for an hour now. This is like one of those parties you find yourself going to with your increasingly successful middle class friends, where they talk about the fucking soft furnishings and the local education authority for an hour, and you think, “Am I the only one who would rather strip naked and play Russian Roulette? God, I’m alone in the universe.”

And finally, I can’t resist linking to my all-time favorite rant. I pull this one out a lot, although periodically I have to find it posted somewhere else on the internet since the original site probably only still exists on the Wayback Machine. Fortunately a quick search for “Eggers” and “Selling Out” will find it in no time, since I’m clearly not the only one who holds it close to their heart.

When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, under the same bus wheels I’ll stick my head if need be, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. No to that opportunity, or no to that trip to Nova Scotia or no to that night out, or no to that project or no to that person who wants to be naked with you but you worry about what your friends will say.

No is for wimps. No is for pussies. No is to live small and embittered, cherishing the opportunities you missed because they might have sent the wrong message. Dave Eggers on Selling Out

Did I forget to mention tenants and/or evil neighbors?

“Matt”: now looking at a house
“Matt”: *twitch*
“Alicia”: how are you going to buy a house with no savings? mom and dad?
“Matt”: probably not
“Matt”: mom said she would
“Matt”: as soon as dad paid her for the, “half of the goddamn business”
“Alicia”: hmmm. so that’ll be a while then
“Alicia”: are you serious about buying a house though?
“Matt”: If I can get the payments low enough
“Matt”: do you like paying rent to your landlord so his equity can go up?
“Alicia”: i like not having to deal with repairs, upkeep, taxes and insurance
“Alicia”: not worrying about earthquakes and floods
“Alicia”: not worrying about losing my house, equity and down payment if i have a bad patch financially
“Alicia”: and having money to put in an investment account
“Matt”: :P

Lessons from Pizzeria Delfina

I’ve been working recently to try to improve my homemade pizza skills, inspired in part by my friend Ian who still hasn’t started his food blog. Ahem. Ian does great grilled pizzas, which are tricky because you can’t add the toppings until the crust is already cooking. I am too lazy to start a fire and I don’t have a gas grill so I’m contending with my apartment’s electric oven. I still get decent results, but recently I made my first trip to Pizzeria Delfina and picked up a few tips on topping a pizza from watching the guys behind the counter. They might be obvious but I tend to get stuck in ruts and could use the reminder, so I’m writing them here.

Egg, Chickory, Anchovies and cheese

Egg, Chickory and Anchovy Pizza from Pizzeria Delfina
Photo credit: misocrazy

1. Don’t grate the cheese. The guys behind the counter ripped good-sized chunks of cheese off and scattered them sparingly around, which allowed all the elements to stand out individually. There was enough of it to get a little in each bite if you wanted, but it wasn’t so much a gooey underlayer as a distinct and separate topping.

2. Three toppings is a good rule of thumb. There were some exceptions to the rule but three seems just about right for tasting all of them without crowding.

3. Just about anything can go on a pizza. It’s basically a chewy, crusty bit of bread with some flavorful things on top. Why limit yourself?

4. Many things are better added after it comes out of the oven. This includes but is not limited to: herbs, parmesan, marinated fresh tomatos, seafood. Try doing a pizza with all uncooked toppings. See tip #3.

5. Chunks are good. This is basically an echo of tip #1, but worth repeating. If you want to taste each topping and not just get an amalgam of flavors, add each thing in a chunk so it stands out. Parmesan was added after cooking in fat curls made with a vegetable peeler.

6. Olive oil is a topping. It was drizzled over the majority of pizzas just before serving. Why? Because it’s delicious.

7. Time and moisture are the enemy. Wet toppings like go on last, after the cheese (aka, moisture barrier) has been melted. Pizzas do not sit and wait, if your server isn’t in eyeshot the chef will hand it to you straight over the counter.

8. The toppings should be fresh, the dough should not. Those wonderful crisp bubbles in the crust are the result of a process called retardation, which is a fancy way of saying you should make the dough ahead and leave it in the fridge for a day or so. Mmm, retarded.

Travel plans

I’ve been gearing up for my first big trip in a while, so I’ve been doing quite a bit of research on travel in the post-9/11 climate. Predictably, most of the headaches you might run into are caused by the US State Dept. In an effort to better control the borders (1951 miles to the south, 5522 miles to the north, not even counting both coasts) they’ve made it extra-specially difficult to get a passport and started requiring them even for travel to neighboring countries. It now takes about 12 weeks to get a passport through normal channels, so you can imagine my panic when I couldn’t find mine six weeks before my trip. In fact I didn’t find it until two weeks before, in a box that must have been one of the last ones packed before my last move based on the jumble of papers inside. Whew!

If you find yourself needing a passport in under six weeks, chances are you’ll need to go wait in line at a passport office to get it. If it’s a renewal you can pay someone to do this, but if you’ve lost yours you’ll have to go yourself. You aren’t allowed to get an “emergency” passport until two weeks before you need it, and you have to bring proof that you’re traveling within two weeks or have to submit your passport for a visa within that time. The following are the links I saved in case I needed to do this.

Violet Blue’s post about passport hell (in case you’re in doubt about how bad it is)

SF Chronicle article about how bad it is (good for scaring yourself into action ASAP)

State Dept’s passport page (keep in mind that the information is “best case scenario” and typically out-of-date)

National Passport Information Center (where to call when you need to find out if your passport will ever show up in time)

Passport Agencies (where to call for an appointment to go in person after you realize your passport will not show up in time)

Tips for Getting a Passport (Patricia Kushlis’ WhirledView blog is THE most reliable and up-to-date source of information on getting a US passport today, more excellent coverage and info here)

It’s also interesting to see what governments and transportation agencies have been doing to try to improve security and speed up processing. The US has visitors get their picture taken and fingerprints scanned through the US-VISIT program. The UK has a voluntary retinal scan program called IRIS for residents and frequent visitors who want to bypass long security lines. SFO has recently joined the Registered Traveler Program (also voluntary) which is a service provided by a private company. They do a background check and you pay a yearly fee to breeze through security as a “pre-screened” passenger. I have to say that I’m more comfortable with my government scanning my eyeball than I am with them taking a private company’s word that I’m not a threat, especially a private company with an interest in taking my money. It’ll be interesting to see which of these programs take off and which are abandoned over time.

Snip!

Just noticed the t-shirt customizing tutorial at the Willotoons shop, thanks to Sarah Hatter’s link. I’ve been eying a few things in the shop since it opened, including the eat. sleep. rock. repeat shirt that Jonathan thinks should be “sleep. eat. rock. repeat.” because “eat” and “repeat” rhyme. English majors, eh?

It’s really close to what I’ve been doing to the boy’s shirts I always end up with, which really need the neckline and sleeve treatments to feminize them. I never thought of doing the bottom hem like that though, I love how it makes the look without losing length. One difference between her style and mine is that I look best in v-neck shirts, so I always cut a wide V at the neck.  It’s even easier than the scoop neck because you don’t need a starting cut at the back or even to cut through the neckband: just fold the shirt in half with the crease down the middle of the front, pinch the crease and start your cut right at the bottom of your V, angling back to the shoulder seam about an inch away from the neckline.

I’ll try to come back and add a pic later, but I wanted to post this while I thought of it since I never seem to remember what I planned to say. Before Kristan became obsessed with socks she was a mad genius with the t-shirt surgery, maybe she’ll share some of her tricks next.

Speaking up

I’ve been keeping quiet on a lot of things lately; when I have a very small thought I just twitter it, and when I have a lot to say I find it harder and harder to find the right words.

Kathy Sierra has recently posted a call for suggestions on how to move forward without drawing personal attacks, and I’ve broken my online silence to add my two cents. I wish I could tell you something profound about online interaction or gender relations, but all I can say is that I want to continue hearing her viewpoint and I think she could easily make a business of it. And also I really hate it when the bad guys win.

Fun with forensics

My roommate gets some strange catalogs delivered to her work sometimes, but my favorite by far has been the Armor Forensics catalog. Check out the products list.

That’s right, you too can own a portable glue fuming kit, ballistics chamber, or umm…TranZport hood. Okay, that last one is just weird. But how often have you wished you had a odor perception inhibitor, or evidence bags for your officemate’s week-old turkey sandwich? The printed catalog is even better, with lab activities (for the kids!), electronics, photo documentation kits and more. If you’re a CSI junkie you should definitely go check this out.