RL218 - The Valve

This week, Merlin and John talked about:

The problem: He tried to solve his darkness, referring to George Harrison of The Beatles which John found to be very dark.

The show title refers to John’s trouble with the internet at his office, where he describes the Internet as a series of tubes in a salt-mine in Utah and his connection as a valve that he has no control over.

Draft version
The segments below are drafts that will be incorporated into the rest of the Wiki as time permits.

The Internet as a series of tubes, Internet in John’s office (RL218)

The Internet in America is provided by a company even though the Internet itself exists in a sphere as a series of tubes under the Rocky Mountains between Salt Lake City and Colorado in an old salt mine tunnel owned by Jeff Bezos with a biohazard billboard outside so that future generations who don’t speak languages anymore but are wandering the dessert post-apocalypse will know that either there is a giant Metal concert happening there or that this is where the Internet lives and don’t mess with it!

The tubes or tendrils come out of there and at some point there is coitus interruptus between the tendrils and John at a portal in-between, let’s call it a valve. The valves are controlled by companies, in the case of John’s office by a company called Wave which has the exclusive rights to provide Internet, something that was negotiated at a level above John’s access. John can only use the very inconsistent Internet provided by Wave. Sometimes the valve slams shut and then John will be in a situation where he has to take out his big chief notebook and write down some very angry letters to various minxes. Sometimes he fears that his valve might have been permanently sealed.

John called customer service and talked to a nice man. At a certain point John yelled at him and at a certain point the person reverted to customer service formality and said ”Sir, before you swore at me”, but all John had said was ”Bullshit!”, which isn’t swearing. Now John is broadcasting from a separate location where the tubes are clear, the valve is open and the Internet is provided by a different company. It is Comcast-Internet, another provider that is some kind of oligopoly. They don’t care about John either, he has been on the phone with them before, and he might have even said ”Bullshit!” to them as well. John wants unfeathered, unrestricted access to the tubes. He wants to control his own valve. What about Net Neutrality?

This was their 4th attempt to record this show in the last week and a half because of John’s Wave problem and valve issue. The error message was coming from John’s router and Merlin was trying to help John troubleshoot and log into that because maybe it needed to rebooted. The Wave people have the ability to reboot John’s router remotely and they were able to see the router and they said it seemed fine. "Looks fine from here!" John said ”Listen to me, this isn’t my first rodeo!”, which is a good phrase that John normally doesn’t use because it is kind of trend.

Merlin continues to talk about his frustration with Internet problems and the fact that he cannot do anything about it. John continues to tell the story from when he called the Wave customer support. He and the person ended up being good friends, because he went away to talk to somebody and put John on hold with some jazzy music and when he came back both of them had calmed down and he was talking to John in a human voice and John apologized for his earlier outburst. They proceeded in a very human way and at the end he said that he understands how frustrated this is, because he would be frustrated if he were in John’s situation.

He went off script there and if this call was being recorded for quality assurance, let’s hope nobody will review it. Then he offered John some dates for the Wave guy to come by which were not good because they were too late for John’s podcast on Monday at 10:00am. The last time he had was Sunday at 2pm, but John doesn’t want to be in his office for 6 hours on a Sunday waiting for a Wave guy. Sunday Funday! None of the times were convenient to John, because it is never going to be convenient to sit at the office without Internet for 4-6 hours waiting for the repair man to come. It would mean sitting in front of a computer from 1997 and go through old files and try to remember why he put that in a file.

John’s old stories that he copied over at The Stranger

John had a bunch of toast-size 3,5” floppy discs that he took to The Stranger, Seattle’s weekly alternative paper, back before he was feuding with them the most recent time. They had some old Mac hooked up to their system and you could put in floppies and translate them into a contemporary format. There were like 800 files where John had sat down after smoking a doobie and written what we would now call a blog post, but which at the time was a post for a zine that he had the idea to publish one day, but which he never did publish.

It was the time before John had ever published anything and he would sit down at the typewriter or the computer and he would write some garbage filling the page with his feelings or observations. Via that process he did actually develop a writing style! John has hundreds and hundreds of these pages and he translated them into a format that he can now open on his 1998 computer while he is waiting for the Internet and read some of those wonderful historical unposted posts. He is unable to delete them because they are part of the historical record, or edit them, because that would be like going back and putting shockwaves around the destruction of a planet. It is a Paul McCartney problem: Never go back, always go forward!

Those stories are albatrosses that nobody is ever going to read because John is not going to publish them in a zine. Will he give them to his daughter when he dies? Every one of them, if you pursue it long enough, will turn into another year passing where death is raking up his year into a garbage bag that looks like a pumpkin. Nothing ever gets better, does it? It is Sisyphus all over again! People are trying to make more rather than better. More and slightly different, but not better! Merlin tells the story of John Siracusa’s dilemma with his toaster ovens. In 1978 everybody had a toaster oven that did what it was supposed to do and it did it dependably. If you can find one in a thrift store, it will still work. But now you can buy a toaster oven for $19 from Walgreens that is a piece of shit! Why can’t we have more knobs? John doesn’t want a digital display, he doesn’t want a button to scroll through something, but give him a knob!

The Beatles (RL218)

Merlin listened to The Beatles this weekend. They are a good band! George wrote some mean songs and he had a Rolling Stones fever where he was really mad at women for a while. Still waters run deep, except in the case of George. Obviously he is John’s favorite Beatle! He was a dark little dude and that is why he went to the Swami-land and to Hare Krishna. Whatever was dark and fucked-up about Lennon was right on the face of thing, and whatever was dark about Paul, who was probably the darkest man who ever lived, was so bary (?).

If you took the ”They live” of human face-mask off of Paul, you would find a many-tentacled Cthulhu. Ringo is the only Beatle who is genuinely nice. He is purely a nice person. There is something dark in George that he tried to solve and John admires him for that, which is why he is John’s favorite Beatle. He is also the smallest Beatle. Ringo is not necessarily taller than George, but he is bigger than George. If you put them in a mass-spectrometer, Ringo would have bigger molecules.

There are a few songs by George that make John as happy as any music. He can’t explain exactly why these George Harrison tunes made John happier than almost any other Beatles song, but they did. ”I want to tell you” makes John happy just to think about. Savoy Truffle is the thing that you just go WTF and nobody puts that on their list of best Beatles songs, but John really likes it together with Within You Without You. Then there is his solo record, ”What is life?” with lyrics that make no sense at all. There is a track on the Internet of Clapton playing guitar on What is Life (here is the isolated track). John couldn’t believe that this Clapton-y thing was really in there and it wasn’t because George pulled it out when they were mixing and they noticed that it was not really working. That is a thing George Harrison can do: Not use the Clapton track! If Clapton played some Chooglin thing on a Long Winters song, John would feel somewhat obligated to have it in the track. John found muting the Clapton track really cool.

Toaster Ovens and Microwaves (RL218)

John did not have a toaster oven in his home when he was growing up living with his mom and sister, but they just had a toaster. Merlin thinks that this is like having no calculator in the house. They had a calculator and John’s mom is not afraid of science and math, she is the original STEM baller (?) and knows how to use a graphing calculator, which John never figured out. He spent many afternoons pushing the cosine-button, watch what it did and wondering what that meant. BOOBS, SHELL.

John had never seen a toaster oven because it never came up and his dad didn’t have one either. Later on in college some kid had a toaster oven in his room and you could put a piece of pizza in there! What a miraculous thing! They were however early adopters of the microwave and got one fairly early in the consumerization of nuclear power in about 1980. It was the size of a 1980s stereo speaker, but there was not that much in there.

Merlin once tried to cook a chicken in the microwave and what he did to this animal was unspeakable. The original marketing of the microwave needed to make this new technology feel like a regular oven and you could do stuff like browning. People’s idea of microwaves was that they were dangerous and made their food toxic, but they didn't really cook anything but maybe scrambled eggs and that is really gross! Merlin’s microwave did not have that setting or he didn’t know how to use it and the chicken was basically like a pile of human skin. It was yellow and crackly and very unpleasant and Merlin had to let it go. When he was in college he used to cook in his bathroom, but that is a different issue.

The microwave John and his family had in 1980 continued to be with them into the 1990s and when John moved to Seattle, he took it with him and put it on top of the refrigerator because it had the same width. One day he came home, opened the front door and was greeted with a blast of hot air. All the windows were steamed and he was like ”What the?” For a brief moment he thought that some amazing woman would be showering in his apartment and she would say in a Russian accent ”We have been watching you!” John mimed taking out his pistol from inside his shoulder holster between his tweet jacket and his turtleneck, he peered into the bathroom, thinking there would be a lovely Russian spy, but in fact there was not.

As he walked into the kitchen, the microwave was on and had been on all day. It had turned itself on. "What the what?" He ran in, pushed the stop button, but it did not stop. Even back in 1996 John did absolutely feel that the whole apartment might be full of Radon and he ran out. The first rule is that you never put metal in the microwave and the second rule is that you never have nothing in the microwave. John ran back in, unplugged it and stayed out of there for the rest of the day.

As he came back in very suspiciously, there was still no-one interesting in the shower and he immediately set about moving out of this apartment, but he left the microwave, because this was also the apartment where the manager said ”I didn’t make the rat, God made the rat!” (see RW44) John left the apartment with a rat under the refrigerator, he took all the lightbulbs and he left the microwave. The landlord either had a whole mess to clean up or he just rented the apartment with the microwave.

Rules of robotics

  • You are not allowed to hurt people
  • Don’t hurt other microwaves
  • Don’t go on by yourself
  • Stay on the road, Stay Off The Moors
  • Never initiate a land war in Asia
  • No Sushi on Sunday
  • Don’t invade Russia in the fall
  • Don’t go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line

All these things should have been in the microwave’s prime directive. There are 40 Merlin Mann parody accounts on Twitter, but there are no Merlin Mann e-books!

Hollywood actors look small (RL218)

Randall Craig is 6’3” (190 cm) like John, but he seems bigger than John, which is probably because many Hollywood actors are really small. Nicolas Cage is only 6’ (180 cm) which means he is really 5’9” (175 cm). John Travolta is 6’2” (187 cm), which seems like a stretch, Sylvester Stallone is 5’10” (178 cm). John saw a picture of somebody standing next to Sylvester Stallone and he was the size of a waste paper basket and his nose was wider than he was tall.

UFOs and planes (RL218)

John Siracusa thinks that Merlin’s account is very weird, but Merlin doesn’t get that. John says that Merlin makes references to things that are flying through the sky.

John watched a video from a control tower in the 1970s. The control guys were talking to 3 pilots who had seen and UFO, all describing it to each other and talking about it, but at the end, the air traffic controller asked ”Do you want to report this?” and the pilots go ”Not me!” and it just went down the stream. When you are looking at stuff as a pilot, your whole game is ”What is that? How far away is that? What altitude is it? What direction is it headed? and At what speed is it moving?” Looking at things in the sky and talk to the tower about it is all pilots do all day long. Seeing an unknown thing that doesn’t belong there and the tower sees it or they don’t and they call the military base and the military says it is not one of theirs, then what do you do? If you report it, you will be on the front page of the newspaper!

There are times when Merlin is on his back porch looking at the sky and trying to identify which things are planes over the Pacific. There are times when both him and his daughter look up and think that those planes look way too close and they look like they are headed in the same direction, which obviously they must not be. Last year he looked out the window of the plane he was flying in and all of a sudden another plane went by the other direction really fast and it scared the shit out of him!

Imagining having a private airplane (RL218)

Merlin spent a lot of time on FlightAware looking at flight patterns. There is a boat service like FlightAware, too, where you can put in the registration number of a boat and find out who owns it and other information. If you are in a place and see a giant yacht and want to know what asshole owns that yacht, you can look it up!

The other day John Hodgman was in London and he sent John a picture of a Learjet that was painted all black and right on the front of it was the head of the old Woody Woodpecker, the same tattoo that was on Randall Craig ”Tex” Cobb (at first they say John Matuszak) and Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona. Hodgman said ”Let’s buy this airplane!” and went to FlightAware to look it up and it was owned by an LLC called something dumb. It was a situation where somebody with more money than brains thought they should buy their Learjet through a broker like Glenn Fry and then to rattle-can it black and put a Woody Woodpecker on it so that people will know they are coming.

It is noble to get to a point in life where you are successful enough that nobody tells you what an asshole you are. On the inside of that plane there is either super-1980s interior, like mov (?) linoleum or he took a lot of bench seats out of a Ford F150 or an Ford E350 van and just bolted them in because he just bought the shell. John highly doubts that there are custom upholsteries inside. All hat, no cowboy!

Merlin imagines a situation where he had enough money that it would be reasonable not wanting to fly commercially anymore because it is a tremendous inconvenience to wait around and sit with other people, and somebody gave him a jet and he had enough money to maintain it and to keep a pilot on call. He would have to pay the exorbitant gas bills that attenuate every time you turn the lights on, but he would charge his executive assistant with it and the bills would get paid without him ever thinking about it.

It will cost $250.000 a year just so you can fly to wherever you need to fly, an amount that is just the interest payment on your boat. How would Merlin configure his jet airplane? Merlin would have 5 bathrooms, a pretty nice kitchen and sound-proof rooms for everyone. He hasn’t seen a lot of fancy jets, so he is not sure about the constraints, but most of them seem fairly unambitious. They go for nice chairs, more legroom, a table and maybe a wet bar, but they don’t really go for very fantastical, like building a psychedelic 1960s idea of a sex jet.

The price for that goes up very quickly from an expensive indulgence to a ludicrous thing that there is no justification for. The more important a CEO is, the less likely he would have to get his face in front of other people. You would have to be in the air all the time and never touch the ground to make it worth the effort to have a company jet. A used Gulfstream V from 1999 is still $14.9 million, meaning it retains its value pretty well and you don’t want to make it too fucking weird, like having a small abattoir in it that would take some of the retail value away.

If you decorate a house too closely to your own style, you will have a hard time selling it later. John looked at a beautiful 4-story tall Victorian house in Tacoma the other day that had been decorated by a couple of eccentrics and the outside had trombones stapled to it. John had never seen the like and when they put this thing on the market, they didn’t even think to take the trombones down. Maybe the next owner wants to fuck on a pile of trash?

A brand-new Gulfstream G650ER is $68 million and seats 19 people. If you have $680 million, that is already 10% of your money. A first class flight to anywhere you would want to go, and you are probably not booking those flights a long time in advance, might be $3000. If you do that twice a week, it is $318.000 a year. You also have to factor in how much gasoline it costs to fly a Gulfstream V, you have to hire a pilot and a co-pilot and you probably want somebody to mix you drinks.

Tattoo fails, cursed images (RL218)

They talk about tattoo fails. Merlin’s daughter’s favorite is ”no regerts” [sic]. There is a Twitter called cursedimages. Cats and possums will interact with one another, John has seen that first hand, but according to this image, a cat and 30 badgers will also just chill together. Merlin thinks a lot of these pictures are Russian. There is a guy drinking a tumblr of vodka while he eats salmon roll out of a big tub with a spoon. John likes the Christmas wreath made out of cheetos. There is a guy in an oxygen tent who wanted to play the viola. There is a bed with 10 cracked eggs on it. Now John wants to know more about badgers. He looks up some facts. There are many different kinds of badgers! Merlin’s friend had a ferret as a pet.

John getting a rooster from his drug dealer (RL218)

Back when John would buy drugs from people he didn’t know very well, he met a lot of people with exotic pets. How many other people have french-kissed a parrot? One time John was at a guy’s house who had a rooster in his snake cage. He had giant yellow Burmese Python which was in a huge enclosure in his living room and he had bought a little chicken for the thing to eat. You don’t have to feed it very often which got confusing to John’s drug dealer friend who looked like the lead singer of House of Pain.

The snake was not interested and the chicken lived in the cage with the snake long enough that it was revealed to not be a chicken, but a rooster and it grew until it was a teenage rooster. It had fog horn leg horn legs 6 inches (15 cm) tall and the whole rooster was now 2 feet (60 cm) tall. John’s friend didn’t think the snake could eat it now because it was too big and he didn’t know what to do with it. He had to keep feeding the rooster, but he didn’t want a rooster!

John can’t think of anybody who wants a rooster except his next-door neighbor who has that freaking rooster that wakes John up every morning. A rooster doesn’t seem like a typical 1990s drug-dealer pet, but he didn’t just want to turn it loose in the yard. John was at a point in his life where he didn’t have very good judgement and he offered to take the rooster.

John had been dropped off at this house which was a long way from the place where he was crashing at the time and the drug dealer offered John a ride with his white 1972 El Camino. The rooster and John got in the back of the El Camino, which looked like a car but was a pick-up truck. They had to get on the Freeway and John was sitting in the back, trying to keep ahold of this rooster who was initially very suspicious of him, but when he realized that his life was in John’s hands, he stuck close to him because his little rooster claws were not able to gain purchase in the metal back of the truck. He would slide all the way to the back when the car would accelerate and he would slide all the way to the front when the car would brake.

Eventually they reached an accommodation and they got across town. John came into the house where he was crashing, 5 guys were sitting around watching Friends and he opened with ”Guess what! I got us a rooster!” At first, everybody was like ”Wow!” and everybody was petting the rooster and John felt like a hero, because he also had weed, but then it became clear that the rooster was not welcome and the guy who was renting the house said that the rooster couldn't stay.

John put the rooster on the porch for a minute while they would talk about what would happen to it. John didn’t have a place to go and needed to continue crashing at this house, but he also didn’t want to get separated from his rooster. They couldn’t leave it in the back yard, because that was his hot pepper garden and he didn’t want the rooster eating his hot peppers. They talked about it for a while, they did not reach any agreement and when John went outside again, the rooster was gone.

John searched the whole neighborhood, but couldn’t find it. This house was on the border of Little Saigon, so they all speculated that the rooster escaped and walked down the street, heading down its merry way, thinking that it was headed to Roostertown, USA, and then somebody saw him who was thinking ”stew rooster”, or ”unattended rooster” and if you know a stew rooster when you see one, you will also know how to grab a stew rooster and how to check it for tags and they took the rooster with them. The rooster might even have thought that this person knew how to handle a rooster and he was headed to rooster eden, but then death raked up his leaves and he went right into the stew pot. What a confusing week for the rooster! You couldn’t write this story up!

It never gets better, does it? You are going to end up in a plastic bag made to look like a pumpkin on death’s lawn.

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